Saturday, April 13, 2019

Review of Finding The Azimuth

Finding the Azimuth by Lisa Mednick Powell
reviewed by Cynthia Anderson

buy the book here
Yes, this reviewer has to look up the word azimuth. What I find is, “the direction of a celestial object from the observer.” What I get from reading Lisa Mednick Powell’s poetic memoir is the trajectory of a life—an azimuth made up of many roads and journeys, jumping backwards and forwards in time, all happening at once and all leaning into the wind.

Lisa blends prose and poetry, plus her own artwork and photos, to tell her story. A veteran of the music business, she starts young and takes big risks to realize her dreams. “When I quit school in 1978, I gave up almost everything for music,” she says. In “New York/New Orleans,” she relates, “I bled on my keyboard and sax reeds. I played hard enough to hurt myself—I felt I had to. I am sure I hurt some other people too.”

Yet wherever she goes, she finds affirmations—“I met bums on the bowery who told me I was blessed.” An old man on the Southern Crescent train stares hard at her, seemingly understands what’s at stake, and offers, “You’ll do just fine.”

She tours in the U.S. and Down Under with The Chills, crisscrosses Oklahoma with the Red Dirt Rangers, and plays with more other bands than you can count. And in between, she travels some more. “Quintana Roo/Yucatan,” contains this vivid description of visiting Chichen Itza:

You can climb that inner flight of stairs and get very close to the past…you will never think about time the same way…Once you glimpse into the deep past, it never leaves you alone and you carry it with you like a fossil in your pocket. Your own distant past and recent experience move toward each other and you feel a window start to open.

Her years in Austin include playing with James McMurtry and Ray Wylie Hubbard. One night the actor Matthew McConaughey is in the audience and screams her name repeatedly—she ignores him, not knowing who he is. She leaves part of her heart in Texas, recounting:

There is a soothing quality that I always feel performing on a wooden stage in an old hall with sawdust on the hardwood floor. When I play a waltz with a good band in a Texas dance hall, I get lifted off my feet. I get to dance with all the cowboys.

Her poem “Texas Haiku #1” concludes:

At the hour when neon
always looks its best,
colors still pulsing

in parts of the sky—you
might see a star hanging
like a bit of chrome against a fender.

It is the moment that stretches:
after you buy the bottle and
before you drink it.

hear & buy the CD here
Her spare, taut writing cuts close to the bone. The last piece in the collection—a long one titled “A Plastic Orange Raincoat, a Little Drool of Blood, & Chaos on the Girl”—wanders the azimuth using wind speed as its gauge and ends in 2008 when she lands in Western New York, taking a break from the music business and earning an MFA. That’s why this book exists. 

A bonus is that each prose vignette begins with a great quote from a great songwriter. But the prize is Lisa’s writing. She knows what she’s doing, and she’ll take you on a ride you won’t forget. And by the way, she’s a great songwriter, too.

Lisa Mednick Powell is a musician and songwriter who lives in Twentynine Palms, California with her husband, bassist and songwriter Kip Powell. Together they have a band called Arroyo Rogers, playing country hits from the 60s and 70s plus their original compositions.

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Cynthia Anderson  is a poet & writer in the Mojave desert.

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