News & Notes: Mary Szybist, Gabriela Lena Frank and Lucy Guerin give us the (other) world

Lucy Guerin's "Weather" blows into town tonight-Saturday at Lincoln Hall.

Lucy Guerin’s “Weather” blows into town tonight-Saturday at Lincoln Hall.

Yesterday, the finalists for the National Book Awards were announced, and in the poetry category, at the bottom of the alphabetically arranged list, was Mary Szybist for “Incarnadine: Poems” (Graywolf Press). Szybist has taught at Lewis & Clark College for the past 10 years, so that puts her into the “local poet makes good” category. These days, which may just be the Golden Age of Portland poetry (along with most other arts), that category is getting pretty full, but still, a National Book Award finalist!

Graywolf published “Incarnadine” last winter, and it received excellent reviews at the time. The Slate review by Jonathan Farmer was pretty typical, if more considered than many: “In ‘Incarnadine,’ Szybist longs for God and longs to long for God and treats her own longing with occasional scorn. The book is a mix of good manners and postmodern invention. At her most outlandish (a poem in the form of a sentence diagram, for instance), Szybist still sounds relatively conventional. At her most conventional, she’s up to something strange.”

The poems started with a trip to Italy, Szybist told Kirsten Rian, writing for The Oregonian, specifically the Annunciation scenes she found in the churches of Florence by Fra Angelico, Simone Martini, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli: “The Annunciation scene points out a moment of intensive encounter, if not confrontation, between the bodily young woman (Mary) and the starkly alien and spiritual (the angel Gabriel)…. I started asking: If what we fundamentally are is bodies, then is our longing for the spiritual in some sense a longing for what is fundamentally alien and other? Do we long for our own deepest fulfillment in the realm that is most alien, as well as alienating, to us?”

And here is a brief excerpt from Szybist’s “Hail”:

“…Here I am,

having bathed carefully in the syllables
of your name, in the air and the sea of them, the sharp scent

of their sea foam. What is the matter with me?

Mary, what word, what dust
can I look behind? I carried you a long way

into my mirror, believing you would carry me

back out. Mary, I am still
for you, I am still a numbness for you.”


Last night, I slipped into a little preview of Third Angle’s investigation of  Gabriela Lena Frank’s compositions, which begins tonight in earnest at PSUs Lincoln Hall. Frank herself was there to provide lively commentary on the excerpts of the pieces that the Third Angle quartet played, small and angelic looking, with a lively intelligence and way of talking.

Mostly, she explained how she derived the quartets from her experiences in Peru. Frank’s mother is Peruvian of Chinese descent, and Frank’s American father, whose heritage is Lithuanian and Jewish, while he was serving in the Peace Corps. They raised Frank in Berkeley, crossroads of world music, and when Andean music reached her, she was immediately interested in tracking it.

The quartets are both based on her travels in Peru, and on the musical instruments she encountered, the pan pipes, water drums and charango. They attempt to recreate those sounds on the instruments of the quartet, and she showed how the breath and the rhythm of the pipes, for example, could be recreated—or suggested at least—on a violin. Not that the music sounded like traditional Andean folk music. It has a contemporary energy, dissonance and complexity, though occasionally something that sounds like a folk melody might flit through.

Frank has received commissions from a long list of prominent groups, including Kronos Quartet, Wu Man, San Francisco Symphony, Houston Symphony, Chanticleer Ensemble, the Chiara String Quartet, the Brentano Quartet, Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Project, and many others, and her visit to Portland is long overdue.

The Third Angle concert, ENTRE LOS MUNDOS/BETWEEN WORLDS, starts at 7:30 pm Thursday and Friday, in PSU’s Lincoln Recital Hall, Room 75, 1620 SW Park Ave.


Lincoln Hall is going to be busy this weekend, because White Bird continues its insanely busy month with a visit from Lucy Guerin Inc, which with Sydney Dance Company starts a little Australian mini-season this month. Guerin’s company performs at 8 pm at Lincoln Performance Hall Thursday-Saturday.

Guerin’s work has popped up here quite a bit, as White Bird’s Walter Jaffe points out on his informative blog. Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project performed one of her duets in 1999, and Chunky Move’s visits here featured her collaborations with Gideon Obarzanek, the brilliant “Tense Dave” and “Two Faced Bastard.” And PICA brought her company a couple of times, too.

Guerin’s work is definitely dance-y, but it’s also unpredictable. Which makes sense because here the company will be performing “Weather.” From the looks of it on Vimeo, “Weather” is incredibly demanding on the dancer and a creative brush with the idea of the title.

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