Got this poetry event tonight. Should be preparing. So far today I’ve lost a contact lens and spent a good 30-45 minutes looking for it as it’s the last one! Eventually found it tucked into the space between the sprockets on the old fashioned, brass taps on my wash basin. But not before I had to dash out to an appointment, on my bicycle, in the rain. Fortunately it wasn’t raining hard.
Woke up early this morning and did three pages longhand, then started a looooong email to my brothers. Didn’t get it finished as I had to get ready for the appointment – which was when I lost the contact lens and had to go wearing my old sixties wire-rimmed glasses.
Spent 15-20 minutes looking for this particular pic, then it wouldn’t crop – for whatever reason, probably because the internet connection is too slow!
Phone rang during that process and I missed the call, and there was no number!
What am I gonna read? How to choose?
And I should be preparing for the poetry reading/performance.
20 minutes worth of poems. For a group of people who don’t know me, and don’t know my poetry. How does one choose 20 minutes worth of poems from a life time of poetry?
Do I start at the beginning and read one poem for every period of manic writing? Do I stand up and perform from memory every poem I can remember then stop when 20 minutes is up? Do I painstakingly pour over my poems today and choose the ones I really want them to hear?
A Little Poetic History
When I first started to present my poetry, I was going every week to one or two events and delivering the latest poems. That was in Ottawa in the mid-eighties. I’d just finished my degree in theatre and Juan O’Niel who organised the events at Rosie Lee’s Tea Room said to me one night: “Alison when are you going to get rid of the paper and start performing your poems, in costume with props?” So I started to create poetry performances, a type of theatre – but not – in costume and props.
One of the first ones I did was Belladonna’s Adventures. It was a forty-five minute rap poem built round a poem inspired by a dream. It was the opening of that piece that Tom Cunliffe heard me performing at Brighton’s Hammer and Tongue that got me booked for tonight. He asked me: “Can you put 15 minutes together?”
So I guess I should do that piece again – the opening poem, that is, not the full 45 minutes!
Belladonna’s Adventures had quite a life – it went from being a 45-minute performance with a backdrop of slides presented as part of Ottawa’s Fall Festival of the Arts – in 1986? – to being a theatre piece presented at Theatre Inconnu in Victoria, B.C. in 1993, to being yet another theatre piece directed by Paul Hawkins at Montreal’s Fringe Festival in 2001.
The next big piece was called Aquathoughtics, based on my swimming poems. I made a bathing suit and matching cap for the performance and presented it on stage fully kitted out for a swim, complete with goggles, with a backdrop of gelled black and white slides of myself and a gorgeous male swimmer, underwater. Rob did the photos. Oh what is Rob’s last name? I’ll have to dig into my archives to find that. Ridgen – I think that was it – Rob Ridgen. Aquathoughtics was presented at Ottawa’s Gallery 101 as part of a performance art evening, curated by Paul Couilliard – a master of performance-art-event manifesting. Paul went on to be the curator of many performance art events and I went on swimming.
Aquavision- A Poetic Swimming Art Video
The next big poetry thing was an art video I made with a Canada Council Explorations grant, in 1988 – still swimming, it was called Aquavision. I think 15 minutes of swimming images with Alan Stivel’s harp in the background and me reciting my poetry. I wanted a good shot of butterfly, and recruited my gorgeous swimmer – oh what was his name? Shame on me for forgetting. He was such a nice guy. It’ll come to me...anyway, he and a friend of his swam lengths and lengths of butterfly so I could perfect the shot. How sweet is that? (and of course he was gay!) Aquavision was presented at SAW Gallery in Ottawa.
…and oh yes, I’m forgetting the earlier performances, one on the upper level of the Rideau Centre Shopping Mall – again part of Ottawa’s Fall Festival of the Arts. It was a spoof on the fashion industry and Madonna. I wore a corset – backwards, with the boobs stuffed, so I had breasts front and back, stockings with the seams up the front, and a big black leather purse that I had split and wore as a skirt. What a hoot! That was in ’85 or ’86. …and the feminist rant at Gallery 101 dressed in chicken wire decorated with garters and stocking and various other feminine accoutrements.
Then I left Ottawa, and all those poetry performance events and went on another journey that took me to Montreal, and then touring the poetry performances to Hamilton Artists Centre and Saint Catharine’s Artists Centre.
The journey continued to Victoria, British Columbia, still swimming, and writing about it. Only now I was also doing triathlon and writing poems about cycling and running as well. But it was the rain forest of Vancouver Island that fuelled the next big inspiration to create a performance, and Carmannah’s Magical Forest emerged.
Carmannah’s Magical Forest
Billed as a play for one woman with puppets, it was built around poems and stories inspired by trail-building in the Walbran Valley. It was an invitation to children to venture forth with their imagination and celebrate the magic of nature. Carmannah travelled with me to Michigan and was presented at the Traverse City Town Hall as a Christmas event for children, then back to Montreal where it was presented at the Centaur Theatre as part of the Petro Canada Children’s series – circa 1998?
How She Played the Game – and other sidelines
Meanwhile – back in Victoria, I’d produced Cynthia Cooper’s How She Played the Game for the 1994 Commonwealth Games, and that show distracted me from poetry and had me touring central Canada and the U.S., to the Canadian Olympic Academy in Calgary and eventually to Budapest in 1999.
Alongside that, back in Victoria I’d started designing and making fabric hats and selling them in artisan markets. By the time I got back to Montreal in 1996 (or was it ’97), sewing hats had been swapped for sewing pictures to hang on the wall, and poems had been replaced with volumes and volumes of stories – still unpublished, most have never been seen by eyes other than mine.
Hungary and forward – the Last 10 Years
In 2002 I went back to Hungary, and there I continued sewing paintings and started to write poetry again – furiously and spontaneously – in response to Hungarian jazz music. Most of those poems have never been presented publicly.
Then Spain, where for three years, I wrote almost NOTHING. But I did start singing the blues!!! I wonder why?
Now here, in Hove, once again inspired to write poems, mostly about the sea front.
How Do I Choose What to Present Tonight?
How do I choose from that collection of poetry? – oh yes, I forgot Techno Toys, recorded with Anima Sound System in Hungary – all jumbled up with sewing hats and paintings and writing stories – and freelance journalism and teaching English – to deliver 20 minutes of inspired and inspiring entertainment for an audience I know very little about? Do I just read poems written about men I obsessed over in answer to the question Where are the men? That would be kinda dull – though there are some pretty good poems in that category.
A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a workshop for poets with musicians, also organised by Tom Cunliffe. For one performance in the workshop I stood up and dumped all my poems on the floor – all those I had with me that had been printed off at some time or other.
And oh yes, I forgot the Labyrinth poetry performances at Vienna’s Cafe Kafka and Poetry in the Park at Vienna’s Theseus Temple. And the performances with the Speaking Music Trio at the Godor Klub in Budapest, and the Fire performance at the Art Agora at Sziget Festival……the melding of Textile Art and Performance Poetry.
Perhaps I’ll just take all the ones I have printed and point the audience to this blog and this blog and trust that the poems will entice them to come an have a look.
Evolution, Distraction and The Struggle
I’d planned to make some books (if you click on that Sziget Fire link you can see a pic of one book I’ve made, and here’s another) ….but I got preoccupied with my perceived injustice of U.K.’s 1988 Housing Act and the inequities that exist in this country between property owners and tenants, and spent a good 7 days slogging away at getting some kind of understanding of a Housing Act that lets landlords take possession of a rented home, obligating responsible, good paying tenants to stop whatever they are doing, pack up their life, and hunt for another home – another home that will probably again be only temporary.
…and learning songs that others have written – and singing (which is one of Belladonna’s life lessons, you’ll have to see the show or hear the whole poem sometime to understand that remark!) as a kind of therapy for this nomadic lifestyle I’ve been living for the past several years. Nomadic not entirely by choice – rather by circumstance in a world gone crazy for selfish, economic wealth at the expense of all else.
Yes, even at the expense of art and poetry, and most especially at the expense of those who create the art and poetry. Creative Partnerships’ Sue Hadley’s talk about Carrogance at Brighton’s recent TEDx pretty well sums it up.
My life seems to have traded the economic wealth that buys a secure home for the freedom to be who I am – an artist. And I traded selling myself to the status quo in exchange for the freedom to create with integrity.
…and it’s all so ephemeral. But that’s a topic for another post.
Now to have something to eat and organise those papers for tonight! I can’t proof-read this one more time!