On July 15, 2012, we reported in this space that Lauren Ambrose of Six Feet Under fame would play the part of Dr. Susan Wheeler in a two-night miniseries based on Robin Cook's 1977 novel, Coma. That show aired last fall. Now we learn that a character named Lydia Davis plays a vital role in the pilot episode of Revenge, a successful series now in its secnd season, about a girl who grows up to avenge her wrongfully disgraced father. The Hamptons are the locale and pretty much everyone is evil, vain, treacherous, and bitchy except for the men who are evil, vain, clueless, and unfaithful as the day is long. There is a hierarchy in this evil queendom, and the queen bee here is Victoria Grayson (played by Madeleine Stowe). The avenger was once named Amanda Clarke; now she is Emily Thorne (played by Emily VanCamp). Stacey said, "imagine what Barbara Stanwyck would do with either of these parts." Joe pointed out that the show is basically "The Count of Monte Cristo" meets summer in the Hamptons. Lydia Davis is Victoria Grayson's best friend, as rich as she is blonde. It was Lydia Davis who gave a Van Gogh to her friend as a token of her esteem, But Lydia Davis is about to be excommunicated from the golden realm for having been caught fucking Victoria Grayson's husband! Who had a fake heart attack! Which was arranged by Emily Thorne! And you the viewer are left wondering about the exact relation between the character of Lydia Davis and the texts created by the author Lydia Davis even as you applaud this new fashion of naming the characters in TV series after contemporary poets. -- DL
Folks, our favorite literary television show announced today that it will return April 7 with a two-hour, movie-style premier.
Brush up your O'Hara, stock up your vermouth and plan your parties accordingly -- and invite me, please!
"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner isn't giving much away about the penultimate season opener. But new cast photos suggest that Pete grows sideburns, Betty slims down and our favorite women, Megan, Peggy and Joan, are still in the picture.
"It has some cliffhanger elements to it, it does propel you into the rest of the season -- it does foreshadow a lot what the season is about," Weiner told The New York Times. "But I was like, I want to write a movie here, that we can create the atmosphere and vibe of the season.”
I don't know about you, but I'm always a little amazed that the show gets away with poetry. When Don Draper reads section four of Frank O'Hara's "Mayakovsky," it's like bumping into a good friend in an unexpected place. "What, you go here, too?" Confusion and happiness ensue.
Because of this, I find myself wondering, who are these writers? How did they find themselves in TV? And how can I take their jobs?
It turns out Weiner does most of the writing himself. He studied literature, philosophy and history at Wesleyan and got an MFA from USC. He penned the "Mad Men" pilot back in 1999 while working for "Becker."(!) The strength of that script landed him a gig with "The Sopranos," and he waited until the mob show wrapped to shop around his period drama.
Weiner spoke about the writing process with the Times last year, saying, "There's about a three-week rumination period, which involves a lot of napping, a lot of holding books. Whether I'm reading them or not, I cannot say."
When he started writing season six, he put off his best ideas, saving them for that nebulous "later." Finally, his producers told him, “go for broke, use up everything you have.”
“So I decided to throw it all in,” Weiner told the paper.
David Lehman offers the same advice to poets. Don't put off writing the poem. Catch it when it comes to you. I can't wait to watch "Mad Men" go for broke, and can't help but wonder which 60s poet we'll run into next.
Your daily prompt: Recap a televesion show episode in poetic form.
When I was an undergraduate with limitless energy and cranking out poems left and
right for my workshop classes, all I wrote about was my family. There were
poems about everything from my grandfather’s hands to the years he spent
working in a field. Even the paisley print of one of my grandmother’s shirts
made it into a poem. As did my brother, mother and father, even a certain rude
classmate whose name or face I can no longer remember made an appearance as a
Some of these poems, in spite of
how poorly made they were, brought my mother to tears when she read them because
there we were, our family, our struggles, on a piece of paper. It was a record,
albeit a weak one, that we had lived and suffered and were still here.
Take all the records the government
could use to prove someone’s existence (deeds, bills, social security card, pay
stubs, etc.) and they would say little more than my family had lived on a
certain street and used X number of watts of electricity to power our washer
and microwave and the TV that once the day’s robberies and Reagan’s pearls of
ignorance had been reported by news anchors and Johnny Carson had bid us
goodnight, began broadcasting pure static snow all through the night until the
morning brought the national anthem and our beautiful, waving flag. None of
this ever made it into my poems back then because I was, in my ignorance, mining
what I knew and being a third-rate Confessional.
Later, when I was a graduate
student and I had run out of things to write about in my life, I tried slipping
into the lives of others and liked it, so much so in fact, I never tried to put
myself in a poem again, aside from the minor personal detail I might secretly
slip in like my tendency to mumble or my awful memory, details no one would
ever know unless I pointed them out. What’s more, I tried to hide these details
in scenes that might be filled with Johnny Carson and images of patriotism
sitting snugly beside a microwave dinner.
I was, to put it simply, trying to
obliterate myself in my poetry so that I could make up stories about people and
places and things that were far more interesting than I was, stories that might
help a reader meet someone new or travel somewhere different. In Lord Jim, Conrad writes, “My task, which
I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear,
to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see.” Conrad had it easy, as do
most writers of fiction, in that if a reader could be made “to see” something,
she would most likely not think the character who spoke about writing and
seeing was Conrad himself, just as no one I know has ever mistaken Huckleberry
Finn for Twain or Gatsby for Fitzgerald.
And yet, it is our burden as poets
is it not, to be confused for our speakers, even if they be of a different age
or gender or species, all of which was the subject of conversation while my
family and I passed turkey and dressing and peach wine during Thanksgiving. Try
as I might, I could not convince them that the book I had written and whose poems
they had carefully read—a thousand blessings on their heads for that—was not
written by a 200 year old half man/half bear who had moonlighted as a soldier,
a prisoner of war, a Soviet scientist, a preacher, and countless other things.
Having to choose between thinking
that I could spin a really good yarn or that I was a centuries-old hybrid
creature living among them, they happily picked the latter, a choice which
delights me to no end because it is just one more of a thousand masks I am
happy to accept and wear and for which I will always gladly give thanks.
The best TV commercial of the year is Direct TV's "Don't attend your own funeral as a guy named Phil Shifley." The cause-and-effect sequence -- "when you wait forever for the cable guy you get bored, when you get bored you stare out the window, when you stare out the window you see things you shouldn't see, when you see things you shouldn't see you need to vanish" -- creates a rapid absurdist narrative Don Draper would have liked. The clauses escalate: "when you need to vanish, you fake your own death" (with a picture of a man surfacing in the ocean, a burning ship in the distance), then "you dye your eyebrows," and finally the coup de grace: "you attend your own funeral as a guy named Phil Shifley." The specificity of this name is a nifty touch. I wonder whether it's the name of a guy at the ad agency.
The worst TV commercial of the year -- take it from one who has watched too many baseball and football games this fall -- is a forty-way tie among car commercials that use the fake word "introducing." Even a commercial for Mercedes, with Jon Hamm's voice over it, is guilty of this triteness next to which the cliches of car ads from the print magazines of yore ("runs good," "loaded") seem amost OK.
The weirdest commercial of the year is, hands down, the one from Direct TV featuring a blonde wife emerging from the shower, wrapped in a towel, looking distraught. The huge TV screen on the wall reports a "recording conflict." (Apparently the household cable TV system can record one show at any given time.) She says she is "sick of this thing," adding, "I just feel like it's watching me walk around naked." Snarls hubby, in front of the bathroom mirror, "Well, at least somebody gets to." Then he continues brushing his teeth, noisily, the noise communicating his contempt. The idea of a "recording conflict" -- and of warring TV tastes -- as emblematic of a marriage on the rocks is smart, but the use of a bitterly quarreling couple to sell a product is negativity of a kind usually seen only in political ads. Still, it does a lot in fifteen seconds, and it does not involve a talking animal. -- DL
Great catch Ken Tucker! On September 3, this @KenTucker tweet breezed by: "I fear betrayal in friendship and love that blindsides me": not Walt Whitman, but another poet, Denise Duhamel" and now lots of people want to know which poem it's from.
82 Reasons Not to Get Out of Bed (by Denise Duhamel et. al.)
I fear dented cans,
the ones with their labels torn like a pantyhose run.
I fear dented cans even though I know
bulging cans are the ones that cause botulism.
I fear small caskets, and I fear small pox.
I can’t be vaccinated because I’m allergic to the serum.
Check my arms—I don’t have any of those vaccination dents
like everyone else. I fear going to a new hairdresser
or gynecologist. I fear people with authority who look nervous.
I fear any box big enough to hold me.
I fear the number 4 for no reason.
I fear this bad habit will catch up to me.
I fear being awake in the middle of the night
when everyone else is asleep, even that yappy dog Peppy,
and the baby in him. I fear the dogs that do not recognize
my smell or care. I fear the whirr and rattle of the tail.
I fear the front door slamming when the bedroom window is locked.
I fear strangers who do not know my strength . . .
And this is what Denise Duhamel had to say about how the poem was written:
Lines for “82 Reasons Not to Get Out of Bed” were written on October 24, 2001
by the members of Special Topics: Trends in Contemporary Poetry—Literary
Collaboration and Collage, a graduate seminar I taught at Florida International
University. Mitch Alderman, Terri Carrion, Andreé Conrad, Kendra Dwelley
Guimaraes, Wayne Loshusan, Abigail Martin, Rita Martinez, Estee Mazor,
Astrid Parrish, Stacy Richardson, Sandy Rodriguez, Jay Snodgrass, Richard
Toumey, George Tucker, Jennifer Welch, William Whitehurst, and I wrote indi-
vidual lines. Rita Martinez took the lines and rearranged them into the final ver-
sion of the poem. Stacy Richardson, the only undergraduate in our class, passed
away in 2002. This poem is dedicated to her.
Fans of poetry and Breaking Bad know that Walt Whitman had a starring role. Did anyone besides Ken pick up on Denise's cameo?
Lauren Ambrose of Six Feet Under fame has agreed to play the part of Dr. Susan Wheeler in a two-night miniseries based on Robin Cook's 1977 novel, Coma. Wheeler (pictured at right) is the author of Assorted Poems (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2009) and such other collections as Smokes, Ledger, and Bag 'O' Diamonds. Her work has appeared in eight volumes of The Best American Poetry series. In the TV show, Susan is a medical student who works with Ellen Burstyn, now 79, at a hospital where healthy patients tumble alarmingly into unconsciousness for no apparent reason. Sounds like every hospital I know. Just as 90% of home accidents happen in your bathroom, so too the hospital is the place you are most likely to contract a disease or die. Mystery novelists factor this into their thinking. According to A & E (Arts & Entertainment), the miniseies -- which also features Richard Dreyfuss, Ellen Burstyn, James Woods, Geena Davis, and Steven Pasquale.-- is a "modern retelling" of Cook's novel -- you know, like "Hamlet" in "Mad Men" attire. According to Entertainment Weekly, which broke the story, Denzel Washington has been an inspiration for Lauren Ambrose. According to John Ashbery, "Susan Wheeler's narrative glamour finds occasions in unlikely places: hardware stores, Herodotus, Hollywood Squares, Flemish paintings, green stamps, and echoes of archaic and cyber speech. What at first seems cacophonous comes in the end to seem invested with a mournful dignity." In the TV show, Wheeler attends a reading Ashbery gives at the New School on West 12th Street in New York City. Archie Goodwin is in the audience. Nero Wolfe is in the brownstone cultivating orchids and tearing up Webster's unspeakable Third. In this very room Susan Wheeler has channeled Quentin Metsys, the fifteenth century Flemish painter, whose master work "The Money Lender and His Wife" hangs in the Louvre and whose surname is "system" spelled backward. Inspired by Ashbery, Wheeler's poem won the contest. Richard Howard picked it. The real Susan Wheeler teaches at Princeton. The fake Susan Wheeler is like "Denzel on a mission," said Lauren Ambrose. The real Susan Wheeler's birthday is tomorrow, July 16, and we hope it will be a very happy one. This is not the first adaptation of the Robin Cook novel. Does Dr. Susan Wheeler figure in the Coma of 1978 (Michael Crichton's movie), and, if so, who played her? "The Coma of 1978" -- now there's a title a poet can do something with.-- DL
The star of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying mystifies the panelists of "What's My Line?" including Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis, Martin Gabel, and Pamela Tiffin. John Daly is the moderator. O Mnemosyne, mother of the nine muses. This is what TV was like on Sunday nights in the era of Mad Men. "Bobby" Morse in another interview says that he sometimes shows up for work on the Mad Men set singing "A Secretary is not a Toy" from How to Succeed way back when. -- DL
Some quotes: "I have a hot tooth." "Go to the Cloisters without me." "Never cheap." "I consider it a success: you didn't have to go a whole day wihout calling me an idiot." "Why is this so hard? You only have to write 120 words and fifteen of them are Ajax." "You just hate him because he voted for Goldwater." "Will you take LSD with me?" "You're really drunk. Sleep it off." "This is what happens when you have the artistic temperament without being an artist."
Doors open, doors close, and an Old Fashioned with a beautiful stranger at a luxe Midtown bar is the way the evening ends.
The one universal truth linking all episodes of all seasons of "Mad Men" is that the client is always a shmuck.
"$50,000." That's the sum, the reccurent sum -- what a night with Joan is worth, or the life of Lane, or the collateral for a partnership in the firm, or the check Don gives to the angry widow. Fifty grand was a lot of money in those days. The most valuable stamp in the world was worth $50,000. Ernest Hemingway's story "Fifty Grand" was being read by aspiring writers in science-oriented high school programs in the post-Sputnik era of high angst. Sandy Koufax held out for one hundred thousand dollars. That was the really magic number in those days. That was the Joe DiMaggio number.
Peggy has come a long way, baby -- she's off to Virginia, slim -- and Don's brother is going to "hang around. Get it?" Hang on for dear life, dear death, dear Adam. The suicide of one brother is the suicide of all. Dick Whitman gets to celebrate himself. His life's a toothache, and Canadian Club's the palliative. Meanwhile, lots of people get to sock Pete in the jaw. Megan gets the part of Beauty in the "Beauty and the Beast" commercial for Butler Shoes. Who do you suppose is the beast in her life? And Roger hangs his hopes on the nudity of his life in bed with his French-speaking mistress, mother of his partner's wife.
Don, Peggy, and Ginsberg tell me that they dig two commercials on TV right now. The two, as paraphrased by me, who am too lazy to dig up the videos, are
(1) << A spot against cable tv, because the cable guy won't come, so you look out the window, and when you look out the window, you see things you shouldn't see, and when that happens you have to disappear, and when you disappear you have to dye your eyebrows white, and when you do that you end up attending your own funeral as a guy named Phil Schiffly. Don't be Phil Schiffly. Switch to our dish or satellite or whatever the hell we're offering instead of cable. >>
Ginsberg said, "The visuals are funny, but the genius part of the commercial is the use of the name Phil Schiffly. (Oh, and btw, Phil Schiffly is the name of a guy who used to work in the ad agency's office before he screwed the pooch.)"
(2) << Car commercial. Attractive lady applies lie detector test to regular guy in shirt and tie. Nondescript q-and-a until she asks him, "Are you wildly and uncontrollably attracted to me?" He, emphatically: "No." Lie detector needle jumps all over the place. "Good," she says. "It's working." >>
At the bar waiting for his Od Fashioned, Don tells me he likes the car commercial because it takes the focus away from the car. "How much Bud would you sell if people tasted the stuff?" Then he excused himself to talk to the woman who approached asking him to light her fire. Come on baby light my fire. Doors open, doors close, and The Doors should sing. Hey, man, it's 1967. But James Bond is still in power, and "You Only Live Twice" is the song of the movie of the day. Don is on lifetime number two right now. The experience called "Vietnam" has not quite happened in the suburbs or on the New Haven line, the one-bedrooms in the East 60s, and the luxury flats in Midtown. And the news is just months away. -- DL
Spoiler alert: Read no further if you haven't seen the episode [the penultimate one in season five]. Context: Faced with a then-hefty debt of $7,500, Lane forged Don's name on a check and embezzled the sum from the firm. It would have been a shoirt term loan, he argues, but Don feels he has no choice but to force the Englishman's resignation. ("I can't trust you.") Lane is honoirable but weak. Losing his job would mean losing his visa as well as his source of income. How will he face his wife? She little suspects her husband has gotten himself into so serious a jam. What will he say to his son? The humiliation is total. It is a splendid irony that his wife has written a check to buy him a surprise present of a Jaguar, the account the firm has landed, at the very moment when their finances can least afford such an extravagance. But then she is as much in the dark about her husband's work as Kurtz's fiancee is of the deeds her hero has done in the Congo. The irony is beautifully compunded: the Jaguar fails to start when Lane chooses death by carbon monoxide as his "elegant exit" (Don's phrase), and he floods the engine. What does he do instead? Bad pun department: I won 't leave you hanging for long. In the teaser for next week, Don is seen calling on someone at home. Stacey thinks (predicts) that he is visiting Lane's widow, paying her a condolence call, telling her what "really" happened -- possibly in the way that Marlow calls on Kurtz's fiancee and lies to her to keep her illusions intact. The less prescient of the two of us thinks he is showing up unexpectedly at either Joan's or Peggy's apartment. Samuel Johnson it was who said that "nothing concentrates the mind like the knowledge that one will be hanged in the morning." -- DL
<<< Tragedy struck the Mad world last night. Lane killed himself. Emotional defeat spread from his career to family to personal dreams, and he decided life wasn’t worth living.
I can’t say I was surprised. After the confrontational exchange with Don, I felt he might be vulnerable to such an act. Among the suits, Don is the exception to the rule. Rather than disgrace Lane publically, he fires and castigates him privately while also offering his version of encouragement. When Lane says he doesn’t know what he’ll tell his wife or son, Don replies, “you’ll tell them that it didn’t work out, because it didn’t. You’ll tell them the next thing will be better, because it always is. Take the weekend. Think of an elegant exist.” But some exits in life are too harsh and lonely. When Lane returns to his office after that exchange, gulping down whiskey by the glass, I visualized him in a snow globe, completely detached from the world, utterly consumed with the pain of recent moments. There is a miniature Statue of Liberty behind him but at that instant she means nothing to him.
Lane doesn’t find peace and solace when he goes home but more pain. The wives, Lane’s and Don’s, stick to type. They want to prepare and serve dinner or go to a restaurant -- wanting the best for their husbands, who are falling apart at the time. Even when Lane vomits after his wife shows him the Jaguar she bought for him, the poor woman believes it’s simply because he has drunk too much. She cannot possibly see that her well-intentioned gift is a dagger to his heart.
It’s always a joy to see Sally. She’s precious, stubborn, mischievous, feisty, yet singularly clear in wanting honest relationships with others. Her communication with Glen, her phone pal, is guided by honesty. It’s hard not to adore a boy who’d rather go to the Museum of Natural History than stay at Sally’s home and get into any level of trouble. Yet when Sally discovers she has started her menstruation she runs away, ashamed and unprepared to explain what she’s going through.
While Lane is caught in an emotional tornado, Don is trying to resurrect his warrior side: the side of him that used to aggressively search for business opportunities and not wait for them to come to him; the side of him that, as he tells Roger, is “tired of living in this delusion that we’re going somewhere.” He wants to pursue his dreams of handling big accounts and working for major American companies (American rather than Mohawk airlines, Chevy rather than Jaguar). The conversation with Lane is decisive for him, too -- it reminds him to focus on what he really wants to do, but it leaves him clueless as to the danger Lane is in. His version of starting over in life isn’t the same as Lane’s. When he hears of Lane’s suicide he immediately knows that the best he can do for him then is to give him some dignity in death and cut him down from the noose..