Today’s audio piece marks the 200th published by the Parlando Project! Since presenting our first piece, Carl Sandburg’s “Stars Songs Faces” back in 2016, we’ve combined words (mostly poetry) with original music as varied as we can make it. Those who’ve followed along know that the words we use are generally written by others, because that lets me encounter them, as I hope you do too, freshly, to discover what charms they have.
Not only does the music vary, but how we present the words varies too. Sometimes we sing the words, sometimes we just speak them, sometimes we chant or intone them.
Through this past couple of years, Dave Moore has been the alternate reader here, and I expect that you enjoy the break from my voice once in awhile (as I do). For today’s 200th piece, and for April’s National Poetry Month, I’m pleased to present Marianne Moore’s “Poetry” read, not by me, but by the “Lake Street Writer’s Group,” a small group of usually poets who’ve met since the 1970s. The first voice you’ll hear is poet, musician, and comics artist Dave Moore again, the second is poet and writer Ethna McKiernan and the third is poet Kevin FitzPatrick, who has the honor of having the latest book published by a member of the group, “Still Living in Town”.
It was my idea to ask them to read Marianne Moore’s poem, since Moore herself breaks her poem up into various voices, not only from abrupt changes in diction but with the use of quotes. My thought was the changing voices would emphasize the poem’s stance of speaking for poetry’s audience.
I broke this on the group of poets cold, and they are reading the poem off a page I gave them, which divided “Poetry” up in small beats and phrases of the poem. Remarkably—well, maybe not all that remarkably, Dave, Ethna, and Kevin are all excellent readers of their own poetry—what you hear is one take, just as they read it, just as they handed it off verbally from one to the other around a room. They had no musical backing to hold their cadence, only Marianne Moore’s words. I wrote, played, and recorded the music later: drums, bass, guitar, and piano.
What I hear coming out of this is the same thing I aim for often here. Just as you are encountering the poem’s words freshly, as they hit your ears, the performers are doing the same. Sure, we may have heard or read the poem before, but it’s another’s voice, happening now, that is conveying it to you. We use music with the words here, and with the other Parlando Project pieces, for several reasons: it reminds us that poetry is musical speech, that poetry works in its sounds, its rhetorical flow, and the harmony of imagery like music; and because it offers the option to relax the cause of the words meaning.
There’s one missed word in the trio’s cold reading. I won’t tell you where that is, because it’s beautiful in its accident. When I’m improvising melodic lines freely, I except that I’ll need to deal with “wrong” notes, musically creating (to vary Moore’s famous line) “imaginary gardens with real clams in them.”