A Poetry CD Directed by Kenneth Clarke
Reviewed by C. J. Laity
ReVerse is exactly what I was hoping Richard Fammeree's too long, way too "raw" RAW CD was going to be. Fammeree also served as Executive Producer on this audio CD, a project directed by Poetry Center of Chicago Executive Director Kenneth Clarke. ReVerse is an attractively packaged, professionally recorded, finely edited CD containing 14 tracks, and I'm happy to report, for the most part, all the tracks are poetic. I had a sneak peak at some of these words mixed with music when they were debuted at the 2003 Chicago Poetry Fest at Weeds, when Elise Paschen joined with Linnaeus and others as a ChicagoPoetry.com headliner. I'm pleased to see that, after over a year, the ReVerse CD is finally here. I gave it several listens, and I am relieved to be able to tell you it was well worth the wait.
You might want to get a copy of ReVerse simply for Lawrence Flerlingetti's performance of the poem "History of the Airplane", or for Lou Reed's poem "The City and the Sea". But, in my opinion, the performances by the local poets make this CD worth the $12 asking price.
I know at least two of the poets on this CD have appeared on Def Poetry Jam, which, presented for a def-ening $20-$35 a head at the Chicago Theater, is about as urban as the Vibe Awards, which is also made available only to the well off -- though let's hope the poetry comes with less stabbings. Styles other than that pseudo-urban fad are being highlighted on this very important documentation of Chicago poetry, and that is crucial. Let's just say the huge, capitalistic corporation of HBO is not dictating to Chicago what poetry is suppose to sound like. Nobody's trying to rewrite history and there are no get rich quick schemes here. The words on this CD are the clear result of decades of hard work and dedication to the ancient craft of creating literature that will survive the test of time. For example, Simone Muench reads her poem "Spectacle: Possession" the way it should be read, without hamming it up for the CD burner.
I believe I heard Kenneth Clarke do a version of his poem "Skyscraper" at the 2004 Chicago Public Library Poetry Fest at the Harold Washington branch, and I was disappointed at that time by the fact that blasting techno-music drowned out his words. This is not the case, however, on the ReVerse CD, which is expertly balanced so that we can understand every word on it. The only exception is Richard Fammeree's performance of his poem "Green Man," during which he seems to mumble the ends of just a few lines of poetry, and as a result the meaning gets drowned by the background music. Other than that minor oversight, the inclusion of poems such as Mark Strand's "What It Was" give full respect to the articulation required in a good spoken word CD.
Marvin Tate's performance of "Take Off Your Shoes (and Run)" sounds sloppy as all hell, but this sloppiness doesn't exactly subtract from the CD as a whole. Instead, whether it was intended or not, Tate's almost drunken performance on ReVerse offers some lighthearted humor; it gives the project the feeling of spontaneity. Lucky, too, because it's not the best performance of this piece I've ever heard Tate do, but it fits in well with the rest of the poems, which are executed so cleanly that a temporary break in the perfection is not unwarranted. Linnaeus, however, is at her best, with her track "Shed". If you close your eyes during her song you are likely to see the closing credits from a James Bond movie in your mind's eye. And Cin Salach gives a mesmerizing performance of her poem "Evolution" backed by Ten Tongues. In light of the era in which this CD is being released, airy, blissful material like Salach's seems outdated and pointless, and I would have preferred to hear something fresher from Salach's ReVerse offering. But the CD doesn't have any political agenda other than strong writing, so if you're okay with quality poetry and a hypnotic mood being the gist of it, then Salach will pull through for you once again.
Also included on this CD is a poem by one of the most original and talented African American poets working in today's Chicago Poetry Scene, Sherill Lamb; her poem "Words Are My Salvation" includes piano and organ by Mikael Jorgensen and is a much more fitting and less egocentric representation of what good urban performance poetry can accomplish.
The best piece out of them all, the opening poem, "Echo and Shadow," written and performed by Li-Young Lee, does something remarkable; it reaches inside the listener and grabs hold of something in the chest, and, like a warm hand, it holds that "something" for the duration of the track. You'll have to listen to it to experience what I'm talking about. It is a great poem, and the placement of it at the beginning of ReVerse optimizes the experience of the CD by sucking the listener in to the mood right from the start.
Take it from someone who has been reviewing poetry in Chicago for fifteen years. I'm going to give ReVerse two big quills up. This is the perfect stocking stuffer for poetry lovers. I am especially impressed that it plays in my DVD player, which is very picky and won't play just any old thing burned onto a disk. And you can feel good about purchasing ReVerse, because part of the money goes to a program that supports literacy in the Chicago Public School system. So buying ReVerse is a good thing on many levels--everyone wins.
So here you go. Ho ho ho. Here's how you can order this wonderful addition to the chronicles of the Chicago Poetry Scene: CLICK HERE.
--C. J. Laity
Back to the investigation.
**We hope you found the information on this page useful. ChicagoPoetry.com needs your help. We are holding a fundraising drive in order to stay online. There are two ways that you can help:
Click here to offer a financial gift or click here to order the new book by ChicagoPoetry.com Press.
Note: You might want to get a copy of ReVerse simply for Lawrence Flerlingetti's performance of the poem "History of the Airplane", or for Lou Reed's poem "The City and the Sea". But, in my opinion, the performances by the local poets make this CD worth the $12 asking price.