October 27, 2005

G is for John Gorka

I really didn't feel like writing about Oliver Goldsmith today; I've never managed to finish The Vicar of Wakefield (having spent my life trying to be flexible, rather than in-), though I did once read She Stoops to Conquer, and his poetry doesn't particularly appeal to me (especially the one that says that the only thing a fallen woman can do to wash away her guilt is to die. Yeesh.) I thought about cheating a little and letting G stand for Gwendolen Brooks, but I've already posted my favorite poem of hers, way back in the early days of this site. Instead, I'm going to take a path I'll probably choose a few more times in this series; rather than a traditional poet, I'll discuss a singer-songwriter.

is for John Gorka.

If you are a modern-day poet, you can post your work in the chapbooks and quarterlies and online sites around, and people who know they like poetry will read it. Or you can sing it, and all kinds of people will hear it. (To get the biggest audience, you should probably set it to hip-hop music, but in that case I'm probably not going to be one of those who will hear it.) There are some constraints induced by melody: you're likely going to want rhyme, and you may end up repeating lines more than you would in a poem meant to be read or recited. (Those can be either bugs or features.)

I first encountered Gorka in the late 80s, when I was volunteering at the Cherry Tree Folk Music Co-op and the Philly Folk Fest. I appreaciated his words and tunes at the time, and only later listening to recordings realized how resonant his voice is, as well. Here's the first song of his I fell in love with, and not only because of its twisted logic and the fact that it reminds me of a Muppets routine:

I Saw a Stranger With Your Hair

I saw a stranger with your hair, tried to make her give it back,
So I could send it off to you, maybe Federal Express,
'Cause I knew you'd miss it.
I saw another with your eyes, the flash just turned my head,
I went to try them on for size but they looked the other way,
And they wouldn't listen.

But you're never hard to find in a crowd
The people around you smiling out loud
Their feet don't touch the ground
Their feet don't touch the ground
Their feet don't touch the ground

I heard a stranger with your voice, it took me by surprise,
Again I found it wasn't you, just an angel in disguise,
In for a visit.

By the way, how is my heart? Haven't seen it since you left,
I'm almost sure it followed you, could you sometime send it back,
I'll buy the ticket.

I saw a stranger with your hair
I saw another with your eyes
I heard an angel with your voice
By the way how is my heart
By the way how is my heart

Gorka sings about love and changes, baseball and neighborhoods and factories, and about my home state of Pennsylvania. I live across the country in a much less folk-music-friendly area now, and I haven't seen him live in a long time, so I'm less familiar with his recent music. A lot of his works are more poetic than these, but I like this one because it reminds me of Ogden Nash:


While they fish out the fisheries
I wish on the wisheries
Mixed up in the mysteries
Every night, every night

I pedal hope, now, from port to port
I never stay at the last resort
I'm not tall, but I never come up short
I always pay, I pay and pay

I got arrested and I got away
I met Clint and he made my day
Tarred and feathered in La Brea
What a pit, what a pit

I formed my own government
I cast pearls before the parliament
Got some girls for the ex-president
No, not him, another one

Thought I appear none too glamorous
I have often been amorous
Though I am an ignoramimous
Ignoranimous, that's the word

My chances were ludicrous
She was graceful and luminous
My heart sank bituminous
But I asked anyway

Through the window she kissed my face
Pushed me down and put me in my place
The French would call that the coup de grace
No, that's not my native tongue

Found a raincoat in a London fog
Got a kitten from a catalog
Got a demo from a demagogue
I played it loud, it pleased the crowd

While they fish out the fisheries
I miss the missing and the mysteries
I broke a dish signed by Cyd Charisse
Yeah, I pay, I always pay

I pay and pay

Posted by dichroic at October 27, 2005 01:15 PM

That first song's a favorite. Thanks for posting it.

Posted by: Melanie at October 27, 2005 02:31 PM

I liked The Vicar of Wakefield -- in high school, I guess. I remember it as being funny. But maybe you'd like to try Olivia Goldsmith instead of Oliver; she wrote, among other things, First Wives Club.

Posted by: l-empress at October 28, 2005 07:12 AM
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