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the words

I am fresh from being in the audience to two events in BBC Radio 4' superb More Than Words festival in Bristol. The second event was a live edition of Poetry Please with Roger McGough (very much one of my heroes) and the first was a recording of With Great Pleasure with Cerys Matthews (the second of which I have attended, the first one with Terry Pratchett as the guest).

And they were superb. And both, particularly Cerys', with her superb reading and intense passion and playfulness, made me realise how little poetry I have both read and written over the last few years. And that is sad.

Cerys' readings were particularly eovcative and intense, bring words, images and emotions to life. And that is the true power of poetry; that it taps in and enlivens, and that it allows the reader or listener to bring something of their own to the poem.

A little while ago EF showed me a letter she had received from the author Cynthia Voigt in response to a letter she had sent about Tell Me is Lovers are Losers? (below).


And there is a fundamental truth in it; that whatever an author or writer or poet unlocks with their words, it is only with the cooperation of the reader that they do so successfully, and not necessarily in the way they may intend. The relationship between the two, the (often) known author and the unknown reader is a fragile unpredictable one, and is far more powerful for it.

The plot of GK Chesterton's Napoleon of Notting Hill is hinged upon the interpretation and belief in words, the single utterance of the King Auberon Quin, based entirely within his own devised all-encompassing joke, is taken as gospel by Adam Wayne, the young Napoleon of the story. And thus interpretation and belief swap backwards and forwards between the two, driven by the power of words, both uttered and heard.

Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven is one of my favourite poems to read aloud, full as it is with rhythm and rhyme and breathless power. It is a versatile poem, it can be slow and sonerous, or rampaging and rapturous, each word and sentence bringing fresh meaning with each different reading.

The written word finds its origins in the spoken word, the oral tradition stretching back to the times beyond knowing, each tale changing and morphing with each telling, malleable and morphous in the re-telling. Such stories evoked, combining with individual and cultural histories and interpretations to become much, much more than simple words spoken.

Emma Newman, author of 20 Years Later, is currently working on her Splitworlds project, and as part of that project she is writing and releasing a short story based in that world every week for a year and a day. A gifted writer, part of the seduction of her storywriting is that she also releases them in the spoken form, her voice lending further depth and emotion to stories already laden with the subtlety of those qualities.

A while ago I posted this from James Kirkup's The Descent into The Cave:

The written word is a powerful thing, and spoken aloud it can be as powerful, if not more so. An essential part of that power is the relationship that forms between the author and the reader, the speaker and the listener. Whether writing or reading the act of reading aloud can be redefining act. When writing, remember not only your voice but that of the reader as well, in all its wonderful permutations and interpretations, bringing new meaning to your words and your stories, whatever you may have intended.

To run or not to run?

function and form