The Distant Beloved
Well, how long has it been? Maybe more pertinently, who am I? You may well ask! To answer those questions in turn, it was the 19th of April, 2020 that I last posted on the blog. Shameful I know, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart if you’re reading this brand new post in November 2022. Just to remind you, my name is Giles L. Turnbull, and I began blogging here in 2016, talking about poetry and blindness matters.
So why the absence? The honest answer is that I had poetry burn out. Writing forty poems for my Creative Writing MA dissertation really drained me. I really liked the nineteen monologue poems that formed the first half of the dissertation; but I wasn’t really convinced that the second half of the collection really worked — or maybe the two halves just didn’t seem to comfortably co-exist. After graduation, I did ponder attempting to publish the poems as a full collection, or the monologues as a pamphlet and the other poems as a separate pamphlet … but after much deliberating, I decided to put the project on the back-burner.
An Die Ferne Geliebte
an Die Ferne Gelibte is Beethoven’s only song cycle. It is scored for a male voice and piano, and it is a setting of six poems by Alois Isidor Jeitteles. The title translates as To the Distant Beloved, and I first came across it in roughly 1989, as a simplified piece in a book of piano solos for intermediate pianists. Here is a recording of the great baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore.
The text was written by a physician named Alois Isidor Jeitteles, probably at Beethoven’s request. Jeitteles had published several short verses, economic in style, in Viennese magazines or almanacks, particularly Selam and Aglaja, and was making his name as a poet. He was an active, selfless young man who later distinguished himself by working tirelessly for his patients during a dreadful cholera epidemic and mortality in Brno. Jeitteles’s poetic sequence An die ferne Geliebte was written in 1815 when he was 21.
I like the phrase, to the distant beloved. It covers anybody – human, animal, object or creation that we are physically separated from but still have deep affection for. I feel that applies to everybody who used to read this blog, sometimes commenting or liking the links to it which I posted on Facebook or Twitter (where I was, and still am, @Bix_cool); it covers my poetry which, despite being on an indefinite hiatus, is still a form of writing that I love; and it includes the large number of poetry friends who I follow (and who follow me) on Facebook and Twitter.
Master of Pamphlets
I know a good number of readers of this blog have bought a copy of my pamphlet, Dressing Up, which was one of the three winners in the Cinnamon Press pamphlet competition 2016, being published by them in January 2017. I am delighted to say that the first print-run of 200 copies sold out! I requested a re-print of fifty copies for myself, and I believe Cinnamon also re-stocked their online shop with a further fifty copies, and I am fairly certain they still have some copies because a friend bought one not long ago! My stock levels are down to ten copies, and I don’t want to sell every last one of them … but I’ve decided that half a dozen are still available (£4.99 inc postage) and can be signed on request 🙂
The Coming Plan
One thing that I love about reading my poetry live, is being able to explain the background to the poem – the inspirations and the subtle meanings. I did spend half a day in a recording studio, producing an audiobook version of the pamphlet, and that is quite like hearing me perform the poems live … I give a brief introduction where relevant. The audiobook is (and will remain) available for £4 as a digital download, just use the contact page on this website, or send me a Facebook or Twitter message if you’d like a copy. With the audiobook, half of the poems are read from memory by me, and the other half are spoken by my computer screen reader voice, Hazel … I have mentioned her many times on this blog, so feel free to browse to find out more about her 🙂
But I’m conscious that people who haven’t heard me read live might like to know the behind-the-scenes information about the poems too. So, in the coming 10-or-so posts, I shall post the text of the poems, with a description of anything of interest relating to the composition and thought processes behind the poems 🙂
In other activities since my last blog post, I’ve moved to Cardiff. I have been to a few concerts – including Paloma Faith, two solo piano recitals, one recital featuring four pianists at two pianos, a performance of Mahler’s 9th symphony by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and I’m due to attend the first ballet I’ve ever been to, Swan Lake just after Christmas. I have also been having piano lessons during the last year, and I’m making good progress … I may post a video of me playing part of a Haydn piano sonata 🙂
Dressing Up, Poem 1: Alarm
the colour of traffic lights
that are neither stop nor go.
The bands of wasps
sandwiched recurringly between black,
more electric than the shock.
Give me daffodil yellow
or the fathomless purple of night,
as the orange sun’s glow
begins to slow, then stops
before sinking out of sight,
as we set the clocks
to wake us with a morning slap
In 2016, when I wrote and submitted my pamphlet to the Cinnamon Press competition, I was living with my parents in a little village just outside Abergavenny in southeast Wales. The village Llanellen is on the side of a small mountain (though Wiki calls it a prominent hill) called The Blorenge. As most poets know, it is often thought that nothing rhymes with the word orange … except a little-known mountain in Monmouthshire 😉
To be honest, that was the only reason I wrote this poem – to honour the colour that is impossible to rhyme! I just felt it deserved to have a poem about it. It took me a while to research whether the bands of wasps were orange or yellow, but it seemed to be that the shade can vary from orange to yellow, so I figured it was close enough. I wondered whether the fact that American traffic signals don’t have orange – they just jump straight from red to green, and then straight back to red – was a problem … but since the pamphlet was written in the UK and published in the UK, I decided not to attempt to find a different orange image.
Performing this poem live has always been an interesting experience. Although people like it, it seems they don’t expect it to be so short! It always takes a while for any applause to begin. After several performances, I started to leave a longer pause between the word slap on the penultimate line, so that the final line – for juice sounds more final. This is one of those things you only find out by performing a poem and experiencing the audience reaction.
Dressing Up, Poem 2: Wandering Eyes
The world, at the extremities of sight
is like a rainbow
a slight curl at the edges
a vain cut to the cloth
songbirds in attendance
keeping dust and fingerprints off.
After all the paths
and the mazes
each one bringing you back
to the world of local councils
obsessing over speed bumps and high hedges
because we like to know what’s going on next door
behind the glass and the roses ;
after the pubs,
busy from midday to moon, turn out at closing
with cold shoulder and a whiff of hops.
Then, tiptoeing obliquely
the kiss of another morning
like the rainbow reborn
high above rock and rubble
in one house can be heard
somebody is snoring
the sharp eye spies a man
shaving back the stubble
a woman applies her face
before lifting the latch
to slip out as the world awakes;
the smell of bread freshly baked
and the fishermen bringing home the catch.
This poem is a re-interpretation of a story from Greek mythology. I’ve always liked Greek myth, and I like setting them in modern contexts. I was researching Greek gods and goddesses on Wikipedia, and I discovered a story involving four of the Greek gods: Helios is the sun god (who is also known as the all-seeing); Aries is the god of war; Aphrodite is the goddess of beauty; and Hephaestus is a deformed god in charge of fire. The gods agreed that Aphrodite should be the consort of Hephaestus to stop them all bickering over her beauty. One day, as Helios draws the sun across the sky, he spies Aries and Aphrodite emerging from an illicit tryst. He tells Hephaestus, who weaves a net of invisibly-fine mesh in which to ensnare the naked lovers and they are taken back to Mount Olympus, where they are a laughing stock.
As I look at this poem now, I cannot recall why I used so little punctuation. If I were writing it now, I would have used more! I have no idea why Cinnamon didn’t question my punctuation choices.
One of my previous writing course tutors said that she liked how the poem begins high-up with the rainbow in stanza one, and then zooms in to ground level, with the local council obsessing over speed bumps and high hedges. I think that is something I often try to do – starting with the big-picture perspective, then zooming in to reveal the microcosm underneath.
Thank you all, former readers and new readers alike, for reading this post. My aim is to continue posting each week on a Sunday (as I used to do), though there may be times where I slip to fortnightly posting 🙂