musicals, poetry, theater

taking stock (at close quarters, art is a fishy business)

(1) Anthology I applications close tomorrow. Several different cities, states, and countries represented, as well as people coming to filmmaking from all sorts of different backgrounds: theater, film proper, visual arts, science fiction. I’m excited.

(2) Yesterday we had the first ParOct core group meeting of 2011, combined with brunch. (Rehearsal should always be combined with food.) It was glorious. We did some re-recording and setting parts in/for “Animula.” We have chosen ten poems (the same ten for Anthology I) on which to focus in core group: we are making choices, we are taking notes. We have a script. This is very exciting, after eight months of improv where everything got changed every time. Feels like the right thing to be doing.

(3) My first workshop poem of my last MFA workshop: today.

(4) My last MFA reading: also today. 8 pm, Gilman 388.

(5) Best Youtube comment ever, from the video for TMBG’s Birdhouse In Your Soul:

What you’ve just wrote is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone who read this is now dumber for have seeing it. I award you no thumbs up, and may God have mercy on your soul.

once more:
Everyone who read this is now dumber for hav[ing] seen it.

That’s funny.

(6) There is no #6.

(7) Really, Intiman Theatre? Really? Is there no such thing as a financially stable theater in this country? What would it take to have one? (Via AJ.)

(8) I’m your only friend; I’m not your only friend…

(9) It is possible to create a song to the tune of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” with the refrain “In the poems of Philip Larkin.”

(10) Ich habe ein poem, “Checking Out,” in the current issue of the Hopkins Review. (Winter 2011, Vol. 4, #1.)
The title is (I didn’t realize this until after it was published) obviously taken from the States song of the same name, from the album The Path of Least Resistance, which I listened to constantly while in NYC. (The poem is about being in New York.) Yes, this is my first poem published in a print journal.


In the poems of Philip Larkin,
all the women interfere
with writing poems and being alone;
they are greatly to be feared.

In the poems of Philip Larkin,
all images lead to death:
whether windows, horses, boats or trains,
all death, death, death, death, death–

(12) (more theater roundup): WashPost article on Irene Lewis leaving Centerstage. Also via AJ.

“I always knew it would be a split,” Lewis says of the roles she’s had to play. “Artists are mostly anarchists, and when you run an institution, you have to be a pragmatist. So that tension is considerable. And you have, what, 70 employees, and they’re depending on you to choose things that keep the doors open but not” – she leans forward on the word, and pauses before finishing – “to compromise. So I never did ‘A Christmas Carol.’ And an old production manager who used to work here said, ‘Irene, I don’t think a lot of people would stay here if you did.’ ”

(13) Women in literary criticism? What women in literary criticism?

(14) Nice to have a free moment, even if only a moment, to blog again.

(15) We begin our readings with a poem by another author, and I’m going to read an unpublished (and unedited, and unfinished) piece of Larkin free-verse journaling that I dug up from the Andrew Motion biography. No doubt he would not wish to have it read. It’s too long to post the whole thing here, but here’s the beginning:

What is there in me that justifies my ignoring other people?
I used to think it was art: but at close quarters art is a fishy business…
To me art is a sneaking mixture of wish-fulfillment, telling the truth,
And arranging the filings of life to the magnet of my character.
And I don’t like my character.
I wouldn’t back it for twopence, and I don’t advise anyone else to do so either.
– Philip Larkin, untitled poem, from Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life by Andrew Motion, chapter 23, p. 181, Faber & Faber: 1993

What Motion says to introduce this is quite lovely, too. Oh, why not do everything out of order. Here goes. Same page:

Slowly but surely Larkin crushed Ruth’s happiness beneath his own worries, and when the new term began they were as unsure about their future as they had been before announcing their engagement. Reluctant to end it so soon, they resumed their semi-separate lives — Ruth in Malet Street, Larkin in Dixon Drive, where his self-pity soon erupted in a piece of free verse too rambling to call a poem, but too interesting for him to discard. He tore it out of his manuscript book but kept it among his other papers…

(16) Where they hung the jerk who invented work–
in the poems of Philip Larkin.

(17) Larkin is a rather unsavory man, to put it mildly–so unsavory that an English dept. grad student I ran into a few days ago told me that he uses Larkin’s essay, “On Jazz,” as an exemplar of how not to write jazz criticism, as well as how not to write, or think, period. (It’s apparently an extremely paternalistic and borderline racist text. I admit I have not yet read it, but I do trust this person’s assessment.)
As Motion says in the intro to the biography,

…each of us creates a highly personal version of his character to accompany his [Larkin’s] work.

which is, of course, true–I have the Larkin in my head, a very congenial man–and learning more about who he really was is slowly crushing the image of that congenial fellow. Larkin was no Cowper, I guess, is the best way to put it.

Reading the biography, however, is not crushing my affection for his poems, which cannot, I believe, be crushed, no matter how much I learn about his personality and politics. But I no longer wish, as I once did, that I had been able to meet him.

(18) I was watching the TMBG Birdhouse because I was watching the Pushing Daisies rendition of the same song, with Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen Greene, and I was watching that because I was watching “Suddenly Seymour” (one of the texts I teach in the musicals class) and got link-referred to Ellen Greene in another clip…
and there was a YT comments discussion about how Pushing Daisies had not been renewed but Scrubs had, et cetera, and they were bashing Scrubs, and I mistakenly believed at first that the commenting people were objecting to Scrubs‘s use of interpolated fantasy musical numbers, and perhaps even blaming Scrubs for popularizing a trend of such numbers (and for similar numbers appearing in PD) and I thought a larger point could be made about musical numbers in television shows, but then I realized it had nothing to do with that, but only to do with preferring one show over the other.

But I do think there is something to be said about fantasy musical numbers in television shows.

(19) Not to put too fine a point on it,
You’re the only bee in my bonnet–
Make a little birdhouse in your soul.

(20) Something also to be said about how, in the landscape of musical numbers within television shows (and films!), songs originated as “music” and songs originated as “theater” have equal currency. Everything’s available to be played in the jukebox, or performed by the TV show characters. This puts us in interesting mimetic situations, where lyrics that were never intended to be interpreted literally, or used to have a character achieve a dramatic objective, are suddenly implanted on characters…

Also something to be said about the ability to use voice-over in musical numbers in TV and film. My class found that very interesting.

(21) I’m your only friend,
I’m not your only friend,
but I’m your little glowing friend,
but really I’m not actually your friend,
but I am…

(22) Great example (in #21) of lyrics that have metrical features interposed by the music–features that the text alone, as lyrics, does not convey.
I also love the transfer of emphasis from one iteration to another of the phrase “only friend.” It’s a lot like that old drama exercise:
I love you.
I LOVE you.
I love YOU.

(23)…the canary by the outlet in the light switch
Who watches over you–
Make a little birdhouse in your soul.

(24) (pause)


(26) Should probably go to campus deal with laundry comment on twelve stories and four poems eat lunch return gear to DMC respond to some emails first.

(27) Also, this question of how to best punctuate page versions of lyrics that were clearly composed for oral performance and obviously just contain long strings of connected phrases.

(28) ..make a little birdhouse in your soul…

gradschool, musicals, workstyle

In token of the quality of the last two weeks since posting,

I would like to quote some lyrics from my second-grade musical (by Mrs. Plaisance and Mr. Firestein, I believe–they wrote an original musical for the class!)

Monday, soccer practice after school,
I play tennis Tuesday cause I’m cool,
Wednesday jazz and Thursday bowling team,
So by Friday, I just want to scream.

Busy, busy, busy,
Through the hectic week–
I’d rather watch the monkeys
Playing hide-and-seek.
Here’s a solution, I know what to do–
I’ll make my very own backyard zoo!

Time to myself is merely minimal;
I just want to talk to the animals!

Busy, busy, busy,
Through the hectic week–
I’d rather watch the monkeys
Playing hide-and-seek.
Here’s a solution, I know what to do–
I’ll make my very own backyard zoo!

A backyard zoo, or something like it, is certainly indicated. Busy does not begin to describe it.

musicals, poetry, theater

this morning,

heading off to brunch, and then SOUTH PACIFIC at the Kennedy Center in DC. (Bart Sher’s production. I’m very glad that I haven’t entirely missed my chance to see it.)

I heard a lot about the Kennedy Center the entire time I was working at OSF, because various productions would transfer there for part of the summer. However, I’ve never seen the place. I’m as dressed up as I feel one can be for a matinee, and very excited.

Spent yesterday completing more applications, including some I’d been putting off awhile. The first one’s hard: the second and third are quicker: and by the fourth in a twenty-four-hour period, you just don’t care any more. You’re faster, less self-preoccupied, and more efficient. If I have nothing to do next year, it will not be for lack of having asked for things.

Enough about that. Something else exciting: Linebreak is putting out a straight-to-ebook poetry anthology, Two Weeks, with good formatting. Submissions close this Tuesday at 6 pm. Here’s what they have to say about it:

For years, ebooks have been ignored by most poetry publishers. Today, the few poetry ebooks available are little more than cut-and-paste versions of their print counterparts. And many fail to preserve line breaks and other basic formatting.

We’re certain we can do better. That’s why we’re creating an all-new, ebook-only anthology of contemporary poetry. Beginning on Tuesday, January 11, we’ll start accepting public submissions. We’ll compile and design a cutting-edge, multi-format ebook. We’ll publish it.

And we’ll do it all in exactly two weeks.

Sounds good, yes? Submit away…



one of my students observed, yesterday, that the difference between poems and song lyrics is that poems usually develop ideas whereas song lyrics (often) merely present them, without showing any change or development in the idea by the end of the song.

Baltimore, musicals

last night,

I saw THE OTHER SHORE at Single Carrot for the second time. I’ve been away from the show for a month. Wonderful to see how it’s developed and changed–the pace has really increased.

Yesterday was also the third day of Musicals Class, and my all-Sondheim spectacular. We covered more songs from more of his oeuvre than we managed to last year, with some significant changes. Although I had planned to present Ballad of Czolgosz from ASSASSINS (my favorite Sondheim song ever, actually) I decided, instead, to tell the students about the song and the musical, and share a link with them so they could listen on their own time. Given the events of the past week, it didn’t seem appropriate to force them to listen to it en masse.

Creepy, how that assassination scenario (McKinley) was so similar to the one that’s just played out in Arizona. Walking up at a public event.

Editing physics labs this morning.

It’s really really winter here in Baltimore–I’ve fallen down iced/wet staircases twice in the last two days. (To no ill effect except some bruises.) The first time, I managed to parlay the momentum into a magical jump, and land on my feet, like Sonic the Hedgehog. The second time, I was not so lucky. I am reasonably equanimity-ous about this. As J says, “We’re writers: we’re klutzes.” Quite right. Also, it’s not winter unless you fall down some.

musicals, theater

Second day of musicals class,

PINAFORE, PIRATES…MIKADO…TOPSY-TURVY and the origins of American musical theatre in the cultural practices of the British Empire.

Tonight, I was combing through some Sondheim for tomorrow–hoping to vary it up from what I did last year–and I’ve been renting so many DVDS at Video Americain that they gave me a free one. So I ended up with both FORUM and GYPSY. I don’t know how I’ve made it thus far without watching GYPSY. It’s incredible, absolutely incredible.

“Remember, you mustn’t be discouraged by the past. You’re artists of the theater.”

The lying, the stealing, the living on a shoestring, the subverting the hopes and expectations of everyone else so that your own desires can be fulfilled. And then getting what you’ve always wanted, and finding out that “what you’ve always wanted” has no use for you at all. Your own daughter not wanting you backstage. And then having her come back to you, and invite you to the party, anyway. Take back yourTake my mink, Mama.

What good is sitting alone in your room…?!

dance, music, musicals

I have often asked myself

what the point is of having visions of choreography every time I hear a musical theater song (or any kind of music that takes me to a theatrical place) if I am cut off from the prospect of realizing that choreography.

It is only recently, perhaps in the last six months or so, since working with Single Carrot on the one hand, with the Parallel Octave spoken choruses on the other, and writing poems that I am pleased with on a third, that I have some kind of an answer.

It is not possible for me to realize all the movements I imagine. Far from it. All I can do is realize some of them, and leave behind me traces that will infect the minds of other people with similar desires. What can’t be cured must be shared. What can’t be caged must be contagious. Something like that.

I defy you to listen to this (Druha Trava, “Brazos Bottom,” from Czechmate):

and not be beset with a desire for dancers. Personally, I like to imagine twins on Hoverboards, surfing the air over Malibu Canyon, but it’s your music video.

musicals, theater

scrounging under the couch cushions

“The Tony nominating committee had to go scrounging under the couch cushions to fill out the important category of original score this year, resorting to the rare tactic of including music from two straight plays among the four entries. ”

– Christopher Isherwood, “The Musical Has Lost Its Voice,” NYT. Via AJ.

His take comes in contrast to David Kamp, also in the NYT this week, who is more sanguine about the “Glee Generation,” the new audience for musicals, and the new writers and lyricists of musicals:

“The Broadway babies are not the passive, bused-in tourist young people of yore who went to see “The Phantom of the Opera” or “A Chorus Line” simply because it was what one did when visiting New York. They’re true believers for whom love of musicals brings happiness, transcendence, and, strangely enough, social acceptance. “


play, I said:

the DVD player in my classroom is operated with a touch-screen. Since I am a vampire, touch-screens do not recognize me. Also, the class is turning into less of a movie class and more of a playlist. We watched, after a Sondheim unit, some snippets of 40s and 50s musicals that prefigure Sondheim – including “Soliloquy” from Carousel – really a remarkable song: Billy daydreaming about what his future boy — wait, could it be a girl?? — will be like.