An interlude is a short piece of writing or acting introduced between parts or acts – initially of miracle or morality plays – or added as a part of surrounding entertainment. When Trystan is published – sometime next year – readers will discover that there are eight interludes that surround and interrupt the main ‘story’ chapters. I will say more about this when the book is published. Meanwhile – between more important posts – here is a poem.
Ashes in a Wilderness
To you, readers, I say I am no writer – these words placed themselves on my page to tell a story
To you, writers, I cry I am no chronicler – these tales spun their web through my mind to make a memory
To you, poets, I sing I am no rhymer – these lines etched their pattern on my paper to form a psalm
To you, who come, I whisper I am no voice – these sounds lift their hymn from the book to sing your future
In The Dark Trilogy, I created a literary alter ego – Trystan Lewis – named Trystan as I had a vague idea when I began writing – all those years ago – to link him in some way with the Tristan in The Romance of Tristan and Iseult. I never found a way to make that work but kept the name! Lewis, the surname, after the old nickname I had been given when I first went to sea, Louis (as in Louis Armstrong or Satchmo). A few months ago I was reading an article about James Joyce which reminded me that Stephen Dedalus was Joyce’s literary alter ego and, in turn, that reminded me of my original plan… and I began plotting… planning… and a new book was born! While I have made no attempt to write a modern version of The Romance of Tristan and Iseult, all of the main chapters are named for the chapters in the Romance and each chapter has thematic links and some reference point to the original. Character names are all drawn from the original: for example, Trystan’s good friend George Knight is named for Gorvenal (the word means knight). The story follows Trystan and George through a twenty-four hour period and deals with fate and the downwards spiral of events caused by drink, much in the way of Charles Jackson’s The Lost Weekend. Although the story is centred in a small Welsh town, as with much of my writing the sea is central to, and surrounds, the story and among many, often hidden, literary allusions, Moby Dick is referenced at both the beginning (Trystan “sailed about a little [on] the watery part of the world”) and the end (“the great shroud of the sea rolled on”) of the story.
So Trystan lives on!
I do like the idea of extending story lines so, as well as Trystan, several other characters from The Dark Trilogyalso appear in, and indeed are the subject of, some of my short stories.
I have a publishing programme planned and expect to publish a poetry chapbook very soon, before – early next year – the short story collection. Trystan and a further collection of poems should follow soon after that. [Order of publication may be subject to change!]
beyond our close shadow of death
my poet mind
I need direction
Or some beads to tell
to take refuge from my life:
A candle flame
Only the candle
A journey into quietude
Into that silence
And the absence of words
Serenity beyond words:
I become sentient -
conscious of only this moment in the flame of a grain of sand
Of the sun shining through golden autumn trees Of the clearing mists dissolving in the valley and above the hills giving way to rain that fills the sky so that the branches droop, dripping as the wind rustles the upper boughs and drops spatter on the window glass. Of love
Perhaps, now, I am no longer physical
But have become a spiritual being
having a human experience
And in the writing
the words return
Originally published in Mostly Welsh (Y Lolfa 2019, pp.51-52)
Moliere: “Without knowledge life is no more than a shadow of death”
qibla: Spiritual direction (the direction of Mecca)
Zen Master, Hung Chih, writes of serene reflection in which one forgets all words and realizes – is aware only of – Essence.
c.f. Blake: Auguries of Innocence: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand…”
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but…” Generally attributed to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, a French idealist philosopher and Jesuit priest
Laurence Durrell once wrote, “Reality is too old-fashioned nowadays for the writer’s use. We must count upon art to revive it and bring it up to date” (Monsieur. The Avignon Quintet, 1974). Much of my writing – this is true of The Dark Trilogy and the poem at the heart of the novel, as well as of many of my other poems and, as you may discover when they are eventually published next year, also of many of my short stories – is based on (or around) my life.
Which may lead you to wonder if this is suggestive of a lack of imagination, or an unhealthy focus on myself (George Orwell noted that “Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about” is one reason that people write. (George Orwell: ‘Why I Write’ Gangrel 4 (Summer 1946))… but I think perhaps it is just that writing for me – and perhaps for many others – is a cathartic exercise: such autobiographical writings simply offer their authors – if I may borrow Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s words – “the chance to look at themselves in the mirror of memory and for a moment believe they’ll live forever.” (The Labyrinth of the Spirit. 2018). I have to remember though that, more prosaically and perhaps rather more negatively, Evelyn Waugh wrote, “Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography” (A Little Learning: An Autobiography (Vol.1), 1990). Jonathan Swift noted “there is in most people a reluctance and unwillingness to be forgotten… [and] if it be founded in our nature, as an incitement to virtue, it ought not to be ridiculed.” (Charles Peake quoted this in his 1971 essay, “The Coherence of Gulliver’s Travels.” In Claude Rawson (ed.) Swift. London: Sphere Books). But I hope at least that I remain curious about the future!
Meanwhile, like Durrell, I feel the need to revive my life, to embellish the boring facts and to bring them up to date! As Carlos Ruiz Zafon said “no genre is more fictitious than a biography”! Those who know me may recognise autobiographical fact amongst the fiction… perhaps, others will just read a fable!
The device that I have used in The Dark Trilogy is one also used by Vladimir Nabokov in Pale Fire – that of using an imaginary second person – a scholar – to discuss and explain a poem, thereby narrating the story.
Nabokov’s Charles Kinbote wrote that his friend’s poem was a “sudden flourish of magic” and it will become evident that my scholar feels similarly about the poem of his friend. He too would of course suggest that his commentary should be read both first and during a reading of the poem as a reference and, like Kinbote, feels that the:
“… reality of its author and his surroundings, attachments and so forth, [is] a reality that only my notes can provide. “
The literary persona of my scholar-critic – a friend of the poet since their school days – is unduly proud of his scholarship and of his writing skills. He is also very much in the habit of writing scholarly papers, so his introduction, his commentary on the poem and even his biographical notes are peppered with footnotes which serve to demonstrate his own knowledge and skill as much as they help the reader! He also, with some justification, feels that he should be the one to write at length and in some depth about his friend.
Perhaps you will feel that the scholar is writing as much to serve and promote his own aims – a major publication, association with a great poet, evidence of his research skills, and so on – as to respond to the poet’s request:
… You must know that my health is failing and that these days I rarely leave my home on the South Downs, valuing the peace of the rolling countryside and the view of the distant sea above companionship and travel; so when my publishers asked me to work on a new version of ‘Retrospective’ my first thought was to refuse. That was until I re-read the poem and was once again transported back to my early lives and loves. I DO believe that the poem deserves another outing! And what I believe would enhance its brevity are the stories behind it, but I have no longer the energy. I should like to see a commentary to the poem which opens up the histories which underpin my lines. Christo, having known me for most of my life I know that you will be able to unravel the often difficult themes and thinking lying behind the lines of the work I am now calling ‘Dark Ashes’ …
Or perhaps you will see a colleague determined to bring his good friend’s poem to the wider audience it deserves.
So said Carlos Ruiz Zafon – it is the lead quotation at the beginning of Book I. In an interview recently published in Poetry Wales, the poet Tim Relf says: “I don’t believe any of us are reliable narrators of events, even to ourselves. My latest collection Same Difference returns to that idea in various forms: how our life is what the novelist Julian Barnes refers to as ‘the story we have told ourselves’.”
I have tried, in The Dark Trilogy, to blend the story that I have told myself about myself, about my life, with an older history that might have been mine. Once. I have dived into the depths of one of my poems and surfaced with far more than I had dreamt was in the lines. ‘Retrospective’ – the poem in Mostly Welsh (Y Lolfa, 2019) that became ‘Dark Ashes’ – was avowedly autobiographical of a part of my life but I never wrote a second, older, life into those lines. Or so I thought! In taking on the role of my own editor and critic in Books I and III of The Trilogy, I allowed the possibility of there being more behind the 326 lines of the poem than I had been conscious of. A second story. A second – older – life. So there are two biographies in Book I. And at least one of them – the one to which Book II adds – is true.
But memory is a curious thing! As some past event is recounted for the first time a small fact – the colour of a dress or the positioning of a piece of furniture in a grandparent’s house – might be added, perhaps hesitantly, doubtingly, in error… but in the very act of speaking about the event that erroneous image is cemented into the memory – fixed to the extent that on subsequent retellings the blue dress is there, in the picture, as your mother stood in front of her parent’s sideboard. And now there is no question in your mind that you are describing things as they really were! An autobiography is the curated sum of our imagined memories.
In The Lady in the Van, Alan Bennett wrote “You don’t put yourself into what you write; you find yourself there.”
So, a beginning. The agon, that conflict of my personae, that conflict of my characters. Today the wind has been blowing from the west and the rain, which has kept me from the little garden surrounding my cottage for the past week, continues on and off: then it was sunny… As I drove slowly along the country roads towards home, through the leafy shades, between the high hedges and patches of sunlight, past hamlets and villages, my mind ran back to the many times I had passed this way before. Times almost half a century ago when …