by , August 9, 2020

The tribal connection between poetry and music is both ancient and current, and the literary works of some musicians are crucial to our culture: Nick Cave’s novels, the indefatigable Lydia Lunch, and the ever spectral Patti Smith. Also, that the connection between music and painting can be seen as overt– from the strangely ethereal doodles of Bob Dylan and David Bowie to the ostentatious collection of Frieda Kahlo by Madonna– ought to be familiar terrain to anyone who thinks about music and culture.

Poetry itself, as with her sister Music, has many interior genres, with Lyrics being the child eternal between them. Now familiarly, in Poetry, we have Spoken Word –a kind of grandchild through the parenting influence of Rap. Rock’s influence on her ancestor Poetry has come through a kind of
family reunion in the Lyrics family, some blood from Jazz, but Rock’s Blues-Based meter that is so distinctive in cousin Rap that Ice T can seamlessly sing metal. It’s all about the beat.

Currently, there’s a hybrid generation of Poetry that incorporates both the visual (Painting) and Rock’s ancient meter in the form of Asemic Poetry; which often has few, if any use of lyrics, but a distinctive vocabulary from the lineage of Painting and Language we call Calligraphy. It feels musical to view, and practitioners riff into abstract expressionism as easily as guitarists strike a solo.

But now we have further generation as demonstrated by Kristine Snodgrass’s chapbook Rather (Contagion Press, 2020), a lovely, full color print entity that features glossy interior pages and a vibrant display of visual and textual music. The book opens energetically with a red and black image that is more decipherable as notation than language as a frontspiece, and then formally with both a visual and linguistic offering side by side on the page, a duet between color and word. The first lyric phrase is , “Like opening a fan,” followed by a double spacing, as if the poem were an instrument in the song of the book. A musician with a good ear for percussion, will note the six notes in the line that might be played La LAH lala la Lah, a construction of downbeats on the second and last utterance. The poem continues with these lines of six, but with a varying meter not unusual to hear these days: especially since Snodgrass repeats a beat structure in the first stanza that is familiar enough in Rock—LAH la LAH la LAH la, a traditional trochaic beat that can be also expressed as quarter and eighth notes.

If we consider this chapbook to be a similar cultural work as an album, we find a crescendo taking place as the book’s songs evolve through turnt pages. Central to the work is the prose poem, “Constellation of Mandibular Wanderment: What is Truth and How is it Killing Me?” Although first glance would place the word as perhaps a Spoken Word piece, there’s too educated and classical a tone here to be mistaken for that now-a-parent form. Snodgrass clues the reader with the line, “We are destined to be soup cans and pollywogs”, a twelve beat construction with four downbeats (stresses) that is rather melodic. The line is also a direct descendent of the use of surrealistic imagery in Poetry that has been a held-fast genre for a number of generations in our culture now.

The musical aspects of this piece continue through a deliberate use of repetition, most striking of which is the phrase “I am a hag,” which first appears in the line “The truth is I am a hag.” This phrase, or part of it, appears five times, with “hag” repeated three times alone; conceptual development around ‘hag” occurs in the second and third section, in much the same way a reoccurring riff would happen in a more elaborate song. Snodgrass admits deliberate repetition in her afterword, where she states; “Repetition, self-awareness, play in language are things I think of”, a consciousness that ought to be familiar for any creative, and easy enough for a musician to consider melody alone in language’s stead.

Of course, it would be easy to tie the work in Rather to Rock through their subtly shared topic of sex. In the central poem, “make you come” is twice repeated, with other, rather ironic sexual references; however, this is not a work of overt erotica, but rather the energetic sexuality that was so crucial to the childhood of Rock N Roll. The more nonverbal pieces, a kind of visual instrumental section between what seems sung, depict a female, when they are depictive at all. Although a small press offering, Rather ought to be viewed through the lens that took joy in early Punk: a small label and exciting experiments by an talented player. That the work jumps genres, forms, rules ought to encourage all but the stuffiest to dip into this work with abandon, the joyous abandon of the hair fling and the mosh pit, the delight of the culturally adept for that which is authentic and true.

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