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Unread 02-12-2019, 10:33 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 time. 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 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!
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.

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.
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.

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.

My father 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. Perhaps he’s to blame for this one too.

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, a writer I met in Perugia in 1986) 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.

Last edited by Duncan Gillies MacLaurin; Today at 10:37 AM.
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  #2  
Unread 02-12-2019, 03:55 PM
Martin Rocek's Avatar
Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
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Hi Duncan,

Can you post a recording?

Martin
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Unread 02-12-2019, 05:03 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
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Unread 02-12-2019, 06:44 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.
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Unread Today, 10:28 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
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