The last two weeks have been a real full-on spin cycle and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to a three-and-a-half hour train journey tomorrow which will be the longest period I've spent awake and not working in an awfully long time. The first week of Speed Death rehearsals at NYT last week was -- for me -- incredible. Amazing not least after all the pertaining agonies to find yet again that exactly the right five people somehow ended up in the cast. They leapt in with both feet and all guns blazing (ow) and the generosity they extended to me and my inchoate ideas was just a huge rush. Thursday and Friday I really just got to let them play with the few shreds and patches I'd given them, and to sit back and watch, and whole extraordinary microdramas arose, fully realised, out of the foment. Wendy Hubbard, co-prime mover of Mapping4D and my director on the Sydney Kiss of Life, was in the room too -- voluntarily -- and characteristically astonishing, every moment of every day. I can't think of a more productive first week to a project I've been involved in, and I couldn't have been more proud of us all.
And then, since a week ago today, the task has been to script the piece. I'm not sure if I've described how this came about, the incredibly strange working pattern on this project, and if I haven't you'll have to forgive me, I'm not going to get into it now, it's not truly compatible with the propulsive intent of today's entry (and let us be clear, the Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices). But the headline is: eight days to write a full script for probably -- at every level, conceptually, practically -- the most complex piece I've ever tried to make. Not having sole-authored an ensemble script for more than ten years (unless you count the aborted Get Out Of The Car which had a sort of death-defying je ne sais quoi -- but this world was never meant for one as beautiful, and it eventually became The Consolations, which we all wrote together in a big sexy heap).
It's been incredibly binary. Day one of writing was surprisingly fluent and exciting and I felt great. Day two I started by re-reading the output of day one and determining it to be unmitigated bobbins. I then sat -- this is not an exaggeration -- from midday to midnight in front of my computer, completely unable to write a word. Not a thing. It seems absurdly self-regarding to call the sensation anguish, given what eighty per cent of the people on the planet are dealing with at any given moment: but it did feel strangely soul-peeling to not be able to write one word in twelve hours with the craziest deadline I've ever had already tolling in the back of my mind. And that's pretty much how it's been ever since: a good, productive day, making up for whatever lost time and, da-da-da da da da da, feelin' groovy; followed by a day biting the screen of my laptop and sobbing like someone told Halle Berry there ain't no sanity clause.
So there's just a few more hours before I have to send what I'm now very emphatically calling a DRAFT to Plymouth for printing and copying, and I'm still four scenes from the end and I literally have no idea what I've done... I think there's some good writing in there but whether it's at the service of the piece we all agreed to make, I don't know; there's some desperately weak writing which was there essentially as placeholder text because yeah obviously there was going to be time at the end of the week to go back and replace it. ("Ho ho, it is to laugh.") I've had to stop reading back over stuff and I've certainly absolutely stopped timing it. I have a feeling this script at first readthrough is going to run at least an hour and three quarters: which presumably means a running time on stage of comfortably in excess of two hours. The incorrect word there is 'comfortably'. (Though I have to say something truly appeals about that, given that we'll be in Plymouth hot on the heels of the Theatre Royal's very own goldenballs, Anthony Neilson, who doesn't think audiences should be exposed to anything longer than Bargain Hunt.)
Well, we'll see. It's a big risk, for everyone, and I think everyone's up for that.
In other news:
The new British Poetry issue of Chicago Review is out and I'm pretty pleased. The immense quality of the work surrounding my own tends, it turns out, not to make me look too much like the guy who crashed the wedding, but to endorse my stuff and make it look like you could reckon with it. It's a sufficiently nicely produced volume and well-enough framed by both sets of editors that I feel like it's a good place to be. Some of the additional material is a bit rum: there's a curiously rabbit-in-headlights review by Bobby Baird [click for pdf] of Peter Larkin's Leaves of Field, and a miserably condescending one [click for pdf] of Martin Corless-Smith's Swallows, which I thought (along with Peter Manson's For the Good of Liars) were the most rewarding books by British poets to come out last year. (The books came out, not the poets.) Kent Johnson turns in a near-review of Andrew Duncan so odd it's almost magnificent but definitely, definitely, not quite; and the usually reliable Keith Tuma presents a survey of younger British-based poets (Emily Critchley, Frances Cruk, Sean Bonney and the edge-of-seat/darkness brilliant Jow Lindsay) in which Tuma comes across as, basically, sort of stoned. But this is all rich tapestry blah and anyway none of the writing is unworthy of consideration.
Weeeeelll, except maybe the Guardian-style wallchart with which taxonomer-in-chief Andrew Duncan has favoured us. Titled 'Styles of British Poetry 1945-2000', it presents poetic activity in that period as a sort of spidergram of such resounding fatuity it's hard to believe it wasn't commissioned by Channel 4. I'm just agog at its bravura crudity and vandalism. It reminds me of the trashing of the Blue Peter Sunken Garden which prompted Percy Thrower to call for the immediate reinstatement of national service or public birching or something. Sixty-odd poets forced into groupuscules so bizarre it's impossible not to conclude they are the outcome of some hidden Oulipian sorting-room process. I'm up in the left-hand corner in the distinguished company of Manson, K Sutherland and John Wilkinson: we are the boyband called 'New Textual Obscurity'. The label's not quite as stupid as it easily might be but the gloss ("Marked by a loss of counter-cultural hope, social withdrawal, Adorno, and an increasingly personalized style that lacks a Pop component") utterly and completely misrepresents at least one of us at every step. More importantly, what the hell am I doing on there in the first place? Especially if the cut-off point is the turn of the millennium, by which point I had only published Boomer Console, of which Duncan was (not unreasonably but) extravagantly dismissive. Looking over it, I suspect Duncan has been compelled to include on his silly map pretty much everyone who's discussed in the issue, and that might well have been as dismaying to him as its consequences are to me and to everyone whose comments I've heard: except possibly not, because I suppose what really interests Duncan are these fantasy tribes, not the particular movements and tendencies of individual poets. If he's trying to insist that poets don't come individually-wrapped, he has a point, but he's making it in a way that has the potential to do unbelievable damage to the way that new readers orient themselves in relation to this sometimes daunting and bewildering array of work. At the very least, this stupid diagram should have been twice as populated, and the groupings much less rigid: but really I'm not content to accept the premise. It's specious and affronting, an attack on everyone named and everyone omitted, and the best that can be said about it is that it seems to be quite open to the possibilities of its own likely facetiousness, which I suppose would ultimately make it no more injurious than any other waste of paper.
More interestingly, Robin Purves has posted some great photos of the US of Stateside launch readings that I was drearily unable to take part in, plus extracurricular sundries; and also some video footage taken accidentally on a new digital camera in lieu of the expected stills, compiled into this inexplicably appetising travelogue:
You can imagine how touched I was to learn that the others were including some of my work in their own readings. That's what these affiliations are like -- not that Andrew Duncan Jeux Sans Frontieres piffle.
Other stuff I've liked of late that you can sort through if you like while I'm away:
Stephen Vincent is -- as far as I can tell I mean this pretty affectionately -- an odd cove, and his blog is restlessly confounding in what I suppose are commendable ways: which is to say, you spit some out and swallow the rest. But I really liked his recent post on Philip Guston. (Scroll down past the big empty space for the rest.)
Thomas Moronic is one of the very many international bright young things who gather around the comments section of Dennis Cooper's blog of an evening like howevermany Minipop Rimbauds hanging out in front of the 7-11 sharing liquor and sniffing glue and screaming improvised villanelles at the traffic. And he sustains (much more assiduously than I do) a really rich and beautiful blog which is always worth attending to. He's a fine and restless writer, and he's embarked on some sort of collaboration with the great, ceaselessly harrowing, recklessly heartening Kenji Siratori (who contributed a typically extraordinary text to my piece Past the Line Between the Land in 2003). So, I'm saying, if you feel starved of the Thompson's love while I'm gone, go bug T_M. (He has a neat-sounding band as well, called What The Moon Is Like.)
Three other blogs that'll go up in the links section here when I next springclean (hopefully before next spring) are kindly Thompson's-supporting Andrew Field's excellent The Arcades Project, full of good and insightful theatre writing, including a terrific recent piece on Katie Mitchell's Attempts on her Life at the NT, which I didn't see, despite (or perhaps because of) it being one of my favourite plays of the past few years; Itch Away, dominion of John Sparrow, who's sharp as a tack and definitely on the trail of something that's going to turn out to have been really important just too late for the luddite likes of me to get our heads round it; and the entertainingly self-promoting Blissblog of Simon Reynolds, the author of the incredibly fine and important Rip It Up And Start Again and much other indispensable music writing.
A couple of other theatre things. 1) Thompson's gets a nice mention from the lovely and perceptive Alison Croggon in a useful guide to arts blogging -- designed for Australian readers but universally relevant. 2) The wonderfully inventive and bountiful live artist Tim Jeeves is responding to the recent vicious cut in the Arts Council's Grants for the Arts programme with -- good gracious! Something more than the languid bitching everyone else is indulging themselves with at present. Check out Grunts for the Arts and see if you can help. And 3) Philip Ridley's new play Leaves of Glass opens at the Soho next week. You don't need me to remind you that Ridley is one of the most important and unduly neglected playwrights of his generation, and quite peerless in the ravishing commitment of his imagination and his passion. Many, many people have been permanently (and gratefully) rewired by plays such as The Pitchfork Disney and Mercury Fur, and his films The Reflecting Skin and The Passion of Darkly Noon (which has been much on my mind in the last week), and, going back a way now, his early novels, Crocodilia and the awesomely judged In the Eyes of Mr Fury. Furthermore this new production, by Lisa Goldman who has made -- let's be honest -- a really cracking start at Soho, has a remarkable cast including Ruth Sheen and the heartwrenching Ben Whishaw. I'm partly putting this here so I don't forget to book -- I'll be back in town for the end of the run and I hope I might run into Phil: he's a lovely bloke, warm and generous and full of a fizzing blacker-than-black humour. He's also doing some v rare poetry sets, and having heard some of this stuff at a benefit gig I put together a few years ago at which he kindly agreed to read, I can vouch for their entertainment value.
Ridley fans might also be, as I am, absolutely haunted by The Little Black Book project by the young Swiss photographer Tom Dura. Great work. Some of his other stuff, as showcased for example on Slava Mogutin's blog, misses the mark for me, but that's what being young and talented is precisely for, obviously.
Three quickies: The great (but infuriating but great) Peter Riley has an important new web site. (I hope he's relieved to have been idiotically omitted from Andrew Duncan's wallchart: though Riley's not averse to dabbling in the Snark-building exercise of insisting on schools and fronts where none in fact obtain.) I've only just discovered WFMU's Beware of the Blog which is a huge trove of treasurable audio dreck. And please don't ask me how long it took me to figure out how this worked.And finally -- last and very much least -- if you're at a loose end while I'm gone and, say, desperate for some manner of harmless displacement activity while you, who knows, spend a whole day failing to write a single word of the script you have to finish by the end of the week... Well, on your behalf, I've thoroughly road-tested the profoundly degrading Impossible Quiz, as featured in a recent B3ta mailout, and can affirm its extraordinary capacity for making time go agreeably past while at the same time causing everything you've ever resented or disliked to seem trifling by comparison.
OK. I'm done. Last words to Carla Bozulich, because the Geraldine Fibbers' 'Dragon Lady' has been on repeat play on my iPod for longer now than I care to admit:
We'll take hostages, make demands
Set fire to all our best laid plans
We'll assemble volatile explosive devices
Sell them for exorbitant prices
Purchase an aircraft, learn to fly
Run out of gas while we're in the sky
Automatic pilot and x-ray specs
We were kissing in the cockpit when the airplane wrecked
In other words, I'm off to Plymouth to blow the bloody doors off. Coming?