Thanks to Adam, and to Dorothy for my two recent publications in Card Alpha magazine (online), and in Litmus.
The 'Ikea prayer poems' in Card Alpha take words for objects from Ikea catalogue and use those words as material for translation into found texts of prayers for children. Each room has its own ‘dialect’ as part of the larger language of Ikea! The Litmus poems were in response to the theme ‘diagnosis’. Being a nurse taught me that most diagnoses are generally received as cloaked sounds--it is difficult to digest the details and implications of any diagnosis in those first moments. Although I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid after the birth of my son, I made my response starting from what my Dad had told me about his experience of developing diabetes mellitus when he was 27.
Both magazines feature a great company of writers (and artists!) to be published with.
Card Alpha can be read here:http://cardalpha.weebly.com/current-issue.html
Litmus can be obtained here:http://www.litmuspublishing.co.uk/Shop
I tried the sound diary idea out at home in different locations. The one below was written one morning in my bedroom with the window open. This early entry begins with a focus on seeing and moves into listening. To begin with, I seem to have been distracted by the view across the park.
Opposite my window the ash tree leaves appear dark green in the shade this morning. There is a dot of lime green to the bottom left (as I look at it) branch where the sunlight catches a bunch of leaves. The foliage looks patchy around the central and upper parts of this ash tree. (We had only one very slight frost during the whole autumn / winter stretch.) An occasional car, each making various engine sounds, accelerates with a harsh increase of sounds having past the speed bump outside. The sound of traffic across the park reaches here, interrupting that comes an intermittent low scraping of metal on tarmac -- a rumble from further away (the Boundary Rd / Kirkland St junction). Now something striking metal -- one of the rugby goalposts in the park -- a single impact? From this distance and without looking, I can distinguish a heavier vehicle, a lorry or truck, from a car, moving along the road across the park. Nearby mechanical judder of some machine, not a car, perhaps trying to get into motion. A bird sound -- seems quite modest -- caw of magpie. Rumble of some heavy object -- the metal bins being moved over tarmac at the nursery along the block? Bleeping of reverse warning on a vehicle -- perhaps the bin wagon (Friday is bin day up the street). Just caught the sound of leaves rustling at the top of the ash tree before that is drowned out by a car roaring along the road. Footsteps, more footsteps, a child and a woman’s voice. Sound of an object being moved, dropped which causes a dove to fly out of the tree next to the ash -- I can hear the flap of its wings. A sea gull call.
Seagull call (beware strange animation!)
I have recently been considering how to develop a heightened sound effect in my poetry, how to infuse a poem with sound. I have kept a diary on and off, and keep a writer’s journal. Those writings are autobiographical, and a source of ‘language as material’. In working with the sound aspect of language, exploring sound in the world of a poem, I became curious about the sound of my world --what sounds do the places I inhabit, and pass through, consist of? What is the nature of those sounds? I decided to take advantage of being on holiday this summer, of being in a different environment, to make a sound diary. Two texts fed into this idea of keeping a sound diary. The first was David Toop’s Ocean of Sound, the second, R F Langley’s Journals. I thought to combine Toop’s musician’s ear, his attention to listening, and Langley’s focus on seeing, recording the visual for material for poems. Making a sound diary would be a practice in testing out my attention to listening. A test in finding out what sounds I could hear in the environment around me and how I could record them.
From entering the airport, human voices become an indistinguishable group of sounds, except for the odd word, in exclamation, which rises above the continuous clamour. . . . Human voices vie with the louder engine of the bus, the engine of the plane is more severe. . . . Subdued for take off, a baby cries, school children whoop as the plane speeds up . . .
Soundscape of a Bay in Majorca: A field exercise in listening
Sometimes I tried recalling sounds from the previous day in an attempt to improve my concentration and recall. Other times I listened and recorded in the moment. Listening in the moment meant I could tune in and get the detail of each type of sound - human, nature and machine.
The air con on low, icy air. The wind, rhythmic, coming across the bay. Pulses of bird song. Lapping, crashing, waves softly, engines of two motor boats, flap of a sail flicked by the wind. Boat’s engine cuts on and off as it approaches shore. Human voices, children’s, splashings of water in the pool.
Reviewing how the recordings developed during the week I realised that the ‘soundscape’ included a dynamic array of sounds coming from human, from nature and mechanical sources. I have tried this exercise out back at home. Making a sound diary show me a world consisting of the noisy, irregular rhythms of the human, animal, of nature and machine -- working with, and against, each other in a continuous clamour of sound energy that sometimes causes me to sit still, close my eyes and listen.
In my poetics, sound is an intrinsic part of poetry whether it is foregrounded or not. Listening is a skill (I know from attending readings of poetry!) and is encouraged in reading and writing poetry (and writing about poems). Throughout his A B C of Reading Ezra Pound repeatedly advises LISTENING to language, because this how we tune our ear to prosody and melody.
In his introduction to Ocean of Sound Toop cites Anthony Storr on the origins of music (in Music and the Mind): ‘It will never be possible to establish the origins of human music with any certainty; however, it seems probable that music developed from the prosodic exchanges between mother and infant which foster the bond between them.’ I am interested in the possibilities for sound in poetry in this exchange between human voice and music.
In A B C Pound cites Dante: ‘A canzone is a composition of words set to music.’ Paraphrasing Pound, starting the reader/hearer from what they actually see or hear is vital -- not deduction or conjecture. LISTEN and LOOK at the evidence, the particular and limited extent of the actuality = a focus of attention in listening to and looking at the POEM.
The first week of the innovative form in poetry module I teach on, I was working with students listening to Robert Creeley’s ‘The Rain’ and Charles Olson’s ‘In Cold Hell, In Thicket’. And guess what -- they DID pay attention to both aspects! They LISTENED for the sound shape of the poem and LOOKED at the shape of the poem on the page. Their approach bodes well for their engagement with, and responses to, our set text, Pendle Witch-Words by Geraldine Monk.
As it is just now I am listening over to murmur by Maggie O’Sullivan, to catch the sound shape, the soundscape, of that work and her voicing of it, as part of preparations for writing about that work.