Tuesday, August 28, 2007

'The Sound of Guitars'

Firenze 1985. We had not then met,
though I was in love, and the sound of guitars
led me to the Piazza della Signoria
night after night
where buskers sat cross-legged, strumming
and calling like frogs, deep
in their throats. I wore a waistcoat
and a flouncy skirt,
picked up cheap from the flea markets.
We should have danced then
under balconies
hung white with underwear,
drunk too much wine
and missed the bus back to Fiesole.
But it was 1985
and we had not then met.
So I listened to those buskers
play Zeppelin’s
Stairway to Heaven
and marvelled at their fingering,
eighteen and drunk
on the sound of guitars, on love
like the voices of men.

I'm rather proud of this little poem, 'The Sound of Guitars', not only because it won me 2nd place in last year's Warwick Words Poetry Competition but also because it only took me fifteen minutes to write. Some poems come easy, others resist being born, and far too many aren't worth the struggle to bring them into the world. But this one flashed into my head more or less fully-formed.

I do remember playing about with the penultimate line 'on the sound of guitars'; my only moment of hesitation. I think it was originally 'on the sound of guitars in the evening' and then another two lines to finish, so that I initially named that file - and the poem - 'Guitars in the Evening'.

However, I decided on printing the poem out that it was clumsy and unnecessary to add 'in the evening' when that was already implicit from the rest of the poem. I did like that strong closing rhyme of 'evening' with 'fingering' but 'men' carried the rhyme just as well and probably with more subtlety, the delayed emphasis suggesting something hidden, and so hopefully prompting a re-reading of the poem.

Anyway, I thought I'd post this poem up on Raw Light as the year is nearly up and the Warwick Words Festival will be upon us again in another month.

Warwick Words is a long weekend of poetry and literary events in the historic town of Warwick, with some very well-known names from the world of poetry performing and running workshops. Sophie Hannah, David Morley and Zoe Brigley, for instance, will be appearing in events, plus many others. There'll be a Slam taking place and a Poetry & Pints event, no doubt featuring popular local MCs Dani Carbery and Sean Kelly. Amongst these featured poets will be an event with the current Warwick Poet Laureate, Helen Yendall, who won the competition to be crowned Laureate last year with her poem 'Kettle'.

If you live locally, or maybe feel like making a special trip, the Warwick Words Festival takes place October 4th - 7th. You can find out more about these featured poets and book events in advance by visiting the Warwick Words website.


Bo said...

I like that very much: 'voices of men' has a biblical ring that strangely shifts the meaning, giving a peculiar, powerful resonance. Isn't it St Paul with the line about 'the tongues of men and of angels...'? Given that you're talking about 'having not love' at the time, tell me it's deliberate! xxx

Jane Holland said...

Yes, yes! You've understood me perfectly! At last ... !

No, I'm afraid not. I do know Paul's passage - if you'll forgive the implication - but it wasn't at the forefront of my mind when I wrote 'Sound of Guitars'. Corinthians 1:13, I believe. But you are absolutely right to feel the shift in meaning and temperature. I'm just not quite sure what that shift represents.

After writing this poem, I wondered whether I'd been thinking about love like the voices of women as opposed to men, though I was actually writing the poem about my second husband - 'and we had not then met' - so theoretically I can't have been writing about lesbianism. But the mind is a slippery and duplicitous creature - especially the mind of a poet - so anything is possible.