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The Telegraph NOVEMBER 16, 2011 - by Lucy Jones
CAN BRIAN ENO MAKE POETRY COOL?
I love a bit of Elizabeth Bishop as much as the next English Lit. grad but, let's be honest, contemporary poetry is seriously uncool. There are, of course, exceptions (John Ashbery, Rosemarie Waldrop, Mark Ford, Kate Tempest and her gritty, heart-rending raps) but, on the whole, poets have an iffy rep. Gone are the days of New York slams and the Beats; now they're portrayed as navel-gazing hippies who don't brush their teeth. Less Byron, more Dalston Superstars.
This is a shame. Poetry rocks. So it was with great pleasure that I snaffled up the new EP from Brian Eno and the poet Rick Holland. They call it "poetry music" but Eno's signature ambience lets the words take centre stage.
Holland admits even he struggles with poetry and its "stuffy connotations":
I went to a couple of poetry recitals a long time ago and was really turned off by how the thing were run and how they were delivered.
I didn't like the formal aspect of sitting down and facing a collection of readers, most of whom weren't particularly proficient or confident at reading. What they were saying might have been interesting but I found that sitting down and listening to six people pour their heart and soul out is just a bit much.
Holland was approached by Brian at a poetry event in the early 2000s and since then the two worked together on fifty 'skeletons', whittling them down to the poems chosen for Drums Between The Bells, out this summer, and Panic Of Looking, its counterpart, released last week. Holland enjoyed the "enoxification" period:
Eno is like a mad professor. He's incredibly excitable and excited all the time. The problem is to stop him trying new things and to get the project finished. He liked my image bank, the content of my words and the fact they weren't too elaborate and long. That meant they were good for him to manipulate in musical terms.
Holland learnt Latin at prep school, which he cites as an influence, before starting to write properly at seventeen. "It corresponded with difficult times personally, I was doing it as self-therapy in the early days," he explains. In Nottingham, disillusioned with his English Literature degree, he became interested in drum 'n' bass and MC culture as well as the poetry of Edward Thomas:
I always try to make what I do accessible. Not dumbing it down, but not filling it with banks of references and making it hard to wade through. Edward Thomas seemed to be first poet I'd read for a long time who was doing that. Laying it out without trying to be self-conscious and intelligent.
It's the first time I've listened to 'poetry music' - apart from that dreadful Beat jazz I was obsessed with as a teenager - and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the synergy. The duo purposefully chose non-native speakers whose pronunciation of words such as "germinated" and oblique rhymes such as "magnetics/kinetic", "energies/effergies" or "opiates/spectacles" are lovely to listen to. Alien keys, bleeps and bass from Eno actually aid concentration and calm - just as ambient music is supposed to. In The Future, the one track more like a song, has a buoyant folk melody and sits well along side the poetry but it's the words I'm more interested in. It's a hypnotic, relaxing, sometimes thrilling EP and who better to give poetry a makeover than Brian Eno and Rick Holland?
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