This week Fiona Lindsay discusses the power of language.
Yesterday the poet Imtiaz Dharker described to me how she puts herself in the middle of her writing in order to enable her true voice to speak. Speaking and listening has featured heavily over the past few weeks here in Dubai, as writers from all over the globe have congregated to participate in the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. It's not all about books - although they do feature obviously - but it is all about words, that thing we call language and how we use it to tell our stories, to share our obsessions and opinions and to communicate with each other. Imtiaz described beautifully how she begins to construct a poem from being drawn to a colour, sound or phrase. For her poetry is the means to express the inexpressible. Shakespeare's sonnet 43 offered her inspiration and a framing for her own stanza about loss and remembrance - finally seven years after her husband’s death, she was able to express her grief, as well as the joy of a shared love. Imtiaz talked about using the silence to speak volumes.
Earlier in the day the playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker spoke to me about how being silenced as a child growing up in the Basque Region, being robbed of language, had most likely been the singular reason for becoming a playwright and how she uses the form to examine the issues that concern her. Timberlake spoke with a passion about the power that plays have to get under the skin of received opinion and change the way we view the world. In many ways she's like a sculptor, chipping away at a rock to shape an image. When she's making a play words come and go right up to the first night, until she's satisfied that the language of the piece strikes the correct tone.
Tone of voice is something that linguist and writer David Crystal suggests we must always use to our greatest advantage and those that can move seamlessly from one expression to another have the most power. Language is a powerful tool, but it's how you use it that matters. Isn't it interesting that actors are often dismissed as not doing real work, of being light and fluffy. Actors are the masters of communication. Not only are they able to give flourish to their everyday exchanges, but also they are also able to slip into the shoes of another person and through adopting a different voice reveal another's story. David spoke about performance and its value within education. We discussed literacy and how the powers that be have got it the wrong way round. It's generally acknowledged that to be a good writer then you have to be a good reader. This can disadvantage huge numbers of young people. David suggests that to be good at either of these things you have to firstly be a good speaker and enjoy the sounds that come from within and the exchange with another person. This exchange is vital. Listening carefully, having the ability to watch and sense the situation. Theatre and performance enhances all of this and must be at the centre of all literacy initiatives.
To write about it the world you have to be alive within in it and it begins by speaking aloud.