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And A Look And On

Poetry and Performance.

Poetry and Performance.

I direct collaboratively devised performance works. I have done this for the past twenty years with a company called Goat Island and currently with a group called Every house has a door.

Poetry, poetics, and poets have been my primary guides. As a director, I arrange material made by the performers in response to directives that I supply. For example, the collaborative work I am currently making began with the following directive: devise an event appearing out of a non-event that is no longer than three minutes.

The performers brought small “events” to rehearsal that were combinations of movements and words. I spliced, collaged, sequenced, edited, and multiplied these in space to make a performance. I often think of the space as a blank page and the events that take place as words, lines, and paragraphs moving in time across it.

I discover a performance by making it. By not knowing. Meaning arrives retroactively. Lyn Hejinian writes in The Language of Inquiry that “poetry comes to know that things are. But this is not knowledge in the strictest sense; it is rather, acknowledgement—and that constitutes a sort of unknowing.”

For me, each performance is an inquiry, an experience of experiencing, and a small act of repair that takes the ordinary as its context. There is no narrative. Instead there are relations, connections, and time. Poetry offers numerous systems and logics to make these arrangements and to move the non-narrative performance forward in time.

Again, here is Hejinian. “That, indeed, is the function of logics; they motivate the moves from one place to another. But the emphasis in poetry is on the moving rather than on the places—poetry follows pathways of thinking and it is that that creates patterns of coherence.”

Consider this poem by Rosmarie Waldrop:

The sun’s light and
is compounded
and casts long and shadows
and a look and on
the and face
of a girl

Here the “and” becomes an instrument of rhythm, and the images multiply. A similar experience happens in a non-narrative performance if each transition is the same and repeated between each event. A pattern of movement and sound develops, constructing relations between the events, which increase and proliferate.

There is another approach to transitions: erasure. Using this device, the performance tumbles across the horizontal axis of time without pause. One event flows into the other. There are no transitions. If this dynamic forward motion is interrupted with a temporary stop in action, where the performers stop performing, a gap opens up. Those watching become aware of themselves watching and the others in the room watching. As Waldrop puts it:

When eye and mind are interrupted in their travel, a vertical dimension opens out from the horizontal lines. Suddenly we’re reading an orchestral score as it were. No longer one single voice.

Perhaps this is one of the remaining powers of the live event, a recognition of each other, however uncomfortable that may be. The experience of the event follows the logic of its composition. The logic of the composition is facilitated by the guidance of the poet. A performance emerges that provides a place of recognition—a place of recognition as acknowledgment and the unknowing of events, people, time, and its passing.

Originally Published: September 1st, 2009

Lin Hixson co-founded the performance groups Goat Island and Every house has a door. She is professor of  performance at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and received an honorary doctorate from Dartington College in 2007.

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