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  #1  
Unread 02-12-2019, 09:33 AM
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin's Avatar
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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Default Obsession (song)

for Ben Okri’s 60th

I’m broke ‘n’ I’m stuck in London. I’ve gone busking every day
at a pitch outside Embankment where I book a spot. I play
a rash of tunes for a fiver on my cheap Chinese trombone
and my silver harp in search of grace, an angel all alone.

Perhaps I’ll go see Papsie: “Dad, can you make me an advance?
I want to travel in Italy. Please give me one last chance!
Busk in Venice and Perugia, trace the art of love in Rome.
I could stumble on the perfect place to turn into a home.”

I’ve got to do something amazing or die.
I will defy death with my secret eye.
Hung up on this branch of my family tree,
it’s easy to see I need to break free.

Though the enemy are many and work hand in glove,
they’ll never be as clever ’cause thin rags seek love.

I haven't busked in 30 years. It's a blow that Papsie’s dead,
but to some extent he’s still alive as part of me instead.
Who better to sing my songs with me on my Chinese guitar
and my silver harp in search of grace, an angel from afar.

I’ve got to do something amazing or die.
I will defy death with my secret eye.
Hung up on this branch of my family tree,
it’s easy to see I need to break free.

Though the enemy are many and work hand in glove,
they’ll never be as clever ’cause thin rags seek love.

The final line of the second chorus was: they’ll never be as clever ’cause they can't risk love.

V2 L1-3 were:
Perhaps I’ll visit Papsie. “Dad, could I ask you for a grant?
I fancy spending a month abroad. Don’t tell me that I can’t
take in Venice and Perugia, trace the art of love in Rome!

then:
Perhaps I’ll visit Papsie. “Dad, could I ask you for a grand?
I fancy a couple of months abroad. It’s time that I expand:
busk in Venice and Perugia, trace the art of love in Rome. (Thanks, Mark!)

V3 L1-2 were:
That’s more than 30 years ago. I can say that Papsie’s dead,
but in one respect he’s still alive as part of me instead. (Thanks, Mark!)


Ben Okri’s piece, “Obsession”, begins: “I’ve got to do something amazing or die.” And ends: “I will defy death with my secret eyes.” It is the third part of the five-part “Dramatic Moments in the Encounter between Picasso and African Art” in his collection of poetic essays, A Time for New Dreams (2011).

While performing the song in its early stages, I sang “silver” instead of “secret”. This inspired me to use “silver” elsewhere. I then noted that Ben Okri’s parents’ names were Silver and Grace, which prompted me to include his mother’s name as well. I later found an interview with him by Kate Kellaway where she writes: “What Okri loves is his parents’ names together. … They came from different tribes (Grace from a royal Igbo line, Silver, a democrat, from the Urhobo people). … He asks: ‘What is it with all these boundaries? That got cracked before my birth by Mum and Dad.’” In another interview, by John Hind, he says: “I talk about my parents in the present tense, because that’s what your parents remain.” The “something amazing” can be taken as a reference to “grace”.

Ben Okri was down and out in London around 1980, five years before I was. He describes this period as “very, very important” to his work. It was for me too. It was here I began to write poems and songs.

I did go to Italy the following spring, and I met my wife, a Danish writer, in Perugia in May 1986. I didn’t go to Rome after all. Instead I settled in Denmark. My father did fund my trip, not because he approved of my venture, but because he had already set up a trust fund for me. He has a big hand in my love of words and music. He was a great speaker, had a good singing voice, and sang hymns at the piano. Quite a humorist, a party trick of his was playing the recorder with his nose. He also enjoyed solving cryptic crossword puzzles.

Ben Okri will be 60 on 15th March 2019, the day my mother, a painter and opera fan, will be 85. Both live in London. The names of both my mother (Anne) and my wife (Ann) mean ‘grace’.

I was in the audience when Ben Okri read his “Obsession” at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2012. Later he signed my copy of A Time for New Dreams for me with the following dedication:

To Duncan,
xx to music
xx to leap
xx to dance
xx to joy –
x stay amazing

(Signed) Ben Okri
xxx21 – 8 – 12
xxxxEdin

Serendipitously, the letters and digits add up to 60.


Final lines of the notes deleted. They were: And the date is a palindrome, so there is a second instance of the number 12. The sum of the numbers in 2019 is 12, while the sum of the numbers in 1959 is 24. The number 21 is the sum of 9 and 12, and 9 is the sum of the numbers in 15/3 as well as the sum of the numbers in 12 and 24.

Final sentence of §4 deleted (after hearing from Michael and Walter that nobody cared about the cryptic features). It was: Perhaps he’s to blame for this one too.

I've added info about not making it to Rome, my wife being Danish and me going to live in Denmark as well as the fact that my dad, rather inadvertently, funded my trip to Italy.

Last edited by Duncan Gillies MacLaurin; 02-24-2019 at 02:23 PM.
  #2  
Unread 02-12-2019, 02:55 PM
Martin Rocek's Avatar
Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
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Hi Duncan,

Can you post a recording?

Martin
  #3  
Unread 02-12-2019, 04:03 PM
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin's Avatar
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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Martin

I'm working towards a recording, and I may well be able to post it soon. But I also want it to work as poetry.

Duncan
  #4  
Unread 02-12-2019, 05:44 PM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is offline
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It may work as music, but it's not working as poetry. The shorter chorus - S3 and S6 - has a bounce to it and could serve to underlay the poem. But the other stanzas are all over the place, and their length (fourteeners? - can't really tell) creates another problem. If there's a meter, I'm not getting it. The last line of stanzas 1, 2 and 5 seems to scan and sound well, it's a rough battle getting there. I suggest you focus on making this work as music.

I get kind of lost in your last paragraph, but in my previous business-oriented life I learned that if you're given a handful of numbers and a little time, you can make them work out to state - or prove - whatever you want. But it there's a relationship between that and the poem, I'm not getting it.
  #5  
Unread 02-17-2019, 09:28 AM
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin's Avatar
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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Thanks for commenting, Michael!

The verses are fourteeners with one extra unstressed syllable in each line. I find it hard to believe that the meter is so opaque.

As the final sentence in the fourth paragraph of the notes strongly hints at, there are several cryptic features in this piece. These only work on the page, so whatever we call it – poetry, page lyrics – I’m keen to have it work on the page.

There was an attempt to give some extra clues with the numbers in the notes, but I’m now restricting myself to the fact that there are 60 letters and digits in the dedication.

Duncan
  #6  
Unread 02-20-2019, 02:08 AM
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Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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The final sentence in the fourth paragraph of the notes points to some cryptic features.

The next sentence states that Ben Okri will be 60 on 15th March 2019. Thus, significance is given to Ben Okri and to the numbers 60, 15, 3, and 12 (the sum of the numbers in 2019). Two other numbers are also implicated: 9 and 24. The latter is the sum of the numbers in 1959, Okri’s year of birth, and the former is the sum of both the numbers in 15/3 and the numbers 12 and 24. There is also the nice feature that the sum of 9 and 15 is 24.

At the end of the notes there is a further clue about numerological features when it is noted that there are 60 letters/digits in the dedication that Ben Okri wrote for me.

Here follows an explication of the cryptic features.


Paronomasia

There are 15 instances of Ben Okri’s name.

The title itself supplies three instances of ‘Ben’. Not only does it contain the letters in his first name, but they are in the right order as well. They appear as the 2nd, 4th and 9th letters, where 2 + 4 + 9 = 15. Each of the three letters appears in a different three-letter syllable and in a different position in the syllable (‘obs-ess-ion’), and thus the title can be rendered as ‘Ben, Ben, Ben’.

The piece ends with four four-letter words, where the letters in ‘Okri’ appear in the right order in reverse. Again, each of the four letters appears in a different word and in a different position in the word (“thin rags seek love”), and thus these final four words can be rendered as ‘Okri, Okri, Okri, Okri’. The letters appear as the 3rd, 5th, 12th and 14th letters in either direction.

The end of the preceding line also contains an anagram of ‘Okri’, in “work hand in glove”, where ‘hand’ serves as a cryptic instruction. The positions of the first three letters in this phrase also point to the position of the fourth letter (2 + 3 + 4 = 9).

An anagram of ‘Ben Okri’ comes at the very beginning, in “I’m broke ‘n’ I…”, i.e. “I’m Ben Okri”. A second instance comes at the end of the first part of the chorus, in “I need to break free”, with “…free” as a cryptic instruction.

There are also three instances of ‘Ben’ in the first two verses: in “gone busking” (1.1) (in reverse), in “Embankment” (1.2), and in “stumble on” (2.4). Additionally, the phrase “where I book” contains “B. Okri” (1.2), and “-bone” in “trombone” (1.3) is an anagram of “Ben O.”

There are thus six instances of his first name, five of his last name, two of his whole name, one of the first initial of his first name along with his last name, and one of his first name along with the first initial of his second name, i.e. 15 instances in all.

The words ‘silver’ (Silver) and ‘grace’ (Grace) appear 15 letters away from each other.

My wife (Ann) and mother (Anne) are referenced by “an” in the two instances of “grace, an angel”.


Numbers

There are 12 words in each of the 12 lines of the three verses, 24 lines in the whole piece, and the letters in the title (9) and the dedication (15) add up to 24.

The number of words in the chorus are 8, 8, 9, 9, 10, 10, i.e. an average of 9.

In the first part of the chorus there are 12 syllables in each line when sung; it falls six syllables short on the page. In the second part of the chorus both lines have 12 syllables. (NB There is an elision of the ‘y’ in “enemy are”.)

Each line of the three verses consists of three groups of words each consisting of 15 letters or digits, a reference to 15/3. In addition, each line has 15 syllables. So, 15 x 4, i.e. 60. And thus 12 instances of 60.

In the first part of the chorus the letters in each of the two couplets add up to 60, and in the second part the letters are grouped 9, 15, 15 / 15, 15, 12. This can be read as 15/3 (9), 60 (15 x 4), 2019 (12) as well as 1959 (24), 15/3 (15 x 3), 2019 (12). In all there are 81 letters (i.e. 9 x 9, i.e. 15/3, 1959-2019).

There are thus 15 instances of 60 in all.

The letters and digits in the note Ben Okri wrote for me are very close to being in groups of 15 (15, 15, 14, 16). There are 9 lines in all, and there are 12 words in the actual dedication. The date is a palindrome, i.e. there is a further instance of the number 12. It is also worth noting that the sum of 12 and 9 is 21.

Interestingly, the numbers 9, 12, 15 and 24 add up to 60. It is also intriguing to note their corresponding letters in the alphabet: ‘I’, ‘L’, ‘O’ and ‘X’. Together, 9 and 15 can be read as “I, O(kri)”, while 12 and 24 can be read as LX, i.e. 60.

I plan to post a link to a recording of the song very shortly.

Duncan
  #7  
Unread 02-20-2019, 10:53 AM
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Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
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Duncan, who cares? I like esoteric texts, and these secret meanings are something I have worked into my own poems, but none of it matters if the base text isn't good. And this base text is basic. And also, the esoteric reading doesn't make the song any better. It doesn't, pardon the pun, add up to anything important.
  #8  
Unread 02-20-2019, 11:16 AM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is offline
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What Orwn said - and more. Who cares, who cares, who cares? It is not a very good poem, and all the mishegas about hidden names and numbers does nothing but call more attention to how bad the poem is.

Two suggestions: (1) eliminate all the blah-blah and let the poem stand by itself, and (2) don't post in The Deep End. Maybe that will help you get some feedback. All the word and numbers games will make absolutely no sense to anybody who hears it as a poem or reads it - except you - so what you have to do is focus on improving the basic poem, not turning yourself inside out to force hidden meanings from a bad poem.

Last edited by Michael Cantor; 02-20-2019 at 11:31 AM.
  #9  
Unread 02-20-2019, 11:34 AM
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin's Avatar
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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Thakns, Walter and Michael!

Perhaps you would care to point out what it is that is "basic" or "bad" about the poem?

Duncan
  #10  
Unread 02-20-2019, 01:11 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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"a party trick of his was playing the recorder with his nose"

Yeah, but could he beatbox at the same time like this?
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