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Vince Laws talks about the commission of his radio play Small Frayed Knot / 7 June 2010

Late last year, Future Radio, Norwich, commissioned a 15-minute radio play from me. Soon after that, I spent a week in Yorkshire on an Arvon residential poetry course in Ted Hughes’s old house, specifically aimed at taking poetry from page to stage. I was encouraged to fill in the back-stories to some of my more confessional poems. All this together resulted in The Small Frayed Knot.

The title is a line from my poem Diagnosed, which I made into a visual piece by painting the left side of my body red, then lying in the foetal position on a bed sheet, and writing the text in ‘blood’ on the inside of the glass.

I first performed it live on Future Radio on the last day of LGBT History Month (February), and because I wasn’t sure I could cast and rehearse it in time, I played all the parts. This also meant that once I’d learned it, I could perform it anywhere, anytime. You can listen to the podcast on Future Radio.

Meanwhile I sent a copy out to lots of people. The Albany Theatre in Deptford, London, selected it for a rehearsed reading in front of an audience and a panel of judges last April 2010.

Albany Theatre said: “The Small Frayed Knot is like clinging to a stagecoach as it rattles along an unknown track to an unknown destination in excited anticipation. It’s beautiful, spiky, shocking and brave. A 21st century HIV+ queer poet tells his truth.”

I find travel to new places daunting, so I didn’t attend, but a friend telephoned during the performance and I listened in. It was weird, to be honest, but exciting. An Indian chap played me and the rest of the cast were black, so the voices were completely different to the ones in my head!

I went to the doctor’s on my birthday.
He was so embarrassed he’d forgotten the date,
he gave me a terminal illness.

Ever since, Angels have followed me relentlessly,
opening doors and showing me skies
that the living never notice.

If the small frayed knot in my guts comes undone
I will empty into the universe
until the atoms of who I am become undetectable.

I consider stepping under the proverbial bus
but sense my soul already has a suitcase packed.
In defiance, I buy a return and sit upstairs.

There’s nothing brave about living with death
when you consider the options.
If I believe in fate, I can’t cheat it.

Keywords: arvon foundation