camino evening

this is a letter I wrote to all my writers who so amazingly contributed to our camino evening… I hope it gives just a bit of a flavour of the night… it was so calm and seamless and everything I could have hoped for… thank you again writers, Anne Simpson, Tracy Hamon, Maureen Scott Harris, Daniel Tysdal, Colin Will, Tom Bryan, Diane Douglas, Modesto Fraga More, and the gorgeous Isa Milman

first of all, forgive my writing, I’m dead tired, but I wanted to communicate to you all a.s.a.p. I am totally conscious that I am writing to masters, so as i said, forgive lapses, cliche, etc. etc… and most of all, please accept my deep gratitude to all of you for responding so positively and so expertly… I threw it out to you, the challenge, and you all came back with such apropos work… brilliant!

so here it goes…

What can I say? Well, I’m sure that Isa will vouch for me that last night’s Camino was profound.

The event was set in the sanctuary of St. Andrews, a beautiful brick Victorian church that has the best acoustics in Victoria (our headliner, Daniel Lapp can have any venue in town and he choses St. Andrew’s, and by the way, Daniel has played Carnegie Hall etc. etc.!), due to its horseshoe shape and the warm wooden interior. During the evening, we had two projectors projecting images from the camino on the side walls to the left and right of the sanctuary. I was told that this wasn’t a distraction but rather that it gave a flavour to the event and took it from the realm of performance to experience.

We had no m.c. and the evening started with Daniel and a young fiddler playing a traditional Breton piece which they segued into a piece by the great national treasure, Oliver Schroer. The two left the stage and fiddled down separate aisles, and out the back doors. As soon as the fiddles faded into the distance, Ensemble Laude, a women’s medieval choir, sang a Kyrie and Alba (two medieval pieces) and Ultreia, the traditional French pilgrim song from the camino. The choir was in the dark and all we could see were the tiny blue LEDs illuminating their music… an aural hand of invitation extended to us from across the centuries… at one point their music coincided with an image of a stone face from the Cathedral of Burgos.

As soon as the choir finished, Isa Milman got up and read her gorgeous poem, Paper Birch. A perfect invocation… saying yes to it all. Isa, it gives me a huge widening feeling inside my chest just thinking about it. “Yes, to the turquoise wash, to the colour of spirit in the holy cities, to the memory of pyres… Yes to the tufted cheat-grass, yes to the wild violets…” Isa looked every bit the accomplished writer that she is, took command, pushed the little pilgrim boat out into the evening, set it on its gorgeous course.

When Isa sat down, 13 young fiddlers and Daniel got up and played “Reel de Joie”, a perfect beginning for the Joy section of the journey. It was so important to me to have children perform and I knew that they were the pros to do it. Studying with the master, Daniel, these 9 – 12 year olds are seasoned and accomplished performers without being automatons (as so often child performers are)… you’ve got the goofs and the girls who roll their eyes at them, you’ve got the little masters, and the pig tails and the almost teen, you’ve got the little rebel and the kid who just can’t get enough of the audience’s applause… you’ve got it all, and most of all, you look at them and see t of joy and profundity that will come out of them across the years like the cliched stone dropped in the pond (sorry writers for resorting to cliches, but I am dead tired!).

Scottish poet, Tom Bryan’s poetic sequence of five poems, “I was born by a river” Pilgrimage, was read by three actors, Dave Preston, Charles Tidler and a real, live Scot, Ken Farquharson (in his kilt!). A riff, a quintet, three things stick out in my mind from the reading… actually more but that’s for another time… and that was Ken reading the poem written in Scots (then translated by Dave), Charles’ reading of the song, “Road Man” in a slight southern accent (Charles is from the south), and the images from Part Five, “Further Down the Cobalt Path”… the image of the pilgrims (to Tolstoy’s grave), sheltered under nine oaks, the “birches bent like pale crossbows”… beautiful and so apropos… I know I’m not doing this justice… I hope, with permission, to YouTube the readings… more of that later too.

The men sat down and the stage was filled with the most beautiful women in town, Alma de Espana Flamenco troupe, and their two guitarists. Now most people think flamenco is a bunch of noise, castanets and cheesy outfits. The reality is that flamenco puro (which is what we dance) is something from way deep inside, and as with any true art form, transcends time/distance/culture. Last night flamenco gained a a whole lot more respect from the audience and fellow artists in attendance. To say that some love affairs were started last night is no exaggeration. Words fail (or maybe the writer fails), so look forward to me YouTubing (again, with permission).

The other Scot poet, Colin Will’s, A Progress, was read by Charles Tidler. Again, perfection, the theme of journey, pilgrimage, not religious yet deeply religious in its manifestation, “our Pilgrim’s way is not religious/but follows names of battles: /Avranches, Mortain, Falaise, St. Lo”.

Toronto poet, Maureen Scot Harris’ pilgrim ghazals, Prepare Never to Return, was read by Charles Tidler, Dave Preston and Lesley Preston. ” Walking I am measured by my body, discover/ I don’t breathe but am breathed./ Listen to that persistent susurration/ – its faithfulness … fragility … such longing! ” Maureen, your words brought clicks of recognition throughout the audience, little sighs.

As soon as the actors left the stage, Quinn and Qristina Bachand, an 11 year old guitar prodigy (I guarantee you’ll hear of him) and his fiddler sister, played two pieces from Normandy… such great contrast to the depth of Maureen’s piece, as the pilgrimage entered the second stage, Death… almost a “last dance” before the most difficult place in pilgrimage, the place of reckoning (physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual)…

Tracy Hamon’s Pilgrimage in three parts, opened the window a crack into the dissolution of relationship, “The commitment I carried, a wool sweater/bunched on the back-/every fibre itching from last week’s/quarrel, the patterned red/primordial thatching. That resentful/sting”. The darkening of the mood within the sanctuary was aural as the young flamenco guitarist, Gareth Owen, took the stage and played a seguireya, the most profound of flamenco forms. Gareth is only 20, but has grown up flamenco with his mother a dancer and his father, one of Canada’s finest players. Gareth ‘s playing consumed the audience for ten unbroken, relentlessly beautiful, passionate minutes. When he finished his piece and went to sit down, the audience cheered so loudly that he rather embarassedly climbed the stairs and took a shy bow. I have the priviledge of dancing to Gareth’s playing twice a week, and I know he is someone that we will all say, “I knew him when”.

The great master Daniel took over from Gareth with a dark exploration of death and the devil on his violin. Using harmonics extensively, improvising wildly, Daniel proved (as always) his command of the instrument, and also his command of that ability to reach somewhere real and profound, and make every person in the room feel it too. I had asked Daniel to think about the death section and especially to think about the character that I am writing about, Malángel (bad angel). Daniel played Malángel, giving the improvisation every bit of himself as if he were playing Carnagie Hall… which is why I admire Daniel so much… it doesn’t matter if he’s playing for an SRO prema venue crowd, or a community dance, he gives it all…

so it was my great honour to share the stage with Daniel as I read my piece, Meseta. “at Monasterio Santa Clara, he comes unbidden/in the scent of oranges from Sevilla,/in the hot shower that cannot wash la Rioja’s red earth from your skin,/in the glass of brandy and smoke and glances of old men”. Daniel improvised over my words. People cried… we did our job.

after a short intermission, Dave Preston read Diane Douglas’ prose piece, Grief Counseling. The short story of a man who walks his grief out and records the progress of the season, keeping a record of his kilometers, taking his pilgrimage at home rather than Santiago de Compostela, brought chuckles and sighs of recognition from the audience. It was extremely well received, and a fine shift from the intensity of the death, as well as a good contrast to the shorter works.

Ensemble Laude came back with a Georgian melody, ShenKhar Venacki, lightening the mood even more, and again beautifully sung from the balcony. The fiddle orchestra came back with Pacific Ocean, lighter still, then Daniel Tysdal’s Each shall Pay, read by Dave Preston and Charles Tidler. Daniel Tysdal’s work is visual, quirky, profound, and the men did it great justice in its reading. I think Daniel, you would be extremely pleased with the way Dave read your footnotes, instructions, and Charles, the body of the text. I know your piece hit somewhere big because my distinctly unpoetic sister quoted you and discussed at length what you were saying…
“The palindromic composition of the word is critical, he pointed out, because it reminds us that charity moves in two directions. One receives as one gives. One who gives now may later need to receive. A poet friend said I shared this transcription with said the word should not read “pay” but “give.’

This was so perfect for our rebirth/renaissance section of our journey. As soon as the men sat down, Vince Pollet began his jazz fusion, solo trumpet piece that wove “Notes from Spain” (a jazz standard) into a highly innovative Ave Maria… nothing like the Ave Maria trotted out so faithfully at memorials etc… Vince’s handling of the Spanish timbre brought a strong sense of place to the evening, that was followed up by one of the beautiful flamencas, Estelle Kurier, reading Galician poet, Modesto Fraga More’s poem Forca de Mar, first in Galician and then in English. … I won’t try and quote here without text, but it paid respect to the strength and loneliness of the salt people of Galicia who live and die by the sea.

The flamenco troupe danced tangos, a sensual flash of colour and strong footwork, and everyone’s dreamy eyes snapped open… I don’t think many in the audience had any idea of flamenco’s intensity and its huge appetite for life until last night.

We finished the evening with Anne Simpson’s gorgeous (and sorry for such an inadequate word), okay, buttery? (no better), sensual (oh I give up!) poem, Spanish… I read this online and Anne offered it to our event after I told her how much I felt it belonged, thank you Anne, “Say how you want Cassiopeia’s/radiance under your tongue, how you want the stars undone.” Okay, how does delicious sound?

To bring everyone to stage, we had our local “madman” piper, Nate Roberts, play some Galician pipe tunes… what a fun sight, a wild piper in his kilt with a bunch of flamencas behind him tapping out their rhythmns in their heels.

An amazing evening. Long but strangely not long. Seamless. Everything just fit.

thank you writers, thank you


p.s. more on chapbook later
p.p.s. I want to YouTube the readings… if anyone doesn’t want me to, please let me know