3
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in the beginning were words like these


well not quite in the beginning
but they've come to seem as though they were in the beginning

(walking through Southampton Common
on a full-bellied sunlit evening one late Summer):

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!

Then (later) other words that were there in the beginning:

without equality there is no freedom
without freedom there is no equality

 

 

Hierarchical group:
        the fulfilment of the group depends
        upon the fulfilment of its leader
Egalitarian group:
        the fulfilment of the group
        is the sum of the fulfilment of its members

Inequality depends upon uniformity
E-quantity
depends upon sameness
E-quality depends upon diversity

 

If you keep getting in my way I'll smash your face in
(or)
If I'm denied access to where I have to go
I'll explode (taking others with me)
(or - more elegantly)
unless you allow me to achieve my fulfilment
I shall make damn sure you don't achieve yours

in my aloneness I have so many seeds
in my hands I have so many deeds
in my humanity so many needs
on my tongue there are so many words

language is the precisest tool people possess
for probing their human (local) condition

where there is no people the vision perishes

word without action is static
action without word is empty

practically all I have been - done - tried for
has come out of words like these

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7.
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unholy saint

(i)
blue eyes i imagine he had
beneath his carrot hair
and a mind that could not see
clearly beyond his age
if he had glimpsed his history
and acted accordingly
he has left no record of the fact
no miraculous utterance has been arranged
to illuminate his creed and his kingdom
has remained unattested by the world
the signs are of a man moving
like the damned into his own dark corner
acting as a thousand men would act
in the same situation too much a part
to follow the familiar plot beyond its limits
twisting and evolving into faith
perhaps even there was no intuitive need
to do this thing and he was ignorant of
his own eternal crucifixion
yet what knowledge ran to earth
at his death did not take with him his name
but left it naked to the tongues of all
who have made him what they would deny
the unconscious unacknowledged saint
of human action and its dark recesses
the scapegoat symbol of minority
representative of his own despisers
betrayed by them the betrayers whom
they say he has betrayed
                                      his trade mark
is branded distinctly on their haunches
and his image is moulded in their hearts
if jesus is here then judas and jesus share
between them this posterity of little christs

or put this way - thirty pieces of silver
(payment before the act that stained the hand
like blood and would not wash away) was all
he got for dirty work that he was chosen for
the anointed carrier of guilt
                                             divinity in him
led on to sacrifice - the eternal god
made earth his poignant hell and he became
the one unsanctified unholy saint
the antithesis of the glory of christ
which he had succoured and whetted with his kiss.

i do not ask your pity for him but your understanding
his face is yours in the mirror - he works
not by mysterious ways but from the heart
and carries like you the burden of its errors
jesus can bear his crucifixion having come
to earth with the firm intention
of dying on the cross
his soul was armoured from the start
against the sticks and stones of scribes
nothing went wrong - he lived a joke
of which the trinity already knew the point
but the birth of judas has had no commentary
and he sold himself to the ideal of good
without the immaculate conception
needed to see it through
which jesus had been given as a guarantee
before he stepped into the virgin's womb

i do not hate jesus or think more of judas
for they are intermingling symbols
and really indivisible - j
three dashes s
will do for both of them
the same in spirit as in letter
at the beginning and at the end
each with a finger in the human pie

the legend of judas is the legend of man
the son of man in christ the son of god
renouncing only that a ghost is holy
and the incomprehensible example
of the perfect good

tides of human loving swing
from agape to eros
and suffering has alternate springs
in calvary and judas

the middle ages understood
that mary was as much to blame
as judas for the holy rood
and glorified her name

judas alone was left condemned
in the cell of the human heart
and loaded with immortal sin
for playing the human part

the sticks and stones have built a church
that hurt the word of jesus
but a dishonoured name has broken the bones
of the body that was judas


(ii)
the betrayal of human confidences
arising out of fear
of any action we do not know the end of
is a sore but sure point in our defence
innocence is ignorance in a court of law
and what we do not know can cause
a knowing crime - we should assert
our right that we should not be trusted
we do not want to feel the weight
of the world on our bare hand
the man next door and our closest friends
will carry it between them up the long
passion to death - this is the only answer
to crying out of our blood at the load

but we assert no right and listen in
to confessions broadcast on a private set
and then relay them out the other ear
long before trouble has had time to get
lodged in the memory and to canker there
ourselves retain the glory and pass on the sin

jesus it will be seen has his human moments
leaning in this way on judas and the cross
and judas tries to return the thirty pieces of silver
and hangs himself thinking death will cut down the cost


(iii)
jesus and i went to a party
given in honour of him and his twelve disciples
and jesus was eyeing me strangely all the time
until it came to supper
(i was afraid he had something in for me
and tried to tell myself i was imagining things
though the look was there all the same)
and while we were eating and laughing
god (who was giving the party) came in with a handful of cards
and said in his usual way
after supper we'll have a game of murder
it was a game i enjoyed and i had played it much before
but god's words had quite an effect on jesus
whose eyes were shining like points and his face was flushed
and his hands clenched as if his life was going to depend
on this amusing but not important game
perhaps that is why as god was handing round the cards
i found myself thinking with a little malice perhaps
if it comes to me i will murder jesus
whom i was beginning not to like
because he was getting too big for his boots
and had been treating me strangely all evening
and as luck would have it god gave me the black ace
which was the murderer's card

i think it must have shown in my eyes
for jesus looked at god and god looked back
and both were hard put to it to hide a smile
i was beginning not to like this at all i can tell you
certainly jesus made it easy for me to kiss his cheek
(which was the way in those days signifying death)
and i could not help noticing he was shaking all over
but whether it was from tension or relief i could not say

meanwhile the others were wandering around in the dark garden
excited and half afraid as the innocent always are
when they do not quite know what is going on
but sense like animals there is something queer in the air

jesus cried out when i kissed him as the rules say
and everybody knew it had happened and was glad
and we all returned to the house laughing and chatting idly

but god had gone to bed

everybody went silent like a shot sensing the danger
and in the deathly silence christ came forward
smiling queerly and holding a card in his bleeding palm
it was the king of hearts - the detective's card

i saw the trick he had played on me but it was too late
i was furious but there was nothing i could do
the other disciples were already beginning to threaten me
with eternal damnation and wanted to lynch me there and then
but christ would not give the word but just looked at me
with that inhuman smile on his lips and pity in his eyes
until he had me believing i had done something wrong
and i saw he was telling me to go and hang myself
to save his disciples from dirtying the word
nor would he take back the black ace i held in my hand
but made great play
of branding it amid jeers and catcalls on my brow
with a steady hand and a grip as cool as ice
i tried to wash it off with my tears but it was no use
and all my crying only made them laugh the more

through the window behind christ's head i could see the trees
creaking in the wind and the lonely moon
i went into the garden and hanged my body on a tree
and i have longed for death ever since

but christ is alive and will not let me die


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9.
back!

THE ROSTRUM THEATRE

(Small amateur theatre company
set up by RG Gregory in Southampton in 1953
in order to explore alternative ways of staging theatre.)

First production Othello roped in 30 (mostly inexperienced) actors
rehearsals in room barely ten feet square
one performance in Central Hall, Southampton
Over 600 attended - failure in all compartments
company in local dog-house from then on
Actors who stayed refused to work outside the proscenium again
Productions from then on used to de-construct
(before the word was invented)
Proscenium Theatre from the inside
Gradually scenery lighting reduced to plainness
historical plays done in the present
( so rejection of concept of costume for clothes)
but original text not altered
anachronism made a principle of production.

Plays tackled
An Inspector Calls - Ghosts - Easter
then The Bear (Chekhov)
in which only two chairs on bare stage used
and they both ended broken
and (finally) Triangle (a play of my own)
stage curtain open bare stage
ordinary flat lighting three chairs placed in triangle on edge of stage
characters enter by rising from chair - exit by sitting down
The Rostrum Theatre closed down after that production in 1957
to the relief of Southampton Theatre Guild

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back!
13.
frederick and the enchantress

(poem accompanying a dance-drama based upon the Grimm brothers' story: The King of the Golden Mountain, danced to Sibellius' Second Symphony)

a. prologue

beware belzivetta the enchantress - she
inhabits this story with a fiendish glee
many a man she's stricken in a dream
and many victims offered to her spleen
this time on frederick she has turned her hate
seeking by shifty means to twist his fate
his father (rich) has all his wealth at sea
she with malicious timing lets him see
(in a disastrous vision) his ship in motion
snarled at and battered by the thundering ocean
break in a thousand anguished grievous pieces
and all its wealth the sea's great wealth increases

beware belzivetta - how she purposes
by father's ruin to bring the son distress
is not for words but action to unfold
is not by me but by dancers to be told
bear only this in mind as you are borne
from scene to scene from house and mounting storm
to the golden mountain - let good with evil strive
if the sorceress wins then frederick can't survive

 

b. frederick's arrival on the island

frederick come
come safely and silently
out of the jaw of the mastiff sea
whose foaming tongue

lashed you near death
sink gently on the sand
once more on unexpected land
enjoy your breath

exhausted lie
on the dark island - dream
the sea flows past you in a stream
and snakes slide by

black castle walls
mount in the ghostly air
wake frederick wake to stare
as gold light falls

on crags alive
with sinuating snakes
until confounded on a crowning peak
your senses writhe

dazzled in the white
dance of the serpent queen
shatter this bubble of a waking dream
seize a stick - fight

the hissing eyes
the mesmerising flow
pay out to every snake the fatal blow
not one shall rise

attack attack
but powerless to strike
every rush against the reptile rock
is driven back

your mind's in flood
with softly-swirling thought
tantalising hopes sweet memories caught
in your eddying blood

a new peace stalks
your senses with a strange delight
your eyes are loaded with the golden light
the white snake talks

 

c. the song of the white snake

do not strike us stranger
though snakes we seem
sense in us no danger
long-suffering we have been
imprisoned in a dream
i was a princess stranger
and this my home
innocent of danger
my maids and i would roam
till the enchantress came
she belzivetta stranger
seething with spite
spelled us into danger
dispossessed us in a night
to this unseemly plight

we ghost this island stranger
in serpent shape
compelling into danger
those who strive for our escape
from this resented state

resist three tortures stranger
let your heart not break
incensed against all danger
take the punishment you must take
and live still for my sake

rise undestroyed o stranger
and you shall have my hand
triumphant over danger
shall have my king this golden land
forever to command

 

d. the tortures over

his tortures ended
frederick recovers
and discovers
his aches transcended
the golden mountain
bursting with flowers
crags into bowers
life as a fountain
returning unfrowning
all serpents departed
reviving lighthearted
climbs to the crowning
delight of discovery
ladies-in-waiting
exultantly feting
elvira's recovery

 

 

e. the song of the ladies-in-waiting

princess elvira remember your promise
remember the story you told of your woe
remember the young man who suffered three tortures
to bring you the glory you once again know

elvira elvira no longer enchanted
queen of the mountain whose fortunes now sing
take as your bridegroom the young man beneath you
garland and honour him and make him your king

 

f. the wishing ring

belzivetta has a book
belzivetta takes a look
belzivetta finds a charm
to bring the said young man more harm

she conjures up a wishing ring
fit to decorate a king
all that's wished for will be granted
all to evil outcome slanted

 

g. prologue to the second part

some time has passed since elvira (freed
from the horrors of a serpent shape) received
frederick as king and happiness was restored
some time since belzivetta pinched with rage
conjured a wishing ring and gave it them
to breed temptation in the young king's heart
that yearning for his home might blossom there
and choke the seedling love for his new queen

alas as she had hoped so proved - the ring
lay heavily on frederick's mind - elvira's love
could not sustain his homeward-looking sighs
and too much life a snake had left its bite
bitter she grew to him and he remote
from her - the more she railed the more he dreamed
king's power and pride alone restrained his hand
so once again a golden world declined
the mountain lost its barely-spurted joy
brief flowers perished angry storms prevailed
and time moved scowling on

                                         see now how belzivetta rises
gloating with heavy sunshine on her face
savouring the acid fruits of her devices
wheedling her evil omens into place
frederick and elvira - once more take care
beware the enchantress - beware - beware

 

h. the adventures

(i) introduction

his home in ruins
his parents gone
frederick seeks
to reclaim his throne

to the golden mountain
he sets his path
the enchantress listening
schemes with wrath

four desperate trials
which she takes from store
to silence frederick
for ever more


(ii) the mist

softly mist suppress all sight
swirling stealthily as night
slur the sureness of his steps
suffocate his sweetest hopes
swirling curling slip and slide
persuasively seduce his stride
from following its essential course
seal his senses at its source
bemuse the soil he stands upon
till power of choice has wholly gone
seething surreptitious veil
across the face of light prevail
against this taciturn and proud
insurgent - o smother him swift cloud

yet if you cannot steal his breath
thus snuffing him to hasty death
at least in your umbrageous mask
stifle his ambitious task
mystify his restless brain
sweep him swirl him home again


(iii) the bog

once more the muffling mists enclose
frederick in their vaporous throes
forcing him with unseeing sway
to veer from his intended way

back they push and back
make him fall
stumble catch
his foot become
emmired snatch
hopelessly at fog
no grip slip further back
into the sucking fingers of the bog
into the slush

squelching and splotch-
ing the marsh
gushes and gurgles
engulfing foot leg
chuckling suckles
the heaving thigh
the plush slugged waist
sucking still and still flushing
with suggestive slurp
plop slap
sluggishly upwards
unctuous lugubrious
soaking and enjoying
with spongy gestures
the swallowed wallowing
body - the succulence
of soft shoulder
squirming
elbow
wrist
then
all.......

but no
his desperate palm
struggling to forsake
the clutches of the swamp
finds one stark branch overhanging
to fix glad fingers to and out of the maw
of the murderous mud safely delivers him


(iv) the magic forest

safely! - distorted joke
from bog to twisted forest
gnarled trees writhe and fork
asphixiated trunks - angular branches
hook claw throttle frederick
in their creaking joints
jagged weird
knotted and misshapen
petrified maniacal
figures frantically contorted
grotesque eccentric in the
moon-toothed half-light
tug clutch struggle
with the haggard form
zigzag he staggers
awe-plagued giddy
near-garrotted mind-deranged
forcing his sagging limbs
through the mangled danger

till almost beyond redemption
beyond self-care
he once again survives
to breathe free air


(v) the barrier of thorns

immediately a barrier of thorns
springs up to choke his track
thick brier evil bramble twitch
stick sharp needles in his skin
hag's spite inflicts its bitter sting
frederick (provoked to attack
stung stabbed by jabbing spines
wincing with agony and grief) seeks to hack
a clear way through
picking swinging at
the spiky barricade inch by prickly inch
smarting with anger bristling with a thin
itch and tingling of success - acute
with aching glory the afflicted victim
of a witch's pique frederick
frederick the king snips hews chops
rips slashes cracks cleaves rends pierces
pierces and shatters into pointless pieces
this mighty barrier of barbs - comes through at last
(belzivetta's malignant magic smashed)
to freedom peace of mind and dreamless sleep

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back!

19

(examples)

(a)
drip
drip
drip drop drip
drip drop drip drop
splash
drip splish
drop splash
spit spat
spitter spatter
dribble bubble
gurgle guggle
splosh

(b)
wild-dog walrus
dromedary rhinoceros
camel hippopotamus
polar-bear seal

leaopard zebra
cheetah mongoose
elephant hyena
kangaroo baboon

wild-dog walrus
etc

penguin deer
chimpanzee panda
buffalo boar
alligator mamba

wild-dog walrus
etc

tiger llama
jackal giraffe
monkey puma
rattlesnake wolf

wild-dog walrus
etc

brown-bear boa
lion antelope
jaguar cobra
crocodile ape

wild-dog walrus
etc

(c)
i.
creepy the crawlies
that cling to the ceiling
scowling and smirking
till they plop in my soup

ii
hush
asleep in this bush
is a thrush
don't push

iii
the awkward boy
with knocking knees
scrumped squashy pears
from creaking trees

iv
broken bottles
tin cans jagged
food rotted
bloated maggots

v
silence breathes in the bushes
silence pads in the park
do you sense this sleek swift silence
springing through the silent dark

.


(d)
chicken's claw

by a dank and ancient coffin
in the gaunt and gloomy hall
alone and sighing deeply
crouched the sorriest crone of all
her worn hands clutched a feather
her eyes were sore with tears
her lips were mumbling slowly
through the burdens of her fears
her clothes were drab and tattered
her body drooped and old
she waited waited waited
her blood let in the cold
she waited waited waited
a chill draught killed her sighs
day slunk down from the windows
night spied with its evil eyes
the mildewed sagging curtains
dragged on the harsh stone floor
and the fitful crash re-echoed
of the limping thickset door
a distant churchbell gloated
a groan grew in the trees
a shudder of horror shook the coffin
the crone sank to her knees
the coffin lid was lifting slowly
a weird light glowed within
and a hand as thin as a chicken's claw
seized the crone and pulled her in

* * *

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