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G Boddington
& Mukul Patel
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S Jeyasingh
& Peter Gomes
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R Layzell
& Jane Draycott
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R Lee
& Michael Donaghy
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G Miller
& Peter Wiegold
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E Wallen
& April de Angelis
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Conference Credits
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Rosemary Lee and Michael Donaghy

RL … I wanted to start off where the last podium that was here, left off, when the light went off, which was audience. I wondered if you could talk a bit about how you relate to your reader when you are writing, and maybe when it is finished as well. What your relationship is with the reader.

MD I write poetry, not that that has all that many readers nowadays – but when you write a letter to someone or a love poem to someone, to someone in particular or send a telegram, you know who you are talking to. But in poetry as a literature, printed form, you have really no idea who your audience is. What you are doing is – you have to set up a fiction, a working fiction – that is your audience, and what they are, for me, my ideal reader has read all the books I have read, but doesn’t necessarily know all the people I know. Doesn’t need to be preached to, or told off or, etc. So it is actually an act of empathy with the reader. I think that that is a very important word for audience.

RL that is interesting – empathy came up yesterday. I was doing a lecture-dem – or it wasn’t a lecture-dem – I was trying to reveal my process, and I was talking about how, for me, I want the audience to almost be in the dancers’ feet somehow. And I am trying to grapple with this. With the artists at the party last night I was talking about, well that is actually about empathy. What I would quite like the audience to have is some kind of empathetic relationship with the performer in some way. But if they read the same books as you, are you writing for yourself or – are you hoping they are little clones of you?

MD it is an act of empathy, you are creating this working fiction – either – some people will participate in, some people will get all of it, some people will get 70 per cent of it, etc. you always are. Interestingly, one of the things you talked about is this velvet flow, this – you talk about it as having it on the inside as well as on the inside, it is an object, out there somehow. I would submit that – you are feeling the audience reaction, that is how – or the expectations of the other dancers, that is where the flow exists. Something that is inside you and outside you.

RL so, when your reader reads a poem, are you hoping that they might be in a similar state to you when you write the poem?

MD that is an interesting idea. We are talking about poetry and dance in general. Since we are comparing these two things, if I could just bring it along to where I stand, thinking about my own artform, I try to think where it all starts. Here we are in the 21st century. We are still using, in terms of poetry, in terms of dance, these prehistoric artforms. If you think of memory as information storage and retrieval – that is more or less how I think of them – if you think, verse. What its original function was, was to fix. In a preliterate society, the only way you can fix information and bring it from one village to the next, much less one generation to the next, is by putting into some kind of song and dance. Some memorisable form. That is what verse is. The only way you could have that information – about how to navigate by the stars or hunt a particular animal or the place of your tribe in the universe, in your ancestry – the only way you can do that is to fix it into that form. And both these things work together, this movement in space and the apportioning of your information into places. That goes way back into the earliest of what we know about oral traditions. It has got to do with – space in dance, fixing things in the memory.

RL so what is the relationship between dance and language there then?

MD I think – they are very interrelated – well, RG Collingwood, the historian, said dance is the motor of language. That all languages are really based in – there are all kinds of wonderful empirical studies now, psychologists, about how gesture precedes language. Which is interesting in terms of theory – but, getting back to this business of apportioning things in space in poetry – classical orators would remember these tremendously long orations by assigning various parts of their poem or their argument – and they would be poems of course, because they would have to string bits together – to various places in a room. So we get various locations or topics. In fact the word, stanza, of a poem, means room. You would be moving about the room and you would remember – it would take hours – simply by moving slowly about the room. And everything you associate with verse, with metaphor and simile, metre, all these things are mnemonic devices. One I think is particularly interesting is this one called chiasmus. It comes from chi, the Greek letter x, and I think – a very famous example of that would be, when Kennedy was inaugurated, Robert Frost did a little speech – the poem before Kennedy’s inaugural address, and it began with the line, The gift outright began with the line, ‘the land was ours before we were the land’s.’ Then Kennedy got up and gave this speech, and the only line anyone remembers is the line, ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ Which is the same shape, it is like a couple of dancers changing places. Beauty is truth, truth is beauty.

RL I love when you say things like that because it kind of affirms something I believe, I sort of hope that I can hold onto the belief when I am making the work. Because sometimes I feel a bit removed from a kind of history of the arts, somehow, with contemporary dance. Because I want to feel part of it, and when I talk with you I think it is all so connected. The last thing I have been working on had a real folk dance element to it, and I know that one of your essays was based on that kind of structure, of traditional form holding meaning. It really made sense to me this week, I am sure it has effected what I was doing. I was doing really simple forms, but somehow they seemed a container for so much, and that simple form has such a history, back to what you are talking about, that bardic traditionally – the oral tradition. I find that so fascinating that the link is there. Last time we talked, can you just give that lovely example you said to me about every word having a physical root. You were telling me about object and subject.

MD Everything – we talk in abstractions, abstract nouns, all these words are, have their origins, etymologically, are in physical actions, like, the very word, ‘is’ or ‘am’, these words are related to the Sanskrit roots, 'as' means to breathe. ‘subject’ means ‘to throw under’, ‘object’ is ‘to throw in the way of’, so these are very physical actions – we abstract from these concrete ideas into abstractions.

RL so, maybe this ties in with what you were saying. Going back to the audience, maybe a little bit, you said that poetry goes beyond language or it is a little bit – what did you say, about it being beyond reason? So the words aren’t labels anymore, but they have something else. And to me, that is the same as in dance. You get somewhere that isn’t verbal – what is it? What is the place you want your audience to get to? What’s that ‘get it’ place?

MD one thing we have in common in terms of these two artforms – just go back to the classics again, the mother of the muses, Mnemnosyne, is Memory. Before – what is moving dance, what is moving poetry is this aspect of memory. But we will think about memory in a second – what you are saying, I suppose – I have been trying to find psychologists who are working on it – this principle – because it is difficult, Arthur Deacon has talked about this, a process that he calls ‘de-automatisation’. You know mystics always say that the experience is completely ‘beyond words’…

[aside, unclear, about MD stiff neck from positioning by mic]

… this experience is completely ‘beyond words.’ What Deacon says is that it is ‘before words’. What happens is, we are born, for all Noam Chomsky has to say about our innate linguistic ability, we are born inarticulate but with this tremendous uninformed consciousness. That is why our babies are vulnerable for much longer than any other primates, we have this huge forebrain. What we do with this consciousness, we delimit it as a survival technique. We use language in order to ask for things. To avoid things. What language does, it delimits our consciousness, necessarily. Language is an automating principle… so many examples of this, we have a very limited vocabulary for things that we experience in an open and receptive, non-analytic mode. Love, aren’t you always irritated that all you can always say to someone you love is ‘I love you’. Whereas if you are going to talk about, say finance, you have a huge vocabulary. Poetry is a particular use of language, that I think is using language against itself. In these patterns, to break that automatisation open and bring it to what I would call that receptive mode.

RL so you are hoping the audience will be in a receptive mode, or the poem will break something, those boundaries – so that the language sort of opens your consciousness more? Is that right?

MD yes, that is where I am trying to get to.

RL that is exactly where I am trying to get too.

MD well that’s a good thing isn’t it?

RL shall we just stop right there? The light can go off. Talking to you last week really made me understand a little bit more that relationship to me and the audience. Because, if someone said, what do you want the audience to get from your work, I would say I would want them to perhaps have some kind of change. This is my – you know, an ideal – I am not expecting that always to happen. Some kind of transformation, but then I think more clearly about that, no, it is some opening. I would always say that I would want people to feel more open. It is something about suddenly, the blinkers come off for a moment. Everything shifts and settles into some other place. Even if it happens for a split second. And then I thought, but that is the same place when I get an idea. So then, the creator is the same as what you want the audience. And that is a real revelation to me. Very helpful.

MD I sometimes – this sense of splitting things up in a diagram where I think form in the poetry, or in any other artform, can function for the audience like – or for the creator – lets say the creator – like a frame. So if I say to you, Rosie, this dance piece has to have 20 steps, and you have to turn around twice, or if you say to me, your poem has got to incorporate the words bible, wedding, count and giraffe, that actually gives me – it is easier than saying do a dance piece or do a poem, because you have cut a swathe through a forest of possibilities, given someone a lead. As Stravinsky said, in art the more rules you have, the freer you are. But for the audience, it functions as a kind of map. On the one hand we have this, and on the other we have that. You know where you are going. As, for example, with a rhyme scheme in a poem. Now that is how things function on a conscious level. On a more subliminal level, I would say that it can function on the audience as a kind of sense of hypnosis. That putting you in that receptive state –

RL because they are safe with the form, is that what you mean? Because they know what is happening they don’t have to –

MD they can treat this as something that they will offer 'reception' to, receptivity. Whereas, for you, and this is what I am getting at, there is no diagram at all. Because you are your audience, and I am my reader. It isn’t really separate. Because what you are doing is more or less hypnotising yourself – you know, when you get a great idea, where did that come from? I didn’t think of it, somehow my poem was written through me, your dance was - happened through me. And this was why people used to talk about the muses. It does come from you, but not from that part of you that you think of as yourself, that you name Rosie Lee.

RL so do any of your poems get written for you?

MD they all do. I have a service, I pay them… [laughter].

RL but you see – I know exactly what you are saying, but then I remember you saying that writing a poem for you was like trying to balance a rock on another rock, you are constantly shifting, constantly chiselling away until you have got the balance point, and when you have got the balance point you – but that could take weeks –

MD that could take weeks, an awfully long time. I think you need that faith that you are moving there.

RL so then it wouldn’t feel like it was being written through you, would it, because you are moving this rock around?

MD but how does it get there, why is it there? Why do you know it is there?

RL why do you know it is there?

MD because somehow, it is like someone is telling you, that’s it, its finished.

RL you mean, you are not telling yourself that it is finished?

MD but of course it is you.

RL how do we know it is there then?

MD you do though, don’t you?

RL yes, you do. [laughter]

MD how do we know?

RL I don’t think I do know sometimes. That it is there. It has got to be performed in a week. No, maybe I do. No, I don’t know. Actually, I am not sure that I know when it is balancing.

MD the great thing – lately, I have been doing my poems to people. Performing – a long time ago I realised that I had my poems by heart, that I could no longer read them out of the page. Suddenly, it felt – oh, no, I had inadvertently memorised my poems and I can’t pretend to be reading them out of the book anymore. It was so different for me, to be now facing an audience, and to be participating in something that you have all the time, as a dancer. I think that this is a much more realistic – it returns verse to what it originally was. Oh, lights –

[End of recording]

 

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