Poet Cassandra Gillig Mashes Up Drake and Frank O’Hara on “Ode To The Best I Ever Had”

Last week, Steve Roggenbuck’s new poetry cooperative Boost House posted the newest and, possibly, most unexpected Drake mash-up the internet has ever seen. New Brunswick-based poet Cassandra Gillig is responsible for “Ode To The Best I Ever Had” featuring Frank O’Hara reading “Ode to Joy” over Drake’s “Best I Ever Had,” (produced by Boi-1da, who recently told The Fader he made the beat to Drake’s “Headlines” in ten minutes.)

On her Tumblr, Gillig has more mash-ups including NYU Professor Dorothea Lasky ‘going in’ on Raekwon’s “Ice Cream,” Richard Brautigan reading over Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together,” and William Carlos Williams on Wale’s “Lotus Flower Bomb.”

On paper, these seem like the kind of novelty combinations that only work together for twenty seconds, but Gillig has an ear for cadence and the tracks are tight all the way through. Over “Best I Ever Had” O’Hara sounds nimble, and on “Ice Cream,” we hear Lasky’s musicality¬†as she lists off, “They have peaches, plums, cherries, / Dewberries, and bananas there on the trees.”

I got in touch with Gillig to ask her a few questions:

How did you start making these mash-ups, what inspired you?

I am a big fan of listening to poetry at work or as I walk places. I don’t really draw a distinction between poetry & music, as far as my listening habits & affinities go. Like, I would readily place the Dial-a-Poem albums (put out by Giorno Poetry Systems & available on UBUWeb) or the 1987 recording of Alice Notley in Buffalo (up at PennSound & which I used to complete the Notley/Timberlake piece) up there with, say, Marquee Moon or Enter the 36 Chambers. When a poet has a killer reading, there is nothing else like it. My favorite poets–because I am mostly interested in New York School/Language poetry–have a really distinct musicality in their deliveries. It’s mostly derived from the tradition of coterie within these movements, I think; tight-knit subcultures allow for a greater confidence in performance experimentation. Also, generally, the goals of both movements speak greatly to a very perspicacious and engaging method of performance. In thinking about my own musicality during readings, I started experimenting with the integration of karaoke tracks & hip hop instrumentals in order to see how the music could highlight a certain aural property I was trying to achieve, perhaps being capable of wholly manipulating the audience. I expanded this trial by including some of my favorite recordings of poems, though with less of a course of manipulation in mind. I was trying to find appropriate & productive pairings that would better engage otherwise uninterested listeners.

You wrote on Tumblr that you weren’t trying to make fun of the poems by setting them to pop music. Can you talk a little bit about what you were trying to do?

It’s very easy to see something like a “mash-up” & assume that the value of the juxtaposition is in its humor. Ostensibly, these are outlandish pairings, but what I hope I’ve conveyed is that the realms of pop & poetry are not entirely dissimilar–& that perhaps there is a way poetry could serve the greater public as pop music does. I wrote that initial explanation to preface a track I was going to upload, a recording of Alice Notley’s “At Night the States” (a really devastating poem written for her late husband, poet Ted Berrigan). It’s one of the most moving things ever written about loss. I didn’t necessarily think people were finding the tracks funny, but I especially wanted to highlight the fact that I was working with emotional reaction & not humor as an end goal. I didn’t want these creations to seem disrespectful to the original recordings of the poems or to the poets’ goals or accomplishments in creating them. The poems don’t need anything; it was just a bit of an experiment. Additionally, I was seeking to underscore the natural musicality of certain poets’ delivery. I think this is particularly apparent in Dana Ward’s recording of “Crying.” Dana has this way of nearly singing his pieces that has always resonated with me to an inconceivable degree. He sometimes moves his hand as if he’s conducting an orchestra, too. It’s really magical; it kills me. You know, there’s also an entire movement with similar strains of experimentation, “sound poetry.” One of the things I made sure to do was not to edit anything in the original recordings. I wanted to illustrate how the poems & songs went together without modifying any part of the original poem or the poet’s intentions or performance. No artificial breaks were needed, anyway. Most poems–like pop songs–have a beginning, middle, and end, with a bit of drama in the mean time. It’s the essential narrative structure of any fluid artistic creation, and there’s a basic human tendency to rely on this structure in the creation of any piece of art. I’m curious about how imposing a link between beloved pop culture & what is sometimes “outsider art” could create a heightened interest in contemporary experimental poetry. I think these pieces make poetry more inviting for at least a small while. Which is the ultimate achievement! & generally something that drives most of my art.

Do you have a favorite of the mash-ups you’ve made so far?

I don’t have a favorite, no. I think they each do something wildly different. It has been interesting to see people react to certain ones in particular then others not at all.

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