September 16, 2018

Restoration Macbeth and the Clanking Cell Doors

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In our political climate, productions of Shakespeare's Macbeth can take on new currency. Macbeth is a story about distorted information, unbridled ambition, and what happens to a leader who gained his office illegally.

MACBETH IN BEDLAM

The Dresser has seen unusual interpretations of Macbeth--500 Clown Macbeth (2008), Synetic Theater's wordless Macbeth (2011) and the music theater/opera The Mortal Thoughts of Lady Macbeth (20050. However, no other production until the 2018 Davenant's restoration of Macbeth as the product of current day work by Shakespeare scholars and performing artists and as re-imagined by stage director Robert Richmond and the Folger Consort music director Robert Eisenstein can match the impact of what has been achieved. Richmond re-conceived the setting of Macbeth as a play within a play such that inmates of the British insane asylum Bedlam, in 1666 (two weeks after the Great Fire of London), have been put on stage outside their locked cells to perform Macbeth as a fundraiser for the damaged hospital.

If Crazytown (as described in Bob Woodward's new book Fear: Trump in the White House) has a model--the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, which has been involved in years of research with international funding (a $250,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the United Kingdom and Queen's University Belfast), is unknowingly providing it in the Restoration-era adaptation of Macbeth.

On September 14, 2018, the Dresser partook of Macbeth and sat on the edge of her seat for the entire performance, which runs just under three hours including one 15-minute intermission. There was no slack moment. The actions of the Bedlam warden who pounds his staff on the floor and opens creaky cell doors and then slams them shut as he pulls out the next inmate who has lines to deliver, penetrate deeply into viewer consciousness. Also, some of the soundscape produced by the Folger Consort--dissonant noise--adds to the scariness of these strange actors. Louis Butelli effectively plays the warden and Duncan, the king Macbeth murders.

SIDE-BY-SIDE SCRIPTS

Most handily, the Folger Library website, which sponsors both the Folger Theatre and the Folger Consort, provides side-by-side scripts of the familiar Macbeth play and its restoration offshoot. Without seeing the scripts, anyone familiar with Shakespeare's Macbeth will notice that the roles for the three witches has been expanded and some of it set to wonderful baroque music. Those more intimately familiar with the original script will notice extra scenes for Macduff and his wife and for Macbeth and his wife as well as some omissions and jarring changes in the text.

Take a look at the Restoration text versus the original text.

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Restoration text:

To Morrow, and to Morrow, and to Morrow,
Creeps in a stealing pace from Day to Day,
To the last Minute of Recorded Time;
And all our Yesterdays have lighted Fools
To their Eternal [night]. Out, out, [short] Candle!
Life's but a Walking Shaddow, a poor Player,
That Struts and Frets his Hour upon the Stage,
And then is Heard no more. It is a Tale
Told by an Ideot, full of Sound and Fury,
Signifying Nothing.

Original text:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Shakespeare's original text is the more poetic work but this production as it is framed by the Bedlam inmates seems to allow for choppier and less poetic language.

MAKING MACBETH A FAMILY AFFAIR

Both Ian Merrill Peakes as Macbeth and Kate Eastwood Norris as Lady Macbeth are convincing in their crazy scenes. One delicious aside is Ian Merrill Peakes is joined in this production by his wife Karen Peakes as Lady Macduff and his ten-year-old son Owen Peakes as Fleance (son of Banquo). Owen is memorable in his scene with the witches as a large-winged bird.

MUSICAL MACBETH

Since there was no complete musical score for the Restoration Macbeth, Eisenstein used music from a variety of composers. Music from John Eccles, who had provided music for later Restoration productions of Macbeth, is used for the witches. Other music comes from Matthew Locke and Henry Purcell as well as from 17th century English and Scottish country dances, some of which includes the bagpipe. The music worked organically with the flow of the play.

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The witches, known as the Weird Sister, are played by Emily Noël, Rachael Montgomery, and Ethan Watermeier. Watermeier looks like a man in drag and adds to the trio being called the Weird Sisters. Making one of the Weird sister a man was also a good musical decision and gives their musical performances more depth. Noël has an engaging solo singing number, which she delivers with feeling and acumen (after all she is also one of the crazy Bedlamites only play acting the part of a witch).

The Folger Shakespeare Library's theater is a replica of an Elizabethan theater--it is small and intimate. Folger Theatre (company) always does interesting stage sets. For the Restoration Macbeth, the six musicians of the musical ensemble sat on the balcony above the stage. Scene changes were aided by the players pulling an opaque scrim across the stage. For variety, Richmond used quite a lot of shadow puppetry, especially for violent scenes.Banquo-Murder.jpg
















This production of Macbeth is a timely work come to stage in Crazytown, USA.

Photo Credit: Brittany Diliberto

August 19, 2018

On the Road of Greek Theater

The Dresser tried to talk her sister Lisa into going to Greece. Come on, Sistah, this is going to be a family affair, but Lisa said she didn't have a passport and the trip would cost too much. When the Dresser returned from Greece at the end of July, she couldn't stop reading about things Greek and one of her San Francisco friends, knowing her taste in literature, sent her The Road to Epidauros by Jeanne Fuchs. And there she was--Jeanne Fuchs, her sister in travel.

The-Road-to-Epidauros.jpgThe Road to Epidauros is first a travel diary that chronicles July 10 to 31, 1990, as an exceptional three-week trip to Greece. The Greek director Andreas Voutsinas invited Jeanne Fuchs to witness the lead up and premiere of his production of Medea which would culminate in Epidauros where the best-preserved theater of the ancient world still operates.

The work is also observations of an astute veteran of theater and the artistic world, a how-to navigate Greek life, an exuberant Greek culinary tour, and various psychological profiles.

Since the Dresser spent time visiting ancient classical theaters at the Acropolis and Delphi, her curiosity was piqued about Epidauros. Epidauros is less than 40 minutes from Athens. During the summer months from June 1 through August 18, an annual arts program called the Athens & Epidaurus Festival runs. Epidaurus, featuring its exemplary acoustics, is where the classicist Sophocles premiered.

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On the one hand, Fuchs offers her up-close and personal stories of famous people like Jane Fonda and Melina Mercouri. Fonda, who was being coached by Voutsinas, appeared in a mink coat in her apartment house where people including Fuchs were waiting to go to Fonda's audition to become a member of Actors Studio. Her scene was from Butterfield 8 where Gloria (the character made famous by Elizabeth Taylor) wore only a slip and a mink coat. Fonda and Fuchs shared a moment where they giggled over the approving reactions of the male elevator operator and the doorman--the men thought she should always dress like this--and then Fonda hits up Fuchs for a loan of $10 so she can pay for cab fare to the Studio. Fuchs reports that Mercouri, who once played Medea at Epidauros, made her way to the dressing room of the young woman named Lydia who Voutsinas selected to be his Medea. (Fuchs doesn't always provide last names, which probably means she couldn't get permission to do so.) Mercouri hugs and kisses Lydia saying she was the best Medea she had ever seen. Here Fuchs says that from a distance, "[Mercouri] looks as I remembered her from the movies: flawless bone structure and flashing eyes" but "up close, Mercouri looks old and gaunt. She has big teeth that dominate her face and her skin seemed sallow."

On the other hand, Fuchs is a master of the everyday details that has the reader climbing into bed with her as she reads Lawrence Durrell. Fuchs is funny, saying she went to bed with Durrell. (Meanwhile, the Dresser was going to bed with Lawrence's brother Gerald, reading his laugh-outloud memoire My Family and Other Animals.) Fuchs had already explained how she and Voutsinas, a bisexual, were never lovers and she also detailed how she fended off various Greek men during this trip. The world of love and attraction is more varied in Greece. As Fuchs noted about a young woman who gives Fuchs her address. Fuchs wondered if the woman was a lesbian and comments, "...but maybe everyone is. It's Greece." On the 2018 night of the total eclipse of the Blood Moon when the moon turned red, could be seen by even the Dresser's weak naked eye in contrast to Mars--the red planet, she was standing in the road near the port of Amorgos when a woman came at her on a scooter. She was clearly flirting. "Oh," the Dresser said a little worried the woman would run over her, "I'm waiting for my friends." She was but only to send them off to a concert up in the hills. Was the flirting just a bit of natural "lunacy" or just an everyday scanning of new possibilities? As Fuchs wrote, It's Greece. No need to overthink this kind of interaction.

What the Dresser particularly appreciated is how Fuchs dropped in details about Greek life that were mysteries to a first-time visitor to Greece. For example, every night she seemed to eat dinner at an extremely late hour. This happens because everyone disappears in the afternoon for a long nap during the searing heat of the day, not to mention theater people always eat late because who can eat before performing? Because the Dresser was traveling with her friend Catherine, a Greek-American whose family members in Greece asked her to bring a huge quantity of the antacid Tums, Fuchs' aside: "It'll be a minor miracle if I don't die of indigestion before I leave" was all the more sadly comic. The Dresser had one of those moments at a church panegyri in the hills of Amorgos where everyone was served a late-night bowl of stew made with goat and potatoes. For this meal that should only be eaten on the coldest day of winter, the Dresser had to order up what she calls a drink of Drano--a can of Coca Cola.

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Before Voutsinas' Medea is mounted on the stage of Epidauros, the company worked on the production in the northern city of Thessaloniki. Early in Fuchs' diary, she described this after-rehearsal, midnight dinner: "squash pancakes with skordalia (a garlic and potato spread), lamb kebabs, keftedes (Greek meatballs--maybe made with mint or ouzo, recipes vary), Greek salad (usually tomato, cucumber, purple onion, feta, olives), and white wine. Fuchs is into reporting what she put into her mouth, including how on the Lufthansa plane she was served a bottle of Rosebacher, "Urqelle Stilles Mineralwasser." The Dresser, 28 years later, was also given Rosebacher and documented that by taking a photo of it. The Dresser thought It's unusual because it contains a significant amount of calcium.

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Euripides play Medea is a painful play about family relations. Medea's husband Jason tells her he is leaving the marriage for another woman. So, Medea murders Jason's new wife and worse she kills the children she had with Jason. One of the quiet dramas in The Road to Epidauros is Andreas Voutsinas' inability to love and appreciate his son Marios because Voutsinas had such disdain for his former wife, Marios' mother. However, Fuchs' multidimensional story has an August 2010 Postscript in which some of the people who had been involved in the Medea production get together to spread Voutsinas' remains in the theater, this action being the last wish of his. Voutsinas' son Marios, who now looks very much like his father--gray beard too, attends and tells Fuchs that before his father's death, they had reconciled. It's a moving end note to the slights the father had exacted on the son.marios-voutsinas.jpg

Alexandra Kostoulas' poem "Home. Not Home" puts a concise cap on The Road to Epidauros by Jeanne Fuchs. The home, made by the mythologists (mirologoi) in our time (as noted by mention of the iPad), is complete with a special Greek desert wine (mavrodaphne) and chocolates while the living honor the dead and speak of their lives to come. Life is always about family rooted in the ancestral village, now abandoned by the poet who lives in America. As the Dresser told her sister Lisa, the trip would be about family, the Greek families that took her into their hearts as she did the same. Night one in 2018, the Dresser met nine family members of Catherine's for a large seafood feast at Port Rafina. Four nights later, the Dresser saw the shocking images of fire and destruction on TV. She worried about these family members since some of them lived in the community struck by the huge fire that killed 74 people. The gods were with these family members and all of them were fine. The Dresser could continue in this vein with more blessed encounters of these loving Greeks who made her holiday a homecoming, but she will let the curtain fall and invite you, Dear Reader, to read between the lines. With gratitude to my friend Donnali Fifield for sending the Dresser The Road to Epidauros and to Jeanne Fuchs for writing it.

HOME. NOT HOME

I cried as the red moon rose.
We listened to mirologoi that
randomly came on my iPad.
We drank mavrodaphne and ate chocolate.
We spoke of the dead
and of our regrets and our hopes.
In my dad's village--
where I belong
and where I don't.

by Alexandra Kostoulas

July 8, 2018

A First-World Strip Show: Andromeda Breaks from Capital Fringe

Capital Fringe 2018 opened July 7 in Washington, DC and among the offerings was a one-hour world premiere drama entitled Andromeda Breaks mounted at the upscale Cradle of Arena Stage's Mead Center for American Theatre. Stephen Spotswood's play features two characters--Andromeda Jackson (Billie Krishawn) and Detective Sargent Percy (Jeremy Keith Hunter)--in a police interrogation room. The detective accuses her of murder but what he wants is the goods on her parents and she immediately demands her family lawyer, except the lawyer won't talk to her. She soon finds out her parents are "hanging her out...[to dry]." We also hear that the police have killed her cousin Minnie, who turns out to be the feminine version of the monster known as the Minotaur.

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Here the Dresser suggests we back up and review the Greek myths suggested by the characters' names.

AndromedaMyth.jpgIn the myth, Andromeda is literally hung out to dry on a rock overlooking the sea after her mother Cassiopeia insults the sea god Poseidon by boasting that Andromeda is more beautiful than Poseidon's daughters known as the Nereids. Poseidon dispatches the sea monster Cetus to terrorize the coast of Aethiopia, which is the kingdom of Andromeda's father Cepheus. Cepheus consults the Oracle of Apollo who says the king must sacrifice his daughter to stop the monster. Meanwhile, the ultimate monster-slaying hero Perseus wanders by having just killed the Gorgon, Medusa. Perseus is still wearing the magic helmet which makes him invisible. So presto, he kills Cetus, unchains Andromeda, and marries her despite her father having promised his daughter to his brother Phineus. So Phineus gets mad and fights Perseus but Perseus pulls out the horrifying head of Medusa and turns Phineus and his followers into stone.

While there are plenty of monsters in the myth of Andromeda, the Minotaur, a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man, plays no role. In the Greek myth, the Minotaur lives at the center of the Labyrinth built by the architect Daedalus and his son Icarus as commissioned by Minos, King of Crete. Because Minos was suffering competition for the throne from his brothers, he prayed to Poseidon (here is the only connection to the Andromeda myth) to send him a snow-white bull as sign of support. Poseidon complied but expected Minos to offer the white bull to him as sacrificial thanks. Minos thought the bull beautiful and decided to sacrifice an ordinary bull. As punishment, Poseidon made Mino's wife fall in love with the white bull which mates with her and produces the Minotaur. minotaur.jpg

What Stephen Spotswood has done is taken several characters of Greek myth into the 21st Century which allows him as a white author to talk about police corruption and brutality in the context of racism. While the outstanding actors chosen for this play are African Americans and Billie Krishawn opens the play by singing a blues song a cappella, these roles could be played by actors of any ethnicity since the words they speak do not indicate Black slang. The character who is "other" is the unseen cousin Minnie who dies in a shootout with the police. Minnie has told Andromeda that she would murder for Andromeda's parents but burn the world to cinders for her. Andromeda reveals that she and Minnie were planning to run away together to escape Andromeda's murderous father. Is Spotswood suggesting that these cousins had a same sex relationship? Does it matter? Perhaps only in the context of those who are categorized as other and different from everyone else. As Andromeda comes clean, detailing where all the bodies are buried, she finds out that Detective Percy has been complicit in her father's crimes. Suddenly the table turns and they trade places as she exonerates herself from crime and he digs his metaphoric grave. In this way, Spotswood offers a feminist restructuring of Andromeda's story.

The play is done on a bare stage set with table and two chairs. Sound effects include the sound of the sea against the shore and fire crackling. The compelling theater magic is created entirely by the actors. Bravo to Krishawn and Hunter.

"Death Tonight," a poem by Jazra Khaleed as translated by Peter Constantine, provides a modern-day landscape of horror with its machine guns, checkpoints, and Apache [helicopter] searchlights that complements Andromeda Jackson's mass graves of those murdered by her family. Andromeda is the child sacrificed by her parents as the warring power brokers--her family and the police--struggle for control.

DEATH TONIGHT

Tonight death will turn widower
Machine guns still lusting in heat
Soldiers return to their countries
Castrated
Maimed
No longer to shoot
No longer to rape
Death sticks to their fingers like resin
Their deaths
The days stop at a checkpoint
The days are Muslim mothers
They don't have papers, they are deported
Tonight death will turn widower
I saw peace pluck her eyebrows
Just before she stepped on stage
Chewing popcorn
The masses on the square
Applaud the bombing of innocents
Murders of immigrants
The victory of civilization
The triumph of democracy
A first-world strip show
Tonight death will turn widower
Shrieks of dishonored women deafen my ears
Cluster bombs burrow into my stomach
I rule the moon
I assign all ebb and flow
The cops try to imprison gravity
Yet another undeclared war
The children's eyes shine black in the Apache's searchlights
Filled with ashes
Filled with hatred
Remorseless
Oblivion is selling one more genocide on eBay
Tomorrow is already a word without future
Death tonight

by Jazra Khaleed as translated by Peter Constantine
from Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry
(first publication in Modern Poetry in Translation (UK, 2009))

May 19, 2018

Bernstein's Candide--Seeing Past the Candy-coated Best of All Possible Worlds

Perhaps this review isn't without prejudice, because the Dresser has always adored Leonard Bernstein's Candide, a music theater piece cum opera. She first saw it at Washington, DC's Arena Stage in 1996 before the libretto was significantly revised in 1999 by John Caird for the Royal National Theatre. What she loved about it then and now is the energetic music and the clever words which are often funny, endearingly nonsensical, and wise. So, seeing Washington National Opera and Director Francesca Zambello's production of Candide (are you ready, Dear Reader, for how many minds made this work?) with Book adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler in a new version by John Caird, lyrics by (poet) Richard Wilbur with additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, and Leonard Bernstein on May 18, 2018, was bliss. In this time of post truth where the moral compass of America has been demagnetized, this story of a young man's journey through hell and back is restorative.

Soprano Emily Pogorelc (Cunegonde) and Tenor Alek Shrader (Candide) in WNO's production of Candide_credit Scott Suchman.JPGCandide is the story of boy unclaimed by his parents but living comfortably with a wealthy titled family of Westphalia until he expresses his desire to marry the daughter Cunegonde and then is kicked out. Voltaire (as a character in the opera) narrates Candide's life which has been largely influenced by Dr. Pangloss whose extreme philosophy of optimism seems to carry the boy's spirit through the worst possible encounters with war, the Inquisition, poverty, disease, famine, and treachery. When he wanders into El Dorado, Candide realizes he can't stay in this Utopian place because he is incomplete without his beloved Cunegonde. Eventually, he finds her, is shocked by what she has become, and admits he has been a fool. However, he has matured and asks her to marry him and settle into a pastoral life where they can make their garden grow.
Soprano Emily Pogorelc (Cunegonde), Mezzo-Soprano Denyce Graves (The Old Lady) and Tenor Alek Shrader (Candide) in WNO's production of Candide_credit Scott Suchman.JPG
Maestro Nicole Paiement's enthusiastic conducting sparked the Dresser's latent ambition to lead a symphony orchestra. Perhaps Paiement's initial energy was driven by Bernstein's joyful overture which begins with what sounds like circus music. Zambello's cast pleased in all regards--tenor Alek Shrader as the naïve and earnest Candide, coloratura soprano Emily Pogoreic as Candide's beloved Cunegonde, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves as The Old Lady (the wise and witty attendant to Cunegonde), and baritone Wynn Harmon doubling as Voltaire and professor Dr. Pangloss. A stand out minor character was bass-baritone Matthew Scollin as the street sweeper Martin.

The sets by James Noone and costume designs by Jennifer Moeller in combination with the movement of cast and chorus make for a lively moving story. One particularly notable scene is of El Dorado where the inhabitants carry large fans as if they were show girls at the Brazilian Carnevale.
Tenors Alek Shrader (Candide) and Frederick Ballentine (Cacambo) visit Eldorado in WNO's production of Candide_credit Scott Suchman.JPG
Annik Adey-Babinski's poem "Squalor" creates the impossible landscape of Dr. Pangloss' "best of all possible worlds," which is squalid and sugar-coated. However, Candide is a life lesson in how to survive. While the Dresser would be tempted to grimace, put up her hands, and shout, "ooo, no. I won't have this," the constant Panglossian philosophy lessons in combination with Bernstein's music puts a deceptive, but necessary, candy-coating on what is unbearable. At the end, the Dresser filled up with tears, that Candide had awakened to a plan for a steady, good life.

SQUALOR

Most of
us learned to live like a bootleg,
in the open corners, our presence overpowered

by
shadows from the
purple smell

of kerosene. It was the colors of
our kitchens--forest collards,
pumpkin soup & pink catfish--

that kept their attention &
taught us that everything could be candied--
counter tops, kisses, sinks & yams.

by Annik Adey-Babinski
from Okay Cool No Smoking Love Pony


Photo Credits: Scott Suchman

April 22, 2018

2018 Split This Rock Report #5

What follows is a final Split this Rock Poetry Festival report. STR took place from April 19 through April 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. This year's biennial festival celebrated its tenth year and its sixth conference. It is the last year that founding director Sarah Browning will lead the conference. Unlike the AWP writers conference, this festival focuses exclusively on poetry, draws a smaller audience, and presents a holistic set of activities that nourishes not only the mind and emotional state of being but also the body.

Beyond the talking heads of panels and assorted intellectual workshops were such events as:

• "Louder than a Gun: Poem for Our Lives," a rally in Lafayette Park where participants were invited to bring a line of poetry that "demands an end to violence and celebrates lives free from the threat posed by guns." This rally joined with high school students in front the White House to write a group poem demanding that gun violence stop.

• "Walking Tour: The Rise of DC's Black Intelligentsia (The Dunbars in LeDroit Park," an opportunity to follow Kim Roberts, local poet historian to learn about African-American writers Paul Laurence Dunbar and his wife Alice Dunbar-Nelson.

• "Resiliency in Daunting Times: A Workshop in Yoga & Writing," a workshop led by Yael Flusberg that combined the practice of yoga and spontaneous writing.

While the Dresser did not participate in the three events mentioned above, she had attended similar events in past STR festivals and was glad to see this kind of putting the physical body into motion was still being valued and retained as part of the program offerings. It also goes to what the Dresser said in STR Report #1 https://www.scene4.com/karrenlalondealenier/2018/04/2018_split_this_rock_report_1.html that it was so hard to decide what event to attend because there were so many wonderful opportunities.
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To follow up on STR Report #4, the Dresser offers a brief look at "#RedStateWritersResist: Strategies for Writing and Living in a Red State," a panel that addressed the extreme loneliness and peril of living and working in a state where the majority are conservative voters supporting the Republican Party and specifically the current president of the United States who does not support the tenets of the US constitution. Panel members Jennie Case, Meg Day, Miguel Morales, Wendy Oleson, and Maria Vasquez Boyd said their coping mechanisms include everything from channeling anger into positive action, lots of time with friends online, to nightly crying.

Here's a poem that gives the flavor of this upsetting topic of conversation:

IF YOU'RE STAYING, I'LL STAY TOO

Maybe it's easier, having been named
..........after someone: nobody
expects that you'll rule the underworld
..........or judge the dead, but
they call you Pluto anyway. Planet, too.
..........I know a girl like you
who used to be a thing she isn't anymore
..........but hasn't changed at all.
Whose orbit didn't circle straight--whose
..........size & distance never quite
seemed right--but no one cared til now.
..........I was a woman once:
rounded by my own gravity, cat-called
..........into hades by men who
could not see this gem of a hard rock
..........was not made magnetic
for the likes of them. Hey little mama--
..........don't take it so hard.
So we are frigid. So we stay relegated
..........out here with our kin.
I'll wear my fade tight & my tie loose

by Meg Day

Copyright © 2017 by Meg Day

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For the Dresser, the last day of the conference offered poetic performances and book fair activities. She heard Cornelius Eady recite and sing poems from his new Kattywompus Press chapbook All the American Poets Have Titled Their New Books "The End." Eady sounds like Bob Dillon but with a better singing voice. Here's the title poem from the new collection:

ALL THE AMERICAN POETS HAVE TITLED THEIR NEW BOOKS "THE END"

How many books now have the word Last
In their title? Or worry, or some dangling variation
Of mistake? Or empire burning, or
The fools have fucked it up?

Who the hell listens? They roar and
Wriggle, up and down the page,
They screen-print what's coming next -- pinups
Of blocked streets and stone faces.

How many books sling the word doom,
Or mimic spotlights or air raid sirens,
Regurgitate the Romans, the Kick Down the
Door Guys, our genius with the fiery furnace?

The quivers, the shakes, the iambic dread,
The anger, the insomnia, the slow tic
Of the wait, the wail, the transcribed too late,
In the manner of those who have gone before us,
Geiger counters, clacking the rising damp.

by Cornelius Eady

Copyright © 2018 by Cornelius Eady

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From the session "The Living Text: Bodies on the Line," the Dresser captured images from Roger Sedarat's performance which concerned the funeral of a nightingale. The nightingale is a large symbol in Iranian literature. Sedarat is the author of Haji as Puppet: An Orientalist Burlesque, winner of The Word Works Tenth Gate Prize. Recently Sedarat was awarded a large grant to do performance work from this book, a gesture in promoting better understanding between the literature of Iran and American. It's also a book steeped in edgy politics.

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The STR book fair was an opportunity to trade books, sell a few and by all means network.
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The Festival was a glorious marathon of poetry readings, panels, workshops, performance, political action, physical and mental exercise. Vive Split This Rock Poetry Festival!

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April 20, 2018

2018 Split This Rock Report #4

IMG_3918.JPGAt the Split this Rock Poetry Festival on April 20, 2018, the Dresser attended two sessions that were upsetting in different ways. This report will focus on "No F*cks to Give: Women Poets and Dark Humor" addressed issues women have been dealing with that are barely acknowledged and brushed off as trivial. These matters include such things as shaming young mothers for pumping breast milk or hounding attractive women with catcalls and salacious name calling. While there were occasional short bursts of laughter, the Dresser would say most of the content of this panel was dead serious. Participants in this reading studded with thought-provoking commentary were: Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, Kendra DeColo, Shara McCallum, Erika Meitner, and Tyler Mills. Here are two poems from Shara McCallum, offspring of a Black Jamaican father and white Venezuelan mother that shows the complexity of problems women face:

INVISIBLE WOMAN

You are the original incognito.
Transparent so all things shine through you.
She's the whitest black girl you ever saw,
lighter than "flesh" in the Crayola box.
But, man, look at that ass and look at her shake it
were just words, not sticks nor stones, flung
when dresses were the proof that clung like skin,
when lipstick stained brighter than any blood.
Girl, who is it now you'd want to see you?
And what would that mean: to be seen?
Why not make a blessing of what
all these years you've thought a curse?--
you are so everywhere, so nowhere,
in plain sight you walk through walls.


THE MADWOMAN AS RASTA MEDUSA

I-woman go turn all a Babylon to stone.
I-woman is the Deliverer and the Truth.
Look pon I and feel yu inside calcify.
Look pon I and witness the chasm,
the abyss of yuself rupture. Look pon I
and know what bring destruction.
Yu say I-woman is monstrosity
but is yu gravalicous ways
what mek I come the way I come.
Is yu belief everyone exist fi satisfy
yu wanton wantonness.
Yu think, all these years gone,
and I-woman a come here fi revenge?
But yu wrong. Again is so yu wrong.
I-woman is the Reckoning and Judgment Day.
This face, etch with wretchedness,
these dreads, writhing and hissing
misery, is the mirror of yu shame.
I-woman not the Terror.
I-woman is what birth from Terror.

Copyright © 2015 by Shara McCallum, all rights reserved.

Kendra DeColo read "I Pump Milk like a Boss," a lengthy poem in couplets (think mother and child, a mother's two breasts, or the woman and man in the act of procreation) that leaves no detail out.

Erika Meitner read "Miracle Blanket" a long poem with short lines that deals with motherhood that is funny as long as you aren't the parents dealing with a colicky baby who cries all night.

Lillian-Yvonne Bertram read "Facts about Deer" which addresses the expectations put on women and her lack of patience for those lodestones.

Tyler Mills read two poems that caught the Dresser's attention--one concerned the first atom bomb which had the image of pinup girl Rita Hayworth on it and the other was called "Ho at work." (Sorry, neither seem to be online.)

And may the Dresser add that the Sharon Olds reading about her Odes to various female body parts seemed like an apt precursor to this session. Stay tuned for a report on #RedStateWritersResist.

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2018 Split This Rock Report #3

KateYoung.JPGAt the Split this Rock Poetry Festival on April 19, 2018, the Dresser attended the panel on "Translators as Activists, Curators, and Cultural Interpreter" with Francisco Aragon, Ilya Kaminsky, Aviya Kushner, Olga Livshin, and panel moderator Katherine Young. The big question posed was--how to support poets who are marginalized in their own culture? Also what about poets who were political prisoners or who had to hide their gender identity. What about poets who are unable to get published within their own country because, for example, they don't meet expectations for who a poet can be, such as a poet whose economic class shuts them out. Other questions raised during the panel were: why are women translated far less than men? Also what do you do with poetry coming from wars no one wants to hear about or acknowledge?

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Francisco Aragon provided a handout of three versions of a poem credited to Ruben Dario--Dario's original in Spanish "De invierno," a literal translation "Of Winter" focused on a woman named Caroline (in the Spanish version Carolina), and Aragon's interpretation based on new information that Dario was gay changing Carolina to an unidentified male pronoun he or him.

Olga Livshin had a similar story about the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova who was unable to fully express her gender identity, her bisexuality. While "Annas at the Stove," an interpretative poem written by Livshin and published by the Kenyon Review was not provided in the panel, it speaks to what Livshin said.

Aviya Kushner presented poems from Yudit Shahar, an Israeli woman coming from the economic lower class--she worked as a house cleaner and a seller of vegetables, occupations not meeting Israeli expectations of who writers can be and who would be worthy of paying attention to.

FUCK THE TOMATO
By Yudit Shahar as translated by Aviya Kushner

Fuck poetry fuck
to strip,
to daintify skin
to display in cold light
the pitifulness.

To sell tomatoes
in tony Tel Aviv,
to shine them one by one
in a white shirt
in the light,
to sell to the wealthy--
what do they care for poetry?
What do they care about a tomato,
a rotten one?
Fuck the tomato
fuck.

Ilya Kaminsky provided much food for thought. He described poems in English that readers declared were better than the original Russian poems. He asked at what point does a reader wake up because the poem is not what you expect, because the poem challenges you.

Katherine Young was passionate about Iya Kiva, a Ukrainian poet writing about the war no one in America is interested in. The online journal Asymptote published this poem April 19 just in time for Kate's reading of it. Here the Dresser offer this portion from A Little Further from Heaven by Iya Kiva as translated from the Russian by Katherine E. Young:

is there hot war in the tap
is there cold war in the tap
how is it that there's absolutely no war
it was promised for after lunch
we saw the announcement with our own eyes
"war will arrive at fourteen hundred hours"

and it's already three hours without war
six hours without war
what if there's no war by the time night falls
we can't do laundry without war
can't make dinner
can't drink tea plain without war

and it's already eight days without war
we smell bad
our wives don't want to lie in bed with us
the children have forgotten to smile and complain
why did we always think we'd never run out of war

let's start, yes, let's start visiting neighbors to borrow war
on the other side of our green park
start fearing to spill war in the road
start considering life without war a temporary hardship

in these parts it's considered unnatural
if war doesn't course through the pipes
into every house
into every throat


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The Dresser thinks that any poet would be very fortunate to have with Francisco Aragon, Ilya Kaminsky, Aviya Kushner, Olga Livshin, or Katherine Young as their translation ambassador.

April 19, 2018

2018 Split This Rock Report #2

IMG_3890.JPGAt the Split this Rock Poetry Festival on April 19, 2018, the Dresser attended the Arabic/English Poetry Game Workshop. The Poetry Game was invented by Zahara Heckscher. Zahara died in February this year so the workshop began with a memorial to her. The Dresser walked away with this quote from her: "The lying poems tell the most truth."

Three of Zahara's friends--Johnna Schmidt, Yael Flusberg, and Zein El-Amine led the group of 19 in a two-part writing workshop.
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As an introduction to poetry gaming, Zein told a story about how his Muslim family based in Lebanon played an oral poetry game from the Zajal poetic tradition. Zein recounted that this game predated television in his home. The idea was to memorize poems or to be quick-witted enough to compose a poem on the fly. The next person up had to use the last word of the previous poem. Eventually his family got t.v. and then they heard about such a poetry game being played on t.v. but the difference was that these contestants were consuming alcoholic drinks. One of his uncles was a cleric and Zein thought that at any moment the t.v. would be turned off. But no, his uncle the cleric remained glued to the t.v. and then he said, "the more they drank the better they got."

Zahara's game involves two sets of playing cards--one set containing words in Arabic or another language and the other set providing instructions. The audience was divided into small groups of 4-6 people. In the first game, everyone in the group was allowed to choose one card from only one of the sets. Then everyone in the group used the same words and same instructions for his or her poem. Here is what the Dresser wrote. The underlined words show both the words selected and the instructions (phrases that were open ended).

At Mihrajan--I say Carnevale--
My happy friends they all witnessed
Fajir the prayer to open the day
Salam alaikum we bow
our sleepy heads this was
a song about peace
after a night of reveling

What everyone enjoyed about this exercise was how everyone approached the use of these words and phrases in his or her own way.
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The second exercise was a more private affair. Everyone selected three words and two instructions. The Dresser's words were two in Yiddish--mentsh (an exemplary man) and mishegas (craziness) and one in Arabic--Kowkab (planet or world). Her instructions were (1) use one word to start a line five times and (2) use a word in a question. Here is what the Dresser wrote:

A TOUR OF THE UNIVERSE

Kowkab number 1: Where is the mentsh when you need him? Has he gone to another planet? This one has too much mishegas.

Kowkab number 2: The end of the world sees a desert without a single mentsh. Oh, bring back the do-gooders please.

Kowkab number 3: In the Amazon we find a clan of balabustas--the women equal to the mentsh. Here we find his perfect children. Thank you, Mom.

Kowkab number 4: Did I mention mentshes tell the truth? What a great planet we live on.

Kowkab number 5: In a land with no reality t.v., we find mentshes and balabustas. A world with no mishegas.

What the Dresser liked about these exercises is that she was picked up and moved to another place, another writing space, and therefore wrote two compositions very different from what she usually does. She felt guidance from activist Zahara Heckscher urging her to think of marrying party-going and prayer and worlds where Arabic and Yiddish co-exist peacefully.

2018 Split This Rock Report #1

Split This Rock Poetry Festival is back in Washington, DC with a line up of gotta-be-there panels and must-hear featured readers. The Festival happens every two years.

The Dresser must admit when she went to this year's AWP writers conference in Tampa, Florida that her eyes glazed over when she read the panel descriptions. She only found one she wanted to attend.

The Split This Rock panels this season make the Dresser groan with pleasure because it is hard to decide which ones to attend.

For example, this afternoon April 19 at the 1:30 session, she has to decide between "Arabic/English Poetry Game Workshop," "Seniors for Social Justice," or "WordPlay: Poetry a self-advocacy for Youth with Autism." This is not to mention the panel on the Warrior Writers and two book oriented sessions--one on the letters of Audre Lorde and the other Eco-Justice poetry.
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The Dresser ran into Conference founder Sarah Brown at registration and she said her favorite part of the conference this time is who is reading. Tonight the program features: Camille Dungy, Sharon Olds, and Javier Zamora.

Be there or miss your opportunity to salve your soul.

April 11, 2018

The Facts and Fantasies of Florida, a Jazz Opera

In 2002 at New York City Opera's extraordinary showcase of new opera called Vox, the Dresser caught a glimpse of composer Randall Eng's and librettist Donna Di Novelli's Florida, then a jazz song cycle with strong music theater leanings. Finally, sixteen years later on April 7, 2018, the jazz opera achieved its notable world premiere by UrbanArias at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC, under the stage direction of Kevin Newbury. Florida runs 100 minutes not including one fifteen intermission.

Like music theater, this work, done in two acts, is organized by musical numbers, which in Act I are distinct song titles like "Blue and Wild" and in Act II are usually functional descriptions like "Autopsy No. 1." Seventeen members make up the orchestra as conducted by the enthusiastic and passionate Robert Wood who directed the singers by camera since the orchestra was behind the stage set. The orchestra includes a seven-person string section (including a harp), a five-person woodwind section (including saxophone), a three-person brass section (horn in F, trumpet in Bb and trombone), one percussionist, and one pianist. While the music with its distinct jazz inflection calls for this variety of instruments, sometimes the large orchestra covered the singers, especially when the brass section was playing.

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The story, populated with nosy neighbors and a boy on the prowl for the new girl in town, concerns a 16-year-old girl who is accused unjustly of murdering her mother.

Donna Di Novelli's libretto reminds the Dresser of The Juniper Tree by Philip Glass--both have a dead character that haunts the second half of the work. While Florida is not drawn from fairytale like The Juniper Tree, Florida has a set of oddly named surreal characters, starting with the protagonist: Florida Fandango. The word florida comes from the Spanish florido which means full of flowers. In the song "My First Champagne," Florida explains her name at a party to various guests:

No, I wasn't named after a state.
The translation is flowered.
You know, as in de-flowered.

My mother was thinking of how to deliver
the sound of hibiscus in one name.
The breath of gardenia,
the lilt of a tulip,
a floral effusion I'd grow up to claim.

She started with vowels,
the movement of hips,
the sounds made by F--
Fff. Fff.
Two letters that bite on your lips.

Florida says her last name is a mistake. Her mother meant flamenco, the dance of "drumming defiance with every tap" but picked fandango, "a slave dance [where] the ankles are bound, ...don't leave the ground [and] keep you circling around." The name suggests the girl's fate--she flowers and then becomes slave to her sexuality which is the basis of her murder rap.

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Except for Marc, the boyfriend who actually confesses to killing Florida's mother, all the other main characters are known by descriptive labels. Florida's mother is identified in the cast list as "One Dead Mother." The family who lives next door to Florida and her mother are known as Redwood Male, Redwood Female, Redwood Son, and Redwood Daughter. Metaphorically, they are associated with their redwood deck from where they spy on the mother and daughter. In the Urban Dictionary of slang, the name Mark or Marc is either a target for someone else's trickery or the kindest and most handsome of men. Clearly Di Novelli has created a surreal set of characters where what happens does not seem to matter. This is what literary peeps would say is a character-driven composition. Once the audience understands the absurdity built into these characters, one should not worry about every word or finding the story. Overall it is better to absorb the sophisticated and accessible jazz.

The living cast of singers are all impressive performers. They have great enunciation and expression. Sharin Apostelou as Florida stands out, especially in her solos "There's a Scream Inside of me" and "Madly in Love."

In general, the Dresser enjoyed the second act better than the first because Act I confused her--it starts where Act II ends. Simply put, when this opera begins, Florida is looking back on what had happened to her. A program note might have been useful in orienting the viewer. Now that the Dresser has seen the entire work, she thinks Florida would be worth seeing and hearing again. The music is the draw. The dark comedy is secondary as the framework.

In Moira Egan's poem "Maurice Utrillo, sa grand-mère et son chien," the poet points out many aspects of what is missing from Suzanne Valadon's family portrait -- grand-mère's wild daughter (Utrillo's mother, the wild daughter, is Suzanne Valadon), Utrillo's unknown father, and certainly grand-mère's missing smile (she wears a continuous frown). In Florida, we are made aware of the many possibilities of who could have been the teenage girl's father but we are never told how or why the girl's mother was murdered. While Valadon delivers her rich conception in paint, Randall Eng gives his audience everything they need to know in the tonal colors and polyrhythms of jazz.

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MAURICE UTRILLO, SA GRAND-MÈRE ET SON CHIEN (1910)

He's learned to look into his mother's eyes
and gazes straight with equal parts chagrin
and love, the drunken nights no more surprise

to her. He holds his left hand angled, strong and fine;
his face is pale, his beard Mephistophelian.
(What deal's been struck with whom, and at what price?)

Grandmother, meanwhile, looks off to the side
and downward, face etched, permafrost, the frown
she nearly always wears (despite their life

if not of luxury, at least of pride).
Her life's work, too, shows clearly in her hands.
She managed to escape the village gibes

and get to Paris. Why then can't she smile?
Her daughter, lovely, could've had any man
she wanted (and she did). The boy's profile--

one has one's theories. Yes, the girl was wild.
But family is family: mother, son,
grandmother--even some love set aside

to lavish on the dog, with gentle eyes
and paw outstretched beside Grandmother's hand.

by Moira Egan
from Synaesthesium

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