It’s always put me off, and not just me. That pompous ‘listen to me, this is Culture,’ schtick that always reminds me of Kenneth Williams playing his best roles, the waspish ageing queen desperately trying to hide everything behind a veneer of respectability, as if being who you are wasn’t respectable; the English tragedy, that if you were gay it wasn’t just not respectable but you were going to jail for it if it frightened the horses.
I wasn’t and am not gay, but I’m old enough to remember teachers and church people who looking back now, had a lot more in common with Kenneth Williams’s pastiches than they ever did with my life. Back then I thought it was – they were – about having more money than we did. But it wasn’t, or not entirely. It was about being afraid, afraid that however much money you had, one word, one accidentally public peck on the cheek, one hand on another’s shoulder a little too long and you were going to the Big House and nobody decent would ever speak to you again.
If we’ve done nothing else (and I won’t even bother saying ‘discuss’) then at least, at the very, very least, we’ve stopped doing that within the span of my lifetime. And that’s got to count for something.
So here it is:
All my life I’ve tried to avoid it;
At school, on the radio, standing here doing it,
The sound of ‘listen to me, this is important
And cultural and noble and pure and true
Because I’m doing Poetry Voice.’
Just for you, dear audience. Wherever you are.
They’re all long words, drawn out vowel sounds and pauses
Sometimes in the most
Unlikely places and words like stentorian
And o’er and appeals to the muse.
And maybe it’s me.
I saw an elephant fly and made a rubber band
But I never saw a Muse. Not once.
I’ve walked o’er dale and hill
But I never saw a daffodil except in someone’s garden.
That’s Poetry Voice – it’s about chasing the rhymes and using words
That nobody’s used since the start of time like this and I don’t:
The sea-birds scream’d as they wheel’d round,
And there was joyaunce in their sound.
Joyaunce? Are you absolutely sure that’s what it was?
I walked the field where Coleridge was lost as a boy.
I did this. I went there.
And that’s what it is. A field. It didn’t fill me with joy somehow.
There’s nothing there. Not even chickens.
The words do it or they don’t.
And the best thing you can do
When you’re standing up here saying these things,
Is cross your fingers and hope your own voice
Doesn’t get in the way, doesn’t put itself
Between the words
And people’s hearts.
You have to assume they have minds.
In fact you don’t. That’s what Poetry Voice is all about,
An appeal to higher senses, tickets on the door,
Volvos in the parking bays, Day-glo vests on the ushers
Guiding you to your aisle, spectral in the gleam of the stage lights
White hair and false teeth flaring in the ultra-violet light.
So if I should die think only this of me
That in some far corner of a foreign bar
I’ll be standing behind a microphone,
Still too lazy to learn my own words,
Still so rocknroll that I have to wear spectacles
To read these songs, trying to right these wrongs
That really, nobody cares about.
Except you’re all here, listening,
So maybe part of that’s wrong.
But I’m still not doing Poetry Voice.