By Amy Patton
An artist whose native medium is words on the page will spark up the space at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor this Saturday by bringing with her a unique fusion of music and spoken verse.
Davida Singer, a Manhattan-based writer who says she draws much of the inspiration for her poetry from the natural environment on the East End, will team up with jazz bassist Ken Filiano at 5 p.m. for a live reading from her latest collection of poetry, “Port of Call.”
This is Singers’ second collection of poetry. Her first, “Shelter Island Poems” was published in 1995 by Canio’s Editions.
True to her name, for the last decade Singer has orchestrated her poetry to music — an aspect of her performance that has drawn in audiences, she said.
“The whole music element in my work came to me one day when I was riding my bicycle,” she said. “I’ve always been connected to music and that day I was thinking that I’d really like to put those two things together.”
Singer calls the bridge between music and poetry “khupe”, the Hebrew word for marriage canopy. Her vision is for her work to be transformed into a narrative music. To that end, Singer has released a music-fused poetry CD, also titled “Khupe.”
“The poetry has its life and the music has its own life and the two come together to create something special for those listening,” explained Singer.
Filiano’s musical collaboration is “something that is just so organic,” she added. “A lot of his bass playing is spontaneous. There’s a lot of improv to it. No performance is exactly the same. [It’s been] a wonderful fit.”
In “Port of Call,” Singer draws on her own personal journey of love and loss, particularly in her piece, “Day by Day” about her mother’s descent into dementia. “Memorial” recalls a day when she visited her father’s gravesite in Elmont, N.Y. Other poems attempt to capture the natural aesthetic of the East End. “Country,” for example, is an ode to the Northwest Woods where Singer has spent much time with friends over the years.
“The whole environment out here just speaks to me,” Singer said. “As an artist, I have a very strong connection to the East End of Long Island. I’m a swimmer so I also spend a lot of time in the water.”
While poetry may be her first love, Singer is also a teacher at Hunter College and School of Visual Arts in Manhattan where she teaches creative writing and literature. For the past 12 years, she’s also directed a private creative writing workshop. The poet is no stranger to artistic accolades either, having been the recipient of three consecutive writing fellowships beginning in 2004 from the Helen Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, N.M.
There was never any doubt, said Singer, that pen on paper has always been her calling. “I’ve been writing ever since I was a small child,” she said. “It’s always been in me. It’s a natural way of communicating for me.”
Singer’s passion for her art is something she shares with her students at Hunter.
“At the end of each semester I throw them into a performance situation,” said Singer. “I bring in a couple of musicians who enjoy working with the spoken word. So what we have is really an extraordinary evening which is a reading party accompanied by music.”
Her goal, said Singer “is to open [the students] up to the possibilities of what they can do with their art. So that they’re not in this very narrow form of just writing poetry.”
In “Port of Call,” Singer characterized the observations she made through a third-person narrator who serves as the central character in the collection of verse.
“It’s really about destinations and how that resonates externally,” said Singer. “The character I created in the first piece [“How to Get Away”] suffers a fractured pelvis at a street corner.”
In subsequent poems, said Singer, “the character starts seeing how the earth is going through the same thing, using [the injury] as a metaphor. There’s a lot of that in the book. The different ports are used for the experiences that this character is having in her own life combined with what’s happening locally and globally.”
Although she admits that there is an autobiographical element to “Port of Call,” Singer says she hopes for readers to draw “universal inspiration” from the book as well as her performance art.
“When you bring these two things together, it moves the art to a whole new level,” Singer said. “It becomes a performance piece and not just a poetry reading. Ken and I are very much in sync. It’s just one of those beautiful connections.”
Singer and Filiano’s fusion of music jam-and-poetry will be held on Saturday, September 8, 2012 at 5 p.m. at Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street in Sag Harbor. Admission is free and a “Port of Call” book signing will follow the performance.