When I moved to Norfolk I led a bit of a double life; during the week I was an undergraduate poetry student, but when the weekend came I was professional wrestler ‘Punk Rock’ Johnny Snott. As much as possible I kept verse matters and ring matters separate from one another (they eventually crossed over when I published Another Use of Canvas with Gatehouse Press). The closest my two lives came to crossing over was when I began listening to poetry readings while running (creating the illusion that training was not getting in the way of studying). After a few runs I found that without music I wasn’t keeping a good pace. Rather than switching back to The Clash, I decided to make a mixtape of poems read over music.
By this I mean recordings of poems dubbed over songs. In a strict sense the process was one of curation rather than creation. I decided to stick to one poet, I had been reading a lot of Raymond Carver and thought that the poems would blend well with American folk music and depression-era songs. I use the term ‘mixtape’, but this was a digital endeavour; pulling recordings from websites, ripping the audio from documentaries and interviews about Carver from YouTube.
Rather than attempt to form any kind of narrative the mix was arranged to evoke a mood or feeling. I was aware of some historical and geographical discrepancies between the music and the poems, but it was just for fun and I was happy with the result nonetheless. I have since lost the file, which is fine – the memory of it probably surpasses the reality – but I do feel that, with careful consideration, giving poems a ‘soundtrack’ could be a worthwhile endeavour, and provide a unique feature for the Lighthouse website once it is up and running.
Now, I agree with you; at face value this does sound like a vulgar idea. Poems have their own music, their own rhythms to hold our attention, additional noise would be a cacophony. You’re quite right, but the intended effect is not that of pairing lyric with music to create a single surface, as I mentioned before, it is an act of curation. The librettist composes his or her words with careful consideration of what relationship they might have to the score, we are comfortable with this, but the suggestion of pairing existing pieces is a little more problematic.
Why? We are at ease with poems and images forming a relationship; Popshot magazine is one handsome example, Philip Gross’ I Spy Pinhole Eye is a lovely meditation on forms, Andrea Porter and Tom de Freston recently published the wonderfully strange House of the Deaf Man with Gatehouse Press. Perhaps this provides an answer. When ekphrasis is successful it is not because the image is completed by the text, or vice versa; successful ekphrasis seeks to juxtapose or counter-balance emotional content. Our task is to seek in the timbre of the music something which we can compare with that of the poem.
I have much more to say about this, and as I mentioned I hope it can become a feature the Lighthouse’s online content, but for now why don’t we talk this over a little? Do you still have those hang-ups about the idea? Can you think of any existing examples? Maybe I can track down some of my Carver mix to convince you.
Posted 8 years ago