Sparks will fly like a king­fisher

Pasatiempo - - Art And Photography - Jill Batt­son For The New Mex­i­can

Ger­ard Man­ley Hop­kins wrote without renown for most of his life. The High Angli­can turned Catholic turned Je­suit priest pub­lished only a few po­ems in his life­time be­fore he died of ty­phoid fever in 1889 at the age of 45. It’s his mod­ern pop­u­lar­ity that has joined him to the ranks of the lead­ing Vic­to­rian poets such as Ten­nyson and the Brown­ings.

Hop­kins’ po­ems are packed with dense im­agery— as a young man he was torn be­tween the path of painter and poet— and he tack­les some big sub­jects: re­li­gion, na­ture, ecol­ogy, and spir­i­tual crises. One poem will of­ten com­bine all of th­ese themes and re­sult in a tightly wo­ven work that needs care­ful un­pack­ing. Hop­kins fuses sprung rhythm, in­vented words, and com­pound ad­jec­tives in a way that gives his po­ems a con­tem­po­rary sound. He didn’t in­vent sprung rhythm, but he re­named this po­etic style, which at­tempts to im­i­tate the nat­u­ral pat­terns of speech and mu­sic by in­ter­spers­ing stressed and un­stressed syl­la­bles. Hop­kins him­self said: “No doubt, my po­etry errs on the side of odd­ness.”

His work is cel­e­brated on Satur­day and Sun­day, Dec. 19 and 20, at the James A. Lit­tle The­ater in As King­fish­ers Catch Fire, a Theater­work pro­duc­tion that fea­tures nearly 30 Hop­kins’ po­ems in recita­tion and set to dance and mu­sic plus works by other poets writ­ten for the oc­ca­sion.

Theater­work’s artis­tic di­rec­tor, David Matthew Ol­son, grew up at­tracted by the sound, in­ten­sity, and in­ward­ness of Hop­kins’ po­ems, but it wasn’t un­til he met Santa Fe poet David Mark­wardt that Hop­kins moved to the front of Ol­son’s mind. “We started talk­ing about poets who had in­flu­enced us, and Hop­kins’ name popped out of both our mouths prac­ti­cally at the same time,” Ol­son said. “We said, wouldn’t it be won­der­ful to put Hop­kins’ po­etry out there for peo­ple to en­joy?”

The idea of mak­ing a mul­ti­me­dia pre­sen­ta­tion of Hop­kins’ work came quickly to Ol­son. “I thought it would be in­ter­est­ing to re­ally have it be per­formed— the whole pro­duc­tion wo­ven to­gether so the au­di­ence can travel through the po­etry,” he said. It turns out that in Santa Fe you can’t swing a son­net without hit­ting some­one who has been in­spired by the po­etry of Hop­kins. This is ev­i­dent in the di­verse group of artists who have col­lab­o­rated to pro­duce As King­fish­ers Catch Fire.

Ol­son asked chore­og­ra­pher Au­drey Derell to par­tic­i­pate af­ter he saw her re­hearse with her stu­dents at Derell’s Charisma Dance Stu­dio. “She had the ti­tles of four po­ems she wanted to do. It was re­ally won­der­ful to dis­cover some­one who must have had a Hop­kins book on her book­shelf,” Ol­son said.

“Work­ing with spo­ken word is my very fa­vorite thing to do, be­cause there is no driv­ing mu­si­cal rhythm,” Derell said. “You start to tune into your own in­ter­nal rhythms, your own heart­beat, pulse, your own breath­ing and you start to syn­chro­nize with the poem.” Hop­kins’ sumptuous im­ages of na­ture and his un­usual turns of phrase stim­u­late her dancers— 15 stu­dents be­tween the ages of 14 and 17 — to be more creative in their own work and to in­vent new ways of mov­ing, she said. “We re­ally feel we’re be­ing

drawn into this in­cred­i­ble creative con­text. I’m re­ally ex­cited about the com­bus­tion that will hap­pen. Sparks will fly!”

Cather­ine Don­avon, a Santa Fe ac­tor and mu­si­cal di­rec­tor for the Zia United Methodist Church choir, is mu­si­cal di­rec­tor for As King­fish­ers Catch Fire. “Just to have po­etry read is a won­der­ful thing,” Don­avon said. “Adding mu­sic con­trib­utes a re­ally won­der­ful el­e­ment, and adding dance will make it live in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent way— a vis­ual way.” Don­avon has put to­gether an octet of singers to per­form a cap­pella com­po­si­tions by Sa­muel Bar­ber, Ned Rorem, Robert H. Young, and oth­ers. The com­po­si­tions are vo­cal set­tings of Hop­kins’ po­ems.

Poet and ed­u­ca­tor Joan Logghe is one of the lo­cal writ­ers who will read from works writ­ten in re­sponse to Hop­kins’ po­etry. Logghe said that she loved the work of Hop­kins as a child: “He’s kind of over the top. There’s some­thing about his en­ergy that I love, the ex­trav­a­gance of his work. My re­sponse is much more gushy than I would nor­mally be.”

Logghe took the Hop­kins poem “Bin­sey Po­plars” into her sev­enth-grade class­room at the Santa Fe Girls School and asked her pupils to re­spond to the poem. As they wrote, she wrote, giv­ing her poem a New Mex­i­can spin by sub­sti­tut­ing cot­ton­woods for po­plars. “I wrote about the ec­static cot­ton­wood yel­low out­side the win­dows,” Logghe said. “[Writ­ing with the girls] charged my own bat­tery and gave me this live sit­u­a­tion, so that it felt like it was a rel­e­vant and real part of my life, rather than some­thing I was forc­ing my­self to do.” Then she took the poem home and com­pleted the last stanza.

Or­ga­niz­ers of the event have sched­uled a lec­ture, “Echoes and Re­ver­ber­a­tions: A Pre­sen­ta­tion on the Mu­si­cal­ity of Hop­kins,” on Satur­day, Dec. 19, and an in­for­mal con­ver­sa­tion on Sun­day, Dec. 20. Both events fea­ture Hop­kins schol­ars Frank Fen­nell and Joseph Feeney.

Feeney is a pro­fes­sor of English at St. Joseph’s Uni­ver­sity in Philadel­phia and has edited The Hop­kins Quar­terly since 1994. He had read Hop­kins in high school, but in 1977, when he was pre­par­ing to write an ar­ti­cle for the Je­suit jour­nal Amer­ica, he read ev­ery­thing Hop­kins had writ­ten on priest­hood or­di­na­tion. He was hooked.

Feeney told Pasatiempo that he sus­pects that peo­ple love Hop­kins for sev­eral rea­sons: “The po­ems are so packed with sound, idea, im­age, thought. He’s a sen­sa­tional na­ture poet, he’s an im­por­tant eco­log­i­cal poet, he’s very hu­man as a poet, and peo­ple iden­tify with him as a poet about God and re­li­gion.” Feeney said Hop­kins went through a year of se­vere de­pres­sion in which he pro­duced the “ter­ri­ble son­nets,” a se­ries of as­ton­ish­ing po­ems that Feeney said are among his most pow­er­ful.

Ol­son has his own rea­son for pro­duc­ing As King­fish­ers Catch Fire. “Hop­kins ap­peals to me as an artist work­ing in a field that is shaped by po­etry,” he said. “There are other poets, but he’s the one I keep com­ing back to.”

King­fish­ers of men and women: from left, Mon­ica Lee, Cather­ine Don­avon, Bar­bara Gras­sia, Michael Alexan­der, Robert Thorpe, and Les­lie Har­ring­ton Above, Jonathan Dixon, cen­ter, and other mem­bers of Theater­work’s As King­fish­ers Catch Fire cast

From Charisma Dance Stu­dio: front, Kelsey Cur­rier; back, Ale­jan­dra Baur; left, Tay­lor van Camp; right, Annabel Purvis

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