WAMFEST Week in Review with Mark Morris, Kristin Hersh, Tom Sleigh, Barbara Froman and P.K. Harmon

Huge thanks to all our performers, our fans, our incredible Artist in Residence Wesley Stace who hosted each event in style, and our gracious sponsors Bob and Patricia Pures for a wonderful week of WAMFEST.  Please enjoy reviews and photographs from all three stellar events below.  Stay tuned for videos and see ya next week (schedule here)!

Tuesday, April 3rd: A Conversation with Dancer, Choreographer and Director Mark Morris

Words by Amanda Alford.  All photos by Scott Giglio.

Mark Morris was charming; his gestures seemed to embody a dance he had yet to choreograph and, if “gestures are what we use to communicate,” he showed himself to be an engaging and genuine character. What may have started out as a tense meeting rapidly became a warm and personable chat after a friendly jibe by host and writer-in-residence, Wesley Stace, that had the audience and Mark Morris laughing:

“There’s a name for that [incorporating eight beats into movement] . . .”


To which Mark Morris replied with a droll stare and a careless flip of his flamboyant pink scarf, “Choreography.”

And from there the interview sky-rocketed; topics of conversation ran the gamut – from anecdotes about working with dancers who made poor hairstyle decisions and came out looking like salamanders to his “evolution” as a dancer and choreographer. And radiating from each story was his particular blend of humour, charisma, and deeply rooted confidence in his talent. What more can you ask from an artist?

Wednesday, April 4th: Crooked Walks in Space: A Conversation, Reading and Performance with poet Tom Sleigh and Indie Rocker and Author Kristin Hersh

Words by Becky Fine-Firesheets.

Tom Sleigh  and Kristin Hersh came together on Wednesday for an unforgettable WAMFEST event hosted by FDU visiting professor Wesley Stace. While the two artists may have seemed dissimilar at first, it quickly became obvious why creator David Daniel so brilliantly paired them together; they’re both incredibly talented, producing work in which every minute detail is right on, yet neither of them consciously pays attention to the act.

“Music is something I have no control over,” Hersh said when asked about her process. “The words climb into my throat and then I have to spit them out. I make up new notes that don’t fit anywhere near the chords I’m playing… The craft is invisible to me. There’s no idea. For me, an idea is so removed from a song. If my brain is involved, I’ve already screwed up. I don’t feel like I’m the one deciding… The song is there, fully formed, and the last instrument is the phonetic melody known as syllables. I don’t necessarily think of what I need to say. I think rhyming and meter tricks you into saying what you mean.”

Sleigh agreed, saying, “None of it is very conscious.  It’s kind of like flying off the seat of your pants. Will doesn’t get me anywhere. The discipline comes because it’s all pleasure. I’m incredibly excited to be in the company of all these voices I hear, and to sort through them.”

“In the end, the conclusions we tend to make are far from academic,” Stace added. “We just do what we do best and love to do.”

In his jovial, natural and witty way, Stace moved the event along with a performance and reading by the two artists. Throughout the afternoon, the audience had the joy of hearing three of Hersh’s songs, all of them edgy and even guttural yet simultaneously deep, involved and flat-out gorgeous. She also read from her novel, Rat Girl, a memoir describing her early years as a 14-year-old rock star changing the music world with her bold and unique sound (check out her band, The Throwing Muses, for an example).

“This [novel] is actually my teenage dairy,” she said. “I published it. I wouldn’t recommend it.” But clips about her celebrity friends and their priests were dynamic, while other sections about her insecurities and hilariously deprecating sense of self were poignant and inspiring. We’re glad she published it, and still shocked that she had so much self-awareness and talent at such a young age.

Sleigh’s poems were also poignant and inspiring, along with rhythmic, melodic and truly mind-blowing examples of what a writer can achieve with words. His playful humour came out in lines like, “The vodka, bless its heart, keeps getting in my way,” while his poem, My Mother’s Kitchen is a Space Station, offered deep and thought-provoking insights on life and death, morality and immorality, happiness and longing, fate and control, our own abilities and inabilities as human animals. All of these insights were shared via a metaphor of outer space and gravity, providing the listeners with a beautiful and comfortably distant way to explore these concepts within themselves. Sleigh mentioned the idea of casting spells with poetry and music; he and Hersh certainly cast some magical spells over their audience, mainly because they both tap into this magic when creating and sharing their art.

“I would hope that any work would be an idiosyncratic version of something universal,” Hersh said. “The heaven behind the earth version of the word.”

“I want to achieve this kind of subconscious relaxation, a perfectly useless concentration,” Sleigh said with a laugh. “It’s a matter of fighting through the conscious intentions to write the poem. It’s all very much about the music. I can’t write unless I have it in my ear, a rhythmic impulse. You can’t will it… Good writing is not poetry to me. You wanna write things all the way to the bottom. I detest slick.”

Stace instantly jumped on this statement, dubbing the two artists as the perfect example of “unslick.” This is truly the best word for the artists and the overall event; unslick as in raw, honest and completely beautiful.

Thursday, April 5th: A Reading with Serving House Books Contest Winners Barbara Froman and P.K. Harmon

Words by Amanda Alford.

The event on Thursday was an intimate gathering with Barbara Froman and P.K. Harmon reading to a small but enthusiastic group.

Barbara Froman’s characters in Shadows and Ghosts came alive through the rhythm of her speech and her devotion, artfully portraying them with the tone of her voice and distinct accents.

What  Island, P.K. Harmon’s collection of poetry, brims with captivating imagery. His poem about an unaffected gecko brought laughter; another about voices in conflict brought an appreciation for conflicts largely unrecognized. And each piece revolved around, and brought the students closer to, the heart of Harmon’s interests and unique voice.

Each of these authors brought music to their work in some shape or form: Froman, a former composer and pianist, sees that art has the greatest impact on how she paves structure in her novel and to her inclusion of “pure form, [particular appreciation for and focus on] the sounds of words, everything that is musical.”

For Harmon, the story is a bit different: he recognizes music’s impact on his poetry, but as a lyricist for a rock group he is also quick to understand the differences. “You only have your judgements suggested [in poetry]; singer/songwriters yell that suggestion.”

Whatever the case for each of these authors, they brought something special to their work that made listening to, and being a part of, the reading a unique experience.

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