Category: Keats

Arts Wars

When I began A Nomad In Cyberspace six months ago, my declared aim was to avoid going over old ground. Then I proceeded to write about my childhood memories, musical nostalgias and firmly-entrenched opinions. Ha, so much for mission statements! Memoirs Of An Old Codger, you might think, though you’re much too polite to say it to my face.

Well, go ahead. I’m a grown-up. I can take it.

More than that, I need it. Any writer worth his salt must have something to offer the present. The young Arthur Rimbaud, who seemed to pack a lifetime’s experience into his brief career as a poet, put this as well as anyone.

It’s necessary to be absolutely modern.

No hymns: hold the yard gained. Harsh night! The dried blood smokes on my face, and I’ve nothing at my back but that horrible stunted tree.

I take ‘modern’ to mean ‘future-proof’ as well as ‘of the moment’ because Rimbaud’s writing never seems dated. His words above wouldn’t have been out of place in Sam Beckett’s existentialist play Waiting For Godot, almost eighty years later.

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Trying to develop as a writer in your sixties, it’s easy to feel daunted by young writers like Rimbaud and John Keats who were done and dusted before they were a third your age. But the precocious perception of the 24 year-old Keats can give an old-timer hope.

The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is ‘a vale of tears’ from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven – What a little circumscribed straightened notion! Call the world if you Please “The vale of Soul-making” … Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence – There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions – but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself.

As a humanist, I can find little to argue with here – his philosophy seems closer to Buddhism than to conventional Christianity. As a teacher, I welcome his rejection of passive fatalism in favour of an active existentialism and feel that this wise young man still holds out a generous hand to other young people struggling to find a foothold – nil desperandum, he seems to say, just hang on in there because things can only get better. And as one who has somehow made it through, I can only confirm the beautiful truth – and truthful beauty – of his prescient insight. Everyone deserves to discover that ripeness is all.

But the young teach the old as much as they learn from them. When your own future is ‘circumscribed’, to echo Keats, hope comes from the future of others. And as a would-be writer I want to communicate with everyone, not just the old and nostalgic. I must live in the present, in the harsh light of day rather than the rosy glow of evening.

To stretch the metaphor – only in the here and now, together, can we bear to face the black night to come. Your energy becomes mine. I was young, as you will be old. Je est un autre, said Rimbaud, I is another. Perhaps we are become a single being in cyberspace? Could this be the starship Paul Kantner said we should hijack? Mankind gone from the cage, he sang when the internet was still just a hippie dream, all the years gone from your age. Only connect …

Alas, the fragile web of language comes apart so easily. These days, I need to hear the snap and crack of a scourge. And spurred on by guilt at the mighty mess my generation has left yours to clear up – our old freedom cry of Do your own thing long since hijacked to justify the selfish individualism that rampages across the planet like a bull in a china shop – yes, spurred on by morality and creaky metaphor, I might yet do something. Think Lucky driven ever onward by the whip of a greedy Pozzo

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Lucky I might be – luckier than Lucky, for sure – but the mess isn’t all my fault. I never voted for those bastards …

In downbeat moments, I do wonder whether my moment has passed. A one-act play competition at the local theatre galvanised me into finishing one of my dribbling dialogues as I drolly dub them. The winner was a brilliant young poet called Toby Campion.

If this floats your boat, you can view another of his performance monologues by hitting the Sob Story link on my menu cloud.

Yeah yeah, Sob Story. The title is two months old. My sobs are subsided. Now I can take it. I’m grown up. And it doesn’t hurt – would I lie to you? – when a feller loses to a younger, more vigorous competitor …

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The beautiful truth, of course, is that all competitors share in the genuine victory of the better man. Here is a young talent with striking maturity, a unique voice that combines celebration with a call to arms and the bravery to speak up for a town and even a whole region. My private victory was in finishing a play for the first time.

Unless you count the script for a horror film I wrote as a kid. Bored on holiday and fed up with the feeble fright-factory that was Hammer Horror, I resolved to come up with something really scary. With my brother and sister and a couple of other kids in the cast, we performed it to an audience of parents. The details have gone – perhaps blotted out to spare my own psyche – but the upshot was that they confiscated my pens for the whole fortnight.

This time round, my only regret is not making the shortlist which would have earned me some official feedback. With that in mind, I’m publishing my one-act play online. If you have an hour or so to spare, you are welcome to take a look. Click on Beyond The Gilded Cage and a Word document should load after a few moments. I really would appreciate any opinions, the more candid the better. It is necessary to be absolutely modern. And as Keats almost said, No pain, no gain …

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