At the last gathering of the Heaton Moor Jazz Appreciation Society, our host for the evening presented his chosen subject in a hi-tech, multi-media tour de force. He dazzled us with DVD, CD, Sonos, Youtube clips on a ‘smart-TV’ controlled via a dedicated iPhone app and – most wonderful of all – Amazon’s voice-controlled assistant, Alexa. Considering our host had quite recently professed ignorance of “streaming” and other modern media mysteries, it all went swimmingly well (barring the glitch with the iPhone app – which would have gone un-noticed had he not mentioned it). We all were particularly taken with Alexa and the possibilities she presents, among them being the elimination of the bother of finding one’s specs.
Days later I saw the film The Sense of an Ending which is set in the present but is really about the past. The protagonist – a man of the HMJAS generation – is consumed by the memory of an unrequited teenage love but has otherwise adjusted to his present life. Like most of us, he uses a smart phone and a computer – up to a point – but the flashbacks to his schooldays show us a time when the most advanced form of personal technology was the transistor radio, a valued piece of kit among teenagers in those days, despite the dearth of cool material being broadcast. The best that one could hope for back then was a steady signal from Radio Luxembourg in the evenings and some private time on Sunday afternoons, ears glued to The Top Twenty in anticipation of hearing the very few decent tracks that made it into the chart. All this was part of getting to grips with the world in general and romantic love in particular. Today’s teenagers don’t have it any easier, despite their possession of superior technology and many more channels of cool content. They still have to contend with the awkwardness of learning about love, the subtleties of which no dating app can mimic. Hi-tech, lo-tech: sometimes no-tech is what works best.
A particular no-tech pleasure I have re-connected with recently is poetry. I have some poetry books but they have lain, unopened, on my shelves for years. I always intended to read them, but very rarely did so. Now, however, my partner and I have come to an arrangement to resolve this issue: we undertake to read one poem a day – to each other. The catalyst for this resolution was my partner, whose enthusiastic appetite for reading has expanded in the poetry department since we went to see the film, Paterson. Our routine readings are certainly making inroads into the mass of material that lurks in the books: pages that have languished in darkness since they were bound together now are suddenly exposed to the light in all their virgin whiteness, examined briefly for suitable content and either closed again forever or marked out for performance.
And therein lies the rub: which poems should I pick out? The choice of sentiment is important because it can make or break the atmosphere between us. Nothing good, for example, is likely to come from declaiming the woes of unrequited loves past. Better to extol the joys of present union or, better still, avoid all possibility of contention by going down the humorous route.
Then there is one’s performance to consider. Getting the tone, pace, enunciation, pauses and exclamations just right can make the difference between a reading being properly appreciated or slipping past the audience unheeded or, worse still, completely un-comprehended. So, here is where I thought Alexa might help me. I could just ask and she would oblige by playing back some professionally recorded readings. Call it ‘passing the buck’ but isn’t that what assistants are for?