Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Erudition as a tool

Keith Douglas was one of the first poets to captivate me – his music was intoxicating for this teenage reader, while I also connected with the concrete imagination that he filtered through his wartime experiences.

Even now, I can’t resist playing the same game once more – speculating as to how his work and life might have evolved if he’d survived. As they develop, many poets step further and further back from life in order to understand it from fresh perspectives; for reasons mentioned above, Douglas took the opposite route.

I’m convinced that Douglas is a major poet, that his overall reputation is still hindered by the tag of “war poet”. The afore-mentioned astutely concrete imagination seems unique to me among his contemporaries. Not shying from his erudition, he learnt to use it as a tool, not a badge.

Back to the initial question - would the breadth of his poetic ambition have turned him into an exile from post-war Britain or would it have found young Movement poets and ignited something special…?

I do still love this game!

Monday, 16 March 2009

The garden of forking paths

I gave myself a straight choice at the age of twenty-two – either I headed for the smoke in search of a mentor a la Lumsden, Donaghy, etc, or I left for the poorest, most remote part of Spain (as described on my travel website at Extremadura Guide), which I knew and loved from my year abroad. I was aware that I’d go for several months at a time without speaking English except a weekly phone call home, living in a dusty town where I’d be the only foreigner. Bear in mind this was when the internet was in its infancy.

I obviously chose the latter route. It might not have helped me in terms of climbing ladders or having someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me where I was going wrong, but this isolation enabled me to develop a distinctive poetic tone. What’s more, I had no choice other than to write if I wanted to express something in English.

Have you ever imagined how your writing might have developed if you’d taken such a route? Exile sharpens understanding of your home, as it provides an incomparable counterpoint, while immersing yourself for years in a foreign language sheds new light on your original tongue. However, many critics would argue that you lose touch after so long away, that your views lose validity as a result of such a decision. The garden of forking paths, as Borges would have it.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Radio Futura

There's a pretty coherent case to be put that Pop/Rock Music doesn't lend itself to being performed in Spanish unless the songwriter subverts it with non-Anglo-Saxon nuances, just as iambs and anapests, etc, sound ridiculous inside Spanish speech patterns.

One of the best exponents of Spanish popular music over the last couple of decades has been and is Juan Perro, the alter ego of Santiago Auseron, the lead singer of Radio Futura. This group erupted onto the scene during the Movida Madrileña - a boom time for liberal movements in Madrid during the transition to democracy. Spain was undergoing a vast number of social changes in a short period of time; the artists involved in the Movida expressed these, none more so than Radio Futura.

Here's a clip of one of their emblematic pieces. Auseron forever casts doubt on his own songwriting gifts, but he's actually an excellent storyteller with an original turn of phrase. What's more, the marriage between the words and the music is terrific - a great example of twisting its genre.


Friday, 6 March 2009

Maggie O'Farrell, poet

I possess a copy of Tabla’s 1997 anthology, including poems from its 1996 competition. The winner was one Maggie O’Farrell, now renowned as a novelist.

My copy is now pretty battered, thanks in the main to O’Farrell’s poems. They’re visually explosive, musical and carry a strong narrative drive. Most of all, their voice is distinctive. I thought and think she could become a key figure in contemporary British poetry. Her novels are a great read, have been very successful and made her a fair deal of money, but I still hope we’ll hear more of Maggie O’Farrell as a poet, a genre in which I personally believe she already excelled over a decade ago. Does anyone know whether she’s kept her poetry up?