Jan Gilbert

Jan Gilbert has been a member of American Composers Alliance since 1980. Her choral works have been commissioned by Chanticleer, the Dale Warland Singers, Ars Nova Singers, and LISTEN, and her work has received support from the NEA, McKnight Foundation, Jerome Foundation and Northwest Area Foundation. She has completed several residencies at the MacDowell Colony. Originally from New York City, Gilbert is a faculty member at Macalester College, St. Paul. Recent performances by the St. Paul Civic Symphony include In the Beginning: A Native American Legend from the Tlingit Tribe of the Northwest Coast (for Narrator and Orchestra) and Suite for Veena and Orchestra, featuring the internationally acclaimed veena artist, Nirmala Rajasekar, one of several collaborations with Rajasekar which will be presented in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2008. Gilbert’s experimental chant settings, NightChants, are recorded on Chanticleer’s Sound in Spirit (Warner Classics).


I. Heloise: Prime
II. Heloise: Hymns
III. Heloise: Vespers
IV. Mother House

Of Heloise is a setting of four poems of Judith Infante from Love: A Suspect Form, Heloise and Abelard, a collection of fifty-four poems which will be released this fall by Shearsman Books Ltd. This setting for soprano and string quartet is the first part of a much larger work with collaborative partners Nancy Ogle and Judith Infante.

The chamber opera will be premiered at the University of Maine in Orono in 2009, and will include settings of the poetry for soloists, chorus, and instrumental ensemble. Judith Infante's poetry is published in the literary journals American Poetry Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, High Plains Literary Review, Marlboro Review, Puerto del Sol, The Texas Observer, The Blue Mesa Review; her work appears in poetry anthologies published by Papier-Mache Press.

Nancy Ogle, Soprano, and String Quartet

I. Heloise: Prime
I wake, morning, wound in my one dream.
Dreaming I wake in my lover's bed.

What to sing, dawn, as I rise in old clothes and take up my stone?
Stone, morning, heavy as an infant lost.

Love buried his arrows beneath this parchment wrap of bones
and keeps me bound in his bloody rags.

Hear how I sing, dawn, sing with a clotted heart.
With a clotted heart, dawn, singing my wound!

II. Heloise: Hymns
Our daughters praise you.
All winter icy splinters of song
rose towards the chapel's rough
planed rafters and scrolled
your lambent phrases upon them.

Your Christ-filled logic ignited
the space around the Paraclete,
our burden, your praise.
We had hours yet to toil and hard
prayers under our knees.

We had no money, and for barter
nothing. Sister knelt
before sister wrapping
her feet in rags. No fire to counter
the altar's bulk. But desire
grew silently. Squatter in every corner,
it pried open locks to chambers
beneath our veils.

As I slept, winter's insatiable
form moved over me. I woke
pinioned by the rough habit
you've dressed me in.

Spring brought melt and a low priest
to confess us. The daughters in Christ
sang, and the priest remarked
our fortune. After prayers,
your hymns stayed in the chapel,
fading with smoke and sputter of candle fat.
Here poetry is an alien.
The sisters thank you.

III. Heloise: Vespers
Our mouths spill the litany, tolling
to the forest's rim. She approaches our walls.

We don't hear what summons her.
We wear veils and are married to God.

The setting sun burnishes her flanks. My sisters
turn their backs. The doe is my sister.

Her bed is soft pine needles, her scent autumn
and tree bark and oestrus. I would go with her.

Beyond the convent's measured garden and seamed fields
stand the woods. Hours yet to compline.

Is she my sister?

My habit loosens, prayer book and key fall.
The ground is warm. Twigs avoid my bare feet.

Near the forest gate others wait. I hear their barks.
They are home in the moonlight. Hoofs glint.

The stag!

Then, between me and glade stands the cherubim. Sword
burns my lips and the babble begins.

Small words for sister, for words,
for doe vanished in the dark.

IV. Mother House
(Abbey of Ste. Marie de Argenteuil)
Heloise - derived from Eloim - therefore, dedicated to God, therefore, an offering

In the shaft of the afternoon, Heloise,
a child upon her pallet, curves
into a bell. As insects drone,
light glides along the wall and lures

her with arms warm and entwining.
Dust motes spiral and rise along
a ladder lit to heaven. And they sing.
She thinks she remembers this song

which calls to another. Under her tongue
the response quivers. She wants to touch
the phantom voice. Sing with it. But not one
thing can she hold. To clutch

afternoon light leaves you cold. Night will come
and time beats a loud, empty drum.

© 2008 Judith Infante. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

This is the most beautiful, intelligent and provocative (yes, sexually) poetry I've ever read. It carries its own music;d I hope the newly composed music reflects its many shades and rhythms.