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.
The collaboration for the album River began on New Year’s Eve 2016 when I was reading Trial and Witness –Selected Poems by Allison Grayhurst.
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.
River – songs from the poetry of Allison Grayhurst was released in October 2017 and is available on Bandcamp, iTunes, and Amazon. Diane’s Amazon page is HERE. . . Diane on Soundcloud.
When Diane first approached me about this project, my initial response was surprise and trepidation, along with excitement. I didn’t think such a thing was possible – for although there is a natural rhythm in my poetry, I didn’t think there could be music. I was nervous that I wouldn’t like what I heard. Even though I completely trusted Diane and was already a fan of her musical abilities, I was full of scepticism. However, after hearing how Diane combined her musical gifts with my poems to create separate identities – songs – I was blown away. I never imagined such a thing possible and I can’t imagine that anyone but Diane could have tuned in so well to my poems, creating songs from my poems that I would be happy with. Her instinctual genius, both musically and vocally, astounds me and resonates in complete harmony with my poetry. She has honoured my work every step of the way. I am in awe of Diane’s talent and brilliance.
Diane wrote the songs using my poems. Once the songs were complete, Diane sent me each song as an mp3 and a word file of the lyrics. I went over the lyrics meticulously and got back to her with any changes I wanted. There weren’t many changes, but there were a few that I felt necessary to keep true to the poems. Diane made the changes upon my suggestion – sometimes sending me back several versions. We did this until it fit musically for her and I was happy with it lyrically. As we both mutually respect each other’s artistic integrity, the process was quick and easeful.
– Allsion Grayhurst
Three poems by Allison Grayhurst
I will run my breath across your eyelids,
go to you, trace the edges of your hands,
finding infinity inside your torment. I will
drift into you like wind and you will not mind
my lips like a concentrated shadow on your skin,
darkening but leaving no weight. You will let me
be inside your picture, a background to your lyrics,
softly at first, I will heal the red in the whites of your eyes.
I will release my wardrobe for you and you will be the mania
that I climb through to reach tranquility. I will
cup your flesh and stretch you through this intimacy because
I own you as you own me and it is not a bad thing, not
blasphemy or anything
to fear. It is your hands, mine – these
poignant burial grounds that have been excavated,
these days of standing close, depending upon the ease
of our mutual exposure. I will speak in your ear and you
will step into my voice
like stepping into a river.
First published in InnerChildPress
It is this way, togetherness:
A covenant with tenderness and speaking thoughts
The snow falls like rain as the afternoon moves
without time, our hands pressed as one,
lips and then, something better. Always
miraculous, unexpected, awakening. Always
us, vanishing and then re-emerging with these things
of harmony and friction engulfing our scent and path. Soon,
the tiger lilies will bloom and being just us will be made difficult
with the children gathered in our arms. But this ‘difficult’ is
whole and adds to our liberation – making coffee, laughing
at things shared and only ours.
It is what was prayed for, what years and hardship has not
diluted, but has fused into an unbreakable bond – us –
the summoning of all our parts – ancient, immediate
so that even when death comes or fate and terrible sobbing,
neither of us will ever be again
without the other
First published in Anchor & Plume: Kindred, Issue 5, Nest
He turns his hawk head
to view the shells of turtles streaking
the still-shroud of water in tanks
as blue as sky.
He lifts a leg and talons tensed,
pivots to defend against an enclosing shadow.
With whitish eyes and an impossible urge
to fly, he hops along his man-made perch toward
the cages where squirrels leap
from metal to wood, scattering like leaves
in unpredictable flurry.
He listens to the ducks’ lipless sounds.
Spring, he will never experience again, nor know
the scent of a pent-up life released like
sunflowers blooming, or the feel of the moon,
colder but more comforting than being touched.
He is without time or tribe,
and like fire, he haunts
by just being.
First published in UC Review, 1996/1997
All three poems are © Allison Grayhurst, All rights reserved, posted on The Poet by Day with Allison’s permission.
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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