Jamie Cameron

Natalie Linh Bolderston speaks to The London Magazine about her Aladdin Sane-inspired poem, ‘Love Letters from the End of the World’, celebrating the anniversary of David Bowie’s iconic album.


Q. Hi Natalie, just to start would you be able to tell us a bit about your poem – ‘Love Letters from the End of the World’ – and how it responds to ‘Drive-in Saturday’ which, for lack of a better word, might be one of the sexiest Bowie songs?

A. Well, when I looked up ‘Drive-in Saturday’ and the background to it and I found out it was set in this kind of post-apocalyptic future, in which people have forgotten how to have sex, initially, it felt quite far from what I normally write. But then I distilled it down to its main themes: the apocalypse and acts of love. Then I used those to develop an idea of how to respond to it.

I really like the epistolary form, because it feels really intimate. So I ended up using that to write a poem in which survivors in a post apocalyptic world, maybe even my descendants, write to me asking about old stories of love. So in my poem, like in Bowie’s song, there is lots of apocalyptic and sensual imagery and references to music. But I think I really wanted to use that to give it a ring of hope, you know, music and poetry are still things to aspire to and inspire you even after the end of the world.

As you mention your poem channels the song’s apocalyptic subject matter, but it’s not just about the end of the world in the conventional sense, it’s also about the death of language and how we love in the face of that. There’s the great line – “when the last of your metaphors were driven to extinction, / how did you know / where to lay your hands? “- obviously Bowie was writing in the 70s but in our time we still seem to be obsessed with our own demise – why do you think we like to write about the end of the world?

Well, I think the idea of the apocalypse chimed with me personally because I am also really interested in ecology in my poetry. I am especially interested in decentralising the West, and a focus on the effects of climate change in other parts of the world, especially Vietnam, where a lot of my family is still living and where a lot of these huge effects are already happening. I really wanted to bring in that element of big, heavy happenings within an intimate poem.

What was your own personal relationship with Bowie’s music before you wrote this poem? 

I actually didn’t know that much about Bowie’s music before I took on the commission, but I had a lot of respect for his ambition and his vision. I knew that he was iconic, and I’ve listened to a lot of modern music that was inspired by him; the theatricality and the largeness. For me, I thought of the bands that were inspired by that; The Darkness and My Chemical Romance. So really I took on this commission to know him better, as a way to develop that appreciation, and I do really think it helped me build that. It made me think about how artists can respond to music in a way that is subtle but still pays homage to it.

As you say, Bowie was such an iconic and theatrical performer. How are you then going to approach the performing of the poem at the Southbank Centre for the actual Aladdin Sound performance?

Well, I think its really important to feel connected to your body when you’re performing, so making sure that I have digested my own words, making sure I’ve had time to know them inside and out. Then just the usual things, taking your time, pacing yourself, giving the words space to ring, in the same way notes and melodies are given that space to ring out in musical performance.

Finally, if you had to pick a favourite Bowie song, what would it be?  Or even a song you love from an artist that is channelling Bowie like you mentioned?

Well, I definitely think ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ channels the theatricality and largeness of Bowie really well!

Natalie, thank you so much for speaking to us.

You can read Natalie’s poem ‘Love Letters from the End of the World’ on The London Magazine Website.


You can also see the full performance of all the Bowie-inspired poems at The Southbank Centre on Friday 21st April, at the ‘NPL Presents: Aladdin Sound’ event. Tickets can be purchased here.

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