Every poet has fantasized about starting a rock band and becoming the next Bob Dylan. Poet Cornelius Eady didn’t just dream about it, he went out and found some great musicians and a sweet-sounding back-up singer (the poet Robin Messing) and cut a double album he calls Book of Hooks.
He also published a double chapbook to go with it, so you can read his lyrics like poems. His topics run from the moving and serious “Last Known Address,” about an eighty-year-too-late pardon for a black man wrongly executed in Maryland for the murder of a white woman, to “Bed Bug,” a hilarious song about the critters in your sheets in the Big Apple:
Mama sighs, and shakes her head
But mama don’t live in New York City
Eady isn’t alone among serious poets who are turning to performance to find a wider audience for their verse. Poet Kim Addonizio shows up to her readings with a harmonica.
I attended a reading Kim gave at the low-residency writing program I teach in at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and a dude with a beard like a porcupine stood up in the middle of the reading and shouted to the whole audience that he was heading after the event to the Tap Root bar for a blues jam, and who was coming with him? Kim was the first to volunteer. Not only did she close her poetry set that night with a song she wrote that included a harmonica solo, she played a mean blues harp with the band at the Tap Root afterwards.
Hey, poetry started as a performing art, right? Homer’s epics were chanted to the lyre, the closest thing to a folk guitar in ancient Greece. Greek drama was written in poetry and performed in an amphitheater with a chorus. What’s this fetish about poetry only being on the page? I’m not talking about spoken-word poets, who are sometimes great performers, but often talk faster than the guy reading the fine print at the end of a radio ad for a car lease, so I often wonder what these poets’ work would look like if it was slowed down enough to read it. But “page-poets” are turning to performance now, too.
So next time you hear a song you like, you might actually be hearing poetry.
Other recent posts about writing topics:
How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry?
Poetic Forms: Introduction; The Sonnet, The Sestina, The Ghazal, The Tanka
How to Be an American Writer