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Finding The Room Upstairs: A Visit to Hazel Hall’s Home

October 2, 2018

Today we are joined by guest blogger Matthew Svoboda, Director of Choral Activities at Lane Community College. As part of a project called "The Room Upstairs," Matthew has been scoring original music inspired by the poetry of Hazel Hall. Together with photographer Laura Glazer, he recently visited the Northwest Portland home of Hazel Hall, where she spent much of her life confined to a wheelchair. Tag along, and peek inside...

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Finding the Room Upstairs: A Visit to Hazel Hall's Home

By Matthew Svoboda, Director of Choral Activities, Lane Community College

This summer my friend Laura Glazer and I had the chanMatthew Svoboda in front of the Hazel Hall house in Northwest Portland. A “poetry garden” and memorial to Hall are next to the historic home.ce to visit with Neale and Trish Langman who have made their home at the Hazel Hall house in Portland. I had long been curious to see where Hazel Hall had lived and written and was so pleased that Neale and Trish were open to a visit. Our visit was prompted by a sabbatical project I am currently working on with Laura and several other collaborators. The project, entitled The Room Upstairs: Uncovering the Life and Poetry of Hazel Hall, will result in new, original music composed for dance and will premiere during Collaborations 2019* at Lane Community College in March 2019. The music and dance unfold in three movements titled after Hall's three books of poetry: Curtains, Walkers, and Cry of Time.

I scored the piece for cello, violin, and piano and mapped it to the larger themes of each volume of poetry. CurtaiA street-level view of the second floor windowns includes an entire section of poems devoted to the subject of sewing and needlework and to the physical attributes of her interior space. The music unfolds slowly and introspectively. I specifically chose cello to be the featured voice of this movement because its melancholy timbre recalls the elegiac feeling of Hall’s poetry and the bowing motion suggests the motion of sewing. Walkers is largely addressed to the various people whom Hall viewed from her second story window as they walked by her house. Here the music picks up tempo and becomes more interactive, with themes being traded between instruments that also shift roles as the music unfolds. And Cry of Time, published posthumously, speaks to transcendental themes, with poems that touch on Hall's reckoning with her own mortality, the limits of her art, and the solidarity she felt with other women. The music for this movement begins in anguish but progressively moves to resolution. The initial theme from Curtains returns but in a transformed state. After its presentation, it gradually ascends in a dance-like interplay that brings the work to its final close.

Many years earlier, I became intensely interested in the poet Hazel Hall when I came across a poem of hers, Maker of Songs, in Cracking the Earth, the Second Floor Window25th Anniversary edition from Calyx, published in 2001. The poem attracted me immediately because of its use of musical metaphor. A short bit in the back told me a little about her--that she was "confined to a wheelchair for most of her life" and that she “spent her days doing needlework, viewing the physical world through a window and a small mirror propped on her windowsill, and writing poetry that transcended her circumstance.” As I was curious to learn more, I reached out to John Witte who had edited The Collected Poems of Hazel Hall and included his own fine introduction about her life and work. John and I talked about Hazel Hall over a nice meal together, which furthered my interest and curiosity. I began to research whatever I could find about Hazel Hall at the University of Oregon library and later paid a visit to her former home in Portland, but only to the outside. This was all many years ago, before life got busy with a new child, a new job, and the responsibilities of home ownership.

Seeing Hazel Hall’s former home first hand several years later was an illuminating experience. As might be expected, the house has changed since she lived in it up until her death in 1924. It is now divided into two separate residences, with Neale and Trish living in the part where Hazel had spent most of her days. There has also been some remodeling and updating to the entrance and kitchen, and carpet now covers the floor in the main room that faces the street. Yet, even so, artifacts and features of the house remain from her time--light fixtures, the lattice window, a room upstairs. Standing in the main room and looking through the lattice window, I could get a clearer sense of how Hazel might have done her needlework or gazed around her house or to the street below to find inspiration for her poems.

Trish and Neale Langman are the current tenants of the Hazel Hall HouseThe four of us conversed on many topics while visiting together and seeing their home. I came to learn that Neale and Trish, both artists, had moved into Hazel's home from New York City a decade earlier, sight unseen. Only later did they learn about Hazel Hall and her interest and background in sewing as a means to a livelihood. This was particularly intriguing because Trish, a textile artist, has made her studio in the room upstairs, which Hazel references in her poetry as a place she couldn’t visit. This room upstairs in turn became the inspiration for the title of our collaboration—a tribute to a remarkable poet who was also unseen as she gazed out at the world from her window.

For more information on The Room Upstairs: Uncovering the Life and Poetry of Hazel Hall, visit the project website: www.hazelhall.net.

 

 

*Collaborations 2019 is March 7-9 and highlights the original work of dance faculty, guest artists, and dance groups in our community in collaboration with musicians, videographers, and designers. Produced annually in Ragozzino Hall on the main campus of Lane Community College, Collaborations celebrates the many voices of dance in our community. More information will be available in late 2018 via the Hazel Hall project newsletter; sign up for it here.

 

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