A Bear of very little brain entranced me as a child, and provided my first experience of poetry. But, like Christopher Robin in the incredibly sad last chapter of their story, I had to leave it all behind as the innocence was destroyed forever by the poetry of Owen, Sassoon and their comrades in arms. I tried to temper the horrors of the trenches with the words of the romantics, and in particular, Yeats, but the grim grimacing hare of Hughes sitting in a hedge in the rain seemed intent on destroying the glory of the 100 acre wood forever. So I read Thomas and I raged. And, I raged some more.
But then, I drank from The Fountain of Salmacis, danced with Giant Hogweed, and walked down Broadway with a lamb. And all this to the accompaniment of music that transported me to distant Horizons. I heard tales of love, joy, strange beauty, epic battles, death, resurrection and surreal happenings. I hung on every word, delved deep into their meanings, and was awed by their ability to paint scenes, landscapes, worthy of the Old Masters.
These were the new masters, and the new poets. My poets. They spoke directly to me, and I did not need encouragement to study them, or to struggle to understand them – they spoke directly to my heart, and they filled me with joy – I lingered over album covers, reading lyrics and absorbing them. As words on a page they were poetry, but, when woven into songs they became words of such power and beauty that they could lead me to the deepest depths of pathos before lifting me to unimagined heights of ecstasy.
I ranged far and wide in search of new voices, new words and new stories. I consumed greedily. Then one Saturday morning my world changed. Coming from the television, via the relatively new medium of the music video was a new voice delivering words that stopped me in my tracks, driven by guitars, drums and keyboards, creating a unified whole unlike anything I had heard before. I was entranced.
I remember it clearly.
As years passed I listened, absorbed every syllable, every note; I heard the stories and marvelled. I spent many happy evenings in good company debating poetry and the role of the lyricist, all the while fuelled by Glenmorangie and Christmas Ale. I became aware of the power of words, of discussion. A song writer had achieved more in a brief time, opening my eyes and mind to words and language, than all the other poets combined – except, perhaps, A.A. Milne.
The inevitable artistic differences arose and a parting of the ways ensued. I bought a ticket for the first solo performance, but life got in the way – I never made it to London in 1989, and my ticket sat for many many years in my little box of treasures. Years rolled by, and as the words and music matured, I tried to keep up.
I played the silent game of wondering what I would say if I ever met the man who had, and was providing the sound track to my life. I listened to his work late into the nigh, and early into the morning. Then, a couple of years ago I got the chance to finally get to see a live performance. Again, the question arose: if I happened to meet him, what would I say? As the day drew closer, I dismissed the notion as childish – I was a punter going to a gig, to listen to music, and words, to review the last 30 odd years of my life. I was getting excited.
As I walked down the street that evening I saw a familiar face in the crowd and my heart literally stopped beating. Without thinking, I walked faster, then stopped, waited patiently for the fan who had accosted him to put his camera phone away and leave. He did. I was face to face with my poet. I held out a hand, he took it, and I simply thanked him for every thing he had done and given me over the years – a few words, from the heart, with a sincerity I seldom manage to muster.
An hour later I was standing in the crowd, the lights dim; the main man walked on stage, alone. He sings:
“A heid full of chocolate frogs, a body full of rush, a pocketful of shrapnel and a skinfull of bush,
An eyefull of the future and a belly full of the past, how beautiful the present when you know it cannae last.
A tumblerful of voddie, two fingers in a glass, a handful of promises, a heart full of remorse,
Mindful of your manners when you’re brought down to your knees,
A heid full of chocolate frogs is all you gave to me,
That’s all you gave to me, that’s all you gave to me,
A spoonful of miracles a nostril full of dust a lung full of virginia the needs we have we must,
A pill to put your heart right a nose out for a deal for a heid full of chocolate frogs what can you give to me?
What did you give to me?
What did you give to me?
What did you give to me?”
I am lost. My life slowly replays before me – each song a memory, a time, a place, a person – gone, but never let go. That night I soared; I felt the rapture.
What did you give to me? A lifetime of joy, solace, comfort and pleasure. I finally got to thank him. It only took a few words, and three decades.
Why do I say this? Well, I know another poet, in fact I know two, but in this instance I am only concerned with one. This one, Emily, I have never thanked for all she has done and continues to do for me. She has been close to me now for two and a bit decades, but I’ve never told her what she means to me, how I admire her and how much of an inspiration she is to me.
My little sister is an Artist and Poet. It’s what she does. It’s who she is. It is not contrived or an affectation, it is genuine and spontaneous, coming from deep within. Her work is how she expresses herself, her world and her place in it. Though, that said, if you knew Emily you’d know she exists in a number of different worlds and walks between them with an ease, elegance, poise, intelligence and adeptness that staggers me – she is like no-one that I have ever known.
I have followed her for years now, and gone from being the rather mean and teasing older brother, to the humbled chap full of admiration for the lady and her work. I am fortunate enough to have two of Emily’s pieces in my possession, and they mean more to me that I can adequately express. They are treasures in the truest sense – every time I look at and touch them, they fill me with joy, and gratitude. Art, poetry!
For a while now, rather kindly I think, Em’ has been expressing an interest in a chair, and possibly a collaboration – the latter probably won’t happen, as I’d be embarrassed to share a stage with her, but the former is distinctly possible.
On the day of my birthday last year, I set to work on five chairs, one of which was for Emily – it was an exceptional day as my Muse was alive within me and smiled as I stepped onto my island and started to work. I wanted to create something on which a poet could sit and do a little thinking.
Emily is a surrealist, so I thought I could get away with doing something a little different from the norm. However, being a fairly conservative chap, I didn’t go too mad – I just exaggerated a few dimensions and proportions.
Emily, your chair:
Thank you, for everything.
Finally, my last word on the poet/lyricist debate: think Cohen, Scott, Gabriel and especially Anderson, but, most of all think Jacques Brel:
I rest my case.
The world needs Poets.