Saturday, March 08, 2008

Niamh led this month's Library Writers' Group with some canny thoughts on 'Don't get it right get it written' - how to deal with deadlines and discipline and what Zoe calls the 'inner wallpaper' of self-judgement. Learn to love editing, Niamh advises, and don't be deterred by lack of experience. "Make it a strength to come to your subject as an interested ingenue - we have enough experts."

To say that Cube's modernised version of Hamlet has been controversial round here is a like saying The Satanic Verses raised a few eyebrows. I really enjoyed it. It's true the actor taking the title role was tiresomely twitchy, and Gertrude and Horatio seemed to have wandered in from Abigail's Party, but this is a stunning interpretation of a play so full of quotations as to be almost impossible to make fresh and vivid. From the opening (Streets) track onwards, the music added energy, and the set - a silver wall variously claustrophobic, Big-Brother-intrusive, and screen for memories & nightmares - was brilliant. I loved the unexpected, sometimes outrageous, liberties taken with the script: letters as mobile texts, tequila shots and happy-slapping, that famous soliloquy sharded into dialogue. A terrific way to remind us the essential elements of Hamlet are timeless: dysfunctional families, violent passions, love, loss, and loneliness.

Serious bit this week - and I've chosen this picture because the well-known author of 'Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis' is stroppy about website exposure, even though googling Wendy Cope gives 145,000 references. But I'm going to talk about her anyway.
What do you do if you want a smart quote, maybe a few lines of verse perhaps already half-remembered? You look on the web, right? Wendy Cope thinks: wrong. “It isn’t ok – you have to fork out for the book” she asserts, in an article on copyright which is reprinted – obviously by repayment to the author – in the current issue of ALCS news. It’s a Grumpy Old Woman rant, and I don’t know how seriously Ms Cope intends it to be taken since she admits it even annoys her that her words will still be making money after she’s too dead to spend it, but it does raise serious questions about this new world of wider access to literature. And I disagree with her at just about every level.
For one thing, I don’t agree there’s a direct & discouraging correlation between downloading and book-buying. I’d suggest that those who find and enjoy poems on the web are more, not less, likely to buy poetry collections - just as musicians recognise that initial interest from downloading & copying encourages word-of-mouth promotion and hence CD sales. "If poetry was only available to book owners we wouldn’t have our rich popular culture", Emily points out as we discuss these issues over coffee. And as it’s this accessibility to light verse that makes her the ‘good money' she so desires, what is her problem? It’s like an artist, having sold a painting to one buyer, griping that others will enjoy sight of it too. These enriching glimpses create the buyers of the future, in every area of the arts.
Another bee in Ms Cope’s bonnet – her cliché not mine – is literary festivals presenting readings of other people’s work without clearing permissions. I’ll stand up here and admit it: I am Spartacus. Arts festivals – ours anyway – work on budgets that make shoestrings look tough as towlines, and no-one makes big money out of poetry events. Clearing permissions is incredibly time-consuming and can be prohibitively costly. Last year I organised an event called Desert Island Reads at which writer Steve Voake read from a little-known collection of stories by American writer Frank Huyler. Neither Steve nor any other contributor was paid, but five of the audience went away and bought that book. And we were within our legal rights in introducing this author to a new audience, as the law is luckily not always an ass: ‘Fair comment’ specifically allows such use of material still in copyright as long as there’s no libellous intent.
So I have no sympathy with Ms Cope’s stance. There’s a lot of us out here working hard to make a world where her verse, and the poetry of others, will be more widely known and appreciated. We use real events and we use the web too. The internet has impacted our world – she’s a beneficiary, not a victim.

And finally... On 29th March, Luke "The best young performance poet around" Wright comes to Frome's Merlin Theatre. Book soon (01373 465949), bring friends - I promise you this is a knock-your-socks-off show. Appraisal above from The Observer - here's a few more reviewers' verdicts: "A rip-roaring raconteur..." "This man is a genius." "...electrifying." "Britain's brightest young bard ... hugely engaging performer, without a trace of pretension" "..genuinely funny and charming.. quick wit and blinding talent... a born performer."
Perhaps best not wear any socks...

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