In the nearing 7 years since the Parlando Project launched we’ve normally celebrated the US National Poetry Month with increased activity. This year that celebration is conflicting with some other factors which are keeping me from a focused plan for NPM. That said, one goal of the #NationalPoetryMonth activity here has been to draw new readers and listeners to what we do. So, it’s probably a good idea to let new eyeballs and ears onto what to expect if they visit our archives of over 650 audio pieces released, pieces featured and expanded on with the nearly 900 posts since we kicked things off in 2016.
You see one motto up in the header of this blog and elsewhere: “The Place Where Music and Words Meet.” I take words — usually not my words, but words their authors likely intended as literary poetry — and combine them with various original music — music that I generally compose, and increasingly often play myself in one-man-band ways.
Sometimes what we mean takes time to discover. How do we relate to something else, the differences, the things similar? That’s a metaphor. Make the metaphor musical, however you do it, and that’s poetry.
A few readers may figure — perhaps even a listener of a stray Parlando piece they see linked somewhere — that there’s a convention, a style I follow when I do this. I hope they’re mistaken. I’ve always intended to not do that. The people that have influenced, or unintentionally given me permission to do what I do, made music and word combinations in different ways.* I try to use all those ways, and hope to stumble on some others. I will sing the words, but just as often chant them, talk-sing them, or resort to a freer, spoken word cadence — thus the origin of my Project’s name.
I try to keep the audio pieces short, almost always less than 5 minutes. I try to keep these blog posts shortish too, less than 1,000 words — and though I sometime fail in keeping those goals, I try to keep my failures in check. And not all the realizations of the words with my music and performance work for everyone, or most, or perhaps anyone. Some of them are even embarrassing to me, but I leave them up in our archives you can see separated into months to the right of this post.
Why do I do this? Manyfold reasons. Some of them? I like the challenge, the variety of verse, the variety of music. I think poetry is musical speech, and making even more of the musical component offers a different way to enter the words for the listener. Consider how you might enter into a song you grow close to, over listens, over time. At first it might be a phrase, riff, or refrain that catches you, or a general tone you feel, but then some new nuance may come to the fore. Or how a song you thought an abstract construction of words can from new experiences, experiences inside or outside of the song, somehow become more realized and concrete.**
This is how poetry lives, it’s the only poetry. Poetry does not live on reputations or silent copies printed, it lives inside you, a single reader or listener, as sound that may eventually saunter up closer in sense. This is what I celebrate all year, and some more so during National Poetry Month.
*Perhaps I’ll write more about, and thank more, those possibility creators this month? To name some of the models for Parlando: Beat poets and their immediate predecessors Rexroth and Patchen reading to music, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, The Fugs, those English lute composers like Campion and Dowland, Tom Rapp, whatever William Butler Yeats planned to do with his bespoke psaltery, Rabindranath Tagore, what alternative hymnal Emily Dickinson was internalizing when she played her Homestead piano, Frank Zappa, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, the American blues poets from Charlie Patton to Gil Scott Heron, Anne Sexton and her rock band, Laurie Anderson and her expansion of Ken Nordine and his “word jazz.” I’m also aware of “art song” — and appreciate both the achievements and the limitations for my purposes of that long established form of combining literary poetry with complex musical settings and melodies using orchestral instruments.
**One of the reasons I trust that you may find these experiences when the poem is carried to you inside a musical environment, and buffered there, is that I very often have had that experience composing and recording the Parlando musical pieces. I start out not sure what a lyric means or thinking I know something of what it means, only to find that there’s an entire other something or somethings there the 5th, 10th, or 20th time through it. The very act of putting the poems words into my mouth illuminates things, the exact question of how to utter them throws light from out of my dark throat.