Three Rides, the new musical settings of poems from KC Trommer's first collection We Call Them Beautiful, premiered last Friday, June 7th, at the Brooklyn Art Song Society (BASS) to critical acclaim. Composer, librettist and stage director Herschel Garfein wrote the songs for soprano Marnie Breckenridge for the BASS season finale, New Voices. David Wright reviewed the songs for the New York Classical Review (NYCR) on Saturday, June 8th.
If Larsen convincingly inhabited a man’s emotions, composer Herschel Garfein proved a veritable D.H. Lawrence of music in the world premiere of Three Rides, a three-song cycle whose suggestive title said it all. Well, not quite all—the texts by (female) poet KC Trommer pulsed with imagery linking sex to driving a car on black ice, a roller coaster, and ecstatic brain surgery. Really.
Garfein’s text-setting went the illustrative route, but in fresh and un-obvious ways, for example slowing to an adagio for the car’s scary long skid on the ice, just as time slows down at such moments. Pianist Dimitri Dover’s energetic, sometimes pointillistic playing kept the nerve endings close to the surface. Cellist Dave Eggar proved an inspired addition to the voice-and-piano format, dialoguing with the singer one moment and robustly reinforcing the piano the next. The two instrumentalists wonderfully evoked the rumbles, squeaks, and rattles of the old Coney Island roller coaster in “The Cyclone.”
Soprano Marnie Breckenridge may have done more miming and mugging her part than necessary, but there could be no faulting the abandon with which, like those surgeons, she hurled herself into mysterious corners of the erotic brain. Closing with “The Cyclone”—as Trommer wrote, “head back, eyes closed, laughing her head off”—Breckenridge left the audience thrilled, and maybe a little stunned at the audacity of it all.
We Call Them Beautiful is a vibrant debut, filled with emergencies and responses to them. “This, all this,/is the making of you,” the poet KC Trommer writes, reminding us that what we live through changes us and the stories we tell about our lives. In these poems of love, pleasure, and survival, the poet navigates the cold menace of the Atlantic Ocean, the wild terrors of sex and carnival rides, the bittersweetness of watching her sleeping child’s quiet breathing, all while mapping the power, joy, and dangers of being a woman in the world. Drawing its strength from discovery, We Call Them Beautiful explores the necessary making and remaking of the self, through art and stories, while looking unflinchingly at the ways that time works on us all.
More praise for We Call Them Beautiful:
Rejoice all lovers of the word for the generous, gorgeous, and timely gathering that is KC Trommer's We Call Them Beautiful. The world needs these poems right now for they are fostered alike by Beauty and by Dread and they do what only real poems can: they leave us changed. We come away from reading them somehow feeling like the recipients of a benediction that makes us more merciful, more tender towards the world, towards ourselves. —Lorna Goodison, Poet Laureate of Jamaica
KC Trommer’s brave debut explores the power in doing: seeing, naming. touching, marveling, grieving. Some of the most heart-wrenching poems in We Call Them Beautiful explore divorce—the rage, alienation, and disappointment. As Trommer writes, “Now is a matter of thinking of what tense / I choose to know you in.” As these poems wisely suggest, past, present, and future are all imperfect, but there is a hopeful courage in the voice: “Wherever I go, I am this woman.” This woman—this poet—is a force. —Maggie Smith, author of Good Bones
To be “broken and mended, broken and mended,” the poet, KC Trommer, writes for all of us, as she fearlessly and poetically confronts the corrosion—and tender maternity—of love’s scarred and unfathomable existence. —Emily Fragos, author of St. Torch
Assured and masterful in its compassion, KC Trommer’s poetry is a salvage and positively shimmering balm, always open to the quite miraculous, the delicate negotiations in realms of home, heartbreak, the Cape and city blocks, layers of subways and museum havens. If you are like me, repeating to myself her turns of capture and release, you will find these lines etched long in memory: these poems are a net of light, piece-by-piece bringing up the best in all of us and unmistakably making the day sing. —Douglas A. Martin, author of Acker
Among KC Trommer’s poems, one finds emergences, tests of bravery, and dollops of trust. Her poem’s utterances—sometimes turning on display, sometimes mercurially floating in a consuming element . . . sometimes nervous peerage into traps, sometimes celebrations of the security of confederation—are always a suspension of self-possession; hers are songs of the unrepressed and the eternal. —Scott Hightower, author of Self-evident
KC Trommer is the author of We Call Them Beautiful (Diode Editions, 2019), as well as the chapbook The Hasp Tongue (dancing girl press, 2014). A graduate of the MFA program at The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, she has been the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and her poem “Fear Not, Mary” won the 2015 Fugue Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in AGNI, The Antioch Review, Blackbird, Octopus, The Sycamore Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, and in the anthologies Resist Much, Obey Little: Inaugural Poems to the Resistance (Spuyten Duyvil, 2017) and Who Will Speak for America? (Temple University Press, 2018). She is the curator of the online audio project QUEENSBOUND. You can find her at kctrommer.com.