Thursday, 12 July 2012

Writers who changed me 4:


Even now, and its been at least 32 years, just thinking about the first time I read The Wasteland I can still feel the shivers, the flow of energy, the excitement. I was studying Literature at Rusden at the time and I had taken a unit studying Elliot - specifically The Wasteland, though we did look at a number of his poems. J.Alfred Prufrock and The Hollow Men were definitely two of them. With J.Alfred, its "talking of Michelangelo" that comes to mind. With The Hollow Men its the rhythm and that wonderful, terrifying last stanza. But the biggest impression was The Wasteland.

Once I read that poem I knew I wanted to write poetry and I have been writing it ever since. So why? Why that poem, that writer?

I think firstly the Wasteland connected with my love of mythology - The Taro references (for example) intrigued me. All the hidden meanings that demanded my intelligence, thrilled me. It gave me a hunt, and that was a powerful drug to discover in literature, in poetry!

Secondly, T.S.'s voice is again that of The Outsider - and for young male artists (perhaps women too, but certainly men) that voice of the Outsider is the most powerful one, it resonates deep within the unfolding artistic soul; touches the fresh, soft flesh, like sunlight warming the butterfly's wet wings.
To become the artist we must first step outside of our role and become the Observer, the Outsider - perhaps we are already in the role and so are drawn to art? Is it the chicken or the egg? Was I an Outsider drawn to art or drawn to art and so became the Outsider?

Certainly even as a young boy I had moments where I felt outside the family circle, outside the playground, the normal 'run-of-the-mill' stuff of everyday life. As a teen it became more pronounced and then I left everything behind and went to a place called Rusden and became a young artist - deliberately so - even though I had no idea what that meant. At times, especially when visiting home or old friends, I keenly felt that Outsider position. And here T.S. Elliot gave it a voice, a Rhythm, an associated emotional state.

It was all so powerful, like a mind altering drug, yet these effects were not chemical - or rather they were brain chemicals being influenced by words, not alien chemicals added to the mix. The Wasteland convinced me that art has a place, that is necessary in society, that I was right to want to see where it might lead me.

In some ways my writing up to that point was about ego (about me and only me) but with The Wasteland ego was replaced with the desire to explore this mysterious, powerful, magical landscape of words. It touched my emotions, gave them a space to breath, a place to expand. The Wasteland glowed.

It was also my first encounter with modernist poetry and that in itself sent me off on a whole other journey. I began to explore in earnest the different genres; to learn about them, about why things changed, about choices in art.

I remember reading and re-reading it at night, even laying in bed going over it in my mind, talking about it with other students and falling in love with its intricacies, its rhythms, it sheer size.

From the moment of encountering this poem I began to think like a poet. I began to play with sounds and words and images. And it has never mattered if I became a good poet or not, (it is desired but the act of writing is not diminished by its absence) its about the writing that counts, not the recognition, that's part of The Wasteland's appeal for me. Somehow the poem said to me, "Try this on for size, you'll enjoy the experience." Other writers changed the boy, or guided him towards becoming the person, but this poem really did begin the journey for me as a poet.

The Wasteland - T.S.Elliot

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