Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Global Express plays and poetry performed

Last week was an exceptional week. Everything we have done here on the IWP has been fun but last week pushed us over the edge. Not only did we get to see our plays and poetry professionally performed, but some of us were allowed to perform on stage as well. This is as good as it gets!

Seven of the IWP writers contributed plays and poetry to the Iowa Playwrights Workshop alumna Maggie Conroy, who worked with Joe Luis Cedillo to adapt, direct and present an eclectic evening of theatre called Global Express. The evening involved Iowa undergraduates, grad students,faculty and IWP participants to bring pieces to stage.

Items performed were: Poem by Rumi sung by Salomat Vafo (Uzbekistan); Tenacity by Vicente Garcia Groyon (Philippines); Chair Does Not Know by Han Bo (China); Metallic Wing by Efrat Mishori (Israel); The Neighbor by Marius Ivaskevicius (Lithuania); Little Green Riding Hood by Kathy White (New Zealand); Longing and Unfinished Ode Upon the Clitoris by Violet Grigoryan (Armenia)

Actors: Joe Luis Cedillo; Fabian Rodriguez; R. Paul Gray IV; Julie Daniels; Brittainy Barattia; Becca Robinson; Eric Forsythe; Maddie Cole; Dawn Olsen.

Stage Manager Nicole Sedivec.

Thanks to Joe Luis Cedillo and Vicente Garcia Groyon for the photos.

Fabulous people

This is a selection of photos taken of people on the IWP.

Thanks again to Alice, Vicente, Azeem and others for pics.

Images of America

People on the International Writing Program have been taking a lot of photos. Most of them have been taken in Iowa, but others were taken during the Mountain West trip. Some of my favourite landscapes are featured here.

Thanks to Alice, Vicente, and Azeem (and others) for photos.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Up close and personal with corn

Iowa is big on corn. Have I mentioned this already?

We were lucky enough to be invited to the Dane Family farm Fall Harvest dinner, which was a bit like the front runner for Thanksgiving. Everything served up had been grown on the farm from the turkeys, to the sweet potatoes and corn, and the apples and pumpkins that were made into pies. Even the ice-cream was made on the property. About 100 people packed into their barn, sitting at long tables, decorated with carved pumpkins.

We saw wild mice (more wildlife!!!) scurrying as the tractor towed us on a hayride around the edge of the cornfields. I suppose it's a bit like tourists seeing sheep for the first time in New Zealand. It's exciting, right? Well, we were a bit like that about the corn, even though it seemed like we'd found the stunted corn variety.

By the way, I finished my poem for the CityDance Ensemble. I struggled with it but now that I have started writing poetry again, I'll probably never stop. And I'm making progress with my manuscript for teens. Originally it was going to be about a 13 year old boy, but he's aged in the making. I decided I wanted him to be a couple of years older, so the story has subtly changed as well, and will need to be longer. Occasionally I get angry when I struggle to make myself write, but I've been listening to comments by other writers and have given myself some freedom to experiment. Maxine Case said she doesn't always write her chapters in sequence. She works on whatever she wants to write at the time. Osman Conteh says he doesn't get too bothered if he doesn't feel like writing. He knows the voice will come back and he has faith. Siobhan Ni Shithigh says she knows the fully-formed poem already exists and it's just about her finding it and giving it a voice.

These words of wisdom and faith have been very reassuring to me in this part of my writing journey.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Yr Ymylon Music Video on YouTube

A music video of the song called Yr Ymylon by IWP singer-songwriter and novelist Fflur Dafydd, directed by Azeem Sajjad, is now ready for you to see. It's from her new album Byd Bach. International Writing Program participants feature in the background, and also as director, editor and camera operator.

Have a look, make a comment, and give it a rating.

See Yr Ymylon on YouTube here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Words to dance to

Within the next few weeks, the IWP participants are heading off on another trip to Chicago, Washington D.C. and New York. Calm down, calm down. Jeepers, you're excitable little chipmunks, aren't you?

Well, the CityDance Ensemble in Washington D.C. has invited the IWP writers to write texts based on the theme of Fall and Recovery, to be interpreted and choreographed for a special performance in mid-November. Look here for a preview of past performances. For a woman who loves to dance (I'm talking about me here, you know, Tango Kat?), this is an exceptional opportunity. I have no idea what this might look like, but mixing media is exciting, hopefully not too exciting for words, or I'll be stymied in my task. I'm normally a prose writer, but this is stimulating a desire to write poetry.

What is happening to me here in Iowa?

I think those poems by Mani Rao at Prairie Lights on Sunday may have sparked off my desire to experiment with word forms.

I'll let you know the outcome.

Kaikoura to consider ban on 1080

For those of you who watched the documentary Poisoning Paradise about the use of 1080 poison in New Zealand pest control at the Cinematheque two weeks ago, and wondered what action is being taken, you'll be pleased to know that the documentary, roadshow and blog are making a difference.

Screenings of the documentary in a touring roadshow have led to two councils banning the use of 1080 in aerial drops since the beginning of the year, and two more are considering a ban since councillors have seen the documentary. Taupo District Council has set up a steering committee to try and encourage other councils to take similar action.

See the statement by the Kaikoura mayor in the South Island of New Zealand and news from the Dunedin City Council, via the Otago Daily Times, both of which have been released within the last week.

It's all good news. Thanks for the encouragement.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pumpkins and Puppets

This is a week of movies and celebrations. Alice and I took a ride on the bus to Coral Ridge Mall to go to see the roller derby movie Whip It, featuring Ellen Page of Juno and Drew Barrymore.

We also went to check out Halloween vampire teeth and guillotines for our Halloween costumes. There's at least one party to go to next week, possibly two. I love this attitude towards celebration in the United States. Everyone has Halloween festive decorations making a statement in their gardens, and there are Fall colours in tubs of botanical grandeur on their porches and in their hallways, in corn doll sculptures and painted Victorian chairs. As a children's librarian who loves dress-ups and performing, this is something special. It must have sparked something else in me, because when I found myself burrowing in The Haunted Bookshop, I discovered lifelike folktale puppets of wolves, jackrabbits and deer, not to mention other species that I'm sure I'm destined to revisit over the next few weeks. I did ask if they had an opossum. They didn't, but they might be able to order one. I wonder if they'd confiscate it on my re-entry to New Zealand ....

Monday, October 12, 2009

Poisoning at the Cinematheque

Poisoning Paradise was screened at the Cinematheque last Wednesday - a documentary about the use of 1080 poison to control mammal pests such as possums in New Zealand's Clean Green 100% Pure landscapes. The documentary showed that as well as killing pests, it also kills a large proportion of some species of native birds, invertebrates and other animals, as well as posing health risks for people and risking contamination of meat products destined for export.

Milos (Croatia) said he was stunned by a government that is so shortsighted and suffering from 'induced hysteria' over the need for such extreme pest control measures. Others wondered out loud whether an entertaining style like Michael Moore's would be a better way of reaching a wide audience. And one student asked whether we could do anything to prevent the Alabama factory from exporting 85% of the poison to New Zealand.

The conversation was stimulating and it continued in front of a class of students on Friday morning. I guess it's refreshing because I've lived in New Zealand for so long and have heard the propaganda from the Department of Conservation for so long, that I haven't stepped back and seen what the policies look like from the outside.

The lecturer Natasa took the doco home for another look, fascinated by what she felt was indisputably persuasive content but in a form that felt like 'an angry shout' - a bit like the haka that features at the end. Later she said that it seems to her that the Department of Conservation has taken on the role of predator and feels the need to take complete control over the animal it has turned into some sort of evil demon. She printed out DoC's arguments for doing aerial 1080 poison drops, and was surprised to find that many of their arguments are circular in nature.

Their statements say things like the ERMA (Environmental Risk Management Authority) review said '1080 poison is safe to use, so we're going to use it' (even though the ERMA process has been seriously questioned, and ERMA receives funding from DoC). Spokespeople from DoC also say that if we don't use 1080, we will lose our endangered birds, including the 'kiwi', even though the kiwi is less endangered than others. This argument pushes all New Zealanders' fear buttons, because the kiwi is our identity, our icon, and so much of our history connects with it.

This hysteria seems misplaced. Research shows that our endangered birds are more likely to be killed by 1080 the way it is currently being applied, than they are by pests like possums.

For those who want to read more about the background to this documentary, look at the Poisoning Paradise information on The Graf Boys' blog and The Graf Boys' website.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Iowa Romancing

Mani Rao just told us that back in 2005, she wrote a poem that features a swing that sits on the porch of Shambaugh House, home of the IWP writers. This poem features in the latest issue of Literary Review.

Iowa Romancing
Stretched on the swing at Shambaugh, hands squirreled shirts.
Across Clinton Street streaked moon-spanked dorm geese.
Hoarse hostel boys yelled back – from trees? – “Encore! We love you!”
Broken-winged from marriages that had gone on too long, two
Vegan amputees drove solemnly to Macbride Raptor Park.
“Hey who’s stuffed?,” said Bald Eagle Lofty, and shat specially.

Four in the audience at Marshalltown Public Library.
The librarian, the lady who laid out cookies, and a brave couple
Out on their first date. I did the love poems; they bought a book.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

Adventure in the Canyon

I'm in the Grand Canyon (well not physically in it at the moment). However when I said I knackered myself in the Zion National Park, I nearly killed myself today and I'm not sure I'll be mobile tomorrow. This morning, the seven of us who are on our Mountain West trip decided we were going to do a really difficult trail from the South Rim of the Canyon (called the South Kaibab). We had a few hiccups in the morning and didn't get going until 10.30. The ranger told us we would be nuts to try and get from the rim to the Colorado River and back in one day.

"Please don't do it," he said. "You would have had to start at 7am and most people can't manage it in a day no matter how early they start. We have to send out search and rescue parties for those who are silly enough to try. Please ... don't."

But it was tempting.

You know how when someone tells you not to do something, suddenly that's all you want to do, just to prove them wrong. And after all we'd done so well on the Angel's Landing hike in Zion National Park.

"I'd really like to go to the river," Marius said to me outside. "I'm sure we could do it."
I put on the voice of commonsense. "There's not enough time. You heard the ranger. They don't even list the river as an option on their billboards." I pointed to the displays. Silence. I could tell he wasn't convinced.

As a group, we decided to hike as far as Skeleton Point and then turn back. But we had a short break at Cedar Mesa, and as Marius chomped on his sandwich, he casually said to our leader Joe. 'I'd like to go further than Skeleton Point. I'd like to try for the river."

Poor Joe. He threw his hands in the air. "I knew it. I just knew there'd be someone." After all, it's his head on the chopping board if anything happens to one of us. "We have a rule," he said. "There has to be two of you." If he thought this was going to be a barrier, he was mistaken.

"Kate will come," said Marius. I think Lithuanians, Uzbeks and Russians all struggle to say the 'th' in the name Kathy because I am Kate and Katya to them all. I started shaking my head, even though I wanted to go to the river. All of the guide books said it takes twice as long to walk out especially in the mid-day heat. I was doing the math in my head - and math isn't my strong point.

"Come on Kate, we're fit enough to make it to the river. Remember Angel's Landing?" Yes, flattery often works on me, but to my relief, Ge Fei put his hand up. "I will go," he said.

The pressure was off.
No expectations.
I could do what I liked.

When we got to Skeleton Point, it didn't feel far enough so I decided to stretch my limits a bit further. "What's another mile or so," I thought. How quickly, we New Zealanders forget kilometres. But bloody hell, we got another mile in, as far as the first view over the river. It looked a long way away, and a long way down. Ge Fei laughed. He was turning back.

And Marius turned to look at me.

Now all the persuasion in the world didn't change the fact that it looked like a steep descent to that suspension bridge. I was starting to get twitchy about it. I knew I would be slow on the climb out, but I pushed on, just that little bit further, as far as the lookout past Tip Off Point. And that was where I left him, feeling a bit uncomfortable about it. But I understood why he didn't want to stop. And at least he could refill his water when he got to Phantom Ranch on the other side of the river.

I ran out of water on the way back, and have never felt exhaustion like it in that heat. But I saw a condor up close. What a bonus! I didn't have a watch and was paranoid about getting out before nightfall and the last shuttle bus. But I was still in better shape than some. I passed guys with serious cramps in their legs.

"Hey man, we'll be okay. It's only another mile to go."

I hadn't the heart to tell them it was more than double.

As for Marius, the descent to the river was further and steeper than he thought. He made it out two hours after me, when it was dark and the wild animals had started to emerge.

"At the worst point ... I was so tired I thought I was going to die," he said when we met him at dinner, and could reminisce over blistered lips and windburnt face stories. Then he grinned. "I'm so glad I did it."

And what did Joe say when he saw us? "You two are SO much in trouble."

Thanks for the photo, Joe!!!

Wildife seen so far: 1 coyote, a few squirrels, 2 condors, deer on the way to the start of the trip and some skinks.