In 1989 I was on holiday in the Lake District at a log cabin not far from Cockermouth and it seemed that no matter where my girlfriend and I drove to (Hadrian’s Wall, Carlisle, Keswick, Workington, around the Lakes) all roads led back to Cockermouth. We, like silly children, thought this rather hilarious. For a start why is it named ‘Cockermouth’? The most sexually suggestive town in the UK. What’s it like to live in Cockermouth? What’s it like to tell people your address? Does the name always elicit sniggers? How did William Wordsworth feel about having been born there? On that holiday of long ago we passed the birthplace many times, but never went in. I would now. Born in 1770 Wordsworth would become Poet Laureate in 1843 and would stay in situ until his death in 1850. It would seem that the Establishment thought Wordsworth very much worth words.
Which brings me to my point. Why do some of us love words so much? We all speak and communicate obviously, but for those in the world of poets, storytellers, songwriters and authors words have a magical quality. This ability to express words and ideas, to quote Walt Whitman, and John Keating from ‘Dead Poets Society’: “The powerful play goes on and each may contribute a verse.” As Keating asks “What will your verse be?” This is more than a piece of poetry or a story told, here Keating, and Whitman, are asking “What will you make of your life?”
Words came to me young and books were my passion from as early as I can remember. To this day there is something magical about holding a book in your hands that a Kindle can’t replicate. Some books, the hardback of “The Book Thief” by Tomas Suzack comes to mind, feel like a piece of cloth to a tailor or a piece of oak to a carpenter. It just feels good. Other books I have are almost falling to pieces so often have their pages been turned. When I was exposed to the spoken word in performance last year I gained a new appreciation for language and how people used it. I would be sitting listening to a poet, storyteller or singer and hear a phrase that caught my ear and I would marvel at other people’s turn of phrase. This passion that made us laugh, to think on a new tangent or explore a memory of our own. We would learn more about each other as regular performers, we would hear the life stories, absorb someone else’s pain and empathise with them.
Festivals gave me a new experience, you had to listen a little harder, concentrate a little more and each time vowels and consonants would dance upon the air, to enter your ear and create new symphonies within.
Every day I read, I usually have three or four books on the go at any one time (at the moment it’s a biography of Elvis, another of Marilyn Monroe, Seve Ballesteros autobiography and another about the Norman Conquest) and pick each one up depending on the mood I am in at the moment. Novels absorb my life, I have to turn each page in the best of them. I love learning about the history of words – did you know that the Orcs of Tolkien’s Middle Earth books were what the Anglo Saxons called the Normans? It means ‘foreigner, invader, monster’. When you consider that Tolkien was a professor of Anglo Saxon English it all makes sense.
Stories, poetry, screenplays, movies, tv shows, songs – all have the ability to capture your mood, to change your emotions in a second, to take you to faraway places and bring you back to earth with a bump.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” so goes the old rhyme, but is it satirical because we know of all weapons words can wound the most, but at the same time nothing can move us as much as phrases like “I love you”, “yes,” or “I do”.
For me words are the daily movement of life, a process to move me forward, I don’t really mind how they are brought to me (as in all the methods discussed) and you know what? I bet Wordsworth felt exactly the same.
PS Cockermouth is so named because it is at the merging of the River Cocker as it flows into the River Derwent, so now you know.
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