Experiments have an unfortunate attribute, they frequently demonstrate an overwhelming volume of failures until a success is achieved. Looking at an experiment in retrospect has the curious habit of everything that was achieved seemingly utterly inevitable rendering every experiment leading to that destination entirely unnecessary. Possibly because many of my nearest and dearest are practically minded, and also have very practical occupations, I get all kinds of squirmy whenever I discuss my creative process; you presume anyone on the receiving end is rolling their eyes imagining you flouncing in flowing shirts through fields of daffodils. My own experience of writing is more like a cross between a jigsaw puzzle without an illustration to work to, or even knowing if the piece of the puzzle you are working with is to this jigsaw or not, or if you need to scalpel the edges to make it fit. This being the case awkwardness is amplified because the people listening or reading have no idea how much effort hides behind whatever is produced. This is why I’m highly skeptical of anyone who claims to find their creative process easy or enjoyable, and that results in my scrutiny of their work becoming all the more rigorous.
All this preamble is leading somewhere, honest…
More often than not a new idea is formed based on a character trait, or a plot point, or an environment, rarely for me does form assert as the (for want of a less toe curling word) inspiration to write. In a recent post I described one such rare occasion when an innovation with form prompted me to write, and if you want to have a read of that click here. Another motivation in the orbit of this form has been my recent work with the hugely talented Samuel Thuman (find him here). Sam is one of those people that you love to bits because he’s such a wonderful human being, but then you stand in awed admiration every time he completes a piece and subdue a rising need to attack him in blind envy. Much like many talented artists, Sam’s work always holds so much content for the eye to explore. This joy of the wandering eye was still very much in my mind in Venice both due to the enormous quantity of works of art I saw in galleries and churches, and the fact that I was doing some edits to the script for our collaborative work.
I wanted to create a piece of writing that could be enjoyed in a similar fashion to the masterpieces and excellent works that I’d been viewing, something that permitted non-linear engagement with the text. Think about that for a moment. Written communication, whether left to right, right to left, top to bottom, is hinged on the need to know the prescribed direction in order to decode the intended message. If we didn’t have those agreed directional rules then pages of jumbled characters would be indecipherable and that communication would collapse. So this meant that unless some free-form brainstorm approach was used, which frankly had less than zero appeal, then some accepted rules would need to be adopted.
I’ve spent a lot of my life becoming what may be considered “well read” and as such my naive-writing-into-the-void-presuming-that-everything-that-leaves-my-ink-stained-fingers-is-entirely-original-in-every-way days are very much a distant memory. Still with this particular form I can’t call to mind ever seeing an example of one before anywhere else, and after a range of Google’s searches provided nothing other than analysis tools I have concluded that until I am enlightened by a thousand year precedent I’m raising my flag and claiming naming rights on Woven Verse.
So what is Woven Verse? The easiest way to describe it is to think of a tic-tac-toe (noughts and crosses if you’d rather) grid, but in each vacant slot there is a line of verse. In truth the three by three grid was almost a bit too easy so I opted for a four by four grid, which made things a little more interesting. The other criteria I added was that it would make sense along both row and column. We choose words in a particular order to convey a specific meaning. When writing “creatively” (yuck, why does the usage of that word convey a scent of piping hot dung? It’s frequent misuse is clearly to blame, but nevertheless it makes me as uncomfortable in my cliche gland to the same level as “inspiration”) or at least to add sensation to information, requires an intense focus on that process, and the sequencing of sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph (or line to line, stanza to stanza). What works as an opening utterance will hardly work leaping in at the end of the message, yet the row and column requirement of Woven Verse demands exactly that. Admittedly this restriction favours concrete nouns and active verbs, but experimentation shows that abstracts and passive still seems to work.
Having tried a few dozen of these, and discarded most, it’s too easy to throw a handful of vague statements in rows and columns and claim to be exploring concepts beyond the comprehension of your readers; that’s cheating. Claiming to be smarter than readers is just yucky, and almost always based on deceit, and anyway writing of any sort is communication so if you’ve encoded a message that cannot be decoded by any readers then you have failed.
One of the aspects about this form that appeals to me is the ability to interpret images in different ways, or how a single moment is held in a different way when the perspective has changed over time. In some I’ve noted how multiple voices emerge, which is rather pleasing when those voices interact effectively. I believe that over time and further experimentation other possibilities will arise, but for now it is appealing and a helpful secondary project (in honesty probably tertiary) to the focal project with Sam.
So far my efforts have largely resulted in blank verse, but alternate a-b row/column rhyming schemes could easily be used, however such basic clip-clopping rhyme schemes have a tendency of sounding similar to, and being as desirable as, falling down the stairs. I feel sure that anyone else having a crack at one of these will be able to weave far more intricate rhyming schemes than anything I would attempt. I encourage you to have a crack at the form, but if you write about your work do be a sweetheart and remember me.
I suppose that all of this talking about it isn’t the same as reading an example, well ready or not in the coming few posts I’ll submit for your consideration a number of Woven Verses. Fairwell for now intrepid reader.