19 June 2008

Beginning Kempe

Kempe Notes

I’ve begun reading the Margery Kempe book in the hopes of somehow making it into a piece. My initial thoughts are that it will prove hard to make this into a seven or eight minute work. I’m thinking it may have to be something longer – on the order of twenty minutes or so, but this is really preliminary. Today, I read the episode where Kempe begins her series of pilgrimages, first to Jerusalem and then to Rome. After a fairly standard leave-taking – she has the priest announce her leave and call for any debtors to take some sort of payment as these were dangerous trips and many died. She then confesses, during the confession her priest suggests to her that when her faith will be most shaken she will receive the help of a “broken-backed man” in the Middle English “brokebakkyd man” who eventually turns out to be an Irish pauper named Richard. On the pilgrimage she is as I remembered basically ostracized from the rest of her countrymen who grow tired of her constant crying and her desire to bring up godly things at their meals: they would rather make merry at lunch and dinner – effectively Margery is a downer. Nonetheless, she is much admired by the religious whom she meets particularly the Franciscan friars who controlled many of the sights that were part of a standard pilgrimage. She parts company from this group several times, but as is the case on these things, they meet up again at other points. I recall myself when I did the pilgrimage to Compostela that you would lose your group and then eventually join up with them again later. The company, as much as they hate her, seem to believe her – if she decides to take a different ship (on advice from Jesus) the group of Englishmen follow.
The difficulty is going to be pulling a text out of all this. Margery doesn’t do much talking, mainly we hear about how she cried and cried – I’ve come to accept that this crying is sobbing crying, not shouting out crying in the manner that the man who shouts “Hallelujah” on my corner in New York cries. I take this from a passage which tells why she cried – in much the same way that people cry if a friend dies, etc see page 52 in the Staley translation. This is obviously a major part of her personality and should be incorporated somehow and in a way that cannot be trite, for her crying was not trite.
Other things that may be incorporated – the way she is a called a “creatur” or the constant admonishing and calming voice of the various Godly voices, perhaps set off with a different accompanying group or a tattoo of sorts in the manner that Stravinsky brings in God’s voice with a bass duet announced by a quick drum rap in “The Flood.” I’m also enamored of the device of the scribe and wonder if there is a way to put that into the piece, as well as strange notes that appear sometimes like this one at the end of chapter 16: “Rede fyrst the twenty-first chapetre and than this chapetre aftyr that.” - it puts a certain sort of indeterminancy in the reading, like a choose-your-own-adventure book, or Structures Book 2 of Boulez.
Ultimately the whole thing will be in Middle English, or else I can use the language as a way of differentiating – putting Kempe’s words in Middle English and translating the rest into my own words – thereby obviating copyright issues as well.

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