Monks and Music

img002My new book ‘The Bardic Monk’ will hopefully see the light of day soon. It is to be published by Llanerch Press any day. Whilst I was writing it I had music playing. This is a habit of mine which goes back to school days when I used to do my homework in the dining room of our busy family house (four brothers all playing different instruments), where my eldest brother was doing piano practise. He played beautifully, and I loved hearing him play Liszt, Beethoven, Chopin and othermajor composers for piano. Sometimes just for fun he would play a bit of what he called ‘boogie’, which was of course jazz. I adored my brother and his playing, and the enjoyment of  the sound of music while working, which I have carried with me throughout my life I owe to him.  I have however noticed in recent years that I do tend to get fixated on a certain sound that goes with what I am writing and a lack of variety until the work is finished. It is as though the music immediately reminds me of the fictional place I am entering. For instance the Bardic Monk has been written exclusively to Karine Polwart and Bryn Terfel.  A Court in Splendour was written to Coldplay and Jose Gonzalez; The Dreamstealers trilogy was wider ranging but still within limits – and the Rules of Heaven, the first of the Grace de Savira mysteries was written to Travis and Satie. I find that when I am writing to the local council or other authority figures I put on either Barber or Monteverdi (do I need soothing or something?) Whereas when I am communicating with my far away family and friends I look for John Martin and Penguin Cafe…old, much-loved favourites. The curious link between hearing, thinking, imagining, and creating is a wonderful and joyous thing. So, the next book is another Grace book, From High Places, a wicked tale of murder and mayhem among town councillors, and so far it has been Michael Hedges and his sublime guitar, every day. Whatever next I ask myself.

Paul Steffan Jones Reviewed

Poetry Triggering Happiness

The new collection of poems by Paul Steffan Jones, touches on familiar themes that readers would have discovered in his first collection, Lull of the Bull. His clear poetic eye is trained on similar subjects, with a note of humour which appears here and there, as he introduces fresh ideas and treats the reader to some genuinely interesting variation of tone and use of language. At the recent launch in Cardigan Library those attending were treated to Paul reading from his new collection, once more published by Starborn Books and called The Trigger Happiness.  The event attracted a pleasing number of people, actually requiring extra seating, the evidence if needed of the popularity of the local poet and his work. How a man is seen in his own community is one of the curious aspects of being a poet, since poetry lays bare the man within for all to see, one reason many poets shrink from  performance. Paul has none of that trepidation, and stands fearlessly before the crowded room to read the words he has written, about love, about nationhood, about lives in turmoil or desperation, and enjoyed and admired by those who listen.

His manner is still self-deprecating, but more confident than his last appearance in the Spring of 2010. He reads well and is an impressive figure and  he has had sufficient accolades, and an award from the West Coast Eisteddfod in Oregon U.S., to be assured that his work is of a high quality and widely admired.

His popularity does not mean that his poetry is simple. It takes thought to appreciate it fully, and has depth; an eye for the universal in the personal. Take ‘Forty Four’ with its searing phrases dedicated to the everyman of middle years who hears the  ‘callous patois of mandarins’ and whose changing shape demands to be ‘lashed to the skeleton by belts’. Dead Foxes singes the page with its extraordinary combination of hot anger and cold logic, Christmas Lights is made for fun, but is also simultaneously ironic and celebratory. A part of his gift is in this cleverly combining two opposing views, weaving them together into something which makes the reader think, and even reconsider their own opinions with a fresh interest. For many who have read and enjoyed Lull of the Bull, there is already an awareness of Paul’s gift for original thinking, demonstrated in his poems. This one demands more, and gives more to the reader.

The Trigger Happiness by Paul Steffan Jones is £8.00 from all good bookshops.

Poetry – a High Calling

At times in my life I have wished I was a poet. I have even gone through periods where I tried to be a poet, where I wrote poetry constantly, day after day after day. The results of two of those periods stuck together are somewhere entitled ‘my collection’ amongst my files of reject material. They are the least bad, which I have kept to remind me that I did my best. But the truth is, I do not have it, the talent, the voice. One of my lecturers a long time ago, told me that poetry was a high calling and the preserve of the truly deep thinker. If so then I am demonstrably shallow as anyone who has experienced ‘my collection’ might witness. This makes me indescribably sad sometimes. It isn’t that I don’t like shallow people, I just don’t want to be one.

Writing for me is a variable pleasure and though poetry has figured here and there in my scribblings, stories have always been my thing. My favourite writing is when I am creating a good story, or novel, where characters, plot, expositions, landscapes, and the rest, are down to me. I want them to have depth, but I hear in the things said about my work, that it is, in fact shallow.

‘You do great dialogue’ says one. ‘You don’t waste time on describing too much,’ says another. Dialogue and lack of observational description are how we live our lives in a world full of activity and people, but they are not deep characteristics. They are, in a sense an avoidance of deep, as they are experienced through extroversion, not the silent thought of introversion, which, let’s face it, is the natural demeanour of the poet. I adore poetry, and have to regularly pass on books of it to others, not only to introduce them to new pleasures, but because I want to read new stuff, and if my bookshelf is weighted down with Yeats and Graves and all my other dead poet friends, I will keep lifting them out and revisiting them, not moving on and making room for the new which I am always interested to find. Only recently have I begun to understand that at the touch of a keyboard I can read new poetry and return to it as often as I like. So, I am currently following the blogs of two poets. They are Paul Steffan Jones on wordpress,  and Jackie Biggs, ‘a writer’s life’ on blogspot, both are distinct voices, quite different but equally not lacking in depth and quality – poets who have the good fortune to live with what might be termed a high calling.

A Riot of Readers and Writers

At a pre-Christmas event held in the town for Cardigan’s writers yesterday, a sizeable group gathered to share tasters of current work either in progress or newly published. Reading aloud from poetry and novels, short stories and synopses, the writers offered some splendid material. I opened the readings myself, by sharing a passage from my new novel ‘The Bardic Monk’ which is due for release in January by Llanerch Press. So much for historical fiction! Beyond that we had poetry, contemporary, observational and scathing. thanks to Jackie Biggs and Dave Urwin of the Cellar Bards. In prose we had adventures of a hybrid outsider in a science-fantasy currently doing the rounds of the publishers, The Order of Light by Euian Rogers. The travels of a celebrated grandfather who brought back one hundred animals for the London Zoo, hopefully to be released before too long, by Jonathan Guinness. The gauche attempts of an English land agent attempting to settle into a Welsh village in the 1950s, Mr Tim by Peter George and a story of the exactitude of flying expeditions in Going Tactical by Huw Baumgartner.

Thanks to the presence of partners and friends in the audience – all readers and lovers of books, who laughed, sighed and paid appropriate riotous appreciation of the feast of words laid before them, it was a local but sensational small gathering, much enjoyed by everyone.