Like a Bird with a Thousand Wings

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In a tyrannical, divided, and fearful time, we are gifted with travel in a state of grace and awe in Melissa Studdard’s exquisite multi-genre book Like a Bird with a Thousand Wings. Her poetry brings together the ancient and contemporary, East and West, the individual and collaborative, and the arts of poetry, music, translation, and painting. Studdard writes in response to Christopher Theofanidis’s composition, The Conference of Birds, a musical interpretation of the allegorical poem by the ancient Persian poet Attãr, translated by Sholeh Wolpé. There are echoes here of the music-driven language of the ecstatic mystical poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins: “Your wings / flame to flight–arching and lifting, / wimpling and waving. Soon / … you are one again with the wonder / of dappled light.” Studdard’s poems transport us to the visionary world where art generates art and in which we communicate intimately with each other across the millennia and languages and the vast Earth’s geography.

Aliki Barnstone, author of Dwelling

A mosaic of beauty, Like a Bird with a Thousand Wings weaves together the brilliant poems of Melissa Studdard and the artistic genius of composer Christopher Theofanidis, along with artwork by Elisa Vendramin, creating a perfect combination of splendor. Studdard, who is one of the best American poets writing today, creates poems that exist with both an exquisiteness and passion, poems where love is birdsong and breath; her work, so gifted, skillful, and tender you want to give it / to everyone you meet. Combine this with the striking elegance of Theofanidis’s musical compositions on the page, visually bringing to mind the vision of birds on a wire and birds in flight.

Kelli Russell Agodon, author of Hourglass Musuem

Like a Bird with a Thousand Wings is a cross-cultural dialogue and a significant literary and artistic contribution. It blends poetry and music to unsurpassed effect to tell the tale of perseverance, survival, and search for knowledge. The book is inspired by Attãr’s poetical masterpiece, The Conference of the Birds, the story of a journey that starts with the birds’ search for the legendary Simorgh only to end with the discovery of self.

Sheema Kalbasi, author of Seven Valleys of Love

There is a creative murmuration at work in this gorgeous collaboration which flows out of an intuitive and synergistic whole.   The rapturous power within Studdard’s poems draws as deeply from the Divine as from the exquisite compositions of Theofanidis.  These fresh, original poems stun the senses and the ecstatic pulse of the reader raising the whole of this artistic union to new heights.  Theofanidis’s arrangements act as an incandescent current allowing the arc of narrative to take flight through Attar’s seven valleys  These compositions fuse elements of humankind’s struggle from the denser quest for knowledge to the ecstatic joy of wonderment told exquisitely through the dynamic strings and melodic agency of the Argus quartet.  Studdard’s poems turn this course through breath and shadow to place us directly in the line of this union’s collective truth.   If everyone understood the authentic meaning of these verses and the empowerment of infinite existence, this purgatory we call earth would transform at once to heaven.   Not the heaven of rewards and punishments, not the Garden of Eden but the song which created the apple.  Let us consume/the shimmering, false distance/between yourself and everything you see/so that you may be a conduit/to bring these warm, pulsing/wonders to the world/still breathing and throbbing/with life.  Let us witness our great thousand-winged bird, so stunningly embodied through the sublime art of Elisa Vendramin, then witness our wings disappear. 

Lois P. Jones, author of Night Ladder