Saturday, July 26, 2014

Begin the Balsam

Background music: "Begin the Beguine" by Cole Porter.

While I was busy, the balsam began to bloom in my yard. I have sprinkled its seeds here and there, and it is beautiful. I am about to "unplug" for a week or so, to focus on The Language Archive, by Julia Cho, and to spend time with my family wamily. Meanwhile, the pink blossoms will pour out their beauty.

I didn't know what a Beguine was till I went to Wikipedia to learn a bit more about that lovely song. It's a Christian lay woman who did not marry. Now I want to know more, which is what always happens when I learn a little. Likewise, with L.L. Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, the language of hope. We need more of that--hope, and a way to communicate beyond our divisions--in the world today. He tried so hard to help foster a world without war. Tonight I saw The Railway Man, a war movie about reconciliation. With Colin Firth. Enough said.

Here's some fun advice from Bitter Gertrude about what makes her happy with a new play. Having read several new plays lately, I tend to agree! Stop writing flat characters, stereotypes, and the "expected" in hopes of pleasing people and "selling" your work. Write the real, I advise!

And here's a short review of girl show, by Kristy Bowen, at Prick of the Spindle--my latest Poetry Cheerleader column. And over at Escape Into Life is a wonderful review, by Julie C. Graham, of Let Me Clear My Throat by Elena Passarello, all about voice. Literally, the voice. OK, the future! Of the abundant pink balsam!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Back to Normalcy

It's like a joke on "back to normal," see? But 1) "normalcy" is an annoying word (that just means "normality") and 2) it's not quite back to normal here, anyhoo. I've been enormously busy (don't get me started on "enormity"), with the Mike Dobbins Memorial New Plays from the Heartland, at Heartland Theatre Company, for which I was dramaturg, and now I am in auditions for The Language Archive, by Julia Cho, which I'm directing in August for September performances. What wonderful, brave, generous, patient, lovely, talented actors turned up last night! I'm looking forward to tonight! But, whew, it's been a whirlwind of theatre, lately.

The three one-acts in the New Plays program, all on the theme of Escape, were so well done. Great audiences. Our guest playwright, Scott Klavan, a New York actor, director, and playwright--who does a lot of work with new-play development--gave an inspiring talk on Thursday night, a workshop to the 3 winning playwrights on Friday afternoon (he was the judge in the play competition), and attend the Friday and Saturday performances, talking with the playwrights, actors, and theatre staff. He's a great guy, very kind, very smart, and a fellow of high standards. As a theatre reviewer for Escape Into Life, he tells it like it is. Example: his review of Antony and Cleopatra at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. He saw a matinee while he was in town.

I was interested in his take on the contemporary "battle of the sexes" and other parallels in regard to how Antony and Cleopatra plays today:

The parallels to 2014 are startlingly apparent: the large number of modern men who feel emasculated by the growing power of women; the women who struggle to balance their love of achievement with their love of men; both sexes’ problematic decisions regarding the battle of family versus career; rising political reputations brought quickly, thunderously down by embarrassingly sloppy, explosive corruptions, mistakes, and lusts; the cowardly Little Men of Terrorism replacing the bold, undaunted past warriors of gigantic armies and causes.

And, to make it a perfect Random Coinciday in the blog, I saw these great new feminist posts in two of my favorite blogs, Bitter Gertrude and The Bloggess. The Bloggess explains a hullabaloo about feminism with her usual high hilarity, and Bitter Gertrude is also very funny in telling today's playwrights and screenplay writers which stereotyped characters to stop writing!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Return of the Polar Vortex

The polar vortex has been unleashed onto the Midwest once again, in July! I have been swimming through it. It was 51 degrees this morning, the steam rising from the surface of the pool, its water 30+ degrees warmer! And suddenly one of the lifeguards began to play the French horn. I love my life. Every day is a Random Coinciday!

Wikipedia tells us the French horn is not really French. Here is a (perhaps) Viennese horn. In my youth, I passed up a chance to pick up the French horn. Playing the piano for pleasure and to sing by was enough for me. Today I sing the praises of The Unleashable Dog, by Charles Rafferty, a book of funny, beautiful, and accessible yet startling poems. You can read the review here at Escape Into Life, where we are celebrating the Dog Days of July in spite of the return of the Polar Vortex.

And here is a natural horn. Is that like a horn au naturel? It comes down to us from the hunting horn, so probably dogs are OK with it. Sometimes I like to blow my own horn. Don't we all? It's only natural, right?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Little Boxes

Background music: "Little Boxes," by Malvina Reynolds. (She can sing it in your head, or Pete Seeger, or any of several who covered this song!). It's a Blue Monday in the blog, and raining again after lovely sunshine yesterday, so here's Toward the Blue Peninsula, a peaceful if eerie box by Joseph Cornell. I'll be reading a couple collage poems based on Cornell boxes at Woman Made Gallery in Chicago on Sunday, August 3, 1:30-3:30, with several other poets I am eager to hear! More info here. The theme of the reading is boxes, containers, being boxed in, thinking outside the box, etc. Many takes, and they're not made out of ticky tacky, and they don't look just the same! I'm honored to be part of this reading. Many thanks to WMG and to Nina Corwin, reading curator.

I'll also read some poems in the voice of Camille Claudel, who was "boxed in" at an asylum for the last 30 years of her life, from my book Interior Sculpture, the one connected to Claudel, the dance production by Columbus Dance Theatre.

In the meantime, my brain feels a little scrunched into calendar boxes, as I attend rehearsals in preparation for the Mike Dobbins Memorial New Plays from the Heartland, a presentation of staged readings of 3 winning one-act plays at Heartland Theatre Company. I'm the dramaturg for this, as I was for Earth and Sky last fall, and I am so enjoying working again with director Don LaCasse. I learn so much from his gentle, focused style. The plays, though quite different, work beautifully together and are different takes on the theme of Escape!

If you are local, I hope you'll come see the plays and listen to the guest playwright, Scott Klavan, who will give a public talk--free!--on Thursday night, July 17, at 7:30 in the theatre. He'll answer all our questions on the state of new writing in the theatre today! Klavan is a wonderful actor, a playwright, and a director of new works. He's also a theatre reviewer for Escape Into Life, and has a new review up today, of Atomic, a musical based on the making of the atomic bomb! (That sort of makes my head explode.) (With song!) (I can see clearly now, the rain has gone.)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Love Those Dogs

Books and dogs, what could be better?

So this is a books-and-dogs sampler of sorts.

Smart dogs. Who wear neckties and smoke pipes.

We are celebrating the Dog Days of summer at Escape Into Life with the art of EJ Miley, Jr. and a number of special features. This is Miley's monocled dog you see here.

Book reviewer Seana Graham is celebrating the "Dog Days in Manhattan" with a review of A Dog About Town, by J. F. Englert, a mystery with a dog detective.

And "Art of Sports" blogger Mark Lewis glancingly recognizes the Dog Days with his report on football coach Fielding H. Yost:

According to University of Michigan legend, Yost grew so impatient with his sluggish players, he barked: “Hurry up! … If you can’t hurry, make way for someone who can!”

Barked. Get it?

Lewis's post is mostly about bookstores in Ann Arbor, including mystery bookstores!

Meanwhile, over at her own website, EIL poet Karen Weyant talks about Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, a book I haven't read but hope to discover somewhere in my house on the kids' bookshelves! I know The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, is there somewhere, too.

The Dog Days traditionally fall in July and August. By some accounts (the Old Farmer's Almanac according to Wikipedia), they stretch from July 3 to August 11. Or they might last from July 23 to August 23 or July 24 to August 24...or all the way to September 5. We tend to connect the Dog Days to those terrible hot days with no rain when it's too hot to do anything. Plenty of rain here today. I went out for a bike ride and got drenched but enjoyed standing under a tent for a while with the McLean County Arts Center peeps setting up for the Sugar Creek Arts Festival.

Looks safe enough out there to try again! Off I go, probably on foot, maybe with an umbrella. Maybe I'll run into EJ Miley, Jr., an artist from Lincoln, IL. Or a sweet dog with shiny brown eyes.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

We, the Impressionable

I'm always thrilled and honored when a new poem comes out in a journal. This time I have one in Issue 2 of the lovely One at Jacar Press. It's full of moving, challenging, gorgeous, and even funny poems you'll want to read slowly. My poem, called "We, the Impressionable," came from a prompt I gave to my poetry workshop to write a poem in the community voice, a "we" voice. First, each of us needed to discover, identify, or choose a community to which we belonged, and one we felt we could speak for. I often feel slightly outside all the groups or communities I'm in, because I'm a writer, standing at a little distance, because I can't help it, I was born that way, OK? But I could strongly identify with the "impressionable," those on whom experience leaves a significant, er, dent. In positive terms, I am sensitive and full of empathy. In negative terms, I'm gullible and, well, in some people's eyes, weak. That's annoying. On the other hand, I'm OK with that, as I understand my deep reserves of strength.

As a child, I believed what I was told and/or had the imagination to make the fictional very real. Like, um, a child. Lots of people who grow up to be writers, artists, actors, musicians are, of course, like this!

And we had a lot of mice in our farmhouse.

And mousetraps.

So, there's also some mystery in the poem, as there must be, but that's how it got started. And out in the yard, the pale yellow coneflowers have opened. And bright yellow volunteer snapdragons continue. As do the day lilies. And prairie blue eyes.

(And here is a blossom of aubergine.)

Monday, July 7, 2014


We spent a few days in Missouri, swimming and playing a bit of sand volleyball, so there was laundry to do on our return. And poetry out there in the world. Coinciding a bit: 

"Clothesline," first published in Waccamaw, has been made into a little movie by Jutta Pryor, thanks to The Poetry Storehouse and their filmmakers at Vimeo. Earlier, filmmaker Othniel Smith also made a brief film, of "Daughter of Midas," involving clothes on (and off) mannequins. 

And the summer issue of IthacaLit is just out, with 3 of my poems in it, including "The Discount Horizon," where a bolt of cloth sits in a sale bin (not at Hobby Lobby) thanks to a misreading of "the distant horizon." And thanks to poet Sarah J. Sloat, who was writing about her many recent misreadings! Very recently, here: Give my errands to Broadway.

I'm "bluing" a bit on this Blue Monday, after the nice family wamily gathering, as my son's gone "home" to Chicago, where he works. My daughter is out with her boyfriend, helping a friend celebrate her birthday. And my parents are, I hope, safely abed.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Wait! I Have a Dog?!

No, not at the moment. But I do have a wonderful dog art feature to show you at Escape Into Life, portraits by dog lover, dog painter, and dog rescue advocate EJ Miley, Jr. And yesterday I saw a mother duck with her entourage of ducklings crossing the road up onto the sidewalk, just like in Make Way for Ducklings! Life is good. Save your dog from fireworks! Here's a poem about that at Poemeleon. Scroll down for "Epistle of our Disappointments." Sounds sad, but besides the noise, it's got sparklers! Happy 4th of July!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Drunk History

Oh, NPR, I love you. Today I heard excerpts from Drunk History in a Morning Edition story about how Francis Scott Key composed "The Star-Spangled Banner," just in time for the 4th of July! I think a noble (ignoble?) goal of any great comedic actor would be to appear on Drunk History at Comedy Central. It's basically real history, inebriated.

Please don't give alcohol to your dogs. Today's new post at Escape Into Life is a preview of the Dog Days posts to come, illustrated with this lovely Shar-pei with pearl by EJ Miley, Jr. She is clearly not drunk. She is very modest, yet elegant in her pearl collar.

Today's mail brought two new issues of literary journals, with me in them! (Pause for glee!) Crab Creek Review, with this beautiful image on a cover designed by Anu Delgertsogt. My poem in it, called "Glazed," is about a variable weather on a sweet, high-humidity day in April. Today is a sweet, high-humidity day in July. And Spoon River Poetry Review (srpr), 39.1, Summer 2014, with a winter poem of mine in it, called "Funeral Flag," with talk of rain and frost. Both poems have clouds in them, as does today in actual history. I like how my heavy precipitation poems appear in journals named for a creek and a river!