Sunday, November 30, 2008

In horse talk, I have not been On Form this month. Consequently most of my time has been spent in comfort pursuits involving mooching about, close friends & family, and online scrabble, so there's not much in the literary line to report. However, I made it to the Mission Theatre in Bath twice: once to see Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending. It's set in the playwright's usual world of small-town America: full of repressed passion needing only the trigger of a wild outsider to set the place alight, with an ending as horrifying as any Greek tragedy. In the hot dry dust of unspoken grievance and unspeakable grief, wanderer Val celebrates lyricism and hope for "a future called perhaps, which is the only possible thing to call the future. And the only important thing is not to allow that to scare you. "
It's a re-working of a much earlier, failed, play called Battle of Angels which Williams never abandoned. He said "You will find the trail of my sleeve-worn heart in this completed play... it's about the acceptance of prescribed answers that are not answers at all"
That notion of freedom from 'prescribed answers' is most lyrically expressed in Val's fantasy of tiny birds with transparent wings, eluding predator. "They live their whole life on the wing, and they sleep on the wing, they just spread their wings and go to sleep and never light on this earth but one time when they die! " A powerful image to anyone, perhaps especially to writers.
Russell Brand ended his documentary on Jack Kerouac with this thought: "The main thing I got from this journey is that if you aren't governed by fear then you can live truthfully and you can find a kind of beauty. But if you're inhibited and fearful, you will live a prescriptive existance. Once you get beyond the hedonistic first impulse of that philosophy, you find that you need to focus on something wider, more permanent and beautiful and valuable. That's what I've learnt." Could be Tennessee Williams' Val talking. Except he'd probably have strummed it.

Then on Sunday the Bath Poetry Cafe had a Rialto night, celebrating local connections with this prestigious literary magazine. Editor Michael Mackmin talked about what he seeks from submissions - a self-seal envelope is paramount, apparently. Readings from poets who had avoided this and other fatal errors followed: I especially enjoyed Sue Boyle, Emily Wills, and of course Rose Flint, who writes so sensuously and with such tragedic yearning:
And what I hope for every winter is to find a way through
to the other side where the jubilant light begins again
in a hesitation of birdsong.

Footnote this week: my online interview with writer Judy Darley .


1 comment:

John Baker said...

I've just been reading your blog. Stimulating stuff. Thank you very much.
Am I really going to be the first one to comment here?
I haven't seen Orpheus Descending for a long time, the last performance, I believe, was in Newcastle around ten years ago.
Your reference to freedom from 'prescribed answers' brought to mind a recent interview with Marilynne Robinson where she describes her involvement with original sources, and says:
"I began what amounted to an effort to reeducate myself. After all those years of school, I felt there was little I knew that I could trust, and I did not want my books to be one more tributary to the sea of nonsense that really is what most conventional wisdom amounts to. I am not so naive as to imagine that I have escaped that fate except in isolated cases and small particulars. But the research and criticism I have done have helped me to be of my own mind in some degree, and that was a feeling I had to achieve before I could enjoy writing fiction."