I think when I write these ‘journal’ entries I’m trying to deconstruct and then reconstruct.
Last year I attended an event in Manchester which was designed for creative writing graduates and other writers to gather and learn more about the craft they devoted themselves to. It was an incredibly enjoyable day, with many great writers there (although so many YA writers – jeez guys write something different than post-apocalyptic teen fiction!). The keynote speech that started the day was given by writer Kit de Waal, who was wonderful to listen to. The speech was called ‘The Art of Trespass’, and was all about ownership and voice. It’s a crucial topic in 2016/2017 (and definitely beyond), the idea of appropriating a voice into your own work. Some artists will wonder whether they can write from the point-of-view of another person, someone who is a different race, gender, sexuality, than their own (You get it, ‘trespassing’ into another identity). Can you truly portray the authentic voice of someone other than yourself? I think anything is possible, but as with anything, it is much easier to screw something up than to get it right.
Being in my position (white cis-male – we ruin things ikr) I think it is crucial to allow other voices to take pride of place, in a world where they have not been allowed to both in the past, and unfortunately, in the present. I therefore have to ask myself, what do I write about?
Something that has been interesting me in the past few years, something I have become increasingly more in-touch with and vocal about, is the concept of masculinity. In my second year of university I undertook a creative-critical project which studied the portrayal of masculinity within western films, and the propaganda of the body. My idea was not only to write an analytical essay on the subject, but to recreate the kind of western tropes and ‘frontier myths’ in a series of poetry and photography. Here’s one of the photographs:
(big up to my friend Lewis for being the model on a day when it pissed it down)
It was really sweet (and I got an A*!), and taught me a lot about the kind of art that I guess you could call ‘frontier literature’ – the idea that it was entrepreneurial, violent, solitary men that went west and colonised the rest of what is now America, and from that spawned an filmic obsession with this hypermasculine stoic figure that became western canon (thankyou Clint Eastwood). This was my first analytic foray into the topic, but it’s a topic I’d been subjected to my entire life, because, you guessed it, I am a man.
So I’ve got a lot of experience when it comes to male issues, such as expectations of manhood and things like lad culture (a generalisation but you understand what I mean), and feminist discourse. But I wanted, within my writing, to be a little more specific than these things.
Also in the past few years I’ve had a lot of exposure to environmentalism. I come from a fairly middle class background, I had a good education, I was outside a lot and got to travel a fair bit, and so my love of the natural world has been with me for a very long time. I’ve always believed in the facts of climate science and taken an interest in similar schools of thought, and always placed a semi-spiritual reverence on the components of nature, be they plants or animals or geographies (I also read Thoreau’s Walden a few years ago, not sure if that counts for anything), and so recently I’ve tried to alter my life in accordance with what I believe is the best for nature, that is to expand, rewild, and diversify. I’ve not done much per se, just changes regarding diet and the kind of stuff I buy ( BUT CAN WE TRULY HAVE SUSTAINABLE COMMERCE IN A CAPITALIST SOCIETY scream communist starter packs). It’s difficult when you have little to no income and are already so ingrained into a world that consumes more than it produces. There is a long way to go for me, I’ll admit that.
So in regards to my voice, my writing voice, my topics of choice, my ol’ ball and chain, I chose a while back to focus the majority of my work on the combination of these two topics. I want to look at the relationship between masculinity and environmentalism, between the stereotypical masculine ego and the ecologies of the world. I think it’s very interesting to look at the interaction between the two. A masculine psychology meets a living god. It’s a good tagline for a movie. I want to write in my poetry (and other work) on the challenges that arise when the two ideologies meet. I want a marriage of arts and science. (For a bit of an example, check out this poem I wrote called ‘Meat’ here.)
I think ownership of a voice is a powerful thing. Kit De Waal argued that a writer can write from the point-of-view of anyone, as long as they were respectful, and did their research (you can watch the keynote speech here, and I’d recommend doing it!). But I think the thing with ownership is that it shouldn’t just be for your benefit. A good writer doesn’t write simply to tell a story, they should write to help people, be it either in feeling better after a bad day, feeling better about themselves by identifying with a voice similar to their own, or by showing the reader how to better the world. I guess that’s what I want to do. Writers sit in the best position to influence people, because they can write without agendas motivated by money or power. They can write for the unheard.
To end this ‘journal’ entry, I’d like to maybe influence you by showing you not words, but a picture I really like. I’ll be back soon with a new poem, a feminist piece about Vashti, the first wife of Persian king Ahaseurus, from the Hebrew bible (she was a badass). Bless up x.
(I know not all species are on there but, that would be a bloody large diagram.)