"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Seán Street and Neil Campbell: Estuary CD project

I owe Elizabeth Bishop a huge debt of gratitude for all the amazing people she has brought into my life, directly or circuitously. Below is one story — ongoing — of a fascinating connection.
On Thursday, 10 May 2007, I received an email, out of the blue, from the British poet Seán Street. Seán was at that time the director of The Centre for Broadcasting History Research at Bournemouth University in the UK. He also worked for BBC Radio. He had recently been to Nova Scotia to do research for a radio documentary about the Halifax Explosion, “The Splintered City,” where he met historian Henry Roper. Seán wrote to me because a colleague of his, Paul Dodgson, was exploring the idea of doing a BBC Radio documentary about Elizabeth Bishop and Great Village. Seán “asked Henry if he knew of someone who could furnish information about EB, and he immediately named you [meaning me].” (Thank you so much Henry!!) As it turned out, Paul Dodgson and writer Lavinia Greenlaw came to Nova Scotia in September 2008 and spent a week at the Elizabeth Bishop House, out of which came their documentary, “As Big As Life,” broadcast that November on BBC Radio 3.
(Seán Street.)
I asked Seán how he became interested in the Explosion and he said that he had heard about it in detail when he was in Newfoundland in 2005 doing another documentary, “The Fisheries Broadcast,” which aired not only on BBC Radio but also CBC Radio. Hearing this, I immediately asked him if he had ever heard of  Sable Island and suggested it might be a good subject for another documentary. Over the next couple of years, Seán and I corresponded. He kindly sent me a copy of Time Between Tides: New and Selected Poems 1981–2009, in which are some wonderful poems inspired by his time in Newfoundland.

In the summer of 2009, Seán and his producer Julian May came to Halifax where they met with Henry and me, and a number of other people, to talk about Sable Island. I had put them in touch with Zoe Lucas, the reigning expert on the island. For several days, they tired valiantly to get out to Sable Island, but the weather did not cooperate. Thick fog shrouded the island for the entire time they were in Nova Scotia. Their documentary, in part a testament to how difficult it is to get to Sable Island, aired that fall.

Being a fan of Elizabeth Bishop’s work, they took time to go to Great Village and explore some of Bishop’s “motherland,” while they waited. This visit triggered a lovely poem, “Great Village, 1953”: “Time shaping a long hurt through memory earned ….”

I had a couple of opportunities to see Seán and Julian during their 2009 visit. It was wonderful finally to meet Seán, after a couple of years of corresponding. I remember a particularly lively conversation about poetry that we had in the bar at the Prince George Hotel, imbibing some expensive Scotch!

In recent years, Seán has published a trilogy of prose books about sound aesthetics, the most recent is due out soon from Palgrave, Sound Poetics: Interaction and Personal Identity. In 2013 his collection of poetry Cello was published. He kindly sent that one to me, too.

On Monday, 24 April 2017, I had an email from Seán to say that he had been reading Bishop’s “At the Fishhouses” and just wanted to touch base. This began a lovely exchange during which he told me that he has published two more poetry collections: Camera Obscura (2016) and Talk, Radio: Poems of Transmission, which will be out this week! He also told me that he, Liverpool musician and composer Neil Campbell, and singer Perri Allyne-Hughes have collaborated on a CD, Estuary, based on poems from Time Between Tides and Cello, including his wonderful, Bishop-esque poem “Sestina: Fog, Halifax Harbour,” with its end-words: silence, memory, island, ignites, thought, fog.

With all his Atlantic Canadian connections, I thought it would be nice to share Seán’s exciting news with our readers. The CD will be launched on 18 May in Liverpool and will include a performance by the principals, doing the new work, as well as previous collaborations. Congratulations Seán! You can see/hear a video from Estuary here.

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