Some Serious Pianist-on-Pianist Action

I am not always the nutcase I would like to be. Sometimes, I am a beacon of rectitude, or at the very least a rectum of beatitude. And so, beatifically sitting upon my booty, with smug righteousness imprinted like a barcode upon my lofty brow, I was randomly surfing the net the other day, wandering through what we might call the “Classical Blogosphere.” And, over at JessicaMusic, where narcissism has considerably less sway than over here at ThinkDenk (according to my mother), what did I see but that pianist Stephen Hough has won a poetry competition? I cannot resist printing the poem here.

Early Rose
The world is
Asleep – sleeping
In those leapless
Limbless hours
When powers fail, save
The billion slopes which
Rise and rose and fall
In a billion breaths on their
Beds of repose.

To the garden, awake,
Tiptoe, quick, go
Slick-stairs down the
Steps to the pre-dew
Night morn before the
Dawn’s birth is born.
Follow to the foliage where,
Hidden as the future’s
Fall or rise, the rose –
Petals closed – will bud-burst
A billion atoms of beauty.

Let us bend down, our faces
Towards the flower which
Wakes and trembles
In that pause of hour.
Let us say the words which
Shake or stumble
In day’s poor prose, pour
Verse into the stamen’s
Quivering cup.

So when the day dries
Dreams, wakes dew, and
Sunplay in dazzling green
Or hue, the perfume from
That secret rose will
Breathe our poem to every
Nose: sigh language of love;
Encrypted script of ecstasy.

An unqualified, enthusiastic, passionate admirer of Mr. Hough’s playing, I had never before encountered his verse. I could not help a twinge of envy creeping as if from the sorrowful depths of my almost empty Venti. I felt that I, too, had something to offer the poetry world, reams perhaps of unwritten odes which could offer a poised foil to this “encrypted script of ecstasy.” I, too, wished to “pour verse into the quivering stamen” of something-or-other.

But wait!

I recalled, at this dark moment, that I did have a poem to offer the world. Mr. Hough’s poem is about the universal wonder of morning, of dew-covered, trembling foliage; whereas mine, poor postmodern thing, is more centrally concerned with mold and fungus. Let me explain. After many years of passionate entreaties from my friends, and the Department of Health, I was finally convinced to hire someone on a regular basis to come in and clean my apartment. This wonderful person, Monika, I have come to think of as sort of the “conscience of the greater world,” since when she leaves, my apartment looks more or less like you would imagine a normal person’s apartment should, if they were impoverished, blind, and loved to purchase books that no one else really wanted to read.

But, by a terrible twist of fate, both Christmas and New Year’s fell on Tuesdays, her regular day, and I found myself having to live several weeks without her, having become addicted to the semblance of normalcy she provided. And thus, out of the darkest moments, comes the greatest inspiration:


Oh Monika, you moniker, you monster!
Oh beast who promised cleanliness
But now leaves only dusty loneliness
My detritus, you moniker, you monster!

Oh Monika, my dishes pile in savage heaps
From whence (who knows?) aroused bacterium leaps
Receipts and disused papers teeter in the winds
and crusted honey dropt from oatmeal past now binds
the sinful slothful pages of my present domicile
telling sermons on my flushed youth
an obsolete guest, a loosened tooth
well past prime, a milk gone sour a while…
like a poem written in the ancient style.

Oh Monika! my stale testosterone, I hear it!
It echoes down the empty corridor,
echoes nothing: vacuum of vacuums,
My filth foredoom of dooms
in these empty and yet cluttered rooms
once cloistered wombs, now tombs upon tombs
requiring brooms.

OK, so don’t feel any pressure out there, Think Denk readers, but which of these poems do you like better? That’s what I thought.


I challenge Stephen Hough to a pianist vs. pianist poetry slam smackdown kind of situation, in front of screaming tens of people. Venue TBA, Prize TBA, let’s just do this.

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  1. AndyS
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    This is a fantastic idea. How much does Madison Square Garden rent for?

    Although contestants really ought to compose songs based on the poems. For instance your brilliant Ode seems like it would work well in some sort of Poulenc inspired style.

  2. Posted February 6, 2008 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    “rectum of beatitude”

    Nicely put, Mr. Mindreader!

  3. brent
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Roses are red, violets are blue,
    I wish I could write as well as you do…
    Speaking for myself and I’m sure others who read your blog,you’ve got NOTHING to be jealous of it the writing dep’t.

  4. Posted February 6, 2008 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    O my, Denk,
    better that you
    your day job

  5. brent
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    There once was a poet named Hough,
    Whose poems, though few, were good enough,
    But the blogger named Denk,
    In a posting quite rank,
    Declared “I can outwrite that damn stuff!”

  6. rednepentha
    Posted February 7, 2008 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    not only does she clean your apartment, but she turned into your muse. i love my housekeeper too.

  7. Posted February 7, 2008 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    Well… Is there a chance that Mr. Hough will be in town around the same time you’ll be playing at Zankel Hall next season? Zankel seems like the appropriate venue for such an event. Maybe the “pianist vs. pianist poetry slam smackdown” could comprise your encore(s). Or, at the very least, part of your program notes or an insert.

  8. Posted February 10, 2008 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I am currently watching a live broadcast of streaming video of you performing with Joshua Bell at the IU JSOM. This is my “fan mail”—what a beautiful performance! I only wish I could have been there, instead of at home, but the tickets were “sold out,” though not sold, given out completely before I could blink.
    Oh well, I just wanted to say that I enjoyed the performance. Now it’s time to go back to studying…no more beautiful music to encourage my procrastination.

  9. Posted February 10, 2008 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    I think both of you need to read a little book called ‘One Finger Too Many.’

  10. Kiki
    Posted February 12, 2008 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I believe Kalamazoo, MI may prove to be just the place you need to throw down with Stephen Hough, at the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival. My rose-free back yard, just minutes from several venues, is spontaneously generating mud pits right now.

  11. Jessica
    Posted February 12, 2008 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    The other day
    saw you at the Ordway.
    As the mighty north winds blew
    it was so cold my face nearly turned blue.

    Starbucks was down the block –
    hope you found it and weren’t frozen on the sidewalk
    Must say watching you perform – you rock.
    It looked as though I could almost see you and the piano talk.
    Were the thoughts pure and delightful or evil and menacing?
    Such as pushing Josh and his violin off stage so you could take center stage
    or was it to make plans after the show to take piano out dancing?
    Hopefully you didn’t have such thoughts of rage.

    Prokofiev, Dvorak, Saint Saens and Tartini
    Whew, after the show you must have needed an Appletini
    or maybe the fabled rice crispie treat?
    Come to the Twin Cites again, maybe I’ll see you on the street.

  12. Posted February 13, 2008 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Promises to organize the lingerie tossing contingent if this s(*@ goes down.

  13. Jessica
    Posted February 13, 2008 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Well Thank you, but this is the first time I’ve left a response!

    Hope you survived our MidWest freeze. Last weekend was horrible!

  14. Posted February 16, 2008 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    I would love to hear that.

  15. Donna
    Posted February 17, 2008 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    An off-topic thank you for your concert with Joshua Bell in Bloomington last week– it was a delightful break from dissertating. Looking forward to your concert here next month and to hearing the Hammerklavier.

  16. Posted February 21, 2008 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Oh Captain my Captain!

    Lead us onwards!

  17. Michael
    Posted July 22, 2010 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    This is, without a doubt, my favorite blog entry EVER. I think you should play lots of Chopin and F@W#($)*E(*&^ whatever anybody thinks about it; your mind and say, the Chopin F minor Fantasia, are an “accouplement” for the ages! And just for the record, I think your poem is heaps better that the Houghish one: less Yeats, more you. Denk you for that!

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