Wordsfest 2017 was held at Museum London. 

One of the most unique events at this year's Wordsfest wasn't just about the words — it was about the words and the music.

At Museum London on Saturday afternoon, Tom Cull, London's poet laureate and Western University assistant professor, hosted the event Sound and Poetry. Cull used the event as an opportunity to “shine the light on up-and-coming poets and artists,” choosing the performers for four acts, each navigating the intersection of sound and poetry.

The four groups assembled were a spoken word soundscape by Alex Schmoll and Angie Quick, a poetry reading and drum solo by Erik Mandawe and Jessica Hay, a fusion of folk music and modernist poetry by David Janzen and, lastly, an improv composition conceived by Max Lucas and Faith Patrick.

In the first performance, Quick's ruminations on meaning, beauty and modern identity were hauntingly complemented by Schmoll's synth-rich soundscape. Ethereal video shots of water were projected on a screen, contributing to the act's contemplative mood.

Mandawe's and Hay's angles were different. The collaborators produced a moving antiphonal poetry performance that centred around a metaphor comparing the Earth, the state and its people to a dysfunctional family. The performance concluded with Mandawe performing a 1968 folk song from the American Indian Movement on a Cree hand drum. 

Mandewe, used to musical performances, was attracted to the idea of working with poetry.

“Music, just like poetry, is a language. Just like the Earth expresses itself through the sound of the river or the wind, we also have many ways of expressing ourselves,” Mandawe said.

Janzen performed three songs on guitar as a part of his Folk Modern project. Janzen's project was partly inspired by Bob Dylan's 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. The seeming incongruity of awarding a musician a prize for literature fascinated Janzen and led him and collaborator Andy Verboom to explore pairing modern poetry with Bob Dylan-esque folk tunes.

The last performance was a mind-bender for the audience. Lucas and Patrick's composition, Hands, was part card game, part musical performance.

Throughout the work, Patrick dealt cards to performers. Evoked by the words on the cards, the performers transformed their feelings into music.

“There was a musical goal to the notation,” said vocalist and Western Faculty of Music graduate Christina Willatt. “But for the audience, the performance wouldn't be the same without the cards. There is a mystery about it.”

Willatt, like every artist at the event, was thinking about the relationship between sound and poetry.

“Language has both an oral and aural quality to it,” said Cull. “Sound and language always haunt each other.”

Cull's most recent poetry collection, Bad Animals, will be released soon by local publisher Insomniac Books.


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