Done

DSCF5041

No delicate brush

Met my palette of poetry

Fingers dug

And flung

Straight at the canvas

Creativity ravenous

To be done and hung

With a plaque reading ‘Raw’

Perhaps somewhere near the door

Where my family

And others too poor

To pay the entry

And mingle with the gentry

Could see.

Words and images (c) of the original artist and may not be reproduced without permission 2015

Advertisements

Dylan’s Dialect – Rhythms and Voice

I haven’t posted for several days. Mainly because I wanted to avoid the trap of someone who spent their time principally writing about writing, rather than actually forging ahead with my own creative projects, which are the anchor and the reason for this exploration of voice in the first place.

Recently, as part of the Festival of Chichester, I went to a talk by a very knowledgeable lady entitled Writing Your First Novel. Though she had a wealth of knowledge and had brought with her several published authors whose own experiences she has drawn on with depth and diversity, there was no evidence of her own completed first novel at that talk; indeed, no reference to it. It wasn’t until I was sharing that experience with a class that they made me aware of the aching gap this left, the sadness and shame of it. So often, I find, the teacher really is the student. More than anything, they made me aware that I didn’t want to become this person. I don’t want to just be able to philosophise and produce manuals on the mechanics of the craft – I want to lead be example, to be a master at the craft myself. And so I have spent recent days making progress with both my novel-in-progress and my poetry – which I am coming ever closer to convincing myself to share in this forum.

In my previous entry I was considering the fact that despite a rich culture and history of writing in Welsh culture, a certain amount of this was done through the medium of English and wondered about how this affected not only the ways in which they used their voice for expression, but the things they were able to conceptualise in order to express them in the first place. One of those writers that sprang to mind was Dylan Thomas and it was probably these recent thoughts of him that led me to an adventure in Laugharne today, to consider these ideas further.

I can’t help but feel a tiny bit of affinity with Dylan Thomas, being a Welsh writer through the medium of English myself and was made instantly aware of something else we had in common – an apparent love of being near water. I, myself live only a stones throw from the ocean and I was delighted by the views and idea of his little writing shed.

Aviary Photo_130520640491591323

I have no need of such a thing since, theoretically at least, once inside my own four walls, I have no distractions from writing but I have definitely been inspired to do some furniture shifting in order to make the most of the sea views that could act as such a force of inspiration.

Aviary Photo_130520645451785763

This started to get me thinking about how, so often when I shut everything off and sit and listen to the ocean (one of my greatest pleasures) I’m often hypnotised by the rhythm and so in this way, it can act as a multi-sensory inspiration for my writing. I’m certain that if I went back to review particularly the poetry I have written on these nights, I would find a distinct ebb and flow, or perhaps a regular smattering of crashing crescendos, depending on the conditions. Now that I’ve considered such a thing, I’m interested in trying that consciously – perhaps as a stream of consciousness exercise.

It was still with these ideas of rhythm in mind that I arrived at his boathouse, a little further along the pretty waterside walk.

Aviary Photo_130520639146252783

Inside the boathouse there are several of Thomas’s letters on display. At once this raised a further question – the idea of the distinction between a public and private voice. It certainly seems hugely relevant in today’s society, when even your most private outpourings, if sent via digital communication, could be shared with the world at large with one simple screen shot. It makes trust vital but also, perhaps, has changed all of our processes as writers. I wonder how conscious we all are when using media, of how others might judge us. Has it raised our awareness of audience or desensitised us to it, preferring instead to communicate in our normal way, regardless of who may eventually witness that communication? The fact that Facebook now has an ‘edit’ facility, so that users can go back and review the content, or perhaps the spelling and grammar, of their posts, suggests that there is at least a degree to which we have become conscious in our everyday lives as writers of every kind, of how we might be perceived through our choice of words. Controversially perhaps, as a teacher of English, I can only applaud this development. However, I wonder how ready Dylan Thomas would have been, long before the days of Facebook or screenshots, to have his private communications (written in a time when he would have had no need to even consider that they would ever be anything else) shared with the public at large?

There’s a certainly a literary quality to his letters and not just the more famous and much-published love letters to Caitlin. Even in letters detailing how he had received notice that his cheques in Laugharne had all been refused and on returning to Laugharne, being notified that his cheques in London had also been refused, there is an unmistakeable sense of crafting behind them – a lyrical delight in the words and phrasing. I’m certainly not suggesting that he wrote them in anticipation that they would one day reach a more public audience, rather that as a writer – a wordsmith – you are never truly ‘off-duty’ – that you always have that imagined response very readily at the front of your mind. That you cannot help but put the words to work for entertainment and effect, to create nothing less than delight or devastation in whatever reader they might be intended for.

In considering this, I returned to a familiar idea – the idea of a person possessing a written voice either as distinct from, or as an extension of, their spoken voice. Certainly, Dylan Thomas is widely documented as being a wonderfully verbose and vociferous orator, as well as a gifted writer. The fact that much of his writing was intended for radio also suggests the close relationship he perceived and perpetuated between the spoken and the written word. And in relation to the original question that led me on this fascinating journey, this is hugely interesting because it’s immediately apparent to the enquiring eye that although he doesn’t write in the Welsh language, he most certainly does write in the Welsh vernacular – in the sing-song lyrical lullaby of the homeland he so often criticised. There are plenty who would disagree with me here, who would claim that any trace of cynghanedd (harmony) or cerdd dafod (tongue-craft) evident in his work is accidental at best. And this leads me back to ideas of authentic voice because I believe that even underneath this inherent need to craft, to crush and cwtch the reader as appropriate, there is something that cannot be crafted – something that permeates the ancestry of the ages, the soil you tread, the air that you breathe, something that is as much a part of your heritage as your family name. Whether this is more specific to location or language is interesting in considering writers like Dylan Thomas because it is clear (to me at least) that he does use many of the features of the literary and vernacular language of Wales, even though it is expressed through the medium of Welsh.

Even the grammatical quirks of the Welsh vernacular are evident. You need look no further than the opening line of ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.’ There are various theories as to why an adverb doesn’t appear hear – the most charming of which, I feel, is that since it touched on the topic of how to approach death in old age, he was unable to share the work with his dying father – a Grammar school English Master – who would have soon pointed out the irregular choice and Thomas would have corrected it on his advice. Since Thomas himself died only a year after his father, we have no real bank of evidence to either confirm or deny this theory which casts his father as his ever-faithful editor.

However, what I will say is this: it just sounds the way a Welsh person would say it. It’s one of the grammatical quirks that I spoke of earlier, that in the Welsh vernacular of the English language, the adjectival form is so often substituted for the adverb. That this just seems a more natural rhythm for the Welsh tongue, even if that Welsh tongue does speak English and that this is something quite distinct. As a student of English myself, I was often handed back drafts of essays with ‘syntax’ scrawled all over them in red, to my increasing frustration. Even then I had some consciousness that this different rhythm, this vernacular was peculiar to my Welshness, as in one fit of frustration, I scribbled ‘I’m Welsh!’ as a response to each red ‘syntax’ – an exercise which in practice, probably took me at least as long as any minor edits required would have. It just seemed astonishing to me that this man, this Professor of English, didn’t speak MY English and I was extremely reluctant to have to change it.

And perhaps this is one thing further that I can claim in my mission to adopt Dylan Thomas as a kindred spirit. Because I don’t think (I or) he ever did. And in that sense, he truly was a champion of maintaining an authentic voice, as the most Welsh of all English poets.

Aviary Photo_130520614227419274

Continuing the Story

So, yesterday I was very much focused on the idea of both the important role that storytelling can play in our lives, our cultures, our development and the idea of returning to things in your life, seeds that had been planted in your soul a long while ago, when the time is right.

After some more reflection, I see even more clearly how these things are real and relevant in my life right now. One of the main mediums I have for storytelling in my own life is through the poems that I write. A few years ago I had some published and then, for some reason, I just stopped. It was only fairly recently, in the last year, that the muse returned and I began to write again. Prolifically. Thanks in no small part to my constant muse and motivator – a friend I shall always treasure. I find that poetry helps me to tell my story in several different ways – to focus on one tiny detail, event, characteristic, feeling, person, location or idea. To write as directly or cryptically, to be as transparent or transcendental as I please. I find it hugely liberating. In a poem I can explore voices, personas, versions of events and myself, that I may not want to invest much time or emotion in. It’s perhaps for this reason that I find it quite shocking sometimes, even a little bit disturbing to go back and read over poems I have written, to encounter parts of my identity or personalities that only existed in passing and yet, in that briefest of lifetimes, spilled their passions across the page. That’s the process I’m engaged in at the moment. Since I hadn’t written consistently for so long, I hadn’t ever really trusted that that was what was beginning to happen again and so the poems appeared everywhere – in my phone, in notebooks, on memory sticks, on the backs of envelopes and receipts. I hadn’t collected them anywhere, since I didn’t believe there would be a collection…and now there is and I’m having to form the collection retrospectively, which I am doing in this notebook – handwritten, archived in date order or as near as dammit as I can get it. So, I’m returning to them all, to review them and round them up.

DSCF7316While it has been hugely satisfying and productive, calming even, to know that slowly but surely, they’re all arriving at the same place, it doesn’t feel quite so much like the ‘breathing life’ into them that I talked about in my last post. I feel that I need to do much more with them if it’s going to feel like I’m bringing them to life. I’ve had a couple of ideas – working with some friends to film performance poetry versions of them, maybe compose some backing tracks, team them up with some multi-media was one. Yesterday, a friend also suggested that I form another blog that just contains my poetry and that seems like something simple I could definitely do. Simple but a definite start. Because it’s difficult. I think the element of exposing parts of your story, your voice, that are perhaps not familiar to you let alone anyone else you know, is the most transformational, healing and liberating element of storytelling granted to a writer, but also the most terrifying.  You’re afraid that people will be forced to acknowledge and assign fierceness and passion and soul to your being, where perhaps you and they are more comfortable with not ever having to do that. And that’s great. It should be terrifying. It should expose you and allow you and others to explore.

Although it was a shocking realisation at first, I’m quite comfortable with acknowledging that most of my poetry comes from some aspect of my own truth – my identity, my personality, my fantasies and forging on with my journey, no matter how briefly or with how much hostility these aspects of myself manifest. It’s more the readiness of others to receive those insights that I think is the more terrifying aspect of sharing your writing.

There’s another kind of freedom that is also granted to writers that can lead to fear in sharing those stories as well though. And that’s the freedom to explore aspects of life, identity and experiences that are not part of your truth and you would certainly never wish them to be. In fact, its perhaps that delicious offer to take a bite of the forbidden fruit and escape poison-free that attracts so many writers to delve into darkness and write about the things they fear or reject the most. It’s a perverse paradox that the things that repel them the most strongly in reality seem to hold the deepest attraction in exploring in fantasy and fiction.

As a teacher, I am sometimes lucky enough to inspire my students to begin experimenting with writing myself and this was the basis for a recent frank and honest discussion with one such student about our identities as writers – both mine and the student’s – that we both wrote about things that we were hesitant to share because of the fear that people would assume that all of our storytelling expressed our own truths. For me, this comes across most strongly in my fiction prose writing because I feel it is a more measured and crafted exercise, where I can take more time to contemplate things and imagine responses to things far beyond my own experiences, whereas I see my poetry as more often being an outpouring of spontaneous passion, a momentary truth in its purest form. I reassured the student, and in some part myself, that we all did this as writers and that we needed to be brave enough to explore the things that attracted us to their dark and devastating midst, that it had no baring on our real identity, that just because we could imagine and write about heinous and horrific things it did not mean that our soul had ever come close to encountering them or had any great urge to.

But I wonder deep down, how true that is. It’s a necessary platitude to fall back on as a writer, or you would censor or sabotage your most daring writing. It’s peoples willingness to go along with this explanation that I have been able to return to a particularly dense and disturbing story that I am currently breathing life into. One I had turned my back on in disgust some months ago and now felt that I had been granted sufficient distance and dispensation from the events I am about to write about, to be able to return to it. But I wonder how true it is.

I wonder if all of our storytelling, even those we convince ourselves are the imagined stories of others, quite different from ourselves, are really just an uncomfortable appendix to our own stories?

DSCF7318