Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Sound of Lyric

00:12:00 Posted by Damp incendiary device , 10 comments
Being an autobiographical account of my journey into poetry and sound.

1985. I was 8 years old. I'd been wearing glasses for a year and was not best chuffed about it. One evening my mum shushed us all so she could listen to Nana Mouskouri who was singing on a chat show. I remember being struck by the sensuality of her performance. And she was wearing glasses too! The possibility that I might be sexy in the future despite my eyewear entered my tiny mind. The possibility that I might be able to sing like that, to express passion and sentiment through my voice, crept in too and decided to stay.

Many small events shaped my desire to be musical: my dad's funny little rhyming songs that he would sing around the house, learning to play the piano (I wanted to play the harp but for some reason piano teachers were easier to find in Blackpool in the early eighties), singing in the church choir and feeling a sort of ecstasy among all the voices. Mostly though, it was the urge of a shy, introspective child to be heard. Not just heard, seen. I figured I could use my voice to make up for the deficiencies in my appearance.

Once, when I was about 9 years old, I told my mum that I had a secret voice that I was saving for the future and that it was better than my normal singing voice but for now it had to wait. Quite what I was waiting for I can't say. Whether the secret voice existed as more than a wish I don't remember.

Alongside the desire to sing, the urge to write took hold. One of my strongest memories of primary school is reading a poem I had written, called 'The Dragon', to the class. At the end the room burst into applause and a boy shouted that I would be a poet when I grew up. I had a crush on the prophetic youth from that moment on. His statement had a profound effect on my ambitions.

In my teens I wrote songs for my music GCSE and then forgot about the music. I switched to writing poetry instead. It was the stuff wrought from strangling, dark, frenzied hormones and although I knew almost nothing of form, at least it did rhyme and the rhythm was tight. One of the few poems from that time which I can bear to read is this (we didn't cover the difference between simple past and past perfect tense when I was a lass):

Good Reason?

We’ve woven webs so thick we cannot see,
We threw ourselves from cliffs into the sea.
We danced through fire, drank poison from a glass,
Made love all night with barely time to gasp.
And though we took when it was time to give,
Now take my hand, for this is how we live.

When I was raped in 1996 I found that poetry was one of the only ways I could express what had happened to me. It didn't make for good poetry and it's not something I revisit but in terms of catharsis it was invaluable. I sang along to the songs of Tori Amos, and learned that the darkest moments could be captured through words and sounds, wrapped up and passed on. My urge to write strong, feminist, sexual poetry was probably born at this time.

Writing and music took a back seat after my daughter was born. I found I no longer needed to express myself in that way. Singing her to sleep, making up silly rhymes to make her giggle and teaching her to read for herself gave me joy. Motherhood gave me confidence and a voice. Creative expression took a back seat for several years.

Eventually I began writing again. I turned my hand to prose and found that I wasn't terribly good at it. Then the fan got brown and sticky and the music crept back in. As the emotions raged I found that although I wanted to write, the urge needed music to emphasise the rawness and hopelessness that I was experiencing. I bought a guitar. I taught myself to play (terribly). I recorded some of the songs and the delightful Ann Wilson found me and offered me a gig in Lancaster. The stress of knowing I had to perform, however, was a pressure I found extremely difficult to deal with. I played a few gigs and returned to playing to myself. I had achieved my intention by expressing pain and love through the songs. The guitar gathered dust.

2009. The Dead Good Poets happened to me. I found that I could write poetry for a reason other than emotional expression. The group welcomed and supported me. Through observing dedicated and talented poets I learned how to craft poetry to make a point, to illuminate an inkling, to express an intellectual conundrum or a political outrage. I also learned the difference between a poem which is written to be read and one which should be performed. Perhaps it was the music bleeding into my poetry but I found my words leaning towards metre over meaning, soft vowels over imagery. I've been known to change the direction of a poem around the pivot of a single word because it felt just right on my lips.

When I listen to a poetry performance, I am listening to a song. It's a capella. It's about the voice, the sound, the rhythm. It's in the sway of their body behind the microphone. It's the pauses between stanzas. It's the soft song of a beautiful image or the sharp driving riff of a humorous verse. But it's all music to me. The two are indivisible. Music and poetry. Poetry and sound.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff. There are various school's of thought on the aural nture of poetry but I think it's important.
Dave R.

Lara Clayton said...

Honest, moving and beautiful.
Lar x

Ashley R Lister said...

As Lar said - honest, moving and beautiful.

And, although I'll be saying it in a slightly different way, my post for Saturday has strong echoes with this sentiment:

"It's in the sway of their body behind the microphone."


Ste said...

Really great post, and 'beautiful' is definitely the word that came to mind. I'll add 'honest' and 'moving' as well though as I completely agree. I had no idea you played guitar, Vicky! I say dust it off! Loved the bit about your daughter negating the cathartic writing as well.

Nikki Magennis said...

Gorgeous post. I think the musicality/aurality of poetry is an absolutely essential part of it. Perhaps it's what most defines poetry from prose, even.
I look forward to hearing your songs, Vicky.

Lindsay said...

Wow, thank you for letting us read this. I agree with the other commenters, it's beautiful but also a snippet, a glimpse you've let us see of who you are. Yes, get the guitar out, or shall we try and get a gig somewhere with a piano?

I got glasses around the same age. I wasn't happy either, no redemption for me though I ended up not wearing them outside of school and not seeing very much. I can also relate so much to he introverted, shy child wanted to be seen or heard. I used to draw. I always wanted to play the piano too. We're very different but yet our lives have had similar elements which I find reassuring in an odd kind of way.

Wordrabbit said...

Really Enjoyed this. Hope I can keep up the standard on Sunday.

scottydotti said...

Awesome sharing loved it u inspire me alot with how u write and I too can identify to the kid with glasses too .When u look around today it fashionable to wear them how things change. Hey I dnt like change but sometimes change is good to move us on in our journey of life ;-) keep inspiring me all :-D x

vicky ellis said...

Thanks guys. It's having a supportive, loving group like you around me that means I can share this stuff. Love you all xxx

Shaun said...

Vicky, I've only just got round to reading this and have to say, what a great post. A thought provoking and honest look at one of, I think, the stronger voices emerging from the group.
PS When we come up with these themes does anybody expect the blog posts that creep out. Some diverse stuff over the weeks and I can't be the only one here that finds we're learning a lot from each other.
Good stuff, Shaun :)