One evening in 1997 at a crowded poetry reading in Frankfurt, Germany, an unlikely and accidental collaboration was born between a poet and a guitarist.
Josï¿½ F.A. Oliver, a poet of Andalusian heritage and a native of the Black Forest region of Germany, was planning to read from one of his recently published volumes. As he prepared to go on stage, he realized that the pages of the newly bound book were not in the correct order. His nerves rattled, he convinced the guitarist performing after him, Niï¿½o Pantaleï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½n, to come on stage with him for support. Oliver's plan was to read some of his own poems while Pantaleï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½n improvised in response to them. The unexpected result was a spellbound audience. After five minutes, the noisy group of 300 had fallen silent.
Since that evening five years ago, Oliver and Pantaleï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½n have continued to perform together. On Wednesday, May 1 at 7 p.m. in Killian Hall, the duo will present "Poetry and Flamenco Guitar," the world premiere of music and poetry inspired by Oliver's latest book, "nachtrandspuren" (nightbordertraces), which will be published in October by Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt/Main.
Oliver is a musician as well as a celebrated poet. He plays the guitar, has composed songs based on his poetry and has recorded two CDs for FenderTon in Stuttgart. "Nachtrandspuren" will be his 10th published volume of poetry. He was awarded the prestigious Adelbert-von-Chamisso-Preis in 1997 and was named Stadtschreiber (poet laureate) of Dresden in 2001.
In their performances together, Oliver and Pantaleï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½n perform original Spanish, English and German texts, freely interweaving them in a dialogue of guitar, voice and rhythm. The artists interact spontaneously with one another. Oliver describes the on-stage dynamic as a conversation of sorts. "We are talking to each other and listening to each other," he said. "One word leads to the next sound, which leads to the next word."
Oliver is the Max-Kade Distinguished Artist-in-Residence in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences this year. He is teaching two classes: "From S:pain to Spain," which focuses on historic and modern-day Spain (the colon reflects the historical divisions of the country into autonomous regions) and "Mapping Poetic Voice," which discusses new poetry written in the German language. Oliver says he approaches both classes, which are taught in Spanish and German respectively, from a poet's perspective. He wants his students to view issues they confront from a variety of vantage points. "They have a fresh curiosity that reveals many new possibilities," said Oliver of his students.
He will return to Germany this fall to record a CD of the music he and Pantaleï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½n, a native of Frankfurt, are performing next week. Oliver also has appearances scheduled in Austria, Finland, Germany and New York to promote his book. He plans to work on a children's book and novel in the upcoming months.
For more information about the performance, call x3-4771 or click here.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 24, 2002.