Robert Pinsky's PoemJazz is a perfect meeting of poetry and music

US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky (right) performing poetry with Singapore-based jazz musicians Rick Smith (left) on guitar and Christy Smith (centre) on bass as part of the Singapore Writers Festival at National Museum's Gallery Theatre. -- ST PHO
US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky (right) performing poetry with Singapore-based jazz musicians Rick Smith (left) on guitar and Christy Smith (centre) on bass as part of the Singapore Writers Festival at National Museum's Gallery Theatre. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

In an evening rich with light-hearted banter and deeply moving poetry, former United States Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky demonstrated the powerful musicality of verse.

Together with Singapore-based jazz musicians Rick Smith on guitar and Christy Smith on bass, the trio performed seven of Pinsky's poems and took a tender detour with 16th century poet Ben Jonson's His Excuse For Loving, which Pinsky deemed "ear candy".

Pinsky, who described himself as a "non-singing vocalist", prompted gasps from the audience when he revealed that he had only met Christy Smith two hours earlier, and Rick Smith the day before. The group performed like any seasoned jazz trio would, improvising organically and going on riffs, and revisiting verses with different moods and tonalities. Pinsky quoted Rick Smith, who had said: "We played in different bands together."

When introducing The Hearts, a particularly up-tempo poem, he quipped: "You may see me sprain my lips!" and added that part of the pleasure of listening to a poem rich with rapid-fire allusions would be to revisit it later and re-explore its depths. "Just let the music wash over you," he instructed.

Other poems included Antique, Street Music, Ginza Samba and Rhyme, as well as a duet between Christy Smith and Pinsky for Samurai Song, which featured the bassist creating haunting dissonances with his instrument, which he later said was inspired by the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa and also the sound of a metal sword being unsheathed.

All the performances were greeted with rapturous applause from the audience at the National Museum of Singapore's Gallery Theatre, which was nearly at full capacity.

Pinsky later said during a question-and-answer session about their process of collaboration that "it is in the nature of jazz to be collaborative - it's an egalitarian music."

Teacher David Wong, 26, who was very moved by the performance, said: "I will say that I've heard of these collaborations before, but it's never reached me in this way.

"The last piece Rhyme was extremely comforting - it gave me the feeling of coming home, of coming to a place of rest... The poem wasn't just about one theme, it was about everything, and it felt like he was saying goodbye to all these universal things at the end."

corriet@sph.com.sg

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