True criticism

In the end, it’s misleading, and perhaps false, to speak of reviews as ‘negative’ or ‘positive’. A good review should contain both elements, judiciously balanced. We live in an age of shameless puffery. A good critic, a just judge, will resist this. But let’s face it: in the case of poetry (and of the novel, too, I suspect, though I’ve never written one), a wayward element can intervene, in the form of a sudden caprice, an unexpected impulse—perhaps even what Edgar Allen Poe named ‘the imp of the perverse’—and this gratuitous and quite unbidden whim can take a poem in startling directions. It can make a dull poem shine but it can also make a good poem falter. What at first appears queer or off-kilter or even downright loopy may be transformed over time into something unsuspected, unrecognized, before. The critic has to be alert to this possibility, rare as it is; has to allow, that is, that all his fine judgment, his confident logic, his unerring taste, may prove pointless. Our judgments may—and probably will—prove as perishable as the books they judge. This requires a special kind of humility: despite our best efforts, if the work is truly good, something will always elude our analysis. There’s a mystery here I don’t pretend to understand. Perhaps Emily Dickinson expressed it best:

Surgeons must be very careful
When they take the knife!
Underneath their fine incisions
Stirs the Culprit—Life!

Eric Ormsby, from “Fine Incisions: Reflections on Reviewing”, p. 120 in Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2011)

Capella Romana: Ancient Light

Some of you will be familiar with Capella Romana, an astonishingly good vocal chamber ensemble, about which you may read more here. One of my fellow seminarians here at school, John Boyer, who is a fine friend and chanter, is a member of Capella Romana, which was a pleasant surprise when I first learned it. I’d enjoyed and admired their recordings for some time. In terms of quality of performance and production, I rate them highest, in a league with Chanticleer.

So it is a pleasure to share the news that Capella Romana has a new offering available: Angelic Light: Music from Eastern Cathedrals, a mix of ancient and modern settings of liturgical and paraliturgical chant. Samples of each of the tracks are available there, and one may order the digital edition for immediate download, or the CD, or both, I suppose!

There is even a video available for one of the tracks from the Ancient Light recording.

If you enjoy Byzantine Chant, you’ll enjoy Capella Romana. If you’re new to Byzantine Chant and would like to familiarize yourself with the sound of it, this is also a good reason to listen to Capella Romana. Their performances are accessible in a way that old recordings of classic masters of chant are not, as well as being readily available, which the latter are not.