An evening of whiskey, women, song, and singing women drinking whiskey...and poetry!

Almeda Glenn Miller


This Saturday evening, March 15 at 7pm, local writer Almeda Glenn Miller will be launching her new book of poetry, begin with the corners, with a show at the Rossland Gallery. The evening promises to be a memorable one as Miller joins forces with local musical duo Motes and Oats to perform interpretations of some of the poems. And ther will be whiskey! And chocolate! And books for sale! With free mp3 downloads of Miller's collaboration with Motes and Oats! This week, Miller spoke with the Telegraph about metaphor, music, and many other things...

Your new book, begin from the corners, launches on March 15 at the Rossland Gallery with an evening that involves poetry, scotch, chocolate, and music. Could you take a moment and delineate the precise nature of the relationship between these four elements as you see it?

When we marry two things like scotch and chocolate -  we create a relationship that is dynamic and difficult - the tastes pull apart and come back together and pull apart - and because, in our minds, we know that the tastes are different we struggle to reconcile them. It is this struggle to reconcile where I believe all good conversation begins.  

Music is everywhere in our lives. When we watch a film, the music is constantly bolstering the emotions and themes of the film; if we don't play music ourselves, we listen to it - sometimes it is the only time we take time to listen to something.  There are some of my poems that work really well with music.  Motes and Oats heard the music in them, too.  I don't see myself as a lyricist but somehow we've found a relationship between my words and their music that creates another kind of experience.  I can just hear my friends saying right now, "Come on, Almeda, get real!  You just want to drink scotch and eat chocolate and play music and goof around with words."  And they are right about that, too.

Speaking of marrying disparate elements, your book comes with an mp3 download of several poems you recorded with Motes and Oats. How do you see the music and the book working together? Would readers be advised to listen to the music while reading the poems, for example?

Hmmm.  That's an interesting question.  I used to lie on the living room rug with the album cover open so I could sing to all the songs - Carol King's Tapestry or Patti Smith's Horses. I drove my brothers nuts by playing them over and over, singing away as if I was in my right mind.  I liked having the lyrics in front of me so that I could better understand the stories behind them.  Others might find reading the poems distracting.  I like listening to the mp3 in the car.  It's quiet, I'm not exercising, I'm just thoughtful.    

So often, people tell me they don't get poetry, and I wonder if that is the limitation of the poem or the way we've been taught to read them.  We are pretty sure that Homer sang the Odyssey.  He plucked away on a lyre and when he'd forget a line or need to finish one he'd fill in the space until the next part of the story came to him.  Music is such a great way to remember where we are in time and place. It can sculpt a moment, like silence or words can.

With the mp3 download, we're not drifting too far from the roots of poetry.  The way the publishing industry has worked with poetry is to freeze it on the page, space it out, and punctuate it in hopes of having the reader feel its inner rhythm, hear the voice of the poet.  It's not a bad strategy but I do believe this has created a class system of poets and readers - those who think this way, those who don't.  I think we're just giving the reader (audience) another way to experience poetry.

There seems to be a division in begin with the corners between poems that are 'conversational' in nature and those that are, for want of a better word, more 'poetic' in terms of elevated language. Is this a distinction that you'd agree with and, if so, do you see those different languages as serving different purposes?

The 'conversational' nature some of the poems in this collection are what I would call prose poems. This is a form invented by the French.  The prose poem was this radical shift from the strict forms of prosody - rhyme scheme and rhythm - and dealt with the elevated themes of existential angst of  'what is our purpose?" and "why am I here?" to a more prosaic, banal application of "what should I feed my family tonight?"  So, the 'conversational' tone of the prose poems are about our everyday lives.  A poem like 12 dollars divided by 80 lengths  = x is a protest poem about what a Rosslander has to pay to swim at the Trail Aquatic Centre and what I have lost because of the increase in fees, or the poem Have Trim Will Travel is a poem about imagining a home that has trim around the windows.  I suppose that's another protest poem.  FINISH THE EFFING TRIM!  should be the name of that poem.  I think there are many Rosslanders (Kootenayites) who can relate to this malady.  

The more 'elevated' poems, the ones that pay attention to the 'line' are poems exploring the many layers of thought and experience poetry has to offer.  There are some poems I chase around the page a bit because I want a lot of breath in them.  A poem called Electrophysiology is about my own heart condition and how uncontrolled the rhythm of my heart can be.  That poem feels a bit like an acid trip with Allen Ginsberg.  We tried to put it to music but we all felt it sounded a little too 1960's for us.  Today, the sound of bells is another poem that adheres to the nature of 'line' in poetry.  It is trying to duplicate this day in Italy when I sat and watched an owl shift its head from side to side each time the sound of the church bells rang.  I think it works.  Just imagine what it is like to face an owl and have it stare at you, turn away, stare back at you, to the steady rhythm of church bells, and you are in 15th century castle in Italy, on Lake Como, missing your mother, no less.  

Poetry is an entirely different investigation into human experience.  I am very comfortable with the prose form because it is very much like writing fiction.  I am an apprentice of the verse poem.  Both are a peculiar form of mathematics.

Well that's all very interesting! But how about we get down to the nitty gritty for our final question. How much fun can the average denizen of the Mountain Kingdom--poetry aficionado or newbie--expect to have at the Rossland Gallery this coming Saturday night? And what's all this about a poetry jam? Is that something to consume along with the scotch and the chocolate or what?

As with anything I've organized in the Mountain Kingdom, it all depends on who shows up!  Right now, it looks like an eclectic group of ne'er-do-wells curious about what happens when you mix scotch and chocolate together - they'll take the poetry, if they have to.  I've had a few people say they're going to bring a poem or two to see what the poetry jam is all about.  My nephew is driving from Bowen Island to check out what all the fuss is about. He’s a poet, too.  I envision a different evening of making song.  Bring instruments, bring words, come in clothes.  No naked people - too distracting for the poet.

Adrian Barnes
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