Archive for May, 2011
For more than forty years, my friend Diana Neutze has endured the relentless thefts of multiple sclerosis and grief for a son lost too young. Throughout that time, she has continued to write powerful and moving poems. Recently, her body closing down, she commissioned the New Zealand composer Anthony Ritchie to set some of her poems to music. The cycle of seven songs, “Thoughts from an Inner Garden” premiered April 2011 in a performance at Diana’s house in Christchurch, New Zealand. Diana recently sent me a CD of that performance. I’ve been playing it over and over, overwhelmed by the beauty and intensity of the work.
From Diana Neutze’s published collections, A ROUTINE DAY and UNWINDING THE LABYRINTH, Ritchie selected poems that express the poignancy of the poet’s sense of connection with the tangled garden that surrounds her house, a garden that has become her world. Transcending the nightmare of her chronic illness, she finds meaning in the details of the natural world: the play of light and shadow, the song of a bird.
The cycle opens in a minor key, an ancient, timeless sound that describes a day of wet greyness without wind when the garden is holding its breath. In “Bridal,” the second song, the poet, showered by autumn gold, imagines the roses and smoke bush as witnesses to a marriage between herself and the garden. The mood changes in “Chronic,” where Ritchie’s urgent rhythm reflects the tick-tocking of illness/ relentlessly. “And the Birds Sing” is a meditation on the cycles of life and death. “A Scent of Water” offers a fragile hope in the face of grief: a frosting of growth/ a shivering of buds in the morning light. The rhythms of an old folk dance come to mind in “Meaning.” A moment in late afternoon, a blackbird singing in a weeping elm, and the day is flooded with meaning. The cycle closes with “Goodbye.” The poet recalls the garden images she will die loving. The theme of a Bach partita enters the music as she describes its architectural splendour … arch after musical arch soaring upwards.