Friday, 15 January 2016

To fathom the falling: A third take on Ponyboy Curtis

Note added 9 July 2021: following the discovery that, through all the years I was working with him, Chris Goode was consuming images of child abuse, I've returned to a self-evaluation process rethinking the work I did with him. That process began in 2018 and some of what it raised is detailed in this post from December that year, in which I acknowledge that I was complicit in some of the harms he caused, for instance by erasing the work of other women who worked with him, fuelling a cult of genius around him, and consistently asking people who criticised his work (particularly the sexually explicit work) to see it in softer ways. A second post is now in process in which I look in more detail at the ways in which Chris coerced and abused particularly young men who worked with him, using radical queer politics to conceal these harms and police reactions. I hope that any other writing about his work on this blog, including the post below, will be read with that information in mind.

Further note added 27 July 2021: that new post is now written and undergoing an extensive rewriting process as it's read and commented on by people who appear in it (that is, other people who worked with Chris in the seven years when I did). It could be up to a month before it's ready to share publicly, but I'm happy to share it privately in the meantime.

This is the latest in a series of writings on Ponyboy Curtis: the first, titled The first coming of Ponyboy Curtis, was published on this blog in May 2015. The second, titled Other Hospitalities: Reflections onChris Goode’s Ensemble Ponyboy Curtis and their First Performance,At the Yard, 12-16 May 2015, was published by Contemporary Theatre Review in October 2015.
This was written in January 2016, after attending an invite-only sharing of a Ponyboy Curtis 'field' exercise, at Camden People's Theatre, 14 December 2015.
This is supposed to have a quotation from Neil Bartlett's Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall at the end of section ii, but I lost the copy of the book in which I'd marked the relevant passage, and despite buying another and raking through it twice, I haven't been able to remember which it was. I've used a different quote as the opening sentence.
This is dedicated to CG and CR, with love.


Small gestures can be great pleasures, they can mean a great deal, when you get to know somebody else's body and its reactions as well as your own.

i. [you]

Even now, I can't pretend to understand what you're doing.
You ask what I see and honestly? For twenty or so minutes it's
nothing. Nothing! Just bodies
in space,
pallid in the half-light,
crouching, or standing, or walking with inscrutable purpose.
An abstract of porn, stripped of the fucking.
It's nothing
until it becomes everything.
And it doesn't seem to matter how much I watch, or think, or give my attention,
how much I absorb, am absorbed, it's still mysterious, unfathomable.
Maybe it would help to read more, but the words to explain are as hieroglyphs,
runes. I'm a believer in alchemy, transmutational process,
and that's what I see:
Bodies become pellucid,
irradiated by gesture
a touch so soft
so tender
as to be almost unbearable.
The light, the lightness,
are almost unbearable.
And I don't understand it.
But as I look around this room (not without sentiment),
the tightness of its walls,
it strikes me again that while I see the crescent,
you see the whole of the moon.

ii. [them]

Of course I wonder how it feels, suddenly to have this intrusion of people in what is usually your private space. Some of you
I know; we hug before it starts, while you're still wearing your clothes; we talk about books,
or how we are, not really asking the question this time, although there is a shrewdness behind the eyes,
a reading beneath and between.
The lights dim and immediately you strip. I watch you, and I watch the room,
for awkwardness. There is a wariness, perceptible as a tension flickering in the skin, or perhaps just a question:
what will happen and how?
Familiar motions at first: crossing, striding; it's like a game of basketball, minus the ball,
the focus instead on infinitesimal gesture.
And then
And then
I can't remember how it happens.
Maybe it's Paul and Gareth – does it matter? – close enough almost to touch:
body hairs, electrified, reaching towards the other,
that close, nothing more.
Maybe it's two hands clasped, just briefly; or the first of the falls:
a murmur – falling! – and then there he is, holding you, supporting you, not keeping you up, but helping you down to the floor.
Maybe it's one of you wearing another's shoes: the intimacy of that sharing,
the hushed, calm statement that however different, we are the same.
The same in heart and blood and bone, the same in hurt and longing.
For a moment I wonder about jealousy, and notice how irrelevant that is.
Another – falling! – or maybe bodies leaning together, the curve of the spine, the tautness of chest.
Of course it's funny sometimes, how you'll be watching two people intently, and then a third will cross that path of vision, and suddenly all you see is cock and balls.
But this isn't nakedness so much as openness: a generous reaching, not just to each other, but to all of us watching,
just as long as we're ready.

iii. [him]

His loneliness slashes through me like a whip through the skin of a useless old nag.
The honest answer to how are you is somewhat more withdrawn.
I watch these bodies and wonder what he misses:
the touch of teeth (in any sweet kiss)
or stomachs that squash like pillows.
The burn from spine to thighs.
I see fingertips brush skin, limbs begin to meld,
smell their heat, hear its crackle.
Loneliness chokes.


iv. [us]

I know from the way you pull up from the floor
as though hauling your body through tar.
I know from the way you lean on the wall
how strong the storm in your heart.
I know
I feel it too
here in the pit of my stomach
here in the weight of my lungs.
I know when I leave
I won't want to speak
to anyone, only to you.
We've seen nothing but warmth, solicitude, love, but its impact has unbalanced us.
All we can do is cling to each other,
buffeted still, but protected.
Mine says I know, I felt it, and thank you
for not asking anything more.


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