Hesitation

A few weeks ago, as part of the inaugural Dundee Fringe, I hosted the premiere of an experimental game show called The Literal Flow Test. It borrows elements of the Radio 4 show Just a Minute, asking five players to speak for up to two minutes without stopping, and pairing that with the knockout stages of a poetry slam.

I was pleased to find that we had attracted nearly a full house; the official paperwork shows 27 out of 30 seats sold. Most of the topics were picked at random from a pool, but part of the fun was asking the audience for topic suggestions in the last round, and they joined in with enthusiasm, with subjects ranging from ‘Stonehenge’ to ‘Cybernetic enhancement’.

I’m aware that despite this show being all about avoiding hesitation, it’s taken a few weeks to write about it. However, I wanted to bring you pictures as well. You can find them all on the PPG Photography Facebook page, but below is one of the poet Fin Hall.

The poet Fin Hall standing up taking his turn as part of The Literal Flow Test.
The poet Fin Hall taking the Literal Flow Test. Credit: https://www.ppgphotography.com/.

The playwright Jen McGregor emerged as victor after a tense five minutes of tiebreaking. With a few minor tweaks to the rules, it would be grand to run it again at some point, possibly for charity.

All the players, and the judge, were members of the Hotchpotch open-mike night. But unlike Hotchpotch, which is run entirely on a voluntary basis, each act at the Fringe received a share of ticket sales. This meant each participant could receive a little cash towards their travel or drinks on the night.

Of course, I nearly forgot to give Jen her envelope, and had to chase her up the street at the end, but we’ll move on from that.

Sounding Off

Today’s blog comes to you in podcast form.

Here’s a picture of my makeshift recording studio.

Geeks: It's an MXL USB.007 condenser microphone with Audacity software
Geeks: It’s an MXL USB.007 condenser microphone with Audacity software

Das Experiment.

From Thursday to Saturday this week, Nassim Soleimanpour’s experimental play White Rabbit Red Rabbit will be performed at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Siobhan Redmond, Phill Jupitus and Ewen Bremner will have had no direction, no rehearsals, and no idea of what their lines will be. Instead, the script is placed in an envelope that will be opened in front of the audience just before the performance begins.

The play’s structure was influenced by the sanctions against the writer. He is a conscientious objector against military service in his native Iran, and is not allowed to leave that country. A symbolic empty seat is left in the front row of each performance.

I’m in the habit of listening to The New Yorker fiction podcast, where authors perform other authors’ short stories and are interviewed about why they like what they’ve just read. A couple of months ago, I encountered Donald Bartheleme for the first time through his story Concerning the Bodyguard. This piece is experimental in a different way, narrated through a series of questions, repeating nouns where a pronoun would normally suffice. Salman Rushdie read it, lending an extra edge through his measured baritone voice.

It took until the post-reading interview before I really understood what the story was saying, although the penny might have dropped had I listened to it one more time. It’s very much snagged my interest in Bartheleme, and if I encounter his books in my travels, I will definitely place them on my reading list.

It’s a safe bet that many of us have one or two pieces that don’t conform to the accepted norms, and it can be difficult to find a suitable home for these.

One of mine is a work called The Executive Lounge which takes the form of a list of statistics describing a place, but that place only becomes clear in the last two lines. I don’t know whether to classify it as prose or poetry, as a list usually contains line breaks like a poem, but this has the metre of a prose piece.

Whichever way you consider it, it’s most definitely for the page, not performance. My only public reading of it so far was in front of an audience who are accustomed to my work, and it’s the only one of my pieces they didn’t understand until I explained it. To date it’s been rejected by several publishers. Regardless, I consider it to be a completed work in which I still have faith.

However difficult it is to find a home in a mass-market world, never be afraid to experiment. With an ever-increasing number of small publishers springing up, at least one of them is bound to be on your wavelength. The next time I identify an editor who might appreciate The Executive Lounge, I’ll send it straight to them. If nobody took a risk from time to time, we’d all be reading bland and unchallenging literature.

Incidentally, the place I read out that piece was Hotchpotch, an open-mike night for writers rather than musicians. If you live in or near Dundee, the next event is on Monday 20 October at The Burgh Coffeehouse on Commercial Street from 7pm to 9pm. Bring along your best work, experimental or not.