Friday, October 12, 2007

The first gig

Originally posted 9 July 2006

My first gig was Friday 31st March, two nights after my arrival, at Expressions — a monthly event at the B’hai Centre, hosted by Thom.

I spent most of that day rehearsing. ‘Don’t worry if you hear strange noises from next door,’ I told Neil.

I was worried about my performance as I seemed to have a bit of a cold and be lacking breath for my longer lines. I said some prayers; no backing out now! I decided to wear my purple Goddess gown. I wanted to perform a new poem that referred to it, which would work better with the visual component. When Neil knocked on my door to take me to the venue, I asked, ‘Can I wear this?’

‘This is Austin.’ he said. ‘You can wear anything.’ He remarked what a lovely outfit it was — the first of many such compliments I received. I thought I would have to say something throw-away from the stage about how I was keeping Austin weird — which is a slogan and bumper sticker there — but everyone was so complimentary about my dress before I even got on stage that it simply wasn't relevant.

I loved performing in it and wore it to nearly every gig thereafter ! Sometimes a group of us would go out for a meal afterwards.

‘Can I go into the restaurant like this?’ I asked nervously at first.

‘It’s AUSTIN,’ they would reiterate patiently, as to a backward child.

When we arrived at Expressions, a woman sitting behind the reception table introduced herself : ‘I’m Wendy.’ Wendy is Thom’s American wife, whom I’d previously met only by email. I was unprepared for her beauty! She was slender and pale, with huge blue eyes, full lips, clear skin, and long, wavy blonde hair that was obviously natural. Then I was surprised all over again by her calm, direct manner and the absence of that self-consciousness most beauties can’t seem to help.

Thom came bustling up for a hug. It was the first time we'd seen each other in many years; he looked happy and self-assured. Patricia, Kathleen and John had come to hear the show. It was encouraging to see all these friendly faces. They introduced me to Christine Gilbert, another local poet, who was hosting the visiting English poet Rupert Hopkins. Rupert was also on the program that night, and so were some English musicians called Roger West and the Ones to Watch.

I loved the musicians. There were three of them: Roger himself, another Englishman called Clive Price, and a drummer who turned out to be American, Chip Ross. He lives in Austin and accompanies Roger and Clive whenever they visit. The songs had catchy tunes and witty lyrics. I particularly enjoyed a composition of Roger’s about an earth man who fell for an extraterrestrial, ‘My lady alien, reptilian or mammalian.…’

Roger West and the Ones to Watch. From left: Chip Ross, Roger West, Clive Price.

Rupert was next. A small, modest man, he proved to be an intrepid solo traveller, often to places off the beaten track, and a talented photographer. Many of his poems were about places he’d travelled, with accompanying enlargements he showed from the stage. He had books of both his photos and poems on sale.

Finally, my turn. I hoped my breath would hold out; I hoped I’d remember the lines of my opening poem, ‘I am the poet from Down Under …’ a rappy piece written especially for Texas; I hoped I wouldn’t let down my new friends and particularly my old friend Thom, who, as MC, gave me a great introduction.

Perhaps The Dress had magickal qualities! Suddenly it was as if I owned the stage. My breathing was perfectly fine, I was in good voice, I remembered my lines, I moved and gestured confidently. My opener brought the house down, so did the next piece referring to The Dress, and after that I could do no wrong.

Later that night I emailed Andrew:

‘People came up afterwards to say how much they liked my poetry. One exuberant old man called me “cousin” (“Oh I sure enjoyed YEW, cousin!”) and gave me a big bear hug. Neil said I was brilliant. Thom said “Well done!” and “It worked”. Wendy said, “You are a very animated poet”. (I love that! Henceforth I answer to the title of The Animated Poet.) Patricia and others said they could see why Thom and I were friends: “The same expansive energy.”

‘It is now 11.45pm. After the gig Neil invited Patricia, Kathleen and John back here for a glass of wine, and to see the beautiful Buddha statue I live with…. They are all old friends. They feel like my friends too, already. Neil has to pick up his partner, Dorsey, from the airport tomorrow, so Patricia has arranged for Christine to drive us all down to San Antonio for my tomorrow night's gig.’

I was too high on excitement to go to sleep easily. Neil and Dorsey live on the side of a gully, part of the Austin green belt. I enjoyed the backdrop of moonlit branches filling the window as I lay in bed happily replaying my evening.

The animated poet!

I am the poet from Down Under.
My heart calls to yours with a peal of thunder,
my mind is full of delighted wonder,
my spirit aches with a splendid hunger:
I want to feast on poetry —
I speak to you, you speak to me,
we all go together into mystery,
we all dream together with ecstasy —
not the drug, man, not the pill, lady;
who needs that for rhapsody?
We have words to set us free.
Words as bright as lightning,
words as clear as dew,
words that are frightening,
words that are true,
words that deliver us
from so-called reality
then drop us back, but without finality.

Tripping through the wild, the vast unseen —
Poetry, Poetry, what do you mean?
Poetry, Poetry, what do you say?
Come out, come out, come out and play!

I am the poet from the land of Oz.
That Great South Land is where I was:
the land where I grew, the land where I age,
the land of power, beauty and rage —
bushfires and flood, cyclones and drought,
all the extremes. Now I am out
into the wider world, into here.
Texas is real! I see and hear
excitement and vitality:
the Lone Star State is the place to be.
Give me your verses, give me your truth,
give me your wisdom, give me your youth!
Don’t hang back in the vestibule:
we’re here to create a Festival!
Give me your lightness, give me your dark!
In a coffee lounge or in the park,
let us with music, let us with voice
gather to celebrate, gather to rejoice.

Where have we been? What have we done?
Nothing new under the sun
excepting poetry makes it that way.
Poetry, Poetry — come out to play!

© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 2006

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