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 I chose Denise Levertov Goodman's poem for a women's chorus piece because I liked what it had to say about being a woman.  The poem takes as a starting point negative and stereotypical ideas about women (which are often contradictory)—they are inconstant; they aren’t open to change—and turns them into positive statements. Good! She says—I ebb and flow; I hold steady. And the burdens themselves become nourishment for her on her journey. The piece is sectional, built around the sentences of the poem rather than its poetic structure.  Most of the sections are very contrapuntal, in part representing the many different women's voices that speak to us from the poem.  Many of the individual vocal lines are tonal, but are layered upon each other to form a more complex and dissonant texture.  The sentences give the larger divisions; smaller images from the text are painted in the melodies, for example, ‘ebb and flow’ is syncopated because I was thinking about waves, and although there is a larger constant pattern of ebb and flow, the individual waves vary. ‘If her part is to be true’—here the rhythms are squarer because I imagine her as a bulwark of strength. Everyone sings the same rhythms for ‘There is no savor,’ because that is so much the heart of the poem; I wanted the words to be stressed, and that is why the rhythms sometimes seem to go against the meter (hemiola). In the ‘What, woman’ section, I wanted to have the sense of asking a question and being answered, so the question and answer bounce back and forth between the voices. In the last section, ‘If I bear burdens,’ it pulls on some of the elements from all the other sections to tie it together.

 Instrumentation: Women’s Chorus (SSA), Piano

What is green in me

darkens, muscadine.


If woman is inconstant,

good, I am faithful to


ebb and flow, I fall

in season and now


is a time of ripening.

If her part


is to be true,

a north star,


good, I hold steady

in the black sky


and vanish by day,

yet burn there


in blue or above

quilts of cloud.

There is no savor

more sweet, more salt


than to be glad to be

what, woman


and who, myself,

I am, a shadow


that grows longer as the sun

moves, drawn out


on a thread of wonder.

If I bear burdens


they begin to be remembered

as gifts, goods, a basket


of bread that hurts

my shoulders but closes me


in fragrance, I can

eat as I go.

Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Company.

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