Monday, September 12, 2005


I was at a poetry reading tonight (Verberate) and it struck me that the reason there is such a performance poetry scene in Manchester must be something to do with accent. "Poetic voice" comes from your real voice - at least partly. How do you "think" or "dream" in rhythms? It has to be how you hear - the accent of your thoughts in other words. The Irish/Mancunian accent seems to work well in this context. Heavily weighted word endings great a rhythm that is strident without being polemical, truthful without being dogmatic. R.P. it is not. The previous generations of "Northern poets" had their granite voices smoothed to pebbles by Grammars and crammers, Oxford and Cambridge. I've a reading of Dylan Thomas which has him copying Richard Burton's reading of Dylan Thomas. If the accent in your head is the anvil on which your poetic voice is forged then it's hard to see how you can get away from it. Though, oddly enough, fiction writers do it all the time. Having just read "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell, its fascinating how he makes short work of those things other writers sometimes make a meal of. Whether its a facsimile of speech/style or the real thing, he gives all his characters their head. He's not giving us a history lesson here, but the characters swim in their own times. I remember an (American) actress - Gwyneth Paltrow perhaps? - dismissing her "skill" with an English accent as nothing. "We're actors, this is what we do." And its surely not asking too much for writers to be able to approximate voice. For what it's worth, the heavily accented written prose doesn't work for me - phonetic spellings, archaic words, and verbatim speech are essentially tools for a writer that in the wrong hands are useless, but when used sparingly can be very effective. From "A Clockwork Orange" to "Trainspotting" its hardly necessary to understand the slang, far more important to inhabit a novelistically realistic voice. Accent - in this case, second hand, rather than the authorial one of most poems - is only one aspect of a character's voice. Are they young or old? Rich or poor? Bright or stupid? The task is to inhabit the character's voice so that we know what kind of person it is, not whether they come from Todmorden or Hebden Bridge.

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