40 Dorset Poetry

42


DORSET - RAISING THE BUILDING

THE CATHEDRAL OF OHS

(PROGRESS REPORT)

Its foundation stone was perceived (conceived)
one summer evening walking down the Avenue
through Southampton Common
July 1945 (at the war's end)
a glimpse of being a poetic playwright

Plans were messed around with and discarded
(even the shape was wrong)
and a new start had to be thought of in 1952
(offering to make Judas a saint was a symbolic gesture)

The Rostrum Theatre was a leap towards the light
but too Icarus-like for comfort
face-down in the mud from the fall
(repeating how I was born)
I examined the dirty old plans
and said a blinded good-bye to the lot
(still clutching the foundation stone to my chest)

Books teased me with possible answers
but the building instructions were missing
then along came the three wise men
Ron the Drama Brian the Way Stephen the Round
one spoke of the spirit
one told me how simple
one put all the symbols in place

Dig they more or less said
the foundations are already in place
and I dug to the stones in the round
and the crypt both ancient and modern
where the ordinary human spirit was interred
and the word (both poetic and active)
was ready to get rising again

And the cathedral was to have four doors
through chapels on the outside walls
the east one in the family's praise
the north for education
the west to speak in drama's name
and the south for the song of theatre

THE EAST DOOR
I am a family man
though neither family I've had
would be happy to call me that

The first I sacrificed
to the Word's ambitious need
in the second (disturbed by the Word)
another kind of sacrifice is going on

So the East Chapel streams
with morning light
there are patches of deep sadness
and the far walls
sinking into grey

There is an unbearable niche at its core
and a quick that I couldn't get right
for all that it is the key
my whole world turns on


THE NORTH DOOR
Education education education
is the blare I could not get deaf to
it blocked my path each time
I sought escape elsewhere

It leads to the cold north chapel
my blood had to use for singing
(what resentment was in my marrow)
and yet how bright these walls are
what energy exudes
from this teaching tomb

Wise men stand statue here
(spontaneity and improvisation
schools' drama and children's theatre)
and Marshall of Winterslow
with her intensive writing
encrusted with diamonds

The English Block has its window
with its black and brown faces
dancing with the language freely
on the tips of their tongues
Instant Theatre too
here springs its first seeds

Yet what a dark despite
whispers its northern spleen
and authority bedevils the light
foreboding the death of word-joy
it is best not to stay here too long


THE WEST DOOR
You can tread through this softly
there are games on the walls
and plays in the course of their making
words like bright flowers at large
and dances whose legs only now
will find what their steps are

Colours are jugglers here
and sounds pop like bright balloons
and children in statues that change all the time
and laughter that comes from the blood
surprised at its own song
here the ordinary has found its true voice

In The World of Instant Theatre
(first written in 1988
and now recently revised
the value of Drama (as a subject)
and its down-graded side
(first discussed in Through the Circle)
receives this summary

(Such a chapel has its dark pit)

44

Another bright start to a chapel
with a turn-off from what was first dreamt
but a chapel sustained
in the grand scheme of things
in place to be treasured
for the want at its heart
and its eyes reaching into the centre
where stirrings have yet to be wakened
praise the west for its bushel of light


THE SOUTH DOOR
Through this door the gathering of fruit
in the name of the statue
of Stephen the Round

Here theatre comes back in its own
a sense of those ancient starts
where people had says to themselves
and authorship came from the middle
and the beauty of it all (at best)
is what a spare chapel
plain glass with the ordinary light
no affectation of drapes
or spectacular dress-ups
the simplest of fountains
doing its energised job
simplicity become its own god
a worship of rawness
unpolished imperfect
and language unfettered
(through bodies - those subtle expressors -
both earthy and pregnant with flight)
reaches out to a circle of dwellers
at home with the diverse truth
a ritual made free of the claptrap
the overprimed world has to relish

These are the doors that I
(teeming with a million of selves)
have put at the points of the cross
that the round Cathedral of OHS
has been twined on

These are the chapels that I
(and my teeming million selves)
have chosen to enter by
in my quest to unravel the core
of the Cathedral of OHS

For years I have dwelt in these chapels
shifting from each to each
imagining concourses within
sensing through hurt and joy
impatience delay
mistakes maybe leavened with gold
insights as deadly as lead
how to honour the foundations found
and to release the ghost in the crypt
into present-day life

And Lo! as the bible might say
the outer wall has been building itself
divining defining that central space
where all-meaning
has come to be seated
(chary though today is to see it)

This is what I read into that wall

46

Such a message is ingrained in the wall
as it builds to its central theme
compelled to give shape to the cry
of the ordinary dispossessed
for its say in the future of things

leave the four chapels friends
(of the millions I teem with)
from whichever one you sojourn in the best
and pass through that gap in the shell
the spirit's encased in

Note there's an inner wall
to which the outer wall leans
at some height
with a continuous buttress of glass
(tinted to ease in the eyes
from a too-startled feel)
defining a passage around
what the inner wall is - still to come

the passage is personal
a testimony gouged out of life
to the ordinary human spirit
(reflecting every one of its ohs)
at the moment the dream is all mine
a game I've relied on
to give me an edge on perception

commitment is free
anyone who is moved by the thought
of building an imagined cathedral
to the ordinary human spirit
can fill their own passageway-round
with works they have drawn from the source
of their own sacred springs

to the date this narrative has reached
(to my plunge into dorset)
I have hung in my passageway-round
equally dividing the space
all my poems and plays
with a few discreet sections
for a handful of stories
and the occasional polemical rant

poetry is my search to be myself
drama is my search to understand you
they have become the same search

poetry the still centre
of drama the moving mass

poetry the light within the seed
drama the light watching the seed become flower

poetry is what drama grows out of
drama is what poetry is squeezed from

poetry the microscope
drama the telescope

poetry reduces all substance to essence
drama takes essence and makes it human

poetry can become a stream
drama must always be flesh

the problem of drama
is how to give flesh the crystal properties of water
the problem of poetry
is how to turn water into flesh

Neither my poems nor my plays are about behaviour

even down to their smallest perception
they carry within them the message of the outside wall
the intricate meshing of form and content
a view of the intimate that both has a wide lens
and comes from the ocean deep
a sense of their place in the cosmos
of the infinite niched in the temporal

Uganda changed me
(I went to Uganda seeking that change)
Shropshire forced me to consider
the dark side of that change
in Shropshire my poetry embraced the small i
(as a kick in the face for the ego)
and swept upper case off its pages
and the fiddly punctuational bits
and promoted the dash and the bracket
as a matter of political style
and a want to have readers respond
to the language with its own way of moving
it was also a spiritual gesture
an orison for the ordinary
a willing debasement of self
(the poetry I'd written before
went through an overnight conversion)
it found for my poems the form
they most needed for breathing
for meaning their deepest
(an extraordinary aberration
most people think
for encasing the ordinary spirit -
paradox is the loveliest of sins)

one half of this passageway-round
this cloister-within
I'll use for my poems
as honourable an offering
I have it in me to give
out of the quick of my being

poems are easy
they can thrive whether private or public
plays have a yearning for space
for transmission through concordant breathing
for being seen in their passage to ears
for unwrapping then wrapping through flesh
they thrive on a diversity of heartbeats
on a willing absorption by eyes
on a thrill run from shoulder to shoulder
their truths must be siphoned through form
each form cries a different truth
change the form and the truth that emerges
may change the play's meanings completely
my plays' truths are fashioned to the truth of the round
I would not wish them to find life elsewhere

dialogue is all that a play is
stage directions and character-description
motivation-discussions and indications of mood
clog up a good play's innards
and take the joy from an actor's discoveries

one half of this passageway-round
this cloister-within
I'll use for my plays
as honourable an offering
I have it in me to give
out of the pulse of my living



48.

we arrived in Dorset on November 26th 1972
and at noon December 1st Word And Action was born

Word And Action (Dorset) the laboratory
the Cathedral of OHS's navel experiment
how to make active the space
within the imagined Cathedral's walls
in tune with the ancient foundations
and the spirit locked up in the crypt

Dorset a cut-off county
(so the seventies seemed to say)
Cranborne Chase to the north-east
bending all major routes east to west
north of the county's boundaries
not a duel-carriageway in sight within
a county split down the middle
with dissimilar heritages east and west
feudality still locked into place
a deliberately difficult choice of a base

Word AND Action - not Word IN Action
John AND Mary - not John IN Mary
(Chris Fassnidge's perceptive joke
highlighting the difference)
symbolic attempt to harmonise
the clash between being and doing
(the WORD is and the ACTION does)

50

Adverts were placed in two Dorset papers
The company existed when the papers appeared
I was the only member to start with
Chris Fassnidge joined within a month
and Marjorie Wolton after two.
No one was paid for ten months
The company grew
It obtained its first official money contribution in 1975
Its first grant (from two sources) in 1976
It almost crashed in 1979 when the major grant was withdrawn
(It lost the other grant in 1983)
Liz Reeve joined W&A in 1975 (and stayed till the late nineties)
She and I held the company together briefly in 79
worked with two others for two years when they also left
and we were down to ourselves again

at this point the company declared itself
a non-smoking non drug-taking vegetarian company

Word And Action started as a kind of ad-hoc partnership
in 1978 it became officially a co-operative
Word And Action (Dorset) Ltd
(which unofficially it had been all along)
in 1983 (grantless) it needed to obtain bank loans
a willing bank insisted another company should be formed
Word And Action (Dorset) 1983 Ltd
The first looked after the diminished home accounts
The second handled the much more lucrative work abroad

In the seventies W&A built up a strong touring programme in Dorset
and increasingly in the rest of Britain and Wales
In home territory it devised composite programmes
mixing scripted and improvised items
From a writing workshop run at Avon Tyrrel (in the New Forest)
another language-and-movement piece got written
The Dome and the Trees

Instant Theatre gradually became more important
proving itself to be the company's main money earner
Performances and workshops with all level of schools
with disability-groups and centres
with old people's homes and with summer overseas students' English courses
with pre-school playgroups and Saturday and holiday play schemes
as well as lunch-hour programmes in pubs and other halls
of a wide variety of short plays (present and past, English and foreign)
led to a packed (if not well-paying) schedule

Chris Fassnidge and I wrote a short play each
for W&A's first touring programme of scripted plays
on the theme of Pandora's Box
then (in the following years)
started on a schedule of writing a long play each (alternately)
I contributed two plays The Wilderness and Flute Below
the fourth and fifth plays in the QUEST sequence
He John - a play about John Clare

The company dug out an old Dorset Mummers' Play
and toured that round pubs and parks
which led me to trying the form out with the Robin Goodfellow plays
five seasonal episodes
running from RG in Summer (One) to RG in Summer (Two)
gradually shifting from traditional Mummers' style
to a more fundamental view
of what playwriting meant for me at my most ambitious

The mummers' play I saw as an ancient old root
that miraculously should be made to sprout again

Then I tried one more - The Dying Tree
too rich and over the top - a failure

I followed on (from 79 to 82) with four annual short plays
for summer performances in pub gardens
Four Transformation Plays
moving the Mummers' form
into a straighter verse treatment of contemporary themes


(clicking advisable here
for a taste of extracted play stew)

52

In 1973 W&A oversaw
the setting up of Chesil Poets
a group of four (then five) poets
who met at Abbotsbury
read their new poems monthly to each other
and produced seven books of poems
in as many years
the last The House of Two Sisters
a composite poem based on pickings from the I-ching
The company itself published three anthologies of Dorset poets
and eleven individual small collections
in the mid-seventies
then in 1979 set up DOORS - into and out of Dorset
a poetry magazine with a different editor each issue

During that first decade W&A was responsible
for the creation of Poetry Workshops
in Weymouth Dorchester Broadmayne
Bridport Sherborne Wimborne and Poole

Two four-day workshops were run
at the Arvon Foundation's Devon home
for youngsters on probation
two books of moving poems were produced

Aided by the demands of Chesil Poets
the various workshops
weekend poetry courses (regularly at Seaborough Court)
the effect of living by the sea
my own writing of poetry thrived

Reaching back into my pre-Uganda days
and my use of abstract paintings as a stimulus for writing
drawing from my experiences with slides in Newcastle
I developed a slide-process
as a spontaneous means
for getting poets and non-poets
into writing poetry
this process too
added to my own capacity to write

(Once more the stimulus was neutral
leaving each poetry-attempter
to respond to the slide abstractions
with a unique insight
mouthing itself as words)

In 1974 a W&A sub-group
spent a week performing in Brittany
I was sick going and returning
on the Plymouth-Roscoff ferry
and at odds with the other two (a couple) all week
I wrote rough going - a long poem in twelve sections
to come to terms with the experience

54

In mid-decade (in a Bradford bookshop)
I found The Transformative Vision by José A Argüelles
subtitled Reflections on the Nature and History of Human Expression
a deep study of the development of Art
through the first three-quarters of the twentieth century
which pointed inexorably to
the coming of a new vision of life
a swing in the pendulum back to a more creative perception

I saw my own long (but much more subdued) commitment
to transformative values reflected there

Transformation became my open theme
in poetry as well as plays
and the workshops and courses
forced wider subjects on me
and another urge came
to leave a mark on English Literature
with a new form


what is a thirteener?

a thirteen-line poem
with a form like a sonnet but sufficiently different
to allow its own development without too many echoes

it contains lines of regular length (altering from poem to poem)
and has a set end-rhyme pattern:
abcba cbabc abc

 

thirteeners '78
the form was invented for the writing of this collection of poems
(all written during 1978)
all the poems written and completed in the year
were included in the collection

 

since thirteen goes into seventy-eight neatly
(and that was the convenient number of the year)
i aimed for seventy-eight poems
as a way of providing sufficient evidence
that the form was malleable
rgg -december 29th 1978
(from original preface)


for example
(for a tasty click-nic)

56.

The victims of the setting up of Word And Action
(the pull of the work
the drain on my time and emotions
and the impossibility of finding a settled house to live in)
were my marriage and family
embodying a relationship
that found security
around my being a teacher

the traumas of Shropshire
the dislocation caused by my year in Newcastle
the harsh impossibility of reconciling
a sharded home with Word And Action's launch into the wild
scattered the shaken trust of wife and family
but where I was going I could not be stopped

58

and this was written five years before
(but in the muck of the Shropshire hearings)
the strains were showing then

the marriage broke up

by 1976
liz reeve and I were partners

bitterness for some time abounded

Throughout the seventies
the work went well
(with a thousand hiccups)
the South-West authorities didn't like it
(hadn't wanted to know to begin with -
irony - the Director of South West Arts
was a great friend of Stephen the Round)
local newspapers were bewildered
national ones thought the company crap
it raised more enthusiasm amongst its receivers
than most of those (a-rung-up) could believe
but the real test was already being flunked
impossibly low pay didn't help things
but those who joined the group on their own say-so
still thought they were employees
at someone else's behest
the round was thought a great thing
few understood the freedoms
the Word And Action structure gave them as their right
they couldn't translate the round
into their own working practices
they came and they left in a floodlike procession
when they all went on the dole
in the middle of the Macbeth rehearsals
and then left en bloc
the company's hat was almost in the ring

but what was disaster for my family
turned out to be good for the company
without the partnership of Liz and me
Word and Action would have been dead
in the spring of nineteen seventy nine

I'd done Macbeth twice before
in Kampala and Shropshire
(no qualms about either)
the Dorset Macbeth
rattling around with unease
as though W&A in its death-throes
found it hard to add up as a play
its conviction was patchy
it took me time to realise
it was trying to break fresh ground
in it (more than ever)
I was trying to do down the director's role
uncertainty ruled the (in-control) roosters
the actors were being asked to become
each performance began
with a premise so vaguely defined
it took the whole play to express it
actors in the dark reaching forward
each time to a different conclusion
to rehearse I cried is to re-hearse
- to put back in the coffin
what the chances of de-hearsed theatre
Macbeth was a landmark for years in the future
(it still hangs in the air)

In 1977 an earlier broadside
(that fell as usual into waters
that no one was watching)
another attempt to rework
twenty-five years of obsession
into a personal professional code
Theatre Credo - I called it

an attempt to engage in the deepest speculation about the values of theatre
as I had been exploring them since the early fifties, and which seemed to me
to be confirmed in the practices of Word And Action

 

I prefaced it with this dismissive sideswipe:
for those who believe
that neither the establishment
nor the fringe
has any idea
what the theatre is meant
to be about

I modified it later  
  for those who believe
there is an essence
to theatre
that contemporary conventions
miss out on

More theatre-playdough
 

 

60

The company (also determined
to have local relevance)
worked on a documentary
Wasted Egdon
a look at the diminishing
wild land in the county
devoured increasingly
by the twentieth-century
and then (in the early eighties)
Frankenstein in Dorset

a more hard-hitting gathering of facts
about clay mining
oil pumping
and the demands of nuclear power
and industrialised farming
on the local landscape

The seventies expressed Word And Action
as a theatrical innovator
challenging conventions at their sorest points
a kind of pick-and-mix company
probing withdrawing then trying again
to get all its goodies into a cohesive bag
it roused much hostility
from the big and the small authorities
(though - for a crucial while
backed by the national Community Arts Panel)
festered by the living conditions
low pay and often uneasy commitment
of its own fleeting members

after that 1974 trip to France
W&A gave up on abroad
its work though with students
from the mainland of Europe
in language schools along the south coast
caused the company to think again
when its UK money dried up

From a tentative trip to Denmark and Sweden
in snowbound conditions (1980)
a touring schedule grew
throughout that decade
to cover all Western Europe
but including Berlin
and (when the wall came down)
countries in East Europe as well
(three from W&A
were touring in Berlin
the night the wall was pulled down
they clambered up with their hosts
and returned with
wall-fragments to prove it)

Instant Theatre ruled OK
and workshops and courses
spawned out of its performance-demand
in Britain too
as overseas earnings soared
and the company replenished its members
Scotland and Ulster and Eire
became regular receivers of tours

Instant Theatre
(with its participatory extremes)
touched the nerve of the learning experience
and three - sometimes four - even five
W&A companies at a time
were tearing round home and abroad
quenching the curious thirst
for the making of hilarious stories

In workshops and courses for teachers and students
during tours (but occasionally in Wimborne)
stories from Instant Theatre spawned a chain of creative ventures
spontaneous dialogues group songs
monologues collages additional stories acrostics
as well as the technical side of learning the questioning
a whole year's creative adventuring
could grow (the feeling was) out of one story

A women's group
started in the eighties
set up by the company
developed the concept of creative chains
a series of activities
starting with Instant Theatre
but moving in and out of the verbal field
at each new step

Scripted productions though suffered
every company member too busy elsewhere
only late eighties did straight theatre get going again
with a production of two women's plays
from groups that had Liz Reeve as enabler
(Time of Life - with a menopausal theme
and Three Women of Wimborne -
three powerful nuns
who put Wimborne on the Christian map)

In the eighties the company
published histories of local areas
seen through the eyes
of longstanding residents
and the stories of people themselves Cover - The WORLD OF INSTANT THEATRE

Then (at the end of the decade)
under the new name WANDA PUBLICATIONS
a novel by a good local writer (just dead) was printed
and SOUTH a regional poetry magazine
(to complement DOORS) was begun
also (following a week's course
at the Hochschule der Kunste Berlin)
the first version of The World of Instant Theatre
an attempt to explain
the history of the participatory form
and the kind of world it symbolically implied
it sold out its thousand copies in five years
and waited in vain for a reprint


 

62

As early as 1982
W&A had become aware
of the strange importance of the stories
Instant Theatre was throwing up
Equivalent to folk tales
but with a raw surreal essence
some stories in particular
seemed to yield to symbolic probing
as though something beyond the joke
of the story-making
with its ad-hoc randomised answers
(a probing beyond the casual moment)
was touching into the quick
of a kind of group subliminal awareness
no conscious questioning could control it
or manipulate right answers into being
each audience seemed to be telling the world
something about itself
it didn't itself rationally know

Stories had been collected
in spasms from the beginning
but not until the overseas touring started
were all the stories routinely noted

Between 1981 and 1985
well over a thousand stories
had been noted down
in 1988 I went back through them
pulled out one hundred and thirty
I had some memory of
rewrote them as readable texts
but omitting and adding nothing
to the collected answers

I then wrote notes on each
to see if all or some
would yield to a form of
symbolic interpretation
every single one did

so back I went
keeping the chancy order
I had filed them in
and working first from
Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment
examined each story
in terms of traditional interpretations
of the folk-story genre

Then I found
A Dictionary of Symbols by JE Cirlot
(translated by the brother of a close school friend)
and switched to the information there
against which to test tens of the early stories
but the more experienced I came
the wider I cast my net
into the interpretative seas
seeking the divinatory shoals

I finished in 1996
nearly eight hundred single-spaced
A4 sheets later
each batch of stories
turning up a deeper (more eclectic) procession
of insights into the human
buried awareness of its rich condition
I named the book The Group Dream
Jung's name for mythology
but turning it towards
a much more complex web
of delicately deftly spread
ordinary (mind-blowing) intimations

In The Group Dream is exposed
the heart of the Cathedral of OHS
the deep symbolic exploration
that reaches down to the rounds
that all theatre eras begin with
the roots of the chorus
the ordinary cry
that re-enlivens the crypt
and re-unites with the nave
the common place of all people
where audience is actor
and actor the instrument
for the rituals that people must have
to be at ease with their cores
no altar this where the priest stands
but that yes AND no moment
where one is the many
and the many become but as one
the individual is the group
and the group is a solitary fusion

(all clicks into place)

 

64

Beyond The Group Dream
Word and Action is not yet ready to go

Seventies - W&A re- thought theatre (the cardinal phase)
eighties - W&A re-imagined education (the fixed idea)
nineties - W&A became therapeutic (the mutable moment)

Overseas tours continued apace
spreading to East Germany Hungary The Czech Republic
Japan (three times) Israel (twice)
Thailand Australia and the USA
but slowly (as the nineties progressed)
the company's resources grew less

In this country
the available money shifted
from schools into day centres
community care institutions
and W&A filled out its local time
with workshops and play-making courses
for many kinds of disability groups
showing centres how to make their own plays
and take them on tour

Dissolution came into the air
the coming and going of members
the experiential ebbing away
despite the commitment and work-load
dedication but in shorter gasps
the need for a fresh cardinality
overwhelmed the delight in the work
where to go next became painful
notwithstanding the quality
of the projects on offer

Theatre (now Wanda Theatre)
came back with full force
Molière Ibsen Chekhov Strindberg
performances of The Woman The Monster
dance dramas and Famine
(a poeticised documentary about the Irish potato disaster)
The Second Shepherds' Play in Wimborne Minster
(I re-drafted the text into modern English)

66

Poems in action (from a wide range of sources)
Wordsworth's Intimations Coleridge's Ancient Mariner
first book of Milton's Paradise Lost etc
ran through the nineties to the millennial turn

in 1991 the First Round Festival
(in which - through performances and workshops -
concepts of working in the round
could be developed)
was held in Worcester
another venture W&A was instrumental in advancing
(along with Chris Johnston
in Worcester then but later in London
- founder of Insight Theatre
a company using the creative talents of probationers)
Second Third Fourth and Seventh Round Festivals
were hosted in Wimborne
a lack of alternative venues since then
has meant the Festival has become
another annual responsibility for the company

 

cover - ZODIAC STORIESin 1998
twelve monthly pieces of Instant Theatre
each with a Zodiac theme
the drama of astrology exploited
which led three years later
to the first of my Zodiac Plays
Aries: Taylor wakes up
and my first play for eighteen years

68

I had stopped being a playwright
(deserted that seventeen-year old's
improbable vision) had become
a prolific poet instead
and a writer of follow-up tracts
to the themes of The Group Dream
Conference stories explored
in symbolic commentaries
in relation to the conferences themselves

Whilst Instant Theatre
was enriching the nave
with its host of story-material
no energy could be found
for the gallery of plays
(all work for so long there stymied)
but the poetry gallery was finding
it hard to get it all in

My eighties' poems had spread
in theme form and style
out in all directions
but as the nineties came in
the birthday card became
the transport for much of my verse
the rhyme-led poem
poked its nose in more often
and the formalised lay-out of lines
(equal number per stanza)
gave shape a more generous nod

Without the industry
an annual round of birthdays gave me
my poetry too would have found
its sparse landscape

Except (too) for
a five-year run of monthly meetings
in the first half of the nineties
held in a cottage in Aller Lane Ansty
right in the heart of Dorset
where three men
(with a spread of twenty years in age -
Martin Blyth the youngest
Phil Whitfield the oldest
and myself in the middle)
met to celebrate the poems of others
to read from our various (unpublished) collections
and to understand why we wrote as we did

Out of this came two books
in 1993 I wrote The Ansty Experience
in 102 eight-line (unrhymed) stanzas
exploring the depth of what was going on

70

and in the year after the gatherings stopped
(Phil had moved away up north to Border Country
and died there some short months later)
Martin produced at his own expense
Afternoons at Ansty
(a collection of fifteen poems each)
as a souvenir
of a literary and personal friendship
that we regard ourselves
as most fortunate to have shared

In 1996 Wanda Publications
brought out a slim collection of poems
I'd written with the county as subject
Glimpses of Dorset
one reviewer noted
how the tone darkened
towards the end
another said
Glimpses of Dorset - that's just about it

The challenge of the birthday cards though
pushed me beyond bounds I might have clung to
with their triple celebration needed
the combination of the picture on the front
and the person in whose honour the effort was being made
leading to a poem's subject matter and form
(which sought their own independence)
and all these poems I see
as done in the name of the ordinary human spirit
individually each time regarded
each finding space for itself
in the passageway round

I wrote sequences of poems
on Hiroshige's The Station of Oi
and another
on a series of stained glass windows
and another
on the twenty two cards
of the Major Arcana
and then played around
with acrostics and double acrostics
with haiku (for impressions of Israel)
and waca (or tanka) from a stay in Japan

A brief scatter of poems
from the eighties right up the present
to show just how wide
the range of subject
the tight variation of form
has infected my verse
into resisting the want to be tied down
to being this kind of poet or that
(the diversity of the ordinary is immense)

72

All good Cathedrals have their deliberate blemishes
where (out of the casual public eye)
the masons went to town with their doodles
their private taking-the-piss marks on the stone
The Cathedral of OHS
can't be spared that same infection

74

The Group Dream finished in 1996
I was asked to think of a novel way
of introducing the ideas behind the book
so I started writing a novel
The IT within the IT
(meaning something like
revealing the secret within the process
it was to have a touch of Possession about it
a futuristic discovery of a lost text
it was meant to get weird in the beginning

76

It has yet to be finished
hanging in the air
waiting for a freshly discovered layer of time
not conditioned by the clock

Then in 1999
out of a rash decision to enter
for the VS Pritchett Short Story Prize
not having written one for decades
and hating all literary competitions
I started on what became
Snapshot for Victor Sugar
a 130,000 word picaresque text
which (as a novel)
was neither fish nor fowl
but still a finished work
a bizarre paean
for rediscovering life in old age

In this passage our hero
(in his seventies)
is reminiscing about his earlier life
how (as a post-war deserter from the army)
he had been making his way north
through a series of strange adventures

He joins a cult in Lincolnshire
dedicated to turning people into playing cards

78

In Summer 2002
a third idea for a novel
jumped out of the hat
five chapters so far
(and now stalled)
Called Ginger Biscuits
a kind of detective story
with a Wimbornian flavour

I'll have to find a niche
for such offcuts
in the passageway-round
they are part of the same celebration

 

In 2000 the first Zodiac play
Aries: Taylor Wakes Up
straining for the other eleven to follow
transforming the Zodiac stories
into scripts of a kind
no play has attempted before
its language crying to burst
into energised ritual
theatre with a clear Wanda trademark
breaking with the modernist tradition
at every sore joint

and late that same year
at last a sense of a shift of a boulder
that had blocked it in a little-light cave
found space for the long poem
to my father long stranded
that seemed doomed as a fragment
and by May 29th 2001
(sixteen years and eight months
from its tentative and froward beginning)
IMPERFECT EDEN
in 1479 rhyme-royal stanzas
(10353 lines)
six parts and thirty one sections
found its last line
the individual equal
to the collective Group Dream
both holograms in their way
of the over-arching CATHEDRAL OF OHS

80

(Probably the Cathedral is illusory
and none of these ideas is true
nevertheless they have given me my life's work

Anything that has sacrificed
two partners and six children to it
had better be worth it - or I'm a charalatan

or maybe I am a charlatan
but the ideas are still true
(there's damage inside to be wreaked too)

nothing is more difficult to get right
and live properly than
the values of an possessed/obsessed mind

believing something has to be done
in the name - in the praise - of
the people

HOWEVER

Inner Voice: You are to be a playwright
   
Me: A playwright?
I don't know anything about playwriting
   
Inner Voice: Well, it's going to take a long time, then, isn't it!

 

The game is not over yet
whatever else I am able to write
Without the final two plays
to complete the Quest saga
(when done to be called STRUGNELL'S WORLD)
and the eleven ZODIAC PLAYS still wanting

The Cathedral of OHS
will lack its fulfilling feature
whether spire or tower
(geodesic dome maybe)
so that which I heard in my head
immersed in the Common
when a raw seventeen
can reach to its satisfied heights
with the truth of that Common Spirit honoured

And yet
who dares to die fully rounded
(the worst of conceits)
rough edges suit the stature
of all human quests
Gaudi of Barcelona
left a gap for his sky
in his far greater venture
(gaudi-amus igitur
let us rejoice therefore)
it's sense to be humble
when the creative spirit is around
and let the ordinary be praised
for the quality of its inevitable failure

That I hope will suit me on my day

cathedral of the ordinary human spirit
cathedral of OHS
(bit like IHS)
cathedral of rounds
the round
the only form that genuinely speaks
of the ordinary human spirit
cathedral of OH!S
OH!- wonder and awe
OH!- dismay and disappointment
OH!- curiosity/uncertainty
OH! - sudden pain
OH! - enlightenment
OH! - failure

 


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