Monday, April 29, 2013

BPR LIT TRIP 29 with Andrew Sofer

Andrew Sofer’s “Hautboys” captures moments of sound in William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. In this the next to last trip through the Birmingham Poetry Review volume 40, the Steiny Road Poet’s project to celebrate National Poetry month, we encounter a nonce sonnet organized in four tercets and a concluding couplet. The rhyme scheme is ABA/CDE/DEC/FBF/GG. The end words are: blinks/appear/sinks air/woods/haut gods/blow/overture mousetrap/ear/stirrup heed/reed.

Like the focus of the poem on hautboys (high-pitched wind instruments that in our day we might call oboes), the rhyme scheme is rather exotic in that the ear knows repetition of certain sounds is occurring, but these similar sounds are far enough apart in the middle of the poem to make the ear strain to understand the sonic texture. Appropriately Sofer makes his opening line What noise is this asked by Macbeth in Act IV, Scene 1, where Macbeth confers with three witches as hautboys sound.

What noise is this? He blinks.
Shadowy kings appear
as the witches’ cauldron sinks

and hautboys fill the air.

Next come these lines that play with French words driven by the compound word hautboy where haut in French means high.

Whose are these high woods
whose voix are always haut

left in the wake of gods?

The Steiny Poet assumes the gods are the dead (shadowy) kings Macbeth sees in the dumb show while he is consorting with the witches. So the hautboys (also referred to as the shawm) play a grim overture that ushers in the dumb show, a chorus of presumable detractors, and Hamlet’s play The Mousetrap. Shakespeare set his tragedies of Macbeth and Hamlet in and around Elsinore Castle.

For Elsinore they blow
in a grim overture:

Dumb show. Chorus. Mousetrap.
The shawm enters the ear
past hammer, anvil, stirrup—

the note no one will heed,
ill wind in a double reed.

So the sound—the voices (voix)—of the hautboys (high woods) enters the ear going past the three critical bones of the middle ear— hammer, anvil, stirrup—perhaps a warning sound that no one pays attention to. No love poem this, as traditional sonnets have often been, but certainly a beautifully rendered poem showing control over the line and compression in its storytelling.

1 comment:

Andrew Sofer said...

Thanks for your kind words. Readers intrigued by "Hautboys" might also enjoy the extended dialogue between Miranda and Caliban in my poem "After the Storm." It's in my book WAVE (Main Street Rag, 2010).