Monday, April 9, 2007

Barker Poem

At the Queen's Department of Drama's "Somewhat Formal," I read a poem by the English playwright Howard Barker at the end of my speech, and a couple of people have asked me for a reference, so I thought I would reproduce it here. I hope this constitutes fair usage. I notice that Peter Hinton has also been using the poem as a means of helping to suggest the outlook inherent in his programming for the National Arts Centre English Theatre. Here's the poem:

"First Prologue to The Bite of the Night"
by Howard Barker

They brought a woman from the street
And made her sit in the stalls

By threats
By bribes
By flattery
Obliging her to share a little of her life with actors

But I don't understand art
Sit still
, they said
But I don't want to see sad things
Sit still
, they said

And she listened to everything
Understanding some things
But not others
Laughing rarely, and always without knowing why
Sometimes suffering disgust
Sometimes thoroughly amazed

And in the light again, said
If that's art I think it is hard work
It was beyond me
So much beyond my actual life


But something troubled her
Something gnawed her peace
And she came a second time, armoured with friends

Sit still, she said

And again, she listened to everything
This time understanding different things
This time untroubled that some things
Could not be understood
Laughing rarely but now without shame
Sometimes suffering disgust
Sometimes thoroughly amazed

And in the light again said
This is art, it is hard work
And one friend said, too hard for me
And the other said, if you will
I will come again
Because I found it hard I felt honoured

1 comment:

Siscoe said...

I do like the rhythm and scarcity of this poem, but as for its message, well, I find the sentiments lingering behing its scarcity frustrating … There’s a tendency in academic and artistic circles to blame the common working man or woman for not patronizing our theatres, music halls, and art galleries... “If only they would stop being so small-minded,” we think (and I’ve thought it to), “And give us a chance we could knock their socks off.” ... But we hardly ever stop to think why they might not be giving us a chance to knock their socks – what we might be doing wrong … Gone are the days of the working class earning their living by working on farms to provide sustenance for their families, and so to are the days of working in factories to create a finished product that the workers and their families can be proud of. (Despite all the evils that have been written about Fordism, at least it didn’t completely rob people of the ability to say, “See that car I’m driving, I helped to make it.”)… Instead we live in a service society and, as the elementary school textbooks now say, we should all be thankful that we no longer have to work at dirty jobs that require hard physical labour. What they don’t say, however, is that if you lost the lottery of life at birth and aren’t smart enough to escape the working class your options are now A) Working for minimum wage in a retail store (actually two retail stores since less and less retail stores are hiring full time employees) or B) Working full time for $2 more an hour than minimum wage at a call center where you are being paid extra in compensation for being verbally abused for a living. None of these jobs have unions, work hours conducive to family life, or offer their employees any sense of creative accomplishment and most of them require their workers to perform towards a statistic (ie. Sell so many dollars an hour and answer so many calls an hour or face penalization). So why are we shocked when the working class doesn’t spend $10 (or upwards) of their hard-earned money for a theatre ticket on a Friday or Saturday night (if they have those evenings off from work of course) to watch something upsetting when what's really upsetting is their own lives?… On the other hand, I don’t believe in talking down to anyone or in performing for the lowest common denominator, but why, instead of challenging the way people think about the world, aren’t we challenging them to imagine a different one? … It’s a subtle difference, I know, but a more positive one, one that builds instead of tears, and one I don’t think that the poet, despite “so much beyond my actual life” was able to capture … On second thought, however, in an effort to break my tendency of thinking far too concretely, maybe the true fix for theatre, and theatre in Canada especially, is to have a little bit of both kinds of theatre (the kind that builds and the kind that tears) going on in one place, not one kind here and one kind way over there … Maybe if theatre in Canada became more like Baskin Robbins, if people had more than just one or two flavours to choose from, more different types of people would go see theatre more often?