For a number of years, I’ve been attending poetry writing workshops, led by Angela France, held in Cordula Kempe’s home. On Waterside, close to Stratford upon Avon’s theatres, Cordula makes us welcome. We write in a sitting room that overlooks a terraced garden varied at any time of year. As we sit, note pads on our laps, a silent grand piano in one corner, we hear music from the front room where Cordula is working on her own.
On Sunday, 21st January, fifteen workshop poets took part in one of Cordula’s concerts. They are well known in Stratford but this time we were asked to read poems we had written. Angela ran two themed workshops: one on Colour; the other Light and Shade and we were invited to contribute two poems each.
It was a novel experience for me. I responded in my usual way, saying ‘yes’ and only later worrying that I might not be good enough. It was irrelevant. It wasn’t about me. Nor the other 14 poets in our group. Not even Cordula’s actor friends who read classical poems- Shakespeare, G. Manley Hopkins, Yeats and others. Nor the piano exquisitely played by Zubin Varla. Cordula had devised the programme from her wide knowledge, and experience of other performances. Together with Angela she devised the order of the works- the words interspersed with pieces by Bach, Chopin, the Beatles and others. The presence of Cordula and Angela went unnoticed as the programme began. I don’t know how large the audience was, – the room was full- and though they were attentive and reflective, the event wasn’t solely about them either.
It was the conversation that mattered- words and music, performers and listeners, Cordula and Angela.
It could have jarred. Proficient and capable poets, we hadn’t read alongside Shakespearean actors before. That it worked was due in no small measure to Cordula’s skill at choosing music and words that complemented the theme. She believes that good music eases many wounds and together with words that challenge, gives everyone pause for thought. For example, Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do not go gentle into that good night and John Milton’s ‘On his blindness’ read between Franz Schubert’s German Dance opus 33. Threading through the traditional, the known, was our contemporary take on the theme.
We rehearsed. I was apprehensive. Butterflies. Dry throat. Cordula knew what she was doing. It was sensible to run through the entire programme as it gave us all a ‘feel’ of what we were performing. Difficulties were ironed out- where to pause and for how long before starting to read a poem, how softly Zubin needed to play a piece while a poet read.
I loved the evening for the way the programme worked, but also for the chance to read with poetry friends I usually write alongside. It was an opportunity to share in a way we don’t normally do. During the interval we’d a chance to meet members of the audience, talk to some of the actors, many steeped in Shakespeare since childhood. The Feedback session on Monday evening was attended by Cordula, one actor, four poets and 2 members of the audience. Cordula shared some of the history to these the concerts, and I listened to how much our audience had enjoyed this, their first of Cordula’s concerts.
We discussed the relationship between words and music. We talked of how poets might continue to develop their craft, including the reading of poems out loud and how poets and actors might learn from each other. I came away full of admiration for Cordula.
I also wondered how the public poetry and prose readings we give, might be enhanced by appropriate music. The concert featured a conversation between music and words, two types of sound.
If you have any thoughts on that topic, or on the evening, please add a comment below.
More information about Cordula can be found- cordulakempe.com
Angela’s latest poetry collection, The Hill, was published by Nine Arches Press in July 2017