It’s that time of year! No, not that one. It’s the time when the hours of daylight have narrowed, when to stay warm it’s necessary to chain-drink tea, and in the south-west of England at least the forecast ranges from ‘heavy showers’ to ‘light showers’. I need inspiration, otherwise the urge to hibernate will become too great to ignore.
So as of recently, first thing in the real-feel-1° morning, I’ve taken to opening a book. Poems of Gratitude is a little Everyman collection, beautifully curated and typeset, and… flip. Reading several of these opens my mind up; slows my thinking down, as poetry does, helping me to savour rather than consume; alerts me to reasons for being thankful. Here, instead of being attached to the attention-parasite Twitter, my post-sleep brain is in the company of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s genius; of Anne Sexton and her ridiculous glorious humility; of unattributed Native American lyrics, William Carlos Williams considering the sparrow, fragments of Carver, ee cummings and more, marshalling their thoughts towards blessing-counting. Here’s one from today.
O Me! O Life! – Walt Whitman
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
So whatever sins-against-decency I see committed when I do get round to the news, I’m at least inclined to contribute a verse. Poetry – this stuff’s better than caffeine! I bought the book at the marvellous Daunt Books of Marylebone, a visit to which is also a delicious luxury.
As for my own art, the past couple of years have given me prompts for songwriting. Living in a new city – I’ve scratched the surface of Bristol’s music scene and had my visual imagination stoked by everchanging street art – but mainly, getting engaged and married to a wonderful being. I’ve even given myself licence to write love songs, now that they won’t be pure conjecture. Broadly, there are songs about artists, specific creative endeavours, the questions of whether they’re worth anything or not; and songs about relationships, which are worth something. Things that bloom, and things that are born – both requiring nurture – flora and fauna. This, in a cart-before-horse move characteristic of me, has been crowned the album’s title. Flora and Fauna.
Simply by announcing to you that I’d make it, the project is now real. No label, no benefactors have given me the green light. I just see a green light, friends. I’ve been working on demo versions of most of the songs, and some will be shared with you via these updates – but to realise them, I need accomplices who play string instruments, drums, and more. My antennae are out, but please also recommend musicians who might like to be directly involved. Yes, I can’t even play these live yet. In another cart-before-horse move, I’ve begun working on the album art – beasts and blooms that are mentioned in my lyrics, or tangentially relevant, are being drawn as if in a Victorian Natural History illustration. Here, you get a goldfinch and a nuthatch. And if ever I see a piece of art as aesthetically pleasing as a real goldfinch’s appearance, it’ll be by the greatest craftsperson alive.
You might notice that today is St Cecilia’s Day. I mentioned her in my last email – patroness of musicians, and my goodness do we need all the help we can get, she is purported to have been forced into marriage, won her husband over to her faith and was eventually martyred for that same faith. At the wedding, it’s said she ‘made music in her heart to God’, a practice she repeated audibly at her execution. Whether this is true or not, I like that the saint who oversees music wasn’t some virtuosic rock star. Or a performer. I create and write because of an inward compulsion, not because anyone thinks I’m the next big potato. Westminster Abbey’s St Cecilia’s service, Wednesday past, was co-run by the awesome charity Help Musicians.
I want to contribute a verse to the powerful play. Remarkably inspiring has been the memoir of singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy, whose simple “If you have it you share it. Not for your own glory, but because it’s the best you can do” gives me a spur. As does the phrase “Even the greatest works of art mean almost nothing individually. If a work of art inspires another work of art, I think it has fulfilled its highest duty”. With that in mind, please share with me about creative endeavours you’ve undertaken in recent years. In that category I’d include staging plays, building family, doing something new at work, going to an open mic. These are vital processes all.
Finally, from Sonnets from the Portuguese by the aforementioned Elizabeth Barrett Browning (who appears also to have been PJ Harvey):
I thank all who have loved me in their hearts,
With thanks and love from mine. Deep thanks to all
Who paused a little near the prison-wall
To hear my music in its louder parts
Ere they went onward, each one to the mart’s
Or temple’s occupation, beyond call.
But thou, who, in my voice’s sink and fall
When the sob took it, thy divinest Art’s
Own instrument didst drop down at thy foot
To harken what I said between my tears, . . .
Instruct me how to thank thee! Oh, to shoot
My soul’s full meaning into future years,
That they should lend it utterance, and salute
Love that endures, from life that disappears!