Spoken Word: The Totem Maples Nus eht ot pirt//Trip to the sun (revised) & Ars Poetica
Totem Maples are a local spoken word troupe from Azusa who have recently released two CDs, Nus eht ot pirt//Trip to the sun (revised), and Ars Poetica, but they deftly mix their message of spirituality and social issues with spoken word and music.
Totem Maples started back in 1997 when founding members Larry Handy and Matt Coleman got together to form The Maples. Erik Elsey, Joanne Kim, Justin Punzalan, and Brain Sadler joined later, and then the troupe rechristened themselves the "Totem Maples."
The first CD, Nus eht at pirt//Trip to the sun (revised), is a revamped version of TM's first CD of the same name. According to Handy, the first album was recorded in one night for a mere $700, and the decision to re-record was to "bring some justice to the songs."
I'm not privy to what was missing from the original, but the new version of Nus is entertaining, thought-provoking, and just on the left side of experimental. Nus is peppered with spoken word gems like "City Jazz and Fire," (two versions, I like the second one better) "Rain/Storm/and After," and my personal favorite "The Parting Glass/Last Call" which starts with a heartfelt recitation of that Irish traditional, and ends with a PSA by Punzalan outlining the more graphic symptoms of STDS accompanied by the gentle strains of an acoustic guitar. About a third of the tracks on Nuis begin and end with a conversational vignette; it's the poetic equivalent of Sublime's 40 Ounces to Freedom.
TM does emphasize:
a) They are "spoken word artists," not slammers.
b) Poetry should be fun.
This particular point is driven home in "Tabloid," a tongue-in-cheek, free-flowing and humorous piece about how to win a slam competition: the key is having "the voice. If one has "the voice," then that person could win by reciting passages from The New York Times.
Ars Poetica continues in the same quirky vein, but with more emphasis on spirituality (the poet's relationship to God, or the poet in the role of shaman/visionary), as illustrated in "The Musician," and "Gethsemane." The issue of whether or not a poet's views are heard is explored in "Spoken Turd," a caustic, yet honest query:
Hey reader why are you reading this poem? Why do you read any of the poems I write? Are you searching for answers you think I might have?
Sadly, the only distraction from both Nus and Ars Poetica is that some of the tracks are overwhelmed by the volume of the music, but fortunately not on the more jazzy pieces. Both CDs are available at Amazon.com, and through the TM's website. If you want to catch a gig with the Totem Maples, you can visit at http://www.totemmaples.com/.
Totem Maples, Nus eht ot pirt//Trip to the Sun,(copyright 2004 Furor Poeticus/ASCAP), 18 tracks, $18.00.
Totem Maples, Ars Poetica,(copyright 2004 Furor Poeticus/ASCAP), 18 tracks, $18.00