Somebody is bound to be in the room fulfilling a literary function. It might be Shakespeare, of course. Once again I cite KRAKEN as a first inspiration. Crooked Eclipses is a work based on the Sonnets; Elsinore uses Hamlet. More often than not, however, group members assume the writerly roles as they watch and perform, perhaps collaborating with Shakespeare or some other esteemed author or generating their own original material. Below you will find some suggestions for fulfilling the writer’s function, and please indulge me as I offer examples from my own attempts.
Engaging with Text Any author can be in the room. It would be an interesting experiment for a group to memorize a play in its entirety, every performer knowing every part, work out a general staging scheme, and then cast a performance by drawing lots five minutes beforehand, with a new drawing before each subsequent performance. The next experiment could involve the group using the text of that play, which it would know inside and out by this point, as its working vocabulary for creating a new piece of performance. Any piece of literature could serve, of course. And it makes sense for another writer to be in the room attempting to chart the adventure. This engagement with pre-existing literary or other textual work is an established technique, I realize. But someone might be reading this who hadn’t entertained the possibility. (Look into the Wooster Group’s adventures “collaborating” with Arthur Miller; he was not a willing participant and was not happy. Things can get treacherous where living authors are concerned.)
Writing as a Response For a writer engaged in producing original work as a part of group process, often in response to what performers may be doing, it may not be as crucial to determine what should be written as how and when to employ it. My first year teaching at GHP, we did not set out to make a company created work. Actor improvisations in class were very inspiring and creative, and it simply seemed a shame not to find a way to show some of the results to a wider audience by, perhaps, weaving the work together in some way. My involvement as a writer that year came about as the result of my teaching partner musing, “there could be something here having to do with the course of a life.” In response to that I did not find myself writing dialogue or description or narrative; rather, I began musing, “all of this youthful creative energy ready to emerge into identity…” I had Lacan on the brain in those days, so I began producing what I thought were lyrical Lacanian sentences, trying to think of something that might help weave. I recently found one page of the original stuff:
love is giving what you do not have.
There is a closing hole my name holds open. There is a place where the picture cannot see itself. One day we see something else. And I don’t see myself seeing myself see something else. I don’t know what I see. I ask. The second question. I ask and I do not give an answer. I ask. I am a question. To have a name means to have a question. And now the world gets very large. One 360 degree wraparound surround. With a hole in the middle.
They will never forgive you for taking the child from them. They will never forgive you. And then you turn around and its gone. Losing sight of something so precious. In such an absence the world ends. But when the world ends you start to see what is behind it. They will turn away. But they will turn away to go their way. Dragging you after. Wanting you bearing witness. Someone to look at the portrait. Don’t look. Whatever you do, don’t 1ook back.
So many years learning to see yourself. Only to learn that you really need to see something else. Or that you need to close your eyes. Listen. Listen to everything. What he said. What she said. Hear the roads in what she said. Hear the birth in hearing. Time to be born. Time to let yourself be born. Let yourself be born away. What is she saying?
Always before death. You are before death.
No longer asking what I would do were I the one. No longer asking. No past asking. No future asking what would have been. Just the ask. Just ask. I ask. No questioning. No hesitation. No search for the one who will. We all ask. We all will. We will. Just believe it. No names. One name, maybe. No eyes. No I. Maybe an I. Maybe something happening now. As you ask. Something new. Something born. Something to show. Something to do. Before. Before the I. Before the act. Something created. I made it myself.
A bit ponderous, perhaps. Often the performers will supply the wit lacking in the words as they work. At any rate, there would come times in our work where actors would be scattered about the space and feeling an urge to say something. So they would get a scrap of paper from me. Say this. They figured out how to break it up, to score it. And they were good about not worrying too much about what it meant, tuning in, instead, to how the words helped them shape the moment.
Thinking and Observing For a while that first year at GHP, before my teaching partner and I joined forces for one piece, I had a group a kids who were going to invite Shakespeare into the room by taking a look at King Lear and creating some kind of work in conversation with the text. My writerly role early in that process was one of memo-writer (memography?):
Notes on performance piece: what’s coming up…
I hope after our experiences today (Wednesday) you have some idea about how I am inviting you to work. Starting on Monday, this is how we will work and assemble material; it’s a frame in which anything can happen from scene and monologue exploration to surrealist experiments to moments of enigmatic encounter. There is no proper or improper decorum to follow as long as you stay within the work frame and agree to “perform” everything. Bring everything into it. Remember: we will work this way for our audience for about thirty minutes after we do our piece; I will be there prompting you to contribute if I have to. (I hope I don’t: it will be much more impressive for the audience to see you totally group driven.)
Now, perhaps, you have an idea why I gave you the hand out on “responding” and on “composing.” These are methods we will use. Get familiar with them. What helps me: put yourself into the circle imaginatively and see yourself exploring the strategies with your peers. It helps.
Thursday night we will share our discoveries about the play and the choices artists have made. I will suggest various scenes, encounters between characters, that you are to go off and investigate for further work. Which one interests you? Keep asking yourself what characters and moments in the play you are provoked to explore or shun. We will be transforming YOUR INVESTIGATIONS into a performance piece.
We have started exploring the physical work in the mornings so that you will have things to try with the vocal sequence when you encounter other actors. I invite you to seek out partners and begin exploring on your own and develop a method: one the allows for continual movement and transformation, etc.
Our scenic and costume designers will be joining us and participating as watchers and collaborators.
Fool file: start a list of things the fool says that you like.
Stone and ruin are two ideas that I keep coming back to as I think about the play and talk to the designers. Why do you as a group keep returning to the story of Lear (imaginatively speaking, not “because we’re told to”)? Perhaps, as painful as it is, you are trying to summon up things to see and experience in order to stay alive. To story yourself into a meaning. Did the end of Lear mean a loss of our center, our system for meaning and being human. You are perpetually crawling out of an impending catatonia, you are resisting turning to stone and ruin, picking through the rubble of form and memory to find a meaning, a consistency. You are caught between NATURE and NOTHING, as are many of the characters in the play. And what does nature hold if our “human” center is lost? Maybe something more horrible than ceaseless predation and copulation, since we need some memory of our humanity to even know the pleasures and horrors of that. Maybe a silent, stony nothing.
I saw many possibilities for exploring the madness in the play as you worked through the sequence. In the play, madness very much is a way to communicate a wisdom that cannot be articulated any other way. But it is also part of the dissolution, the falling apart of order and human decency. Nice paradox.
Friday night we will try to read through the whole play. Keep up the good work.
And here’s a bit more:
Notebooks: Please use them. Please, To keep track of what Is happening, to remember. One of your jobs is to find ways to perform your remembrances of the play and our work. I may ask you to pick something from your sketchbook to insert at a certain point in the piece, your choice, and I may want you to teach it to several people. Sometimes it will be our thoughtful equivalent of “filling dead air.”
Begin collecting phrases from the play and from your thoughts that resonate for you or that reflect thoughts which emerge in the work (you can use strategies like “taking out of context” or “association.”) We will use lists of such phrases to create spoken mindscapes or sounded environments.
An actor brings focus, commitment, imagination, strong feeling, and “blooded thought” (phrase from Wallace Stevens). Believe in your ability to make a contribution to this effort. You may never have done this kind of thing before, you may have no interest in doing it again, that is okay. For now, just give yourself over to imagination. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO PLAY.
THE SINGLE MOST ESSENTIAL THING ABOUT WHAT WE WILL BE DOING AND WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE: If nothing else, remember: We are going to use the play text to help us find ways to explore what is happening to us in the group. We will use the play to talk about ourselves. The play is like a diving board that will allow us to go into our depths. And who knows what we may finds there.
As you go through the play and note things you like and make you uneasy; ask yourself, Why? Your answer is part of the secret kernel you bring to the work. Protect it. Use it. Explore it.
Director’s Initial statement. King Lear is a vast poetic and dramatic landscape. How can we focus our interests so that we can produce a interesting piece within the brief time we have? The last few lines of the play:
The weight of this sad time we must obey; Speak what we feel, now what we ought to say. The oldest hath borne most: we that are young Shall never see so much, nor live so long.
What does this mean for us, and do we believe it? I like the way-it seems to make an effort to merge the personal and the political into a kind of mournful ethic. We don’t have the time to deal explicitly with the political dimensions of the play (at least, I’m saying we don’t), but in many ways our more personal explorations will, to be prompted by these lines, become politica1 .
Clearly in these memos I’m trying to wear a number of hats at once. And this was early in the process. I was using writing to provoke thought and atmosphere and to suggest strategy. Had we continued with this process, my memos would have begun offering thoughts inspired by specific events taking place in group work. Here’s a meditation from last summer; often writing is done when I feel powerless to do anything else. We were wrestling with the theme of grace:
Thoughts and opinions on the nature of our performance
Acts of grace. States of grace. Moments of grace. Let’s ask, for whom?
For the people in our audience, perhaps. What if we think that it is possible for our audience members to have experiences of grace at our performance?
1 think our rehearsals have been, in part, a kind of research in which we have tried to find ways to describe the living qualities of this phenomenon we are calling grace and to understand the types of conditions under which it might occur.
One thing we hit upon was the idea that grace can be something unexpected, taking us by surprise. Consider the experience of our audience: already they will be in a situation ripe for the appearance of grace simply because they will witness our performance in an unexpected place. Even more unexpected: what if they gather at a distant spot on campus and are then led to our location? Suddenly they see in the distance: you, the performers, are walking the perimeter of the stone circle, evenly spaced and in unison of motion. Unexpected place and unexpected event filled with unexpected beauty. There’s a silent energy of expectation and they discover that if they choose they can be a witness to…something.
What might happen with this moving circle? Does the audience get closer and discover that each of you is quietly speaking while you walk? Is each of you uttering something different or is your unison of speech as precise as your unison of motion?
How then do we multiply the possibilities for these separate souls in our audience to encounter grace as we act in their midst? What do they see and hear, and witness, and where? What becomes of this circle, this ring of potential energy?
We want to work in ways, 1 think, that are as present and as determined as the world we see around us. Each audience member will corne to the event as an individual, each playing a part in a unique unfolding story, each with a potential to experience our acts and weave their effects into the fabric of his or her own story. We offer the possibility of a kind of collision between their lives and what the world around them is professing (or withholding).
When we think grace has touched us, how does the world around us appear? Are there triggers, patterns, motion, voices, faces?
At that moment, what surrounds us speaks without effort; it is not in the least didactic (not trying to instruct us or impart a lesson). It is too raw and immediate for that; it’s as if the world (perhaps through God) hears minds or our hearts and offers a resonating mystery as a response. We need to remember it is the audience who is to have the experience, and it is for us to offer jarring mysteries and flashes of light rather than instructive stories or illustrations. We want to feed their potential experiences, not presume to be the experience itself.
We don’t present the story; we find a way to enact or embody what flashes forth and propels a story (an audience member’s story) down a new street. In what ways can we prod them toward an experience of seeing everything differently?
So again, I think both our “theme” and our location will contribute to a very different performance event.
Another result of our research led us to the possibilities for finding grace through children. What is it about seeing and hearing children that can often set the stage for a moment of grace? For me, in a nutshell: children are not actors. They are the thing itself. Their actions are not full of informative built-in annotations designed to explain their meaning or significance. They’re never “waiting to go on.” They’re just on. They do. They just are (to us, the viewer). They’re tunes we enjoy picking up and whistling or humming for no particular reason. Often our amazement comes watching them at their most inexplicable. The child utters the surprising remark. The two children engage in some strange dance with a private significance or with no shared significance. Our audience, I think, must experience our work the way one can delight in the actions of children. Which does not mean we should play our piece throughout as if we are young children. No, don’t misunderstand me. Then we would just be another group of actors acting like children (and I think the work you have done so far playing young children is far more sensitive and revealing than a simple acting game or exercise , it’s a different creature altogether). I’m trying to convey a subtle point about our performance: that it should be as real and self-evident and unpretentious from beginning to end as the truth of children. We live the score of our work completely from start to finish, no gaps, no waits. Almost as if it is a fluid series of ritual actions, precise actions that can at times be very intense and riveting for our audience but are completely empty of show biz or actor-ly accomplishment. Unless, of course, a bit of show biz is being offered as something for the audience to experience at some particular moment. But then you move on to the next thing, the next act of possibility.
These are just few suggestions inspired by our work together so far. Note they only address form and style, not content. The content is wholly yours.
I hold no illusions that these words are taken up by the performers as so many pearls dropping from my lips. Often it is the case, as it was with the grace group, that they will be provoked and annoyed by the droning words (I chose to read it at a rehearsal) and go to some new places, as the actors did in this case with wonderful results. Serendipitously, they reacted to my pretentiousness by becoming childish and playful right before I began reading the passage about children. Beautiful happenstance.
Naming Obsessive note taking has been a trait of mine while working as a performer or a creative watcher. The resulting notes are never meant to be a comprehensive transcription, however. Just a record of my own particular attending. The more instances of subjective note taking, to my mind, the better. Often I share phrases from my notes when the group is in the process of naming something that has occured, or re-occured, for “filing” purposes. Others do, as well, as we debate what is the most appropriate name for the phenomenon in question. These attempts at naming in my notes become useful later as ways to spark our memories, inviting us to re-visit something we might have been on the verge of forgetting or discounting. Often the names also make for interesting poetic text. The names return not just as memories but words in the performers’ mouths or invitations for new actions. One year at GHP our subject was folktales. Here’s a listing of names which accumulated during our development:
IT WAS NOT SO LURE THE SNAKE TYRANT KING SHROUDED IN BLACK NO…WAIT BLUE JACKAL BLOWS THEM ALL AWAY DEPARTS FROM LIFE BE BOLD BE BOLD BUT NOT TOO BOLD LAUGH FUNNY TALKING TO BIRDS REAL FRIEND DEMON YOU’RE SHORT FAMILY OF BRUTES HOW LOVELY TWO LOVERS CAREFREE SAGE THE EYE IS DEATH EVIL GIVE US A TASK OR WE WILL KILL YOU WHERE THE EARTH MEETS THE SKY A SWALLOW THINGS SEEM BRIGHTER ON THE OTHER SIDE BIRD AND SKULL GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES DO SOMETHING NOW AROSE EVIL CHILD PASSION NO, NO THE SEA’S CRAZY MUSTARD SEED SWEEPING THE FLOOR AND SHE TURNED INTO A FOX ONE IN ITS DESTINY A SQUIRE A CHAMELEON THAT WAS THE END OF THAT SHADOW IN THE EYE FALLS AND SPLITS IN TWO AND SHE TURNED SPIRIT IS ONE MOON FIRST LIVED AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA SELLS HIS SOUL CANNOT BE BORN AGAIN LIVED IN THE SEA LOOKING FOR A PLACE WHERE MEN DO NOT EAT OTHER MEN THE FATHER’S GRAVE EARTH AND SKY SURROUNDED BY MINIONS HE COOKED IT AND HE ATE IT NO COOKING NO EATING LORD YOUR GOD DECIDES TO MARRY TWO BROTHERS PREGNANT GOAT NOBODY KNOWS BUT ME BUT I KNOW COME INSIDE THIS INSTANT GETTING CLOSER SOMEONE HAS STOLEN MY HAMMER HAUNTED ROOM GOT YOU WHERE I WANT YOU NOW I’M GONNA TWO POTS ONCE LONG AGO RICH MAN ELEGANT WIFE WE THE JURY OF THE JUNGLE IN PERU THE BOY WHO HORSE AND ASS STUPID SON AND THEY SET OFF THEN LET THEM BE TOWN AND RIVER BONE PALACE FLOUR TIN CHANT WE ARE THE HUMBLE WRAPPED IN BUGS BIRDS AND BEASTS A BONE STUCK IN HIS THROAT THE WOLF THE SNAKE AND THE LIGHT WENT ON AND SHE WAS CALLED THE FATTEST OF ALL SHE CRUSHED THE LITTLE LIZARD FOLLOW ME WHAT JOURNEY NOBODY CARES FOR ME SHRINKING INTO STONES THY WILL BE DONE I’M DONE ALL IS ONE OLD FOLKS SUN AND THE MOON A PRINCESS EVIL EYE
Just in the reading, for me, a kaleidescopic delirium is at play and calling out for some attempt at performance. As a map of memories, it also charts the collective dreams of the group. Here’s one from this past summer’s work on the theme of grace:
STRUCTURE OF A PILGRIMAGE. WORDS OF A SWIM COACH. SAYING GRACE. BEING GIVEN SOMETHING POWERFUL. CHORAL EFFECTS. FASCIST INTO DANCING LEPRECHAUN. A DAY’S GRACE. BEFORE IT GETS DARK. TOO BEAUTIFUL FOR WORDS. OMNI-PRESENT. 14,000 TONGUES. GRACE AND JOY TILL THE END. FLOWER STRUGGLING. TIME RELEASED POWER. RESTRAINING POWER. FATHERS AND FORGIVENESS. GRACEFUL OLD LADIES. OVERCOMING. IMPERFECTIONS. BABIES. EASE AND POWER OF CERTAIN BEINGS. CRAP. THE FED EX GUY. THE DANCE OF THE TWO APPEARING RAINBOWS. SEEING THE FACE WHILE HE SWIMS THE BACKSTROKE. COTTILEAN GIRL WITH BOOK ON HEAD. IT CAN’T BE FOUND; IT FINDS YOU. BETTER AS A MYSTERY. POINTING TO HER TOES. ALL WAYS GRACE. THE SURVEY (TO ASK AND TO SEE). FINDING IT BY LETTING GO. MOMENTS TO LIVE OVER. SCRIPTURE. HEARTS WITH WINDOWS. HOLE IN MY CHEST AND THE WIND GOES RIGHT THROUGH. HAP. THE WORD ITSELF. MERCY. REVEAL AND CONCEAL. SAVING GRACE IN THEATRE. SOMETHING THAT FLOWS. SEEING IT. WHAT YOU LOVE. SEEING SOMETHING UNIQUE. FINDING YOUR OWN LANGUAGE. KIDS LEARNING TO WALK AND DANCE. SHARED TENSION BEFORE THE FALL. THE THREE GRACES. MEMORY. LACK OF GRACE, LACK OF WORD, LACK….GOD’S MADNESS. REINCARNATION OF A MOMENT. WHAT ARE WE SEARCHING FOR. COMING FROM UNEXPECTED PLACES. COMING FROM OUTSIDE RITUAL. I AM NOT SICK. NIGHT PRAYERS. GRACE STATION. SLOPPY SLUGGISH SLOGANEERING. ATMOSPHERE OF A FUNERAL WITHOUT A CORPSE. WHERE’S GRACE, SHE’S SUPPOSED TO DANCE. GOOD GOING, GRACE. HEARTBEAT OF GRACE. CIRCLE OF LIFE. RING AROUND THE ROSY. DANTE’S INFERNO. DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE. FROM THE STREET TO THE LIBRARY; FROM THE LIBRARY TO THE STREET. GRANDMA VARIATIONS. NIGHT SOUNDS. DARK SECRET LOVE, SHH. THREE MOTHER; THREE DAUGHTERS; THREE QUESTIONS. THE ATHEIST FAMILY. THE COOKIE RECIPE. LITTLE RINGS REVEALING GRACE.
More titular in spirit perhaps and not as surreal, but still evocative.
Research The writer often can infect the performers with a craving for bookish investigation. The goal is for everyone to start haunting the stacks at the library as questions emerge during rehearsal. The writer begins, often, by bringing in words, facts, arcana, material charged with occult energy. Alchemical ingredients. Our work on the grace piece led me to expressions of Christian mysticism. I would offer the results of my explorations to the group:
texts and notions reflecting the mystical outlook
from The Mirror of Simple Souls by Marguerite Porete, first heretic burned to death in the Paris inquisition, June 1, 1310
how much better to will nothing in God, than to will the good for God more distant than the stars and nearer than the eye
She is alone in love… She is the phoenix, which is alone. For this soul is solitary in love, slaking herself with her self… all that this soul has within her from God, by gift of divine grace, seems to her nothing; at the same time what she loves, which is inside her, is what He will not give to anyone but her. And understanding it in this way, this soul has all and has nothing, she knows all and knows nothing.
Such a soul, said Love, swims in the sea of joy …She feels no joy, for she herself is joy, and swims and floats in joy without feeling any joy, for she inhabits joy and joy inhabits her.
Thinking is no more use to me Nor work, nor verbal skill; Love draws me up so loftily, Thinking is no more use to me, With her godlike glances That I’ve no other goal. Thinking is no more use to me, Nor works, nor verbal skill.
Thereupon the Land of Freedom showed itself. There Justice came to me, who asked me in what way I wanted her to spare me. And I answered… in no way. Then Mercy came after her, who asked me what help I wanted from her, and I answered…I wanted no more help… Then Love came after me, filled with goodness, Love who had so often driven me mad and at last killed me and she said:
Beloved, what do you want of me?
I contain all that was, and that is, and that shall be,
I am filled with the all.
Take of me all you please,
If you want all of myself, I’ll not say no.
Tell me, beloved, what you want of me,
I am Love, who am filled with the all:
What you want,
We want, beloved,
Tell us your desire nakedly.
He is, says this Soul, and nothing is lacking to Him. lam not, and so nothing is lacking to me. And so He has given me peace and I live only from Peace, which is born from His gifts in my soul without thought. lean do nothing if it is not given to me to do. He is my All and my Best Good. Annihilation by the unity of divine righteousness has such power.
Now this Soul has fallen from love into nothingness, and without such nothingness she cannot be All. The fall is so deep, she is so rightly fallen, that the soul cannot lift herself from such an abyss.
For God is and she is not…for she is without being, in that place where she was before she was.
Porete’s Seven States of Grace (for the simple soul’s annihilation)
1. Observe the Divine Commandments
2. Follow the behaviors of Jesus
3. Bruise yourself in the pursuit of good works
4. Undertake contemplation free from all outward labors and obedience.
5. The soul achieves nothingness, annihilation
6. The soul becomes a transparency allowing God to see God.
7. Union with the Divine once the body dies.
Porete was considered a Beguine: “They read Scriptures irreverently, audaciously in coventicles, street corners, and public squares.”
Pseudo-Dionysus on Apophasis and Mystical Knowledge
Breaking hold of Reason upon the soul through negation, paradox and contradiction
Reason and Will die
A soul who lives without a why
Darkness of unknowing
Brilliant darkness of a hidden silence
Amid the wholly unsensed and unseen, they completely fill our sightless minds with treasures beyond all beauty
I’m sorry I did not hang onto the names of the translators for the Porete and Pseudo-Dionysus passages. I would offer these findings as potentially useful to the mix, but there are no guarantees. If performers take them up in some way, great. If you want them to take them up, you may have do some work as an advocate. As a writer, I could not just shake off the material; it began to re-appear in some of the poetry I wrote in response to the group’s work, serving as textual seeds for ideas or as found artifacts. We ultimately did not structure our work upon Porete’s seven states of grace, but all discoveries and words leave traces.
Group Process as Writing, Writing as Arranging More “memos” to the grace group:
Simple recipe for making performance art:
1. Raid your memory archive.
2. Re-incarnate the moment.
3. Contemplate it in stillness.
4. Animate it.
5. Find ways for it to breathe with life and expression.
6. Subject it to variation. Add, subtract, multiply, divide.
7. Think about impact.
8. Compose it for virtuosos; strip away excess; take away scaffolding.
9. Could a hack script it? If so, discard.
10. Does it scream a message? If so, discard.
11. Are you left with a sense of “it is what it is?” If so, it is successful.
Try to put together at least one moment that will baffle your peers. Work with tiny pieces.
How to create original text for a performance piece, suitable for any uttering actors or group choral orchestration or other enigmatic exchanges:
1. Go through your notes.
2. Pick expressions from various pages, no order.
3. You can put them on separate pieces of paper and then draw them from a hat.
4. Or you can shuffle them on the page.
5. Good syntax (sentence construction) is not necessary.
6. Let sensation and a desire for musical experimentation be your guides:
…encouraging kisses….everyone else hidden…father child…ranting ravings everything reminds us why…baby to child…mother child…watching conversations and hearing spare questions…around her the same contorting creatures…lifted long enough to see.
7. Or take a page of journal and fold it in, halving the sheet, so that you see half of the page beneath. Read lines across the central crease from the folded page to the underpage (or reversed depending on which way you fold):
She begins with what affliction? The sound takes on grace. Reaching all out sick. It dissipates. Find someone this happened to. A division in courage. Avoiding pictures of the spine and how we move. Just like the lack of place, the grace of the neighborhood. What words take the ends of the spectrum? What are the needs of her central love? Just like the lack lost son showing memory as a violin. God words and dances. A sub-text of sitting, all of a sudden sparkling. You make it the black fear. Shying to do a pirouette. Returning to the dance for her second chance. Girl with book on her graduation. Eye-static and druggy. Dreampeer wordwore usetwobooks to be granted and diagnosed and too beautiful for she doesn’t care.
Far in purple
Poetry and Textual Experiments This past summer, the work on our grace piece was pushing me down many a desperate avenue in an effort to find words. The conundrum is pretty clear: how can you put words to something beyond words? I found myself trying to make poetry compiled from images, phrases, and words which were recorded in my journals. I don’t know what I thought the group might do with it all. I was nursing a desire to coordinate some complex choral moments or even isolate smaller “scenes” in which the poetry would function as a kind of oblique dialogue. Tempus fugit:
Grace is always on her toes Grace is always on her
Grace is always honor
Graces always honor those (who……..)
To her the word itself happens
Happening to him to them. Happenings
Hers is the tick of her toe on the clockface. Louder than the hour itself. His is more like the swinging of the bell in the tower.
Feet planted squarely. Theirs is too small to see,
But it ticks all the same
And me too. And me too. And me too.
It happens and how
how does it happen?
The sweet sound of shedding skin
alone in the dark wood,
leaving it for the wild cats to sniff
escaping through a hole in the pavement.
A maze of grates depletes the ground,
Unsafe for wretches’ feet.
Eyes punched, then tossed
Up on a mound,
I’m fine, I’m fine, really…
Steaming up from the slits in the ground and filling the air with sugar and piss. How sweet.
The world is full of evils. Demons beating their own small hearts.
The rhythms of will be will be will be
Of my will be done. Charming plays and librettos
And plenty of actors, a whole shelf of them, Adept at manipulation.
Do you remember the movie:
Where they gathered together Where she looked out the window and vanished Where they grew up gracefully And no one was left out And Baroque ceilings left them laughing And there were no questions And by the time they laid us down to sleep
We had proved it in at least seven different ways
A mating place, how meekly found, That cave was etched
Do you remember the movie about the miracle?
Do you remember the play with the obscure reference? Can you find grace in a mirror? Hiss your steam on the glass…
That would be considered one sustained outburst. (I like the happy accidents of arranging HTML produced in trying to deal with the original layout on the page.) Clearly I was hoping the play on the page could somehow turn into a playing on the stage. Here’s another (in this case HTML insists I dispense with the original layout):
Possible title: …grace…period.
a loan in love
In love she is a swim coach alone
slaking herself in saying with beautiful
and giving nothing knowing no tongue
only time released struggling swimming
with a book balanced on the head. Love draws her up
and the wind isn’t blowing through;
only use flows through.
What is the meat of grace? Why has love run down the rabbit hole? On the streets are mad handouts Crap swims in the sea of joy
our habits in the dark fascist dance wearing the habit she feels no joy
her joy only inhabits joy
Love who had so often driven me from the street to the library
Work with a recipe
little images of
God’s madness small sloppy rituals old ladies letting go a beautiful solitary phoenix.
I don’t want to be a phoenix.
I want to be something learning to walk
Like the corpse at a funereal dance.
I want to learn the rainbow’s backstroke.
I want release from restraint.
What to do?
The sky scares me.
Graceless hands reach out of the clouds.
Are these those clouds of unknowing
The books talked about?
Am I crossing into wonder? What to do?
I feel so helpless.
All the familiar doctors
Touching the familiar folds
and I quake in the same cold ways. Am I made of water? Why?
In a quest of a language of the unspeakable I found myself getting quite Joycean at some points; I even included a little primer for the group on producing Wakean language:
You, too, can churn out passages of potential performance poetry. Use any aforementioned method; use your texts and found texts. Performance poetry can be performed in any imaginable way. Let it provide a music for mysterious encounters. Let it be the dialogue for soulful conversations or sublime choruses. Place it into a kinetic sculpture.
Mad Handouts: what might we read on a mad handout? Take a slogan or proverb or cliche and warp it in some way. making it say several things at once.
You can also manipulate language to try and speak the unspeakable, using the familiar:
All sweet and brown
You saved the meal for me.
We lunched: we noshed;
It was astound
-ing how much We could eat.
A gaze too late’s
our suite’s last frown,
A look is lost on me.
I’m dunced; you cost
Too much, compound
-ded now but interest-free.
or making the unfamiliar with the familiar,
a why in the text try
a promise of poemis
a mattering memologue
a peace of greysoft lowly slowrosy
the someself as yoursalve
peasposed and tablepoised
sing and deflinging wings
empty clumpty sadsank on the shelf
knottingcootie coats of blue sadbliss
godofound in holemounts and black
fistworks mercyhurts and sighterific mystershins
cuddlady dancingdo in a silly swank cottiline
speedylicious aspersions and glandscrapes
gorgeous windseawindows agape-ay
a quickwink to the campuslink
uneven ethyr in poorpistule emoantion
suddenducksdrift sideways sandsordid for everyash and covercash
This technique I borrowed from James Joyce. Good way to evoke a feeling of a dream language. Or a language of unsaying, maybesaying, a sangwitch of speech scorchery?
I also tried to push the grace group toward fashioning dialogue through experimental and associative methods. Because so many of the working techniques we were employing, such as the Vocal Sequence, asked the performer to move into some serious extremeties of expressive possibility, I tended to favor texts and textual approaches which might crack open and disperse all guarantees of consistent meanings, grammatical consensus, and reasoned discourse. But often, too, you just go where the subject matter seems to be taking you. The “scripts” that follow are not transcripts, just whimsy inspired by a desire to put words into the mouths of performers working at the outer boundaries:
And I couldn’t resist. Some suggestions for how to create dialogue using “performance poetry.” Scatter some letters out for number and order of speakers and just plug in text.
A: Add to that thought.
B: To that trace.
A: To that history.
C: There’s some kind of cancer there.
B: Please punch me.
D: Down those dark aisles.
B: I’m feeling like memory has left.
D: Without God.
A: Don’t say that.
B: We’re not seeing.
C: Perhaps you want me to be your favor dispenser.
B: Not sparkling anymore.
B: You thought I had more to say.
D: My sight.. .is limitless.
A: Your choice of words.
Or, in a more Wakean vein:
A: I’m puffing through mirrorous bad grimories. So many ball brats, so many,
B: You knead more delicious audmissioning, my dear.
A: Singing a song of sixth sense, I uptoes.
B: I uprose so. Co-quenchidentally, you could,
A: Don’t wear a couldhood and cahoots with me! What? You whoyou! What?
C: Peeping like aleaven heaving heaven, priss miss!
B: Poorlaps I should be maptized, baby curl.
C: The cokecan says,
A: You’re smelling me up a tree about what the cokecan says.
B: That’s allah she wrote, and dearly there his no antic-dope.
A: Making maybe one two many tearful oponions. Two four many players to feel away.
B: And find what next text sub rosa.
A: Tear flicks clear nicks steer quicks appearing thickly. A toad implores exposed sword
chord out to the fiord.
B: The spear is spilling, my sweet, but the flash is meek.
C: And the meek, ma chere, clearly inhibit the mirth.
A: There’s another circle.
B: Another? Where?
A: Hidden in this one.
B: No one is there.
C: Someone is.
B: A child alone.
C: Sewing up images.
B: Into the stone.
A: Whenever there’s a lull.
C: A brilliance opens up.
A: A light in the crack.
Or some purgative Vaudeville:
We are unclean.. .Where I come from…We are unclean.. .Where I come from.. .We are, …Where I come from…Yes?…What?…Well, where you come from…?…Where?… What?…What where?…What about where you come from?…Where I come from…we sing!…You sing?…Yes…we sing!….So…we are still unclean…Yes?…We are unclean and singing will not clean us….Singing will not clean us…No…Singing will not clean us….No.. .Bathing perhaps will clean us.. .Please.. .And singing.. .You are not being serious…Where I come from we sing when we bathe…We cannot be cleaned….You, my friend, need to hear me say a series of words to you…A series of words…. Yes. Tulip oxygen formaldehyde reach please and thank you ladybug game level pattern ashtray innocuous entire porridge wind eat wall ambulance…flower…..Is that it?….For now, yes.. .Words are crap. They’re nothing. They’re noise…
Often in rehearsal you see the actors pushing toward encounters and you watch the words fail, particularly when time is limited and sensibilities are still a bit young and bewildered; so much of my writerly contribution, particularly with younger students, is just trying to model the idea that anything is possible, that communication is a wide and complex undertaking, particularly in performance work. The actors don’t always realize how layered and expressive they are as so many signalling bodies in space with their eyes attempting to lock onto something not quite available to sight as yet. Many lines of expression are moving simultaneously. Sometimes it is hard for them to let go of the desire to carry the burden of the meaning all on their own. It’s not always necessary to know exactly who is speaking or to what end. One more:
A: Lost in a maze of long discussions about sin.
B: I suggest as we sit upon our cold wood stools and dip our toes into the rising black water, we take a moment.
A: I don’t think I have the time to take that moment. I would rather go ahead and fall.
B: Falling is easy.
A: Easy for you. You can bleach the streets white with your last cry for help and believe it will make a difference.
B: You on the other hand I suppose are too lost to even offer up a squeak.
A: Look at me. If I could grab hold of something I would. I would grab hold of God if I
felt I had the strength.
B: If God were a woman…
A: God is a woman.
B: That’s your wish for some quiet breath and tears flowing behind the mad slaughter of
A: The moment I woke up and knew who she was.. .I finally could feel honored to be