This past week was the first annual Word X Word Festival in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, organized by Jim Benson of Mission and his crew. Five nights to celebrate and experience words, written, spoken, and sung. Such a genius idea, so well pulled off.
The first of two spoken word events I had the chance to check out featured the multitalented Shira Erlichman—poet, musician, and artist. My friend Angela, who booked her for Take Back the Night in Amherst, told me that I would love her work, and she was spot on with that prediction. My take: Shira’s awesomely inimitable voice, rhythm, words, and presence speak to the richness of life. From charmingly playful to honestly serious, she is powerful, she is delightful, she is fiery. She leaves you wanting more (upon encore, she asked the audience if we’d rather hear another poem or another song; we replied, “both!” and she graced us with just that). While I’ve only gotten a small taste of her work, I can most certainly tell you this: she totally rocks.
And she’s even so cool as to have answered a few of my questions over e-mail—you, too, will be captivated.
What are some of your favorite words? (Me, I’m a big fan of inimitable, querulous, and weltschmerz.)
Shira: In linguistics class my freshman year of college, we studied compound words, and my life was changed. Compound words take the cake. Hopscotch, eyelash, see-saw, hammerhead. I love the minds that thought: one word is not enough! Let’s use two! Highrise, see-saw, chill-pill—they are tiny poems. Once you start to notice them, they’re everywhere. Following close behind compounds are: float, sink, sift, rub, sweep—words that somehow sound like the movement they signify.
Two things that make you happy and two things that make you angry?
Shira: Two things that make me happy are my girlfriend and riding a longboard. Two things that make me angry are not understanding my feelings and not understanding computers.
What do you hope people take away from experiencing your work?
Shira: At times, especially with sad pieces, or awkward pieces, or confused pieces, I hope they sense that someone else has gone through what they have gone through—that they feel connected, to themselves, to me, and to the other people in the room sharing the experience. On the other side, the laughing side, the silly side, the poems and songs that walk on that dock, I hope they feel lifted from the fog or sadness they’ve felt, that the song rubs the mud off their shoes, that they laugh. I hope the work opens a window they didn’t know was there. Perhaps they thought it was a brick wall. Perhaps the window suddenly floats over an ocean inside them. Most of all, I hope people leave feeling less alone.
Random factoid about one of your songs or poems?
Shira: I wrote the song “Bronze” in poet Jon Sand’s parents’ house in Ohio while on tour. “Your Life is a Kaleidoscope” was written on the way to and from the bathroom. “Daddy’s Parking Lot Sermon” came out in one sitting, almost 100% as it is now. The first line of “Power Out” (“Our TV medicine is dead, dead, dead!”) is the title of a song by my brother, Shai Erlichman.
Who do you think totally rocks?
Shira: I think The Whitehaus in Jamaica Plain, MA, totally rocks. Kate Bush totally rocks. Devoted and passionate teachers totally rock. The Cantab Lounge audience in Cambridge, MA, totally and completely rock. They do not hold back, they want you to win, they root for world peace—the ultimate ability to rock. People like that totally rock.
Where can we see you perform next?
Shira: From mid-September to late November, you can see me perform with nationally touring Elephant Engine High Dive Revival. Specific dates will be up this month at www.myspace.com/elephantengine. You can also check out my website www.shiraerlichman.com for dates for this tour and beyond.
* * * * *
A prediction of my own: you’ll want to listen to the video above many times over.
Oh, and she plays the ukulele, too. That’s just cool.
Big thanks to her for being awesome, in myriad ways.
More on the other Word X Word performance I attended, featuring spoken word poet Alix Olson, to come.