Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cliches, voices, Uncle Charles

Writing a series of first person pieces, trying to covey a swirl of voices, creates problems I hadn’t faced simply writing individual poems. The first piece at the start of the second section, #5 is spoken by a Roman soldier at the Lunt. I knew he had to be there. I could see him, courtesy of those Ladybird illustrated history books, but for eighteen months all he’d say was, ”I’m cold”. In a silly Italian accent.

Sometimes characters simply wouldn’t work. There are a couple of stories I discovered which I wanted to use but they never felt right.

As I listened to my characters, trying to tune them on the page, I realized that some of them spoke in Clichés. The natural reaction is to recoil in horror, imagining the scathing career ending comments some critic (who will probably never read the thing) would make. But if you’re going to create a character, then you have to create his or her mental landscape, and it’s not just the syntax or the dialect that matters. Having them speak or think in way that’s forced and artistic for the sake of being “artistic” or “poetic” is false. Peeping Tom cannot sound like Geoffrey Hill.

So I took the risk with Tom, especially, in his modern versions, and allowed him to speak how I heard him speaking. Some of his images make my teeth hurt. He sounds to me like a lonely seventeen year old. But once I gave myself that freedom, Tom speaks some simple lyrics and he uses images, neither of which I would have allowed myself outside a sequence. But I think it works. He is a cliché, and so is some of his language. But I don’t think you can separate the two. Having said this, I did leave out about half a dozen pieces which just took the idea too far. They might make lyrics for a band, but as poems they sucked.

And then I read Hugh Kenner and discovered the Uncle Charles Principle.

And it all made sense.

Whether anyone reading it will see this remains to be seen.

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