Tuesday, 5 July 2011


Out there in story land the form is shifting. Beginning, middle and end plots, written down, are no longer sufficient. What we classify as literature is moving ever outwards. People sitting on stools gabbling whatever comes out of their heads straight at the crowds are fine. So too are the guys who write their plot lines on separate bits of paper and leave them in in a trail across the bars of the city.

Any number of authorities in Wales, driven by money leaking towards Community First areas or by cash available to help people get to grips with new technology, are investing in what they call Digital Storytelling. Standing before a camera and talking about how it once was, about where they live, what they like, who they know, what they do. You Tube territory. Life recordable by mobile phone. No previous experience necessary.

All this is extremely laudable but it is hardly art.

Yet the word Storytelling is in there and that activity has a decent pedigree. So art this digital activity now is.

Mainstream storytelling where tellers regale audiences with wit and wisdom drawn from memory and change what they say as circumstances dictate has been with us for decades. How much this activity can be called literature is an open question, creative as it genuinely is. If literature is stuff you write down then storytelling certainly isn’t it.

However, as someone who pushes at boundaries, I’m still not thoroughly convinced. Back in the1980s the poet David Antin extended the boundaries of verse by entering the auditorium, sitting on a stool and then extemporising. Talking. What came out of his mouth, these Talk Poems , he declared, was poetry. The difference between this activity and classic storytelling is that Antin’s work was recorded, transcribed and then published. Sent out into the world as text. Literature old style.

How do we distinguish between storytellers who are merely out of work actors who’ve read a few classic tales and now regurgitate them in entertaining fashion from more considered operators? Great Welsh tellers such as Daniel Morden and Michael Harvey can dazzle with their innovation. But in the wide-church that is literature just where do they fit?

Are there any definitions out there? There are none that I can find.

1 comment:

Gwilym Williams said...

A story is called a yarn for a reason. There is a thread running through it. O Simpson is a master of the yarn, for example. But he's not Welsh. At least I don't think he is. He was a traveling salesman, a conman, and spent some time in the slammer - where presumably he came to discover the art of telling the short story - or yarn - a survival tactic - so he could well be Welsh.

By the way Peter, do you know why have the Windsors nee' Sax-Coburg-Gotha have suddenly started calling themselves Wales? I think I smell a Rat, if you get my drift...