What’s it like for a poet and a singer/songwriter to pool their talents and produce an album? That’s something I’ve wondered about. I thought perhaps some of you have as well. When I found out that Diane Barbarash and Allison Grayhurst did just that, I asked them to share their experience with us here. / J.D.
I should first explain that Allison and I were extremely close friends back in Toronto, my old hometown. Several years ago I moved 3,000 miles west, landing in Vancouver on the west coast of Canada. I think it’s hard to maintain friendships with such distance so over time we focused more on our private lives and lost our regular communication.
Sometime in 2016 Allison and I reconnected, and it was as if we had never skipped a beat. I truly felt a piece of myself had returned and so it followed that I downloaded her compilation and was immersed in the book on that auspicious New Year’s Eve. I don’t even know what possessed me, but I remember the moment clearly. I suddenly picked up my guitar, scanned the poem I had just read and a verse flowed from a few of the lines like magic. It came so easily; musically it sounded like “something.”
So I went to another poem and had a similar experience. I should insert here that I was at that time fresh off of a three-year creative block in which I was only able to write a few songs, not many for such a time period. When these two random verses came forward from Allison’s poetry I felt more alive than I had in a long time. I can’t tell you how I knew but I knew something big had opened. The following day I contacted Allison and proposed the project. She very kindly gave me her blessing and her trust, and then I got to work!
The first poem that became a song was Animal Sanctuary. I think I sent Allison the first half, just to see how she felt. She loved it. I remember feeling nervous because I had changed the wording of course, the order of things, because a song is going to demand its own unique rhythm and one that flows with the chord progression. Even with just a half a song, we knew we had something. The writing of the album continued from January until July 2017. It was recorded in four days in August and mixed and mastered that same month.
River has been the most beautiful artistic relationship I have ever experienced. I’ve previously co-written with other musicians and one other Canadian poet, so I have had some collaborative experience, but mostly it’s been a solo road, writing my own material. I admit I am biased here… I think Allison is truly a great writer and I have not read poetry that moves me so deeply into my human rawness as hers does. It’s an honor that I’ve been able to bring her work out into the forefront.
Songs, like other art, cannot be forced by the mind. They have to come from the heart and you have to give yourself over to them as they flow out. This is how I’ve always known I am in the presence of true love, the unexplainable lyrical and musical combination that gives birth to what becomes a song.
Composing with Allison’s poetry became this kind of pure-heart experience. I am changed because of this album and definitely hope that there is more to come.
– Diane Barbarash
DIANE BARBARASH started writing songs even before she learned how to play guitar at thirteen. She was an active performer in Toronto’s folk club circuit before moving to Vancouver where she perused her love of recording. She has released three albums prior to River but considers River her true debut.
Three poems by Allison Grayhurst
Now I am Two
ALLISON GRAYHURST (Allison Grayhurst.com) is a member of the League of Canadian Poets. Three of her poems were nominated for “Best of the Net” in 2015, and one eight-part story-poem was nominated for “Best of the Net” in 2017. She has over 1125 poems published in more than 450 international journals and anthologies. Her book Somewhere Falling was published by Beach Holme Publishers, a Porcepic Book, in Vancouver in 1995. Since then she has published sixteen other books of poetry and six collections with Edge Unlimited Publishing. Prior to the publication of Somewhere Falling she had a poetry book published, Common Dream, and four chapbooks published by The Plowman. Her poetry chapbook The River is Blind was published by Ottawa publisher above/ground press December 2012. In 2014 her chapbook Surrogate Dharma was published by Kind of a Hurricane Press, Barometric Pressures Author Series. In 2015, her book No Raft – No Ocean was published by Scars Publications. More recently, her book Make the Wind was published in 2016 by Scars Publications. As well, her book Trial and Witness – selected poems, was published in 2016 by Creative Talents Unleashed (CTU Publishing Group). She is a vegan. She lives in Toronto with her family. She also sculpts, working with clay. Allison’s Amazon page is HERE.
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