Rhyme and Reason

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Poet and DJ Mr Gee talks to songwriters about poetry and how it influences their work.

The performance poet, DJ and broadcaster, Mr Gee - familiar from his work on Saturday Live and Russell Brand's Radio 2 show - is fascinated by poetry and songwriting, the similarities and the differences between these crafts. He seeks out songwriters who love poetry and hears from them about the importance of poetry in their lives and the way it influences their songwriting.

Cerys Matthews, who came to fame two decades ago as the singer in Catatonia, is a Welsh speaker, in which language poetry is written in strict, elaborate forms. But Cerys also speaks French, Spanish and English, and reads poetry in all of them. The poets she cites as influential include Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, whose work, formally, ranges as wide as the plains of America, with enormously long lines and patterns like mountain ranges. These poets inspire her directly, she tells Mr Gee, then she picks up her guitar and sings a song featuring a spider - the same one, perhaps, that Whitman famously wrote about.

For Richard Thompson the influence of the poets he loves - Eliot, Yeats and John Clare - is more tangential. It colours the mood and tone of his great songs of modern England. Sometimes the rhythms of poems find their way into his songs. He is struck by the power of traditional songs, how they evoke characters, and unfold stories in images. He models some of his own ballads, such as 'Beeswing', on them.

Mr Gee hears, too, from someone working the other way around. Ian McMillan, enthusiast of what his wife calls 'squeaky gate music' by, for instance, Captain Beefheart, reveals how songs have influenced the poetry he writes, some of which is then set to music.

Producer: Julian May.
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