Friday, May 29, 2009

The Naked Voice

Yet again, I find myself compelled to share with you more on Maura. I just finished listening to a few of the songs off Maura O'Connell's new CD, Naked With Friends, and I cannot keep the joy to myself!

Maura O'Connell, a brilliant singer, has always had a strong voice and a skilled delivery. I hope that she's standing tall and proud now, a recording dream fully realized and a new CD just released. "Naked With Friends", brings to the ears of a modern and high-tech world the simplicity and beauty of music from an earlier world, the beauty of singing without musical accompaniment. You'll hear songs accompanied by singing, which gives as much support and framing as any orchestra. Quite possibly, you may not believe your ears; you may even begin searching the credits for instrumentalists! Well, you'll find the instrumentalists, but their instrument of choice is their voice. Aha!!!

"In interviews over the years, I'm always being asked why I don't play an instrument to accompany myself," says Maura, "or why don't I write songs. I've gathered the consciousness that singing should be just fine, that it is a viable talent on its own." And so true it is on "Naked", with Maura's strong voice and a cast of similarly experienced, well-trained and award-winning voices to who sing along with or provide a lovely background of support for Maura on the entire CD.
Among the guest singers are Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, Kate Rusby, Paul Brady, Mary Black, Jerry Douglas, Tim O'Brien, Darrell Scott, Aoife O'Donovan (Crooked Still), Sarah Dugas (The Duhks), Mairéad Mhaorigh, Moya Brennan, Liam Bradley, Declan O'Rourke, and O'Connell's sister, Áine Derrane.

"On this album," O'Connell says, "I just wanted to capture the feeling of joy that comes from people singing together." And what amazingly, unbelievably glorious singing it is! Take a listen for yourself on Maura's MySpace page and see if you don't agree. Listen to "Shipbuilding" and let me know if you miss any instruments, go ahead, I dare you.

Maura has said, "A lot of people think every singer is someone's puppet. That they are not fully invested in the song--that they are at the whim of a producer or songwriter or a band. Singing has been denigrated like that for too long." When a singer like Maura O'Connell has a beautiful voice; when a talented singer knows HOW to sing, being unbound by the adornments of instruments and such, there appears a sparkling light in the sound, that we cannot see at any other time.

There is an expression I discovered a few years back in reading about a nun, musician and mystic, the Abbess Hildegard von Bingen, who described herself as "a feather on the breath of God". Surely, Maura's voice has been guided along as a feather on the breath of God!

The Blacksmith from on Vimeo.

You can buy the CD from the shop at , from i-tunes or at, where you can read my review of Naked With Friends.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Georgia Poet, Alice Shapiro, Calls On Her Poetic Muse.

Although Alice Shapiro doesn’t find her greatest inspiration from him, Leonard Cohen’s poems and song lyrics have been and are meaningful and inspiring to her.

The title of Shapiro’s latest book (available June 2), a collection of poems, draws from the Canadian-born poet and songwriter’s work.

In Cohen’s poem, which was later reworked as lyrics for his famous song, Anthem, Cohen observes [that]

There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Shapiro found inspiration in these words, enough to name her new book of poems Cracked. Alice told us what “the light” referenced in Cohen’s poem means to her. “It’s so many things—hope, love, God and anything that reveals the truth, whether positive or negative.” For Alice, the inspiration managed to get in; this collection of poems is the truth that she is speaking and sharing with the rest of us.

So, what is it that a poet writes about today? In the last two years, Alice Shapiro has written about what she calls “timeless topics”, those things that we all experience, such as courage and endurance in the trials of life.

Today I moved. From room to room
chores completed, deeds done,
work gained its proper foothold.
The battle ‘tween flesh and spirit yielded
as I mused on prayers in the midst
of motion…

These lines, from Alice’s poem, Supplication, give us an example of the simple daily tasks that we’re all familiar with and the battles that we are faced with in our own lives.

And another of Alice’s poems from the new book and fresh off the presses gives us a glimpse into the struggles of a writer’s life.

Trista’s Lull
She moans, “You can’t force it”
but you can force it.
You can get down in the dirt,
push your fingers to make marks,
embark upon an effort,
climb up that ladder,
slide down that slide.
For when the rhythm jumps
out of its condensed container
you can visually flash on the soup
and eat it. Or write it.
Your choice: letting the longing
culminate into words, or action.
Work and dissipation,
or a pledge to paper,
silent venting which retains
humility, grace, honor.

Alice, who lives in Douglasville, Georgia, grew up in and lived most of her life in Long Island, New York. She began expressing herself through writing at an early age, when she would write cowboy poems for her siblings to act out in the back yard of their family home.

Following a career in art, Alice Shapiro returned to writing in 1985, studying under William Packard, founder of "The New York Quarterly" and professor at NYU. Her poetry credits include a chapbook, Seasons of the Heart with Scars Publications (2007), Silent Actor, New Verse News, The Smoking Poet and the anthologies Poetry Connoisseur (third prize winner), Antologia del Nuovo Mondo, and Thank You, Gorbachov!

She has also written two plays that were produced, In The Beginning and Four Voices. She is the recipient of the Bill C. Davis Drama Award for her play, Four Voices.

David Axelrod, the poet laureate of Suffolk, Long Island, has written the preface for Shapiro’s book, Cracked: Timeless Topics Of Nature, Courage and Endurance, and will be reading with her June 21 at the Douglasville Cultural Arts Center. The performance begins at 3:00 p.m. and is free and open to the general public.

And which poets’ work does this poet read? “Some of the poets I like to read,” says Alice, “are Wallace Stevens, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich and W. H. Auden, but my favorite is Gerard Manley Hopkins. He is so bold and musical! I also try to put music into my poems.” she adds and gives an example from his poem, He mightbe slow:

He mightbe slow and something feckless first,
Not feck at first, and here no harm,
But earnest, always earnest, there the charm

It has been said that it’s best to listen to the rhythm in a poem, sometimes, and just let the music of the words wash over you. In poetry, it is often the same as looking at an abstract painting. We should ask, how does this make me feel, and not always what does this mean. Naturally, we’d like to know, for Alice Shapiro, what is poetry? Alice likes to quote Plato, who said, “Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.”

“Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote a wonderful poem” Shapiro tells us, “describing many different facets of what poetry is in his "Americus, Book I" and simply titled III. One of his great lines is, ‘Poems are lifesavers when your boat capsizes.’ That pretty much sums up my writing in the new book,” she adds.

For your own life-saving copy of Alice Shapiro’s book, sign on to on June 2 or visit Shapiro’s website,, where you can pre-order a copy.
All poems, courtesy of Alice Shapiro, ©2009 All rights reserved.
Other related links:
Douglasville Cultural Arts Center,
David B. Axelrod, Poet Laureate, Suffolk, Long Island,
The New York Quarterly,
This post was previously published in Moonshine Journal of the Arts.