Imagine a character tens of thousands of years old, a changeling capable of appearing both as a human or a crow. His name is Dead Crow—a demigod changeling with a bad attitude. Now he’s decided for the first time to share his story—imagine the tales he could tell, with a lifespan like that! Exiled to Earth for a sin of pride by a mysterious godlike race known only as The Makers, his sentence is to act as their Watcher. Essentially immortal, he has the long view of history. His trickster nature constantly tempts him to interfere in human affairs. The Prologue gives us his backstory, introducing audiences to this quirky, sharp-tongued yet highly observant character cloaked in black feathers. Today I’m releasing the video production of Dead Crow: Prologue and will be following up the release with a small tour of the West Kootenay. The Prologue and its soundtrack will be performed live with musician/composer Noel Fudge, and was premiered at Kaleidoscope Arts & Culture Festival in Kimberley, BC this August.
The story is excerpted from a book-length manuscript titled Dead Crow and the Spirit Engine that has been a work-in-progress for seven years now. Composed of two prose stories and a long sequence of narrative poems, its unorthodox structure veers from human prehistory through the rise and fall of empires and finally to the present. Along the way Dead Crow has plenty of time to ponder the great mysteries and attempt to reconcile the contradictions of corporeal existence. It’s a spiritual journey we all must make. My goal during the next year is to obtain funding to create a full one-hour show based on the manuscript.
Although I’ve recited original poetry to audiences since the 1980s, this is my first foray into performance poetry complete with a costume designed by local artisans. There are elements of both ‘black box’ one-act theatre in The Prologue as well as current trends in spoken word that combine music and sound effects with poetry. I wanted to take poetry into another realm altogether, one that combines elements of sci-fi with the grand narratives of ancient mythology. We’re hearing a lot lately about the need for a ‘new mythology’ that better serves 21st century values so this is my stab at that. The great myths transcend cultures in a language that speaks across generations and across the ages. And mythic stories are in the midst of a revival. Witness the mass popularity of such TV series as Once Upon a Time and the many feature films produced in recent years re-imagining the classic myths and fairy tales.
Thus, in Dead Crow: Prologue, audiences will thus hear elements of West Coast Raven mythology—the Trickster god; and the Celtic Morrigan—a shapeshifting goddess in Irish mythology associated with battlefields and the underworld. Added to Dead Crow’s poetic ruminations is the film noir drawl of a Philip Marlowe, another character who struggles to reconcile a jaded view of human nature. A draft of the poems was evaluated by Gary Geddes at an Oxygen Art Centre workshop in 2011. “Your Crow seems to me the voice of a more apocalyptic time, prepared to take on larger issues than (Ted) Hughes or (Robert) Kroetsch’s raven poems and What the Crow Said took on, and doing it equally well. Dead Crow is the Grim Reaper’s clean-up squad, customer at the Roadkill Cafe with a B.A. in philosophy, a sort of lower-case Satan-cum-Nietzsche on a rant.” Given that Hughes’ classic book of poems Crow has always held pride of place on my bookshelf, I consider this a great compliment, one I can only hope I merit.
For now, live performances will include the Prologue, original songs by Noel Fudge, and poems from my latest collection of poetry, The Price of Transcendence. (Poet Tom Wayman offered editorial assistance on the book, for which I’m very grateful.) My poetic ethos has been to try to reflect empathically the voices I hear around me in nature. Living in a remote corner of British Columbia next to Valhalla Provincial Park, a wilderness reserve with an intact mountain ecosystem, I’m given an intimacy with wildlife that seems to be fast disappearing from our urbanized world. Biologists are making incredible discoveries about the innate language capacities of birds, whales, dolphins, and land animals. What if they also had their own millennias-old cultures, just as humans do? What would those look like? As a poet I try to imagine those cultures into being. At least, until the day we can better understand them on their own terms.
Meanwhile poets have shown a remarkably accurate intuition about such things well in advance of science, even before the 19th century Romantics. This year I published my poetics thesis, A New Romanticism for the 21st Century, in the University of Western Ontario journal Canadian Poetry. In it I argue that the time for a poetics of obfuscation and art for art’s sake is past. With the environmental crises now upon us, it’s time for poets to return to their pre-industrial role as what Lawrence Ferlinghetti called “the conscience of the race.” In an age of Narcissism that also implies learning to turn our ears outward again, from our own inner voices to the voices crying out to us from the wilderness (what’s left of it). For writers this acquires a new sense of urgency as global cultures become more and more urbanized and further removed from nature.
Nelson writer Brian D’eon wrote in a review of The Price of Transcendence: “Joyce’s language is often haunting and his insights powerful. In reading his most recent collection of poems, I often find myself in a trance-like state, letting the sheer musicality of the language wash over me.”
And now some words about Noel Fudge, the composer of the soundtrack to Dead Crow: Prologue. I can honestly say I’ve waited a lifetime to meet and work with a creative collaborator like Noel. Thoroughly professional in his work ethic, capable of playing guitar in any style, and bursting with originality, it has been an incredible pleasure to work with him on this video. His portfolio ranges from film scores to choral and orchestral works, to singer-songwriter and instrumental music. He holds a BFA in composition from Simon Fraser University, and wrote and performed with the band Crop Circle, a group that received extensive radio play and toured Western Canada, opening for ZZ top and Bif Naked. Noel and his partner Martine denBok form the popular West Kootenay-based guitar/violin duo Freya. Martine is a classically trained musician currently serving as second violinist with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra. A debut Freya album is due out this year. WEBSITE: http://www.fortheloveoffreya.ca
Finally, a word about ICandy Films, comprised of Isaac and Orsi Carter. Isaac trained at the Vancouver Film School and has travelled to Europe to create promotional films for artists from Bulgaria to France and the Netherlands. He combines his training with a natural talent for imagery that takes it far above average. Although his ‘bread and butter’ includes making promotional films for realtors and other businesses as well as enchanting wedding videos, he confessed to me that films like Dead Crow: Prologue are what he really lives for as a filmmaker. The results speak for themselves. Be sure to check out their other short films at these links:
Thanks guys—it’s a pleasure working with you all! And last but never least, I credit the unflagging support of Anne Champagne, who remains my greatest ally in life and art.
TO VIEW DEAD CROW: PROLOGUE VISIT THE ICANDY FILMS VIMEO CHANNEL HERE (Please note, your Internet bandwidth—or lack of it—may cause some ‘clipping’ in the sound): https://vimeo.com/185383029
DEAD CROW FALL 2016 TOUR DATES (all tickets at the door):
- Bonnington Arts Centre, Nakusp, BC, Friday, October 28, 7 pm
- Café Langham Inspired Ideas Series, Langham Theatre, Kaslo, BC, Thursday, November 3, 7 pm
- The Front Room, 901 Front Street, Nelson, BC, Thursday, November 10, 7:30 pm
- Bosun Hall, New Denver, BC, Saturday, November 5, 7 pm
P.S. FOR THE LATEST EXCITING DISCOVERIES IN BIRD AND ANIMAL LANGUAGE, VISIT: http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/the_real_twitter_feed_that_we_have_lost_track_of/