A Tidal Poetics

I examine reasons why I write and play with notions of the skin, the mirror, the grotesque and so on – but underlying all of this is a deeper concern. A concern which is perhaps selfish beyond raising some sort of justification for it all – not the reasons of how I write; those drives and aesthetics which propel the pen – but that other dynamic, the failure to find out there a play or a drama which satisfies my own need for theatre. I write nothing but what I have failed to find on the stage. I write what I have always wanted to see onstage and never have – that play I hope to encounter every time I go to the theatre and always miss. So in a sense I am doing nothing more than writing for myself in the end.

Selfish, isn’t it? To write like that and expect anyone to want to see it let alone actually stage it . . .

And yet . . . and yet . . . what other way is there of writing? I suppose in the back of all of this is the idea that I never actually think of the audience except as some displaced echo of myself sitting chorus-like in the auditorium. So I write these odd plays – I mean, a drama set in medieval Spain with King Ferdinand as a giant marquee-like tent effigy? – and perhaps all I am really doing is creating a phantasm stage in my head. I remember one critic years ago writing that my work will never be staged but that was not an issue. He wrote that many plays had been written in the past with no intention of any of them finding the stage (the Romantics, for one) and that I was writing only a story in which drama was the ideal writing medium for that story. Perhaps he was right – who knows?

There is an irony in all of this, though, isn’t there? That the more I fail to find on the stage that play I seem to quest for, the more I retreat into a private solipsistic world of writing using that most public of all forms – the Drama. Ironic – or perverse, perhaps. Then again to write for an audience or even to write with an audience in your head is perhaps self-defeating. It breaks that mirror-skin which holds the drama ever so slightly apart from this world. We write in the world we create – turning into it like antennae gliding towards some nebulous sound. We write as though falling towards something – a world, a character, a sense of something deserving of being told. But do we hesitate in that act and pause as if to weigh up what an audience would think as we pen that line or develop that theme or stage that travesty?

A woman stands stubbornly over the corpse of her sister ready to defend it from thieves who would defile it for nothing more than the clothes it is wrapped up in – and yet she hesitates, uncertain to draw that knife she owns, allowing that the corpse at her feet might still be smiling one last smile of contempt for her alone. And so this sister deliberates before these thieves on her dilemma even as they close in. The scene moves through an inexorable logic – it hangs on her dilemma to both defend that corpse and also reveal it, to expose its mockery for her – in this scene the thieves become an audience but also provoke the action. This woman suffers an awareness forced on her by others.

That perhaps is the closest I get to allowing an audience to intrude into the writing – that in fact in much of what I write one might say that in some ways an audience is already inculcated into the work. Characters struggle almost always in front of others who watch or judge. A woman is imprisoned by her sisters and spends her time tearing herself out of all the books she can find – no matter how obscure or old the reference, it is torn out – all the while being attended upon by mute slaves – until one steps forward to comment upon her actions. An architect elaborates upon the perfect Wall before a jury of Senators, all of whom disparage him despite the ineluctable beauty of his logic. And so on.

This is my bind perhaps – that the more I write for myself and spin these grotesque scenes, the more I internalise an audience into the work itself so that these characters can never hide from being exposed or judged or forced to demonstrate their actions.

Perhaps that is the real irony here. In not thinking about an audience, I have inadvertently taken them with me into the diegesis. I have twisted the mirror about and reflected it back upon themselves as a fiction.

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