The cast of ‘Love and Information’, The Nottingham New Theatre, January 2017.
Last year, I struggled a lot with the poetry module of my MA. Perhaps because I’ve read so much less of it than fiction, but writing poetry doesn’t come easily to me. Two problems I struggled with:
- I tried to rhyme everything
- I didn’t think enough about line breaks
The latter problem is interesting. If you think about it, line breaks are sometimes the only thing that differentiates a poem from a chunk of prose. Line breaks can be a real crutch, when you aren’t feeling creatively inspired. Or should I say….
Can be –
a real crutch,
when you aren’t feeling
That it to say, it can be really easy to get caught up with the formatting, without thinking about what the formatting is actually adding to meaning. And if it isn’t adding to meaning, aren’t you just finding a pretty way to arrange your prose?
Last month, I was involved in a production of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, and found myself facing the exact opposite problem. The play consists of 57 separate scenes, each with no fixed characters, no context and no stage directions. It’s not even always clear who is saying what. In Love and Information, there’s a huge amount of content and very little attention paid to formatting. But, gradually, I had a bit of a revelation about Churchill’s approach. Without any formatting to cling to, the bizarre content had to speak for itself. Sometimes, the content came out as nonsense. Sometimes, it came out as abstract, unexpected and utterly profound. To still be figuring out your intentions for a line several performances into a run actually kept our performances fresh, and felt much more in the spirit of theatre than trotting out the same tired emotional highs and lows, night after night.
So I thought that perhaps, I ought to attempt to learn from Churchill in my own writing. Let go of the line breaks and the double spacing and the Palatino Linotype, which make crap writing feel like good writing. I often have ideas for poems while I’m walking, and write them down on the ‘S memo’ app that’s built into my phone. Then, I edit in line breaks and fix the grammar when I get home. But with this poem, I thought it could be interesting to leave them out entirely, and to see how I like it. So far, I actually like it better!
P.S. if you’d like to have a go at formatting the poem, feel free to have a go and send it to me! 🙂
YOU COULD WEAR PURPLE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE OR DON’T BUT YOU COULD YOU COULD START TODAY OR YOU COULD RIP YOUR SHEER TIGHTS AND WEAR LEGS SNAKED WITH LADDERS THROUGH THE MUD SPATTERED WINTER IF THAT’S WHAT MAKES THE CAR HORNS HONK IF THAT’S WHAT SCANDALISES YOUR MOTHERS TOP LIP TRY A SEARING TEAL JACKET WHY NOT PAIR A DEAD WOMAN’S JUMPER WITH LEATHER CHAPS OR CLASH MENSTRUAL RED WITH THE KIND OF PINK THAT REALLY SHOCKS KNOW WHAT I MEAN SNATCH A RAINBOW TROUT FROM THE RIVER WITH YOUR BARE HANDS SCRAPE HIS SCALES WITH YOUR SEAFOAM GREEN ACRYLICS THEN GLITTER THEM THROUGH YOUR HAIR AND WEAR THEM TO THE OFFICE IF THEY DON’T FIRE YOU FOR THAT QUIT WHY WERE YOU EVEN WORKING IN AN OFFICE ANYWAY WHAT WOULD TODDLER ASTRONAUT YOU SAY IF YOU LIKE THE OFFICE THAT’S FINE TOO I LIKE USING COTTON BUDS AND CHOOSING SHAMPOO AND BITS OF COLDPLAY’S EARLIER WORK THERE’S NO ACCOUNTING FOR TASTE NO PUNISHMENT ANYWAY