Canadian Singer Serenades Cat


Singer-songwriter Safia Nolin sings songs from her debut album Limoilou with guitarist Joseph Marchand at the Cat in the Cream Monday. Her songs, written in French, focus on themes of depression and growing up in a working- Matías Berretta Staff Writer Chair of the Creative Writing Program Kazim Ali began a poetry reading by Margaret Ross and Robin Beth Schaer on March 10 by asking those in attendance if they recognized the metrical pattern of the radiator’s rhythmic banging — a tro- chaic beat. This was a fitting observation, as both Ross and Schaer’s work draws on the rhythm of their experiences. Shane McCrae, assistant professor of Creative Writing, giddily introduced Margaret Ross. McCrae confessed that when he met Ross at a workshop with Jorie Graham at Harvard University, he experienced the kind of jealousy a poet feels when they meet a 19-year-old who’s better than they were at the same age. McCrae lauded Ross as a genius, insist- ing that hers was the poetry of the future — unsurprising for those who’d received an email from McCrae a week earlier, titled “Genius is Coming,” in which the poet referred to Ross as the Sex Pistols before they became the Sex Pistols. Staring straight ahead under the harsh white stage lights, Ross recited her poems from memory. Her performance was bone chilling, bordering on creepy, cold yet exhilarating. Ross’s facial ex- pressions showed her consideration for each word; her affectation was very much a part of her recitation. Ross’s work rewards repeated engage- ment. On first read, its density may cause one to gloss over moments of beauty, like in “A Timeshare”: “Yes though / if there’s such a thing as time at all I never saw it / move and if that’s so then what am I / So afraid of?” Although she may seem unfamiliar with the constructs of Earth, many of Ross’s poems are precise, fairly literal observations of the world through her eyes. For example, in “The Line,” she describes the play of light and shadow at dawn: “…Dawn / cuts out the trunk and drains its shadow.” Ross’s style is clear and severe. From the rich sensory details she provides, it’s clear that she is consistently observing the world around her with great detail. Her eye is a laser; even shifting shadows don’t escape its purview. The delivery of Ross’s poems did not match how they looked on the page. –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– Her performance was bone chilling, bordering on creepy, cold yet exhilerating. –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– While her lines cut a harsher look on the paper, Ross followed the rhythm of the syntax, stringing her words together delicately. Ross explained that she’s a slow writ- er. The subjects she writes about tend to marinate in her head for a long time before she puts them down on the page. The world she weaves in her poems, which may be quite ordinary to her, re- mains a wonder for those who listen. Ali introduced Robin Schaer by read- ing from Cesare Cassarino’s theory book Modernity at Sea: Melville, Marx, Conrad in Crisis, from which he drew the concep- tual framework of the “ship as society,” a hermetic space that serves as a micro- cosm for society at large. Ali explained that like Herman Melville, Schaer is not so much concerned with the epic or narrative as she is with the quotid- ian moments that make up our lives. Ali finished his introduction by pointing out that although the visiting poet’s sur- name could be taken to mean either “li- oness” or “poetry,” in Farsi, he felt a more accurate title for Schaer would be “Lion- ess of Poetry.” Schaer’s performance was a smooth, lyrical story of exploration and its perils. Take “Middle Flight”: “In Brazil, a priest / hitched himself to a thousand balloons / and was gone. He must have whispered céu / as he climbed aloft (only in English are heaven / and sky different words).” Schaer’s use of language — deceptively simple and accessible — allows for the emergence of deeply engaging and com- plex narratives. History also informs Schaer’s piec- es. In “Natural History,” written for the poet’s son, she writes, “There are seven white rhinos when you are born / A year later, six. I try to tally the animals van- ished in my lifetime / and lose count.” Schaer is interested in exploring de- struction not for the sake of spectacle, but in order to better understand and learn how to survive disaster. Schaer herself is no stranger to environmen- tal crisis. The poet was working as a –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– While her lines cut a harsher look on the paper, Ross fol- lowed the rhythm of the syntax, stringing her words together delicately. –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– deckhand aboard The Bounty, a 180- foot, fully-rigged ship, when it was lost at sea during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The captain and a fellow crewmember went down with the ship. Much of her acclaimed book, Shipbreaking, draws on this experience. For instance, her use of ‘we’ exclusively refers to the ship’s crew. She writes, “She was safer at sea / we were not safer at sea … we were alive / we drowned … we were never found.” During the brief question and answer session, Schaer explained that when constructing her poems, the constraints of a metrical pattern offer a helpful frame- work because she only needs to focus on filling in the spaces. After writing her lines in meter, she breaks up the metrical pattern as she sees fit. The final result is a poem that flows from line to line, the ghost of meter ever-present in her work. class neighborhood in Quebec City.

Louise Edwards, Arts Editor

Singer-songwriter Safia Nolin opened her performance at the Cat in the Cream on Monday with “La Laideur,” from her debut album Limoilou. The song’s calming but somber chords resonated with Nolin’s lyrics well: “Toute seule, je m’en vais toute seule / Sans peur, j’avance sans peur / Mais j’ai menti parce qu’au fond / j’ai peur,” (All alone, I go alone / Without fear, I advance without fear / But I lied because in my heart / I’m scared), she sang. Such sentiments are characteristic of Nolin’s songs, many of which touch on her depression after she dropped out of high school at age 15. “I was really pretty sad that whole time in my life. … I didn’t know what I was doing in my life,” Nolin said in an interview with the Review.

At 17, Nolin’s older brother gave her a guitar, and Nolin began writing songs. Despite being low on money, Nolin’s mother was supportive of her work and entered her in a contest for singer-songwriters. Though she didn’t make it to the final round, the opportunity made her want to continue pursuing songwriting, and she decided to attend a singer-songwriter school. Yet

Nolin found instruction at the school formulaic and confining. “One teacher said, ‘You have to know what happens in the first two sentences [of the song],’” Nolin said. “And I was like ‘No, that ruins the whole song.’”

After a few months at the school, Nolin decided it would be more productive for her to spend time writing songs on her own. As a result, Nolin is almost entirely self-taught, and learned much about performing from opening for her friends.

Hailing from Quebec City, Nolin composes all her songs in French and named her album Limoilou after the working class neighborhood where she lived. In “Igloo,” Nolin sings, “J’erre comme un fantôme amnésique/Dans les maudites rues de Limoilou.” (I wander like an amnesiac ghost / in the accursed streets of Limoilou). Her music is based in the emotions she felt as she composed many of her early songs there. Yet her tunes have gained global recognition. Nolin toured in France and Belgium in 2015, but her Oberlin performance was her first for a primarily nonFrench speaking audience.

Even though Nolin’s songs were sung in French, they were still accessible to an Anglophone audience; her voice conveyed heartfelt emotion and her music was solemn yet catchy. She bounced on her feet, adding energy to the forward-moving melody supported by electric guitarist Joseph Marchand’s brooding but powerful sound.

Nolin’s self-proclaimed awkwardness was also endearing and gave the performance a laid-back atmosphere. The pieces she sang solo and unplugged mid-way through the performance were calmer and quieter, reflecting the raw feel of her live recordings. “At the start of my career I chose to just be myself,” Nolin said.

Her personality came through in the observations she made about the United States between songs. Talking about trying to find a restaurant to eat at on Easter Sunday Nolin said, “I thought about how all the restaurant names were weird, like ‘Thank God It’s Friday’ and ‘Applebee’s.’”

Such candidness revealed her honest, quirky and passionate character, which also comes through in songs like “Noël Partout.” Nolin introduced the song enthusiastically, saying, “This is a song that I wrote about my love for Christmas.” She sings, “Je passerai Noël sur un avion / Sur un bateau au milieu de l’eau / Noël sur une montagne / En Espagne, en Bretagne / Noël sur la lune / Ou peut̂tre sur Saturne / Noël, Noël partout / Sauf chez nous,” (I would spend Christmas on a plane / On a boat in the middle of water / Christmas on a mountain / in Spain, in Britain / Christmas on the moon / Or maybe on Saturn / Christmas, Christmas everywhere / Except our home).

The accompanying music held the warm nostalgia for Christmas in one chord and the somber gloom of winter in the next, conveying a complex array of emotions.

Nolin emphatically said she wouldn’t consider writing a song in English, partly because she finds it hard to convey the intricacy of her emotions through the language. She also noted that some neighborhoods in Quebec are still segregated based on whether residents speak English or French and that switching between the two languages could be viewed as “selling out” by some. “Making English music in Quebec is weird,” Nolin said. “There’s a lot of tension.” Yet she didn’t hesitate to showcase her cover of Rhianna’s “Work” (featuring Drake). Despite the switch in language, the slower and calmer verse of the song meshed with the rest of Nolin’s set.

Nolin’s nuanced Francophone refrains brought a fresh perspective on Oberlin along with them. While Oberlin can be cloudy and cold during the winter months, Nolin said, “I like Oberlin. It looks like Hogwarts!” Marchand also showed off the taco socks he got from Ratsy’s. The pair clearly enjoyed exploring Oberlin, and the audience equally appreciated Nolin’s dynamic and complex work.