Millikin University faculty members Dr. Stephen Frech, associate professor of English, and Dr. Chung-Ha Kim, adjunct faculty member in the Millikin School of Music, have released a CD featuring a dual performance of poetry and music titled "A Palace of Strangers Is No City." The CD is currently available through Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby as well as other sites.
"A Palace of Strangers Is No City," features 22 poems from a chapbook published by Dr. Frech in 2011. The poems tell the story of two lovers on opposite sides of an occupied city. The arrangement alternates with musical excerpts from Czech composer Leoš Janáček's "On An Overgrown Path."
"The project started out as a publication of mine in 2011 and it's a sequence of 22 poems and flash fiction that tells the story," said Frech. "The main character goes on a journey across a mythic place to meet the lover. In September 2011, Chung-Ha and I did a dual performance in Kaeuper Hall of the readings along with music pieces by Leoš Janáček."
The male character of the story, having narrowly escaped the random police arrests, is now officially a fugitive and flees to his fiancée's house by going through Old Town. That medieval city center becomes the primary setting of the story and the meditative landscape of the character's flight. Full of questions about whom to trust, what to believe, and making use of a highly unusual second-person narrator, the sequence feels dreamlike and surreal.
"Working on this project with Chung-Ha was wonderful and working with music specifically for this project was new," said Frech. "I had not collaborated musically with anyone as a writer before and for me it seemed surprising because I've held the opinion that poetry is first and foremost song. I had this sense that the sound quality of a poem is a vital importance to the life of that poem."
Janáček's "On An Overgrown Path," a collection of 15 piano pieces, was composed during the first decade of the 20th century. It displays influences of Moravian folk songs and is programmatic. The first 10 pieces have titles that describe a place, a state of mind, or an action.
"These pieces are very beautiful and intimate," said Kim. "They deserve to be heard more often and I'm glad that we were able to use selections from this particular set for our project. It's wonderful to see how giving them a new context ends up redefining their meaning."
Frech added, "I collaborated with primarily visual artists before this project and in that respect this project highlighted the mood for me which I had treated primarily as imaginative and cityscape. The city, which was loosely modeled on Prague, becomes an imaginative landscape for the sequence. For me, the musical pieces highlighted everything in a different way."
Written in the traditions of fabulist literature and prose poetry, Dr. Frech says prose poetry can "often read like a dream moving along like a story in which strange, unexpected things can happen, and feel quite natural."
John Dalton, author of "Heaven Lake," says "'A Palace of Strangers Is No City' is a one-of-a-kind experience. In just 22 elegant pages it contains an epic journey across an imagined city. The happenings in this city are surreal, ominous, funny and vivid. The circumstances may be dreamlike, but the longing and the wisdom are entirely real."
When asked about the possibility of pursuing future projects of poetry and music, Frech said, "It was the first experience I've had with poetry and music, and on rare occasions I've seen dual performances. I think there is an opportunity to make, at least in my field, poetry readings a little more interesting by doing dual performances which appeal to a wider audience. This project has been so gratifying and I would love to do it again."