(Written 26 Dec 2014)
When Siobhan Mulligan recently told me that she had enrolled to do a course in creative writing at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, (USA), it struck me as a marvellous way to start a career as a writer. Perhaps it was because I had found the Eternal City to be such a fascinating place that Rome, Georgia, was always on my list of places-to-visit> And while I came close on occasions, I never actually got there. Nevertheless, I am just prejudiced enough to make all sorts of conclusions as to why the open spaces of Berry College would be just the right place to have great thoughts and to meet with all the conservative claptrap that makes for the tragedies and comedies of fine writing. Berry College may just be the place of which writers’ dreams are made.
Well positioned in the Bible Belt and with so much Civil War history, I found the northwest corner of Georgia (USA) to be a haunting place. The serenity and beauty of the Chickamauga National Military Park, just to the north of Rome, GA, belies the stupidities and motivations that led to the battles that were fought there; something underscored when I witnessed a fallen soldier being interred in the carefully manicured Chattanooga National Cemetery in 2008. (It seems that he had been killed in Iraq.) I remember how the spectacularly misty views from Lookout Mountain left me with a strange sadness as I looked down onto the loops of the Tennessee River from which the Yankees arrived to slip through the back door in 1863. And I thought for a moment that I heard the whoops and galloping of Nathan Forrest – just as one can hear the clatter of running-away hooves of Christiaan de Wet’s commandos (2nd Boer War) across the vlaktes of the Orange Free State – as these icons struggled heroically in an already lost cause…, it is a place of romantic dreams indeed.
Of course, dreams provide a fertile space for creative writing. Not just the idea of the way in which Life’s dreams are made and broken, but that dreams can be interpreted in any way you please. Here I should point out that I subscribe to Bronowski’s view (The Visionary Eye: Essays in the Arts, Literature, and Science, MIT Press, 1978) that works of art are never complete in themselves. Art requires that the viewer or reader should complete the work by ‘creating’ a response at the time of the viewing or reading thereof; and in this sense, the author may well write creatively at the time of putting pen to paper, but the act of ‘creative writing’ only comes about when the reader actually interprets those words for themselves. For example, Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream (1965) has always held meanings for me that I am sure the young Robert Zimmerman never intended, and who has not sighed in sympathetic relief when the Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe (1882) comes to an end. Or how about the twists and turns of Lewis Carroll’s subverted Fit the Sixth – The Barrister’s Dream from The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in 8 Fits (1876). See http://literature.org/authors/carroll-lewis/the-hunting-of-the-snark/chapter-06.html. The nonsense nature of these writings gives us the opportunity to ascribe deep meaning to the stuff of dreams.
Incidentally, one must chuckle at the thought of Queen Victoria, who, having enjoyed Alice in Wonderland, commanded that she be presented with other work by that author. One expects she could not make head or tail of the mathematics of Charles Dodgson, but perhaps she acknowledged the cleverness in Carroll’s the Fit the Second – The Bellman’s Speech:
The Bellman himself they all praised to the skies—
Such a carriage, such ease and such grace!
Such solemnity, too! One could see he was wise,
The moment one looked in his face!
He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.
“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
“They are merely conventional signs!
“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank
(So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best—
A perfect and absolute blank!”
So I look forward to reading Siobhan’s work that I think may somehow maintain the bridge between the histories, sceneries, and dreams of the puritans of Southern Africa and those of North-Western Georgia.