Prism Poetry

This one barely qualifies as a Spirit in the House showcase — more as a showcase with a Houser in it. This is a pre-existing, monthly poetry series/open mike that takes place at the Open Book Center. As I understand it, there were intended to be more performers, but the event was bedeviled with last-minute cancellations. As it stands, I was treated to a solid half-hour performance from one of my fellow Festival artists.

Presente! produced by Prairie Records

This was largely a reading by Leigh Herrick, a multi-disciplinary poet.

She wasn’t helped by the fact that she was immediately following a half-hour performance by another poet with a very similar vocal quality. (CAVEAT: I did have to get up to go plug my meter part way through her set, so I missed about five minutes of her material.) Her voice is pleasant, but soft, and I often found my attention drifting — I have difficulty visualizing her sustaining an hour’s worth of reading. The success of a show of this nature seems dependent on rhythm changes to me — otherwise her carefully crafted text blends together into a monotone. She mentions the use of “varying background harmonies”, and I’m curious to see how that affects her overall performance. I generally dislike background music in spoken-word — I find it almost invariably distracting — and I suspect that, since I so easily lose the text in the musicality of her delivery, that this wouldn’t help. Much of her material is political, and there’s a fire in her words that never seems to make it into her voice.

As for the content — hmm. I suppose another caveat — that my politics are in nearly diametric opposition to hers — is merited. That said, it seems to me that one of the chief virtues of poetry is its ability to give us new ways to look at words, ideas, or objects, by startling us with an inventive turn of phrase. I wasn’t able to find many here, and her material was littered with jarring cliches — I’m a Gen-X-er, and therefore struggle listening to phrases like “disestablishment” uttered without irony.

She has her strengths as a writer and as a performer — unfortunately, I have difficulty seeing her sustaining a full-length show, at least based on the material that she brought forth at this particular event.

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4 Responses to “Prism Poetry”

  1. Lou White Says:

    That phillip low needs an ear check cannot be overstated.
    Herrick’s hard-hitting surrealism is probably wasted on the low-down but really, “I’m generation X-Patria” is entirely diffent than low’s sloppy recall. At no point did Herrick call herself a “Gen-X-er”–in poem or otherwise. This kind of irresponsible review should not deter anyone interested in the power of the poem, or the female voice, whether subtle or screaming out loud.

  2. Cat. O. Says:

    I usually agree with phillip low, at least when he blogs for Fringe. This review is a little weird though. For one thing, Leigh Herrick and Todd Pederson were FEATURED READERS for the Prism Poetry Series. That had nothing to do with the Spirit in the House shows, and Herrick wasn’t reading to preview her show. There was one person at the end of the readings who talked about the Northstar Storytelling League’s show for the Spirit in the House Festival (something low left out). As far as Herrick’s language goes, I found it AMAZING, even if in some moments the noisy coffee gallery was a little distracting (something else low left out). She’s definitely worth checking out. I saw her at Fringe last year and her performance with the drums was incredible.

  3. philliplow Says:

    Fair enough, although I do feel compelled to clarify two brief points:

    1) I didn’t mean to indicate that Leigh is a Gen-X-er — she self-evidently isn’t! — nor to imply that there’s anything superior about being one; just musing aloud about how our modes of expression have shifted, and the difficulty in reaching across that generation gap.

    2) And I’m sorry if I was unclear — that this performance was not, specifically, a preview for her SitH show. I simply posted because the event was advertised to me as a Spirit in the House showcase — and no previews took place! I believe that she indicated that some of her material would be part of the show, although I’ll grant that I could be mistaken — as I indicated, much of her material blended together for me.

    I’m always saddened when my writing is referred to as irresponsible, especially since I try to choose my words carefully. That said — and I’m saying this as someone who’s written a great deal of very surreal, expressionistic work, and, I think, been treated unfairly by critics for it — I tend to be very skeptical of arguments that the artist is simply smarter than the audience. It seems to me that communication between artist and audience is largely the point of doing the nonsense that we do, and if that communication doesn’t take place, it represents a failure of some kind.

    And *that* said, the presence of two fiery comments indicates that that connection did take place, and in a powerful way, for some of her audience. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to experience the same performance that you did — and perhaps I do need to have my ears checked! — though I suspect that my problem has more to do with a conflict in style and ideology.

    I don’t know if either one of you are seeing shows in the Festival this year — but if so, I’d encourage you to join me at the Tower afterwards and educate me over a pint of Guinness. First round’s on me.

  4. Kay Kirscht Says:

    Hmmmm. You gotta see her performing with the Congas.
    (NOT the “Bongos,” as one clueless critic called them, but real, hand-crafted fine instrument CONGAS. That’s what was probably missing…it’s also a better introduction to her style. It all flows from the hand-derived rhythm.

    It is distracting to work from CD and recorded music…but at least the “live” experience of spoken word by the drummer will allow you to work backwards to better “hear” what you experienced last weekend.

    I was under the impression that Leigh would be trying out SitH material, too. Sorry.

    Song of the Moment: “Uncle John’s Band,” Grateful Dead, 1970. Can be found on YouTube. Am presently listening to *someone’s* fine cover on Station 97.


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