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Dark Side of the Poet

Dark Side of the Poet

I love The Guardian's weekly email called Bookmarks, in which articles about authors and books that have appeared that week are listed and linked. There are frequently interesting opinions and experiences relating to the life of a writer. Last week there was one titled, “'Where do I think best? In bed' – authors reveal their dream retreats”.

AL Kennedy: My bed
Where do I think best, plan, ponder? Bed. It’s warm, cosy, good for the back – it’s where only nice people are allowed to disturb you.
(The Guardian)

My Poetic Bed

Lay your head downLay your head down
Lay your head downDon't say nothing noo
I can see when you're lying ohh
When you're alone you're so alone
When you're alone you're so aloneWe all have dreams we forget
(lyrics from Dark Dark Dark, ‘In Your Dreams’, from Metro Lyrics)

The number of times I've thought of a poetry idea or an edit, just as I'm beginning to doze off ... hundreds! In my sighted days I always used to keep a small pad of Post-It notes and a pen under my pillow to jot down any such flashes of inspiration before allowing my eyelids to drop. I do something similar these days — I can reach my computer keyboard at the side of my bed, and I keep a notepad file on my laptop's desktop into which I can quickly type those notions ready to remember them again in the morning. Memory is a funny beast — the recall of events from our childhood may be easy to retrieve, but the edit that occurred to you in your head just vaporises into the night.

Day Dreaming

Think of a place I would go
I'm daydreamin
Where the sycamore grow
I'm daydreamin
And oh if you knew what it meant to me
Where the air was so clear
Oh if you knew what it meant to me
(lyric by Dark Dark Dark, from ‘Daydreaming,’ from

I used to let my mind wander whilst sitting on a bench along the Thames, just by Lambeth Bridge. I'd pick up some lunch on the short walk from my office and, once again armed with a pad of Post-It notes and a pen, would scribble ideas down whilst watching people walking along the path and the boats meandering along the river. I've started including one of the pieces I wrote at that time in my current poetry reading set, and it always carries the relaxed feeling of quietly sitting by the river and watching the world go by, even when I'm in turmoil trying to not slip up in reading the longest poem I've ever memorised!

Nicola Barker, St Mary Moorfields, City of London
I wouldn’t call myself a misanthrope exactly (she growls), but one of the main reasons I’ve always loved living by the Thames is how empty the river feels (aside from the occasional sightseeing boat or battleship or tug). All that space, that room, and the glorious slab of empty sky above. You can stride down on to the beach when the tide is low and be completely and utterly alone. You are highly visible, though, seen from the warehouses and flats on the riverfront, which makes you feel safe. I love this sensation. It’s almost like being in a film or starring in a play, knowing that you are seen, are a part of the landscape, a point of interest, and yet feeling this intense sense of recollection and isolation and self-containment.
(The Guardian)

Londoners or visitors who fancy taking a stroll along the Thames past the benches I used to sit on, can head along the northern bank and it was literally 10 paces from Lambeth Bridge.

As you continue towards Lambeth Bridge, the busy road comes close to the path, with Lambeth Palace (home of the Archbishop of Canterbury) to the right, along with the Church of St Mary next to it. The path continues next to the main road for a while after Lambeth bridge, but the views back to central London are excellent, and you can also see the London Eye from side on.
(London Path website)

Lambeth Palace, Victoria Tower Gardens and Tate Britain are all right there around Millbank. A list of such places can be found on the Trip Advisor website, all of which should be able to spark a symphony of poetic thoughts :)

Poetry in Dark Places

I reviewed Dark Dark Dark's album ‘Wild Go’ for Atlanta Music Guide back in 2010. I'd link to it but cannot dredge it up despite half an hour of Googling. Luckily I still have the Word doc I submitted so I'll quote a little from it, and it is, or was, somewhere on Atlanta Music Guide website.

This album is expansively spacious, and yet full of many things; there’s a certain something that you feel but just can’t put your finger on. It may be the elusive mix of styles, bluesy and atmospheric, but dodging further categorization. The tempos are fairly uniform throughout, in a way that’s mesmerizing, never prosaic. Every song is intensely personal and at the same time relevant to the world.

Here a melancholy violin reflects on romance, there a meandering accordion gives a Parisian air of intrigue; a certain je ne sais quoi. Everything is in perfect balance, whether it’s the stark simplicity of ‘Robert,’ the solemnity of ‘Heavy Heart,’ or the drifting emotion of ‘Say The Word.’ From the apocalyptic storytelling of title track ‘Wild Go,’ which imagines New York returning to its natural state, to the breath-taking views in the landscape of ‘Daydreaming,’ over which Invie’s vocal melody floats like a feather on the wind.
(from review of Dark Dark Dark, ‘Wild Go,’ previously published on Atlanta Music Guide)

The lyrics don't tell you a story in the way a Leonard Cohen song does, but all the tracks on Wild Go marinade you in the emotion and the place, and they are one of few bands whose songs help my poems to develop.

All photographic processing use a series of chemical baths. Processing, especially the development stages, requires very close control of temperature, agitation and time.

Isn't that the way most poems come into fruition? The raw ideas have to settle down and let their chemical components brew at the right temperature, the poet has to apply the right degree of agitation and allow just the right amount of time. Very occasionally I'll sit down and write a new poem in half an hour, but more usually I'll jot down ideas over a matter of weeks or months. The books I'm reading and the music I'm listening to during that time may well suggest a different word, a different voice, or a different tempo.

Dark Dark Dark's website is the brilliantly-named

Current members:

  • Nona Marie Invie - vocals, piano, accordion
  • Marshall LaCount - banjo, clarinet, vocals
  • Walt McClements - piano, accordion, trumpet, backing vocals
  • Mark Trecka - drums
  • Adam Wozniak - bass

Dark Dark Dark is an American folk band from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Formed in 2006, the band has toured extensively in the United States and Europe and are known for their blend of New Orleans jazz, Americana, Eastern European folk and pop sensibilities.

Pitchfork Media writes of the full length, “...perhaps Dark Dark Dark's true accomplishment here is how they mix sounds and influences so effortlessly. They comprise a tight, intuitive unit, especially when the instruments swirl together into an otherworldly eddy of sound”.[3] NPR notes how “Invie sings with a flexible, penetrating voice, shedding both light and shadow on the meaning of her lyrics”[4] and Paste Magazine describes the “...noteworthy balance that’s struck between beauty, familiarity, and surrealistic imagery...”.[5]
(from the Wikipedia page on Dark Dark Dark)

Put Your Reading Ears In

All of this talk about dark matter reminds me of when I was waiting to start my blindness rehab in Atlanta. My partner and I heard of an experience called Dialogue in the Dark. Most people go there as sighted people to see for themselves what life can be like for a blind person; I went there to admit to myself that yes, I was entering the land of the blind, and to get a head start on what being a blindee would be like. At Dialogue a visitor is given a white cane and a group of about half a dozen are vocally guided around by a blind guide. The building is totally dark so nobody can see anything. At the Atlanta installation we explored a mock-up of a supermarket fruit and veg counter, a stationary boat ride (accompanied by sounds of the water that would have been beneath the boat), and somewhere else that I've forgotten now!

A life changing experience
Dialogue in the Dark is one of the world’s most exciting life-changing experiences where visitors are guided by blind guides in absolute darkness. You get a chance to experience daily environments of life like enjoying a walk in the park, take a boat cruise or visiting a café in specially designed darkened rooms. Daily routines become exciting and a reversal of role is created where sighted become blind and Blind become sighted.

Why it is so special and fascinating?
Dialogue in the Dark pushes you out of the comfort zone orienting you to a world without pictures. The Blind guides are master of this environment and hence provide the visitors with a sense of security.  Since more than 27 years Dialogue in the Dark has been presented in more than 41 countries throughout Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia. Millions of visitors have been led through the exhibition by thousands of blind individuals, and learned to see in the darkness.
(from the Dialogue in the Dark website)

So, after writing this blog post, I'm thinking how cool it'd be to do a pitch black, totally dark poetry reading! I'd be fine because every poetry reading I do is effectively in the dark, but any sighted poets or open mic readers would have to memorise their work. I know that when I go to listen to another poet give a reading, I pay more attention to the words and delivery than I used to in my sighted days. I wonder if health and safety regulations would permit me to arrange such a blind event? It'd be a fantastic demonstration of how hard it is to mingle around after a reading, which sighted poets tend to do without thinking about the blind guy sitting down, wondering if anybody is going to come up and chat.

The Poetry Path

Now its getting late oh
Your shoulders are moving, oh
And tell me where you're going, oh
Tell me where you're going, oh

Step foot out of this lonely house
You don't have to turn around, no
But tell me where you're going, oh
Tell me where you're going, oh
(Dark Dark Dark, ‘Robert’, lyrics from Genius Lyrics website)

I think I was always on the right path. When I picked chemistry instead of music for my A-level choices it was because I didn't play well enough to be the concert pianist I dreamed of being. When I was studying chemistry at Swansea University instead of English then it was because I was not a good student in those days and, in all likelihood, would have grown into an adult with little interest in poetry. I would certainly have been a very different poet today if I hadn't left Swansea behind and moved to work in London and, later on, America. Whatever walk of life we're on, we absorb all kinds of ideas from the places we live and work, and the conversations we overhear and are a part of. I'm sure I'll see Swansea with very different eyes (quite literally) because I've changed as much as the city itself has changed. When I lay my quilt on another hall of residence bed in September, twenty seven years since I previously did so, it'll be because my internal sat nav has kept me on the right path, just like a homing pigeon instinctively knows where it needs to get back to.

I was looking for the right path, wo-oh-oh
took so long but I'm on it, wo-oh-oh
took so long to be honest, wo-oh-oh
(lyrics from Dark Dark Dark, ‘Right Path’ transcribed by Giles L. Turnbull)

#DarkDarkDark #Poetry #Blindness #DialogueInTheDark #Swansea

Published inblindnessPoetry

One Comment

  1. Frances Browner Frances Browner

    Great observations here Giles; love the thoughts interspersed with lines of poetry. I’m on that bench beside the Thames, I was once on a bench there, not sure which part of the river, but you helped me to recollect it. Love also your idea of a poetry reading in the dark, made me realise, I have never memorized any of my poems. That’s bad. That installation in Atlanta sounds interesting too, everybody should really experience it.

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