Monday, June 20, 2011

Let's All Write Some Blank Verse!

Blank verse is one of those emergent forms that pushed a change in consciousness to some extent.  Of course, the percentage of the world aware of the emergence of blank verse in English language poetry was (and I daresay remains) relatively small, but the effects were far-reaching and abiding.  Prior to the mid-1500s, people expected poetry to rhyme.  As I mentioned in my Paradise Lost post, Milton famously had to include a preface to the original edition defending and explaining the blank verse contained within. 

You know, I've been thinking about our own accelerated culture and this particular advance in Western thought to see if I could come up with a parallel.  I contend that in my lifetime I have witnessed a similar shift in cinematography.  Over 20 years ago, a camera that shook or ran or focused oddly was considered poor camera work.  In my lifetime I've watched the lo-fi revolution of camera work in places like Homicide: Life on the Street or famously The Blair Witch Project or more recently Cloverfield.  I quickly noticed other (arguably lesser) works in arts and entertainment adopting the style.  It's sort of the style of the POV of someone who has just run down the block and into the room where the action is taking place, focusing where they can, but also attempting to catch their breath.  Very effective in drawing the audience into the dramatic tension.  Which saves on hiring good actors I suppose.  But what leads me to make the comparison is the accusation, which I heard leveled by critics against all three of those pieces I mentioned, that the movement of the camera will make an audience member vomit.  I am not hearing a lot of reports of people vomiting while watching this sort of camera work.  We've been inoculated by these early pieces employing those techniques.

Blank verse usually had five major stresses or emphases in each line.  I usually struggle with not translating that to mean "syllables" in my mind.  The lines, as I've said, did not end in rhyme.  This is one of those forms that intimidate me, much like Brahms experienced in writing his symphonies, because of the heavyweights who mastered the form so early on.  I speak now of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.  They gave the form wings.

Speaking of poor camera work, Laurie was at work when I recorded this, so it is extraordinarily grainy, there is no movement of the camera, I stand in the doorway to my office, and you get to see me push the stop button at the end.  The piece is from Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.  It is Faustus' lament over his impending damnation.

As for my own piece in this form, I thought I would tend toward the dramatic in a hat doff to those magnificent Elizabethan playwrights.  I think I've mentioned before that I am currently working on writing my third play.  So often I find it to be the case that one of the many manifestations of distractions in the creative process comes in the form of coming up with other, possibly more immediately attractive ideas while you're still trying to write the thing that you are currently writing.  I already have an idea for my fourth play.  I seem to write about the tragedy of ubiquitous marginalization in our society and while the one I'm currently working on is filled with kinetic action, the next one is looking more like a dialogue driven play.   

So, as a thought-experiment and a bit of preparatory work, I thought I would write a monologue from that fourth play (which doesn't yet exist outside of my brain.)  I thought about setting up the monologue, but I think I'll leave the content up to your imagination.  I find it best to keep creative cards close to my chest up until the first draft is completed.  But this is a monologue that the middle aged, working class intellectual, married, neurotic Andre (me) is giving to the character of Evren, with all of her problems and neurosis, in an attempt to encourage the younger character through a time of great tribulation in her life.  We shan't get into specifics at this time.  You can find out more by waiting a year or so until I write it (and, hopefully needless to say, the actual play shall not be written in blank verse.)  This is what I've come up with:

Discerning an emerging narrative,
I offer some unsolicited advice.
I doubt what I have to say will be new,
But I feel that encouragement is always healthy.
This life is so lonely, harsh and brief.
I should like to always tread kindly.

My own hometown is full of horrid memories.
They are pieces of my own biography
over which I had no control.
Being at the helm of my own life now,
I have no intention of allowing them
to comprise the self that has mutated.

The self is like unto interior design.
It is a job which is never complete.
Even after death we continue to grow.
If one can mine joy from self-creation,
it is a joy that cannot be taken from one
in the darkest prison nor splendid palace.
They cannot touch inside our minds, Evren.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

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