For Alice Esty,
In Bengal at the Spring Festival
having carved a small boat
out of the fresh wood,
they walk to the river late at night.
It looks like a vast sliding ebony sea,
and each lights a candle,
sets it at the center
of his own vessel,
and pushes it gently out into the water.
Faster and faster it’s carried away,
thousands of lights! lights! lights!
rushing past like a field of flickering stars
drifting over the edge of the waters of the earth
Something in me is about kneeling down
doing that every day.
© Andrew Glaze, 1978, from The Trash Dragon of Shensi
WNYC radio has a 1978 podcast of Glaze reading “Lights”. It is near the beginning of the broadcast:
In the ’70s I worked in Europe as a professional ballet dancer and my father and I exchanged letters regularly. The summer of 1976, I came home to visit and my father showed me a page of hand written sheet music by Ned Rorem. It was a piano accompaniment to his poem “A journey”, with the words “For Alice” scrawled in a corner. He explained that a friend had shown his 1974 booklet “A Masque of Surgery” to a female friend who fell in love with the first poem in the book and commissioned Rorem to put it to music. My father played a tape of the song for me. I had no idea who the soprano was.
Not many years ago, I was looking through The Trash Dragon of Shensi when I turned to the first poem in the book (“Lights”) and noticed it was dedicated to “Alice Esty”. My father had no memory of who she was. So I looked on the internet and discovered she was a soprano who married William Esty, the founder of Esty Advertising, and became a patron of the arts. In particular, she commissioned composers to set poems to music for her to sing. Ned Rorem was a favorite. I realized that she was the “For Alice” mentioned on Rorem’s sheet music for “A Journey”, and it was her voice on the tape that I’d heard in 1976. The logical conclusion was that when his next poetry book came out in 1978 my father decided to dedicate a poem to her as a thank you. When I jogged their memories, my father and stepmom concluded that their link to Alice Esty had been a friend named Walter Perry, from Birmingham. Later, my stepmom remembered that Walter’s wife Julia was the daughter of Alice and William Esty.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, once a year the Perry’s would come North to Manhattan and host a formal dress party of epic proportions. The photo below is from that era.
Walter E. Perry Jr. (left), Adriana Keathley Glaze (center), and Andrew Glaze (right), at one of Walter’s annual formal parties in Manhattan.
Photo property of Andrew Glaze Estate.
— E. Glaze