The Cachoeira Tales, Marilyn Nelson, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

by Candace Barrington

On 7 May 2019, the Poetry Foundation announced that Marilyn Nelson had won the 2019 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, one of the most prestigious prizes for poetry in the United States. Marilyn-NelsonIn her verse, Nelson vividly records the lived experiences and (too often) overlooked contributions of Black people in America. Repeatedly, her poetry has made us aware of the beauties and horrors of Black lives as they struggle of make this inhospitable place their home. She captures the sense of displacement and dislocation instigated by the African diaspora in her 2005 collection, The Cachoeira Tales and Other Poems. In this account of her journey to “some place sanctified by the Negro soul” (11), CachoeiraTalesNelson re-imagines the pilgrimage structure of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as a suitable vehicle for challenging the “imperialist grand narrative” (David Wallace, “Chaucer’s New Topographies” SAC 29) and, as Kathleen Forni argues in Chaucer’s Afterlife: Adaptations in Recent Popular Culture (2013), as “stylistic testament to the multivocal inclusivity afforded by the musical versatility of Chaucer’s verse and the conceptual versatility of his structural frame” (111). Worth reading in it’s own right, Nelson The Cachoeira Tales also fits well in a Canterbury Tales classroom as a way to interrogate “white” ownership of the Middle Ages.

Recently, as the poet laureate of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, Nelson has shepherded the Maundy Thursday readings of Dante’s Inferno.

For a sampling of her verse, see the Poetry Foundation’s website.

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The Miller’s Tale: Wahala Dey O!

by Candace Barrington

img_7995.jpgOn 13 and 15 July, Ufuoma Overo-Tarimo’s dramatic adaptation, The Miller’s Tale: Wahala Dey O! was finally brought to audiences in the western hemisphere. Featuring performers from Nigeria, England, Iceland, and Canada, the international troupe brought an exuberant interpretation of Chaucer’s tale, first to the Isabel Bader Theatre at Victoria College, Toronto, and then to Erindale Studio Theatre in Mississauga.  True to the spirit of Nigerian dramatic tradition, the production enhanced the comic adaptation with music and dancing from many genres.  

The first performance coincided with the New Chaucer Society Congress being held at Victoria College, so the filled house was not surprising.  It was good to learn that the second performance also played to a full house.  

The large undertaking would not have been possible without the support of the 2018 NCS Congress hosts, Alex Gillespie, Will Robins, and their exceptional University of Toronto team.

Barbara Cooney’s Chanticleer

The December 2017 issue of The Atlantic features  Nathan Perl-Rosenthal’s lovely, timely essay on Barbara Cooney and her illustrated children’s books .  Cooney’s 1979 Caldecott-winning Ox-Cart Man, with its tender depictions of the countryside’s cycles of growth and loss was a favorite when our household had young ones to read to.  Perl-Rosenthal writes of Cooney’s transformation of Donald Hall’s text into a “meditation of love and loss,” which seems to me a perfect way to describe its impact and importance.

Cooney.ChanticleerHe opens his essay, though, discussing Cooney’s first picture book, Chanticleer and the Fox (1958), her first Caldecott winner and a work that stands in marked contrast to the usual late-50’s fare “of mild humor laced with bland moral guidance” targeting American childrenAfter reminding his audience that Chanticleer is based on the “salty Middle English of The Canterbury Tales” and recounting the  narrative Cooney adapted from Chaucer’s beast fable, Perl-Rosenthal goes on to provide Cooney’s perspective on her little book:

In her acceptance speech for the award, the small blond author, gesturing with her long hands, conceded the anomaly of her book. “Much of what I put into my pictures,” she admitted,” will not be understood.” But she had chosen to write it because she thought that the “children in this country need a more robust literary diet than they are getting.” “It does not hurt them,” Cooney insisted before her audience of senior librarians and educators, to hear about the real stuff of life, about “good and evil, love and hate, life and death.” … She vowed that she would never “talk down to–or draw down to–children.

We can see her refusal to condescend to young audiences in the book’s visual layout.  Though clearly a picture Cooney.Chanticleer2book, Chanticleer and the Fox balances the images with significant blocks of text.  This is not an oversimplified redaction of Chaucer’s text.  And neither the story nor the pictures rely on the comic silliness of talking chickens to create its appeal to children. Instead, it imagines a world of quiet duties, a place where, sometimes, the best of us make foolish mistakes.  If we’re lucky, friends and family will overlook our flaws and come to our rescue.

With its generous text from a canonical source, this picture book imagines itself as a book adults can read to pre-schoolers as well as a book that young readers can approach and engage with by themselves, finding new delights and new lessons in book designed to mature with its readers.

It was good to be reminded of this little book’s virtues by Perl-Rosenthal.

More Patience….

Agbabi.Vassar

Patience Agbabi’s East Coast speaking tour has an additional date and locale: Monday, 13 November 2017, at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York. If you’re in the vicinity, we highly recommend you make the effort to attend–and bring your students.

Patience never disappoints.

 

Patience Agbabi in Boston, 25 November!

Flyer-Lowell-Agbabi

Patience Agbabi will be making one of her few U.S. appearances on 25 November 2017, 7pm, at Boston College.  Her readings and performances are unparalleled, as those of us  at NCS 2016 in London witnessed. If you’re in the area, don’t miss this opportunity.

For more details, see the Lowell Humanities Lecture Series website.

The Wife of Bath Spurs Her Way onto the Brazilian Stage!

A Mulher de Bath.102417This week features the premiere of A Mulher de Bath, a stage production based on José Francisco Botelho’s 2013 translation of The Canterbury Tales and starring Maitê Proença.  This Brazilian actor, known for her extensive filmography and her outspokenness, commissioned the play and seems the perfect embodiment for Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, a woman the promotional material identifies as “uma mulher de vasta experiência e de ardorosa oratória” (a woman of vast experience and ardent oratory).

O que quer esta muhler?

The opening performances are this weekend, 28 and 29 October 2017, in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, north of Rio de Janiero.

Borderlands Chaucer

In the small Sonoran city of Magdalena de Kino, 126 miles due south of Tucson, Arizona, the Church of Santa María Magdalena houses an recumbent image of St. Francis Xavier (co-founder of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits). Pilgrims who seek help from the saint can ascertain whether their prayers have been deemed worthy of intercession by trying  to lift the statue’s head.  If it moves, their prayers have been acknowledged; if it doesn’t, the saint himself has remained unmoved, their devotion insufficient to merit his help.

Iglesia en Magdalena
Braulio Rivera Enriquez https://ssl.panoramio.com/photo/118060568

In a convenient cross-over between saints’ days, 4 October (feast day for St. Francis of Assisi) seems to be a favorite time for making this pilgrimage into the Sonoran desert. Former head of the University of Arizona’s Southwest Folklore Center, Jim Griffith, has compared these autumnal pilgrimages to the springtime pilgrimage in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. He provides this instructive paraphrase: 

When October with its relatively cool winds has taken the real edge off the fierce desert heat. When it’s cool enough that you can stand to walk around outdoors. When the summer rains have stopped and the roads aren’t a sea of mud and it’s pretty easy to move. Then folks want to move.

And, as he adds, “they want to move on a spiritually sanctioned trip.”  To hear Griffith recite these lines from his General Prologue-redux, listen to Pulse of the Planet’s recent rebroadcast of a 1997 show about autumn’s migrations and pilgrimages.

Thanks to our intrepid contact for all things regarding Chaucer in Mexico, Raúl Ariza-Barile (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), for this Borderlands Chaucer.