Today is my father’s 85th birthday. My partner,
Georgia, and I wanted to do something special with my parents to celebrate, and
she suggested that we take them to Mary
Stuart. That turned out to be a great idea!
This past Saturday at the Broadhurst Theatre on West 44th Street, we saw a magnificent performance. Janet McTeer (in the title role, as the imprisoned Queen of Scotland) and Harriet Walter (as Elizabeth, the Queen of England) were both sensational. McTeer’s voice—thrillingly resonant and flexible, supple and warm one moment, ferocious the next—was, by itself, worth the price of admission. Just thinking, days later, about the speech she makes to Hanna, her nurse, and Melvil, her loyal steward, before being hauled off to the block gives me a lump in my throat.
But the point of this post isn’t to review an amazing piece of theatre. It’s to wish my father a happy birthday! And also to say how lucky I feel that both of my parents are still with us, still healthy and active and engaged with the world, still able to travel into the city from their home on Long Island to enjoy a wonderful play and a delicious meal.
My father was a child during the Great Depression and served as a naval officer in the Pacific during World War II. He and my mother married—this September, they will have been married for fifty-four years—and they raised three sons. Dad had a long career in banking, but he always said he felt he would have made a good teacher, and he is a good teacher. He taught me to read music and play the piano when I was five or six, and he nurtured in me a life-long love of music and art, for which I will always be grateful.
To say my father and I haven’t always seen eye to eye on
political and religious matters would be an understatement, but our disagreements have taught me a lot about all kinds of things over the years. And one of the things I've learned just in the past few years is that people continue to change. My father, at the age of 85, is still
absorbing new information, still growing and changing (I hope I'll be able to say the same about myself at his age -- in fact, I hope I'll honestly be able to say the same next week). Through his local AARP
chapter, he’s become active as an advocate for health care reform, which is great. Even
better, on our previous visit with my parents, about a month ago, he astonished
Georgia and me by declaring that he had officially withdrawn—unregistered himself—from
the Republican Party (!!!). You have to understand, in my world, this is roughly
equivalent to the Pope deciding that he’s no longer a Catholic. Now, my father hasn’t
actually had a full-blown conversion experience and become a Democrat… yet. But that’s ok; I’m an independent,
In any case, it’s nice to have this platform this week from which to greet my parents and wish my father a happy birthday. I’m not always the most grateful character in the world, but lately, I find myself counting my blessings.
The battle over intellectual property rights continues. Perhaps circumstances favor the electronic newcomers, or perhaps publishers have played their hand badly, but there is a dire threat to the copyright system that has protected authors' rights to control the dissemination of their work and to reap the profits of their labor. Lynn Chu of Writers' representatives has written lucidly and at length on the proposed settlement of suits against Google:
Signing a publishing or agency contract is an individual decision, governed by law. Law of agency, law of copyright. My rule is, sign nothing you don’t understand. That goes for a 1 page document and 335 times that for 335 pages. All this does is confiscate your property, and try to make somebody else into you. A kind of Frankenstein of everybody who ever wrote a book, all glued together. The desperation of these parties for you to “sign,” in itself, is a signal to hold off. We’re just at the start of the digital era, remember? Your price will only go up, not down. Don’t fork over all your bibliographic and file data and contracts into a Borg, not, at least, before you know what it all means, in crisp clear detail. Furnishing them with any data at all is only likely be used against you, mostly to force you into disputes with all the others out there gripping pieces of paper you or somebody else once accidentally signed, who’ll be trying to grab whatever is being spit out of the Borg before you get to it.
This is not a rational system. It’s directly out of Hieronymus Bosch, with the same kind of promotional campaign too.
from "The Revenge of the Epigoni" by Lynn Chu.
I have a confession to make - I'm addicted to true crime stories. Not the gruesome, Texas Chainsaw Massacre kind, but good mysteries with twists and turns and interesting characters. For some reason, the 1920s seems to have an abundance of these kinds of cases. One of my favorites from this era is the still-unsolved murder of Hollywood director, William Desmond Taylor. For over 85 years, moviephiles and true-crime aficionadoes have been sifting through the evidence - which includes a victim with a mysterious past; a beautiful ingenue; her obsessive, jealous mother; a starlet with a secret drug addiction; a district attorney with a vested interest in hiding the truth; plenty of suspects but no arrests - trying to solve this classic Hollywood whodunit.
William Desmond Taylor (below) was a very successful director of the silent era. In February of 1922, he lived in a bungalow on Alverado Avenue in the Westlake section of Los Angeles, then a favorite neighborhood for the movie community. Handsome, urbane, and courtly, Taylor was enormously popular with the actors he directed, who included Mary Pickford, Wallace Reid, and the up-and-coming young actress, Mary Miles Minter. His past was somewhat mysterious; like that other icon of the Jazz Age, Jay Gatsby, he had reinvented himself into the life he dreamed of. Born in Ireland in 1872, his real name was William Cunningham Deane-Tanner. In 1890, he came to America to pursue an acting career. In 1901, he married Floradora Girl Ethel May Hamilton and had a daughter. One day in 1908, married life not agreeing with him in some way and after an affair with another actress, he walked out and never came back.(Apparently this was a family habit: his brother Denis did the same thing to his family and was never seen again. What happened to him remains a mystery). His wife obtained a divorce in 1912. By this time, Taylor was in Hollywood and meeting with some success in his acting career, although by 1914 he had switched to directing. He was known as an "actor's director," respectful, thorough, and quite successful. The acting community seems not to have known about his past life. In 1918, the final year of World War I, he enlisted in the British Army as a private and served so well that when he left the army in 1919, he had been promoted to lieutenant. By 1922, he was an entrenched, well-respected member of the Hollywood film community. He had also re-established contact with his daughter, who, after seeing one of his films, had written to him; he started sending her a monthly allowance and named her as his legal heir. On the surface, Taylor's life seemed to be well-ordered and peaceful.
Until the morning of February 1, 1922. Taylor's valet, Henry Peavey, arriving for work at about 7:00am, stopped briefly to pick up a bottle of milk left on the front step, opened the door, and let out a shriek that woke up the rest of the neighbors in the little bungalow court. Taylor was sprawled on his back in the little entry room directly in front of the door, dead. Peavey's screams soon attracted a crowd, among them an executive from Taylor's studio, a camerman, and Taylor's friend and colleague, Julia Crawford Ivers. By the time someone thought to call the police, Taylor's friends had entered the house and removed what they considered items liable to tarnish Taylor's reputation, including letters from several women and a pink negilgee hanging neatly in a closet.
When the police finally arrived, the crime scene had been hopelessly contaminated. What they did find was that Taylor had been shot in the side, probably about 12 hours earlier. There was no sign of forced entry. In his pockets, in addition to $78 in cash (a not-inconsiderable sum in 1922), were a gold pocket-watch, an ivory toothpick, and a cigarette case. He was also wearing a two-carat diamond ring. All of these were easily-pawned items, which seemed to rule out robbery as a motive. (Later, Taylor's accountant claimed that Taylor had shown her a large roll of cash the day before. This cash was never found. However, the accountant's claim was never substantiated.) If robbery wasn't the reason, who would want to kill this well-known and well-liked man? And why?
Today I was all set to follow yesterday’s
post with more choruses of praise for AJN, the
great nursing journal I’ve been privileged to edit for the past eight and a
half years, and then I thought, why not just let Liyana sing them for me? (Scroll down to Two Songs by Liyana and click on that—I
promise, you won’t be sorry you did.)
If you want to find out more, check out the interview with Liyana, reported by AJN’s senior editorial coordinator Alison Bulman (and produced by yours truly). Their story is inspiring.
And while we’re on the subject of terrific music, check out this amazing YouTube video of Dinah Washington singing “What A Diff’rence A Day Makes,” live at the Apollo Theater. (By the way, who’s that suit making the introductions? He looks vaguely familiar…)
Yeshiva Boys David Lehman. Scribner, $30 (160p) ISBN 978-1-4391-3617-1
Disarmingly casual, unexpectedly serious, alert to his
predecessors and mentors in literature and in life, Best American Poetry series
editor Lehman (When a Woman Loves a Man) has produced a seventh book of
uncommon variety. Some poems consider writing itself, as inspiration, as
vocation, as business—“That's the thing about ambitious middle-aged
writers/ who used to be young: each has a secret problem,/ and if they confess
it, they think it will advance/ their careers.” Others seek the
informality that Lehman's readers have come to expect. The Jewish content
promised by the title arrives in force late in the volume, as the title poem
cuts between Lehman's remembered childhood and his adult meditations on
heritage and the Holocaust: “I feel as if my real life is somewhere else,
I left it/ back in 1938.” (Lehman's mother, who speaks the prose
epilogue, describes her life as a child in Vienna and as a refugee.) Lehman,
who lives in New York, remains alert to many styles and forms; as a poet he has
often followed in the tracks of Kenneth Koch and Frank O'Hara. The title poem,
leaving those influences behind, will seem to some readers flat and without
style, to others as personal and as profound as anything Lehman has written. (Nov.)
from Publishers Weekly, August 17, 2009
Full confession: This is, essentially, the blog post I put up this morning on Entertainment Weekly's website, where I write a daily blog. But knowing how many BAP readers are Mad Men fans, I wanted to share it and hope it sparks some discussion. Best, Ken Tucker:
I’m referring to the sex scene between Sal Romano (the superb Bryan Batt) and the bellhop. I’m not saying this was the most important subplot in the premiere – certainly seeing Don Draper in his bare feet in this night’s opening shot, a symbol of the naked soul within, was the hour’s crucial hint of what’s to come in season three.
But for Sal’s repressed sexuality, something we’ve known about since the first Mad Men season, to be brought to the fore on premiere night suggests how important this element is to series creator Matthew Weiner. On one level, leaving Sal in the closet for so long (and he remains so even after last night, to everyone except Don) was merely a necessary period detail for Mad Men. Given the era, there was probably no way an out gay man could have risen to the position Sal has within the ad agency. And marrying him off to a woman who doesn’t demand much beyond his smile, his kindness, and his paycheck is also in keeping with the times.
Choosing to have Sal cruised by a horny bellhop, and to have Sal enjoy his romp while on a business trip, is one of those neat (sometimes too-neat) symmetries that Weiner regularly employs. In this case, it made dramatic sense for Sal to engage in illicit sex as much as it did (and has) for Don Draper to do so on previous business jaunts. These away-from-the-office excursions are Mad Men excuses for men to behave madly – more freely and more true to themselves than they are at work or at home. And certainly the scene was staged beautifully: We could share the anguished joy and release Sal felt. By the time this episode occurred in 1963, Allen Ginsberg may have “Howl”'ed and Frank O’Hara (the poet whose work Don read last season) had enjoyed trysts and steady relationships with a variety of male companions, but these were bohemian artists, not the buttoned-up businessmen of Mad Men.
Weiner wrote this episode, and I treasured his usual small-but-significent period details. In these scenes I'm talking about, for instance, it was great to be reminded that, once upon a time, a fire escape was actually something people used to escape from a possible fire, as we saw here. (Does anyone in a big city hotel ever think about using these rickety, rusty things in case of an emergency anymore?)
But I do think Weiner took one easy way out: In the scene near the end, on the plane ride home, Don made it clear by implication that Sal's secret is safe with him, and that he's not upset with Sal. I would hazard, however, that a guy like Don, all steely self-discipline, furtive secrets himself, and raging straight hormones, would have been (in the realism of this series) more hypocritical, and thus repelled by what he glimpsed in Sal's room. It would have freaked out Don's very (straight) soul. He may read poetry out of curiosity and despair, but Don is ultimately a social and artistic conservative: He wants Betty home waiting for him with a home-cooked meal, and remember, he dismissed the famous DDB Volkswagen "Lemon" ad campaign by saying, "I don't know what I hate about it the most."
But even for a daring drama like Mad Men, accommodations must be made: Don must remain our sympathetic hero, and a homophobe -- the "-phobe" here meaning someone frightened, not hating -- cannot be a hero.
Greetings from hot and sunny Brooklyn! It’s a pleasure to be
invited to join the distinguished group of guest bloggers here at Best American Poetry—thanks, Stacey. First, if you’ll indulge me, a little throat-clearing: Not
having published much aside from what appears in AJN, I was feeling a bit uncertain about how to present myself. I
thought that in lieu of a biographical note, I might offer this caption from a
recent New Yorker cartoon. (It shows two men
sitting in an office on either side of a large desk: “I’m fifty-three, but I
have the résumé of a much younger man.” A tip of this season’s must-have—but in
my case, not-yet-acquired—woven-straw fedora to cartoonist Barbara Smaller.)
Greetings from hot and sunny Brooklyn! It’s a pleasure to be invited to join the distinguished group of guest bloggers here at Best American Poetry—thanks, Stacey.
First, if you’ll indulge me, a little throat-clearing: Not having published much aside from what appears in AJN, I was feeling a bit uncertain about how to present myself. I thought that in lieu of a biographical note, I might offer this caption from a recent New Yorker cartoon. (It shows two men sitting in an office on either side of a large desk: “I’m fifty-three, but I have the résumé of a much younger man.” A tip of this season’s must-have—but in my case, not-yet-acquired—woven-straw fedora to cartoonist Barbara Smaller.)
The truth is, aside from the semi-annual workplace performance self-evaluation, I find no writing assignment so daunting as the brief biographical note (no Pulitzer, no MacArthur, and I still haven’t cleaned up that mess in the Middle East, so what’s really to brag about?). And at first blush, that caption really seems to sum up my career very succinctly. (Meditation on the biographical note also called to mind Stacey’s hilarious poem, “Contributors’ Notes,” which really nails the absurdity of thumbnail biographical sketches and perhaps, by implication, the horrors of composing them. Some readers of this blog may recall that her reading of it got a lot of laughs at the marathon Best American Poetry reading at the New School several years ago. It seemed as if it struck a chord with many people in the audience that night.)
Then, upon further reflection, it occurred to me that it would be much more accurate to say that I have the résumés—if not the strength—of several younger men! (Fortunately for you, patient reader, an explanation of that will have to wait for another day…) So I tried my hand at a few unamusing lines about my day job, and I thought, “OK, at least I sound like a productive member of society, if not the world of letters (or high-level international diplomacy). I can live with that.”
So that’s the end of my throat-clearing for today. Now, on to what I really want to tell you about that day job!
The first thing you will want to know about AJN is that we publish poetry and visual art (we even consider short—very short—fiction).
It’s true: every month, on our Art of Nursing page, AJN publishes a poem or a piece of
visual art. And we desperately need good poets and artists to submit their work
last month right away!
You don’t have to be a nurse to publish your poetry or artwork in AJN. We’re looking for work that has something to do with healthcare, broadly construed. As long as it deals with physical, mental, spiritual health and/or illness, or with caring for the sick, it will be considered. (One other limitation: we don’t publish work that’s been previously published in print or online.)
My friend and colleague Sylvia Foley coordinates the Art of Nursing page and wrote a blog post about submitting work to it here: http://bit.ly/fzcIu. (Sylvia, by the way, is the author of Life in the Air Ocean, a prize-winning book of linked short stories published by Knopf.)
Submission guidelines for Art of Nursing are available on our Editorial Manager Web page (under Files & Resources, Author Guidelines, Art of Nursing) here.
Art of Nursing is always free on our Web site. Go to www.ajnonline.com, click on the Previous Issues button at the top of the homepage, and scroll through the tables of contents for Art of Nursing. (Admittedly, our Web site can be a little tricky to navigate. Once you select a given issue, click on the Table of Contents Outline link, click Feature in the pop-up window, and then scroll down to Art of Nursing.) Recent poems, read by the authors, are also available as podcasts on our podcast page. Click on the Podcasts button at the top of the homepage and then scroll down to Art of Nursing.
That’s all for today—have a great Sunday!
It’s true Conduit may have too many slogans for a budget-deficit endeavor,
but we insist. One of my personal favorites states that it’s published “when
least expected.” This refers to our irregular schedule. Conduit is a biannual that has been publishing since 1993, yet only
recently did we publish our twentieth issue. No, the math doesn’t quite add up,
but nevertheless we persist.
The idea for Conduit came to me, just before I graduated from the University of Massachusetts, when I realized that few of my many talented associates were getting published. Because there were fewer venues to publish then and even fewer willing to take chances on unknown voices, or so I thought, I determined the remedy for such a malady was to start a magazine, to start “the only magazine that risks annihilation,” and thus Conduit was born. From the beginning, we’ve championed the young, the unknown, and the unaffiliated. It’s a joy to publish one’s heroes as we have, but it’s almost sweeter to find a wildflower among the weeds.
Carley Moore’s “The Match” is the first poem in our twentieth issue, “Humans ‘N Nature.” I can’t say I know much about Ms. Moore aside from she writes a no nonsense cover letter and polite emails, but we took a fancy to her poem right away. And when the time came I knew “The Match” had to lead the issue off. Plainspoken as it appears, the poem welcomes, calms, disarms, and even comforts before dispatching the reader to that beautiful, yet slippery, precipice where reason and unreason hang in the balance.
-- William Waltz
At the stairs to the top of the volcano,
you warn me, “Secrets are small fires.
Let’s be more primitive. Let’s tie ourselves up.
Let’s wait for the monster.”
We do. We tie. We wait. And we wait.
This waiting is more like a highway than a staircase.
This waiting is more like waiting than I thought it would be.
There are things that are right about the moon,
but it’s not enough. You want to live underneath the volcano—
to stop hanging out in other people’s hallways.
You want to take the kitchen chairs out of the kitchen.
It’s not unreasonable, but then you cut your heel on the crust of the volcano.
You beg to be put to bed and I do it.
I pretend to know what you are.
You are something that lies down and offers itself.
You are small and almost wooden—a match trying to move to the fire.
You are my arm reaching to turn out the light.
-- Carley Moore
THE JILTING OF GRANNY WEATHERALL: Two
gerontophiles fall in love with the same Granny. Liza, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania
Jon Hamm and January Jones. Photo by Annie Leibovitz.
Click here for Bruce Handy's behind the scenes view of the show and its creator, Matt Weiner, in Vanity Fair.
Only 1% of the deep sea's floor has been discovered. I'll repeat, (written out for our memory), one percent. How much of our brains do we use again? Well, they now say it's much more than the now mythological assumption of 10% but we know there's an ocean of untapped potential there. William James insisted in 1908: "We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources" (The Energies of Men) How many deep sea creatures do we still discover each year? The new psychedelica frogfish is completely covered in swirling concentric stripes and the US scientific journal Copeia says its "overall impression...was of an inflated rubber ball bouncing along the bottom". The Lion's Mane Jellyfish resembles the victorian skirts of a woman in the throes of passion, the see-through single blob with eyes creatures who live below any visible light remind us of middle of the night loneliness, volcanic vent tube worms and crabs, perhaps bleached white by the 400 f.+ degree temperatures, look like rage that has long past, nudibranchs, hallucinatory florescent pink, green, orange, blue and purple soft creatures can dance, be toxic, change sex, and the "spiral poo worm" speaks for itself. Woo me in these unfathomable fathoms of discovery, show me photographs of deep sea creatures and the other great unknown, deep space, and I will be ecstatic, forever transformed.
There are many great unknowns in our little universe, including unknown poets. Writing what you don't know you know is a familiar consolation of the art of poetry. Poetry seeks out the unknown, seduces it into the light. David St. John, in addition to his regular classes, teaches film and poetry, music and poetry, and the vast cross-over unknown divide between the arts. One of our great poets, former Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz who said he was "living and dying at once," enticed all the paradoxes of the unknown's mystery. Today's west coast award-winning poet is Lynne Thompson ( Beg No Pardon, Perugia Press, 2007 ). Her work haunts the future and the past, and so too, defies anonymity. Here's one, from her variety of styles:
Come Back Mister Scissorhands
In my dreams, his name is Hunger Unspoken. His name
is House Still Sleeping, is Cigarette, Wolf, and Cold Coffee.
Under my lids, his name cascades like snow,
slips away like black jade, one minute paraìso
then suddenly cara-de-cão or ninho des vespas
and I am as old as I am. In my useless reveries,
I speak more softly than the dying
when I call to him: night horn? root of a scream?
Knowing, finding the unknown, being known, and even un-knowing ourselves in poetry's act of reinvention, we discover language engendered by motive. Andre′ Breton's meditation from Mad Love reinforces what happens when (and how) we seek out the unknown: "Desire, the only motive of the world, desire... I wander in the superb bathroom of vapor. Everything around me is unknown to me... I am looking for you." One of the very best "unknown" (amazingly not yet fully published) poets, William Wadsworth brings classical knowledge into the contemporary realm, his passport-crossing over desire's many borders. I love the end of "The Authority of Elsewhere" found in his chapbook The Physicist on a Cold Night Explains, Breakaway Press, 2003.
...I wander out
beyond these premises to prove
that extravagant darkness is what I love.
I am told there is a fabulous beast
which certain populations east
of here consider sacred,
or so, according to some authority, is not an unfounded
fact. The authority of elsewhere sleeps in my bed,
she is undercover, she is naked,
she leaves every word unsaid.
What we love can be synonymous with who we are and with how we use language. In Heather McHugh's brilliant essay book Broken English she wrote " if you think you know yourself, you haven’t looked far enough --- into that distance where your strangeness is. You hold more than you know, and that is how knowing opens.” Tupelo Press poet Karen Ann-Hwei Lee address her readers by saying " We are still strangers, but love will help us navigate the unknown."
There's so many vibrant unknown presses, sites, magazines, and it seems it is our duty to seek them out --- to seek them out ( the process of poetry itself), like Darwin (below) in search of the next rare beetle:
"One day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one."
I would like to bring your attention to just a few and thank you in advance for listening to this week's blog. Once again, apologies to the many poets not yet mentioned: I will keep you in mind. Thank you & Cheers! Elena Karina Byrne
Our filmmaker/photographer friend Bill Hayward sends this crash of color and caution:
am sending along this crash of color just because...
Here, from the New York Times, is Alessandra Stanley's preview of the new season.
(To the left: Christina Hendricks as top secretary and chief voluptuary Joan -- the greatest piece of ass of all time, as boss Sterling tells her, even if she is unmaried on the wrong side of 30
From Stanley's review:
The show’s period clothes, cocktails and allusions to Hitchcock, Bob Dylan and Frank O’Hara are no longer new. Neither are the narrative feints that spike suspense by deflecting it — though the trick continues to work. There are still mysteries to even the most closely examined lead characters. Peggy; Joan (Christina Hendricks), the office manager; and even Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), the weaselly account executive, are so familiar, yet they remain enigmatic — protected by a thin, exotic veil of weirdness.
And, most of all, so does Don’s beautiful wife, Betty (January Jones), who is in the last stages of pregnancy with their third child and worried about her increasingly senile father, Gene (Ryan Cutrona). Betty is even more concerned that her brother and his wife have designs on their father’s property.
Don, an incorrigibly unfaithful husband but a loyal spouse, decides that the old man can live with them. Gene repays the hospitality by instructing his granddaughter to read aloud to him from Gibbon’s history of the fall of the Roman Empire. When Don comes home, Gene asks acidly, “How’s Babylon?” >>
Busy men doing important
Flying private into Minneapolis
LAX, checking into Four Seasons Laguna,
CNN on HDTV, the toilet flushing;
A few – very few, actually – die suddenly
Of coronary infarction on the double beds
But far greater numbers furtively masturbate
To glowing screens, then watch basketball
Until dinner. Busy men? Important work?
“So it seems to them!” the cynic mocks --
But if I indulge facile Sinclair Lewis-style
Animadversions toward executive sales types
Must I not then too inquire: “Eschewing
The rat race is well and good, but what great
Poems hath the unraced rat written or will write?
And btw, what hot girls is he fucking? Is he busy?
Important work?” Ha, I’m laughing! O God!
-- Mitch Sisskind
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.