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Poetry Meets Music

BY ISAAC HAMLET | DECEMBER 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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Listening to our favorite songs, we are so entranced by the rhythm and beat, so swept away by the intensity of carefully selected notes, many of us forget to consider the energy required in crafting the lyrics.

This Saturday, the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., will host musician Kevin Gordon, an alunus of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The show will begin at 8 p.m.; tickets will cost $12 in advance, $15 at the door.

"He has a M.F.A. in poetry and a level of absorption in Southern culture that really makes his lyrics second to none," said Nick Loss-Eaton, Gordon's publicist.

Gordon recalls having been fascinated by both the power of music and language. In junior high, he began delving into the world of poetry, and only a few years later that his interest in music began to grow.

"I didn't start writing songs until 12th grade, when my girlfriend's mom gave me a cheap guitar and a sheet of chord diagrams," Gordon said. "With the guitar came a strong urge to write my own songs. I started playing around Iowa with Bo Ramsey, when I was halfway through grad school at the Workshop. That's also when I started taking songwriting more seriously. When you realize that something you bang out at your kitchen table can affect people in a direct and positive way, that's a great feeling."

He remained in Iowa for three years after graduate school before deciding to attempt something greater with his music and moved to Nashville. Despite its reputation as a center for country music, the city acted as a hub for Gordon's stylings.

It was shortly after his move that Gordon became acquainted with musician David Zollo. The two played together frequently, with Gordon occasionally calling on Zollo to play with him in Iowa City performances.

"It's always difficult to describe somebody's music, but [Gordon] is a really gifted songwriter as well as a great guitar player," Zollo said. "Like any great songwriter, he's got a unique voice and musical vision, and that comes through in his songs. Also, like most of my favorite writers, regardless of discipline, his work is rooted in a sense of place. And I think having been trained as a poet, his song craft and use of language are very strong."

Even though Gordon admits that he uses his expertise as a poet in his songwriting, he believes there's a difference between the two arts.

"A lot of great songwriters are referred to colloquially as 'poets.' and I don't get that. They're two different art forms, at least for me," he said. "Poetry's a much lonelier pursuit. And a song lyric extracted from its melody, chord structure, etc., is just that — an extract, part of the whole; not a poem. A melody can turn the most dead-on-the-page line into something beautiful."

It's this knowledge of the feel and flow of words that helps propel Gordon's songwriting skills.

"[Gordon's] a great performer and really leaves it all out there," Zollo said. "I think we've all had the experience of seeing bands or artists that we love on record but whose skills don't always translate to the actual performance, and this couldn't be further from the truth where [Gordon's] concerned. He's got it all working. He's a great songwriter, makes great records, and is an engaging performer whose shows have a tremendous amount of energy."


MUSIC
Kevin Gordon
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Mill, 120 E. Burlington
Admission: $12 in advance, $15 day of show


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