Hirshfield has written seven acclaimed poetry collections including the book Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry which may possibly be the best book ever written about reading and writing this art form, and a co-translation of Japanese poetry entitled The Ink-Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan. It was the latter book that Linda J. Chase had with her while researching music in Japan when she experienced the destruction of the March, 2011 earthquake. The book became central to her life and led to this evening of music and poetry--an event part of the Contemporary Improvisation program at NEC. Founded in 1972, the program provides students with the chance to "broaden their musical palettes and develop unique voices as composer/performer/improvisers."
The night's performance interwove Hirshfield’s readings with piano, flute, cello, violin, percussion, and voice. I am a "word person," so her poems invited me into the music, and I suspect the same was true for "music people," who were invited into the poetry by musicians and singers. Chase and Hirshfield had met only that morning, and while this was not meant to be a rehearsed and polished performance, all the performers worked well with, and seemed to be enjoying one another.
Creative and moving moments punctuated the evening. The percussionist played on and in large bowls of water to make sound for one of the poems. One performer was added last minute because the event's organizers discovered he had translated Hirshfield’s work into Farsi, which he recited while accompanying himself on the oud.
One piece included a slideshow of the Japanese landscape in all its beauty before the earthquake and after the 2011 devastation. The wordless expressions of pain by the singers and Hirshfield’s translations of delicate poems about loss brought me to tears. It was a tremendous evening of collaboration and creativity.
There are many Contemporary Improvisation events at NEC this fall, including jazz and acoustic programs, a World Barn Dance, and the multi-media "Brando Noir." For the schedule and information, click here.
Photo: Ono no Komachi washing the book during the poetry competition (1859) by Utagawa Kunisada, From the NEC web site.