Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Keats and Gawain: a Dynamic Duo?

I fell ill last Thursday with a really nasty illness of some kind, which I can only describe as 'bronchial flu', and am only just recovering. Still a little groggy, light-headed, and am on the verge of losing my voice, I fear.

So apologies for my absence from Raw Light, but since we've been discussing the writing of poems in the voice of the opposite gender, amongst other things, here is a sneak preview of the poem sequence I've been playing with.

This is one of the less successful poems, out of about ten that I've written so far, in the voice of Gawain - or a modern-day Gawain-like character - from the anonymous Middle English verse romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (I'm posting up a possible reject to avoid publishing one which I might subsequently like to place somewhere else, i.e. in a print publication.) It's just to give you a taster of what I mean, really, and to open up the topic for discussion, if there is any discussion left in this topic.

On Friday, by the way, at 9pm, a shortened version of a radio play I wrote on spec a few years back will be broadcast on RaW, which is the University of Warwick radio station. They don't yet have a Listen Again facility, but may do later in the year, but for now, if you click on the following link to RaW just before 9pm on Friday 16th January, you should be able to listen to the play live!

The play is called IN BED WITH JOHN KEATS and is approximately 15 minutes long - condensed down from 45 to fit their scheduling requirements, believe it or not. I originally wrote it for a Radio 4 slot, but then couldn't decide if it was ready to send off or not, so just never sent it off.

I haven't heard it recorded, so can't comment on what it's like. But it's short and I wrote it, so if either of those things turn you on, I'd be really pleased if you are able to listen in and let me know what you think.

I remember mentioning the title of the play in a phone call to Barry MacSweeney once - that's how long ago I wrote the thing; he's been dead a good few years now, sadly - and he loved it, and the concept. But he was always a rum 'un, was Barry.

Remember, 9pm on Friday 16th January, at RaW.

Now here's that poem I promised you. I've chosen a 'modern' one, written in the first person, and the action - I suppose - comes from Fitt II, where Gawain is travelling through the forest - cold, hungry and desperate - just before he comes across the isolated castle of Hautdesert. Some of these lines are indented, but as usual, I can't be bothered to do the required HTML. Sorry!

Wheels spin in the deepening ruts

Wheels spin in the deepening ruts,
smoke-whine of an engine
going nowhere.

I clamber out, boots sunk
in morass,
to examine the failure.

Around me in the darkness
trees creak
and a stuttering ribbon of white light
flutters over the hills
directly across the valley hollows,
then vanishes.

No signal on the mobile.

I straighten from the wheel
embedded in mud.
It will take chains or thick rope
to get it out; a job for a tow-truck.

I stand a long while, uncertain,
searching the limits
of that drop-down thicket,
hunting for a light,

unseen ocean above me,
black tide washing
in and out.


BarbaraS said...

If you've got Real Player, which is free to DL you can record it too, convert it and keep it for posterity ;)

I like this poem a lot, I presume it won't be staying here long, so thanks for the sneak peek. It has a real feel of the sock-end of winter.

Jane Holland said...

I think they're sending me the file by attachment, luckily, so I can use it as a calling-card if intendeing to submit radio work elsewhere in the future.

I was just re-reading this poem and now think it's rather amusing if you read it as a metaphor for writing. I often find my poems read well as metaphors for my own writing, probably because I'm deeply narcissistic and only ever write about myself, even when ostensibly writing about something or someone completely different.

It wouldn't work as a stand-alone poem though, would it? I don't entirely think so, and am not sure about that, i.e. what it means for the poem. Poems in sequences should be able to stand alone even when part of a longer narrative. Don't you think?

Ted Hughes' Gaudete is uneven for that reason, having been written like a film-script, at least originally, told through poems, and almost none of those poems could work as stand-alones, where the poems in Crow, for instance, or even a later work like Cave Birdscould. (Though the latter isn't quite a narrative, it's true.)

So I'm not sure about this one.

Jane Holland said...

Sorry about typos. Rushing!

Sorlil said...

Sorry to hear you not been well, it seems everyone's been catching that rather horrible strain of flu.
I like the poem, with my head still full of CVB it seems to me that it wouldn't look out of place in that sequence either!
As for 'In Bed with John Keats', who could resist a play with such an intrieging title!

Michelle said...

" ... a stuttering ribbon of white light
flutters over the hills
directly across the valley hollows,
then vanishes."

Beautiful, Jane.

Yes, I do think poems in sequences should be able to stand alone even when part of a longer narrative.