Stewart Parker is (rather was; he died in 1988) a playwright from Belfast. From a
working class Protestant background (like Van). He wrote a series of very powerful
plays about family and neighbourhood life in working class Belfast communities --
one of the very few playwrights to systematically explore the human dimension of the
so-called Troubles. Read this excerpt: an appreciation of "Madame George".
A review by David Chance:
After reading this book, an "examination of Belfast culture in the early
lyrics of Van Morrison and Stewart Parker's play, 'Pentecost'" (as described
on the book jacket), I am left with the feeling of "was there a point to all
this?". Steeped in the language of an English major in college, i.e. fancy
footwork but no punch, one can be glad that this was a limited edition
publication (1000 copies).
Part 1, "On the Burning Ground: Belfast and Van Morrison", begins with an
overview of Belfast culture in the post-WWII era, trying to establish the
setting and environment in which youth were raised. He then moves on to
introduce Van Morrison into this environment, touching on the music scene of
the times. Some of Morrison's early song lyrics are used to assist in
painting a portrait of the changing youth culture. The writing skips around
from observation to observation, supposedly to provide a framework on which
to hang this extended essay, only to have it slip through the loose threads
onto "the burning ground" where it belongs. While there are a few
interesting factoids brought up throughout the section, there isn't much
substance or insight to be found.
Part 2, "A Hard Act: Stewart Parker's Pentecost", is a critic's overblown
praise of one of his favorite plays, and seems like it should have been left
on the bar napkin where it was obviously first written.
Part 3, "The Rest Is History: Belfast Notes", begins with a bus ride to
Belfast, which results in reveries of the author's past experiences there in
the late-'60s and 1970s. Good doses of his poetry are thrown in along with
other boring information on how he began writing the stuff.
Part 4, "A Child Of The Empire", finally brings this whole thing to an end by
trying to summarize the author's feelings about the changes in Belfast,
politically and culturally. The closing paragraph is a perfect example of
the writing style which is so intellectualized that it loses any meaning it
was attempting to convey in the first place:
"'Nostalgia': nostos, return home; algos, pain. It
is the common condition of many hundreds of thousands
(millions?) in these islands of Ireland and Britain.
The battle for cultural and political hegemony - who
validates and legitimises the 'authentic' version of
the past, for which reasons and, most importantly, with
what effect on artistic values - should not obscure the
dynamic, wayward and unforeseeable power of the
imagination to dramatise the irretrievably human
consequences and desires of our simply being here, in
one place rather than another."
Dawe may have best summed up his book in his own words when, on page 77,
describing a play he once wrote, says it was "a short incoherent thing".
Overall rating: don't bother; read a cereal box instead.
Notes on the evolution of this title:
Originally (as mentioned in Wavelength),
"Belfast born poet and critic Gerald Dawe" was said to be writing a "major
biography" of Van, with the working title The Burning Ground: the Making
of a Musician. The rumor was that Jonathan Cape was to publish it
in 1996. However circumstances changed (as noted
below) - the eventual result was Dawe's The Rest is
Van mailing list member Sam McCready noted that "Gerald Dawe [...]
went to Orangefield and
was a pupil of mine for some years. He has since become a respected
poet and academic. His biography should be interesting because he
shares a common background with Morrison and they would have a
rapport in any discussions."
A later update from perro@EURONET.NL (17 Apr 1997):
Gerald Dawe most certainly *did* plan to write a biography of VTM,
and even had a deal with a publisher. Halfway through, though, the
project was abandoned. I don't know the deeper reasons, but what I
can tell you is that GD's interest was in the Belfast years only,
and not so much the later stuff. The project was then superceded by
[a Van Morrison] Collected Lyrics.
Meanwhile, a long (10,000 word) essay called "The Burning Ground"
resulted from the work on the abortive biography. It blends GD's own
memories of growing up in the East Belfast that he and Van have in
common with a reading of mainly Astral Weeks. The lecture I
attended in 1994 was a preview of this longer piece. The essay "The
Burning Ground" is to be published alongside a personal memoir and a
piece on the Belfast playwright Stewart Parker (some interesting
parallels there!). Last time I talked to GD, he didn't have a
publisher for the three long essays yet, but in the past his
literary criticism has been published by Northern Ireland's Lagan
As far as the Van content of Mr Dawe's efforts is concerned I can
tell you that I thought the lecture I attended was one of the most
original and insightful pieces yet. I just looked up my notes, and
unfortunately they don't make much sense now. But what I do remember
is an interesting point about infrastructure in AW: the persistent
images of trains, tracks and paths. He also talked about the kind of
places that Cyprus Avenue, Fitzroy, etc. actually are. There were
strong overtones of a kind of dreamy private world, half urban and
half rural, and of escaping into or out of that world (through the
aforemenioned means of transport). I really can't say anymore, it's
too long ago and I don't want to give the wrong impression. All will
be revealed soon, though, I'm sure.
Part of the van-the-man.info unofficial website