EMU student Mike Moriarty reviews Julie Patton’s recent BathHouse reading:
In her performance on November 9th in EMU’s Sponberg Theater, Julie Patton showcased her unique style and vocal talents while constructing a wild sonic environment that hybridizes music, sound poetry, improv, and possibly some other unnamable genres as well. Her 1st piece (beginning with “Is it possible that the meaning”) was a brooding soundscape that melted from singing to guttural mumblings. Words and phrases are broken down into roots and morphed into new linguistic textures. The possible meaning that is hinted at in the opening line is one that the listener is left to sift for in the shards of language which fall somewhere between obtuseness and depth.
Her strong voice and confident delivery pull the audience into the auditory experience. Though at some points one’s mind may drift away from understanding in this sea of sound, it is a pleasant drifting. In another poem she samples Dr. Suess and fuses his playful construction with political commentary “uncle Sam I am…would you eat them in a box comin’ home from Iraq? Children of Ham.”
Another strength of Patton’s is her ability to engage with the audience, she spoke thoughtfully on communities and the hope of building them through art. She would later go on to literally manifest a small incarnation of this by walking into the audience, distributing small instruments, and encouraging the audience to make music with her. This was done with the care and skill of a seasoned performer – simultaneously shaking things up while still allowing people to feel comfortable. Not only does she engage with the audience, she also engages in spontaneous creation which could be called freestyle, improv or something else entirely. At one point she couldn’t find the poem she was looking for and said “oh no,” then began repeating it musically, then mutated the sounds, and then was suddenly in the midst of a poem. It would be impossible to tell where the extemporaneous words ended and the pre-written poem began – another leap forward in hybridization.
In the poem which began “your language is too flowery” she engages in another playful word collage. The experience is lush and verbose. One might speculate that flowers were specifically chosen as the subject because of the beautiful words associated with them, or, as Patton puts it: “divine words grafting one sentence to another.”
Her final piece opening with “What kind of blues you use” periodically meditates on race, music, and blue as an emotive state: “sing disparate Diaspora.” These kind of poems cover a lot of ground as the language seems to be guiding the direction of the poem. Although the themes feel grounded conceptually, it is worth considering how her skill and innovative forms could be applied to more narrative storytelling as well. Regardless, seeing Patton perform is a true experience. At times it feels like just playing with language and sound, others meaning breaks through making it even more enjoyable. Put simply, sit back and watch the sound and words wash over you, and through you.