Looking for Persephone in Hartlepool

You’ve heard this one, right? Once upon a time, there was a goddess called Demeter. Her power ripened corn, and brought the fruit to sweetness. But when her only daughter was abducted and taken to Hades, she went mad with grief. She wandered the world, searching for Persephone, and the world descended into perpetual winter.

Poets write based on Greek myths a lot. I have a poem in Under The Radar magazine issue 23 based on the Demeter/Persephone myth, and I thought I’d tell you how I came to write it – by doing to myself just what I did with Rose Condo in my last blog.

On a bitterly cold day in January 2015, I created a ‘Demeter body’. I asked myself –

DP1What if she wandered all the way to 2019?

What if she searched as far as Hartlepool?

What would she look like?

How would she move?

I imagined a muttering, distraught homeless woman, ingrained with grime, constantly scanning the gutter-edges of towns for a trace of her daughter, neck hunched forward, arms compulsively reaching out, quivering with painful hope at every child.

I got into character and went on a very long walk through the frozen streets. “Listen with your feet, the shadows are all ice”

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I hunched myself, crunched my neck, and limped through some of the most neglected parts of Hartlepool Headland, down the walkway where “the old coal rail / is tarmacked and sequinned with broken fifths of scotch” and into town.

I walked through housing estates I’d never visited before. “Black dog on Vincent Street, slaver on its jowls”

I was astonished by the screams coming from playtime at the local schools. “Rosy little children / breathing out steam like rotting compost”

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I even pushed through a damaged fence to search in the scrub near the railway, because by then the body was telling me that Demeter absolutely needed to check everywhere. Every dirty corner where the lost and trashed accumulate.

I lived, trusted and followed Demeter’s body for about four hours. When I came home, I was aching and exhausted, but I had a poem that seemed to have discovered a new voice.

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The photographs featured here are composite images created from shots I took on my phone during my walk. They are my attempt to find a visual equivalent for the emotional atmosphere of the poem.

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Playing With Rose’s Bodies

When I mentor performance poets, I watch their bodies. Are they – static, rigid, fidgety, slumped, blocked? Are they all up in their head, or is their personality coming out to meet me? I imagine I can actually see the movement, quality, even colour of their ‘energetic body’.

Then I get them to build new bodies.

Ones that better express their words. Ones where the non-verbal communication amplifies the verbal.

Rose Condo makes solo theatre shows, full of poems and warmth and humanity. She’s a very good writer, and Very Good People. But, she does have this habit of always keeping calm and still when she performs. So when she commissioned me to be performance mentor on her new show, The Empathy Experiment, I was itching to get her body moving. Fortunately, that’s exactly what she wanted too…

Here are the bodies I created with Rose:

  • The Donald &The Magic Mirror
  • Red Hot Chilli Rose
  • Hopelessly Devoted To Facebook
  • The Memory Arcade
  • Trying Her Best & The Scientist
  • Rose Under Pressure

The Donald & The Magic Mirror

In one poem, Rose plays both sides of a conversation between Trump and a magic mirror. We made sure the mirror showed polite horror through a rigid ‘backing off’ shape. For The Donald, Rose had some good expressions and gestures, but it really came alive when I got her to imagine projecting a huge ‘psychopathic hook’ out of the top of her head.

Red Hot Chilli Rose

“Put it away, put it away, put it away now” – the poem mimicked the classic Red Hot Chilli Peppers track ‘Give It Away’, but we needed the body as well. Using the video as inspiration, I forced poor Rose to flail about in full rock star mode!

Hopelessly Devoted To Facebook

For this break-up love-letter to social media, I wanted to channel Olivia Newton-John in ‘Grease’, but the wistful gazing into space didn’t quite nail it. Once we included a prop for Rose to look at, I could provoke a waltzing motion that was both romantic and confrontational.

The Memory Arcade

Memory Arcade

Three memories form the three stanzas of this poem. For each one, I asked Rose to visualise a tableau and stand within it, creating the scene in her mind as she spoke. Much more effective than you might expect from an invisible technique, and we spent some times drawing the tableaux to fix them in her mind.

Trying Her Best & The Scientist

Real Rose vs Science Rose

These two are the narrative glue, the personas that do all the explanation. They are both Rose, but one of her is less confident, which shows in her looser posture and looping, wandering movements around the stage. The other Rose is more structured and certain, so she stays by her whiteboard and keeps herself straight and ‘plugged in’ to her head.

Rose Under Pressure

This body contains the heart of the show, and when we found it there was a very emotional, precious moment. I’m not going to talk about it too much. Perhaps you can understand it from the pictures?

Stay tuned for more, including a Q&A with Rose herself, plus I reveal how shiatsu training can make you a better performance poet…

 

Impermanence by Kirsten Luckins — Celebrating Change

https://videopress.com/embed/AQByGcjZ?hd=0&autoPlay=0&permalink=0&loop=0

Celebrating Change grew in part out of a love for film-poetry. Although not everyone who takes part in the project ends up using a poem as the basis for their digital story, there is still something essentially poetic about putting pictures to words. We ask our film-makers to explore what happens when the pictures don’t […]

via Impermanence by Kirsten Luckins — Celebrating Change