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October 2013 Archives

October 5, 2013

Splendid Wakeup for Poetry in Washington DC

Washington, DC, and its suburbs have always been an active literary community. Among the many literary events that took place in September 2013--George Mason University's 15th annual Fall for the Book, the 13th annual National Book Festival on the National Mall, the first District of Literature sponsored by the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress, the Dresser will discuss the kickoff event of a massive archival project at The George Washington University Special Collections of the Gelman Library called Splendid Wake. The goal of the project is to collect information about poets and poetry in the greater Washington, DC area from 1900 forward. GWU is hosting the Splendid Wake wiki.

Splendid Wake.pngCalling the event "A Splendid Wake," three panels of sixteen prominent DC area poets convened September 25 to recount a partial history of poets, publishing, and literary happenings. Full disclosure: the Dresser was on the steering committee with Myra Sklarew and Jean Nordhaus as well as one of the panels. Myra Sklarew and Elisavietta Ritchie were the catalysts for the project, which began June 27, 2012.

In truth, the program was a chaotic assembly of literary people--some historians like Christopher Sten, Kim Roberts, E. Ethelbert Miller, Rick Peabody, some poetry entrepreneurs (all risk, no money) like Kim Roberts, E. Ethelbert Miller, Rick Peabody, Grace Cavalieri, Karren Alenier, Merrill Leffler, Luis Alberto Ambroggio, Sarah Browning, Teri Cross Davis, some poets from specific communities like Luis Alberto Ambroggio, Dolores Kendrick, Brian Gilmore, Terence Winch. As seen from the repetition of names, the panelists did not neatly fit any one category and neither did the three panels.

Did the panelists represent everyone in the Washington, DC area from 1900 forward? Hardly. The event was barely the tip of the iceberg. Did the panels have one common theme? Not even close. The format for the evening was that each panel was chaired by one of the participating panelists who has acumen in leading live literary programs.

Each panelist was asked to write out a five-minute statement that was loosely based on a list assigned by Myra Sklarew to that specific panelist. In any case, panelists were told to stick to five minutes. CavalierSWProg.jpgGrace Cavalieri, who chaired the second panel, the panel in which the Dresser participated, sent out an email to her panel telling them she was bringing her lobster hammer which she would use if anyone exceeded the five minutes. Cavalieri, who is the host of "The Poet and the Poem," which ran for 20 years on Pacifica Radio WPFW in Washington, DC, and now is often uploaded to National Public Radio from the Library of Congress, is radio impresario nonpareil. Her programs are a showcase of witty conversations that she steers adeptly.

Did the panelists write their five-minute statements? Did they stick to the five-minute limitation? Did Grace Cavalieri bring her lobster gavel? Well no, but in spite of the chaos, the evening was a tremendous success. Word got around, including a blog post by Ron Charles of the Washington Post, accruing a standing room only audience. In spite of some panelists running over their time with their captivating anecdotes and details about the DC literary scene, the entire event scheduled for 90 minutes only kept the hard-working Special Collections librarian Jennifer King for an extra half hour beyond closing time of her part of the library.

An enthusiastic Washington, DC government counsel member the Honorable Jim Graham participated and read a brief excerpt from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, pointing out that Whitman spent years in the Nation's Capital as a Civil War nurse. What a breath of fresh air to have an elected official who was whole-heartedly supporting the cause of the evening instead of stumping.

BeckerSWProg.jpgThe handsome twelve-page brochure shepherded by poet Anne Becker through her residency at Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center was not only graphically impressive with its stylized rooster crowing the name of the event but also an informative keepsake. Besides an explanation about what the project covers, the URL for the wiki, the outline of what the panelists might discuss, and the panelist bios, the booklet tied with a string (no staples if you please) contained four pages of dead poets associated with the greater Washington, DC area. The names of the dead poets with their birth and death years were grouped by ten-years periods. For example, the list began with 1870 to 1879 and included: James Weldon Johnson (b. 1871), Paul Lawrence Dunbar (b. 1872), Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson (b. 1875), Isabel Weld Perkins-Anderson (b. 1876), Natalie Clifford Barney (b. 1876), and Don Marquis (b. 1878). The list concluded with Brendan Ogg (1989-2010). It's undoubtedly an incomplete list but it is a start.

Continue reading "Splendid Wakeup for Poetry in Washington DC" »

October 13, 2013

Francesca Zambello's The Force of Destiny

Tour de force--Francesca Zambello's production for Washington National Opera of The Force of Destiny (La forza del destino) by Giuseppe Verdi is an absolute tour de force.

Opening night, October 12, 2013, Zambello, WNO Artistic Director, demonstrated her prowess in all aspects of operatic art: choosing and interpreting a complex rarely performed opera, enlisting a cast of remarkable singers--especially American soprano Adina Aaron who sang the role of Donna Leonora of Vargas, and assembling a creative team that made every aspect exciting, including music (conductor Xian Zhang was masterful energizing glue), sets (Peter J. Davison's bawdy inn with neon yellow-eyed green dragon with red tongue was a wow), and choreography (Eric Sean Fogel's pole-dancing girls had eye-catching moves with their feet on the stage floor). This is a production worth seeing twice.The Force of Destiny 2 - photo by Scott Suchman for WNO.jpg

Ever since the Dresser saw WNO's 2004 production of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd as directed by Zambello and interviewed her in 2005, the Dresser has been a fan. Zambello may be the best artistic director WNO ever had because she is making it her business to reach out to a wider spectrum of audience. Updating The Force of Destiny with emphasis on gun and knife violence, trash-piled street scenes of destitute people being served soup by clergy, the lively but sleezy nightclub, and the bivouac of men in war makes this opera speak to the troubles of our time.

The Force of Destiny 1 - photo by Scott Suchman for WNO.jpgThe story revolves around two star-crossed young lovers--Donna Leonora and Don Alvaro (Chilean tenor Giancarlo Monsalve)--who plan to elope. When Alvaro shows up to claim his bride, she hesitates saying she must see her father one more time, a fatal mistake. Her protective sire, the Marquis of Calatrava (American bass Peter Volpe), enters the room, telling Alvaro to leave. Alvaro declares his love is so strong that the father must kill him, but the Marquis disdains dirtying his hands with the blood of a foreigner. Alvaro throws down his pistol which fires accidentally wounding the Marquis. Leonora urges Alvaro to flee, bends to her father and then confirming his death also flees. Leonora's brother Don Carlo (American baritone Mark Delavan) enters the room and vows revenge.

Dressed in male clothing, Leonora travels to a monastery to seek protection from a sympathetic monk named Father Guardiano (Italian bass Enrico Iori) who once sheltered another woman. After rigorous questioning, Leonora is assigned a cell where she will live without human contact for years, something she is willing to do given her role in her father's death. In parallel, Alvaro, believing Leonora is dead, goes to war and becomes good friends with Leonora's brother after Alvaro saves Carlo's life. They don't recognize each other and both have assumed aliases. Eventually, Carlo figures out who Alvaro is and Alvaro flees to become a monk in Father Guardiano's monastery.

Based on the Spanish drama, Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino by poet/dramatist Ángel de Saavedra y Ramírez de Baquedano, Duque de Rivas and a scene adapted from Friedrich Schiller's Wallensteins Lager, La forza del destino had a libretto written by Francesco Maria Piave. Verdi premiered the work as Don Álvaro in 1862 in St. Petersburg. While the opera had productions in Rome (1863), New York and Vienna (1865), Buenos Aires (1866) and London (1867), Verdi was not satisfied with the work. By the time he was ready to revise, Piave had fallen ill. With help from Antonio Ghislanzoni (he later wrote the libretto to Aida), Verdi added a final scene to Act 3 and changed its ending so that the gypsy Preziosilla (Georgian mezzo-soprano Ketevan Kemoklidze) leads the soldiers in the victory song "Rataplan." In the original last scene of the opera, Carlo, Leonora, and Alvaro die (Alvaro mortally wounds Carlo but before Carlo dies he stabs Leonora, and Alvaro commits suicide). In the revised version Alvaro is dissuaded from suicide by Father Guardiano. The revised opera premiered at La Scala in 1869 and has become the preferred version. In her production, Zambello goes back to the original order of scenes in act III by ending with a confrontation between the Alvaro and Leonora's revenge-obsessed brother Carlo.

Despite the heavy subject, comic scenes provide relief. In the hands of a lesser director, some of these light moments could play badly. Notable is the scene where Leonora bangs on the monastery door asking for Guardiano. Brother Melitone (Colombian bass-baritone Valeriano Lanchas) reluctantly retrieves Father Guardiano and then more reluctantly resists leaving the Father alone with the stranger who insists on privacy so she can reveal her secret. Melitone retorts, "What am I, a cabbage?" With body language, Lanchas as Melitone has already established himself as a busybody so his absurd remark does not fall flat and the audience laughs.

Continue reading "Francesca Zambello's The Force of Destiny" »

October 26, 2013

Kronos at 40 Feted by Philip Glass and...

Kronos by Jay Blakesberg.jpg

Mature is the word the Dresser chooses for the October 24, 2013, East Coast Premiere of String Quartet No. 6 by Philip Glass. Co-commissioned by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, (and several other university arts centers and private patrons) on the occasion of the Kronos Quartet's 40th anniversary, the work in three movements is, as it opens, set in lower register of the musical scale. The first movement presents an urgent story that seems to suggest, without any overt beat, a clock ticking. The second movement, mixing high and low registers of sound, indicates a new dawn, an awakening. The final movement comes back to the authority and steadfastness of the opening movement. The work is largely peaceful but not groundbreaking for a string quartet like Kronos that has been on the cutting edge of new classical music.

The most exciting work of the program, Uri Boguinia's On the Wings of Pegasus (2013) followed the intermission. Commissioned for the Kronos 40th anniversary by the David Harrington Research and Development Fund, the composition opened dramatically one instrument at a time joining in--cello (Sunny Yang), viola (Hank Dutt), violin (John Sherba), violin (David Harrington )--with a sweet and suspenseful buildup to a nouveau Slavic folk music motif. The piece evolved with a slow spiral into syncopation with Harrington's violin flying musically away from the other instruments. The Dresser felt exhilarated. Harrington introduced the piece by saying the composer born in 1991, was the youngest one Kronos had ever worked with and that one of Boguinia's professors said what this young composer was writing was "crap." Did the Dresser hear that correctly? Yes, Harrington obviously disagrees.

Also interesting--for its text but not for its barebones music--was Pamela Z's And the Movement of the Tongue (2012). The work divided into thirteen parts needed some cutting, however the linguistics of the words was quite appealing and had their own musical quality. The libretto experimented with regional accents, an elocution exercise (the rain in Spain), repetition, computer generated voices, etc. The piece, which ended the show, was witty and engaging.

Preceding the Glass' premiere was Canadian composer John Oswald's Spectre (1990), Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words (c. 1930) as arranged by Jacob Garchik, "Alter Yechiel Karniol's Sim Sholom (c. 1913) as arranged by Judith Berkson, and Nicole Lizée's Hymnals (2013). Spectre sounds like a louder crescendoing voice of the train in Glass' Einstein on the Beach. Oswald overdubs other recordings of Kronos to increase the intensity of sound until there are 1001 string quartet reflections. A slow strobing light accented the piece. The Dresser found the piece annoying for its gimmick of cacophony and light show.

By contrast Last Kind Words which was heavy on string plucking and whimsy was a welcomed relief from Spectre. But then the Dresser likes the blues. Geeshie Wiley was a Black singer whose reputation centered on her exceptional guitar arrangements. She lived in the early 20th Century and was on the cusp between Black secular evolving into blues.

Sim Sholom showed off the talent of cellist Sunny Yang, the newest member of Kronos. Yang plays passionately and she ably captured the cantorial singer in her strings including vibrato. The piece was quiet, reflective, and movingly sad.

Commissioned for Kronos with support from the Canada Council of the Arts, Hymnals sounded like a romp in outer space with slides on the strings and electric autoharp. Program notes from the composer said the work re-imagines psychedelic folk who perform manic sing-alongs, chanting, and freaked-out humming. The Dresser, who came of age during the late 1960s, could only scratch her head and mutter that the composer who was born in 1973 must have gotten these sounds second or third hand. The light show that went with this piece amounted to some wandering colored bubbles that were at best an afterthought.

In Hannah Gamble's poem "Growing a Bear," a man, beyond mid-life when men usually go out and buy a sports car as their hairline recedes, their waists expand, and their sex lives diminish, recounts that he is growing a bear in his basement. The quest to recapture masculine energy is embodied in this surprising subterranean exercise. Philip Glass' String Quartet No. 6 with its subdued score might benefit from a libretto taken from Gamble's poem "Growing a Bear."


Growing a bear -- a midnight occupation,
the need for which you perhaps first realized
when you saw the wrong kind of shadow

under your chin -- a convex when you expected
concave, so now it's clear
you're getting older. Your wife was in the shower

and you wanted to step inside
and soap her up like you did in college when she said

"I'll shower with you, but I'm leaving
my underwear on," and you enjoyed her
in every way you could enjoy a person with soap.

You didn't join your wife in the shower.
She's gotten funny about letting you see her
shave her legs or wash herself anywhere.

You think she read it somewhere -- 
that letting your husband see you pluck anything,
trim anything, apply medicine to anything,
will make him feel like he's furniture.

It's exactly on cold nights like these that the basement
is not as forbidding as it should be, despite the fact
that you have to put gloves on
in what is part of  your own home.

Downstairs, a large bathtub, kept, for some reason,
after remodeling. It is there that your bear will be grown,
by you, though you have no idea how. Probably wishing

is most of it; fertilizer, chunks of raw stew meat,
handfuls of  blackberries, two metal rakes, and a thick rug
make up the rest. Then water.

You get an e-mail from a friend late at night
saying he can't sleep. You write back
"I hope you feel sleepy soon" and think how childish
the word "sleepy" is. And you're a man,
older than most of  the people you see on television.

You haven't even considered how your wife will feel
when you have finished growing your bear. You could
write a letter to her tonight, explaining how your life
was just so lacking in bear:

"Janet, it's nothing you've done -- 
clearly you have no possible way of supplying me with a bear
or any of the activities I might be able to enjoy
after acquiring the bear."

It might just be best
to keep the two worlds separate.
Janet clearly prefers things to be comfortable
and unchallenging. Janet soaps herself up. Janet puts herself
to bed, and you just happen to be next to her.

You go on your weekly bike ride with Mark and tell him
that you've been growing a bear. An eighteen-wheeler
flies by and he doesn't seem to hear you -- 
plus he's focused on the hill.

You think about how not all friends know
what each other sounds like when struggling and
breathing heavy. Past the age of college athletics,
most friends don't even know what each others' bodies
look like, flushed, tired, showering, cold.

Hannah Gamble
as published in Poetry Magazine

Copyright © 2013 Hannah Gamble

Photo: Jay Blakesberg

About October 2013

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in October 2013. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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