Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A theatrical theme to this entry: Sunday’s ‘Scratchings’ at the Merlin was a chance for me & Howard to show more of our DVD stuff (& brag 163 hits so far on onomatopoeia) and to see others' work, like the brilliant hip-hop drama from StetsaPhunk.
One of the reasons Frome’s Merlin Theatre is seen as a model of good practice is director Paula’s determination to gather a diverse creative team and then to nourish them. The annual Merlin Salon fr’instance, and as Nicki from the deli did the catering we were particularly well-nourished at the Orchardleigh work-party this week, with less than a hyphen separating the work from the party.

Conversations are focussed but wide-ranging & provocative: the impact of technology on performance, for example. Neil thinks skills for appreciating 3-D space are getting less as people relate increasingly to 2-D screen space and ways of editing time are largely TV based. We’re moving into an autistic world, he believes; as technology designed by people on the autistic spectrum will ultimately shape our experiences. Annabelle agrees: children are missing out on kinaesthetic learning. All the more important to involve them, then, with physical performance which can help them engage with the aesthetic of real space – and develop that muscle of creativity we’re all born with. I’m reminded of the discussion at Friday’s ArtsMatrix mentors’ meeting in Bristol: Jo Larsen asserting "Acting is actually being. We’re born with a mission to be seen and heard for who we are, and acting enables us to find and show that person.”

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A flurry of excitement in Cheap Street on Saturday as best-selling author Debby Holt does a book-signing at Hunting Raven bookshop. Frome, as well as 2 thriving theatres and a licenced cinema, has its own independent book shop - recently extended, an'all, so everything the writer needs really.

I can feel one of my Frome-twinned-with-Eden moments coming on - well we are at the heart centre of the universe in ley-line terms, apparently, and Simon Pegg mentioned us in a Hot Fuzz interview - so I'll add a quick burble about our cool cafe society and a pic from the lovely Parisien night at Christies:

Some things recur inexplicably. Like James Blunt, and summer barbecues (wow, it’s hot today, let’s light a fire!). Another of these is the question “Can creative writing be taught?” Like a persistent knotweed it burst forth in the Readers’ Page in last Saturday’s Guardian - which I’d only bought because the Guide carried a rave review of Luke Wright’s new tour, coming to the Merlin on March 10th. (click on 'gigs' at his site to book)
But back to the question, and in particular the way in which Keats’s famous quote “If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all” is wheeled out to support the Case Against. Why? Keats might have meant poetry needs to grow from experiential processes not intellect. He might have meant that when he’s not in the mood he can’t force his words to the quality he wants. He might have meant it needs to take its time unfurling, or that it should be free of self-conscious affectations. What he’s unlikely to have meant is that writers should not attempt to learn their craft like any other artist.
Which links me in a raggy sort of way to our walk on Sunday through Vallis, snowdrop tiers luminous and exquisite all along the riverside, to revisit the grave of Siegfried Sassoon in Mells. Sassoon was a mentor to Wilfred Owen and even helped to edit Anthem for Doomed Youth, changing, our friend Gloria tells us, the mourning wail of shrill choirs of shells from “demonic” to “demented”. Both anthropomorphic, but maybe the original was more phonically apt? Still, at least it shows that Owen was open-minded about guidance.

And Wednesday (21st) was the centenary of WH Auden, the poet with a passion for humanness. We've been revisiting his words. 'Lay your sleeping head my love' is the most exquisite tribute to ordinary love I've ever read, and Emily reminds me of another: September 1st 1939: There is no such thing as the State, And no one exists alone...We must love one another or die.

Monday, February 12, 2007

New moon, Hare moon, and a week of highs - (Venus at the movies, 7/10 I'd say, would be more but for sentimental longwinded ending; sunny walks; shards of snowdrops) - and lows (24 hour lurgi...yucch).
Big buzz to find Howard's put a track from our DVD on YouTube. I give it max. rating and add it to my favourites. Wish someone else would. Son No.2 thinks it "too weird" his mum is in a pop video, and I can see his point.
ps Thank you, Luke Wright!
February 13th is "Valentine Vices", a Poetry Cafe night after a long gap. A great night. Our guests - Rose Flint and Gordon Egginton - are fabulous. And we have David Johnson, of Bristol's 'Paralalia' and Dave Angus from Bath's 'What a Performance' nights... and 15 other poets, all sharing authentic, moving, funny, outrageous experiences with us. Debut reader Tracy Wall won everyone's heart, and one of the awards, with her gymnastic musings. I feel humble and immensely proud as I hand out the donated gifts: a red rose, theatre tickets, books, candle and scented sachets. Valentines Day may have been snaffled by commercial cynics, but there's still a chance to reappropriate. With words.
On Thursday I went with Emily & Ben to Theatre Royal Bath for the National Theatre production of The Seafarer. It's only on till Saturday, or I'd say GO. It's stunning. No sea, although a strong sense of lone voyage. Conor McPherson, who directed and wrote the play, has a skill with script that makes the programme note that “He writes dialogue as if he has found it in the mouths of his characters” read like humble truth. This is a play about redemption, really. There is failure and human frailty but in the end redemption comes through ordinary dysfunctional things like family and friendship, and accepting ownership of your life. Here, hell is not other people, but having no-one to love you. This is an extraordinary story, from the celtic tradition but as uptodate as mobile phones and Miller Lites... and timeless as the devil himself.
And we’re doubly lucky: there’s an after-show talk giving insight into the process that has created this powerful piece of theatre. The actors made contributions during rehearsal time, though now it’s all nailed down, Jim Norton says. ”We try to give the impression of extemporising, but it’s all exact - like jazz”. The other men nod. “He’s a good director.” “He’s the best.” They quaff their drinks. Once again they seem like their stage characters.

A good end to the week with the first session of the newly-formed Frome Self-Help Writers Group - perhaps we should have found a title like Frome Readable Oddities Group Self-helping People All Writing Now which would give us a better acronym - ably and elegantly led by Alison Clink. Small group, good atmosphere, great range of work. And rounding the working week off nicely, convivial supper and then great music (Tessa Bickers my favourite) at the Acoustic-Plus.

Monday, February 05, 2007

"As the light lengthens, so the cold strengthens"
Last weekend was Imbolc, the Celtic festival of new beginnings. Appropriately for a celebration about the growing power of the sun, Saturday in Glastonbury was a stunning day, warm as summer and with a vivid cobolt blue sky. A magic day, full of personal affirmations as we spiralled around the tor and revisited the holy thorn, which we found decorated with pagan tributes of mistletoe as well as a tiny corn angel. Perhaps this is St Brigid, who is patroness of fertility and poetry. As saints go, Brigid seems to have retained remarkable primitive powers. Everywhere she walked, flowers sprang up under her feet. A goddess of poetry, Brigid invented the Ogham alphabet, and on Brigid’s Night 'the sombre hag who took possession of the year at Samain is replaced by the smiling one of hope, full of virginal gaiety, beauty and promise.' Sounds good to me.
"I think I've finished book 4" Debby Holt says at our monthly meeting at Emily's. Book 2 - Annie May's Black Book - has only just been launched, and immediately rocketed into the top 50 best sellers, so this deserves celebration.
What else is new. On Monday the Frome Writing Self-Help Group met again, this time meeker and more mutually attentive. Having now come to heel like docile pups after a Barbara Moorhouse training session, we lolloped through the empty spaces of Wendy's projected programme, filling each date with themes and facilitators. The focus remains firmly on self-help; the general feeling is that the group will find its own direction and energy as it develops. Sessions are open to any interested writer but places limited: sign up at the Library to ensure participation. By contrast Frome Writers Circle, now a vintage group compared to the young wine of the FWSHG, in our Tuesday meeting were able to appreciate the advantage of a smaller group: just 4 (excellent) stories shared but with enough time for full discussion.

With my feet back firmly on Somerset soil (how thick and moist the grass looks here)- a contrastive moment from 2 weeks ago. Providencia, uptown Santiago. I'm scurrying across the busy road without waiting for the traffic lights' permission. Bus driver starts honking his horn. Other drivers join in, long fingers on the noisy pulse as they pass. I'm shaking. I wasn't doing anything that dangerous, surely. Why are these latino drivers such sticklers for pedestrian discipline? I find out about the earth tremor later - the horns are used as a quake warning. No wonder I felt shaky.

2 more fragments from my Chile journal:
An acrostic:
City girl, small town elder
Reading my friend, writing my life
Yet still unsure what it's all about.
Scribbling, scribing
Searching, hiding
Elusive answers. Maybe the question is the point.

The other is a line from Rilke:
"The future enters us to transform us long before it happens."