Ken Waldman,
A Week in Eek
(Nomadic, 2000)

Ken Waldman bills himself as "Alaska's fiddling poet," and so this album is a group of his poems backed by music. Waldman won't make anyone forget Mark O'Connor, but his fiddling makes an appropriate background for his words. Many of the poems, fittingly, take music and musicians as a subject. He is joined by Andrea Cooper on banjo and flute, Mark Roberts on guitar and banjo, and Paul Gitlitz on mandolin.

Alaska is an exotic place to many of us, but Waldman's poems look past that surface glamour into the real lives of the people who live there. Take the title cut, which begins: "Kids in sneakers squeaking across/the Eek School gym floor...." It might be any school in America, but the kids here speak "...weakened Yu'pik/and village English..." and Arctic Cats, not sports cars, are the chic vehicles. The wordplay (how many words can you think of that use the "eek" sound?) is playful and clever. The kids also steal the show in "Poetry Reading, Brevig Mission," a sweet portrait of a small Alaska town (population 230) through its people.

The soundtrack for the poems is old-timey music, familiar tunes like "Arkansas Traveler" and "Old Joe Clark." "Cluck Old Hen" is a good illustration of Waldman's approach. The melody backs the poem "Poetry Reading, Brevig Mission," which mentions Waldman playing the tune "Cluck Old Hen" at the reading. In this way, the music and the poetry deepen each other. Some of the tunes, like "Prescott Waltz" and "The Nomad," are Waldman's own, but most are traditional.

The liner notes reprint all of the poems. There are also brief comments on the music. Listeners who wish to read more of Waldman's work will be pleased that each poem's place in Waldman's book-length collections is noted.

A Week in Eek is an unassuming hybrid of spoken-word poetry and back-porch folk music. Look for polish elsewhere; enjoy this CD for its unique sensibility and everyday rough beauty.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 13 March 2004

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