I’m in the business of knocking on words. The woodwind words. The bell words. Blowing into the fluty throats of words. Seeing what music they make when rubbed together. Or when I smash them! In the luckiest moments, the words will resonate and hum; the sound waves they make will wobble and stretch harmoniously (or not!) in the ear of the listener: to give that reader a better picture, a clearer image. And from all of that banging and strumming around with words, I hope they’ll hear and feel the poem more, and at best, maybe the poem will dissolve into them—become, like music, like scent, like taste, a part of them. Even momentarily. So the work of the well-made poem will hopefully disappear. Like Bobby Frost’s ice: Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.
In this endeavor, I’ve often felt jealous of one of my other loves: music, in that it seems to have (sometimes) a more direct route to one’s emotional core. How many times have I been shaken by song—that goes beyond or beneath language—straight into the mind, the heart. (Fret not, visual artists, dancers, and others—I’m jealous of you, too.)
So I’m thrilled (and deeply honored) when artists or musicians wish to collaborate or to borrow a poem to use as inspiration for a score. Three times in recent years I’ve been so lucky, to hear how a musician thinks and feels and pens into musical notation what they imagine and hear and feel my poems to be doing between (and from) the words. It’s always a surprise and a delight to hear the final score, and though I can’t read music, to see it notated.
Thanks to Jay Batzner, to Andrew Spencer, to David Biedenbender, to Kennen and Joanna Cowan White–and their collaborators, for letting me hear what they hear between the lines, so to speak. If you’re curious what they’ve made of a few of my poems, check out the MEDIA page, or click around below.
“May Our Young Find Music in All Our Broken Instruments” (from Our Sudden Museum)
(Solo Percussion and Spoken Word. Score by Jay Batzner, performed by Andrew Spencer.)
“Staying the Night” (from Our Sudden Museum)
(Composed for flute and clarinet, by David Biedenbender. Performed by Nicole Molumby, flute and Leslie Moreau, clarinet (Boise State University): 2014 National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors National Conference, St. Louis, MO.)