Settings: On Collaboration, RE-vision, and the Artistic Process

This month, I had the great luck to attend the premier of award-winning composer Jonathan Santore’s choral setting of a group of my poems, collectively entitled, “Smoking, Drinking, Messing Around.” The piece was featured in a larger performance by the New Hampshire Master Chorale, “From Time To Time.”

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This is the second time my colleague and friend has “set” my poems to music for singing, and I consider such setting a gift. Listening to the poems sung by such talented vocalists to music Jonathan composed is a profound gift to me, personally – I get to hear my poems through the artistic ears and imagination of a brilliant composer, which is like hearing them for the first time, or hearing them anew, separate from the composing/revising voice in my own head. When Jonathan “sets” my work, he makes a whole new thing and offers me a new relationship to the poems – to the words, to the emotional colors, to the tone and tempo.

I used to spend more time doing letterpress work (hand-setting lead type to make poetry broadsides), the “setting” of the poems was also an (unintended, but welcome) opportunity to gain new or different access to old/familiar material, especially at the most fundamental level: the letter, the word, and the line. Setting my own poems using this old technology was so inspiring to me that I wrote a poem ABOUT type-setting my poetry! It’s featured HERE.

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These two kinds of experience—hand-setting poems with lead type and having poems set for a chorus— both have me thinking about how a given work is never really finished in the sense of, say, cement “setting.” Even if the author is done with it, a reader will transform the piece in some way. Even if the reader is done with it, she may return years later with experiences or perspectives that transform, again, her (re)reading. Same for the writer. And when another artist enters the conversation, as Jonathan has done with my work, I find that the new work, the un-finishing, the re-liquefying—the work opens new doorways to the poems I thought I was done with, that I thought were done with me.

My collaborations (here’s an EXAMPLE) over twenty years or so with musicians, composers, dancers, and visual artists, as well as with other writers, have taken many different shapes and directions. They have, across the board, been invigorating, educational, and transformative. I’m feeling resolved today to work actively to seek out opportunities to work with and learn from other artists. Just last week, I met with an area songwriter with whom I hope to collaborate/perform in the coming year. I hope that I have afforded and will continue to afford other collaborators the gift (of insight, of RE-vision) that Jonathan and the Master Chorale (and others!) have provided me.

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Leisure, Chores, AWP 2012 in Chicago

Good morning! It’s 11:13AM and a sunny six degrees. After I finish these words, J and I will go haul in wood, and get the woodstove going. Since today is Sunday and tomorrow is a holiday, it will be a good stretch for the woodstove, which we normally don’t run during the week. Also in the offing for today and tomorrow: laundry, cooking, cleaning, pile-sorting, and maybe a movie or two. And I’m going to read the latest APR. And finish reading this book about Foxwoods that tells an interesting tale with about twice as many words as necessary. A good couple of days in the offing and I SHALL NOT WASTE THEM.

At the end of _next_ month, I’ll be heading to Chicago for the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference, where I’ll be on the panel, “Ear Candy: Teaching the Pleasures of Poetic Meter,” with Jeff Oaks, Annie Finch, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, and Tara Betts. Here’s the description:

“Rooted in a diversity of aesthetic and pedagogical perspectives, this panel focuses on the teaching and learning of meter: how, when, and why might one teach meter to young poets? Is teaching meter like teaching other elements of poetic craft and technique? Is meter akin to music or language when it comes to learning and teaching?  How can we help our students sing out rather than slog through? How might activities like scansion, reading aloud, or imitation, help poets develop an ear for meter?”

Unfortunately, our panel is scheduled for Saturday afternoon (tail end of the conference), but I notice (looking at the conference schedule) that we have a pretty unique panel, so I think that helps. I am hoping to catch up with all the usual suspects, and also see some Chicago friends (you know who you are) while I’m in town.

I’ll also be attending a couple of off-site events I wanted to mention — one to celebrate 25 years of publishing by Pecan Grove Press, which published my chapbook Luck, and one for A Face to Meet the Faces, an almost-out anthology of persona poems, including one of my very own. The Pecan Grove Press event will take place on Friday, March 2nd, from 6-8PM, at the Gage Gallery on the campus of Roosevelt University. Here’s a link where you can see the many writers involved. The event to celebrate A Face to Meet the Faces will happen on Thursday, March 1, here. The reading will feature poets Tara Betts, Eduardo C. Corral, Nina Corwin, Matthew Guenette, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Marty McConnell, Tomas Q. Morin, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Patricia Smith, and Brian Turner.

I’ll also, at some point, be at the Slapering Hol Press book fair table signing copies of my first chapbook, A Thirst That’s Partly Mine. Ditto for Pecan Grove Press with Luck. I’ll post days/times when/if I get them. All of this is to say — I look forward to seeing you at one or more of these venues! You can learn more about the conference and bookfair here. The bookfair alone is pretty excellent, and traditionally AWP opens the bookfair to the public on the Saturday of the conference. Totally worth checking out! OK, got to go stoke the fires, all of them.

May 17 Reading at the Lincoln Public Library (NH)

I’m so happy to be giving another reading at the Lincoln, NH Public Library.  I’ll be reading from my chapbook, Luck, as well as a few new poems.  I’m hoping for good q&a and conversation following, and copies of both my chapbooks will be available for sale and signing.  The Lincoln Public Library is on 22 Church Street.  For more information, please call 603-745-8159.

Upcoming Readings and a New Chapbook Forthcoming

In November, I will be featured reader at “Poetry Night” at the Moultonborough Public Library (Nov. 3, 7:30, Library Meeting Room).  I’ll read work from my chapbook, “A Thirst That’s Partly Mine.”  Copies will be available for sale/signing at the reading.  Looking ahead a bit, I’m very excited to be doing two (two!) readings in Portsmouth, a town with the most vibrant literary scene you could ask for.  I’ll be reading with Paul Rogalus as a part of the Stone Pigeon series at Breaking New Grounds on January 11, and will also be reading as a part of Beat Night at The Press Room on January 21.  By January I will probably have a new chapbook available as well — it’s called “Luck,” and it’s forthcoming from Pecan Grove Press.  Stay tuned.

AVA Gallery Poetry Reading and Gallery Talk

Visual Artist Liz D’Amico and Poet Liz Ahl discuss their collaborative work, which is part of the larger group show, “Fairy Tales, Myths, and Legends,” at the AVA Gallery and Art Center, running through September 12th.  Our reading/talk will take place on Wednesday, September 2 from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm.

Here’s a link to driving directions:

http://tiny.cc/5WDKL

And here’s the gallery/show:

http://www.avagallery.org/exhibitingartists0509.html

Charlottesville Bound

I’m really excited to be headed down to Charlottesville, VA, this week to visit the University of Virginia Young Writers Workshop.  I was a student in this program many moons ago (my first summer there I was 13 years old), and had the great luck to meet a bunch of kids my age also interested in writing poetry.  Later, I was an instructor in the program.  I’m going to be giving a reading on Thursday night with songwriting instructor, outstanding musician, and former poetry student of mine, Andrew Rose Gregory.  Friday, I’ll get to work with the young writers in the poetry workshops, and co-teach an elective with my dear friend (met her at the workshop years ago), poet and Charlottesville native Ann Hudson.  Friday night, I’ll enjoy seeing The Real Jane Martin (also Workshop-connected) at Maya, and then Saturday I’ll attend the annual workshop banquet.  I haven’t been to Charlottesville in nearly ten years. Wonder how that will feel.