Taking your Clothes off in the Gym of the Imagination

Ali Wright, Old Red Lion, The Noises

(Photo is Amy McAllister as Luna and was taken by Ali Wright)


I wrote a play
The Noisesmy first in decades – it’s been an adventure from first inception to actual production at The Old Red Lion
last time I wrote a play I wasn’t a poet & I was younger

now I’m all for challenge & risk because life is short & what’s the point of boring predictable art?


now I’m thinking more deeply about narrative,

white space

the explosive ruinous creative subjectivity of art

Why we do it
who we do it for


I teach poetry & many of our discussions revolve around

what the poem is
what the poet ‘means’
(which they often don’t know, which is fine)
how the poem is received

part of my job is to open up the possibility that once a poem is out there on the page a poet can let it go
it belongs then to the reader
& the reader’s perception is the reader’s perception

how brilliant, I always say – as one reader disagrees with another about a poem  – to have different views in the room

some love the poem, some hate it, some are indifferent
some connect with it, some don’t

some want it to be more direct, some want it to be  more opaque
some are happy with multiple levels of interpretation & ambiguity & some find that harder to tolerate

& what a boring world it would be if we all agreed


for The Noises the most contentious debates have come from the deliberate choices we as a team made to allow space & different views:

what are the terrible events happening outside the house? Are they real or just in Luna’s mind?

what is happening in the family, exactly?

(& without wanting to give spoilers) How much of the ending is in the mind of Luna the dog & how much is real?

what ACTUALLY happened & what didn’t? (well a dog talked to you for a start)


Audiences have variously

– embraced the ambiguity

– enjoyed filling in the spaces themselves

– been delighted to be left with questions

– found the openness confusing or distracting

Some like to have meanings & events pinned down & fully explained
Some don’t

Some have been so caught up with the character, voice & fate of Luna none of those concerns have been relevant

Some have concentrated on the ethical & political questions the play poses – the animal in all of us & how that manifests


as a playwright friend wrote to me after seeing The Noises:
You poets are never knowingly ‘on the nose’


to borrow a phrase the dog Luna in The Noises

A poem is one thing. But a play, a play is something else

poets might feel as if the poem is out of their control once it’s on the page – but ha ha ha
the playwright will scoff at the poet’s fears
because the poet has the luxury of delivering their work fully formed to an audience

but the play is live & temporary & therefore unstable
the play is performed in space & time & then it’s gone

the poem exists until the page itself disintegrates
& even then it may exist fully in the mind of its reader


the poem has a uniquely private relationship with its reader

the play is a collective experience


the play is a concrete thing composed of people & objects & three dimensions – not just words

the poem is a ‘machine made of words’ & words only


the play is a collaborative creation, born of many mothers
of whom the playwright is only one
the play does not exist until it is fully realised on the stage

You may spend years (as I did) growing the script, but the making-rollercoaster really happens in the last breathless downhill twenty seconds of its life when the script is birthed by its multiple mothers as your rickety little car bumps & jolts down the hill
gaining momentum by the minute

you can never have total control because danger is the essence of the journey

Is this metaphor too much?


I set out on a fundamentally insane mission: to write a play that’s a hybrid poetry/theatre piece from the point of view of a talking dog

& I knew I was chancing it but what is art if not a giant risk?

the result of this mission carries in its bones all the joys, challenges & complications of both art forms

Tamar Saphra (director & daughter) courageously picked up this mad piece of my imagination & ran with it all the way to the Old Red Lion Theatre


Now forget about the birth metaphor & think about a fitness metaphor because this really is

like taking all your clothes off  & saying to the jury

Here I am
I’ve been working out for years to get my body in shape just for you.
Love me!

& some people take a good three hundred & sixty degree look at you & don’t take into account all those years of bench presses & sit-ups & sweat & they judge you even when you don’t ask them to

but hey I’ve never had such a mind-bending life-enhancing artistic journey in my whole life


don’t do this if you don’t want to take your metaphorical clothes off in front of a bunch of strangers without so much as an itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini to hide behind

but if you’re willing to work out indefinitely
embrace the thrills & feel alive then go for it


it’s a glorious terror

& as for me

I’m going back to the gym of the imagination as soon as I possibly can


just got to get some sleep first





Author: Jacqueline Saphra

I'm a poet, teacher, educator, agitator, teacher and word enthusiast.

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