Neglecting the Noise: A Review of Elisa Grajeda-Urmston and Tamara Adams’ “Soundcheck: A Musician’s Journey in Song and Verse”

Elisa Grajeda-Urmston’s Soundcheck: A Musician’s Journey in Song and Verse (Jamii Books, 2018, with artwork by Tamara Adams) is written “for every girl who ever played a guitar.” The chapbook is comprised of a “set list” of pieces that fluctuate between rhythmic poems and lyrics. Prints of paintings by Tamara Adams are sprinkled between each set list, depicting the symbiotic relationship between women, music, and nature. The paintings show an emotional range from melancholic to empowered that guides readers from one chapter to the next, iconizing themes of freedom, melancholy, and self-image that appear within the poems of the chapbook.

The poems immerse readers into the life of a talented musician. They show that social issues such as misogyny, objectification, and discrimination form part of the noise that women are expected to endure as part of life on the road. From the poem “What Happens in Vegas,” Grajeda-Urmston speaks for those who objectify:

“the entertainment
director’s dilemma:
what to do with that chick
that thing with the guitar She
don’t look like much, Wow but
Man, she sure can play”

Soundcheck consistently makes reference to noises that are heard but disregarded—like the feedback of a guitar or the rattling of objects on the floor of a flatbed truck. Noise is a device used by Grajeda-Urmston to portray passiveness of issues that are not spoken about but are always there. This passiveness is shown clearly in the poem “Drowned Out By Road Noise”:

“The hurtful word, things said but unheard
buzzing like a hummingbird wing or
a worn guitar string that, upon unraveling
leaves the whole instrument out of tune”

This chapbook shows that noise is a distraction from the voice that should be heard. We live in a time when noise is abused by leaders and the media; Soundcheck warns us against this noise in the poem “Glimmer”:

“Brimming with masculine malevolence
Confection or confession
Is a charge
That sets off an arrhythmia
In a sea of willing victims”

However, it is important to note that these noises should not distract us from the personal values we believe to be true. The best thing to do is to share an authentic voice that matters—a voice that can change and can’t be changed. The poem “Songbird’s Jungle” is about moving forward—ascending over the dark ambience below:

“at her high heels
wires coil & writhe
and snap venomous
at her ankles she flies
over mic-line vines
black tendrils coil & snare
She knows to keep moving
the jungle reclaims every still thing eventually.”

Sometimes, ignoring the noise is not enough. It is necessary to face that negative ambience below in order to evoke change. In the last piece in this chapbook, Grajeda-Urmston includes a note written in prose form to her bandmates titled “Notes From the Chick Singer/The Memo Amended 5/31.” In this note, the author directly addresses acts of negligence demonstrated by bandmates, such as leaning on a wall during a set: “Next time you want to lean, look at my [4-6 inch heels]. Then look at yours. Uh-huh.”

These small acts of disrespect may seem easily dismissed, but they point to a bigger issue. This note takes that necessary extra step to nullify the noise that oppresses us.  It shows that this book is not about being strong enough to rise above the noise, it is also about being strong enough to look down and face it.

Blog intern Will Flaherty is currently pursuing a major in creative writing and literature at Binghamton University in his senior year. He has enjoyed writing creatively for as long as he can remember. His passion for the written, musical, and performing arts is reflected through his extracurricular involvement on campus: his writing is published in student literary magazines, he performs at poetry readings, stars in student production plays, and can be heard through the airwaves as a college radio disc jockey. In his spare time, he enjoys playing and listening to music, hiking and camping in the Adirondacks, and playing pickup soccer.

Email Will at Agape Editions

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s