Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Books of...Trilogy

As 'The Books of..' Trilogy looks like it will have a fourth member soon (!) it seemed a good time to explain something about the project and what it's trying to do. To quote the back covers 'The Books of...Trilogy are satirical, topical, comical, powerful and sometimes startling takes on the state we're in'.
As the Indictment of the Month (a poem-of-the-month section but themed around The Books of...Trilogy) on the website has now stacked up quite a few pieces, some of which seem to naturally hang together, it seems they are organically fashioning a fourth in the series. Why 'Indictment of the Month'? Well firstly I reasoned, loads of people have a Poem of the Month - how could you possibly know which of the thousands you wanted to read? You certainly couldn't read all of them. Secondly, a month timescale implies topicality, so it seemed natural for it to reflect The Books of... project, which is current affairs-inspired. Also choosing such a theme means they're more likely to get written! if the criteria or brief is new work because the News is always full of terrible things and worrying facts, so the material for them is always appearing/happening. Lastly, 'Indictments' were chosen, as Contentions or Offences weren't as appropriate.

To enlarge; 'The Book of Contentions' is really a different kettle of fish to its siblings - it is only 2,500 words in total, (twenty minutes in performance) and while it is in over 150 parts, most of them are very short, and they are actually a serial poem in that each part is meant to follow on from the previous one and lead to the next in a tight order. The work was fashioned out of the issues arising from the invasion of Iraq.
The Book introduces the reader to three characters - the Book itself, the Shepherdess and the Shepherd. 'The Book' i.e. the character/voice, ranges from the one who is innocent - the one to whom the awfulness of the News is put before - to the one who quests or questions for answers or a way out of the quagmire. The Shepherdess is depicted as 'Holly Hobby' (a child's cartoon figure printed on harmless toys with a giant bonnet) but with a kalashnikov; thereby denoting her status as a meta-being, and one whom one doesn't mess with. Everyone must be 'nice' - or else! And the Shepherd is both a foil to her and an everyman, lost in a world that he on the one hand feels to be not of his own making, and yet has a lurking suspicion that he is also not guiltless in its perpetuation.

'The Book of Indictments' and its sequel 'The Book of Offences' are 'serial' poems only in the sense that they expand and develop the theme and expand on the characters, but other wise they are stand-alone poems titled as chapters. They change the role and voice of the Shepherd, and he becomes both more critical and more central in the dialogue, as he and each Book try to decide what we should all do to solve the world's problems. The Books themselves also take on part of the Shepherdess' role, in that their expectation is for people to act for the common good - and when they don't, to identify this and challenge it in some way. The Shepherd then takes on the role of the cynic, but a far from unconstructive one.

'The Book of Offences' as the name suggests has slightly more of an emphasis on challenging solutions or identifying problems that are overlooked, whereas 'The Book of Indictments' starting point was continuing the what-does-it-mean-to-have-invaded-Iraq? theme. But the 'Indictment of the Month' still seemed the best title for the section on the website, as it seems to cover what most of the poems are inspired by / about. However, the fourth Book will take the baton on from 'Offences' in that it also will be dealing with the knock-on effects of Iraq/Afghanistan following on from the areas of civil liberties, citizenship, etc. to deal with immigration, cultural imperialism and so on.

Why I've also been inspired to work on a fourth is because the first edition of 'The Book of Indictments' has sold out! The last copy was bought at the last Taking the Mic event, which was very heartening. Like much political satire and political cartoons like 'Thin Black Lines Rides Again', unfortunately much of work like this doesn't seem to date quickly - only the odd specific reference. But that is at least a convenience for printing, if a tragedy for the world as a whole.........hmm!

Lastly I guess what's kept me going on with it is hearing that a friend who works with disadvantaged teenagers in North Devon has been using The Books of Indictments and Offences as a means to explore issues such as citizenship, civil liberty, etc. with his clients. When I started writing 'urban' (as opposed to literary or pastoral) works as a teenager myself, the idea of the work being there for folks in tough situations to see other angles on it and highlight stuff that needed to be highlighted, was just the kind of really good use I hoped that the work could one day be put to. I was much moved therefore to think that someone else had thought them useful enough to be put to the test.
Big thanks to him, his clients, and everyone who's bought a copy!