Midnight Yoga for Alcoholics, in the simplest terms, is the tragically expressive lovechild of a tumultuous, Bourbon-soaked union between poetry and the blues. Calgary poet (and shortlisted Poet Laureate), Kirk Miles, and Calgary-based musicologist and blues artist, Cennth Sinclair, head the remarkably unique spoken word and blues duo, Midnight Yoga, whose performances combine theatricality, poetic cadence and weather-beaten sensuality. The duo, whose unique blues licks have graced the stages of Wordfest, Soul Fest and notable venues like The Ship & Anchor and Mikey’s Juke Joint, present a particular brand of spoken word that cannot entirely be categorized. In fact, it’s so unique they had difficulty describing it themselves.
As Miles reads his own poetry, Sinclair compliments each line with specially chosen, self-composed blues riffs to craft a sound unlike most other poetry/musician acts – their expertise in their respective area is so balanced that you want to tap your foot along with the beat.
The duo’s journey began in 2008 when the two decided that they were tired of playing their old standards: Miles his poetry, and Sinclair his guitar. Miles says that he had begun to tire of doing solo acts, so the two began consulting about a creative partnership.
“In the back of my mind, I had done so many poetry readings and was kind of sick of just doing it myself,” Miles describes. “I’d noticed that a lot of poets either had a musician or worked with musicians or were successful in putting poetry to music – like Kris Demeanor [Calgary’s past Poet Laureate]. I wanted to move into that anyways, but I had never found a person that I had connected with. Sometimes, it just takes time to find that. We connected and decided that this is a great opportunity to pursue it.”
Sinclair similarly wished to pursue the blues in a way that avoided retracing steps through what he calls the “popular one-hundred song repertoire.” He notes, “I could take six weeks and I could be playing at any bar in town, but I wanted to get out of that. I wanted to ‘explore’ the blues. I wanted to take it to the next level.”
For many people, poetry can seem inaccessible because of its use of particular metaphors, imagery, or poetic devices; the aim for Midnight Yoga, says Miles, was to create a “show” or something that both he and Sinclair could sell to any audience of any demographic, a show that was both entertaining for the general public and pleasing to any discerning literary palette. But, pleasing the literary hardliners is not always easy, as Miles says.
“I really wanted us to be a show that we could sell, we wanted to be entertaining. I wanted there to be something humourous and funny. There’s people that say that there’s no humour in poetry, well fuck ‘em. We wanted some joy in the show, but we want the emotional gambit.”
Miles’s poetry is sometimes raw and unabashedly honest, while Sinclair’s blues demonstrates a dedicated interest in the genre’s history, and sets out to follow the words as Miles dramatically calls them out loud. The delicate balance between both words and music is what really draws out the humour in the content of their work, especially in their song, “Women on the Verge of Loving,” a monologue that is erotic, scathing, hilarious and poignantly beautiful all at the same time. The breadth of emotion present in every song on Midnight Yoga’s set list is intense but is given catharsis by Sinclair’s humming guitar; Sinclair’s music tends to ease the weightiness of Miles’s words.
Midnight Yoga, albeit impossible to characterize, is an act that is both incredibly original and also very familiar. The duo’s stage presence is enough to draw in any crowd because it has a je ne sais quoi that is hard to find in many single musician or poetic acts. Both Miles and Sinclair continue to play small Calgary venues in the hopes of building their audience.
Midnight Yoga for Alcoholics will be playing a set on June 11th at Vern’s Bar.
By Therese Schultz