Noise

It’s been a noisy summer in our neighbourhood, with lots of building work and renovations and loft conversions – none of it ours – going on.  The cumulative effect of months of this meant that I was ready as hell for my home-made ‘retreat’, from which I returned just over a week ago: 7 days alone in a rented house in a small hamlet outside a village, with no wi-fi, no mobile phone signal, no landline, nada.  There was a telly – but reception was patchy and it didn’t always work.  Ditto the radio.October 2017 Fawber retreat

It was quiet.  Extremely quiet.

In the daytime, I listened out for the farmer’s quad bike in the field above the house.  Sometimes the sounds of the quarry above the village would reach me, or a walker or two would go past.  Apart from that, all I heard was the occasional fighter jet on ‘exercises’ streaking through the valley, the cow or bull in the barn kicking and bellowing occasionally, the injured sheep in the smaller field with the hay bleating once or twice, and conversation between the sparrows in the hedge.  Once a neighbour was out with her dog and a leaf-blower, tidying up her garden, but that was about it.

In the night, I heard nothing – or nearly nothing.  One night, a rainstorm brought fierce wind and clattering at the window.  Another night, an animal snuffled and crunched outside the front door.  And one night, I heard an owl.

The only other sound that week – as I cooked and washed up and tried to lay a fire and tried to get the telly working and sat beside the fire and wrote and thought and walked – was the sound of my own voice.  Towards the end of the week, I went to visit friends who lived nearby and subjected them to an evening of non-stop talking.  ‘I’ve been on my own for 5 DAYS’, I kept saying, and I nearly burst into tears when I hugged them hello.

Pen Y Ghent from Horton i R stationYou can probably guess, it was a pretty intense experience.  What struck me was the way in which my anxiety and my hyper-sensitivity to noise, which I had been associating with the noise and bustle of London, were ever-present.  How I’d fixate on something and find it really, really difficult to let the thought go.  The night of the storm, I watched the water level rise in the drainage channel that funnels water down from the hill to a beck and from there to the river at the foot of the valley.  I became convinced it was going to flood the house, and even got as far as moving all my belongings upstairs.  I knew, logically, that it probably wouldn’t rise that far, but the thought had gripped me and I spent the night entertaining fantasies of dramatic rescue by helicopter and waders fashioned from carrier bags.  I had the carrier bags beside my bed, just in case.

Back in Leytonstone, I feel almost suffocated by the constant arrival of sounds from everywhere.  So much is happening, all of the time.  But it does me good to know that so much of this feeling is me, my habitual response, and that, even in an environment much more conducive to calm, I will still latch on to noise, my mind will still run away with itself.  Because if a lot of it is me and my mind, then I can do something about it.

One of the other things I did while I was away was to finish the companion piece to Aldeburgh Music 1.  So here is Aldeburgh Music 2, recorded in June this year at the time of the Aldeburgh Music Festival.

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Ten Years Ago,

my first pamphlet was published by Arrowhead Press.  I’m so grateful to Joanna and Roger for that.

As a way of marking the moment, I made an audio poem: here’s a version of ‘What’s the Matter’, written for and about – and recorded in – E11, London, UK.  The wood in question is Bushwood, the marsh in question is inside it.

It’s tempting to read your earlier poems and disavow them; you’ve changed since then, you’ve (hopefully) developed as a writer.  But here, in this poem, still: this standing askance from the notion of a ‘self’, this pull exerted by a specific place, this awareness of its other creaturely inhabitants, this tug between ‘escape’ and ‘home’.

‘Theme isn’t something which you can impose on your writing; it’s something that writing imposes on you.’ (W N Herbert, in his excellent book for the OU)

And ten years later, it’s kind of lovely that I find myself working on the edits for my first, full-length collection, due out in early 2018.  It’s been quite a long road to get here, but so worth every step.  You can’t rush these things, I don’t think.  And I’m utterly delighted that my ragged writing and thinking from the PhD has coalesced into a book.  So, huge gratitude to the wonderful Penned in the Margins for giving Natural Phenomena a home.

A sound piece

I’ve made one and you can hear it here.  The track still has its lumps and bumps – it’s a first attempt and I’m still learning this new language of EQ and frequencies, gain and handling noise, windjammers, foamies, fluffies, omnis …

Piecing this audio file together has felt a bit like writing a poem.  There’s the same listening to what is already there in order to work out what the next movement or appearance should be, the same sense of ‘feeling’ your way forward although you’re not walking or climbing, actually.  There’s the same sense of ‘hearing’ what comes next, before you have written or placed it, and the uncanny idea that you’ve made an entity that is starting to talk back to you.

And the collaging technique, guided by sound, that I’ve used in a lot of my more recent poems, is absolutely what I’ve been using in this sound work.  It’s been really exciting, discovering these links between the two art forms.

There’s a long poem for sounds and voices, ‘Transit’, in the collection (my first, full one – still very excited about this!) coming out with Penned in the Margins in February.  When I wrote it, I included a narrator, binding the fragments of speech together and commenting on some of the sounds that would swirl around the voices if the poem were ever performed.  This was because of the poem’s double life, as something on the page and potentially out in the air.   But I think what sound art is teaching me is just how much less necessary I am finding that commenting ‘voice’ and how much more I can trust a reader, a listener.

Much to think about.  My next step is to work with one of my old poems, chop it up, add it to the mix.  I have caught some lovely sounds around E11 where I live, am itching to do something with them.  Watch this space.

To learn how to do all this, I’ve been doing an excellent short course down at Goldsmiths on field recordings and soundscapes. Sherry is a brilliant teacher – and her own work is really interesting.

Free drop-ins at the Wellcome Collection!


I’m really excited about these!  I’m giving a series of free creative writing and poetry workshops in the Reading Room at the Wellcome Collection.  They’re drop-in ‘pop ups’,  so  won’t appear on the Wellcome’s website, but will be advertised in-house on the day.

All the sessions run from 2 pm to 5 pm, and you can stay for as much or as little as you like – and we’ll definitely take a break half way through the session, to help percolate ideas.

The sessions are on the following dates:

Friday 3rd March

Thursday 9th March

Friday 17th March

Saturday 25th March

Thursday 30th March

Saturday 1st April

 

In them, I want to think about the idea of discovery with you – how it happens, what different forms it takes, what it means to different people, who gets to do the discovering and who gets ‘discovered’ – and the idea of hiding and being hidden – why it happens, how it happens… as well as making use of the art and objects and books in this lovely space.  We’ll be doing plenty of writing exercises and a bit of talking.  Maybe see you there?

 

Ugly Q & A

Ugly Questions

Do you act like a hot girl or an ugly

girl? Do ugly girls ever get any boyfriends?

Do ugly people have any value? Should you

fuck ugly girls to improve your game? Should you

keep on being with an ugly girl

when there are no alternatives? Should you

hire ugly people? Are you hot, pretty,

average or ugly? Are ugly girls easy?

Are You Ugly, Cute, Hot, Or Head Turning

Sexy? (girls Only!!!) I am an ugly girl –

does that mean I will never get lucky? I

am an ugly woman. What chance do I have? Why are

the babies in medieval art so ugly?

Why are the emojis so ugly? Why are

the British so ugly? Why do engineers

use big old ugly computers? Why do foreigners

tend to marry women that are ugly?

Why do ugly boys get gorgeous girls?

If an ugly girl marries an ugly boy,

will the children too be ugly? If your child

were to be boring, stupid, or ugly, which one

would you prefer? Why didn’t evolution

get rid of ugly people? Why are ugly

paintings so expensive? Why is LA

so ugly? Why is train seat fabric so ugly?

Why is gravel ugly? Why are models

ugly? Why are feet ugly? What is an ugly

stick? What are ugly tomatoes? What is ugly

crying? Is your current PowerPoint template

ugly? How do ugly people find love?

 

 

Ugly Answers

 

Twenty-two ugly girls with hot bods. Thirty-

five pretty girls who became fat and ugly.

Five key things that ugly girls know that pretty

ones don’t. There is nothing worse than an ugly

girl who thinks she’s hot. An ugly girl

will usually harbour resentment towards

the hotter friend. No one takes pictures with

or of the ugly girl. No one writes books

about ugly women. Most people in

America are pretty damn ugly.

There’s not one ugly girl in Whistler village.

There are a lot of ugly female athletes.

Teenage girls. Some are really ugly.

Being around ugly women is bad

for your health. Fat girls are ugliest of all.

Ugly prostitutes exist. Here’s why

writers are ugly. The mood is ugly. Your baby

is ugly. I’m ugly, I know it and I have proof.

 

Two poems derived from using a search engine with ‘ugly’ as the key word, both attempting to hold a pentameter line (very variable feet!).  Being slightly hasty / lazy / ignorant, I’ve let WordPress put a lot of space into what should be very squashed-together, breathless lines, but the line breaks are where I want them.

Such richness of material, I might write an Ugly Ghazal as well – but there’s only so much misogyny I can digest in one go, so that might have to wait.  Happy Halloween.