The Music of Poetry
The Music of Poetry is a collaborative project between Great Southern and interstate poets and musicians. The project is based on the premise that poetry and music can come together in ways which reveal, express and evoke new resonances in the works, the artists and audience. As Jen Lush says “Once a poem is found, I find it so thrilling to open it up like a gift and find the melody and the rhythm, to let the new limitations drive me into new decisions I would never have taken before”. We are so delighted to have this project be apart of the Denmark Festival of Voice program for 2021.
Jen Lush is known for her spacious and emotive, melodic storytelling in songs that hammer on your heart. Her love of words and music coalesce on the folk-tinged music of her 2017 album The Night’s Insomnia – twelve contemporary Australian poems crafted into songs, and her recent project created for the Festival of the Voice, a collaboration with poets from WA and SA in an exciting performance of songs and live readings. Jen and her stellar band have appeared at festivals and venues throughout SA, Victoria, NSW and Tasmania and will release their new album ‘Let Loose The Beating Birds’ in 2021.
"I love to collect thoughts or background stories from the poets about their poems, this helps with my process of interpretation, gives me markers and shapes to work with. I hope to be sensitive to the origin of the ideas by checking in with each poet during the process, share demos and discuss the direction of the music and be prepared to rework things if I’m straying too far from the original intent of the writing. Sometimes I have the opportunity to hear the poet read the poem I am working on, and this gives me such an insight into the way the spaces and timing were written, any pauses or weight are clearly heard and it influences the way I will approach the song. Most often I don’t hear the poem read first and if I get the chance to hear a reading of it later I am often surprised and intrigued to notice how different my interpretation can be.
I was drawn to a number of Graham Kershaw’s poems, and enjoyed reading his poetry book ‘Undersummer’ as well as other poems not published in this collection sent to me via email. I have chosen ‘Vermillion’ and ‘Small Birds Flown’ for this project. Small Birds Flown tore at my heart from the beginning and I am in the process of solving the musical interpretation – some things yet to untangle, but I’m almost there. ‘Vermillion’ immediately suggested a tune and a tone that fell out of my guitar, the tender and joyous melody appeared quickly in a way that felt suspicious: have I already heard this somewhere else? I don’t think I have, but this is often the sensation when a tune arrives so swiftly.
Renee Pettitt-Schipp’s poetry has had an impact on me for quite some time, first coming across her work whilst writing the music for The Night’s Insomnia. Her poem ‘Shoot’ appears on this album in song form. Looking deeper into her body of work let me to ‘Mallee’ a poem that cleverly sang it’s story to me in a compelling narrative that at once propels itself forward and winds back on itself with imagery and repetition that become hooks of their own. I wrote music to this song quickly, choosing a driving rock-infused treatment that builds as the story builds. A departure from my more gentle fingerpicked guitar arrangements, that should provide a welcome dynamic shift across the collection of songs in this project.
Maria Zajkowski’s poetry came to me in the form of a manuscript titled ‘Icon’ – a piece that was so new it was still in its early development. I was invited to choose whichever parts of this longer piece I was drawn to most to set to music. It was thrilling to read this new work and also meet with Maria at a musical performance of a collection of her earlier poetry as part of the Adelaide Festival. This helped to set me on my path and broadened my thinking about how to approach this complex and non-linear poetry. I became more playful with time, and allowed myself to try a number of different versions before landing on the piece I have now written. Since I started working on the first of her poems, Maria has completed her manuscript. Despite the changes, Maria has generously given the go-ahead to the first song treatment. This is a wonderful example of how the collaborative nature of working this way can bring a sense of process and time travelled. The inherent sadness and quiet reflectiveness of Maria’s poetry is fringed by many other complex feelings – longing, hope, isolation, fear and love that I have chosen to deal with in a lighter musical treatment, a lilting melody line that sits over a repetitive musical bed that aims to draw people into the beauty and allow the words to do their work without the music labouring their intent.
Ali Cobby Eckermann’s poetry has been in my head since The Night’s Insomnia project and her poem ‘Wild Flowers’ appears on this album. To have the opportunity to immerse myself in her writing for this song project is a wonderful thing. I suggested two poems I would like work on and Ali has generously agreed to allow my interpretation on ‘Legacy’ and ‘Oombulgarri.’ I am not yet sure which one will be best suited to the collection of songs on this project, but I am equally compelled to work with both of them at this stage. Legacy speaks to me of a strong and pointed musical pattern in 5’s or 6’s alternating to create a feeling of at times uncomfortable rhythm and abruptness that accompanies the feel of this poem. This poem has thrown me from my comfortable musical place and demands that I listen hard, let the words sink into quiet spaces and provoke a response to the text that is at once aching, soft, terse and honest. It is at the moment dominantly bass and percussion with spare instrumentation. Oombulgarri seems to require a spaciousness and a lyrical momentum, something sparse and distant that connects the story of a broken community and a bulldozed town, with a familiar melodic thread that feels reminiscent, an echo of something already gone. I have had the advantage of hearing Ali read this poem online, and listening to the cadence and emphasis of her words, the spaces between lines have already given me a structure and a feeling to work with."
Jen Lush speaking on her creative processes throughout the project
Ali Cobby Eckermann’s first collection little bit long time was written in the desert and launched her literary career in 2009. In 2013 Ali toured Ireland as Aust. Poetry Ambassador and won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry and Book Of The Year (NSW) for Ruby Moonlight, a massacre verse novel. In 2014 Ali was the inaugural recipient of the Tungkunungka Pintyanthi Fellowship at Adelaide Writers Week, and the first Aboriginal Australian writer to attend the International Writing Program at University of Iowa. In 2017 Ali received a Windham Campbell Award for Poetry from Yale University USA and was awarded a Literature Fellowship by the Australian Council for the Arts in 2018. Ali was granted a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship in Italy in 2019, and is currently an Adjunct Professor at RMIT Melbourne.
Barbara Temperton is inspired by the diverse landscapes and stories of Western Australia. Her first poetry collection was “The Snow Queen Takes Lunch in the Station Café” with two other poets in Shorelines (1994). Going Feral, her first solo collection, won the 2002 WA Premier's Book Award for Poetry. Southern Edge: three stories in verse appeared in 2009 (Fremantle Press). Barbara's work in progress is an elegy for love and environment.
Barbara has actively engaged with writing since the early 1980s. In addition to poetry, Barbara has also published short fiction, reviews and non-fiction articles, co-written plays, songs, and has freelanced as an editor. Her experience ranges from teaching in tertiary institutions to enabling communities as diverse as survivors of family violence, people with disabilities, isolated towns, and mentoring new writers.
Graham Kershaw is the author of Undersummer, The Home Crowd and Dovetail Road, and editor of Dark Diamonds.
Born in Lancashire, England, Graham has since 2007 lived in Denmark, Western Australia, where he practises as an architect and runs Hallowell Press, a small publisher specialising in local art and literature, using a combination of traditional letterpress, printmaking and digital technologies.
Graham’s work has been shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Award, received an Australia Council grant, and won the 2012 Blake Poetry Prize and a Val Vallis Award. He has been featured at Radio National, Perth International Arts Festival, Great Southern Arts Festival, ‘In Conversation’ Series, Sydney, Denmark Festival of Voice, Perth Writers Festival, and Brave New Works.
Kim Scott is a multi-award winning novelist, having twice won the Miles Franklin Award (for Benang and That Deadman Dance) among many other Australian literary prizes. His most recent novel is Taboo (Picador, 2017). Proud to be one among those who call themselves Noongar, Kim is also founder and chair of the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories (www.wirlomin.com.au), which is responsible for a number of bilingual (Noongar and English) picture books and regional performances of story and song. Two books, A Companion to the Works of Kim Scott (Camden House, 2016) and Kim Scott: language, readers and interpretation (UWAP, 2019) deal with aspects of his writing and career. He received an Australian Centenary Medal and was 2012 West Australian of the Year. Kim is currently Professor of Writing in the School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry at Curtin University.
Maree has collaborated with a range of artists throughout her writing career including dancers, visual artists and musicians. She has always found that these kinds of collaborations push her work forward as well as expanding her view of theoretical, philosophical and artist aspects of the material she is developing. Maree lives on the Northern face of Mt Clarence in Albany, and this environment often often finds its way into her work.
Maria Zajkowski is an award-winning poet, lyricist and librettist based in Melbourne. A regular collaborator with composer Wally Gunn, her first collection, The Ascendant (Puncher & Wattmann) features on the Grammy nominated album Render by Roomful of Teeth. In 2019, her first libretto, Moonlite, a true crime queer love story based on Captain Moonlite and his lover James Nesbitt, premiered in the US. Maria has been a guest at numerous residencies in collaboration, including the Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire and the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She twice won The Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize and has been shortlisted for numerous other awards. Her second collection, What we have except when we are lost, written with MTC Cronin, was published through Spuyten Duyvil in New York in 2020. At Denmark Festival of Voice, Maria will launch her latest collection, Icon, a personal response to Alzheimer's disease.
Reneé Pettitt-Schipp an award winning writer and educator who lived in the Indian Ocean Territories from 2011 until 2014. Her work with asylum seekers in detention on Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands inspired her first collection of poetry, ‘The Sky Runs Right Through Us’, published by UWA Publishing in 2018. This manuscript was shortlisted for the inaugural Dorothy Hewett manuscript prize, the CHASS Australia prize, won Curtin University’s Greg Crombie ‘Work of the Year’ in the 2019 Humanities Research Awards, as well as winning the 2018 WA Premier’s Literary Award for an Emerging Writer. Reneé’s work has been recognized through many literary awards, including the ACU literature prize, the Ros Spencer Poetry Prize, the Grief Poetry Prize and the Trudy Graham Biennial Literary Award. Reneé currently lives in Western Australia’s Great Southern.
The Music of Poetry project is made possible thanks to the Arts U-15k grant, funded by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.