James WF Roberts
Now that we have reached a new peak in information technology, data sharing, instant gratification in all manner of ways and means—do the old forms of communication, the old form of ideas still apply. Is art, or music, or poetry—for that matter…Are they still relevant today? Surely, a post-modernist audience, or critic would more than likely say, ‘it’s all old, it’s all irrelevant, the death of the author, the only person who matters is the be holder, is the audience’. Well, that may be true in some ways, it’s a dance, a tango. I think art, music, poetry, etc.; whatever art form you are involved in, is about making love.
We read poetry on the page, or listen to it at a slam, or an open mic night, because by and large poetry is attractive, sublime, subtle (in the best cases), seductive—the rhythms of language, the musicality of the tone, the juxtaposition of image over image, brand new ideas delivered in seemingly old ways, or vice versa, that give fresh eyes to old problems, or questions. Whether you are talking about the existence of God, the divine, the hereafter, sex, drugs, addiction, abuse, refugees, indigenous land-owners, etc.; there is no subject a human being can think of discussing, that can’t be discussed through poetry.
It can be funny, serious, dark, disturbing, psychologically aware, sensual and thought-provoking; sometimes all at once (if you have ever read or heard any of the really messed up and disturbed things I have been known to inflict upon audiences at poetry slams).
With the coming of the information super-highway, a new phenomenon has appeared, YouTube. YouTube, has to be one of the absolute pleasures and also absolute curses for the modern artist/musician/poet; the dilemma of how much do I post online versus what I want to be published and paid for, am I suited for the camera ( I know I am not); do people in the industry take it serious enough, or is it just a gimmick, a sales tactic to draw people in so they will get used to my work, my face and hopefully buy it. Well, I mean who cares if it is a selling device, I have never understood the idea of selling one’s artistic/creative work as selling out and becoming corporate, I guess because I come from a family of musicians and piano/organ teachers, that I have no dice about people being paid for their time, effort and work. Poetry and art in general, in my view is a noble profession, done usually by dishonorable people. One such star, as it were, of the YouTube and Internet poetry space is Catherine Zickgraf, (aka: Catherine the great); based in Augustus, Georgia, USA.
is a writer first, a performer second. As Catherine the Great, she has shared her spoken word from Boston to Miami to San Francisco and scores of stages in-between. See her perform live on www.youtube.com/czickgraf.
Yet, the written word is her first love. Her writing has appeared in many journal in the USA, including: the American Medical Association, Pank, Bartelby-Snopes, and GUD Magazine. Catherine and I were fortunate enough to be jointly short-listed for the inaugural Fermoy International Poetry Festival (Ireland).
She is about to launch DVD number four, ‘Burying the Clocks’; and this is certainly a departure from her previous work, that I have seen. Most of the videos and poems I have read or watched by Catherine, for the most part, have been highlights, collections of individual parts; not usually a comprehensive, completely realized thematic structure, with a beginning, middle and end. Burying the Clocks, however is very different. Powerful and sublime. There is a beauty and economy of language in Catherine’s work, that sends chills down your spine.
Catherine’s performance style is somewhere between an ethereal trance and a sensual dance, she is making love to the audience and sometimes, as she has told me in the past, people have thought she was making love to the microphone.
She sways, and captivates you like you are her devotee—she is in complete and utter control. Over the last few years in the USA and in Australia there has been a strange demarcation line between performance or stage poetry and page poetry. Page poets and the big literary giants, have often looked down upon the stage poets as stand-up comedians, wanna-be actors, just entertainers, entertaining the masses—what’s wrong with that? Homer, the creator of the western canon, performed in the street, in the market. Poets, essentially are shamanic in their delivery, and in their art—that is why we rhyme, and use cadence to create a magic land, a spell in your imagination.
Burying the Clocks—the titular piece of the collection, opens with not so much a bang, but a visceral knife into your emotions, in to your heart. The its themes of: grief, mourning, wild life, traditional family structures, the nonchalance of adolescence, burying the clocks is an interesting metaphor, in itself; the idea of burying the past, memories frozen in time, yet they linger with you no matter how much you grow, or how much you change as a person. Forgetting the corporeal limitations of life, death and love; your past makes you who you are. The language Catherine begins the collection with, for Burying the Clocks, has an irregular meter and pattern, but all the same a rather elegant cadence:
“stark of stars, the ceiling swelled up when we gathered for her, pink-suited, asleep.”
Mothers and Daughters; has a lot going on inside it. There is a mix of metaphors, Little Red Riding Hood, loss of innocence, desperation. Questions raised: are we all just looking for approval and for love from our parents? Do parents hold on too long? Or not long enough? I quite like the structure of this piece. Irregular patterns, mixed with rhyming couplets.
“…you seem to try too hard, harder than I would to please your mom—harder than anyone should. But regardless of how often you succeed she will never love the way you need”.
Birth Family: This must have been the hardest piece for Catherine to write, let alone perform. It’s a story of uneasiness. Of teenage pregnancy, adoption. But, Catherine writes in a very matter of fact way, about the issues. Some interesting questions were very subtly raised in this piece, ‘do all women innately love a child, and forever hold that connection with a child, though they are separated?’
Resolution is so far my favourite piece in the collection, on my first absorption of it. Thematic issues raised are the loss of innocence, faded love, spurned passion, joyless/loveless relationship. Abortion, symbolic, maybe even tangible rape. Power and control over a naive woman, revenge, defiance. Some highlights of this piece are “I was blind then, hanging over death, reaching for your salvation—but you were a vine of thorns’…and the resolution is itself a masterstroke, ‘you are a vapor. Dissolving, gone”.
I hope I am not giving too much away with this review. There is so much to say, so much to love and so much power in her words that one is at times worried that too much of the Cat has been let out of the bag. This is a collection of love, of death, of sin, sex, loss, joy, beauty and sadness, acceptance and defiance. Yet, frankly, I think this is more a collection for women than it is for men. Which, of course there is nothing with that, and there are universal themes, archetypes that men can relate to, and it is refreshing to sometimes see things from the opposite sex’s point of view. The only criticism I have, which isn’t really a criticism at all, is that the main thematic vehicle in this collection is the relationship between mothers and daughters, and how they see themselves and each other.
Catherine takes the themes of family, tradition, culture, and perception further than I would have thought possible in the early pieces of the collection; there is a crisis of faith in the middle of the collection, which is sophisticated, cruel and sad, and borders on an ancient Greek Platonic Hephaestian/ Demiurgical
cosmological view, “Where God Stores Miscarried Souls”; I won’t spoil this one by delving too much into it, but the anger, the hate, the searching, the remorse and then the sting in the tail, the quasi acceptance/non-acceptance ; the matter-of -fact-ness of it all is perfect. And I am sure anyone who has been in that situation can relate perfectly well to it.
What I am thankful for in Catherine’s writing is her razor. I guess because these pieces are all performance poems, they are lacking the overly emotional, malingering, meandering flowery language, that I hate to say, (because I sound like a total woman-hating sexist); that I almost expected, because this is a collected poetic work, essentially about motherhood and womanhood in general, but as I know Catherine quite well now and her writing very intimately, I know that was a foolish thing to expect. The latter pieces of Burying the Clocks, are both religious and modernist.
Catherine doesn’t attack and pull it apart like a lot of other poets do today, she analyses and uses biblical legends and ideas to flesh out modern ennui and conflict;in Sheol, we are taking into a visceral and disturbing Hellish world, but we see it all through the mind, the eyes of a child, a Father telling his child the story of Abraham and of Christ.
“Sheol was eternity’s waiting room, says Daddy, opening the Bible to the book of Luke. There, everyone who died before Christ waited for Resurrection—their souls separated from their corpses which froze motionless in their graves”.
I recommend this collection to all lovers of poetry, old and new. For people who are a little bit intimidated by poetry and the lofty notions, that like me were hit of the back of the head with, usually with the complete Shakespeare, in high school, I think this is a good introduction. Modern Performance Poetry, is a lot more than just Hip-hop wanna-bes, and old guys in cowboy hats, thinking they are 19th Century Gold Miners, Swagman and Bushrangers.
Contact Catherine directly via Facebook and YouTube on further details on how to purchase this collection. I believe it retails for under $10 USA. I would pay 5 times that amount for the experience this collection gives you. Please go out and buy it, or at least watch Catherine on YouTube.