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.