Therapy again

Video link (subscribers must click through).

Yeah, I know it’s the wrong time of year, but the music made me do it — that, or else I have what Wallace Stevens called a mind of winter. Encouraged in part by a post by Lucas Green — “poets, poems, and videotape” — in which he argued that poetry is fundamentally an oral art, I wanted to see what would happen if I put more thought into the soundtrack, mixing voice and music in Adobe Audition first, then cutting and splicing video clips to fit. I’d been searching the free music site for something to use in a different poem when I happened across the Sound Sculptures of one daRem, and immediately thought of my old poem “Therapy.” The composer describes her/his five tracks as “Experimental ambient music with a dark, but calm touch. Originally written for use as music for art exhibitions of my father.”

The extended version of “Therapy” includes a prose introduction, haibun-style, but when pondering video possibilties this morning, I couldn’t see how to make that work. Maybe that’s a failure of imagination, and I’m simply too much of a neophyte to know how to switch registers like that and make it work.

I appreciate the dissenting views on the value of music in the comments to my previous video, and I’ll be curious to see if my inclusion of a piece of experimental electronica this time also meets with opposition. My basic goal with poetry soundtracks, I think, is to find pieces that fit the mood I was in when I wrote the poem. One problem, though, is that music with a regular rhythm may conflict with the rhythms in the poem. So it probably makes more sense to search avant-garde classical, electronic, and ambient music — or less-composed soundscapes, if I can find them. (I’d need a dish microphone to gather my own ambient audio, so that probably won’t happen for a while.)

I’m not sure about the effect I gave my voice here. I think that could be better. But the main thing I learned today was that fairly lengthy spaces between stanzas or sentences can work so long as music is present.

Which is good, because I think such spaces are really important to aural comprehension: the main problem most people have with poetry readings is that the words go by too damn fast, at least with poems composed for the page. Modern lyrical poetry is nothing if not dense with layered meanings and images. Slam poetry works, when it works, because it’s not terribly subtle, and because it tends to repeat phrases and ideas, in common with almost all truly oral poetry. But more than once I’ve had the experience of buying a book or chapbook by an outstanding live performer only to find that the energy didn’t translate to the page. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed by lackluster readings from poets whose written work I love. So now I’m wondering: are Lucas and I crazy to dream of a hybrid between the two?


By the way, I apologize to readers on dial-up. I am a learn-by-doing kind of guy and videography is what I want to learn right now, so I’m afraid you’ll probably be seeing a lot more of this kind of blog post.

20 Replies to “Therapy again”

  1. Haunting. Chilly. Beautiful. Love the soundtrack. See… I’m totally inconsistent! I’d agree too about your comment re the wide spacing of lines working only when there’s music or some kind of background soundtrack present.

    1. Thanks for commenting again, and no need to apologize for inconsistency! I used to quote Emerson about that (“A narrow-minded consistency…”) but nowadays tend to prefer Whitman’s lines (“Do I contradict myself? Very well then…”) Either way, one can’t ask for more august company in willful self-contradiction.

  2. I wish I had addressed the matter of slam poetry in my post. BUt good you’ve raised it here: I completely agree with you. For the most part, I find it a poor cousin of both rap and written lyric poetry. It’s very dependent on posturing, on a “fight the power” vibe (nothing wrong with that), and I find that it doesn’t do enough really interesting wordplay nor does it trade in the sorts of ambiguities I go to poetry for. Anyway, it has it’s incredibly good moments, like any art form does.

    As for this piece of yours: I love it. I think it’s great. The footage is outstanding, the music couldn’t be better. The reading’s a little stretched out for me (not the space between phrases, but the phrases themselves), but that’s an aesthetic preference. I’d prefer something more declarative, more clipped. Maybe more gruff? See, I’m playing casting director already…

    Oh, and the poem is a very good one too. Every word fetches water and chops wood, to spooky effect.

    Good work, man.

    1. Thank you. Good feedback on the reading, which was intentionally stretched by slowing it down to 89% of actual speed. I did that before I decided to introduce the spaces, which were partly accidental: each space actually represents a muted portion. I had doubled each phrase, then reversed them for what was supposed to produce a palindromic or translation effect, but the association with allegedly Satanic “backmasking” lyrics was inescapable for me, so I wiped them. Anyway, next time I do this I’ll concentrate on adding space instead of controlling speed.

      As for slam, I don’t feel I know the field well enough to generalize. I do know at least one award-winning slam poet whose work is also terrific on the page: the Chicago poet Patricia Smith. I have her Teahouse of the Almighty. Her latest, Blood Dazzler, about Hurricane Katrina, was a finalist for the National Book Award.

    1. Thanks. Yes, that’s right. I should probably edit the prose introduction over at Shadow Cabinet to include that attribution, which I couldn’t remember when I first wrote the piece. I actually read the story in its original incarnation: a yellowing pulp sci-fi magazine from the late 50s or early 60s. An uncle gifted us with his entire collection of sci-fi magazines when we were kids.

      If I edit this video at some point (which I might, because I think the stream section is one or two seconds too long), I’ll try and remember to put a note crediting Ellison at the end with the other credits.

  3. I love the videos
    and the music does not disconcert me
    but the slowness and over-emphasized
    articulation of your readings
    (and lack of audible passion in your vcalization
    does disconcert me.

    The lack of vocal modulatins
    and the slowness of the enunciation
    in the reading doesn;t match up to the passion
    in the content
    for me

  4. I’ve listened to excessive Monk, and so enjoyed your playing of the spaces. The ticky soundtrack also worked nicely with the susurrus of snow. Trinkle tinkle!

    Thanks for the heads-up on Patricia Smith. I’m opening a new reading room this Summer, and need to sneak some good poetry to those kids currently enamoured of performance.

    I also want to stock that other stealth delivery-system — chapbooks. Suggestions from all would be vastly appreciated. Already have in hand copies of the Sarah Bennett chapbook; her quiet words surely do sink their claws into the brain.

    1. Oh yes, since you’re working with Chicago kids, they definitely need to hear and read Patricia Smith! She’s active on the WOMPO listserv, too, so I’m guessing she’s pretty approachable. You can see some of her performances on YouTube.

      Poetry chapbooks for kids? I’m not sure what to tell you. Except that used bookstores and booksales are good places to get ’em cheap. And I think some of the publishers specializing in chapbooks, such as Finishing Line Press, give discounts if you order several at a time. I’m rather fond of Seven Kitchens Press, too. I’d recommend favorites from my collection, but I doubt very many of them are still in print.

      Thanks for the comments on the video. I like Monk, too, but haven’t listened to him nearly enough.

  5. Hello Dave~ I like that you’re experimenting with videography. You’ve created a somewhat eerie presence with your music choice. But, it works well with the falling snow. Your words are great commingled with both the music/ snow. I think- if you don’t mind me saying- the pausing was a little drawn out otherwise the video poem was great. Keep up the good work. Have a great day.

    1. Hi Michelle – I appreciate your taking the time to write down your reactions. Though the comments here may seem contradictory, each one gives me more of a sense of which things I need to pay attention to next time. So for example although I will probably continue experimenting with pauses, I’ll try to make sure they’re the right length in each distance — a delicate judgement, perhaps, but probably no more so than the kind of judgement that goes into choosing the right words for a poem.

  6. Yes,this time the soundtrack works perfectly with the video images. And the sound is also crisper and clearer. That winter chill goes right through me.

  7. I love this poem alone or as part of the original haibun. The video associations are a lot of fun! The video and the slow speech here give a new, almost baleful feel to the last stanza.

  8. I really must stop by here more often, Dave, you’re doing some great work.

    I like this. The music works very well, suits the mood, words and visuals admirably.

    I think you’re right to question the voice processing though, its immediate effect was to make me think of a horror movie, i.e. maybe a bit *too* eerie.

    1. Hey, thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I’ll have to pay a bit more attention to the quality of the reading next time, and not depend upon special effects to do all the work.

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