I want to spread the word.
When I was 11 or so, I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey. What struck me, is still with me, is György Ligeti’s music. In my teens, I bought and listened to Luciano Berio’s “Points On A Curve To Find”, and loved it. I certainly enjoyed pop rock and ilk: the freshness of punk, the animation of dance. But, ultimately, I found that, for musical satisfaction, modernist music is to pop music as pop music is to nursery rhyme.
I know I’m not alone. As a student, I saw the London premier of Stockhausen’s “Donnerstag Aus Licht” in Covent Garden and was surprised at the number of real people in the audience (or was it Covent Garden biker day?). If music with the satisfying complexity of modernism, and most of the other contemporary classical movements, can reach normal people like me, then so can modernist poetry.
You see, I’ve found I have the same reaction to much of the poetry published by most of the poetry publishing houses as I did—and do—to most pop music. The poetry discussions and reviews in newspapers like The Guardian seem earnest and dull, though at least they discuss it. The poetry promoted by Andrew Motion, the current Poet Laureate, feels similar. What he’s trying to do, spread the word, is good, but to me he’s promoting poetry as staid and boring. There is interesting thought causing pop poetry out there—Benjamin Zephaniah for Poet Laureate!
It was with deep deep irony, amusing in retrospect, that I was getting fed up with m–o–r poetry in exactly the right city to discover the exciting stuff with depth, and didn’t know it. There are separate groups of poets in Cambridge, and they didn’t, and still don’t, communicate too well. It was only when, by pure luck, I found out about the The 13th Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry that I discovered deeply interesting form.
I’m exploring, I’m having the same reaction to modernist poetry as I did to Ligeti and Berio as a child. I didn’t know why I liked the music, I didn’t get most of it, but I knew something was happening, something incredible was there—the music invaded me, I had a burn desire to find and understand. Had I not had a fundamental adulation of the sciences, which I still have, I may have ended up a composer. Now I’m a poet, an ignorant poet, and that burn of exploration has caught me again. Yeah!