Talking about The Waste Land Revisited

On Monday 11th April the talk I never expected to give blossomed into an extraordinary collaborative performance in the Elwin Room in the BRLSI. Yes, that glamorous first floor room with the three painted roundels in the ceiling and Bath’s famous Queen Square just outside the windows. With singer guitarists MIRANDA PENDER and PETER REASON, and readers AMA BOLTON, ANN CULLIS, ANDREW LAWRENCE and CAROLINE FRANCES-KING.

Caught in behind the blinding lectern light and lectern microphone, unable to manage my ring-filed script among these impediments, or to stay in range of both the laptop and the microphone to create the proper relaxing triangle of speaker/slideshow/audience, I decided on the spur of the moment – because I really had no choice – to give my first ever unscripted talk. The Elwin Room technical facilities are excellent, of course. The bad planning and device management was all mine. It was only thanks to the readers, singers and excellent humour of the forty strong audience that this all worked out so well.

Our three singers on April 11th 2022

TS Eliot was huge fan of the London music hall and we visited several classic music hall songs during our zoom sessions. On Monday night, PETER REASON gave an excellent performance of Vera Lynn’s ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ as a lead in to MIRANDA PENDER’S own composition about Procne and Philomela, the tragic sisters in the myth about the creation of the nightingale. My talk was partly designed to unsettle the daunting image of TS Eliot as a poet so difficult that The Waste Land has nine pages of authorial notes. Not only did Eliot himself label these notes ‘bogus scholarship’, but he was also the wonderfully witty writer of the poems which inspired Cats. To celebrate this, ANDREW LAWRENCE gave us verses from ‘Memory’, the song that took Cats around the theatres of the world.

The songs were not the only highlights of the evening, of course. The readings were also delivered with great poise and flair. I had chosen some of them to startle as well as to entertain. ANN CULLIS stepped beautifully into Vivienne Ellis’s shoes in a letter to her mother-in-law about the problem of keeping TSE in vests. AMA BOLTON read us Eliot’s surprisingly affectionate and irreverent 1917 poem, ‘The Hippopotamus’. MIRANDA PENDER gave us the sad encounter between the typist and the house agent’s clerk – a reading illuminated in a very touching way by Eliot’s letter confiding anxiety about his sexual inexperience. ANDREW LAWRENCE read this.

The advertised subject of the talk, of course, was not only The Waste Land, but our collaborative piece, The Waste Land Revisited, which will be having its premier in Queen Square on 11th June. CAROLINE FRANCES-KING trailed this with a readings of one of the almanac pieces on the month of February, and a prose piece by JENNA PLEWES.

An hour is a very short time for such a richly illustrated talk. The sad casualty of the evening was our plan that the audience would join in the chorus verses of ‘Berkeley Square’ and ‘Memory’. The audience was more than willing but the clock ran out on us. This won’t happen on Saturday 11th June, when we have set aside enough time morning and afternoon for everyone to join in.

Feedbacks ….

Last night was just fabulous, so well constructed and delivered.We can discuss the future events later whenever you wish. Betty

I was engrossed by the whole event, the setting was beautiful in the BRLSI. The talk itself was a wonderful mixture of depth, contrasting facts, stark realities and well placed humour and fun. The audience seemed to be really pulled in by the content and the mixture of spoken and performed media, I felt, really kept things moving brilliantly with a really digestible flow. I am still feeling very inspired and also intrigued by the man himself and the cocktail of influences, places, dynamics and events that surrounded him as his writing gestated and birthed into form. Thank you so much for inviting me. James

I thought it was an extraordinary evening and I heard at least one person say that they wished they’d been part of the journey. Caroline

Well done everyone. That was quite an evening. Looking forward to our June performance. Peter

Monday evening was a real treat. For a start, a beautiful venue and a substantial and attentive audience. Sue’s slideshow/talk was intriguing and reassuring, a friendly invitation to dip an intrepid toe – or more – into the important but bewildering world of Eliot’s mould-breaking poem. There were plenty of surprises and revelations. For me, the highlight was Miranda’s reading of a short but devastating piece of prose by Jenna Plewes, followed by Miranda’s own song telling the story of Philomel in a less direct but more universal way. It was hauntingly beautiful. Now I am impatient to find out what other pleasures and surprises await us on June 11th. Ama

It was a lovely event and the narrative arc of the talk was fluid/fluent. Could tell that audience was engaged throughout, and responded to the lighter touches eg vests & pants. Def a good call not to include any present day refs to Ukraine; it would have risked sounding tokenistic and virtue signalling. And there’s nothing wrong in choosing to spend 90 mins in 1922 to have a respite from current affairs. Ann

One of the most rewarding aspects was to hear people’s contributions performed as part of a cohesive whole, rather than as random elements during our Zoom sessions. It really brought everything together, and bodes extremely well for June. It was also exciting to have a new audience. Most of our BRLSI performances to date have attracted the same band of faithful followers, and it’s encouraging to feel Bath Writers & Artists are reaching out to even more people. Miranda

My favourite slide.

Huge thanks to everyone, not just for your excellent accomplished performances, but for the way you came together ahead of the show to create this very successful evening almost out of thin air. (Rehearsal hadn’t been possible because until Monday evening we had been confined to zoom.)

Many thanks, too, to the BRLSI for inviting us into their sumptuous space, and giving us such a warm welcome and such a responsive audience. Our full day of Waste Land Revisited events is now only seven weeks away. MARK PENDER’S brilliant design for our poster, City of Paranoia, is below.

City of Paranoia: original painting by Mark Pender