Book of Songs: The jazzy pen tour

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The Book of Songs‘ALL OF THIS DRAWING IN LINE to jazz started in New York, really,’ says Dipika Kohli, artist and author of the poetry collection The Book of Songs. ‘I was working for this record store in the West Village, and all these characters would pop in, with flowery shirts and whatnot. I started listening in. Drawing from time to time, between filing records. Sixties covers, really nice art. Got influenced, started hanging out with the regulars. Got going to clubs. Drawing. Cycling home late over the Brooklyn Bridge. So much fun, back then. I knew I was getting caught up in it when I got a flowery shirt.’

Years later the express purpose of going to Copenhagen in the fall of 2015 would be to bring a box of pens, some blank pages in a gridded notebook, and an open heart. That’s it. Getting lost to find center is a great theme of Kismuth’s works, and this was no different. Except, the towns in Sweden and Denmark were small enough to get to know a bit, over the six-week block of time dedicated just to looking and listening, listening and drawing. Eventually you get familiar. You get to see people you’ve seen before. They start talking, a little. This is Scandinavia, so it takes a long time. You’re used to it because of Seattle. Things get interesting when you hear someone say there’s a thing happening over there, and that it might be really different, and why not check it out. Always say yes.

SOMEONE GETS OUT THIS SHINY BRASSY instrument, then there’s more. There’s a whole bunch of noise and it swirls and whirs, and suddenly, ‘Suddenly I’m back at the record store, back through the years, getting introduced to something !* for the first time, ever, and wow, it’s cool. You do a little jam session right then and there, and you’re playing pen, if you’re me, because pen is the thing I play.’

Drawing and listening. Looking and listening.

One of the drawings made it onto the CD, just got printed onto a sticker overlay, of the debut album of one of the bands. Because you just have to hear it, you just have to, the track that inspired that piece is included as part of the download bundle of the Book of Songs, courtesy of the musicians. ‘Really fun collaborations made this collection possible.’

‘I got to run into serendipity, chance, people, their recommended places, others, and the meander that led to the copy that wound itself into this collection,’ says Kohli. ‘I was open. Mostly, I guess. I wanted to let things happen, not plan too terribly much and see where the story might go. As the autumn turned to winter in the cooling ridge I found at the edge of a forest walk in Aarhus, I caught hold of the twigs in the picture on the cover of this book. I took the picture in the first light of my morning of leaving that city and making my way, as one must on any journey, back. Home. To where the yellow sun cakes layers of dust on the pavement, and in dirt roads. Celebrating the differentness of that place and this one, that world of improvisation and on-the-road-ness and this one of routine and comfort and a rhythm that’s not uncomplicated by isn’t plural, I compiled the Book of Songs. When word came at the very end of December that one of the first people in Cambodia had just died, a person whom I’d met and who’d been very kind to me as a newcomer to this country, a young woman with a great sense of aesthetics (though I don’t know if the world can know that, not really, because Eastern aesthetics are… relegated to the studies by academics in ivory towers, aren’t they?)… but that is why I dedicated this book to her memory. To Soknea Teang. How you left this world and where you are now are mysteries, and we all feel a little less, without you.

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