Friday, November 13, 2009
Up the Line - a night of poetry and reflection
11th of November, 2009…
A drizzly cold night…I pulled over by Brockley and Ladywell cemetery and for a split second I said to myself: ‘I could have been home, by the fireplace with a book in my hand’.
But I looked to my left and smiled: ‘Gunsel is as mad as I am…’
We approached the cemetery entrance and to our surprise we found lots of people gathered and waiting to go in.
‘So we are not the only ones’.
Police officers guarding the entry and several stewards greeted us in silence.
We joined the crowd, which has now started to move slowly through the gates.
The darkness embraced us one by one. Candles and lanterns carried by children were glowing softly throughout the cemetery and I could now just about make out the tombstones staring back at us quietly. ‘Do they know we are here? The dead?..’
A contemporary dance (choreography by Keren’Or Pézardhas) started the procession in the main alley, people gathered around watching their bizarre and silent moves.
In the distance we could hear the sounds of a piano so we moved along guided by shimmering lights and listened to Julian Jacobson playing Intermezzo op 117 no.1 in E flat and Intermezzo op 117 no.2 in B flat minor by Johannes Brahms.
And as this was not surreal enough we were invited to watch images of WW1 projected on a huge yew tree. (Line up for war – Film by Kai Clear (www.kaiclear.com). Projection: Declan McGill and Jon Lockwood)
Our steps wandered again and we came across poetry...
Poems by John McCrae, Robert William Service, Robert Freeman Trotter, Bernard O’Dowd, Vance Palmer, Leon Gellert, Judith Wright, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Rifleman Donald S Cox, Joseph Lee, A P Herbert, Marc de Larreguy de Civrieux, Georg Trakl, Franz Janowitz, Gerrit Engelke, Géza Gyóni, Dimcho Debelyano, Katherine Tynan, Margaret Postgate, Miss G M Mitchell, May Wedderburn Cannan, Cecil Spring Rice, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Robert Laurence Binyon.
Scattered all around the graveyards and read by poets from different backgrounds: American, Canadian, English, Australian, Scottish, Irish the verses flew one after another dragging us through the desperation and pain and hope of the soldiers who fought in the WW1.
I would like to point out that distinguishing a poet’s face that evening was a challenge. They had torches attached to their foreheads and were reading from papers held with frozen fingers.
From alley to alley we made our way to the chapel.
We were welcomed with a cup of such needed hot chocolate.
We stepped inside and sat for a while listening to First Movement of Sonata no.1 in G Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, violin: Yuka Matsumoto.
By the end of the evening our senses have given in to the feel of shrapnel, the sound of canons, the taste of medals made of tin.
It was 8.40 pm, we were still wandering through the alleys towards the exit when we spotted in the graveyard a human figure surrounded by candles. It was Irish poet Joe Duggan
reading from A. P. Herbert: The German Graves.
So we wrapped up the night into the last words of Herbert’s poem:
‘They’ll give perhaps one humble thought
To all the “English fools”
Who fought as never men have fought
But somehow kept the rules”
pictures by Patrick Napier