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February 09, 2011

I was supposed to confuse style and genre but got distracted

He found the corpse under a blanket. The blanket was purpling with dandelion print and fading fringes, it lay brooding over the dull Berlin pavement, passive beneath a beaten-up Volkswagen. Soon the other’s joined him there in the misty shadows thrown out by streetlamps. They noted the colour of hair and eyes with a rusting pencil edge in a shredding notebook, heads occasionally rising and falling to check the tide of pedestrians. None passed. Any that had would have not turned their heads. Gradually the moon rose in a slow lament for this dull shape, tracing along the lines that skirted across the forehead. An alley cat sauntered by in search of dustbin groceries, tail conducting the night’s activity. One of them brandished themselves after it, an overgrown weapon. The cat shrieked feverishly and scaled the wall, darting into the blackness that flowed readily from above.

           They finished noting. The corpse was stuffed unceremoniously into a rustling sack. It gave no challenge. Navigating the porous labyrinth with haste, for soon the watch would arrive, they crumpled out of sight upon the main road, cardboard shapes folding flat, undetectable. Into the vehicle, one, two, three. Four was left to conclude. The rustling sack was sandwiched between various incriminating objects; knives, candles, rope, suspicious manuals. Boot clicked closed firmly, muffling the silence. Number four lunged into the backseat, our driver accelerated out of the rising and falling panorama of towers and garages, skidding and squealing, eyes widening in the mirrors as hands clutched ever-tighter and veins strained out of his papery skin.

           Sun arose over this bleary panorama, tracing all the filth the moon had kindly evaded. Rotting skins of carrot and other root vegetables masqueraded the decaying pavements, cracked ravines and potholes that could break your tooth. All around lay the stench of the impoverished, that stain of despondency that can’t be wiped away or tacked over with a waxed billboard. It was ingrained into the bricks and windows, ran like blood through the city’s pulsing organs.

           At around noon the car was discovered. Its mangled shell twisted a despairing elegy, stretched around the lamp-post at awkward angles. Shattered glass glittered on the pavement like a thousand diamond teardrops. 5 dead. Suspicious circumstances. Suspected murder. Body found in blanket. Purple with dandelion print. The blanket not the body. All the hawks buzzed around this scene, swiping for details from a greying, evasive DC. He threw up his hands and squawked defences back at them as they circled. Later the headlines all rang with the detective inefficiencies, bemoaned social security and demanded secure, ‘corrective’ institutions.

           As the sun sauntered its way back down to the folds of the earth, a solitary figure mounted the crest of higher ground overlooking the city. The fiery light dropped down like a dramatic curtain in a climactic overture. The figure stood there for some time, quarter of an hour or so, contemplating this decaying panorama from the safety of natural seclusion. It would not have been surprising if wings had risen from behind in the glowing light and carried this figure in a neo-Blakean trance across the scrapers. Instead, the figure smiled. A dry smile, threatening to shatter the porcelain.

January 28, 2011

my little mouth, my winter lungs.

Degas, The Absinthe Drinkers

If only I could paint

January 27, 2011

Haiku and task

Motion, Andrew ill.

Seminar disappointment

Flu immoveable.

Andrew Motion can't make it to our seminar today and I haven't got time for the additional task for ICW (write the 'other other inanimate' perspective on the other story) so here's a bad Haiku. Not happy with the imagery but the mandatory pun was fun.

ICW Week 2

Writing about web page /isabelleharris/entry/cafe_discussion/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

For this week's work, I had to write a short, first person narrative using ideas of perspective, basing my piece on Bella's dialogue from last week, but from the other perspective.

Framed by mildew, the sun was suspended like a nectarine used for bait, its dusty rays showing no sign of effort as they lumbered into the self-conscious cafe. I sat awkwardly staring at her through my glasses, peering through the grotesque antagonism that floated in between us like a ghostly, dead pigeon. The sweltering degree of critique blistered my gaze and trapped our table in what can only be described as thunderous silence. She had become exceedingly thin, and exceedingly serious, and I could see that inside she was prattling incessantly about me. I couldn’t recall why I had agreed to this breakfast, losing my dear lie-in in the process, but something told me I couldn’t ignore my alarm clock that morning. Like a mobile phone calling out for battery, she needed something. But wasn’t saying anything. The stench of the half-cooked bacon on my plate didn’t help things. I had asked for toast. I was allergic to the orange juice. The lemon-coloured rose was like a botanic version of Miss Havisham. And yet I felt a sense of reprieve that by chewing the cheap atrocity I had been given only moments ago, I didn’t have to talk. She was still waiting. I started eating slower, savouring every mouthful of the plastic meal that had come to save me. She was still waiting to talk, ready to destroy this mutually stagnant space we had constructed. Her dormancy irritated me. Perhaps this constant state of irritation derived from the empty silence. Perhaps it stemmed from the half-masticated pink fat in my mouth. Perhaps so many times being perceived as sisters by others had persuaded us that we should quarrel as such. I swallowed the meat, and asked for the vinegar.

She passed me the salt. 

January 26, 2011

There's no one way to start a poem

From an interview with John Gilbert in the Paris Review (The Art of Poetry, No. 91):


How do you start a poem?


There’s no one way. Sometimes I’m walking along the street and I find it there. Sometimes it’s something I’ve been thinking about. Sometimes it’s an apparition. 


How do you know when you’ve finished one?


If I’m writing well it comes to an end with an almost-audible click. When I started out I wouldn’t write a poem until I knew the first line and the last line and what it was about and what would make it a success. I was a tyrant and I was good at it. But the most important day in my career as a writer was when Linda said, Did you ever think of listening to your poems? And my poetry changed. I didn’t give up making precreated poetry, but you have to write a poem the way you ride a horse—you have to know what to do with it. You have to be in charge of a horse or it will eat all day—you’ll never get back to the barn. But if you tell the horse how to be a horse, if you force it, the horse will probably break a leg. The horse and rider have to be together. 

And some quotations regarding the writing of poetry:

"Poetry is everywhere; it just needs editing." - James Tate

"Writing a poem is a kind of hunt for language." - Jackie Kay

"Poetry is ... a kind of leaving of notes for another to find, and a willingness to have them fall into the wrong hands. " - Matthew Hollis

"Poetry is an utterance of the body ... It is the language in thrall to the corporeal, to the pump and procession of the blood ... " - Glyn Maxwell

January 25, 2011

another dose of tired writing

Recovering from the unrecoverable, i'm delighted by my new-found ability to 'bounce back'. Have spent the morning reading Lessing's 'Woman', and another few chapters of The Quest. One section that particularly struck me -

"The rain was coming down in bucketfuls; Manuel reached the Puerta del Sol, entered the caf de Levante and sat down near the window. The people outside, dressed in their Sunday clothes, scampered by to places of refuge in the wide doorways of the big square; the coaches rumbled hurriedly on amidst the downpour; umbrellas came and went and their black tops, glistening with rain, collided and intertwined like a shoal of tortoises. Presently it cleared up and Manuel left the caf; it was still too early to return to the house; he crossed the Plaza de Oriente and stopped on the Viaduct, watching from that point the people strolling along Segovia street"

Pio Baroja, 'The Quest'. P.109

The description of the umbrellas is perfect. Baroja was a genius - if only I was able to read him in Spanish. Will add it to my list - have wanted to learn Portugese for several years after a chance encounter with Pessoa's 'The Book of Disquiet' in Borders. I was lured in by the cover.

Being a writer appeals to me more and more. Other than the terrifying uncertainty of any sort of career/crippling insecurities when anyone actually happens to read whatever I write - especially when it is vaguely personal. But i'm sure this could be overcome by large doses of chianti.. the idea of sitting in a high room overlooking the bustling streets and tapping away for hours on end until pages are filled (was tempted to say 'with life' but that sounds so incredibly bullshitty (am I allowed to swear on here?) so we'll go) with... I don't really know how to finish it. With all the moments and little sparks of life that have struck me and clung onto the synapses, ready to flow out on the page. Anyway, it's frankly so wonderful. Reclusive, passive - perhaps. But it seems unlikely i'll ever be able to change anything or influence anyone through my actions, so maybe my best option is prose. Maybe it's a little selfish to live in such a self-indulgent mode..perhaps. For the meantime I will pretend that great benevolence will come about through my writing (should I ever happen to write) - therefore justifying all the cathartic impulses that led me to it.

ICW Week 3 Task

Writing about shoe–induced mania from another sunny day

This weeks ICW task is a short narrative from the 'other' perspective. The original perspective was lifted from Rebecca Payne's blog. How's that for intertextuality?

Annette seemed bent on bleeding the last watery saps of our anaemic conversations and taking them with tea. The Yoga class had been physically unbearable; my hips aching and my back involuntarily twitching throughout the lotus-to-half-moon-sunshine move that was supposed to engage my brain, soul and pelvic floor muscles in one invasive movement, but which actually consisted of me squirming around on a bed-mat like an armless prostitute trying to hold out a hand for payment, and even the simple moves were wracked with the guilt of trying to suppress and quietly filter digestive wind. Despite this, Annette’s conversation represented a new low. A patchwork of pointless memories and comments on our surroundings, she managed to bridge the gap between directionless and inarticulate. I could only pray that she would have no access to a conversational-source like television or, worse, the internet during our arduous rendezvous, as I assumed these would provide her with inexhaustible observational material and ultimately drive me to suicide.

Coming through her own front door she tripped on the mat. Attempting to impress upon her the importance of my schedule, and beginning to suffer from the effects of a caffeine and Ritalin binge I had engaged in in order to stick to this schedule, I talked quickly; pre-empting her, knocking off the last few words, literally talking over her until she stopped. Somehow, she kept on trying to talk, inanely, until I had swallowed her entire conversational repertoire and effectively communicated the fact that I was not much of a listener.

But instead of encouraging me to leave, she just went quiet. This left me standing, rattling away like an engine, talking about things I really didn’t give a damn about like schools, the Middle East and Yoghurt. I began to wonder whether she was in some way deficient when she got down on her knees and began staring into the fireplace, mumbling ‘my father... twisted ... to start ... to firestarters. hmm. lovely.’ Terrified that her new fireplace, which even I could tell was a cheap electric without a chimney and necessitated no firestarters, was resurfacing repressed memories of father-daughter fire abuse, and worried that I was about to be their first victim since some techno-induced spate in the early nineties (when at least most houses actually had chimneys), I turned my attention to the carpet. ‘Is this new, Annette?’, I said, my eyes wide with terror.

“What Jean? Sorry? No, no that came with the house.” She trailed back-off into what I could only imagine was a reverie about a Ceilidh in a barn that she had doused with petrol and lit with the cigarette-lighter from her arsonist Dad’s Ford Escort.

“It’s so plush, Annette.”

Come back to me Annette, you were boring before but now you’re too much to handle.

Annette mumbled something about Peppermints and wandered out to the kitchen. I remained standing.

The double–bill and the de–brief

I usually feel like there's a remainder from a show that's swept away on the last night with the set and the piles of dust and dirt that somehow makes it into those sterile studio spaces. Giving notes after the last performance is unnecessary, undoubtedly, and a director who tells you that you fluffed a line when you're opening the first can of the after-show isn't particularly popular. But here are my own debrief notes.

Seeing Discords alongside Diary of a Madman, a piece based on the works of Gogol, suddenly made so much sense for me. The evening became about watching a descent into madness, then about being mad. As a theatre-goer, you evaluate what you see in relation to the oeuvre of theatre that you've seen before. So to be confronted with a sequence of heads reciting Shakespeare's lines, shredded and repeated, which you've almost certainly heard before but never like this, becomes your own madness; as you constantly try and lace together a narrative from the shards of past conceptions, never quite pulling one together. It's a torture and a breakdown, not for the heads themselves but for the contemporary theatre-goer, and the double-bill created that connection.

This brought to my attention the idea of the double bill in general: I suddenly found myself trying to think of what two plays would go together in a challenging way. With Discords and Diary, entirely new interpretations were opened up (not necessarily deliberately). Adding the second knot to the rope defines a new space to examine; to fray; to peel away; to eventually sever. Andrea Dunbar's Rita, Sue and Bob too alongside the verbatim piece A State Affair is an excellent example of a double-bill that challenges and fractures both plays, creating a whole new discourse between them.

Perhaps all plays should be performed as part of a provocative and challenging double-bill. Or perhaps its just a search for the polyvocal, the second perspective, the contradiction in everything. As a head in Discords, each night I stared out into the audience or down at the floor and could see nothing but blackness. You can't always count on things that are there being there. The truth about all of these interpretations is that there isn't a true one; where others are hidden, more light up. The most important thing I've taken from this process is not to assume that there is nothing to be gained from having to put a lot of imagination into interpreting other people's works, regardless of how much they've put in.

January 23, 2011

sunday morning

"The more I write, the more I find that the most personal work will be understood the least. People do not expose themselves easily to intimacy. It's much easier for people to respond to lighter books, like The Zigzag Kid or Someone to Run With.

Yet for me, the books that really matter, the books that I cannot imagine my life without having written, are the more demanding ones, like The Book of Intimate Grammar, Be My Knife, See Under: Love, and the book I'm writing now. I may occassionally like to write an entertaining book, but I take literature seriously. You're dealing with explosives. You can change a reader's life, and you can change-you should change, I think-your own life.

Usually a lighter book will serve as a kind of recovery for me. I devastate myself when I write a certain kind of book-there is a process of dismantling my personality. All of my defgense mechanisms, everything settled and functioning, all the things concealed in life break into pieces, because I need to go to the place within me that is cracked, that is fragile, that is not taken for granted. I come out of these books devastated. I don't complain, of course. This is how books should be written."

David Grossman in The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. 4

January 22, 2011

to distract me from the seventeenth century

I'm listening to Sigur Ros, having made compulsive lists of all my tasks for the weekend. And subsequently all the dinners I know how to cook..worryingly there's less than a week's worth of variety and 3 of them involve pasta. I think Takk.. is my favourite album, though perhaps predictable. Hoppipolla is playing, and the sun just burst through the clouds in a wonderfully sort of staged poetic moment. It's been a while since they washed over me, swirled around the walls of my room in that way only SR can. The sun tends to shine through this little gap between two buildings, where all that peeps up is chimneys - it reminds me of that scene from Mary Poppins where they're all running around on rooftops. I think that's in Mary P.. I always used to dream I ran along the rooftops. Today, all I feel like doing is going for a long walk in the fields, but it's too cold and I have too much to do. So now I feel a bit caged and restless, full of toast. I finally bought some strawberry jam - so now I have 3 varieties of toast at my disposable which frankly permits an unprecedented feeling of choice.

Yesterday A and I went to the hospital. When waiting outside on the benches, this little girl was waving her arms and legs around in her pram and squeaking loudly - we concluded it was possibly an attempt at K Perry's 'firework'. The other patients didn't seem as amused.. probably because they'd had to attempt Coventry's already-puzzling road system before breakfast, nurses being axed at local clinics - 'sorry, cuts'.

Better go read Hester Pulter. Only 6 weeks of C17th reading left, focus on the horizons..

darren and the cheesegrater

Darren - a supporter of the green party with a terrible secret, who has a particular penchant for ice cream. The conclusions Rebecca M came to of myself, having read an extract of free writing. Not necessarily true - though I do like ice cream. Wouldn't go as far as 'penchant', though.

I was deeply enraged by her choice of washing up liquid. Sticky yellow puddles that smelt like a motorway convenience, and doubtless contained more poisons than a medieval apothecary. She kept using the stuff, too, as if delighting in my ill-masked agitation. Washing again and again, swirling the sponge in careless circles and watching meditatively as the suds rose up and out of the sink, some even wafting up into the kitchen ether and making for the kettle. I tapped impatiently, hoping for her to register my distaste and put down the soapy weapon, maybe even carry the remains of her stew out for the compost bin I had so lovingly fashioned. I’d even painted a ridiculous floral pattern over its sides to try and appease her contempt. I think only carrot peel had made its way there so far. I continued to tap, gazing wistfully out onto our small lawn. The hydrangea needed a trim. Maybe I would take the cuttings over that evening, walk the long way over the fields by the abandoned mill. Such blue sky, a rather plain tapestry. The stars would be out. How I longed for the nights when we’d lay on our backs, pointing out the Five Sisters and competing for the best vision. Some night’s we’d stay until sunrise, until the fieldfare began to dart from their grassy houses and our shadows were short by our sides. I think those fields were privately owned now, it was hard to say. Much had changed in their docile town. Yuppies invading from all over the south, “thirty minutes to London by high-speed rail, near excellent schools…”. Apartments sprung up like molehills in the golden fields. It seems so fruitless to long for the past. In the discontented present, my remonstrations failed to impact upon her, so I decided to make a start on the Viennetta I’d weakened to on my way home that afternoon. Each of us has to resort to consumerism from time to time, I told myself. Especially when mint ice cream is the object of desire.

Now, the inanimate object. A cheesegrater. It's what I always thought i'd picture if Derren Brown asked me to imagine an object. Probably wouldn't throw him, but is nice to imagine it would.

Only vaguely could I hear their impatient conversation from my shelf. Darren hated that washing up liquid. Mind you, I hated it too. It made all my grates wince whenever that bitch tipped it over me, a giant sticky net oozing into all my pores and running through me. Then the scrubbing, oh how I feared it. The little pieces of cheddar, only so recently acquainted, now scraped from me in a violent shunt. Ohh, the mere thought made me want to rust over and be forgotten. My shelf was looking a bit rusty, maybe even dusty, now I think of it. Ever since Darren got into all this vegetarian business so many of my peers had been relegated to lower shelves. Most notably Steve, haven’t heard him leave in at least 2 years now. Still see his wires spilling out onto the bottom shelf from time to time mind you. Expect she’s put a stop to his recycling machinations. Time was I thought we were all headed for the workshop, twisted apart and reformed. Through the small crack I noticed Darren tapping the way he always did now, eyes tracing the flight of suds as they freed themselves from the bowl. Now he turned to the window, eyes heart and mind longing for the green space outside. Once he’d even taken me out there, placed me on a wooden table under a sunny evening sky. Various aperitifs I seem to recall, even olives. I think there’d even been parmesan. Oh, what was he doing now..making his way over towards us. Ah, the freezer, a chilly blast rests on my metals. He does love his ice cream, that Darren.

January 20, 2011

Introduction to Creative Writing T2W1 Task!

The first of our ICW tasks. Here is the exceptionally generic text I generated in class:

A: You weren’t supposed to see that.

B: No. I didn’t...

A: You didn’t see it?

B: No, I didn’t mean /to

A: You didn’t mean to see it.

B: No.

A: Sorry.

B: No.

A: No I mean I’m sorry that I...

B: That you wrote it down?

A: That I did it.

B: Right.

A: Right. I certainly shouldn’t have left it in the bin...

B: Why would you write that down?

A: I don’t know

B: No.

A: It won’t happen again! Ha.

B: No.

A: It certainly wasn’t that I was proud of it or thought it was Ok to do that...

B: No I shouldn’t think so.

A: Right.

And here is my first draft of it translated into a third person narrative (and a lift.)

As A entered the lift, the predictable unpredictable happened. A gust of shaft wind, or an air conditioner's first gust, or the butterfly’s wings beating blew the piece of paper into the air. That despicable and ill thought-out note, written as an attempt to work out whether shame was really warranted, which it most certainly was, flicked in unpredictable wisps around the air of the lift, until the doors closed and the atmosphere stabilised and the paper tamely floated into the open hot drink, discernible by its smell as some bastard form of coffee, a fruitymachimoccalatte or something, of the only other person in the lift. B, a tall and pale but slight-figured girl, peeled it slowly from the liquid, pushing the flecks of shredded fruit from the now sepia paper, and ingesting the six words scratched onto it.

Ill advisedly but understandably, A did not snatch the paper from the fruity bastard drink immediately, thinking that perhaps there was still time to deny association. Realising that this was no longer possible, the paper having clearly originated from his breast pocket in the freak gust, A tried to explain himself.

You weren’t supposed to see that.

No. I didn’t...

You didn’t see it?

No, I didn’t mean to see it.

You didn’t mean to see it.


A short pause naturally occurred, neither perceiving anything further to be gained from the conversation but neither able to bear the silence.



The No seemed sharper than before. Perhaps B had become more sure of her personal indignation towards the new information she was privy to, A thought.

I mean I’m sorry that I...

This time she sliced through the sentence, quite uncharacteristically for someone so tall-yet-slight.

That you wrote it down?

That I did it.




Each time the word got longer, like dragging a whip before a lash.

I certainly shouldn’t have left it in my front pocket, vulnerable to freak gusts.

A thought that he’d thought that, but actually found that he’d said it.

Why would you write that down? And what’s wrong with this lift, why is it taking so long?

Pouncing upon an opportunity to express self-disgust and distance himself from his perversion, and confusing the answer of two questions into one, A loaded his next sentence with all the pathetic self-deprecation he could load three words with.

I don’t know!

The line became so overly emphasised that the lift shook and the exclamation mark took on its own sound. It actually only made A seem more maniacal. B responded in a manner she was beginning to perfect.


It won’t happen again. Ha!

A brief burst of horrific, echoing laughter that spilt some of B’s still-open-topped drink.


It certainly wasn’t because I was proud of it...


Sliced again.


The lift doors didn’t open.

More groundbreaking literature and tired irony to come.

January 19, 2011

"One man's ways may be as good as another's, but we all like our own best." Oh Miss Austen.

This is my week one ICW first prose assignment. We had to create a dialogue between two people, focused around a secret that one of them has, incorporating the idea of dominance and subservience. After doing ten weeks of poetry, I found it rather difficult to engender a piece of prose involving character, narration, space and theme, but hopefully over the next weeks I will learn! Here is the dialogue written in class:

A: It’s brand new, we only had it fitted yesterday.

B: Yeah, looks great, goes we-

A: I just can’t believe how much lighter it makes our hallway! I love it. You should go upstairs - go on - it continues all the way up there, and around, and then joins with –

B: No that’s OK, I mean we should really be getting going now, right?

A: Oh, sure, but don’t you want to see what they’ve done? See the full effect, as it were?

B: No, really, it’s fine. I’m not really into that kind of thing, you know that.

A: But it looks so good! I feel like the house is finally finished now with that done: lighter, more modern. When I was young, my parents had one of those banisters that was solid and thick, and blocked off the whole staircase...

B: Blocking off each floor from the other. Blocking noise.

A: Err, yes, exactly. I like how this means I can still see into the rest of the house, and not have a dated monstrosity barging right down the centre of the hall. So much more modern!

B: Yeah, more modern.

A: Right. And lets the light from down here go up there.

B: And the noise.

And here's the narrative prose:

With the unusual profusion of orange entombing her face and the unfamiliar heaviness of her eyelashes drenched in mascara, she felt like a decorated emergency, waiting to be revived. And Debra, blithering on like she always did in that fake maddening excitement, was ignorant to the nostalgic drowsiness she was suffering from. Standing at the bottom of the beige carpeted stairs, she all at once neglected Debra’s animation over her new white-gloss banister. She was suddenly agog at the millions of things enveloping her mind. She was ready to go out. She had been for a while. But being Debra, as she had always been, swathed with the enthusiastic aura of a saleswoman, was describing in every detail the glorified benefits of her new-look hallway. It was lighter, yes, and added a touch of modernity to the house, yet all she could think about was the noise. That noise from downstairs that seeped through the gaps in the banister. She tried to keep up with the pace of Debra’s continuing advertising, now imploring her to inspect the work upstairs; she managed to sustain her unconstructive manner in refusing this journey, until she found herself in a lethargic numbness, stuttering out words that, to her, seemed to respond to Debra’s rhetoric. She could only hear that incessant noise. She turned to face the front door to signify her urge to leave. She was at that moment sharply aware of Debra closely following her every movement, struggling with the agonizing realisation that she was being scrutinised from behind. 

Here we go…

As Walt Disney famously put it (<3), it's time to quit talking and start doing. So this is me, doing a blog instead of saying I'll do a blog.

I already have a blog (which doesn't count as a literary blog), documenting my experiences over the summer working at DisneyWorld in Florida, which can be found here: http://thehappiestplaceonearth.webs.com/, but that was more an online diary than a creative flow. 

So here I am, beginning what will hopefully be a place to post my creative musings and imaginative writing from the Introduction to Creative Writing module - or just some attempts at poetry and prose. :)

January 15, 2011

shoe–induced mania

I just consumed a particularly pungent ham and mustard sandwhich and now keep sneezing frantically, lucky i'm not in a social situation.

So, I know it's really really sad to blog sartorial purchases.. but i'm going to anyway.

beauty in a shoe

Judy and the Dream of Horses?

I'm going to be too scared to wear them outside the flat.. maybe I should frame them..ahh.

Anyway, I've just written up my week one ICW prose assignment. The task- a conversation between two people, focused around a terrible secret that one of them possesses, incoporating the idea of dominance and subservience. Sadly, I couldn't think of suitable a secret of my own, so i've invented one (which will remain unknown for the purposes of this exercise, mainly as it's a bit grim).

I haven't edited this yet, so may rapidly grow to hate it.

A. I’ll just light the fire.

B. Oh how comforting, when did you have it fitted?

A. Only a few weeks ago, a friend of mine recently learnt how to install them so he very kindly offered to do it for a reduced..

B. Ah excellent! They’re so useful, aren’t they?

A. …Other than buying the wood, yes.

B. Oh but you could make him do that!

A. Yes that’s true, a suitable task for him.

B. Just so handy! Whenever I’m eating yoghurt on the sofa I wish I could just toss the pot into flames and be done with it, rather than forgetting and finding it all congealed in the morning.

A. No, that’s never a pleasant surprise.

B. I find just watching the flames so relaxing, it’s as if they’re dancing. When I was young I imagined each flame was a person.

A. Instantly affected by the others around them..

B. I’m sorry? The sound is soothing too isn’t it? All those little cracks and pops, like that!

A. Mmmm, it startles me from time to time.

B. I suppose you have to watch out for the carpet..that looks new, too?

A. No, no.. it’s always been that way. We have a fireguard, quite an ornate one from..

B. Really? It just looks so.. untarnished! How do you keep it in such good condition?

A. Well, the odd hoover, I suppose. How’s the new car..

B. I wish mine could be made so perfect again, not a chance with all those little feet scampering around.

A. Mmm. Would you like another cup of tea, I have peppermint?

B. Oh, yes, that would be lovely, so good for the digestion!

Here is the prose version:

Annette showed Jean into the living room, and began thinking of ways to distract herself from the horrific situation in which she now found herself. How had she managed to wangle her way in here?! A quick, relatively pain-free chat outside yoga had evolved into fully-fledged and inescapable torture. How ever could this be endured… the new fire seemed to present itself as an obvious distraction motif, so she knelt down and began fiddling with old newspapers, making firelighters as she remembered her father teaching her. Jean was typically enthused by the spectacle, a magpie for the trivial, her head waving about like some over-energised, if not positively caffeinated meercat. She started rattling on about burning yoghurt pots until Annette felt like burning herself on the fire to escape from the incessant whining of her discourse. I’ll escape through tea, she’ll be wanting tea, thought Annette. In a breath, however, Jean practised the unthinkable and freed herself from the social chains perhaps mistakenly imposed upon her, playing a move completely unpredicted. Before Annette could utter the words ‘Earl Grey’, Jean had steered her words toward the, almost poetic, mundanities of life, and observed something in the fire Annette had long noticed herself. How can she be capable, there must be a motive.. her mind whirred, struggling to discern this newly mediated tack. Yet, being so unprepared, an incredulous Annette found herself launched unwillingly into the deepest vaults of her memory, even remembering childhood evenings at her Grandfather’s in front of a similar fireplace. How she’d loved to stir the logs until they glowed, exercising all her might on the bronzed bellows that hung upon the chimney before falling asleep on her mother’s knee. Back then, the flames had been people to her, people darting around in a group, ducking and diving like those in some exquisite country dance. She was brave, in those days. Carried by her own wonder for the world. A loud crack brought her back to her senses, to the unfavourable situation in which she was still very-much captive. Jean quickly shattered the contemplative mood by wielding her favourite weapon, the new carpet. Now, this was something Annette had budgeted for, unlike the poeticisms. And she responded, as planned, with tea. A well-timed peppermint could avert any disaster, thought Annette as she hurried for the kettle.

I'll now return to the joys of Milton's 1671 poems (which actually appeared in 1670, according to Knoppers - what a name - so a contraversial week already!).

January 14, 2011

The erosion of Shakespeare and Beckett

In British theatre, Shakespeare and Beckett have cult hero status. Shakespeare is frequently seen as the source of all archetypal narratives in theatre, and arguably Beckett has done the same thing for the theatrical form. Jonny Heron’s script for Discords remains loyal to Shakespeare’s characters but slices lines from Macbeth and King Lear into a deliberate, poetical order, but without any clear narrative intention. I believe he does this very well; to the extent that a Shakespearean scholar could recognise each line and its source and still not be distracted from the performance in front of him. Lines are repeated, the sense is deliberately drained from them. New characters are created from these lines, ghosts of the old.

This has two results. The seemingly invincible stigma wrapped around Shakespeare’s characters – almost every modern day character can be seen as derivative – begins to leak. We also become very aware, as an audience, that the characters we have so aggrandized in our minds are derived by readers and actors from their text. They are not the characters of a novel; they are assumed and interpreted from what they say. Now, the interesting part of this is that it is almost exactly the same for the plot of Shakespeare’s plays. His stage directions are sparse, and we generally get all our inspiration for movement from the words of his characters. These words, the words that the ghosts in Discords speak, contain as much of Shakespeare’s plots as they do of the characters.

Discords detaches the language from these plots to create a new piece. By doing this, for me, Shakespeare’s characters are deconstructed; they become the sum of their parts, slaves to their own voices and words. Here, again, Beckett starts to re-appear. Instead of real people, Discords takes Shakespeare’s characters and shows them as slaves to their bodies; but this time, they are slaves to their embodiment in a theatrical space.

To turn Discords into a piece of meta-theatre, the machine we reside in is perhaps ‘language’, viewed from the 4th dimension, as an embodiment in space rather than just in time. Hopefully that bit of interpretation is too convoluted to allow Discords to be written off there. There certainly seems to be more in it for me.

Theatrical Scales

Brecht and Stanislavski have created a sort of theatrical spectrum for any director approaching contemporary theatre. Alienation, the erosion of character and transparency in the theatrical mechanics of a show are all Brechtian notions; if you don’t want this, then you make character central to the play and search for 'truth'. Popular theatre is seen as aiming for the latter, Stanislavski’s legacy. Experimental theatre tends to be seen as the progeny of Brecht.

Trying to avoid these stereotypes, to create a new theatre, has caused some stagnation in the minds of the theatre world. Every device experimented with is shunted into a category and reduced to a point on a Brecht-Stanislavski spectrum. Escaping this spectrum seems impossible. Though I don’t believe that this is true for many theatre practitioners active at the moment, theatre critics have been handed a helpful lens which has proved limiting in perspective for many.

Discords, the play I’m currently rehearsing in, seems to have one solution: it embraces limitation. Thanks to Nomi Wallace’s set, we are given only our neck and head movement, our entrances and exits, and the nine positions in the set to play with. Jonny Heron has been working with us using Laban for actors, a three dimensional spectrum developed to describe any movement using three modes – put simply, speed, force and directness. The form of the play, like the Beckett that influences it, is hugely reductive. I am constantly aware that I am acting, and being evaluated, using these scales. I cannot escape them if I want to be part of the performance.

It is a deliberately scientific approach to theatre. I become part of a machine, with certain limitations, designed to fulfil a function. The machine can be tweaked through Jonny’s direction – the Laban modes – and his re-structuring of his script. But I am also part of an experiment, in which the variables have been fixed, hoping to work out what a theatrical experience is fundamentally based upon. I am sure that the audience will go away confused, as I did. And perhaps that says that theatre cannot be confined to spectrums or scales. Or perhaps it says that theatre is confined to these spectrums, but meaning is not.

Discords; or an actor’s meta–experience

Though I had the privilege of seeing Discords, Fail Better’s re-interpretation of Shakespeare through a Beckettian lens, nothing has been explained to me. I entered the machine for its second incarnation at the Warwick Arts Centre Studio as part of a recasting, and feel as if some transcendental logic, now unspeakable, has passed between the original cast. I am currently trying to catch up; I am floundering. As an actor, I am currently only emulating the rest of the cast. I have started this blog to help myself try and find the logic behind the piece, and hopefully discuss some  ideas about contemporary theatre in the meantime.

Approaching a play having originally been in the audience, particularly a devised piece in which the entirety of the cast were present and active in its formation, has been a slightly surreal experience. Many of the actors I know on a personal level, and yet I enter rehearsals and see them comfortable and un-self-conscious in the most bizarre of exercises. Perhaps here I should explain the form of Discords. Two huge structures with 9 head-sized doors face each other. The audience enters and watches as the doors open to reveal the heads, which speak lines from Shakespeare’s plays. Various tones, speeds and meanings are drawn out from the lines by the actors. The heads go back behind their doors. Then the audience leaves.

When I saw Discords, I was constantly sensing the beginning of a narrative, a relationship between two characters or even an emotion. But each time, this was subverted, snatched away from me. I came away believing it to be a powerful piece of theatre, purely for its subversion of language; it’s drain of meaning. All of the theatrical commodities theatre-practitioners of the 20th Century defined and interpreted were explored almost scientifically – space, character, time, voice and so on. Yet I was completely removed from the creative process of how an audience gets these impressions, and aware that what I was interpreting was the tip of a creative iceberg.

On entering rehearsals, I see actors doing a variety of bizarre exercises that are treated as essential. My friends are making absurd faces, sounds and shapes, dragging lines into frankly hilarious voices and deliberately making their meanings stupid. Yet no one laughs. I wonder if they’ve all lost their sense of humour, or whether it’s a competition to see who can stay stony faced for longest. I corpse continually. And yet this seems to be part of the process – when I do, I am told to keep my head ‘on stage’ to see what it brings. Suddenly I am trapped in the machine, laughing unstoppably out of fear and unable to leave. This is for me, at this stage in the rehearsals, what the piece is about. It’s not a new idea; being trapped by bodily functions was an idea that Beckett revolutionised. But it’s one of many ideas that I think Discords is trying to shed new light on in relation to Shakespeare, language and the theatre itself.

Filling up this awful empty

So we were told to start a blog for our ICW module. The problem was, I'd just started an abortive blog somewhere else to document some things I'd been thinking about Discords, Fail Better's ensemble piece at the arts centre next week. Feeling bad about the waste of internet space (I hear the internet is almost full), I decided to copy them here. They really were only a few days old.

Following this, I'll start on some 'real' stuff.

friday brunchtime

Am obeying ICW orders and forming my own blog. Hopefully a space to document life's little wonders, wherever and whenever they present themselves.

This morning has been occupied with (failed) attempts to finish Germinal, marmite on toast, and several cups of coffee. The tesco's Italian blend is quite excellent, but sadly fails to banish the dreary west-midlands clouds from the sky. Despite the glum day, a cheery elderly man sporting a silly black beret lifted my spirits a little as he crossed the road, gazing warily into Subways (a clash of two worlds it seemed). I seem to spend a great many minutes spying on innocent individuals out of my window. The little seat is just so conducive to such aims, it seems rude to disappoint it.

Off to Birmingham shortly with Anishka. I hope the Urban Outfitters sale lives up to my high expectations..such is my materialistic life.

November 12, 2010

An Introduction to Skills Development and the Warwick Skills Portfolio

On Friday the 5th of November I attended the workshop 'An Introduction to Skills Development and the Warwick Skills Portfolio' run by Han-Na Cha. I found the structure of the workshop was extremely good and I learnt alot about myself and my own working styles. It was also extremely interesting listening to other peoples' concerns as it helped me look at my own. I also enjoyed helping people and thinking about my own problems to assist them with theirs.

It was extremely interesting when Han-Na asked us which our preferred learning message was, she used the example of "if someone asked directions how would you prefer them to be given to you". This was an interesting way to approach it and in this situation I would have liked them to be written down in a diagram, when writing or revising I often draw pictures to make me remember them. Furthermore, initially when asked what learning style I thought I was I thought that I would have been a 'theorist'. After filling in the questions it was interesting to discover that I was in fact a 'reflector'. I scored 9 on 'reflector', 7 on 'theorist', 6 on 'pragmatist, 5 on 'activist. When reading the learning style descriptions I felt that the'reflector' description was an extremely accurate portrayal of my learning style. Other people who weren't 'reflectors' then helped me think of ways I could change and develop my other learning styles to make them stronger, and I in turn thought of ways that they could become more of a 'reflector'. As 'activist' was my lowest I was particualrly interested in the feedback that people could give me here.

In my own time I looked at the learning activities that suit my learning style (pg 22). I am aware that as a 'refelctor' there is a need to be able to dwell over things and this can often use up a lot of time, I am often aware when writing a essay or piece of critical work that I need a lot of time to investigate and research and this is not always completely necessary. I like to know all the facts before I get started and perhaps I would be better to get started and then learn the facts as I go. Under the heading 'You will find it more difficult to learn from activities where.... you are not given time to do a thorough job, struck a cord with me. I often get stressed and worried that something that I am presenting or handing in isn't to the best standards that I can do. As I do English Literature there is no write and wrong answer which means I can keep working on something forever if I wanted to. However, I have to understand that this isn't always the best use of my time and should let go after it has been submitted. 

I found it extremely interesting that Han-Na suggested that we should strengthen all aspects of our learning styles. Previously people have simply told me what learning style I am and I had thought that you could only have one. Obviously, thinking about it now, it is far more advantageous to be a combination of all four as you are strong in all areas. As I was weak in the 'activist' area I was keen to explore and develop how I could strengthen myself here. The set of questions that we were given in the book was a fantastic way  of exploring different areas where we could strength ourselves. I choose '33': I'm usually the 'life and soul' of the party. 

  • From this I am going to try and be more outgoing. At parties and gatherings I am going to set myself the objective of initiating conversations with people I don't know that well or maybe people I don't know at all. In seminars last year I made myself talk at least twice and then slowly increased this each week, from this I learnt that no one is unfriendly or laughs at you. Similarly, I'm sure I'll find this in socialising, there is always the fear that someone will not remember you or be rude, but generally this is a fear that everyone shares and once you talk to someone you realise this. At the moment I am trying to go to any activity or party that I am invited to. In keeping with strengthening my 'activist' style I am going to go without taking a long time to think things over. Once there I generally find that I enjoy myself.
  • I am going to make myself continue to go to salsa even when it gets hard or when my friends don't go, this way I will make new friends.
  • I want to strengthen my networking skills as I would like to go into Finance and this is a key aspect of the work. I am going to make sure that I keep in regular contact with people from home and people I met in summer.
The Skills Questionnaire clearly reflected the areas in which I am strong and weak. It showed that I felt that my communication is 'ok but room for development.
  • I am going to develop my communication skills further by attending a Warwick Assertive Class. 
Additionally, I was made aware that I need more knowledge about how organisations work and business acumen, and commercial awareness
  • This is extremely important for the summer internships that I am going to apply for and I need to look more into the finance sector, the competitors and attend more firm presentations.
I felt that this sheet was also extremely useful because it also highlighted areas in which I feel I have a strong skill set in. These are areas that I will continue to work on. The workshop was also interesting in the fact that it stressed reflecting on past experiences, this is something I have thought about before, and have a book that I have titled 'Lesson to Learn From.' From the workshop I can really see how important reflecting is because otherwise you can't develop or increase your skill set

The workshop was extremely useful and I will start building on my aims immediately.

October 14, 2009

It is calmer now, the night thick with feel;

From this other side of the river, I touch

Contentment – simple, perfect, sullen bliss,

Out of its shell for one fleeting moment,

Which stretches indefinitely onwards,

Indefinitely outwards. Not forward.

Never definite, and not relative.

From here, the haze of other people’s lives

Is one huge panorama, lost in time.

All the confusion blurs and is a drop.

Life decays and only this consciousness,

This sensory barrage, time lost in an eye,

Drags on, smooth and beautiful, like a still.

I do not see or hear, can only feel.

Back on the heavy side, the real side,

Of the river, life goes on like a train:

With direction, and with ends out of sight.

Here, our end is being. I am; you are.

The cynic on the bank of the urbane

Battles the romantic, quite opposite;

The bridges crumble, I cannot return.

I lament; I rejoice: ‘O bleak, sensual life,’

And drink down bitter-coffee lies,

Paying for food with the proceeds, stolen back

From behind the artificial shop-counter

Of my hypocrisy.


I lament; I rejoice: ‘O bored, busy day,’

And complain of no time even to think,

As I indulge the myriad masturbations

Of telepornographic, lurid decay, while

Head sinks deep into gut.


I lament; I rejoice: ‘O cold, homely town,’

Whose electric light is as natural to me

As bricks and as money, and, sadly, whose streets,

Already saturated with upturned trolleys and gum,

Were forced to wipe out trees.


I lament; I rejoice: ‘O fresh, stagnant day,’

Which sincerely wishes to improve on the last,

But there’s madness in the family, so regrettably

By midday the neuroses have crept out their doors

And are trampling it again.


I lament; I rejoice: ‘O weak, wishful self,’

Who sees all this and that it cannot change

Which is false but also sadly earnest

Once masturbation and perpetual light have

Made us all short sighted.

a human Being of great artistic importance

robbed the chemist’s, at four fifteen;

                                                       but she felt fine,

so threw the four-hundred pounds worth of side effects

into a bin outside - then danced, to be Alive.


insofar as cctv evidence was

sure to exist, this was foolish;

                                             but she was wise

and knowing that cctv is no subject

fit for poets’ lines – she danced, to be Alive.


a policeman stopped her as she danced about the square,

shuffling uncomfortably at Life;

                                               but she stood still -

except that she held forth a rose, of spotless white,

which, suffocated, fell – the rest is not to tell.


a human Being of great artistic importance

was born, like us, in chains – told quietly to survive –

and yet, she danced, to be Alive.

We drifted through the valley

In a state of disarray

Whilst all the birds above us

Were a mirage sent to warn.

Jove’s very own eagle

The portent of the sky

Warned us then of how

The high lands were ablaze.

But all the signs were mute

For you were on my arm and

We couldn’t see the heat-haze

We couldn’t see at all.

Still we couldn’t come to harm

And we couldn’t feel the flames

While swimming in the tarn

Whilst bathing in the lake.