Pascale Petit’s new collection, What the water gave me, 23rd June, the Storey Auditorium, Lancaster.

by Carla Scarano D’Antonio
England won against Slovenia! How proud everybody was, celebrating with flags and songs. Entering the Storey in Lancaster a few men with St George’s Cross flags, worn as cloak, were cheerfully toasting at the bar.
In our way we celebrated as well with an evening out listening to the mystical poems of Pascale Petit’s new collection, What the Water Gave Me, Seren, 2010.
In the half-light of the Auditorium the pictures of the painter Frida Kahlo projected on the screen gave us a clear clue for the poems. Each poem of the collection has the title of a painting, giving an alternative view of it and exploring its deep significance as well. The collection also goes over Frida Kahlo’s life, her relationship with her mother, the bus crash whose painful consequences affected her throughout her life, her stormy marriage with the muralist Diego Rivera (her second accident, she said) and above all her art: the way she chose to recover from sickness and withstand pain.
A great poet and a great painter met face to face, supporting each other’s art, their images interweaving to create a story, the story of Frida’s life and of her work, showing every shaded corner, revealing every slight emotion, fearlessly.
Some poems describe the paintings, interpret them, focus on details, other poems concentrate on what came before or after the painting, giving a new version of it. Every poem is a work of art like the painting that inspired it. And Frida Kahlo’s life was full of events, of determination to survive and see it out, and to transform a trauma in a masterpiece.
Pascale Petit has written about paintings in a previous collection, The Treekeeper’s Tale. Here she was inspired by the paintings of Remedios Varo and Franz Marc. A pamphlet, The Wounded Deer, fourteen poems after Frida Kahlo, was also launched at Tate Modern, London, in the 2005 Frida Kahlo exhibition.
In What the Water Gave Me the poet goes deeper and deeper in exploring and understanding the painter, and then goes beyond. Frida Kahlo is the inspiration driving Pascale Petit to face and analyze the main topics of life: birth, pain, love, motherhood, sex, death.
Frida Kahlo had success and appreciation as an artist but her family life was unhappy and frustrating. Diego often cheated on her even with her own sister. And she couldn’t have children: she had three miscarriages, because of the accident. Love, both in the poems and in the paintings, is often described as abuse and pain, and the experience of making love mixes with the trauma of the accident.
Her life was dedicated to art not just as a vocation but also as a tool for survival, the anchor that replaced her failed career as a doctor and her disappointing relationship.
Her roots are in Mexico with all its colours and golden light, Aztec mythology, love for animals, nature and religious traditions.
Some of her surreal paintings reminded me of the work of the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, his tiny figures evoking subconscious monsters and everyday crimes.
Pascale Petit’s poetry unravels the invisible thread of the images of the paintings with the patience of a philologist and the artistry of a new creator. Certainly we had the chance to watch and listen to the work of two great artists who give widely and generously.
The event was particularly interesting thanks to the great poetry, the great pictures and the participation of the audience. It could not have been otherwise with such a combination.
And come on England!

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Word Soup – Preston

Not strictly within Lunecy’s geographical remit, but here are some clips of Lunecentric talent wowing the Ribblelands last night.

Spotlight June 2010

It was a Spotlight of two halves (football references being the order of the night) with five open mikers and another five on the bill.

Kate Davis was first up, with three poems. Sadly for the camera, her set suffered from Paper-Over-Face Syndrome, so it was the last, unscripted piece that came across best from my vantage point, with more tales of pangolin-mangling.

Newcomer Carl Peters followed with his story Elijah. There were more paper-in-the-way problems for the poor cameraman but it was an amusing performance, steadily gaining in assurance.

Linda Keith impressed with some poetry promoting New Zealand every bit as effectively as Peter Jackson and the Conchords combined. Did anyone catch the title of either piece?

Alan Alvarez took us in an utterly surreal direction. Judge for yourselves.

Pascal Desmond was on top form – this was the most disciplined and structured piece I’ve seen him do.

Mihkel Hassan & James Edgar were an intriguing pairing, fusing up-to-the-minute hiphoppery with traditional singer-songwriterliness to good effect. James had bravely fought through illness to complete the set – whether the illness added to his Lamontagnian gravel-itas would be hard to say.

Joy Ahmed’s reading was themed, recalling a Black Country childhood with a tender but not over-honeyed gaze. Having both my grandmothers from Wolverhampton, I recognised the landscape as utterly authentic. We were even treated to a display of technical skill with a pantoum – an ultra-difficult Malaysian form. Good stuff.

Tony Walsh emits charisma the way an AK47 emits rounds.; it is physically impossible for a sentient human being to remain indifferent within a mile radius when he’s on stage. His Mancunian marathon Rain Dance dazzled the audience throughout, drawing on cultural references from Marx and MacColl to Giggs and the Gallaghers. The footage has not been cleared for public consumption but I am advised that there is a better version out there – as soon as I have it, I will post a link. Everyone should see this – the pacing and phrasing are masterly and there was more than enough recognition even for an out-of-towner like me to feel involved.

Mollie Baxter had a tough assignment, then, following on with her performance of Keeping Light, scripted by Blackpool playwright David Riley and based on one of my stories. But Moll played a blinder (OK, enough football references) and really brought the story to life. I had been a bit concerned that people’s attention would wander after twelve minutes of prose before the punchline but scanning around the audience showed that everyone was completely drawn in. Well done, Moll.


New Potato Scene rounded off the night in fine style. Their performance was propelled with so much brio that the odd stumble didn’t matter tuppence. Amidst the larking around, though, these guys showed they could carry off a serious song with class – hence my pick for the highlight of their set.

In summary, a cracking night. There are plenty more clips here.

Next Spotlight will be July 16th.

A very creative age, Storey Auditorium, 15th June

by Carla Scarano D’Antonio
A surprisingly fresh event, considering the mature age of the participants, at the Storey Auditorium last Tuesday with the Morecambe Bay Writers and the writers from the Rainbow Centre in Morecambe.
It was the result of a Spotlight Community Writing Project facilitated by Sarah Fiske, honorary member of the Morecambe Bay group and tutor of the Rainbow group.
She introduced the event and the writers as supportive, creative, full of sense of humour and variegated. And it was exactly what we had, a taste of sincere, original writing with a tint of lightness.
Jean Pollard of the Morecambe Bay Writers started the reading with Dawn over Morecambe Bay, a contemplation of the beauty of the bay at dawn, ‘the sea laps softly shoreward with a sigh’ and ‘the sands shine gold beneath the climbing sun’.
Soup Therapy by Jenny Dighton was a brilliant response to the ordinary frustration of life generating anger. Making a soup is a good alternative to shouting or banging and is ‘nourishing and warm’ as well.
A short story was the following piece, To B or not to B by Christine Mary Malone. A delicate, exhilarating story with a romantic ending.
Sounds in the wood were the inspiration of One Whole Year in the Wood by Audrey Skinner, ‘naked branches growing’, ‘silent flakes’ of snow make a melody only a poet can hear.
Kevin Skinner read Chocolate Raisins by Tom Johnson, who inspired the group but unfortunately died some years ago. Eating a full packet of chocolate raisins has a hint of eroticism, and after the ‘guilty pleasure’ a well deserved cigarette.
The story of a rebelling sixteen year old girl is the theme of Carol Stenning’s Change. The wizard of the village made a spell on her: ‘repent or change, change forever’. And she metamorphoses again and again wandering about. Eventually the dream ends and she is in her bedroom.
Sarah Fiske read Today and Buying Shoes by Freda Moore, two true, straight poems about getting retired (‘I don’t feel decrepit’) and buying a pair of new shoes (‘my waking nightmare’).
Memories of old times came to us with Judith Hamer’s For Old Time’s sake, a cracking piece comparing her first encounter with her future husband in Blackpool and their going back there after fifty years.
Jean Pollard ended the reading of the Morecambe Bay writers with Evensong, a humble hymn to dusk.
Most of the pieces they read had been published in two collections of prose and poetry, A Bowl of Cherries, Roadwork Publications, 2007 and A Breath of Sea Air, Mayoh Press, 2009. Their website is http://www.themorecambebaywriters.com
The pieces of the writers from the Rainbow were inspired by images and paintings. The pictures were projected on a screen during the reading.
From bobbin lace making (The Blue Thread by Mary Wetton) to Picasso’s Weeping Woman (Weeping Woman by Kay Beattie), the moving simplicity of the first was balanced by the deep, detailed analisis of the ‘woman trapped in the frame’ of Picasso’s painting.
Then The Daily Orange by Terry Cottington where the bronze statue of Boudicca by James Thorndyke at Westminster bridge is the point of arrival of a slightly drugged young lady eager to look like the heroine, naked and all.
The three last pieces, Rabbit Stew by Jo Hoyle, A Work of Art by Maureen Wattam and The Cobbler’s Last by Hazel Birkinshaw, stood out for their apparent simplicity and accurate observation. They gave the right close to the event.
The venue was warm and comfortable as usual, the reading was entertaining and pleasant, the writers charming. As Sarah Fiske said we hope it is the start of more readings where other writers’ groups can perform their work.

Don Giovanni, Lancaster Castle 14th & 15th June

by Carla Scarano D’Antonio
Attending an opera in a venue that is not a traditional theatre is always intriguing and risky. The experience can be new and unpredictable so you never know if you are going to hear and see well.
I believe that the Shire Hall at Lancaster Castle has a perfect acoustic and is also a beautiful venue, the music floating in the vault, the coats of arms like decorations of a scenery and the evening sky illuminating the interior.
Though the space for the stage is narrow and the actors or singers have to find their way among wooden stalls and stone stairs, running the risk of being unintentionally tripped up, the result can be brilliant. In fact the stage and the stall become one, the actors mix with the audience, which is consequently totally involved in the play.
This is what happened with Don Giovanni, the libertine punished (from the Spanish legend of Don Juan and a moralistic play, El Burlador the Sevilla by Tirso de Molina, penname of the Spanish monk Gabriel Téllez)a drama giocoso by W.A. Mozart, libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, first performed in Prague in 1787.
The singers, Mark Saberton as Don Giovanni, Thomas Eaglen as Leporello, Serenna Wagner as Elvira, Sarah Helsby-Hughes as Donna Anna, Nicholas Sales as Don Ottavio, Elise Dye as Zerlina and Luke Thomas as Masetto, had a good Italian diction and performed a masterly execution both in singing and in acting.
It is not so common that the characters of an opera fit the appearance of the singers so well because vocal talent is usually considered more important than the physical aspect. And it is in a way. But it is also awkward for the audience to get involved in the story where a passionate hero weights a hundred kilos or a delicate bride is fifty years old or more. Everything is possible of course and it depends on the point of view.
The audience was very much involved this time both in the music and in the story. We heartily laughed when the prankster Don Giovanni played his jokes against the ‘hot’ Donna Elvira (how could she still believe in his love at the end?) or the serious, but maybe equally ‘hot’, Donna Anna, who looked for revenge for attempted rape and her father’s murder. And we horrified when we realized that our hero was also a criminal, he killed Donna Anna’s father at the beginning, and a rapist.
A complex character wonderfully depicted by Mozart’s music and da Ponte’s words, whose animal instincts (‘Mi par di sentir odor di femmina’= I think I smell a female) mix with his ‘good’ intentions of ‘comforting’ women from their boring lives…or dull husbands. On the other hand he needs women (‘Le donne son necessarie come il pane o l’aria che respiro’= women are necessary to me like bread or the air I breathe) so he can’t help but keep seducing them with the obsession of a collector and the skill of a sly old fox.
The line between what his victims want and what he forces them to do is very thin and the ambiguity of words shape each time a different perspective. After all everybody has fun with Don Giovanni and when finally they attack him and he is sent to Hell we wonder if it is a real happy ending.
‘La commedia è finita’, as Canio the clown would say, no more drama, no more fun, no more enemy to aim at. The scapegoat is gone. Life goes back to ordinary with all its dreams and nightmares.
But we had great fun for about three hours at Lancaster Castle with Heritage Opera (www.heritageopera.co.uk tel. 01772451991).
Other pieces on offer at the Castle in 2010 are Madame Butterfly ( 9th & 10th August) and Die Fledermaus (1st & 2nd November).

Black Rock by Amanda Smyth

Reviewed by Judith Coyle, syndicated with thanks to Lancashire Writing Hub.

Black Rock, the debut novel from Irish/Trinidadian writer Amanda Smyth, was included on Oprah Winfrey’s ‘25 Must Read Summer Books’ list and has been endorsed by British writer Ali Smith so it has garnered a fair bit of attention. (In the US the novel is entitled “Lime Tree Can’t Bear Orange”).


For me the book’s great strength is the way in which Smyth’s often poetic writing manages to appeal to all our senses. Trinidad and Tobago seem to spill out from the pages. You can feel the sun, the heat, feel the dust in your eyes, see those vast blue skies. One of the senses that she really stimulates is taste with abundant references to food and drink: coconut cake, breadfruit, Machineel plums, mangoes, oranges and limes and planter’s punch. It is a very ‘visual’ novel, related to the reader through the eyes of the narrator and central character, Celia, whose mother died giving birth to her. The novel is the story of Celia’s personal and geographical journey, from childhood innocence to the many challenges of adulthood, from the small island of Tobago to the larger one of Trinidad.

A seductive, almost hypnotic fairy tale atmosphere pervades the novel which is shot through with Gothic imagery.

For instance we learn that a former neighbour, an undertaker, indulged in necrophilia and there are references to ritual, sacrifice and obeah (voodoo shamanism). When Helen Rodriguez suffers her nervous breakdown she appears in a “long silver dress” that has a “silky train” and she tucks her “dirty feet” under her as she sits down. However, despite these examples I felt that the novel did not deliver on its cover note’s promise that it conveyed “a vivid sense of the supernatural.”

While Black Rock has been compared to Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, for me it had echoes of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, from whence Rhys’ book emerged. Just as St John Rivers rescues Jane Eyre who has fled from horror and who collapses in a delirium on the moors, so Celia falls into a fevered faint on the boat to Trinidad and is rescued by the noble but naïve William. Like Jane, Celia falls into a job easily (things just seem to happen to Celia) and also like Jane, she becomes enamoured with her employer.

Smyth does effectively convey the islands’ colonial life of the 1950s which is revealed through the hierarchies: Caribbean natives are servants and helpers; male Europeans, even the swarthy Dr Emmanuel Rodriguez, who is Portuguese, are in positions of power and control. The women are beholden to men, none more so than Celia herself, who I felt was portrayed as a victim because of her race, her gender and, we gradually realise, her extraordinary beauty. Given my own interests, I was impressed to read that the book was nominated for a NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) image award for best work of fiction by a debut author though I was uncomfortable with some aspects of race in the book. Aunt Sula comes across as the strongest black character but others seem just a little stereotypical: the clairvoyant Mrs Jeremiah; the docile William and his pre-gangsta rap era brother, Solomon. Also Celia’s beauty is enhanced because she lighter skinned than the other native girls. I know that this was, and still is, often the case, that light-skinned black people are viewed as superior and more attractive than their darker counterparts – but it was a message I would have preferred not to have come across yet again.

Celia, as narrator, is herself a visually-oriented person, an observer, and for me this was the source of the book’s great weakness. Celia tells her story in a staccato, detached, matter-of-fact manner. I understand that this style reflects her youth and her emotionally dead state following the rape but it also meant that I did not feel much empathy for Celia, apart from when she suffers her defilement. She appears to have little inner life and for this reason I did not find the novel “intensely moving” as promised in the book’s blurb.

For example, she chooses to cleave herself to Dr Emmanuel Rodriguez yet I am not sure why she loves him. It seems to be mainly because his seduction methods are a sharp contrast to those of the rapist Roman Bartholmew. Rodriguez approaches her as gentle lover and helps remove the pain of her rape. Yet even he turns cold and hard hearted, choosing to uphold the status quo – life with his English rose wife – rather than to commit to Celia.

I also found the novel’s ending rather too neat and I felt frustrated that her parentage was portrayed as somehow more noble, more civilised and grand, because it emerged from the coupling of a black woman and a powerful white man.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes, for anyone who wants to escape to the sun-drenched islands of 1950’s Trinidad and Tobago. But if you are looking for emotional depth I would go elsewhere.

Picasso: peace and freedom. Tate Liverpool

Exhibition 21st May-30th August
Review by Carla Scarano D’Antonio.

Unmissable, the Picasso exhibition at Tate Liverpool. It shows an exceptional variety of the supreme modern artist’s work and it is a great opportunity to visit a cultural event that will be presented in Vienna at the Albertine next autumn and at Louisiana museum of modern art, Denmark in spring 2011.

During WW II Picasso joined the Communist party and was committed to peace campaigns from the ’50s onwards. His ‘Dove of Peace’ as the international emblem of the peace movement is present in all its versions and is the kernel of the exhibition.

His commitment to peace is very clear in his condemnation of the atrocities of war. The Charnel House (1945), like the more famous Guernica (1937), is about the massacre of a Spanish Republican family and the tied, slaughtered roosters are symbols of tortured victims. In his still lifes the essential lines of the grinning skulls are a warning and a deliberation on the effectiveness of so much fighting against whatever oppresses and hinders freedom.

Picasso’s answer is again the symbolic dove of peace. He also uses female figures dancing hand in hand in a circle, lively and insouciant. A video on the first floor of the exhibition shows how the artist drew these symbols of peace on panels on a wall with a piece of charcoal. His spectacular artistry and clear vision expressed in confident strokes are one more evidence of his incomparable talent.

The exhibition also shows a series of his paintings and sketches inspired by two famous masterpieces: Las Meninas by Diego Velàsquez and Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Èdouard Manet. They are political works expressing his condemnation of oppressive regimes and false attitudes and his sympathy for a more open and ‘naked’ way of living.

The strongly marked sexual parts both in males and females have also a sensual Mediterranean flavour. They are his alternative to a ruthless reality depicted in the Rape of the Sabines. Again, naked bodies of women and children are crushed by a cruel power.

His nudes of the women so erotically marked are another reaction to a conformist, oppressive kind of life. His visionary interpretation is not about the triumph of eroticism but a suggestion of a more profound and peaceful way of living by going back to the origins.

His work pervades all aspects of humanity. His powerful drawing and colours state his message and interpretation of his times again and again. They leave a reassuring picture of a well defined world where the good guys are clearly recognizable from the bad guys.

How far we are from his world now! From a book my daughter found in the Tate’s bookshop I read: ‘There is no right point of view. You are always right. You are always wrong. It just depends from which angle you are seen.’

I giggle. It looks bad, but it’s true.