Thursday, September 5, 2013

"State of Being" opera

I know, I know, that's three posts in a day, but this one is exciting.

Back in May, someone got in touch with Poetry in Motion (my poetry group) to do the libretto for an opera. It's called "State of Being" and music was composed by Warwick Blair, a New Zealand composer. The video of the opera was just released yesterday and I watched it today.

There were four volunteering poets, including myself, and I did all the coordination with our contact in Auckland. We were supplied music for each section on Soundcloud, and were asked to write 8 pieces of about 10 minutes each. I aimed for 500-600 words per section.

We quickly divided up the different sections, which were based on eight different concepts: love, maths, jazz, sex, death, drugs and truth (dance is another section, but has no libretto).

I wrote maths and love, words attached below.

Warwick Blair was quite liberal with the libretto. There were very few parameters put in place to tell us how it would be sung, or how it would be used. When I listened to the video, I realized he took, at most, 3 or 4 lines in a row, sometimes modifying, sometimes repeating a line over. Very little of the two poems below remain - just a stanza or two of each. Still - it's fantastic and somewhat surreal to hear your own libretto sung by very talented singers.

I've learned a lot about poetry since May, so I'm a bit embarrassed by these pieces, but hey - they were good when I wrote them. :) I think I would concentrate on making them tighter, with more control over stanzas and meter, and pay especially attention to the internal rhymes and sounds/chimes. Still, I enjoy reading these still, so that's a good sign.


It makes perfect sense
that evolution and biology play a role in our daily lives
Irrational in the extreme, every scheme is of infatuation
A flick of hair, a flash of cheek, give weakened knees
Our horny and joy roar, like the shore’s crashing waves
Where then fits love? Is it the shining light we imagine?
Or just the pumping, pulsing flow of hormones?
We do not know.

All of us are, at best, sitting in the darkest places, holding the smallest candle
Lighting up the flickering, unsteady space around us
Once in awhile, someone finds a corner and sits
Those are the knowledgeable, the scholarly, the enlightened
Purposeless and endlessness fit together like pieces of an ever-changing puzzle
And any solid space feels like certainty in the vast darkness

So, how do you know when you’re in love?
Rather than picture her naked
You think of
The smell of her skin
the sun shining on her hair
the curve of her cheek
and softness of her lips
her eyes on yours
the throaty laugh
and smart remark
her timely blush
the crinkle of her eye
when she smiles
her attention
her discussion
her every word
No. That’s infatuation!

And unrequited infatuation at that
So, what is love?
The Greeks got it wrong
They think all blonde curls and batting eyelashes
Love is not the soft, pretty, feminine figure they imagine
No. Love is the twin sister to war
She is as fierce and her armour has barbed spikes
She can sometimes look so appealing, so sweetly curved
Do not be fooled, she is the harshest avenger
Ruthless and uncaring about the damage she leaves behind

If Love comes to you, run away from her
But know this, know this
You can never run fast or far enough
For her legs are long and tireless
Her breath steady through the miles
And even if she catches you alone in the wilderness,
She can reach into your chest
Tear out your heart, rip it into pieces
and fling them into every direction
Somehow, you still remain alive
Your heart keeps beating, shattered though it may be
And life goes on

Later, you meet love again
But this time, her foul mood has abated
And your heart remains intact
And she touches you lightly on the cheek
Gives you a hug and tells you to be well
Life is good, the birds are singing
The world is brighter and more colourful
Food tastes better,
Even the bruise black clouds do nothing to dampen your mood
The rain feels like sunshine
The pain in your muscles feel like rest
And your golden glow cheers all around you.
I am still waiting for her good mood.

Lost and listless, loveless and restless
Strangers are my only comfort, my only comfort
Cold, distant, the horizon seems closer than you
Take the distance and hug it tight
Take it to your breast and hear its heartbeat
the rhythm matches “I don’t love you any more”
And,while wishing you the best, it cannot comfort
Still, is this the essence of desire, or attraction?
Somehow, in the loneliness, you conclude
All love is self-love
You are surrounded by yourself always


Shaking the tree of mathematics yields
a biosphere of tensor termites
algebraic ants, exponential earwigs
logarithmic locust and binomial beetles
truths falls before our eyes
derived from nothing but the letter x

A special search for truth
One that might actually yield results
unlike “What is the meaning of life?”
or “Where did we come from?”
questions asked and unanswered
through the generations
Not math; math gives answers,
Time after time, it teases
Time from time and answers from answers

Sorely needed, desperately seeking
The deepest truth past number’s meaning
Truth seeking mathematicians spend lifetimes understanding why
One plus one equals three won’t fly
The very mind of God revealed
Years and decades go by
and as they come near
These truth seekers become like gods themselves,
gods of imagined spaces, warriors of the mind
lords of numbers

Searching, peeking, hunting, seeking
lighting a candle in the darkest places
not snuffed out by ignorance taking
no interest in their spaces

Imagine a life of searching, truth seeking
Answers always just around the bend
closer and closer with each derivation
but when you round the very last corner
What do you see?

Godel’s wall, looming large
bricks of incompleteness
and mortar of uncertainty
form tightest tightness, no cracks, no brightness
shine through
Truth is on the other side, forever from reach
Godel didn’t build it, but was the first to find it
And was the first to write graffiti upon its vastness
In bold, red, spray-painted letters
sit, “This sentence is false”
But if the sentence is really false
then it must be true, and if it’s true
it must be false

Many have tried, but when they find the wall
They know better, stop, take stalk, sigh and turn back
The best but skirt its infinite edges
getting lost in self references, logical paradox
unworthy of mention, axiomatic suspensions
Newer, unrevealing invention

So instead, they turn to sexy hyperbolas, curves of choice
Twisting to the apex of spiral joy
Shapes of planar-cones intersections
Injuring the soul of the circle, always bound end to end
the snake swallowing its own tail
forever lusting for freedom, but denied

Or, the Pythagorean truth where
the trig fairy sits on their shoulder
Whispering “hypotenuse”, “hypotenuse”
over and over into their ear
The very height of mountains,
the diameter of the sphere
distances to anything of worth
a giant euclidean tangle
from the sun to the earth
contained in the smallest triangle

Or, they slum with the layman and accountant
planar geometry and basic arithmetic
barely mathematics, of lowly aesthetic
columns of figures - addition and subtraction
where one and one, of course, make two
Where no one even question their actions
No formulae of Newton’s domain
No abstraction more complex than a fraction
The gods left alone on the higher plane
No Reinman, Gauss or Leibnitz
Just bean counters counting their beans
stones tossed into clay bins
to count the minutes and the seconds
no lords of numbers
no warriors of the mind
no mathematicians

NOTE: the idea of the maths poem comes from the story of Kurt Godel, a mathematician/logician from the mid-20th century who is famous for Godel's incompleteness theorems. Many mathematicians of the day spend nearly their lifetimes working on a axiomatic definition of all of mathematics. One of these was the famous mathematician and atheist Bertrand Russell. Much of their life's work was destroyed by Godel's theorems, who determined than an axiomatic definition of mathematics was not just difficult, but impossible. So, once your life work is destroyed, what do you do next?

1 comment:

  1. the biggest problem with the "love" pice is, I believe, the lack of a consistent voice. It seems almost like there are two people talking, especially 2nd to last and last stanzas.

    I found "maths" much better that way though... it's essentially a story carried through, so feels consistent.

    Both could use a once-over linguistically though. There are opportunities for better phrasings and better use of language/sound I think.