Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: Musings


the Late Quartets
meaning, always, Beethoven
always attended most intensely
late at night

something here liberated from audience
or sound itself
or even emotion or intellect, solely
some pure essence
released within four players’ labor


the labor has me thinking
of Stephen Foster, his two strands of work
the minstrel songs that provided
his income and reputation
but his parlor art songs from his depth

yes, I’m far more compartmentalized

journalism, poetry, fiction, religion, et al


imagining my own funeral
a performance of Schubert’s string quintet
or a hymn-sing
if not my Quaker silence with vocal
messages therein
whatever the next stage

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set, click here.


The mind dances here and there, rarely in a linear fashion. So what’s on my mind these days? How about counting on these fingers?


  1. Even before she argues I’m regressing to adolescence, she has many reasons to ask: Am I still emotionally … 15? Maybe this time I’ll get it right. Or just FINALLY.
  2. How is it so many people see me as masked, restrained, even inhibited? All these years. Will the real me please stand up?
  3. Like a pack of cards, “shuffle the deck,” the way of the Red Barn – or my all too rambling life with all of its competing interests! Don’t we need a job or children as focus? Or God?
  4. A jazz guitarist asks me between sets, “Are you a musician? You listen like one.” I take it as a compliment. As for my choir?
  5. Too easily I find myself retreating for too much of the day (and night) in my attic studio, apart from the rest of the house. Call me a third-floor hermit. That’s where I think I write best.
  6. I’d dreamed of having Molly Ringwald join in a movie I’d scripted: 61 Candles. We’d all grown up. Or something like that. Even I was younger then.
  7. It’s a familiar goal in revising a piece of writing and, as I’m finding, in making music. Think of the visual arts, too, and any number of places in daily life. Gain lightness in what had been blocks of density.
  8. Inscribed on the tower: “Maybe he was the love of my life … but I wasn’t his.” (Which interpretation do you prefer?)
  9. How is it I got so old? Even within an old soul?
  10. My overcoat, still tinged with city grime, needs cleaning.


This is it, indeed.

This is it, indeed.


Being mindful of what’s right in front of us can always be a challenge. Here are 10 new items from my end.


  1. I haven’t said anything about shoveling snow, have I?
  2. One tension in today’s world is a matter of staying in place in a restless world. Sinking roots, as it were. Going deep. Without getting stuck. How is this rooting balanced with personal growth and evolution? And, too, how is it I’ve stayed Quaker, amid all the other self-identities in play?
  3. Am continuing my practice of learning Spanish before breakfast – along with our Cuban-roast coffee.
  4. A friend shows us the mass of stonework in the cellar of his 1755 New England saltbox house, and we recognize it’s a thermal mass that holds heat in winter, keeps the place cooler in summer. Those old Yankees were way ahead of our times.
  5. So the day starts clear, then clouds over. Snow on the way? Gotta check our weather vane, see if the wind’s coming in off the ocean.
  6. Observing two side-by-side icicles hanging over our second-floor windows, I see one’s bumpy while the one next to it’s smooth. Then realized, yes, water drops freeze as bumps, and thus the smooth one becomes the question.
  7. As Boss would have told Bill in Big Inca: “I told you to report EVERYTHING.” Maybe there are limits.
  8. Listening to piano music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, keep hearing a riff that sounds like “Skip to the Lou,” itself a puzzling phrase. Turns out it’s Scottish for “love,” and the tune accompanied a circle game. Also, Gottschalk was quoting a slightly different and more wistful tune from New Orleans, which explains the notes that move sidewise.
  9. The Libertarian Party really blew its big opportunity. Royally. Now where does it turn?
  10. Perhaps tomorrow will be a bathrobe day. Or at least sweats. No driving, just stay indoors at home. Plenty to do here, anyway.


Joe Pye in ice -- what had flowered does so once again in the heart of winter.

Joe Pye in ice — what had flowered does so once again in the heart of winter.



many classical musicians regard a score
more through their hands (as instrumentalists)
or the eye, according to the sheet (as composers)
or even the mouth (as singers)
than through the ear, much less the heart.

in that light, Beethoven’s mastery in deafness
should appear no miracle

unlike Charles Ives, off-limits
when the circle needed completion
– without the ripple of applause or engagement
or critical test of application –
only the stone-dead silence of scorn or indifference

let us touch, then, releasing these birds
from rows of ink on a page
as if this were another spring morning

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set, click here.


I’ve long been fond of collage as an art form. These Tendrils continue the stream.


  1. Ground Hog’s Day marks the end of solar winter, in contrast to the standard calendar’s use of the equinox on March 20. We have as much daylight now as we did around Halloween, back t the end of October. It’s another reason I view the year as eight seasons rather than four.
  2. I’ve previously posted about the ways observing Advent as the days leading up to Christmas Day – which then ushers in the Twelve Days of Christmas –greatly alters our way of experiencing the holidays. As a result, since we don’t put up our tree until Christmas Eve, we leave ours up much longer than our neighbors. Long after theirs have headed for the dump, ours is still casting magical light around our front parlor (the room we call the library) while the mass of tiny lighted bulbs outside the bay window are also still glowing. Deep winter’s much more tolerable this way.
  3. When the evergreen tree does go out of the house (meaning any day now), its place in the bay window is soon taken up by flats of seedlings we’ll transplant to the garden, likely in May. My task now is to retrieve the appropriate shelves and bars of lighting from the shed – out in the brittle cold. We always seem to be behind schedule there.
  4. How sad to see so many so-called conservatives turning barbarian, intent on destruction – pillaging civilization and culture.
  5. My last days at the office included erasing my tracks. A lot of stuffed folders went into the trash.
  6. I finally acknowledge my past lovers would have never made me a suitable spouse. How blessed I am now.
  7. Think of the books we keep returning to. Or simply journals. Which of them keep you on track?
  8. There’s a day, as the rabbi admits, for sex and delight, free from the usual intrusions. It’s called Sabbath. Seriously.
  9. Goose – all dark meat, a lot of good tasty fat – a spoonful is great for favoring other dishes while cooking.
  10. Someday has come.


Afternoon winter sky over Dover.

Afternoon winter sky over Dover.


for dancing, I want fiddles or flutes
more than saxophones or electric basses
for the measure

how true when they say accomplished waltz
extends either romance or seduction

moving either toward shelter or some dangerous
fascination, all the same

when we link together in a line or a circle
we will pivot and fly . take me away, then

with equipoise into the periphery

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set, click here.


In the annuals of genius, today marks a special observation, the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1756.

The traditional biography reads something like an extended fairy tale, starting with the child prodigy who charms European royalty in the flowering of the Enlightenment. Yes, there are emotional conflicts with his taskmaster father, who nevertheless deserves much of the credit for those early successes as a performer, improviser, and composer. That doesn’t stop the son who dashes off masterpiece after masterpiece in lively company or en route on stagecoaches rather than in deep solitude with a keyboard. Later tales of poverty and domestic desperation, however, mask his inability to handle money or patrons. You could say he was a tad spoiled but, oh my, unbelievably talented. Besides, it turns out he was the second-highest paid musician in the world, after Franz Joseph Haydn, who lived in conditions offering much less freedom. You could also say that in his prime, nobody wrote with more spontaneity, perfection, or elegance. So much for the standard version.

The fact is that Mozart set a standard that, on its own terms, could not be matched. much less surpassed. In the world of opera, his are among the very best, even without considering how he lifted the genre to new heights. As an opera composer alone, he would have been among the top handful. He essentially created the piano concerto. And the symphonies, alongside Haydn’s, are models of an evolution leading to a final culmination rivaled only by Haydn’s two London series.

I must confess that my deep passion for classical music began in fifth grade, age 10 or 11, with an encounter with the 29th symphony, in A major. Its infectious, joyous outburst, order, and underlying idealism struck a deep chord in my young soul, spurring a hunger for much more, which I found in his work and those of other symphonic and, later, operatic masters.

The prolific legacy Mozart left at his death at age 35 is prodigious, even before we get to the chamber music, choral compositions, or instrumental offerings.

With him, sooner or later, we come face to face with the tragedy of a life cut short, in the fullest blooming of genius – like his fellow Aquarians and composers Schubert and Mendelssohn, especially. The question then turns on the what-if of whether he could have advanced in the artistic challenge of Beethoven and a torn-apart social order to ever greater heights or whether he would have failed to adapt and, thus, withered.

Which leads us to the biggest mystery regarding Mozart. What if he had lived a longer life, say one as long as Beethoven’s? There’s the inevitable comparison, Beethoven. Not Bach, curiously – maybe it’s the matter of those symphonies. Put another way, had Beethoven died at the age of Mozart, his reputation would have been as a second-tier composer, one resting largely on 23 piano sonatas, culminating in the “Appassionata,” plus three classical-style piano concertos and three symphonies – including what would have remained the enigmatic “Eroica,” one that would likely not make much historical sense without the Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth for perspective. There wouldn’t even be his tortured venture into opera. Oh yes, we’d also have the six string quartets, Opus 18, in their homage to Haydn. Had he died at 35, Beethoven would have not been regarded in the same league as Mozart or, for that matter, Bach. I was about to add Brahms and Dvorak, but hesitate since they were so beholden to Beethoven’s challenge and model.

Within the Mozart-Beethoven dichotomy is another deeply intriguing consideration. The conventional interpretation is that Mozart would not have adapted to the artistic and social revolutions ahead, that he had simply gone as far as anyone could in what we call the Classical period and its dimensions or that he would have been baffled and outmoded by the changes to come. More and more, though, what I hear in the last four symphonies and the unfinished requiem suggests something quite different. Mozart was yearning for wider horizons and expressive possibilities. Yes, we have a surfeit of his work as it is, how can we truly desire more when there’s so much already, but what may be lacking is that singular, definitive great gesture along the lines of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis or late quartets or late piano sonatas or even the Choral Symphony’s final ecstatic outburst or perhaps Bach’s Chaconne from the Second Partita for solo violin.

Alas. Remind me of that when I’m immersed in one of Mozart’s extraordinary opera arias or a slow movement from a piano concerto.

I could recast the consideration, then, into a question of whether Mozart had moved to Prague, which adored him, rather than stay in Vienna, or even on to London, which had so embraced Handel and would later welcome Haydn. Suppose Mozart had lived another decade – or three or four – in fresh, more supportive surroundings? We’re back to genius and its nurture.

In the end, we have what we have, filled with delight and such promise. Let’s see what we choose to play today in that honor.


Just a taste of what’s popping up. In case you were looking for a prompt.


  1. Maybe it was all the commuting or the years of leaping from a job in one locale to another in what was supposed to be a climb up the corporate ladder or even the efforts to keep up with the personal writing and publication based in my “off-duty” hours, but when it came to a vacation, I increasingly wanted simply to stay home. Maybe because I’m finally seeing that logjam or backup break loose, my outlook is changing. I wouldn’t mind a little travel. Or maybe even a year abroad, the classic artist in exile.
  2. After hanging a toasted half-bagel from an outdoor branch, I watch a squirrel run off with it rather than nibbling bits on the scene.
  3. I wake to see a shadow flying against the wall before hearing the crash: two more giant icicles melting away in the morning sunlight. The whole house shudders.
  4. A least I’m not playing solitaire these days. How many hours on how many late nights were so occupied, usually winding down after work?
  5. An old man in a baggy gray coat and black shoes and black slacks and old-man baggy hat walks down the street. He smokes a pipe, the phantom who would haunt the author in 50 years. Except that now, the Author will not touch a pipe – or cigar. (Gee, I did use this – or a variation – somewhere, didn’t I?)
  6. After one online exchange, I realized the man’s both hard-hearted and deaf – a dangerous combination. His answers come out of a can.
  7. Back when I drafted Subway Hitchhikers, I imagined an underground network of kindred souls who could venture about anywhere on their thumbs – city or country, all filled with surreal encounters. Nowadays, we can see ourselves as cyber-hitchhikers, going about anywhere we want without having to venture out. But where’s the surrealism, risk, and full-body connection?
  8. She agrees. We’re much closer to Amish values than to mainstream American society and its tastes.
  9. There are times we must ask, “Is it Quaker work rather than God’s work?” Ever see a parallel in your own faith community?
  10. Any of you brush your teeth with baking soda? My dentist got me in the habit of dipping my toothbrush and paste in the powder before getting down to business. Have to admit it feels refreshing.


Watching this is better than television. You wouldn't believe the drama and comedy that erupt. Especially when squirrels or neighborhood cats corner in on the action.

Watching this is better than television. You wouldn’t believe the drama and comedy that erupt. Especially when squirrels or neighborhood cats corner in on the action.



Maybe you’ve seen the adage that you can’t move on in your life if you’re stuck revising the past. (Well, it’s a variation of some more common versions.) I know the message is aimed at an individual’s emotional life, but it hits writers hard, too. No matter our subject or genre, the project in front of us draws on the past – even if it’s nothing more than research we did earlier or our previous drafts. It’s even truer when you’re heeding the counsel, “Write about what you know.”

For an author or poet, moving on typically comes when a project is finally published. Well, one usually moves on into promoting the work, even if the writer’s thinking and work are already on a new project.

Up to that point, the writing can usually be revised – and with poetry, there’s no end, you just have to let it go.

For most of my five decades of writing, my literary efforts – writing, revising, submitting to journals, and attending readings and workshops – came in my “free” time. And for a good portion of that, I was just getting a locale and its people in focus when my job would uproot me and I’d have to move on – just as one big project or another was coming into focus. I’d have to put work aside to complete later.

It also meant that much of my life was stuck in revising the past – meaning the unpublished projects – even I was adding more from the new encounters.

For me, blogging has freed much of that past, weaving it actively into my present. And the book-length releases at Smashwords.com and Thistle/Flinch, especially, have been emotionally liberating.

Seeing the poetry, in particular, as it’s appearing almost daily at the Red Barn gives me a fresh perspective. For all of my repeated honing of the work, compressing to some essence, I also sought a sense of jazzy improvisation and raw edges, an admission of working on the run in contemporary society. A recent essay on graffiti as public art, in contrast to the oil canvas masterpieces of earlier centuries, keeps echoing in my awareness. Yes, I can see many of my poems as graffiti or at least swift sketches or calligraphy.

Yes, there are things I’d revise and other points that leave me wondering just what prompted the line. But they’re up now, in your presence, and I can move on.

What a relief!

At this point in my life and career, I don’t even have to worry about what critics might say, though kind words from perceptive readers and fellow writers are always appreciated.

Not that I’m fishing for compliments …


Why wait for the dust to settle? Here are 10 bullets from my end.


  1. Since we don’t put up a Yule tree and decorate it until Christmas Eve, ours stays on display longer than any of our neighbors’. The lights make January a less forbidding stretch. Make it more festive and relaxing. So what do you do special this otherwise cold, dark month?
  2. She’s really at home in a grocery store. Knows all the comparative prices, what’s a bargain, what’s special. Not so in other retail settings. Still, you should see our pantry. Or the two big freezers in the barn.
  3. Swami had long ago said I didn’t need a job (I’m an old soul) because that’s not the work I should be offering. That was long, long ago.
  4. How often does it seem: Fashion = Money … along with the race for something better?
  5. Would I be satisfied with a single-line poem that said everything? Stake my reputation on it?
  6. Considering all the hours I put in on my “personal writing” over the years – the poetry and fiction, especially, or genealogy and Quaker fare – it would have added up to a lot of overtime pay. Even at 10 hours a week, though I suspect with vacations and holidays thrown in, the average would have been closer to 20. I’d really have to land a bestseller to come anywhere close to recouping that investment.
  7. The frustration of my twilight years in journalism, seeing us increasingly pander to stupidity, ignorance, and hatred rather than trying to lead and enlighten.
  8. As the funeral director told me, “We hate holidays. Holidays suck.”
  9. Fortune cookie: You will make many changes before settling satisfactorily.
  10. Can this really be happening to America? Or the world?



Looks like white-painted architectural touches to me.

Still looks like white-painted architectural touches to me.