Wednesday, 27 November 2013

What's the Story?

Last week, as a contrast to the light relief of performing doggerel on a Tour Bus (my poetic contribution to the history festival, Previously...) I reviewed a play that was originally produced as part of the Just Festival, and subsequently found its way into Previously.... The review was published, appropriately, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the play was a bold exploration of the causes of domestic violence.
Pamela Shaw, Jacqueline Hannan and Deborah Whyte in Kiss, Cuddle Torture
Pamela Reid, Jacqueline Hannan and Deborah Whyte in Kiss, Cuddle Torture

This is an issue that resonates in my own writing, and lies beneath a deeper narrative. In former times, I was part of a group that was instrumental in instigating the predecessor of the Just Festival, the Festival of Spirituality and Peace. I was responsible for programming a great many innovative events throughout the year with the parent organisation, Creative Space, giving a platform to performers and artists who dared to challenge the status quo.

I was particularly proud of a year-long project that explored the themes of violence against women, and related, complex issues such as the injustice that exists in society borne out of prejudice, presumption and intolerance. Regrettably, we only scratched the surface of this uncomfortable subject. Then again, it was more than I could cope with to uncover truths too terrible to reveal.

As part of this project my own take on domestic violence was a radio-play, performed half on-stage, with off-stage sections leaving the viewer to draw their own conclusions as to what was happening (or not.)  I also produced a triptych of short plays about a young daughter caught in a violent battle between her estranged parents. It was based on real experience, but I took the work on as a legitimate and well -crafted work of fiction.

Recently, I was shocked to hear that my friend, who wrote that piece, had died suddenly, unexpectedly earlier this month. I still do not know the cause of his death. The greatest tragedy is that he, as far as I know, was never reconciled with his daughter, the 'real' child at the centre of this dreadful imbroglio who had been so tenderly portrayed in his fictional account of the unfortunate tale. He will never know the end of the story, and neither will I.

We live in a cliff-hanger culture, yet we like to know how a film, a book, a play will end. The narrative of life is never guessable, straight-forward or conclusive.

What is Fiction?

This week, as part of Book Week Scotland, the Kalopsia Collective are exhibiting their Octavo Fika, on the theme of 'Narrative.' My work, displayed in photographs and a pamphlet, is a sequence of poems based on the Gormley installation, 6 Times, that runs along the Water of Leith, from the Modern Art Gallery to Ocean Terminal where the exhibition is being held.

The central poem of my sequence seeks to challenge the concept that I explored in my review of Jennifer Adam's play. What lies below the surface, beneath the skin, the bruises or the deeper narrative of our lives? When I was writing Walking on the Water, I stood near the sculptures, listening to the comments of on-lookers and passers-by. I spent a year taking photos, watching how the light changed the look of the work, the effect on the water, and the viewers' perceptions on each of the six statues.

For FIGURE IV, I had copious notes, scribbles and images floating around. In the end, it was an overheard remark of a young child that gave me the central premise of this piece. My sequence of poems is a reflection on 6 Times, a revelation of my interpretation, and - for those who dare to dig without prejudice - a glimpse of what lies beneath a complex narrative.

4.  Ecce Homo (Figure IV - RIGHT)

‘Is there a story,’ asked the infant,

nonchalantly pointing at my manhood.

There are, I figured, three dimensions:

my Shadow on the murky surface;

my Reflection in the water;

and above it all, my Self.

I hope that people will come and view the inspirational and intricate art-books that make up the Octavo Fika exhibition. And for those who like something a bit different, I'll be performing Walking on the Water at some point this Saturday, after giving a workshop on poetry performance. Poetry and plainchant in a shopping centre!

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