Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Back to Wrestling: Story
Having got the batch of stock characters with variants, the difficulty is to know what to do with them. Bad is bad and good is good is limiting, but then this isn't Dostoevsky or Proust, this is a morality play in the beer hall.
There is of course the technical quality. Good wrestlers will be not only courageous and athletic and able to engage in effective mumming, but will also possess a large vocabulary of moves that they can execute slickly and convincingly. Their understanding of their opponents and the possibilities offered by each move and counter-move should provide enough variety to make a twenty-minute or half-hour contest. Naturally, young wrestlers and learners have to be inducted in some way so there will be contests with limited vocabulary. Here, acting and character must stand in for skill as best they can. Between holds and throws and the less convincing pummeling and beating, they need to work their routine through a story of some kind without being dull. As Frost said: No surprise in the writer no surprise in the reader. As Martin Bell wrote: Help me to tell the truth and not feel dull.
The story is two-fold. First the story within the evening. It is how the matches are arranged, what order, what is at stake, what bit of spectacle can be introduced in terms of costume or stage property. The evening will close with the most popular contest. A well arranged bill will draw us towards that end.
More interesting is the story of the action in particular matches. If I am right that the power of the match narrative resides in its symbolic value, then it should be possible to tell the story of the match in the most resonant manner. Most contests consist of one wrestler apparently beating the other to a pulp, then the one being beaten suddenly resurrects, leaps to life and inflicts similar punishment on the first. The contest often comes down to this: Punch has the cosh and beats Judy, then Judy grabs the cosh and beats Punch, the pair alternating almost, it seems, ad inf. This quickly grows boring. It should be possible to work changes of pace into some kind of development.
Perhaps it is not even so much narrative as poetics. Opera, after all, works with the polarities of good and evil. They are instinctive termini to move between, and there might perhaps be a rough and ready poetic structure to be wrung out of those savage pratfalls, those blind appeals to justice , the appeal to beauty and energy and the urgings to blood and death. None of those things is crude: they provide the dynamics of the most subtle, most delicate, most sophisticated of art forms.
There are specific forms of poetics for almost all human activity. That poetics is what is being referred to when one fan says to another: What a great goal! or What a match! The effect of the old class system was to heighten the separation of mind from body. The workers did the body stuff: the educated did the mind stuff. The workers had dirty hands: the thinkers had clean hands. The workers had wrestling: the thinkers had poetry, opera, fine art and the string quartet.
But it ain't necessarily so. These are not the distinct activities of different kinds of human being. The virtues of one furnish the other. The grace of one powers the other. And I would be very surprised if, at some level, we didn't know that. It is just that in class terms there is too much at stake: what each possesses is guarded jealously from the other. Poetry is not for the toffs, nor is sport for the plebs.
As for wrestling, its small violent theatre is, nevertheless, theatre. It even has the masks and the music. It just needs a good director and a genius choreographer.
ps I have been pointed to a tweet in which the performance poet, Luke Wright, asks if I am the Alan Titchmarsh of literary poetry. I expect the boy means well. Like Titchmarsh I am a Hungarian refugee who writes poems about burnings of books. Alan and I have always had that in common.