Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Listening with Lemn

John Baker's bloggin' book tour continues over at Dick Jones' place tomorrow but here (chez Rachel) I'm moving on to these two hugely talented men - Lemn Sissay (top) and Gil Scott Heron.








I have mentioned poet Lemn Sissay...oh, once or twice on here before but today I will mention him again because this week he has a radio programme called 'Pieces of a Man' about one of my very favourite writers/singers/musicians/people Gil Scott Heron on BBC Radio 4 (available for the next 7 days on 'listen again' here).

It could have been a longer programme (an hour please BBC!) but it's really worth a listen...as much as anything for GSH's voice which is always just about the most amazing voice you'll ever hear (speaking or singing). But speaking also of Sissay (as I am)...when I was in St Andrews for StAnza in March I bought his latest book of poems in the Waterstones there (cover image above). Sissay wasn't on at StAnza – I just came across the book whilst browsing in the regular poetry section of the bookstore (not the special StAnza featured poets bit at the front) and now I think of it - has he ever been at StAnza? Not that I can see on the festival's website...but he must have been on everywhere else – judging from his blog he rarely seems to stand still! Anyway, I do know that his latest book is called 'Listener' and was published by the very fine Scottish publisher Canongate in 2008. I haven't read it all yet (I read poetry books either VERY quickly or VERY slowly...) but I have read enough to know that it has, at the very least, some quite brilliant poetry moments sparkling from its pages. Sissay doesn't write for purists or academics or critics (I don't think!) so I'm sure there is plenty in 'Listener' that would have some hardcore poetry folk tutting like crazy (oh, they just like tutting...). I haven't seen the book reviewed anywhere as yet either but luckily there are heaps of people/listeners/readers who have always responded well to Sissay's work and who will, no doubt, get a lot out of this latest book of his too.

I count myself (loudly) in that latter group because Sissay is just my kind of poet (and person) - he's a natural writer/poet/performer, an instinctive artist and a thinking man who follows his heart, his mind and his completely individual path. I suppose part of that is down to his well-documented start in life (foster families, children's homes, his later search for his natural family) but it is not all about that – some of it is just that insane driving force that comes from some artists...those people who really must create or die. I love those kind of people...always have, always will, sometimes even feel a tiny bit like one...but of course we need the full spectrum (and a few calmer, quieter individuals) to have any kind of functioning society, trains that run on time etc. Anyway, I'm rambling...back to the book! My favourite section so far is this from the title poem 'Listener':

“Standing, I hear the sun rise,
Not the birds of morning nor the cock crowing.
The cars coughing the footsteps of early workers
Muffled in the red dust trudging through sleepless mystery
But I hear the actual sun rising.”

I just find that riveting. Don't you? Listen carefully to the sun today...can you hear it? And if not then why not..? Listen harder! And then a bit harder still!

And speaking of listening...here's some GSH because nobody (and I mean nobody!) does it better. First here he is with 'Lady Day and John Coltrane' from the 1971 album 'Pieces of a Man':




and then here's a much older GSH (in a quite bizarre cardigan) – doing a live show in the UK in 1990 (I saw him in Leeds as part of the same tour, I think). He is, to use a much overused word, simply awesome.





See! Who needs bloody Leonard Cohen anyway...

x

25 comments:

BarbaraS said...

Ahem!

I was listening to this programme too, today in the car, until about 11.50, when I passed over the brow of a hill in south Louth and lost the sigal. We can just about get R4 here... anyway, I thought this programme was brilliant and I wanted to know more so I'll definitely be clicking your links :)

Hope that doesn't sound pervy... :s

Rachel Fox said...

Are you aheming at my Cohen comment, Barbara...it was only a little poets-love-len joke...

But yes, it was a great programme today though, wasn't it? I will probably listen to it again at least once...There were some great lines. I particularly liked the idea of 60s New Yorkers 'having a field day with our blackness' (think that quote is right).

And you can click my links whenever you like, Barbara. Just keep your hands off my radishes...(another poet joke...Barbara...prize-winning poet Barbara... has a poem about radishes...).
x

Rachel Fox said...

Or was it 70s New Yorkers...my history is always a little vague...
x

deemikay said...

I like Len. But I love Nick Cave. :)

My biggest memory of Gil Scott Heron are listening to him in a campervan travelling through the Australian Outback. Ahhh... happy days. :)

deemikay said...

But oooh... that's good that Lady Day and John Coltrane!

Rachel Fox said...

And GSH has SO many good songs like that, D. I could have picked loads of others.

I have tried to like Nick Cave but always failed. I was in a music shop last year and they were playing something so dreadful that I asked what it was (so as never to have to experience it again). It was Nick Cave...

But I have friends who like him.

Back on 14 Sept 08 I picked a GSH song for my funeral music. That was back before we met I think.

x

deemikay said...

I've got a GSH album somewhere (which I bought in Sydney) that I'm going to rake out right now. :)

Nick's nearly always a combination of aural assault and bob-a-long beauty. I like both, but I know most folk will hate the first type and not listen to the second type because of the first type. Here's a video of nice nick I made for youtube, shamelessly infringing copyright.

deemikay said...

Oh, and I hadn't started my rehabilitation into the wider blogiverse in September. That began in November. So we hadn't met by then. :)

Rachel Fox said...

Well, I managed to listen to that whole Nick Cave song which is the most I've ever managed! I'd still probably like it more sung by someone else though...

I did a post about all my favourite singers a while back too...May last year...here.

x

deemikay said...

You're a bit like me, I think. Singer's voices can put you off songs, no matter what. I used to hate Tom Waits until I got through that barrier. And Dylan. And loads of others.

(Word Veri - tereofic. Which is the best way to spell terrific I think. :) )

Rachel Fox said...

I absolutely love one Waits album ('The Heart of Saturday Night')...some of the others I can live without...though saying that I keep hearing covers of songs of his from other albums that I like too (Heidi Talbot does one, Kathryn Williams another..).

hope said...

Wow...what a voice! That's the kind of voice that's born in the south, suffers trials and tribulation, can sing the blues but still make you smile. :) I'll have to go back to the BBC interview later; it was down for now.

Glad someone motivated me to go listen to Nick Cave, whose name has cropped up a lot lately. It was odd...rather a sexy sounding voice but I didn't care for the song. Maybe I'll try him again later.

As ever, thanks for expanding my horizons. ;)

Rachel Fox said...

Glad you like him, Hope, I could listen to GSH all day long. It is worth listening to the radio programme...it tells you some of his life story and has some great quotes in it too. 'I'm just a piano player from Tennessee' for a start...not me, obviously, GSH...and of course he is that...but much more besides.
x

deemikay said...

Rachel: oddly, I don't like early Tom Waits! Too, well, smokey and "normal" for me. I like him when he's banging on a broken bed frame with a bell and singing about german dwarves. I'm a bit awkward like that... :p (And I'm listening to GSH just now... I'm back in sweltering heat!)

Hope: be careful what Nick you may look for in the future! If you don't want your ears to hurt I'd suggest "The Boatman Calls"... once described as "Lyrics by TS Eliot sung by Elvis". It's wrong, but a good start. And one of the songs was used in one of the Shrek films. :)

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, didn't I just see some Twin Peaks at your place? I HATED Twin Peaks! For me that was trying so hard to be something like abnormal...weird and wacky and all that. Painful...for all the wrong reasons. For me. But I hear it was very popular.

x

deemikay said...

Ahhh... but I've not seen twin peaks. I've only seen a few clips. Including that one. (David Lynch doesn't do it for me...)

Rachel Fox said...

That's alright then!

Dave King said...

I did actually catch this programme. Someone told me about it. Someone of this ilk wouldn't usually do it for me, but I do think he might - in time. Thanks for the low down anyway.

Rachel Fox said...

My enthusiasm for GSH will rub off on you all in the end, Dave! I have barrels of it...keep it in the garage.
x

BarbaraS said...

Ooh, and I meant to ask if you ever listen to the Bespoken Word on R4 on Weds nights? That can be good too :)

Rachel Fox said...

I have listened to previous series of that Barbara but not this series (no reason). I don't listen to a lot of R4 to be honest...just little bits now and again...although I do seem to be listening to more of late. We listened to a really good programme called something like 'Reasons to be Cheerful' in the car on the way back from Yorkshire.
x

Dick said...

Thanks for the fine links, Rachel. GS-H is a long known quantity, but Lemm Sissay had been only a name until this post.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I've put a new post up today but that radio programme will be online till next week - don't miss it!
x

Pure Fiction said...

Thanks for directing me here Rachel - really brilliant stuff.
I'm going back to look at the most recent post again - I just loved it

Rachel Fox said...

Very glad to have introduced you to GSH!
x