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February 2008 Archives

February 7, 2008

What Becomes You--Who Is That Masked Man?

When a masked Aaron Raz Link emerged from a black door upstage swaddled in a white drape over white pants, the Dresser seated in the front row of the black box theater at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on February 5, 2008, knew she could not pull out her writing implements and take notes. What Becomes You, the multimedia performance piece conveyed through the techniques of physical theater was advertised in the Center's Take Five, a new interactive and informal, free-to-the-public series, as an exploration of the masks we wear, the roles we play, and how we know what's real. Sex, gender, treachery, and puppets were the components of this one-man show about the performer's transition from female to male.

WHAT WAS UNDER THE MASK?

Most likely the Dresser now has your attention, but suspects the subject matter has not fully penetrated so she will go back to the entrance of the performer to talk about his mask. Made most likely of plaster of Paris, the white mask covered the performer's skull and had openings for the eyes. It exposed his lips and bearded face so that we in the audience knew this character to be a man in actuality if his mask was fully removed.

Stepping back, before the Dresser and other audience members entered the black box, the question arose (at least in the Dresser's mind) as to what exactly did she and everyone else expect? A freak show, perhaps?

The costume and mask Raz Link chose addressed this anticipation fully and immediately. He looked like an alien with his gleaming white plaster of Paris skull and something about the voluminous drape made him looked deformed. The shock of the costume was followed by Raz Link breaching the fourth wall--he walked off his staging area right into the audience and mirrored the anxiety some of us were feeling because we were sitting exposed in front row or aisle seats. Our exposure became his exposure.

After all, how does one talk about a radical surgery and treatment that changes your sexual parts from female to male? Well, how about head on and making no bones about it? Once he got help from an audience member who accompanied him back to the stage, he began to reveal himself. When he took off the drape, the Dresser's jaw hit her lap. He had uncovered a set of oversized breasts. The Dresser could not remind herself that this performer was a graduate of the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre and therefore a bona fide clown. AaronRazLink.jpgAnd yes, the breasts were balloons held in a body stocking he was wearing but no, the Dresser was trapped in the potent image of feminine sexuality.

THE BOOK AS AUTHORITY

OK, the Dresser asks you to back up once again to another view of the performer entering the stage. This time she wants you to see that he is carrying something that turns out to be a book with a reading light attached to it. What is this book? On the stage it is a symbol of his authority--it gives him the text for this performance and expresses his mastery of knowledge over an extremely difficult subject. He in fact is the author, actually the co-author with his feminist scholar mother Hilda Raz of this book that bears the title What Becomes You.RazLink.jpg

Continue reading "What Becomes You--Who Is That Masked Man?" »

February 8, 2008

Shintoku-Maru--The Modern Meeting the Medieval

As the Japanese musical drama Shintoku-Maru opens, four welders on a catwalk create a fireworks shower of sparks, while below, a world of odd characters (midgets, clowns, a bride with a parasol, etc.), reminiscent of those seen in Commedia dell'arte or in the late Edo period's depiction of misemono (sideshow freaks and acrobats), parade haphazardously like modern traffic in a large urban center but located in a third world country.
XIJFB_ShintokuMaru_138.jpg
The noise of the welding is penetrated by the sonorous sound of a train whistle. The closing scene of Shintoku-Maru repeats this contradiction of the modern meeting the medieval, except the soothing sound of the train has been replaced by the roar of jet engines. In this way, internationally known director Ukio Ninagawa shows the passage of time in poet-dramatist Shuji Terayama's Shintoku-Maru, which has been adapted by Terayama's acolyte Rio Kishida.

SPECTACLE WITHOUT SURTITLES

Because the Dresser could not discover the date of the world premiere of Terayama's originally conceived drama, which aired without music, she can only say with certainty that Terayama worked in the avant-garde movement of the 1960s and '70s and this drama was part of the timeframe. However, Terayama based Shintoku-Maru on an ancient Noh story. Director Ninagawa, known for being one of the great image-makers of modern theatre, has infused some the stylized movements of Noh in this coming-of-age, Oedipal story. The United States premiere of Shintoku-Maru at the Kennedy February 7, 2008, aired in Japanese without English surtitles, which the Dresser did not find problematic since spectacle is all-important in this work. However, that is not to say that one should gloss over the story. The production opens with a recorded reading in English by Alan Rickman of the page-long synopsis appearing in the accompanying playbill. The recording by Rickman was made in 1997 during the Ninagawa production of Shintoku-Maru at the Barbican Theatre in London.

The story is complicated and essentially involves Shintoku-Maru, a teenage boy (played by the popular Japanese actor Tatsuya Fujiwara) who has lost his mother. His father decides to reconstitute the family and he does this by buying an actor from a theater company down on its luck. Hoping for a better life, Nadeshiko (played by Kayoko Shiraishi) enters the family with her much younger son. Immediately, Shintoku is attracted to Nadeshiko but his behavior is angry agitation linked with continuing grief over the loss of his mother.
XIJFB_ShintokuMaru_138c.jpg
The interactions between Shintoku and Nadeshiko devolve and result in surreal scenes involving black magic, Shintoku making a nightmare trip to the underworld, and Nadeshiko invoking a curse on her stepson that blinds him. Shintoku gets his revenge by disguising himself as Nadeshiko and savagely attacking his stepbrother. Despite physical violence, the end of the play sees Shintoku and Nadeshiko locked in a passionate embrace with Shintoku begging his stepmother to consummate the love he knows she feels for him because if she does this, he believes he will be reborn as her child.

SEEING THE CRATERS ON THE ALL-TOO-CLOSE MOON

In many way, Shintoku-Maru is like Robert Wilson's music-theater work I La Galigo: arresting images and pageantry, story of incest, folk tale origins, and a world larger than the reality of daily life. What is different about these two pieces of experimental theater is that Ninagawa's production of Shintoku-Maru for all its old world tradition and its throwback population of misemono is about the intrusion of the modern world. Similar to the music of I La Galigo, the music developed for Shintoku-Maru is inspired by traditional compositions (the Dresser thinks one could safely say folk melodies). The difference is that music of Shintoku-Maru sounds like something that would play in a 1960s bar in Saigon. (The Dresser is probably stepping out of bounds here because she has never been to Saigon, but what she means is that the music has the energy and phrasing of contemporary popular music that isn't particularly sophisticated and displays no influences of jazz, blues, or rock.)

Continue reading "Shintoku-Maru--The Modern Meeting the Medieval" »

February 16, 2008

Gertrude Stein Musical, Jasper Johns Art, In Bruges: the film

Because the Dresser is hopelessly behind with her enthusiastic pursuit of the arts, this review will be a trifecta that includes the revival of the Gertrude Stein musical In Circles by the late Al Carmines, the new exhibition of work by Jasper Johns at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the recently released film In Bruges.

BET #1--HURRY THIS WINDOW CLOSES SOON
IN CIRCLES, A STEINIAN MUSICAL

Normally the Dresser would give full attention to anything having to with Gertrude Stein and she will as the Steiny Road Poet in her March column of The Steiny Road to Operadom here in Scene Magazine, but In Circles, in a new production by Director John Sowle, will close February 22, 2008, and the show deserves attention immediately so you, Dear Reader, will know what an exciting and historic opportunity this show presents.

Playing at New York City's Judson Memorial Church, In Circles is a kitchen-sink musical offering everything from klezmer to ballroom tunes. Zany and joyful, the Kaliyuga Arts show runs about 90 minutes without intermission. If you have been curious about the work of Gertrude Stein, this would be the show to see because Sowle's interpretation threads discernable stories and puts Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas into the spotlight.FlowersThumb.jpg
Paul Lincoln as Ollie, Robin Manning as Mabel, Noelle McGrath as Mildred. Photo by John Sowle

Based on Stein's A Circular Play: A Play in Circles, which she wrote in 1920, In Circles is a nearly word-for-word rendering of Stein's play that has no character assignments or stage directions. Although they do not follow a linear narrative, the play and musical offer cubist cuts of human dramas about loss (a young man is killed in a war), an adoption of a child, several love stories, and the dailyness of everyday, including eating, arguing, chopping wood, and even blowing one's nose. The human drama is sadly touching, comically endearing, and made intimate from the moment the players enter the staging arena and begin greeting the audience. Also expect controversial moments involving race (Anthony Wills Jr. as Dole, a character dressed in tails and acting as an interlocutor, fends off fingers pointing out he is a "Negro," but Stein layers on prejudice against others such as Indians, Jews, Catholics, Africans, Easterners. Within the comic and jubilant stuff of life, Stein also captures what hurts human beings.

There is a cast of ten players some of whom are also part of the musical ensemble. Whimsies2.jpgLeft to right, Anthony Wills, Jr., Robin Manning, Steven Patterson, Maureen Taylor, Meghan Hales, Paul Boesing, Sarah Ferro, Michael Lazar, Noelle McGrath, Paul Lincoln. Photo by John Sowle

Paul Boesing as William, the piano-player, occasionally abandons his keyboard to give direction to the other players. Boesing is the also the musical's music director, taking the on- and offstage roles Al Carmines assigned to himself in the original production that was also at this Greenwich Village church.

Including the piano position, the staging for Sowle's production was nearly theater in the round. Black screens standing behind the audience chairs helped define the theater inside the church's main sanctuary and to contain the sound inside the staging area. For the most part, the words delivered by the players are understandable, especially when one takes into account that words and phrases are often repeated, as is characteristic of Stein's style.

Every member of the cast is memorably distinct and does a good job. The Dresser's favorite performers are Sarah Ferro as Jessie, Meghan Hales as Sylvia, Paul Lincoln at Ollie, Robin Manning as Mabel (but she acts like and dresses like Alice B. Toklas), Noelle McGrath as Mildred (but she acts like and dresses like Gertrude Stein). Ferro as Jessie is the vamp and performs her jazzy and bluesy numbers with verve and personality. Hales, as the wide-eyed ingénue Sylvia, is one of the young lovers who with Michael Lazar as Brother remind the Dresser of Emily Webb and George Gibbs, the two high school sweethearts of Thornton Wilder's 1938 play Our Town. Lincoln as Ollie plays a wide range of instruments including banjo, cello, and accordion. Manning as Mildred/Alice plays the most complicated character in the show and does it exceedingly well because she knows how to be comic (she opens the show by cueing the number "Papa dozes mamma blows her noses." What is the cue? She blows her nose very loudly!) and she knows how to be straight-laced and formal. McGrath, who has been in this show before when Sowle first mounted a Los Angeles production in 1986, brings a confidence that transfers as warmth and intimacy. The Dresser does not see McGrath as the flesh-and-blood Gertrude Stein, but a caricature that works well for this character named Mildred.

If the Dresser has one criticism, it is only this, Sowle has let his choreographer Jack Dyville have a little too much fun. Dance numbers include such forms as tango, waltz, cancan, Charleston, cakewalk, Black Bottom, soft-shoe, folkish circle dancing with grapevine steps and so forth. The Dresser is sure Stein's text invited this celebratory movement since the play is a tea party or a birthday party or a Fourth of July celebration, but the audience needs a little more time to breathe before the next dance number erupts.

Also know that the audience showing up will most likely contain Stein aficionados. On opening night, the Dresser came with her dramaturg friend Maxine Kern who worked in the theater of Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum Museum where Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson's opera Four Saints in Three Acts premiered and was involved in other Stein-related productions at the Wadsworth in the 1990s. San Francisco-based Stein and Toklas memorabilia collector Hans Gallas was the first person to greet the Dresser as she entered the theater to find seats. Just as the action started on stage, Ted Sod, book writer of 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris (opening in a newly revised production by Urban Stages in March 2008) took a seat. So the energy created by the music, the players, and the audience is invigorating and besides the house manager might give you a brownie.

I close this window with some excerpts from the end of Stein's original text and In Circles.

A circlet of kisses.
Can you kiss to see.
Some see.
Can you kiss me.
I see.
Can you hear of kissing me.
Yes I see where you can be.
Do I sound like Alice.
Any voice is resembling.
...
Circles are candy.
Irregular circles.
Can you think with me.
I can hear Alice.
So can a great many people.
In Terra Cotta Town.
I named roses wild flowers.

BET #2--WATCH WHICH WINDOW YOU CHOOSE
JASPER JOHNS: GRAY

The Dresser thinks if you like the nuance of black and white, you will also like "Jasper Johns: Gray," an exhibition running from February 5 to May 4, 2008, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So if you can't get to New York in time for In Circles, you have a longer win-dough of opportunity (come on, you know trifectas involve racing, gambling, and bets) to see something out of the ordinary.

To the Dresser's mind, Johns offers something Steinian. He's got repetition like his well-known sequence on flags, but there's also the way some of his paintings, like Stein's signature phrase "rose is a rose is a rose," spawn slightly different iterations.
Have a look at "False Start" Johns_04.L.jpg
and "Jubilee." Johns_05.L.jpg
Here Johns censors color in favor of calling it "False Start" versus the grayness of "Jubilee." Like Stein, Johns can be seen either as a contrarian or an artist with a rarefied sense of humor. Don't miss his encaustic "Painting Bitten by a Man" or his metal sculpture "The Critic Sees," where inside the lenses of the critic's glasses, there are mouths showing teeth.

The Dresser and her artist friend Janice Olson scratched their heads over the many encaustic paintings in this exhibition. It seems that Jasper Johns is known for employing this ancient technique that involves heating beeswax to a liquid stage and then applying it usually to wood. Also Johns has the reputation of being one of the ten most expensive living artists. His painting "Gray Numbers" was sold by one collector to another for $40 million.

Continue reading "Gertrude Stein Musical, Jasper Johns Art, In Bruges: the film" »

February 19, 2008

The Theater of the Kronos Quartet and Wu Man

The pleasure of seeing and hearing the Kronos Quartet perform with Wu Man on February 17, 2008, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park, Maryland, was equal in the Dresser's collection of exquisite experiences to a meal she once was served in Kyoto, Japan.
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L to R: Kronos Quartet members David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt and Jeffrey Zeigler perform with Wu Man, pipa (behind scrim)
Photo by Luis Delgado

The Kronos menu was Terry Riley's The Cusp of Magic and Tan Dun's Ghost Opera. Like the Japanese meal that not only was artistically presented and had a story to go with its culinary arrangement on the plate but was also delicious, the musical presentation was not only exciting for its aural textures and uplifting energy but also for its surprising theatricality. What the Dresser means is that she anticipated hearing an outstanding concert from the Kronos Quartet, but what she did not expect was how visually artful this particular concert would be.

RILEY'S MAGIC

The evening began with The Cusp of Magic. The title refers to the summer solstice. This work was written and commissioned for the Kronos Quartet and Wu Man on the Chinese instrument known as the pipa as part of a national series of works from Meet the Composer Commissioning Music/USA made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts, The Helen F. Whitaker Fund, and the Target Foundation. Premiering in 2005, the work has six movements with an intriguing combination of titles: "The Cusp of Magic," "Buddha's Bedroom," "The Nursery," "Royal Wedding," "Emily and Alice," and "Prayer Circle."

The Dresser thinks a profile of the composer might help in understanding the mix of titles and the use of the pipa. Riley.JPGPhoto by Stuart Brinin

In 1964, Terry Riley presented his groundbreaking In C, a tonal composition employing repetition and static harmonies. Along with Steve Reich and Philip Glass, Riley has been classified as a minimalist, a term which these composers abjure. Influenced by the long buzzing and droning music of La Monte Young, considered by some to be the first minimalist, Riley distinguished his music by its complex rhythmic patterns. After he aired In C, he quit producing formal compositions in favor of improvisation and the study of North Indian vocal techniques. Study of Indian music led to his interest in instruments that allowed subtle tuning. In 1979 when he and David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet were on the faculty of Mills College in Oakland, California, Riley resumed notating music. His collaborations with Kronos helped him realize that he could incorporate his love of Indian music and jazz with the music of traditional classical instruments. Program notes quote Riley as follows:

My compositions for Kronos are the most important of my notated works, each one staking out a different mood and musical structure and setting up new challenges for composer and performer. In this work, the different timbre and resonance of the Chinese pipa and the Western string ensemble highlight the crossover regions of cultural reference, so that Western musical themes might be projected with Eastern accent and vice-versa. My plan was to make these regions seamless so that the listener is carried between worlds without an awareness of how he/she ends up there.
THE TOYS OF MAGIC

While The Cusp of Magic begins with attention focused on complex drumming patterns (Movement 1 "The Cusp of Magic"), the majority of the work shifts the focus to the pipa (a lute like instrument), the human voice (some live, some recorded), and a succession of exotic and familiar sounds emanating from wooden prayers beads, a harmonica, different kinds of noisemakers, sleigh bells, a music box, the voice of a toy doll. Lead violinist David Harrington alternates playing his violin with such instruments as a bass drum, hand-held drums, a toy violin, harmonica, woodblocks. Underneath this mesmerizing blend of sounds continues intricate rhythmic progressions. When the piece ended, the Dresser felt like she had been in the nursery of precocious children and at Buddhist temple praying.

WHY GHOST OPERA IS OPERA

Ghost Opera, commissioned for the Kronos Quartet and Wu Man by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, National Endowment for the Arts and Hancher Auditorium/University of Iowa, was initially what drew the Dresser to this concert. wuman_rightcol.jpgShe had bought the CD when she attended a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert featuring Tan's The Map of Asia. The CD is sensually interesting to hear, but seeing the Kronos Quartet and Wu Man perform the piece made the Dresser realize how much a listener of the CD misses. Also while The Cusp of Magic has its table of toys and curious instruments as well as the balletic strumming of the pipa by Wu Man, Ghost Opera involves the players moving on and off stage; creating sounds that involve water, paper, stones, and metal; vocalizations from every member of the ensemble; and employing screens and lighting to create shadows.

If this five-movement work that premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1995 seems like a chamber opera and not a chamber music composition, a look at the program notes confirms that notion. Tan's inspiration for this work was shamanistic "ghost operas" of the Chinese peasant culture. In these folk operas that go back 4,000 years, people and spirits of the future, past and nature communicate with each other. Formally in the program, Tan lays out this opera as follows.

Timeframe and cast:

Now--string quartet and pipa
Past--Bach, folksong, monks, Shakespeare
Forever--water, stones, metal, paper

Next, Tan offers a mandala that summarizes diagrammatically the relationships between the string quartet and pipa (located in a centered box inside the circle), the voices of the past (assigned to four equal quadrants of the circle) and the natural, eternal elements (water, paper, stones, metal rim the exterior of the circle in north, east, south, and west positions respectively).

Continue reading "The Theater of the Kronos Quartet and Wu Man" »

February 24, 2008

Presenting Ned Rorem's Evidence

Ned Rorem told the Dresser when she interviewed him in 2005 that Evidence of Things Not Seen is his magnum opus. Quite frankly, the Dresser never anticipated hearing a live performance of this art song cycle which includes the musical setting of 36 texts (mostly poems) by 24 different writers, one born as early as 1637 (Thomas Ken) and another as late as 1953 (Mark Doty). Commissioned "by the New York Festival of Song and the Leonore and Ira Gershwin Trust for the benefit of the Library of Congress," the work for a quartet of singers (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone) with piano premiered at Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall in January 1998, followed by a performance in April that year at the Library of Congress. Much to the Dresser's surprise and without significant publicity, a group calling themselves Words & Music mounted a performance of this challenging evening-length work on February 22, 2008, at The Lyceum in Alexandria, Virginia.
Group.jpgCoincidently the timing of the presentation could not have been better for the Dresser, who, on February 28, will hear and see a full production of Our Town, Rorem's opera with poet-librettist J. D. McClatchy. So when a composer friend pointed out this concert, the Dresser was eager to attend.

QUAKER ROOTS

Evidence of Things Not Seen is divided into three sections--Beginnings, Middles, and Ends. Theodore Roethke's "From Whence Cometh Song" opens the work and William Penn's "Evidence of Things Not Seen" closes this impressionistic offering of the Great Chain of Being from life and love to faith and death, where death is not necessarily a finality. Given that Rorem, a lapsed Quaker, has written that he believes in poetry and not God, it is interesting to see that Rorem highlights a prose text by William Penn, the Quaker who paved the way for the creation of the United States with The Frame of Government of Pennsylvania, a constitution first drafted in 1682 that advocated religious tolerance for the province of Pennsylvania.

Here is the section of Penn's essay from which Rorem derives the song cycle's title:

EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN

... Faith lights us, even through the grave, being the
Evidence of Things not seen. And this is the Comfort
of the Good, that the Grave cannot hold them, and that
they live as soon as they die. For Death is no more than
the Turning of us over from Time to Eternity. Death then,
being the Way and Condition of Life, we cannot love
to live, if we cannot bear to die ...

ROREM'S EQUAL MASTERY OF WORDS AND MUSIC

What is clear, from the selection of poems is that Rorem has a great understanding of literature and the written word in equal proportion to his ability to set words to music. Poets that Rorem drew from include literary greats such as W. H. Auden (5 poems), Charles Baudelaire, Hart Crane (2 poems), Robert Frost, A. E. Housman, Langston Hughes, Theodore Roethke, Walt Whitman (2 poems), Oscar Wilde, and William Yeats. Lesser read poets (some hardly known by people who read poetry today) include Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Mark Doty, Paul Goodman (4 poems), Thomas Ken, Jane Kenyon, Rudyard Kipling, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and William Wordsworth. Prose selections come from Colette, Julien Green, Paul Monette, and William Penn (2), and John Woolman. How Rorem makes Elizabeth Barrett Browning's emotionally gushing poem "How Do I love Thee?" with all its over emphasized capitalized words like Being, Grace, Right, Praise fit with Auden's down-to-Earth "The More Loving One" persuades the Dresser that Rorem understands how literature of disparate styles and periods can not only co-exist but create a larger meaning.

HOW DO I LOVE THEE? (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and the Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,--I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.


THE MORE LOVING ONE
(W. H. Auden)

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime
Though this might take me a little time.

Copyright © 1958 W. H. Auden



Continue reading "Presenting Ned Rorem's Evidence" »

February 25, 2008

Scholarship Girl in Liverpool

What is a poet if not a recorder of sounds human beings make in their efforts to communicate? The Dresser has been ruminating on Lesley Wheeler's nine poem chapbook Scholarship Girl from Finishing Line Press out of Georgetown, Kentucky. This collection of poems examines and reflects on her mother's life circa World War II in Liverpool, England.
ScholarshipGirlSM.jpg

INTO THE LAND OF LIVERPUDLIANS

The story begins as the poet in the presence of her mother tries to make sense of where her maternal parent came from and how that legacy informs the poet's life. In the following excerpts from the opening poem of the book, the poet notes the communication differences and struggles with something that is lost between the mother and daughter. Has the mother lost her mind? Has the mother died? The Dresser is not sure.

REMEMBERING MY MOTHER'S CHILDHOOD

When she says stove she means fireplace,
a great soot-blackened maw. When I say
Liverpool I mean an unreal city, purified
of reeking detail like a fairy tale

...................... ... handed down. A girl
might safely climb into the leaping
flames, they are so rinsed and mythical...

.................................. ...I cannot
even place the telling--whether
in a kitchen...daughter and mother

crying over onions...
...My memories of her memories
are too reduced. I can only give them
to the fire, piece by broken piece.

...Here is the scuff, bang of stout shoes...

........................................Someone's tenor
cry, the smell of wool that never dries.
I invent this blitzed, hungry, smoke-thin world
because it invented me, and lies

are my birthright. Some history may
be true. Even mine. She was born.
The sun was warm, and the life it made
is remembered by the coal as it burns.

A BIRTHRIGHT OF LIES

"Poem Without a Landscape," the second poem of Scholarship Girl establishes that the poet is traveling to discover her connection to this world. The journey proceeds from Virginia to New Jersey to Liverpool without settling. By the last stanza of the poem, questions arise about who is the poet's father and echoes back the line in the first poem "lies /are my birthright."

from POEM WITHOUT A LANDSCAPE
...
My fathers are sailors--the fathers on paper.
Who knows what other men swam those private beaches
while the women waited one year, maybe two?
My mother sailed, too. The land is not my mother.
It minds its own business, and welcome to it.
You can see the hiss brooding on their own blues.
I'll be my green world--it can seethe inside me.

Here the Dresser pauses to reflect on the assertion "The land is not my mother." The Dresser having had issues with her own mother has come to believe that we each choose into the life we have and that our parents, whoever they are, remain incidental to our existence. In "Poem Without a Landscape," the poet states that her mother's natal Liverpool doesn't recognize her and it speaks Scouse, an accent particular to Liverpudlians who also eat a cheap, boiled meat stew that is called scouse. What the Dresser particularly admires in this poem is how the poet, while acknowledging a brooding blues from her journey of discovery, sets aside the physical world to take charge of herself "I'll be my green world." Wheeler ably handles complex metaphors in an understated way. The Dresser thinks, however, that the chapbook could have benefited from a short set of notes that defined some of the unfamiliar words associated with Liverpool.

Continue reading "Scholarship Girl in Liverpool" »

About February 2008

This page contains all entries posted to The Dressing in February 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2008 is the previous archive.

March 2008 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.