Scene4 Magazine: Life Among The Heffalumps
Scene4 Magazine-inSight

December 2010

10 Things to Do Before You Die or During the Holidays

It's that time again.  Angels get their wings, sugar plum fairies dance, and you slink under the table when Uncle Ned starts to tell yet another politically incorrect joke about the.....

I won't go there.  Heffalumps likes to stay on the good side of the angels.  Except to say that along with many of my nearest and dearest, I love the holidays, but can't wait for them to be over.  Often a holiday gathering is a cherished love feast; frequently it's an interminable death wish.  

But be of good cheer!  Heffalumps is here!  Below are 10 things to do (sad, funny, retro and new) to survive and even thrive during the long, dark abyss of the Yuletide Season.  Warning: If you follow our recommendations you may find yourself consoled, entertained, enthralled, moved or even convulsed with pleasure.

Spoiler alert: If you believe humor is poisonous to poetry, forbid tragedy and comedy to mingle, look down your nose at cartoons, or scoff at TV, Stop reading now, rend your garments and peruse the tax code.

Holiday To Do List:


1. Full Moon on K Street: Poems about Washington, DC: edited by Kim Roberts (Plan B Press)

Do you think we DCers are only policy wonks or do you picture the District of Columbia as a sea of bureaucrats?  If you're nodding yes, (how to put this delicately?) you're wrong. 

Full Moon on K Street, an engaging collection of poetry superbly edited by Roberts, demonstrates what we who live there know: The Washington, D.C. area is swarming with poets.

Full Moon on K Street, whose title comes from a poem written by Scene4 movie critic Miles David Moore, features poets ranging from May Miller (who lived from 1899 to 1995) to Abdul Ali, who was born in 1984.

Some of the volume's many striking poems include Against the Wall by Scene4 columnist and senior writer Karren LaLonde Alenier, Mrs. Wei on Governments by the late Hilary Tham, Banners by Richard McCann, The Fortune Cookie by Greg Shapiro, I'm in Love with the Morton Salt Girl by Richard Peabody, Mapping DC by Grace Cavalieri, Ode to the Black Nationalist Pharaoh Head of Georgia Avenue by Dan Vera, DC August Love Songs by Regie Cabico, Once, the Buffalo by Barbara Goldberg, Morning–Early Summer  by Merrill Leffler, Consider Poplar Point by Judith McCombs and Smoke Johnson Goes Down to the Recruiter's Office Near Benning Road and Starts Some Shit  by Kenneth Carroll.

"Can we visit a shop where I can talk/the price down?  I want to buy a victory./I need a good fight," Mrs. Wei tells her daughter in Mrs. Wei on Governments

In the year ahead, in the midst of a troubled economy, two wars and the aftermath of the mid-term elections, let's hope we can "talk the price down."  Full Moon on K Street will stoke us up for the "good fight."

2. Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg (City Lights Books)

I hadn't read "Howl" since college until I recently saw the film of the same name. "Howl," a superb genre-tweaking hybrid, perhaps, the best film ever made about a poet, inspired me to revisit Ginsberg's groundbreaking poem.  It's tempting to think "Howl," though revolutionary poetry in its time, is dated today.  Until you read about gay youth committing suicide, queers being beaten in hate crimes or remember that if you're queer you can't get married.  Then Ginsberg's lines "who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy...." seem as up-to-date as this morning's quart of milk.

Too often poetry, nowadays seems to exist only for M.F.A. programs.  Ginsberg reminds us that poetry isn't just for the literary elite.  "Allen Ginsberg busted poetry open for everyone to enjoy," Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive  told me for a piece I wrote for The Washington Blade.

Unlike so many of us poets, obsessed with winning prizes, getting published–the trappings of the Po Biz, Ginsberg used poetry to engage with the world. Ginsberg's poetry is still vital, Sarah Browning, director of Split This Rock, an organization that works to integrate poetry of witness into public life, told me for the commentary I wrote for the Blade.  "{His} poetry is still....important, asserting the erotic as resistance,....declaring the sanctity of lived experience in all its messy particulars," Browning, author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden, said.

Check out "Howl," the poem and the film.  Nothing is a better antidote to elitism, militarism or hypocrisy.

3. The Sonnets by William Shakespeare (Available in numerous print editions and on-line)

When in "disgrace with fortune," feeling "as an imperfect actor on the stage," in the midst of holiday grief and tangled tinsel–what better solace than the sonnets of W.S.? Though written in Elizabethan times, Shakespeare's wondrous sonnets are as timely (and ever so much lovelier) than the latest Facebook status updates.  Perfect for your Ipad or your Xmas stocking.

4. Boy with Flowers by Ely Shipley (Barrow Street Press)

This first book by 2007 Barrow Street Press Prize winner Shipley is an engaging collection of poems filled with arresting, dream-like images.  Shipley, who identifies himself as a "queer, feminist transman" writes of "an endless chain/of colored scarves/unfolding from the magician's sleeve" in the poem "Song."  Reading this volume, you'll be drawn into Shipley's magic art, as this talented poet movingly conjures words on dreams, reality and the unspeakable.

5. Slamming Open the Door by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno (Alice James Books)

As we know too well, the cliche "bad things happen to good people" is all too true. Many of us feel this the most keenly during the holidays.  Poetry as Auden famously said makes nothing happen.  It may do more than Auden's dictum allows, but even the poetry of the gods can't undo tragedy or take away grief.

This having been said, Slamming Open the Door , a wonderful poetry collection, will serve as a companion to readers who are grieving.  I don't mean this in any saccharine, "inspirational" way.  Bonanno, whose daughter, a nurse, was murdered, is a highly skilled poet whose poems are anything but "devotional" verse. 

Bonanno's work doesn't succumb to any of the dangers inherent in writing autobiographical poetry about tragedy.  There's no gooey sentimentality or stifling self-pity.  Slamming Open the Door  is an engrossing, touching, well-honed poetic narrative of a family's struggling with grief.  "People....file into your cartoon house/ until it bows at the seams/they give you every/blessed/thing,/everything,/except your daughter back," Bonanno writes in the poem "What People Give You."

"Don't say that you choked/on a chicken bone once..../and say/you bet that's how she felt," begins "What Not To Say," one of the most powerful poems in the volume.

If you're like me, when you've suffered, you've run up against the Comforters of Job (COJ).  The people who (to be helpful) command you to "look on the bright side" or tell you about their  problems. The next time you encounter a COJ, hand them a copy of Slamming Open the Door .

6. Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara (City Lights Books)

Frank O'Hara, who sadly died in his 40's in the 1960's, is one of the poetry gods. A brilliant poet and art critic, he wrote his sometimes witty, sometimes sad, engaging poems, while working as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art.  "The Day Lady Died," written after the death of Billie Holiday, is perhaps, the best elegy you'll ever hope to find.  You'd have to be made of dry bones not to be moved by its final lines, "and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of/leaning on the john door at the 5 SPOT/while she whispered a song along the keyboard/to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing."

His poem on reading a headline about Lana Turner collapsing is one of my favs. "I have been to lots of parties/and acted perfectly disgraceful/but I never actually collapsed," O'Hara joyfully writes.  I recommend reading this and the other splendid poems in this collection while recuperating from New Year's Eve indulgences.   

7. Finishing the Hat  by Stephen Sondheim (Knopf)

This, hands down, is one of the best coffee table books in ions.  If, like me, you adore Sondheim musicals, beg, whine, look cute–do whatever it takes–to get your loved ones–to give you this book this Xmas.  This volume does all that its subtitle Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes promises and more.  Sondheim ruthlessly and deliciously critiques the work of many a notable in musical theater, including his mentor and substitute father Oscar Hammerstein II.  Yet, he's even tougher on his own work.  If you hunger for the "pies" in Sweeney Todd and lust after "A Little Night Music," this is the book for you.

8. The New Yorker Book of Literary Cartoons edited by Bob Mankoff (Pocket Books)

 I don't even try to deny it any more.  I enjoy the articles in The New Yorker  but I'm addicted to its cartoons.  I cracked up leafing through this volume.  I loved reading the reminders on James Joyce's refrigerator. (His to-do list included "call bank," "Forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race," and "Call mom.") I chuckled as the suburban wife tells her husband, "You may well be from Mars, but the children and I are still from Westchester."  If you pine after cartoons and the life of the literatti, then The New Yorker Book of Literary Cartoons will provide the fix you need to get through the holidays.

9. This Is NPR: The First Forty Years by Cokie Roberts, Susan Stamberg, Noah Adams, John Yastie, Renee Montogne, Ari Shapiro, and David Folkenflik (Chronicle Books)

I began listening to NPR in utero.  I bet this is true for you.  This fascinating collection (a book and CD), celebrating NPR's 40th anniversary, features essays, commentaries and behind the scenes reporting of a who's who of NPR staff.  Want to drown out loopy Uncle Frankenstein and Aunt Medusa?  Dip into This Is NPR.


10. Heffalumps knows you won't want to spend all of the holidays reading.  Here are two DVDs to see when you need respite from Yuletide revels. (I'm cheating by giving you more than 10 things to do, but, hey, Heffalumps rules.)

Mad Men

If you haven't seen the AMC show which ended its fourth season this fall, I implore you to watch Mad Men, the best show on TV, broadcast or cable.  You'll quickly be drawn into this series about an advertising agency in the 1960's which features writing and acting worthy of the gods.  If you're lonely and blue over New Year's, curl up with Don Draper and the gang.  If that doesn't lift your spirits, nothing will.

Looney Tunes: The Essential Bugs Bunny

Who knows why cartoons, especially Looney Tunes, have such a hold on us?  My late partner Anne said once in her sleep, "I'm cold. I only saw five cartoons today!"

I knew exactly what she meant.  Life is way too cold without cartoons. The Essential Bugs Bunny, a new collection of 20 Looney Tunes classics, out on DVD and Blueray, is laugh-out-loud funny.  Bugs is the ultimate  survivor.  Follow his path of enlightenment and you'll survive all the Elmer Fudds you meet this Yuletide.  What's up doc?

Happy Holidays!


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©2010 Kathi Wolfe
©2010 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Kathi Wolfe is a writer, poet and a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
Her reviews and commentary have also appeared in an array of publications.

For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


Scene4 Magazine - Arts and Media

December 2010

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