Sonic Twin? A Poetics of Poetic Radio

1 August 2018

Pejk Malinovski’s productions are similarly reflexive, putting his formal decisions centre stage. Malinovski is a Danish-born poet, translator, and producer who lives in New York. While Ravlich seemed to transition from publishing poetry to making radio at the start of her career, Malinvoski has been doing both simultaneously. He has published several books of poetry in Danish, the most recent of which translates as The Poets. His productions have been described as radio dramas, conceptual documentaries, and sound art pieces, and include the beguiling ‘Everything, Nothing, Harvey Keitel,’ ‘Poetry, Tx,’ and ‘A Cow a Day.’

‘A Cow a Day’ (Falling Tree Productions, 2018, accessible on Soundcloud) revels in formal spontaneity. It is set in Varanasi, in India, and begins with the sound of wind, temple bells, a distant flute, overlapping voices, a motor, and Malinovski’s voice: ‘there’s a man doing laundry on a rock. You can hear all the boats out on the river, ferrying tourists. You can hear the temple bells ringing in the distance, and the morning prayer. So this is the holiest city of Hinduism.’ The first thing tourists notice, he says, are the number of cows walking around: ‘And so I’ve decided to follow a cow for an entire day. I want to see where it goes. I want to kind of see the city through her eyes. Just take a little break from me and all my own needs and desires, and just cow around a little.’ The story unfolds in a haphazard way, dictated by what is proximate to the cow; for instance: ‘Dogs fighting. Cow looking. Man washing. Me narrating.’

Narration is often a key structuring element in Malinovski’s productions, used to reveal surprising perspectives to the listener, with intimacy. Narration is also used to direct attention back onto the poet/producer; this reflexive turn, in a medium dominated by factual journalism, feels lyrical:

I don’t know how to tell the age of a cow. I’m no cow expert. Is this an experiment? Making radio about something I don’t know anything about. I feel like usually voices on the radio are authorities on something. I have no authority. So I’m going to try to just be close to her and listen.

Here we encounter the idea that simply listening can be a transformative act. ‘I think listening can be a kind of statement,’ he says, ‘What if just listening could be the advancement of an idea? She’s kind of observing, taking in the world. Listening to it. This boat going by, out on the Ganges. The engine. Just listening to that engine, stating its fact. The statement of the engine.’ Such delicate phenomenological attention evokes for me the act of writing poetry, when sensory inputs seem dialled up, where the mind becomes a finely tuned device for the synthesis of perception, thought, and emotion (indeed, Malinovski quotes Jack Spicer on this, in another of his productions explored below: ‘The poet is a radio. He translates the world in his inner tubes’).

Malinovski’s aesthetic as a radio maker is to turn up and see what the subject reveals to him (there is obviously a lot of preparation and research prior to the turning up, but his productions revel in this sense of discovery in the moment). ‘Poetry, Tx’ (BBC Radio 4 , 2012, accessible on Soundcloud) shares this sense of unfolding discovery; the poet/producer is an active and reflexive participant in the story’s construction, as in ‘A Cow a Day,’ and as in the work of Ravlich. The premise of this production is that Malinovski discovers a Texan town on Google called Poetry, and can’t resist travelling there, to see what It is. In this highly essayistic and poetic radio work (a lyric radio essay, of sorts) Malinovski goes in search of poetry – both the art and the place. The program turns around the question, ‘what is Poetry?’ / ‘what is poetry?’

Malinovski begins by confessing, ‘I’ve never been to Texas. Sometimes I think it might not even exist,’ which he later consolidates with a quotation: ‘Poetry is the art of substantiating shadows, and of lending existence to nothing, a poet once said.’ These reflections position his journey in the realm of dream, or the imagination; we ask ourselves whether the place evoked in the program is unreal, or if it is a real place that is made unreal by Malinovski’s artistic interventions.

Our poet-guide relays that the Pastor from the Poetry Baptist Church took him for a drive to look at some Poetry houses. Malinovski then states: ‘Houses in poetry [Poetry] are often symbolic – like in a dream. They reflect the nature of the poet or the dreamer.’ There are many definitions of poetry peppered throughout the episode, which immediately seem to be about Poetry, as well. When he’s driving to Poetry, and looking at the route on his GPS, Malinovski muses that poetry is the shortest way to get to a point, which is an allusion to poetic concision. And an old and tired farmer later tells him that poetry’s ‘just a lot of hard work – just a lot of hard workin’ people’ which is true: writing poetry is difficult, but the farmer is not talking about this (or perhaps he is: towards the end of the program we hear an affecting poem, written and read by a local resident, about the bleak future of Poetry).

Malinovski blurs the boundaries between place and thing – between Poetry, Texas, and poetry, the art, in order to inquire into the character of each. He makes Poetry seem poetic (with attributes commonly ascribed to the art being ascribed equally to the town), and he makes the poetic tangible, by embellishing it with the qualities of the people and landscapes he encounters – which, remarkably, seem just as fitting to the art. The program is fundamentally structured by doubling: there are always two answers to the program’s one question. This is a consciously poetic radio work: it draws on a number of poetic devices or features, including allusion, metaphor, repetition, obliqueness, and reflexivity.

‘Poetry, Tx’ is so pointed in its evocations of the poetic that it would be hard to miss for any listener. But – and here I am echoing Malinvoski’s aesthetic philosophy – I believe that approaching radio and other aural media with a readiness to find the poetic will lead to enriched and enriching experiences, expanding our notions of what poetry is, where it resides, and what ‘writing’ it looks and sounds like.

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