The pizazz that accompanies National Poetry Month always promises the unexpected.
The glory of April showers its light on poetry readings that otherwise throughout the year are overshadowed by non-poetry-related experiences.
The most adventurous, experimental, or word-starved of us writers love this month. It brings out more poems written or spoken into the netherworld of passersby than a small library contains. Well, almost.
The month of April raises the platform for wannabe lyricists, original new voices, and seasoned poets, each empowered to try out new work, to fling poems out in the open and listen for the words to touch a new audience.
Poetry rocks in Cincinnati. It always has. It occupies a pedestal high enough for any poet to find, if one wants to find it.
And the unexpected is most welcome. Take the case of Dr. Walter Von Perrier, the fictitious president of the fictitious Fossing Institute.
The non-fictitious Steve Kemple, a librarian specializing in music in the Popular Library division at the Main Library, contrived the sheepish and comically erudite Walter Von Perrier to herald the arrival of “Experimental Music and Poetry” night at the main library.
It happened Wednesday, April 20. the exotic brainchild of Steve. That’s right: he created this fictitious Von Perrier who lugged around his big, fictitious manuscript of academic research. “Poetry is everywhere…even somewhere in this 600-page manuscript I’m holding.”
Let it be known that Steve Kemple revels in the unexpected. It’s just what we all got. And the evening was a hit parade.
Von Perrier, er, Kemple even prepped everyone before the musicians and poets joined artistic arms: “Well, let’s give this a try. It’s an experiment. It’s all an experiment. We’re throwing tonight up to chance. Literally. So, let’s get spinning.”
There were two “Chance Wheels” on two tables. Envision the “Wheel of Fortune” wheel diminished to a spare tire-size version. Imagine two tire-size wheels. Lovely wheels. You could spin each with two fingers. Well, most of the time.
Nice homemade wheels. They worked just fine.
The Chance Wheels contained the names of five musicians and five poets, respectively. Von Perrier, er, Steve Kemple had solicited musicians and poets in preparation of the collaboration. Names were on plain paper and taped to a wheel.
The wheels, when spun, sometimes wobbled their way to the same musician’s or poet’s name several times in a row. “No, sit back down,” Kemple joked. He was leading the hit parade of the unexpected. “You just played. Let’s spin it to someone else’s name.” Or, this: “Well, ah, no, you just read a poem. Let’s spin it again.”
And then: “Well, let’s spin the musician’s wheel one more time.” We had a lot of fun spinning the wheels.
By the way, the violin, guitar, snare drum, cymbal, trumpet, frying pan, typewriter, and synchronized audience chanting all worked marvelously to give the poems a courageous edge, a luxury of sound most poems seldom receive – unless it’s in a venue like this, where the unexpected will give birth to the art of juxtaposing music and poem.
Yes, the unexpected.
Poet and main branch librarian, Charles Gabel, collaborated with violinist Chase Watkins to get the most out of his maximal poems. Gabel’s discursive work, rich in luscious sound and quickening rhythms, paired beautifully with Watkins’ violin riff. In fact, Watkins even recorded his violin and Gablel’s poems as he read. Then, Watkins subsequently played them aloud in a “loop,” which caused this really interesting voice-over effect. Gabel read a poem “in the present,” while a just-recorded Gabel poem simultaneously could be heard through a speaker. Two simultaneous voices of Charles Gabel. Two simultaneous riffs by Chase Watkins.
Charles wasn’t expecting this, but it was a clever, attractive move. An experiment!
This kind of cacophony of sounds blossomed the whole evening. The sounds might have been either disquieting or really melodic (Josiah’s guitar), but they blossomed.
This so pleased the fictitiously-esteemed Dr. Walter Von Perrier, er, Steve Kemple, in his fake mustache. 1) You never knew what the wheels were going to do; 2) you never knew what the musicians were going to play while accompany the poets; and 3) you never knew what the poets were going to read.
Picture Walter Von Perrie of the fictitious Fossing Institute on Saturday Night Live, leading his troops of poets and musicians.
At one point, a woman, who did not write poetry, read a passage from an Anne Rule book that Von Perrier arbitrarily pulled off the shelf. “Read from this! Let’s see how this sounds…when matched with an instrument. Spin the musician’s wheel.” And off into the unexpected we went. The accompanying musician was so entertaining – and the reader so smooth – that they actually lifted the questionable quality of the Rule passage.
I hope the photographs of some of the musicians and poets give you a better visual.
Winding up the program, the fictitious Walter Von Perrier gave us an aesthetic boost: he complimented us poets and musicians. “I’m glad everyone took a chance on chance tonight.”