Hallelujah Series

Please post your reflections on the Hallelujah ‘dialogic’ seminars here.

Warning: Spoiler alert
If you’re not taking part in the seminar the reflections below will probably give the story away.

Videos and Photos for this event can be found here

15 Responses to Hallelujah Series

  1. Maureen says:

    Many thanks to Kent Stetson for sharing his insights on the thinking, development and production of his exceptional play The Harps of God. To bring this very important and difficult story from Newfoundland to the rest of Canada and to the world is an accomplishment. To bring the story to life with such sensitivity and authenticity speaks of real commitment and artistry.

  2. My own After Words to The Harps of God by Kent Stetson
    Version 2:
    A tension has been building in me over the course of the Hallelujah Series.
    This is the first time in a ‘dialogic series’ that the basis for a piece of work has been a true historical event. The voices are fictionalised but the story is essentially true, it really happened, their ancestors are alive today, it happened in a real place, with a real tragedy, and with real people all followed by the embarrassing but real governmental enquiry. The extraordinary conditions these men faced became more and more authentic as we made our way through the seminar session which culminated in me feeling of revulsion and sadness towards their ordeal. It wasn’t a sudden hit; it grew over the course of 2 weeks. It ended up hitting me on a gut level, right in the lower intestine and has left a bruise.
    The play on its own is complete and incomplete at the same time.
    This is a work that stands on its own, has a beautiful craft, an evolution through modes of literary styles, and builds and builds at a captivating pace.
    It is incomplete in the sense that it is a piece to be performed: to be handed to actors, directors and stage designers with which they will produced a complete piece. I would very much like to see it performed live. I also think a historical context is important to making this play’s effect deep and profound, something which would have been all too present to the audience at the play’s first run in Newfoundland.
    Meeting Kent Stetson for a second time was wonderful. I immensely enjoyed reading his first book The World Above the Sky and the ‘dialogic meeting’ to we had to discuss it; the seminar to discuss his play The Harps of God didn’t let me down.
    Mr Stetson dialogued with us about historical details relating to the Newfoundland Sealing Disaster tragedy, the productions of the play, literary styles, literary motifs, some of his Scottish history on PEI, philosophy and deep insights into the human condition, the craft of writing, the list goes on. He is a platinum mine of information and he is able to explain his craft in a very accessible way. It was superb to dialogue with him.

  3. After words but before meeting Mr Stetson.

    What do I write after this play? I’ve been taken from knowing little to nothing about sealing to having a deep-reading course in The Harps of God. It feels like it was a big journey.
    ‘Dialogic’ is not complete until we have met Mr Stetson himself and have discussed with him this play and undoubtedly many other interesting things. Therefore I’m going to leave my after words until after the Hallelujah series has finished.

  4. My own Introduction to The Harps of God by Kent Stetson

    I’ve never been to Newfoundland. The two previous summers I’ve tentatively planned to visit but for whatever reason I didn’t manage to get there.
    My knowledge of the province is very sparse. Before I came to Canada, in my mind it’s been a big rock, a stepping stone from Europe to North America, inhabited by hard-working people, who like to have a good time and play music. Whilst living in Canada you become more and more exposed to talk of Newfoundland. In me this generates a motivation to learn more about the place and even an interest in going their myself; in the summer with a tent and a bus schedule on the infamous ferry from Nova Scotia perhaps.
    In the last year my view has been altered by: reading about the Viking attempted colonisation; watching the film ‘The Shipping News’; seeing a video at the CCA about the migration from small fishing communities to larger towns; A wonderful evening in the company of a Newfoundland father; filled with music, food and a tour of his Newfoundland-style preserved rabbit, moose, bear and some pungent jam from a berry that only grows in the marshes of Newfoundland.
    A rich history emerges which I hadn’t known about. To be honest if you finish you history education in England having learnt something other than about Henry VIII, you’ve done well.
    History as a series of dates and numbers is empty and almost useless; meaning and context is what matters. Kent Stetson has transformed the Newfoundland sealing disaster from the death of 78 men almost 100 years ago to a piece where you can start to hear the lost voices, start to breath with them, start to share in their hopes and their fears. We can’t experience for ourselves what they went through but through this play we can start to recreate the aesthetic war that these men underwent so we can see what humanity is capable of inflicting on its own kind.
    Will this become just one story amongst a multitude with which we are doomed to repeat in modern day parallels? Unfortunately, yes.
    Fighting for the universal rights of people is an ongoing struggle. We need to continue to unlock the voices of the ‘people’, so that future generations can hear them speak and motivate them to challenge, criticise, question in a free and open way the world they have been born into.
    The Harps of God is a step towards this.
    I look forward to visiting Newfoundland shortly.
    After Hand-Axe.

  5. Honey Suckle Rose says:

    Ken Stetson’s The harps of God

    My own After words

    Since I was a teen ager I have been developing a strong bond with Newfoundland. Like many families in Portugal, ours discussed the epic of the White fleet (so called after the color of the vessels). Every year a ship or two disappeared under suspect conditions (shipowners were suspected to sacrifice men and vessels in order to receive indemnities from their insurance companies). At lunch time, when we listened to the vessel’s horns on the River Tagus announcing a new departure, we always wondered if the men on board would ever come back alive. We frequently met these men at the bottom of our street where they had a school. We also attended the beautiful and moving spring Mass in honor of their departure.

    When I arrived in Canada I could hardly wait to go to Newfoundland. When I finally did it, this happened in 1975, I was lucky enough to be invited on board a portuguese vessel. Their living conditions had greatly improved and they were happy to share it with us. I think none of us will ever forget that meeting so far away from our home land. I had accomplished a long time dream. I had met these men on the other side of the Atlantic.

    There was part of the teen year old girl in me who read The Harps of God. The same sadness, the same feeling of injustice, the same empathy invaded my heart. Sealers and cod fishermen were brothers. Ken Stetson’s book came as a reinforcement of the bond I have with Newfoundland.

    Honey Suckle Rose

  6. Honey Suckle Rose says:

    Ken Stetson’s The harps of God

    My own Introduction

    Note: the following words have been written by memory. There might be some inexactitudes. Since sea adventures in general and cod fishing in Newfoundland in particular have been a long time interest of mine, these inexactitudes shouldn’t be too serious though. I hope.

    For centuries Newfoundland was like an Eldorado in the Northern hemisphere. The first to arrive, the Vickings, tried to settle but, as we know, they disappeared. Some time later, Corte Real, a portuguese explorer, sailed along these coasts and made an extensive report on them. He went as far as the St Laurence River which he described as well. It took some time however, after Corte Real’s visit, for European vessels to come fishing along the coasts of Newfoundland on a regular basis for the waters carried gold at it’s bottom. Despite Newfoundland’s extreme weather conditions, long regular fishing expeditions across the Atlantic waters became routine.

    There was no settling then, however, just back and forth trips to the mainland. Soon the pressure became so intense that men started fighting for the better fishing spots as well as for the best coves ashore where they could rest and prepare their captures. There are still some coves in Newfoundland with portuguese names. But the English are the ones who decided to settle there for good.

    European, Russians and Japanese vessels kept coming until recently. The men’s lives improved somehow with time but in some cases remained amazingly primitive. Not too long ago men sometimes used simple tools mostly hand made, clothes generally sewed or knitted by their mother’s, sister’s or girlfriend’s whose expert hands did their best to protect their loved ones. Vessels and men disappeared at sea. Newspapers mostly reported on the fights for water’s ownership and defense. Only locals and families cared about the men. And one day the whole world learned about Newfoundland sealers. Who could guess that such a primitive activity was still going ? Too much fishing or sealing, too many disasters, too much exploitation, too much misery anyhow.

    There are many interesting books describing life at sea. I am a collector. Ken Stetson’s comes as a strong testimony to the poorly understood lives of the seal hunters. Someone had to write such a book. The Harps of God will find a honorary place in my library.

    Honey Suckle Rose

  7. Honey Suckle Rose says:

    Ken Stetson’s The harps of God

    My own Preface

    We are all captivated by survival stories. When hearing about the Titanic, the plane crash in the Andes (where men had to commit cannibalism) or Haïti, just to mention those tragedies, one is horrified. At the same time there is a will, a need to understand.

    In The harps of God, when a group of sealers tries to survive in the ice fields of Newfoundland a similar reaction takes place. Which strategy will the survivors find to stay alive and what will happen with the victims? That’s what you will discover in Ken Stetson’s clever and shattering book The Harps of God.

    Honey Suckle Rose

  8. Honey Suckle Rose says:

    Ken Stetson’s “The Harps of God” – Act 1 – Second reading

    Considering my difficulty yesterday, after a first quick reading, to understand act 1, my immediate reaction consisted in trying to relate it to my own experiences which meant focusing on the language. Memories came to my rescue like: readings about jolly good old fellow Pemberton, his adventures at sea and his appeal for any “Missus” pretty or ugly; trips I made to the Lower North Shore of Quebec where I heard Newfoundland’s accent and expressions for the first time in my life; meetings with an old hunter from Salluit – Nunavik who told me about his youth in Labrador (“Them days”) as well as teen age memories from the portuguese White Fleet (so called because of the color of the vessels) who left Portugal’s coasts, year after year, for Newfoundland’s waters in search of cod fish.

    Today, I felt an urgent need to better understand what was really going on in “The Harps of God”.
    First of all, I learned that the story takes place in 1914 which is a good choice for Brigitte Bardot won’t interfere.
    Secondly, I made contact with the fourteen sealers, ages varying between sixteen and the mid-fifties, who get lost in the ice fields.
    Adversity is the cornerstone of the drama. Ice grinds, cracks and groans, blinding snow, howling winds, pouring rain are aggravated by fights between the men, another good idea for I like excitement.
    There are Protestant shepherds versus Irish Catholic sheep, a questionable and questioned leadership, father versus son, brother versus brother, blood suckers who own the ships and poor seal hunters who risk their lives. Let us not forget the cute pup seals and their human like calls, so innocent but, mind you, they grow and become cod fish’s greatest enemies (“one less seal, that many more cod fish”). I hope you are against cod fish being eaten by seals. I definitively am, for the Portuguese nation depended for a long time on cod for its survival (we have one cod fish recipe per day on the calendar!).

    We are then dealing in this first act with an authentic microcosm of life on earth. The Big eats the Small however lovable the Big can be. The Good faces the Bad but the Bad is not so bad after all. The Wise guy faces the Poor and Ignorant souls who live with beasts in their minds. The latter, however, are not so ignorant after all:
    “Wa’s the beast? asks BILLY
    A creature wit’ long sharp horns – answers ANDREW
    There is no such animal – says LEVI
    The beast is mankind’s worst fear.
    E’ feeds on human cruelty and weakness.
    E’ lives deep inside each and every one of we (TUFF)
    There’s times he comes out of his hole in the pit of your stomach (JORDAN)
    This is a beautiful piece of conversation. Besides, why shouldn’t beasts exist after all?

  9. My own preface for The Harps of God by Kent Stetson

    On the 31st of March 1914 the crew of sealers of the S.S. NEWFOUNDLAND, whilst making their way back to their ship over the ice pans of the Atlantic Ocean, were engulfed by extreme weather.
    4 days later hundreds of anxious spectators were waiting for several hours in the port of St John’s Newfoundland anticipating the arrival of the S.S. BONAVENTURE.
    The ship was carrying hundreds of seal pelts ready for sale and 69 frozen corpses, all men of the S.S. NEWFOUNDLAND, stacked as if they were also seals.
    As the ship docked, the survivors with swollen wrists and necks and blackened limbs began to walk or were carried off the ship. Some families waited, they waited until all the living had been taken off the boat so they could identify their dead relatives. Other men never returned, never to be found.
    The events leading up to S.S. BONAVENTURES’s return forms a sickening narrative. This play gives a voice to the crew of the S.S NEWFOUDLAND revealing a full spectrum of hopes and fears and what tragedy these poor men went through as a result of being cruelly exploited.

  10. Pingback: And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah | Have You Experienced? – The Website of Professor Norman Cornett's Dialogic Sessions

  11. Stream-of-consciousness responses to quotes in Act 2 of Harps of God

    “It’s the sum total of a man’s choices that makes his life…”

    As a historical tally it seems artificial, coming from a will to rationalise and create a narrative from points in time where you have made choices. It’s an empty calculation like something equally nonsensical as love being the integral of your emotions.
    Looking forward, however, this quote has a freshness, an energy, creating life and enthusiasm and perhaps more importantly a personal responsibility for ones actions which is exciting and empowering.
    As part of our natural tendency to fall into habits we could look back on life’s choices and moments and live in the past or we could keep seizing the day, to lead an energised life of continual emergence, discovery and passion
    Like Woody Allen’s shark analogy; sharks need to move continually in order to live. We don’t want to stop moving and become a dead shark.

    “Ye mustn’t live yer life believin’ yer stuck,that things don’t change.”

    The instinctive philosophy gained only by living. The wisdom we don’t have when we’re young and think every negative moment is the end of the world; something which our parents undoubtedly told us but we had to experience it for ourselves in order to realise. If you don’t learn this during your formative years, depression is going to be ever present.

    “I come to ye for hope. Ye tell me to get ready to die.
    I come for strength. Ye weaken me.
    What kind of leader are ye?”

    Out of context this sounds like pseudo-religious grovelling.
    In context we know of the psychological changes that take place here in the extreme cold. Irrationality sets it and anything becomes permissible in one’s mind and hyperbolic re-actions worsen the problem.
    Under currents of a master-slave relation become amplified under the circumstances making it possible for the one who gives life also to be the one who can also destroy it.
    It’s the lack of education, poverty, passing of myths as truths that puts the shackles on free-thought and erases the concept of freedom for these men. They’re merely the pawns of the capital focused market.

  12. Egads says:

    Reflections on “Harps of God”, first act, second reading…

    A microcosm of a low level of a particular society, Newfoundland circa early 1900s replete with allusions to homespun mythology, cut-throat commerce, emerging politics, troubled family dynamics, dire poverty, &, of course, very specifically, the difficult seal trade. Cold unforgiving world & rickety worldviews trying to anchor in a reality as icy as where the sealers in question are lost. The hunted – the seals – & the hunters, the sealers, share a kind of victim hood, the men victims of greedy bosses, the seals obviously victims of hunters & bosses both. The idea of seal hunting gets trashed more because of how the men who hunt are treated than because of seal hunting per se, appropriate to the time & situation at issue. The language is marvellous, I would love to hear it spoken in a production of this act. Ah Levi – how quaint & ironically absurd your holding to a traditional ethics of life & family seems, but I get that there is pride at issue, also a belief in adherence to what you learned growing up. Your sons in varying measure are willing to follow, but in the case of troubled Jessop only so far, no further. The misery of Cold, an actor as much as any other in this section, takes life, puts other lives in jeopardy. Is this a fictionalized version of an actual event? We’re not supposed to read anything but the act itself at this point, so I don’t know if it is but I speculate such is the case. Are these real names or made up names? Obviously the characterizations must be fictionalized, however true to life they seem. The interpersonal dynamics in this little group sizzle with friction, are fraught with colliding difference, throw out tendrils of tough tenderness. Levi the patriarch desires to instruct, to form & shape the young ones including Billy who isn’t his son. Son Andrew is the least formed of Levi’s sons, with Simon, the middle son, seemingly most resembling the father, worldview & all. & all that seal killing punctuation replete with lessons concerning the “how to” of the business! Compelling, along with the repeated allusions to pups calling – creates such a backdrop, such ambience.
    I am looking forward to going on with the play, to seeing how this situation plays out. At the moment it looks to be dour indeed – barely slip sliding along…

  13. 3rd read-through
    Anger: The more I read it, the faster I read it, the angrier people are, and the more short tempered and dismissing people are. This will give the perfect conditions of confusion and anger for the beast to appear to kill them. There are sub narratives emerging, for example; of the Templeman family, of who is to command the sealers and the history and jealousy behind the choice, and of why there are stuck, of previous voyages, of the captains of the sealing ships. There are many layers to the story, it’s quite fascinating, but still confuses me as to who is talking and their role, it a bit like reading 100 years of solitude for that.
    I want to read on, I want to read it out loud.

  14. Second read of the First act of Harps of Gold
    More of a feeling that money focussed ship owners has led to the problem of them being stuck on the ice. Attempts to save money by not getting weather reading equipment and a radio operator is starting to convince the men as to why they are lost on the ice.
    I find it hard to get a sense of who is in each conversation and who is doing the talking, re-reading it helps though. Perhaps it would be better to see it acted or to act it ourselves.
    We seem to have a core family of Templemans, the father of which is very proud sealer and wants to make sure his sons turn out the same way. We have the people arguing about which one of them is in charge, and then a few other people – one of whom has died from cold exposure already.
    I didn’t get much more out of it on the second read without spending more time to work out who’s talking to who.

  15. First act of Harps of Gold
    What I remember – 12 hours after reading it
    Newfoundland sealers, or swilers in the text, spend the act clubbing seals and losing their ship. One son refuses to club a seal and his father, I think, hits him and the other brothers have to break it up. One guy falls into the ocean and someone who helps falls in too but manages to save him. The man that helps later dies of exposure. They talk about creation, about the harp of god story, about a monster, about the waxing and waning moon, about previous men who have worked on the ice, about survival. They lose their ship as the day is ending and form and implement their plan of finding it again.
    I don’t remember the names too well, perhaps a Simon, Duff and Jacob. I didn’t read the names as I went through the text, just the names that were part of the speech and sometimes to check if it was a 2 person dialogue or not.
    Essentially they are lost, tired and cold. They have just lost one of their men. It’s going to be a long night.

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