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.

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 Civic with that antler girl

The American tourists at The Bus Interchange said that Canberra City, our funny old funny new Civic, was a bit quiet. Well, maybe. Why do I even begin this post with them? We so often want the outside observer to validate us. I wish them well and that they find something special here, and I know they will. They already found something pretty special when they bumped into the The Walking Tour with a Difference yesterday.

The walking tour continues past McMuck and The Bus Interchange, led by the antler girl on stilts

Walking past McMuck at The Bus Interchange. We all remember waiting here and missing buses and lots more!

I’ve thought about this seeming quietness of Civic often. I’ve also thought about the seeming quietness of Newtown and Kings Cross in Sydney, on the first days when I came back from India. Where are all the people, I thought? Is it after all just about contrasts, our perception of the character of a place.

The top hatted guide is drumming up the next stories from passersby and the walking tour mob. The mimes are ready. BOOM.

The antler girl, bird people, the mimes, and the top hatted guide on the patchwork of life, just outside Centrepoint.

What of the ever present rumble of stories here, their burble and surprise? They are never quiet, wherever we are, even on the moon. There are stories in this peace, this quietness, this loneliness and community, this everyday, the fragments we shape to place us, and that then make a place for us, and the stories we tell each other and to strangers when we are asked or have a chance.

The mimes and the antler girl and our top hatted guide at the end of the walking tour, back where we began at the Canberra Times Fountain

At the end of the walking tour, phew we’re thirsty, and you can see an antler girl in the background too

We looped Civic, starting at the Canberra Times Fountain. (Whoops, I didn’t even know that was its name until yesterday. It’s just that fountain kids jump in when it’s too hot, where we decide to meet, that sprays us on windy days as we walk past with our shopping, that we missed when it was turned off in the drought.) Civic of African dances and nightclubs and fundraising, sprawling sheep and protests, riding the elephant on the carousel, ravaged art and watching drug exchanges, ice-rinks, stolen poems, gelato, remainder bookstores and Gus’ – double shot espresso.

Antler girl's dress is blowing up in the wind, the saxophone player and mimes help tether it

Shadows and breezes, outside Gus’s gathering stories

What do we say? What do we know and remember? For me it was the terror of those art bastards The Doug Anthony Allstars, and hiding behind a pillar so to hear their last gig. I stumbled across them while finishing the Christmas shopping and listened to their golden choir voices – I heard it through the grapevine! Sprinting across town to get to the SECOND movie – to The Blair Witch Project! Chasing a runaway toddler, screaming his name as he careened towards the road. My Civic is chaotic, loud and physical. Schmoozing at Spiegeltent Empire and following the banana pulp volley, chewed and spat and caught from mouth to mouth (then trying it), watching a child’s first experience of characters on a stage and the stillness of his deep response. We all had stories. These are some of mine. There were plenty of others, from the participants of the Walking Tour with a Difference and from passersby. I hope to go on a Walking Tour with a Difference again soon.

Public places are also our private places, our quiet city, our secrets, our stories here. Thanks Changing Places and antler girl.

Spiegeltent Empire! Canberra!

Bubbles

Bubbles

In the Spiegeltent we greeted, kissed, hugged, breathed, stretched, jiggled, wondered, watched, gasped, laughed, screamed, whooped, clapped, stamped, whistled, heard, whispered, listened, whispered, shouted, laughed, screamed, balanced, spun.

Feat to feat

Feat to feat

Love is in the Spiegeltent, surprise, song, mood on mood, romance, friendship, skill, training, we perform ourselves, ourselves lost and found in mirrors.

Roller skates

Roller skates

Our bodies all so close, in the Spiegeltent. We all laugh about Fuuu – uucking! Oh! Fu…u…u..cking … In the Spiegeltent we are strong and together.

Crazy anime circle spin

Crazy anime circle spin

(All the links to ‘Spiegeltent’ are different in this post,leading to different pieces of information. It is a stunning tradition, check it out.) Newcastle – you’re next!