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Word Against the Machine

Phillip Woolever By

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Word Against the Machine
Jane Grenier
80 Pages
ISBN: # 9781513651996
Self Published
2019

It can be very rewarding to read the work of an author who's clearly passionate about their subject matter. That's obviously the case with this multi-media project by Jane "Spoken Word" Grenier. Considering the vital state of current global events, more of this type artistic statement should to be added to the cultural conversation.

Grenier tackles a broad range of today's societal woes including US politics, racial injustice and rampant consumerism while injecting sincere stanzas of personal insight and social observation. The volume isn't packed with abstract imagery or nuanced niceties, it's more of an in your face alliteration of accurate anger.

Combined with 48 minutes of eight bass-backed recordings the package harkens a return to counter-culture days from the 1950s and '60s when loudly proclaimed youthful uprising sparked an inertia that altered multi-national institutions, traditions and attitudes. This book makes it easy to envision bohemian readings at Greenwich Village and City Lights "happenings" or partying masses atop the torn down Berlin Wall.

That's not to imply this collection is some leftover flashback. Many enduring images from times when the early beatnicks or hippies walked the earth were ridiculous stereotypes, distorted by advertisers or cheap moviemakers, but the free spirit of such scenes was authentic. Unfortunately, the strength and style of those anti-establishment movements also became iconic stereotypes which are now cliché. Grenier manages to avoid that critical minefield; her poetry is clearly and cleanly from the good heart of socio-political activism.

Grenier's focus covers American households in "Cerial Killer Moms":

Cerial Killer Moms kill you slowly
with mystery meats
disguised as frozen treats
dinner in a box complete.

Or global extremism in "Bang Your Dead":
In the name of a muslim jihad
or a bible thumpin' christian crusade
as long as it's your version of god
then you're happy
regardless of the mess that you've made.
In your god's name.
hindus, muslims, christians and jews
all throw their dice in vicious war games.
The wrath of god
an eye for an eye
millions of dead motherfuckers just the same.


Grenier's husband Albey Balgochian adds sparse but effective bass lines that serve as effective enhancements on the recordings, with touches of distortion or his bow. Balgochian also handled production, recording and mixing duties. Grenier's vocal delivery is more subdued than her vocabulary, which carries the vibrancy of previous political protests while maintaining a fresh energy and outlook. Though the tones and frenzy are more subdued, the project is reminiscent of the MC5's 1969 debut album intensity on Kick Out the Jams, regarding shared, take no prisoners outrage.

Three of the recorded pieces feature collaborations from Boston poets Art Collins and Michael "Warrior" Bonds and special contributor John Sinclair. Sinclair was the MC5's original manager, a founder of the anti-racist White Panther Party and Woodstock era firebrand. He relocated to Holland and established Radio Free Amsterdam, a great blues and jazz station.

"The guest poets brought their own pieces to the table," Grenier told All About Jazz. "I explained the project and invited them to voice their own word against the machine." After the guest segments were recorded Grenier added some of her own complimenting pieces to forge dialogs that are a highlight of the project.

Her piece "I Am A Poet," from this collection, was included in the 2019 We Are Beat, National Beat Poetry Anthology , and her work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Boston Magazine and the Boston Globe among other publications. Grenier was also featured at the Whitney Museum's 2016 Cecil Taylor retrospective exhibition, in a live performance piece with the late pianist.

Whether the voice belongs to unsung, small town open-mic aspirants or widely recognized poets like Langston Hughes or Carolyn Forche, those who howl truth to power remain vital messengers. Grenier has earned her place among those honored ranks.

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