Poetry On Stage
The two poems from my Dressing Up pamphlet that I present with annotations this week, are paired together in the pamphlet because both involve, to a degree, the stage. The first poem, which is the thirteenth in the pamphlet, loosely touches on the opera Turandot, which Puccini left uncompleted at his death, but which was completed by one of his students from sketches that Puccini had left. The second poem uses a well-known line from Shakespeare’s As You Like It as its inspiration.
Borrowing lessons learned and sharing what we knew,
retreating into dream where needed,
advancing far into after hours,
moments filled with talk
like shadows, nattering back and forth,
and always spinning in dark and light
an enigma and a globe.
the costume contradicting the fiery cold,
held time in abeyance,
confronting fear and hope
that tomorrow would reveal;
ruffled the morning chorus feathers before we called it day,
for who expects to sleep before riddles
just like these are laid to rest?
Losing was the only game to play.
This is one of a couple of poems that I can date fairly precisely — at least in terms of the year. I was working in London and living in Luton when I found an online poetry forum called Crystal Lake Poetics. It ceased a long time ago, and it was pretty small, but this was the early days of the internet — before the social media world that we are familiar with today. The forum was based in America, and it had a chat box where I chatted most nights to a couple of girls from Denton, TX, and one from Stockton, CA who had lived in Denton. The time difference therefore was pretty substantial! And that is what made me think of portraying these conversations like the scene in Turandot, where Princess Turandot has decreed, as related in the famous tenor aria, Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep), that none shall sleep that night until the unknown prince’s name is known.
We really were like shadows nattering back and forth, talking about everything and nothing; occasionally I’d start something poetic based on these discussions. I remember a favourite random acronym that got flung into the chat window related to tacos with extra cheese and lots of mayo, though I can’t remember it exactly enough to recreate the acronym!
The Turandot inspiration comes through particularly in the lines: your world, / the costume contradicting the fiery cold, / held time in abeyance. Because in the opera, Princess Turandot is an icy-cold personality. The myriad princes who had accepted her challenge to answer three riddles in order to win her hand in marriage, inevitably ended up decapitated when their attempts failed; until an unknown prince successfully answers all three riddles. He gives Turandot a get-out-of-marriage-free card, when he says that if she can discover his name he will not hold her to marrying him. This is why nobody is allowed to sleep, and why the unknown prince’s servant girl, Liu, grabs a soldier’s dagger and stabs herself to death so that nobody can torture her to discover the prince’s name. As you can probably tell, I love the opera! I’ve seen it once when I lived in Atlanta, and once in Abergavenny — transatlantic conversations and transatlantic opera performances 🙂
All Worlds Are Stages
inspired by William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7
The curtain raised
you make your entrance
you pause and hear the audience. Hush.
At that moment my eyes are closed
and the present becomes an intangible fragment.
Because there is only me.
Because there is only you.
And because there is only everyone else.
Beyond that lie a thousand conceivable worlds
in every one a different beginning
and half have happy endings.
In half I open my eyes
in time to witness the birth of new life;
in half I surface only to see you leave —
your audience making their own ways home;
one ending differs from another only in the detail.
In gallantly seizing one opportunity, we know
one thousand doors,
one thousand other realities quietly close,
and at Fate’s every touch we fall,
like two mortal heroes.
This is a curious poem, and one that I am very fond of. I wrote it using a kind-of acrostic structure … except I did the usual method of using somebody’s name, starting each line with a word that uses the letters of the person’s name. But I also did the same with the last letters of the words at the end of the line, with the person’s name in reverse order. It’s better to illustrate it with an example. If I were doing it with my name, for example, the first word of the first line would begin with a G, and then the second line would begin with a word that begins with I, the third line an L etc. The word at the end of the bottom line would end with the letter G, the word at the end of the penultimate line would end with an I, etc. And if that weren’t fiddly enough, I indented everything … so instead of the first word of the second line beginning with an I, I made the second word of the second line begin with I, and the third word of the third line begin with L, the final word of the final line end with G, and the penultimate word of the penultimate line end with an I.
The poem needed to have the same number of words per line as the total letters in the person’s name in order for this to work. Using my name, that would have meant thirteen. I used a framework of underscores to represent each word, like so: _____ _____ _____. I then began to craft the poem, thinking of a word that began with the first letter of the person’s name, and then attempting to draft a line towards a word that ended with the last letter of the person’s last name. Conveniently in my example, the person’s name also had a total of thirteen characters in the first name and surname, though her first name had eight characters and her surname had five, whereas my first name has five and my surname eight! Once I had assembled a poem I was happy with, I broke the lines at points where they needed to be broken to form a “normal” poem.
The sharp-eyed and chisel-brained reader might discover there are not 13 x 13 = 169 words in this poem! That is because, in making it more poetic, I carved-out a few words. One example of that came in the last line, which was, initially, like two very mortal heroes; an editor friend of mine pointed out that something cannot be very mortal, it is either mortal or it is not mortal.
This is another poem I can date with reasonable certainty, because of the period in which I worked with the dedicatee. It would have been 2004–2005. Being a not very brave mortal hero, I did show her the poem … anonymously, by sending it as a private message on a pre-Facebook social media site. she replied … she said, “Who is this sending me some weird poem?” … Which I was not surprised by, haha! In later years I did fess-up and, while meeting for a cup of coffee, gave her a copy of Dressing Up, and asked her if she remembered receiving this poem. She didn’t, haha! I explained how I’d written it, and she didn’t give any impression of being dismayed 🙂
I like this poem because the image of every person being the actor on their own stage is exactly how we should view our lives. At the finest level, if I hadn’t written this poem then it wouldn’t be in my pamphlet and I wouldn’t be writing this blog post today. If I hadn’t lied the life I have, then I wouldn’t likely have been working in jobs that had me, for a while, working with the person that inspired this poem … or joining the Crystal Lake Poetics group that resulted in the Turandot poem. If I hadn’t started to learn the recorder at primary school at the age of about six, then I would likely not have learned the trumpet and then the piano, and I probably would never have seen the opera Turandot, so couldn’t have talked about it in the Crystal Lake chat window! I like all the doors that I have chosen to step through 🙂
I love the idea that we are all actors on our own stage, Giles. I’ve been trying for some time to write a series of children’s novels based on the kids of a Year 6 class. Each book has a different child as the hero of his/her own story..
that is a wonderful idea … because every child is indeed the hero of their own story, and they need to believe that … and a good school will encourage them to believe that 🙂 xx