Sound and Vision

Yesterdays Music Today, Mike Ferguson and Rupert Loydell (eds)
   (116pp, £11.00, Knives Forks and Spoons)

Do you like music? The odds are that you do. Its possible that even the reptilian Lord of Money George Osborne likes music, though exactly what kind of music he likes is another story. David Cameron is allegedly a big fan of Radiohead and the Smiths, but George Osborne is the mysterious member of the Bullingdon boy band so we'll just have to wait for an excruciatingly dull episode desert island dickheads to find out. Anyway praise be to the Chancellor and his Chinese slush fund for continuing to support the Knives Forks and Spoons press through the channels of the Arts Council. Knives Forks and Spoons is a brilliant little poetry press with an eye for the absurd. Here is their latest venture, Yesterdays Music Today, an anthology of music and poetry edited by Mike Ferguson and Rupert Loydell.

Do you like poetry? The odds are that you do. After all, you are reading the Stride website, why else would you be reading about poetry if you didn't like it? Perhaps you are here looking for clues to steal my identity? Perhaps you are Klaus Nomi lost in the unravelling glass pages of the internet? Anyway, regardless, if you are a fan of both music and poetry then Yesterday' s Music Today could be the perfect winter warmer for you.

The anthology, 'came out of the editors' shared enthusiasm for and addiction to music, along with a certain middle-aged nostalgia”. Though the majority of the music these poems respond to belongs to a time far further away than yesterday, there is certainly an eclectic ensemble of musical muses on display, from free jazz to 70s rock to classical. Everything present in this anthology comes from the deep vaults of memory and magic stirred by music. The prevalence of acts from the eighties backwards perhaps stems from the editors 'failing to be moved by so much of the music they have greedily devoured over the last few years”. Or more tellingly put it is a result of the average age of the editors and contributors. Don't expect to find any odes to Harry Styles here, thank god.

Yesterdays Music Today opens with two poems from the editors themselves, each one dedicated to the other editor, although the real dedication is to music: 'Always the music pulling you back into the one true groove” writes Mike Ferguson. For Rupert Loydell the music plays on in the MP3 player of his mind, the minor falls and the major lifts having been long since committed to memory and because, like another middle aged rocker, he still hasn't found what he's looking for:

   Couldn't find one particular LP this morning -
   filing gone awry - so sat in the sun and let music
   hang in the dust by the window
       [from 'Yesterdays Music Today']

Some of my favourite contributions to the anthology are those in which the style of the music shapes the arrangement of the poem, in 'i like' Susan Birchenough makes it clear the kind of jazz she's after:

   I like my jazz     not to  be   too free
   to flap      inthebreeze                   
                               then be caught       just
   at the    edge
   with   a     sti   tching that's not quite a seam
It's not only the twitching, free flowing structure of the words that echoes jazz moreover the rhythm of a jazz beat licks and twists through the poem like Tony Williams in perfect time. An analogous visual and sensory aspect can be observed in 'The Claremont Road Can of Rhythm Sound System' where Paul Hawkings captures the explosive frenzy of Lee  'Scratch” Perry:

   Dub      bass                                                                 BOOM  
                   rimshot                                                         scatter
   BOOM                                                                         shakka-lakka  
           ground glass darkly
                                      for miles

This is enjoyable because it transports the reader directly to the heart of the matter, it is vivid and evocative, bringing the music to our ears. Music has always had a distinct advantage over poetry because poetry on the page speaks without sound (except the internal sound of reading) whereas music has access to a multi dimensional palette of expression. This probably goes some length to explaining why music is much more popular than poetry (oh if only I were reviewing for the
NME!). However it does not explain why bad music is so popular, but that, as with other aforementioned quandaries, is another story.

A more contemplative reaction to the ever blasting sound system is evinced by Jay Ramsay in his 'ode to Beethoven' where we find the author driving in a 'sunlit motorway queue':

   as the darkness below opens like a shout and for a moment
   the man behind finds his brakes have failed as he plummets
   towards his own face in a black mirror

Once again the poem is infused with the power of the music that inspired it. Jay Ramsay's words seem to follow the rise and fall of the orchestra, swelling like a wave in the ocean before crashing down against the shore. Another piece that caught my eye, or perhaps my ear, was 'Sun Ra', a poem by Jimmy Juniper. The poem is short enough for me to include in full:

   Blood temples
   the ears

   a chromatic pulse

   transparent fists
   the sunset

   a beam of hammered rain
   murals          scarab
   the wall


   my memory

Now there are only 23 words in this poem so there is no room for error. An epic poem can have a few bad lines here or there but in a short poem like this everything has to be perfect. Fortunately it is. The Egyptian imagery lends an exotic lilt to the slight surreal feel of 'transparent fists' and again the music of the poem's inspiration is evoked, the 'hammered rain' sounds like the cymbal rushes of a sun scorched Sun Ra track.

Now I've only picked out four poems for further analysis but I can assure you that the quality of the poetry is consistent throughout the anthology. My only qualm is that the poems of my generation seem to be missing. The 1990s is where my earliest musical memories were formed (shouting Blur lyrics to passers by and falling in love with the Spice Girls). It's a pity there's not really anything in here that speaks of that era but, anyway, perhaps those are poems for me to write.
Yesterday's Music Today is a well edited anthology with plenty to enjoy, perfect for the Christmas stocking of any middle aged rock and roller.

       © Charlie Baylis 2015