Tuesday, October 16, 2012

From Blank Screen to Hamlet

I’d had a few thoughts on this blog over the past few months: how to revive it or how to give it a decent burial. I contemplated erasing it entirely, which may actually happen at some point. But, instead, here I am with a new post, mainly because I have been trying to write a poem and have come up with a blank screen, a highly attractive shade of luminous white.

The poem is a new opener for my next collection, as I feel there is no real opener among the poems already written. What makes an opening poem? Well, there’s no formula, although it has to be really good and has to act as a doorway into the rest of the book. Perhaps those twin demands have simply made its writing impossible up till now. Also, it’s the last poem I will write for the collection (I may delete poems, but not add any more) and, somehow, the final step towards completion of anything is often the most difficult of all.

And there’s Hamlet. Yesterday evening was a chilly, damp affair and I spent most of it curled up on the sofa reading Hamlet and thinking of how Shakespeare managed to knock off over a hundred pages of brilliant poetry, full of memorable lines and deep thoughts, whereas I have been struggling for days to write a poem that will fit inside a single page. Perhaps Shakespeare had those kind of days too. “Write something!” the creative writing tutors shout in near-unison, but “To be or not to be...” was not just “something” and may have needed days or weeks of silence before it all poured out. I have written something – this blog post – and I am thinking of Ophelia. Ophelia was a sap, wasn’t she? While Hamlet makes his “to be or not to be...” speech for himself, Ophelia ought to have listened in more carefully. She chose not to be in the end but, really, she chose that with every decision she didn’t make and farmed out for other people to make for her. Hamlet is quite nasty to her as time goes on. If it were a modern play, Ophelia's character would be condemned by many as an example of misogyny. She is certainly a tragic figure, all the more so because of how easy she is to identify with for more or less everyone, including me. But even poor, conflicted Hamlet finds making his life count for something almost impossible, even though he articulates his dilemmas with an emotional clarity most people can never approach. We don’t all have Shakespeare’s help. Only the clown, who also happens to be the gravedigger (a Shakespearian masterstroke), seems to find fulfilment in life, a fulfilment that comes from immersing himself in death. His work, at least, will outlive all the others.

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