Sunday, November 28, 2010

Beginning to look a little like Christmas

With Thanksgiving officially past (as measured in leftovers processed), thoughts turn to holiday tasks. These include mining of family conversations for gift ideas, mulling the possibility of holiday cookies before settling on pfefferneuse and whatever the kids want me to help with (and staying out of the way of the real bakers who us my kitchen as Bake Station Zebra), and the sifting of notes for the annual Christmas poem.

Christmas poses a particular challenge for me. I choose to recognize the holiday with a poem each year, but I don't want to simply contribute to the relentless dreck that passes for art and entertainment every December. As much as I love A Christmas Carol, and for every gem of an interpretation (Alistair Sim, Albert Finney, Kermit the Frog), there are a hundred craptacular ones in sitcom episodes and TV movies. And don't even try to count the Wonderful Life knockoffs.

What pains me is that the horrid imitations have turned people off the originals. So I am further pained if my effort doesn't add something to the literature of the season. While I'm not always successful, the goal has be that it must work as a poem first, not just be "Christmassy".

With one exception, I find that my success is inversely proportional to the length of the final poem. I need to learn to recognize that signal; if I'm having trouble telling the story or getting to the point, there's probably something flawed in the concept. That's true even when it's not Christmas, of course.

It's against policy to talk about a poem in progress - a policy I think most poets stick to - but I can say I'm weaving together present and past, as the holidays lead us to do. Don't know if this will be the last idea I work up (I usually complete 2-3 unrelated drafts before selecting one to refine), bit it seems to have a bit of life to it.

We'll see. Until then --

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I'm thankful for my family in all our loud, busy, need-to-clean-the-living-room-again cacophony. Despite the appalling lack of testosterone.

I'm thankful for the great poets in my life, for their eagerness to teach, and their willingness to welcome.

I'm thankful for being looked on as the kind of man people can approach in moments of need and say "I could really use your help".

I'm thankful for having a good job doing work I love for a company whose products help people lead healthy lives.

I'm thankful for a Jets season that seems to be leading to a productive end, though I haven't started planning the playoff watching party just yet.

I'm thankful for the time I'll spend with Albert Finney, Jimmy Stewart, Burl Ives, Joel Grey, and Peter Ustinov in December.

And I'm thankful for you, my six loyal readers, for letting me spend a little time with you during the past year.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rediscovering My Moss-Covered Three-Handled Family Gredunza

There are many great things about being a parent: the opportunity to teach, seeing your children gain knowledge and confidence and independence, boarding the plane first. Among my favorite is the rediscovery of things I loved as a kid. Today's rediscovery was The Cat in the Hat.

I think many people recall Dr. Seuss fondly, no? And I'm not aware of a person who doesn't get the reference when I say "I do not like that, Sam I Am" (usually right before I try something and discover I like it). But this morning I had the chance to listen to the cat voiced by someone who isn't familiar with the story, who doesn't hear the voice of Allen Sherman in his head while reading, who isn't contaminated by an image of Mike Meyers. And let me tell you, it was remarkable to hear someone discover the story, to encounter the words fresh and repeat and repeat and repeat them just to hear them again.

This is a reminder for me of the casual disdain some artists have for the work that's preceded them. Well, maybe disdain is a harsh word; call it a lack of respect. I think poets are more guilty of this than practitioners of other art forms because technique is - to some - less obvious in poetry than in visual or performance arts. The old-fashioned Broadway musical is sometimes mentioned in the discussion of current shows, or at least the great performers they showcased. Most people can appreciate paintings because they're aware they can't produce similar results with their own brushes and bottles.

But for some reason, it seems hard for some people to pull down their Nortons and reinhabit the old works without mild derision; indifference at best. I haven't recently come across a person (teachers excepted) who thinks of EA Robinson the same way I do. I know the works well, I'm not surprised by the twists, but I read and reread the works to appreciate and relearn the art of the set up, the musicality of his language, the way the rhythms set up the pause before the punch. There's brilliance there, even if the poems belong to the past.

Have you read The Cat in the Hat lately? This is a book that works on at least 4 levels. The language is musical and repetitive and great for an early reader. The story is colorful and loud and funny for a young reader not struggling with words to enjoy reading many times. The artwork complements the story marvelously, and is itself a multilayered experience. And for seasoned readers - and hammy performance parents such as I am - the joy of reading the book aloud to an appreciative audience is almost unmatched.

I think there's something to be learned from that. Something we can think about in our poems. The great works work on the page, in the hear, and in the mouth. They look different from different perspectives, mean different things at each reading and for each reader. Which teaches us: Consider musicality. Consider meaning. Permit ambiguity. Let there be fun.

Let the cat in when your mother is out.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

An Arty Weekend in Hoboken

If you're loitering between the tunnels this weekend, please stop into the Monroe Arts Center on Saturday for an all-afternoon coffeehouse with short features throughout the day by Siobhan Barry, Wafa Al-Rimawi, Joel Allegretti, Sharon Lynn Griffiths, and Mark Brunetti; there will be some terrific musical performances also. This is all part of the Hoboken Artists' Studio Tour weekend, and highlights the new home of The Theater Company at Monroe Arts Center. First performance is at noon, and the day runs until 5PM.

Come back tomorrow to Symposia Bookstore to hear David Messineo and Tony Gruenewald in the November installment of the Spoken Word Series at 3PM. Tony is appearing with us for the first time, and series veteran David will be presenting something series fans haven't seen from him in past appearances, tailored to go with the tone of his latest book, Formal.

Monroe Center is at 720 Monroe Street, Symposia is at 510 Washington Street, and I hope to see you there!