Labyrinth – One classic film, fifty-five sonnets

When I first saw Labyrinth, it was love at first sight.

I was less smitten with the novelisation (sorry, ACH Smith!). I wished that it looked more like Sarah’s book. I wished that it was written more like Sarah’s book, something you could learn by heart.  I dabbled with the idea of turning it into a poem – a thought rapidly abandoned, as back then I didn’t even write poetry.

Fast forward to 2015. By this point I’d been writing poems for ten years, and even had some published. With the film’s thirtieth anniversary on the horizon, the thought of writing a poem returned. Rhyming couplets started drifting into my mind, though I felt they were too sing-songy, if that’s even a word. I didn’t want it to sound like nursery rhyme – rather, like a fairy tale.

I went back to the lines Sarah quotes from her book, and realised they’re almost iambic pentameter – that style beloved of Shakespeare, which lends itself to memorisation. Hardly surprising, as one draft of the script was a poetic novella written by Canadian poet Dennis Lee. So, possibly a sequence of sonnets?

But how many would I need? A quick glance at my Labyrinth DVD suggested that even if I could cover each chapter in one or two sonnets, I would have to write at least fifty (in his whole career, Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets). That would give me a poem about the length of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market. Much more than that, and it would be quicker to watch the movie rather than read the poems. I started scribbling, unsure if I could sustain my enthusiasm.

A sonnet is a poem with fourteen lines. There are several different types. In a Shakespearean sonnet, line 1 rhymes with line 3, line 2 with line 4. Then line 5 rhymes with line 7, line 6 rhymes with line 8. Line 9 rhymes with line 11, line 10 with line 12 – and the last two lines are a rhyming couplet. Each line has ten syllables – and, just to make things more complicated, a rhythm of alternating stressed and unstressed syllables. Good thing I love a challenge…

Then one morning in January I woke from a nightmare, to discover I was now living in a post-Bowie world.

Like many others, I was drawn to the shrines which started appearing around London, and I saw how often the messages people were leaving weren’t for Bowie, or even Ziggy – but for Jareth. For many people, Labyrinth was their introduction to Bowie – and now the goblin generation was mourning the loss of the Goblin King…

Suddenly I couldn’t stop writing. I wrote in my lunch break – on trains – at three o’clock in the morning.  I wrote at the Bowie mural in Brixton. I wrote at the Beckenham bandstand, where Bowie played a free festival. I wrote in the Zizzi’s restaurant which was once the Three Tuns pub, where Ziggy Stardust was first unveiled.

And now there were glimpses of Bowie in the poems, just as in the film you can glimpse Jareth’s face within the labyrinth. I was surprised how many titles of Bowie songs had managed to hide themselves between the lines.

Grief, transformed into fifty-five sonnets. No longer just a celebration of the movie, but a tribute to the man.

And I’ve made them into a book – available October 2016 from Troubador Publishing.