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Gargoyle 52

Gargoyle Magazine (www.gargolemagazine.com)
Produced by Richard Peabody
Copyright 2007 Richard Peabody

A Review by Laura Orem

Gargoyle 52 is an audio collection of performance poetry and music. It offers a large selection (29) of studio-recorded pieces, in an attractive, professional-looking package complete with hip and funky cover art. But, by its nature, much performance poetry does not translate well into solitary listening via CD. Sadly, Gargoyle 52 is hamstrung by the limitations of its format.

Poetry, with historical roots in oral tradition, lends itself well to being spoken aloud, and to dramatic and musical performance. Anyone who has attended a performance poetry event can attest to its dramatic vitality. It’s great fun to be part of an enthusiastic and vocal audience, calling out its approval (and sometimes disapproval). Nothing could be further from the rarified atmosphere of literary criticism and academic analysis, of test questions and essay assignments. It is poetry at its most energetic and visceral.

That organic quality is, unfortunately, compromised by presenting performance poems as an audio collection. Performance poetry is not simply reading poems aloud to a musical accompaniment; the performance itself is part of the poem’s life. Listening alone to a CD, there is no audience to share the experience with, and the live, visual element of each poem is lost. As a result, the language of each piece bears the entire burden of metaphor and meaning, and sometimes, the language, the craft, of these poems is not up to the challenge.

Also troublesome is the cumulative effect of hearing these poems as a group. Taken individually, many of these pieces are interesting and provocative. However, taken as a collection, the poems’ similarity of voice, tone, and delivery becomes obvious. At times, the poems are repetitious and self-conscious, often given in the same sing-song manner with the same kind of New-Age-crossed-with-hip-hop accompaniment. At their weakest, experienced en masse only by ear, they become almost caricatures of 1950s “hipster” poems, too unconcerned with form and craft, too self-reflective.

However, some of these pieces do stand up to the CD format. In particular, the witty, sharply-observed work of Silvana Straw (“Tetraphobia;” “Ever Since He’s Been Taking Anti-depressants”) and the gritty and passionate poems of Reginald Harris (“Resume;” “Why I Can’t Take You Nowhere;” “M.T. in Solitary”) leave the listener gasping. The performance element could only enhance these already powerful poems.

Despite the problems, Gargoyle 52 is a noble effort to bring performance poetry to a wider audience than could fit into a coffeehouse or nightclub. It would be worthwhile to bring these poets together in the flesh for a performance event, in which all the elements of their art could be fully appreciated.

Laura Orem is a poet, artist and teacher. She is a Writing Fellow at Goucher College in Baltimore and lives on a farm in Red Lion, PA with her husband and an ever-growing menagerie of animals who will never be eaten.

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