In the beginning was the ache. Before a word could be scratched on the paper, before a vowel sound could be mouthed, the writer knew the ache, felt its hum under their ribcage, sensed its rhythm catching in their breath, weighing their steps. And the ache hurt. And the ache thrilled. It was what they longed to say, lodged and looming in their body, before it could be said. And the writer learned to open themselves to the ache – to nurse it in their belly, sleep in its shadow, blink in its strange glare, yield to its drop in temperature, run with its spike in heartrate. And the ache started stretching, a fine line, a thin sentence, joining the page to the solar plexus. It was slow, it was risky. But it was the point of writing any words at all.
I’m a believer that the ache is what the reader wants to hear, wants to share in. They don’t want to hear another piece mirroring the rules, following the formula. They don’t want the stale and expected and uniform to be placed in an order that their eyes have travelled many times already, bored before they reach the predictable place they have always known was coming at the end of the model sentence. They want the familiar defied, the norm cracked open. They want their own ache echoed, answered, woken. They want to be stirred and rocked. Readers crave a little mayhem.
It’s best in the beginning then, as writer Neil Gaiman points out, not to know the rules. Rules like to stem the ache, to camouflage it, cancel it. They like to disavow that the words ever came from that dark place of yesterday and need under your diaphragm. They do that by toning down your voice, muting your heartbeat, colouring your imagery… even by bleaching your skin – as K-T Harrison illustrates so powerfully in her work in this issue. You need to watch what the rules would have you whitewash, marginalize, take care what they urge you to forget. Obey instructions to forget – as D. A. Taylor’s luminous prose-poem that opens this volume demonstrates – and you’ve erased the raw disordered music of desire, the lush and painful vocabulary of life that made you thirst for language in the first place, that drove you to expose the ache by letting loose words. It’s a piece, along with much else in this issue, which pushes past limits, past genres, letting the ache overrule, the feel decide the form. In Mark Anthony Houlahan’s “still life with beer and a karl maughan painting” the artist remembers the blooms of obsession “over and over and over and over” letting his impulses swallow vast canvases that burst beyond containing walls, his paints driven by the same engulfing ache but “always find[ing] a new way” to flood the garden. In Alicia Gray’s “The World Is What You See” the artist tunnels into strange pinpoints of stilled perception to tease and trick “surprise[s] of existence” from microscopic details. These pieces refuse to conform to categories: are they poetry? are they prose? Who cares – they are what the ache has grown. As Renee Boyer’s“Ars Poetica” testifies, the unruly call to write grips the body, invading the eardrums in the midst of meetings, welling in the bloodstream when you’re “running, showering,/fucking, sitting/an exam.” It’s just as well that readers go on wanting words that speak from the viscera, words that “bite” and “burrow,” “stroke” and “rake.”
So welcome to another issue of Mayhem, to another sampling of voices that know how to move and rattle, seduce and haunt. It is always exciting to present another flush of fresh work from writers who know, as Mark Ravenhill puts it, that the job of artists is not “making do with the way things are right now, being nice and obedient, ticking the boxes that someone else has defined for you.” The task of artists, Ravenhill insists, is to be “new, a freak, challenging, disruptive, naughty, angry, irresponsibly playful” – it’s a pleasure to present another volume of Mayhem packed with beautiful rebellious work by writers fulfilling the holy misrule of this calling.
1. See Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art: Do The Stuff That Only You Can Do.”
2. Mark Ravenhill, “We need to have a Plan B: Edinburgh Festival Speech.”