Thursday, 29 November 2018

Beauty and the Beast: Venice and the Rhino

                                           At the Beauty and the Beast Symposium held in the
                                                    Palazzo Contarini Polignac, Venice.

I must confess that with the news of the acqua alta, the highest flooding in Venice since 1966, happening only 3 weeks before my visit to Venice, I was in trepidation.  Would there be another flood? Would the access to my hotel be impassable? Could I even get to the symposium?  As it turned out, I'm so glad I did not cancel my visit. The symposium was an amazing experience and my fears about acqua alta completely unnecessary, as you will discover below.

It was indeed an incredible experience, in which I felt both honoured and delighted  to read one of my poems as part of the 'Beauty and the Beast' Symposium about Venice and the Rhinoceros: both fragile but resilient. Held in the stunning Palazzo Contarini-Polignac (with its glamourous history) on the Grand Canal, Venice, it was a fascinating day listening to social historians, activists, the brilliant poet, Ronna Bloom (from Toronto) followed by the vernissage of two artists Gigi Bon (from Venice) and Shih Li-Jen (from Taiwan) organized by Catherine Kovesi (from Melbourne University). So it was truly an international event with representatives from the Occident, the Mediterranean, the Antipodes, and the Borealis  there!

Here are photos of Shih Li-Jen and his striking metallic rhino (above in the vernissage)
and another (in the symposium) of him demonstrating  the bouffant style of hair inspired by the rhino in Paris in the 18th c.

I will certainly make a trip to Gigi Bon's workshop in the San Samuele district next time I'm in Venice. It sounds like a wunderkammer of her surrealistic sculptures, or like a Renaissance painter's studio with the trays of pigments she grinds for her paintings on silk scarves.  And I will look out for the endearing mosaic of a rhino on the floor of the chapel to the Virgin Mary inside S. Marco's Basilica. It was this that first attracted Gigi when she was a child and rhinos became her obsession.

It was illuminating to hear Jane da Mosto's account of  'We are Venice here', an activist group. Her message was hopeful. Something can be done to 'save Venice' if we understand that it is not just preserving the beautiful buildings but also about the people and the ecology of the lagoon.  Cruise ships, rising sea levels, pollution of air and lagoon - etc, etc. If you want to know more, I recommend 'We are Venice Here's website. (Below.)

And as for acqua alta, I was surprised to learn from da Mosto that the worst damage was the devastating loss of income to Venice when thousands of tourists cancelled their hotel bookings - seemingly unaware that the flooding is only a temporary affair. It is not like a river flooding but from the high tides which come in, stay for about 4 hours, and then like tides do,  retreats. So next time, if necessary I will just don my hotel's loaned wellies, walk along the raised platforms (like metal tables) and maybe give a hand washing away the mud and debris after it retreats.

As for the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac on the Grand Canal, Venice - the symposium took place on the grand first floor, one long room the length of the building with enormous windows either end letting in light.  Its grandeur rather faded now is all the more romantic.  Do read more about its history, and previous owner, Winnaretta,  the Singer sewing machine heiress who held magnificent musical soirees here for such geniuses as Stravinsky and Faure. Diaghalev and the Ballet Russe came to stay. Yes, I did feel something of an interloper.

You can read more via these links:

 Beauty and the Beast. About the symposium and participants

 Gigi Bon's studio

 Palazzo Contarini Polignac

 We are here Venice

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Poetry on the Lake Festival, 2018

                                      The island of San Giulio from Orta SG, N.Italy,
                                                Poetry on the Lake Festival

Delighted that my poem 'The Proposition' came third in the themed category of the Poetry on the Lake competition,  the theme being 'Cinema'. Mine is on the silent film star, Asta Neilson, in Berlin 1933 (which, of course, came out of my recent stay in Berlin.) And to my great surprise the ever generous organiser, Gabriel Griffin provided a prize for me - an extremely stylish real leather Italian handbag made locally. Wow. Not the usual sort of prize poets get! Who knows, it may start a trend.

My fellow travellers from Edinburgh took First place in the formal category- Anne 

Ballard, and second place in the cinema category  - Sean Martin.  

There must be some magical, poetic link between Edinburgh and Orta San Giulio. It was 

great to hear their poems and have their company over the festival as well as meeting up 

with other poets who come year after year- brilliant sunshine this year.

Poets outside the Pallazotto, Orta San Giulio. 
L to R, Anon, Dorothy Yamamoto, Elizabeth Rowe, Miriam Calleja, me, Peter Duff, Anne Ballard, Christopher North, Sean Martin, Sarah Barr, Jane Burn (Winner of the Open Category, the Wyvern) and Jenna Plewes..

Friday, 8 June 2018

Berlin Umbrella Launch June, 2018

The launch on June 3rd of Berlin Umbrella was a great success. 'Take a poem for a walk in the park,'  suggested  Sonja to passers by.  We had lots of takers,especially after  people started walking round the park and the banner on top of the umbrella streaming in the breeze intrigued more people and they came in search of us.

 Everyone said how moved they were by it. I was taken aback and thrilled to have this reaction. The combination of poetry and sound together listened to within an umbrella whilst walking through a park  had an arresting and magical effect.
Jane McKie lost in contemplation listening to the poetry/sound.

One participant,  my friend Janie,  came all the way from Scotland to Berlin to hear it. This is what she wrote afterwards:

'The Umbrellas in Viktoria Park in Berlin are a storming (!) success. They really bring Steph's beautiful words to life and Sonja has created a wonderful immersive soundtrack and the reading/voicing (there are multiple voices) feels intimate in a semipermeable as you stroll around the park - you are aware of sights and sounds from the park threading in and out of the soundtrack of water/percussion/voice. It makes you more acutely aware of both somehow. Many of the visitors commented on how moving the experience was and I also experienced it as an emotional as well as an aesthetic journey.'

And we had  some  unexpected reactions too!

Two further events  to come on Sundays 10th  and 17th June in Viktoria Park,  Kreuzberg,  Berlin 2 till 6.

Sonja Heyer and Stephanie Green

Saturday, 26 May 2018

My Interview with Lettretage Literaturhaus about Berlin Umbrella

Am 3., 10. und 17. Juni kann man im Rahmen des Projekts BERLIN UMBRELLA mit Hörregenschirmen durch den Viktoriapark spazieren. Vertont wurde ein Gedicht der englischen Poetin Stephanie Green, der wir zu dieser Gelegenheit einige Fragen stellten.
How did the idea of BERLIN UMBRELLA come up?
The Sound Umbrella is Sonja Heyer, the Sound Artist’s idea. She has been working for some years on projects in Germany and Taiwan in which participants go on a walk listening to her natural water recordings from inside an umbrella.
Sonja and I met on a Scottish island in the Hebrides back in 2004 and since then have been visiting each other in Berlin or Edinburgh and are aware of each other’s artistic development. So far, she had incorporated text with her water recordings but never poetry. Watching and listening to a vimeo I played her of a song collaboration I was involved in, performed at the St Magnus Festival in Orkney, inspired her to invite me to collaborate with her and I was delighted. The topic would be, of course,  WATER.  If writing about Berlin, the main focus had to be the river Spree, of course and, like an umbrella, many aspects could be covered, from glacial origins, through historical events up to contemporary issues.
For you, what particular quality does the BERLIN UMBRELLA project have?
The particular quality of BERLIN UMBRELLA is an evocation of Berlin through many voices, some British, some German accented, male and female, humans and folklore characters such as the evil Nix and also a children’s nursery song, all connected to the Spree. The myriad nature of water is also suggested in poems that are a mixture of small intense, haiku-like visual images (water drops) and longer, more fluid verses (the river’s flow) where linear thought is interrupted by visual images. In the same way, the river symbolizes the flow of memory which does not necessarily come in a chronological pattern, but in disconnected flashes. Contrasting rhythmic patterns are also responded to by Sonja in her sound recordings.
Above all, I saw my poetry as a libretto, something to be heard and not just read on the page. I have been thrilled to see how Sonja’s sounds create an extraordinary atmosphere, and how the combined work becomes an immersive experience.
Have you participated in similar projects before?
I have never collaborated with a Sound Artist before so this has been a very exciting challenge, but I have collaborated with a fine artist, a photographer, a composer and a choreographer. Notably, as part of the St Magnus Writers and Young Composers courses, the composer Marisa Sharon Hartanto put one of my poems ‘The Child of Breckon Sands’, inspired by a Shetlandic folk tale, to music for voice and piano and this was performed by the mezzo-soprano, Alison Wells at the St Magnus Festival, in Orkney, Scotland 2013 (q.v.). Another poem ‘Ayre’ inspired a dance piece choreographed by Matthew Hawkins and performed by Platinum dance group at the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh in 2015.
The UMBRELLA project takes place in a spacious park in Berlin. How relevant is space in your poems?
The special quality of any aural work is the power of the imagination to create images, not only static but moving. It’s often said that radio has better pictures than film! So it is with listening to poetry. My experience as a dramatist for BBC Schools Radio has been useful since I knew I could jump back and forth in history, and carry the listener with me on a journey through Time and Space down the course of the river.
An imaginative space is also left for the participants to see for themselves connections between the flow of images in the poetry and between the poetry and the soundscape.
Space in terms of the park is hugely relevant, since the participant will be walking whilst listening, and walking creates its own rhythm which helps thoughts to flow.  Perhaps the participant might walk in time to the verse or even be tempted to dance. The background of green space or trees will allow their imagination to roam, or else they can meditate on the poetry they’ve just heard during the water sound interludes. Alternatively, they can, at Viktoriapark, let the sound of the cascades mix with the umbrella’s sounds and create their own symphony.

See Lettretage

Friday, 25 May 2018

British Council and Berlin Umbrella

Berlin Umbrella at Café Golgotha, Viktoriapark in Kreuzberg  © 
Sonja Heyer 
Sunday 03 June 2018 to Sunday 17 June 2018

Experience poetry and the sound of the Spree in a unique setting

Berlin UMBRELLA is a poetry/sound 'aural walk' on the theme of water where participants listen to poetry and the sound of water recordings from a tiny loudspeaker within an umbrella whilst walking through the park. The 6 different sequences are inspired by the river Spree - geological and ecological, folklore and history. Ranging from glacial origins to cholera epidemics, 19th c water 'palaces' (pumping stations), Nazi atrocities and Cold War tragedies up to the fall of the Berlin wall and contemporary issues, the poems are interwoven with natural water sounds recorded at the exact spot in places mentioned in the poetry including the source of the river in the Lausatian mountains, the 'old wheezer' pump at Friedrichshagen 19th c Pumping Station and the river bank where Rosa Luxemburg's corpse surfaced.
The poems are a mixture of small, haiku-like images suggesting water-drops and more fluid, longer poems imitating a river's flow. Linear thought is interrupted with fragmentary images, connected, then disconnected, reforming, looping, unrolling like film intercut with flashbacks, like memory, past and present at the same time. Different sonic patterns, vibrations and rhythms also suggest light glinting on water or the flow of a river. The poetry is conceived as a sort of libretto melding with the sound patterns of recordings creating an immersive experience.
  • When: Sunday 3 June, 10 June, 17th June, 14-18 pm 
  • Where: Café Golgotha, Viktoriapark, Berlin-Kreuzberg
  • Entry: free entry, everybody welcome!
Berlin UMBRELLA is part of the UK/Germany affiliate programme and the UK/Germany 2018 season.

British Council website

Monday, 23 April 2018

Sneak audio-pod of Berlin Umbrella

Berlin Umbrella
to be launched in  Kreuzberg, Berlin on 3rd, 10th and 17th June, 2018.

For sneak preview/aural extract from Berlin Umbrella, see Lettretage.

My voice, James T Harding's and percussion, sound effects and
natural water sound recordings by Sonja Heyer.

See previous posts on 'How it happened.'

Berlin Umbrella: How it happened PART 3: The Sound Artist's p.o.v.

In Today's Blog, I'm handing over to my Collaborator on the 
Berlin Umbrella Project,  the Sound Artist, Sonja Heyer.

Sonja Heyer

Stephanie and I first met on a Scottish Hebridean islandShe wrote poems,
I made sound recordings for my water archive, which I started to put on at 
that time. After that we lost sight of each other. Then four years ago suddenly
a mail: the Internet made  it is possible to find each other again. And soon
came the idea to try something together.  Water was my topic for a long time.
So when Stephanie showed up, it was natural to combine it with her poetry.

Previously,  I was working with a group of young Chinese-Taiwanese artists.
We had been invited to Lutherstadt Wittenberg for a one-month artist 
residence to the KulturBotschaft . It was November.

What do you do as a sound artist, if you are allowed to play a small court
garden in November? You are considering how to protect the speakers that
are used. So I came up with the idea to put small speakers in umbrellas. It worked! And transparent umbrellas made sure that the visitors could see
the starry sky during the audio walk. 

The listening umbrellas, or sound umbrellas, have since been my form into
which I can pack various contents.

Swopping Sound Umbrellas mid-walk

We then traveled as an artist group to an artist residence in Taiwan. 
The country was plagued by a prolonged drought for months. So water 
became my topic for the sound installation in Taiwan. I asked people 
what water meant to them and thus learned many touching stories. In 
order to absorb bubbling springs, they had to drive high into the mountains.
The rivers were dried up.

I invited Stephanie to Berlin and decided to record the Spree for one year 
from January to December 2017. I traveled to their sources in the Upper 
Lusatia, recorded the sound environment at the point where the river 
passes the border between Berlin and Brandenburg, dipped my underwater microphone (a 'dolphin's ear') in almost all city locks and accompanied the Spree 
to its mouth in Spandau. In January and December I recorded on the Lichtenstein Bridge, where in 1919 the corpse of Rosa Luxemburg was thrown into the
water. In 2017, the canal wore a thin layer of ice.

UMBRELLA hat inzwische

Stephanie und ich, wir lernten uns einst auf einer schottischen Insel kennen. Sie schrieb Gedichte, ich machte Tonaufnahmen für mein Wasserarchiv, das ich zu dieser Zeit begann anzulegen. Danach verloren wir uns aus den Augen. Dann vor vier Jahren plötzlich eine mail: das Internet machte
 es möglich, sich wiederzufinden. Und bald entstand die Idee, etwas gemeinsam zu versuchen.
Ich arbeitete gerade mit einer Gruppe junger chinesisch-taiwanesischer Künstlerinnen zusammen. Wir waren nach Lutherstadt Wittenberg für eine einmonatige artist residence an die KulturBotschaft eingeladen worden. Es war November.

Was macht man als Klangkünstlerin, wenn man einen kleinen Hofgarten im November bespielen darf? Man überlegt, wie man die Lautsprecher schützen kann, die zum Einsatz kommen. So kam ich auf die Idee, kleine speaker in Regenschirme zu setzen. Es funktionierte! Und durchsichtige Schirme sorgten dafür, dass die BesucherInnen während des Hörspaziergangs den Sternenhimmel sehen konnten.
Die Hör-Regenschirme oder sound umbrellas, sind seitdem meine Form, in die ich verschiedene Inhalte packen kann.

Wir reisten dann als KünstlerInnengruppe zu einer artist residence nach Taiwan. Das Land wurde zu dieser Zeit von einer seit Monaten anhaltenden Dürre geplagt. So wurde Wasser zu meinem Thema für die Klanginstallation in Taiwan. Ich fragte Menschen, was ihnen Wasser bedeutet und erfuhr auf diese Weise viele berührende Geschichten. Um sprudelnde Quellen aufnehmen zu können, mussten hoch ins Gebirge fahren. Die Flussläufe waren ausgetrocknet.

Wasser blieb lange mein Thema. Als Stephanie auftauchte, lag es daher nahe, es mit ihrer Poesie zu verbinden. Ich lud sie nach Berlin ein und beschloss, ein Jahr lang, von Januar bis Dezember 2017, Tonaufnahmen von der Spree zu machen. Ich reiste zu ihren Quellen in die Oberlausitz, nahm das sound environment an der Stelle auf, an der der Fluss die Grenze zwischen Berlin und Brandenburg passiert, tauchte mein Unterwassermikrofon in fast alle Stadtschleusen und begleitete die Spree bis zu ihrer Mündung in Spandau. Im Januar und im Dezember machte ich Tonaufnahmen an der Lichtensteinbrücke, an der 1919 die Leiche Rosa Luxemburgs ins Wasser geworfen wurde. 2017 trug der Kanal eine dünne Eisschicht.

Einen Teil der Berlin Exkursionen haben wir gemeinsam bestritten. Und zu unserer Überraschung stellte sich heraus, dass das Wasser- und Abwassersystem Berlins, das sogenannte Radialsystem, einst aus einer Zusammenarbeit britischer und deutscher Ingenieure entstand. Ich hatte bislang nur das Radialsystem V, den Kunstraum an der Holzmarktstraße, gekannt. So erlaubten mir unsere Ausflüge, meine eigene Stadt noch einmal besser und von neuen Seiten kennenzulernen!

UMBRELLA hat inzwischen viele Stationen erlebt. Berlin UMBRELLA bedeutet für mich, zum ersten Mal mit Poesie zu arbeiten – eine wundervolle Möglichkeit! Stephanie hat die Offenheit der Hör-Regenschirme inhaltlich und formal aufgegriffen: Ihre Verse funktionieren wie kleine Geschichten, die sich separat aber auch im Zusammenspiel mit anderen erschließen. Die Hör-Regenschirme wiederum bilden einen halboffenen Raum: man kann sich hörend darunter zurückziehen, man kann den Schirm aber auch vor sich ins Gras legen; dann vermengen sich die sound loops mit der Hörumgebung. Schließlich kann man Schirme mit anderen BesucherInnen tauschen – eine schöne Gelegenheit, miteinander ins Gespräch zu kommen, oder einfach gemeinsam zu lauschen.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Berlin Umbrella: How it Happened Part 2: the Poet's p.o.v.

On another day, I made a trip up and down the Spree from the Dom (the Cathedral) round the Museum Insel (Island) then up past the Reichstag to the Tiergarten and back again which was a good introduction to the city's history. I knew I wanted to incorporate that inner-city trip but for it to be more than just a description of architecture plus facts about World War 2 destruction and the Cold War. (For instance, I learnt that the river was one of the boundaries during the Cold War.) 

Stories, people connected to the city's history through its river is what I wanted to discover.  Back home, during research into river connections with the Nazis, I came across two horrific atrocities - the first, the murder of Rosa Luxemburg, communist and critic of the Nazis, whose murdered body was weighted and thrown into the Spree;
Related image
Rosa Luxemburg

 the second atrocity happened in Hitler's last few days, when he was hiding in his bunker and heard rumours that the Russians were advancing through the underground systems. Hitler ordered the wall separating the underground from a lock on the canal that leads off the Spree to be blown up, so that the underground was flooded, drowning thousands of Berliner civilians who used the tunnels as air raid shelters, also drowning wounded troops lying in hospital carriages.

But that is to jump ahead.  To go back to my on the spot research in Berlin,  it helped to already have seen the white crosses put up on the riverbank below the Reichstag in memory of those who were shot and drowned attempting to swim to freedom during the Cold War.  The drownings were all along the Spree but they decided it was more effective to have one spot as a memorial.

On the Spreeboden, riverbank below the Reichstag.

 I knew that the giant statue, Molecule Man by Jonathan Borofsky, a symbol of hope, would appear in one of my poems. The statue appears to walk on the river between the opposite banks of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, districts separated during the Cold War, but now united.

Molecule Man by Jonathan  Borofsky.

One warm evening, Sonja had another engagement, so I sauntered along the river to Montbijou where people were relaxing with beers sitting on deckchairs or on the grass banks around an open-air tango area. I too watched the impressive tango dancing, had a beer and a hot-dog (Sonja was horrified when I told her. That was not a German sausage) and also chatted to a few people - who mainly turned out to be tourists from other German cities, and one English couple, about what they liked about rivers/ water in cities, so some of their thoughts appear in my poems. Thanks to any of those people if you are reading this. As the sun set and the lights came on along the river banks, it was time to head back.

Not all my research was river-based. I also visited the Nikolaikirche which is now a local history museum as a graphic way of learning about Berlin's history. Also the Film Museum, because Berlin is Film and you can't not go. 
Asta Nielson, silent movie star

I'm delighted I managed to get Asta Nielson, one of the early stumm (silent) movie stars into the poems. She refused to work for propaganda films for Hitler and managed to survive. Her films were made using silver nitrate film (later discontinued since they were highly flammable) but which gave films of that era their glossy black. 
Films unspooling, looping like memory, images rising and falling like reflections in the river...the metaphoric possibilities already playing in my mind.  To see what resulted,  you will have to listen to the poems.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Magma launch at Europe House, Westminster

Great to have a poem, 'Hanmar's Agate' in the European edition of Magma magazine, Issue 70.  Paul Stephenson and Sarah Hart, the editors, had cannily managed to get Europe House, the HQ of the governmental European commission in Westminster as our venue.  Top security etc.  Near to Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey - what with Brexit looming, sadly this venue may soon be no longer in use.

Europe House, Westminster.

Anne Ballard, me, D.L. Prince (Davina) and Eleanor Livingstone (Artistic Director of StAnza.)
A great excuse to hotfoot it down to London, as did quite a few poets (or whom I know from StAnza) from Scotland also there.

Sir Thomas Hanmer as a young man with beribboned lovelock.
  There was not too much bewailing of Brexit in the poetry (though much during the social chats). Many of the poems celebrated Europe - some holiday or other trips commemorated but others celebrating the various cultural debts we have to Europe, as did my own, specifically the introduction of tulips, by way of France, not as you would suppose, from the Netherlands.

Sir Thomas Hanmer (17th c), a Royalist was exiled to France during the English Civil War, and at the end of the war, returned with tulip bulbs, and one which he developed and came to be  known as 'Hanmer's Agate'.  The story that struck me was that Hanmer was in correspondence with many other 'tulip fanciers' including Cromwell's second-in-command, Major-General Lambert.  Hanmer sent Lambert the gift of his Agate, specifically the 'mother-root' so that Lambert could grow more.  An example of how to transcend political differences after a Civil War and something that has echoes in our time, though thankfully, we have not resorted to war.

Extract from 'Hanmer's Agate':

Hanmer’s Agate: Experiments of a Tulip Fancier,
Sir Thomas Hanmer  (1612-1678)

Returned from exile, he stands in a muddy field,
once his garden of formal parterres; 
the trees are war-torn, storm-slashed;  fireweed
rages through the grounds and the unhinged door

into the great hall;  mice rampage,
bird shit weeps on the lace and lovelock
of his portrait as a young man;  dung in the chapel
requisitioned for Parliamentarian horses.

Far from the Commonwealth’s courts, Sir Thomas
tends his garden, remembering the promise packed
in papery brown bulbs brought back from France
in the ship’s hold, his first wife left behind in her grave......

For full poem, read Magma Issue 70.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Berlin Umbrella : how it happened. PART 1: the Poet's p.o.v.

As the launch of this Poetry/Sound collaboration 'aural walk' approaches, (June 3rd, 10th and 17th June, 2018 in Berlin (see previous post), here is my diary notes on our research and development during  2 weeks in July 2015:

Sonja Heyer with Sound Umbrella
A Sound Artist's work was completely new to me, so it was with great excitement that I accepted my friend Sonja Heyer's invitation to collaborate on a poetry/sound project.   Sonja's suggestion for the topic we would explore was Water. Wonderful! Already I could envisage imaginative possibilities.

 Sonja has an archive of water sounds from different sources and has already devised many aural walks using text but she had never used poetry before.  Recently she had been invited to Taiwan to visit the city's water sources in the hills, make recordings and devise a water installation.  The experience was hugely exciting and I watched a vimeo she had made of the trip, the aural walk she had devised collaborating with Taiwanese performers.

 Using transparent plastic umbrellas, the curved ones that form an enclosure around the user, a sound world is created with recordings played through tiny loudspeakers inside the umbrella - where the handle meets the spokes. Participants go on an aural walk, listening to the umbrella recordings on a self-directed route.

Although Sonja has used text inside her umbrellas before - most recently a quotation from Luther about death, (for his centenary year at Lutherstadt Wittenberg) she has never used poetry before.  So this was to be a new experience for her too.

So our subject was to be Berlin Water. More detail as to content could wait. First we were more concerned to establish the poetic form or approach that would work with Sonja's water sounds. I had already done some preparation by reading a few river or water-inspired collections  and  had brought along Alice Oswald's 'Dart' .  Sonja loved the flowing nature of this epic-length poem of mini-narrations with a variety of voices: the river itself, people who have river-related jobs, fishermen, poachers, the drowned, supernatural creatures etc.

But Sonja also liked the haiku I brought along, and the idea of  very small poems that could be read in any order. This was so that the participants could swop umbrellas mid-walk and so create different sequences, in a sense make their own poems. Of course, Sonja as a sound artiste was interested in effects achieved by playing around with different sonic patterns, vibrations, rhythms.  But how would it work for words and any linear thought? It seemed quite a challenge to my usual approach. But hey! No harm being shaken out of my comfort zone and I was excited to try a new way of thinking. For this to work, I felt, it meant a series of both haiku-like, imagistic poems, and a series of fragments developing links like rhyzomes.  Connected, then disconnected, reforming, looping, like memory, unrolling like film....already ideas beginning to rise.

So from the start, we had in mind small poems of intense images, like water drops, and other more flowing pieces of watery subject matter and how to achieve both was the challenge for me.

Right, so now we moved on to discuss the subject matter in more depth. What would we cover? The Spree, the river which flows through Berlin of course but what aspect and what other watery subjects?   River-related history?  Ecological aspects? The nature of water?

Googling Berlin +Water I  discovered the existence of an old Waterworks Museum, called Friedrichshagen (every other place or building is Friedrich-something in Berlin, after the Prussian leader)  by the Müggelsee - an inland lake and part of the river Spree.  It was a very hot day - and the thought of trip out of the sultry city to the countryside, a bit of research followed by a boat trip round the lake seemed ideal.  We took the S-Bahn down - about half an hour, then the bus to the Waterworks.

Friedrichshagen. Waterworks, in the Brandenburg Marcher Lords style - Gothic/Baronial redbrick.

It was cool and dark inside the Museum luckily.The curators were delighted to see us as they had  no other visitors, and were happy to turn on the asthmatic Old Wheezer pump for us (usually only switched on at a scheduled time which we had missed.) It was obvious how it got its name.  Sonja recorded it and it will surely go in the finished collaboration.  Perfect. Already ideas simmering as to how this might be used.

  The Museum was a fascinating record of all the issues of Berlin's water and sewage systems- from the early days, with hollowed out oaks pipes carrying water to old-fashioned street water pumps,

Water pump in grounds of Friedrichshagen. (Museum
 exhibit. )  We were  warned not to go too near as the bees
 were drinking from the stone bowl and might attack us.
and documentation of the horrific outbreaks of typhoid and cholera epidemics until right up until the discovery  in the 19th century of the cause of these diseases by an English man Jon Snow -it was water pumps infected by sewage -and this knowledge spread to the rest of Europe. Hence in the 1870's an English engineer, Henry Gill was invited to sort out Berlin's water problems. Who would have thought this could be so fascinating!  And it was a German/British collaboration! Just like Sonja's and mine. Friedrichshagen was the last of the three Berlin waterworks Gill built - and what a palace it is, almost a Cathedral to Health! No expense spared.

 At the same time, James Hobrecht, of Prussian birth, sorted out the sewage system with his Radial System of sewage pumping stations.  Co-incidentally, one of the former Radial Systems (V), is now a cutting edge arts centre which we  attended during a festival of acoustic music.

But to go back to our day out at Friedrichshagen, in the end we missed the boat trip round the Müggelsee but a different trip on offer seemed more enticing - the ferry back to the city. Much nicer than slogging back to the S-Bahn and a chance for me to observe watery images and sounds of all types - the light on water, on boats, movement of waves, the throb of the engine. I was taken by the Huckleberry Finn type rafts with sheds on top drifting by  though sadly these never ended up in the poems.


 However the party boats did.  One of these became stuck in front of our ferry and it took some time for the rather drunk but hugely apologetic crew to disentangle themselves and head out of the way. Plaintive cries of  'Entschuldigung… Entschuldigung…' ('Sorry...Sorry...') from them faded as our ferry chugged on.

As you can see from the photo above, we were mightily pleased with our first day's research, coupled with a wonderful excuse for a trip on a river boat, a relaxing way to get a bit of a sun tan, and as we decided to sit in silence on the way back, to reflect and  to meditate  over ideas for possible poems in my case, and possible sounds for Sonja, followed by, what else, a river-bank (or rather an inlet off the Spree) open-air restaurant near Treptow.  Willows drooped in the water. It could have been Twickenham or Marlow, except for the loud music booming from a restaurant across the narrow inlet.

Part 2 follows in next Blog.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Berlin Umbrella

Berlin du bist so Wunderbar. Berlin you are so wonderful. Tourist river boat on Spree.

                          Poetry by Stephanie Green and Sound by Sonja Heyer                                                                            A Poetry and Sound walk with Sound Umbrella
                                              Berlin Umbrella,
                                            will be available at
                                  Viktoria Park, Kreuzberg, Berlin
                       on Sundays 3rd, 10th and 17th June, 2018 from 2-6pm.
                                 6 different sequences. Do one or more.
                                      7 mins each. Total lasts 45 mins.

                           Collect umbrella at Cafe Golgatha. FREE but deposit for umbrella.

                          Under the auspices of lettretage Literature House.

If you are in Berlin, come along. Pick up an umbrella (available on site) and listen to poetry on the theme of water to the sound of water recordings from a tiny loudspeaker within the umbrella whilst walking alongside the river through the park.

Friedrichshagen 19th c Water Pumping Station
 The 6 different sequences are inspired by aspects relating to the river Spree - geological and ecological, folklore and history.  Ranging from glacial origins to cholera epidemics, 19th c water 'palaces' (pumping stations), Nazi atrocities and Cold War tragedies up to the fall of the Berlin wall and contemporary issues,  the poems are interwoven with natural water sounds recorded at the exact spot in places mentioned in the poetry including the source of the river in the Lausatian mountains, the 'old wheezer' pump at Friedrichshagen 19th c Pumping Station  and the river bank where Rosa Luxemburg's corpse surfaced.

See visit Berlin  Viktoriapark

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