Guest blogger: Dr. Katherine Acheson
“Let’s have a play extempore!” said Sarah to Fraser, and so Friday night at the University Club (an architectural and decorative curiosity which gives new dimension to the word “festoon” – as in festooned with lights, metallic macrame sculptures, over-varnished blonde wood, and the aura of the respectable 70s – which, if I remember correctly, was not the dominant part) we held what will forever be known as the first English Departments (SJU and UW, that is) Talent Night. The evening began with the delivery of the precious drink ticket, and its epiphanic transformation into liquid at the bar. This miracle always helps the uneasy mingling part, as does food. Food – heralded erroneously as a “buffet” in the invitation – was elusive; the scent of mushroom-decolated flatbread moved swiftly through the room, seeming to emanate from a pack of ravenous wolves; when the harried waiter emerged from the scrum, his tray was empty, ravishèd, bereft of even garnish, and the wolves picked the parsley from their teeth. But we weren’t there for the food. We were there for the TALENT.
My colleagues and our students are astounding. By day they schlep along in their patient, grey, and documentary ways, feeding rashers of fine poetry, dollops of sweet rhetoric, and parfaits of remediation to the hungry masses that walk, directionless but purposeful, along Hagey’s halls. Their holidays are spent in dusty archives and arcane corners of the intellectual universe; they think it’s cheating to take the miniature shampoo from the dorm room they stay in when they mobilize knowledge at a conference. They wear paired socks, sensible shoes, and floss at least once a day. They grade, they meet, they write, they wear their trousers rolled; if women walk from room to room, talking of Michelangelo, they miss it, so preoccupied are they with their Responsible Lives and Burdensome Duties. But evidently at some other time – perhaps the night, perhaps the weekend – they nurture Talent. And last night they let it out.
We began with a dance performance by Sarah Tolmie and Adam Euerby. Sarah and Adam emerged from the floor then sank back into it like bubbles in a boiling pot of silky water. Aimée “The Twister” Morrison led us in some yoga designed to banish loathed apprehensions and sore lower backs. Then the warbling Lacey Beer entertained us with two ditties of her own composition, frail and steely all in a bundle. Next we had readings of poetry – I was particularly struck by Morteza Deghani’s work, which is so ornately and precisely crafted, so liltingly delivered. Marcy Italiano and Claire Pella also gave fine readings of their poems – I think Marcy will be quite happy if I call her work disgusting and horrifying, and Claire Pella’s work – if I heard it correctly – combines mirth with melancholy, the quips and cranks and wanton wiles on the one hand, and the company of dew-sipping herbs on the other. All this time we also enjoyed the art works on the walls: startling self-portraits by Tommy Mayberry, paintings by Bruce Wyse which simultaneously perturb and gratify, and luscious watercolours by Veronica Austen.
I had to leave at that point, when the night was but young. I hope that someone else will fill in the highlights, lowlights, and frosted tips of the remainder of the evening. I was amazed not just by the talent, but by the composure, generosity, and liveliness of the group. And I thought heck, that looks like innovation to me. Sure, this kind of innovation doesn’t use any poisonous heavy metals, little electricity is required, and there’s no global futures market in it. But if innovation is creating the new, in thinking, in feeling, and in being together, then we got it. Thanks to Sarah and Tristanne for organizing, and all the performers for sharing their talents with the rest of us.
(For more about the show, plus pictures, see the department’s Facebook page.)