What’s it all about then Hannah?
Why are you always chopping up words into bits?
Don’t you like sense?
Are you wilfully weird?
Isn’t it the poet’s job to make meaning not dismantle it?
My favourite writers, like Kathy Acker, talk about language and words as material, material that can be played with, ‘like clay or paint’.
But words aren’t technically material. We can’t see them coming out of our mouths in speech bubbles.
I also like what the Russian formalist Victor Shklovsky said about ‘making strange’… that we need to make language strange in order to restore its meanings … in order to ‘make the stone stoney’.
So I do care about meaning. I just think that sometimes we need to play with the material-words to restore meaning, or find it, escalate it, excavate it.
But also. You can’t play with words musically until you let go of meaning a bit.
Until you can listen to speech and hear its rhythms and intonation patterns.
That’s what I mean when I talk about improvising on the record. I had the texts already, so I wasn’t improvising the words but there’s a way of ‘playing’ language… without singing, but you find the physical properties of the word, the way it’s vocalised, speeds, pitches of speech, as if words are assigned particular sounds, not so much notes, more like percussion when some words are played with brushes and others with mallets
There’s more than one way of listening to language.
I find I can’t compose with words and language until I’ve made it material
Out loud, words are carried by our voices, which come from our breath, from the body, and our bodies are material, physical, we can’t see the words but we know where speech is produced, and our bodies can change the shapes of it, the tones of it
So I like to think about it
like getting a word and throwing it against a wall and seeing how it bounces
squeezing a word in my palm like a stress ball
snatch a word and hit it against a rock, see what it’s hiding. Get rid of the shell.
disrupt everything we take for granted about speech… the order of words, the intonation. Take intonation from one language and place it onto another. So it’s still a language, but it’s strange.
But why why why why
Well. Prosthetics for instance, a track on the record, a piece I first made years ago, after seeing a documentary made in the U.S, which said ‘forty percent of those with prosthetic limbs will go back into war’. A very cheery documentary. ‘It’s a positive thing’. ‘Amputation is the first step in rehabilitation’. Which it is, but when it’s for the purpose of sending soldiers back into war …. and they showed a little girl who had cut the eye out and arm off her doll “it looks like a monster now” she said. Her dad came back from Iraq missing an eye and arm.
These lines were embedded in all the positivity of the documentary, just grazed over. I didn’t want to write my own comment on it, I just wanted to lift those lines out of the documentary and examine them, take them apart, reassemble them, repeat them, and find the emotion in them perhaps, the visceral meaning in them… Although I was dismantling the lines and making them into rhythms and vowel sounds, in the end, it builds up meaning that the documentary, for all its words and images, and sense and syntax, didn’t have.
And “Pain” – (one of the tracks available for free here) – it’s every instance of the word ‘pain’ in Fifty Shades of Grey. I probably recite it too fast for anyone to hear all the words, so it’s not about semantic meaning, also the lines don’t make much sense extracted from context, but the soundscape of it, the mood and atmosphere of it, I think digs into how I felt reading the book… A weird kind of sadness… I don’t really know why… So it’s not about what I think of the book… but how reading it felt for me.
TALK IN A BIT – tour dates
10th May: Canada Water Theatre (The Albany) London *& masterclass
*MASTERCLASS: Sound Poetry with Hannah Silva and Tomomi Adachi. FREE! 10th May Canada Water Theatre, 6-7pm. (presented by Apples and Snakes)
How can we transform our bodies into musical instruments? Can we write purely with sound? With gesture? Can you literally play the shirt on your back? Tomomi Adachi and Hannah Silva lead this introduction to sound poetry and electronics. We explore how gesture and the textural sound of words can enable us to compose and improvise as sound poets. We will introduce our work with infra-red sensor shirts, programming, voice and loop stations and explore how technology can enable us to ‘write’ with our bodies. A workshop for poets, musicians, performers and people interested in ‘writing’ with vocal sounds and gesture.