Poems Cannot Speak for Themselves
Mozart in Manchester
It’s true that poems can’t speak for themselves, but this one, Mozart in Manchester, published in the October 2019 issue of the excellent The Honest Ulsterman, is making quite a noise.
The Honest Ulsterman
The HU is listed in the acknowledgements of so many great poets: Simon Armitage, Sean O’Brien and Fleur Alcock. What drew us to the title on its internet-only relaunch was the standard of the poetry, way above anything we’ve seen recently. One poem published in 2017, about seeing a couple making love in a telephone box, sealed it for us.
The HU has a glorious Wikipedia entry, and continues to publish excellent poetry. The October 2019 issue contains poems from regular contributors and debutantes, too. The full list is Helen Moore, Ken Babstock, Olga Dermott, Iain Campbell, Bob Cooper, Greg Huteson, Iain Twiddy, Anne McCrea, Susan Wilde, Anita Greg, Andrew Soye, Joel Robert Ferguson, Niall M Oliver, Clare McCotter, Billy Fenton, Alan Weadick, Stephen House, James Finnegan, KG Newman, Stephen de Burca, Daniel Galvin, Deidre Hines, Tracy Gaughan, Fred Johnston, Patrick Moran, William Stephenson, Orla Fay, Bhupender K Bhardwaj, Sue Morgan, and Christina Hessian. We like you all, and thank you to the HU editor Gregory McCartney
The title Mozart in Manchester is in a tradition of incongruous titles: Handel in the Strand by Percy Grainger, Nixon in China and Austen in Hollywood. It’s a juxtaposition of improbability that can only happen in art. Our poem about Mozart’s highly implausible but still possible attendance at the opening of Shudehill Mill in Manchester in 1782, is about incongruity. Just because it never happened doesn’t mean the imagination can’t have fun with the possibility that it might have happened.
‘How could anyone know what happened in 1782? Are you time travellers now? Manchester is now. Mozart was then. So how can this contradictory thing exist? It’s a load of make-believe. It does not compute. It’s all lies. A bot. Fake. Dismissed.’
Well, it’s certainly an incongruous title, and our jobs as poets appears safe because it’s out there, but the choice poets have now in the web, is to either shock or raise the general intellect. Our aim is the latter, and occasionally, a poem gets picked.
The publication of Mozart in Manchester shows that incongruity and antithesis can exist on the web, but as well as passing the expert eyes of Gregory, this poem has (like this blog) passed through the data banks of hundreds of millions of stored texts with which it has been compared and ranked, and that’s how it gets distributed and read.
So, think again, poets, should you feel there’s nothing left to say. Don’t give in. Buck the trend. ArtificIal intelligence couldn’t generate a poem like this. For AI, time is just appearance, a number, an image with two dimensions: x and y, and no age, history or facts. The Internet only exists in the now, and, therefore, the poet has to be the narrator telling the truth. Nothing more.
Shudehill Mill was a very early steam-driven factory built in 1782 that marked a paradigm shift in the Age of so-called Enlightenment away from rural, subsistence existences, to mechanisation. Imagine a world without factories. 1782 changed all that.
But Why Write About It?
The aim of the poem is to reach the general intellect outside the impotent restrictions imposed on the Web by the creators of ranking algorithms. The engineer and the economist do not understand this poem, and it’s aim is to inspire everyone else in the way only a poem can – that is, to go beyond the ‘limits of our language’ and make things up.
We want to disentangle the incongruity that says Mozart and Manchester ‘sounds’ wrong. Why should it ‘sound’ wrong? Is it because we’re programmed to assume wrongness? The only thing that tells us it’s wrong, is our own minds. The poem aims to normalise that sense of wrongness.
Factories of the Mind
We don’t let the mental template of the Web stop creativity. We are poets of themes, concepts and ideas. Of course, the poem does not compute, but it’s the implausibility that’s the point of it. In other words, it’s not inconceivable because it exists here in the institutional technological space that is the Web.
In June 2019, John Suchet, the former TV newsreader was heard to say “Mozart never visited Manchester” on the radio station Classic FM. Why Mozart? Why Manchester? Our home city! Was it a sign? A sly joke about the wrongness? A signal to poets who couldn’t resist the alliterative title? Were we supposed to accept this fact as a challenge? Were we being asked to believe in it, that the city of the industrial revolution, Cottonopolis, the inspiration for Marx and Engels was never visited by Mozart? Were we supposed to say ‘Of course not! Don’t be silly!’?
So, what are the facts?
Mozart died in 1791 when Manchester was just a large village with a cathedral. Chetham’s, the famous library, has survived into the modern era, too, but there’s no evidence that Manchester had a suitable hall where Mozart could perform in 1782, nor is there any record of Mozart’s visit, but there was much more than just an alliterative poem title in “Mozart never visited Manchester”. Sadly, Constanze’s appearance in the poem, to draw Mozart away from Arkwright’s mill, is ghostly. She died in 1842.
Sir Richard Arkwright
A contemporary of Mozart, Sir Richard Arkwright, was the inventor and industrial revolution entrepreneur who built Shudehill Mill. The Bill Gates of his day, he would have had more than enough money to lure Mozart west for the opening of his revolutionary factory that appeared to power itself and makes things mechanically.
It’s also fact that fashion and culture looked east in the 1780s. Arkwright, however, had plans to make Manchester the centre of global attention economically, scientifically and financially. The world you were drawn into when you entered Arkwright’s new mill was not going to stop for anyone. The wheels turned relentlessly. The money poured in.
The factory, the monstrous creation that Amazon and others still indulge in hundreds of years later, was the creation and recreation of Arkwright’s brain. It’s the success of Shudehill that gave us the template for the future that still produces a sense of wrongness in the idea that Mozart visited Manchester. However, poetry, that illogical, fake, difficult, abstract nothingness, can make the inconceivable conceivable.
Prague, Paris, Vienna, Manchester
There’s no record that contemporary polar opposites, Mozart and Arkwright, ever actually met, but they did both live in the same age; Arkwright died a year after Mozart died. Mozart’s invitation to the opening of Shudemill by a ‘cottage industry culture-vulture Lord Mayor ’ is lost if it ever existed. It almost certainly didn’t exist. For an entrepreneur’s fee, Mozart might have been drawn out of fashionable Prague, Paris or Vienna to the unfashionable, unknown backwater that was the north-west of England. Arkwright might have liked Mozart, but it seems unlikely.
If Mozart had attended, he might have witnessed the start of the industrial revolution, and he may have observed the seeds of unrest in Peterloo fields. From a modern perspective, viewed from our own age of pharmacological stupor, fakery, common ignorance, un-conscience, and delusion, we can make observations about what neuro-technological developments will lead to. Mozart in Manchester shows worlds colliding, overlapping, producing schisms and conflict.
Mozart, the Deadliest Soundtrack
Mozart’s music is said to reflect the so-called Enlightenment in its mathematical correctness and in the Mozart Effect. Arkwright should have looked him up. In Mozart And The Musical Flowering Of The Age Of Enlightenment, Kevin Martin says: “Mozart’s genius did not spring forth in isolation. In fact, he was very much engaged in the world around him, and his ‘moment,’ so to speak, coincided with the full flowering of the Age of Enlightenment. New thinkers – among them Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot – sought to flush away medieval attitudes about religion and the ‘divine right’ of kings and replace them with a revolutionary faith in reason, order, and science.”
Shudehill Mill is the disembodiment of that paradigm shift, constructed in bricks and mortar. Workers filed in under a new order. Children, men and women were now going to be treated like machines, and Mozart unknowingly provided the soundtrack.
Leonard Da Vinci
It wasn’t just the cultural crossovers of the so-called Enlightenment and the opening of Shudehill Mill that interested us as poets. Bobbin winders interest us, too, especially automatic ones. The Renaissance inventor Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519) played his part in this collision of cultural tectonic plates that shook the world in Manchester. Three hundred years before the steam powered factory appeared, the renaissance polymath was dabbling with the cosmos, replacing humans with automatons by inventing an automatic bobbin winder. What did these technocrats have against people doing a job that they got paid for? Did they want to drive life off the planet altogether? Did they do it just because they could?
Mozart, being the musical link between the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment, can be made, in a poem, to reflect on the not so ‘enlightened’ exploitation of humanity, man as machinery, and the slavery that Arkwright’s era fully embraced. We can only speculate that Mozart made a mistake ‘visiting’ Manchester, that he knew his time was over. We can only speculate that Da Vinci would have depicted Manchester as a soul-eating dragon that fed on the children shredded and devoured by Shudehill Mill’s unstoppable carding fork machinery, but maybe he would have liked the hell-hole instead. We don’t know. We never will. But we do know that people like him, the modern technocrats, they don’t care when a hole develops in the wafer thin ozone layer above us. They don’t care when they obliterate the darkness of the night sky with robot stars. They just look to inhabit another planet and speed up their liberalising, deregulating, destabilising destruction of mankind on this one. Umbria in perpetuity. Forever in darkness.
The Peterloo Massacre
Shudehill Mill marked the rising significance of the North European city as a liberalising gargantuan, and it marked the developing rift in ultra-conservative politics, between globalising Whigs and landowner Tories, that led to the Peterloo massacre.
The massacre took place in Peterloo fields, Manchester, England, on Monday, 16 August, 1819, thirty seven years after Shudehill Mill opened. If Mozart had visited Manchester, he would have seen the future in all its uniform, monotonous, programmed, logical, mechanised, military deadliness.
Shudehill Mill takes its place in the long list of development and domination of neuro-technology. There’s the wheel, electricity, the silicon chip, the micro-processor, splitting the atom, Elon Musk’s robots in space, and Bill Gates’s zero-carbon, sun-driven cement works at Lancaster, California.
Bill Gates’s sun-powered cement works, with its robot automatons and software driven array of mirrors, marks another paradigm shift away from workers towards software, and that’s the paradox: we save the planet for what? For robots? We’re actually driving out our own species. What could possibly go wrong? Do paradoxes make poems, or don’t they compute? You decide.
Read Mozart in Manchester in The Honest Ulsterman here.
Mozart And The Musical Flowering Of The Age Of Enlightenment
Mozart and Mathematics by Patrick Hunt
You must be logged in to post a comment.