Tag Archives: Andy White – Stolen Moments

April Pin-Up Poet Week #2: Andy White on the art of collaboration

The collaborative process, is something that continues to inspire me, so I thought I would ask our April Pin-Up, Andy White what it is about working collaboratively that continues to light him up. And remember, if you want to have some of his songwriting magic rub off, he is running a workshop here in Brisbane at the end of the month. Here’s the details:

What: Words & Music with Andy White: a songwriting workshop
Where:
Queensland Writers Centre, Level 2, State Library of Queensland, South Brisbane 4101
When: Saturday 21 April 2012
Time: 12pm – 6pm
Cost: $75 / $65 (concession)

For further details visit the QPF website, or to enroll email sarah.qldpoetry@gmail.com

Now, over to you Andy…

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Collaboration is obviously very important to you. Can you tell us what it is about the collaborative process that keeps you seeking out new artistic partnerships?

Co–writing totally changed the way I write. I only wrote by myself until I made friends who were used to co–writing – one was in a band, one a solo artist who’d also been in bands all his life. Both had brothers – I didn’t. One was a deep soul man working on instinct, the other a songwriter working on a mix of intellect, ability and talent. Both with amazing voices.

Starting off writing with friends is a good idea. You’re ‘in’ each others’ lives. You know their hopes, fears, enthusiasms and pet hates. Their emotional history and the tragic or ecstatic state of their family and love lives. It’s not a stretch to start jamming and writing down lyrics which come to mind.

If you’ve never co-written before, it can seem daunting, but even if you’re wary of it I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here are some of my co-writing experiences:

1.    With close friends. As ALT, Tim Finn, Liam O Maonlai and I started playing shows in Dublin and hanging out at nightclubs. Or was it the other way round? One time we tried to get into a nightclub and things went decidedly pear-shaped … after many hours of deepest Dublin adventure we crawled home and wrote ‘Many’s The Time’ together. Four years later we ended up with an album ‘Altitude’, recorded in Melbourne, which still sounds fresh today. We toured the world (playing two of our best shows in Van Gogh’s Earlobe, Brisbane) and called it a day. One of the most exciting things I’ve ever done – and writing with two such talented guys who were friends too was very special. Here’s a track from the album:

2.    I was on a songwriting course put together by ASCAP (one of the US versions of APRA) and IMRO (the Irish version of APRA). Lot of famous writers there. We drew names out of a hat and I was teamed up with a laid–back American very used to co–writing. From Nashville. We talked about Dublin. He had a riff. I wrote our conversation into a lyric and we put the chords together. Recorded it and you’ll find ‘Hysteria’ on Kieran Kane’s ‘Six Months No Sun’ album and my self-titled album. The video was shot in Dublin on the canals and around Temple Bar before it was done up for tourists. Oh, and features Finnish dancing girls some of whom are bearing artificial limbs.

3.    With Allison Russell, a wonderful singer and writer from the Canadian group Po’ Girl. I brought chord sequences and lyrics, and she brought backing vocal lines which made unique melodies of their own, turning the songs into duets – plus lines and rhymes I would never have thought of in a thousand years. A woman’s point of view. The other side of the sky. You can hear one result of these writing sessions in ‘If You Want It’ from my last album Songwriter, although the whole album is based around these songs. The video for this track stars a dinosaur and a snail.

4.    A songwriting duo which started with a friendship has been perhaps the most successful of all these partnerships. Two is definitely the ideal co-writing partnership (even with ALT most of the songs were written by either Tim and myself or Liam and myself). A few years after ALT subsided, Stephen Fearing and I met in Winnipeg and became firm friends. We have a shared Irish background (he grew up in Dublin, me in Belfast) although he moved to Canada when he was a teenager. The two of us played together, touring Ontario playing principally my songs. Then we started completing each others songs, and this graduated to writing songs for others – and for fun – ending up with 15 or 16, most of which were demo recordings, and all of which sounded like a duo album. We’d written the songs over a period of nine years, so we recorded it quickly and it was released last year in Europe and Canada as ‘Fearing & White’. This was the most exacting experience of all in terms of the co–writing process. A combination of all of the methods described above, Stephen brougt an exacting meticulousness to the process which was really valuable. On a pure songwriting level it’s the most fully realised (though ‘Altitude’ is hard to beat for fun).  Here’s ‘Under The Silver Sky’:

So if you’re thinking of co-writing, or simply jamming with your friends, remember that it:
•     develops your style
•     takes you places you never imagined you’d go
•     challenges your songwriting habits
•     makes you rewrite more
•     gives you constant feedback as you write
•     forms a bond between the co–writers which can last forever

But most of all, ladies and gentlemen – the songs:
Lennon/McCartney
Jagger/Richards
Elton & Bernie
Rogers & Hammerstein
Lieber & Stoller
Mozart & the guy who wrote the libretto for The Magic Flute

Need I say more?

Good luck!

Andy
12 April, 2012

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April Pin-Up Poet Week #1 (part 2): More Words & Music with Andy White

So let’s keep the words & music flowing… this time Andy shares some insight into the cross over between poetry & lyrics and talks about what participants will come away with from his workshop.

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Is the lyric writing process similar to the way you write poetry? Do the two ever converge?

The little black book can contain both poems and fragments of songs. For me, poems distil one moment or feeling into as compact a form as possible, whereas (interestingly) my songs contain more of a journey within their longer yet more restricted form.

I do love the lack of restrictions in poems and I find myself not rhyming, having irregular line and stanza lengths, knowing this particular piece of writing will be a poem not a song. Sometimes a line in a poem kicks off a song, though not usually the other way around.

Poems can be born in a minute, and generally are captured on the page and stay that way. After publication they are set on the page, even in performance.

Most songs change from show to show, even when recorded. In many cases, interpretation is shared by musicians, there are layers which printed words can’t reach, whereas I always hear my poems as one voice. This isn’t to denigrate poems – sometimes the solo voice is what you want to hear. With a  lot of great lyrics, the production gets in the way.

As I say, the opposite of what you’re thinking is probably true.

What do you hope participants will come away with at the end of the day?

The workshop will be great for anyone who’s got ideas for songs but needs inspired to finish them, or if you have written songs but need feedback from me and your fellow students to take them further (I am always amazed at how quickly songs can take shape and be finessed or finished in a day). Even if you just come with a list of song titles, you’ll come out with a whole lot more.

For those with ideas for songs, it’ll be like having a co-writer or someone working with them to encourage and enable. For those who have songs already, it’s a little bit like getting the kind of one-to-one attention which a record producer gives. This system of working on your songs with a sympathetic, experienced professional before recording them is a tried and tested method. Whoever your favourite songwriter is, chance are that he or she will have worked with a producer on the songs before recording them.

Advice on structure, lyrics, possibilities for instrumentation and arrangement will be a priority. I also spend some time discussing performance.

It’s very important at all levels of the music world to be able put across your song – whether it be at a concert venue, or simply to friends in a room. You’ll find that some simple advice goes a long way. I’ve played hundreds of gigs all over the world and co-written and been produced by the most marvelous people. I like sharing some of this out.

And that’s how I hope it’ll go – friends in a room, sharing. You’ll leave with the songs in good shape for performance, and hopefully you’ll be inspired to start – and, who knows, maybe finish – new ones.

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For an extra treat this time around, here’s a listen to a new poem / song from Andy: In LA I Dream of Books

And here’s those songwriting workshop details again:

Words & Music with Andy White

Where: Queensland Writers Centre, Level 2, State Library of Queensland, South Brisbane 4101
When: Saturday 21 April 2012
Time: 12pm – 6pm
Cost: $75 / $65 (concession)

To book your place email Sarah Gory: sarah.qldpoetry@gmail.com

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April Pin-Up Poet Week #1 (part 1): Andy White talks songwriting

This Lost Shark is extremely happy to welcome aboard April Pin-Up Poet, Andy White who  is packing his neverending tour bag and heading back to Brisbane this April. While in this fine city, Andy will officially launch his second poetry collection, Stolen Moments at Riverbend Books and run a songwriting workshop. To get the ball rolling, I took the opportunity to discuss the songwriting process and how it intersects with poetry.

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April brings you back to Brisbane, a self-described place of poetry for you, but let’s start off talking songwriting. One of the first engagements you have when you arrive is a songwriting workshop. What comes first for you, words or music?

I’ve often asked myself this when I hear a great song. Words or music.

How do you tell a great song? One yardstick for the songwriter is the sinking feeling of wishing you had written it yourself. That you’d had the idea, or even managed one of the lines.

All songwriters know this feeling, especiallly those who have attended a Ron Sexsmith concert or got hold of the latest Elvis Costello album.

The ideal scenario for the songwriter is that the words and music of a finished song are so co-dependent, they fit together so beautifully, the prosody is so perfect, that it’s impossible for the listener to tell which came first. If the words are complex and earth-shatteringly poetic then it’s easy to assume that they came first – but I wouldn’t bet on it. One of the most common ways of writing for musicians is to find a melody and chord sequence (or, more usually, only one of these), and repeating it endlessly whilst finding the words which fit.

Or perhaps one line sparks off a chord sequence, and that in turn sets off an idea for a whole verse, chorus, or melody line, and this sequence becomes the model to follow or repeat for the rest of the song.

The correct answer to the words or music question is probably that there are as many ways of writing songs as songs themselves. Each time I’ve finished a song, record it and listen back, I end up with feeling that each song is a unique experience. Sure, some can be in line with others you have written before, in terms of style or subject matter, but really every songwriter is in a sense rewriting the same song over and over.

(James Joyce may have been being flippant with an interviewer, as he was so many times, but I often find inspiration in the fact that he said he spent his life rewriting the same book. There’s a lot to be said for unity of purpose and inspiration).

And I should note in passing that playing and replaying a song while you’re writing and rewriting it – which you do constantly – and listening to it when it’s finished, written and recorded, is an entirely different experience. The more times you can listen back to your work-in-progress the better.

I start writing either with the words, or with the chords/melody line – or a combination of both. Whatever happens next, the lyrics and the music have a fluid interdependence. One will guide the other, and the other will take over and do the same when required.

For me the initial inspiration for a song is usually thought-free and based in real-life experience. I rarely sit down and write songs as fiction. And this includes the rule that If you think it happened, it probably did.

It either comes in a flash – as quickly as you can write it down or record it – or, as with most songwriters, I have a little black book stuffed with scribbled-on pieces of paper ranging from napkins to boarding cards and books of matches. I also have a computer full of roughly-recorded melodic and chordal ideas.

(In the old days you’d call your own answering machine, and return from tour to microcassettes of drunken and/or garbled answering machine messages. Tough to work through them – unless of course you find that your flatmate has erased the lot while you were away).

Some other ‘methods’ of mine, written for some strange reason in the second person (although I have tried not to formulate as such, fearing it won’t happen again if I do).

As well as a sharpened pencil, the little black book and the computer full of ideas are your most trusted writing friends. Between them they already contain a distillation of your life as it is lived. Now you have to sort through the ideas, musical and lyrical, find or make them into the songs or poems they always wanted to be.

(The words themselves will probably sort out by themselves which form they’ll take).

Force yourself to go through everything. The great ideas will shine out, and you probably can remember them anyway without having to look them up (the act of writing them down/recording them has committed them to memory). Make sure you go back and check to get the exact wording or phrasing. That could be where the magic lies.

You may find a verse and chorus or one of either. You might need a middle section. You’ll most likely have to write more, or rewrite what you have. Remember, Leonard Cohen originally had 82 verses for ‘The Future’. As I said, it’s all about distillation.

It’s also good to remember that you have to make your experience real for the listener. Connecting with him or her – though this can be through the music, while you keep the lyrics as obscure as you like.

An also remember that, as in most aspects of rock’n’roll life, the opposite to all of this is also true.
I think of Leonard Cohen, I think of Keith Richards.

Leonard can rewrite forever, polishing and perfecting – this method really works. It’s always worth rewriting – you’ll be doing this live on stage every time you play it anyway. You can regard the recording as a snapshot of that song at a particular time, it’s always a work in progress.

Or the opposite – the recorded version is perfection itself and everything else feeds off it, or is an approximation of it. This is equally valid (think ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’) but perhaps less satisfying for the performing songwriter.

You can write a song straight off. It’ll come out of you from who knows where. Keith spends a lot of his book trying to explain this, ending up saying angels give the songs to him (Bob Dylan talks of some kind of pipe though as with Joyce, half the time he’s probably pulling your leg).

You might find the answer to Keith’s technique in the rest of the book where he immerses himself in the blues and guitar techniques. Devotes himself to the Rolling Stones. Gram Parsons, the open G tuning and massive amounts of marijuana. As with Bob,  there’s a massive amount of learning, musical talent and reading goes into being able to write and record ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ or ‘Tangled Up In Blue.’

The automatic way is the most fun way of writing, where instinct takes over, and looking at all my songs I have to say that some of the best-known ones and my particular favourites have been  written in their entirety in less than ten minutes. ‘The Colour Of Love’, ‘Lisa’, ‘James Joyce’s Grave’, ‘Letter To T’ come to mind. Though, again, it took a lot of reading and searching to get anywhere near James Joyce’s Grave, Lisa or putting pen to paper to T.
Despite this preference for the instinctual method (but of course – it’s the easiest one!) I have found that for me a certain process does stand out as a successful way of working out a song after you’ve got the iniital idea.This might be a line, a title, or a melody or chord sequence.

I often know what I want to say before starting – with a title, a hook line or simply the theme of what I want to express. I find a chord sequence I can play for a long time (easy – I don’t know too many chords). Then while jamming this, I sing whatever I’ve got, trying to start up a verse setting the song up or a chorus which sums it up. Then I see where this leads me and I take it from there.

It’s good to start off with something true. And something which leaves options open and is mysterious. Draws the listener in and attracts them.

After this initial burst, it’s down to writing and rewriting as much as possible till you’re ready to record.

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Words & Music with Andy White

Join award-winning Irish songwriter Andy White for a day’s intensive workshopping of songwriting technique and ideas. Andy will show you ways to start you off or to move your songwriting forward. There is face-to-face time with Andy and the group. You’ll be encouraged to start new work and collaborate.

Whether you’ve got finished songs you’d like to workshop in front of like-minded people, half-finished songs looking for a collaborator, advice or guidance, or if you’ve simple always wanted to write songs but need a push to get started, this course is for you.

Andy White has fifteen internationally released albums and has published three volumes of poetry and prose. He has co-written with the like of Peter Gabriel and Neil and Tim Finn, worked with the great names of Irish music – Van Morrison, Sinead O’Conner – and won Ireland’s top songwriting award. He has also toured the world many times over. Andy is in Brisbane for the April 24 launch of his new book of poetry Stolen Moments (Another Lost Shark Press) at Riverbend Books. His latest album is Songwriter (Floating World). You can visit him at http://www.andywhite.com.

Where: Queensland Writers Centre, Level 2, State Library of Queensland, South Brisbane 4101
When: Saturday 21 April 2012
Time: 12pm – 6pm
Cost: $75 / $65 (concession)

For further details visit the QPF website, or to enroll email sarah.qldpoetry@gmail.com

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Stealing the Moment: Talking with Andy White (part iv)

No more waiting… QLD Poetry Festival is here, live tonight (and continuing across the weekend) at The Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. That means Andy White is walking down a Brisbane street somewhere, listening to its music. It also means that this weekend is your first chance to get your hands on a copy of Stolen Moments. Good times indeed!

Here’s the fourth instalment of our interview:

So far you have touched on influences such as Brian Patten, John Cooper Clarke, Leonard Cohen, Dylan and The Beats and how they played a pivotal role in turning you on to poetry as an art form. Could you talk a little bit about who you are reading/listening to now? 

It’s difficult to get the time, juggling things all the time. When you’re on the road you get given a lot of CDs, which I usually listen to all at once, and keep the ones I like. This is the main source of new and unheard music for me when I’m not in Australia (when I am, it’s a mix of 24-hour Muse and Triple J, courtesy of The Teenager).

Producing records or pre-producing with songwriters and sorting out their songs, a lot of decisions have to be made about music and words. I find inspiration in people starting off writing or recording. Not usually the material, but the vibe. So to relax, have time off, I find myself going back to the classics and digging deeper into music I discovered when I was younger, finding things I couldn’t have known were there.  Also listening to music I know nothing about and have only an instinctive reaction to – where I can’t analyse the structure and can’t understand most of the lyrics. Jazz. I like Italian singer songwiriters – Fabrizio di Andre, Vinicio Capossela. Usually though, what I am listening to is related in some way to what I am digging in a more general sense.

Jazz is a great example of this. I was in Los Angeles and stopped by a junk shop which had obviously inherited the vinyl record collection of an older guy. He lived in West Hollywood and his albums were in pristine condition. I bought a George Shearing live record from the 50s – so I can hear what Kerouac writes about so beautifully. Also a fantastic-looking New Christy Minstrels album which anyone who’s watched ‘The Mighty Wind’ (the folk ‘Spinal Tap’ – same cast just as great) would appreciate. The Minstrels on the cover look exactly like the New Main Street Singers and I swear there are 15 people sitting on high chairs all playing acoustic guitars and smiling. How could I resist? I also bought a Television album I’d lost track of in red vinyl and an LP of inauguration speeches of US presidents from Roosevelt up to and including Richard Nixon. Nice.

For what I’m listening to in general, here’s what I listened to on the plane journey home from Canada slash LA a couple of weeks ago. Just after I’d visited that store and the evening of the afternoon I wrote this blog http://www.21stcenturytroubadour.blogspot.com/

Installed in United’s economy cabin with its 1970s feel – terrible food, annoyed stewards and an entertainment system designed by John Logie Baird – there’s nothing for it but to settle upright (‘back’ is not an option) and listen to whatever music is on the Pod, read whatever’s in The Bag.

I crank up the hand-me-down iPod I have been given by The Teenager. Since I don’t live by the Pod (I don’t like the ear-things too much and I like hearing the sound of the streets when I am outside) there’s not  too much choice. But at least all of it’s good.

Doctor – the screens. I feel another list coming on.

1. Blood On The Tracks.

Straight to this one. The depth in the narratives and the quality of each line is stunning. Age brings out the depth, for sure, and I’ve learnt that the songs reveal themselves gradually.

2. Andrea’s rough mixes

I am producing an Oslo singer-songwriter, piano-player who’s simply super-talented. Plays the piano and autoharp. She’s got an incredible voice, writes lyrics in Scandinavian style – getting to the heart of the matter with both a quirky touch and without a lot of the baggage songwriters carry around.

3. Tom Waits’ new song

‘Bad As Me’ New song by old favourite. Great lists in this song. Waits is probably the most talented of the old masters (well, he has been permanently ancient for years) whose current output is  as good as it’s always been. Lloyd Cole is like that too –  it’s just that if an album hits you in a particular way at a particular time (like ‘Rattlesnakes’ did for me) it’s impossible for the fan (not the artist) to get back to that place again. Nothing to do with the songs.

4. Twilight Hotel album

Brandy from TH sang with me at Edmonton Folk Festival. This album’s got atmosphere and cool old guitars everywhere. Drums rule the mix – as with a lot of my current favourite albums – Robert Plant, Ray La Montagne.

5. Muse

Hold on. The Teenager must have borrowed the iPod before I left and filled it with the entire Muse catalogue including studio albums, out-takes, live concerts and video footage. I see why they’re huge and (sort of) love them but … five minutes and I’m done. Better take a turn reading …

6. Elvis biography.

‘Careless Love’. I loved visiting Sun Studios in Memphis a few years ago, and Graceland too (see ’21st Century Troubadour’ for a chapter on this visit) but only had my childhood memories of Elvis to guide me. I remember he died the summer punk took off in Belfast and we were busy ripping up t shirts and borrowing safety pins off our mums – and practising in a basement listening to the first Clash album – to really care.

Since going to America and a friend lending me the two volume Elvis-biography-to-end-all-biographies (there will never/should never be another) I have spent hours with this book and its predecesssor ‘Last Train To Memphis’ (more exciting – generally the rise more interesting to me than the fall and especially so with Elvis).

7. James Ellroy

I’m on Part 3 of the trilogy. ‘Blood’s A Rover’. It’s been years now since I read a book by an Englishman. God how I miss proper sentence structure and educated wit. I can’t wait to get back to the latest Martin Amis.

Hang on a moment … (Shurely shome mishtake – Ed)

Here comes Melbourne.

I also wanted to ask what is the heart of invention for you as a singer-songwriter-poet?

William Blake said it all – “Innocence and experience.”

Thanks Graham it’s been a pleasure. See you in Brisbane.

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Stealing the Moment: Talking with Andy White (part iii)

Here’s the third instalment of my interview with Andy White. Not long now until, Andy launches Stolen Moments at the 2011 QLD Poetry Festival this weekend at the session, All Is Roar And Crash (4:00pm, Theatre Space, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts).

There are a number of poems in Stolen Moments, such as avenue B and 1925 that show the hardships of life on the road. How difficult is it to remain creative and connected when the exhaustion of touring kicks in?

This is one for my book ’21st Century Troubadour’ (published in Ireland I hope to bring it to Australia next year) which almost has the creative spirit of exhaustion as its guiding principle. The book is centred round an Irish singer-songwriter who travels the world carrying an acoustic guitar and accompanied by a bag so heavy it’s “currently showing up on Google Earth as a small island.”

It’s such a major theme that it spills over into the poems. However, poems are not perhaps the place for the kind of Dickensian hyperbole which most of these adventures require. They’re more for the moments in which the world caves in and you feel you’re being taken down in the process of this collapse. It’s a tangible feeling and one which most travelling musicians experience.

The fact is that creativity is more likely to come out of a scenario in which every nerve in your body is shredded from the schedule, the promoter is a crazed transvestite ruling his own kingdom with the help of a rod of iron and a smoke machine, the sound system is swimming in beer, the check-in girls at easyjet don’t want to let you off paying excess baggage and everyone in one particular LA shoe shop thinks you’re a member of U2 when all you’re trying to do is catch the bus to the next gig.

(Although I must say in passing that U2’s beshaded lead singer referred to me as “a legend” in an interview in New York last month. I wonder if he’ll ever read “o god let me die after bono”).

All of this is the real life glamour of the road. It’s tough, but it sure is sexy. It’s a big part of what I love about what I do, and it’s what people are interested in asking about. Something underneath the skin is what excites people. Everyone knows that the celebrity tittle and tattle is just that – concocted by a paid PR person in an office somewhere. I’d rather be on a Greyhound than in the First Class lounge. Though I wouldn’t mind stealing their sandwiches.

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avenue B

hauling gear
past second-hand stores
and dusty cafés

I saw the man
I once was
smoking outside
a coffee shop
leaning back in a straw chair
inhaling

he glanced at me
just for a second
our eyes met
and I looked away

straining and sweating
concentrating on
keeping the wheels of

the bag
the case
my guitar
a ukulele

from falling off the kerb

eyes down
the only way
forward

nobody’s getting off this planet alive
declares the woman in front of me
to anyone who’ll listen

I’m listening

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Stealing the Moment: Talking with Andy White (part ii)

Andy White launches his second poetry collection, Stolen Moments (Another Lost Shark Publications) on Saturday August 27 in the Theatre Space of the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts at 4:00pm as part of the session, All Is Roar And Crash. This is one of many events not to be missed at this weekend’s QLD Poetry Festival.

Here’s the second part of our chat, including a poem from the collection to whet your appetite! For those of you who aren’t able to be there in person this weekend for the launch experience, stay tuned for details of how to get your hands on a copy of the book post-launch.

Now, over to Andy!

Do you have a favourite ‘Brisbane poem’ in the collection? What are your memories of writing this poem?

I don’t have a favourite, it’s a bit like the Steve Martin ‘I never smoke marijuana’ sketch. Or having to decide what your favourite time of day is. I’d instinctivelly say ‘breakfast’, but if you pressed me then I’d have to add ‘late at night’. My mum would chime in with ’11pm’ (the time I was born – unsuspecting that this could qualify as ‘early in the evening’). ‘Lunch’ sounds good although sadly it’s an outdated concept. ‘Early afternoon’, ‘late afternoon’ and all of ‘the evening’ have got to be up there in the reckoning too.

So, even though the poem where the chinese spacecraft lands on the magnolia tree – and the one which sticks like frozen marmalade on burnt toast – come to mind, if I’ve got choose one it’s:

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in brisbane, when it rains

it’s 3:43 in a brisbane suburb
and I am staying in a
poetry house
bare-walled
uncomplicated

all around me
many-shelved bookcases of delight
containing the true holy writ
of the beat generation

on the radio
people discuss
drought statistics
water solutions and
a pipeline from the north

the rain starts swiftly
not separate drops but
a deafening sheet of water
confounding drought statistics
blowing talk of pipelines
into the middle of
next week

and just when you think it can’t
the rain on the roof gets louder
and just when you think the poem you are reading
with its list of mundane details
can’t get any longer
it increases in length and adds another verse

and the mundane details improve with each
repetition and you end up
so severely
impressed
you doubt your own
verbal sanity

for lord I have heard the word and
I have felt its power
I have witnessed public anger
private animosity
emotional severing and
passive acceptance of
the verb the adjective and the
non-rhyming conjunction

I am in a place where
the word is both king and queen
and metaphor is a holiday destination
where the king and queen go
to take a week off from meaning
from the cruelty of
here and now

then the rain eases
the noise on the roof decreases
the decibels descend
and I am drawn towards sleep
my brain racing with images of
czechoslovakia
and spain

paragraphs and public laughs and
poetry and all its worth
spread out in front of me
like an audience
super-sized
around a table

clock says
3:54

love you

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Defying the cliche of the modern poet writing poems after breakfast, the first time I read at QPF I decided to drink red wine and stay up late as late as possible. Not  on ebay buying anthologies or facebook ‘liking’ youtube clips of Steve McQueen, but writing actual poems.

Or maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t pluck up courage to go back into the room where I was staying, where the walls were lined with books – many of them valuable first editions. All of them bearing down on me from positions of power. Intimidated? N-n-no. Challenged? But of course.

I like staying up listening to people talking on the radio. Not chat or phone-ins, but news radio. Like a lot of musicians, I’ve got music going on in my head all the time anyway, so listening to voices talking is good. Doesn’t get in the way (unless of course you want to get rid of the music in your head – in which case, ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ or ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ will do the trick).

I like the crescendo of this poem. Preachers always grab my ear – in a real sense (my Northern Irish background) and a purely dramatic one (Burt Lancaster). It’s got the usual mix of a mangled ‘TS Eliot buys a Happy Meal’ reference, Iron Curtain nomenclature, and a series of seemingly random half-rhymes (really just products of a killer combination of internal deafness and a strange accent).

I can exclusively reveal that the two stanzas in italics are the most rewritten of the whole book, and that ‘my brain/racing with images of czechoslovakia and spain’ are my two favourite lines.

There you go – I got to ‘favourites’ in the end. Next I’ll be making lists. For isn’t that what we guys spend hours doing?

A good list can:

1. Waste a good amount of time so you can put off starting to write a poem.

2. Fill up an equal amount of space as a paragraph containing real depth and insight.

3. Tell you a lot about yourself through your reactions to the list. How attracted to/jealous are you of the person writing the list?

4. Inspire you to write your own list which you can send to the writer of the list with a pithy note attached. He or she will then…

5. Write back with a witty and generous riposte, ensuring a happy ending.

Which this is.

Undoubtedly.

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Stealing the Moment: Talking with Andy White (part i)

Andy White’s return to QLD Poetry Festival this year is extra special for me as Jules and I are now holding sparkling new copies of his second poetry collection, Stolen Moments (Another Lost Shark Publications), which will be launched at the festival on Saturday August 27 at 4:00pm in the Theatre Space of The Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts as part of the session, All Is Roar And Crash.

So with the festival only 9 days away, Andy and I have been talking poetry…

Many of the poems in your new book, Stolen Moments, were born in Brisbane. As a touring artist you get the opportunity to visit many cities each year, so what is it about Brisbane that gets the poetic synapses firing?

When I was at school I knew I should like poetry. It was one of those things which was in my blood – distilled emotion, the perfect phrase. I didn’t love it, but I knew its worth, as we battled with Heaney and Longley and the Old Victorians. None of them saying much to me. Spike Milligan was better – reminded me of Lewis Carroll and the Beatles lyrics I’d grown up listening to. When we reached third form – maybe your Year 9 – we had an English teacher who thought she was Miss Jean Brodie (without the fascist baggage). Told us to throw the anthologies in a heap in the corner, loosen our ties (yes, all schools in Belfast had uniforms then – evened everything out a little) and tell the class a little bit about each other. Likes, dislikes. Loves, hobby horses. She believed that we only needed to know one poem – ‘Ode To A Nightingale’. Said it was all we needed for now – and we all believed her, hung on her every word. I still love that poem.

But something else happened that year which awoke me to the power of poetry. Brian Patten came to visit the school – a real live Liverpool poet. Someone who knew the Scaffold and probably, by extension, the Beatles. We gathered at his feet and listened. I bought the ‘Liverpool Poets’ Penguin book. Listened to old records of Roger McGough. Then our Miss Jean Brodie teacher was supplanted by a Leonard Cohen-loving teacher, just in time for sixth form and for falling in love. She wore scarves and eyeliner and burned incense in the classroom. And – let me remind you – this was 1980s Northern Ireland with a full-on terrorist war raging outside. The girls in the class talked make-up with her and she told the boys how to talk to the girls. During this time my fascination with the Liverpool Poets’ style didn’t disappear, but listen enough times to ‘So Long Marianne’ in  a darkened aroma-filled room when you’re supposed to be hurrying to chemistry class and you’ll understand my new-found devotion to the singer-songwriter’s version of the spoken word.

Things changed, I went to college.I studied English in England and got familiar with all types of poems – not even the Nightingale could save me from the rest of the 19th century. I saw Ian McEwan read ‘The Cement Garden’ to twelve people in an all-nighter. Sat in lectures listening to structuralists and post-structuralists. Barthes worshippers and Leavisites. Back home the troubles got worse, then better. I had been writing scraps of poems since I can’t remember when. It was always the natural thing to do. Then I saw John Cooper Clarke at a reading in a college disco. Amazing. I’d heard ‘Snap Crackle And Bop’ – but seeing him was something else. I was back in that school room again – charged up about poetry like when I saw Brian Patten for the first time. I went back  to my room, found a litttle black book and started copying poems into it. A friend organised a poetry reading gig and I was away. Reading fast and furious. Slamming before I knew the word. For me it was all about a mix of JCC, Dylan, Beats and the Liverpool Poets, all leaning a little bit towards Leonard.

After I started putting my poems to music, bashing them out with an acoustic guitar, it all changed. Poetry became something either to be considered on the page, not heard, or scribbled real fast – a thought which wouldn’t necessarily turn into a song. My first volume ‘The Music Of What Happens’ collected all my poems together. Written from 1971-1999, twenty-eight years collected in a suitcase and edited into some sort of shape by a novelist friend of mine. I launched the book in Dublin, Belfast and Galway. At the heart of the Irish literary establishment – who all thought of me as a singer. They never looked beyond my album covers, which amused me – I knew I started off with the word on the page, when music was something you listened to on Radio Luxembourg or which granny taught as I tried to keep up with her on the piano or violin. Before I discovered the acoustic guitar.

The next time I was excited by poetry was arriving in Brisbane and experiencing QPF. In 2006, I think it was. It’s as simple as that. I was booked to play but I was encouraged to read too. I got to my feet and didn’t stop for four days. The weekend inspired me to write – I filled books sitting around in Graham & Julie’s house (great I didn’t stay in a hotel that time) in the company of the Beats, Cohen and a fantastic collection of CDs and first editions, happily co-existing and drawing from them.

It’s the company I keep in Brisbane which gets me going, and the collective aspect of poetry I’ve found there. Above all the excitement generated at readings – and not just during the festival. Speedpoets is amazing – the highest standard poetry readings I’ve ever seen. Woodford too – something so right that it anagrams into Wordfood – I found the same electric atmosphere in a huge circus tent one New Year as 2007 slipped into 2008. Not the darkened upstairs of a pub with three or four people huddled round a candle mumbling – this was poetry on a grand stage (even if the work was small scale) with costumes and applause and performance.

It’s this dressing-up too – the way poets act out their poems and know how to speak into microphones and don’t mumble solo into their navels but get up collectively in pairs makes it exciting. Everyone knows it’s hip and relevant and funny and moving they don’t need to be told – just like in San Francisco and Liverpool, poets need a scene – they need a city and it’s not always going to be London or Paris or Sydney. Better if it’s not. That’s where poetry is hip and happening and live and emotional.

Just like poetry is in my head. That’s why Brisbane means poetry to me.

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Lost Shark Radio #3: The sounds of QLD Poetry Festival

QLD Poetry Festival 2011 is only days away (20 to be precise), so I thought it was time to tune the dials of Lost Shark Radio to some of the sounds that will be bursting from the walls of the Judith Wright Centre, when QPF takes centre stage from August 26 – 28.

Andy WhiteIf You Want It

He’s a restless and prolific bugger, is Andy White. In a career spanning more than a dozen albums, collaborations with the likes of Tim Finn  & Peter Gabriel, three books, including the soon to be released, Stolen Moments through Another Lost Shark Publications, Andy has always kept the bar high. Here’s the clip for If You Want It, the first single from his last album, Songwriter (2009). Andy will launch Stolen Moments at 4:00pm on Saturday August 27 as part of the session, All Is Roar And Crash. And I am sure he will dust off the guitar at some stage during the weekend!

Kate FaganCity of Ghosts

Kate recently released her debut album, Diamond Wheel, winning the National Film & Sound Archive Award for ‘Best Folk Album’. Her work has been compared to the likes of alt-country royalty, Joni Mitchell & Gillian Welch and described as ‘lyrically lucid, emotionally persuasive and evocative‘ (Bruce Elder, SMH).  And let’s not forget, she has also published three books of poetry, most recently, The Long Moment (Salt Publishing). At QPF 2011, Kate will showcase both facets of her stunning career. Kate will perform as part of QPF’s opening night concert, Of Rhythm and Rapture on Friday August 26. Tickets for the show are available here.

Bity Booker: Gallop

Bity grew up in Umbria in the countryside in a big house with horses, dogs and cats. She recently moved to Australia, where she has been gigging regularly and developing her unique style of songwriting with her clean, bright voice and classical guitar. Bity will perform as part of the session, Shooting Out The Lamps on Saturday August 27 at 6pm alongside Eliza Hull, Eleanor Jackson & Nick Powell.

To see the full QPF Program, visit http://www.queenslandpoetryfestival.com

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