Literary Rock Stars Make Pilgrimage to Spokane for Get Lit Schirmann Uses 'Popular Music' to Explore Identity

By Overstreet, Audrey | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), April 21, 2019 | Go to article overview

Literary Rock Stars Make Pilgrimage to Spokane for Get Lit Schirmann Uses 'Popular Music' to Explore Identity


Overstreet, Audrey, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


If you go

Get Lit

Spokane's annual literary festival runs Monday through April 29. Local and national authors will be at events around town throughout the week, including:

Tommy Orange at Spokane Community College, 1810 N. Greene St., at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Popular Poetry, with Kelly Schirmann and Kaveh Akbar at the Downtown Spokane Public Library, 906 W. Main Ave., at 7 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $12.

Roxane Gay at the Bing Crosby Theater, 901 W. Sprague Ave., at 7 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $35, $25 for students.

Info: getlitfestival.org/

Inside: Check out more festival highlights on page 9.

"Words are so slippery, and still, they are what we have. We give them to one another every day - little dried leaves of them, clouds of them, gleaming commercial banners of them, thousands of scraps of scratched-on papers."

- Kelly Schirmann, from "Popular Music" (2016)

Kelly Schirmann, a 33-year-old poet raised in rural Northern California, is among several "rock star" writers traveling to Spokane this week to appear at Get Lit, the annual, weeklong local literary festival that celebrates the written word.

Schirmann will take the stage on Friday evening with poet Kaveh Akbar to read from her book - a harmonic blend of three ruminative stories, surrounded by powerful poetry. Much of her prose was inspired by her natural surroundings and the rock music she grew up listening to - Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Stevie Nicks, to name a few.

Other parts of her book communicate ideas the way really great songs do - with strong story, lyrical language and original arrangements. A review by the Poetry Foundation described Schirmann's "Popular Music" as "an Emersonian meditation with a kickass playlist set on shuffle."

It is not surprising that Schirmann is both a writer and a musician. Last year, she and her partner, Jay Fiske, moved from Portland to Missoula to "make a go at making our living from the things we make," she said. She is pursuing an MFA in nonfiction writing at the University of Montana where she also teaches. In addition to writing and creating ceramic art, Schirmann plays guitar and sings in a band called Sung Mountains with Fiske.

Schirmann's meditations in her debut book, "Popular Music," explore the art form as more than just a soundtrack accompanying her life's trajectory; music practically directs her artistic journey. Her thoughts on music, how it affected her growing up and how it fascinates her to this day, sound fresh yet vaguely familiar; like an old tune sung with such distinction and truth, that it becomes a revelation.

In "Popular Music," Schirmann uses her relationships to songs as the lens through which to explore personal identity, artistic creativity, and even life's meaning. Her first essay starts the conversation directly on the shaky ground she knows she is on: the impossibility of describing music with words.

Worried as she is at "losing the truth of it almost at once," she picks up what she calls her "language axe" and starts hacking away at the roots of her fascination with popular music, an obsession as common as society's infatuation with social media say, or private jets. Schirmann shares her thoughts on a variety of subjects - love, car trips, nature, art - with the skill of Janis Joplin at Woodstock. …

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