Quite some time ago, I posted a long interview with award winning poet, Max Ryan. Max has just released his second collection, Before the Sky, so we decided to start rambling all over again…
ALS: Your latest release, Before the Sky, is brimming with musicality. In the collection we ride the bus home after seeing The Beatles, with the shell-shocked girls in the back (Journey of The Beatles Fans); we hear Keith Richards, choogling away on open G (Keef); and we sing for the cohort of the damned as the radio is turned off (Rimbaud Blows the Whistle). I have spoken to you before about your love of music, but I wanted to ask you specifically about how you came to writing Keef and Journey of The Beatles Fans.
MR: Whoo… I guess you mean poems with a musical or music theme.
The last time I saw the Stones, a woman actually prostrated when Mick introduced Keith. Keef started off as some kind of paeon to the man himself but it ends up being just as much about the narrator, some one who’s a contemporary of K and sees his life as moving in some kind of parallel to his. Of course our narrator’s life, like most lives, is a compromised one…he gives up rock and roll to run a lawn-mowing business, splits up with his wife in contrast to K who ‘got rid of Anita’. In the end though the last line describing K’s phenomenal riffing power (‘dead on time’) seems to bring the two together. Keith is, after all, mortal. Isn’t he?
Journey Of The Beatles Fans came from an idea I had for yonks for a poem about seeing the Beatles all those years ago. Tried many times to get it down but it always seemed to trail off into a ragged vision of us teenyboppers riding home on the bus to and from Newcastle. Last year I was reading Geoff Page’s marvellous 80 Great Poems where he was discussing TS Eliot’s Journey Of The Magi. Most of you will remember it’s a dramatic monologue by a Magus (one of three) describing his trip to witness the nativity. The mood is weary and defeated as the three travel through hostile arid lands:
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly
The seminal event is brushed over in a few lines with the Magi
…not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
Anyway, it all fell together: I got the idea that the actual journey to the concert and the effect it had on those pubescent pilgrims was the heart of the matter. Basically, I planted my poem in Eliot’s even using the same metres and his litany-like depiction the journey. The mood in my wee saga is definitely up-beat on the way down to the show:
With us with our ears pressed to scratchy radios, ringing out
It won’t be long yeah yeah yeah
After the climax:
And JOHNPAULGEORGEANDRINGO ran on, not a moment too soon
Bestowing Grace; it was (you could say) the only word for it.
the mood shifts to something similar to that experienced by Eliot’s Magi of a sense of something gained but also lost, a birth and a death.
It would be hard to equal Eliot’s powerful final line:
I should be glad of another death.
But the Beatles fans, or at least one of them, can celebrate the journey because, although there’s still the sense of dislocation and not being able to fit in, the imagination relives the unconditional joy of knowing that something way beyond anything he’s seen before is about to happen:
I was still on that bus, heading for the show.