The poetry in Humanophone, the third volume from award-winning poet Janet Holmes, celebrates composers and creators such as Harry Partch, Raymond Scott, Leon Theremin, and George Ives, who had to invent new instruments to capture the music heard in their “mind’s ear.” Taking its title from a George Ives invention—an instrument made from a group of humans, each of whom sings a single note, arrayed like a xylophone— Humanophone appears on its surface to be about music. But its real subject is the artist’s creative dilemma—how to deliver a new idea, whether it be a song or a poem, through existing media.
Holmes works language into a variety of forms both familiar—syllabics, couplets, villanelles, sonnets—and engagingly new. With everything from kumquats to abandoned wedding pictures, Clara Bow to Bill Robinson, Keats’s belle dame to Dante’s Francesca, feng shui, to a recipe for octopus, Humanophone celebrates how the body shapes art from the world it is given.
In Humanophone, Holmes not only chronicles events such as Harry Partch’s transformation of glass chemical containers from the Berkeley Radiation Lab into the melodious and beautiful Cloud-Chamber Bowls, but also traces a playful path through the familiar, as a trombone’s upwards glissando becomes “a backwards pratfall/in brass.” Engaging a broad array of subjects, Holmes’s poetry is as delightful as it is thoughtful, as simple as it is complex.