Evangeline

 

Three women in red arms raised in similar pose - screaming

An encounter with ‘Evangeline,’ the theatre art performance at Canberra Theatre Studio Courtyard, 3 December 2015

Evangeline (or, the grief that does not speak whispers the o’erfraught heart, and bids it break)

never did I ask if you were you

were one

then
as you are many as you are

many
many, a
room full of
people watching each other
listening
moving

underneath

in front

griefs of the body, bodies,
writhing (my shame)
split
twitch twitchy tic tic tic
hot leaky, of this

after we asked
after we asked
if you were one, again,
it was a way to understand
yes –
her fluid arms the past
decisions
of a dance, dances, dancers
anger and pain right upfront
upstage
who knew what?

how to stand with this
how to be with you
how to touch
how to respond
how to leave you
as one
as two
as us
as many

A smoky room, gulping a dacquiri, tongue wrenched with lemon, I waited and relaxed and chatted and listened to the music in the Canberra Theatre Centre Studio Courtyard, (train – oh oh oh train – I remember, I remember, take me b –ack, take me– back) knowing I was in Chenoeh Miller’s Theatre of Love, a place I didn’t entirely know I was entering until I was there, it was so familiar. I will just leave the images I took and my poem at the beginning of this post, to evoke the experience. And to also say, never miss Miller’s work, try to get there. I also wanted to honour the artists Peta Ward, Alicia Jones, Erica Field and Ruby Rowat, whose extraordinary performances of intense physicality joined with the audience in ways I have only experienced in Little Dove Theatre.

Smoky dark coloured lights room with female performer very close to audience

We sat for an hour with the performers before the ‘beginning’ of the show, talking, drinking, watching, as they moved, and we were joined in the space.

So close

So close

We are together, however hard that might be

We are together, however hard that might be

After Evangeline I realised my own grief has stirred, surprised, I carry it in me calling it something else, as it pops out like a small disturbed snarly animal, but it is calming down, healing a little, getting used to its new name. Time. Love and kindness. Being with. And expressions and experiences like Evangeline, help.

Evangeline was on for three nights. In my opinion, so far, reviews have reflected what I experienced and I am linking them here so you if you missed out you can feel a little connected, and watch out for Miller’s next production. I never want to miss a Little Dove Theatre Art performance since I saw ‘From this.

School colours

Two image of author around age 6, one dressed up as Batman in the backyard, with gap teeth, pointing the batman at the camera, one in full formal portrait with school uniform looking angelic

I have been thinking about all the school leavers, celebrating, beginning or continuing jobs, waiting for results, and how so many years later startlingly clear memories of early days at school still come back to me. I look at photos of me now, and I can still see that school child, as well as the middle-aged person I am now. I see this same double image of friends I know from school as well. This is an aspect of time and memory that is so beautiful and strange. Perhaps it is a little like living in that fast growing body of a child, and looking down on the pencil marks and dates on the back of a door that recorded your height so recently. Feeling transformed over and over again; outgrowing clothes that still seemed new. So I thought I would share School Colours, which was published in the Canberra Times many years ago.

I also remembered School Colours when I saw Kurzel’s Macbeth  (you will see why). I recalled sitting in the cinema with my class mates and English teachers watching Polanski’s Macbeth, and being taken out of my everyday life onto a cold beach with the three weird sisters. It remains one of my great film going memories, when I felt my world crack open, and I found myself somewhere new (and somewhere very old).

Jack Frost’s fingers reach around the blackboard, touching the letters and numbers. His ice crown drips, the chalk snowflakes stick to his long blue nose. Stalactites (pull up your tights) grow along the bottom of the board. Our Kindergarten teacher draws the seasons. The blackboard monitor, duster trembling, reaches on tiptoe to erase Winter. Chalk flowers bloom in Miss Heath’s hands.

Brush rasp on shiny paper, the hairs bend into the surface. Blue sky, green grass, I bend low so they are all I can see. A red drop falls into the picture and bleeds into the sky and grass. I wipe my nose on my hand and the colour is there too. The colour from myself.

All the junior girls sit cross legged, giggling, hands on heads, teachers clap, and a Television rolls in. Television at school? In the middle of the day? It’s because of that man in the moon. Tiny men bounce, stopping lessons. One small step for a man … The moon is blue. The teachers say to remember this day. I will remember the big TV in the wooden box.

A picture of a a space suit with the authors reflection in the face shield, taking the photo

Self portrait in space suit at Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex

North Sydney Olympic Pool, chlorine blue and salt eyes. Luna Park leers over the wall, at speedo cut crotches, escaping pubes, and breasts sizes A to E. Changing underneath a towel, skidding on the slimy floor, why am I on the end of the highest diving board, with a ladderful of laughing girls behind? The sky, the water, the air, impact, and sudden pain like the humiliation of a twanged bra strap.

Nobody goes into the end toilet. In there is a smoking incinerator, its door ajar, waiting. Everybody watches. Napkins in brown paper bags stuffed in lockers. Red stains. The reticent group of girls who don’t go swimming that week. A smeared pad in the middle of the floor, kicked under the desks.

Leaning forward into the mirror, I check that the blue halter bikini top shows, and undo another button to make sure it does. A hint of beach weekends, and boyfriends with long blonde hair, (nobody knows the bikini is home made.) Silver star sign around my neck, vaseline lips and eyelashes, strands of bleached hair, I wait at the bus stop alone, gripping my pass.

The teacher lays the drama out for us, ambition, betrayal, murder, the natural order turned and the elements exploding. She prowls the class conjuring the story so its poetry will be ours. It begins with the witches, on a cold beach, digging in the sand. They pull from the pit a blue fleshed hand, and ask ‘When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?’ We think our teacher is a witch, with her thick lips and dark hair. Does she sway naked in a fire lit cavern like these witches? In the coven I see a girl, her woman’s body newly formed.

The apple is my breakfast, my lunch. Dinner I eat while Mum watches. But the apple, its red skin, white flesh, is my desire for the day, all I will allow my body.

Blue eyeshadow heavy on her sculpted lids, white lipstick, leather mini, long red hair, leaning forward we devour every aspect of her. The disapproval of the Canteen Mothers whispers across the playground, as she explains dialectical materialism, perched on the edge of a desk.

Perhaps there was a story, with a line drawing it through, a thread pulled from the weft for embroidery to embellish. I remember the finger prick, the red stain on the white cloth, my incomplete patterns held up for ridicule.

At the reunion school-day fables are retold, all those triumphs and subversions, characters and jokes. The teachers we hated. I don’t really remember. Incidents shatter as I grow older. I see myself now as the persecuted teacher. A woman earning a hard living.

The mirror turns on itself, corridors of reflections, and a crowd assembles. After ten years the girls are women, each with a life carefully held together. I see the plain girl is beautiful, the stupid girl accomplished, the bright girl dull. But we pretend to be the same for this night, and we are told into a story again.

Afterwards I hold my intensely coloured pictures, my only true memories, and find another, and another within myself, then shuffle them away again. My hands reach out empty and open, at last ready to receive and understand the teachers’ gifts.

Sarah St Vincent Welch attended SCEGGS Redlands, Cremorne (Sydney) from 1966-78. For those 12 years she wore blue, and at night all her dreams were set in school. She was in Roseby house, whose colours were red and white.

 

 

Their heart beats … from this

A woman a man a woman their shadows cast against the wall a shadow play what is this she tells him faces him but I can’t hear I can’t hear can anyone hear what is it I can’t hear her and he turns from us so we can’t see his face. Is this what I think it is, this separation?

dancer

dancers_facing   The woman and man's shadows are tall against the wall and cast across images on the gallery wall of a man and mirror with water in its frame

They dip dip in time is it work a factory line are they making something is it preparation sustenance exercise manufacturing is she at a sink a conveyor belt a bench she gazes out to us as if through a window and she must see us we are so close and I see us some of us in her eyes her wide wide open eyes I don’t know what to do I want the woman and man to stop to be still but if we are all still and they are still what will there be? And the woman on the side sitting on a stool facing the audience is she excluded do I do we presume this? I worry for them oh I worry at so much work how it continues. Dip squat stir place back and up again down.

A woman in in a bright orange dress, it seems she is making something with repetitive movements over and over

Is she working, dancing, making … what is she thinking … ?

A large shadow of the woman with her arm raised a if she is working, making something

A man holds a glass of water for her to drink water, and she drinks

A member of the audience quenches her thirst

An audience might be happiest on the other side as that is where they know how to be but some join in as I did I did last time not knowing what to do now one blows their breath on the sweaty skin at the nape of her neck and then her forehead another brings her a glass of water but she gestures he should hold the glass for her to drink so there must be rules are they made in the moment or before for us to find what can happen what has been decided what is possible here?

A member of the audience comes forward to cool down and care for the performer

A member of the audience comes forward to cool down and care for the performer

A member of the audience cools and soothes and gazes at the man

A member of the audience cools and soothes and gazes at the man

The child can disrupt her touch stops the working woman engages her response as there is no acting I believe here compassion in these moments for being and others want like I resolution being apart and then together again but this is is connection and a look is possible between the man and woman but not more any more not a touch only mirroring they stay apart face away only shadows touching the audience a bridge sometimes.

A child from the audience hugs the woman an makes her stop, the man till stands with his back to the audience

The child from the audience makes her pause and smile

The large shadows of a woman from the audience turning the woman and man's head so they look at each other

Looking

A woman from the audience danced with the man and they swayed together, I could see her smile and his possibly his smile reflected back to us through hers another made herself into a chair on hands and knees so he could sit with his back to us this balance held for a moment. One of the audience pleaded and we could hear what they said they seemed strange these words to me did they to others our words our want for their stillness our pleading and distress foreign and if they stopped if they stopped dipping working making even if it seems without meaning what could there be anymore? Voice in drum and wind shifting dipping with them working marrying us in space and song and violin holding us threading us, the still woman’s voice singing here I am here here I am … A woman in shadow with her head bowed down and eyes closed, singing Last time I stepped forward step after step and held the working woman opening my arms to see if I could and she stepped within them and I patted patted her back she was burning burning hot she and her heart beat beat beat fast in me fast and we swayed she like my child as her heart beat slowed slowed the drama of  uncertainty for me which is only mine it was her heart I felt in this and that I did not know her and I could still her her heart if she wanted was allowed to quiet to a resting beat and share relief it returned just then before I hesitated hesitant in how to leave.

I attended two performances of Little Dove Theatre Art’s ‘From This’ at the Canberra Museum and Gallery in association with their Pulse: Reflections on the Body exhibition. Very moved by the first performance, I was determined to return for the next one, and bring my family. Dylan Jones took the photos in this post. We were part of the rhizome of the audience, shadowy, close, subterranean, sprouting and blooming and connecting unexpectedly. I look forward to seeing or hearing how this project continues to develop and to Chenoah Miller‘s ‘Evangeline’ on soon in Canberra as part of Art Not Apart.

PULSE: reflections on the body

Pulse

 

he finds my pulse, pulse—

milk squirts—our—blood—drum—strum—his—

small hand— on my throat

I have a rather rapid heart rate and pulse rate that is most likely encouraged by high levels of caffeine. I found it embarrassing when I was at school when such things were measured in Sport and Science. (But then I think I found nearly everything at school embarrassing.) And I have caught myself wondering over that esoteric observation that everyone is allotted a certain number of heartbeats in this life; that this is predetermined. In my case, this is not comforting, I have been using mine up quite quickly.

a chalk drawing of a dalek saying recaffeinate outside a cafe

Always. And always with Dr Who reference. Thank you, Lonsdale St Roasters.

I went to the opening of an exhibition PULSE: reflections on the body last week at Canberra Museum and Gallery. I highly recommend it. Twenty-seven contemporary Australian artists are represented, and the public program involves performances, floor talks, and a seminar, and as you know I am jumping in by facilitating a writers workshop – Writing on the body on November 15, 12-5pm at CMAG. We will have some time to view the exhibition, and I will guide writers through exercises and games to respond to the exhibition and to discover and refine writing with/in/about/out of the body. I hope this will be the first of a series of guided writing workshops in response to exhibitions and collections at CMAG and around Canberra. Let’s see how this first one goes.

Write with a sense of the body. I have often offered this advice over my many years of creative writing teaching. This is not just about physical descriptions like hair colour or length or style, eye colour, height, or shape of your characters, but how they actually feel (or even not feel) in their bodies. The body is something we can all relate to, whatever our gender, culture, race, or other cultural definitions that accompany us, and if it is left out in crafting fiction or even poetry, something vital is most likely missing. I often find that this one piece of advice will lift a piece of writing to a new level, and often solve a number of other problems as well.

PULSE: Reflections on the body, is so rich, so stimulating, and so accessible. I really can’t do it justice in a little blog post. But I will engage with the exhibition in this space over the next weeks and invite anyone in town, nearby or passing through, to join my workshop, and more importantly, just go along and enjoy the exhibition. For the workshop book through the ACT Writers Centre, 02 6262 9191 or online https://app.formassembly.com/forms/view/10261

My haiku at the beginning of this post was inspired by Patricia Piccinini’s To fall under gravity, which I wondered over at the opening. This is the artist of Skywhale fame, and dear to many Canberrans’ hearts. In my first encounter with To fall under gravity it seems to me to be a series of floating nipples (or pimples) or they could even be air bubbles. They could be female or male nipples, and they are unassuming but also erotic, and quite plain, just ‘there’. Everyone I watched viewing it smiled, and some (like me) shoved their hands deeper in their pockets, resisting the urge to touch them. This exhibition actually affects your body. Of course it does. Can’t wait to be over this flu and cold (sniff)  and to get back to CMAG and Pulse. (I didn’t get the germ there, don’t worry! I got it at a dance class, or from my mum.)

ecard for Writing on the Body

 

Foot

Medical models of two feet, one with veins and tendons on cross section, and the other a skeleton

Don’t you love medical models of body parts?

 

I long for foot massages, and beg my loved ones anytime we are sitting down together and relaxing, to please rub my feet, to please manipulate the joints and stretch the tendons. In general they kindly comply. I don’t think good feet run in my family (sorry for the pun). I have suffered a lot of pain over the last few years that has meant I have had to stand up a great deal, and now my feet are the sore points. I pore over pictures of foot anatomy and try to locate the exact points of trouble. They have been x-rayed, ultra sounded and injected, and they still hurt to blazes. Massaging can make them better, and can also make them worse, but it is a risk I’m happy to take as it is sheer bliss in the moment.

I have always considered my feet as a point of distinction, as I have two webbed toes on both feet, and whenever I am asked that ‘getting to know you question’ in a class, Is there anything special about you?, I always reveal  the duckiness of my toes. Do you remember those great scenes in Local Hero when the marine scientist, Marina, (played by Jenny Seagrove) randomly emerges from the bay in her wetsuit like a Venus, and then later when Oldsen massages her foot and discovers her webbed toes? (He is played by a young Peter Capaldi, the latest Dr Who incarnation.) Mermaid heritage, I have always believed.

Writing about ‘the body’ has always interested me. Creatively, I have found this preoccupation rich and engaging. It is somewhere we can connect, through our senses, through the rhythms of our flesh, our creatureliness, our pain, our sexuality, our being. It has become an area of research for me as well, the place of body in philosophy and how it is represented in literature. But more of that later.

I remembered a piece I wrote, Foot, that was published in Body lines: a women’s anthology edited by Jillian Bartlett and Cathy Joseph, published by Womens Redress Press in 1991, and thought it was time it got its socks off and came out for an airing. So here it is.

FOOT 

I hold a foot, freshly washed, with dirt ingrained in the whorls of its sole. The flesh of the toes is soft like fruit. I bite it and the skin is powdery and white, but smooth. The sensitive arch cringes, and I hold it firmly as the foot wrenches in the air, and we laugh. It is the foot of a city walker, a pattern of callous, ridges the shape of shoes.

But this foot is made for wandering over plains, for long stretches of earth, for hills. It is made for me to kiss and bite. The toes fit perfectly in my mouth. They only just fit shoes, and they make holes in socks.

I separate the metatarsals, the delicate long bones and ligaments. Remember your foot when you were a child I say, it was like a hand, flexible and playful. Feet at rest and relaxed, relaxes the whole body, and your mind. Toes, their strangely different lengths separate, and manipulated, are free and grasping. The fluid in the joints flow, they rotate.

* She bites my foot again and the pain is so beautiful I nearly kick her in the face and fall off the chair. I can’t stop laughing until she digs her nails in and then massages the sole. She says my feet are dirty even though I just washed them. I don’t care. Remember your foot when you were a child she says. She captures my foot like a fish, trying to slither away. *

I am the massage. My hands and the foot are covered in oil, like they’re ready to be cooked. She kicks the bottle of oil over and it sinks into the carpet. Heat and cold pass between skin. Soft skin, rough skin, the two parts, hand and foot, manipulator and runner. The foot of a dancer. The foot of a singer. Touches the ground, heel and side and each toe in turn. And again, hips swaying, stamp after stamp. I feel the dance in this captured foot. I feel them dangling from a tree, about to touch the ground. I twist it and she loves it.

The other foot is less sensitive and more stubborn, it avoids my teeth. Like grains of earth under the skin, I can feel grit in the sole, small painful pebbles on which she walks. I draw the toes out, pulling them till the joints separate gently. Run my knuckles over the sole, into it. I bend the foot back, and pull it forward. She is almost asleep. I release the foot, the reflection of the body. Her mind is still as I put it down. We rest our feet together, sole against sole.
………………………………………………..

It is good to imagine pain free feet! It is interesting to look back over your writing and to come to understand your preoccupations, what your work might be ‘about.’ “The body’ definitely is important to me.

There is an exhibition about ‘the body’, just opened at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, Pulse: Reflections on the Body. I am running a writing workshop on Saturday November 15 in the afternoon, where you can view the exhibition and write with me and in a group in response to the exhibition. If you are a local or nearby you are most welcome. It is being run in association with the ACT Writers Centre, and you book through them.

ecard for Writing on the Body

Writers Workshop: Writing on the body

with Sarah St Vincent Welch

12pm–5pm Saturday 15 November

Discover how developing a sense of ‘the body’ can take your writing to a new level. Explore the exhibition Pulse: Reflections on the body, at Canberra Museum and Gallery, through writing, with Sarah and a group of fellow writers. Be inspired by visual art and learn ways to bring your writing to life. This guided and immersive workshop caters for all forms, and will include writing exercises and games, time to view the exhibition, and time to write and discuss. Follow up material to encourage participants to continue writing will also be provided.

Sarah St Vincent Welch is a creative writing facilitator with over fifteen years of experience. She received a citation from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council for ‘devising playful writing spaces that surprise, stimulate and support creative writing students to write and keep writing.’ Her short fiction has been published and anthologised, and has won the Marjorie-Graber McInnes Short Story Award twice. She won the inaugural Marian Eldridge Award, and The Jessie Litchfield Award. Sarah is interested in leading a continuing guided writing workshop that responds to exhibitions and collections.

Venue: ACT Writers Centre workshop room
Code: All
Cost: $54 members, $48 concessional members, $84 non-members (includes 6 months of membership)
Bookings: You can book by phone on 6262 9191, online or at the office. Payment is required at time of booking.

In the shadow of the Equinox, a blood moon

A full moon with a reddish orange cast in the night sky

The Lunar eclipse or blood moon in the Canberra night sky 8 October, 2014 (photo by Dylan Jones)

 

 An Invitation to Write

Late is a concept that depends on another one, that of being on time. And yes, my Equinox ‘Invitation to write’ post is late, and let’s hope it is like a late period in its out of timeness, with the associated promises of a birth, or a shedding, a release, or of cycles slightly out of kilter and then renewed. I don’t know. This time seems significant. In my life. In humanity’s life. In the life of mother earth.

I just had a wedding, a glorious experience, but also confronting, and the culmination of over a year of planning with my loved ones. A dear friend died a week before the wedding, and we went to her celebration of life on a bright and sunny hilltop the day before we got married, just as our relatives from all around the country were arriving. I feel so grateful to have known her and that I was able to say goodbye.

So a little after the Equinox I am reflecting in its shadow, and looking for what might be inspiring to write about. There is so much, almost too much, life is full, wild and lovely, so how to choose from this richness?

 

mysterious shadows on the ground

I love taking photos of shadows while out walking

Our marriage was a civil one and it involved telling those with us who we are, and it also involved making a ceremony together that we then shared. As people who are not usually in the centre of things, it was an unusual place to be. It was new.

We probably aren’t the most naturally graceful folk, but we decided to learn a small dance to share with our loved ones before everyone was invited onto the dance floor after the wedding. And we managed it. We remembered the steps, enough. And so so enjoyed it. And we were surprised at how much we enjoyed learning the dance. We even practiced in the empty aisle of a supermarket.

A few days after our wedding we danced it in the open at night, under a blood moon. I think we will be dancing that dance again, anywhere we can.

Do you have any small rituals or celebrations that you have created that mark the rhythm of your lives? Would you like to write about them and share them? Post them in the comments section of this post if you would like to share one, or even two, and I will publish them in a later post, or however it seems right. Consider writing about a personal ritual or celebration in your own blog and telling me you have so I can enjoy it! I would love to read about them.

Dylan Jones made a time lapse of the lunar eclipse and I am sharing it with you here. It is made up of five hours worth of photos taken at five minute intervals on a cold Spring night in Canberra, Australia. I am fascinated by the sense of spinning. Check out all the information from NASA. How blessed are we, with this knowledge and beauty? Let’s all look up at the moon tonight.

Wetland haiku

Misty wetlands with trees reflected in the water

Banksia St Wetlands very early on a Sunday morning

curra-wong, curra –
frog clatter stops – breathe out, in,
morning wetland mist

I lay awake this morning and imagined the wetland. I just wanted to be there, even though it was still dark. I drank some warm milk and tried to go back to sleep, but eventually I knew I must just get up and go there.

Tree submerged in wetland with reflections in still water

This tree perch provides protection for birds and makes beautiful reflections

So at first light I found a warm coat, my notebook and pencil, and decided to try and write haiku in the wetland, like I did back in April. On the way, when I noticed a duck sitting on top of a streetlight on Northbourne Avenue (our main road), I knew I had made the right decision. It seemed like a good omen.

I did question myself, as usual, Will I be able to do it? Will I feel disappointed if I can’t write a poem to my satisfaction? A haiku, just three lines and seventeen syllables, so small a poetry creature, can feel at the same time so large, and the attempt sometimes difficult.

How to reflect or capture experience? This, for me, is always the question. It is a bit like a dare, I might be able to, or I might not. And I won’t know if I don’t try.

It was misty and cold and exhilarating at the wetland this morning. As I found myself in a soundscape of birdcall, frog chorus, and insect hum, it did occur to me that my human language, the marks on the paper, the sounds in my mind, seemed very inadequate in comparison. The haiku at the beginning of this post is what I came up with.

Snail on twig and flower

The snail thinks that flower looks yummy

Like a haiku, Banksia St Wetland seems small and big all at once. It seems tucked away as you approach it, but big as you wander through it. It is the first wetland in the Australian Capital Territory to be developed in an established suburb, and it is a magical place, but also very practical. Water from the storm water drain gathers there, and the reeds and sediment take up the nutrients in the water and improve the water quality of the Sullivan Creek catchment.

Duck crossing sign mother duck with chicks

Duck crossing signs are so gorgeous (and compassionate)

I helped facilitate a community event at Banksia St Wetland earlier in the year, Haiku in the Wetland, with Edwina Robinson (Urban Waterways Coordinator). All the participants wrote beautiful haiku and the Centre for Cultural and Creative Research (CCCR) and the Institute for International Poetry Studies at University of Canberra and the ACT Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate supported the event. You can read the poetry and enjoy photos from that day on the CCCR website.

It felt good to return and write at the wetland again. I might make it a regular writing place.

Mother and father ducks with chicks crossing a bike path

Crossing the bike path

I usually take the photos for this blog, but this morning Dylan Jones came with me and did his usual amazing nature photography. We were very lucky to end our visit by watching a duck family with chicks waddle to the water, and plunge in.

Ducklings swimming close up

Having taken the plunge