Friday, 16 August 2019

THE BOOK IN THE SQUARE


A friend told me he saw a copy of my play, DENIZEN, on the ground in the Guildhall Square. I don’t know if he picked it up.
Perhaps it was dropped by a District Councillor going into a meeting with The Mayor. Perhaps it fell from a backpacker’s backpack or from the bumbag of a coach-tourist. Perhaps it was discarded by a reader who couldn’t wait to be rid of it. Perhaps local gilet jaune launched it at the symbolic centre of civic power in the main square of our city, in a gesture of resistance and dissent.
I was reminded of one of the options I gave myself when I wrote thplay in 2013, with the support of the District Council, via their UK City of Culture programme. If I couldn't manage anything else, I would read the text in public from the steps of the Guildhall.
I was struggling to find a producer and create a production, so a solo reading was worth considering. There is an egotism at the foundation of writing a play. Sometimes the playwright can’t hide behind actors and technicians.
The District Council’s UK City of Culture programme was controversial. The very idea that Derry Londonderry, our city on the northwest edge of Europe, in Ireland and in a political union with Britain, should be considered a UK city, was controversial.
The organisers of thprogramme advised that artists wishing to make work on challenging and difficult matters relating tthe controversies could seek funds from money thecontrolled.
Such work had been part of my theatre practice for a number of years (Plays in a Peace Process; Dave Duggan; Guildhall Press, 2008). I thought I had concluded that work, with ceasefires and a peace process in place. My practice turned to narrative forms – novels, memoirs.
The presence and activities of republicans dissenting from the majority of republicans, who were engaging with the political process, sometimes reluctantly, drew my personal, artistic and professional attention.
Violence and how to lessen it has long been a focus of my practice. Conflict is at the heart of theatre. Conflict is not the problem. Violence, direct and indirect, manifest and latent, is.
I asked myself: “Could a dissident militant keep to that political position, using tactics other than violence?”
Such an abstract question is far removed from the material of drama, but soon a character – Denizen – emerged and developed; a story grew around him; a performative device – the speech from the dock – was harnessed to hold the work together in a manner that could engage an audience and – the key insight – I wrote the play in verse, in a heightened form of language used by Shakespeare and others.
I put poetic iambic pentameter, showing lyrical and brutal images, in the mouth of the militant, many people, including former comrades, referred to as ‘scum.’
I’d had enough of that language.
One of the capacities of theatre is the ability to elaborate, present and test new language, both within the work itself and within the thoughts and emotions of audiences and readers.

I entered the woods at the end of the day.
Hardly woods, a stand of Autumn trees, 
Behind the craggy hill that is my home.
A secret place that calms me when it can. 
Underfoot, mulch to hide my arms within, 
A cache for a handgun and some blunt rounds.
A sanctuary and a holy ground.

In the end I didn’t have to read the play off the steps of The Guildhall. Creggan Enterprises gave it a home and got a producer. They engaged a splendid actor to play Denizen, with a terrific technical crew and supporting cast. They staged it in their supermarket foyer, a covered village square, in Creggan and in the court houses in Strabane and Derry. I directed it.
The play text was published (DENIZEN, Guildhall Press, 2014), a copy of which my friend came upon in The Guildhall Square.
It made it there after all.

Hands I clasp more vital than hands you cuff.
Rocks cemented more solid than rocks thrown. 
Shoulders bound stronger than shoulders apart.
I will not collude the state’s gun-toting
And pledge to transform my righteous anger
Into a manifesto of the new.




DENIZEN: a verse drama; Dave Duggan; Guildhall Press; Derry, 2014


Monday, 13 May 2019

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE: AYE RIGHT, JOHN LAD


Three men huddle in worn overcoats and sleeping bags, beside an ATM, next to a minimart, at the top end of Bold Street, in Liverpool. The rain is tipping down. The temperature drops to freezing, as darkness falls. The men huddle closer, their faces obscure under thin hoodies, but visible enough for it to be clear that they are no older than thirty years old.

They could be working in one of the many restaurants, bursting at the seams, round the corner along Bold Street. Do they feel the irony of living in a country transfixed by problems of immigration, while offering food from India, Italy, America and China? They could have jobs in one of the industrial centres, beside the city’s John Lennon Liverpool Airport. Or in the Museum of Liverpool, permanently berthed on the Pier Head at Albert Docks, where an engaging exhibition on the lives and times of musicians and artists John Lennon and Yoko Ono, is the ‘must-see’ attraction.

Given access to a shower, warm food, clean, dry clothes and some training, the three homeless lads beside the ATM could be suited up as ushers, guides, café staff and receptionists. With some further, specialist training, they could work in IT support or as archivists, designers or caption writers.

Even as actuaries and brokers, accountants and analysts in the banks, insurance companies and financial services corporations that inhabit the buildings arcing over the museum belt, that hugs the bank of the heaving, soupy surge of the Mersey.

They will not work as dockers. Containerisation, among other processes, has seen to that.

Will robots get their jobs?

News reports that one per cent of the world’s population own fifty per cent of the world’s wealth anchors consideration of containerisation, robots, restaurants, museums and financial corporations as the brutal context in which the three homeless lads in the cold, lashing rain at the top of Bold Street, wallow.

Earlier that same day, ardent, mainly youthful, demonstrators highlighted the threat of climate change, under the banners of anti-extinction protests.

Could the homeless lads be among them?

The demonstration gathered on the steps of a roofless church, damaged and not fully repaired since a bombing in World War Two. A sculpture in the grounds of the church shows two World War One soldiers, in full British and German field uniforms, facing each other, while bracing in competition over a football.

The city being Liverpool, the mythic football story is apposite. Real football, multi-millionaires and all, took place the night before, with Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane creating athletic beauty, delivering sporting prowess and exciting raptures from the people in the stands.

The rich, then, sported in the concave of the stadium, while on the perimeters, in the grand stands, the consumers, sat, stood, cheered, bellowed and sang. The homeless lads were not in the stands. They remained at the top of Bold Street, sodden, huddled into their worn-sheer duvets and wafer-thin raincoats.

A quick, thus unreliable, judgement identifies them, by voices and looks, as native English. Will they vote in the local and European elections? Will candidates canvas them for their votes?

Yes, John lad. Give Peace a Chance. Like the t-shirts, badges, mugs, postcards and fridge magnets declaim in the museum shop.

And sort inequality first, eh, John lad.

For peace sake.



https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/nov/14/worlds-richest-wealth-credit-suisse

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Friday, 10 May 2019

WERE LYRA MCKEE FROM YEMEN …



A letter to the editor of the Derry Journal opens with:

Who so quickly initiated, arranged and managed the State funeral of Lyra McKee?

It’s an intriguing question. It leads to other questions, including: If Lyra McKee was born, reared and lived in Fanad Drive, in Creggan, where she was murdered; if she was straight, not gay; unemployed, not a journalist, when she was murdered by republican militants; would a president, two prime ministers, political party leaders, dignitaries and notables from public life and from civil society attend her funeral in St. Mary’s cavernous chapel in Creggan?

Ask the same question, if a police officer had been killed?

Answers to those, and to similar questions, point to an uncomfortable truth: that despite our earnest assertions and our best efforts to the contrary, there may indeed be a hierarchy of victims in theworld.

It may be that different occurrences trigger different responses, depending on the story the world tells itself about them.

Like … 

The fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris is a tragedy, an historical, architectural and cultural affront to the world, so grim that people grieve and empathise in large numbers and to great depths.

The bombing of historical buildings in Yemen; ancient settlements and towns, mosques, libraries, civic edifices; does not elicit the same outpouring of international grief.

The fire at the cathedral was accidental. No one was injured or killed. The bombing in Yemen is strategic and planned. It is enacted by the armed forces of Saudi Arabia, using aircraft, weaponry, intelligence and expertise supplied by powerful countries such as the UK and USA. People are injured and killed on a daily basis.

Millions of philanthropic euros have been committed to restoring the magnificent cathedral of Notre Dame. No philanthropic monies have been committed to restoring schools, farm buildings, waterworks, shops, houses and mosques in Yemen.

Why?

Is it because the people of Yemen are largely poor? Largely Muslim? Largely Arab? Is it that such philanthropic millions are destined to be spent in Europe rather than the Arabian peninsula? Then, why not spend those millions on the refugees and homeless people, subsisting under the shadow of the great Christian cathedral?

Or is it that the story of the cathedral fire tragedy is higher up the victimhood hierarchy than the story of the bombing of Yemen?

If the Christ were walking the planet today, occasionally kicking over the counting tables of financiers as he went, what story would he live? Where would he put the money?

The cathedral restoration fund?
The fund for homeless people and refugees?
The fund for the salvation of Yemen?

Which story would he favour?







Letters to the Editor; Derry Journal; 3.5.2019

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Wednesday, 24 April 2019

COLLATERAL, NOT ACCIDENTAL: THE KILLING OF LYRA MCKEE



The apology from the New IRA used the term ‘tragically killed, while standing beside enemy forces’. A statement from a political organisation, Saoradh, said to be close to the New IRA, announced that a rally planned for Easter Sunday was called off, as a mark of respect for the ‘tragic and accidental killing of Lyra McKee’.

Her killing was not accidental. It was collateral.

'Collateral damage’ is a euphemism, used by military groups of all types, since the 1960s, to limit the negative effects on themselves from the killings of non-combatants. It is a controversial term, criticised for dehumanising the victims, while appearing to indicate that the action that led to the killing was agent-less.

Yet it is the appropriate term for the killing of Lyra McKee, in a society where military thinking dominates, where solutions are fudged, forced and battered, where peace-making is a battle of narrowly-contending ideologies, aspirations and ethno-religious groupings, as powerful state entities stand aside.

The militant republican who committed the foul killing – I called him DENIZEN, in a play from 2014 – already had blood on his hands. 

Exhibit D. A life-less severed limb.
You see my handiwork. Yes, I did this. 
And telling why, one reason we are here. 
All damage is largely collateral,
When war is fought on the streets where we live. 
When state power emerges from its lair
And wrecks the small spaces of daily lives. 
Nothing clean. All is filthy, dirty, grim. 
Sump oil running beneath a rancid wreck. 

The play is an act of describing and imagining, that places the militant within the globalised military context in which we live, not to excuse his actions, but to properly set them, so that they may be viewed clearly and so that all such groups, state and non-state, may be held to account and brought to book. 


She is the civilian who meets the soldier 
Bombing Afghans' wedding celebrations. 
The pale child who meets the atom's furnace 
On the blasted streets of Hiroshima, 
Where collateral blisters her young face.


For Lyra McKee is everywhere, not only in Creggan. She is the child on the bus blown to bits in Yemen; she is the school-goer mown down by an automatic weapon at her school; she is the sick infant in hospital blown up in an airstrike; she is the old man, bowing his head in prayer, as the bomb goes off. 

She is collateral.

And she is more. 

She is not a euphemism. She is an agent, in her own right.

A number of her friends went to the office of Saoradh and daubed red hand-prints on the outside of the building. This is an action that could be replicated across the world, echoing the actions by non-violent anti-war protesters, who poured paint down the steps of government buildings in the US.

For active agents, such as Lyra’s friends, is what it will take to put aside the military mindset that bedevils humans relations these days. And why does it do so? Because it brings wealth to the few and fear to the many. 


For violence changes everything
And does stop war. Until it starts to sing … 

Oh! Lord, give us some peace! 

… again. When Business starts it up. Again. 

The play is an act of imagining. We will need more. And we will need to band together. Among the many private and public reasons that Lyra McKee’s killing has struck such a chord internationally is the fact that she is a member of two groups; the LGBT community and the community of workers in her union, the NUJ. Both communities, as well as many others, including family and friends, have drawn our attention to Lyra McKee’s person, her life and her work. 

Her 2016 piece on suicide among young people, for MOSAIC, reads tragically prescient of her own death by violence.

Those who survived the Troubles called us the Ceasefire Babies, as if resentful that we’d grown up unaccustomed to the sound of gunfire, assuming that we didn’t have dead to mourn like they did. Yet we did. Sometimes, I count their names on my fingers, quickly running out of digits. Friends, friends of friends, neighbours’ relatives, the kids whose faces I knew but whose names I learned only from the obituary column. The tragic irony of life in Northern Ireland today is that peace seems to have claimed more lives than war ever did.  

For the peace we seemed to have has been processed to death, with little evidence of product for the people who live in Creggan. 

Lyra McKee writes:
There is no single common factor in suicides among young people, according to O’Neill. Many things can be involved: educational underachievement, poverty, poor parenting. But the Ceasefire Babies are also dealing with the added stress of the conflict – even though most of them never witnessed it directly.

Since her death, there have been calls for the stalled political process to be re-started immediately. Imminent elections, and the way they connect with power-struggles at Westminster, will mean some token efforts may occur, but it is unlikely anything substantive will get going until the Autumn, as summer in Northern Ireland brings its own tensions.

So we are back to the communities, their solidarity and their strength, their red-hand actions and their support for each other. Even the militant can join in.

Can I be ambitious and imagine,
As the ancient man said, then vault myself 
To a perch on history's other side?
I feel the fraught future in each instant.

The future is always fraught, for it is nothing but moments we make, with and for one another. How we make them, and with whom, is always contested. Here’s one moment, a fresh one, an imagined one in the play, yes, but, as Picasso says: Everything you can imagine is real.

Grab this pike, this long venerable spear.
Stand back! Draw near? This pike is yours. No fear. 
I show this sign and create tomorrow. 


The sign the militant makes is to break the pike across his knee and put the weapon away. 

That’s a start.





DENIZEN, Dave Duggan; play text; Guildhall Press; ISBN 978 1 906271 87 9; Derry; 2014
The Irish News; newspaper, Belfast; 23.4.2019
The Derry Journal; newspaper; Derry; 23.4.2019


Wednesday, 27 March 2019

YOU LOSE YOUR VOICE IN MARCH, YOU MAY LOSE YOUR JOB IN MAY


Prime Minister Teresa May, the most authoritative person in the British parliament, loses yet another vote on her government’s plan for the arrangements through which the UK will leave the EU by the process known as Brexit. She also loses her voice.

She comes into the great hall of the commoners in Westminster. She speaks to her colleagues, some of whom are political suitors. She is summarily dismissed, in a modern re-telling of Homer’s treatment meted to Penelope by Telemachus, her son, as recounted by historian Mary Beard.

The process starts in the first book with Penelope coming down from her private quarters into the great hall, to find a bard performing to throngs of her suitors; he’s singing about the difficulties the Greek heroes are having in reaching home. She isn’t amused, and in front of everyone she asks him to choose another, happier number. At which point young Telemachus intervenes: ‘Mother,’ he says, ‘go back up into your quarters, and take up your own work, the loom and the distaff … speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all; for mine is the power in this household.’

Teresa May persists in presenting a plan, which has been voted down twice and may yet endure another voting down, before someone cries “enough already.” Is she experiencing what Mary Beard describes as a long-standing practice in Western culture?

it’s a nice demonstration that right where written evidence for Western culture starts, women’s voices are not being heard in the public sphere; more than that, as Homer has it, an integral part of growing up, as a man, is learning to take control of public utterance and to silence the female of the species. The actual words Telemachus uses are significant too. When he says ‘speech’ is ‘men’s business’, the word is muthos – not in the sense that it has come down to us of ‘myth’. In Homeric Greek it signals authoritative public speech (not the kind of chatting, prattling or gossip that anyone – women included, or especially women – could do).

Or is she simply hoarse, from long hours of working, travelling and negotiating? She quips that her opposite on the EU has also lost his voice.

With the loss of her voice, will the loss of her job soon follow?

Possibly.

Her counterpart on the EU-side is more of an official and so less vulnerable in the short-term. He is also a man and thus less vulnerable in the long-term. A woman with a hoarse voice is weak. A man with a hoarse voice is strenuously and admirably exerting himself.

The voice that rises above the babble and hiss of the House of Commons is sonorous and affected. It is in the ascendancy now and it sounds like it is from the Ascendancy. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, barks and scowls in a voice of such pantomimic affectation that he manages to sound like the head boy of a posh school who’s had too much of the headmaster’s sherry.

Mary Beard understands this.

We find repeated stress throughout ancient literature on the authority of the deep male voice. As one ancient scientific treatise explicitly put it, a low-pitched voice indicated manly courage, a high-pitched voice female cowardice. Or as other classical writers insisted, the tone and timbre of women’s speech always threatened to subvert not just the voice of the male orator, but also the social and political stability, the health, of the whole state.

She also situates this authority in the ‘ways and means’ protocols of the House of Commons.

Again, we’re not simply the victims or dupes of our classical inheritance, but classical traditions have provided us with a powerful template for thinking about public speech, and for deciding what counts as good oratory or bad, persuasive or not, and whose speech is to be given space to be heard. And gender is obviously an important part of that mix.

The current British Prime Minister is reportedly sad that she didn’t get to be the first woman in that role, something Margaret Thatcher achieved. She took pains to present a manly demeanour, even going as far as changing her voice.

Those who do manage successfully to get their voice across very often adopt some version of the ‘androgyne’ route, like Maesia in the Forum or ‘Elizabeth’ at Tilbury – consciously aping aspects of male rhetoric. That was what Margaret Thatcher did when she took voice training specifically to lower her voice, to add the tone of authority that her advisers thought her high pitch lacked.

Would voice lessons save Teresa May’s voice and keep her yet longer inthejob she craves? She previously worked as Home Secretary and headed up an onslaught on immigrants under the ‘hostile environment’ banner, an onslaught she has carried over into her current role as the Reluctant Brexiteer. Shewill make the severance happen on her terms and the rest of us can just lump it. That’s a fairly ‘manly’ stance to take. 

For a female MP to be minister of women (or of education or health) is a very different thing from being chancellor of the exchequer (a post which no woman has ever filled). And, across the board, we still see tremendous resistance to female encroachment onto traditional male discursive territory, whether it’s the abuse hurled at Jacqui Oatley for having the nerve to stray from the netball court to become the first woman commentator on Match of the Day, or what can be meted out to women who appear on Question Time, where the range of topics discussed is usually fairly mainstream ‘male political’. 

Mary Beard, in analysing the origins of the horrendous treatment, she, and other women, receive from internet trolling and other on-line abuse, senses that, while gender is significant in the targeting, the scale and the violence of the abuse, other factors contribute, notably the false promises of the democratisation of power the on-line world was supposed to bring us. 

When I’m feeling charitable I think quite a lot comes from people who feel let down by the false promises of democratisation blazoned by, for example, Twitter. It was supposed to put us directly in touch with those in power, and open up a new democratic kind of conversation. It does nothing of the sort: if we tweet the prime minister or the pope, they no more read it than if we send them a letter – and for the most part, the prime minister doesn’t even write the tweets that appear under his name. How could he? (I’m not so sure about the Pope.) Some of the abuse, I suspect, is a squeal of frustration at those false promises, taking aim at a convenient traditional target (‘a gobby woman’). Women are not the only ones who may feel themselves ‘voiceless’.

Recently, Teresa May made a direct appeal to the ‘voiceless/voteless’, in a US-Presidential style address from her own home at 10 Downing Street. Her voice held and she sounded steady and commanding. However, the ploy of opening her next election campaign – and who’s to say that’s not what she was doing? - by blaming her fellow MPs at the same time as she is touting for their support to her Plan A, while not having a Plan B, seems to have back-fired. 

The voiceless/voteless are grumbling and have a Plan C, or at least the inklings of one, with a large demonstration in London last weekend. Getting your voice heard in a floundering parliamentary democracy, such as the UK at present, where the rich and the political elite have thrown the baubles out of the sedan chair and the rest of us may be about to topple the sedan chair, is a vital next step in making sure this horrendous Brexit process, or anything like it, is never repeated. 





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Wednesday, 16 January 2019

MICHELLE OBAMA SUPPORTS MOL AN ÓIGE/PRAISE THE YOUNG


Michelle Obama’s bestselling memoir, BECOMING, tells the story of her own life and offers inspirational advice to young people, especially to girls and young women. She, and her husband Barack, have been engaged in supporting the young before, during and, now, after their period of residence in The White House, where American Presidents and their families traditionally live. They are the parents of two daughters.

Among Michelle Obama’s quotable quotes is the line that it’s best for a young person to work out who you want to become rather than what you want to become. This takes us back to the foundation years of child-centred rearing and person-centred psychology codified and pioneered by Carl Rogers in the 1950s. Much of the wisdom and learning in Rogerian approaches to counselling, therapy and human behaviour pre-date modernity and emerged as part of human development across the globe. It is Carl Roger’s work in codifying this wisdom at a peak time of American cultural power that has led to these humanistic ideas entering cultural life in a thorough-going way, in America and further afield, and connected them with campaigns for justice and equality that formed the platform from which the young Michelle and Barack launched their lives into education, upward mobility and powerful public office. 

Were they praised as children? Do they praise their children, as part of their parenting practice? It seems from BECOMINGthat they were and that they do.

So how do you ‘mol an óige/praise the young’? Does the much-used phase ‘good girl/good boy’ work? Does the child know what’s ‘good’? 

When toddlers, at a Christmas drama session, are asked to help tidy up the cotton wool snow balls they have been throwing around, most do so with gusto. Others wander about and some sit and watch. Each time a toddler puts a snow ball in the leader’s bag, they are rewarded with a ‘good girl’ or a ‘good boy’. 

Are the ones who wander about or sit and watch not ‘good’?

When, in Spring-time, the cat brings a dead bird to the back step, do we say ‘bad girl/boy’? Or do we recognise this as animal behaviour and we simply tidy up afterwards? Does the cat expect a reward and, if so, what? 

Is the cat propitiating the gods of food, protection and warmth?

Is saying ‘good girl/good boy’ the kind of phrase that the old Irish folk adage in the title above advises? Would the following formulation be better? ‘Good girl/boy, for helping to clear up the snow balls.’

Is it necessary? Does the child simply get the message from the tone of appreciation and the warmth of the adult’s response? Instead of ‘good girl/boy’, would the same effect be achieved if we said ‘golublub’, with a warm tone of appreciation? 

Separation of the person and the act (or role and behaviour) is at the heart of Rogerian psychology and is one of Roger’s formulations that has entered a wide range of social practices, including toddler-rearing, youth work and social work. The assertion is that while the behaviour may be designated ‘good or ‘bad’, the person just ‘is’. 

At what point – maybe at this point? - does the Rogerian ethic coincide with behaviourist theory and practice, with all the inherent perils in such an approach, using threat, reward and punishment to mould behaviour?

If the toddler drama session took place in an anarcho-bohemian society, in a laissez-faire set-up, would the tidying up be rewarded with warm-toned ‘good girl/boy’ affirmations? Would the leader affirm those who continued tossing snowballs and disregarded tidiness?

For an engaging cross-cultural take on child-rearing, see the comedian Sindhu Vee, below. She notes that parents draw on what they learned from their own parents. They echo the tones andphrases of the previous generation.

I heard echoes from my own parents’ child-rearing practice, when I was rearing my children, including the adage that: if you don’t rear your children, the television will. One influencer among many. Add social media to the mix now. And casino capitalism driving hyper-consumerism. More influencers.

Michelle Obama is an international celebrity. She can be seen and heard on You Tube, web-sites, radio stations, multiple tv channels, numerous print journals and newspapers. And now in a best-selling book. She is a high-powered influencer. As is her husband.

Best wishes to all people rearing children, in all parts of the world, using that amorphous and challenging concept known as ‘love’.


BECOMING; Michelle Obama; memoir, Viking Penguin, London; 2018
Carl Rogers: http://journalpsyche.org/revisiting-carl-rogers-theory-of-personality/
Sindhu Vee; Live at the Apollo; 12 40 to 20 55
https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bw8hbt/live-at-the-apollo-series-14-episode-6


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