Canadian Poetry Online top banner link to Canadian Poetry Online home page link to University of Toronto Libraries home page


Susan McMaster : Comments by Writers and Critics


REVIEWS : SugarBeat Music & Poetry


Charlie Gordon, Ottawa Citizen, July 1995:
The words enhance the music; more important, the words, often wasted in the roar of rock music, can actually be heard and understood.


Sylvia Adams, Ottawa Citizen, March 1996:
In a synchronistic blending with music, as presented by SugarBeat, [performance poetry] even threatens to convert a few diehard poemophobes...
...Susan McMaster explained the symbiosis eloquently: "There's something about music that makes the hard listening required for poetry more comfortable for people, more welcome. It allows space around the words for the ideas and sounds to sink in.
"We're pleased and perhaps surprised that pieces that stand perfectly well on their own as poems, and have that kind of intensity and compression, work even better with the music weaving through," she adds. "What matters is that the words are said clearly, and often slowly, enough that they can be heard.
The poet is "scored like an instrument"... matching the music's mood to poetry written and ready by McMaster, making it stormy, quirky, otherworldly, contemplative, tender, sensual or foot-tapping.
"We have references within each piece but can improvise within those references," Giles says.
The surprise element in their unique presentation often captures attention. At last summer's outdoor jazz festival, passersby would stop and sit down when SugarBeat started performing... McMaster's remark that "All we require from each other is constant inspiration" could apply to all those working together to promote the arts.


Ken Rockburn, All in a Day, CBO radio, 1997:
An intriguing collaboration of words and music.


Dean Verger, Rasputin's Folk Cafe, Newsletter, February 1998:
The SugarBeat poetry and music workshop was a total success! A packed house, four musicians (including Alan Marsden) provided the instrumentals, 10 poets brought one poem each. They ran through each poem 3 times during the workshop; a reading, a discussion of possible musical arrangements, the first music-poem jam, a discussion of that result, the second poem-music jam. This process was followed up at 3 pm with a 45-minute performance featuring those 10 poems with the music ranging from "CBC at 3 am" to country swing. It was great! The pacing was fast, the music was interesting, the effect worked. Thanks Susan!


Wes Smiderle, Ottawa Citizen, Thursday 30 April 1998:
Poetry that's meant to be played... Performing poetry to music is a growing trend in the community... part of a growing community of Ottawa poets who are "performing" their poetry to music, rather than just reciting their work straight off the page.
"It's popular because it's so engaging," says Susan McMaster, local poet and the spoken voice portion of the Ottawa group SugarBeat.
McMaster also makes a clear distinction between performance poetry and plain old singing. "Song is a formalization of speech," says McMaster. "Songs extend single words, have a repeated chorus, and use end-rhymes." Besides avoiding the conventions of singing, performance poetry also uses the spoken voice as its main instrument. "Spoken voice is the most powerful method of communication," she says. "Something about the tone just grabs people's attention."
.............
... Many of the groups in Ottawa seem to base much of their performances on jazz. The image of a poet grooving to the sounds of a trio of musicians in some smoky cafe may call to mind the work of Leonard Cohen or Jack Kerouac and the beat poets of the '50s, but Ottawa writer Colin Morton says there is a distinction.
"The way we explore the [medium's] potential, it doesn't have to be rhythmically regular or rhyming to compliment the music. It's just the rhythm of language," says Morton, who worked with the SugarBeats several years ago and has now formed a new group called Sonic Circle. "Poets often worked with musicians, long before beat."
Performance poetry also addresses one of the main difficulties in going to a poetry recital B with a recital, the listener can't re-read lines and only has one chance to get the point.
"The use of music brings out inherent qualities of the poem," says Morton. "It provides spaces that allow the listener to think about the words... it's more like reading, it allows time for reflection."
McMaster's explanation for performance poetry's appeal is a bit more succinct.
"People are hungry for good words."

Susan McMaster's works copyright © to the author.


Canadian Poetry Online bottom banner link to University of Toronto Libraries home page link to Digital Collections home page link to University of Toronto Library catalogue link to Canadian Poetry Online home page link to University of Toronto Libraries home page