MIGHTY BEAST: written by Sean Borodale, soundscape by Elizabeth Purnell, produced by Sara Davies, performed by Christopher Bianchi. BBC Radio 3, Between the Ears, 2013. 29mins10.
Mighty Beast is a ‘radio poem’ that takes us into the cattle saleyard, and the lives of the auctioneers, animal handlers and farmers that are its denizens. Radio poems operate through feeling as much as intellect, and give scope for different interpretations. They are not so much about imparting information or telling a story, as creating an experience. They are more associative than expository, often proceeding in a non-linear way. Often radio poems use sounds as symbol or metaphor, and they can employ ‘audio rhymes’ – by this I mean placing sounds that have similar morphology, but come from different sources, next to each other, or merging them via cross-fades.
Mighty Beast is structured around four elements: Borodale’s poetic auctioneer; edited interviews with the market workers and farmers; beautifully composed music which echoes and expands rhythms within the spoken word and the location sounds of the market; and finally the sounds themselves, such as gates, cows bellowing, bells and winter wind. The auctioneering tradition is a perfect vehicle for Borodale, with its rapid delivery, clipped, compressed grammar, rhythmic repetitions, colourful asides and changes of vocal register. Another element of the radio poem is ellipsis, so that we feel and intuit the meaning instead of being told it directly. There is a strong sense of social history as the interviewees discuss the impact of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the area, quarantine and isolation, and the subsequent closure of the market which was always such an important social as well as economic gathering, an antidote to the loneliness of the farm.
Mighty Beast sits within a long tradition of radio works that explore the poetic and musical elements of everyday speech, particularly the languages of labour. Examples include features by Jane Ulman, Chris Brookes and especially the seminal Radio Ballads (1957-1964) created by Parker, MacColl and Seeger. Never sentimentalising, musical, complex and evocative, Mighty Beast represents a fresh and inventive iteration of this tradition.
The review includes an interview by the author with poet Sean Borodale. Full review (3,600 words) and audio link from DOWNLOAD tab.