Posted by Ken Edwards on Wednesday, September 23, 2009 Under: writing
Having a new book out is still a bit of a thrill, I must admit, even when it's a book of work that is not that new. I have to thank Tony Frazer, of Shearsman Books, for the good production job he did on Songbook, which makes its debut around about now.

The title is a bit of a misnomer, I suppose. An intentional misnomer. Let me explain. I have recently been getting back to doing something I last did in my 20s, writing songs - "proper" songs with verses and choruses and middle eights, and much ironical play with rhyme and stuff. The context here, of course, is one of my other ventures with Elaine (more about her in a minute), The Moors. You can listen to at least one of these songs here, but you won't find any of them in Songbook, the back cover of which says it "contains songs that have never been and never will be sung; anti-lyric and narrative poems for which a musical equivalent has been constructed; and text written specifically for musical purposes".

Falling into the first camp are the "Lyrical Ballets" first published by Torque as a pamphlet in, I think, 1990, though there is some dispute - the publication, of which copies have recently resurfaced, is undated. Then there's "Chaconne", which is an exercise in metrical permutation - you can sample the original e-book as a pdf download here. "Songs of the Permanent Way" have no music either, were written on the train at a time when I was commuting between Peckham Rye and Sutton, and have lain forgotten in my files until now.

But "Red: Narrative Poem" is best described as a mini-opera for voice and solo flute, written in homage to Kathy Acker, and is presented here both in the original text version and as a score, developed in partnership with Elaine.

"There's something in there..." was actually a text commissioned by the pianist John Tilbury for a composition of his own for piano, voice (his - very sonorous) and electronics/treated sound. John wanted something Beckett-like, with piano references (the piano-tuner's visit in Watt was cited). My text's numerous references to steel and wood were actually originally inspired by a steel construction encountered in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, but were cunningly echoed by treated recordings (by Sebastian Lexer) made in the Steinway factory. I wish you could hear the piece, which lasts about 35 minutes. It had one outing, at Leeds Town Hall in 2003, and John wanted to put it on a CD together with his own recordings of Beckett's radio pieces, but the Beckett estate refused permission for any other writer to share the same recorded space. So that was that. Then John became dissatisfied with the recording, and revised it anyway. It has still not found a home on record.

The text section of the book finishes with the most recent piece, my "Six Songs of the Children of Abraham", written in homage to Bill Griffiths for David Annwn's "The Canting Academy" project last year. No music here either.

The book is completed with scores of actual musical pieces. These date from the late 1990s when I first collaborated with Elaine Randle, as was, now Elaine Edwards. Three of them are largely her settings of poems from eight + six, though with substantial input from me too. The instruments are speaking voice, various hand-held percussion, flute and xylophone. We performed them in London (twice) and Huddersfield, and they have been silent in the ten years since. The last is my own setting of "Red" (see above). All of these can be performed by anyone who wishes to, though the scores as printed are too small to use feasibly and either would have to be enlarged or you would have to obtain copies from me.

I am more pleased than I can say that all this stuff is together in print. If nothing else, any retrospective publication such as this has the liberatory effect of enabling me to forget it and move on more easily to new projects. A distinguished poet of my acquaintance once told me that the purpose of his poetry was to "get rid of" lines and phrases that came into his head and tormented him. I can't say I take such a stark view, but I can see what he meant. Onward.

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Ken Edwards This blog is written by Ken Edwards, co-founder and editor/publisher of Reality Street, and it's mainly about the press. Ken's personal blog can now be found at