The travails of PLA ~ theatre notes

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The travails of PLA

I may have mentioned once or twice that I have a brutal muse. Its presence has the general effect of a large steel hammer being dropped into a blender.

There have been a couple of periods in my life when I have been really convinced that writing poetry is over for me, that the Pierian Springs have dried up and the muse has packed her bags and headed off for greener poets. Far from mourning such a departure, my response has been a surge of relief. My experience of poetry is that, all my life, I have suffered from a regularly recurring illness, a kind of psychic possession. Poetry is a bad-mannered relative who moves in without notice and locks me in the pantry while it takes over my life. Choice has absolutely nothing to do with it.

This phenomenon is why poets get all vague and mystic when they speak of the process of writing poems. If you try to describe what actually happens, you just sound crazy. Some poets have more polite visitations, and some find their muses fatal. The Russian poet Osip Mandelstam coined the term Pre-Lyrical Anxiety (PLA to you and me) to describe the complex of symptoms - lassitude, depression, irritability, intellectual dysfunction - that accompany the writing of a new poem. The problem is that this state can go on for weeks, only to result in a few lousy lines. And human consciousness being what it is, full of charming self-blindness, I only recognise the symptoms after the fact.

This might explain why the idea of writing prose - a relatively sane, measurable, sober activity - holds such attractions for me. And also why I've found myself barely capable of holding a conversation or writing a sentence for the past few weeks. After an absence of nearly 18 months, the muse turned up without notice, hoovered out my brain, mashed it into a pulp and, finally, turned it into about 20 lines of poetry. Is it really worth it? I ask the muse. Who cares? says the muse. And before I can answer, vanishes as completely as if she were never there.

So now I seem to be free again, I'm contemplating the mess she's left behind and hoping that it's at least a month before she visits again. I'm a couple of reviews behind on the Fringe, and my desk looks like a bombsite and, frankly, I'm a little tired.

Moreover, later this week Ms TN (she thinks she's Ms TN) begins her annual high-octane coverage of the Melbourne Festival. The big news - in this family anyway - is that I'm in conversation with Patti Smith and documentary maker Steve Sebring at Readings on Friday, hopefully to discuss Rimbaud, Bulgakov, Wilde and other mutual passions. I only say this to share my fangirl enthusiasm, as the event is booked out. And I'm hoping the muse keeps a polite distance, so I can function. Hello everybody, and nice to be back.

1 comment:

DL said...

Hi Alison !

Nice to have you back !