23 Sep 2018

Janet JENNINGS: A Bird, a Fruit, and a Beast

From Music Alive, 8:05 pm on 23 September 2018

Performed by mezzo Catrin Johnson with Imogen Morris (recorder), Edith Salzmann (cello), and Eddie Giffney (harpsichord) at the Karlheinz Company Suffrage 125 Celebration Concert.

Edith Salzmann, Eddie Giffney, Catrin Johsson, Imogen Morris

Edith Salzmann, Eddie Giffney, Catrin Johsson, Imogen Morris Photo: RNZ/Tim Dodd

D.H. Lawrence, a writer who has often been accused of misogyny and phallocentrism, strides into Suffrage 125 with these three poems - a situation both he and we may find uncomfortable.

Janet Jennings

Janet Jennings Photo: supplied

Better known as a novelist, Lawrence was also a prolific poet. I chose to set these poems, from Lawrence's 1923 collection Birds, Beasts and Flowers, because of the compelling immediacy of their observations of the natural world.

The Humming Bird initially flashes in brilliance through the poem before Lawrence reflects that in ancient times it might have been big "...as little lizards, they say, were once big". Lawrence's nod to Darwinism is strikingly expressed: we look at our modern, tiny humming bird "through the wrong end of the long telescope of time."

Peach is a sensual poem in which Lawrence mocks what I perceive to be his female listener with the tension between his pleasure in eating a peach and his perception of the hard and wrinkled peach stone he is left with. I have set this poem as a dialogue between recorder and cello with each instrument set in a different mode - they can never reconcile. I expect many audience members today might join me in wanting to throw a peach stone at the poet.

Bat also traces a shift in perception. The poet realises to his enormous (and unreasonable) horror that the small creatures swooping so beguilingly under Florence's Ponte Vecchio are not swallow but bats.

— Janet Jennings

Recorded by RNZ Concert in the University of Auckland Music Theatre, 23 September 2018
Producer: Tim Dodd; Engineer: Rangi Powick