The Lyric is a Lonely Hunter

“In Belarus she was a vespertine,
She danced the go-go for the bourgeoisie,
Now she’s here and she is on her knees.”
Hurts – Rolling Stone

This blog seems quite infused with music so far, and my writing is similar. I tend to think of my poems as songs, I guess – it’s the closest I can get to them without being able to sing. This sort of fits in with trying to write poems for speaking and performance as well. But I’ve noticed a couple of songs recently that have either developed from novels or would work well as one.

The first of these (and they’re in no particular order) is Florence + the Machine’s Demo “Which Witch”, from their latest album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Written after imagining witch trials in LA, it’s a wonderfully visual idea. It makes you wonder how Florence envisaged these trials, how much she envisaged them, and how developed the idea is. At the risk of sounding too obsessed, the lyrics are really powerful, and work well on lots of levels. But their original idea, and the thought process that went on behind them, is fascinating. I really hope we get to find out one day (if not I might just write it). (Also, while on the subject, Florence wrote a beautiful poem for her Queen of Peace/Long and Lost video, that is read in between the songs. It’s worth watching the video, or finding the handwritten lyrics on her Instagram. And another also – Florence has her own book club, where she sets books for her fans to read. It’s well worth checking it out.)

Another song that could easily inspire a story is Hurts’ latest release ‘Rolling Stone’. I was one of the first to hear this at their intimate gig at Scala, and it’s the song that me and my friend were most excited to hear again afterwards. Not only is the song as good as we remember, but it comes with an amazing second verse, which I don’t remember at all from the performance. The song is so well written, and the whole idea is visual and would work so well as a graphic novel. Also, it’s a song that blends existing literature, beginning ‘in fair Verona where we lay our scene’.

Another new release here in the shape of Years & Years’ Communion. There’s not a particular song that I can pinpoint as being inspired by a book, or indeed one that would strongly inspire a book. But, inside the handwritten lyrics book, is a quote scribbled down by Olly Alexander, from p.209 (he marked that, not me) of ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’. It doesn’t appear in the songs, and I haven’t found a reason for it, but it’s really cool to see it there. Anyone who writes song lyrics or poems with quotes beside them is off to a good start, and it added extra hype to the Super Hype that I already had for the album. I should probably read the book now.

I may well add more to this post over time, so I’ll let you know if it gets updated. I’m hopeful I’ll discover lots more, but all I could contribute now would be the majority of Florence + the Machine songs, so I should move on.

As I said above, I think about lyrics and music quite a lot when I’m writing, and my poems often turn out to be song-esque. Since I should be sharing some of my own writing here, today I’ll share the song lyrics that I’ve currently written down next to the poems I’ve been writing. (The notepad is going quite well now, and is slowly feeling less daunting.)

“The ones you see the less are the ones you love the most.” – Lucy Spraggan, ‘The Tourist’
“And my love was no good, against the Fortress that it made of you.” – Florence, ‘Queen of Peace’
“When I sleep I never dream of you, as if the dream of you, it sleeps too, but never slips away.” – Florence again, ‘Caught’

But other lyrics I’m just really enjoying at the moment include:

“Someone is playing a game in the house that I grew up in, and someone will drive her around in the same streets that I did.” – The Killers
“How could I have known, you’re a universe?” – Years & Years, ‘Without’
“And I slept in last night’s clothes and tomorrow’s dreams.” – Fall Out Boy, ‘Uma Thurman’

and of course
“You’re a dancer, well I’m a spy, it’s so beautiful to see you lie.” – Years & Years, ‘Ties’

Love/Hate Literature

“I refuse to tread the line”
Years & Years – Ready For You

I should probably do some sort of post about Go Set A Watchman, the ‘new’ Harper Lee novel, but I’m not the best person for the job. I’ve not read Mockingbird, and have only ever really made a half-hearted attempt at it, so it doesn’t make much sense to read this new one. It’s very exciting that everyone is so excited about it, and very exciting that there’s been such debate about Atticus Finch (personally, I’m all for interesting and realistic character development, so woo). Queuing up at Midnight for books is always fun to hear about (and I’d like to actually do it one day), and it’s great that there’s such a buzz around it.

But I’m more interested about another aspect of it – and that will lead me onto discussing other love/hate relationships I have amongst literature.

The US cover of Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman”, compared to the UK cover.

The Go Set A Watchman cover (that is, the UK Edition) is both clever and awful. The US Edition is just beautiful, and it beautifully echoes the cover of it’s prequel/sister/ghost/predecessor. The UK Edition, though, is orange. Vibrantly orange. Which is no bad thing really, but it just doesn’t work that well with everything else. The font seems a weird choice and definitely over-sized, and the cover bares no relation to any previous editions of Mockingbird (except that there’s a bit of a tree with a bird). I love that they’ve tried to shadow the original title, and that’s a really clever idea.

But I’m not sure it works. The actual title becomes too split up, and it almost makes the book like it contains both novels. The ‘By the Author Of’ is so small and red that it’s hard to read, and you have to squint to see just what relevance TKaM has. (After all – it’s prominence in this cover does imply it has a little more significance than just being a prequel/etc.) The size of the title dwarfs anything else and squanders any real chance for imagination, so they settle for a tree and a bird, distracted by the horrible spiky font. The US Edition, however, is arty and beautiful, as well as well thought out. It’s maybe not as eye-catching, but it looks much less modern and garish. Their trust in understanding that we know who Harper Lee is is also good, and it means that the novel can stand alone as well.

Frankly I could write a whole blog post on those covers. But to step aside to other things I have a love/hate relationship with, well. I probably have one with reading. I’m not very good at all at finishing books (and I tend to only finish ones that I have really really enjoyed – that does make it easier to pick favourite books though I suppose). I’m also not very good at picking up or indeed choosing a book. But sometimes, it is very worth the wait. And I do enjoy reading, and I love talking about and debating books. Just often, I don’t enjoy the reading enough to keep going with it. I’m fussy.

But specifically, I seem to have a love/hate relationship with Ian McEwan. I mean, not literally, I’m sure he’s a lovely man, but with his writing. His ideas and books interest me despite the fact I’ve never really come away thinking they’re my favourites. I’ve read On Chesil Beach (the edition of that I read is Beautiful) for A-Levels, and I read The Cement Garden for me. I finished both, although skipped large segments of On Chesil Beach, which was both heartbreaking, hilarious (accidentally) and not really worth my time. The Cement Garden was clearly gripping, and I wrote a review here a while back. I’m also slowly working through The Comfort of Strangers, another intriguing read. The appeal is the short novels, the nice editions (although The Children’s Act looks different to the others and this annoys me). He has interesting ideas that I like. But his prose is weighty and often dry. There’s a lot of sex, in various forms, and thinking about sex. (I’m leaving you up to decide if that’s a love or a hate aspect, or indeed either.) But I am fascinated by his books, even if I claim to not enjoy them as much as I enjoy others. Maybe I just ‘like’ some, or bits of some, of them. Maybe that’s enough,

I feel like I have a love/hate relationship with a lot of things in literature, and even in life. Maybe everyone’s like that, maybe there’s an element of that in everything anyway. But I feel like the GSaW covers and Ian McEwan are pretty solid examples. I maybe have the same thing with comics, I’m not sure. I don’t really go in for comics, though I am trying more recently, though they seem to be very hit and miss. Some are very exciting, they’re easy to get through. But I really am not up for following a Marvel continuity that gets rebooted every five seconds (not even including on screen). I think I have a bit of a love/hate with William Empson. Some of his poetry is really beautiful and stylish, but Seven Types of Ambiguity belongs in a Hell the colour of Go Set A Watchman. He also got me my lowest first year mark (though someone had to take the blame I suppose. Sorry Will).

I should probably write a poem about this. If I hadn’t written enough already. Though I have bought myself a ‘poetry notebook’ following yesterday’s post. And if I ever do publish anything – I’m praying to someone that it’s not blood orange.

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Word Fatigue

“You’re a dancer, well I’m a spy,
It’s so beautiful to see you lie…”
Years & Years; Ties

I feel like I should set out some kind of mission statement for this blog, but in all honesty, I’m not sure what it’s going to cover.

Primarily, books, and stuff about writing, and thoughts about writing from a writer who shouldn’t be calling himself a writer yet (that’s me). The ‘dancer and the spy’ of the title is from the quote above. It has no significance to the blog as such, but it’s a lovely phrase, and Years & Years are very good.

I was thinking about a piece on The Guardian the other day, where famous writers and journalists talked about what they’d be reading this summer. I read it last year as well, trying to find something to fill the space before university, and using books to fill the void a little bit. They didn’t do a great job, if I’m honest, but it’s very interesting reading what others read. I considered my own list, and I considered something that I’d posted on Instagram a few days ago.

“Between Two Books”, the Florence + the Machine book club, asked people to post pictures of what they’d be reading over the summer. I only had very vague ideas, but they were (1) to read more non fiction (2) to read Kate Tempest’s first poetry collection ‘Everything Speaks in Its Own Way’ and to explore more poetry (3) to read something from a new genre (4) to finish something (I’m thinking Watchmen – not to be confused with Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, which I don’t plan to read) and (5) to read Disclaimer, by Renee Knight.

Out of these, (2) is of a particular interest to me. Kate Tempest’s poetry and music fascinates me, and her poetry ranges from social commentary (something which works incredibly well in her music, and worked incredibly well with the Glastonbury crowd this year) to poems about romance and life, that are always straight-talking and refreshingly honest. It shows poetry can be beautiful without the metaphors, and words we use every day can be beautiful in themselves. “Hold Your Own” is a near-perfect collection of poems, and “Brand New Ancients” is a very impressive narrative poem.

Tempest has changed the way I write poetry too. Just before I read her work, I tried to write a poem that didn’t conform to structure, and was more focussed on speaking about issues I wanted to, in a witty way. My friend likened the result to a slam poem. With this seed in my head, I then read Kate Tempest, and her approach to poetry combined perfectly. I’m now much more focussed on rhyme and rhythm, and much more interested in writing in a way designed to be spoken. Most of my poetry is driven to this – and I’ve written even more. I turn out a ridiculous amount of poetry, but that’s more because I tend to write then move on, rather than fine tuning just one piece to figure out what I want to say. Maybe I’d be a better poet if I did that.

But because I turn out more poetry, I seem to have turned out a bit too much. So what did I do? Write a poem about it.

“Word fatigue” talks about how I’d been turning “everything into poetry” and that “my emotional history becomes a pit that’s been excavated”. The smaller feelings are “expanded” in order to just create something. It’s draining. Part of this, I think, is that Kate Tempest is currently my only real poetry inspiration. I love TS Eliot. But he’s not an influence. I need to read more of him anyway, and more of other poets. I need to expand, to play around with style and form, and language. To see how others do it and to how they work with me.

The other thing I must shamefully admit, is that I wrote poetry on the same keyboard that wrote this. I type it. Which means the structure, the rigidity of thought, is already there. It can’t be free and all over the page – I can’t experiment with ideas for lines. One has to replace another, mostly. I also think it might help write about things that matter to me, and that I feel, rather than just looking for something to write about.

So there’s two main targets for the summer. I need to read the rest of Tempest (until her novel comes out next year!) and with that read more poetry. I then need to write poetry – but experiment with it.

And that’s what this blog will be really. Me wittering on about writing, about books, sometimes music. And this will probably gather dust eventually, but, it might be fun while I remember.

I’ll leave you (imaginary reader, hello) with this. It’s slightly different to how I remember it, but the message stuck with me ever since I saw it. And then I chose to ignore it anyway.

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