In The Dark winner announced below; guest judge Dr Kate McClune places Hour of Writes in a tradition going back to Beowulf
18th December 2014
I spend my working life surrounded by the written (and sometimes spoken) word. As a specialist in medieval literature, my focus is both on the material text and the context: the means of composition, circulation, transmission and dissemination. One of the striking aspects of the Hour of Writes endeavour is the way in which, for me, it presents parallels to the processes of medieval creativity.
The subject of this week’s challenge – ‘In the Dark’ – is implicitly the subject of much Old English literature. Beowulf asks us what is it that lives beyond the comforting firelight of the hall community at the same time as it demands that we reconsider the nature of the human and the monstrous, and the diversity of literary engagements of this notion of what is out there in the darkness is reflected in the impressive variation of the Hour of Writes entries. I perceive similarities too, between the compositional constraints of medieval verse and the website challenge. The authors subject themselves willingly to relatively strict constraints, of form, metre, or rhyme in Old and Middle English poetry, and of subject and time-limits in Hour of Writes. The transmission of the pieces again recalls the great unknown authors of Beowulf or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, forcing us, as readers, to respond explicitly to what matters: the text itself. We do not fill in the blanks with what we know about the author’s personal life and background, but rather allow his or her work to speak for itself.
Hour of Writes offers a unique opportunity to writers of all types and abilities to rehearse their preoccupations, to experiment with genre and form, and above all, to do this on a regular basis. Composing the texts within the deceptive constraints offered by the weekly titles and the short time limit provides the chance to hone a skill that is not always appreciated in the 21st century, although the medieval scop knew and recognised the importance of swift, apposite composition. Perhaps most important, though, is the way in which Hour of Writes promotes the ideal of the textual community, one in which literary ideas and expressions are created, disseminated, read, and understood. This shared aspect of literary creativity is so important and so often overlooked, and it gave me great pleasure to read through these entries and to know that so many other readers were engaging with them, commenting on them, and remembering them.
Dr Kate McClune is a Lecturer in Medieval English at the University of Bristol. She has published widely on Older Scots and Arthurian Literature, and is particularly interested in vendetta and family loyalty in the mediaeval period. The book she keeps coming back to is 'Sweet William' by Richmal Crompton.
Winning Entry: In The Dark
In the Dark
For this old cowboy poet, there ain't nothin' worse than bein' in the dark whether it's sufferin' through the darkness of night or shiverin' alone in the darkness of mind. Either one of those can be terrifyin'. But it can also be enlightenin', dependin' on your state of mind and your mood at the time.
Most times, in the darkness of nature's night, there is the moon to stir the mind, to brighten the dark, and to shelter you from the inherited fears and biases of the ages. But there are hazards. That darkness, lighted by the moon, can have awesome, unexpected, and sometimes unwelcome outcomes as in this poem authored not long ago.
The western full moon is magic,
shinin’ up in the sky,
bright’nin’ up the whole universe
as time goes passin’ by.
It’s a mighty pleasant feelin’,
to see it shinin’ down,
like gettin’ a shot of moonshine
when you go into town.
That moon changes the whole landscape,
addin’ its moonlit hue,
makin’ all the shadows deeper
and soft’nin’ colors too.
It makes a cowboy handsomer,
the way he ought to be,
and makes ugly gals good lookin’,
the kind you like to see.
But it can lead you into trouble
with moonlit gals like that
and can quickly move from smoochin’
to things that might begat.
So avoid that moon if you can,
’cause it could change your life
and you might wake up some mornin’
with a real ugly wife.