From The Desk Of Over The Rhine: Poems To Save A Life

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since Over The Rhine issued its debut album. The Ohio-based husband-and-wife duo of multi-instrumentalists/vocalists Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have marked the anniversary with new album The Long Surrender, which was produced by Joe Henry at his Garfield House home studio and features an assortment of musicians handpicked for the project by Henry, including Lucinda Williams. Though Detweiler and Bergquist had never worked with Henry or his assembled backing band before, The Long Surrender was finished in less than a week. The fan-funded, 13-track album was just released via OTR’s Great Speckled Dog Records, which the duo named after Elroy, their much-loved Great Dane who passed away last year. Detweiler and Bergquist will also be guest editing all week. Read our brand new Q&A with Detweiler.

Linford, with Karin: I have a folder on the desktop of my laptop called “Poems To Save A Life,” and in that folder I have a handful of poems that I can’t live without. Who reads poems in 2011? Thank God my wife does, and my friends do.

William Carlos Williams said, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably everyday for lack of what is found there.”

Emily Dickinson wrote, “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

I could never find the resolve to put words to a melody if I didn’t read writers who could make music out of words alone. Certain poems still have the power to read as mission statements; they center me, give me a fresh start and, yes, from time to time, save my live.

Here are a few I can’t live without today:
Mary Oliver “The Journey” Read
Adam Zagajewski “Try To Praise The Mutilated World” Read
W. S. Merwin “Thanks” Read
Mary Oliver “Wild Geese” Read
Mary Oliver “Mysteries, Yes” Read

Karin adds:
And when someone hands you a Charles Bukowski collection, you read it. Or eat it. Devour it. When I was given The Last Night Of The Earth Poems, leafing through the pages I stumbled upon “Bluebird”: a poem that resonated with me in a way I found impossible to ignore. To the best of my memory, I’d never written a song based on or inspired by a poem before this recording. And on The Long Surrender, we reference at least five poets. “Bluebird” soon inspired a melody in my head, then some verses based on my emotional response to the poem. I bounced it off my partner, and we ended up with these lines for a chorus:

Why do you always make me drink alone?
When it comes to losing you, I’m always on my own.

We recorded the song along with the rest of The Long Surrender in five days with Joe Henry and his magical cast of conjurers, among them his son Levon, whose fat, whiskey-soaked, circa-1960 saxophone can be heard fluttering its wings at the heart of the recording. As a thank you, we slipped the Henrys a copy of Bukowski’s Betting On the Muse. A poetry pay-it-forward, if you will.

Video after the jump.