17. Running On The Spot

Anna Keir [1980?] Untitled [Anna Keir, Marian Evans, Allie Eagle] pencil & ink drawing 26x33cm

Anna Keir [1980?] Untitled drawing 26x33cm

When I get excited – by fear, grief, delight, anger, worry – adrenalin itches under and around my tongue. My pupils dilate. Multiple stimuli pour in. I lose my capacity to frame a sentence. To recognise an unnecessary parenthesis. And I run at the mouth: multiple blurts. It’s not pretty.

Intimates know to wait. Sit it out. Sometimes they smile. Put an arm around me. Ask a considered question or two. Ask me to PAUSE. Sigh. Laugh and roll their eyes. Tell me off. Etc.

Fortunately, I’ve learned to be calm. Most of the time. But not at the beginning of Prue Hyman’s interview for Wellington’s Lesbian Radio Show, a Radio Access programme I love.

I’m not sure what did it. I know I was worried about reading a Muriel Rukeyser poem. Prue had suggested Rukeyser’s Looking at Each Other, which seems to be about two women. It starts:

Yes, we were looking at each other
Yes, we knew each other very well
Yes, we had made love with each other many times

I’m not a poet. I don’t read poems in public. But I’d practised, and practised a little bit of The Speed of Darkness, too, because that’s where Throat of These Hours started.

And it was earlyish Sunday morning, when I’m usually carrying home vegetables and fruit from the waterfront market. And I’d had a solitary week, not speaking much. And there was concern that the Radio Access transmitter was down, affected by one of the 800 lightning strikes that hit Wellington a couple of days earlier; we learned that the show was going out only to computers. And the studio we were in was the model for some of the scenes in Throat of These Hours. It was the space where we’d filmed Tinkerbell, the 48Hours film that explores one of the Throat of These Hours themes. It was the studio where I record Wellywood Woman podcasts, where I was used to being the interviewer. And then, at the beginning of the interview, for a while everything I’d said seven seconds ago played softly through my headphones. Continue reading

16. The Bus

From my desk in the bus

From my desk in the bus

This fortnight living in a bus in a old mate’s garden-by-the-sea is a small commitment; I’m here partly because she’s working on an idea that includes portraits and dress-ups and conversations with other old mates and me. But, alas, it’s disrupted my commitment to finishing the Throat of These Hours radio play by the end of September (followed by the stage play at end November). I enjoy the bus and the sociability, and much of my time’s my own, but the wheels of my work day don’t turn. I planned to go home with the third draft good-to-go for a reading-with-actors. I don’t think that’ll happen.

But the good news is that I now have three posts on the Muriel Rukeyser Living Archive site. I like writing them because they make me think about aspects of what I’m writing that otherwise I’d take for granted. And re-examine where I’m going. They’re also an opportunity to celebrate the beautiful women who contribute to the plays’ development, especially Christine White as the composer and the actors Madeline McNamara and Lorae Parry, who have read twice for me – some of the stage play on film and all of the second draft of the radio play.

Here’s the first one, with clips of Chris White’s composition-in-progress for Muriel Rukeyser’s The Speed of Darkness and a scene between the two main characters, played by Madeline and Lorae. The second one, ‘Throat of These Hours: The Verifiable & The Unverifiable’  is about my research process and includes a clip of Chris’ composition-in-progress for Muriel Rukeyser’s Then. And the latest one, ‘From The Shaky Isles’, reports on the reading of the second draft of Throat of These Hours as a radio play, follows the latest large earthquake in Wellington and refers to some of the subtext to the work. It includes Estuary, a poem by Hinemoana Baker and Chris, and a clip of them singing Beautiful Thing, a tribute to New Zealand writer Jacquie Sturm.

The next confirmed Throat of These Hours ‘event’ is an interview on Wellington’s lesbian radio programme on Access Radio, with Prue Hyman, Sunday 22 September.

15. The Muriel Rukeyser Living Archive

Delighted to be invited to post at the Muriel Rukeyser Living Archive, once a month for four months.  Here’s the first one.  It has a clip of the first scene Lorae Parry and Madeline McNamara read for the Rukeyser Symposium. And another clip of Christine White performing her composition for The Speed of Darkness, the Rukeyser poem that inspired me to write the stage play and now the radio play.

And, if you’d like to, you can join the project’s Facebook page, which focuses on Muriel Rukeyser news as well as the plays.

14. Update

Screenshot of Chris singing an excerpt from her composition for Muriel Rukeyser's The Speed of Darkness

Chris sings The Speed of Darkness (screenshot)

O yay! ‘ScOtt WaLkEr meet MuRieL RukEyseR’ is out, the next episode of Christine White’s series about her Throat of These Hours composition process. Excited by Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch Chris asks: What can I see as linkages that lead me to want to reference my discovery of Walker with my discovery of Muriel? Then explores the linkages under three headings: Form, Silence and Viscerality. Check it out here. I’m so blessed to have a composer alongside me, whose work I love and with ideas that stimulate and challenge me!

And, last week editor John Conly, DOP Jess Charlton and I worked on clips to accompany some posts that Chris and I are going to do for the Muriel Rukeyser Living Archive. Coming soon. Exciting!

Also on the way, Muriel’s never-published novel, Savage Coast, from The Feminist Press.


And, at last, I’m about to start the next draft of Throat of These Hours. Scary, but I can’t wait. A big thank you for the inspiring feedback so far, from all over the place. Alongside Chris’ work, the wonderful support from John and Jess, and generous ongoing responses from my daily writing buddy, the feedback helps me to breathe more fully and to go deeper.

13. Christine White’s “I will bE sTiLL maKing” – MuriEL RuKyeSer


It’s out! Chris has written the first of two posts about her composition process for Throat of These Hours. A treat. Here’s one excerpt I love.

So here is the initial sound palette:

1. Voice – the title of the play gives it away – Throat of These Hours – and Muriel’s question in the context of her poem – “Who will be the throat of these hours?”. The play explores two women who, for various reasons have struggled with their art-making…Meredith has long since given up on writing poetry, and Tina is trying to discover her own voice through following the writings of Muriel and setting them to music.

The throat – the sounds of the throat can be many and varied…and can communicate a variety of emotions – the feeling of constriction, of not being able to speak/communicate – throat clearing, trying to make a way through obstacles.

Even the act of sighing and iterations of the breath can give signals as to the state of mind of the communicator – the body in the act of communicating, or trying to…

As this is a central theme in the play, and seemed to be a theme in Muriel’s own writings, I thought it is an obvious instrument. Its use in the presentation recording isn’t as subtle as it could be in the context of the whole play.

I think now of the film The Sixth Sense, and in watching a documentary about the film. In terms of sound design, the breath was used in layers – many many layers…human breath, animal breath – sometimes pitch shifted and slowed down – always running almost as if in the subconscious of the film – creating an undercurrent signal of the afterlife.

You can check out the fascinating rest of the post over here, on Chris’ blog MOLLY PLANET  RAW FOOD – RAW SOUND [discoveries and experiments] And her second post will be about influences…

12. Taking Throat of These Hours to the States


Struan Ashby and Jess Charlton prepare to film Chris White

1. Preparation

I want to take Throat of These Hours to the United States, take my response to Muriel ‘back home’ to her place, even though her work belongs to all the world. So the Muriel Rukeyser Centenary Symposium was a great place to start and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to give a Skype presentation. And I wanted to show the work-in-progress, not just to talk about it. A filmed reading and performance of Chris White’s songs was the only way.

Two weeks before this morning’s presentation at the symposium, I finished the second draft of the Throat of These Hours and – with my beloved writing buddy – chose three related extracts to film. Found the cast and crew, all people I love working with or wanted to work with. Made a date to film seventeen pages of dialogue in three continuous chunks; and two associated songs. Max Schleser organised a perfect space for us at Massey University – a mixing suite that looks a bit like a radio station – and some equipment. Suggested three students to work with us.

Friday a week ago Chris White emailed through her settings for two Rukeyser poems. I listened to them and wept. So beautiful.

Then, last Tuesday , we spent the morning filming Chris performing her compositions. And the afternoon filming three related scenes. An intense adjustment, moving from solitary writer to producer (location, equipment, payment, food) and then to directing. And I didn’t get some of it right, as when as director I forgot to give the conventional cues – not quite the same as the ‘Everyone ready? Yep? Action–‘ from last year’s 48 Hours competition;  I even (blush) forgot to say ‘cut’ now and then.

But worst of all, I repeated a mistake I made three years ago, with Development-the-movie. The longest sustained shoots I’ve been part of were for a fast-turnaround children’s television series, where the rule of thumb was that a page of script equalled a minute on screen. And that became heavily embedded in my consciousness, with serious consequences for Development. How did I not remember? John Conly, who did a wonderful job on set with the sound, with assistance from students Mon Patel and Nathan Foon, took the footage away to assemble on his own. Then brought it to me on Thursday for the hour he had available. The assembly was thirty-seven minutes long, for a presentation to last an hour, and include an intro and a Q & A. As John said, we’d shot almost half a feature in a single day. No wonder we were tired, though we started at 8.30 and finished at 4.30. Please, let me remember for ever-and-always that my writing takes two minutes per page on screen. Continue reading

11. Singing Muriel

On Friday night, Chris sent through her compositions for our presentation at Michigan, to a Symposium-full of experts of Muriel Rukeyser and her work. One for part of ‘The Speed of Darkness’, which goes at the beginning of Throat of These Hours, and the other for ‘Then’, which ends it.

Chris’ composition and performance exceeded my expectations and confirmed my hunch that Muriel’s poems set to music will offer a way into them that their presence in the play doesn’t otherwise provide. At least, they do that for me. Muriel’s poems always reach my emotions in a way I can’t explain and when I listened to Chris’ compositions they renewed and amplified the poems’ intensity for me. I can’t wait to discover what effects they have on Saturday’s audience (Friday in the U.S.)

Tomorrow, we have a crew/equipment/location meeting and on Tuesday we film Chris performing her composition and two actors reading excerpts from Throat of These Hours.



And yesterday I re-found what Sharon Olds wrote about Muriel’s own voice:

In 1968, when Muriel Rukeyser read her poems at a gathering of poets against the Vietnam War, I was amazed by their directness and power, and deeply moved by her voice. It had an unusually wide range of tones, and a slight vibrato. It had an amber quality, a dark gold note–it was deep, but with highlights in it when it sailed up almost girlishly, full of hope or promise. When she read, tears came out of me easily, as if automatically–as if this had been the voice I was imprinted with when still in the shell. Now, more than thirty years later, I hear in the recordings the shape of the lips and the tongue and palate and vibrant throat of someone who loves to eat, and to laugh–not a woman with a small mouth, not a woman afraid to open it. She begins each line on a fairly high note, a casting up and out of the shining arc (with its tensile strength, and its hunting), which falls, gradually, in a serious, gravitational curve, to mezzo or alto (no lifting, no questioning, or permission-seeking, at the end). And her voice always sounds physical, homemade, and of its time and place.

(from Poetry Speaks)

After almost a year of writing, alone at my desk, I’ve found it more challenging than usual to shift to a producer role. Something’s happened to my mental flexibility. And I’ve whined a bit to myself as I juggle what’s necessary with the other commitments in my life. Then, further on in Sharon Olds’ essay, I re-read this:

Around that time, I heard of [a] reading where many poets took turns reading…Muriel was reading heartily, with power and verve, and then gradually people noticed that there was no longer any space between her head and the podium. She had sunk down to some degree, and yet there was no diminution in the gusto with which she was reading, so no-one stepped up–everyone was kind of mesmerised. Eventually they realised she had sunk to the floor and someone mentioned an ambulance. But Muriel, lying there, said, “No, I want to finish the passage, I’d like a chair.” One was found, and they lifted her into it and brought down the microphone, and, as if nothing had happened, she continued on with the section and finished it.

Muriel died when she was aged 66 and two months, exactly a year older than I am now. How dare I whinge? I am soooo lucky to be reasonably healthy, to have these wonderful people to help. To have access to technology that makes it possible to communicate with people half a world away, about a woman whose work we all love. I love her life, too. And I love her, after meeting her in her writing and the writing of others like Sharon Olds.

10. Christine White’s ‘Water, Water, Water’

It’s ace to work with Christine White, the Throat of These Hours composer, because her work makes me re-hear Muriel Rukeyser’s poems. It also enhances the play, helps me explore ideas about the connections between poems and theatre and when a play becomes a musical. And it was a beautiful surprise when Chris sent me a link to what she’d written about Kathleen Gallagher’s film Water Whisperers Tangaroa (see also 7. Kathleen Gallagher – Poet, playwright, filmmaker).   Here’s the beginning of her post, with a link to the rest on her blog, MOLLY PLANET: RAW FOOD – RAW SOUND [discoveries and experiments]. Many thanks, Chris!

Water, Water, Water

Headman Mark Franco Winneman Wintu, North America

“It’s almost like if you want to put a tourniquet on your arm, that’s what
you’re doing with these dams, you’re putting tourniquet on your arm, and
then your fingers die – and you wonder why your finger’s died. It died
because you cut off the flow of blood. Water is like the blood in our
body…the water is the blood of Mother Earth. You cannot do these
things to it.”

– from Water Whisperers / Tangaroa (WickCandle Film – www.wickcandle.co.nz).

Mike O’Donnell Sculptor, Potter

“Ohinemuri was called a designated sludge canal once. It was so tragic that
everything got dumped in it – all the mining stuff, cyanide waste, the
community dumped its’ waste. It dumped its sewerage. That was the
attitude you know – this attitude we have inherited. On Sundays they
would stop the mine and they would all go to church. And then on Mondays
they would open the mine back up – and the old people would see
thousands of mullet and fish swimming with their heads out of the water
’cause they couldn’t swim in Ohinemuri any more. It was deoxygenated
from the cyanide. And I remember Uncle Tiki Rakana just saying it just
made us wonder about their spirituality. They go to church on Sunday,
and then they destroyed the water of Mother Earth, of Papatuanuku – they
destroy it on Monday.”

– from Water Whisperers / Tangaroa (WickCandle Film – www.wickcandle.co.nz).

I am lucky enough to be involved in a composition project with film-maker/playwright Marian Evans (http://wellywoodwoman.blogspot.co.nz/), in which the poems of Muriel Rukeyser are to be set to music. These will be  performed in the context of a play which explores the dynamics of three women in Aotearoa/New Zealand and examines issues of water conservation, health, and the experiences of creative women in finding/expressing their own voice.

Rukeyser (1913-1980) was a poet, feminist, bisexual, activist, Jewish woman from New York. I’m not very good at describing writing but her poems have stood out to me because of their confronting nature and honesty, particularly for the era she was writing in. I am inspired by her activism and also feel a closeness because of my visit to New York last year – it is a place that gets under the skin for sure.


9. Zero Dark Thirty: The Director As Backing Singer?

A Wellington Sevens costume. Thanks, Stuff!

I didn’t much want to go to Zero Dark Thirty. I scare easily at the movies and don’t often watch war films or action films. I love thrillers though, and I’m waiting for a new thriller about the war against violence against women, an ongoing event in real time – on 14 February Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising is a turning point in that story.

But I’d followed some of the controversy about Zero Dark Thirty, read reports of what Kathryn Bigelow says about her film and watched her speak on various clips. And I’m very interested in issues around work that’s hybrid, a mix of documentary and fiction (in New Zealand, Alyx Duncan’s recent The Red House and two projects that are on their way, Leanne Pooley’s Beyond the Edge about Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Everest in 1953 and Gaylene Preston’s Hope and Wire series about the Christchurch earthquakes.)So when a beloved friend was willing to go to Zero Dark Thirty, someone I knew would hold my hand if I needed that, off I went.

I didn’t need my hand held. The film didn’t engage me enough on a visceral level. It’s very ‘talky’ and uses the talk  and ‘chapter headings’ to move the story along, so I kept missing bits and became confused (as did my mate). There was no point at which I cared about the central character, played by Jessica Chastain. If a man had directed Zero Dark Thirty, I’d have shrugged, enjoyed the rest of the evening on Wellington’s wild streets (it was a Rugby Sevens night and a lot of fun for an observer) and not given it another thought.

But because Kathryn Bigelow directed Zero Dark Thirty, I thought at length. Tweeted my interest in discussions and got a couple of responses. And kept thinking. I’ve come to two conclusions. One is that the film can be read as an art historically influenced statement about women and wars between religions and nation states. The other is that Kathryn Bigelow’s statement is compromised by her role as Mark Boal’s backing singer. Continue reading

8. They Might Have Completely Forgotten Us

Anna Keir Self Image (1981 silk screen on cotton 58×43.5)

I. How women artists disappear from history

As Sarah Polley said the other day, “It’s really lonely being a female filmmaker, there really aren’t that many women doing this job.” If we can’t connect to our women filmmaker histories, it’s even lonelier. Women’s histories disappear so quickly. We – and our intellectual and artistic achievements – get forgotten. Often because of lack of resources.

The other day I stumbled on a bilingual Canadian Women Film Directors Database filmmakers and was astonished to find it included 975 women who’ve directed at least one short or feature film. Created in 2006-2007 by Margaret Fulford, a librarian at the University of Toronto, the database provides additional information about 145 of the directors. It states that ‘more detailed records will be added over time’. I suspect that one golden year of funding made it possible to get the database this far, and that will be it – a tantalising glimpse into a rich history of filmmakers and films we may never know more about. (Happily I was mistaken: check out Margaret Fulford’s comment below!)

Women’s histories so often get lost within institutions which, unlike the Canadian database, are not only for women. There, women’s work is often entirely ignored, or framed in a way that obscures our contributions. Take, for instance, Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand. Te Papa describes itself as

…New Zealand’s national museum, renowned for being bicultural, scholarly, innovative, and fun. Our success is built on our relationships with and ability to represent our community.

But there’s strong evidence that the institution hasn’t built strong relationships with its communities’ women and women artists and fails to represent them adequately. In 2009 I wrote about Te Papa and how it fails women artists in an article about We Are Unsuitable For Framingits exhibition of women’s work. But the institution’s relationships with women artists’ history have also been unsatisfactory in more general exhibitions. For instance, in 2004, Te Papa created an exhibition called Out On The Street: New Zealand In The 1970s. According to Te Papa, this show

…takes in the Māori renaissance of this decade, investigates the radical influence of women’s liberation on Kiwi culture, and canvasses the alternative voices that rose to challenge the Establishment…New Zealand took to the world stage, sending a navy vessel to Moruroa in protest at the continued French nuclear testing on this tiny Pacific atoll…everyone seemed to be out on the street, making their views known on, among other things, sporting contacts with South Africa, gay rights, the Vietnam War, abortion, social welfare benefits, and ‘US imperialism’.

Out On The Street included posters, many of them made by women artists, but as I remember it a high proportion were unattributed. For example, the posters that women’s art movement leader Sharon Alston designed were not attributed to her. And a classic Herstory Press poster was displayed without naming the prolific photographer – Mary Bailey – and the women in the poster’s photograph. In less than thirty years two accomplished women artists and five women who posed for one of them had become ‘anonymous’, even though there were many people in Wellington who could have provided names. Can Te Papa’s self-description be taken seriously if it isn’t scholarly enough to research and provide the names of those who create the artworks it displays? It’s possible to argue that posters aren’t ‘art works’ so that it isn’t important who created them, and there were probably posters men made that were also unattributed. But I think that if posters are shown in an arts context they become art works and it’s important to identify who made them; given the underrepresentation of women in Te Papa’s exhibitions and women’s somewhat fragile art history the institution should be especially scrupulous in naming the women makers of works it does show. Continue reading