Dulltown, UK: Today’s existential angst is centred around the sound of the word mountebank.
I suppose I must give the impression in these pages that I am quite an arty sort of person – perhaps even ‘cultured’. Well, it’s time to give the game away – no, I’m not.
Yes, I admit I have two gaping holes in my appreciation of the arts which disqualify me; they are those areas of creativity called ‘poetry’ and ‘classical music’, oh and perhaps ‘jazz’ music, but then, hardly anyone likes jazz anymore, do they? Oh, dear, I’ll bet the cat is amongst the pigeons now…
Shall we start today’s rant on the subject of poetry?
‘What’s wrong with poetry Dave?’
If I try (and in the past I have tried) to read a poem – after three or four lines my mind starts to wander, I start to think of other things, did I buy a fresh head of broccoli yesterday, or was that Monday? Oh, and I must get a new sponge thing for my squeezy floor mop, did I remember to set the box to record the X-Files? Yes, that sort of thing, and I have to go back to the first line again. Then I find that I don’t seem to be able to make much sense of the words, what is this person trying to tell me? It all seems a bit personal… and miserable… I feel the urge to get up and have a stretch and a yawn, and possibly make another cup of tea. I don’t know how anyone could sit and read a whole book of this stuff…
‘So Dave, what about poetry being read out at those popular ‘poetry nights’ in the back rooms of pubs?’
Well, obviously I avoid them at all cost. The poems are bad enough, but it’s the weird way that they read them; it’s either the deliberately flat monotone, letting the simple power of the words carry the thing, or it’s all crisp sibilants, shouting, and facial expression. Whichever one they choose, there are always plenty of pauses, filled with ‘meaning’, where they lift their chins, close their eyes, and let their words ‘hang in the air’ for a moment. I wonder where all this malarkey comes from? They all seem to do it. Do they stand in front of a mirror practising and gurning before they set off for the gig?
‘But what about song lyrics Dave, surely you like songs? That’s poetry, but with music.’
You’re right, I love good song lyrics, I can be moved to tears, especially if it has a good tune. Yes, I suppose it is illogical. It’s as if a poem is a song, but with the best part missing – the two combined can be magnificent, but just having someone read out the words, for me, isn’t really enough…
‘Right then Dave, that’s poetry kicked into touch, as the sporting people say. What’s up with classical music?’
‘Yes, it’s moribund, it hasn’t moved on for a hundred years or more; it was all written for rich people and their spouses who liked putting their swanky clothes on and spending a long evening with lots of other rich people in a posh concert room. I don’t think these were particularly bright people – probably land owners and military types – you can tell by the rhythms of the music they liked – it’s either umpty-tumpty horse riding stuff, or patriotic stirring marches. Of course the poor people, the majority, never heard any of this, they had their own music back home and in the pubs which was quite a different kettle of minims.
‘So, it’s all rubbish then Dave?’
‘No no, there are some really great tunes in there, but classical never really got into the twentieth century did it? They couldn’t get the idea of swing, and interesting rhythms – they probably thought that a decent syncopated beat was a bit ‘primitive’ and ‘unsophisticated’ – so they stuck with their clever harmony and lavish ‘impressively difficult to play’ set pieces.
So, you never listen to it then?’
Well, just as poetry works really well inside a song, classical music works really well with film. It can be very effective and moving when tied into some images and good acting.
‘Well, I did bring you a couple of presents, but I don’t think I’ll…’
What are they?
‘A book of Ted Hughes’ poems and a cd of Brahms’ piano pieces…’
You are kidding? Right?