by Lisa DeSiro
I wrote the poem “Carpe Luna” while I was an undergraduate student at Binghamton University, in the southern tier of New York state. The years I spent at Binghamton (1988–1992) were formative, filled with learning and excitement. My major there was Literature & Creative Writing, but I minored in Music and spent a lot of time in the music building. We were fortunate to have excellent facilities, including a few sound-proofed practice rooms (which we called “the microwaves” because of the way the doors sealed shut). One cold winter night I had been in my favorite practice room (the one with the grand piano!) and I lost track of time. When I emerged from the nearly-deserted building, I saw a full moon in the sky and felt a strong reaction that surprised me. This experience inspired me to write “Carpe Luna”; the title derived from the phrase “carpe diem”, which had stuck in my mind after watching the film Dead Poet’s Society (1989).
my mind alone,
my fingers, my arms,
the only sound
in the world
for hours —
I left the room,
scuffed down empty halls
to a door, pushed
into sudden silence.
And there was the moon,
as a snowball, frozen
amid shallow drifts of cloud.
I reached up
tall as the night sky,
grabbed that moon
and melted it
with my bare hands.
I eventually submitted “Carpe Luna” to Poetpourri, a literary journal produced by The Comstock Writers’ Group in Syracuse, NY (the journal has since grown to national recognition and is now called The Comstock Review). “Carpe Luna” was published in the 1993 Awards Edition issue of Poetpourri. I also included it in a handmade chapbook that I gave to family members for Christmas 2004. If I remember correctly, it was a copy of this chapbook that I gave to Ann.
The following e-mail excerpts show the initial dialogue between Ann and me about the creation of “Carpe Luna” as a song, and its inclusion in Liam Wade’s song cycle Silver Apples.
May 2008 - “The Proposal”
I’m writing to ask your permission to use one of the poems from the book you sent me in a song cycle. Liam and I are working on an idea for a cycle and your poem “Carpe Luna” would fit the themes we are exploring really well. Liam is already very excited about the imagery in the poem, so I hope you’ll say yes.
The cycle is still in the idea phase. It started with Liam choosing an Edgar Allen Poe poem called “Eldorado.” Liam likes the idea of a quest/adventure/journey theme. I fixed on the moon image immediately as well. In talking, we decided we didn’t want to try to arrange a cycle of all Poe poems because most of them are so long and heavy and dark. So we decided to go sideways and look at other poems with similar themes and imagery. Liam is looking through “Candide” to find excerpts we might be able to use, and my mom is looking through some Buddhist poetry on the subject of quests. I fixed on the fact that Poe was born in Boston and decided to look at poetry from or about Boston. It seems like a larger theme we might be working with is how Liam and I have traveled across the country looking for musical inspiration only to find it was always waiting for us back in our own “Garden” (Longy), just like Candide! I was originally remembering your Public Garden poems, but realized that they’re very long. So I read through your whole book again and landed on “Carpe Luna.” I think it’s especially fun that “Carpe Luna” starts with the quest for self-perfection (which incorporates the east/west idea as well) and ends with melting the moon. It just might be the perfect closing poem for the cycle!
I would be honored to have “Carpe Luna” set to music, and I’m flattered that you considered my poetry for your project. Permission granted! :-) I like the Candide idea. Thanks for sharing the Poe poem, too.
January 2009 - “The First Draft”
Here is the current version of Carpe Luna. I had initially read the poem to be about meditation… or something eastern. Liam wants to evoke that moment when one has been inside a Longy practice room all day and then comes out of the building to find the day has turned into night. See what you think of his reading - I like it more and more as I work on it.
I printed the song and played through it tonight, and I was delighted! I actually wrote the first draft of “Carpe Luna” after a re-emerging-from-the-practice-rooms experience during my undergrad days at Binghamton University. Yes, it dates that far back! But definitely still relevant to our more recent experiences at Longy.
I’m pleased by Liam’s interpretation. I think he understood what the poem’s speaker feels: a sense of power/triumph after intense labor, but also a sense of striving to attain what seems unattainable (beauty/perfection). I almost wish he had ended the song on a major chord… although the minor tonality is effective…
There is one word that I used somewhat inaccurately: rather than “among shallow drifts of cloud” I should have said “amid shallow drifts of cloud.” Would you be willing to make that text change?
I’m really glad you like the song. And I see absolutely no reason why we can’t change that word - you’re the poet after all!
My favorite thing about this collaborative model is that things seem generally more flexible and fluid than in the traditional model - wherein I ask for a piece, composer writes the piece, notes and rhythms are etched in stone, piece gets performed once, me and composer go our separate ways.
And thank you for the background on the poem - it will probably be really nice for Liam to know that he was on the right track. I forwarded your reaction to him, and who knows - maybe he’ll rethink the ending chord. He’s honestly one of the most flexible and inclusive composers I’ve ever worked with. It’s an awesome partnership.
I remember some time later, after initial performances of Silver Apples, having an animated phone conversation with Liam about “Carpe Luna” and feeling a kinship with him because he understood the text so well. And he did in fact change the final chord from minor to major!
Ann asked me to perform “Carpe Luna” with her in November 2012 at the kickoff concert for her Currents recording project. That in itself was a pleasure—but I must say it was an even bigger thrill the following year (September 2013) to receive my preview digital download and hear the version of “Carpe Luna” that Ann recorded with pianist Steven Bailey at Skywalker Sound. I’m honored that one of my poems became a part of Liam’s wonderful cycle Silver Apples; and I’m humbled to be among the company of such fine poets, composers, and performers featured on Currents.
Lisa DeSiro is a writer and pianist living in Cambridge, MA. Her poems have appeared in Mezzo Cammin, Sixfold, Poetpourri (now The Comstock Review) and Commonthought Magazine. Her sonnet “The Trick” won second prize in the 2013 Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, and her sonnet “Hawks in Harvard Square” will be published in the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project: 2013 anthology (forthcoming, spring 2014). Along with her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University, Lisa has degrees from Binghamton University, The Boston Conservatory, and Longy School of Music.