Tag Archives: Norman Meehan

On reading Bill Manhire’s Tell Me My Name

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The road goes by the house

the wind sings in the tree

we sing the travelling worlds

we sing quietly

(we sing quietly)

 

from ‘1’

 

I have never learned to meditate but running on the beach is a way of being completely in the moment, of absorbing sky, sea and sand, with everything else on hold. I find the same thing happens when I do cryptic crosswords—whether as a bedtime ritual or in a waiting-room—the head clatter dissolves. I have, courtesy of Bill Manhire’s Tell Me My Name, discovered a new floating aid: the riddle poem.

Bill’s book is a collection of riddle poems with alluring photographs by Peter Peryer and a CD where the riddle poem becomes song, courtesy of Hannah Griffin’s voice and Norman Meehan’s music.

 

I’m made of where you’re going

I’m made of north and south

I’m made of possibility

I’m made of somewhere else

 

from ‘4’

 

Upon first reading, I meet the poems with the riddleness waiting in the rhyme, the echoes, the porousness, the enigma, the sweetly crafted melody.  I let song wait and then the poems start to sing themselves because they are music rich. There is such openness, as though you enter a vast field that might be corn or might be sunflowers, that generates both movement and stillness.

Upon second reading, I pay attention to the riddles and drift in and out of an atlas, a memory, a shadow. Now I have my floating aid. I am not sure what things are or the answer to the riddles, and that is the unexpected joy of it (like the rhythm of running or cryptic clues where there is a Ha! at arrival which is good but not as good as the travel). One day I will look at the end page and discover the names of things, but it will puncture the delight of currently never knowing (in many cases). Perhaps I have found a bridge, an ocean, an echo, a family tree, a watermelon, a muddy puddle, ice, the dark, longitude and latitude. I am thinking this is the perfect book to take on a long haul flight, to have in my bag for steamy queues, but I don’t want to lose it. The riddle poem as flotation aid is like a strip razor sharpening your mind, a shot of vitamins that restores equilibrium.

And now the CD. I keep playing it over and over to fall into the honey gravel lift and dip of Hannah’s voice or the textured music, the delicious pared-back feel so that each note— whether violin, piano, whistles or voice—resonates.

Victoria University Press has produced a beautiful hard-cover book. It is going in my carry-on bag.

 

I’m always at the cinema

I’m always at the beach

I’m waiting in that secret place

that lovers try to reach

 

from ‘5’

 

Victoria University page

Interview with Kathryn Ryan on RNZ National

Maria McMillan on Wordsongs

 

 

Wordsongs, St Peters Hall, Paekākāriki, 3rd March 2016

 

I go partly because there’s like a major poetry type gig in Paekākāriki and I’m a Paekākāriki poet and it feels a bit rude not to go. Imagine, I think, if there’s only six people there without me and they decide never to have anything poetry related in our village ever again. Yes, we call it a village and I needn’t have worried. Having scoffed down as much of a delicious fried-rice concoction as I possibly could in 94 seconds  I arrive three minutes late and take the Very Last Seat. It’s an actual excited crowd, in carefully arranged tiers. They’ve turned St Peters Hall around so we face the direction of the sea and one long side of the hall with its cool house-shaped wooden-window shutter things. The huge red velvet curtain hangs over the stage to our left and the doors to the village main street to our right.

I love this hall but truthfully, I’m a bit wary of poetry set to music. It’s the puritanical killjoy in me which says, honey, you need to decide, music or poetry. Just get away with your weird, not very interesting bongo drumming interspersed with a man saying two words usually something like organic tomatoes in  a quiet yet loud, yet well modulated, yet with working-class-solidarity voice and then pausing a full minute while making eye contact with every member of the audience before saying wet. But I know it’s kind of prudish of me and I need to open myself to new experiences so I am willing and here and listening.

Local poet, Dinah Hawken, who starts us off, makes me feel very comfortable. She reads her poetry sans music, the way it should be (sorry) and she starts with a good long poem about environmental catastrophe. The poem earns its length and I enjoy Hawken’s meditative delivery. She reads slowly and thoughtfully and the poem turns from lament to challenge to conversation. I feel like I’m hearing more and more poetry like this, laced with planet grief and helplessness and wonder. I’m glad it’s being written.

The main act is  Bill Manhire with singer Hannah Griffen, pianist Norman Meehan and Hayden Chisholm on saxophone and clarinet. To begin with I think Chisholm is tuning up, his sax is breathy and rough and understated and there’s no clear strong notes but then I realise this is part of it all. He’s throat clearing and then the other clear notes come, but through the set I see this replication of human noises, and also the absorbing of other sounds and instruments. I hear reverb and the plucking of a guitar, slow growling, didgeridoo and the noise of traffic all through his instruments.

In this first song, an interpretation of Baxter’s High Country Weather, the piano and singing come in beside the brass and I’m startled by how much action, how much sound can be produced by just three people. Griffin’s voice is like some really good jazz club singer. I get that vibe through the night. I want to be sitting at a small lamped table having intimate conversations. She sings big, beautiful and clear, high and low.  Next Bill, congenial and with charming anecdotes that thrill the poetry nerd in me, reads Rain by Hone Tuwhare and then the three musicians play it back to us. I get it now. I can listen to the poems read as poems, and listen to the music as music. No bongo drums. No organic tomatoes and soulful stares. It’s a relief. And when I hear Rain sung I’m struck by how lineation changes with the music, the words become split and lumped in different way. We can hear hidden rhymes and rhythms which may be a subtle backbone to verse on the page but in music are drawn out and played with. Cool.

Meehan tells us the set is pretty much the album Small holes in the silence, featuring versions of  Manhire and other poets’ work as songs. We hear interpretations of Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Manhire, David Mitchell, and my favourite piece, two poems by Eileen Duggan. I can’t actually hear the words as Griffin sings so perfectly in tune with the sax, so my liking this all the same proves how thoroughly mature I’ve become about the whole poetry and music mash up. What I love in this song is the way the sax more than ever takes the role of a voice; for a moment the sax and the singer are a duet and in a kind of heady triumph. After that the two seem to swap places; Griffin no longer singing words but sounds become another instrument and the saxophone becomes a human voice. It’s a meandering interesting work. I also love Manhire’s stories about and poem for Cornish poet Charles Causley. The evening ended with a spoken and then musical interpretation of Manhire’s rhyming list poem ‘1950s.’ The crowd loved it, they threw flowers, they cheered, they stomped. Well, they didn’t but I’m sure if they thought of it they would have. They applauded long and hard. I wander out into the Paekākāriki night. Now the traffic sounds like a saxophone. The crossing signals go off. A train, windows bright, rumbles past us on its way to Waikanae. I wave.

Maria McMillan

 

 

Dinah Hawken to open WORDSONGS

I seem to have been a roving poetry reporter these past few weeks but time to shut the hatches and stay at home. This event will be good – I judge this on my experience of hearing Hannah sing Bill at the AWF a few years ago. Transcendental experience.

I urge you to check this poetry event out and would love a wee response from a poetry patron to post on the blog.

 

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Tickets $20 from Eventfinder or Darcey’s Fruit Shop.  Limited door sales at $25.

QUERIES: Gilbert Haisman.  Tel 04 904 8428 or 022 0122 103. Email: thewordshop@paradise.net.nz

I have had this new CD on repeat: Small Holes in the Silence

 

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Small Holes in the Silence Rattle VUP

The CD looks good with its striking cover but what matters is that this CD sounds spectacular. Norman Meehan on piano, Hannah Griffin on voice and Hayden Chisholm on saxophone have taken a number of New Zealand poems (terrific poems) and transformed them into song.

For example: Hone Tuwhare’s ‘Rain’, Bill Manhire’s ‘Ballad of the Hurting Girl,’ James K Baxter’s ‘High Country Weather,’ Alistair Campbell’s ‘Blue Rain,’ Eileen Duggan’s ‘Frost,’ David Mitchell’s ‘Yellow Room.’

Tricky stiff — translating poetry into song when the new score might muffle the internal music to such an extent the poetry suffers. How does word meet external melody?

In this case, the poem becomes something different, a wonderful different that almost needs a new word to signal its poetry/music status. Word becomes music and music becomes word. Like a yin yang kind of thing. Two sides of the one cloth.

I loved the enticing interplay between silence, chord, harmony, counterpoint, key, movement and word. The arcing melody of instrument and voice step out from a word or phrase. Lightly. Surprisingly. Beautifully.

And the voice. The glorious voice that makes hairs stand on end. Hannah takes a word and savours it in her mouth. The word itself becomes aural poem with its dips, lifts and extensions.

Ah. Poetry becomes melody, melody slips into the pores of your skin and when you return to the poem on the page there is this haunting refrain. The voice, the piano, the saxophone — secret aural undercurrents as you read.

Plus there is a great introduction by Bill Manhire. I especially agree with this: ‘The music doesn’t overpower the words; but neither does it defer to them.’

 

I highly recommend this!

Small Holes in the Silence: where you can pre-order Norman Meehan & Hannah Griffin’s third musical poetry instalment

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I love Making Baby Float.

I love hearing Hannah sing Bill.

A new CD on the October horizon.

Heaven.

 

 

I got to hear Bill Manhire’s glorious ‘Ballad of the Hurting Girl’ he sent to my Birthday Shelf.

You can order and listen here at Rattle Records, a division of Victoria University Press

 

Norman Meehan (piano)
Hannah Griffin (voice)
Hayden Chisholm (saxophone)

‘Following the popular and critically acclaimed Buddhist Rain and Making Baby Float, Norman Meehan and Hannah Griffin teamed up with saxophonist Hayden Chisholm for this third instalment in their New Zealand poetry series. The relaxed serendipitous style of Norman and Hannah fits Hayden like a glove. A musician of remarkably understated confidence and sensitivity, Hayden’s wonderfully nuanced phrases float effortlessly around the restrained sensitivity of Norman and Hannah.’ Rattle Records website