âWords are so slippery, and yet they are what we have. We give them to each other every day – little dried leaves, clouds, shiny business banners, thousands of scraped pieces of paper.
– Kelly Schirmann, from âPopular Musicâ (2016)
Kelly Schirmann, a 33-year-old poet raised in rural northern California, is one of several rock star writers heading to Spokane this week to participate in Get Lit, the annual week-long local literary festival. which celebrates the written word.
Schirmann will take the stage on Friday evening with poet Kaveh Akbar to read his book – a harmonious blend of three ruminative stories, surrounded by powerful poetry. Much of her prose was inspired by her natural surroundings and the rock music she grew up listening to – Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Stevie Nicks, to name a few.
Other parts of his book communicate ideas like great songs do – with a strong story, lyrical language, and original arrangements. A reviewer from the Poetry Foundation described Schirmann’s “Popular Music” as “an Emersonian meditation with an awesome shuffle playlist.”
It’s no surprise that Schirmann is both a writer and a musician. Last year, she and her partner, Jay Fiske, moved from Portland to Missoula to “try to make a living from the things we make,” she said. She is pursuing an MFA in documentary writing at the University of Montana where she also teaches. In addition to writing and creating ceramic art, Schirmann plays guitar and sings in a group called Sung Mountains with Fiske.
Schirmann’s meditations in his first book, âPopular Music,â explore this art form as more than just a soundtrack accompanying the trajectory of his life; music practically guides his artistic journey. Her thoughts on music, how it affected her growing up and how it fascinates her to this day, seem fresh but vaguely familiar; like an old aria sung with so much distinction and truth, that it becomes a revelation.
In âPopular Music,â Schirmann uses his relationship to songs as a lens through which to explore personal identity, artistic creativity, and even the meaning of life. Her first attempt begins the conversation directly on the fragile ground on which she knows herself: the impossibility of describing music in words.
Worried about “losing the truth almost suddenly”, she takes what she calls her “linguistic ax” and begins to dig the roots of her fascination with popular music, an obsession as common as the craze of society. for social media say, or private jets. Schirmann shares his thoughts on a variety of topics – love, road trips, nature, art – with the skill of Janis Joplin in Woodstock. She uses her interpretations to entertain audiences with playful experimentation, while simultaneously taking conversation to the next level.
âI think music is so relatable because it’s a really powerful first experience for most people, which tends to happen when we’re teenagers or young adults,â Schirmann said in a phone interview since. his home in Missoula.
âMusic is the first chance we have to hear a version of ourselves and our experience on earth that is rendered to us in this way that sounds like Something“said Schirmann.
Deep musical experiences often arise at times when we wonder who we are, where we are in the world, and what we should be doing. “Music offers us a response in a form that has this thing of a beginning, a middle and an end, a crescendo and a feeling that goes with it that makes you conclude that it sums up where I am”, a Schirmann said. âAll art at its best does this. It makes you feel less alone in the world and less alienated.
In his book, Schirmann writes: âMusic gives me permissionâ¦ to experience the feelings that I have. never had, that maybe I never will. The words themselves don’t have to be mine, or even true, for me to understand them, to learn from them.
Schirmann’s second essay in the middle of the book describes a summer she spent living off the grid on a northern California farm with a friend when she was 22. The only movie they had was a recording of the documentary “The Last Waltz,” Band, as its members collaborated with old friends and music giants from the ’70s to produce their final concert. It really was as much a funeral as it was a celebration. The roommates kept the film on loop for weeks.
âAs I watched it, it was a showcase of a lifestyle that didn’t really exist anymore,â Schirmann said. “For some reason watching this 40 years later, seeing so many of my heroes wrap up in some way, it was a very unique and powerful experience, but also a disturbing one.”
Between the entertaining accounts of his three essays, Schirmann arranges plunging lyric riffs in the form of poems. Some explore the depths of âpopularâ music. She notes that most pop songs now leave her cold. “I don’t hear the content or the message behind it, or the type of person who would receive it,” she said. âI hear the driving economic investment behind it. “
Schirmann’s latest essay is a memory of sitting in the passenger seat of her father’s van and begging for something – a toy or new clothes. Her father’s response was to sing “You can’t always get what you want.” It was years before a local DJ informed Schirmann via his radio that it was actually an English rock band called The Rolling Stones who had made this chorus famous.
She describes the electric feeling of being “initiated to a new language”, of being “flushed out and validated by the radio … You can’t always get what you want. It was so true. “
Once again, Schirmann’s words strike a chord, revealing forgotten memories. Where is she going to drop the needle next?