Friday, October 12, 2007

Kerrville: 1

First posted 8 October 2007

"Poetry on the Patio" and "Facing the Shadow"

Anne Schneider – poet, mask maker, doll maker and Tai Chi teacher – had been corresponding with me by email for some months ahead of my visit and we'd designed a workshop incorporating writing, mask-making and dance, for us to teach together. We had such easy rapport, we already felt as if we'd known each other always.

She picked me up from Neil and Dorsey's on Thursday the 6th, and drove me to her home in Kerrville, a pretty town in the hill country near Austin and San Antonio. Until I made the journey I had no idea what a long trip it was for her. Yet another example of generous Texas hospitality, and a mere foretaste of what was to come! It's hard to pick any one highlight of my Texas tour, which was so full of them, but my time in Kerrville was a very special interlude.

I emailed Andrew on the Friday:
"More lovely hosts and luxury accommodation here! Spanish style house and guest cottage in treed garden with rock pool and waterfall, in a suburb rather like the leafy parts of Eltham." [Eltham is a hill suburb of Melbourne, Australia.]

A section of Anne and Harry's garden

"As I type, Harry (Anne's husband) is practising his classical guitar downstairs; a mellow sound.

I have a big poetry reading tonight on Anne's capacious patio."
Anne had organized a reading featuring a number of local poets with me, the international visitor, as star turn, and plenty of non-reading audience members too, to enjoy the show. We had a buffet dinner first at a number of outdoor tables, then assembled in a courtyard area for the reading.

Then on the Saturday we had our one-day workshop.

Again, I'll quote from a detailed email to Andrew, written on Monday the 10th (interspersing a couple of poems mentioned):

" Well, what can I say? Anne and I are the soul-sisters we already knew we were from email communications. Harry is a simply lovely man, a retired
lawyer who now plays classical guitar, practises daily, performs professionally at times, and wishes he had given his whole life to it instead of discovering it so late. He is a courteous, gentle person whose bookshelf contains items you have too and others you'd like. He and I like each other very much, have a quietly affectionate relationship, and yesterday he brought me home a lovely ornamental frog after hearing my green tree-frog poem the night before."

Celebration of the Green Tree-Frog

The small frog squats at night

in the track of the sliding door,
hunched below the level of the glass.
Lamplight turns him brown;

his eyes are amber beads.
He is carved stone
watching the moths.
They flutter above him,

little brown leaves
falling against the flywire

and twirling off.

In daylight the frog is green,
sticky and shiny with big webbed feet,
transparent as a leaf.
On top of the water tank
in the gap between pipe and filter,
just where the rain spills in,
he rests and celebrates.

When storms lash and the pipe gushes,
we hear from his tiny throat
a pulsing, continuous drum-beat
heavy and huge and deep.

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 1996

"Before the poetry night Anne and I went to visit her friend Paula who gave us lavender, flowering sage and irises to decorate the venue. She keeps
cats, dogs, chickens, prairie dogs (a kind of squirrel without the bushy tail) and a miniature horse. We also saw this part of the Guadalupe River, which is truly a turquoise colour; you would not believe it if you saw it on a postcard. (Neil had prepared me for it already.) And at the health food shop I got an unscented roll-on deodorant. EVERYONE in Texas (it sometimes seems) has huge allergy problems including sensitivity to smells, and eventually Dorsey told me gently that my perfume was rather strong and perhaps I should try using essential oils instead. As that is what I do use, I identified the problem as the spray deodorant I brought from Oz, largely chemical-free but quite scented. Now I am fine and can go amongst people without causing distress!

The poetry reading on Friday was a great night,
beautiful balmy weather on Anne & Harry's patio. A good crowd turned up, maybe two dozen, we weren't counting. Four other poets read for 10 minutes each, all good, one wonderful. (I swapped books with her later.) One woman read an amazing prize-winning poem by her 11-year-old grandson, profound stuff. The Dress – or should I say The Gown? – featured of course, to great acclaim. They liked me too. Some of my funnier pieces stopped the show, people laughed so hard and long. It got dark sooner than expected, so we ended up reading by torchlight but that was fine. Luckily I have memorised the more performancy pieces. I had wonderful conversations, and met one woman who is such a kindred spirit that we agree we have to keep in touch.

Seven of the same women, and one who had been unable to attend, turned up for the writing and mask workshop yesterday (Saturday). That too was a huge success. It is pretty amazing considering Anne and I mostly planned it by email with only a quick get-together about it Friday afternoon in
between preparing for the reading. Afterwards people expressed surprise to have accomplished so much in one day. It was called Facing the Shadow. I introduced it, speaking about parts of the psyche, explaining the concept of the shadow, and reading a couple of my poems that came from some strange, unfamiliar aspect of my persona. Only later I discovered one of the group was a professional psychologist! But she was gracious, saying she had long noticed that writers already know a lot of this stuff she trained in.

Anne used me as demonstration model for casting a mask, then I got to watch as the participants paired up and cast each other under her supervision. With fast drying plaster it took only half an hour to make a cast.

We broke for lunch, came back and I guided them through a meditation about meeting their shadow, then they did some timed writings. Anne participated in this. I re-read my Carlina poem (which I also did the night before) seeing it as being about reclaim
ing the shadow."


‘Yes, Rod Craig,’ I said,
ripping off my mask —
‘I AM Carlina!’
and I smiled: a wicked smirk
of curling crimson lips.

My little brother
and his friend,
the kid from next door,
got a bit scared.
They knew I was quoting, but,
‘You really changed!’
they said later.

My slanty green eyes flashed.

I tilted my hips
in the black sheath dress
and casually sharpened my nails —
my long, red, pointed nails —
on the slim dagger
I kept in my boot.

I met Carlina in a comic book:

the evil beauty,
a seductress who killed.
I was not repelled.

Her hair was black and sleek,
rippling down her back.
No mere gangster’s moll,
she was the brains of the gang.

She schemed. She gave orders.

Always, I was the one
who scripted our games.
The day Carlina entered in,

the script went wild;
I followed where she led.

Dangerous battles happened.
We fought with improvised guns.

(Guns were forbidden; we didn’t care.)
We scaled high back yard fences
or writhed like snakes through scrub.

I got to know a lot about her
that wasn’t in the book.

Once she’d been a pirate,
captain of her own fleet.

She began as a dancer, a gypsy.
She could pass for an aristocrat.

When our mothers called us indoors,
Carlina disappeared smartly.
I knew she had to be secret.

She threatened the little boys
so they wouldn’t tell.
They never did.

The mask melds with my flesh.
For years I live inside
its comfortable normality.
I raise my kids ... I go to work ...

Suddenly in late middle age
I dye my hair wild magenta,

wear low cut gowns,
and a bold pendant
shaped like a sword.
My lips are painted purple.

Yes, Rod Craig,

I AM Carlina!

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 2006

"Then we decorated our masks, and I got to participate. It was wonderful indeed to see what transformations were wrought on the plain white forms. We had all sorts of materials to use: paper, fabric, beads, shells, leather, feathers, crystals ... and great little glue guns, and of course lots of paints.

Having done that meditation in the past, I expected my shadow to be a tribal warrior, young and male. No matter what I did, however, the face looked like my mother! Eventually I gave up and just went where the spirit guided me. It was a process: she became my martyred mother, and later the one who tried to pretty everything up and present a nice face to the
world. Finally the sadness metamorphosed into strength, and behold – a tribal warrior emerged of his own accord, out of all that!

Everyone got to say what they felt their mask expressed or represented. I pronounced on what I saw as the essential quality in each one. They wrote some more. We danced with our masks, holding them to face us, and we each gradually, spontaneously, unexpectedly fell in love with our own shadow. Then we turned them around and danced AS our shadows. Anne, who didn'
t make a mask of her own on this occasion, found she had created a psychic mask to dance with!

I spoke about the muse and read them my muse poem. They wrote some more.
Few people shared any of these writings; I took this to mean they were going deep. (There were some passing comments which delighted me, suggesting the meditation had sparked many new insights.)The few pieces that were aired were wonderful, and at the end a woman shared two beautiful poems she wrote in response to the final exercise. Then we all lined up for photos with our masks, and suddenly it was all over!
All tired afterwards, Harry and Anne took me out to dinner at a restaurant a couple of minutes drive away. We sat outside, overlooking the river, which ran right beside the restaurant patio, and watched the sun set on the peaceful water. I had a fresh water fish called Tapilia, very tender and tasty. Harry put his arm round me and said, 'Rosemary, how can we let you leave?' and Anne chimed in, concurring. I said I wasn't mad keen to go, but then we decided I might find the summers here a bit much: over 100 degrees F quite often. We turned in as soon as we came back home, but I was restless until midnight, processing after the workshop. Anne said she woke at 4 to do the same. I didn't rise until 9.30 today; Anne and Harry not till 10. We are having a nice, lazy time.

I can sure see why Thom likes Texas! The people are so warm and kind, and there is so much poetry around.

And I have finally seen a few deer. They roam these hills and are considered pests that people try to keep out of their gardens. The ones I saw when we drove out at dusk yesterday were hornless, small and pretty."


I thought at the time I would write a series of poems about the workshop, but it's taken me until only a few days ago to get started! The Texas tour changed my life in many ways, leading me in new directions in writing which have kept me busy, and it seems I needed many months to process it all! At last this recent piece begins the series:


(Kerrville, Texas, April 2006)

For Anne Schneider

1. Beginning

I perch on the high stool
out the front, looking down

from this vantage-point
on the group of women
my fellow-students.

I close my eyes.
She covers them with cloth.
Now I must trust her.
I wobble. She brings something firm –
box or shelf or upturned bucket –
on which I rest my feet.

She blots out first my brow
then cheeks, nose, chin
with thick petroleum jelly.

She describes to the group
the inch-by-inch procedure,
with every new step
telling them why.

Telling me too.

Her fingers are gentle.
Inside my blindness
I begin to feel protected.
She touches my shoulder,
showing me she is there
right by me,
I won't go spinning

over the cliff of thought
to the floor.

Without this reassurance,

I might not sit so quiet
for the application of texture –

wet, cold, smothering my skin,
even covering my nostrils briefly.
I hold myself stiff
in order to not shriek.
I forgot to tell her

I suffer, though ever-so-slightly,
from claustrophobia.

Her sweet voice continues

to prevent me flying off
into terror.
Her deft touch keeps me
grounded, present, still.

Quite soon, the whole concoction

is lifted off me.
I rediscover sight.
My sense of self

settles into familiar territory.
I feel my centre,

I know my edges.

White, lifeless, removed,
my facial likeness lying over there,
my other, newborn self
embodies the term "blank-faced".

I grow interested in her.
I could invest in this different me
hidden things, invented things,
visions of who I might be
in other worlds / times / truths.

I collect my materials,
selecting bits of coloured silk,

buttons, liquid glitter, shells …
I become explorer.

Let the journey begin!

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 2007

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