Kim Rosen and Jami Sieber have been collaborating for 21 years, recording and performing music and poetry together. Their new album, Feast of Losses, will be featured in our latest Being Yourself Podcast Extra. We invite you to dive into their creative process and inspiration here.
Harriet: What inspired you to offer this new creation, Feast of Losses?
Kim: Ever since I can remember I have been magnetized by the mystery of death. The second poem I ever wrote, at the age of seven, was called “Death.” It was about how we all have this invisible portal into the unknown that touches every moment of our lives.
For me, the profundity of meeting one another in the awareness of our own and others' mortality is a most precious gift. Turning towards the inexorability of death lands us in what doesn’t die. To be with all of it, without denial of the human dying/heartbreak/loss or the changelessness of being, is satsang.
These days the summons to turn toward loss—both personal and planetary—grows ever more insistent. In the midst of the pandemic, with the symptoms of global warming everywhere, death is unavoidable. The poems on Feast of Losses call forth the rawness of the cracked open heart and the edgeless mystery that pours through those cracks. And Jami’s music holding the poems melts away whatever habitual defenses we have. As all the great mystical teachings have told us, it is in turning toward death and letting go that we find ourselves most truly, vibrantly alive.
Jami: It is difficult to walk through a day without recognizing the numerous levels of loss that we are confronted with. Especially now. Before COVID stopped me in my tracks, I was starting to see my own personal losses in my aging body and mind, and in my friends. It wasn’t until my work stopped and I was pushed into stillness that I began to feel the depth of grief that arrived at my doorstep—from the deaths around the world due to COVID, to the race-related attacks in the USA, to the disintegration of our government and the disillusionment of the dream that we were getting better at this.
I felt this grief daily and recognized quickly that I was much better able to hold it when I shared it with those I loved. When Kim asked me to join her in this project and compose the music for poems with themes of aging, loss, grief, and death, I knew that it would not only offer a healing balm for me, but would take its place in the hearts of many as a necessary medicine.
Kim: At this moment in history, a “feast of losses” confronts us wherever we turn, if we are willing to open our eyes. Through this creation, Jami and I hope to provide a sanctuary where the listener can drop into and through loss and change to a “holiness that exists inside everything.” (Mark Nepo)
Jami: Grief is rooted in the bedrock of so many people’s anger, fear, hatred, or violence. Perhaps if we can recognize and feel our heartbreak, we can find our connection back to one another.
Harriet: In your experience, what is the relationship between loss and gratitude?
Jami: When I am able to feel the depth of loss, it quickly brings me into what I love. Once I feel the love, I am reminded of how grateful I am to have such love. We cannot carve out grief and loss from our emotional lexicon without carving out many other emotions and expressions. They intersect. They give rise to each other. When I feel tears of grief rolling down my cheek, I am suddenly able to see more clearly the beauty of the sky, or feel more acutely the tenderness of a loved one’s arms around me.
Kim: When we fully open to any inner experience the result is gratitude. Let yourself drown in love and you will find gratitude. In the very core of worthlessness, when fully allowed, a secret well of gratitude is often revealed. Surrender to the direct inner experience of anger, move through the layers that may be revealed as you do, and at some point, you will land in gratitude. So too with grief.
There are those feelings/experiences in the inner palette that we humans tend to defend against. For some of us, myself included, grief is one of them. When a poem, a piece of music, or a life experience renders me defenseless against grief and I let myself be carried by its weather system, I always find overwhelming gratitude at its heart.
Harriet: What is it you hope people will experience in listening to this recording?
Jami: My deepest hope is that this recording can bring us back to a tenderness of heart. A recognition that we all share in the experience of grief—it is our common story, our shared humanity. We have been holding “Deep Listening Gatherings” with small groups of loved ones where, without distraction, we listen to Feast of Losses and then gently enter into dialogue about what arose from the listening. It has profoundly moved me to hear the themes of our individual stories become a shared story of connection.
Kim arriving in Nairobi last month being greeted by friends and students from The S.H.E. Fund, a non-profit she helped to found that supports education for Maasai girls in Kenya.
Kim: Our main hope is that you will do exactly that: experience. That you allow the life within you to be magnetized via the music and poetry into your awareness. That you give yourself to the flow of Jami’s music in combination with the poetry, and that it carries you into an undefended, nourishing intimacy with yourself.
Harriet: For the person who doesn’t regularly read or listen to poetry, how might you encourage them to dive into or receive a poet’s words/expression?
Kim: Poetry uses the mind to unlock the mind so that direct experience can stream through. A great poem uses words in an alchemy that ignites an upwelling inside us, beyond words. Yet unlike other art forms, such as music, art or dance, poetry happens in words. And the mind sees those words and can mistakenly think that they are supposed to make sense. For this reason many feel they don’t “understand” poetry. Exactly! You’re not supposed to understand. Revelation, feeling, knowing beyond words, direct experience – these are the gifts. The poet W.S. Merwin said, “poetry arises from the unknown and leads into the unknown.”
Let yourself be with this poetry and music, as you might a concert or a work of art. We listen to Joni Mitchell or gaze at a Georgia O'Keefe painting not to make sense of them, but to listen to ourselves in their presence. This is our invitation to you as you receive this poetry and music.
Jami: It wasn’t until I started working with Kim back in 2001, that I started to explore the world that poetry opens. I was always afraid of poetry - like I wasn’t smart or cool enough to understand the words and concepts. Kim has a way of speaking and sharing poems that gives new life to the words. Then mixed with music, the spoken poems are brought into the body through melody and rhythm. Within a poem, there might be just one phrase that offers the “Aha” of breakthrough and understanding. That’s all it takes. It can be a process of patiently allowing the music and poetry to wash over you until one day, some words latch within you.
Harriet: What is your process when creating the music around the poetry?
Jami: The creative process between Kim and me has always been an organic exploration of trusting the muse that arrives. I have never studied musical composition except by listening deeply to the music I love. What arises when I make space to compose, is always organic. It is like a melody or rhythm is flying by and somehow I pick up on it and it lands on my bow and strings.
We created Feast of Losses during four 5-day retreats on the Puget sound. We spent each day listening for the music and poems that arose, drawn by the themes of aging, death and letting go. Sometimes I would start to play and Kim would listen for which poems would show up. Sometimes Kim would begin by speaking a poem and the music would arise. By the end of three retreats, we had recorded over 40 hours of music and poetry. We spent the last retreat culling that down to two hours. Feast of Losses is the first of two albums born of that process.
Kim: I first heard Jami’s music in 2001. I’d just moved to California and I was house sitting. I turned on the CD player, without checking what the homeowners had been playing. Music unlike any I’d ever heard filled the space. Almost instantly the poems I’d been learning by heart for years started pouring out of me. I lay on the floor and spoke poem after poem. In the lush layers of cello, the poems revealed themselves in entirely new ways.
Miraculously I was able to track Jami down, and even more miraculously she agreed to do a performance with me. After just one rehearsal, we performed to a full house. The poems I’d spent years learning by heart clamored to be spoken, summoned by Jami’s music. The music unfurled from Jami’s bow, called forth by the poems. Without plan or practice, the poetry and music surged through us for four hours of pure improvisation.
For the last 21 years, this collaboration with Jami has been one of the most precious gifts of my life. Never am I happier than when surrendering to the river of creation that arises when we bring our arts together.
Harriet: What do you see as the transformative role of music and poetry for anyone engaged on a spiritual path?
Kim: As Gangaji has said, “We sit down in retreat so we can stand up in the world.” Poetry and music can be like a mini retreat. A poem or a musical composition has a structure, a time frame and an infusion of wisdom beyond the mind. When we merge spoken poems and music, there can be an added potency: the music makes it impossible for the brain to retain its linear hold on the words, allowing the poems to infuse us beyond the mind. The rhythms and sounds entrain the pulsations of our bodies and our biochemistry is literally changed: the throbbing of the cerebrospinal fluid shifts, causing a disarmament of the brain. In that vulnerability, the spoken wisdom of the poems and the unspoken wisdom of the music are delivered directly to the heart.
The Buddhists teach that there are three Heavenly Messengers: Aging, Sickness and Death. It is our prayer that Feast of Losses will offer an opportunity to meet them personally, and to discover the joy, aliveness, connection and gratitude that comes with welcoming them fully.
Jami: A spiritual path is a path to awakening. Poetry and music invite us to a world beyond the mind, beyond our patterns of thought and living. I have always loved these lines from a poem called “Escape” by D.H. Lawrence (that Kim shared with me years ago!):
When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego,
And we escape like squirrels turning in the cages of our personality
and get into the forests again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us
so that we don't know ourselves.
Cool, unlying life will rush in…
Poetry and music take me into that forest and help me WAKE UP.
Kim Rosen is a poet, author and teacher, currently in Kenya working with The S.H.E. Fund, a non-profit she helped to found that supports education for Maasai girls. We are grateful to Kim for finding the time to answer our questions.
Jami Sieber is electric cellist, composer, and vocalist who lives in Washington State, has performed worldwide, and released many recordings including ‘Timeless’ (2013). To learn more about Jami's music and also purchase a download of Feast of Losses visit jamisieber.com/feast-of-losses