On 27 July, the Marlowe Society in the UK tweeted this photo of someone reading This Marlowe.
In April, Heidi Petracek of CTV Morning Live in Halifax invited me to the studio to talk about This Marlowe.
Yeah, I’m a Marlowe fan, and I object to bardolatry — to the mindless worship of William Shakespeare as some sort of demigod, faultless in his work, all sunshine and rainbows spilling out of a vacuum. I particularly object to calling Shakespeare ‘The Bard’, as the definite article there declares no other bard could exist. Ai. Such an approach to Shakespeare denies history — he came out of no vacuum — and also denies the thinker not only exposure to Shakespeare’s peers who influenced him in a long, ongoing cultural conversation, but also a more nuanced experience of Shakespeare’s work that allows for, considers, and accepts that sometimes he fucked up and failed. His failures only deepen his triumphs .
None of this means I dislike Shakespeare’s work. Far from it. Some of those plays deserve their status, their vigorous lives; they show us something about ourselves, over and over. And the verse — dear God, the verse.
Which Christopher Marlowe mastered first.
Honest, though, I’m flapping my gums about Will today, about his sonnets. I don’t know them all, and the ones I do know I could know better. I like colliding with art. I’m not interested in sitting down all passive and respectful as some Serious Ac-tahrs declaim the Bard … that is, recite lines and then stoop to hand me the spit-warm marbles from their mouths. Most of the Shakespeare videos I had to watch in high school felt like that. I can’t think of a quicker way to turn people off those plays than productions which take as their aim the delivery of culture.
When I collide with Shakespeare — or with O’Connor, Melville, Kafka, Marlowe, Chaucer, Lowther, Donne — when I’m knocked on my arse by beauty and strength, when I’m startled out of complacent delusion that I’ve already read this, already experienced this … when that happens, so much opens up. It’s not rainbows and sunshine; it’s blazing starlight.
I’ve just collided with Rufus Wainwright’s album Take All My Loves, which is different arrangements of nine of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The project includes my long-beloved Sonnet 29, and my new favourite, Sonnet 40. Wainwright and his collaborators, for the most part, allow the words to work through them, versus try to impose their egos on the words. Yet the artists not passive vessels. In the most intriguing pieces on the album, I find hybrids, fusions. Track 3, ‘Take All My Loves’, the arrangement of Sonnet 40, could be done by no one else but Rufus Wainwright and Marius de Vries.
I said things open up for me. A specific example: my new and developing understanding of Sonnet 40, thanks to Wainwright and de Vries, is spilling into a new fiction project, deep into the novel’s conflicts, themes, and characters.
That arrangement of Sonnet 40 is playing out here now, layers and echoes: a conversation.
Kyd’s letter to Sir John Puckering, written after Marlowe’s death, complains of Kyd’s arrest and torture and attempts to distance the writer from the accused atheist … yet it doesn’t. The form of the letter is a petition, which had a set form and expectations, something a man likely trained as a scrivener would know. Kyd never joined the Worshipful Company of Scriveners, though his mostly legible handwriting suggests the training, and his father, Francis Kyd, once served as Company Warden. Thinking of Kyd’s later reference to ‘afflictions of the mind’, I can’t help but wonder what else contributes to that letter’s instability.
Last night I was part of a reading series in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, and I was reading from my new novel, This Marlowe. My novel is based on the last few months of Christopher Marlowe’s life and, of course, includes a character, Tom, based on Thomas Kyd. The DCL plays out, in its ugly way. I’d planned last night to read the scene in which Tom is arrested. I couldn’t. Various book reviewers have commented on how compelling they find my Kit character, the one based on Christopher Marlowe, and that’s lovely. I’m delighted. But yesterday I could think only of my Tom character, and of the real Thomas Kyd, of what might have been done to him … and, as my character Kit might say, for what? For all of poxed-up what?
If you visit my house, you will see what my husband and I have spent all our money on over the past twenty-odd years: books, and music. I listen to music as both a passive consumer — aware something is playing in the background — and as a greedy supplicant: eyes wide, forehead sweaty, mouth slack. I can play nothing. I can sing a little, now that I’ve figured out I’m an alto and not a soprano. Because I lack the training and the language, I can’t tell you how or why a piece of music or a song works.
All I can do is respond.
I create playlists to go with various projects. In the old days, I burned CDs, and in the ancient times before that, I made cassette mixtapes. When I come back to revisions, I can get myself into the emotional places I need to be by spinning an earlier draft’s playlist.
I had many mixes for what became This Marlowe. Here’s one.
The Lizard — Pipher
Scarborough Fair/Canticle — Simon and Garfunkel
Loser — Beck
Maps and Legends — REM
Para mihi domine — Christobal de Morales, arranged by the Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Gabarek
Locomotive Breath/Bond Theme — Scheppel with Feed the Wolf
Fuckin Up — Junkhouse
99.9F — Suzanne Vega
Morning — Beck
The Drunken Whaler — Copilot
Everybody Wants to Rule the World — Lorde
The Heart’s Filthy Lesson — David Bowie
Heart is a Drum — Beck
Scared — The Tragically Hip
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap — AC/DC
King of Birds — REM
Losing My Religion — REM
Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) — Kate Bush
Faster — Within Temptation
Under Pressure — Queen with David Bowie
Breaking — Suzanne Vega
Uniko Iv: Emo — Kimmo Pohjonen and Kronos Quartet
Dear God — XTC
Pilgrimage — Suzanne Vega
Grace, too — The Tragically Hip
I’m So Sorry — Imagine Dragons
Dirty Knife — Neko Case
Say Goodbye — Beck
Demons — Imagine Dragons
This is Gospel — Panic! At the Disco
Heretic Pride — The Mountain Goats
Don’t Come Around Here No More — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
On Tuesday March 29 at the Cox and Palmer Second Space in the Resource Centre for the Arts/LSPU Hall, St John’s, we’re launching This Marlowe. Things get underway at 6:30pm. Local independent bookstore Broken Books will be on hand to sell copies.