In 2002 I was invited by a student to perform at the Seattle Poetry Festival, to perform a piece involving six robotic parrots and an A.A. Milne poem.
I’d performed with the parrots maybe five times over five years. They would record a sound and play it back twice, at twice the pitch. I was fortunate enough to discover that, when facing one another, they’d speak to one another, creating a chaos of repetition that ascended to noise.
The Milne poem, Buttercup days from Now we are six, intrigued me as a child. As an adult, it suggested a richer inner life than I’d thought Christopher Robin might have had.
“Where is Anne?
Head above the buttercups,
Walking by the stream,
Down among the buttercups.
Where is Anne?
Walking with her man,
Lost in a dream,
Lost among the buttercups.
“What has she got in that little brown head?
Wonderful thoughts which can never be said.
What has she got in that firm little fist of hers?
Somebody’s thumb, and it feels like Christopher’s
“Where is Anne?
Close to her man.
Brown head, gold head,
In and out the buttercups.”
The idea with the piece was that I’d whisper bits of the poem to the parrots and they’d whisper it back to one another, turning sense into nonsense but also suggesting sharing some of the intimacy of the poem. I thought it was a use of language that might be interesting to perform at a venue dedicated to verse, not art or music.
The reality of the contemporary verse scene took me aback. I was apparently the only act on the bill not doing confrontational slam poetry, and I guess my subtle misuse of verse and language was what got me slammed. I’m not intimidated by terrifying, angering or just pissing off an audience – I’ve spent my whole creative career doing so – but I was a little irked that what was billed as the Seattle Poetry Festival was actually just the Seattle SLAM Poetry Festival.
The piece, to this day, remains undocumented.