Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer introduces four poems by Alicia Jo Rabins.
Songwriters who are also known as poets often only become so once they receive a degree of popular acclaim for their music. Cases in point include Bob Dylan and Ani Di Franco, David Byrne and Lou Reed. With the recent album, “Half You Half Me” by her Girls in Trouble project, violinist and indie singer-songwriter Alicia Jo Rabins has made a powerful pitch for inclusion in that elite realm. Each song on the album is a lyrical exploration about another female character in the Tanakh — the “girls” of the project’s name.
But her writing is not confined to her lyrics, and today on the Arty Semite we’re featuring four poems that were written as such, not for songs. The first three works are part of her “Ancient Studies” cycle, and walk the line between mythic and contemporary, culminating perhaps most intensely in the third piece where a customer service phone call turns into a deeply personal hallucination. The final work featured here returns the poetic context inherent to much kabbalistic thought back into poetry, lightly swinging images and abstractions into a meditation on things most timeless.
It is hard to believe we are only five years from klezmer-punk band Golem’s 2006 debut album, “Fresh Off Boat,” and the first time (most of us) heard Alicia Jo Rabins on a record. Since then we have gotten a follow-up from Golem (2009’s tremendous “Citizen Boris”) and a solo debut from Rabin’s new project, Girls in Trouble.
Now, in 2011, Rabins has released her own solo sophomore album, “Half You Half Me,” putting herself in contention for the most prolific Jewish artist of the last few years. Moreover, “Half You Half Me,” out this week on JDub records, escapes the fate of many album follow-ups. Instead of a collection of hastily thrown together songs in the wake of a debut success, the album is a carefully written, confident set of songs that pushes the Girls in Trouble project forward and almost alleviates the pain of going two years without a new Golem album.
After much anticipation, the moment is almost upon us. Tomorrow night the Forward will present an evening of music and poetry in collaboration with the Sixth Street Synagogue, featuring no less than three Alicias: Alicia Svigals, Alicia Ostriker and Alicia Jo Rabins.
The event will feature an eclectic mix of genres, mediums and generations. Each artist will perform a set, then all three will come together in a collaborative work, and finally, a panel discussion will follow. From the official bios:
Alicia Svigals is a violinist and composer, a founder of the Klezmatics and of the all-women band Mikveh, and is considered to be one of the world’s foremost klezmer fiddlers. She has taught and toured with violinist Itzhak Perlman, and is a past winner of the first prize at the Safed Klezmer Festival.