Aaron Dworkin's "Vibrations"

Aaron Dworkin's "Vibrations"

"Channeling desire / To communicate in a voice". Aaron Dworkin is Shar Music's poetjournalist-in-residence. Here, he presents a poem, Vibrations," about strings, violins, and stringed instruments.

Aaron Dworkin, our Shar Music Poet-in-Residence, returns with another lyrical, topical poem. But today, the question stands before us: can you make art out of the topic of… cat guts? Which, by the way, are not actually cat guts. No actual cats are harmed in the making of stringed instruments.


The topic of Aaron’s current poem is the vibrations formed by stringed instruments, which involved a detour into the world of guts and intestines. We discussed the difficulty of writing about certain topics during our interview. But here is his poem, “Vibrations,” first—









Options abound

For the source

Of vibration

Generating my expression

Of musical personality.


As a child

They told me catgut

Brought my melodies

To completion

But sheep or cows

Sacrificed their intestines

For me to tell my childhood stories

Through a wooden appliance.


Today gut

Steel or synthetic cores

Wrapped amidst metal

Tighten to enable

Acquittal of

A fundamental tone.


My bridge carries

Silken identity

To a body ready

From top to bottom

A post of sound

Channeling desire

To communicate in a voice

Constructed from

My vital organs.


An Overture to Thomastik

And D’Addario

Dominant I paint pictures

With Pirastro, Larsen



I rely on vibration

From the strings

Of my violin.




Shar Music: So what led you to write poetry? And is the impulse to write poetry for you different from the impulse to make music?


Aaron Dworkin: I think it really stems from the same place, which is expressing myself. And over twenty years ago I was driven to be autobiographical and to try to capture myself and especially my identity. So the title poem of my first collection was “They Said I Wasn’t Really Black”—which of course came from that experience in my life, and wanting to explore it and talk about it in this medium. So it really came out of that same place, which is what I wanted to do with my violin as well: to share and speak to the issues, emotions, and sense of self.


Shar Music: So when you write, are you generally moving from the personal, the specific, to the more general. Or do you not have a set goal in mind. Do you write without having a goal?


Aaron Dworkin: Well, usually there’s some kind of pull. And I definitely often like to get very personal – like to create that connection. What I’m hoping to be able to do there is to… bring imagery into play, so that people may have that flash in their minds.


Shar Music: So Shar Music often gives you set topics to write about. Which is rare, and sort of historical, being given a set topic like that. Sort of like being the British poet laureate in olden times, where the king is like – “Write a poem about how we’re so much better than the French.” Or such. Is that ever constraining for you? For example, we talked before about the poem “Vibrations’ which involves, ummm, cat guts? Which can be a tricky topic to write about. And you did an amazing job with “Vibrations,” but one wouldn’t necessarily put catgut or sheep intestines in a poem of one’s own accord—


Aaron Dworkin: Ha, well, it might not be the first thing you would go to. But I think it goes to – what, historically was the source of strings? And how can I look at or think about strings differently? And then of course you realize that mechanism of poetry can connect and share with others. And I really do love that process.




Aaron Dworkin is a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, and was President Obama’s first appointment to the National Council on the Arts; he is a current Professor of Arts Leadership and Fellowship at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, as well as the founder of the Sphinx Organization, a non-profit dedicated to the development of young Black and Latino classical musicians.


He has recorded and collaborated with a range of artists, including Yo-Yo Ma, Damien Sneed, Anna Deveare Smith, Damian Woetzel, Lil Buck, and others. He is a best-selling author and the writer of the poetry collection They Said I Wasn’t Really Black.

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