Poetry in Landscape: Wind and Voice, a performance by Elyas Alavi
April 2012, Seedling Art Space, Adelaide.
Suleiyman’s Carpet: Wind, breath and poetry, catalogue essay by Andre Lawrence
Persian literary culture is historically rich in mythologies, epics and tales, and among the most notable characters is Suleiyman (Solomon), who harnessed great power and commanded the east-wind, which would transport him and his armies wherever he wanted to go atop a carpet. In his essays on Persian Poetry, Emerson acclaims the literary and cultural wealth inherent in the significance of poetry for Middle Eastern cultures throughout history. This very wealth, an alternate view of the world, is seldom acknowledged within a colonial and post-colonial heritage as an intellectual and spiritual cultural and literary agent that shaped societies through its content and stories: “Poetry and flowers are the wine and spirits of the Arab” . This intoxicating attraction for verse perhaps lies in the medium’s potency as a form of deep, affective and expressive use of language. While written verse remains a pleasure for the spirit, spoken verse can also be a delight to the ears. It is breath, wind and voice loaded with rhythm, purpose and meaning, a carpet on which our dreams, memories and identity can be swept along, back to the places we once knew.
Within her recent series of intimate performances to grace Adelaide, Cecilia White, PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, directed on one occasion a group of culturally and linguistically different people to enact a “Breathing Space”. Entitled Breathing Space: becoming foreign, the performers recited, in unison and their own rhythm, selected verses from their own, or their favourite poems in their respective mother tongues. Five languages were represented, and as the performers voices rose and fell, creating a luscious backdrop of sound, the audience, at least for those whom to no present language was known, fell under the soporific spell of the gentle waves of sound that permeated the room, transporting the listeners on a gently rocking journey towards a peaceful inner state. The purpose of the recital was to witness and enact a happening, observing what would occur as all voices in all languages spoke together. She describes breath as “key to our ability to engage with our emotions, thoughts and actions”, and intimates that the act of breathing is often unnoticed, yet “in breathing, we experience disturbance, transformation and connection “. This connection with life-giving breath, the wind that exits our lips and links us to the world immediately beyond our physical body, to others, to our communities and loved ones, places our very being as an immersed component of the broader physical world, an immersion with landscape.
A breath, a sigh, a laugh, a scream; through voice we communicate, impart meaning and make ourselves heard. Speech, language and culture binds families, cultures and traditions, and the use of poetry in language is itself a masterful form of breath that explores the breadth and depth of human existence. Breath is wind that exemplifies the breadth of human emotion in breathing patterns and heartbeats, synchronised and mechanical, a rhythm whose intensity fluctuates with our feelings. Breath is resonance, particles of air squeezed out through vocal cords, giving birth to sound. How far does voice carry once it is harnessed by wind? Does it linger or perpetuate, existing far beyond that which we can hear? Does voice ripple through space, as movement in water, spreading ever outwards, and if so, how far would it travel? The wind erodes mountains and shapes deserts. It is a force of nature that can caress with the gentlest touch, soothing and healing, or batter down the strongest ramparts with zealous fury. As breath manifests into waves from our lips, and is mixed with the air that surrounds us, carried on currents of wind, it merges with the whole and leaves trails and imprints in the air. Voice, breath and wind shapes the world around us, and meaning inferred from sound may have its part to play in moulding our personal landscapes. In a world saturated by sound, can the quiet whisper, the loving word still be heard on the wings of the wind?