America's favorite poet Billy Collins and indie singer songwriter Aimee Mann shared the Winspear Opera stage Saturday night as part of the DMA's Arts and Letters Live. An enthusiastic audience cheered as these two artists performed their most beloved works filling the Winspear with music, poetry, laughter and tears.
Touring together since 2014, the charismatic duo have created a partnership that feels comfortable and fresh with Collins reading his humorous, bittersweet poetry and Mann singing her literary, angsty songs mixing in a little casual conversation about the creative process.
When explaining how they came to work together Collins reluctantly admits they met at the White House but to him this seems like name-dropping. Collins self-deprecatingly referred to himself as "an amorphous blob of blackness," and called Aimee"the moth." "The moth don't care if the flame is red," Collins said. It seemed fitting. Mann's wraithlike appearance is reminiscent of a moth with black hipster glasses.
Their partnership highlights the commonality of human emotion expressed in both of their work with topics including love and loss, both human and animal. Highlights of the evening were the poems about dogs including the melancholy "A Dog on His Master" in which the dogs looks on his owner and laments "I am growing older faster than he, seven to one is the ratio they tend to say." Collins lightened the mood when he read one of the funniest poems of the night, "The Revenant" in which the not-so loving dog says,"When I licked your face, I thought of biting off your nose." Mann picked up the dog trope singing her song, "Labrador."
When Collins asks what women want, he offers the answer: "Similes." And goes on to read his hilarious poem" Litany".
"You are the bread and the knife, the crystal goblet and the wine. You are the dew on the morning grass and the burning wheel of the sun. You are the white apron of the baker, and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
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However, you are not the wind in the orchard, the plums on the counter, or the house of cards. And you are certainly not the pine-scented air. There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air."
That's how the night went; a back and forth between two talented artists. Mann sang her most popular tunes including the sorrowful "Save Me" which was beautifully harmonized with her bassist, Paul Ryan. Collins satisfied the poetry crowd by reciting what is perhaps his most famous poem, "The Lanyard," a bittersweet reflection on mothers and sons.
When the conversation turned to the creative process, Mann revealed a sharp intellect. She says that when composing a song, the tune comes first then the lyrics. Mann indicated that songwriters have a bit of an advantage because music inherently evokes an emotional response while the poet is limited to words to reach the reader. Both Mann and Collins described the creative process as a conversation that arises from listening and observing. They share a gift for expressing the universal emotions of humans in a straightforward yet poetic way.
The audience seemed to be split between those who came to see the poet and those who came to see the singer. Each group had their favorites but neither were disappointed and by the end of the evening the two fan groups merged into one.