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Patricia Smith, Sage String Quartet, and the Art of an Afternoon

An artist works alone in a garret, her solitary room the site of revelation. Or not.

PSSageRehearsal1Patricia Smith, who recited and read her poetry detailing the wrath of Hurricane Katrina last week, labored on the afternoon of the performance for four hours with four musicians.

The five of them collaborated on a performance that brought tears to the eyes of the audience. Smith even wrote extra lines – just a few moments before the performance – to make her poem better fit the musical score.

In four hours, having never met before, the poet and the musicians meshed their work into a tightly woven performance for HoCoPoLitSo and the Columbia Festival of the Arts called “The Sound and Fury of New Orleans.”

Audience member Mike Clark said he emerged from the reading feeling “flayed,” he had been so moved by the show.

First performed in October 2012, the synthesis of music and poetry was the brainchild of Martin Farawell, director of the Geraldine R, Dodge Poetry Festival, and had not been performed since. Board member Tim Singleton saw Smith at Dodge, and decided HoCoPoLitSo just had to host her.

Smith performed work from her book, Blood Dazzler, a National Book Award finalist, as the Sage String Quartet played Wynton Marsalis’ “At the Octoroon Balls” for an audience that grew deeply silent.

StormViolinists Arminé Graham and Laura Chang reached deep into the heart of the poems, Maggie Hummel on cello drew out the voice of Katrina during “Blue Lights on the Bayou,” and Sarah Hart and her viola flirted with the ragtime. Each note, whether quavering or raucous, seemed to speak intimately with Smith’s poems about New Orleans as lascivious flirt and nursing home residents left to drown in their beds, about a dog howling at the looming sky, about a woman with three babies and two arms, who drops her littlest one with a tiny splash.

But before it became art, there was the devil in the details. The musicians knew the music, the poet knew the poems, but in one short rehearsal on the afternoon of the performance, they had to make those two types of art speak as one.

The rehearsal started on a good note. Smith walked into the Monteabaro Recital Hall, saw the four musicians warming up onstage and chortled: “Girl party!”

The quartet laughed, the tension broken. Then, in their shorts and sundresses, the five women settled into the rehearsal.

PSSageBravoUseSmith began by explaining each poem, and reading it, as the musicians looked at the score. They talked about the silences that punctuated the piece, the times when the musicians would play “Hellbound Highball” and would have to tone down the frenzy so Smith’s words about running just ahead of Katrina’s winds could be heard.

The cellist, Maggie Hummel, took on the voice of Katrina, as Smith read poems in the hurricane’s hungry voice: “Every woman begins as weather.” Hummel’s fingers plucked insistently at the beginning of every poem in Katrina’s voice, lending an urgency to the hurricane’s approach.

Just at the end, when everyone was tired and the snacks of nuts and cherries had run out, Smith said she needed to say something about the ending.

“I’m hearing something,” she said. “Katrina’s voice.”

So Smith read the last few lines, and Hummel plucked those strings again.

“That’s it,” Smith said.

Throughout the rehearsal, if they weren’t sure how the piece would go, they just tried it.

“Let’s just do it and see what happens,” Smith said more than once. They did, then tried again. And art happened.

Susan Thornton Hobby
board member

The Event of the Season: Patricia Smith & Sage String Quartet

The Sound and Fury of New Orleans

Thursday, June 27, 7:30 p.m. Monteabaro Recital Hall, The Horowitz Center
at Howard Community College

A look at Katrina New Orleans through a selection of Smith’s Blood Dazzler poems set to the music of Wynton Marsalis’ Octoroon Balls.

“Reading poems like these, overflowing with life but
contained by art, makes us all feel a little bit helpless.
These poems are blessings that will move like white
light through your veins.”   – American Book Review

Straight from its psmith-smallworld premiere at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, this powerful blend of poetry and music is “breath-taking” and “not-to-be-missed.”  Patricia Smith recites poems from her collection Blood Dazzler in the voices of the people lost in the floods and fury of Hurricane Katrinia accompanied by the rich, spicy music of Wynton Marsalis played by Washington D.C.’s Sage String Quartet. Marsalis’ At the Octoroon Balls is a dramatic gumbo of jazz, blues, Americana and European classical music.  This performance was conceived and premiered at the 2012 Dodge Poetry Festival and has never been performed elsewhere.

Tickets available through the Columbia Festival of the Arts website.

Dodge Festival Logo

Presented in partnership with the Columbia Festival of the Arts and Howard Community College.

The Blackbird Poetry Festival Presents Poetry Seen, Celebrating Poetry and the Visual Arts — Tuesday, April 23rd

Blackbird2013This Tuesday, the 2013 Blackbird Poetry Festival invites you to be a part of Poetry Seen, exploring the intersections of poetry and the visual arts. The day-long festival on the campus  of Howard Community College features writers Rives, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and Kendra Kopelke in readings and workshops through the afternoon, the return of the Poetry Police, as well as readings by faculty and students. The festival concludes with the evening Nightbird event where Rives and Rachel Eliza Griffiths will be joined by music group Rocket Sled in a coffeehouse-style reading (see below for details).

Rives: A performance poet, storyteller and frequent speaker at TED Talks, Rives has also appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and was the co-host of Tommy Hilfiger’s Ironic Iconic America, a Bravo TV series on pop culture.

Rachel Eliza Griffiths: a poet and photographer who was awarded the 2012 Inaugural Poetry Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association for her most recent poetry book, Mule & Pear. In 2011, Oprah’s O Magazine featured Griffiths as an emerging poet in its first poetry issue. Griffiths’ photographs will be on display during the Blackbird Festival.

Kendra Kopelke: widely acclaimed poet and powerful voice on the Baltimore literary scene was named 2001’s “Best Poet” by BaltimoreMagazine and is the author of many books of poetry, including Hopper’s Women (inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper).

Rocket Sled: an alternative country-rock music duo with Ed Tetreault, the engineer for several Grammy-nominated releases, and musician and Baltimore music promoter Will Hill.

Festival Schedule:

10:00AM Poetry Police start to patrol HCC campus looking for National Poem in Your Pocket Day violations
11:00–12:20PM Rachel Eliza Griffiths meets with HCC’s student writers (closed)
11:00-12:20PM (Burrill Galleria) Rives meets with students and community (open and free)
2:30–4:30PM
DH-100 (Kittleman Room)
Main Stage Reading in Duncan Hall (Kittleman Room 100): Kendra Kopelke, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and Rives along with regional poets, HCC students, and faculty (open and free)
7:30–9:30PM
DH-100 (Kittleman Room)
Nightbird Reading with Rives and Rachel Eliza Griffiths and a performance by musical group Rocket Sled.

Tickets: $15, $10 for seniors and for students with an id. Purchase tickets online or at the door.

The Nightbird:  a coffee house reading with poets Rives and Rachel Eliza Griffiths and music by country-rock music duo Rocket Sled, on Tuesday, April 23, 2013, at 7:30 p.m. in the Kittleman Room of Duncan Hall on the campus of Howard Community College. The theme of this year’s Blackbird Festival is “Poetry Seen,” exploring the intersections of poetry and the visual arts.

Audience members will be seated at tables during the Nightbird reading; coffee and tea will be served. Books will be sold, and authors will be available for signings. Tickets are general admission – cost $15 ($10 for students and seniors). Tickets will be available at the door or online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/353577.

Nightbird2013sqphoto

All events are at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD 21044; Parking available in Lot A & West Parking Garage.

The Blackbird Poetry Festival is sponsored by HoCoPoLitSo (Howard County Poetry & Literature Society) in partnership with the Howard Community College Division of English and World Languages and the Office of Student Life. Proceeds from the Nightbird reading benefit HoCoPoLitSo’s live literary programs.

TOMORROW: Irish Evening w/ Hugo Hamilton & Music by The Narrowbacks

HoCoPoLitSo’s 34th Annual Evening of Irish Music & Writing will be held tomorrow evening in Smith Theatre at the Horowitz Performing Art Center on the campus of Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland. Show time is 7:30 pm. Tickets will be available at the door; the lobby opens at 7pm, seating starts at 7:15.

Hugo Hamilton, author of The Speckled People, Sad Bastard and Headbanger.

The evening features a reading by novelist and memoirist Hugo Hamilton, followed by traditional and original Irish music of The Narrowbacks – Terry Winch, Jesse Winch, Brendan Mulvihill, Linda Hickman and Eileen (Korn) Estes – who will be joined at times by step dancers from the  Caulkin School of Traditional Irish Dance.

The event, a fundraiser for HoCoPoLitSo, will feature a raffle of three different baskets*, two Irish themed and one themed for the upcoming Blackbird Poetry Festival (April 26). Among the raffle items: two tickets to attend brunch with Mr. Hamilton and the HoCoPoLitSo board the following morning. This year’s evening also features the return of ‘the bar’, an intermission drink selection including Guinness, Harp, and Irish coffee.

Read Columbia Flier critic Mike Giuliano’s preview article of the occasion.

NEW LOCATION:  Note the location of this year’s Irish Evening differs from recent years. Directions to Smith Theatre can be found here.

*Items may vary slightly than those listed in the linked image.

Join Hugo Hamilton and the Narrowbacks at HoCoPoLitSo’s 34th Annual Irish Evening, February 17, 2012.

Hugo Hamilton to visit HoCoPoLitsoHoCoPoLitSo’s annual Evening of Irish Writing and Music returns with a reading by Hugo Hamilton and performance of traditional and original Irish music by the Narrowbacks.

Dublin born novelist Hugo Hamilton will read from his work. The central character in two of his Ireland-based novels, Pat Coyne, is considered one of the most original figures in contemporary Irish literature.  In 1992 Hamilton won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for The Speckled People as a ‘book for our times and perhaps for all time’.  It won the prestigious Prix Femina Etranger in France, and appeared on The New York Times notable books list.

Reading will be followed by a concert of traditional Irish music performed by the Narrowbacks – Terry Winch, Jesse Winch, Brendan Mulvihill, Linda Hickman and Eileen (Korn) Estes – and traditional step dancing with performers from the Caulkin School of Traditional Irish Dance. Music from harpist Jared Denhard will open the evening.

The event will be held at Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre in the Horowitz Performing Arts Center. Note change of venue.

Tickets are now available online here.

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