Poetry, Readings/Events, Uncategorized

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.”

18839534_10154743987476608_2226213463719211691_o

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.

KHNAndNebraska 081

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.

Advertisements
Uncategorized

Scratching, Eating, Sleeping

What is it that feels so good about having written a poem? How to describe that satisfaction, even when the poem itself is just a draft, still needs some obvious work? I brainstorm metaphors to try to pin it down — scratching an itch, eating a good meal, getting a good night’s sleep. It’s like scratching an itch because, after having written, I’ve attended to something that was nagging at me, something that wanted my attention. I have soothed and quieted the nagging thing. It’s like eating a good meal because there was something empty that got filled, but not just with junk. With something delicious. It’s like getting a good night’s sleep because there’s a clarity at the end of it, a sense of being ready for the (rest of the) day, a pair of clear eyes. A vigor. I’ll bet I could come up with another three metaphors, and another, and another. I’ll bet if I really kept track of it, I’d find that the nature of the satisfaction of completing a poem varied from poem to poem, or maybe across the “lifespan” of my poet-life. The “goodness” of poem-writing is dazzling in its variety. Writing a poem is like pruning the lilac. Like taking out all the trash, every scrap of it, even from the basement. Like making love. Like getting drunk. Like getting sober. Writing a poem feels so good.