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Rachael Thomas Carlson, ‘Poet of Silence’

Mar. 23, 2010
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You may have seen Rachael Thomas Carlson in a three-piece suit and bow tie, lugging a heavy guitar case across the UW-Milwaukee campus or waiting with it at a bus stop. In that get-up Thomas resembles a country player from the Carter Family era, a comparison the musician might appreciate, even if country doesn’t enter the repertoire of this poet and scholar.

You moved to Milwaukee from Minneapolis?

I came here for UWM, initially because of the finger-style guitar program. Its director, John Stropes, says it might be the only program of its kind in the world. It’s certainly the first.

What drew you to that style of music?

It was the complexity of it. I had naively thought I had completed all the different aspects of guitar before discovering finger-style. Eight years later, I realize that playing guitar is more complex than I ever thought it was.

What do you derive emotionally from this music?

Nothing. I don’t get anything from it anymore. I like playing rock a whole lot more.

Do you have a band?

Yes, it’s called Son Rock Man. We play unconsciously informed rock music. It’s all original songs by [guitarist] Tom Cramer and I—an anarchistic collaborative/cooperative endeavor. Our ideas are brought to the group and mixed around in a big bowl. Sometimes it turns out like a salad or a soup or a pilaf.

Describe the music.

It’s polyphonic rock with multiple voices going on—each one independent but contributing to the sonic whole.

Has the band debuted?

No, sadly. We’re waiting for two more songs.

And what about your finger-style studies?

I discovered the real reason I came to Milwaukee, which was scholarship in American vernacular music. [Lecturer] Martin Jack Rosenblum was a major factor. I had a revelation in his American folk and popular music class. I’d been doing research on music for years, attempting to figure it out, and here was somebody thinking about music the same way I was.

Is Three Different Stairs/At the Blue Pavement Special your first poetry chapbook?

I’ve done other ones, but this one is the wine—the others were only bits of cork.

Describe your poetry.

I see myself as a poet of silence. There’s a fantastic phenomenon during certain kinds of writing, where so many things are being said that nothing is being said. Silence is the perfection.

Where can people get your book?

It’s exclusively available through personal contact with me—within a four-block radius of the No. 30 bus line.


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