Second Spring, The

Paper $19
160 pages, 7" x 10", musical scores

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Second Spring, The

Bottum, Joseph

In The Second Spring, the widely published author Joseph Bottum pens what may be the most original cultural undertaking in decades – an attempt to heal the damaged poetry of our time with an infusion of music, and an effort to strengthen the weak music of our age with an injection of poetry.

Ten years ago, in the pages of the Atlantic Monthly, Bottum published an essay called “The Soundtracking of America,” a much-attacked account of the misuse of music in contemporary culture. Now, with The Second Spring, he comes at the problem from the other side, as a lyricist rather than a critic. Selecting twenty-four haunting melodies, from a 13th-century Galician-Portuguese cantiga to a modern country/western tune, Bottum composes new verses that both stand alone as poems and reach deep into the roots of the musical genres in which they stand.

Hymns, lullabies, folk tunes, pop songs, dirges, shape-note spirituals, broadsides, and Renaissance Italian dances – The Second Spring explores all these without sarcasm or mockery, allowing each genre to express itself within its natural form.

The Second Spring contains the lyrics, melodies, and new piano arrangements (with guitar chords) for twenty-four songs: new words to old music. With an introduction and, as an appendix, the text of “The Soundtracking of America,” this book is a vital and significant event in the nation’s artistic culture.

Ten years ago, in the pages of the Atlantic Monthly, Joseph Bottum took on the overarching problem of the emptiness inherent in so much that passes for music, that white noise we hear everywhere – and was soundly attacked for doing so.

In the interim, he has come back to the problem, to dig into the vast riches to be found in forgotten folk ditties, ballads, hymns, and popular tunes, and has sought to revivify them with lyrics worthy of their haunting melodies, which somehow cut to the marrow of the soul.

In this, he has succeeded beyond what one would have thought possible, by way of a fierce critical intelligence and a terrific sense of the comedy of errors we call the human condition. Let the music and the lyrics and the brilliance even of his footnotes wash over you, and see what it does for you. My guess is that the hissing sound-bite Muzak of public and private spaces will never sound the same to you again. Without irony, new possibilities – such as poets like Hopkins, the young Pound, and Auden hoped for – will begin to reveal themselves as surely as the fresh dawn rising. – Paul Mariani

The poet and critic Joseph Bottum has managed to produce something genuinely original and quite brilliant: fine new words for good old tunes. His lyrics breathe vitality into some of our most wonderful folk melodies. – Robert P. George, McCormick Professor, Princeton University

“Make it new!” advised Ezra Pound. That’s exactly what Joseph Bottum has done in this spritely and memorable collection of songs. Looking about American culture today, it’s easy to recoil in gloom. But Mr. Bottum reminds us that we look too partially if we see only the meretricious, superficial, and degraded. There is a new current of vitality coursing through American cultural life, a current that is life- and beauty- and joy-affirming. I offer The Second Spring as Exhibit A in the brief for cultural renewal. Here are songs that elevate, enthrall, and ensorcell. Mr. Bottum has reinvigorated a plump score of traditional tunes with lyrics that Make it New indeed. – Roger Kimball, editor and publisher, The New Criterion

Prima la parola, dopo la musica, goes the old saying – “First the words, then the music.” Or is it the other way around? In any case, they go together like a horse and carriage (words by Sammy Cahn, music by Jimmy Van Heusen). Joseph Bottum has given us bolts of melody, lyrics for tunes old and new. Learn them, sing them – and look forward to this extraordinary writer’s next batch. – Jay Nordlinger, National Review

Joseph Bottum has mixed and shaken three great ingredients to create one of the most stunning publishing events I know of: Twenty-some of the most haunting popular verses of the last four hundred years, given new life in lovely and faithful poems by Bottum himself, and set to (mostly new) music. Sit down at the piano, play them, expand the minds of all who sing along – you will see what I mean. You will tap or stomp your feet, hush, laugh, and shed a tear or two.

This is popular music the way it was meant to be, and actually was, before the secular dreck of today’s shameless record companies! – Michael Novak, journalist, novelist, and diplomat, and the author of more than twenty-five books on the philosophy and theology of culture.

Joseph Bottum is a widely published poet and essayist. A contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and former editor of First Things, he is the author or editor of such books as The Fall & Other Poems and The Pius War. His award-winning essays, poems, and reviews have appeared in newspapers from The Times of London to the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, in magazines from the Atlantic to Commentary and the Wilson Quarterly, and in scholarly journals from the International Philosophical Quarterly to Nineteenth-Century Literature and U.S. Catholic Historian.