« September 2012 | Main | December 2012 »

November 2012 Archives

November 3, 2012

Poetry Taken to Other Levels

After attending Washington, DC's Marine Corps Marathon to watch her New Jersey shore daughter-in-law finish in four hours and two minutes, the Dresser has a new appreciation of what marathon means to anyone who persists in any kind of endurance course. And especially after the news last night that the good Mayor Michael Bloomberg has bowed to the outrage of conducting the New York City Marathon when so many of his constituents are suffering after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. MCM-finish.jpg


The word marathon derives from a Greek village and plain northeast of Athens where the Athenians were victorious over the Persians in 490 B.C. The village name--Marathon--took on new meaning when a messenger from Marathon ran more than 20 miles to Athens to deliver the news of the victory.

For the Dresser, and perhaps for many of her dear readers, the world has changed recently in ways that will not allow return to what was. Moreover the scale of change is enormous. For the Dresser, who has been running a marathon of poetry this fall by participating in MOOC mania--more on this mind-expanding 21st century be in shortly--the refuge for all this unsettling change is poetry. On the weekend leading to the supersized storm Sandy, the Dresser attended two exceptional poetry events--a by-invitation-only symposium on Gertrude Stein and a performing arts center poetry reading to a large general audience. Both events seem to be a barometer of our time, measuring pressure experienced from accumulated conditions not entirely understood.

In September 2012 as a beta test, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) through a company calling itself Coursera began offering Internet readership a without-tuition-cost opportunity to take University of Pennsylvania professor Al Filreis' ten-week Modern Poetry course. ModPo.pngThe Dresser signed up immediately last spring (the course will remain open for registration probably until the next offering begins in September 2013) but had no idea how groundbreaking this educational opportunity would be. She had no concept of attending a class with 35,000 classmates, some of whom make themselves known in the discussion forums of Filreis' ModPo, as the class has come to be known. She had no concept how one teacher could make a class of this size seem intimate.

The technology has been remarkably dependable, even during Hurricane Sandy for those who still had power to partake. Yes, Filreis has teaching assistants whom the ModPo devotees know by face, name, and literary preferences as each week the professor rolls out videos where he and his TA's push back their sleeves and do "deep reading" discussions of selected poems. On designated weeks, live web session take place where students from all over the world can call in, tweet, or write into the discussion forum set up for this ModPoLive session. Furthermore, students are invited to the University of Pennsylvania campus and the Kelly Writer's House to participate in the live session. The TA's are as agile as the professor in making the live sessions work. The student body defies expectations and is amazingly active whether late at night or early in the day. Time worldwide has not gotten in the way of students coming together to share this experience.


On October 26, 2012, the Dresser attended "A Symposium on the Work of Gertrude Stein" organized by the Gertrude Stein Society with the collaboration and support of the Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven, Connecticut. The informative program addressed the corrected edition of Stein's Stanzas in Meditation recently published by the Yale Beinecke, approaches for teaching Stein, and Stein's writings on war. The small gathering of about 60 people was a mix of academics (teachers and students) and independents (scholars and fans). In the world of Stein study, the range of subject matter was timely and perfect for engaging any participant of any current day proceedings on Gertrude Stein and her work.

SteinSymposium.jpgNow, Dear Reader, step into this picture with the Dresser to get the full effect. At this high-tech library where live cameras watch researchers use original resource documents from such writers as Gertrude Stein and researchers are told to make copies of what they are looking at with their cellphones and do their documenting with their laptops--no pens allowed (If you must handwrite, bring loose sheets of paper and pencils), a low-tech symposium takes place. Most of the presenters choose to stand behind a podium and read their papers word by word. An occasional presenter managed to get a text-heavy slide projected and one of the educators talking about teaching Stein wowed the assembled--he was praised as a "rock star"--with a recording of DJ Spooky's remix of Stein's "Portrait of Picasso."


On October 28, 2012 (same day as the Marine Corps Marathon), the Dresser attended a poetry performance by former United States Poet Laureate (2004) Billy Collins and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Mary Oliver at the Music Center at Strathmore Marriott Concert Stage in Bethesda, Maryland. It was a full house (not every seat taken but certainly well attended) where the tickets sold for $45-$75. While the Dresser believes that some significant portion of the house was occupied by people who had been given the seats at no cost, the fact that people were there late in the afternoon while storm warnings were blaring from the media says something positive about the state the poetry.

Because the Dresser is unlikely to write about the Collins-Oliver reading again, she offers these details about this popular culture, poetry-the-for-people event. First, the Dresser will say quietly that most academics are not fans of Billy Collins and Mary Oliver. Second, the Dresser who always runs into other poets at poetry readings did not see anyone she knew and this is not to say there were no poets of note in the audience but more to say the audience was not the usual audience for poetry. Third, the person introducing this program asked the audience to "welcome these icons of the poetry world" as if they were not living, breathing, working writers.

Continue reading "Poetry Taken to Other Levels" »

November 13, 2012

Conference of the Birds--An Oasis from the Hubbub

If you love myth and storytelling embellished with music, dance, stylized movement, a dash of acrobatics, and costumes with imaginative flair, the Dresser recommends you take the entire family to see The Folger Theatre's production of The Conference of the Birds playing through November 25, 2012, at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. BirdsCast.jpg

The work by Jean-Claude Carrière and Peter Brook and based on the 12th century Persian fable of the same name by Farid Uddi Attar is much like The Ramayana and The Green Bird that were produced by the Constellation Theatre Company in the last several years. All three involve arduous quests. Teasley.jpgAnd all three have featured the percussion performance of Tom Teasley who is a virtuosic player of exotic instruments and also a singer who scats. In the Folger production, he is seen working away on his drums and melodika on the top balcony above the players.

What the Dresser particularly enjoyed was how comically modern the English translation is.

Hoopoe "Listen, feather brains! I'm speaking of our true king. He lives behind the mountain called Kaf. His name is Simorgh. He's the King of birds. He is close to us but we are far from him. The way to him is unknown and only a man with a lion's heart dare take it. ..."

Heron, "Are we sure the Simorgh exists?"

Hoopoe, "Yes. One his feather fell on China in the middle of the night and his reputation filled the world."

Nightingale.jpgUnder the leadership of the Hoopoe bird, the birds fearfully set out to find their leader. As the group travels, they move in ways reminiscent of the wide-stance, arm-gesturing African dance. Nightingale (Annapurna Sriram) plays a ukulele while singing sweet ballads that sound like Janis Ian or Nellie Mckay. The cast enacts plays within the larger play.

The Conference of the Birds creates an oasis from the hubbub of the current day, demanding nothing of the audience. Director Aaron Posner has choreographed a piece that moves along like a well-behaved camel caravan. Even when a slave looses his head or gets pierced by an arrow while standing with an apple on his head, the serenity of the scene is not disturbed. Nothing is presented that will scare the children or offend a senior member of the family.

Greg McBride in his poem "Tight Waist" creates a surreal landscape in this athletic action that alters the reality of his opponent in much the same way that the Hoopoe bird controls the belief system of the conference of birds. If the birds have their eyes open, they would see what the end result will be relative to their journey but they do not. Like the losing wrestler, the birds have to move through the whole process.


Like preening cocks crouched grim, we circle--
he white with red piping, I red and blue.

We hand jive the close space. I'm intrigued
by his strength, his two-step swagger.

His right heel barely rises, rolling weight
onto the ball of the foot where the slightest

lift begins the transfer from right to left,
the way a vaulter shifts from foot to planted pole.

He repeats this move a dozen times.
I'm alert to the possibilities,

observe his pattern, his cadence.
I paw the mat, ready my sugar-foot thigh.

Now his center describes a shallow arc
to an apex that barely arrives, from which

he's suspended, between two havens.
And I strike, lunging past his defenses.

I don't hear his suck of shock.
Or anything else. Not the squeak

of weightless Tigers toeing the Resilite.
Not the rising roar of ten thousand.

He sees me coming, as in a dream,
and wills a landing safe on the left,

but gravity will not be hurried, and
I'm there, behind, savoring his sweat,

clamping a tight waist. "Takedown!"
the ref cries.

by Greg McBride 
from Porthole

Copyright © 2012 Greg McBride

November 23, 2012

Birthing New Opera in the Nation's Capital

Where can you experience new American opera? With any regularity, the only place has been New York and most significantly New York City Opera's VOX Contemporary American Opera Lab.

But maybe occurrence of this kind of risky programming (the producers of opera fear no one will show up and fill their seats) is changing. On November 19, 2012, Washington National Opera launched its American Opera Initiative, a public workshop for encouraging new American opera in small bytes. The program--a concert-style world premier--featured three 20-minute operas: Part of the Act by Liam Wade and John Grimmett, Charon by Scott Perkins and Nat Cassidy, and A Game of Hearts by Douglas Pew and Dara Weinberg. Sheparding this new program into life with promise of more was Christina Scheppelmann, the out-going WNO Director of Artistic Operations. Mentoring this set of three mini operas was conductor Anne Manson, composer Jake Heggie, and librettist Mark Campbell.

The Dresser, who has often enjoyed the opera excerpts presented in the NYCO VOX showcase, could only think of the WNO mini operas in this context. Twenty-minutes does not an opera make. Of the three presented, only one stood out and that was Charon. The libretto about the weary boatman ferrying newly deceased to Hades and the richly textured percussive music made the entire evening worth dashing from DC's Union Station after a trip that day to partake in the historic closing event of Coursera's Modern Poetry course. Bass-baritone Solomon Howard as Charon was a standout.

American Opera Initiative -- Part of the Act 3sm.jpg

Overall mezzo-soprano Julia Mintzer gave notable performances. Although the Dresser was not impressed with Part of the Act's collage of music that quoted everything from stripper bump and grind to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Mintzer gave a memorable performance in terms of vocal range and acting. The story of Part of the Act concerns a Vaudevillian actress having an affair with a man whose wife (played by Julia Mintzer) comes gunning for them. This initial introduction to Mintzer made the Dresser pay attention with favorable pleasure to the mezzo's performances in the other two pieces. Mintzer was the only singer partaking in all three operas.

While Douglas Pew, A Game of Hearts' composer, took the trouble of writing for a variety of voices: soprano (Shantell Przybylo), mezzo-soprano (Julia Mintzer), light lyric soprano María Eugenia Antúnez), lyric tenor (Mauricio Miranda), and lyric bass-baritione (Norman Garrett), the lyrical music was not remarkable and neither was the libretto, whose story was set in a nursing home and focused on several widows and their lossesAmerican Opera Initiative -- A Game of Hearts 2sm.jpg.

The Dresser looks forward to attending the next program in WNO's American Opera Initiative. Jun. 8 - 9, 2013, will be The Tao of Muhammad Ali (A Ghost Story) by composer/guitarist D. J. Sparr.

Merrill Leffler's poem "Performance" not only captures story elements from Part of the Act, Charon, and A Game of Hearts, but it also speaks to the emotional state of collaborating artists premiering brand new work.


Do you think the I standing before you
doesn't want to seduce your attention
and hold you close to the erratic beating
of its heart? Do you think the I here is not performing
for your applause and approbation,
that' it's not needy or demanding
and doesn't want more than it knows it's entitled to,
that it won't pull from its hat every possible trick--
its brooding soulfulness, its comic shtick--
whatever it takes?
..............................Friend, look in the mirror.
Show me we are not a marriage of grief and joy,
of lust, desire, ambition, fear, of every need
that has clung since we are first thrust into this dark
and resplendent world, that all our stunting
our juggling, our masks, all our art and philosophy
want nothing from each other and are not in performance.
Friend, mon frère, ma soeur, astonish us.

by Merrill Leffler 

from Mark the Music

Copyright © 2012 Merrill Leffler

Photo Credit: Scott Suchman

About November 2012

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

September 2012 is the previous archive.

December 2012 is the next archive.

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