08 December 2016

Poetry Thursday - Carnations on the Roof by Clive James

Carnations on the Roof - is it a song lyric or a poem? This is the sort of question you might ask after Bob Dylan's Nobel prize for literature, and the death of Leonard Cohen. Often, poems need to be spoken rather than read; hear this one sung by Pete Aitken here.

He worked setting tools for a multi-purpose punch
In a shop that made holes in steel plates
He could hear himself think through a fifty minute lunch
'Bout the kids, gas and stoppages, the upkeep and the rates
While he talked about Everton and Chelsea with his mates

...and it goes on, a sad tale really, telling the story of many proud working men in a Britain that was losing its industries.

For a song you need a rhyme scheme - throughout, it's ABABB, which gives opportunities "between the lines" for the music.

Another excerpt:
Forty years of metal tend to get into your skin
The surest coin you take home from your wage
The green cleaning jelly only goes to rub it in
Clive James talks about "words being energised by music" and his lyrical career, and collaboration with Pete Atkinhere. "Writing song lyrics is my favourite form of writing anything" ... but he's never managed to become famous for it, "in fact, I'm almost entirely obscure for it".

When, after a 25-year gap, they started writing songs again, "We couldn't stop, and gradually we realised that we had never stopped. The long hiatus had been part of the process. We had just been gathering our strength in the interim."

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