Today we are pleased to feature poet Ephraim Scott Sommers as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this brief interview, Ephraim discusses his life as a poet and as a singer/songwriter, and how each endeavor creatively informs the other.
While Ephraim grew up in a musical household, he said that he “didn’t really think about being in a band until I turned 18,” when he formed the group known as Siko with other musically inclined friends. He admits that he originally “was way far behind in his musicianship”, but that through years of dedication and hard work, he was able to “create something…from nothing” and craft many memorable experiences.
Speaking on the interrelationship of poetry and music, Ephraim states that “he came to lyricism and to poetry writing through music.” He elaborates that “what really drew me to poetry at first was the sound of words,” and that this inspired him to “try to tell stories in a musical way” through his pieces. In light of this, he expresses his interest in the lyric tradition of people like Dante and Virgil, who are “singing you a story” through their poetic work.
You can read another interview with Ephraim, “The Funeral Pyre of Poetry,” in Issue 19 of Superstition Review.
Roosevelt Row will be having First Friday ARTS Market on the first friday of every month from 6:00-10:00 pm
Roosevelt Row Arts District is a walkable, creative district in the urban core of downtown Phoenix that is nationally known for its arts and cultural events, award-winning restaurants, galleries, boutiques and live music. RoRo is fostering an urban renewal with rehabilitated bungalows and new infill projects. The Arts District connects downtown Phoenix to historic neighborhoods including Garfield, Evans Churchill, F.Q. Story, Willow, Roosevelt, Historic Roosevelt and Grand Avenue.
The Artists’ District connects downtown Phoenix to historic neighborhoods including Garfield, Evans Churchill, F.Q. Story, Willo, Roosevelt, Historic Roosevelt and Grand Avenue. Roosevelt Row begins at 7th Avenue and extends east to 16th Street. On the north side it begins at Interstate 10 and extends south to Fillmore Street.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Roosevelt Row has been a vital mixed use area from the earliest days of the establishment of Phoenix. Many of the concrete sidewalks in the neighborhood were poured in 1909, three years before Arizona officially became the 48th State. In the early 1940s, when there were approximately 30,000 people living in Phoenix, numerous businesses were established along Roosevelt Street. The flower shop at Fifth Street and Roosevelt has been in continuous operation since 1948.
In the 1970s, parts of the area were re-zoned as a high-rise incentive district leading to land speculation and a decline of the neighborhood that lasted until the late 1990s.
The blighted area was attractive to artists because the boarded-up buildings and former crack houses were affordable for studio and gallery space. The arts were a major factor in the revitalization of the area and crime rates plummeted as more people began to venture into the area to experience the cultural vibrancy.
The corridor is re-emerging as one of the most dynamic areas in downtown phoenix and a valued cultural resource in the metropolitan region and the state.
Royse Contemporary is so excited to present “The Sound of Color” by mixed-media artist Rafael Navarro, opening on Thursday, October 19. The exhibit will showcase art inspired by music (and musical instruments themselves) in a variety of mediums including painting, mixed-media, and sculpture.
Navarro shares, “I prefer to communicate visually, in a poetic manner, making similarities in the creation of life, music, and art.” Nicole Royse also reveals, “what I love most about Navarro’s work is his keen eye for details, the strong imagery he depicts and the stories each piece tells.”
The opening reception will be from 5pm to 10pm on October 19, but the exhibit will be on display until November 4. It is at the Royse Contemporary Gallery, which you can find at 7077 E. Main Street, Suite 6, Scottsdale, AZ 85251.
The opening will be a part of the Scottsdale ArtWalk in Old Town Scottsdale. Nicole Royse, the owner and curator, will give a brief talk about the artist and work featured in the exhibition; guests will also have the chance to meet the artist. For more information about the exhibition, check out the official press release or visit Royse Contemporary’s website.
Today we are pleased to feature author Steven Faulkner as our Authors Talk series contributor. Steven’s podcast is a unique treat: he has recorded his nonfiction piece from Issue 14 with guitar accompaniment. Steven’s voice blends with the lull of the guitar to create a truly moving work of art. His essay reflects on the life of his youngest child, Alex, as he grows up. Steven begins by describing Alex’s birth and ends when Alex “is 22 years old” and “[h]is father and mother have little influence,” with many anecdotes to fill the time in between.
Steven Faulkner is the author and reader. John Hogge is the guitarist, and John Holloway is the audio engineer.
Data-saturation as an aesthetic practice emerged from the late 20th-century media practice of working with partitions, fragments, multi-samples, and frames, (exemplified by the commercial advertisement, the audio loop, the film montage, the remix, and so forth). Current advances in editing software have enabled the fragmentation of any digital file to occur down at the levels of the tiniest pixel, frame, or multisample. For Deleuze, the montage was a means of releasing the appearance of linear and sequential time from the movement-image, that is to say that editing imbued film with the illusion of a linear timeline. In terms of audio applications, Karlheinz Stockhausen generated entire soundscapes from singular patterns of electronic pulsations; utilizing these cyclic pulse-patterns as material that could be subsequently transposed to other frequencies of any duration; this action resulted in the creation of singular timbres within his compositions Gesang der Jünglinge and Kontakte. Today, in our cultural wasteland, which is littered with moving images and audio, a wasteland literally saturated with infinite variegations of data and their technological transformations; this state has enabled the artist to rupture with past forms, conceptions, and materials in the creation of an artwork.
Traditionally, the creator of a work of art has implemented a top-down design; the creator defined the whole shape of a work of art beforehand, then began partitioning the work off into smaller sequences, movements, or edits. The privilege with which technology has gifted the contemporary cross-disciplinary artist is the ability to work from the bottom-up, rather than from the top-down. This is not to say that the artist is only just now blessed with the ability to work with the conception of an isolated fragment of a larger image (for example, a flower petal that would ultimately belong to a field of flowers) or an analogous fragment in any other discipline (a word, or a harmonic interval, a close-up, etc.); with the aid of modern developments in software, the artist can now begin working with not only the frame or partition as a generative material, but this is the initial detail that will eventually reveal the form of the whole working. Beginning with a kernel of some type (a series of pulsations, a shot, a number sequence, or any other raw data) the artist can implement a bottom-up design paradigm; which means creating the micro-details of a work of art firsthand. After individual components are built from scratch, so to speak, these can be unified under the umbrella of a larger creative conception; with multiple creations being unified further into a specific body of work.
This would inevitably lead to, and in some disciplines it already has lead to the development and normalization of a type of aesthetic hebephrenia. This hebephrenic state is beyond the abstractions of modernism and the integration of pop culture in postmodernism (both of which have concerned themselves with beginning from a preconceived whole and then working down to the last finished detail of a work). Working from raw data will almost always lead to chance, or at least unintentional juxtapositions of imagery, sounds, and symbols; all organized with the aid of computing technology. What we are currently witnessing as a culture is that inevitable decline of the artist as an exponent of a singular and clear-cut style of expression in one particular medium; and the inevitable reassignment of the role of the artist to that of a producer of cross-disciplinary statements and non-statements, each with their own singularity of form and content. The traditional approach of working within the framework of the preconceived formulation of a definitive narrative structure, or within the limitations of a hierarchy of elements, has now passed into obsolescence. What needs to be explored is the emergence of a singularity within the actual creator, who can now serve cross-disciplinary roles within herself (author, composer, visual artist, computer programmer, and so on). In fact, the trend towards collaborative effort is not the signifier of the emergence of a new art futurism; this collective effort is an indication of the saturation point of obsolete modes of production cross-pollinating between creative disciplines. The banal progression typical of outmoded production, from concept and form down to partitioning and sequencing; and the final procession towards the arrangement of objects within those prefabricated partitions and sequences (the forms of which, in a sense, already exist and are often immediately recognizable to the spectator or consumer) has become obsolete in the sense that contemporary art has become another matter of flirtation and seduction occurring within the limiting confines of socio-economic and socio-political trends, concerning itself only with the conveyance of a message to consumers, rather than a matter concerned with the exploration of aesthetics and forms. The arts (writing, music, theater, film, and visual art) have become the desperate moral expression of a society of consumers suffocating in the climate of their own decline. Working with data-saturation allows art to return to a purity of aesthetics, unfettered by the sociopolitical issues of our day while still retaining social integrity.
In terms of aesthetics and form, there is a lesson to be learned from Stockhausen’s concept of the morphology of time. Stockhausen’s utilization of microcosmic time-structures that reflect the macrocosmic whole of a work is something that needs to be revisited in a cross-disciplinary aesthetic environment. One revolutionary capability of computing technology is that of data bending; a radically inclusive utopia of interchange and manipulation of file formats that occurs between audio, visual, and text editing software. The results of the data bend are often unpredictable and serendipitous; however, the process of data bending reveals the nature of code and computing technology, which is that the machines are functioning in a universe of pure abstraction, which is an alien reality of form and concept for humankind, and it is humanity that has superimposed the sensate inventions of text, image, audio, video and the accompanying social rules of those playing fields over the raw data of the indifferent machines. Stockhausen recognized the potential for working from kernels, with formulas and their variables; the next step in aesthetic evolution would involve crossing the streams between artistic disciplines at both the microcellular and macrocosmic levels, allowing a fragment of data to become an image file, an audio file, a video, and so forth.
This type of work goes beyond the mere mixture of media or the act of transferring the structure of one medium to another; what needs to be explored in addition to the crossing of disciplines is the mixing of forms. The contemporary mixing of forms would involve the mixture of individual approaches to aesthetic criteria and formulations of aesthetic criteria; which would extend beyond the mere radical juxtaposition of genre that was seen in postmodernist music, such as ‘hip-hop’ with microtonal serialism. A mixed-form work of cross-disciplinary art could include a composition generated from serialist theory and aleatoric operations applied to a series of miniatures for typical hip-hop instrumentation of turntable and digital sampler; this composition would serve as the score to a stop-motion animated film made from sequentially applied glitches and edits of stills generated from original 2D and 3D art as source material. One could then take the score a step further by re-editing the material for digital sampler with sound material culled from the procedure of data bending the images into waveforms. The resultant narrative would be of no importance due to its inevitable nonexistence and irrelevance; what would be significant would be the mixture of audio processing and mathematical forms with chance forms; juxtaposed with the electronic forms of stop-motion animation and glitch; and the forms of traditional media such as painting, drawing, and sculpture; all of which could be further integrated into a larger whole, designed with the utilization of a bottom-up paradigm.
Working with the saturation of data would enable the artist to treat all elements as an infinite series placed inside a vacuum, subject to endless mangling and manipulation and distortion and abstraction; resulting in a complete aesthetic promiscuity; radical in its inclination towards the negation and obliteration of conventional narrative and rational forms of social discourse; leading towards the eventual implementation of a simulation that could blur the hypothetical boundaries between hyperreality, mythologies and traditional and iconoclastic forms. The beauty of data saturation is its relative freedom and accessibility, which makes a contradiction of rendering everything and nothing as its own instrument, its own frame, its own image, its own sound, its own emotion, its own experience, its own obscenity, its own intrusion, and its own grotesqueness; with the requirement that it is first reduced to code, reduced to a pure state of abstract nullity or abstract validity, rendered completely void of the social.
Well howdy, readers! This afternoon, Superstition Review is glad to announce that past contributor Darrin Doyle, who was featured in the Interviews section of our 8th issue (which can be read here) and the Fiction section of our 16th issue (which can be read here), has recently released the first album from his rock/folk/karate trio Daryl & the Beans, titled Burnin’ the Eagle, which can be purchased here. The album itself is $8, and all proceeds from the sale of this record go to funding a scholarship for students in the Creative Writing program at Central Michigan University. If you’re so inclined, feel free to up the proverbial ante and pitch a few extra bucks toward this wonderful cause when you purchase the album! Do yourself, and the students of Central Michigan University, a huge favor and purchase Burnin’ the Eagle.
Who doesn’t want to feel exhilaration, even transformation, during their creative writing process? Often when we are writing alone we get trapped in our own obsessions, verbal tics, repetitive images, “go-to” metaphors; and sometimes we just come up empty. Perhaps we can enhance our creative process by allowing another artist to speak into our imaginative space. Yes, it often feels risky but the rewards can be great.
I am speaking of the practice of ekphrasis, a conversation between and among two or more art forms. Working within an ekphrasis framework, some poets are using visual art, music, photography as well as mathematics, philosophy and physics to enhance their creative process and transform their finished work.
Ekphrasis can be viewed as an active, rapid interchange of the unexpected. It requires an attitude of openness and vulnerability. Ekphrasis courts the unanticipated.
My own experience with ekphrasis involves working with visual artists and musicians, some of whom I collaborated with for more than 10 years. When I first began working this way, my initial responses were nervousness and fear. I didn’t know how my collaborators would receive my work—or if they would understand my vision—or if they would try to impose something on my imaginative space that would feel false and intrusive. And I was also afraid that I would do the same thing to them! However, mid-way through my first collaborative project, what I discovered was that my fears were unfounded. In fact, my collaborators affirmed my poetic vision and enhanced my process by offering unexpected but thoughtful and useful suggestions about my work. Their reactions to my process and to poems allowed me to “think bigger” about my whole body of work. They saw things in me and my work that I could not otherwise see.
Significantly, I learned the approach to ekphrasis projects often centered upon these two dynamics:
Focus on structure or form
Focus on theme or content (essence)
I have worked with artists on numerous ekphrasis projects. However, I collaborated with two artists far more than any others.
With visual artist Beth Shadur, I have worked for more than 10 years on a multitude of artistic adventures. Beth founded and curates the Poetic Dialogue Project (for which I am the poetry curator), an ongoing project pairing visual artists with poets to make collaborative work. Its exhibitions have traveled nationally and internationally.
During our collaborations, Beth and I would often talk about how the “rhythms” and “structures” in a particular visual art piece matched the rhythms and structures of a particular poem. For example, here is Beth’s work “Witness,” which she created in response to my anti-war poem “Bougainvillea and TV.” If you look closely at this painting, you can see part of my poem and my name embedded on the palms, in the upper left hand corner of the picture. My poem is written in free verse with short lines followed by longer stanzas. Beth’s work has similar rhythms of color. My poem ends with the lines: “Now I know I will never understand a thing./The world talks only to itself./Rain to War. Child to dirt/Bougainvillea and TV.” Notice all Beth’s multi-cultural symbols of peace alongside the embedded image of the child lying in the dirt, which is a response to those lines. Both the poem and the visual art retain their own integrity but each is clearly “in conversation” with the other.
Beth explains the transformative power embedded in the ekphrasis framework that she heard from her many Poetic Dialogue Project collaborators:
“Poets mentioned experimenting and working outside their own comfort zone to create new ideas and forms for their work, while artists who had never considered text as part of their work found ways to integrate the poet’s voice. The ongoing dialogue offered each creator the opportunity to witness and effect the creation of ‘the other’, respond, communicate, argue, compromise, and sometimes, to change or overcome difficulties. In making collaborative work, each individual brought his or her strength to the paired collaboration, allowing each contribution to be weighed and valued, given critical consideration, as the pair moved to develop solutions to the creative process as a team. In some cases, the collaborative effort was exciting and inspirational, in others problematic. Some pairs mentioned difficult struggles in working with a person who was a stranger; and yet struggle, too, is part of the creative process. All pairs found that the collaborative process in creativity became a catalyst for new directions, new forms and new paradigms in their process and practice.” http://bethshadur.com/the-poetic-dialogue-project
The other artist I worked with was composer Christopher Scinto. He and I collaborated on the creation of a music drama, The Ballad of Downtown Jake. Christopher wrote the music and I wrote the book and lyrics. “Jake” is based on my collection of poems High Notes, the writing of which was a direct result of our collaboration.
When we first began working on our project, Christopher and I would talk about the way the structures of jazz pieces—“riffs”—can be mirrored in the structure of poems and a poetry collection. Christopher suggested we create five characters based on his anticipated musical considerations, which he would refer back to when writing his musical score. We decided the core conflict of our characters would be a differentiated struggle with addiction. A short while later, I named the characters and wrote a five-part poem titled “After the Jam Session.” The refrain in the sequence was a riff on the line “Give it to me,” which later became a kind of guiding principle for us. We decided each of our characters was addicted to something— whether it was fame, love, justice, power or hope. Ultimately, we realized we wanted to address the essence of those addictions in terms of the sacred and the profane and the role it plays in the creation of art.
Working with these artists transformed my poetic process and my poetry significantly. However, the most important gift I received from working with artists on these projects was joy: The pure delight of creating. The simple delight in discovery. The excitement of invention. The elation along the journey. The transport of another’s imagination. The experience of living art.
Every so often, I like to listen to Stephen Sondheim’s thoughts on writing. This isn’t because I want to write musicals. And while some people may herald Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize as the long overdue blurring of songwriting and literature, I’m not one of them. As much as I like Dylan, I don’t believe a songwriter is also a poet. In fact, one reason I seek out Sondheim’s thoughts on language is because lyric writing is different enough from what I do to make his observations feel fresh.
For example, in one interview, Sondheim said that “words that are spelled differently, but sound alike, such as rougher and suffer, engage the listener more than those spelled similarly, rougher and tougher.” It’s true! Rhyming differently spelled words adds extra interest to the lines. What does that suggest, other than we’re unconsciously spelling words while we’re listening to certain kinds of language? That makes me, a prose writer, wonder about my own work, and how the spelling of words can subvert a reader’s expectations.
Sondheim is an excellent wordsmith. His songs are full of intelligent, character-driven storytelling that illuminate larger issues, whether it’s female misogyny in Ladies Who Lunch, the creative process in Finishing the Hat, or the pre-wedding freak-out in Getting Married Today. His songs are sharp, funny, and self-contained. They just aren’t poetry.
Sondheim would agree with me on that. Unlike the Nobel Prize committee, he doesn’t consider poetry and lyrics to be the same. Because of the richness of music, he says, lyrics must be economical and spare. Complex ideas are pared down to simpler language so that the audience can follow along.
“That’s why poets generally make poor lyric writers,” he said. “Not always, but generally they do, because the language is too rich. … I firmly believe that lyrics have to breathe and give the audience’s ear a chance to understand what’s going on. Particularly in the theater, where you not only have the music, but you’ve got costume, story, acting, orchestra. There’s a lot to take in. The whole idea of poetry is denseness, is concision, is abutment of images, and that sort of thing. You can’t do that when you’ve got music going, and expect the audience to take it in.”
When people equate lyric writing with poetry, they’re often trying to express how meaningful they found a song. The word “poetry” is associated with depth, so to call something poetic is to say it’s beautiful, eloquent, or profound. Thus, songwriters who are adept at language are called poets despite the fact that they aren’t actually writing poetry.
But to say that lyrics and poetry are the same is to discount the role music plays in a song. Song lyrics, no matter how lovely, are meant to work with music. When you separate one from the other, you’re getting only part of a whole. On the other hand, a poem, as poet Paul Muldoon said, “brings its own music with it.”
Perhaps the solution isn’t to give songwriters prizes meant for writers, but to acknowledge the skill and eloquence that goes into writing a successful song. In one interview, Sondheim said it took him seven-and-a-half hours to come up with the line, If I must leave tomorrow / One thing before I go / You’ve made me see the passion of love / And I thought you should know. He added that he wouldn’t recommend lyric writing to anyone.
“It’s very difficult work,” he said in another interview. “And it’s not often rewarding work because I find that I almost make it, almost make it, if only there were a two-syllable work that began with a “B”, it would be a perfect line. And you can’t find it, and it’s very frustrating.”
Whether you’re a musician or a writer, if you’ve ever agonized to find the exact word, you know what he means.
Went to a cousin’s wedding a few weeks ago, it was nice, flowers, love, family, food, drinks, you know – nice. Well not all of it, that’s more of a cover, thing someone said in the cab on the way home because parts of it were, mmmm, not so nice. The vows, oh my god over the top and the dresses, I know the bride’s supposed to steal the show but come on, peach for your maids, looked like they all went shopping at the same week after junior prom yard sale. And then there was uncle Jean’s toast, roast, I mean toast. You know what I mean, you’ve been to a wedding with an open bar six months after someone got divorced before too right? Of course you have, well this is going to be a little like that, rough in places, but remember – free bar, so hang in there.
Gubul gubul, love that word, just the way it feels coming out of my mouth, try it … gubul gubul. Nice right? No you didn’t just say something naughty, but naughty of you to have thought you did. Means curly, in Korean. You had a feeling it did, didn’t you, just the way it sounds, I mean it sounds curly. Yes that’s a long winded way to introduce onomatopoeia, but that’s where we start this; the sound of a word mimicking its meaning – sound having meaning. However, words have other sounds in them too, we say them after all. They got their syllables, get them from their phonemes, morphemes and the like, those things we all stress through pretty much the same way. So yeah, sounds have meaning.
Almost ‘sounds’ like music, I mean, we’ve all heard this one right – music is a language, tickles some universal primitive reptilian leftover nub on our brain stems. Well it’s a can of worms I’ll keep my pinkie out of for now. No, well yes, but not all the way out, just let me dip in and get at the part about music being a sound that can express emotion. Express, convey, prompt – I can’t nail it down with one word. So you pick the one that works on you – just make it mean the way a particular piece of music can make you feel happy, or sad, or scared, or whatever, but pick a word that means that for you. Because the sounds of music can do that.
So here we are, a few premises deep, words are sounds that have meaning and the sounds of music can get at emotions. Sounds doing things, sending out information we can get things from. Okay, so far so good, and excuse the pedant in me but uncle Jean assumed he had us in the palm of his hand too and its right here that I need you with me. So let’s close up the bar for a few minutes and focus. Now, what if those strings of sound our words make are sending out the same kind of emotional meanings music does?
No, no, no, sit back down here, I’m serious. Okay, for sure the sounds that music produce are much more complex than those available to words. Music has tempo, mode, loudness, melody and rhythm, while words on the other hand only have access to tempo and rhythm. But don’t let that get you down, a lot can be done with tempo and rhythm. Let’s start with tempo or speed. Quick gets you happiness, excitement or anger, whereas if you slow it down it slips over to sadness or serenity. Mixed bag? I know, but all is not lost just yet because we still got rhythm. You get the rhythm smooth and consistent and it’ll spell happiness again. Easy enough way to double down on it, quick and smooth musics out happiness. However, if the rhythm was roughed up but you still kept the speed up then you’d get something closer to uneasiness.
Just think about this for a minute, the sounds of words being subvocalized in a reader’s head as they make their way through a paragraph, about say betrayal, wouldn’t it be something if the actual tempo and rhythm of their inner voice was producing a meaning synchronous to the combined lexical meaning of the words. Wow, you’re damn right wow, it would be devilish, the reader would have no idea it was happening, they’d just feel it, same way they feel emotions from music.
However, as with most things, the rub lives in the how. Tempo, speed, you can fiddle with that. Sure individual reading speeds will vary, enter a thousand variables you can’t control for and then throw them away. We’re looking big picture here and big picture tempo is in a writer’s hands. Lexical density, vocabulary sophistication and syntactic complexity, three puzzle pieces every single sentence or paragraph will have lurking inside of them. Ramp them up and the reader slows down and vice versa gets you on the flip-side. And its relative right, slow for me is fast for you, who cares, music’s playing in each individual head, this isn’t a concert after all. That’s the hard one, rhythm, or beat, is a much easier pulse to finger. Syllables, those things you used to count out on your digits when you were a kid, if that isn’t a rhythm I’ll never dance again. You want to get even finer, add in individual word stresses, that place where your voice rises inside a word. In between the words is another playground: punctuation, comma, slash, dash – a writer almost becomes a Lamaze coach for a reader’s respiration.
Now you might be thinking this is even worse than uncle Jean’s speech, but come on, I’m not saying the meaning being transmitting through subvocalized tempo and rhythm are primary. There’s no way they are going to make your love story come out horror show. Not at all, because if I’m right here, then this music is already inside everything you’ve ever written. What I’m thinking is, this ability of music to transmit emotional meaning can be used to supplement the lexical meaning of a sentence or paragraph. Or perhaps a passage could be written with opposite meanings, one where the lexical and the musical were polar to add a touch of doubt to the lexical, like an unreliable narrator.
There’s no need to work through all the different ways this can be kajiggered. If you think this is as bad as uncle Jean’s toast no worries, I’ll go sit in the back with him and watch the bride and groom dance to a love poem put to slow paced (serenity), smooth patterned (happiness) piece of music. But if you hear it too, you know where we are.