[MA Creating Writing] Entering Postgraduate Purgatory – How and why I used Dante in my MA Application.

Critical Commentary:

As part of my MA application I decided to submit an extended Creative Statement; a 500-word pastiche of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.  I had the idea to replace Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise – and so the allegorical journey of the soul towards God – with my own turbulent journey as a budding writer.

Before I put pen to paper I established a loose, metaphorical framework beginning with what my version of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise would be:

  • Hell: The unescapable job in retail where the suppression of creativity is the greatest sin.
  • Purgatory: The Postgraduate Course itself, a place of academic and creative refinement.
  • Paradise: The established writer with a promising, creative career.

With this framework in mind I decided to narrow my focus to Inferno: Canto 34 – Purgatory: Canto 1 and place greater focus on how I saw the MA as a means of escaping my currently unfulfilling routine whilst taking one step closer to gaining a more idyllic career.

Then it was time to run with the idea – the fun part – and watch it grow in symbolism and resonance; I substituted Dante’s leader, Virgil, with my own literary hero D.H. Lawrence and realized the Masters Course Leader as the Old Man, acknowledging that my acceptance into ‘postgraduate purgatory’ was in his hands. Later came the idea to suggest that the Lucifer, the Devil, was a physical writers block that could only be defeated by using my skills and achievements to climb over its seemingly, unclimbable sides.

At the end of Purgatorio: Canto 1 Virgil plucks a special reed from a patch of grass protected by a sea breeze and ties it around Dante’s waist so that he is fully prepared for the journey through Purgatory; to finalise the piece I replaced the reed with a pen to suggest that the only tool I would need to succeed is the power of the written word.

 

Creative Piece:

Our surroundings had, by now, become so bleak and so uninspiring that there was nothing to observe except a grey and concrete wall, like an office corridor, which edged our endless path through the fourth ring of the ninth circle of hell.  Our route circuited a lake – murky, as dull as dishwater –  that swayed ceaselessly as if the chronic ache of exhaustion (which had spread throughout my body) throbbed too through the cave that imprisoned us.
‘Stay back!’ Lawrence pleaded, with his hand outstretched before me as a barrier, ‘It is 9am and the Sinners are waking for their eight-hour shift. Pity these beings most, Rebecca, for they are the suppressors of creativity; those who, on earth, discouraged the creative talents in others, or worst of all, ignored such talents in themselves.’

I was a bystander, an early morning coffee drinker at Grand Central Station, watching the Sinners as they commuted lifelessly to their destinations, with synchronised arms swinging like axes. The tip of their fingers had been chopped cleanly off and black futile holes replaced each eye and ear. No tongue protruded from their lips and from every face a nose had been savagely torn leaving a brutal, bloody wound in its place. How awful it must be, I thought, to be a mind imprisoned in a senseless body, forced to spend eternity in the underworld of un-imagination.

In that moment,  I would have begged Lawrence to flee that hellish hole, but there was no room for self-expression there. My words were buried deep beneath a thick fog that, like a storm with a wind that carries you downhill, pushed us along our path, until –

‘Behold its true form!’ my guide announced and with a considerable pause between each phrase continued, ‘Lucifer. The Devil. The Writer’s Block!’

I shall not write it down for anything I say will fall far short, but I neither died nor wholly stayed alive. A huge cube stood before us, immeasurable in size and from the centre of this block extended three arms, which tore through the air and sucked – like a vacuum –  the world of its colour. So immense was its power that it took all my strength to keep my feet on the ground and the ideas in my mind.

‘Rebecca, you must use all of your skills to overcome this writers block, remind yourself of all your capabilities and you will find this climb much easier to endure’.

And so, with each vacillating footstep I thought of all of my abilities: having a creative mind, ambitious nature and natural sensitivity towards language gave me the strength to start the climb, whilst being self-motivated, organised, patient and persistent helped me to continue on that first steep side. My passion and my imagination aided me over the cube’s perilous corner and I was not to be phased by its far-reaching surface for my vocabulary was just as broad. My skills in researching and editing and my capacity for independent thought occupied my mind until halfway down the furthest side, so that I barely had chance to review my talent for developing intricate ideas before jumping off the vicious block onto ground again.

 

   Then we came out, and once more saw the stars.

         The little ship of my intellect had set sail at last and the murky waters out of hell cleared, as too did my mind.

‘Now we approach the second region,’ Lawrence announced, ‘where the human spirit is cleansed and the creative genius is refined. Do not look so full of relief, my child, for although it is an honour to have reached these shores, our course will be quite testing, nonetheless, and you will have to prove your talents.’

As we proceeded, buildings the colour of cinnamon appeared like motion-censored lights in a garden of enchantment. Firstly, an arts building dressed in a coat of ivy , and then a magnificent Great Hall  followed by a library four stories high and twice as wide.

So eager was I to enter, that I had not yet noticed the solitary old man standing to my left-hand side. His pearlescent hair blended into his long, white beard, his eyes asked for warmth and respect and acquired both. A perfectly positioned name-badge introduced him as Dr Luke Kennard and I realised almost immediately that my entry into this creative campus lay entirely in his hands:

‘How is it that you have reached these shores?’

‘I am D.H. Lawrence, Sir, and this is Rebecca Marie Moore, Calliope sent me to her one year after her graduation in fear that yet another creative mind would find itself condemned to the bottomless pit of un-imagination. I found her working in retail and dreaming of finding a career that would put her creative writing to use.’

‘And how have you prepared for this journey?’ he asked me directly.

‘My preparation began as a teenager,’ I began, ‘when a feminist teacher obsessed with Carol Anne Duffy, taught me – not only of grammar and of technique – but also of the braveness and power of the written word. My undergraduate degree in English Literature and Drama then nurtured and transformed my natural, writing talent, so that by my third and final year much of my work was of first-class standard; my dissertation ‘Threefold Consciousness in D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ was perhaps my proudest first-class achievement, closely followed by my collaboration with Kindle Theatre Company with whom I co-wrote a piece of verbatim theatre.

Subsequently, I developed an interest in modern playwriting and so, after graduating, I travelled to workshops with various contemporary directors: I learnt of using the verbatim technique to ‘uncover truth’ with Thomas Ostermeier, of adaptation techniques with Simon stone and sat in Ivo Van Hove’s rehearsals in Amsterdam to see how a script can be formed through improvisation.

I have, since then, developed an interest in screenwriting; I watch an endless amount of films and listen to Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film review podcast religiously. I upkeep a writers journal and a blog, in which you will find developing ideas, character profiles, snippets of poetry, prose and drama and my weekly notes on the BBC Writers Room or Future Learn online courses that I regularly follow – I am currently on Week Four of Writing Fiction.         Most importantly, however – and not to be over-looked – is how, since graduating, I have become much more of an opportunist.’

‘One final question,’ he uttered, ‘why do you write?’

‘I write because feelings drive me and I believe that the only way to truly experience a feeling (second to being the initiator of this said feeling) is by constructing, through language, a depiction that meets the emotion’s supremacy so perfectly that it is as if it is running through your veins itself. In this sense, the writing experience is, for me, therapeutic; it is a way of investigating various emotional states in a sort of ‘out-of-body’ experiment, which in turn allows me to test and understand them.

As I have grown older and more psychologically aware, I have realized that I am a political writer. I cannot yet produce a suitable suffix to truly depict my activism, but I am mindful that I struggle against something in life – there is a friction – and writing allows me to get closer to comprehending what/who my villain may be.’

‘Go.’ said Kennard to Lawrence, ‘and see that you give her a pen.’ The old man pointed toward the centre of the campus where a clock tower stood with the presence of a mountain and as we rushed across the grassy plain, Lawrence told me a myth that promised a double decker bus could fit through its timely face.

Sure enough, within the shadow of the tower we found a pen sprouting from the earth as if opportunity itself had grown on trees. Lawrence plucked the pen from the ground and then, with his hands outstretched, held it up toward my tear-stained face.

‘Marvellous,’ he said, content, as another pen pushed itself through the soil.

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