Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I is a lie

In her comment on my review of Paul Henry’s The Brittle Sea, Sheenagh Pugh linked to her excellent interview with him.

One very interesting point was their discussion of many readers’ failure to recognize that “I is a lie”. In fact, Henry mentioned that he had left certain strong poems out of the book due to this pitfall.

My own use of personae leads me to similar problems. I write from the point of departure of my surroundings, but the whole creative point of a poem is the way it takes off into fiction through the voice(s) of its character(s). While working in a vacuum where I was distanced from readers and editors, I felt sure that people implicitly understood the concept as soon as they approached a poem. In fact, the publication of my pamphlet led to several reviews which assumed autobiography at every turn. I was amazed!

The mere fact that I write poetry rooted in the everyday doesn’t mean that it’s factual or experience-based. This separation of the author and personae was drummed into me in my schooldays, so I find it frustrating that such misinterpretation is still rife, especially in poems that are set in recognisable contexts, as if accessible verse were a confessional diary.

Writing in the first person is important to me as a means of creating intimacy with my character(s). It forms a key component in my exploration of identity and belonging. I realise that this approach runs risks, but I’m more determined than ever to develop its potential. A strong cast lends extra texture to a book, something I’ll be keeping in mind as I work towards my first full collection.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Review: The Brittle Sea, by Paul Henry

The best book I’ve read this month? This year? Just what do I mean by best? I don’t know. All I can say is that Paul Henry’s The Brittle Sea, New and Selected Poems (Seren 2010) has enthralled me.

On getting hold of a collection, I immediately glance at the back cover, ready to grimace at the blurb. In this case, however, it grabbed me with a quote and wouldn’t let go:

“Shall we stay or leave then, love?
It’s only the years moving inside us
and everything hurts in autumn.
Where shall we put them,
the years, in our new house?
the years we are moving out of?

I flicked straight to the poem, titled Sold. It’s tremendous. I was trying to write a poem on a similar theme at the time. I don’t think I’ll bother.

As I greedily continued reading, I noticed how Henry seems to combine Brian Patten’s exuberance with Hugo Williams' restraint in a delicate balancing act that’s all his own. The everyday is stirred into the lyrical with a transforming imaginative touch. What’s more, Henry’s thematic reach is wide, fatherhood featuring prominently. He’s particularly strong on the changes that take place in a paternal role as a child grows. Daylight Robbery, in which a father accompanies his seven-year-old son to a barber shop and sees an older boy emerge, ends as follows:

“Turning a corner
his hand slips from mine
like a final, forgotten strand
snipped from its lock.”

The above quote also shows three other qualities in Henry’s work: firstly, he’s excellent at gorgeous endings that close and then open out beyond. Secondly, there’s delicious aural patterning, intoxicating yet never cloying. Thirdly, compression leads to expansion, as every word is made to work like stink for its keep.

Paul Henry writes the type of poetry that made me fall in love with the genre and keeps me captivated. These poems make an immediate impact that resonates in the mind long afterwards. I could carry on quoting from them all day, as they’re littered with spectacular turns of phrase which never seem showy. However, that would keep you from the book itself. Why not get hold of a copy as soon as you can? You won’t be disappointed - I’ll be going back to The Brittle Sea for years to come.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The language of rock and pop?

Many Spanish friends regularly remark that most rock and pop music sounds far better in English than in Spanish. Are they right? If so, why? Leaving aside certain cultural inferiority complexes, there are important metrical keys to understanding the reasons.

A decent place to start might be translated versions of famous songs, such as hits by The Beatles. Their work does tend to be dreadful when sung in Spanish, even when the lyrics aren't clunkily reworked. Let's take the example of Yesterday and look at how it works...

"...now it looks as though they're here to stay..." That's written in trochees!

"...oh I believe in yesterday..." That's written in iambs!

In other words, just as stressed poetry doesn't work well in Spanish, so imposing Spanish lyrics on a song that originally used iambs and trochees is never going to sound natural. In the same way, translated nursery rhymes are also extremely dodgy (e.g. Old MacDonald had a farm is a series of trochees in itself!). Here's a link to a typically grim Spanish-language performance of Yesterday:

Nevertheless, I do believe it's easy to get too simplistic about this. Many Spanish groups have successfully fused elements of flamenco or rumba, etc, to their pop or rock, creating gorgeous lyrics that face no problems at all. Trouble mainly flares up when songs written for English lyrics are shoved into Spanish.

This is another example of translator..traitor and shows once more that it's impossible to reflect accurately the poetry or lyrics of English in Spanish and vice versa.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Days of Roses

After a fortnight away in England, I'm now back in Extremadura just as our white grape must has started fermenting, a daily progression that I love to follow. Bit by bit, the wine peeks through and then reveals itself.

Getting home, meanwhile, has also enabled me to turn my attention to Rogue Strands and update it somewhat. Top of my list was the inclusion of Days of Roses on my blogroll. Declan Ryan's beady editorial eye is providing a steady stream of intriguing poetry over there and it's fast become one of the blogs I keep a closest eye on. Every few days he seems to showcase a new poet, and there's not a dud among them! Why not pop over there now and see what I mean?!