Gallery 7 Theatre
    Barbara Nickel

    A Crown of Sonnets for a Different Time

    Posted on

    Tell us a bit about the background to your piece: how did you come up with the concept, what was your process in terms of bringing it from concept to final product?

    I’d been writing the sonnet crown since the beginning of the pandemic in March. A corona of sonnets about the coronavirus seemed right in terms of form. The sonnet form itself, its contained shape and also containment in terms of meter and rhyme, also reflected to me what was going on in terms of the isolation the virus brought to people all over the world. Also, I liked the way the linking lines of the form (last line of one sonnet is beginning of the next) allowed the sonnets to touch one another in the way that we as humans can’t with social distancing.

    The sonnets I published every week or two on my website reflected current events – i.e. the queen’s speech, Boris Johnson ill with the virus, and the killing of George Floyd/Black Lives Matter crises to name a few. It seemed then a natural fit for a reading of the sonnets to be broadcast to an audience as part of the Abby Theatre Fest. My friend Angelika brought the call for proposals to my attention on the day it was due. As I drove around that day for groceries and doing errands, I brainstormed for an original way to present. Waiting for the light to change, I had the idea that I could film each sonnet in a different location or “place of origin”—setting each one based on an image or an important line or phrase or the actual setting of the poem.

    The journey from concept to realization was a great adventure, involving everything from reaching out to the possible owners of a rooster I’d seen pecking down the tracks above Yarrow, my town, to filming at the Chan Centre at UBC, to helping create a set at the hangar of some friends at the Chilliwack Airport, to waiting for our neighbour to stop chain sawing and then to stop chatting with a friend on the road so that I could film a sonnet in my own garden! I’m so thankful to all the people who worked with me to help realize my vision for the video.

    What do you hope audience members will experience or take away from your performance?

    I hope they can catch a glimpse of the excitement I felt while filming, and of the gifts that I felt I kept receiving, from the beaver’s surprise appearance in the river at exactly the right time, to the impromptu airplane set (after so many disappointments not being allowed to access a real airplane for filming), to standing alone on the Chan Centre stage.

    On a deeper level, I hope they might be able to resonate with some of the emotions, restrictions, surprising joys and also pain that inspired the sonnets in the first place. I hope they might connect with this time in history through specific images and sensibilities and tone and texture and especially through poetry, not a particularly popular genre in this place and time.

    Anything else that you feel is vitally important for audience members to consider as they engage with your piece?

    I might hope that they could realize what is important in a poem—that a line break is really significant, for example in Corona #11 (Travel) – Still/numbers. Our dying/fridge…” That “Our dying” means one thing on a line by itself but turns to irony when the dying is only and frivolously a fridge on the next line. Similarly, stanza breaks are important, i.e. in Corona #7 (Lack) the break from octave (the first eight lines) to sestet (the last six lines) is really significant: the octave is concerned with the specific story at the meat packing plant, the sestet with “The sky above the Taj Mahal is blue” is meant to transport the reader to a different world in only a space. Then back to the story for the couplet at the end.

    I’ve tried to convey these things where possible in the readings, but I’m also grateful there will be subtitles so readers will be able to follow along.

    Corona: Sonnets in Situ will be screened on October 23 & 24 as part of Abby Theatre Fest: Stage to Screen Edition. For complete details and to purchase tickets, please visit HERE.