Thursday, May 02, 2013

Kelly Malone reports on a poetry launch

I discovered poetry…. It wasn’t to have propositional clarity. It was an auditory warmth, not like the bars of a song but an excitement in representation, an ontological subversion.
-Leigh Davis
ka mate ka ora, 9, 2010

Arriving at Hopetoun Alpha, the symbol on the entrance beckons me like a court jester: a golden circle shooting a cross and arrow. I’m already attuned to Davis’ play on language and symbols.  
I enter. The red strikes me – warmth. The crowd is buzzing.  Bees. The final flag in Time, Text & Echoes, no 30, ‘Bees.’ The yellow flag has no words, just stitches of red lines from two black rectangles on the bottom far left and right.  The echoes of Davis’ work is buzzing. Was it the criss-crossing of bees that signify Te Kooti? The great prophet who watched text, who informed so much of Davis’ flags, the prophet who will return.

The first image in Bambury’s REDUX are the HAU flags exhibited in Station of Earth Bound Ghosts at the defunct Auckland Railway Station concourse in 1998. One red, the other black: Hauhau – breath to the power of itself – divine breath. Not the ‘unfriendly Maori’ (Te Tangi a te Matuhi, Davis 107). The red HAU flag opened Time, Text & Echoes, the final exhibition after Davis’ death which celebrated his life and work, and closed with the black HAU flag before the final flag not from the original series, ‘Bees.’ A lot has happened between Willy’s Gazette and Nameless.

The screen near the stage is paused at the start of the beginning on the ‘fly through’ - figures waiting at the entrance. The back screen, opposite the front screen, is projected with London plane trees.  This green foliage projection spills over the walls. The London plane trees have been projected around the ‘Hope Town’. Along with the red (the warmth) is the garden, and the pollinating buzz.

 I am saying ‘Leigh’. It feels odd to call him ‘Davis’ or even ‘Leigh Davis’, not that I ever had the good fortune to know him. Here in this red-warm, projected green-life, pollinating buzz, he is ‘Leigh.’ This is the warmth of something expanding – like a family. And they are all here. Leigh and Susan’s four: Greer, who lives in Auckland; Henry has come from New York; India - who will write Leigh’s JAR  into  her Art History dissertation, and Betty - over from Tokyo.  Also at least one of Leigh’s three brothers - the hallmark Davis height - head and shoulders taller than the rest - Campbell, and I’m told Julian might be here also. Later, Amanda, Leigh’s sister will turn out to be the friendly cashier who will generously introduce herself as she sells another Nameless box set on what had been a fully stacked table, now dwindling handful.
The young crowd is peppered with New Zealand’s finest but they will remain nameless, or let’s keep this warmth of first names: Alex, Ian, John, Murray, Michele, Phil, and Roger. Susan will thank her sister too, Loran. Many names are missed but they are not nameless. Susan will thank as many as she can and those key players: Bruce, Alistair, Christine, and Roger. 

First, Wystan, is on the spot. He talks about language being on the spot: ‘Poetry is in the act of imagining itself in spaces.’ The naming rights have been lifted. Wystan assures us Leigh does not leave us at a loss, but at a ‘threshold where the words find us at a second world and we find ourselves here.’ The buzz of the crowd continues in these beginnings.

The exception as to who is nameless, Wystan concludes, is Susan, for she has been what has made ‘Leigh Davis’ see the light of day. Wystan read from Leigh’s own words on poetry, I discovered poetry…. It wasn’t to have propositional clarity. It was an auditory warmth.

Stephen opens with how it takes a village to read a poem. He ran through Leigh’s awakening of poetry off the page and explained how the five years of the nameless project saw just one year with Leigh. Stephen, when concerned he may be a little emotional, or not speak as well as a writer , offers adages Leigh would say,  ‘It’s better to beg for forgiveness rather than to ask for permission’. Stephen acknowledged how we are raised by the questions. How Leigh has raised him by the question of ‘how to do it?’ His energies with Leigh are parallel rather than collaborative. Stephen coins the term, ‘transactional practice action.’ A synesthetic relationship: Leigh would describe, and Stephen saw pictures.
Stephen finished describing how Leigh would know when something was working, how the work worked if it was what he called ‘fresh’. Leigh would ask, ‘is it fresh’?

Susan, the last of the Leigh trinity for the evening, speaks. She is asked to ‘step into the light’ so she is lit properly. The pun is enjoyed, the reference to her being what has ensured Leigh’s work has seen the light and day, and here she is; simple, (un)broken, and beautiful.
Susan thanks many people. So many, she acknowledges, have helped support the family, and Leigh’s work. She asks, ‘what to leave you with?’ She has decided to read Act V Garden, Weather Play Scene 8. Where the final lines end with the London plane trees and the image on the back cover of Nameless shows the London plane trees in Victoria Park – an important  place for Leigh. And of course there is the drone, in language and sound. The play is infinite in a subtle yet generous Leigh-way. Nevertheless, the act Susan has read ends the play. Of course it isn’t that simple – after the end of the play there is the Rehearsal. Where the direction is given:

The play is ended. The audience leaves the theatre.
On the way out, to one side, a video. Several of the players are heard singing.
This was an earlier rehearsal of a section not now in the play.

As I leave, the space is reluctantly emptying and people are still milling about outside. This crowd doesn’t want to go. The same way we didn’t want to ‘fly through’ the exit at the end of the DVD – but at least it was an EXIT sign with more language in it. This beginning, this second world has only just begun – how can it already be over?
I leave with my nameless paper bag wondering where to from here? Walking up Beresford St I see the restaurant sign ‘THETA’ followed by a shop sign, ‘CHOICE’ and feel full of fresh play.

Once home, I look on line for what the symbol at Hopetoun Alpha means:

The circle represents the earth, universality - the globe - our home, the cross symbolises a blend of female and male and the arrow is our forward and upward direction as we all move into a brave new future as one (

Wystan said Leigh had thought audience was a vague thing – that if he had one it could be counted on two fingers of both hands. I think Leigh was counting a nameless rehearsal. 

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