The author writes:
In 1994 I read a review by Peter Conrad, in The Observer, of Elizabeth Wilson's Shostakovich: A Life Remembered. As its title suggests, this is a compendium of personal reminiscences by relatives, friends and acquaintances of the composer. The glimpses of Shostakovich's life which the review quoted caught my imagination as a possible subject for poetry, and I began what quickly became a lengthy project. Conrad's reference to Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues Op.87 for piano gave me my format. I decided to write a set of 24 preludes and fugues myself, in words — the preludes in free or invented forms, in the third person, and the fugues in any strict poetic form, in the first person, as the voice of Shostakovich himself. In practice, this plan relaxed somewhat as the work progressed.
I have been asked how closely these poems echo Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues. The answer is, only in the most general terms. It proved too difficult to make each pair of poems shadow the mood and, still more, the musical content of a corresponding pair of piano pieces, and in the end I didn't try. Since music, after all, functions as a representation rather than a precise description, to align the poetry strictly with the music would have left me without much narrative possibility. I needed to be able to refer to other works of his, and other periods of the composer's life.
Read 'Lament' on the Guardian website.
Published October 2006