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Remica Bingham-Risher signs copies of her book What We Ask of Flesh at AWP17 in Washington, DC. 

Putting the Muse in Music: Remica Bingham-Risher on Soul and Creative Process 

“Soul music probably speaks to me because it’s the music of my heart—it’s the music I was conceived to, raised around, brought up with, the music that most makes me think of home,” says Remica Bingham-Risher, author of What We Ask of Flesh (Etruscan Press, 2013), and Starlight & Error (Diode Editions, 2017).

Music is seen as a tool for self-discovery and self-expression, and has always been a part of Bingham-Risher’s writing, especially as of late. She thought of herself as both a singer and a deep listener long before she imagined she’d be a poet, and tried to emulate the rhythms and tones she heard in music in her poetry.

Bingham-Risher’s second poetry collection, What We Ask of Flesh (2013) is also rooted in music. Patricia Smith, author of Blood Dazzler and Teahouse of the Almighty introduced What We Ask of Flesh comparing Bingham-Risher to one who “gravitates to the addictive sugar of soul music.” What We Ask of Flesh allows the body to become an instrument as words explored the connection between what was and is.

“Soul culture is rooted in deep pain, longing and incessant innovation. It’s black people reinventing a thing again and again until it speaks, in myriad ways, to love, loss, hunger, triumphant joy. This is something I worked hard to tap into in my latest work. I wanted to show how hard fought our love is, and how resplendent,” Bingham-Risher says.

Bingham-Risher doesn’t listen to music while she writes, but rather, while she edits.  “When I get that first lightning flash of inspiration, I usually try to block everything out and scribble through the idea very quickly,” she says. “When I’m revising, however, I often turn to music to reinforce tone or to move myself along.”

It isn’t just the lyrics that inspire Bingham-Risher, but rather the voice behind the words.

“When I call someone a soul singer, I am referring to the glow or grit in their voice that reminds me somehow of the bright yearning someone has spun years before them. Some of the soul I’m hearkening back to is classic Motown soul (Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye), '80s pop soul (New Edition, Michael Jackson), soul-filled folk and jazz (Tracy Chapman, Grover Washington, Jr.) and more. My aim with these poems wasn’t to highlight the genius of these voices but to trace my path through them, and to trace love’s path through all of it,” Bingham-Risher says.

While soul music stemmed from call and response cadences of preacher and congregation, Bingham-Risher crafts her poems as a response.

One of the tracks on the Starlight & Error playlist, “Standing in the Shadows of Love” by the Four Tops allowed for her to answer.  After her friend, Rumain Brisbon, died at the hands of police in 2014, the song became her muse, allowing her to hear the song differently. 

She says, “Everything about the song moves me—the tempo, the pitch, Levi Stubbs’ gravel and pleading—but I started to hear the song differently after my friend’s death. I was writing poems about motherhood and the song eventually led to a poem about mothers left to deal with life after their sons have been taken from them. In essence, the song was the call and my poem, “Getting Ready for the Heartache to Come or A Body Intercepting Light” became the response and a kind of healing for me.”

But soul isn’t just inspiring her poetry. Bingham-Risher presented an essay at AWP17 during the panel “Beyond Sex: The Poetics of Desire” that was also inspired by the Four Tops Ballad.  Her essay was a part of a work-in-progress called Blood on the Page: Ten Poet from the Black Arts Movement Through Cave Canem and is a series of interviews she conducted with poets and personal essays.

She says, “I’m always trying to answer my own questions or maybe, in their broadest sense, I’m calling out to the Divine. Sometimes when I read scripture or the poems of others, I get an answer back.”

To hear what songs inspired Bingham-Risher’s collection find her full playlist here.
Danie Watson is pursuing her M.A. in creative nonfiction from Wilkes University and serves as a graduate assistant with Etruscan Press. She currently resides in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania with her fiancé Daniel Goetz.


New Releases from Etruscan

One Turn Around the Sun by Tim Seibles
We are pleased to publish another poetry collection from Tim Seibles, Poet Laureate of Virginia. Seibles’ One Turn Around the Sun has received praise from Kwame Dawes, author of City Bones: A Testament naming Seibles as “an essential American poet.” Of One Turn Around the Sun, Dawes says, “These are profoundly vulnerable poems that are distinguished by the risk and daring that we expect from our best poets.” One Turn Around The Sun is a panorama of poems that attempt to define the twilight during which a person becomes caretaker of parents and begins to grind against that old saying, “Life is too short.”  The book also studies the intricacies of being a self, a particular personality shaped by forces seen and unseen, both knowable and not.  At times, the various voices might be considered characters that agree and sustain one perspective.  In other cases, contending sensibilities imply an underlying argument.  This is especially true of the book within the book, which is entitled “The Hilt.” Trevor Ketner of Booklist praises Seibles’ emotive poems, calling One Turn Around the Sun  “A memoiristic reflection on the cycles that form our identities, our societies, even, quite grandly, the cosmos.” Several questions drive this collection, the most central being how can a person stay sane when so often socio-political circumstances mock all efforts to create a livable world.  This is a book intended to bolster an ongoing engagement with life at a time when running away is a great temptation.

Etruscan at AWP 17 in DC

Laurie Jean Cannady signs copies of her memoir Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul at AWP17. 
Washington, DC welcomed Etruscan authors and staff for the AWP 50th Anniversary Celebration. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference and Bookfair was kicked off with a 50th Anniversary Gala benefitting the AWP Mentorship Program where Etruscans bonded with other literary citizens over a shared love of reading, writing, and learning. AWP17 was held at the Washington Convention Center and Washington Marriot Marquis from February 8-11, 2017. 

Etruscan authors participated on panels, readings, and book signings, both within the conference, and at off-site events in the DC area. In conjunction with our partner, Wilkes University, Etruscan hosted book signings on the Bookfair floor: Remica Bingham-Risher, Bruce Bond, Laurie Jean Cannady, David Lazar, J. D. Schraffenberger, Tim Seibles, and D. M. Spitzer. Bingham-Risher, Bond, Cannady, and Seibles were also seen signing books at other booths, and at off-site events around the DC area. Kazim Ali, Jennifer Atkinson, Remica Bingham-Risher, Bruce Bond, Laurie Jean Cannady, Julie R. Enzer, Bonne Friedman, David Lazar, Paul Lisicky, Shara McCallum, J.D. Schraffenberger, Tim Seibles, and Diane Theil were all seen on panels throughout AWP17. Etruscan sponsored a daily raffle, where one signed Etruscan book was given to a lucky winner each day.

Etruscan also co-sponsored the AWP Old School Slam and Open Mic, held on both Thursday and Friday nights. Friday’s Slam attracted an impressive 26 poets who presented their work.          
Next year will be the 51st anniversary of AWP, and the Etruscan staff is already looking forward to the event, which will be held in Tampa, FL from March 7-10, 2018.

Etruscan staff, Wilkes students and alumni volunteered at the 50th Anniversary Gala.

About Etruscan Press:

Housed at Wilkes University and partnering with Youngstown State University, Etruscan is a non-profit literary press working to produce and promote books that nurture the dialogue among genres, cultures, and voices.

For the latest Etruscan events, please visit our website.
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