Top 10 Aural and Poetic Delights
The thread running through all of these choices is an unflinching belief that 'poetry' does not only live in established poetic institutions and counter institutions. It exists precisely and exactly wherever you sense it; a true democracy for voice and musicality and emotion, from the ancient tradition of griots, telling stories or just mysteriously making the world 'mean more' in their performance, right through the histories of oral and written traditions to even include (though some critics may try to persuade you otherwise!) an album of aurals and poetics that Brian Eno and myself have recently finished, called 'Drums Between the Bells'.
Childhood Delights: The First Intoxications
"My heart beats so it scares me to death" Elvis Presley
This section (in this evocatively 'dusty' vinyl clip from 0:53) of Elvis Presley's 'All Shook Up' was the pinnacle of aural excitement as a young child, played over and over again on my Walkman until the rewind button stopped working. It could have been about anything at that age, it just had a powerful releasing effect on me, along with that earnest transporter of a bass line, that I knew immediately was somehow very very important. I think all of us music lovers can drift back to a first moment like this one; I also used to enjoy making up words to rock and roll songs I couldn't quite understand, which isn't much different from what I do now.
Mashing up Voices For Fun, Captain Beaky all Squeaky
A formative childhood aural delight was the classic 1980 musical poem 'Captain Beaky and his Band' which my brother recorded at 45rpm complete with side splittingly funny helium voices (and now recreated very hastily in honor of this Huffington Post blog). Another very good 'sped up' song in our homemade cassette recorded radio shows was Hoagy Carmichael's "Lazy Bones." Rushing Hoagy like that certainly subverted the lilt and turned the tables, so much so that I used to think 'Maybe you should slow down a little yourself Hoagy and leave that Lazy Bones alone.'
"pour it out" Brian Eno and Rick Holland
This music-poem is one from our new album, called "pour it out" but I think it belongs among the 'childhood intoxications' as it evokes the same kinds of rising excitement, as well as acting as an unofficial manifesto for open mindedness, the kind that slows down and explores, perhaps against your initial instincts to rush on. Imagine your wildest imaginings! The album is filled with different explorations of the workings of words and voices, not to mention some cyberbuttonfunkdubs and trumpets.
Growing Up : Aural And Poetic Revelations
"Beyond Rhetoric" Maya Angelou
The sadness of watching this inauguration poem again in the light of the intervening years is replaced by the enduring validity of the words in any context and to any civilization, delivered like the rock, the river and the tree. We are looking forward to being able to say 'Good Morning' to each other again in this country too I think.
"The Dark Rub of It" Chris Abani
The screaming grass of Chris Abani. It is poetry of this clarity that presents us with the sense of a new level to climb to, from one childhood of understanding to a more vital and refined vocabulary. The main thing that needs to happen for something to reach 'poetic delight' for me is for it to be crafted with absolute honesty. This eclipses the importance of the technical skill or form. The trick as a learning poet is to stay true to one while trying to develop the other.
Dead Prez v Rabindranath Tagore
The Dead Prez album 'Lets Get Free' allowed me in my early twenties to properly inhabit the psyches involved within a real and current power imbalance. The vocabularies are revolutionary, and necessarily so, from 'They Schools' indicting an education system that maintains inequality, to 'Be Healthy,' teaching memorable lessons about healthy living in true poetic tradition of handing down wisdom.
"The educational institution...has primarily for its object the constant pursuit of truth...it must not be a dead cage in which living minds are fed with food artificially prepared" (to prop up existing myths).
Rappers, Poets, Boxes and Wrappers
Some will be unable to concede that poetic 'meter' and beat pattern are direct relations of each other, and they are probably the same people that would insist that Jehst be described as a rapper and not a poet in the same breath. Image lines that emerge from Jehst's flow like molten commentary, as with other artists from MFDoom to the Wu Tang Clan, are not lessened as poetics by the number of expletives or by the connective tissue rhymes surrounding them, they contain meanings to meditate on time and time again, just like TS Eliot's fragments emerging from 'The Wasteland.' In the best cases, they reward repeated listening and exercise our brains towards imagining what change could be like.
Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes
Sharp intake of breath. The thing is, beneath the myths and the miasma of mishaps, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes are both poetic forces living on the page and both are examples to all poets of all kinds that a vocabulary can be made up of any components and then spat out into lines with force and power once those vocabularies are harnessed. Ted Hughes' natural world, and Sylvia Plath's household objects both froth and boil (Plath's armies of images even more forcefully than Hughes' in my humble opinion).
Edward Thomas and Renaming the Flowers
Similarly evocative is lesser known English nature poet Edward Thomas. The simplicity of his work, his personal sadness surrounded by the details of a nature that he studied for relief, was a tuning fork for powerful feeling with no need to be self consciously clever or to capture every note.
I attempted last year to crystallize the kinds of influences I have mentioned above into my own short collection of work, Story the Flowers. It has its own vocabulary in a psychology of place and search for connection, and it tries at all times to stay simple, influenced by Edward Thomas, but also certainly at some level by all of these aural and poetic delights. I include mention of it here not just for the sake of a plug, but to mention that it continues to be reinterpreted by other artists, from painters to filmmakers to opera singers, and that ongoing process of making is truly poetry.