One of the joys of living in Ann Arbor for a few decades has been watching local artists try new things and play around in cool ways. I first heard of Jennifer Burd when she published a moving portrayal of the homeless population in Lenawee County, with photographic portraits enhanced by long interviews with these forgotten people of the rural parts of Michigan. Then I knew her as an author of precise and meditative haiku that grew out of her experience with the northern lakes.
Most of us who have raised children in Ann Arbor in the last quarter-century know Laszlo Slomovits as half of Gemini, the twin-brother group that draws on folk music traditions from around the world to create family-friendly music on a variety of instruments.
I first saw Burd and Slomovits perform together for a tiny audience in a bookshop in Lansing. Burd would pick one of her haiku at random (for example: “yellow iris / in a blue vase – / sunset lingering”) and
Slomovits would quickly improvise a short musical response on a pennywhistle. The result was often funny but also surprisingly stirring.
In her new Receiving the Shore, Burd includes slightly longer poems as well as four seasonal haiku cycles. All of them have been set to music and performed by Slomovits on an accompanying CD. With a book illustrated by local artist Melanie Boyle and arrangements by Emmy-winning local musician Brian Brill, it is a collection built out of our community.
Moving through the seasons, the collection finds image and metaphor in the environment. Burd’s quiet poems seem to move seamlessly into Slomovits’s music while keeping their integrity as poetic observations of the places we know. Here’s “Winter Day”:
It writes to you in the silent
scrawl of tree branches weighted
with snow. The backyard creek
finds the oldest path on earth
as it winds its way past the 1920s
dairy barn, shuttered and still
standing, braced and beamed,
its builders never believing
they’d ever be gone.
Set to music, it has the presence of a quiet lament for time past.
Jennifer Burd and Laszlo Slomovits read and perform the poems and songs from Receiving the Shore at Nicola’s Books on Sunday, April 24.