The poet Elizabeth Bradfield reached out to Riff Pub way back in May. It was wonderful to have her voice featured in the cast of readers for a previous Intonation feature. We are particularly excited to bring you her voice reading an original poem. It’s a real stunner.
Bradfield was kind enough to answer a few of our questions regarding the poem/song relationship. Her insights are sharp and her tone warm. We’d play clarinet with her any day.
“The reason that I wanted to read this poem is that sometimes for me poems begin with a line, and usually the line is there because it has some kind of musical reverberation. And that line I am lonely for the bear just kept running through my head. This kind of origin of a poem used to happen a lot more frequently for me, and less so now, but this is one of the more recent poems where it began that way. And then the job of the poem is to figure out what that means. Why is that loneliness so important? What’s in that song? Part of it is the word lonely and what a long and mournful word it is in and of itself.
“What’s the primary difference between a song and a poem? Well, musicality, an attention to the sound of something. In a poem, it’s an attention to the way the words create a rhythmic pattern and the way that hard and soft sounds bounce off each other, for me, the way the line break works against and with the sense of the sentence. But you don’t have a drum set, you don’t have harmony, at least tonally, and so that’s how they’re different than a song. You have to do it all right there with a poem. I guess it’s more like a solo of an instrument like a trumpet or a woodwind, where you can’t create two notes at once. All the music has to be in that simple utterance, just that one voice coming through.
You have to do it all right there with a poem. I guess it’s more like a solo of an instrument like a trumpet or a woodwind, where you can’t create two notes at once.
“I love music. I can’t listen to it when I read or when I write, so it doesn’t play as often as it might in the house. Actually, playing clarinet as a kid and through in to college was really important to me. Classical music, and it wasn’t that it was classical, but the experience of playing in a band, in an orchestra, and having all that noise around you and teasing out how all the little parts came in an out of one another and watching the conductor make all of that happen – I loved that experience. And I think part of what I loved was in losing the sense of self. Just being in that sound, or being really attentive to the self within that sound. It was really important to me. I miss it quite a bit. I keep trying to figure out how I can get back to that.
“Musicians or songwriters more aligned to the world of poetry than most: Im pretty in love with Neko Case. Songwriters like her who really challenge me with their lyrics and bring in, oh, a world of reference, are really exciting to me. Joni Mitchell too, wow! What an amazing poet she is. The list could of course go on, but those are two who immediately come to mind.
“Poems are songs. This is why we listen to them.”
Elizabeth Bradfield is author of the poetry collections Interpretive Work and Approaching Ice. Her third book of poems, Once Removed, is forthcoming in 2015 from Persea. Her work has been published in numerous venues including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Believer, and Poetry. She runs Broadsided Press, one of the hippest poetry projects on the internet. Learn more about Bradfield and her myriad endeavors at ebradfield.com.