Rilke’s Wellies, Ira Lightman
Red Squirrel, 2019 £6.00
The missing voice
From the back cover:
This piece was a special collage/remix/re-write made to perform at the Scottish Poetry Library.
It was a collaboration, the descriptive copy goes on to tell us — with the poet Alan Riach — and it ‘enlists guest readers and audience participation, in a multi-vocal celebration’.
This could act as a reminder of how much (in the era of lockdown) we miss live performance and how the voice is so much more than what sits on the page, especially when the performance is as multi-vocal as this pamphlet suggests.
Each page opening has one of Rilke’s ‘Sonnets to Orpheus’ (eleven in total and translated by Lightman, I think, although this isn’t clear) on the left-hand side.
On the right-hand side, mirroring the sonnet, is a mix from Lightman’s Twitter feed, reaching out from Rilke’s lines as a stream-of-consciousness riff on music, puns, Alexander Pope, Brexit, New Zealand, Australia — anything, really. Sitting here I know that trying to re-create the performance experience in my head is selling it short.
The centrality of the human voice is at the heart of the first sonnet (I.3 in Rilke’s sequence)
To be singing, in your learnèd way, isn’t yearning,
isn’t courtship to a settled finality;
to sing is to be. For a God, easy.
When though are we? And when’s he turning
to us earth and constellation?
That will not be, kiddo, like your love, if
voice must rupture your mouth — learn
to forget what you’ve songstered. That forecloses.
In truth you must sing, it’s a whole other breath.
A breath about naught. A breeze to God. A whizz.
The word ‘songstered’ (Lightman’s invention) neatly sums up the whole experience of opening your mouth and letting the music pour out freely — something which, currently and for the foreseeable future, we cannot do in public. It’s some indication of how Lightman’s responses might have played against Rilke. These are the three lines set against the final three quoted above —
structure/ and also production.
Doesn’t it call for the poet, the human music sung aloud, to lift it into the full experience that’s called ‘performance’?