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Poetry social media Writing

‘Oumuamua and identity

Artist's_impression_of_ʻOumuamua

‘Oumuamua was a new word for me. It means scout or messenger in Hawaiian, and was given to the first object we’re certain to have come from beyond our own solar system.

Wikipedia says it is a reddish object around 230 by 35 meters. To me, vulgarian that I am, it looks like an interstellar poo. As I type, glancing at the ‘Oumaumua tracker, I see it is currently zooming away from Earth at 64.6 km/s per second. With the recent antics of humanity, who can blame it? But this weird object that has dropped in from nowhere has got me thinking.

The thought of 2018 is quite a challenging one. We are all people of our time. Whether we choose to bury our heads under the duvet whimpering till it’s over, or thunder into the streets in protest, we are all reacting in our different ways to what 2018 presents us with.

It brings to mind the Intentionality debate, an old argument in philosophy and literary criticism. It goes like this: how much should our knowledge of a writer’s intentions and historical context affect how we read their texts? Should we find out what the writer meant? Or, as the anti-intentionalists prefer, support the idea that a poem should stand on its own two feet without the backstory,  as if it emerged ex nihilo, from nothing, like ‘Oumuamua.

I’ve aways found this debate a bit tiresome. The answer, surely, is a bit of both. A poem should be able to be enjoyed as its own thing, independent of previous knowledge, as you would if you stumbled over it in a magazine from a poet new to you. It seems common sense to me, however, that learning something about the writer’s intentions can only enrich our enjoyment of the work, without necessarily dictating how we should read it.

When I was a student (in the days of vellum and quill pens) T.S. Eliot was held as an example of someone who wrote brilliantly while having a minimal presence in the work.  This idea was reflected in the title of Hugh Kenner’s early biography, ‘The Invisible Poet’.

While even today some art forms, such as street art, require the anonymity of its artists due to the borderline illegality of much of their work, in contemporary poetry the identity of the writer is often scrutinised. What has been written is judged through the lens of who has written it. This may be due to how established privileges have been challenged. It is no longer acceptable that people can be quietly rejected on grounds of their race, class, gender, sexuality and so on.

For the Intentionality debate, it seems case closed. The poet’s identity is very relevant in 2018. But I do have some qualms. Is there a danger that literature can turn into a beauty contest? A writer may be unnoticed because their identity is frankly a bit meh. What would bookish bank clerk T.S.Eliot’s instagram account look like?

To gain relevance some subtly emphasise their challenges. This might be ethnicity, gender, sexuality, physical ability, age and so on. Everyone needs an angle, of course, but it has reminded me (and this does me little credit) of the phrase ‘the hierarchy of suffering’, with authenticity being awarded to those who have had more challenges. As consumers of art we often expect this too. We don’t much want to hear rappers or rock stars bragging about coming from wealthy, well adjusted middle class backgrounds for example.

What might swing the pendulum back towards the art and not the artist? Is it that the very notion of identity itself is being reassembled? We live in a time where it is possible (although gruelling) for people to adjust the body they happened to be born with, and choose a gender more appropriate to who they are. The famous case of Rachel Dolezal, who was born white but  controversially chose to identify as black may be a forerunner of how people might seek to override the hand they were played by birth. Sexuality is now often seen (correctly in my view) as a spectrum rather than a binary choice. While the internet and social media have enabled people to experiment and be selective and playful in how they present themselves.

The idea that you are born with an identity that must be adhered to is melting away.  Once you can choose who you want to be, who knows? Maybe our lives will, Oscar Wilde-style, become our artworks.

Or perhaps, with fewer rigid differences between us, our art will be about the art rather than who has produced it.

Here it comes. Tumbling from nowhere, and full of mystery.

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Categories
a writer's life Blogging Blowing my own trumpet social media Theatre

I should introduce myself (at last)

Why on earth would you want to visit this site? This is a question that has been plaguing me lately. Personally I find ‘me me me’ blogs tiresome. Worse, I know I’ve been guilty of them too. So I thought it was about time I said what this blog was about, using that tried and trusted Internet favourite: a list snappier than a crocodile sandwich.

Five reasons to visit peter kenny : the notebook

  1. You can find out what a working writer’s life is like. Somehow I have made a living as a writer for over 25 years. When I say this I try to sound deeply impressive, and I adopt an impressive face. People think: J.K. Rowling. Then I have to tell the truth. And I can tell you that the reality is most of my income comes from working with advertising agencies as a writer and creative director. Occasionally this gets interesting, such as a recent trip to Chad. So this blog has a bit about marketing in it. If that’s your bag, then dip in.
  2. If you’d like to lead a double life too. How does a person go about balancing work with being creative? I had my first poems published in the early 80s when I was a handsome young devil of 21. Overnight I became a genius (more about that here) who worked in warehouses, did manual labour, and took depressing temporary office jobs for ten years while I struggled with my muse. Now I balance writing poetry, plays, libretti, etc. while not living in poverty. That’s genius!
  3. If you want to be surprised. It seems to me most successful blogs focus relentlessly on one subject. This makes perfect sense. If you want to get your twice weekly fix on nose flutes you visit the nose flute blog. Trouble is I’m not a ‘one subject’ kind of person, though I often wish I was. So if you visit here, you may find yourself reading about eclectic things that surprise you.
  4. Get an insider’s view of staging a play. I have been finishing off an exhausting writing assignment for a humanitarian organisation. My next major project is the staging of my play ‘A Glass of Nothing’ at the Brighton Festival Fringe this May. I’ll tell you a secret: I’ve not finished writing the first full draft of it yet.
  5. And because I make mistakes and take risks. Sometimes I get it hopelessly wrong, overextend myself, fail to correctly prioritise and generally make a mess. I want to be open about this too. So please come along to read about successes (and I’m hoping there will be a few) and what can be learned from falling flat on your face.

I used to write journals last thing at night. Trouble is those little books often became a repository of miserablist whining. Reading through them it seemed that my life was one dismal episode after another, which was far from true. As soon as I began blogging back in 2003, my perspective changed. The idea that others might be reading what I wrote allowed me to reframe not only the ‘how’ of what I wrote, but how I saw my life. So blogging has proved a healthy experience too. One which allows me to look at my own life in a more positive way.

I hope you find something to enjoy on this site in the coming months. See you soon I hope.

Below here is a recent shot of me in Moulin Huet Guernsey, where I first learned to swim as a child. I live in Brighton UK now.

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Categories
Art and illustration social media Writing

Hey! Hey! Hey!

1_doghelmetThis Gary Larson cartoon has haunted me for ages. I would want, however, my helmet to decode what human beings are actually saying. In fact, in my darkest moments, I wonder what the hell it is I am actually saying, especially when it comes to social media. Would someone sporting one of Larson’s buzzy electric radar helmets look at me, or their feeds and detect only Me! Me! Meeeee!

It’s one of my worst fears. But perhaps it is an occupational hazard when you are creative. For creative minds are laboratories where unpredictable explosions, magnesium flares, and weirdly fascinating lulls occur. For the creative person this can be completely absorbing of course, but to the outside world? Not so much.

So one of my resolutions is to remember the writer’s 101: it’s about the reader stupid.