Treyarnon Bay, Cornwall – Haiku Sequence

Small mussels in May

Cluster the dark granite rocks

Blue, black: day’s end light.

 

In pools, seaweed clings ;

Acid green Ostrich Feathers

Hidden by high tide.

 

Foamy waves crash, shhh!

Rip tides form along the rocks

Swirling and turning.

 

Tides run out to blue     

Pebbles roll on the beach like    

Fish flounding, gasping.

 

Sand sinks to the thigh,

A sandal lost in a pool,

A scream and laughter.

 

Rocks hewn by the sea

Veins, straight lines ascend, marbled,

Drawn by nature’s rule.

 

Black, grey, brown, orange:

The colour of minerals;

Rocks, richly endowed.

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Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables: Adapting a classic

Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables, must surely be one of the most difficult texts to adapt for the screen, not least for its length, but also to the depth of contextualisation within its narrative.  For it is more than just a story about grace and law, but a whole history and cultural study of post-Napoleonic France up to the June rebellion of 1832.  Hugo’s digressions take up more than half of the book.  His digressions range from a study of the battle of Waterloo, the architecture and rebuilding of Paris to a history of the networks of sewers beneath the streets of Paris.  The digressions may not seemingly move the plot forward, but that is not to say that they are superfluous.  The digressions act as a context to the story of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert and the multigenerational tensions between the idealistic and progressive Marius and his friends at the ABC Club and his royalist reactionary grandfather.

For Hugo, Waterloo is seen as a pivotal moment in history, where the old order re-established itself as the ruling class in an anachronistic attempt to do away with the revolutionary spirit and persons that had existed in France since the revolution of 1789.  But as Hugo astutely portrays, the revolutionary spirit existed as an undercurrent in France and was never completely eradicated.  In Hugo’s novel, his study of Waterloo (1815) is presented after his initial introduction of Jean Valjean (1817).  Andrew Davies chose to make the aftermath of Waterloo the opening scene of the 2018 television series.  Davies’ linear approach to the narrative makes sense and enables him to present Jean Valjean’s release from prison and Fantine’s seduction in the same timeframe.  It also allows Thenardier (brilliantly portrayed by Adeel Akhtar) to enter the frame of the narrative right from the start, as he both robs and saves Pontmercy’s life, providing a plot strand that becomes crucial later on.

Despite Davies’ ironing out of the timeline of Hugo’s text, and its relative faithfulness compared to other productions, it does at times feel rushed, despite being six hours long in total. The seduction of Fantine is faithfully presented, yet her final demise into degradation does not do justice to the sheer frustration and distress experienced by the character in the novel as she is forced into debt and shunned by society, and unable to work when Valjean dismisses her.  The events are in Davies’ script, but without the inner consciousness of Hugo’s characterisation, the actions of both Valjean and Fantine seem more plot driven than a study of grace, forgiveness and redemption.  Although Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Cameron Mackintosh’s musical misses much of this plot, the ultimate ruin of Fantine through the song ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ is much more convincing.  In a mere four minutes the audience feels Fantine’s pain in what surely is one of the highlights of the musical, not least because we are shocked to see the usually classically beautiful Anne Hathaway, shorn and toothless during a heart wrenching performance, but because the lyrics portray Fantine’s regret and disappointments in a way that would be too artificial for a television script.

The missing inner consciousness of the characters in the series is the biggest problem with Davies’ production.  It perhaps is an unresolvable issue. It is understandable that the digressions about battles, the history of Paris, the design of the sewers, the history of a cloistered Abbey, and an in depth study of the goodness of a parish priest should be sacrificed to drive the screenplay forward, but Hugo’s lengthy descriptions of the motivations of his characters is also sacrificed, although admittedly perhaps too difficult to portray in a television drama.  Jean Valjean’s realisation of divine grace and Javert’s blinkered ability to accept grace in place of law suffer as a result.  Javert’s suicide in particular seems very hollow without the context of the novel, or without having first viewing the musical.  Comments aside about Russell Crowe’s singing abilities, when Javert sings in the musical ‘but mine is the way of the Lord / Those who follow the path of righteousness / shall have their reward …’ the music reaches such a crescendo that the audience is led to an almost Aristotlean purging of emotions.  The suicide might call for a slight suspension of disbelief, but the orchestration certainly helps the audience achieve this.

There are many good things about the television series: the cast including Dominic West, Olivia Coleman and David Oyelowo to name a few; the settings and costumes and the accessibility of a classic tale that might otherwise go undiscovered by the masses, but neither the series nor the musical really do justice to Hugo’s encyclopaedic text.  It may take approximately seventy hours to read, but it is well worth the commitment.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (trans. Norman Denny, Penguin Clothbound Classics)

Les Miserables (2012) (dir. Tom Hooper)

Les Miserables (2018) (adaptation. Andrew Davies, dir. Tom Shankland)

The Evolution of Monsters

T-Rex, that Maastrichtian dinosaur:

He could swallow small prey in just one bite,

Although some say he was a herbivore,

Um, no he was a bone crunching, flesh ripping monster of might

Hunting through the glades of North America’s shore

Abominable creature, causing such fright!

Was it the Ice Age that killed of these beasts?

Or barred from the ark lest Noah’s clan be his feast?

 

What lurks amongst the dust under the bed?

Spiders and goblins and giants and ghosts.                    

Keep on the light! The dark fills me with dread:

Monsters will catch me and eat me like toast

Daren’t close my eyes lest I wake up dead!

O Lord protect me, O heavenly host!

These monsters flee with the blinkers of age:

The real monsters are found on the world’s stage!

 

The Thirties was an awfully sad time,

Nationalism and hatred was rife.

Hitler and Stalin were both in their prime.

Today Donald and Kim cause so much strife,

So far rhetoric is their biggest crime:

Words become actions and a threat to life!

Both ages teach us a lesson most clear:

Beware dodgy hair and moustaches my dear!

 

Most pressing to me is Churchill’s Black Dog,

He pounces and growls when I am most still,

Renders me gloomy, my mind in a bog.

Idleness, doubt and the blues make me ill,

A monster most real, to rid is a slog –

Even the brightest day is grey, I feel.

Focus and Diligence will beat the glum:

The dog flees with a sharp kick up the bum!

Ode to the Road

Step by step I travel on the open road,

Called life, an unravelling episode:

Some days the sun shone; others, the wind blowed,

Some days I could not walk due to my workload,

My in-tray was a shock! it overflowed,

I longed to be out, in the air, on the road.

 

The path led far and wide: an uncertain road.

Past streams and rivers that fastly flowed,

Eyed only from the riverbank by a speckled toad

Ribbitting a secret language that only he knowed

Sat in his muddy kingdom, his waterlogged abode,

As I travelled along my journey’s road.

 

This is my path, this is my road,

I could fly, but money would have to be borrowed,

To apply you give your account number and sort code

Put your address down, and then the post code

Debt makes me unsettled, a feeling of forebode

And debt will weigh me down on the long steep road.

 

The River follows the strait of the road,

Men speed past, a whole boatload

Racing, their oars strike the water as they rowed

And the sweet smell of grass on the bank, freshly mowed

The rowers never stopped, they never slowed

As I walk along my solitary road.

 

By foot is the best for my amble on the road,

A car can break down and needs to be towed

The engine goes with a hiss and a bang, it explodes,

Car troubles make my heart sink and my spirit implode

And cars rust, in the rain they slowly erode

No, I will wear out my shoes on the stoney road.

 

I don’t know where I’m going on this road

Many times I have stopped to ponder a cross-road

And ended up lost, send a message by Morse-code!

But does anyone know where they’re going? Truth be told!

But we plough on in summer and huddled over when it snowed

We each forge our own path on the long and undetermined road.

Evocations 1 – Mum

The sweet smell of soap powder,

And the scent of Tabu

And Alberto Balsam Shampoo.

The smoky air of fireworks

And damp leaves

As we walked through the park

On our way home.

The whiff of pine as you opened

The door,

The Christmas trees

Year after year,

You still put up.

Cinnamon and nutmeg,

Christmas cake cooking,

As I eat the scraps of marzipan.

The fruit you fed for months,

Cherry Brandy and Napoleon too,

And the stickiness of glue on my hands

As I stuck sequins onto a picture

Drawn by you.

The smell of furniture polish

And Vacuumed floors

And the roasting chicken

Waiting for us

And you would always

Give me some skin.

Sometimes a vegetable curry

From the Lido Chef,

In all my travels,

I have never tasted it so good.

Ungratefulness,

Regretfully,

I showed

At quiche, plum tomatoes

And mashed potatoes:

Makes me sorrowful of every time

I did not appreciate

The efforts, trials

To make me smile.

Such Things As Dreams Are Made On: Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed: A Review

Hag-Seed: Margaret Atwood’s re-imagining of The Tempest hagseed

You don’t have to know Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1610-11) to appreciate Margaret Atwood’s homage to the Bard, but it certainly helps.  Felix is the banished ex-director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival.  For Twelve years he has lived under the pseudonym of Mr Duke, a retired teacher working on a literacy programme at a local prison.  Those who banished Felix have risen into local politics and Felix sees his chance to inflict his revenge on his enemies.

‘The Tempest is a play within a play’ Felix tells his students. But by the time Atwood has worked her magic with it, it becomes a play within a play within a play within a novel!  Atwood isn’t bothered with mundane details like how exactly did Felix manage to open a bank account with a fake name? How did he go undiscovered for so long living in a back-wood hovel?  Instead she retells the story, placing it in a modern context.  The prison becomes the Island, the prisoners become Caliban and Ariel, and Felix’s old foes become Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian.

What Atwood cleverly does is pull Shakespeare’s play apart, as Felix attempts to explain and engage the prisoners with one of Shakespeare’s most Romantic (Capital R) plays.  The prisoners have been used to the blood and gore of Macbeth and the vengeance and evil cunning of Richard III, so it is a bit of a stretch for Felix to convince the prisoners The Tempest is the play for them, but by half-way they are rapping their way through their own take on verse. Felix’s explanation and indeed the prisoner’s own realisation of the play draws the reader closer to Shakespeare’s text. It’s a play about prisons, vengeance, ambition and forgiveness.

Apart from the couple of chapters where Felix inflicts his revenge Atwood keeps a tight rein on the plot.  The revenge chapters seem rushed and not clearly drawn – a bit crazy in fact. However, perhaps this is Atwood’s intention: after all, Prospero’s revenge inflicted by Ariel in the original text is also a bit messy.  The best chapters by far are the prisoner’s thoughts about the afterlife of Shakespeare’s characters.  What an inspired idea.  It is their imagining of Caliban’s after life that really stands out, there is almost an implied subtext about the prisoners asserting their own identity and shaking of their own scales to become new beings.

I think Atwood missed an opportunity with Sycorax, Caliban’s mother, a witch banished many years before on the Island.   As in Shakespeare’s play she is mentioned, but she suffers from a bit of ‘mad-woman in the attic’ syndrome!  Atwood’s version of Miranda, played by a former dancer called Anne-marie is spunky and although she is stepping out into a ‘brave new world’ she is a welcome tonic to the naïve, fay reading of her character.

Hag-Seed is just one of several novels published by The Hogarth Shakespeare project.  Atwood’s novel certainly succeeds in drawing you back to the original for a re-assessment of William Shakespeare’s play.