Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sound Poetry

There is a form of poetry that happens in performance and is separate from "spoken word," a poetry that basically stresses sound as sound and not as words delivering meaning, etc. Even though I don't write (formulate?) material to be presented in such a manner, I do emphasize the role of sound in poetry and its presentation. The use of repetitive sounds - rhyme, alliteration, assonance and consonance - have always been a staple in poetry. In "sound poetry" the main emphasis is on vocal sound and how it works, much like music in a way.
I had the good fortune recently to share a stage with bill bissett, Canada's foremost practitioner of the style and probably one of the best in the world. Often his work consists of familiar vocal sounds and the changes that can be worked through and from them.

Sometimes, especially when used with ambient background music or an accompanying voice, the performance begins to feel like a jazz concert with structured improvisations. At other times, especially when he uses rattles or other small percussion instruments, it has the feeling of a tribal chant. And sometimes he makes you wonder if he isn't using a structured language, but one about which you have no knowledge, have never heard or experienced before.

To see the work printed on a page and deal with it like that is more than a challenge. Only with his voice still in your head do the sounds represented by words, scraps of words, approximations of sounds, etc. begin to make any kind of sense.

With bissett, with all sound poetry, the meaning is that mixture of dream and emotion and instinct that resonates with the listener. There is nothing grander than when, in this manner, the poet and audience become one.

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