Archive for the Joan Armatrading Category

The History of Poetry Part I or My Welsh Brother

Posted in Autobiographical, Joan Armatrading, The Clash on March 11, 2011 by smpiv


Rain, rain, go away…….

Joan Armatrading.

Bad poetry?



At one time her first album might as well have been my theme music; my signature color.

It wasn’t the words, because, truthfully, not until recently have I actually listened to the words to a song.  And even now I have a difficult time parsing the words from the music—musical dyslexia?  Perhaps.  Might explain my inability to remember the words to a song and don’t even ask me to take dictation—it all jumbles together.

I first heard her music with my girlfriend at the time– Sian McCaffrey.  She was from a small town outside Manchester, England.  We were both students at a small teaching college in Carmarthen, Wales.  It was 1977 and I was all of eighteen years old with a full head of hair.

Her voice—Joan’s not Sian’s—went straight through me.  Every time she clipped a note or popped a “c” or “s” it was like a tuning fork.  She was on my wave length.  Yet she was counter to everything I had listened to—or for that matter what I would later listen too.

Britain was firmly in the grips of Punk—not New Wave—but Punk and I loved it.  “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols was played at every dance (there were two a week) and we all danced the Pogo.  The Pogo?  We literally bounced up and down as if we were on a pogo stick for hours.  The Jam, The Clash, The Stranglers, The Buzzcocks, et al, and we pogoed to them all.  It was usually loud, difficult to understand, and completely absorbing.

Joan was my secret pleasure.  Sian and I would be at the Drovers until closing at 11pm, get a couple of bottles of Cider and go back to her room at a parsonage off campus and put that album on.  Again and again, until she kicked me out and I would walk back to my digs at an old Victorian Mansion, off campus as well, with that music in my head.

It was usually raining—ah, finally, the rain part. 

A Welsh weather forecast was usually rain.  You put your rain coat on automatically, without looking out the window.  It was rarely a cold, invasive rain; it was just part of the landscape.  When the sun came out it was usually to peek through or around rain clouds, arc a quick rainbow and then back to rain.

It made for a very green and lush landscape.  It was very Hobbit like in its execution.  Having read the “Lord of the Rings” several times before I arrived, I was struck by the similarity.

That was quickly subverted by the poetry of Dylan Thomas.

For the average Welshman his choir and his poet—in both Welsh and English, was what moved the sun above those eternal rain clouds.  Thomas was the god poet and very much alive for most.

Above all Thomas’ words were carved and warped by that lush countryside; a countryside that defined and redefined the color green; and just as magnificently his words defined an ancient countryside that had been seen to by the guttural sounds of the Welsh language.   

      The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
      Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
      Is my destroyer.
      And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
      My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.


So there I was very much ready to pogo my way through life—after all I would be eighteen forever, right?  Well I am now long past my Punk days, although I still have a particular soft spot for the Stranglers “Black and White” album, and it’s been years since I walked beneath the rain leadened skies of Wales. 

We often wonder what will last, what will be eternal.  I remember having an argument with my next door neighbor in Poway, California as to who would have more staying power, the Monkees or the Beatles.  I’ll let you guess how smart I was—enough to say it was one of my dimmer moments.

I had forgotten Joan Armatrading until recently.  Not until I listened to it again did I realize how important it had been to me.  Her music had looped in my head as best it could in those days before portable music.  It now conjures up memories long forgotten.

Thomas’ poetry never left me.

I’m not a big poetry guy, but there is something about his words and how he turns and enslaves them for his use that makes me come back again and again.  For me it transcends the page.

More importantly it pushed me beyond my adolescent musings and simplicity and made me think. 

      The force that drives the water through the rocks
      Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
      Turns mine to wax.
      And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
      How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.


So here I sit, thirty some years later, the rain coming down steadily to knock down the snow to reveal the dirt and grime that is hiding beneath.  It is the rain that brought Joan Armatrading to mind; that brought to mind Dylan Thomas. 

Now in Vermont, another lush, green land probably better described by Robert Frost than Thomas, it is still Thomas’ words that ring in my ears.  His are the words I wish I had written; the words I wish I could have shaped; the words I could have etched.

But I didn’t and I won’t.  So I leave it to the likes of an Armatrading for theme music and the likes of a Thomas to take me beyond myself.  And now I leave you with more of his words—

     And death shall have no dominion.
     Dead men naked they shall be one
     With the man in the wind and the west moon;
     When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
     They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
     Though they go mad they shall be sane,
     Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again
     Though lovers be lost love shall not;
     And death shall have no dominion

Good poetry?