On Mellifluousness

Tonight I keep wanting to post to my facebook wall ‘How good is Herbert Howells by the way?’, but stopping because I can’t be bothered to get into a discussion about who Herbert Howells is and when I stopped to think about why I’m feeling the love for ol’ Herbert tonight, I realised that the answer was more of a blog-post than a spontaneous ejaculation.

Howells is the sort to get categorised in the ‘honorable second-rank’. Eek. The piece of his music I’m listening to is ‘In Gloucestershire’ String Quartet (here’s another of his I could find online) as I catch up on some correspondence, and as I type, I keep getting buffeted by a wave of beautiful warm sound, or fibrilating texture that makes me type hard and impetuously like I’m a silent pianist in accompaniment. The experience is making me think how much I appreciate sensual beauty in art, which it’s easy to feel has become problematised, or at least difficult to access in contemporary work which truly owns up to the experience and thinking of this time and place. I quite often have thought that mid-twentieth century composers/poets whatever were fortunate in being able to write at a time when fractured beauty was a workable contemporary compromise, and you could get away with writing lushly, in contrast to darkness and austere patches/breaks. I think of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, of T.S. Eliot in 4 Quartets (but prob more in the earlier Waste Land) and also of poets like Larkin (High Windows eg). Now it can feel as if to indulge a glowing phrase is to risk tendentiousness or naivety. ‘Keep it all awkward’ my inner voice says, ‘keep the reader on their tiptoes’. Something like that.

At the moment, I’m starting to read through F.T. Prince’s Collected Poems (as I mentioned in yesterday’s post) and he’s very much a poet who can sweep me off my feet. The poem of his that I, that everyone, first fell in love with was Soldiers Bathing of course, and I didn’t want to own up to that yesterday as it felt hackneyed to always take a discussion of his work there. Soldiers Bathing is a poem that almost makes you suspicious that you’re enjoying it for all the wrong reasons, pervily, and that feeling seems to be backed up when you get bored at the extended art historical reference that you have to google, excusing the depiction of nakedness as it seems to be doing. And that sense and reputation that he is a ‘one-hit wonder’ poet, like Gray with his elegy (also untrue I think) stops people generally from feeling the need to seriously look for good content throughout the writer’s work.

In that way, I would say Prince is a victim of this suspicion of pleasureable sensation in serious art. He was rather overtaken by subsequent generations and made to look old-fashioned in his own long life.

I feel like these are initial, not fully worked-out thoughts, but I want to say that I am looking for a way, a clear way, to write for now, to write for now intelligently, but to retain a pleasurable motivation/impulse/experience at the centre of what I’m making. I need to keep that because these unfashionable sense-merchants have me by the balls.


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