It was both exciting and a little daunting to be charged with writing poems to be set to music. Having no previous experience of this, I initially wondered about verse forms and repeated refrains, specifically if there might be a set, or at least recommended, ‘way’ to begin. It was fascinating to discover from Rebecca and Stuart that this is not necessarily the case, and that they are open to more and less formal approaches, even welcoming lines with density to them.
Working with musicians who are up for dwelling closely with the texts, discovering the rhythms suggested by syllables, words, and lines for themselves, is enormously liberating. I was able to worry less about form, and initially thought more about image when drafting my responses to ‘Turn Ye to Me’; I was compelled by the wild, northern landscapes evoked, and by the gull battling the elements. The original song is patterned by contrasts, and in the first poem I wrote I made full use of this motif, even recasting a line from the song. The second poem was a bit of a departure, although it is the bird, a black-backed gull, that unites the two. That bird grew to assume an almost-quasi religious, mythic character in my mind’s eye, and the second poem is meditation of the relationship between man and bird (man and nature) at the ends of the earth. A bit of a magnificent brute, the gull is what it is, and the ‘I’ of the poem articulates a very equivocal relationship to it.
The whole project has been a delight so far, and I can’t wait to hear how the words have been interpreted by my generous collaborators, both as a musical score and in performance.