The Sound Of Music

by Samuel Wagan Watson

My next collection of poetry should now be a semi-completed manuscript in the custody of my publisher. It should be, it would be, it could be…shoulda, woulda, coulda…Truth be told, I rounded a jagged edge a couple of weeks ago in the writing and now I’m stuck on a splinter-curve in the pages. Getting around this particular corner is dangerous. I’m not writing enough to progress and I run the risk of writing too much in the wrong direction and could easily jack-knife my journey all together.

I am notorious for allowing a manuscript to cook for too long. The average oven time for me could be a year, but I have rarely followed this recipe. Editors have been receiving a completed article from me weekly and although it is an accomplishment it doesn’t appease a publisher that has stood by me for over two decades. Today I briefly chatted with another writer who said he has his ‘groove-on’, meaning he’s achieving a nice rhythm of creative resonance, compared to my output of one hand clapping.

broken guitar string
falling to an empty floor
makes little music…

I am a failed musician. Writing, though, has allowed me quite a few opportunities to work on projects with some incredibly talented players and composers. Collaboration is something that I’ve only ever benefitted from and with every completed project an unseen dimension to my writing is revealed. In the toughest of creative climates, making a hybrid of your original artistic vision with other mediums, and absolute strangers can be a satisfying and viable experience.

I highly recommend collaboration! Not only is it a survival technique, but the exercise can also develop your skills in ways you never imagined. There are some facts that should not be forgotten beforehand though:

FACT #1: Writing is a low-maintenance medium. If you can’t write without a computer and tablet you may be a better consumer than a wordsmith. Music is not a low-maintenance medium. Therefore, writers and musicians evolve in the antipodes of worlds. Whereas a writer can lock themselves in a room with a notepad, a cello player may be introduced into a very competitive environment at an early age in order to receive an impressive quality of higher learning.
FACT #2: Although you may have the opportunity to work with say, a classically trained, and in some cases, a worldly and better-paid artist than the dollars your writing has thus-far attracted, the component that a writer brings to the project is just as valuable as the music.
FACT #3: It’s not every day that the opportunity presents itself to work with a group of musicians!

Almost 10 years ago a composer received a collection of my poems, (Smoke Encrypted Whispers) and immediately went to work. He envisioned a classical score for each piece, performed by a chamber ensemble and accompanied here and there by a soprano, and myself as narrator. Ultimately, he arranged an eclectic gang of 23 composers from across the country and assigned them each some poems.

The project was a success with Melba Studios in Victoria producing an album of the complete works several years ago. On the release of the CD, a fairy well known critic of classical music gave it 4 out of 5 stars in The Weekend Australian…That’s not a bad acknowledgement for a failed musician who couldn’t speak properly at the time. I developed a temporary brain condition, so veteran actor, Ron Haddrick played with my poetry and gave something invaluable to my words; the voice of an older and wiser narrator.

The Port Fairy Spring Music Festival invited me down just recently to perform with a very talented ensemble. This time the musicians were a little younger than I’ve performed with and the audience in the town’s old lecture hall were slightly less intense than a crowd in a modern conservatorium theatre. I admit, a few words were fudged in my Smoke Encrypted Whispers, and in reality, anyone reading for 70 minutes with small breaths between music and singing should be allowed that slight concession.

Performing the show on this occasion reminded me of how happy I was when I wrote that collection, the accolades it won the year it was published and that for some time after I wrote with a song in my head that kept out a certain spectrum of white noise that could obstruct any writer.

Creativity is not an exact science, and I’ve wasted a lot of time comparing my poetry to writers like Cormac McCarthy who simply reads to me like literary quantum mechanics. Self-doubt can be a thorn in the side of any artist. You’ll know it when your writing sings to you. The trick, I think, is to accept that whenever you have your ‘groove-on’ write as long and a happy as you can until the soundtrack fades-out.