The Digital Fringe’s Voicemail Poems invites poets across the planet to leave their poems as voicemail, for release as a single digital production. The conceit offers a concise way to elevate poetry from words on a page to the performance that it’s truly meant to be. The ease of accessibility uplifts the voices of a diverse and stunning group of poets.
But despite the delightful premise, the muted and tinny quality of the voicemails has a negative impact on the performances. Some of the poems require headphones in order to hear them from your device, and others had too much background noise to understand without reading through the accompanying transcript. Here it must be noted that the typography is beautiful, conveying the spoken words in italics, indentations, and falling cadences, reminding the reader that print is not merely a way to convey information, but an art form in its own right.
Grief, happy endings, and staying alive
Among an array of accomplished poets, a few pieces stand out for their humor, their horror, and their true originality. Warren C. Longmire’s “Bitter Offering” pops with an upbeat energy that contrasts sharply with the jaded resignation about the downward spiral of a relationship. Kevin Kantor breaks the comedy/tragedy binary with “Rewrites,” in which they give Shakespeare’s most famous tragic heroes queer, happy endings.
Nigerian poets Kolawole Samuel Adebayo and Chisom Okafor’s voices crack during their recitations in honor of lost loved ones. In “An Ode to a Lost Brother,” Adebayo mourns his brother Bashir, a victim of Boko Haran. Okafor reinterprets Louise Glück’s “The Wild Iris” in “In Praise of Open Doors” as an homage to his lover Akin, killed by homophobic violence. Brittany Rogers’s “The Year ‘Caught Out There’ Became My Theme Song” is a harsh reflection of the artist as a pregnant college student in an abusive relationship, yet threaded through all three works is hope that poetry has provided a way to process their respective griefs.
Even in the bleakest of circumstances, moments of joy can be found. Lauren Licona celebrates the gleeful moments of abandon found among the daily realities of a hard-luck life in “Lightness Has Never Been Our Concern, But Today We Are the Opposite of Heavy,” and Fargo Tbakhi reminds listeners that any reason to stay alive is a good one in “Reasons Not to Die.”
These artists are a handful among 17 gifted poets chosen for this edition of Voicemail Poems. The entire lineup takes approximately 30 minutes to listen to, and is available at voicemailpoems.org as well as through SoundCloud. Every poem is accompanied by a written transcription for ease of access.
The song “Caught Out There” referenced by Rogers was released by Kelis in 1999.