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Field Recordings

Poems by Russell Brakefield

Poetry, Folklore, Music

Made in Michigan Writers Series

Published: March 2018
ISBN: 9780814344965
Pages: 104 Size: 5.25x8
Published: March 2018
ISBN: 9780814344972

Firmly rooted in the dramatic landscapes and histories of Michigan, Field Recordings uses American folk music as a lens to investigate themes of personal origin, family, art, and masculinity. The speakers of these poems navigate Michigan’s folklore and folkways while exploring more personal connections to those landscapes and examining the timeless questions that occupy those songs and stories. With rich musicality and lyric precision, the poems in Field Recordings look squarely at what it means to be a son, a brother, an artist, a person.

Inspired by the life and writings of famous ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, Field Recordings is divided into three sections. It is anchored by a long poem that tracks Alan Lomax on his 1938 journey through Michigan collecting music for the Library of Congress. This poem speaks to the complex process of recording the voices and stories of working-class musicians in Michigan in the early part of the twentieth century. It is rich with the pleasures of music and storytelling and is steeped in history. Like the rest of the collection, it also speaks to the questions and anxieties that, like music, transcend time and technology.

In poems alternately elegiac and rhapsodic, Field Recordings explores the way art is produced and translated, the line between innovation and appropriation, and the complex, beautiful stories that are passed between us. From poetry readers to poets, music fans to musicians, this collection will undoubtedly appeal to a wide audience.

Russell Brakefield received his MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. His work has appeared in the Indiana Review, New Orleans Review, Poet Lore, Crab Orchard Review and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the University of Michigan Musical Society, the Vermont Studio Center, and the National Parks Department.

Brakefield says a man can't be ‘anything that doesn’t / move for fear / of standing still’ and all sound, all music, is motion, the cure for stillness. But these poems occupy both states equally: the ways we craft sound and story to crowd out silence and fear, and the stillness that precipitates but also defines whatever music we can manage. Here, the necessary paradox is sweet and stark, carefully tuned to its places of origin, and the people— here and gone— whose echoes haunt them.

– Raymond McDaniel, author of The Cataracts

Like the great Alan Lomax, Russell Brakefield has traveled through rural Michigan making "field recordings." He listens to the music and to the instruments that make the music (the double bass "gathers up grace" – which seems the perfect description of those notes!). And he talks to the people who make the music and the listen to it. These poems don’t forget the shores and the birch trees, the sea birds or "the clumsy pub." He tells us that in "this Peninsula I’m no more minstrel than ghost,/minor chord blue note." I don’t think Russell Brakefield’s chords, his poems, are minor at all; they are strong and clear and make the necessary music.

– Keith Taylor, author of The Bird-while (Wayne State University Press, 2017)

Russell Brakefield is that rare, best kind of poet whose insights can change the world for his readers, who unveils the wild surprises and lurking dangers behind the seemingly familiar. Beneath his "buildings falling into pieces" there is the "rapture of foundations, / a storm of rust // and bodies raining up / against the sky." The world becomes clearer, stranger, and more uncanny as we read this poetry. Brakefield astonishes again and again in Field Recordings—a book full of individually riveting pieces, but one which, as a whole, casts a serious spell with its accumulating music and beauty and everyday sacredness, with its sacred, ordinary horror and wonder. Brakefield has written one of the strongest and most subtle collections of poetry I’ve read in a long time. This a collection to which one will return again and again, becoming ever more impacted by its power and more appreciative of the serious talent of this poet.

– Laura Kasischke, author of Where Now: New & Selected Poems