The play’s the thing….to scare the crap out of a poet!
Today I finally read The Pebble Blues all the way through. (I had only re-read the first scene, which is the only one I’ve retyped. And yes, I did submit it to the reading series without having re-read it in nearly a decade.) It’s clear that I was trying to be the next August Wilson, though I think it still very much is in my voice. I was struck at how often I substituted lyrics from blues songs and verses from the Bible for dialogue. No, I shouldn’t say “substituted” because that wasn’t my intention. It’s just from the distance of eight years I can see the places where my courage failed me—back then I was fluent in lines (as in of poetry) but only had a good working knowledge of sentences—and instead of pushing through that fear, I collaged in other text. That’s not surprising, if I can be said to have a method, collage is it. It’s my most comfortable place from which to start. It’s also interesting that the two characters who scared me most—the husband because I had no personal experience to speak of with romantic relationships, and the mother because she was a heightened reflection of my relationship with my own mother—are the ones who have the most collaged lines.
All of the collaged text doesn’t have to go, but I am curious to see what’s liberated in the spaces I empty out. What happens if there’s just silence? Or if the character says the not-beautiful thing? What action (the building block of playwrighting I most struggle with) will inhabit the places that were filled only with language? It’s scary, and even now I’m getting a knot in my stomach because of all I don’t know how to do to make this a better play. But what’s the point of even re-opening this project if it doesn’t scare me as much—if not more—than when I first decided to write a play in the first place?
I do love that there is a great kinship between this work and the poems, and I hope to honor that while at the same time learning how a play is a play is a play. I’ll leave you with some dialogue from Jeannie who, in a tense scene with her mother, is talking about what it feels like to be pregnant. (It resonates for me particularly with my ghazal “Naming,” which will maybe earn its way into a manuscript some day. If I can ever feel satisfied that it is, in fact, a proper ghazal.)
JEANNIE: I can feel all her little baby edges just cutting me up inside. Do you remember what that feels like Mama? But I still love her. What do you do when you know, when I know that once she’s joined up all her pieces, I’ll just break her all over again. I’m scared to want her too badly, Mama. To think she’ll be a kind of salvation.