Friday, November 14, 2008


Calliope was one of those goddesses I never really understood. In paintings she's always seen with a writing tablet in her hand, or a roll of paper or a book. Was she a writer? Her name means "beautiful voiced" and her son was Orpheus, who was able to charm birds, fishes and wild beasts, and even make the trees and rocks dance.

I've always thought of Orpheus as the ultimate poet/writer, one of those silver-tongued guys who could use eloquence and lyricism to cause a rapturous response in listeners. When I was young and starting out as a writer I believed this was the writer's ultimate job. To transport readers to a higher plane.

I guess my goals these days are less lofty. Simply entertaining a reader seems a pretty noble and challenging enterprise. Just winning a reader away from all the other entertainment choices available is a major accomplishment.

But still, somewhere back in the hallways of memory, Orpheus still lurks. I still like to think of great writing as a kind of hypnotism. A trance that the best writers can invoke, that will transport readers to places and emotional planes that otherwise would be beyond their experience. Some small part of me still wants to charm the birds down out of the trees.

I was thinking of this because of the calliope I saw (and recorded below) at Fairchild Gardens last weekend. The music itself is more goofy than inspirational. Though I couldn't help thinking of how metaphorically interesting it is. A mechanical device that "makes music." Not unlike the contrived, artifice of a novel that sometimes, with luck, can melt our hearts.

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