Nick Murray talks to Gabriel Moreno about his latest event, The Descent and Rise of Orpheus the Bard, and his upcoming poetry collection, The Hollow Tortoise.
What’s the basis for your work?
All this writing at the moment, I think it’s related to identity. It’s the first book I’ve written in English. (Gabriel has five books previous published in Spanish.) Three years ago I made the decision, perhaps a challenging one but very interesting, to come to England and write in the language I was educated in. I’m from Gibraltar originally. This book is a challenge to myself, getting back to my roots, and writing in English.
How are you finding that?
The first year was really difficult! I think it’s a really deranged thing to do! I had found my voice in Spanish, found an editor and all that. And then I left it all and decide to write in English. Also, musically there wasn’t much going on in Barcelona. I was writing songs in English and it wasn’t so interesting performing that there.
So I came here and started with a project called The Ungallant Knight which was basically a figure that came out of the need to find a voice, in another language. To do this I created a sort of alter ego or a filter to project my work in. That was The Ungallant Knight who metamorphosed into Orpheus at the end.
Have you found that your writing style is different in English?
Totally different. My subject matter, my style, my metre. Everything! In Spanish I was writing very lyrical poems. The poetry of experience, relationships, emotions.
Though that is not entirely gone…
No, but I think that the metaphysical elements, the philosophical elements – also due to the fact that I’m dealing with this myth of Orpheus which is really compelling intellectually as well – that wasn’t in the Spanish poetry. I think that’s all part of my English mind.
In fact, the change in writing is expressed in the show [The Descent and Rise of Orpheus the Bard]. I realised that in order to express myself in English I needed to dramatically cut the line breaks. I needed to sculpt the words and use the metrics to expose my way of thinking in English which is totally different to my thinking in Spanish. It’s like a surgical operation. I needed to use words to sharply cut reality down. My writing in Spanish was entirely different. I would talk about life in a more expansive manner.
So, the Descent and Rise of Orpheus. Have you devised it all yourself?
Yes, I started the book three years ago with The Ungallant Knight and the project with the musicians, Simon Stanley Ward, Jason McNiff, Trent Miller and Joe Wilkes all happened due to the Lantern Society. I met them here [at the Betsey Trotwood] when I performing some of my own music. We thought about merging the singer songwriter element with the poems and started working on it.
What is your relationship with mythology?
I think it all started through the Gibraltarian element. In Gibraltar we have all this ancient history. Before it was a settlement it was used as an altar site. Before even the Moorish settlements. All this is really appealing to me. My mother was very religious, she was a protestant minister, but I never felt connected with Christian religion so having these thoughts about this historical element of Gibraltar was a way of finding a more accepting way of dealing with spirituality.
I felt there was a spiritual element within me, probably because of my mother’s teachings when I was young, and I wanted to connect it with something.
What drew you to Greek mythology over other cultures?
In Gibraltar, we’re Mediterraneans and I wanted to go back to the roots of both my heritage and my personal experience. Where better than the person who supposedly brought music to Greece and the world? The Greek myths appeal most to my sensibilities.
How have you put the show together? Is it closely based on the book?
Not entirely. The book deals with the whole chronology of the life of Orpheus, from the poems about his childhood up to him getting fragmented by the Maenads and becoming a prophet in Lesbos. The show only deals with the descent into hell in search of Eurydice and the rise out of hell with the loss of Eurydice, but with the gift of music.
Apart from being based on the myth of Orpheus, the story is about someone, now, trying to find their voice. Orpheus serves as a symbol and as a mask.
The show has strong elements of both music and poetry. Do they exist side by side or does the show meld them together?
As I write poetry and also write music, I really feel that they are two separate entities. When you start to mix them, things can go really wrong. I’ve heard some albums in Spain from important flamenco players with poetry and the results for me have been quite disappointing. It can detract from both arts.
Poetry has its own music. When you try to mess with the metrics and line breaks and intonation, it doesn’t really work. We wanted to create a dichotomy of music and poetry, in parallel, dialoguing with each other, but never stepping on each other’s toes.
On a more technical level, can you guide me through the show? How will it develop?
Basically we chose a set of poems, between myself and the songwriters, the poems that we thought best portrayed the ideas of the descent and rise. Then we divided the show into two parts. The first part is the descent, wherein the poems will take a more dark and introspective perspective. With these poems we chose songs that could dialogue through the lyrics or music. The second part, the ascent, is a bit more lively and upbeat. It will have an intertwining of songs and poems.
You say that the rise is quite upbeat. Surely it has one of the most crushing endings of all time!
The strange thing is, with the show and with my book, it is one of the most positive points. After Orpheus is dismembered, this is when the possibility is given for the artist to be born. For the real voice to be born.
What’s the next step? Are you working more with mythology?
We want to see how this works, to see if it unfolds in reality in the same way we see it in our minds. As an event, it’s a one-off thing. I’m publishing the book in January with Orion Contemporary with prints created by Denes Maroti.
The Descent and Rise of Orpheus the Bard will take place at The Slaughtered Lamb, 34 Great Sutton Street, EC1V oDX
Thursday 12th July, 8pm.
Read more on Gabriel Moreno here.