Saturday, July 21, 2007
Love letters at your feet
I'm just back from completing Love Letters at Your Feet, a collection of my love poems written in chalk in Cafler Park, Whangarei, in association with the Mid Winter Arts Festival. It looks beautiful and was great fun to do. I'm exhausted and aching all over but I want to try and share some of the highs and lows before I collapse and then get busy with the next thing (letterpress demo at the Quarry tomorrow).
All Friday I watched the sky, listening to the weather forecasts, wondering whether the afternoon would clear. Amazingly it did, right on schedule for my chalk-writing posse to come and help. As we wrote, the park was busy with people heading home from school or work, or coming to see the fur seal pup that had landed up on the banks of the stream. Many people stopped to look at the poems and comment curiously or appreciatively. It was incredibly thrilling for me to see my vision being manifested, with the help of my friends, under a clear sky. By the time we finished at dusk I was on a high of pleasure and excitement.
Saturday morning, as the sun rose I walked around scarcely believing my luck that the chalk had survived the damp foggy night so well. I started writing another poem and then fat, heavy drops of rain started to fall from the sky, slowly at first and then in a torrent. I railed at the wet clouds, as though shouting 'no, no' at the sky could make any difference. Then I sheltered under a tree and watched the rain dissolve my words, literally, before my eyes.
At that moment a friend called and offered the first of many affirmations that got me through the rain that morning: celebrating the Buddhist concept of impermanence that has informed this work through all the planning; delighting in all the metaphors offered by rain and chalk in a work about love; keeping me connected to the true intent of the work and it's vulnerable, fragile nature. The rain fell heavily, then steadily and then long and lightly through the morning and into the afternoon. I hung out with friends in cafes, then went home and rested, then walked up the hill in the rain to where I could look out across Whangarei, and remember the aspect of Love Letters that is about loving this town and wanting to give it a gift. At that moment, ragged patches of blue started to appear in the sky and the rain died away.
Back down the hill I went with a bag of chalk and poems. I started writing before the ground was even close to dry, writing through puddles in a couple of places. Two of my posse showed up to help and we wrote and wrote through the afternoon, much more spontaneously than my carefully controlled set up on Friday afternoon. We wrote passionately and wildly and persistently. In the middle of it all Marian found me: the woman who was my second mother during my troubled teenage years and who I haven't seen for a decade or more. As I wrote, we talked about love and family and death and art, and seeing her again was a gift.
The writing was so physical. Big, whole body movements that allow a whole different way of engaging with the text than typing or reading or even typesetting. Some of my helpers commented on how powerful an activity it was, all said they enjoyed it. For me it was exhilarating, liberating, cathartic magic. I realised in one place that I was writing my most recent poem over the dissolved traces of one of my oldest poems and that seemed fitting. Peternel chose to write one of the poems I had held back earlier out of shyness or shame, and then I decided I would also write out some of those I'd held back. In the end, nothing was reserve. I gave my all.
The park was full of people, mostly come to see the wonder of the stranded seal pup, some from the Festival, a few looking for the poems. Children read aloud as they followed the trails of words. People followed me slowly as I wrote to the end of the poem, wanting to see how it would turn out. Couples meandered hand in hand. A small child delighted in scuffing as much chalk as she could. Many bicycles and a van wove and drove across the writing. Some people ignored it, walking past without looking. Two dogs, a pair of ducks and a black cat all came to see what was happening.
The sky was still clear when dusk fell so perhaps the chalk will last the night, but really, it doesn't matter. The work was done (twice), it was beautiful, many people enjoyed it, not least those of us who did the writing. Let the rain come when it will and wash the words away.
My thank you speech...
I am enormously grateful to all the people who helped and supported this event, often through apparent adversity. First and foremost, my chalk-writing posse: Susan and Peternel (who came both days!), Alan and Summer, Kate, Nip and Mary, and Daniel. Thanks too, Liz, for hanging out with me during the rain and helping me realise what a difference an events manager would make to the future art 'happenings' I'm already dreaming about. Thank you to Kaari, the organiser of the Mid Winter Arts Festival for inspiration, encouragement, publicity and funding. Special thanks to Paula and Mags for taking photographs (not the ones on this post, these are off my phone- real photos to follow at a future date). Thanks to Daniel and Tonya for feeding me, nourishing both body and spirit. Thanks, too, to all the people who took the time to come and look and say nice things as we were working. Deep thanks to the seal pup who attracted so many people to the park who might not have otherwise had any poetry in their lives this weekend, and divine thanks to the rain and the sun for falling when and where they did. Amen.