Lovely to see that Anne Collins has launched her newest collection of poems and prose—’Listening to the Deep Song’ (Bright South)—in Hobart last week.
The book was launched at Hadley’s Hotel on 11th November by Petrina Meldrum:
I’d like to say how happy I am to be back in Hobart to share in the launch of Anne’s latest book, Listening to the Deep Song, and how nice it is to see so many familiar faces. Thank you all for coming along to support Anne and to celebrate with her.
When I first met Anne some six years ago, her manuscript, for all intents and purposes, was ready to be sent out to publishers. I remember clearly, when Anne brought it along to one of our early meetings, how impressed I was with the idea she had had, and with how she had gone about bringing it into existence.
As the intervening years flew by, the manuscript grew larger, and today, here we are, with this beautifully written book in our hands.
I think most of us are aware of Anne’s interest in Spain and the Spanish culture, but not necessarily of the depth of her involvement. In Listening to the Deep Song she shares, without restraint, her experiences.
Through multi-layered vignettes and some exquisite poetry, she takes us on a journey through Spain’s regions and major cities, through its seedy back streets, its world renown museums, and its quirky architecture. If you’re planning a trip to Spain, you can throw away your guide book and take Anne’s book with you instead. She’ll guarantee to get you lost at night in the back streets of Seville, or help you lose yourself in the whimsy of Miró’s universe in Barcelona.
Spain, of course, is not one country but a number of autonomous regions, each with their own language and cultural heritage, which they guard fiercely.
Anne recognises this by dividing her book into sections and allocating a flamenco rhythm or compás to each region. These rhythms reflect her sense of an underlying mood as she travelled through Spain.
On returning to Hobart, to her ‘Spanish life’, she has this to say:
‘Curiously in Hobart I have a Spanish life. I enjoy the exhilaration of flamenco dance classes… For short periods of time, I am immersed in flamenco energy. These experiences help me in finding my own flamenco self, my own flamenco confidence, still with much to learn.’
In the ‘Afterword: I am touching you’, a heart-warming piece, she tells us of her experience during Covid-19 isolation, a time when many put their lives on hold, but not Anne, she was Zooming her way to Madrid several times a week to attend flamenco classes online.
Following her journey, we become aware that there is another dimension to Anne and we are left, as a consequence, with a more intimate sense of who she is.
On attending a flamenco performance in Seville in a 16th century Sephardic courtyard at La Casa de la Memoria she records:
I feel an unexpected stirring of ecstasy and sorrow, a kind of loss deep within, of what I am not sure, but like the poet Félix Grande, I want to cry like a new born. What has this to do with me – an everyday 21st century stranger to my own roots and here for this brief moment? What yearning pulls me beyond their words of protest I barely understand, into ‘the gratitude, the anguish, the joy, the revelation’, the raw wailing core of this art we call flamenco?
We see a more playful Anne, in Barcelona, visiting one of Gaudí’s buildings, La Casa Batlló.
From her poem, In Gaudí Wonderland:
Inside the Casa Batlló the building seems
to sway and dance and smile
and I want to leap about
as the curves of my breasts and hips
align with the curves of the cave-like walls…
I imagine living here in this building
that honours a sense of joy.
Feel gracious and light, tender, seductive, playful,
free of straight lines and rigid postures
as if some essential fluidity
has re-awoken deep inside me.
Throughout the book there is a questioning going on, a desire to learn more – to have a deeper understanding, to belong. This is what Spain does to you if you let it: it draws you in and never lets you go. There is a sense of this happening to Anne as she gives herself over to Spain, while at the same time questioning why this is happening to her.
Her trips to Spain span a period of thirteen years, a long enough period for her to have noticed changes, both good and bad, all of which she shares with us. The diverse knowledge she has gained in this time is masterly woven into her vignettes, leaving us with signposts and pathways to follow if we wish to know more. The vignettes, at times a conversation with Spain, would give any traveller a masterclass in how to travel, in how to be more engaged with what lies beneath the surface.
Interspersed with the vignettes is Anne’s poetry. Some of the poems are born of her long interest in the life and work of Federico García Lorca.
Lorca’s first major work, Poema del Cante Jondo – Poem of the Deep Song – has clearly influenced Anne’s choice of title for the book, however, the poems she has chosen to respond to, form a conversation with a wider range of his work.
This poetic dialogue with Lorca’s work opens up a new way of reading into it, a way, through poetry, of showing the relevance of his work in a 21st century context.
In Anne’s poem, Learning to Spell, After the life of Federico García Lorca, which I’d like to read to you, she quotes phrases from two of Lorca’s poems, Landscape and Sleepwalking Ballad.
Learning to Spell
The boy learns to spell leaf
it turns to leaves on a yellow tree.
Leaf through the mistake of years–
a complicated task, a lot of rubbing out.
There’s knife and shelf, the rule’s the same
do your homework. By mistake the evening
a knife-edge wind cuts the leaves.
The alarm, the shelves full of books,
the guards are spell-bound.
The boy changes into a bird
watches through the mist on the panes
writes sentences with the word leaf,
a complicated task, a lot of rubbing out.
They leaf through the shelves.
After the wind there was only one leaf left.
On the page a trail of tears, the stanzas stretched out.
Her other poems reflect on her connection with and her understanding of Spain, and on her association with the art of flamenco. The flamenco poems make your heart beat to a different rhythm as you appreciate the degree to which this artform has become part of Anne’s life, and she part of the ‘flamenco family’.
I can truly recommend Listening to the Deep Song to you.
And now, I’ll hand over to Anne who is going to share some of her beautifully written pieces with us. Anne…
In conjunction with Hobart Bookshop, Anne’s also recorded a short video explaining more clearly her love of Lorca along with ‘everything Spanish’, here.
in his endorsement of Anne’s book, Peter Boyle writes—
“Part travel diary, part meditation on Spain and its cultures, part poetic dialogue with the poetry of Lorca, Anne Collins’ “Listening to the Deep Song” is a beautifully written testimony to her long enthusiasm for the many sides of Spanish culture. Bringing together her training in flamenco dance, her love of Lorca’s poetry and several of her journeys through Spain, Anne Collins offers her readers a personal response to a unique blend of cultures that continues to speak to the 21st century world. Varied and many-layered, marked by close observation and thoughtful questioning, this is a delightful book.”
Finally, the publisher’s description…
Like a traveller’s journal written in prose and poetry, Listening to the Deep Song records Anne Collins’ travels through various regions of Spain, which took place over many years. The book offers a meditation on Spain’s many-layered history and culture, reflecting on history, landscape, expressions of culture, and change. It reveals places of connection and friction within Spain and across the world; as far as Anne’s home in lutruwita-Tasmania.
The writing turns on a poetic dialogue and an embodied praxis; the latter being expressed through both Anne’s physical immersion in Spain, and her practice and knowledge of flamenco dance. The latter engages with, especially, the life and works of Federico Garcia Lorca, as well as with other poets and writers of, and about, Spain.
Listening to the Deep Song is deeply personal, yet it offers much that resonates deeply with contemporary concerns. Anne Collins’ writing is varied, thoughtful, observant, poignant and beautiful.
‘Listening to the Deep Song’ is available from Bright South. It sells for $30.