“This is not a Eulogy”
by Jo Ely, Contributing Editor
Poetry conveyed in album form is a natural extension of a thriving UK performance scene, of poets collaborating with other artists and sometimes musicians. It should be no surprise that poet Salena Godden, author of Springfield Road, Fishing in the Aftermath, and contributor to The Good Immigrant, is at the vanguard of this particular publishing moment. Her first poetry-as-performance album LIVEwire is a thoughtful compilation of Godden’s theatre and festival performances from over the years. It’s also strongly indicative of her range, as not only a writer but as a performer.
And what a range it is, from the subtly evoked nostalgic pain of “Under The Pier,” to the comic of “Not Bovvered,” depicting the Sistine Chapel half-finished, and Godden’s scabrous ode to the airplane stewardess who refuses to lend her a pen, forcing her to scrawl her inspiration in lipstick on the back of a sick bag in “A Letter to an Air Stewardess.”
Godden can also question her own place in the world of poetry. In “Die Wasp!” a calm, ruler-wielding blue-stocking at an adjacent cafe table is writing about butterflies and swans, whilst Godden twists in her own seat, sweating and cavorting to avoid wasps dive bombing her. Because for Godden, every word can be a wasp: “How can I work in these conditions?” Godden thankfully answers her own question by acknowledging the wasps are actually the heat and rage of her own writing, what lends her poetry purpose and heart.
Godden encourages wild audience participation on this album, hoots, chanting, cat calls, and raucous laughter. ”My tits are more feminist than your tits” is a hilarious but also taut poetic rant about the way the public can police and hold in judgement women’s bodies. But it is worth noting that Godden’s most wildly participatory pieces are her most controlled—the rhythm of her poetic works is not lost on the listener, as she can orchestrate her audiences to react as part of the performances.
As truly entertaining as she can be, Godden can also appear vulnerable. Rather, she can appear open about her own personal vulnerabilities, having known genuine tragedy, her father having committed suicide. In “This Is Not Another Eulogy,” she imagines her own suicide, though in magical realist terms. I urge you to listen to it alongside an excerpt from Springfield Road about her father leaving their home, a moment presaging his later permanent desertion: “We cried as we heard you turn your key in the ignition.” The children’s yearning is palpable in the tick and whir of this first line. And finally, here is Godden at her nuanced and poetic best: “That afternoon became a shrine, a cave … I took a stick and scratched our names there.”
You can read my interview with Salena Godden for The Woven Tale Press here.
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