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28 April 2011

The Pure Poetry Project

Pure Poetry in Castlemaine in 2010 Image: Pure Poetry in Castlemaine in 2010  

Pure Poetry is the invention of Bronwyn Blaiklock, and was first staged in regional NSW at the Riverina Conservatorium in Wagga Wagga. The inaugural Pure Poetry celebrated the voice of women in contemporary Australian culture and was held on International Women's Day in 2004. Bronwyn invited the participation of Australian composer Ann Carr-Boyd in the Recital, which combined contemporary piano, viola, violin and cello repertoire with submissions of new writing from the poets living in the Riverina region.

Over the last couple of years a number of Pure Poetry concerts have been organised by Blaiklock and the Ballarat Writers Inc. The aim of these concerts has been to encourage the writing and performance of new Australian works in poetry and music and the concerts have been toured regionally through Victoria to a growing and enthusiastic following.

The format of previous Pure Poetry events has revolved around new works of poetry, read in performance, alongside the performance of contemporary Australian compositions. While relationships in the programming between pieces of music and poetry would happily emerge, there was not a deliberate attempt to creatively integrate the two art forms. Enter Pure Poetry 2011. This year, selected poets and composers have been asked to write specific new works in a two-part process. In the first part composers have been asked to musically respond to recently written poems, whilst poets have been asked to respond to recently composed works. The second part of the process is more of a direct collaboration where poet and composer work together to create a new work.

As one of the featured composers for this year's Pure Poetry event I have been working in collaboration with the award-winning poet Nathan Curnow. Nathan initially came to me with an image of an abandoned chocolate factory at the end of the world and asked 'Do you think we can make something of this?' We've since developed this image into a work tentatively titled The Last Chocolate Factory, for narrator, music box, flute, cello, piano, and electronics. It is a strongly narrative work, full of Nathan's powerful images and metaphors. It's kind of Mad Max meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Hansel and Gretel - a morality tale about the pitfalls of greed, and of course, chocolate. (No irony lost as I munched on too many chocolate eggs whilst finishing the score over the Easter period).

There are a number of challenges that arise in this kind of collaboration, and for me they generally stem from where to place music - what proportions or sections of the work should just be music, or just be spoken text, or be text and music combined? Nathan who is an experienced performer of his own work is use to grappling with two layers of rhythm - the internal literary rhythm of his written text and the rhythm of his spoken delivery. These are not always the same as I've discovered. Add music to spoken text and you obviously have another rhythmic layer or implication. Nathan will be the narrator for the premiere performance, so it's been wonderful to work with him from this perspective also. Each time we've met to work on the piece, rhythm, balance and density of sound are elements we've both adjusted to maintain the overall flow and cadence of the work.

Some of the other works of mine written for the Pure Poetry event include Lace Frequencies for flute and electronics which is a reflection upon Ross Gillett's poem Death of a Dragonfly, and a work for cello and electronics called We string out along the sand which is a response to Nathan Curnow's Dead Penguins. There will also be works by Brenton Broadstock, Suzie Camm and Ross Edwards, among others. The various sound and text interactions of the Pure Poetry Project for 2011 will take place at the Ballarat Art Gallery on the 21st May.

Event details

Pure Poetry Recital
Saturday, 21 May 2011, 7.00pm
Oddie Room, Art Gallery of Ballarat, Victoria
Full details - see the AMC Calendar

Further links

The Ballarat Writers (www.ballaratwriters.com)
Anthony Lyons (AMC profile)
Anthony Lyons (www.alyonsmusic.com)
Nathan Curnow: (www.wordplay.org.au/writers/nathan-curnow)

Anthony Lyons is a Melbourne-based composer and teacher.


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