TRAVERSE CITY — Fleda Brown’s book of Elvis Presley-centric poetry came out in 2004, so when Bob Chelmick reached out asking to use her work in an episode of his radio show, it was a surprise.
Chelmick is the producer, host and founder of “The Road Home,” a program broadcast on CKUA — the public radio network in Alberta, Canada. The show, which began in 2002, combines music, poetry, storytelling and “quiet country life at a cabin in the boreal forest.”
Brown, of Traverse City, gave Chelmick the go-ahead. The professor emerita, University of Delaware, past poet laureate of Delaware and columnist for the Record-Eagle said she’s thrilled with the results, which she was able to preview two weeks ago.
“I’m so happy, I’m so in love with the idea that there are people using poetry in this way — not to music, but with music,” Brown said.
The two-hour episode’s inaugural broadcast is set for Sunday — locals can listen online at www.ckua.com — though timezone differences push the start time to 10 p.m. for Michiganders. On Monday, the episode will air on www.roadhome.fm at 9 p.m. eastern and will stream on a rotating basis for the rest of January.
Six or seven of Brown’s poems — most from her book, “The Women Who Loved Elvis All Their Lives” — along with one or two from other poets are used in the episode, Chelmick said. He might use 12 poems in a two-hour show, but it’s not often that one poet is featured so heavily, he said.
“In this case, I just embraced Fleda’s work because it fit so well and it’s so strong — they’re such good poems,” Chelmick said.
Elvis changed the landscape of music for those who listened to him during his peak, Brown said.
“He was the forerunner of black music mixing with white music and a blend of blues and rock-n-roll,” she said. “All his songs came together. He changed music so dramatically. You can’t imagine what that change did to those of us growing up then.”
Brown previously received a research grant from the University of Delaware to go to Graceland in Memphis, Tenn. Brown said the poems she wrote come from her extensive research and don’t all praise Elvis — a fact that kept the musician’s estate from allowing her to use a photo of him on her book cover.
Chelmick said he always had thought about doing a program on Elvis, and a virtual file of spoken word pieces centering on the musician grew over the years. But he hadn’t wanted to celebrate the man so much as the impact on the world Elvis had, Chelmick said. It’s something he found in Brown’s poems, which aren’t “heavy-handed Elvis-fanatic poems,” Chelmick said.
“I just think (the poems) are rich and matter-of-fact and I think anyone could relate to them, even people who don’t know Elvis,” he said.
“It’s safe to say her work makes the program,” Chelmick said. “It’s much more than I thought it would ever be and it’s because of Fleda Brown’s work.”