Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category


Tomorrow belongs to me?

March 22, 2012

Things are looking a little brighter than a month ago: I’ve had a bunch of auditions and interviews in the last few days, and none of them might pan out, or they all might, and then I might have some really interesting decisions to make. Meanwhile, I’ve signed on to play for a production of Cabaret in April, so I have something to focus on in the immediate future. And in honor of that production, I’m posting a poem about the last time I did Cabaret, five years ago. (For the record, I always have links to a couple of poems hanging out in the right-hand sidebar under “Pages,” which I cycle in and out according to whim, and my stats page informs me that nobody reads them, ever. I’m sure plenty of you don’t like poetry, in which case, game on, but for the two of you who might like to know, I thought I’d point it out.)

Kresge Little Theater, MIT, 2007

Same scene every night: just past
the Pineapple Song, the pace slows, loosens,
costumed waitresses clear the empties,
German-labeled bottles. One dancer
taps my piano, whispers something in Spanish
which I never understand, smiles sadly,
slides a few marks in the tip jar anyway.
I nod my thanks and there’s the hostess,
beaming, red-corseted, ready to offer me
more of what makes the world go around
but only if I’ll play her favorite song, the one
with stags and linden branches and the Rhine.
I won’t play your dirty Nazi song, I grumble,
sotto voce: she laughs, knowing I don’t (can’t) mean it
and mounts black stairs to the stage within a stage,
listening for her cue. The sun on the meadow
is summery warm, she sings, and the room goes still,
the waitresses cease their banter. The melody lures
a few men in for the second verse,
harmonies twining around her, falsetto, baritone;
guitar and woodwinds croon. I lead from the piano,
nodding the downbeats, signaling how long
to hold that last fermata — the world is mine

an eternity, on a good night,
the chord a shimmering braid of sound
that finally tightens into unison.

Unfortunately, this poem was the subject of the least useful graduate poetry workshop I ever participated in. There’s this handy rule in most workshops that says the poet can’t speak while her poem is being discussed, so that she doesn’t cloud everyone else’s opinions with any “but this is what I was trying to say” statements. Normally this is a good rule. Keeps things moving along, avoids unnecessary argument, lets the poem speak for itself.

But sometimes it goes horribly wrong, as when the poem refers to something specific, like a play. And when your professor diligently looks up the poem’s title (it was called “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” at the time), as well as the song lyrics quoted in italics, the first several hits he comes up with have nothing to do with the musical Cabaret, but rather with some neo-Nazi site which has apparently co-opted the song as their anthem, without bothering to mention its original source. Probably just as well for the reputations of Kander and Ebb.

I sat on my hands for twenty minutes, squirming silently in my chair, as my intelligent, sensitive, well-meaning classmates debated whether or not this was a persona poem, from the perspective of someone working in a club in the 1940s. (Close enough.) But why did the dancer speak Spanish? (Character choice. The actress playing Texas was herself Texan and half Mexican.)  Why couldn’t the speaker actually refuse to play the song – what was at stake here? (It’s a play. If I don’t play the next song, it breaks.) And just what is the Pineapple Song, anyway? (Sigh.)

It’s kind of a funny story now, I guess. But there’s a reason why I changed the title to Cabaret. Even though I liked the old title better.


What I’ve been up to

August 11, 2011

This isn’t exactly a real post, just a pointer to this poem I wrote a couple of days ago.

If you wanted the vague, five-second update on my life, here goes: We’ve opened a bunch of shows here. They’re going pretty well. I climbed Mount Washington two weeks ago and have plenty of sunburns and bruises to show for it. (Hopefully some pictures at some point, too.) The couple of things I was hoping for at the beginning of the summer didn’t pan out, so I’m dealing with that with varying amounts of success, while trying to look ahead and make plans for the coming year. That’s about it for now.

It does feel good to be writing again, though. I think there’ll be more where that came from.


Smart things said by other people

April 26, 2010

I’m posting these quotes mostly for my own benefit — I have them written down in my beloved cheap spiral notebook, but I keep forgetting to look at them when thinking about how to balance the many things I want and/or need to do in a given day.

What one is looking for is . . . the sense of extraordinary awareness of being, and more than just awareness, responsiveness also, openness. And that is damaged, wiped out by the diurnal — the cares, the responsibilities that each day demand one’s attention.

The curious factor is that the day itself cannot be construed as an enemy; it is what gives you the materials you have not only to contend with, but to work with, to build whatever you are capable of building. If you deny the day completely, you’re lost.

-Stanley Kunitz, from The Wild Braid

And, perhaps contradictorily:

It was in some ways the typical twenty-first-century up-and-coming American poet’s life — the pick-up jobs and the scramble for publishers, the fellowships and relationships . . . , the constant effort to find a way of staying alive without allowing one’s lifeblood to congeal into a career.

-Christian Wiman in Poetry, October 2009

It would seem that Wiman is letting me off the hook, in terms of trying to find a real, grown-up job where I go to the same place every day and don’t sometimes have to buy groceries with my credit card. Those are dangerous, potentially, in that if you put too much time and energy into something else, you might get so engrossed in it that you forget you’re a writer. And I’ve definitely read magazine articles recommending that the really serious writer get a really boring job, thus leaving plenty of brain space for more important things.

Kunitz is less dismissive of doing work outside of writing, though, and I tend to agree with him, because not only does outside knowledge actually provide something to write about, it gives you a context. Say you’re a doctor and also a poet (like William Carlos Williams): you may never write a poem about performing brain surgery, but your precise technical knowledge gives you a whole new vernacular to describe everything else in colors nobody else would have thought of.

The bottom line seems to be that knowledge is good, and experience is good, and without them you haven’t got much to talk about. The tricky part is in walking the line between doing something undemanding but uninspiring, and having a fantastically engaging, fulfilling job that leaves you no time or energy to do anything else. I would seem to sit comfortably in the middle — I do really like most of what I do, most of the time, and I’m not really too busy, and I have not yet failed to pay rent. (It helps that my rent is even more microscopic than my paycheck.) But I also waste a lot of time feeling guilty that I don’t have a Career. And wishing for bigger adventures, some of which would probably be precluded by said Career.

I guess I find the Wiman perspective comforting in its acknowledgment that plenty of people don’t have the balance worked out. Whereas Kunitz sympathizes with the difficulty of working within the paradox, but also reminds me what it’s supposed to feel like when I succeed: awareness, responsiveness, openness. That sounds like a pretty excellent place to be.



April 8, 2010

I shuffled nervously into the office of my thesis advisor, the excellent John Skoyles, to discuss the first draft of my MFA project in creative writing.  He’d assured me it was no big deal, really – we were just going to sit down and talk about some poems.  My poems, the ones I’d written during my almost-three years at Emerson and was now attempting to revise into some sort of cohesive whole.  I wasn’t afraid of John, but I still didn’t know quite what to expect.

“I have two words for you,” he informed me, peering over the top of his glasses.  “Up and out.”  He went on to clarify that I had a bit of a penchant for prepositions, one which was not apparent upon reading the individual poems, but over the course of a thesis, added up to something rather excessive.  He fanned through the pages to show me all those little words he’d circled, words pointing the poems in one direction or another, describing the path of a person or a gaze. Words that I loved and would now have to strike out or replace.

In retrospect, “up” and “out” are words that go a long way towards explaining me, or the me I’m trying to be.  Out of the house.  Up the mountain.  Out from under the doubts that hold me back far too often.  Up the ladder, through the clouds, until I can finally see a little of the road ahead, a little of what waits for me if I really work for it.

Since moving to Quincy last fall, I’ve rekindled an interest in hiking, something I always wanted to do more but could never find the time or place. Maybe everyone feels this way, or more people than I realize, but I’ve spent a lot of my life looking at the trees on the side of the highway, wanting to pull over and go run through the woods. I don’t follow through: I’ve got places to be, and I wouldn’t just abandon my car, and who knows whose woods those are anyway. But the first time I set foot in the Blue Hills reservation, it was like I was finally giving in to those urges, like I’d found exactly where I’d wanted to be all along. And the higher I climbed, the farther away from cars and buildings and people, the happier and more at peace I felt.

Madeleine L’Engle writes eloquently about the need for solitude, for reconnecting with the nonhuman, in A Circle of Quiet; when I read that book, I thought how nice it must be to have a giant sprawling farmhouse in a remote New England village, one where your own personal quiet place is just a few minutes’ walk away.  I feel incredibly lucky to now have a place I can go anytime I’ve got seven minutes to drive, where I can tromp around in leaves and pinecones, find the source of a bird’s call, watch a hawk glide lazily over a tree-filled valley.  A place where I can work through my doubts and fears as I walk, or leave them behind for a while.  I am hoping that the mountains I conquer out there (small ones, for now) will give me the strength and the self-confidence to tackle the ones back here in civilization.