Friday, October 12, 2007

National Poetry Month, Texas, then and now: San Antonio

First posted 10 April 2007

Here are two very recent video clips of Thom the World Poet performing for students and staff at Schreiner University in Texas. Watch both - the introduction is much the same but the poems are different.

The woman introducing Thom is Dr Kathleen Hudson who conducts the writing course there. She's a formidable writer herself and a devoted chronicler of Texas music and musicians. Round about this time last year I was her guest, gave a performance for her students, discussed writing with them, and heard some of their own exciting work. That was while I was visiting nearby Kerrville. Before that, however, came more adventures in Austin and San Antonio, beginning with Gini's Tea Rooms in San Antonio the night after the Expressions gig.

On the way to dropping me off for the trip to the Tea Rooms, Neil took me to a reading called Poetry in the Arts. It was run by Peggy Lynch, a real Southern belle - at 83! Full of charisma, wit and joy, she welcomed me warmly and gave me two spots on her program as well as promoting my book launch. One of the musos from Expressions the night before was there, and when I was announced he called out loudly, 'She's a wonderful poet!' (I got to know him later: Chip Ross, the drummer who always plays with Roger and Clive when they visit Austin.)

Meeting Peggy showed me that the famous Southern charm is actually all about caring for people. I was to come across many more examples during my time in Texas.

Christine, whom I'd met at Expressions the night before, gave Patricia Fiske and me a lift to San Antonio - quite a hike from Austin. I don't do jet lag? Ha! It was late afternoon and I kept nodding off. Patricia was puzzled that I didn't want to look at scenery I'd never seen before, but I simply couldn't stay awake. It was Christine who realised it must be jet lag. Probably a good thing I gave in to it. I emailed Andrew later that I 'managed to put on a performance that had people remarking afterwards what a bundle of energy I am!'

Gini's Tea Rooms was like an English tea rooms with dark wood, white tablecloths, a big antique sideboard. I told Andrew: 'We all had tea or coffee, and amazing cakes. I was the final of 4 featured poets, high standard and hard acts to follow. Then there was an open section, all good. People enjoyed my stuff and said so later.'

I didn't wear The Dress; it was rinsed out and hanging up in the shower back at Neil and Dorsey's. Mim Scharlack, who was hosting the performance, had already heard about it and was disappointed not to see it. I'd been corresponding with Mim by email from Australia after Thom put us in touch. She was a slight, vibrant, pretty little woman with snow-white hair, who sang and drummed with gusto during her own performance. The drum strapped around her waist looked big enough to pull her over! But Mim is far more powerful than she looks, in all sorts of ways. I could have listened to her all night. Rupert was on the program too, and I was delighted that Roger and Clive were performing as well. It was a wonderful audience; the place was full and everyone was attentive and appreciative. For the first time, I heard the wonderful Patricia perform in public. At 79, she was glamorous, confident, talented and funny. I found out later she was a very seasoned performer with a theatrical background, who sometimes blends music, poetry, drama and dance.

It happened that that was the last night ever of the regular monthly poetry evenings at Gini's. It can be hard to sustain a poetry venue over time. The people clearly felt sad as they formally thanked both Gini and Mim, and no wonder – it had been going for nine years. I had a sense of occasion, a historic moment to have been a part of. The poets and musos finished the night with a party at Mim's house. I met her beloved old dog which wasn't well, and gave it some Reiki. It was late when we got back to Austin.

Next morning I was up early to return to San Antonio. Neil was due to pick up Dorsey from the airport, and I took a taxi to Thom's house to ride down with him and Rupert. This time I managed to take in the sights on the way. I couldn't get over it when Thom said, 'There's the Alamo,' and I glimpsed a tiny, pretty little white building overpowered by huge, glass-fronted shops and offices.

We were featured at Celebration Circle, a Sunday gathering for people of all religions. I wrote to Andrew later:

'I had the most amazing morning. We went to Celebration Circle in San Antonio: me, Rupert Hopkins from Bristol, and Thom. I wore The Dress, particularly for Mim who ran the Tearooms reading and had hoped to see it the night before. (Its fame had preceded me!)

Thom introduced me to Rudi who runs the Circle; he was younger than I'd expected. He gave me a namaste hand gesture which I returned, and a hug likewise. The venue was a theatre with tiered rows of chairs and a stage with two mikes and a couple of sound engineers testing levels. One of them greeted me "Hare Om," and after a moment of surprise, I replied, "Hare Bol."

Rudi showed us order of program, how to adjust mike, and so forth. I sat down and watched him rehearse. He is muso and poet, plays guitar and sings, and dances a bit. As I watched I went into total deja vu. He was now completely familiar to me, well known in fact, and so were the other musos who came on stage to join the rehearsal. It wasn't a dramatic thing, but very strong, and continued the rest of the time. I remarked on it to Rudi, who just laughed and was fairly matter of fact about it.

Celebration Circle is Sunday worship, of a very eclectic kind. One song he rehearsed starts: 'Come to the light. Come to Christ, come to Krishna, come to Buddha, come to the Father and the Mother Goddess too, come to Allah, come to Jesus, the Spirit that frees us ...' and goes on to ask us to remember who we are and that we are all one. I lapped it up! Partly because Rudi's energy is pure love and joy (not at all ostentatiously).

Although apparently many people had forgotten about changing to daylight saving and didn't turn up, the theatre soon became quite full. A man from India, who bought my book at Expressions the other night, brought his wife up to introduce to me. Before we began, Rudi took the musos and poets out the back for a quick prayer circle, standing holding hands and asking to be of service and to know that we are all one. It all felt soft, gentle, and nice – and genuine.

So there was music and singing. Beautiful slides of nature were shown on a screen all the time, without anything being said about them. Rudi's wife Zet invited us to honour the directions by standing and facing each direction in turn, while singing,'O Great Spirit' etc. - the chant I have so often played at my Reiki classes. At one point the several young children present were invited down on to the stage and stood there a few minutes while we all spoke love and blessings to them, very simply. Rudi gave a lovely discourse on one of Thic Na Than's questions. He and Thom did some 'word stew' combining poetry, music and discourse. And at three different places during the program the poets did a round: first me, then Rupert, then Thom. On Thom's advice I did again, as it was mainly a different audience, the 'down under' poem that has become my opener. It was a hit as usual. In fact, after that, Rudi played some music before putting Rupert and Thom on. The others I did were The Sword of Archangel Michael and Dancing for the Goddess.

At times there was a slightly gospel feel to the event, with people clapping and singing along – myself included – to things like 'This Little Light of Mine'. The whole feeling was friendly and joyous, but softer and sweeter than a gospel meeting. It had some flavour of a Hare Krishna celebration, but livelier and freer. I found it so totally nourishing I cannot tell you! I experienced it like some lovely acknowledgment bestowed on me for the path I have been following. I felt greatly blessed by the Goddess. When I gave Rudi a hug in thanks later, and told him how nourished I felt, he smiled and said, "Welcome home!" to which I responded, "Oh, absolutely!"

I am surely starting to get a sense of why this journey was so meant to be, and so serendipitously arranged despite seeming at first so impossible!'

The Sword of Archangel Michael

The sword glows
in my right hand.
My arm swings from the shoulder
wielding blue flame:
sharp light, the cut of truth.

Precise moves.
Economy. Bite.
These are the qualities.
These and blue light –
a laser that heals where it touches.

In the beginning
the word.
The word true,
the word precise,
the word deliberately aimed.

It cuts to the heart,
my sword in flight.
From the heart of God
to the point of now
exactly aimed,
quick light.

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 1995
First published Divan (e-zine) issue 4, Dec. 2001.
Also in Secret Leopard: New and selected poems 1974-2005, Alyscamps Press (Paris) 2005

Rudi onstage, and with Mim after the performance

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