Anne M Carson – from A Poetic Biography of George Sand

Carson LE P&W Jan 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing January 2023

from A Poetic Biography of George Sand, poems by Anne M Carson.

A tour-guide takes us through the Nohant theatre

Nohant, 2019

It was Monsieur Chopin who suggested that the billiard
room, could be turned into a theatre – once Madame

turned her hand to plays. She developed plays here before
risking the big stage in Paris. They also put in a puppet theatre

for Monsieur Maurice and he became a respected expert
about the Commedia dell’arte, actually awarded the Legion

d’honneur for his scholarship. As you can see it is spacious –
space for sixty. This is how it was left after the last

performance. Madame wrote twenty-four plays – some not
so successful, some like Marquis de Villemer had sensational

receptions. She rehearsed them all here first, performing
one hundred for her friends and neighbours, making necessary

adjustments before putting them before the public in Paris
premières. Later even Monsieur Manceau had a show

at the Odéon. We’ll go to the second storey now. As you do –
notice the blue dappled paint on the stairwell walls – such

an airy, modern look, another of Monsieur Maurice’s innovations.
He was taught, you know, by Eugène Delacroix, who was

a close friend of Madame and had a studio in the stables, which
you can view on the forecourt and visit after the chateau tour.

George Sand’s son, Maurice, boasts

1848, Nohant

Mama claims it was Chop Chop’s penchant for mimicry
that prepared the way for the puppet theatre. But it was

me! When maman was poorly, mourning the latest lost
Republic (another of her errant children) it was me

who wrapped kerchiefs around his hands, hid behind
a chair and used the makeshift puppets to pull her

out of gloom. I had everyone in stitches, including dear
dear mamam, all clamouring for more. For me! We love

fun of every hue at Nohant – practical jokes, charades
board games – even before Chopin came along to steal

mamam from us. The day after the puppet debut, I began
carving heads while mama sewed costumes with all the

miniature accoutrements – tiny little hats, helmets, caps,
berets, bonnets, and crowns. Before long we had a whole

Commedia dell ‘Arte troupe and by the end one hundred
little people! I painted curtain and backdrop. Voices courtesy

of family and house guests, improvised from mamam’s
scripts. We invited the audience to interact – so very

avant garde, making us inordinately proud of our innovation.
Once the audience realised their control of the dénouement

hilarity and mischief knew no bounds. It may have been
a party activity but I took the lion’s share on my own shoulders.

hilarity and mischief knew no bounds. It may have been
a party activity but I took the lion’s share on my own shoulders.

I worked the puppets, solo. I arranged them on a series
of hooks and my hands flew from peg-to-peg matching

puppet to action and voice. If I lost pace and missed
the peg, the actor had to say their lines without a character

on stage. Missing the Peg, we called those mishaps. Maurice
someone would proclaim from the audience, has missed

the peg again! When maman’s actor-friends from the Odéon
visited and participated in the fun, they took this Nohant

bon mot back to Paris where it was used for many years
when actors missed their cues. I may just be a village soul

at heart but that saying went all the way to Paris! I was
so enamoured with the puppets that mama built

a dedicated theatre just for me! In what used to be
the billiard-room, with a full-sized stage for her to trial

her plays. Our friends travelled all the way from the capital
for first nights – women in décolletage gowns – men

in peacock finery. How I loved those puppets – my fill-in
little family before I had one I could call my very own.

The press declares my Villemer “a triumph”!

1864, The premiere of Le Marquis de Villemer, Paris

Come opening night, carriages line up outside
the Odéon, and four or five thousand students

assail the Catholic Club and the Jesuits next door!
They chant Vive Villemer! Vive George Sand!

Taunting orthodoxy. Two thousand are turned
away at the Box Office. Constables hand-to-hand

hold back supporters from unhitching my carriage
hauling me triumphantly all the way to Rue Racine!

Vive George Sand! Their words ring in my ears
obliterating rehearsals which had not gone well

the leading man fighting with the leading woman
the sets – execrable. Mon Dieu! Still shaken by

the flop of my last three plays. Amazed then
at dress rehearsal when everyone wipes tears

away – ooooh Caroline! Oooh Didier! Ooooh
le Marquis! Not just stagehands (who always love

to weep with the leading lady) but musicians and
fire-men – tears even course down the gas-lighters’

cheeks! What heart it gives me. But discovering
Emperor Napoléon and Empress Eugenie will be

in the house ratchets my nerves. I’m torn between
fear that pious Catholics will boo again en masse

and a candle-flicker of hope that maybe this time
respect might prevail. And then the last curtain falls

and opening night is over. Flaubert cries like a woman [1]
and the Prince claps enough for thirty claqueurs!

Mobbed when I enter the lobby – the press of bodies
well-wishers’ kisses, and such eloquent outpourings

of bonhomie that all my faith in le peuple is restored.
Along with faith in my own abilities. Through

the simple act of scratching away, chicken-like,
day after day, telling my humble, rousing tales.

© Anne M Carson

Anne M Carson is a poet, essayist and visual artist whose poetry has been published internationally, and widely in Australia, receiving numerous awards including winning and shortlisting in the Martha Richardson medal, and a shortlisting in the 2022 Newcastle Poetry Prize. Her work has been broadcast on national and community radio and she has curated a programme of poems on disability on ABC’s Poetica programme.

Recent publications include Massaging Himmler: A Poetic Biography of Dr Felix Kersten (Hybrid), and Two Green Parrots (Ginnindera Press). The Detectives Chair is forthcoming from Liquid Amber Press in 2023. One of her poems has been set to choral music, and she has collaborated with a classical pianist in a number of poetry/piano story tellings. She has initiated a number of poetry-led social justice projects, including The River Project Soiree as a fundraiser for the RiverKeepers and a greeting card as fundraiser for the Carbon Positive Charity. She is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at RMIT, writing a poetic biography of George Sand.

1. George Sand quoted in Curtis Cate, George Sand: A Biography.
Houghton Mifflin Company Boston: 1975, 675.

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