by Anna Paige
You and Parker Brown have been working together since 2008. What brought you together?
We worked together at the restaraunt Enzo, and when I was putting together Feast for the Hunger Moon, I needed local musicians. I knew Parker played, so I asked him.
What was that performance like?
It was a melding of all these platforms of poetry, music, and dance. I think people felt transported. They felt lifted into a different space. One audience member said: "From the moment the lights went down until the Feast ended a couple of hours later, I was in a state of disoriented awe. Disoriented because I had never been in the middle of anything so relentlessly, breathlessly creative."
That performance was important in setting a tone for collaborative culture in our local arts, music, and literary scene. How did that change you as a poet?
It made me suddenly think there were more possibilities for poetry in the community. I was able to find ways to make a living at it, as opposed to the traditional poet-reads-from-book-of-poetry-and-sells-a-book model.
You've been residing in Billings since 2003, but you've lived and worked in major cultural centers (Seattle, New York, San Diego). These places seem to influence a lot of your poetry. How does the Billings landscape enter into your work?
Places are incidental. New York, for instance, did influence a lot of my writing because there was so much going on and so many different voices you could hear just walking down the street. Those voices had their own rhythm and their own story. That external world began to intersect with my internal world and my exploration of my past, and my family history.
If it's not about landscape, what is it about for you?
I think being labeled as a regional writer puts you into a box. There are times when I walk out into the Montana prairie, and it feels like I could be in Mongolia–the landscape and history and imagination just have a sort of serendipity and juxtaposing where my mind just wanders.
What does live music add to your poetry?
Here in Billings, it opens up the potential audience. If you just do a traditional reading, you may have people attending only interested in poetry. But if you add music, suddenly you have people who would not normally come to a poetry reading because it's unique. And they can find out, "You know, I think I do like poetry." On the aesthetic part, I'm really interested in how sound moves through poetry. A poem can't literally get up and dance, and yet it has something of a dance and music in it.
Poetry, spoken aloud, takes on a different quality. How do you prep for speaking poetry?
I spent a lot of time listening consciously and unconsciously to pop artists, everyone from Sarah Vaughn to Aretha Franklin to Van Morrison, or folk musicians like Hank Williams and Lead Belly. The way they would phrase language gives you some sense of how poetry can be written and spoken.
Do you feel that poetry is an auditory art form?
That is poetry's nature, because it goes back to the oral tradition. Even now, a poet can get up in the middle of a poem and dance, begin to sing, play an instrument. They begin to take on a shamanistic quality.
You describe yourself as a bardic poet? What does that mean?
It's the essential idea that a poet, while often solitary in nature, has a larger cultural role. I love Ed Hirsch's understanding of this notion, that "the poet offers us thought schooled by intuition, emotion deeper than thought, and soulfulness deeper than emotion. Such archaic ways of knowing go all the way down to the roots of being." A poet is just another human being trying to wake up and stay awake, a reminder of what we are and what we can be.