The word of the day today, for me, at least, was “juxtaposition”.
Now, look, juxtaposition is a word I usually can’t stand, primarily because its usage is typically the preserve of high school English teachers.
When I next reveal to you that both of my parents happened to be high school English teachers, I think you will get the general drift of where I’m coming from.
So, anyhow, it’s a word used a lot to describe how poets like to put quite jarring objects/images together to create unusual or arresting results. In the poem titled, Portrait of the Artist as a Velvet Urinal, the placing together of velvet and urinal is a case in point.
And, well, today, for some reason, my day was filled with many such examples of exactly these kinds of arresting images. Okay, its probably got to do with the fact I spent most of my time at a folk festival. But even so the word juxtaposition just kept jumping out at me around every corner.
Firstly, let me describe to you the young woman I saw performing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. She had a very crystalline operatic voice and played a massive harp, which she rested between her knees where she sat. Fine. Not so arresting, you say.
Maybe not in isolation. But the fact that where she sat, as she performed this song, happened to be a dusty old canvas tent with big clouds of camp fire smoke billowing through it made the whole experience quite surreal.
While the woman’s performance was angelic and ethereal, her surrounds were infernal and noxious. The juxtaposition of the singer with the scene around her produced a very strange and jarring effect indeed.
However, the example I actually most want to talk about was a completely different act I caught later on. You see, there was this Mongolian throat singer, who looked quite similar to Elvis, and he had teamed up with a Turkish oud-player (btw an oud is a bit like a lute) as well as a jazz saxophonist.
And together, they were really something. The throat singing guy also played a traditional Mongolian horse-violin, which had the most amazing tone. But ultimately it was the mix of these vastly disparate musical styles that created something unique and special.
Granted this was a kind of aural juxtaposition, and yet even so the word juxtaposition, for me, still best describes the unlikely combination of musical genres that came together to bring that magic about. Interestingly, the musicians themselves called what they played a fusion. Although that didn’t cut it for me.
If we backtrack to earlier, I can say, sure, the image of a velvet urinal is at its most basic simply a fusion of two very different and typically unrelated concepts. Yet it is the word juxtaposition that captures or successfully encapsulates the unsettling tension that such a fusion of words creates.
So you decide, is it enough to say Mongolian bluegrass is simply a kind of musical fusion? Or do we gain something within our language by being able to draw attention to the juxtaposition of the two totally disparate concepts of “Mongolian” and “bluegrass”?
Like I said at the beginning, its not normally a word I’m very fond of. But for me today, at least, juxtaposition was the defining concept. And if only they knew of it, I’m sure there would be high school English teachers rejoicing about this fact throughout the land.
And therefore, to wrap up, I say, “thank you, Mrs Watsford, you did your job splendidly all those long years ago!” While as for my parents, I would instead question them as to why they would ever let me contemplate entering into a vocation which has been compared to (among other things) one’s being like a velvet urinal.
Because even if many a writer has been called a piss artist before now, I’m not so sure this particular example of juxtaposition is alluding to the drinking habits of artists per se.
Look, there, I’ve said it again. The J-word or the J-bomb, if you prefer. Use it sparingly, but don’t forget it exists! Think of it, like I do now, in terms of the subtitle to the film Dr Strangelove, namely “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the J-Bomb”.