By Janet Hammock
It's a sweltering hot, humid, Sackville summer's evening, with moisture hanging so heavily in the air that every 20 minutes bucketfuls of water fall to the ground – les giboulées de Juillet for sure! Bernard Soubry delighted us with that onomatopoeic word, perfectly describing the day's torrential downpours, which meant the Tantramar Heritage Trust's inaugural Festival Under the Stars would be held, not in the surrounding hay field, but inside, on the upper floor of the Campbell Carriage Factory Museum.
I watch as chairs are carried into place, an old desk for a podium is hoisted onto a wooden chest, and the “haggard and seductive” voice of David Francy sings quietly in the background – “comfortable, reminiscent, genuine...”
Ah! -- an evening of poetry and music! I love readings in the Carriage Factory. Mostly natural light, a few Jerry-rigged lamps, the dark, pungent smell of dry wood and fresh hay.
Because the two featured readers are Sackville's Poet Laureate, Marilyn Lerch, and Robert Lapp, head of the department of English at Mount Allison, because there will be songs by Michael Freeman, a new banjo virtuoso in town, because the organizer is the immensely gifted Bernard Soubry, and mostly because I love the poetry of Lochhead, Thompson, Lerch, LeBlanc(s), Welch and Roberts, I know this will be a night to remember.
Lapp tells us that while some people think words separate us from Nature, others believe that our words give voice to aspects of Nature which otherwise would remain voiceless, silent. In addition to the sounds of the wind and the calls of birds, the Tantramar continually shapes and reshapes itself in our creative imaginations through the poems written by our many resident poets.
It's cosy in here, Robert says quietly. We feel the presence of our ancestors.
On this night nature joins the celebration of words and music adding her voice to the proceedings. As Robert recites the powerful Romantic poem Tantramar Revisited, the rains begin again. At first, the sound of raindrops gently falling on the old roof is covered by the shhhhhhhhhhhh of a stand fan.
“Wind-swept all day long, blown by the south-east wind.” The words of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts prompt me to look out onto the wind-swept marshes surrounding the museum. Much louder now, the deluge drowns the fan's whir altogether.
“Miles on miles of green, barred by the hurtling gusts.” Robert Lapp's voice rises to meet the onslaught of the rain head on, which pummels the roof like thousands of determined drummers. Inspired by the exciting poetic images, and struggling to be heard above the din, his words ring forth in sonorous declamation creating a glorious ensemble with the rain unlike anything hitherto heard in this post-and-beam structure.
(Michael Freeman told me later that during the entire event he listened to the floorboards and timbers knocking, creaking and cracking, a soundscape component I had entirely missed. For Michael, these sounds were high among the evening's delights).
When Marilyn Lerch reads Liliane Welch her words make me feel the stark challenges of a difficult land and the lyrical beauty of it, too.
“. . . alone but for the wind blasting, fiercely and without cease.”
I look out through the window and see the darkening Tantramar through Liliane's eyes, hear it with Liliane's ears.
Bernard's reading of Chiac poetry – LeBlanc, LeBlanc and LeBlanc – bursts upon the scene, merging the sounds of several languages into one yummy pastiche. Its rough engaging sounds cut through the humid air and ring in my ears! Bernard stands his ground on a small braided rug and tells it like it is. There's humour in the Tantramar, too!
Tantramar Manifesto, Lerch's explosive, electric, kick-ass poem delivered by Wild Man Lapp ends the evening. In his dramatic performance I hear the stallion burst from the stall, feel the possibilities of the courageous, and the joy of the daring! We clap and clap and clap . . .
After it's over I bite into a soft applesaucy scone and listen to the burble of cold lemonade as it flows into my glass.
Fog swallows a marsh barn. Mist floats like eiderdown over the twilight fields. Les Hays Babies sing softly as people gradually depart. We Move Homeward*.
*the title of a poem by Marilyn Lerch read by Robert Lapp.
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Janet Hammock is a concert pianist and Professor Emeritus of music at Mount Allison University. She is a certified deep listening artist and teacher.