Π O’s 24 Hours: Ulysses in Fitzroy

By | 1 December 2009

Why is this form still important? The elements of the epic provide, as Said has written, ‘the opportunity to express a more complex, less sequential history; in fact you are compelled to retell the ‘facts' in such a way as to be reinventing language from scratch' (1994: 393). 24 Hours is a convincing example of language reinvented from scratch, which deserves more attention than it has received. Its questioning of literary conventions, and literacy itself, encourages its ‘post-literate' (Marshall-Stoneking) readers and listeners to examine their conceptions of poetry. Its phonetic spelling, expressive punctuation and realistic voices draw attention not only to the community it presents, but to the notion of ‘oracy'. It celebrates the spoken voice, language before it stands still: the baggy poetry and inconsistent clarity of natural speech. It celebrates the art of listening carefully, too, which is the other side of the primary epic.

This crucial oral characteristic of 24 Hours leads to one last question. If Π O distrusts literature and prefers the spoken word as his mode of communication, why didn't he record his performance of 24 Hours instead of writing a score, which readers–judging by the lack of critical or public response–find unapproachable and alienating? One possible response could be that ‘The / day / the language / stood / still' would not make sense on the back cover of a CD. While a recording would no doubt be more popular, and something that would make an excellent supplement, it may defeat the purpose of the book. As Π O speaks, his words are still alive and moving; a recording would not demonstrate the difficult art of trapping a day on the page; of churning other people's voices out of a typewriter. As an annotated performance, 24 Hours, like its predecessor Ulysses, reminds its readers of the clumsy but truthful immediacy of the unedited, uninhibited human voice, and that this characteristic is often lost or lacking in conventionally ‘correct' literature. Paradoxically, sounding this immediate and unedited would be no easy matter of merely copying everything one hears and sees. The art is in choosing what to take and what to leave in order to make the poem appear as raw as possible. This is, essentially, the art of good storytelling–which is where the epic began.

This entry was posted in ESSAYS and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work: