Two Lovely Things, Briefly Noted

November 2, 2014 § 3 Comments

1. My first short story, ‘Lay Down The Dark Layers’, has been published by the Irish literary magazine, The Stinging Fly (hurrah!)

2. This anthology—Winged: New Writing on Beesis essential and beautiful and its existence in the world makes me happy (about some humans and all bees).

FlyBee

I could be content being a one trick pony.

September 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

Someone, put me out to pasture with an apple and a wand. No. Wait. Sugar cube and a cape.

“The gift of writing is to be self forgetful…

May 3, 2014 § 1 Comment

…to get a surge of inner life or inner supply or unexpected sense of empowerment, to be afloat, to be out of yourself.”

- Seamus Heaney.

Rehearsals of ‘Buried Child’ begin at Profile Theatre

April 22, 2014 § 2 Comments

Last evening, cast and crew gathered in a back room for the first read-through of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize winning play.

The very first production of Buried Child was directed by Robert Woodruff who, many years later, would have Profile’s Artistic Director, Adriana Baer, under his tutelage at Columbia University. Last night, Adriana addressed her actors, crew, and guild members, speaking of her excitement to step into her chapter in this particular lineage.

The Pulitzer was awarded to Shepard based solely on the merits of the written page (performance/production is usually taken into account by the Drama jury) and the actors were encouraged to read through the play naturally. Often Shepard’s plays are read and staged ‘heightened’ because of the surreal and crazy situations his characters find themselves in.

For now, it was okay to just have the words—”we’ll find the situation later,” said Baer who encouraged us to embrace the play’s contradictions without judgement. For the characters in Buried Child, everything is true in the moment, and the truth changes, while remaining true, from moment to moment. The play only seeks to ask questions and the audience is to find their own answers to whatever they feel, think, believe, those questions are.

Before the read-through, we also heard a little from those lovely folks behind the scenes who are busy with costumes, music, props, and lighting. I particularly liked this little model that holds true to Shepard’s sparse stage conception. It’s a visceral as opposed to a literal architecture. The designer imagined the home as a contorted place that is reacting to and rejecting the people who exist there, poisoning their own lives, perpetually stuck inside their story.

Bleak stuff.

And yet, not—or not always.

Typical of Shepard, humor cut through horror, levity grappling with loneliness and longing, and the reading elicited many laughs and wry smiles from those of us who were lucky enough to sit in on it last night.

The actors are already so good—particularly those playing Dodge and Shelly. It’s fascinating to attend these first readings and I’m excited to see where they go with it in the next six weeks.

If you’re living in the Portland area, Buried Child plays May 29th through June 15th and I think it will be one to watch.

Buried Child at Profile Theatre Portland

 

Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead

April 12, 2014 § 3 Comments

“After lunch I’ll go out in the boat again; I might see something interesting. There should be a lot of interesting things around after a flood like this. Surely in all this water someone must have drowned.”

Offbeat, droll, macabre. Whimsical, charming, strangely delightful.

Barbara Comyns’ Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead is the last book that I was truly smitten by.

(At this point, it might be worth noting that the word Smitten is the past participle of Smite which means to strike with a firm blow. It is equally correct to say She was smitten by the handsome boy; she was one smitten kitten, as it is to say, The town was smitten with an outbreak of influenza—or madness; or murder.)

I don’t write too many reviews these days—I might start calling them “For Your Consideration” pieces—but this dark, enchanting book, and the sometimes ghastly, sometimes lovely, Willoweed family it follows, has lingered with me long after I first read it.

First, there is a flood:

“The ducks swam through the drawing-room windows…. Round the room they sailed quacking their approval; then they sailed out again to explore the wonderful new world that had come in the night.”

Then there is a death.

Well, many of them. The sorrowful hens commit suicide, the peacocks are drowned. Then Grumpy Nan who lived in the cottage by the mill croaks it. Then Mrs. Hatt, the doctor’s wife. Then another, and another. It is all very strange. It is all very dark and funny and matters terribly and doesn’t matter at all. Life goes on.

“Upstairs Emma sat on her bedroom window-sill and combed her marmalade coloured hair. She closed her eyes and forgot the sad, drowned sights of the morning. A feeling of deep satisfaction came over her as she felt the warmth of the sun and combed her hair, dreamily…. “Oh, how I would love to go to a dance and wear a real evening dress,” she thought, “but nothing like that will happen—no dances, no admirers. I shall just me me, and nothing will happen at all.”

Yes, it is a weird little gem of a book.

I was surprised to read that it was first published in 1954—by a woman born in 1909 and raised in an English country house with servants and a governess. Its simple, playful sentences; steady accumulation of strange details and observations; non-sequiter dialogue and diversions; and surreal images encountered by her characters as mundane or a nuisance, seem to predate the postmodern writing of the 1960s á la Donald Barthelme. Others have compared her to Angela Carter and consider Comyns a neglected genius. Still others have said she is not like anybody else at all and that is fine by me too:

“Barbara Comyns is always being compared to writers X, Y or Z “on acid.” The acid part is a cop-out; her voice is clear and direct, even when describing surreal or hyperreal situations, and her crisp descriptions are not kaleidoscopic or druggy in the least. The comparisons to other writers, apt or not, are never a list of her formative influences; she didn’t have any.” – Emily Gould, writing in The Awl in 2010. 

What is certain is she has been largely overlooked and I feel lucky to have happened across her.

Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead was banned by The Irish Censorship of Publications Board (though, what book wasn’t? one might ask). I happened to hear about it one night, deep in the interwebs, when I came across Dorothy, a publishing project who reissued the by then out of print novel.

“Dorothy is dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women. We want to publish books that, whether conventional or un-, are uniquely themselves, that do not lean against preconceived ideas of what is wonderful, but brilliantly and purposefully convince us that they are, themselves, wonderful.”

Marvelous! I thought. And it really was.

For your consideration:

Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead

 

 

Battle of the Bards meets Battle of the Broads in Powells Poetry Madness, 2014.

April 1, 2014 § 2 Comments

Last April, Powells bookstore presented a battle of the poets, wherein Emily Dickinson was declared the Best Poet Of All Time.

Controversial.

This year, in recognition of National Poetry Month and the Year of Reading Women, Portland’s favorite bookstore has us battling it out again with an all-female line-up.

I am into it.

Check out the contestants and cast your vote here.

There are a good many on the ‘bracket’ that are unknown to me so you know how I’m spending my next few evenings. Any favorite poets on the list? Happy for any poem recommendations!

Happy happy Poetry Month!

Powells Poetry Madness 2014

I still had two friends, but they were trees…

April 1, 2014 § 1 Comment

The Two Trees
by Larry Levis

My name in Latin is light to carry & victorious.

I’d read late in the library, then
Walk out past the stacks, rows, aisles

Of books, where the memoirs of battles slowly gave way
To case histories of molestation & abuse.

The black windows looked out onto the black lawn.

~

Friends, in the middle of this life, I was embraced
By failure. It clung to me & did not let go.
When I ran, brother limitation raced

Beside me like a shadow. Have you never
Felt like this, everyone you know,

Turning, the more they talked, into . . .

Acquaintances? So many strong opinions!

And when I tried to speak—
Someone always interrupting. My head ached.
And I would walk home in the blackness of winter.

I still had two friends, but they were trees.
One was a box elder, the other a horse chestnut.

I used to stop on my way home & talk to each

Of them. The three of us lived in Utah then, though
We never learned why, me, acer negundo, & the other
One, whose name I can never remember.

“Everything I have done has come to nothing.
It is not even worth mocking,” I would tell them
And then I would look up into their limbs & see
How they were covered in ice. “You do not even
Have a car anymore,” one of them would answer.

All their limbs glistening above me,
No light was as cold or clear.

 

I got over it, but I was never the same,

Hearing the snow change to rain & the wind swirl,
And the gull’s cry, that it could not fly out of.

In time, in a few months, I could walk beneath
Both trees without bothering to look up
Anymore, neither at the one

Whose leaves & trunk were being slowly colonized by
Birds again, nor at the other, sleepier, more slender

One, that seemed frail, but was really

Oblivious to everything. Simply oblivious to it,
With the pale leaves climbing one side of it,
An obscure sheen in them,

And the other side, for some reason, black bare,
The same, almost irresistible, carved indifference

In the shape of its limbs

As if someone’s cries for help
Had been muffled by them once, concealed there,

Her white flesh just underneath the slowly peeling bark

—while the joggers swerved around me & I stared—

Still tempting me to step in, find her,

And possess her completely

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