Fellow Travelers (comments on the text)

[Please Note: Fellow Travelers, by Michael Annicchiarico, was premiered on Wednesday, October 15, 2014, at 8:00 pm, Johnson Theatre, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH.]

Fellow Travelers (2012-13), by Michael Annicchiarico, for flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone, bass, percussion, and large chorus
comments on the texts by John-Michael Albert

Whether it is as catastrophic as Oedipus meeting his father at the crossroads, recounted in Sophocles’s play, Oedipus the King, or as devastating as the wedding guest meeting the sailor on the road in Coleridge’s poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” encounters with strangers are the source of major, unexpected changes in our lives. In his 2012-13 work for flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone, bass, and large chorus, Fellow Travelers, Michael Annicchiarico has selected three poems on this theme from two of my books, The Bird Catcher, New and Selected Poems (Moon Pie Press, 2012) and Cardamom Cravings, Notes for an Autobiography (Sargent Press, 2012).

“Dharma Bums” (July 2007) began when I was invited to dinner at the home of a wealthy, sophisticated friend in Portsmouth, NH. We shared very little except our common origins in Ohio, poetry, a sense of ironic humor about the world, and a pleasure in each other’s company. When I arrived, I was completely outwitted by the security on his condo complex and could not get through the outer gate. An hour later, I gave up trying. With a couple hours to kill before the next bus home, I dropped into River Run Books for something to read. Reflecting on the recommendation of my friend, Sivan, I picked up a copy of Dharma Bums instead of On the Road for my first exposure to the writings of Jack Kerouac. It included a story of the poet, Gary Snyder, hitchhiking with a truck driver from San Francisco, up the U.S. West Coast, to Washington State, where Gary was going to spend the summer living in a fire tower as a forest ranger. Long rides with strangers invite detailed confessions, the story of which is in my homage to Snyder’s poetic style.

“Sight Unseen” (June 2008) recounts a haunting experience I had wanted to write about since it happened to me in the early 1990s. At the time, I was listed as the music director and contact man for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston. A stranger, interviewing for a job at the Galveston Medical Center, found my address in a local newspaper and wrote to me, asking if I would tell him about the area—the sights, weather, entertainment, the character of the people, ease of travel, politics, and such. I wrote back, starting a lively correspondence that continued long after he decided to move to Sacramento, CA instead of Galveston, TX. Then, typical of these stories, there was a sudden silence, later followed by a haunting letter of explanation from his mother, which is recounted in the poem.

“Sputnik, Fellow Traveler” (May 2011) is the final movement of Michael’s work, and the source of its title. For years I have served as one of the judges in the annual Dover Public Library K-12 Poetry Contest. In 2011, on the day of the award ceremony, I realized I had not selected an appropriate work of my own to read—an honor the library offers the judges by way of an introduction. I went to Dos Amigos Burritos for a quick supper. There, I searched my memory of childhood for a time when I shared something with potentially life-long impact with my parents. With two hours to go before the ceremony began, I suddenly recalled that magical night the Soviets sent Sputnik up and my entire neighborhood in Dayton, OH went outside in the pre-dawn hours to see it. I scribbled the poem down on a napkin, blurring it with changes and corrections before walking over to the Library. I wanted to remind the young poets and their parents that we have nothing to fear from strangers because we are strangers to them as well. On the other hand, being open to chance encounters with strangers always yields great stories—if we pay attention.