The mighty SpeedPoets returns from its summer break this Sunday, March 1, hungry for your words. Be there, when Brisbane’s longest running poetry event, rolls back into The Alibi Room, 720 Brunswick St, New Farm from 2pm, with poetry features from Jef Caruss and Mel Dixon; live sounds from Q-Song Award nominees, Peter Green and the Midnight Prophets and the hottest Open Mic section in the city backed by SpeedPoets very own poetic interpreter Sheish Money.
I had a long chat to Sheish this week about SpeedPoets, his book Another Rock Pig and poetry as light. Here’s what he had to say…
I was reading the work of Diane DiPrima recently and was drawn to her idea that poetry is made of light. The effect of light, she says, is created in the same way sound moves inside us, moving our spirit in a certain way. She goes on to say that breath is, of course, spirit, and that what happens is, the person reading the poem aloud, singing or chanting, enters the ear and mingles in the body of the listener (with their spirit) and so, moves and changes the body’s disposition.
As I read this, I was reminded of your own physical approach to performance and the fact that we are a physical instrument, not much different from a musical instrument in many ways. How does this influence your approach to writing and what point to you decide poem or song?
I like that, it makes a lot of sense to me. Sound and light are really just different wavelengths of vibrations. We are able to register wavelengths outside of what is perceived by our eyes and ears.Our bodies are sensitive to subsonic and ultrasonic sounds as well as light outside the visual spectrum. Vibrations resonate within us and changes us. Often a piece of music or some words resonate with us beyond our understanding. The voice is really the original musical instrument. I think all music relates back to the voice, therefore I believe poetry is music.
The voice isn’t something that happens in the mouth. If you scream you feel it in your fingers and toes, it moves blood around your whole body. If you hear a scream it goes right through your whole body. It literally makes your hair stand on end. I love sound and I think, for me hearing sounds in my head is the first step in writing anything. Sometimes things will form up on the page so it becomes a more visual thing but the rhythm is probably the most important thing. Frank Zappa said once that if there is a complex script it is difficult to put it across while singing which is why most singing deals with simple forms, or words to that effect. He also said that his guitar solos were speech influenced rhythmic patterns. It is more difficult to speak whilst playing an instrument or rather it’s easier to sing.
I love experimenting with my voice whether singing or speaking. I am not a trained musician or poet and I try not to analyse it to much. Any label is ultimately limiting.
Writing anything is about creating a reaction. You want people to get a tingle in their spine or for it to set their teeth on edge. And even if it never gets read or seen by anyone it causes reactions in the writer. Mostly when I’m writing it is with a mind to performance so I am trying to create something that resonates with people’s previous experiences. That process takes on different forms. Often playing something will spark and suggest words, you hear words in the music then it’s just a matter of constructing something around that. Other times a phrase or an idea for a story will come from somewhere and you write it down and that takes on a different life. Sometimes those things don’t suggest a melody so they remain a spoken piece. Other times they seem to lend themselves to a song. Some of my strongest songs have come about in that way. Also often the rhythms and rhymes are not as obvious in those pieces which I find can be more interesting. Maybe they have more light in them
As a musician you have played at Brisbane’s longest running poetry event SpeedPoets for the last 5 years as well as on larger stages with with many poets including US sound poet Tracie Morris. What is the key to finding the music in other people’s poetry?
Mostly I think it’s more a case of trying to read body language than anything else. A poet reading their poem will be reflecting the rhythm of the poem in their body. Of course some poets write more rhythmically than others so they tend to be easier to play with, that said holding a rhythm that is unrelated to the piece can work and sometimes adding sounds underneath certain parts can also be effective. When I play along with a piece that I haven’t heard before I can’t possibly take the whole thing in but keeping my ears open to the lines that are going to have the most impact and letting them sort of float out there by themselves is I think an integral part of it, as is trying to be sensitive to the dynamics of the piece.
Every poem and every poet is different. Tracie Morris is of course a seasoned performer with a strong sense of the rhythm in her words so with her it was kick in to something, try not to get in the way, listen out for the lines or words that i can punctuate and ride it to the end. At Speedpoets where I may be playing behind someone who has never performed their poetry live, let alone with music is a different thing and in that instance I try to find something that wont disconcert the poet, kick into that, try and not get in the way, listen out for lines or words that I can punctuate and try and hang on till the end.
Often I am standing directly behind the poet and I find watching their hips is the key to how the piece is going. Ya bum never lies.
What is the role of spontaneity in your creative process?
It is probably the most important thing for me as a musician. I have a rather short attention span (as do most audiences) so staying in the moment and responding to it rather than having set ideas as to how a thing should go keeps it interesting for me (and hopefully the audience). I love improvising and have done quite a lot of that musically and as I said I believe the voice is the first musical instrument so it is only a short leap to do that with poets. I’m not a great improviser with words but being able to respond to the moment and change meaning by subtly changing the words is very interesting to me. Songs or poems are never set in stone for me, they are in a continual state of flux. The same words can have different meanings on different days and changing one word can dramatically change the whole meaning of a piece.
Your debut poetry collection Another Rock Pig is one of those rare poetry collections that reads as a book. It has a spine that binds it, but it also has blood, sweat and a swinging set of testicles. Each time I open it, it smells of life. Tell us about the process of putting this together.
Another Rock Pig started life as me trying to make sense of that period of my life spent in grubby rock venues. I wasn’t thinking of a product or even a set piece. Like a lot of the best things it came to me and I got it down very quickly. Apart from a stitch or two there is nothing embroidered about it, it’s all true… those things happened. So I guess that’s where the life comes from, from life.
The next step was the encouragement from people to do something with it. An artist is generally the least qualified to judge the merits of their own work, so having people around that said “this is the stuff” and making me reassess its merits was a crucial step. Then having people to help separate the “wheat from the chaff” and make me analyze in a more subjective way what was important for me and what I actually wanted to say was also critical.
So really it is a group effort with too many people involved to possibly list. Poetry is thought of as a solitary pursuit but it’s this interaction that drives the poems and the product be it book, CD or even performance.
What keeps the light/poetry in your veins?
In a word, people. I have a friend who is a poet of some note (I wont mention any names) and we talk about it often, that the words, the gig, the performance they’re just a way of connecting with people. The relationships that evolve out of the poetry is the most important thing. Being inspired by others as a means to lift your game and concentrate on honing your craft is ultimately what it is all about. That comes from audiences as well as other poets. Seeing poets who show the possibilities have a huge impact on what I try to do. I think that a terrible gig can teach you more than a great gig. It forces you to go away and analyze what you’re doing and improve, find ways to resonate and connect with the audience.
People have said that music or poetry is like an addiction but I disagree with that analogy because giving it up won’t make your life better and the nature of addiction is one of diminished returns. I find that with poetry and music the more you do it the better it gets although I often use the Lord Byron quote about not having a way of stopping it.
Another Day At Work
The PA is thunderous
under his touch tonight
when it all just sits
on such a delicate balance
pot and fader
is alive with the joy
of the electrons
flowing through them
when the room and the punters
and the PA all join hands and dance
to his magician’s wand
when his every move seems blessed
every delay reverb and compressor set
to maximum pleasure
A kick drum
so big even the lighting guy is in time
so clear even the breathing is in tune
so rich you could lay on them
and a bass
so fat you’d need a six lane highway
to drive it home
when you can polish a turd
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