For the next installment of the SOMOS Summer Writers Series, poetry takes on new dimensions with a multimedia performance featuring spoken word, original music and video.
“Naked Romance” is a collaboration among poet Davida Singer, composer John Rangel and artist Nicole Schmölzer. The dynamic evening of words, sounds and sights takes place on Wednesday (July 19) at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St.
Singer is a poet and performance artist, as well as the author of three poetry collections. Her most recent chapbook, “Naked Romance and Then Some” (Aldrich Press, 2015), was created during her Wurlitzer Foundation residency in 2014. The poems have local titles, such as “Salazar Romance” and “New Mexico Riff.”
In the poem “Taos Romance,” Singer writes: “and the tune clips a breeze, slides down piñon, then rests on a shoulder of road, not specifically for you, not for anyone really, like love itself.”
For the book blurb, Frank London, a Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and composer, endorses: “Davida Singer is a love gangster, a trickster. Writing in her honey drawl for all she’s worth.”
During an interview, Singer explains the idea of romance in the sense of a yearning that has to do with connection. “Given what’s going on – environmentally, politically, socially – I keep hearing people talk about how we need more connection.”
Rangel is a composer and pianist in Santa Fe. He has performed at the Harwood Museum before, including accompanying jazz performer Kathy Kosins in 2014. Rangel explains that he has been involved with several spoken-word projects in Los Angeles, California. For this “Naked Romance” collaboration, he recorded Singer reading her poetry. “After I presented the arrangements, she re-recorded the vocals,” he explains.
Both Singer and Rangel are eager to point out the serendipity of their professional collaboration in the Southwest.
Rangel says, “Davida called me to do a gig with her in Taos in an art gallery. During the gig, I learned that she lived two blocks from me in New York City, where I grew up. She also taught at Hunter College, which I attended as part of my high school AP classes.”
The project has been performed in New York and Santa Fe; this is the first time it is being presented in Taos. Rangel says, “I think of the music we created as a bridge between Taos and New York City. There are elements of classical sounds mixed with New Mexico landscapes. Intimacy, complexity and musical abstractions are all in support of Davida’s new look at romance.”
Singer’s connections continue. In 2016, she met Schmölzer, a Swiss painter, at the Wurlitzer Foundation. Singer invited Schmölzer to add video to her poems. At the Harwood, the viewing audience will be treated to some lush visuals, creating a fusion experience.
“I loved Nicole’s work,” says Singer. “We had a very long conversation at the Wurlitzer one day. I was in her casita having tea. We had the same kind of sense of improvisation, the immediate and the abstraction of the feeling.”
Tempo asked Singer what drives her poet’s life. Singer says, “Writing is something I’ve done since I was very young. I was also attracted to the performance end of it. Poetry itself and the oral tradition is very important to me. The sense of almost being able to fly is the metaphysical part of it. That’s where the music also comes in. I’ve always written very musically. I’m very close to a lyricist. I have been influenced by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Walt Whitman.”
Singer also points to the stream of consciousness evidenced by Allen Ginsberg. “There is a freedom – the love of the body, the erotic. He celebrated this simple kind of things in one’s life from the physical to the spiritual.”
As a college professor (at Hunter College and School of Visual Arts, both in New York), Singer is keen on expanding students’ minds regarding poetry.
“Through the School of Visual Arts, I developed an on-site course here in Taos. Students come here for two weeks. The course is called ‘Writing in the Land of Enchantment.’ They put a portfolio together. At the end of the course, they did a rehearsal with John Rangel and a drummer and did a performance.”
Jan Smith, the executive director of SOMOS, has known Singer and her work for the past nine years. “We featured her once before, about six years ago. She always prefers a multimedia performance. Her belief is that combining art forms [poetry, music and visual arts] enhances the overall experience for the audience and helps them make connections to the essence of the written word through other senses,” says Smith.
Smith explains that Singer wanted to do her performance at the Harwood because of the acoustics and sound system, plus the opportunity to showcase not only her work, but also the work of three musicians and the visual artist. “I think her work has broad appeal to not only writers, but music and art lovers as well,” says Smith.
Singer describes the “Naked Romance” performance as a multimedia project involving music that is connected to the poetry and then video that is also brought in.
“Everything has a connection. The music and the visuals are not done in a background way. Each has its own flavor, its own integrity. They bump into each other. There’s a set order and there’s improv,” says Singer.
Accompanying Rangel in the musical performance, the live band will consist of Douglas Cardwell on drums and Andy Zadrozny on bass. “Naked Romance” CDs will be available for sale.
See youtube.com/watch?v=iFa0h0zKMVw for a performance preview.