Thursday, 14 May 2009
Huts, Sea, Help and Me in Rhyme with Symmons Roberts, Beer and Freud
I thought I'd count you down into the blog in beach huts on the coast at Wells in Norfolk (currently being sold at around £69,000 I spotted in one estate agents window..the credit crunch doesn't seem to have effected huts yet). My Wells reading seemed to go down well. Dean Parkin was a real star and managed to get the audience saying ‘bubble wrap’, which is always an icebreaker, especially on a beautiful Sunday morning when you feel that perhaps all of us should be off with our buckets and spades, paddling, crab catching or making small effigies of Coleridge or Keats in sand and sea shells. Dame Gillian Beer gave a fantastic lecture entitled ‘Why we can’t do without rhyme’. It was, as is usual from her, well thought through, full of examples to back up what she was saying and very wry at times. You can tell she has an enormous depth of knowledge and experience to draw on. As she was one of the people that helped to found the T S Eliot prize and has been a judge on many prestigious literary panels such as The Booker, the Orange Prize etc you feel in a safe pair of hands but also you know she is open to the new and always looking to be surprised. Rhyme seems to be almost hardwired into many western languages but as she pointed out is not used in poetry in many other languages; Korean for instance has no concept of rhyme. It is still that expectation of a familiar sound that the best poets can play with so skilfully, sometimes coming up with something unexpected or slightly subversive. She quoted from Tony Harrison who is one of the best modern poets who uses rhyme almost exclusively. In V the rhyme of anchor and wanker was, at the time it was written ,considered rather shocking and off course you have to hear the northern accent to appreciate fuck and book. She went onto talk about rap being based on the strong association between rhythm and rhyme. She unfortunately didn’t give us a few Puff Daddy lyrics, which would have been a You Tube moment.
I am never surprised by how much children, even very young children, in this country at least, take to rhyme like small ducklings to water and throw themselves into predicting the rhyme with abandon. Is this because they grow up hearing Nursery rhymes in the infancy? I have seen children who have not had such experiences and who have very limited vocabulary still able to predict that the end line rhyme with shoe is likely to be pooh, especially in the context and picture clues of small nappiless babies or recalcitrant cats. There is something satisfying about the lean of one sound towards another similar sound even if it’s only a half rhyme or the use of a run of the same vowel sounds. I know a child at the moment, who is getting enormous enjoyment out of learning Hairy McClary, the rhyming book off by heart. I think rhyme is a strange linguistic security especially for a child. In a chaotic world where there is little we can influence, the sound of rhyme , especially linked with repetition, has a soothing effect, it gives you some solid platform to stand on, it gives you the power to predict and successful prediction makes you feel just a little less fear that chaos is hanging just round the corner. I am sure there are more erudite ways to explain it in the adult psyche and experience of the auditory world but maybe some of those childhood neural/auditory pathways, so well trodden or enjoyed as a child might nudge us towards gaining satisfaction from a rhyme. Rhyme can be a dreadful experience of course, a perpetual waiting for the other shoe to drop. ‘How’s he going to rhyme ‘position’ you say to yourself, arms folded leaning back in your seat like a snooker spectator waiting to see if someone can pot the black whilst getting a kiss of the brown at the same time …oh there it goes derision…you can sometimes almost shoot them down like paired tin ducks at a fairground stall…linguistic Sudoku…enough of the analogies… shoes/snooker/ducks and numbers) . However at it’s best, its very best it can weave a poem so full of resonance and sound that it is as if the sound is as important as the meaning of the word, which it is of course.
Michael Symmons Roberts and Annie Freud gave good readings, I particularly like the poems from Symmons new book The Half Healed, I heard him read from his previous collection Corpus at Aldeburgh and he goes from strength to strength. He works with a composer on opera libretti and also writes for radio so he does have an amazing ear for the sound of words.
I went to hear some fantastic new younger poets from Cambridge on the Saturday night and despite the late hour all three of them kept me not only awake but attentive as they all had such strong and individual voices. Helen Mort, Ian Cartland and Benjamin Morris...these are names that are to be noted and if you have the opportunity to hear them read go along, you won't be diappointed. Helen Mort is developing a one woman show called A Pint for the Ghost which should start touring at the end of the year so look out for that one.
I stayed at a lovely mad B and B, with bird twitchers, nuns, horsey women in jodhpurs and uncles of the bride. I sat on the sand dunes and watched the sea and walked through pine forests where I sat and carefully arranged pine cones to make the word HELP. It was a personal experience what can I say, a moment of pleasure shared with no-one except the two squirrels who watched from a near-by tree and you all know how I feel about squirrels since my experience of the psycho squirrel from hell in America.
If you don't believe me, it was very much like this one.