The Consolation of Poetry DVD cover


The Consolation of Poetry

Conceived, researched, written and performed by Barbara Neri



The Consolation of Poetry

The underpinning action of this solo performance is the process of Barbara Neri beginning as herself and becoming the Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (born March 6, 1806, died June 29, 1861). The performance area is set as a dressing room consisting of a vanity with a two-way glass mirror, chairs, and screen. Elizabeth's ringlets, bonnet and other small accessories such as jewelry are placed on the vanity. Her silk and velvet mid nineteenth century garments are draped on chairs and over a screen. When Neri began researching what EBB wore, she found another story. This story is one layer of the performance and it is told through four interludes of dressing and un-dressing. A Dresser who makes four appearances heralded by a clock chiming the quarter hours assists Neri. The Consolation of Poetry received its NY Premiere when it was juried into the 2005 NY International Fringe Festival and presented at The Mazer Theater in Lower Manhattan. See Nate Baker's beautiful photography of this definitive performance below:





The Script was published in The Drama Review (T179) Fall 2003. Click here to go to TDR at MIT Press Journals and download a copy. Click here to read the introduction & credits published with the script.


"10 Dream Drawings," projected during the performance, were published in the March 2004 issue of Performance Research (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group) Volume 9, No 1, March 2004. See a pdf of Neri's Artist Pages here.


A full length DVD of the 2005 New York premiere performance is available for sale in our Store. Go there to see a six-minute video excerpt.



The Performance


I. Speaker's Monologue

(Dressing interlude 1)

II. The Dream & Dialogue 1

(Dressing interlude 2)

III. "Sonnet 43"

(Dressing interlude 3)

IV. Dialogue 2

V. Elizabeth's Monologue

(Dressing interlude 4)








The Speaker's Monologue



The Consolation of Poetry was first performed in March 2002, premiered by The Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan as part of a campus wide semester on Gender, Power and Representation. The work was subsequently performed in The Sponberg Theater, October 2003 at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan. Read more details about the performance, and see pictures from both the UM and the EMU performances below.



Looking Glass



The Speaker's Monologue begins.

University of Michigan Media Union Theater

Ann Arbor, Michigan. March 2002

(Photo: Glenn Bering.)



The work begins with The Speaker's Monologue. Neri begins as herself and introduces the major threads of the performance by interweaving her thoughts with a humorous and insightful look at eight Victorian stereo cards of women dressing and undressing.


Stereocard of woman dressing


Neri looking through stereoopticon


The Speaker's Monologue -

Sponberg Theater Eastern Michigan University

Ypsilanti, Michigan. October 2003

(Photo: Phil Linsalata)


Dressing interlude 1

Picture of EBB dressing

The transformation begins with Dressing interlude 1. Following this, Neri reveals how this project began, how Elizabeth Barrett Browning seemed to be the furthest thing from her imagination as a contemporary artist until a mysterious dream led her to begin reading EBB's poetry. As the story of The Dream is told, 10 Dream Drawings are projected.


Dressing interlude 1

University of Michigan Media Union Theater, March 2002.

(Vidgrab: Dave Tedesco)






The Dream


"In the Dream I was walking down the middle of a dusty road in the country on a warm day in late summer. I came upon my mother, she died in 1985. She didn't speak but beckoned me to follow her into a dark cave."



EBB on stage with dream projected behind her

Pencil sketch of a dream



Dream Drawing 1

(The 10 Dream Drawings were published in the March 2004 'Correspondence' issue of Performance Research.)



The Dream Univ. of Mich. Media Union Theater, March 2002.

(Vidgrab: Dave Tedesco)



Two dialogues take place between the Speaker's opening monologue & Elizabeth's concluding monologue. In Dialogue 1, Elizabeth (actually Neri pre-recorded) appears as a life size digital video projection. Dialogue 2 reverses this and has the Speaker as the digital projection and Elizabeth is live.

Dialogue 1

Elizabeth is dressed as she was in the 1858 Le Havre Image.


Dialogue 2

Elizabeth is dressed as she was in the 1858 Le Havre Image. UM Media Union Theater, March 2002. (Vidgrab: Dave Tedesco)


EBB appears dressed as she was in  the Rome 1860 Alessandri photograph.


Dialogue 1

EBB appears dressed as she was in the Rome 1860 Alessandri photograph. UM Media Union Theater, March 2002. (vidgrab: Dave Tedesco)



The video personas were also recorded as VHS head shots and can be played back on TV monitors for venues without rear screen capabilities.

& Dialogue 2

EBB talking to Neri who is on a TV screen Neri dressed as EBB addressing video image of herself

Dialogue 1 (left) The Speaker dialogues with Elizabeth who appears as a talking head via DVD on three TVs. Dialogue 2 (right) Elizabeth is live and the Speaker appears on three TVs. Sponberg Theater Eastern Michigan University October 2003.

(Photos: Justin Allen)



There are many texts referred to in this work. Boethius' The Consolation of Philosophy (524 BC) is among them. Boethius is both author and actor in his imaginary dialogue with 'Lady Philosophy' as Neri is within her work. The intimate self-analysis and quest for a higher truth of this ancient form is soothing to our troubled 21st century consciousness. Aspects of the classic dialogue form are integrated into this performance. However, Neri's dialogues with Elizabeth are artist to artist. Eventually in Elizabeth's concluding monologue, the tables are turned on philosophy when Elizabeth establishes the creative process as the ultimate consoling and governing process of life not the philosophical process of reason. Hence the title: The Consolation of Poetry. The interested reader may explore this aspect further in The Drama Review where the script and 83 endnotes were published in the fall 2003 issue.



Dressing interlude 2





















"Sonnet 43"

Neri in hoop skirt

Dressing Interlude 2

UMMU Theater, March 2002

(Photo: Glenn Bering)





Placed between the two dialogues and central to The Consolation of Poetry is Neri's re-visioning performance of "Sonnet 43." Barrett Browning's love sonnet beginning with the often-quoted "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." Neri takes each line of the sonnet and interweaves her own text, based on her published research, to reveal the depth and breadth of Barrett Browning's thought and the manifesto to earthly love that "Sonnet 43" actually is. "Sonnet 43" is performed while Neri is dressed in the corset and crinoline underpinnings or "bones" of mid Victorian outer garments.





Neri in hoop skirt dancing


"Sonnet 43"

Sponberg Theater, EMU,

October 2003

(Photo: Phil Linsalata)




There are many rarely seen photographs, paintings and drawings of Elizabeth presented in The Consolation of Poetry. The layering of images, personalities, clothing, texts and time echoes the mutable nature of being. The mirror reflections, video & screen projections, undressing and dressing allow the audience to go behind the screen, scene and image.













Dressing interlude 3

(putting on EBB’s clothes)














Neri being dressed with picture of EBB projected behind her


Dressing interlude 3

(The four variants of EBB's 1858 Le Havre image are projected as the speaker is dressed.)

Sponberg Theater, Oct. 2003

(Photo: Justin Allen)


The performance begins with a clock chiming the eleventh hour and ends with it chiming the twelfth hour. The clock indicates that Neri is moving forward in time but she moves back in time to become the Victorian poet. This contradiction betrays the acceptance of a linear progression toward the future. In actuality there is a constant play between past and present, the living and the dead-an idea that is expressed and played out in The Consolation of Poetry, in the moment of performance.




Neri dressed as EBB sits pensively on chair


The Performance concludes with Elizabeth's monologue. Sponberg Theater,
Ypsilanti, MI. October 2003.
(Photo: Justin Allen)


Some might say that Neri's work is parasitic upon Elizabeth Barrett Browning's work. But if this is so, it is in the manner in which Toril Moi describes Derrida's deconstruction as "self confessedly parasitic upon the metaphysical discourses it is out to subvert." However in Neri's case, The Consolation of Poetry does not seek to subvert Barrett Browning and her work but rather the performance our culture has assigned to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her 44 Sonnets from the Portuguese.



Neri being dressed as EBB


(Un)Dressing interlude 4
UMMU Theater, March 2002
(Vidgrab: David Tedesco)

Neri uses the cultural consciousness we hold of Elizabeth as a calling card as she calls it into question and moves through and goes beyond it revealing the chastened memory we hold of Barrett Browning as a fable agreed upon. She trains her body and oneirocritical mind on Elizabeth and supplants what we think we know with what we experience in her becoming performance.











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