Voice

Yes. I’m still here. Just had a few weeks out to sort out family stuff and become world famous in Chatham Dockyard. I’m still poet-in-residence there but have finished the corona I mentioned a few weeks ago. Was great fun writing it. Problem is, it’s made me fall in love with sonnets all over again, and even when Roving Mic was going well, I was barely able to write more than 14 lines a day I was happy with. Which makes me very nervous indeed about this whole narrative thing. Not so much the narrative thing as the narrative poetry thing. But, let’s face it, The Knight’s Tale is the longest and most complex of all the stories. The Parson’s is the longest but it isn’t a story which meant I could make one up. Which was liberating. The Knight’s Tale is too good, too poignant to dramatically change. Yes, I can leave bits of subplot out but the main thrust of the story takes time to develop. But it’s neither the length nor the complexity nor my predisposition to write 14 lines a day that has made this work so slow. No. It’s the complicated form I’ve chosen. I could have rhymed aabb. I could have rhymed abcb. But that would have been too easy. I chose to rhyme abab in iambic pentameter. It must have been done before but I can’t find it anywhere. There’s probably a reason for that. No-one in their right mind would attempt it at length. For a short poem maybe. I’ve come across a few in four to six stanzas. But to sustain it. Sheer madness. OK, only three sections out of five employ it, mainly for variety, change of tone etc. But it’s haaaaard. Possible to do about fourteen lines a day. Sixteen if I’m lucky.

But on to Voice. Why voice? Well, in the Chatham corona I wrote in the voices of six dead characters and one living: Commissioner George St Lo (1703); a lovestruck rigger (1856); a woman of the ropery (1875); a slave, the crest on Sir John Hawkin’s coat of arms (1590); HMS Gannet (1878-1968); a master carpenter (1763); and myself (2010). It was such fun, not only taking on the voices of characters in different eras i.e. attempting to give the flavour of authenticity but not using too many thees and thous, but also becoming the characters themselves, especially the crest and the ship. It was so liberating. So what’s this got to do with rewriting the Canterbury Tales. Everything. Because I’m trying to create not a sequence of poems but a sequence of poems as if they were written by 29 different people. I’m an individual poet writing an anthology.

Voice is also about this fabulous conference I attended in Chichester a month ago. It began with a reading by Carol Ann Duffy which set the standards for the entire weekend. Like all such things, you wanted to split yourself into four people so you didn’t have to make the excrutiating decision to not attend anything. I still managed to attend a wonderful range of presentations including an excellent one on Carol Ann Duffy from and academic and creative writing perspective, culminating in a writing exercise I may well use to write a children’s book. Other highlights included one on African Amercian Slave songs presented by Dr Lauri Ramey who was head of Creative Writing at Cardiff when I was teaching there. And a short critique of Mrs Beeton’s inner world through poetry juxtaposed with her external no-nonsense practical persona. I could go on. All this will nourish Roving Mic. I’m already thinking about ways of mixing a lyric and narrative voice to rewrite The Miller’s Tale. It may simply be called, The Kiss. Watch this space…