I was reading Natalie Goldberg’s classic book, Writing Down The Bones – Freeing The Writer Within, where she was riffing about the tricks your mind plays to stop you writing – you are not good enough, have nothing worth saying, etc. She could have added: reading a book about writing instead of just writing…
So I closed the book, sat at my beautiful Imperial Good Companion 5 (possibly my favourite typewriter in my small collection), and just typed the first word of what became the poem you can read below.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit it is an obscure one, but every word of it makes sense to me. So, after you’ve read it, I’ll try to make sense of it for you.
The first three words/lines are me trying to get into writing, wake up the imagination. That led to thinking I was fishing in my subconscious for words that would open up a story.
Once I’d written that words were fish-eyed and gilled, the next line rhymed-in a memory of fishermen selling fish by the sea’s edge, as I was in Istanbul on a scholarship (The Churchill Fellowship) to study Turkish classical music. The land area around the small boats was populated by families of gypsies, who seemed intent on throwing out curses to anyone who looked at them.
The last two lines of the first stanza relate to my study of the Turkish lute, the oud, a smaller, higher-pitched version of the Arabic oud. The mizrab is a long plectrum, used to stir the strings of the oud.
The reason I wanted to study Turkish classical music is three fold: they have fifty-three notes to the octave (we in the West have twelve); the music is extremely beautiful, yearning, painful and playful; the oud is related to the lute, which was then my instrument of choice.
The seconda pratica was so coined by the early Baroque composer, Claudio Monteverdi, and formed the basis of what became the tonal system of music which has dominated Western music since circa 1600. Bach used it, as did Chuck Berry. It’s how our music works. But the Turkish system, with its microtones, seemed to push me to question the foundation Monteverdi had been promoting. Hence the mocking.
The second stanza celebrates punk-inspired experimentalism that I was party to in the Tay Bridge Bar, Dundee (my home town), on the banks of the river Tay, way back in the late 1970s. Angry young men and women don’t mess with words, hit direct, aim for the solar plexus, in contrast to the beginning of the first stanza.
I originally ended with “rock your seconda pratica”, which, on reflection, might have been a better line than the one I ended up with. The jury is still out on that one.
So there we have it. Is there any point in writing poetry which needs explaining? I think there is. It’s a distillation of thought, which might have a meaning to a reader which the author never contemplated, one which has validity, and one which might never had emerged if the original was plain and simple. Something to discuss when I start a writing class at Edinburgh University in a couple of weeks’ time. Or here and now, if you have something to say. Feel free to comment.