IN CONVERSATION: Cerys Matthews: "The best poems say so much with so few words" 1

IN CONVERSATION: Cerys Matthews: “The best poems say so much with so few words”

Individual relationships with poetry can be awkward, uncomfortable for some. Force fed it at school perhaps, dropped the day exams finish. And yet, we pick it up sporadically throught our lives, despite ourselves, quote it at weddings or funerals, maybe we have a go at penning some ourselves but cringe at the thought of falling into the easy trap of forced rhyming.

For Cerys Matthews who this week announces ‘We Come From the Sun‘, an album of what she calls ‘poem song’ – narrated works from 10 British poets, and music and field recordings  by Matthews and Hidden Orchestra – it’s never been a form confined to a dusty old book or the classroom. She instead views poetry as an expression with no boundaries, pointing out the mass consumption of rap for decades and wordsmiths twinning verse with music for the longest time.

“A collection of words put well together, a good turn of phrase can have power. Or it can have an ability to comfort or to help process situations,” the 6 Music presenter and spoken word champion tells me firmly.

Maybe we’re all poets and poetry readers but have no bloody idea. She cites incidences of driving through cities or somewhere there’s been trouble, spying graffiti and slogans and mantras on walls, and the side of buildings. It’s a natural reaction of human beings, she adds, to try and protest or process or comfort or mobilize all these things using words.

“Words is the final frontier, take away somebody’s thoughts and words then you take away their soul. To me it’s been the exchange of power from generation to generation. It’s also cultural. What I love now as we are learning from each other we can see various cultures where music and poetry is a natural inheritance.”  

I put to her that everyone likes stories. We might take them from different places, a novel, a soap opera episode, a gossip in the queue in ASDA. Or, indeed, a poem.
‘Yes! It’s like a micro story,” she agrees. “The best poems say so much with so few words. That defines a good poem. You can identify with it or you are moved by it or comforted by it or you learn it despite yourself then it comes back in later years.”

Losing ourselves in a poem brings with it a definite sense of peace, she reflects.  How we need precisely that right now. There’s a lot going on at the minute and life is moving very fast, changes are coming very fast, one after the other. All the wars, Syria, ISIS, Yemen, the worry of Brexit, rain forests, climate change and then Covid on top and then political changes so much changing, changes in communities.

“Then there’s all these books,” Cerys says with a relieved sigh, a port in the storm. “It’s like music, you have to figure out what your taste is. What rings your bell, you know? But once you find that you can lose yourself. And my, what a peace that is. With great poetry they grow with you and you love them more the more familiar you are with them the more you love them. It’s great value for money!”

‘We Come From the Sun’ gathers together the work of poets MA.MOYO, Raymond Antrobus, Lemn Sissay, Liz Berry, Anthony Anaxagorou, Adam Horovitz, Cia Mangat, Imtiaz Dharker, Kim Moore and Kayo Chingonyi, her aim to include as many varying voices from different areas, heritages, perspectives. Due to 2020’s indulgement in echo chamber security and mentality, I take it she views it important to embrace as wide a poetic scope as possible?

“There’s so much noise and polarization. I didn’t just want to have my voice on it. And there are so many great poets.”

With the theme of Genesis and new beginnings, Matthews curated the poems to take us on a journey, one with lots of light and dark.

“They (the poems) go from city urban setting then they go out to the suburbs then they go out to the countryside they go down inside their own body, then they come back round and end up in the countryside again and so forth. So it’s a world to get lost in via ten great poets and their perspectives.”

We Come From the Sun‘ is out in January but first single, ‘Flame Lily‘ with MA.MOYO was released last week in time for National Poetry Day. A bold celebration of woman and our women ancestors before us, it simply had to be the album opener, Cerys admits excitedly. It leapt out as the perfect choice.

“It is so strident so immobilizing! Just plonks its whole heart on the table in front of you and says ‘take me’. It’s the beginning. Heritage, nobody comes from a vacuum we come with inherited layers of our forefathers etcetera. So Genesis, birth, heritage and a journey about to be begin, which is quite hopeful in a way.”

We run through the album, marvel at how so few words can have an emotional impact, poetry’s gift to all. On Anthony Anaxagorou’s ‘once I had an acceptance speech’ the five word long “I swear with my eyes” has us recalling examples when we’ve done exactly that.

Raymond Antrobus’ ‘happy birthday moon’ celebrates the bond between a little boy and his father during a bedtime read.

“You’re there with the parent and the child in that most intimate safest environment. And it’s just….love. To me it’s love, with all its challenges, the challenges life throws at you. Love in a tiny little bubble there you’re welcomed into,” she enthuses.

The poets recorded their words in the auspicious surroundings of Abbey Road Studios and the album, hopefully the first in a series, is to be released on Decca. Lockdown meant London-based Cerys and Joe Acheson (Hidden Orchestra) down in Brighton had to work remotely, composing the music and gathering sounds via a team of field recordists.

“We started building up these sounds and these worlds so you’ve got your headphones on and hopefully get lost in these worlds. You can start smelling the countryside, or the inner city, the water pans to your left then your right as if you’re walking past it. God, I love sounds!”

“It takes you right back, smell does, sound and smell,” she says dreamily. “Takes you right there.”

We Come From the Sun’ is out in January via Decca. ‘Flame Lily‘ is available now.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.