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Guest Post: A Driven Poet by Erica Goss

Erica Goss is the Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, CA, and the host of Word to Word, a show about poetry. She is the author of Wild Place (Finishing Line Press 2012) and Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets (PushPen Press 2014). Her poems, reviews, and articles appear widely, both on-line and in print. She won the 2011 Many Mountains Moving Poetry Contest and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2010 and 2013. Please visit her at Website.

We’ve been following her 12 Moons project with Atticus Books for some time and we’ve seen Snow Moon, Wolf Moon, Worm Moon, and Planters Moon.  Check out all 12 Moons.

Today’s she’s here to talk about her latest poetry project, Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets. Please give her a warm welcome.

When my book, Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets came out in late March, I decided that in order to promote it, I would attend events within a two-hour drive of my home in Los Gatos, California. I’ve already put plenty of miles on my Honda Fit, traveling to book-signings and poetry readings all over the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve driven two hundred miles in one day to read for twenty minutes, but that’s not even close to California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera. He once drove from Fresno to San Jose, a round trip of three hundred miles, to read two poems at a book release party.

In spite of my general annoyance at the amount of time I must drive, I get some of my best ideas while driving. This is not always a good thing. Once on a drive between San Jose and Sacramento (about one hundred and twenty miles) an entire poem came to me, fully formed. Not in a place where I could pull over and write, I chanted the poem to myself over and over for the next half-hour while trying to concentrate on driving the speed limit. I even imagined what I would tell the officer, should I get pulled over: “I’ll show you my driver’s license as soon as I write this poem down.”

More often, as I enter my long-distance driving trance, bits of conversation, things I’ve read, and phrases from songs I’m listening to on the radio come and go in my thoughts. Part of my brain has to stay alert to drive safely, but the other part can roam, examining signs and counting the number of red cars vs. blue cars. I like finishing the terse sentences I read on highway signs: “Expect delays” becomes “Yes, I always expect delays” and “Gas Food Lodging” is kind of hilarious on its own. “Bump” is one of my favorite signs; our roads are plenty bumpy, but it takes a really spectacular bump to warrant a sign.

Traffic often grinds to a halt (like the sign says, “expect delays.”) I’ll pull out my Moleskine notebook and make a few notes: “sleep bone,” “I carry a purse and talk to strangers,” “recipe for lasagna,” “if marriage was a cookbook,” and “crows are so American” are all from recent traffic stops.

Since the release of Vibrant Words, I’ve driven from the Pacific Ocean to the Central Valley, and I’m just starting out. I hope to bring my book to places farther and farther from home, but if it gets too far, I think I’ll fly. Plus, I need new tires.

Erica is truly a driven poet. Thanks so much for sharing your travels and your inspiration with us.

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12 Moons Video Project Is Live at Atticus Review

With the new year comes the monthly unveiling of the 12 Moons by Erica Goss, Kathy McTavish, Nic S., and Swoon at Atticus Review.

Beginning last year, Erica was kind enough to share some insight into the project, and now that it’s here and live with the first installment, I wanted to provide a central list of links for our previous guest posts and interviews below:

With that recap, I’d like to turn everyone’s attention to January’s post at Atticus Review.  Do spread the word, make comments, and wait anxiously for February’s installment…

I know I am.

Guest Post: Visions of the Moon by Erica Goss

Erica Goss, the poet who wrote Wild Place, continues to keep us up to date on her 12 Moons project with vocal talents of Nic S. and the musical talents of Kathy McTavish. We’ll be sure to keep everyone in the look on this collaborative project. Check out the first guest post, her Writing Down the Moon guest post, her Voice of the Moon guest post, and the Music of the Moon guest post.

Please gave Erica a warm welcome.

complex flavors:
bark mulch, oyster shell,
lime, charcoal,
stone releasing
the sun’s warmth
at night.

        from “Strawberry Moon” by Erica Goss

As I wrote in the first blog post for 12 Moons, the video artist Swoon envisioned this project, put the artistic team together, and created the twelve videos using my poems, Nic S.’s voice, and Kathy McTavish’s music. Swoon is a video-quilter, turning poetry, voice, music and images into haunting and beautiful experiences. From the tentative beginnings of this project, which began with two poems I sent him in a “what do you think” email, he imagined a series of twelve videos based on those and ten more poems, each one titled after a traditional name for the full moon.

Swoon’s video poems have been described as dream-like, full of flickering images, color, and sound. They don’t tell stories chronologically; like dreams, they deliver an experience that’s difficult to describe. As Swoon himself says, “Videos should not just show what’s going on in the poem – as in, the poem mentions a leaf falling and sure enough, you see a leaf falling. I want something that takes more imagination.” (You can read an interview with Swoon in my column at Connotation Press.

I asked Swoon about his inspiration for what became 12 Moons.

“You sent me those two poems, ‘Strawberry Moon’ and ‘Snow Moon,’ and mentioned it was going to be a series. I had just done Circle and was looking for another bigger project. I immediately saw a ‘calendar of video poems.’”

Each of the videos is both separate and linked. How did you find the common thread that connects them?

“For me the common thread is your voice in those poems. So when you read them or hear them read out loud by Nic, they all connect by the choice of words, their rhythm…all different but all from the same source. When you watch and listen to the videos, that connection is made stronger because of Kathy’s sounds. I also made visual links between them, small blips from one video appear in the next one.”

12 Moons is a linked work, like your film Circle. Do you anticipate making longer films in the future?

“I would love to. I have this idea for a more ‘regular’ short film, with a regular storyline and characters, but with all of the dialog coming from poetry. It’s going to take time and money to make that, and as we speak, I don’t have enough of both to do so now.”

Can you describe why certain poems attract you as a filmmaker?

“No. I just follow my gut. It can be the poem as a whole, a certain phrase, a word, the rhythm and music of the poem … the title even. When I read (or rather listen, because I prefer to hear poetry) and I get images, it takes me places. It’s a good poem for me. The overall ‘music of the poem’ must appeal. It’s hard to put a finger on – it’s a gut feeling.”

When I watch your videos, I often feel that you make the unseen visible. Is that a deliberate decision you make?

“Yes and no. I look for underlying thoughts in a poem (very often my own thoughts, I guess – my projections) and try to give the video visual hints of that. Not even visualize those thoughts literally, but more of a hint, an atmosphere. I try and combine that with the actual lines or words of the poem.”

Your work respects the poetry. It never uses a poem as a vehicle for visual expression. How do you achieve the balance of image, sound and word?

“Trial and error. I begin, create, mix and hope for the best. Sometimes it works, very often it doesn’t and I try again. But even when it doesn’t, it might still be a good video for another reason, or for something else. It’s like a John Cage quote I recently read: ‘Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.’ I think I like to work by those lines.”

Here is the trailer for 12 Moons:

12 Moons (teaser) from Marc Neys (aka Swoon) on Vimeo.

12 Moons is an artwork combining poetry, voice, music and video. Twelve poems written by Erica Goss form the narrative. The poems move through a year of full moons, reflecting the hidden influence of the moon on one person’s life. Kathy McTavish’s original music adds complexity to Nic S.’s intense and compelling narration, framed by Swoon’s precise editing of sound and image, which creates a miniature universe for each poem within the context of the project.

12 Moons will appear beginning January 2014 at Atticus Review.

Here are links to the artists involved in 12 Moons:

  • Swoon’s website
  • Kathy McTavish’s website
  • Erica Goss’s website
  • Erica Goss’s column on video poetry.

How excited are you to get your hands on this project?

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Guest Post: Music of the Moon by Erica Goss

Erica Goss, the poet who wrote Wild Place, continues to keep us up to date on her 12 Moons project with vocal talents of Nic S. and the musical talents of Kathy McTavish. We’ll be sure to keep everyone in the look on this collaborative project.  Check out the first guest post, her second guest post, and her third guest post.

Please gave Erica a warm welcome.

In the city I love, I stand
next to strangers who talk
of Mumbai or Beijing
while we wait for fish tacos,
reading enigmas in spray-paint,
solemn obedient children
gathered beneath the fall moon,
resplendent with energy
filched from the sun.

             from “Trapper’s Moon” by Erica Goss

As a child I practiced Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on my family’s battered Wurlitzer. The music seemed to start and end at the same place, reflecting the waxing and waning of the moon. I can still hear my piano teacher reminding me to “slow down, don’t rush the music,” and the tones I coaxed from that old piano.

I recently learned that Beethoven did not name his piece “Moonlight Sonata.” That name came from German music critic (and poet) Ludwig Rellstab, who compared the first movement of “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor” to the moonlight reflected on the water of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Regardless, the name stuck, and certainly influenced my experience of the music.

Cellist, composer and multi media artist Kathy McTavish makes soundscapes that evoke moonlight on water. In 12 Moons, many of the poems incorporate the idea that the moon influences our lives in unseen ways, tugging at us with gravity and forcing us into cycles like ocean tides. Kathy’s music explores that mysterious, liminal place. In her artist’s statement, she writes “My cross-sensory, blurred vision of the world impacts my visual language. I am inspired by emergent, organic forms, beat poets and abstract expressionist art.” Kathy’s soundscapes anchor the mood of 12 Moons, linking image and voice.

I asked Kathy about how she creates soundscapes, and what she thinks makes a good video poem.

“I try to work with poetry in a way that’s somewhat ambiguous. In poetry there’s a sense of the submerged, of hidden things. I want to preserve that strangeness with my soundscapes. You have to be a good listener to capture those qualities, and remember that the poem is a separate thing, apart from even the poet. I feel that video poems work best when they are non-literal, and non-illustrative, since the poet lives in a visual world already. I like images that have a fleeting quality, like seeing people on a train for just a split second.

In an effective video poem, the viewer can’t really follow one element more than any other. There are three things going on: the poem, the sound and the images. Your attention shifts between them, and that gives you a floaty feeling. My favorites have a looseness to them. The images are part of the soundscape, because images are already coming from the poem.”

What’s your process for working with Swoon (Swoon is the video artist for 12 Moons)?

“I started by releasing sound fabrics and textures to Swoon. I wanted a certain quality, almost an iciness to the sound. Swoon took my sounds and morphed them further. I created sound samples, weaving in certain sounds I liked because they were edgy and strange. The last three (Moon) poems I did all of the sound for, keeping it minimal. I looked into the poems, trying to find where they unwound. I have always trusted Swoon’s vision as an artist, so when he asks me to participate in a video poetry project, I’m happy to do it. I know I’ll get to read really good poems – never any bad ones! Our collaborations work and I always learn something.”

How does it feel to play the cello?

“It’s been said that the cello expresses the grief of the world. It’s close to the human voice in pitch and register. You have to be loose to play the cello. You have to let go. The cello rests against the breastbone, and there’s a physical connection between you and the instrument. I was classically trained, but now I do abstract soundscapes, more of a sound art thing, and video installations. In an installation, a space can become like a book. I compose from the cello, and when I play, I visualize. Synesthetic fusions happen for me.”

Do you have anything else to share about this project?

“I love that it’s mapped into a life – a year. Like the moon, it’s luminous and textured. There is an awareness of cycles, of the moon’s influence on our human cycles, and of death.”

12 Moons will appear beginning January 2014 at Atticus Review.

The last post about the process of making 12 Moons appears next month. Here are links to the artists involved in 12 Moons:

  • Swoon’s website
  • Kathy McTavish’s website
  • Erica Goss’s website
  • Erica Goss’s column on video poetry.

I loved that Kathy wants to bring life to the hidden elements in the poems through her soundscapes. 

What are your thoughts so far on this project coming to us in January?

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Guest Post: Voice of the Moon by Erica Goss

Erica Goss, the poet who wrote Wild Place, continues to keep us up to date on her 12 Moons project with vocal talents of Nic S. and the musical talents of Kathy McTavish. We’ll be sure to keep everyone in the look on this collaborative project.  Check out the first guest post and her second guest post.

Please give Erica a warm welcome:

The desire that woke you
full and constant,
flickers like antennae.

            from “Corn Moon” by Erica Goss

If the moon had a voice, what would it sound like? As “12 Moons” took shape, I began to hear a narrator in my head, a speaker with distinct qualities. The voice of the moon, I decided, must be a woman’s, full of emotional depth and mystery. I was delighted when Nic S. agreed to be the narrator of “12 Moons.”

I was already familiar with Nic’s work as a narrator, poet and video artist (read my interview with Nic at Connotation Press. Nic’s talents extend into alternative and creative paths to increasing the audience for poetry, which include the nanopress. (The nanopress delivers poetry to readers, listeners and viewers via a variety of media: website, PDF download, e-book, print version and CD. Read the details here.)

The choice of a narrator for a recorded poem is vitally important. Recordings of poetry often disappoint; they serve as documentation of a reader’s voice, perhaps, but don’t do much for the poem. This is sadly true of many recordings of poets reading their own work. I never considered using my own voice for this project, although I’ve made recordings before, nor did I contemplate using multiple voices. I wanted one distinct narrator to form a consistent link between all twelve poems. Nic is that link: her interpretation of each poem creates an individual experience while enabling the connection to the next poem.

I wrote most of the poems in “12 Moons” in either the first or second person. This facilitates intimacy between the narrator and the listener, perhaps even a brief relationship that exists within the context of the project. With that expectation, the vocal qualities of the narrator had to be those of someone whose voice is subtle, distinctive, and able to impart the overtones of a story told in poetry.

I asked Nic how it felt to be the reader of these poems. What was it like to interpret these words?

“Creating a recording of someone else’s work is always exploration, always adventure. I feel it as a beautiful way of both honoring and connecting with others. For me, voice is more than just a transmittal mechanism, more than just simple emission. As I always say, it’s an instrument of active investigation, and brings me information to process in the same way my eyes and ears and nose do. So that engaging only visually and intellectually with someone’s poems on the page is a qualitatively different (and poorer) experience for me than engaging with the same poems through the voicing, recording and editing process.

I will usually make two or three recordings of the same poem, then listen to them in sequence. As this process unfolds, it is often accompanied by little bursts of new understanding, new illuminations and new insights. It’s rare that I will use any single version for the final product – usually there is splicing between the versions, as I gain a better understanding of what the poem is saying to me. With Erica’s poem series, each poem was for me a little universe, a short trip into Erica’s mind, and the series itself was a larger universe, a longer trip, made up of her themes, her images, her metaphors and her word choices. I enjoyed Erica’s rather spare and unadorned diction and loved the imaginative way it engaged with the exotic moon theme in this series.”

As the reader of many poems that other people have written, is there a technique to making the words your own? Are there poems you haven’t wanted to read, or felt uncomfortable with? Why?

“Yes, in the past there were poems I felt I could not read. But a big part of that was an early conviction I had that the poem-on-the-page (the visual artifact) was necessarily tightly and irrevocably married to the poem-as-voice (the aural artifact). Here is a dialogue I had in 2010 with poet David Tomaloff, which convinced me that insisting on such tight linkage impoverished the poem’s potential, and that in fact each type of artefact (visual and aural) has a legitimate stand-alone artistic existence. Now, as long as the basic tradecraft in a poem is good, I am not sure I would say there are any poems I would not read. Any poem represents a dimension of human experience and, as such, no poem can at root be really alien to any of us.”

When did you realize that your voice was something special, a gift perhaps?

“I don’t know just when I realized that I had this ability to enter into poems using my voice and to reproduce them in ways that many poets have appreciated, but it was fairly recently – in the last five years or so. I have been both humbled by and grateful for the gift. I think as a community we fail to pay attention to the art of reading poetry for an audience (see discussion at this post and see Voice Alpha) and for the most part, when we do read for an audience, we unfortunately focus on reading our own poems.

I believe we are the worst readers of our poems, because we bring our entire universe into the reading of the poem and can therefore convey little new to ourselves or others in our reading. The revelations tend to come when you hear others reading your work, when you hear what they have made of your universe. I think the most frequent comment I heard when I was reading at Whale Sound was to the effect that the reading showed them aspects of and connections within the poem of which they had been unaware. It gives me great happiness to contribute in this small way to the poetry community.”

12 Moons will appear beginning January 2014 at Atticus Review.

More about the process of making 12 Moons in the next post. Here are links to the artists involved in 12 Moons:

  • Swoon’s website
  • Kathy McTavish’s website
  • Erica Goss’s website
  • Erica Goss’s column on video poetry.

I really enjoyed what Nic had to say about the universes that came alive for her when reading Goss’ poems.  I also love what she says about poets being the worst readers of their own poems. 

What are your thoughts so far on this project coming to us in January?

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Guest Post: Writing Down the Moon by Erica Goss

Erica Goss, the poet who wrote Wild Place, continues to keep us up to date on her 12 Moons project with vocal talents of Nic S. and the musical talents of Kathy McTavish. We’ll be sure to keep everyone in the look on this collaborative project.  Check out the first guest post.

Please give Erica a warm welcome:

I didn’t ask why my country was
moonstruck, deep in the month of July
when I was nine years old. I didn’t
care about the stiff unflapping flag
and even less about steps, leaps or
mankind.
        from “Buck Moon” by Erica Goss

Writing the twelve poems that form the text for 12 Moons, an art project combining words, voice, music, and video, was one of the few times that I have consciously set out to write a series of poems based on a theme. Like any project, I began with a burst of energy and enthusiasm, but found that I needed to work hard to keep the momentum going.

The project involved writing a poem for each full moon, using the traditional names of the moons as titles. I avoided using obvious moon references, and especially any moon clichés. I cast back in my memory for events that had happened during a particular month to use as a place to start, but only a few clear recollections appeared. Mostly I wrote about the feeling of that month, and about how people respond to the seasons, whether or not they are aware of the moon’s influence over their moods.

I had one really good historical event to use: Apollo 11. When I was nine years old, the first man set foot on the moon exactly one week after my youngest brother was born. I blended these events into the poem, “Buck Moon.” I used the voice of myself at nine, unimpressed with the moon landing, having just had my world rocked with the arrival of a new sibling.

Many of the poems, if not most, are located in the culture, people and landscape of California, where I have lived my entire life. As James D. Houston said in an interview for The Bloomsbury Review, “California is endlessly compelling to contemplate and write about. I didn’t choose to grow up here, but by lucky chance – the lucky choice my parents made – it happens to be my habitat. And in my own life I’ve found that a sense of place, that kind of grounding is really essential.” In a place as large and disparate as California, we obey the laws of nature, whether in LA’s Skid Row, or the low round hills of Sonoma County, or while Christmas shopping at a mall in San Jose.

I found that writing the moon poems was not a linear process. I didn’t move sequentially throughout the year, starting with January; instead, certain events associated themselves with certain months, and the poems unfolded from those points. The first moon poem was “Snow Moon,” the full moon of February, then “Strawberry Moon” (June) and “Hunter’s Moon” (October). The rest of the poems appeared the same way: haphazard inspirations over the next five months. I finished the last one on August 30th.

12 Moons will appear beginning January 2014 at Atticus Review.

More about the process of making 12 Moons in the next post. Here are links to the artists involved in 12 Moons:

  • Swoon’s website
  • Kathy McTavish’s website
  • Erica Goss’s website
  • Erica Goss’s column on video poetry.

Are you as excited about this project as I am?

Guest Post: 12 Moons, a Video Poetry Project Coming in 2014 by Erica Goss

You may remember Erica Goss and her glorious collection Wild Place, which I reviewed here on the blog last year. Her verse was as untamed as the nature inside the poems and her words made the “beauty beneath the scars” tangible.

Collaborative projects require a great deal of patience with time lines and creative sensibilities, and when the project requires not only a poet, but also a video artist and musician, the potential for something groundbreaking can increase exponentially, and the challenges can be large, but overcome.  When Goss told me about her latest collaborative project, I was thrilled to offer her some space to share it.

 

When I was born

they gave me a name

that itched like a rash

and demanded ritual objects.

-from “Flower Moon” by Erica Goss

One day last winter, my son mentioned in passing that each recurring full moon has a traditional name; i.e., the full moon of January is called “Wolf Moon,” and the full moon of December is the “Cold Moon.” The names of the moons vary only slightly from culture to culture, proving that regardless of where humans live or what they believe, they share an understanding that the moon influences not only the seasons and climate of Earth, but also the imaginations of its people.

This knowledge inspired me, and I wrote “Snow Moon” and “Strawberry Moon” within a few days of each other. I sent those poems to Swoon (Marc Neys), a groundbreaking video and sound artist whose work in video poetry is exceptional, with the hope that he would find them worthy subjects for his art.

Swoon suggested that I write twelve poems based on the traditional names for each month’s full moon, and that he create a video for each one. He also suggested that we include the vocal talents of Nic S., and the musical talents of Kathy McTavish, both artists that he’s worked with before and whose work I admired.

The result is 12 Moons, an artwork combining poetry, voice, music and video. Kathy McTavish’s original music adds complexity to Nic’s intense and compelling narration, framed by Swoon’s precise editing of sound and image, which creates a miniature universe for each poem within the context of the project.

Beginning in January of 2014, we will release one video per month for viewing on the Internet. A DVD and chapbook will be available in via print-on-demand, and for distribution at poetry festivals around the world.

Check back here for more updates on the project, i.e., where you can view the videos, how to order the DVD and chapbook, and more about the making of 12 Moons.

Swoon’s website: http://www.swoon-bildos.be/

Nic’s website: http://verylikeawhale.wordpress.com/

Kathy McTavish’s website: http://www.cellodreams.com/

Erica Goss’s website: www.ericagoss.com

Erica Goss’s column on video poetry: http://www.connotationpress.com/video-poetry

I know that I’m anxiously awaiting the results of this project. 

What do you think about collaborative projects between visual, textual, and musical artists?

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