If you could choose any place and time in history in which to live and realise your creative ambitions, which would you pick?
A few years ago, if you’d asked me that question, as a poet, I’d have been spoilt for choice.
Ancient Ireland would be hard to beat. The Celts really knew how to treat a poet. The role of Bard was a respected position, as an official of the court and the guardian of the tribe’s history and tradition.
Poets’ satires were said to be so potent they could raise boils on the faces of their victims. They rode their chariots into battle, singing and playing the harp to encourage their troops – and protected by their magical aura, as it was bad luck to kill a poet.
Or how about Elizabethan England? The world was expanding – Europeans were sailing off to ‘discover’ far-flung lands, full of optimism and daring. And the English language was exploding – thousands of new words were added to the vocabulary, from classical and foreign languages, as well as the inventiveness of speakers and writers.
Exotic new verse forms were being imported from the continent, adapted and refitted for purpose – just as we did with American rock ‘n’ roll four centuries later. And poets were rock stars – verse drama was all the rage, which made it big business. Marlowe, Shakespeare, Jonson, Dekker and others saw their works play to packed houses every week.
In retrospect, it’s hardly surprising that this cultural and commercial melting-pot produced the greatest poet – dammit, the greatest writer – the English language has ever seen. And not satisfied with being a towering artistic genius, Shakespeare was also a highly successful entrepreneur.
But let’s not forget the Romantic Age. Revolution was in the air and poets were shaking off the shackles of the terminally dull Augustan period, and drawing inspiration from all kinds of sources – natural, supernatural, sexual, political and chemical.
Yes, like 20th-century rock stars, they had a habit of dying young or living too long and disappointing their fan base, but they left a hell of a back catalogue.
And there was still money in poetry in those days. Byron’s The Corsair sold ten thousand copies on the first day of publication. So John Keats wasn’t completely mad to turn his back on a lucrative career as a doctor and strike out as a freelance poet. He didn’t live to enjoy the fruits of his success, but history has been kinder to him than tuberculosis.
Or how about Modernist-era London? Once again, social revolutions were accompanied by a poetic revolution. What Picasso and Matisse did to the realist tradition in painting, Eliot and Pound did to the sedate conventions of Victorian poetry, “break[ing] the pentameter” and uncorking the genie of free verse. Poetry has never been the same since.
Whatever your creative field, you can probably reel off a similar list of Golden Ages of artistic and cultural achievement – maybe Renaissance Florence, Vienna at the turn of the 19th century, or Memphis in the fifties.
But these days, I’m coming round to the idea that of all the times and places I could have lived, as a writer and creative entrepreneur, right here and right now would be my number one choice.
Once again, social and cultural revolutions are in the air.
One by one, the internet is smashing old industries to smithereens. First the music industry yelped in protest, then the movie industry. Now publishers are the ones wailing and gnashing their teeth.
And you know what? Some of us are licking our lips.
Some of us are looking at a once-in-a-lifetime, once in-a-century, maybe even once-in-a-millennium chance to tear up the old rules and find new ways of creating, publishing, connecting and doing business.
Instead of working for the Man or going cap in hand to gatekeepers, we can build our own platform and find our own audience. And if we want the full ‘rock star’ experience, it’s a lot less effort to toss an iPad out the window than a TV.
Yes, we’re also experiencing a once-in-a-century financial meltdown. But that only makes it even more urgent to find new ways of doing things.
Now, you may agree or disagree with me about the merits of the 21st-century versus your favourite period from history (or Utopia from the future) but that’s academic.
Whatever your personal preferences, there has never been, and never will be a better time to be creative than here and now.
Because now is the only time we have.
You and I have today, and the chance to create.
We can waste it on busywork, or harking back to the Golden Age, or daydreaming about the future.
Or we can apply ourselves to tackling our next big creative challenge…
…and take one small step down a path that could lead to something amazing.
What (and when) do you think?
If you could choose any time or place to live and realise your creative ambitions, when and where would you pick?
What are you going to create today?
I’ll shortly be opening the doors to a new group of students for The Creative Entrepreneur Roadmap – an in-depth course that will show you how to take full advantage of the opportunities facing creative people in the 21st-century.
If you’d like to be first in line when the doors open – and to read the multimedia Guide to Creative Entrepreneurship that introduces the course – you can sign up here.Tweet