Recommended: Paul Kelly talks words and music

Paul Kelly Albums

Sarah Kanowski’s conversation with musician Paul Kelly, for ABC Radio National, is an engaging encounter with one of Australia’s most highly regarded songwriters. Of particular interest are Kelly’s comments about the craft of writing songs based on poems, which has become a central aspect of his songwriting.

I think, for example, of Seven Sonnets and a Song (2016), an album which comprises six songs based on Shakespeare’s sonnets, one based on the Clown’s Song from Twelfth Night, and one based on a poem by Sir Philip Sidney. Then there’re the songs of Spring and Fall (2012), Nature (2018), and Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds (2019), which draw on the poems of Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Thomas Hardy, Miroslav Holub, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Keats, Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, Richard Wilbur, and WB Yeats – and, closer to home, Denis Glover, Gwen Harwood, AD Hope, and Judith Wright. Most recently, Penguin Books has published Love is Strong as Death (2019), an anthology of poems chosen by Kelly. It’s evidence of his wide-ranging and abiding engagement with poetry.

Based on Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 73’

Kelly’s comments about discovering poetry during his high school years particularly resonated with me, as I attended the same high school, albeit a few decades later. It was in the same classrooms that I found my own interest in the poetry of Keats, Hopkins, Harwood, Wright, and others. Until only a few decades ago, I suspect that much of Adelaide had no more than two or three degrees of separation from Kelly and his family. Though it’s matured into an elegant and cosmopolitan mid-sized city, Adelaide still has about it some of the charm (for better and/or worse) of a big country-town. I certainly grew up with family members who knew Kelly’s siblings or were at school with Kelly himself. Naturally, his music seeped in through the seams of my childhood and adolescence.

Based on Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Mushrooms’

In the course of the conversation, Kelly also talks about (among other things) the influence of Shakespeare and the King James Bible on his work, his affection for the poetry of Yehuda Amichai (‘conversational and warm’), and his memory of sharing his earliest poems with family members (‘kind of shy and proud … at the same time’). He’s sanguine about poetry’s place in our modern world (it’s ‘on the march’). It’s a hospitable conversation about poetry, borne out of Kelly’s generous regard for it. The conversation ends with Kelly playing his song ‘Barn Owl’, based on Gwen Harwood’s poem of the same name, and ‘Pied Beauty’, based on the poem by Hopkins.

Mixtape: January-March 2020

cropped-paperartist_2014-12-24_21-32-18a-copy-copy-1.jpeg

My mixtape for January-March 2020: 01. Daughter: Youth. 02. DeYarmond Edison: Time to Know. 03. Henry Jamison: Through a Glass. 04. Horse Feathers: Broken Beak. 05. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers & Lucy Dacus: Bite the Hand. 06. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers & Lucy Dacus: Me & My Dog. 07. Junip: Line of Fire. 08. Little May: Back Seat Driver. 09. Maggie Rogers: Fallingwater. 10. Maggie Rogers: Burning. 11. Matt Berninger: Holes (Mercury Rev cover). 12. Old Sea Brigade: Tidal Wave. 13. Phoebe Bridgers: Garden Song. 14. Phoebe Bridgers: Motion Sickness. 15. Placebo: Pure Morning. 16. San Fermin: Little Star. 17. Sylvan Esso: Die Young (Echo Mountain version). 18. Sylvan Esso: Funeral Singers (Califone cover). 19. Sylvan Esso: Coffee. 20. Talos: Odyssey. 21. Talos: Landscapes. 22. Talos: Voices. 23. The Vanns: Hey, Ma (Bon Iver cover). 24. Volcano Choir: Byegone. 25. Wildwood Kin: The Crown.

Mixtape: December 2019

My mixtape for the second half of 2019: songs I became enamoured or re-enamoured of, and want to be able to find my way back to. 01. Lambchop: In Care of 8675309. 02. Fontaines DC: Boys in the Better Land (Darklands version). 03. Black English: So Scared. 04. The National: The Perfect Song. 05. The National: Oblivions (live). 06. Matt Berninger & Phoebe Bridgers: Walking on a String. 07. Phoebe Bridgers: Motion Sickness. 08. Better Oblivion Community Center: Dylan Thomas. 09. Lord Huron: The Night We Met. 10. Lord Huron: Wait by the River. 11. Iron & Wine/Calexico: Follow the Water. 12. Gregory Alan Isakov: Time Will Tell (live). 13. The Trims: Emergency. 14. Boy & Bear: Work of Art. 15. Boy & Bear: Suck On Light. 16. Bon Iver: Hey, Ma. 17. Bon Iver: Faith. 18. Birdy: Skinny Love (Bon Iver cover). 19. Birdy: Terrible Love (The National cover). 20. David Gray: If 8 Were 9. 21. John Floreani: Oh Brother. 22. Beck: Colors. 23. Beck: I’m So Free. 24. REM: I Don’t Sleep, I Dream (remix). 25. Daniel Carter, Tobias Wilner, Djibril Toure & Federico Ughi: Canal Street.

Writers who define an age…

Thom Sullivan Poet Poetry NaPoWriMo 15

It’s sobering to think that some of the writers and artists who will define our age will be utterly unknown to us, if the past is anything to go by. Think of Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, or Franz Kafka, for example, whose works were unknown or virtually unknown during their lifetimes.

Recommended: ‘Poetry Says’ podcasts

By and large, our experience of poetry is an active affair. Reading a poem well generally demands diligence and attention, which partially explains poetry’s neglect when compared to other artforms that are often experienced somewhat passively – from film to the visual arts, to music, to audiobooks, and even the novel, which generally relies less on an actively constructed meaning.

Of course, recordings of poems abound, and a recording of a poem can be experienced just as passively as an audiobook or piece of music. But there’s something to be said for Philip Larkin’s argument that ‘[h]earing a poem, as opposed to reading it on the page, means you miss so much – the shape, the punctuation, the italics, even knowing how far you are from the end.’

As someone who prefers to experience poems from the page, it’s a delight to have access to Alice Allan’s regular Poetry Says podcasts, a series of lively and engaging conversations about poetry. The podcasts are perfect for those moments in which reading poems from a book is impractical.

Over 100 episodes of Poetry Says are available, including episodes on Gertrude Stein, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Jack Gilbert, Ted Berrigan, Judith Wright, Jorie Graham, and contemporary Australian poets, such as Michael Farrell and Jill Jones. The episode on Plath’s bee poems is highly recommended. Invariably, an episode sends me back to a poet and their work with fresh insight and new regard.

Poetry Says website : Poetry Says on Twitter : Poetry Says on Facebook

Mixtape: June 2019

When Rilke penned the lines: ‘Music. The breathing of statues. Perhaps: / The quiet of images. You, language where / languages end’ (from ‘To Music’) he was certainly thinking more of Mozart or Monteverdi than of Mumford & Sons. Notwithstanding, this is my ‘mixtape’ for the first half of 2019 – things old, new, borrowed, etcetera – arranged roughly in the order in which I became enamoured or re-enamoured of them. 01. Nils Frahm: Toilet Brushes (live). 02. Ben Howard: Small Things. 03. Ben Howard: End of the Affair (live). 04. Big Red Machine: Lyla. 05. Kaleo: Save Yourself. 06. Chet Faker: Talk is Cheap. 07. Gregory Alan Isakov: San Luis. 08. Gregory Alan Isakov: The Trapeze Swinger (Iron & Wine cover). 09. Thom Yorke: Bloom (live). 10. Thom Yorke: Unmade (live). 11. Boy & Bear: Walking on a Dream (Empire of the Sun cover) (live). 12. The Reindeer Section: Cartwheels. 13. Elbow: Mirrorball. 14. WATT!: Santa Monica. 15. WATT!: Deutscher Herbst. 16. Tales: So Blue. 17. Bon Iver: Calgary (live). 18. Mogli: Holocene (Bon Iver cover) (live). 19. Radiohead: The Numbers (live). 20. The National: Light Years. 21. Iron & Wine/Calexico: Midnight Sun. 22. Lambchop: Everything for You. 23. The Cinematic Orchestra: Lessons. 24. Black English: Leave the Door Wide Open. 25. Fontaines DC: Hurricane Laughter.