Wednesday, March 9

1991. Where was I?


In 1991 (apparently it was 1991: all those years way back when are a bit of a misty hazy swirly befuddling fog) I was one of the lucky people to be at The Smallest Arts Festival In The World. The organiser of this great event, Michael Blackburn, has just posted a record of the proceedings online. There is even a photograph with me in it (so cool, so cool....) and pictures of some other people who, in those days, had hair. It's all great. Ha ha. Loads of poets and artists were crammed into a little room in a little house. We went outside into the yard for air. There was a tiny kitchen full of poets and artists. Everybody had a good time. It was 1991. Whatever happened to 1991? It went away and won't ever come back.


I have a couple of poems freshly online at Stride, by the way. I thought I'd mention it in passing.


There is a new collaborative project - "Offsets" - online at Trevor Joyce's SoundEye website. You can get to it by clicking here. This is the third Offsets writing project. The idea is that, starting off with one piece of writing, a bunch of writers respond to, or branch off from it with one or two pieces. These are then published, and then the writers respond to one or two of these.... It develops into a kind of tree thing. If you go to the site, click on "Start Reading" or "Get A Map". The writers involved don't necessarily know one another, and pieces remain anonymous until they've not been responded to within a specified time. It's quick and fresh and interesting, I think.


Miles Kington, the light-hearted sometimes humourful columnist at The Independent, has recently touched upon the wonderful world of poetry, which is something of a surprise, I guess. The full article is here, although one has to pay for the privilege of reading it all. It begins thus, and I think it's quite entertaining and has within it more than a grain of some truth.....

Why is it that almost all poets sound as if they were trained in the same read-a-poem school?

I can’t help feeling that there is something about poetry which draws all readers of poetry, all reciters of poetry, all performers of poetry, all Big-Poetry-Issue street sellers of poetry, towards roughly the same sort of voice. The poetry voice.

The poetry voice? It’s sing-songy without being musical. It’s incantatory without being hypnotic. It’s slow, it’s monotone, it’s somewhat self-important and it’s always slightly reverential. It’s not unlike the voice of a clergyman who is doing the daily service on Radio 4 and wants to sound a bit like God without actually giving himself airs.

I probably would not be expressing these thoughts on the churchy nature of the poetry voice if I had not found myself the other day listening to Andrew Motion. The Poet Laureate is presenting a series on Radio 4 in which he is grandly surveying British poetry, past and present.

Every time I hear him reading poetry, the thing that hits me is not whether the poetry is good or bad but how ecclesiastical his voice tends to be. Not in a grand cathedral manner, more in a plain, parish church, small-but-brave congregation sense. So I was not entirely surprised when the first person he introduced on his first programme as a witness to poetry was Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Rowan Williams? Expert on poetry? Not the first obvious choice. Nor the tenth. But as two churchmen go they sounded a good double act.

(This was reinforced in the second programme when Motion said that, after considering “borders” in the first outing, he “would like to think about ‘heartlands’ in this programme”. That is such a parish clergyman kind of thing to say. A broadcaster always says he would like to “talk” about something. A clergyman says he would like to “think” about something. “This week I would like us to think about free will and choice.”….)

What keeps me cheerful is that I have also recently heard poetry on Radio 4 which was not in the least churchy, mostly because it was read in voices rooted in region. Ian McMillan recently presented an edition of With Great Pleasure in which his own Barnsley voice was well to the fore, but the outstanding feature of which was a slow reading of “Ilkley Moor” by a Yorkshire chap whose name I didn’t catch. I have always known “Ilkley Moor” as a jolly chorus number, so to hear it rendered as a slow, dark, very grim Yorkshire poem was wonderfully chilling…….


I have my kid Timothy to thank for this website address, but it's going to be so much of a surprise for you I can only sit here chuckling into my (what's that thing you chuckle into? Your beer? Close parentheses....

I know this is supposed to be a poetry & music site, filled with intelligent stuff, but click here and surrender to a different kind of magic.

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