Friday, October 30, 2015

On writing a Trident poem

To make up for the usual rubbish Scottish summer we had a gloriously long, warm, dry autumn which meant spending many hours sitting by the Clyde Firth writing streams of images.

I've used all this material to write a poem in three voices about Trident nuclear submarines - a common sighting on the Clyde. 
It many ways it was a real challenge to write. Technically, writing a poem in three voices was for me a new experience. I started by separating the material into three distinct personas which I initially based on archetypal projections of  mother / daughter / wife.  

These projections were disbanded when the writing became staid and I pretty much got stuck on the poem. The initial idea was to write dramatic monologues in the voices of women anti-nuclear protesters. So I did a lot of fascinating reading up on and watching youtube clips of women peace protesters and some of the approaches they took. And although I used some of the material the voices in my poem tended much more towards lyric than dramatic writing which I felt would have required a more narrative approach that was non-existent in my poem.

I also did a lot of reading up on and watching documentaries on the atom bomb / nuclear testing / Hiroshima etc. I've always been anti-Trident and also always been fascinated by nuclear power. Reading up on it all has just enforced the horrific reality of nuclear weapons and how the only right and rational response is disarmament.

Anyway the poem approaches this in a very understated way, I think of my voices as Cassandra's - prophets of disaster - rather than being an overtly political poem. 

I found the drafting process more difficult than usual and still feel the need to hear it read aloud by three voices to see if it's actually working.
Whether it does work or not it's certainly been a 'stretching' process in writing it!


Heather Walker said...

It sounds like an interesting project and a great challenge. I am sure it will all come together eventually.

Marion McCready said...

Thanks Heather, I hope so!

Jim Murdoch said...

A couple of weeks back I watched a documentary on Tony Harrison whose work, if you don’t know, you might want to check out. I remember seeing V when it was first broadcast. You can find the first part on YouTube here. I have a few poems where I’ve used two voices but never three and certainly nothing as ambitious as you or he; when I go long I end up writing prose. Politics is a tricky subject at the best of times and there’s a danger you can come across as preachy. (If you saw this week’s Doctor Who episode you’ll know exactly what I mean.) No one likes to be told what to think. What they do appreciate is having how they think clarified. So I’m glad you’re going down the understated route and I look forward to reading/hearing this down the line.

Me, I’m ten months and ten drafts into the next novel. At the moment I’m sitting at 1424 footnotes because by the time it’s published I’ll have completely forgotten what the hell all the subtext is about.

A Cuban In London said...

Great project. I love autumn, especially in Scotland, even if I was only there for a few days in September 2001. :-)

Greetings from London.

Anonymous said...

It sounds an interesting project and daunting. I found myself thinking recently about how one deals with nuclear war in art as a result of starting to read JG Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition.

Did you see the American news story of the weird light in the sky that turned out to be an unarmed Trident? Chilling to see even an unarmed one in action.

Marion McCready said...

Hi Jim, I've not really read Tony Harrison, I'll check out the documentary, thanks. All the voices really became multiple versions of the lyrical 'I' so I'm not so sure how how successful it is! The poem is definitely understated which is how I prefer to write about political subjects. Good to hear your getting through your next book - you'll have a shelf-load before long! Would you consider publishing it through a publisher? - I think Vagabond Voices would like your work.

Marion McCready said...

Thanks Cuban, we had a wonderful summery autumn this year!

Marion McCready said...

Hi Sackerson, I've never read Ballard, I'll look out that novel, thanks. I did see that news story, sadly Trident subs are a common sight for me - it's amazing how it just becomes a norm until you actively start thinking in real terms of the destructive capability of these things, terrifying.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’ve had a look at Vagabond Voices site and they might be worth trying, Marion. I’ve mixed thoughts on the subject. The new book is good and quite possibly the best thing I’ll ever write but it’s also the least commercial. A guy sits on a bench in a park for thirty years and talks about why he can’t write. There’s more to it than that—the guy is not who we (or he) thinks he is—but every time I think about writing a synopsis I always seem to dwell on the negative. It’s because plot isn’t a big thing in my books. I give my characters things to do but mostly their just excuses to let them stretch their legs and I’m starting to see that for what it is. The last novel takes place entirely inside a guy’s head. It’s just a conversation between him and the protagonist in the story he’s trying to write.

I don’t write for other people but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to be read. Self-publishing sounded like a viable alternative eight years ago but publishing has changed a lot in that time. I’ve changed too and my main concern when it comes to traditional publishing is that it’s a job; they’d expect me to pull my weight to go to book signings and stuff and basically the only time I leave the house nowadays is to pick up my blood pressure pills because the chemist doesn’t deliver.

It’s something to think about. I’ve kept a note of a literary agent who seems to have a soft spot for older writers too but at the moment my main concern is getting the damn book finished. We’re nearly there. And then maybe I’ll find my way back to the poetry. Any even vaguely poetic idea I’ve had recently has ended up being grafted into the novel; that’s the way it goes with me.