This performance has, for a long time, been stewing in the recesses of my mind.
Verlaines poems have haunted my memory ever since grade school where, back in France, we were expected to memorize poems, dramatic tirades, and other literary samples for a well rounded education. If appalled by the fashion such learning was enforced, I am grateful for this training, in that it allowed me an endless supply of poetry to recite at will, according to the mood of the day. There was always room and circumstance for a given poem, if one paid attention enough, or simply let the poem fill the call of the moment. I cannot remember exactly when I first committed Verlaine to memory, nor which particular text, but the impression those texts left on me has never faded. Long before I was expected to fully understand the poems, I relished the sweet and tart juiciness of Fêtes galantes. Blissfully unaware, I had been caught in the web of Verlaines verse, its musicality and suggestiveness. Verlaines poems were simply a joy to recite on any bright or rainy day. Their words were music set to solitude; they made it serene. I liked the smooth flow of words in my mouth, their rhythm especially, where I could taste a world of untold promises of satisfaction.
For a long time Verlaine remained a private pleasure, seldom shared. After moving to the United States I found fewer Verlaine aficionados. Yet I taught French literature, including Verlaines works here and there in my curriculum; and I danced, and acted. Verlaines verses continued to weave their way through my life, all the while beckoning more insistently. As time went on. I realized I had gained enough experience and expertise in the performing arts to give my experience of Verlaines work a public venue: a celebration.
Verlaine: Muse and Music maker was conceived as an homage to the poet not only as a music maker, but also as a muse. If his works have inspired some 650 composers to set music to his words, some of which are used in the show, I was interested in exploring the poets capacity to also inspire artists in other aesthetic fields, such as the visual and the performing arts. Some of his polyphonic poems, Indolence, for example, clearly invite dramatization Others, with less obvious stage potential, are so powerfully evocative that I felt compelled to pursue and extend the weaving of imagery set in motion by the text through the use of photography and choreography. Thus the reading of Lusts, for example, is echoed by a photographic montage of art pieces by Madeleine Fitzpatrick, whose works explore perceptions of the naked human body. At other times, the mere rhythm of a poem has been used as a musical score on which dancers were invited to generate authentic movement. However, in the performance, the choreography will not be set on the rhythmical soundtrack that inspired it, rather, it will be displaced and juxtaposed to other texts.
My role as a director has been to first present Verlaines work in such a way that it would generate artistic responses for me to later assemble in a readable, yet non-linear narrative retracing the poets sensual journey. From the romantic illusion depicted in early poems such as My Familiar Dream, the poet evolves to celebrate the crude realities of need, gaily acknowledged in later poems such as Song for the Ladies. The poets journey is further complicated by his bisexuality which, set against the moral standards of the time and augmented by his indulgences with absinthe, contributed to his vacillation between mysticism and debauchery. As Verlaine himself put it in a conversation with one of his contemporaries, Every man [
] has two creatures within him, two creatures who hold together and yet remain at variance [
] with each other. There are an angel and a beast
I wrote La Bonne Chanson and Sagesse: theres the Angel, you see! Now I shall write a book called Parallèlement, because I must also give voice to the Beast within me (Richardson 195). He also declared Parallèlement to be the waste-pipe, the night-soil deposit for all the bad feelings which I can express, where the reader can find a man who is sometimes myself, completely frank and honest in his vice, a book so sincere, that it is almost good by the virtue of its sincerity. (Richardson 225)
In many ways I have been inspired by Verlaines early poetic rules, trying to cultivate both the suggestive powers of nuance and the stridence of la vie en rouge (life in red) which he so unabashedly celebrates throughout Parallèlement, and other later works. In this process I have used the juxtaposition of various artistic readings to not merely illustrate Verlaines poetry, but to sculpt the creative responses that will inspire the spectator.
I am grateful Finally for the performers' talent, their dedication and their committment to the creative process. I have greatly enjoyed working with all and everyone of them in their various capacities. Their individual voices contribute precious layers of texture to the whole.
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Joanna Richardson. Verlaine New York: The Viking Press, 1971