Escape from Mythic Tyranny: A Process and Practice [re:con]versation with “The Furies” William Considine
Thank you for talking to us about your process today!
I appreciate the opportunity — and the challenge of addressing some questions I’ve never had to answer, even to myself!
Can you introduce yourself, in a way that you would choose?
I’m a retired lawyer in my late 60’s. I come from a working-class background in a declining Rust Belt mill town, but that was a long time ago. I had the benefit of a terrific education. I chose to live in a vibrant, creative center and participate. I always wanted to write, and over time I’ve written a lot.
Why are you a poet/writer/artist/playwright?
I wanted to express myself, and to play with language. I enjoy writing. Making a poem is one of life’s great joys.
When did you decide you were a poet/writer/artist/playwright (and/or: do you feel comfortable calling yourself a poet/writer/artist/playwright, what other titles or affiliations do you prefer/feel are more accurate)?
I wanted to write since I was quite young. I read voraciously. I was very interested in politics and history, as well as literature. I decided, before college, that it was unrealistic to expect to live as a writer, and I focused in college on social studies. By the time I was a senior, I was taking courses in philosophy and then, in my last terms, in poetry. Law school largely bored me, and I wrote a play. My first wife encouraged me. She was an actress. She earned a masters degree in theater and performed, even on Broadway. I wrote several plays, in the evenings and weekends, while working as a young lawyer in New York over a period of years. Then I felt strongly that I needed to devote myself to my art. Years of discouragement in theater ultimately brought me back to only my own resources. I could not expect anyone to actualize my plays. What I wrote and spoke aloud myself was all I could rely on. With that realization, I was a poet.
What do you see as the relationship between being a “poet” and being a “playwright?” How does that work in your practice?
Well, they’re two different communities or worlds. There are relatively few people active in both worlds. That separation of the two arts and communities did not work in my favor.
I’ve been returning recently to playwriting. In part, this is because I have always been drawn to longer or larger forms, and to multiple voices instead of only the lyric self.
What’s a “poet,” anyway?
What do you see as your cultural and social role (in the literary / artistic / creative community and beyond)?
A poet is a worker in language, making words fresh and honest and exploratory. But that is too laborious: A poet plays with language, because words define our world, and because it’s fun.
In the literary community, I am, I hope, attentive to others’ work and encouraging. Poets help sustain each other.
Talk about the process or instinct to move these plays as independent entities into a body of work. How and why did this happen? Have you had this intention for a while? What encouraged and/or confounded this (or a book, in general) coming together? Was it a struggle?
These plays developed organically over time from my impulse to write verse plays, to combine poetry and theater, which is a great tradition. I also had the impulse to de-construct, to re-write certain governing myths. Agamemnon, King of Cars was a comedy, so then I wanted to write a tragedy too, and Electra came from that. It took some years to find the third piece, an equivalent to The Eumenides in the ancient trilogy. In those years, I made poems and videos. Lincoln in Queens finally emerged.
I then wrote another Greek play, a full-length verse drama based on a story in Plutarch, Women’s Mysteries. It too is about the drive to war in myth and history. I see that play as a second piece in a larger-scale trilogy, with The Furies as the first piece. I’ve drafted some of a third piece, too.
Prologue: Prehistory was an early exploration toward Women’s Mysteries. It belongs with these plays in The Furies, because it is an entry point into the force field of mythic origins, and it helps tie the larger structure together. It is echoed by a prologue in Women’s Mysteries.
So, in my own mind, I had a relatively large-scale, unified set of plays, but this was utterly unknown.
When you asked what I would want to publish now, my first and only thought was to bring these separately produced plays together as the whole that I intended.
When you were writing these plays, (or in general, when you write plays or other work to be performed), did you imagine them also being read? Have you ever written plays or used writing structures from theater to produce work that was intended primarily for the page?
Yes, I also imagine them being read.
There are dramatic shapes to some of my poems. Lincoln in Queens after all is a poem, but I’ve included it in a volume of plays, where it belongs.
It’s a very interesting phenomena, I think, the publishing and reading of plays — unique amongst performance media as one that lives quite commonly in our experience both on the stage and the page, in life and in the classroom.
Do you think that the publishing of plays needs to treat the medium differently than it does other poetry, prose, or text? Talk a little more about your relationship to plays on the page versus on the stage, both as reader and producer / maker / writer.
I like to see the continuous flow of verse down the page, so I name the speakers at the left margin, not in the center. It shows the play as a poem more clearly on the page.
I have always liked reading plays, because they move so briskly.
Poetry’s concision and sharpness serve drama well.
I have participated in many poetry readings, and the oral aspect of poetry is key for me, which is an understanding that lends itself to theater.
What formal structures or other constrictive practices (if any) do you use in the creation of your work, whether poetics or drama? Have certain teachers or instructive environments, or readings/writings/work of other creative people informed the way you work/write?
Using the medium of verse drama and using classical allusion and de-construction are themselves significant constraints. Otherwise, I have not used constraints as a creative practice.
What has most informed me in playwriting has been rehearsals. Seeing that something doesn’t work and cutting or replacing it, or seeing that something more is needed, emerges from the rehearsal process.
Numerous poetry workshops over the past several years have informed me as a writer, and I am grateful to instructors and colleagues. That poets persist is among the most important lessons. One device so many recommend, that has not worked well for me yet, is to do free writing daily. I hate what I write down when I don’t feel inspired. It is painful to put down just anything. Long ago, I kept a journal for several years. I felt the journal replaced creative writing.
So, constraints and daily free writing are two contemporary writing techniques that have not worked for me yet.
Speaking of monikers, what does your title represent? How was it generated? Talk about the way you titled the book, and how your process of naming (individual pieces, sections, etc) influences you and/or colors your work specifically.
Nearness of unseen Furies figures in both Electra and Lincoln in Queens. Clytemnestra calls down the Furies at the end of Electra. Besides being the book title, “The Furies” is also a segment title in Lincoln in Queens, which relates an impelled search for the Furies.
The Furies are problematic, because they’re powerful but negative female figures identified with darkness, guilt and fear. I maximized that dark female aspect by portraying Clytemnestra as an onstage killer. When I put on Electra, I experimented with called it The Furies: Electra, as seen in a flyer for the play and in the name of the video. That title also meant to convey the fury of war, the urgency of war state resistance, and the rapid pace of the play.
In the larger structure, the transition from mythic Furies to the mother in Lincoln in Queens and to the women in Women’s Mysteries is an important progression. The work overall seeks an escape from the tyranny of old myths and misperceptions.
What does this particular work represent to you
…as indicative of your method/creative practice?
…as indicative of your history?
…as indicative of your mission/intentions/hopes/plans?
This book represents a core of my creative work over the years, the attempt to integrate poetry and drama. It also shows a core focus on the power of the war state and aggressive, siege mentality.
I looked to the Greeks partly to escape the more pertinent and overwhelming model for verse plays in English, Shakespeare. I thought that I would learn from Greek models and move on to other settings and eras. That didn’t happen. Time is shorter now.
I want to complete the larger-scale trilogy that I discussed above. Beyond that, I hope to move in a new direction. That may be another verse drama or surely an echo of it.
I may also get more prosaic. As a lawyer, I wrote a lot of prose. It flows more readily. I have a couple short prose pieces being published in journals this Fall.
What does this book DO (as much as what it says or contains)?
This book is an artifact of ambitions and dreams. I hope it may inspire others.
What would be the best possible outcome for this book? What might it do in the world, and how will its presence as an object facilitate your creative role in your community and beyond? What are your hopes for this book, and for your practice?
The best outcome would be for the book to inspire readings and productions, and for those productions to speak for the necessary but difficult process of finding and making peace.
Let’s talk a little bit about the role of poetics and creative community in social activism, in particular in what I call “Civil Rights 2.0,” which has remained immediately present all around us in the time leading up to this series’ publication. I’d be curious to hear some thoughts on the challenges we face in speaking and publishing across lines of race, age, privilege, social/cultural background, and sexuality within the community, vs. the dangers of remaining and producing in isolated “silos.”
These are big challenges, and our nation has suddenly taken a large step backwards. I think the keys are respect for others and openness to recognizing privilege in ourselves and in our assumptions about others.
Is there anything else we should have asked, or that you want to share?
Thank you for this opportunity!