June 12, 2010 7:00pm @ Smalls Jazz Club
I sat down with Jane in the corner of smalls after her reading. The readings at Smalls last from about 5pm to 7pm, just in time for the first set of jazz at 7:30. Her power stance during the readings, the fire glow off of her eyes in the stage lighting and the sheer energy of her tone give Jane Ormerod an undeniable righteousness. Her poetry takes you inside the warped minds of her characters, who feel dangerously personal. We chatted about her creative process and some of her takes on working with different live and recorded musical settings.
J: I’ve done a few live series before but its nothing too organized. It’s more like the kind of thing where you have a rock band or jazz band behind you improvising, which I really like doing. Most of the times it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The more times you do it, you know the band and they read you and they read them. It makes you read your work in a totally different way.
A: You have the energy that they can vibe off and will facilitate the whole experience.
J: I find it really useful. My influences are more from performers than other poets.
J: Yeah…that’s more of my background. I didn’t go to school for poetry, I actually come from a fine art background. So when I was at arts school, I was going out and seeing bands all the time. Poetry came in and out with references to T.S Elliot and what not but my social life was nothing to do with poetry, which I thought was probably incredibly dull. When I do perform with a band, I chose work when I can change the words. Even without a band, I find I change the words based on my breathing, and it just changes. Different venues, different microphones, different audience. I know I’m about to pronounce a word wrong I kind of have to back step. I improvise all the time it’s not like I can’t think unless I’ve got a book in front of me all the time.
A: Do you think that makes you a “jazz” poet?
J: Probably, yes. Their isn’t strict jazz influence but I think their defiantly is that degree of improvising. With today, I only had really 15 min so you can’t improvise too much but other times you can talk a little more in between or flow poems into one another. Other times you follow the rules.
A: Have you performed at Smalls before, or any other jazz club settings?
J: I did a jazz thing at Cornelia Street Café. It’s about 4 years ago, defiantly a jazz band. The problem I have with that, and a I think a lot of poets do is that you tend to talk in a “jazz” voice. I am really worried about that because that’s not my natural voice. I think experimental music suits me more. If I am playing with a jazz band, I tend to put the “jazz” voice on. I am very reluctant to do. You see poets swaying and stuff, that’s not really me. The other things I work with a band is called Hydrogen Jukebox, the band there is a lot more flexible. You can say “jazz” or “punk” and they’ll get it and twist it and they’ll listen to you. The next one is at the end of July.
A: The term “jazz poetry” has been explained so many times. Some folks say it originated with Langston Hughes and there are folks like Sasha Feinstein and Yusef Kommunyaka who are specifically writing about “jazz poetry”. Then I recently heard Pinksy read and the sheer manner of his rhythm was jazzy not necessarily the content. Are the lines just blurry?
J: It’s tricky. I wouldn’t really know what jazz poetry was until now this year. When we talk about jazz poetry where do people like Tom Waits fit in? He does everything and courses genres. Also singers who do that kind of talking thing like Lou Reed and Patti Smith is another one.
A: They’re coming off the whole “beat” generation wagon.
J: So maybe their influences are jazz and maybe mine aren’t directly jazz but has moved through a generation. I’m feeding of their influences.
A: That’s interesting. Everyone feeding off the beats. That’s kind of what’s happening here at Smalls and what Lee is after. Culture and providing the very same venue. If you notice [gesturing to the empty club], nobody stuck around for the jazz. Why?
J: We’ll I think you have to pay another twenty dollars?
A: Oh come on now!
J: Well I think the thing is poets have limited funds.
A: [gesturing towards myself] Jazz musicians aren’t too well off either.
J: I know, I know, it’s tough. It’s almost worst when your musicians in a band because you’ve got a whole band to pay. I did a couple of shows in Ireland and people bought books so it actually paid for my flight from London to Dublin and train fare. I was like wow! It’s a lot easier and cheaper; all you need is a pen and a piece of paper.
A: I noticed your work tonight was mostly narrative, perhaps touching personal?
J: I think that was particularly tonight…and they’re not particularly personal. They tend to be characters. I think of them more of likes songs in a way, it’s a persona. The first one I read, “Detonated” its not of my typical pieces in that its more of a prose piece. When I read it at LPR, it was more a different audience and I had it separated into immediate pieces. Tonight I wanted it to be more experimental. It has to do with sounds and rhythm and sounds that are maybe more music than poetry. I write each word very slowly and I edit a lot even though it looks very random it’s a lot of work. The random words, you ravel and unravel them trying to get a balance that makes some kind of sense or till you receive some kind of feeling or recognition. About longer piece “Suspicion”, I’ve done a lot of work based on various movies. Watching them and writing down little thoughts and seeds, not necessarily dialogue that’s recognizable right away. William Burroughs…that’s another one whose jazz influenced. He’s looking over my shoulder.
A: Do you feel like New York is still fostering the marriage between jazz and poetry?
J: Well I’ve lived here since the beginning of 2004. I was writing a bit (prose) in London and was doing performance poetry when I moved to New York but I wouldn’t read to anyone sitting in a room writing a novel and did read two poems when I was in London. I found New York a lot more supportive than London. I think it’s a pretty critical audience in New York. They’ll walk out if they don’t like and they’ll tell you if they like you. British can be a little more reserved and “applaud” regardless. If things are going right, you feel it in the room a lot more. There are so many things going on any given night in the city. It can be hard to get an audience and people can always be thinking “what’s the time, I’ve got to make it to that next one…” The other thing is open mic’s encourage people to come in so if you’re doing something that not and open mic, someone can think “you’ve got me paying $7-10 and I can’t perform as well?” which is something that you wouldn’t get in music naturally. You wouldn’t want someone to come up to you with a guitar and ask “before you start can I play a number”
A: That’s interesting. Do you think that armature poets feel the need to be admitted to this culture on the fly since there is no right of passage? In jazz music, sometimes you’ll get up and play at the end of a set and that is the right of passage.
J: May-be it’s just New York. Everybody wants the get on the stage and do something. Its like , why be quiet? It no necessarily a bad thing as long as you listen to every one else, you’re influenced by everyone else, there are surprises. There was this 19 year old kid who was fabulous. You just got to keep your ear out all the time.
A: And I respect that about you, sitting in the back of the club as attentive as everyone else. Do you have any other arts that you dabble in?
J: I do visual arts, I don’t anymore. It felt like I was using separate sides of my brain, I can’t paint and write at the same time. I thought it would be the same but it turns out it’s not. I figured out that I’m a better writer than I was a painter…in your heard you just know and I had to accept it. As a painter you need a studio…its more complicated.
A: It was wonderful hearing you read. What’s next?
J: I’ve got a recording with some sound effects that I actually need to put together and do something with.
A: That’s your goal for the now?
J: Yeah to work with that, and continue to tour and do readings around the world.
Visit Jane Online: http://www.janeormerod.com/index.htm
Missed this one where you performed at Smalls, but can’t wait to see you Aug. 29th at the next Hydrogen Jukebox (and thanks for mentioning it! I’m encouraging more experimentation at the ‘wide open’ mike that session ). It’s the spirit of adventure like yours that’s helping to make the genre grow in new and exciting ways!