It’s been a while since I’ve written but have been doing a lot of thinking. Did a seminar on Beginnings last week at Brookes which really made me think about my work. Roving Mic is a working title, not the final title. I hesitated setting up this blog until I had the right title but I could have been procrastinating for a year so even the title is a work-in-progress. Then I thought about first lines and how powerful they can be, especially when working so closely with narrative as I am on this project. So it was a real case of teaching feeding into my own practice. Still haven’t got a first line for the Knight’s Tale remix (which is also, of course, the first story in the book) but have some ideas. ‘Two men, one woman. You have a problem.’ Want to bring in the love rivalry theme more forcefully and am also toying with the idea of ten-syllable rhyming couplets. Have veered from iambic tetrameter to blank verse but as the tale is relatively long (though I won’t cover all of Chaucer’s ground) I need longer lines so it doesn’t end up being ten pages long. I want to keep the reader interested. Challenged but not too challenged so early on.
Have been agonising over setting. Got this crazy idea that I should focus on the Elephant and Castle shopping Centre cos it’s at the beginning of the (New) Old Kent Road and is famous. Or should I say infamous? Have not so fond memories of going there as a child when we lived near East Street market. It was rough even in the seventies. And then it was most definitely pink rather than the pinky-red it is now. (Painting the town red?) So last Friday I travelled from Oxford to the Elephant via Paddington. I got off with my bag on wheels, by which time I was exhausted due to trapped nerve still being in evidence after a month (it’s been a terrible month health-wise – not the most inspiring). Anyway, having elbowed my way through the stalls outside I walked into the most depressing shopping centre in Europe. I knew it would be bad but was unprepared for the full impact of the recession hitting me in the face. Apparently it’s been up for demolition for quite some time so has clearly not been invested in for at least a decade. I didn’t even see the Tesco people mention. I didn’t notice a single chain. There were pound shops and shops with no names. Upstairs there was a large shop with everything in boxes rather than on shelves as if they couldn’t be bothered to display them. It made Gravesend’s shopping centres (and every other one I’ve visited in my entire life) look upmarket. The only redeeming factor was on the very top floor there’s a bingo hall and bowling alley. By this stage, I was too depressed and exhausted to haul myself up the escalators and keep exploring. I now regret this slightly, but would be nice to go without suitcase on wheels looking like bag lady from Elephant via Oxford. But I did think about setting the Knight’s Tale in the Bingo Palace or whatever it’s called. I now need to find out a bit more about bingo halls and possibly create a bingo hall in an alternative universe. Or scrap the idea completely. But I like the idea of it being this ‘palace’ and the workers there being trapped in the 9-to-5, Francesca’s ‘ball and chain’ though of course they wouldn’t be working conventional hours at all.
The language of bingo is fun and the campness of it. So it MIGHT work. So now I’m going to do a virtual tour of Palace Bingo at the elephant and one day I must visit one to complete the research. Anyone want to come…?
Here’s some thinking on the page. The Knight’s Tale is a four-part story. Maybe I could tell the entire story from four different points of view. Or three. First, second and third person. Or tell the same tale from different perspectives. And what part of the tale do I tell? I don’t have to tell the whole tale. But there must be three central characters, the two male rivals. And Emily. And at this stage, my working title will be Emily. The word ‘Emily’ will begin and end each section. Maybe.
Had the idea at one stage for the first part being a mirror poem. What a mad ambitious idea. A mirror poem with a difference: it would be from two different perspectives, Palamon’s and Arcite’s. So I would change some details subtly from one side to the other. The idea still appeals (and now the even more ambitious idea of making it a corona! Why make life so difficult?) Back to the mirror idea. The poem would focus in on the central point, Emily. But the nature of the gaze would differ, demonstrating one to the be the true love and the other not quite so true. Palamon saw her first and ultimately is shown to be The One, the deserving one. But writing a mirror poem would have to focus on a particular part of the story, not the whole story. Which is a pity cos it’s a damn good story. The jury’s out on this one. It would also be odd to start the book with a mirror poem but not disallowed. How, without having a marginal name could I show who’s speaking? Could change the typeface? There must be a way. A good form to show desire and obsession. Need not be narrative at all. But if not a story, would have to make up for it in intensity.
I think it should be a story. Another shorter narrative/extract could perhaps work as a mirror poem. The story’s too good to lose in a form the excels in the moment. This one’s more likely to be blank verse, terza rima, rap – anything that allows a narrative to flow. The Parson’s Tale is a rap, why couldn’t the Knight’s be? It would challenge conventions somewhat, the two paragons of virtue telling tales using the most streetwise form of poetry. If I decide to set it on/off the Old Kent Road then would be quite fitting. Inner city and all that.
Am also pondering the prison concept. Could I create a prison of the mind? It would take a lot to have the same dramatic impact as someone who’s physically restrained (which of course leads to mental constraint also). But what if the barrier were that she belonged to a different social class, race or, more dangerously, a rival gang? A bit Romeo and Juliet but nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, might use the rival gang concept when it comes to the final showdown…Could a high rise be a prison tower? Or the 9-to-5 that was really a ball and chain (Francesca Beard) i.e. they both work in Tesco on Old Kent Road. Will have to be careful not to be too place specific – could be done for libel. You know what these big corporations are like. Let’s think big. Let’s suppose the book will be so popular that Tesco might hear about it. Would get away with it if it were non-specific or a made-up name. The latter’s better cos location’s important. Good art is often specific. It’s the details that sell your story (Quentin Tarantino).
Thinking onto the page is useful because it tends to draw on earlier memories. (I’d buried the mirror poem idea a while back – glad to see it resurface). Seeing my thoughts visually (words on the page) seems to be very effective. Look at the wonderful effect of the morning pages that unblocked me for two years enabling me to write Transformatrix. This isn’t as rambling as morning pages – roving mic is the focus – but it feels like a conversation with myself. Which is what I need. At times I feel acutely isolated and want more comments but that’s mainly on the writing, the poem I’m proud of, rather than the blog about the process. I don’t want to spend the next two years in conversation with tens of writers rather than doing the writing. Were I young, free and single I’d have the time to do so. But the reality is quite different. Having said that, it doesn’t take long to respond to a short comment and it would be nice to see others in dialogue with each other. So from time to time I’ll give people the link then sit back and read some more pithy Middle English. The text is a constant. The text is my primary inspiration.
The transition from one piece to the next is like getting back on a horse after it’s thrown y0u. Not the perfect metaphor as the actual writing of my Parson’s Tale was deeply pleasurable once I realised it was possible. The stress was the deadline but without that deadline I’d still be at research stage. It’s the kind of project you could research to death so essential to create SOME poems. And with each new poem I’ll have more confidence. What helped most? KRS-One, Tupac and those nameless Canterbury schoolkids who gave me those lovely local touches. It’s always the same with me, inspiration comes from a very wide source.
I’ve started rereading The Knight’s Tale – the Ackroyed prose retelling to begin with to get the story clear in my head. Then, when my lovely spanking new with page by page glossary Penguin Canterbury Tales arrives, I’ll read it in the original. I can’t believe I started this project thinking my enormous 1000-page complete Chaucer with glossary at the back would suffice. I don’t know how I coped as a student. Anyway, this new text will be large but portable. Just what I need for this literary journey.
The Knight’s Tale is a real treat after the Parson’s. So emotionally rich. But in many ways harder to make my own. It calls for a different creative imagination. The framework of the story is already there. I need to do something new with it. Out of all the BBC adaptations, this was the most hard-hitting.
The next step is a bit of investigating. Where is St Thomas a Watering? Seems to be just off the Old Kent Road (not that far from where I lived a child. Apparantly there used to be a pub called Thomas a Beckett opposite. Pity it’s not there now, like the Tabard Inn. Anyway, was wondering where (if anywhere) I’d place the first tale. And now the penny’s dropping as to why Old Kent Road is so named. Never made the connection before. Greenwich used to be part of Kent. I need to look at an old map or at least get some info on it. Looks like I need to make a trip to sarf London at some stage. Funny that’s lots of places on the London Canterbury route are where I used to hang out. Looking forward to doing Deptford/Greenwich tale/s for that reason. Anyway, as usual time is tight and there’s the conflict between writing about it and doing the research. This thinking aloud is great but it’s slower than thinking in my head. But watch this space. More smaller posts will be coming (rather than one big weekly one) or maybe just one small weekly one!!!
I did it. I met the deadline and wrote something I’m proud of. The gig was the University of Kent, one of their weekly reading spots. A nice gig. Felt quite emotional cos I used to work there and was never really myself as trying not to projectile vomit in the early stages of pregnancy. But, yes, I’m proud. It was a busy month gig-wise and yet I managed to come up with something with lots an lots of potential. The trick is to work on the performance now! Just listened to the recording and really really really a performance in progress. But hey, the writing ain’t bad. It sounds nothing like the voice in my head which is me trying to be this 25-year old rapper from Canterbury. I sound really really nervous, which I was. The recorder don’t lie. Intro isn’t bad though, for a uni gig. Sets up the project nicely. What a week! Has taken me a week to psyche up the courage to listen to it. And try to get over trapped nerve in shoulder and get my head round the miracle of acupuncture. But here I am a week ago at the University of Kent at Canterbury. A wonderful, warm and erudite audience. A packed auditorium. Signed and sold loads of books.
And now the scarey bit. Vicky asked the million dollar question and I don’t quite know the answer yet? Which tale do I tackle next?…