Monday, April 11, 2011


My wonderful parent sends cultural care packages to me about once a month.  The news is slightly dated (I just look at the pictures, right?)  I haven't told you yet that we have no postal service here.

The wonderful parent collects the magazines and papers for me, then wanders up to the local office of oil-exploitation international  and hands over a fat envelope of goodies.  In due course, the envelope arrives in Exile-land, where it spends some weeks in custody before it eventually makes its way to the office of Marius, and he drags it home to me, darling man.

Yesterday he brought an obese envelope (only vaguely searched this time) home, containing the Limelight issue for April, a couple of London Reviews of Books, and an Engineering journal  (sorry, old habits die hard).

I began to drool over the Limelight at lunch time.  I have to take my time so that I don't use up all my goodies at once, you know.  Limelight is a monthly magazine produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which began life as the companion to ABC Classic FM, and has now morphed into a useful arts review for the whole country, with an emphasis on classical music, but not restricted to it.

In the April editorial, Francis Merson writes about the difference between classical music and other types, and apologises for sounding like an elitist snob.  He says "try sitting alone in a darkened room for an hour and doing nothing but listening to, say, Lady Gaga ...  When you turn off the senses extrinsic to listening, classical music comes into its own.  Just using your ears" .

The reason I mention this is because I read  Tim Jones' s post

about a speculative/horror/fantasy collection, the other day, and left a comment that it wasn't for me.  He replied:  "I discovered from a little informal poll I conducted on Twitter last week that a surprising number of people have the same horrified reaction to the thought of reading poetry that you (more understandably) have to the thought of reading horror fiction. 'Tis passing strange.  "

When I read the editorial about classical music, I wondered if poetry reading has a similar problem, that people don't stop to listen to the words and block out everything else.

Merson contiues "It's a challenge, for me at least, to do nothing but listen.  You need to set aside time for it.  You need to concentrate on the music alone (and not on your next deadline).  But when it works, you open yourself up to the transcendent ecstasy good music can bring ...  So perhaps it's not so much what you listen to, but whether you listen at all."

Not intending to sermonise, I thought perhaps the two were related:  if we don't listen properly to poetry, give ourselves over to it entirely, we don't open ourselves up to the potential experience.

Next time I will try to draw parallels between poetry and traffic models ...



Tim Jones said...

Thanks for the link, Isabel! As someone who loves both (much) classical music and (much) rock and soul music, I fear that Francis Merson has laid a heavy hand on the scales in making his comparison - I might not be prepared to listen to Lady Gaga for an hour in a darkened room, but I would certainly be prepared to spend such an hour just listening to Marvin Gaye, or Warpaint, or Sandy Denny, or King Crimson, just as I would Beethoven or Shostakovich or Bartok or Messiaen.

As for poetry, I think many people who don't like it feel intimidated by it, or feel that, to appreciate it, they have to fully understand it - as if they were still at school, the clock was ticking, and a teacher was standing over them, demanding that they write down the poem's meaning in the fifteen minutes left before the bell rings.

Isabel Doyle said...

I think he was paid to say that ... and I have quite catholic tastes in music myself. I suppose when you are really listening though, the simplistic stuff quickly gets boring and mind-numbing.

And if you accept the lyrics of popular songs as poetry, most people know heaps and love it. I think you are right that it can be intimidating, particularly if it is meant to be inaccessibile in some way, like a private language. And let us be honest, some of what passes as 'poetry' is excruciatingly banal and unmusical.

I am pleased you can to visit and hope you come again.

jabblog said...

I hope you squeeze every ounce of pleasure from your 'cultural packages'.
My tastes in music are fairly catholic but I would choose Mozart over the Stones if pushed.
As for poetry - some I find impenetrable while others, like Carol Ann Duffy or Danny Abse or Charles Causley(as well as Keats, Tennyson, Shakespeare) speak clearly to me. Perhaps I just don't try hard enough;-)