Gregor’s Bed

An American Poet in the Maritimes, and Those who Love Her.

Album: I Am In Need of Music
Artist: Suzie LeBlanc

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

– Elizabeth Bishop, from the poem ?I Am in Need of Music?

A few years back two Nova Scotians, soprano Suzie LeBlanc and artist Linda Rae Dornan, up and decided to hike through Newfoundland with a tome of Elizabeth Bishop’s poems. They were attempting to follow the route that the poet herself took in 1932. Dornan documented the walk on video, later producing the documentary, ?Walking with EB.?

When you read a little of Bishop’s poetry you can see why it would inspire someone to put everything else on hold and mindfully retrace her steps, even if much of the route has since wiped out or replaced by highways. Elizabeth Bishop was an intriguing personage who left a legacy of extremely intriguing work, presenting a view of the world that departed significantly from convention.

Born in Massachusetts in 1922, she became a major American poet of the twentieth century. Her Canadian connection, and the reason why she was drawn to the bosoms of Nova Scotia’s literati, was the home of her Nova Scotian grandparents–to which she was sent to be raised at an early age after her father died and her mother was committed to a mental asylum. The Maritime Provinces inspired some of her best work.

This is my first mindful encounter with Suzie LeBlanc’s voice, which I understand has applied itself mostly to early music. She sounds amazing here, but I suspect that the artistic fullness and perfection of her delivery might have something to do with her passion and full participation in every step of this project as well as the pains she took to enter Bishop’s mind and to see things as she had seen them? a very tall order.
This CD was one of the Legacy Projects from Nova Scotia’s Elizabeth Bishop Centenary Festival of 2011. It brought to life the brainchild of Suzie LeBlanc and Sandra Berry, the EB Players. Directed by DinukWijeratne they recorded ten settings of Bishop poems by Canadian Composers Emily Doolittle, Christos Hatzis, Alasdair MacLean, and John Plant.

The music might be called ?new art song? as It’s firmly rooted in the art song tradition with all its inherent romanticism, but at the same time branches out rhapsodically in contemporary directions. LeBlanc delivers a driving pulse that grows more intense at the end of each beat. Emily Doolittle’s contributions hark back to Stravinsky and Prokofiev, while the settings created by Christos Hatzisare more romantic and Copelandesque. (?Insomnia? is a high point, touching on blues, country, and Hollywood’s Golden Age.)

Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.

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