Tango in Stanzas
My poem Six Secrets of Ivy is part of a sequence that was composed during an Arts Council Creative Wales Award which I won last year to examine how the 16 and 32 beat rhythms of tango might influence my new work. Creative Wales Awards are granted to mid-career artists to enable them to challenge their current practice. I wanted to explore poetic metre through the medium of dance so as to start writing longer lines, to get to the end of the page even.
During this period of experimentation I collaborated with tango dancer Peter Baldock, theatre director Pauline Walsh and accordionist Guto Dafis to combine Welsh folk music with tango rhythms, culminating in a performance at the Poetry in Presteigne festival (http://www.poetryinpresteigne.org/?page_id=2) on 17th October 2015 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Welsh settlement in Patagonia. I wanted to work with a Welsh accordionist rather than an Argentine bandonéon player because it was important to me to fuse Welsh folk tunes with Argentine influence so as to echo the layering narratives of these two different cultures which I then embodied in handmade concertina books made with the help of bookbinder Guy Begbie, so as to reflect the folding and unfolding narratives implicit in the tango dance. When I began putting the little books together I became aware of how the process of handmaking the books was for me the choreographic pathway to define tango. Stitching the pages of the books enabled me to think about the interaction between available space (small pages) and extended musical phrases (long lines). Writing on paper which had holes in it slowed me down because sometimes I had to navigate a cut-out petal on the page. My composition process was equally slowed down by walking the lines across the floor with my dance partner. Page and floor coalesced in my mind. Performing both the poem and the dance steps simultaneously drew me into new territory in which I’ve had to reflect on the importance of pacing on the stage as well as the page.
In each of the five poems performed in Tango in Stanzas there is the common thread of dance or movement: the first one is titled What is it with the Glass Slipper? and reflects on how useful glass footwear really is both on and off the dance floor; the second poem, Six Secrets of Ivy looks at how growing ivy enacts a sort of slow dance. On the Road recounts the life of Madame Tussaud who spent much of her time travelling around with her museum before it found its home near Baker Street. Next Peter and I dance to the words of my poem The Perfect Soufflé read by Pauline Walsh. At the end of the showcase is Hospital Tango, a poem that recounts a moment in the life of a D-Day veteran: the poem is set in hospital and is spoken against the backdrop of a metronome which represents not only a flashback to the gunfire of D-Day but also the bleeping of hospital machinery as well as the heartbeat of the protagonist.
By undertaking a spectrum of experimentation: speaking without music, speaking with music, speaking whilst dancing, dancing to the words of one of my own poems (with no other music), dancing to a metronome and finally dancing to music alone, the sequence has enabled me to measure how far I have stretched myself as a writer over the last twelve months.
Both Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch’s Picador collections Not in These Shoes and Banjo were shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year. Samantha has held residencies at the Dylan Thomas Boathouse and at the National Wool Museum. In 2014 her pamphlet Lime & Winter was published by Rack Press and shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award. In 2015 Samantha won an Arts Council Creative Wales Award to write the performance piece Tango in Stanzas She runs a writers’ retreat on the coastal path at Write By The Coast.
‘Six Secrets of Ivy’ is featured in the new, spring issue of The Lonely Crowd, which can be purchased here.