“There are arias everywhere, my brother.” That might as well be Sean Thomas Dougherty’s mantra. Growing up in working class New Hampshire, laboring at blue collar jobs throughout his life in factories and warehouses, Dougherty eventually set his sights on poetry. He may have left this blue collar background, but it did not leave him. The rhythms of the streets and the music of the everyday, of factories and of work, all permeate his poetry, finally melding together for a unique mix of the academic and the workaday.
In his poem “Arias,” this balance is most apparent. The line between high art and low art is all but destroyed, and the listener is guided by the rhythm of Dougherty’s voice, which transcends all of those designations. There is music in the street, and he is interested in capturing it, embracing and experiencing all of it. “Every window a tenor leans, / there are sopranos in the olive branches.”
He takes the hometown of Pavarotti, who represents the high art of opera, and elevates the music all around him on the street to the level of “arias” – a fine piece of music in the larger context of an opera. The word aria is derived from the Greek and Latin ‘aer’ meaning “atmosphere” which is very appropriate here. This is the atmosphere all around him, and each thing the speaker notices is tied to a sound – blossoming into a beautiful sound in the poem.
“The boys with tattoos
ride their skateboards, skipping curbs,
and there is a music to their wheels, a screech,
a scat and scatter, a turntable cutting La Bohème.”
There is music there.
“Can you hear them ghosting through the Laundromat steam,
with the clack of cue balls in the pool halls,
at the CITGO station when the gas glugs,
where one-legged Jethro waits outside
on the curb, humming while smoking a cigarette?”
There are arias everywhere.
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