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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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