A REVIEW OF KNIFE FORKS AND SPOONS PRESS’ NEW POETRY ANTHOLOGY –
YESTERDAY’S MUSIC TODAY
(Ed. Mike Ferguson & Rupert Loydell)
Poems are carriers: Of thought, image, perception, experience and more often than not, memory, even if those past moments can still be felt and tasted on the air. This new and vital anthology of music related poetry assists the capturing and containment of those things not always easily expressed; the sensory and emotional pleasures gained by a dedication to listening and making music and to the very changes that music brings about in the head, heart and it has to be said, feet.
Lovingly if economically produced, the book feels like the ultimate album insert, a comprehensive listing of voices and information. If only every album could come with such a book. Indeed, one’s favourite records for those devoted to the music of yesterday, often loom large in the mind, from the lavish booklets accompanying many prog rock releases to the iconic stature of the last century’s greatest recorded accomplishments; Sgt Pepper towers as The Wall for some may teeter, yet nothing ever topples if it’s for the Crimson King. The modern trend for lavish box sets with their extensive essays and merchandise reproduces this, but for those whose pockets do not reach Australia, context is kept out of frame. The poems included in this book all enshrine their inspirations perfectly, whether general of specific, from Jimmy Juniper’s likening of the sound of a saxophone to that of a poem, through Sarah James’ dazzling word-jazz in ‘Road Tripping/Remixing Life’s playlists/In the Gap’ with its ‘Bosom. Besom. Birchstick. Broomed..The ear’s osscicles shaped as high hat, cello and flute..’ and onto Jay Ramsay’s ‘Homage to Beethoven’ in which he describes and captures the images and impressions received whilst listening to the Sonata in C Major, Opus III on a motorway drive. Pop, Punk, Rock, Jazz, Blues, New wave and Classical combine in this book, showing that a love and connection with music is not and should not be defined by genre, style or period, with those who love Bartok finding help with King Crimson and those who like Punk perhaps viewing Stravinsky or famous Greek Serialist Ianis Xenakis, whose ‘structure of seconds’ passes through the living frame’ in Jimmy Juniper’s poem.
Robert Sheppard’s extraordinary ‘Angel at the Junk Box’ is a small modernist masterpiece dedicated to the memory of Frank Sinatra in which ‘every blip is a dizzy how.’ There are not many books or indeed poems that ask you to ‘Mute up your factitious sensation..Until the last syllable cymbals out..’ but you will find them here in both Sheppard and Juniper’s numerous pieces, along with Sue Birchenough’s ‘Aspects of One’ (‘Under my Skin you sing’), through to Sheila E. Murphy’s ‘Flute’ which details how the flute ‘eludes the calculus of impromptu masculinity..pierces the thin wall of breath and cloud..and honours learned signals still in season.’
Mike Ferguson and Rupert Loydell in compiling and editing this anthology have shown their own expertise, skill and dedication as both cultural professors and Poets. Loydell’s ‘Almost Nothing to do with Rock’ labels that genre as ‘a defiant shout against suffering’ and ‘This Place is a Shelter’ shows how through a simple listing of types of song both deterioration and continuance can be countenanced. Ferguson’s homage to Rickie Lee Jones, Heavy Metal and the relevance of Graham Nash’s Our House to his own childhood is deeply affecting and artfully expressed.
Music and memory combine consistently in this collection, from Norman Jope’s recollection of two landmark gigs of Daevid Allen’s Gong in 1971 and 1989 to M.C. Caseley’s summoning of Howling Wolf in the lobby of the Bloomsbury Hotel, all blades drawn across the ‘killing floor’. Memory than becomes the means with which to reflect on the musical experience, evident in Angela Topping’s poem ‘Guitar’ (‘when you play its a love machine, a steel sounder, memory maker, heart lifter) and David Kennedy’s dissection of the function of a Pianist, through to David Hart’s remarkable philosophy on the music of trees, where lovers sit ‘very still while breeze through the leaves entertained us..’ And this triggering of thought and sensation, as enabled by music seems to be part of the book’s greater purpose. In attempting to capture and express so many core experiences from its core set of contributors, the cumulative effect, to my eyes and ears at least, is that the music we love, once heard, stays with us in ways deeper than we realise, no matter how self aware we are. The songs and pieces that reflect and return us to our deeper selves have, rather like love or it has to be said, bacteria, attached themselves to our DNA, to that part of our structure that music as a whole tries to echo; the hidden, intangible soul that does not exist only at the point of departure, but which informs and explains our irrational, spiritual self. The part of us that cannot be changed or disguised because of the demands of everyday life. Music and our need for it are our internal rhyme, too often neglected in the blank verse of our accepted existence.
Ester Muchawksky-Schnapper’s ‘Satanic Music’ is perhaps evidence of this, as ‘a stinking barrack, an infested mattress, a watery soup is all there is/and finally a merciful sleep lifting you out to short freedom and its celestial music..’ as is the ‘loose boned blues’ of Paul Hawkins’ ‘Number 8 Claremont Road: Red Room;’ Therefore, Yesterday’s Music Today contains poems and Poets who extend the remit of what is possible when we think about music, and indeed, detail what music is for. In displaying the likes, loves and connections enclosed, the Editors and contributors have attempted to give poetry the same validation as song. In this country poetry is often downgraded in the public conscience, (whereas song even in its lowest form rarely is) resident only on tube train advertisements and badly written billboards, or else it is falls close to the too worthy ghetto of the self obsessed sunstantialist, detailing his or her experience as seminal and useful to all whilst being shared in unknown or culturally sealed rooms. Here, Ferguson and Loydell have released an album of favoured artists, a small scale Supergroup with a far reaching outlook, each one capable of preaching for their given cause, while at the same time guiding and offering full explanation for their own very personal loves.
Its an invaluable book and one which should be on sale wherever music is. When you buy your copy, recommend it to your local record shop or HMV ( I know there are still a few out there) and return a love of music back to the high streets and sidestreets in which it was first discovered. You can also use this book as a means with which to discover some of the artists within whom you may be unfamiliar, from Howling Wolf to Xenakis to Rickie Lee Jones. If the book is an example of preaching to the coverted, than that congregation needs to garner itself a new one. Take this along as your own musical Gideon and spread the word so that the icloud generation can at some point extract their heads and recapture the sensations that those of us who have loved music for and in the ways it was originally intended to be received, have always had, as a secret, personal and then publically shared discovery. Yesterdays’ Music may detail past artists and experiences but they are still a vital part of both the day and the oncoming dark.
As Jim Morrison said: ‘When the Music’s over/Turn out the light..’
This book and these poems capture the sound of the flame.
David Erdos 18/11/15