Outward Bound

Phew! That was quite a weekend! On Friday evening, I had the great pleasure of co-hosting the launch of the chapbook In Failure & In Ruins by my friend, former Into the Void Poetry Competition winner Mark Bolsover.

BOO! Go back to the shaved head, Stroke Bloke!
“Pure sex for a particular niche market”

The next day, Mrs Stroke Bloke and I headed through to Glasgow to see the latest production from Kneehigh Theatre, whose Mayday Mayday had such an effect on us in the months after my stroke.

[For more whimsy and reflections, check out the Apoplexy Tiny Letter.]

Mark’s book is a collection of psychological realist experimental prose poetry, and he invited some of his talented friends and me to share some of their work at the launch, too. It was hard to know what to pick to read. Mark uses a totally unique voice to try to capture that sense of self that Farris Jabr describes when he writes that

…we depend on the totality of our inner chatter, even the more banal bits [like when you use the word ‘that’ three times in one clause], to construct something incredibly fundamental: our sense of self.

Y’see, although its themes can be challenging, the relationship of my prose style to the experimental is that… it’s not.

What a muppet!
A Portrait of the Artist at Work

But since the work being launched casts an inner eye on the workings of the mind, and its title is IN FAILURE & IN RUINS, a short piece about the weekend my brain exploded the day after I lost my job seemed apposite. I’ve been told that its picture of me apparently dying with Mrs Stroke Bloke by my side is quite moving. Fortunately, I didn’t die in front of the audience at Blackwells, and on Saturday Mrs SB and I were on our way to the legendary Citizens Theatre in the Gorbals to see Kneehigh revive its Tristan and Yseult – after hearing great reports from its run at Brooklyn’s St Ann’s Warehouse.

Besides, isn't that the Ring cycle?
Not that version

Yeah. I was confused, too. Although Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde gets a namecheck, Kneehigh’s programme makes the point that the world’s oldest love story [has links with stories from] Syria, Norway, Ireland, France, Germany, Greece and more, and this excitingly physical version is a take on the Anglo-Norman Tristan and Iseult set in a 5th century Cornwall. While Cornwall – home to Kneehigh – voted resoundingly for Brexit and has been unsuccessfully seeking assurances from the British government that its tens of millions of pounds of EU investment will be replaced, 5th century Cornwall was one of the richest kingdoms in the world and its tin mines put it at the centre of trade routes when tin was more valuable than gold.

Go home, King Mark. You're drunk.
“Outward!” cries King Mark, “Outward lies the way!”

As – in this version – Tristan is more French than Cornish, and (per the Anglo-Norman version) Yseult is the daughter of a marauding Irish king, this show has a definitely, defiantly internationalist feel. One way in which the adherence to the Anglo-Norman versions is contemporary, though, is that the Irish are cast as the bogeymen, rampaging through the audience and tossing their declarations that Cornwall is now Irish.

And in C21st, we'll be taking yr financial institutions, too.
Not that one. The presentation looked consciously similar, though…?

As the polls have tightened in the run-up to the British general election, and discussion has turned to the number of police that have been axed during Theresa May’s time as Home Secretary and Prime Minister, it’s been notable how much of the news reported by the BBC, the Daily Telegraph and The Sun has been devoted to to Jeremy Corbyn’s historic meetings with Sinn Fein and/or the IRA, his objections to the British Army’s and the RUC’s shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland, and the discovery of a stash of Semtex in Dublin. This contrasts with the absence of much discussion of any details of how the UK’s only land border with the EU will operate in the aftermath of this “Brexit election”.

And it was striking how European Dublin felt when we visited it in the aftermath of our trips to Dusseldorf and Berlin last year. Outward lies the way! – I wonder  how many financial institutions with European bases in London and Edinburgh will be setting up offices there over the coming months and years.

Tres jolie, non?
You too can have a city centre filled with empty luxury apartments?!

But, anyway. Tristan and Iseult. At the end of the story – SPOILER ALERT, but it’s been 900 years – Tristan and Iseult have been parted, and Tristan has married a different Iseult – Iseult of the White Hands, whom he’s married basically because of her name. He’s been wounded by a poisoned lance and sends his friend Kahedin to find Iseult, the only person who can heal him. Tristan tells Kahedin to sail back with white sails if he is bringing Iseult, and black sails if he is not. Iseult agrees to return to Tristan with Kahedin, but White Hands lies to Tristan about the colour of the sails. Tristan dies of grief, thinking that Iseult has betrayed him, and Iseult dies swooning over his corpse.

"Competent and somewhat static"
Tristan & Isolde (2006) – “fairly bloodless fighting and very chaste lovemaking”

There is, of course, nothing Tristan and Yseult can do to avoid their tragic fate – some berk is playing Wagner in the background, for god’s sake. Stroke Bloke and Mrs Stroke Bloke were luckier – we’ve been able to rewrite our history quite extensively. But what of Britain? What of Scotland? Are they to be doomed by their tragic flaws while the Irish knight Morholt reaps the rewards in a surprise fourth act?

I’ve got yer tragedy right here mate, delivered by an evil dwarf. Well, let’s see what next week’s chapter delivers, shall we?

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4 thoughts on “Outward Bound

  1. “There is, of course, nothing Tristan and Yseult can do to avoid their tragic fate – some berk is playing Wagner in the background, for god’s sake.”

    It is difficult for me to say how much I love this sentence. It is perhaps my favorite a.me sentence I’ve read in a long time.

    I am tempted to set it to music.

    Or perhaps write a set of cheesy power ballads about characters stuck in classical tragedies.

    And stay calm. Ge17 is over in 48 hours. And your worst case seems better than what you had before it was called. And all you can do is vote at this point, and run for office if the result is not to your liking.

    1. Ahh my worst case comment missed the fact that the increase in labor popular vote could be counteracted by fptp and ukip not running candidates in marginal labor seats. So ignore that bit. Ugh.

      1. …and, as seems appropriate for the C21st, the actual worst case scenario wasn’t predictable, even at 3am this morning. The same government, but kept in power with the support of some evolution-denying, homophobic, hard-Brexiting misogynists who are in turn supported by Loyalist paramilitaries?

        I got your Ugh right here, mate.

        But it’s a beautiful day, and I refuse to give up the quest for calm. Can you tell?

    2. Aw, thanks! Hmmm. That power ballads idea sounds like a good one. In the meantime, might have a wee warm-up exercise for you soon. Let’s just say, for composing instruments, I’m wondering if you have synths for a Chinese guqin? And a kazoo?

      Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m suited to running for office. I’m not sure that writing prose fiction with occasionally challenging themes fits well with getting involved in party politics. Although Scotland’s minister for Brexit is a published writer and member of Scottish PEN. And, Jeffrey Archer…?!

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