Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Retreat's end

To mark our final night as Sage Hillers, we enjoyed a farewell banquet and then celebrated with a reading by all the participants.

Our leaders, Paula Jane and Anne, determined we’d read in alpha order according to our first names. So for openers we had another Anne, not Simpson this time, but our own impish Anne from Regina.

She opened with a poem based in circumstances of her father’s death -- how he had a heart attack while driving and drove off a road on the Niagara escarpment near Hamilton. Subjects for her work included further disasters and family tales, not all of which were delivered in a terribly serious way.

Anne converted one of her poems into a sea shanty, complete with authentic-sounding tune. She called Kelly up for choral support and they sang – about Canada's Sir John A, “… ‘tight’ as usual.”

The next reader was Glenn, the lone male in our group. “The train is off the tracks,” he began, informing us that all the work he intended to read had been written during the retreat, including a poem that had come to him at three in the morning.

His ‘Seven Promises to Seven Sage Women’ was probably the funniest piece of the evening (“I promise not to bring my wood ticks when we meet”) and also the most personal. Its final ‘promise’ included this, “You are whatever bird you wish to be./ I promise to remember your song.”

All of us appreciated the fact of his maleness in our midst – and, as it was often referred to, his ‘obsessive charm.’

Since H follows G, I was up next. When Anne S introduced me, she mentioned my pal Bluey (see previous posting). I read two pieces that resulted from writing prompts/workshops Anne had given us. I also read excerpts from my forthcoming chapbook, a series of poems about Amelia Earhart.

Following me was Karen, and when Anne introduced her, I learned yet another fact about this multifaceted woman. Besides being an engineer, teacher, writer, mother, etc., etc., she plays cello.

Karen called up Susan to help her present a glosa she’d written, with Susan’s voice providing a kind of echo in the repeated lines she read. Aptly, this led into some of Karen’s ‘mirror series’ – poems based in the legend of The Lady of Shalott.

These poems included lines that intrigued me: “How a moving figure may be closer than reflected” and “da Vinci writing left to right…” I loved the way her Lancelot came into view, with “parts of him appearing” as the Lady looked out the window through her mirror.

Kelly, one of the more experimental writers here, utilized the voices of Sandy and Glenn in her performance. Glenn’s low register balanced Kelly’s light tones; Sandy’s a trained actor, so she knows how to use her voice. Introducing the work, Kelly gave us just enough information about Paul Monette, the writer who serves as subject matter for ‘The Burning House.’ The use of three readers only added to the poem’s dramatic power.

Kelly’s work is filled with wonderfully surreal images: “the garden, flying pieces, close to my cheek”, “boys like willow sticks lined the alleys” and “the wind like water lapping the sidewalks.”

The poet who travelled the farthest to be part of this retreat is Marilynn. The poems she read were based in childhood – in her case, a time of books and learning.

She uses her experience as a librarian to give interesting focus to the poems. She's organized them around the Dewey Decimal System. For example, “598: Birds, North America, identification” talks of family secrets as items hidden “…as a bird hides its nest.”

The poem “096: books notable for illustrations” is based in a much-loved volume about the Brontes, a book containing woodcuts that fascinated her.

Most interesting of all was a long piece about water, “551…hydrolic cycle”. It was filled with such beautiful lines as “Every spring, clouds learn how to rain again.”

Sandy brought the energy of Toronto to our group. Besides having the most beautiful skin art I have ever seen, she kept the rest of us laughing with her zany ways. As might be expected, she was brave enough to read things she’d never read before.

As Kelly’s poems had, Sandy’s took us to France. Our tour began at the River Seine, and in particular, to its corpses. With her theatre background, it wasn't surprsing that she staged the peformance, borrowing two of her colleagues to read sections of the poem. First to speak is the maskmaker, whose specialty is death masks of the drowned. One of his masks portrays the face of an unknown woman whose beauty is so overwhelming, many Parisians buy the mask, just so they may admire it.

While she let the poem settle in our minds, the quiet in the room prompted our leader to leap up for the next introduction. When Sandy said, "Wait!" - that she had more to read - I swear, even her shoulders were blushing.

Her next piece, ‘Carnivora’ contained such stunning lines as “the biled luminescence of flies” and “…space atrophies into silence, all teeth and instinct.” Sandy's last piece is one she wrote (and presented) en francais. Even without being able to translate all the words, its tones and rhythms were enough for me to call it magnifique.

Susan, who was celebrating a birthday, was another person brave enough to read brand-new poems, all of them written here as part of the Spring Colloquium. One of them was a response to one of Anne’s challenges to all of us – to write about the red hunting knife that showed up at the side of the road. Her poem, ‘Found: Knife’ read like a classified ad and began, “married woman wants…”

In her poem celebrating the wonders found in a ‘Square Foot of Earth’ she compares the marching ants to the action of the zigzag needle on her mother’s sewing machine. The fact that she’s a mother also plays into her work. She cites the words of a child, looking into a spoon: “Look, Mum, the metal eye.”

Among her most experimental work are her ‘Fire Poems’ – list poems filled with startling images: “a hot-wired Volkswagen / spontaneous combustion…”

Susan closed with filled-in fragments from the songs of Sappho. Clearly these had been influenced by our time here on the prairie, as I’m sure all of us visualized our willowy Susan herself in this: “my grandfather, walking on stilts of grasses.”

I am confident that for all of us, though it may be retreat’s end, it is a time of many new beginnings.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely description of a evening to remember. Thanks for this, Heidi. We should all do it again sometime! Marilynn

hg said...

Now, that's a very good idea, Marilynn! Where do you suppose might be best?