The record I’ve been waiting for

In 1978 I heard the record that made me hungry: An American Prayer, the posthumous release of some of Jim Morrison’s poems with sound collage and musical backing by the surviving members of the Doors. Some people hate it. Some love it. To me it doesn’t matter if it was good or bad: the important fact is that it changed my expectations of what can and should be done with poetry.

Since then it’s been pretty bleak. You ever see those nature films with the animals wandering the Serengeti with nothing to eat or drink, yet they must keep moving or they’ll die: that’s how I feel about recordings of poetry and music. There have been sporadic recordings throughout the years by artists who don’t feel the need do whole albums or multiple albums of poetry (for instance, Hawkwind and Laurie Anderson might come to mind).

And of course there’s Brian Eno and Rick Holland’s collaboration Drums Between the Bells.

While checking out what was going on in the world of Istvan Peter B’Racz, probably looking for something of his to listen to, I noticed he was following someone called Farewell Poetry. Of course I had to find who or what they are.

Of course I had to buy the CD/DVD once I heard “As True as Troilus”.

Listen while you read on:

September, 2011 Gizeh Records released Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite by Farewell Poetry. This is the record that has given me hope. (I think Drums Between the Bells will make more waves and influence more people, both artists and consumers, leading to more recordings of music and poetry combined—which gives me hope that there’s a future for the genre.) This is the record I’ve been waiting for almost 35 years, and because of this I have hope that beautiful records of a sort I long to hear will still be made.

I’m won over by Jayne Amara Ross’ poetry and voice (Ross is also a filmmaker and the second disc is video). I’m won over by painfully beautiful music, a mixture of sweetness and noise building to multiple crescendos and final collapse.…I feel totally inadequate to describe anything about these recordings: just listen to them. That’s all I want you to do: listen to these recordings. I can’t get my fill.

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Lapkat

Lapkat disagrees with me…that there isn’t much recorded poetry with music out there. She should know, she’s been pursuing the subject for about 20 years and shows a commitment to it that I find humbling.

The disagreement is based on a difference of interpretation of “poetry”, or on the need to restrict the verbal content to poetry in the traditional sense, and on our differing perceptions of availability. As a fan of music, literature, art in all its forms, I’m in agreement with her: there is so much creativity out there, in so many shapes and forms, so much worthy of our time and attention, that you just have to keep your eyes and ears and mind open. And she’s right, it really is out there.

Sometimes I fixate on something and don’t want to move on. Sometimes I insist on being a pinhead. In this one little area, in this one part of my life, I am very small minded and old fashioned. Instead of clinging to an imaginary America-past or to some outdated moral code or carhops on roller skates, my conservative streak clings to wanting to hear a living equivalent of Milton or Baudelaire or Plath or Eliot or Rilke or Roetke set to a beat or a field recording or a piano sonata or cascades of electronic noise. I want to hear poets working with musicians. I want to hear poets stretching their possibilities as creators to make noises of their own, into broadening their exploration of sound. This goes back to my experiences with Jim Morrison and the Doors’ An American Prayer. I want something that’s obviously poetry, verbalized, heard, taken off the page and brought into time, into the movement of time, and combined with any and all possible sounds. (Why am I so open to sound but not to word?)

The other issue is availability. She’s absolutely right: it is out there. But where? How hard do you have to dig? Why can’t you just log on to Amazon.com or stop in at your neighborhood record store (is there still such a thing?) to search for this art? (We still don’t have a name for it.) The people making this art are too isolated, too far underground, ignored by the press and record labels, that we’re often under the illusion that we’re the only ones making this kind of art.

I’ve stated my arguments, now I want to leave the rest to Lisa (to the cyber world she’s Lapkat but in the world of the flesh she’s Lisa Greenaway of Melbourne, Australia). I’m going to add one of her wonderful sets from soundcloud.com, quote extensively from an email, and again direct you to her excellent blog. If you’re on a narrow pursuit like I am you might find her blog a little difficult and distracting. If you’re looking for leads on great music and spoken word it’s still distracting but in a completely rewarding way. When I’m that rare person of leisure I love browsing her postings.

While you’re listening to this wonderful set, these are some words from an email exchange we had in June, 2012:

It’s a great journey you’re going on, there is a huge global scene out there, of poets and storytellers working with music, I’ve been doing it myself alongside many many artists in Australia, for around 20 years.
Do you know Going Down Swinging? http://goingdownswinging.org.au (I edited it for 5 yrs – international literary and spoken word journal – publishes cds of spoken word with every issue). Rattapallax in the USA – have you heard the United States of Poetry CD (early 90s)? Route publishing in the UK … Cordite publishes audio works online regularly …
Spoken word is the general term covering all this work, coined in the early 90s to distinguish storytellers working with/without music from ‘performance poetry’ and the Beats (though naturally the beats worked with music – following on from Ken Nordine (you know his ‘Colours’ album?), spoken word took it in different directions away from jazz into other musical forms and away from only being ‘poetry’ to cover storytelling). From Laurie Anderson… through to these days folks like Ian Ferrier (Canada), Mark Gwynne Jones (UK), Derrick Brown (USA – Write Bloody Publishing) Shane Koyczan (Canada .. he performed live at the Commonwealth games opening ceremony) … so many amazing artists producing work with music.
Slam poetry scene in the USA has kicked the form into a whole new gear – it crosses over with hip hop of course
In Australia, Sean M Whelan (works with Isnod, also had a poetry music band for years), Ghostboy, many more (get yourself some Going Down Swingings! No.25 we did a double CD edition of works from around the world, No.30 a couple of years ago has 2 CDs as well – lots and lots of poetry/music fusions on there again from around the globe)

…it seems to ignore this enormous and longstanding form of art … I just don’t think it’s correct to say it’s not out there. It really is. It might still be ‘underground’ but not far underground these days.
Anyway as I say it’s a great journey and there is a wealth of material out there so I know you’re in for some amazing discoveries!
Myself I’m working with poetry in many different languages right now, in my DJ project so I’m also discovering many poets around the world doing this from many cultures and languages – the blog at lapkat.com chronicles my own journeys and discoveries.

I consider her blog essential to the adventure I’m on. I hope both you and I can make more time to read her postings and follow her links.

 

How Statements by Eno, Mark Goodwin, and David McCooey Led to the Creation of This Blog

My interest in the fusion of poetry and music has often seemed dormant: all the years waiting for something to come along, waiting for some of the big names to embrace the opportunity of creating something relatively new and unfamiliar; all the years I spun my wheels trying to figure out how to make this kind of art myself; years thinking no one else was interested in such an art, or thinking of it as a secret cabal in New York or London or Berlin (places where they might take poetry seriously, but not so seriously it couldn’t be polluted by pop music). Even after finding a few of my kind on soundcloud.com it didn’t feel like enough. But I drifted along without working very hard to find more.

When the Sept/Nov 2011 issue of TapeOp (No. 85) arrived in my mailbox I noticed that they had an interview with Brian Eno. That could be interesting. It was. It was very enjoyable and informative and interesting until I read a sidebar on page 44, two questions regarding a recent collaboration between Eno and poet Rick Holland, Drums Between the Bells. Words to me that were devastating, since they suggested I was right that there isn’t much out there: “The whole process was a little like alchemy for both of us since we were working in a form that doesn’t really have much of a history.”

Of course I ordered the CD.

I also wrote to TapeOp (probably the first of the two actions). My hope was that it would be published and that I’d be led to a hidden treasure of music and poetry. (I really want to thank editor Larry Crane for publishing that one (it appears I have a reputation for writing often). It led to some interesting and rewarding responses, mainly of people introducing me to their own work.)

First, I’ll quote myself, repeating in full the letter I sent: “The interview with Brian Eno was the most enjoyable I’ve read in TapeOp, and I’ve read almost all of them. I want to thank you for the discussion of Drums Between the Bells, his collaboration with poet Rick Holland. As Eno said, “We were working in a form that doesn’t really have much of a history.” I hope it’s a form that has a future. Ever since I received Jim Morrison’s poetry set to music, An American Prayer, for Christmas in 1978 I’ve wanted to hear more of poetry and music combined. I’ve come across so little. Is there a gold mine out there I’m missing? Are people making something of poetry and music and I just don’t know where to look? Maybe once again the ripple effect from Eno’s splash will wash something up in a decade or two.”

Before I go any further with the responses I got to this letter to TapeOp, I’d like to add a couple tracks from Eno and Holland.

First of all, a guy named Steve sent me some information about Jack Kerouac reading with a jazz band on the Steve Allen Show, as well as an attachment of one of the performances. Interesting. I still need to follow where else this could lead, what’s in print and available.

Then I received an email from Brad Fiedler with a link to Shive Records and his collection of recordings called Typer Tapes #1. This is definitely worth your time. It reminded me of early Tom Waits and the Marlow stories of Raymond Chandler, with kind of a gritty street feel and a weird jazziness, but most of all reminded me of the Beat poets.

The third was someone named Bobby with a slightly confusing pointer to Listener. I liked what I heard but haven’t been back for more.

The fourth contact, a guy named Evan, recommended an EP by Sigur Rós, Rimur. Maybe some day it will be easily and affordably available.

Another gem was a message followed by a CD-R from Christopher Libertino. He’s known for his Alien Guitars loop discs and many soundtracks. You’ll also find some wonderful songs at his website. What grabbed me were the six recordings on the CD he sent, called Schism (three of which are posted on SoundCloud) of his poetry and sound design (and artwork). Here are two of them:

Yet another wonderful lead came from Wren Curtis regarding the work he and his brother have been doing with poet Lynn Martin. From a recent email: “We absolutely never rehearse – Lynn gives my brother the set list and a very brief overview as to the mood of the poem(s) about a week before a gig, my brother gives me a setlist 5 mintutes before we play with nothing but the title of the poem and a key, and off we go.” This is very different from how many of us work, alone in our private studios/bedrooms/garages, laying down one track at a time. I often forget about the performance side of things.

On the heels of that email was a message from saxophonist Hal McMillen, alias ThinMan-Studios, with a link to a track he and a friend had done, called Next Life. He came the closest to introducing me to the gold mine I was seeking, a place I’d already been: soundcloud.com.

The final message message was from Steven, who writes Christian-themed songs in a folk/alternative style. I agreed with him that poetry has long been associated with music in the form of song lyrics and that it’s possible poems were originally sung not spoken but that I’m still interested in spoken poetry. (I also think I offended him when I pointed out that I am an atheist and much of my writing is hostile to religion.)

That last message arrived the same day my younger daughter was hit by a car (many scrapes and bruises, a chipped thumb bone, and several broken metatarsals, the outermost being shattered and requiring a long convalescence—but, considering the possibilities, relatively minor injuries). That is, I stopped paying attention to poetry and music for several months.

My interest resumed in April when Mark Goodwin sent me a link to an essay by David McCooey, Fear of music: Sounded poetry and the “poetry soundtrack”. David had also come to the conclusion that what we are doing is hard to find and poorly documented, though he has also shown that we are not at an absolute beginning, that others have been here before. An interview of Mark Goodwin on the subject of Digitally Produced Audio Poetry also confirmed this (“I now have a problem – where do I send this stuff? (Any ideas will be gratefully received!) I’ve surfed the internet standing on my sore ears and as yet I’ve found very little out there that is quite like the stuff I’m producing”, to quote Mark).

Those two pieces, McCooey’s essay and Goodwin’s interview, left me in a very unsettled state. It made me start thinking that I need to do like Larry Crane when he founded TapeOp, not finding the information he was looking for (and certainly another way in which TapeOp led to the creation of this blog). Once I decided there needs to be some sort of publication on the subject and no one was offering to take it on, after a week’s poor sleeping, after researching the details of creating a blog (wordpress versus blogger or blogspot), after concluding that it doesn’t matter if I don’t have time for it…here it is.

We make the art as best we can, when we can (since it doesn’t pay), adding to the repertoire; airing it as we can, getting small attention via podcasts and community radio but primarily by posting on soundcloud.com. At soundcloud.com poetry groups have been formed. Mark is constantly browsing and recruiting for Air to Hear. We try to connect with friends and strangers.

And we create blogs.