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Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
I began writing poetry at the age of 23. I started as a jazz musician; a pianist, composer, & improviser, which I am to this day. At the time, playing mostly instrumental music, poetry began as journals & lyrics for me, as a way to bring language to what only seemed possible to communicate wordlessly. In poetry, I found, as I learned from Ruth Lepson, my first poetry teacher at the New England Conservatory (& a student of the late Robert Creeley), sound & sense intermingled to allow for direct transmission of thoughts & emotions that were otherwise inarticulable through words.
I have since gone on to perform & record my music & poetry together, in many different settings. I have composed some lyrics, setting my poems to melodies. I have performed spoken word in the context of free improvisation, often thinking of my voice as a horn, like a tenor saxophone. I have embedded recitations into the structure of many different pieces I’ve composed, including collaborations in which I’ve used video as a medium to juxtapose visual imagery with that of my poetry.
Often, the lines between composition & improvisation are blurred in my music, & likewise, so does my poetry come into being both on & off the written page. These processes differ from those of many poets, & allow me to vary the contexts in which my poetry is presented. I find, in the midst of music, that my poetry is allowed to change.
Through the archival work of musicologists & documentarians such as Alan Lomax, I’ve recently been drawn, in relation to my practice, back to the origins of American music, from the old blues singers of the American South, to the music & folklore of the Appalachian regions. I relate to the way singers & guitarists like John Hurt & Son House seem to be in lyrical & emotional dialogue with their instruments. Like Roscoe Holcomb, I seem to find strength in loneliness & compassion through my music, & sometimes, through dissonance & abrasion, hurt is made tangible within me toward some other peace that is healing.
I find parallels in the music made by many of the jazz players & composers who have influenced me, & in the poetry of the European generations leading up to & after the Second World War. Historically speaking, musicians like Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, Archie Shepp, & Cecil Taylor — all of whom wrote & recorded poetry — have more in common with poets like Paul Celan, & Osip Mandelstam, who faced persecution under the fascist & authoritarian regimes of Hitler & Stalin — as well as resistance fighters, such as the poet René Char who fought against the Nazis in occupied France — than would meet the superficial eye.
Engaging in both music & poetry simultaneously allows me many chances to cross aesthetics. The simple act of listening to music while consciously reading poetry, helps me to imagine, in an interwoven sense, the histories behind & in relation to many different artists’ lives whose work I love. This transfers as well, to ekphrastic writing I’ve done while listening to music that moves me in untold ways, though I have yet to set any other poet’s work to music.
Poetry, not only as a form of writing, but of speech, bears with it the connotation of joys & sorrows, & likewise of hope, which shines toward the darkness of trauma & injustice, in critic John Berger’s eyes, as a testimony free of the walls of abuse & power, that allows us to connect (from his essay, “The Hour of Poetry”) (1). The poet George Oppen wrote his seminal poem “Of Being Numerous,” after hearing the young, black men & women of his generation speak out as individuals.
The notion of the individual carries with it notions of lived experience, & within those the possibility of kinship. This kinship is essential to me, not only as a poet & musician, but as a reader & listener, as well.
To think of any given poem or a piece of music as a “message in a bottle,” might seem trite, but there are those whose poems & songs have washed up on my shore at times when I knew no other place to turn. I hope that these poems — whether on the written page, in front of an audience, or on a stereo, perhaps — might find their own way towards someone who could use them, in that moment when they need it most.
Available for download on Thursday, May 13, 2027