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March 16, 2012

Stealing the Body: Gypsies from the Katona József Theater

Gypsies, by Jenő Józsi Tersánszky and Krisztián Grecsó, is a Hungarian play combining text from the original 1931 version. Katona József Theater presented this work at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater for three performances starting March 15, 2012. A play spoken in Hungarian with English surtitles, it is theater with a cultural difference.

ciganyok640x350.jpgBody movement and staccato text played a big part in what made it stand apart from the usual approach to Western theater. There was a lot of text, which meant a lot of surtitles to read so the Dresser had to work hard at keeping up with the story. Essentially, the story explores the clash between gypsy and Hungarian cultures. The Hungarians of this play don't like the gypsies because the Hungarians say gypsies steal things. Mostly the Hungarians don't understand the gypsy culture and this makes the Hungarians nervous and afraid. Yes, this is about a small town attitude and when the patriarch of a gypsy clan is shot dead after he and his family run out of their house which has been hit with Molotov cocktail, the Hungarian officials: detectives, policemen, firemen, and the coroner don't know what to do. The family has stolen the body of the dead man stymieing the criminal investigation. An out-of-town journalist with a fancy recording device shows up to write about what has happened. The townsmen don't like her because at the root of their behavior is an intolerance for any kind of difference.

The sets were masterful in a high-tech way--big structures that moved seamlessly. There was much in the acting that was amusing, but some scenes seemed purposefully boring, so boring that the Act I curtain falls slowly on Hungarians talking endlessly about what to do about investigating what has happened at the gypsy enclave where no townsmen wants to go. The play ends in much the same way with the bereaved widow cussing about what has happened in the bar her husband would frequent. And a lot has happened including the revelation that the husband impregnated their daughter, spurned the foster son who loved that daughter in favor of another man much like the patriarical rogue. The favorite scenes included gypsy men playing their air instruments with such passionate moves that the Dresser could almost see the violins, accordion and cymbalom.

Bill Yarrow's poem "Burying the Hachet" echoes some of the negative and exotic energy perpetuated by Katona József Theater's production of Gypsies. The poem like the play also surprises the reader/audience with the intrusion of modern day inventions like the Jumbotron or a hand-held recording device.


I wanted the pain to go away,
so I let them stick me. No luck.
I still feel rotten and now my head
deliciously empty for decades is
clogged with thought of dying.
Forget it. I'm doomed, I'm a goner.
I'm riding the rails of deterioration
I know it. Soon I will be boneless
and alone. But I am not alone.
Not yet. In the other room
my mother is wrestling a mongoose.
Between round she sits on a
radio instead of a chair. I can't
quite hear what is playin so
I say, "Turn it up. Turn it up."
A fireman holding an ice pick
adjusts the volume. The Chemical
Brothers appear on the Jumbotron.
Australia secedes from the U.N.

by Bill Yarrow
from Pointed Sentences

March 21, 2012

Violinist James Stern Recites Eliot's "The Waste Land"

JamesStern.jpgSince March 18, 2012, during a VERGE ensemble concert when the violinist James Stern recited all five sections of T. S. Eliot's poem "The Waste Land," the Dresser has been pinching herself trying to understand how she feels about an artist who has considerable talent as a violinist sharing his stage time in the delivery of a monolithic poem where the violin performance becomes secondary. The Dresser admires Stern's poetic performance, which was fluid--he moved around the Corcoran Gallery of Art's tiny stage without a misstep--and completely at ease--he knew this poem passionately well.

When the Dresser hears Eliot read "The Waste Land" knowing he was an American from Missouri but who had developed a British accent, this also gives her pause. In truth, the Dresser finds the poem itself overwhelming. It is loaded with centuries of literary allusions and commonplace interactions with characters Eliot created and brought to life. Though the poem was published in 1922, the themes of immorality, violent sexual encounters, loss of spirituality and dual fears of life and death still seem to talk to our current day issues. The Dresser studied it in college with a favorite professor and it is a poem with which one can never have too many encounters. It's also a poem that has affected how the Dresser looks at the world. She never fails to associate the month of April with Eliot's opening lines:

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Not to mention those opening lines with lilacs breeding out of dead land resonant with Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd," a tribute to the assassinated American president Abraham Lincoln.

The Dresser never fails to see hyacinths but is tossed into Eliot's lines:

"You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
They called me the hyacinth girl."
--Yet when we came back, late, from the hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing...

So indeed, the Dresser is grateful for James Stern's dramatic performance but that does not put to rest how she feels about hearing this poem introduced by Stern's arousing violin performance of Leon Kirchner's "For Violin Solo," (this is an atonal piece that ends with a whimper as the bow slides into silence--definitely a good introduction to Eliot's masterpiece that ends with a repeated chant for peace) and then the second-half-of-the-concert edge-of-the-seat selection that brought violinist Stern back on stage with Audrey Andrist at the piano and James Ross playing French horn in György Ligeti's "Trio" (1982).LigetiTrio.jpg

Should Stern have said something to introduce his program? The Dresser is not sure because she found his written program notes over intellectualized and therein lies the danger with Eliot. What she thinks could have helped was a simple statement, written or spoken, saying how Stern came to memorize this poem and what performing it means to him as well as a straightforward list of the short violin passages that punctuated the spoken performance. The Dresser gets how Stern links Ligeti to Eliot through his concert title "Masters of Allusion." Ligeti's "Trio," with its subtitle "Hommage à Brahms" nods to the past in order to achieve a new direction in Ligeti's work. But after the concert what remained with the Dresser was the idea of a very accomplished violinist reciting T. S. Eliot.

March 23, 2012

Conrad Cummings / Michael Korie Opera Premieres April 2012

Positions1956CreatorsSM.jpgNew American opera fans and aficionados of the upscale Broadway musical gather around. After partaking in a workshop March 21, 2012, the Dresser advises you to make note of a newly commissioned work by composer Conrad Cummings and librettist Michael Korie called Positions 1956.

UrbanArias, a well-connected opera company producing chamber operas reaching out to a young audience, will premiere Positions 1956 April 13 in Rosslyn, Virginia, during their 2012 Spring Festival. Positions 1956 is this two-year old opera company's first commission. Positions1956CastSmall.jpgThe cast selected for this premiere includes top young talent Amedee Moore as the Bride, Jesse Blumberg as the Groom, and Vale Rideout as the Trainer and Dance Instructor. Noah Himmelstein directs and Robert Wood provides musical direction.

Award-winning Michael Korie, with nominations for Tony and Drama Desk Awards for the musical Grey Gardens, centers Positions 1956 around social instruction that emerged in the year 1956: the sex manual for newly weds, the muscle magazines for male body building, and the rise of the ballroom dancing business. Here's lyrics from "The Bride Must Remember."

The bride must remember

In each fiber of her core

She must help, and hew

To her duty and grave obligation

For he is a man,

The pulse throbbing in his veins

Is the pounding of his elemental reproductive instinct!

He is alive with desire!

His organ must respond

In positions of intercourse

In the holy marriage bond!

She is equipped for pleasure

But hers is not essential.

Without his, her ecstasy is inconsequential.

He is alive with desire!

From Part I "Marriage Manual"
Positions 1956

This YouTube excerpt from "Sitting Position" gives a taste of the neo-classical music that frames Part I "Marriage Manual."

This 80-minute opera will get you thinking about how things have changed between men and women or have they?

Split This Rock: A Sold Out Event, Day 1

STR12Poster.jpgEven if the Dresser has said this before, she'll say it again: Sarah Browning, founding director of the Split This Rock Poetry Festival knows what she is doing and how to run a well-oiled event even if it is competing with the Cherry Blossom Festival. Take for example, the poster announcing the third biennial conference that the Dresser was greeted with as she ascended the Washington DC Metro escalators. Let's say Sarah is not your out-in-the-ether poet. No, she is grounded and is fighting for social justice through poetry.


On the street, the Dresser ran into poet and co-editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal Lee Sharkey. STR12LeeSharkey.jpgWhen asked, Lee said she had already been to some excellent panels. The Dresser knows how discriminating this poet-editor is and took this for a good sign. Additionally, the Beloit Journal is a Spit this Rock (STR) publications partner.

STR12PRESSTABLE.jpgAt the press table in the historic Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage, the Dresser met Lacy MacAuley, who is the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) Media Relations Manager, and as it turned out a presenter at Writing to the Media/Writing for the Media, the panel discussion that the Dresser wanted to attend. The Dresser thought this panel would answer the question how does a poet press for social change once his/her politically charged poem is written. STR12Greco-MacAuley.jpgCertainly the panel gave lots of clues like Emily Schwartz Greco's handout "Op-Eds: Writing Tips/Placement Strategies" and Lacy's handout "How Do I Get into the News," which sorts out what is newsworthy and how to write a proper to-the-point news release. However what the panel also did was open the Dresser's eyes as to how Sarah Browning, who is an associate fellow at IPS, operates. And, yes, IPS, has a strong personnel presence at STR though is not listed as a sponsor. On the STR website, it states, "Split This Rock collaborates with the Institute for Policy Studies on an occasional basis to bring poets and social justice advocates together in the 'think tank.'" The Dresser thinks it is very important to have access to a liberal think tank if one is to achieve a new level of active poetry, poetry that can change the world.STR12Growney.jpgSTR12Youth.jpg


Next on the Dresser's list was Page & Stage: What's the Fuss?, a panel led by Regie Cabico on the struggle between spoken and written poetry. STR12McKibbens.jpgThe panel included Jeffrey McDaniel, Rachel McKibbens, and José Padua. The conversation was heavy on the spoken word side, which includes such terminology as performance poet, slam poet street poet, bar poet versus the page poet. When the question was raised to the audience about what individuals considered themselves most said both. Jeff McDaniel spoke passionately about how he had to overcome his reputation as a slam poet. "I feel like I had to be like Helen Vendler and stab, stab, stab to kill my past as a slam poet," said Jeff. Rachel McKibbens spoke to the issue of how invisible women writers are. She said, women have to just write their stories and F those who criticize. "We have to get our gears unstuck." Rachel said poetry does not come from poetry but from all sorts of sources and definitely books. Mixed into the discussion were issues of prejudice against cultural minorities and gender identity. Lisa Wijnovich, who called herself a poet farmer, said, "poets belong at the crossroads."STR12Cabico.jpgSTR12Padua-McDaniel.jpg


Dovetailing seamless with the Page & Stage panel, the Dresser's evening ended with the featured readings of Douglas Kearney, Kim Roberts, and Sonia Sanchez. STR12SarahBrowning.jpgMaster of Ceremonies Sarah Browning also introduced the young poet winner Lauryn Nesbitt and her "Poetic Hyst." Lauryn held her own with the outstanding and deeply moving readings/performances of the features. From Kim Roberts came the pineapple poem ("A pineapple is like a blind date:/spiky and armored at first"), which is part of the Beloit Poetry Journal special edition for Split This Rock. From Douglas Kearney came the singing and acting explosion of sound about such topics as the horrific killing of James Bird Jr. From Sonia Sanchez, who is clearly a griot who chants, hums, sings, came separate tributes to Sterling Brown and June Jordan. This particular festival is dedicated to June and Sarah put her voice into the room at the beginning of the reading.

By the way this year's STR is 500 strong and completely sold out. Stay tuned for another report from the Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

March 25, 2012

Split This Rock: Poetry as Protest, Day 2

The Dresser re-entered the Split This Rock Poetry Festival on the second day by attending the panel Poet's Forum: How Political Engagement Affects the Writing Process. Beloit Poetry Journal (BPJ) editors John Rosenwald and Lee Sharkey headed this panel. STR-BPRJEds.jpgThe Dresser was made aware of the importance of the BPJ's role in the Festival the night before when Kim Roberts read the following poem from the BPJ Split This Rock Chapbook 2012, a special issue of the magazine which showcased featured readers of this third STR Festival.


A pineapple is the perfect gift
to bring to a blind date.
A pineapple is like a blind date:
spiky and armored at first,
with the hope of sweetness inside.
A pineapple is the perfect housewarming gift.
You don't have to wrap it,
it doesn't spill inside your car.
It comes in its own house.
A pineapple is the perfect birthday gift.
You might prefer a coconut,
that planet molten at the core,
but a pineapple has a better hairdo,
better wardrobe; it never
goes out of style.
Think of all those historic houses
with pineapple bolsters, pineapple finials,
pineapples carved above lintels.
Such a sophisticated fruit:
every sailor wants one.

by Kim Roberts
from Beloit Poetry Journal Split This Rock Chapbook 2012

The Dresser thinks this poem captures something essential about the STR Festival in its theme of welcoming and encouraging new relationships or rewarding existing relationships. The STR Festival embraces poets of every ability, color, gender, nationality, occupation, form, etc. hoping to find under spiky hairdos or heavy coats of armour some kind of goodness. The Dresser believes that even poets with political beliefs not in synch with the left leanings of the core crew of STR would be welcomed provided they were willing to engage in meaningful dialogue.

Dialogue about how political engagement affects the writing process was what John Rosenwald and Lee Sharkey were encouraging by having Douglass Kearney, Khaled Mattawa, and Minnie Bruce Pratt read and talk about poems published in their special edition chapbook. Of three poems published in this chapbook, Minnie Bruce chose "Turning the Switch Off" to read and discuss. This is a poem that deals with habit, a behavior William James impressed upon Gertrude Stein would deaden creativity, that behavior keeping people from progressing, from achieving genius or, in the case of this poem social justice. Minnie Bruce writes, "How hard to break the habit of work, obedience not to the machines, but to those who own them."

Khaled Mattawa chose to read "After 42 years," a poem he at first told his commissioners he would not write. The subject matter, the regime and fall of Muammar Gaddafi, was too personally painful for him--for all the losses suffered during Gaddafi's reign of terror. His poem ends, "There is no after until we pray for all the dead," but indeed where does one begin and how long until the mourning has staunched the pain of so many losses?STR-KearneyMattawa.jpg

Douglas Kearney read "Thank You But Don't Buy My Babies Clothes with Monkeys on Them," a five-page discourse, exposé, rant, and philosophical treatise on commercial racism. Doug's reading and discussion was a profitable follow-on to the performance he gave opening night of STR. To see his work on the page in conjunction with how he reads (emotionally super-charged) and discusses it (both emotionally engaged and standing back at a distance) gave the Dresser a whole new appreciation for this poet whom she encountered first as a librettist for the Anne LeBaron opera Crescent City at the 2009 New York City VOX new opera showcase.

AudienceBPJPanel.jpgIn the discussion with the audience for this panel came points about cultural literacy (how ordinary people fail to recognize their own acts of racism, misogyny, homophobia), contradiction (Doug says he likes to deal with contradiction with juxtaposition), the intersection of entertainment and violence, authenticity of voice (and what about the gatekeepers, Minnie Bruce asked, who say "That is not poetry"), the ridiculous (take the power of racism that reduces a human being to an object), and the legend of the importance of poetry in the Arab world (Khaled talked about the "poets of the tribe" who kowtow to a dictator).

STRSarahBrowning.jpgThe Dresser capped day #2 by joining STR Director and poet Sarah Browning, her assistant director Bob LaVallee, and maybe 90 to 100 poets at the Supreme Court to protest their ruling that equated money with speech as it relates to Super PAC donations. The form of the protest was a Cento, a poem created line by line by many contributors. The lines, limited to 12 words, included quotes by June Jordan (STR 2012 is dedicated to her poetic legacy) and Langston Hughes (STR names comes from Langston's poem "Big Buddy") and many references to the recent murder of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager shot by an over zealous neighborhood watchman who seems to be getting away with this crime under the Florida stand your ground law. Here's the line the Dresser contributed, "Letter to the Editor from Gertrude Stein: "Is money money" or speech?STRVolunteer.jpgSTRVeraCrowd.jpg

March 29, 2012

Split This Rock, Poems That Count, Days 3 & 4

What the Dresser loved about Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2012 was the time poets had to talk to each other. For example, the Dresser started STR Day 3 (March 24) by engaging in a conversation on the street with Minnie Bruce Pratt. MBRStreet.jpgThis was an extension of Minnie Bruce's talk the day before during the panel Poet's Forum: How Political Engagement Affects the Writing Process. For Minnie Bruce, the writing process, starts at a personal level moves into a social context and concludes with the large worldview.


JGCount.jpgBased on comments made by JoAnne Growney on STR Day 1 in the panel Writing to the Media/Writing for the Media regarding how one gets poets to pay attention to the power of numbers in their work, the Dresser decided to drop in to JoAnne's workshop Counting On. While the Dresser only participated in the initial head count that included individuals making introduction of themselves with numbers significant to their personal life, she wanted to support JoAnne's premise that use of numbers create vivid specificity in the poetry of provocation and witness.


So, the Dresser took her leave from the conference room in the Thurgood Marshall Center housing the numbers workshop and hurried over to the True Reformer Building for readings from the anthology Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. BeautyIsVerbCov.jpgWith this new imperative to find the power of numbers, the Dresser perked up when Kathi Wolfe read from her poem "Blind Ambition,"

"If you were Helen Keller,"
my teacher says,
"you'd get a gold
star in arithmetic."

It turns out this poem is Kathi's declaration that numbers were not her childhood friends and that Kathi, with her condition of low vision, was not particularly happy to be compared to "Goody-Two-Shoes Helen." However, Kathi overcame her disdain of Helen Keller, wrote a collection of poems about this blinddeaf woman who, in her childhood, was known as Spitfire and Little Bronco, and has elevated this legendary hellion to personal guru. Most Americans know only of Helen Keller through the play The Miracle Worker. Keller, a 1904 Radcliffe graduate, went on to achieve status as an author, political activist, and lecturer. KWolfe.jpgIn Beauty Is a Verb, the Dresser was pleased to note these lines by Kathi in Helen's voice from "The Sun Is Warm: Nagasaki, 1948,"

teachers scorched, doctors decapitated,
patients incinerated. And they say
America won the War? I do not want
peace that passes understanding: I want
understanding that brings peace. Mr. Nagai,
I touché your singed, nearly skinless face.
I don't have much time left, you say,
but I a well for the sung is warm.

In this reading from Beauty Is a Verb, editors Michael Northen and Sheila Black generously promoted other writers in this 384-page book with a graphically breath-taking photo on its cover. MN-SB.jpgFor example, "Excavation" by Kenny Fries who was born missing various bones in his legs and feet.

Tonight, when I take off my shoes:

three toes on each twisted foot.

I touch the rough skin. The holes

where the pins were. The scars.

If I touch them long enough will I find

those who never touched me? Or those

who did? Freak, midget, three-toed

bastard. Words I've always heard.

Disabled, crippled, deformed. Words

I was given.

Both Kathi's and Kenny's poems bear numbers of profound loss.

Also participating were Ellen McGrath Smith and Kara Dorris. Dorris.jpgHere's an excerpt from Kara's prose poem "Wanting to Be a Girl." Notice how Kara particularly emphasizes numbers by using their symbols as opposed to spelling them out.

When I close my octopus eyes, I see 4 arms, 4 legs lift. I want only 2 of each. The sky said stay, meant to be, this parasitic twin, a bleed to what a girl should be. But I ache for what my body is--fused spines, one heart dissolved in another, doubled ribs protecting lotus flower lungs.

Here the Dresser will say hold onto that image of conjoined twins.


The Dresser broke for lunch with Alicia Ostriker and Barbara Goldberg. Both poets have new books that speak to Jewish culture. Alicia's The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems combines her studies of Midrash (commentary on scripture--Biblical stories and teachings) with her own brand of feminism. Scorched by the Sun by the Israeli Moshe Dor is Barbara's translation with the author into English. This collection deals with the love of the land Israel versus the love of a flesh and bones woman.BJG-AO.jpg

Lunch was a prelude to Before There Is Nowhere to Stand--Palestine/Israel: Poets Respond to Struggle, a streaming reading from a forthcoming anthology (Lost Horse Press) by many poets who interleaved their voices poem by poem--Grace Beeler, Rick Black, Joan Thaler Dobbie, Edward Morin, Naomi Shihab Nye, Alicia Ostriker, Willa Schneberg, Ingrid Wendt, Carolyne Wright. P-IGroup.jpgSubject matter included the tragic mishap of the young American woman Rachel Corrie crushed by a bulldozer in the Gaza Strip who became a Palestinian martyr, a suicide bomber in Jerusalem, a Palestinian father (Naomi Shihab Nye's father) on dialysis writing on separate slips of paper his dream to plant olive and fig trees on his former land. NSN-AO.jpgAfter this program, "Utopia, another name for a smiling prison," a line from Alicia Ostriker stuck in the Dresser's memory as she continued to ponder the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Dare the Dresser say there were no Israeli voices present in this reading? Certainly the challenge for future Split This Rock Festivals is to embrace the stories of all sides of social justice issues.


For the Dresser, Day 3 of STR concluded by a featured reading with the distinctly different voices of Khaled Mattawa, Marilyn Nelson, José Padua, and Minnie Bruce Pratt. To open this program came a recording of June Jordan's mellifluous voice reciting her poem about truth and chopping down cherry trees, eating the fruit, and spitting the pits into the Potomac. If a single poem has the power to heal, it has to be this one.

Continue reading "Split This Rock, Poems That Count, Days 3 & 4" »

About March 2012

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in March 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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