The Sound Recordist, Seán Street’s sequence published by Maytree Press, is a distillation of many things he has written previously about sound in his poetry collections and the series of non-fiction books brought out by Palgrave Macmillan and Routledge. In these publications are key words that find their poetic echoes as themes and images in The Sound Recordist – interaction, identity, silence, time, memory, place, preservation, time and the ever-present past.
The theme of echoes, the need for echoes, is a constant in all Seán Street’s work, whether poetry or prose. In ‘Wild Track’ the ‘sound/ of air’ is ‘going on round us.’ It is ‘the moment happening’ in the ‘Perfect acoustic silence’ of a ‘blank empty room filled with/ possibility’. All around is ‘wide transparent space’ and here are layers of sound, the ‘inaudible threads’ (‘Microphone’) where ‘meaning lies between things.’ (‘Notes on Using the Studio’). In this ambience are signals ‘on the edge of things’ which emerge gradually like ‘Notes on dim staves’ (‘Early Show’). All one needs to do is be attentive, wait for triggers of memory and the ‘pauses in silence,’ accept that humans are sonic beings as both transmitters and receivers, and become what Seán Street has described elsewhere as ‘ear-witnesses.’
Several poems in The Sound Recordist emphasise sound as language, the interplay between the sounds of syllables and an imagination that creates a soundscape from the sonic resonances of words to create atmosphere and a sense of place. ‘Reel to Reel’ has the image of ‘language quietly singing to itself,/ the sound of its thought awaiting its second speaking/ … its proper nouns and verbs exact after all this time.’ A striking poem in The Sound Recordist is ‘At the Grodzka Gate’ where time zones touch and interact ‘Through the plain grey prose/of the everyday/that stands side by side/ with the unspeakable, and ‘you hold out a pen/to me, fingers touch/ and you become words.’
Other areas of the arts are also part of this essential relationship with sound. ‘Listening to Miles Davis in the Cardiac Ward’, for example, is an evocative poem is which music blends with the recovery process as the ‘singing of the morphine’s/honey through the cannula/finds entrances to dark worlds,/lights bright pathways out of some.’ In ‘A Trick of the Light’ an old Van Morrison tune sung by ‘Someone somewhere across suburbia’ is a memory trigger, a trick of sound, ‘A place to be when the place is elsewhere’ because ‘it’s what music does.’ The cover image of ‘Evening Stillness’ by the artist Paula Dunn is ideal for The Sound Recordist, while in ‘Memory in a Hallway’ John Singer Sargent’s ‘perfected brush stroke’ of a Venetian Interior is ‘the art of pure translucency,/ open doors reflecting water.’ A reference elsewhere to ‘The Ruins of Holyrood Chapel’ by Louis Daguerre enhances the haunted atmosphere of a building where even the echoes have died.
‘Time and Light’ is a particularly evocative poem in Seán Street’s The Sound Recordist adding, as it does, another dimension to the soundscapes already created in this sequence. Sound has now become one of the mysteries of light/hidden and trapped’ while light in its turn will ‘impersonate sound’ and ‘Time’ moves ‘beyond flesh into air’. Everything now is caught in shadows – the ‘layered time’ of
vegetation where angels flew, fleeting
punctum of a flash on altar stone
and the wound of a place’s lost past healed.
Mandy Pannett 20th March 2021