Kimberly Alidio’s poetry collection Teeter leverages the nuances of speech and sound to expansive results in its three long poems.
Rebecca Morgan Frank wrote of the book:
“Through mixing, collaging, and looping, these poems become vehicles for both embodiment and investigation of the subject: sound—as music, as language, as simultaneously instinctive and cultural-political. . . . This book is not just a collection of noise, but a move toward reframing what exactly experimental poetry is “over time,” both collectively and individually.”
“Teeter” is a book of three long poems: “Hearing,” “Ambient Mom,” and “Histories.” Each poem takes different forms—verse, concrete visual poems, prose poems, poetic prose, homophonic transcriptions of two heritage languages I don’t speak. I didn’t listen to music while writing as much as write to collaborate-after-the-fact (to paraphrase David Grubbs) with audio or video recordings of experimental, ambient-leaning music and sound poetry, and with Filipinx vlogs on YouTube. While the Book Notes are technically the poems themselves, I thought I’d write here to recall how each sound piece became part of the book.
“An Arc of the Horizon,” “On Opposite Sides of Sleep” and “Brass (II)” by Lea Bertucci; “Live at the Kitchen” by Amirtha Kidambi & Lea Bertucci
These tracks feel like openings to “Teeter.” I associate them with arriving in the Upper Hudson Valley, NY after two decades in the US Southwest one dank spring, particularly with the wild ferns along the two creeks in my new hometown. One could say that every track on this playlist—and all the sound artists and musicians who support and have been supported by each track—is concerned with the resonance of rooms, everyday architecture, ear canals. Lea Bertucci’s music, including her collaborations with Amirtha Kidambi and others, feature sustained tones that were great for arriving in a new place, and for watching new sunsets.
“peak chroma” by claire rousay
rousay’s collaging of speech, musique concrete-style, into ambient pieces brings to life the poetic traditions of unbeautiful writing (Lyn Hejinian, Leslie Scalapino, for two) that find beauty in the everyday grind of trying to live and to connect. Both Lea Bertucci and claire rousay have made beautiful pieces from field recordings of the site-specific and the incidental. Their composing and processing procedures allow me as a listener (and a casual, amateur sound-maker) to pay attention to both background and foreground sounds, and to question those constructs. My partner, Stacy, also a poet and a recent contributor to Book Notes, gave me the phrase “Ambient Mom” for the title of my book’s second long poem, which listens for the emotional prosodies of my mother’s language which I neither speak nor understand. rousay, in particular, brings the journal poem practice into the three-dimensional realms of queer living. Maybe my poems could also be your gay friends.
I got acquainted with Danishta Rivero’s music when Syd Staiti programmed me with her in a performance event hosted by Small Press Traffic. Rivero’s performance is archived on SPT’s YouTube account (as well as the YouTube version of this playlist). Rivero’s solo work and collaboration with Alexandra Buschman-Román as Las Sucias create performances that feel utterly fearless and completely embodied. These performances make me love voice processing in live performance. This track is available on Bandcamp, but Las Sucias’ live performance recordings really relay the scene dynamics of voice electronica and noise. Sometimes I just want a scene to space out with! Recently, I met a person I associate with a difficult period of my life, and the encounter brought me back to scenes where I felt I couldn’t speak or move. This track lets me both relax and mobilize in all the right ways. I hope the power of noise and voice comes off in my book, too.
“Gyre’s Galax” by Norman H. Pritchard
This sound poem recording, released in the 1967 Smithsonian compilation, “New Jazz Poets,” was subsequently published as a text-poem in Pritchard’s 1970 book, “The Matrix” (recently reissued by Ugly Duckling Presse). I was fortunate to see Pritchard’s poem drawings at the 2022 Whitney Biennial. I rehearse all this here to say that Pritchard is a hero of “Teeter,” which has text-poems, concrete visual poems, and an accompanying series of audio tracks mixing field recordings with Adobe Audition effects. I’m fascinated by “Gyre’s Galax” as a text poem and a sound poem—which came first? Does it matter? In a piece entitled, “Of listening to Led Zeppelin and day drinking,” I screw up the courage to transcribe Pritchard’s sound poem into text that indicates his intonations and emphases.
“Seascape” by Lily Greenham and “Vibrespace” by Henri Chopin
Two venerable sound poets of the twentieth-century showcase, at least to my ears, the dynamic expressiveness of communication but without the words. Glorious, and fun to write with.
Amacher’s music is meant to be experienced on her large-scale installation sites and not really as audio recordings. Her work on neural perception, it is said, creates a music that feels as though it generates from inside your own head. I have yet to experience this, but I’m pretty used to the process of piecing together an inaccessible experience from materials at hand. I was fortunate to get to know Amacher’s work through the 2021 documentary, “Sisters with Transistors,” and the edited collection of her writing and interviews published by Blank Forms the same year. Her language is visionary and restive, which seems to track with her sound art. I borrowed some of Amacher’s language in my book as a guidepost for listening for tone and ambience, rather than for sound objects.
“Frolic Architecture” and “WOODSLIPPERCOUNTERCLATTER” by Susan Howe & David Grubbs
These tracks are collaborations of two artists known primarily for one discipline—Howe for poetry and Grubbs for music—but whose work in that one discipline is so deeply informed by their other practices—Howe’s visual art and Grubbs’ writing. Howe’s phonemes are phenomenal. Sometimes when I think of these performances, along with N.H. Pritchard’s wide-ranging body of work, I think formal rigor is just a way for a work to crawl promiscuously across as many forms as might be inevitable.
“Whole Lotta Love” and “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin was my aural palate cleanser between sessions of composing with the other tracks on this playlist. The guitar at minute three of “Whole Lotta Love” or the call-and-response of vocal and guitar in the opening minute of “Black Dog” discharged some of the energy built up from listening to long resonant sustains or dense, unpredictable sound poem recordings. Theremin and classic blues song structure for the win.
“Lo Boob Oscillator” by Stereolab
This is a song which has been at the edge of my consciousness since its 1995 release. During the time I was writing the book, I came to listen to it in the shower and it just clicked: that break halfway into the song into a drone swirled with bright, bubbly pop melody and beats! This song has literally been in the mix of so much of this playlist and my own cultural background. “Laaaaaaa…la lune est libre”!
“Outside the Outside” by Helado Negro
Released towards the end of the time I was writing the book, this song’s influence is really its official music video, a home movie of a 1980s-era house party. The camerawork dances along with the room of partygoers, and all the usual hallmarks of video camera “mistakes” are there: the footage of the floor, the sudden shift to landscape mode—it’s a party! At some point, there’s a small boy, cranky and sleepy, watching from the hallway. I love the celebration of the musician’s childhood memories, especially any use of documentary techniques to honor immigrant parents. The second long poem in “Teeter” recreates Filipino immigrant domestic spaces, both those in my somatic, sonic memories of 1980s Baltimore Filipino parties, and those of other families who’ve shared their home movies on YouTube. The music video of “Outside the Outside” doesn’t so much preserve the past as it lets an older generation dance to their son’s 2021 bop. It’s brilliant.
Kimberly Alidio (she/they) is the author of four books of poetry, including Teeter. Their writing has been awarded the Nightboat Poetry Prize, and nominated for the United States Artists Fellowship and the Lambda Literary Award. They live on Munsee-Mohican lands along the Mahicannituck River, otherwise known as New York’s Upper Hudson Valley.