Alexander Poem Set to Music and Recorded

February 20, 2013 | CUNY Graduate Center

Meena Alexander’s (Dist. Prof., Hunter, English) poem “Acqua Alta,” set to music by the renowned Swedish composer Jan Sandström, was recorded on February 8 by the Renaissance Serikon Ensemble. A CD is forthcoming.

Alexander explained that the impulse behind her poem lay in a question she was asked, “Why come to Venice?” at a reading in a bookstore on Piazza San Marco. “Somehow in La Serenissima, city of golden stone and bright water, my childhood in Kerala with its canals and backwaters seemed so close: one world reflected in the other. I grew up with an awareness of monsoon winds and floods . . . and now of course with global warming, high water has intensified.”

The links between Italy and India go back a long way. “It is thought that Muziris is the name the Romans gave to the ancient port city of Kodangallur not far from my hometown . . . Pliny the Elder writes about Rome being almost bankrupted by the desire for Indian pepper.” The reverberations stirred her imagination. “Kalidasa is the great poet-playwright of classical India and I imagine his heroine Sakuntala asleep in a room by the Accademia bridge. Each day at sunset I used to stand on the bridge and watch the colors of the sun, staining the waters. Time and again I would visit the Ghetto in Venice. Like so many of my poems ‘Acqua Alta’ makes a symbolic space where sometimes discordant worlds can hang together in harmony.”

The recording was conducted by Erik Westberg. A concert in Luleå Cathedral, in the north of Sweden, followed. More performances are planned—with the Swedish radio-choir, a Nordic tour, and possibly an Italian tour, which may include a concert in San Marco. The “Acqua Alta” recording and concerts represent the first efforts of the Serikon Ensemble in bringing to fruition a long-term climate change awareness project.