Sadly, there are few poetry recordings released in Canada, with or without musical accompaniment. One of the early tapes I heard was a Galiano Island compilation called Rage for Order: Poems with Music (1989) in which Rene Mahlow and guests recited poems from Christopher Dewdney to Robert Bringhurst with other poems from American and International poets, accompanied by the guitarist Brad Prevedoros. A terrific initiative I listened to for many years. In the US and Britain, recording poets from TS Eliot to WH Auden and Dylan Thomas to Marianne Moore was more common but in Canada, apart from a few websites dedicated to preserving the voices of Canadian poets like Authors Aloud http://authorsaloud.com/poetry/owen.html, there is little out there recorded on CD or otherwise. In 2000, I collaborated with Vancouver musician Krisananda Mitchell to create our CD, CUSP, poems from my later book, Cusp/detritus (Anvil Press, 2006), featuring poems I recited to a range of his instrumentation on everything from an old bucket to a complex synthesizer. So I know a little about the tricky and delicious process of working with a musician to bring poetry to the ear in a unique and compelling way. The collaboration between poet Daniela Elza and musician Soressa Gardner on this CD is certainly that, and a tribute to the beauty to be found in two visions of aurality coalescing.
What Shines: This six track CD, recorded in a home studio, and featuring poems from Elza’s book “milk tooth bane bone” (Leaf Press 2013) with Gardner’s synthesized magic, is sweetly clear and resonant. The journey begins moodily, with medieval resonance, Elza’s vocalization poised and water-drop luminous. Intense convergences build tenderly, beginning with Track 2: “The snowflake: a case study” (wonderful title!). Tracks 3 “at.tension” & 4 “pulling the morning out of the water” are the most powerful pieces, infused with Gardner’s exquisite singing, haunting the background of Elza’s corvid evocations, & striated with crow calls. “Where we are dark thought/perched in the tree of dreams” are lovely lines as are, in the last titular track, “the light in your eyes/ has taken years to reach me.” The video of Crow Morphologies, shot by Tara Flynn, that emerged from this initial collaboration, is also stirring: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnSCoa_HYh0. It’s wonderful when poets can stay poets while working with musicians and film makers and not feel they have to write pop songs or juggle jellybeans on fire to engage effectively with an audience.
What Stumbles: These days, confidence is so low relating to an audience for CDs that it is hard to muster up the confidence (or finances!) to pay attention to how the CD itself looks. Elza & Gardner thus just simply burned the CD, inked it with title/artist information and encased it in an origami-style wrapper. I can only imagine how gorgeous it could have been given funds and hope. The geek in me would like to have had the instruments and gear utilized listed on the back.However, the romantic in me preferred the tracks featuring more organic sounds and especially the human voice. Thus, I had the most resistance to Tracks 5 & 6 where electronic sounds prevailed, especially when Elza’s voice was robotically echoed, and particularly in the line “my experiment in freedom” which would have been far more potent with only the mellifluous twinnings of melody and recitation reverberating. The tonalities are so focused up to that point and the images remain so, that the insertion of a more electronic modus jars the listener. I am all for variety but this CD needed to honour its consistency right until the end. Otherwise, a most beautiful experiment I hope continues to flower.
What it Echoes: Ryan Livingstone’s encaustic crows, Bjork’s Pagan Poetry, Gifts of the Crow by John Marzluff and Tony Angell, Hildegard von Bingen’s plainchant music, Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) 🙂