Have you read this book?
Let’s talk about audio books. Almost every single book on tape (or CD) that I have ever listened to has been ultimately disappointing. Stephen King ‘s Gunslinger saga, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time — and the subject of this review, William P. Robertson’s Until Death Do Impart — all have been somehow inadequate. The problem, I’ve concluded, has nothing to do with the content: it’s the format. When I read a Stephen King novel, for example, I don’t hear the author’s voice in my head; my own imagination takes the printed words on the page and constructs its own pure interpretation of the story. When I listen to that same novel as an audio book, my personal interpretation is always tainted by the narrator’s voice; the tone, pacing and inflection of the author may not correspond with my interpretation and irrevocably alter my experience.
That unadulterated experience of seeing — and visualizing — the printed word is even more important when reading poetry. Every single word is significant. In the case of Until Death Do Impart, an audio collection of dark poetry by William P. Robertson, I thoroughly enjoyed most of the verse but the narrator’s voice — once again — negatively impacted my experience. I would’ ve loved to read these poems in book form; would’ve loved to see the poem’s construction, meter, etc. So much is lost when literary works are transferred to audio. For example, two poems — “I Fell to Rise” and “For Story Rights” — were masterfully constructed with brilliant rhyming schemes that were almost completely lost on audio. Frustrated, I needed to have the written words in front of me and had to go online to find them. Here’s an excerpt from “I Fell to Rise,” a poem that would make Edgar Allan Poe proud: Fleshless warriors shattered mail With potent fists of bone That pulverized my armored men Until I fought alone. Corpses stood with vacant stares To join the ones long dead, While I dismembered clacking skull And grizzled zombie head. With shredded cloak awash with gore My fate creaked to a close. I fell to rise with demon eyes In death without repose!
Also included on this CD are four of Robertson’s poems that were put to music and performed by the band ShadowFox. These songs — because of the audio fo rmat — really (no pun intended) overshadowed all the other verse. “Devil on MTV” was a kick-ass tune reminiscent of 80s and 90s heavy metal bar bands that not only had great lyrics but even better guitar riffs. “Shelly” had a Grateful Dead feel with clever and poignant lyrics. And while listening to “Shadows Part Slowly,” I could vividly picture the band playing in some dimly lit roadhouse packed with rowdy rednecks and hot townie babes. I could almost smell the stale beer and leather jackets…
So, in conclusion, I liked the poetry but hated the arrangement. And because of the audio format, the four musical tracks just left Robertson’s spoken word in the dust. No disrespect to the poetry — some of which were exceptional — but when you have 28 tracks of spoken word sprinkled with four killer, down-and-dirty, rock n’ roll songs, the poetry is obviously going to take a backseat. It’s like trying to read a collection of classic pastoral poetry in a strip joint — it doesn’t matter how transcendent the poetry is, there’s no getting past the flashing neon lights and gyrating naked flesh.
After I had finished listening to Until Death Do Impart, I wholeheartedly wished that if I could’ve experienced it again, I would’ve liked to read an entire book of Robertson’s dark poetry then listen to a ShadowFox CD. Robertson is obviously a committed wordsmith and ShadowFox is clearly a kick-ass band but this audio book really doesn’t do either justice.
Paul Goat Allen is the editor of Barnes & Noble’s Explorations science fiction/fantasy book review and is the author of Burning Sticks, Old Winding Way and Warlock Dreams.