As a poet who writes plays, here are a couple of thoughts about poetry vs theatre while rehearsing my play A Glass of Nothing for the Brighton Fringe.
I love this image of Jackson Pollock, at work above, because it makes me think about control. When people publish my poems I am always chuffed. But if they choose not to, that is their own affair. I can’t control it. The only bit I can control, however, is writing the poem as best I can. I think of this as focusing on the job at hand. (This is not to deny there are other black arts of persuasion, schmoozing, expert social media work etc. to tip the balance.) Though I sometimes share drafts of poems, I never write poetry in a spirit of compromise. There are fashions in poetry, but the poets I most admire write like themselves ; set the style, not chase it.
You can write the first draft of your play alone, just as you would a poem. You might even find that ideas and metaphors you might use in a poem, can also be used on stage. But the moment your ideas solidify into living, breathing actors, you cheerfully surrender control. Your idea becomes enriched as a co-creation. As a born collaborator, I love this process. I have less control, but find it liberating.
I write poems in a tightly controlled way, and working on this play is making me question how I write poetry, and if I can do it in a less rigidly-controlled, more splattery way.
Here is Beth looking in an imaginary mirror. We’ve just got her a real one to stare at for the show. But in a play I love how a whole world can be suggested with a glance. In my play, for example, a character peers behind one of the flats backstage and says ‘the fire is licking through the forest’. The audience naturally imagines what the actor is seeing, with no special effects budget at all.
Of course poems leave things unsaid and imply things all the time. While there is a visual element to how a poem is laid out, most of the action takes place in the reader’s head. The poet in me is loving the way the theatre allows you to take the action from inside your head, and place it in real three dimensional space. Unlike film, which often attempts to show you as much as it can, theatre is full of suggestion. It positively magnetises imaginative participation.