Detail from "The Flood: Mosaic in Basilica di San Marco, Venice

Detail from “The Flood: Mosaic in Basilica di San Marco, Venice


Meena Alexander and Pär Holmgren

Acqua Alta: Jan Sandström and Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander’s Poem “Acqua Alta” Performed by Serikon Music Ensemble and the Swedish Radio Choir

As part of a climate change concert, Meena Alexander read her poem “Acqua Alta” (set to music by Swedish composer Jan Sandstrom) in Engelbrekst church, Stockholm.

Download the Earlier Acqua Alta program in PDF Format

To listen to the music, visit this link:


“Acqua Alta is a concert project with the aim to regain people’s attention to the climate change. this will be achieved through a combination of music, photography and speech; the chosen city on which to focus is the former world metropolis and present cultural world heritage site Venice – with it’s history, art and culture – to show further examples of what can be lost if the present trend is not halted . . .

“Jan Sandström is one of Sweden’s most prominent contemporary composers. He composed the title piece of the Acqua Alta project. The piece is based on the poem ‘Aqua Alta’ by the Indian/American poet Meena Alexander, published in the collection “Quickly changing rive” (2008). Ms. Alexander is also participating in the performance by reading her own text. She is Distinguished Professor of English at the City University of new York and is the author of numerous collections of poetry, literary memoirs, essays, and works of fiction and literary criticism. Her participation gives an extra dimension and depth to the performance.”

— “A Concert Project for the Climate.”, Artists for the Environment (Sweden). 2012. (Swedish) or (English)


Acqua Alta

Why come to Venice? The young woman asks.
I answer in lines  –  their time may have passed.

As a child, half a world away
I floated in a black canoe, it sank in high water.

The lagoon swells at monsoon time and floods the Ghetto.
All the pepper of Muziris cannot buy their freedom or mine,

And painted pottery exchanged for monkeys
Or chattering peacocks cannot distill sorrow.

A fish with rainbow fins is swimming in a fountain,
It has swallowed  the ring of remembrance.

This Kalidasa knew,
Dreaming of a high room by the Accademia bridge

That holds Sakuntala, still sleeping.
A bird, with feathers the color of jasmine

Has made its nest in the timbers of that bridge.
There I see a man, face painted white

A yellow star pinned to his chest,
Staring into water.

He too is  part of this earthly theatre.
No one must see him weeping.

(From Meena Alexander. Quickly Changing River, 2008)


Alexander Poem Set to Music and Recorded (from CUNY Newswire)

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.”

— “Alexander Poem Set to Music and Recorded.” CUNY Newswire, City University of New York. 20 Feb 2013.

Acqua Alta: Jan Sandström and Meena Alexander | 2013 | Collaborations, Works & Collaborations
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