The Green Maiden Project
As usual, the project changed as it went along
In the beginning was a guess about what a second poem by the Gawain Poet might look like. I went back to the sources, beyond Malory to the Welsh mythology about Taliesin and Gwalchmai where the Gawain stories came from.
As soon as a Green Maiden instead of a Green Knight had arrived, it seemed natural to weave back into the plot a version of the beheading game that might belong to a story in which the instigator was a woman.
Gawain's chivalry is important in the original poem, but I wanted to revisit the merits of chivalry and imply the Poet's disillusion due to the passage of time. My Poet was an older man, and Wales and England have changed since he was young.
I made the Maiden's challenge a verbal conundrum rather than a trial of strength and valour. I reworked Chaucer's question from the The Tale of the Wife of Bath, and made it more about chivalry. The question wasn't original to Chaucer, and since Chaucer's Tale also used the tradition of the 'Loathly Lady,' it was in keeping with the medieval way of doing things to combine the elements and give the question a twist that might have been the Poet's own.
The task was then to imitate the style of the original, to see how far alliterative verse could be written in modern English. The example of Simon Armitage's translation led the way, and I began each section of my Gawain story with a few verse stanzas to recall the medieval sound world before taking the story on in prose.
As the composition went on I found myself imagining the Poet himself, and then the times and places where he might have worked. I know parts of North Wales well and it was easy to put my Poet in those places, to imagine the small town at the foot of a hill with a ruined castle on it, and then to populate the town and imagine the people coming together to hear the poem. No sooner had the process of imagining begun than people started to turn up of their own accord.
Mark Thomas, his brother and their father were there from the beginning, but Father Jacob, Magge, Alyss and Anne arrived uninvited, joining in with their own dialogue, living their lives around Mark Thomas and the central event of the performance over four days. Putting together the lives of these people -- their houses, the wool industry, the woods, their ceremonies -- recording the experiences of the characters was one of the joys of composition.
The stories, Gawain's, Mark Thomas', the Poet's and Brea's, all of them were about things coming to an end -- chivalry, a sense of belonging within a landscape, ways of telling stories -- all were closing down or changing. No other end possible than a death, but the reader may be comforted by the happy and long lives lived by Mark Thomas, Magge, and of course little Anne.