The Call of Frau Troffea
The Call of Frau Troffea
The crisis of pursed lips (their potential)
sought to ruin me in dewey sleep
My feet stretched a sheet of crystal,
bound around ankles, and aimed to seize
A crease in bed sheets-- wrath of
Hyperion’s swell, frantic tongues
divining mountain tops,
Ergot ornaments hang like black slugs--
My nightmare is unsheathed, brandished
by malignant dog teeth
Outside, beyond my bed chamber,
Strasbourg sheens fickle morning glory,
not so ruined by light
But of non-movement, a collective
civilian drowsiness, kings tired and
Rye wet from man’s holy insolence, I try
to heave from sleep but attempts are
Dark wedges began their sink long ago, I
cough, I twist, in dreams I have learned
Ferment heeds its own timeline-- I am
I fear the temper of a nighttime thief
Saint Vitus trembles under my doorway
as I oversleep
His calves ache to dance, he twirls his
curls, flips flint from chance,
He holds a chicken by its tuft and
squashes a snake under boot,
Leaps to my bedpost and sneezes
curtains of soot
Atop my ribs a heavy sediment sits, who
knew martyrs succumb to fits
Such as these, such as these, he pokes my
chest, I choke, I writhe, I am set to cleave
I wake, I dance,
I contort torture, tremor cobbled streets,
comfort in two’s, I beseech you to do as I
do, Convulsion has its place, love and
mercy too, we are of the cleft hearts,
drenched in holy rue,
Follow me, follow me,
for as our bodies seize, crumble and
weeze, let us sink beneath His holy reef.
Interview by L. Valena
What was your first reaction to this song?
I’d say on my first listen to it, it was a plethora of synth, that in some ways made me draw connections to religion or holiness. I think there’s an indelible connection between music and the music maker, obviously. It’s a very specific craft, because they’re literally in real time creating it with either their vocal chords or with beats or whatever it may be. I think typically whenever I listen to a song, I assign a face to it- I try to find the person or maker of that composition. That’s hard when it’s a synth composition like this. You can’t really cling on to anything except the music itself. And that seems so spiritual to me, and I’m just not a very spiritual person, so I guess that was my first response to the song.
How did you translate these feelings into writing?
It sounds all melodramatic when I bring religion into things. I had already really been interested in mysticism- it’s a special sect in religion that often gets overlooked. I’m in Oregon now, but I went to the Brooklyn library and started a vague exploration into mysticism. I started with the Jewish mystic book the Kabbalah, and then from there went on to Catholicism. And I found this lady, her name is Hildegard of Bingen, and she’s basically the Catholic church’s saint of health and healing. She was at one point the head nun or something, anyway I got pretty tied to her for some reason. I found out she was also a music composer, she was a poet, she was a doctor, she had these holy communes with visions other than the Catholic church… so there were a lot of angry nuns.
That sounds terrifying.
Yeah! And there are definitely people who have found more superficial reasons for her visions. For example this molded rye, called ergot, which also might have been the cause for the Salem Witch trials. It has the same effects as LSD, along with headaches and convulsions. And ‘convulsions’ seem to be the key word for the next path of exploration at the Brooklyn library.
Man, you went down a rabbit hole, didn’t you? This is awesome.
Yeah- well that’s the thing with the composition you guys sent me, it was all very ethereal, and ephemeral, and I was trying my best to assign something to it. And so convulsions came up, and I found out about this kind of odd religious phenomenon that happened in 1518 in France. This woman named Frau Trauffea, one day exited her cottage, and started to dance in these small streets of France, and she wouldn’t stop. Some described it as convulsions or- I don’t know, she was tranced out in some way, and she started to get a following at some point. I think the final tally was 400 people in this small town in france just fucking dancing. And they tried to assign ergot as the reason, but some say that Saint Vitus has possessed her, and they were in the middle of the Black Plague, so they had to be skeptics, naturally. So, they corralled these 400 people who were dying, they were dropping like flies! They were exhausting themselves.
I know! I can’t believe I had never heard about this! And they ended up like clearing a marketplace and building stage for these people to just get it out of their system- that’s what they thought would be best. Let the holy spirit exit them through dance. And that’s where the poem started. It was a fun expedition that song made me take.
Is research usually a part of your process?
I don’t know- there’s this quote by Joanna Newsom that I’m gonna butcher. They asked her if research was an integral part of her music making, and she kind of scoffed at the connotations of the idea of ‘research’. I just took you through all that, and it wasn’t necessarily ‘research’, it was me fetishizing this religious material and getting totally absolved into it. I guess that sometimes research is very important, but sometimes it isn’t.
After you went down this rabbit hole of what I’m going to call ‘research’, did you sit down and write this poem all in one shot?
So it’s broken up into four sections. I wrote the first sentence after I’d first read about ergot. In the first section we’re in a dream, and we’re inside the head of Frau Troffea. And then I wanted to pull out and create a landscape, because I like poetry with narrative, and once that happened I learned about Saint Vitus… it starts pretty structured and coherent in the beginning, and then it devolves as she is infected by Saint Vitus or ergot, or whatever the means may be. It’s silly.
It’s not silly, it’s amazing!
Well, Saint Vitus is a very silly character and I wanted him to be the comedic relief, in such a stressful time.
I felt apprehensive about writing from the perspective of Frau Troffea. After hearing about this history of the dancing plague- what I did was surface level research. So it some ways I know nothing about Frau Troffea.
Hey- in some ways everything is surface-level research, right?
That’s fair, that makes sense. But if there was an account of this person, I still feel that loss.
I think it’s great to think about her and talk about her- it’s the most any of us could hope for, right? In however many hundreds of years?
Right! Frau’s still got a legacy happening!
Any advice for another participant of this project?
Approach it with a clean slate.
Call Number: M6MU | M9PP.fayCa
Morgan Fay: If I were to say I enjoy writing about Oregon while in New York you’d understand a certain love in necessity and distance, the necessity: to hike through lost trailheads, blossoming fern; the distance: three thousand miles shore to shore. I write these landscapes in hopes of mending that absence-- forcing myself to focus in on the Pacific Northwest, its history, its stories, its diverse ecology as means of poetry.