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Poetic variations

Spoken word poet Jeffrey Skemp will make his recording debut with a CD release party this Saturday at the Bryant Lake Bowl.
 Poetic variations
Image by Jules Ameel


What: Jeffrey Skemp CD release party

Where: Bryant Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St.

When: 7 p.m., Saturday

Cost: $6 advance; $8 door

Jeffrey Skemp doesnâÄôt really look like a poet. Just a month shy of turning 41, he is amiable, clean-cut and devoid of the snooty pretension that his art form of choice might suggest.

But despite his mild-mannered demeanor, Skemp has always considered himself first and foremost a writer. And though heâÄôs been a poet for years, this Saturday heâÄôll be debuting his first recording project at the Bryant Lake Bowl with the CD release of âÄúSpent,âÄù his new spoken word album.

Collaborating with local musicians that include his younger brother Matt (Volcano Choir), James Everest (Roma di Luna) and Martin Dosh, âÄúSpentâÄù is a 17-track collection of narrative vignettes told over a series of musical arrangements that all vary in their stylistic range.

The real drawing power behind âÄúSpentâÄù is how well the music matches each pieceâÄôs tone. On the albumâÄôs highlight, âÄúTraining,âÄù computerized white noise drones atop a lone and distant piano. The composition provides the track with an ominous atmosphere that couples perfectly with SkempâÄôs grim narrative: âÄúHe never had the appetite of a grunt or the eyes of a pilot / As usual his mind is a bird rolling in the dust / his thoughts shaking the ground open, the train departs with a deafening hiss.âÄù

There are pieces on âÄúSpentâÄù that recall the gritty poeticism of âÄúRaindogsâÄù-era Tom Waits recordings, but it has its brighter moments too. Bells and keys clink in âÄúA Clear GlimpseâÄù as Skemp speaks:  âÄúThen the colored splinters of glass / catch fire as the rain breaks / in the wake of the gradual setting / of the sweet, sweet sun.âÄù

As far as the writing process goes, Skemp insists that itâÄôs a joint effort. Oftentimes heâÄôll record the poem first and then leave it to the musician to compose the accompanying audio track.

  âÄúIâÄôve given the tracks to musicians and IâÄôll be like, âÄòOK, this piece is about a car thief whoâÄôs really [expletive] confusedâÄô âĦ so Dosh for instance, he listened to the track and went into the studio and came up with something,âÄù Skemp said. âÄúIt takes a particular type of musician whoâÄôs really open and willing to try something new. Its poetry; itâÄôs something unique.âÄù

  In a postmodern society ruled by Twitter feeds and short attention spans, poetry has become somewhat of a lost art. But Skemp doesnâÄôt see it that way. HeâÄôs had no trouble finding support in the Twin Cities and performs regularly at places like Bryant Lake Bowl and DustyâÄôs Bar.  

   SkempâÄôs poetic musings have as much to do with performance as they do with writing, which makes it hard to define him. But the professional ambiguity doesnâÄôt irk him. He seems to thrive on exploration. After all, writing is about venturing into the unknown. 

  âÄúIâÄôm still trying to figure out exactly what I write. And IâÄôm OK with that,âÄù Skemp said.

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