sledges packed; huskies fed; maps checked ...
By 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the expedition was underway. In the beautiful space of the Friends Meeting House, with 20 or so hardy companions, I steered into the ice pack of the Weddell Sea. For two hours, we hunkered down to haul the load of this epic story. White Warfare: Shackleton's Endurance Expedition, was my latest show and for the first time, I had travelled South to Antarctica for my inspiration.
It was seats of the pants stuff. A week ago, I was still writing new poems. We only tried out the new projector screen that morning. But thanks to my able techie, Rik, the slideshow ran without a glitch. And I was able to explore how much Frank Hurley's stunning images of ice hummocks and the beset ship added to the poems. (What would he have made of our pocket-sized projector after his enormous Kodak box-camera with its glass plates?) You can still catch an exhibition of his Endurance photographs at the Merseyside Maritime Museum till February 28th. Not to be missed by polar fans.
The event was designed to air the new material, test its mettle. I wanted to see how the whole narrative hung together and it was very useful for me. Lovely to get laughter at certain moments or hear the audience responding to the men's voices - fragments of their own expedition diaries that I was working into the poems. And the balance of illustrated talk with poetry performance seemed to work well.
At half-time, we stopped for cake. Unlike the store-keeper Orde-Lees, nick-named Belly-Burglar by his ship-mates, our cook, Gloria, has never been known to send anyone to bed hungry. We had our fill of her legendary plum-bread and chocolate cake too. Bally fine hoosh!
By that time, in the summer of 1916, Shackleton's Endurance crew had been rescued from Elephant Island. But now we plunged into the much darker story of the Ross Sea Party who had been sent by Shackleton to the other side of Antarctica to lay food depots for his Trans-Continental crossing. The suffering of the the men marooned there for two years belied any of the Boys' Own heroics of the Endurance story. And here were three men Shackleton never bought home. In a darkening hall that was beginning to feel like Polar Night, we hung on for the rescue of the last seven survivors.
My companions stuck with me to the very end. And here were some lovely comments posted afterwards:
It was a really vivid and enthralling description of an extraordinary experience.
Been in the white wilderness so long I now need to go turn on the central heating. No blubber smoke to worry about either.
The poems you read were beautiful and your historical information was
pitched just right...
We were utterly transported ...
... a most joyful afternoon. Marvellous performance!