Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Elizabeth Bishop - poetry and voice.

In my post before last, I was recalling the influence some of Elizabeth Bishop’s work has had on me (Songs for a Colored Singer)- especially in developing a habit of listening more closely to what people are saying and how they are saying it (eavesdropping on conversation).  My grandmother used to say it was rude, especially if I was listening in on one of her conversations. But I don’t think it is. I’m not listening for gossip and I’m not wired with a voice recorder. Well, with grandma it was gossip. It’s doing your study so you can faithfully capture and record the simple, everyday ebb and drift of people’s lives. Through her poems you can tell Elizabeth observed people very closely.  You don’t get the same thing from movie scripts or in song lyrics or in live interviews as you do in a poem. Those conversations have been structured, planned, considered; they’re going somewhere.   Whereas, in a lot of cases the ordinary bloke in the street has conversation going nowhere- just talking crap, making stuff up while having a smoke, a beer, or crib and a cup of coffee. It’s in these ‘nothing’words, the mundane, that you may find the content for fresh, spontaneous poetry. It’s not always about grandiose dreams and struggling emotion. I came across the following poem, A Gude Buke (Stephen Mulrine). It ticks all the boxes - a broad Scottish accent that compels me to try and recite it, conversational voice that makes me believe the poet pays attention to people talking, constructed rhyme, and an amusing twist (hook) at the end – I like it!

A Gude Buke
(Stephen Mulrine, 1975)
Noise and Smokey Breath – An Illustrated Anthology of
Glasgow Poems 1900 - 1983, edited by Hamish Whyte
Ah like a gude buke
a buke’s aw ye need
jis settle doon
hiv a right gude read
Ay, a gude buke’s rerr
it makes ye think
nuthin tae beat it
bar a gude drink
Ah like a gude buke
opens yir mine
a gude companion
tae pass the time
See me wi a buke, bit
in a bus ur a train
canny whack it
wee world I yir ain
A, ah like a gude buke
widny deny it
dje know thon wan
noo – whit dje cry it?
Awright, pal, skip it
awright, keep the heid
howm ah tae know
yir tryin tae read?

Sailors share a unique vocabulary developed over the generations and years at sea.  And they love to tell stories (dits), possibly out of boredom of long hours on watch, or off watch with nothing to do – before today’s technology.  Likewise, miners often spent a lot of idle time between shifts in remote locations and so they loved to tell yarns and talk of things that happened years ago.  I wonder if that art of story telling will survive now that people tend to retreat to privacy and jump on the laptop or i-pad.  Anyway, I’m glad I listened and captured some of the crap going nowhere in my Mining Talk (Elizabeth may have rendered it differently):

2004.  I worked short spells doing contract stints in coalmines in Queensland, up the Hunter Valley and western New South Wales.  As an outsider, conversation at night, sitting on the step of a demountable or in a make-shift bar was mostly listening.
Mining Talk

Box cut, pre-strip, magnetite,
We dig all day and we dig all night.
They got one of the best dragline operators in the Bowen Basin,
Back in under him any time, no hesitation,
Anybody bought a five hundred series recently,
And never bought the five-fifty,
Got something wrong with his fucking head,
Hey, fucking beautiful machine, the big red,
You put one of them on a bench, hey,
Dig all fucking day,
Only two of em left still swinging,
Can’t beat rope shovel rigging,
No, I’m wrong, lying to ya,
They got one over in South Africa.
Custard nuts and his brother were ex-Navy blokes,
Worked here as fitters,
Christ they were a bloody pair,
There’s a machine up the front,
Every time it starts up,
It still goes clunk, clunk, clunk,
And the boys say, that’s custard’s job.
He had two tattoos on his backside,
Or hands pulling his arse apart, or something,
He run a Melbourne Cup sweep here once,
Collected all the money from the boys,
And then pissed off with it,
Still worked here, mind you,
Talk about thick skin,
Anyway the boys got him one pay day ….
He says how come,
There’s 87 questions,
In the VLC
Assessment, and in the Franna Crane there’s only 53
And the Franna’s fucking well four times bigger
Than a Hi-Ab lifter.
I says use your fucking head, mate,
Think about it (finger tapping in sense),
Where are they hav’n all the accidents?
                                                                                                        J.O. White


  1. thanks for sharing.

    1. Hey, thanks, it's great to know there's somebody appreciates what I appreciate.