Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

The Canary Sings – A One-Act Play in Videos

August 9, 2013

Date of Incident: August 6, 2013

Place of Incident: The Worst Section of the Workplace

The Principles: The DODO BIRD and the CANARY 

Extras: The RED HEN; (Florence) NIGHTINGALE



The Actors: (Due to a scheduling conflict, avians of similar stripe from Central Casting play the DODO BIRD, CANARY and RED HEN in this scene).

The DODO BIRD, CANARY and RED HEN, encaged and frustrated, fall victim to the DODO’s foul mood. A dark cloud hovers above, thunder threatens.

The CANARY asks the DODO BIRD about the whereabouts of a file. The DODO BIRD withholds information from the CANARY. The CANARY is upset.

The DODO BIRD flies from her swivel chair and squawks loudly and directly in the beak of the CANARY. Feathers rustle violently.

The wary RED HEN shrinks to the sidelines, lamely hopping to and fro, unable to intervene, favoring as she is wont to do, her missing left foot.

The DODO BIRD slaps her leaden wings and tromps out of our confinement, heads for parts faraway. Years of extinction has robbed the DODO of all empathy. She will not engage.

The CANARY flees to the bird bath in the upper regions of the aviary to drink from the cool waters, attempting to calm down.




Then…(Florence) NIGHTINGALE invites the CANARY into her nest. She closes the hatch.

The CANARY’s voice, weakened for year, strengthens. The CANARY sings a plaintive lament. A tune unheard during her tenure with the DODO BIRD.

(Florence) NIGHTINGALE, a songbird with abundant EQ, listens quietly from her perch in the fragrant woodland surrounding her nest.

The CANARY breaks into fully-fledged song.




(Florence) NIGHTINGALE will help the CANARY. Oh, joy!

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

No hungry generations tread thee down;

The voice I hear this passing night was heard

In ancient days by emperor and clown:

– from Ode to the Nightingale  by John Keats


(Florence) NIGHTINGALE spreads her wings and soars to the sky, as is her right.

She works a cure. The CANARY will be released from her cruel and unjust pecking by the DODO BIRD.

(Honoring a request for anonymity, in this scene, the part of the CANARY is played by the COCKATOO)

Mid-summer, the CANARY is released from her prison. Released into the vast open field on the far side of the aviary, far far away from the squawk of the DODO BIRD.

’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

But being too happy in thine happiness,

That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,

In some melodious plot

Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

– from Ode to the Nightingale  by John Keats


The CANARY will be forever grateful to the Lady Bird with the Lamp.

…the universe squeezed into a ball…” (T.S. Eliot)

November 19, 2012


(all that’s missing, above, is the easel)

*   *  *   *



What a joy having FOUR whole days off from work in a row!

Away from the office FRIDAY, SATURDAY and SUNDAY is wonderful enough, yes.

But — waking up on MONDAY, with the knowledge that all the other employees in your section of the office are reporting to work and YOU ARE NOT — is beyond wonderful.

During this particular FOUR-DAY weekend, quality time was on the agenda.



I finished the painting I’ve been working on!


(apologies for the grainy iPhone photo)


Practiced Schumann’s Remembrance on the piano  (a small piece I’ve always liked; I’m determined to learn and memorize it).


Woke up early and drove to the Jericho Cider Mill on Long Island; stocked up on all things apple: Cameo apples (my favorite), apple cider, apple sauce; apple turnovers; apple oat bran muffins…

Apple Nirvana


I found a THURSDAY parking spot (which means we won’t have to move the car until one week after Thanksgiving)!


I read the essay on T. S. Eliot by Mark Ford from the New York Review of Books that I had dog-eared a month ago and set aside for a later date.

Facts I learned from this detailed, erudite review of The Letters of T.S. Eliot (3 volumes) by Valerie Eliot (Eliot’s widow):

  • Eliot was born into a comfortable, Unitarian family in St. Louis, MO and summered with them in East Gloucester.
  • An anglophile, he moved to England and readily acquired an accent. He became more “English” than the English. He  joined the Anglican church and eventually became a citizen.
  • He was born under the sign of Libra, went to Oxford, studied philosophy and Sanskrit, taught at Harvard.
  • Eliot was a virgin when he married his first wife, Vivienne, after knowing her for just a couple of months.
  • Vivienne suffered from mood swings. She was diagnosed with a “hormonal imbalance” (parlance of the day for what resembled bipolar disorder) and endured a host of physical problems; i.e. “female problems” (another euphemism).
  • Vivienne lived on a trust fund endowed by her wealthy family, over which Eliot would later assume governance.
  • Virginia Woolf once called Vivienne “a bag of ferrets.”
  • Ezra Pound was a friend of Eliot’s and was instrumental in launching his career as a poet.
  • Bertrand Russell, also a friend, lent the newlyweds one of his flats and was rumored to have had an affair with Vivienne.
  • Poetry notwithstanding, Eliot was encouraged by his father-in-law to take a position in a bank.
  • In one of his letters, Eliot describes what it was like working in the bank:

“I hope to become less of a machine–but yet I am frightened–because I don’t know what it will do to me–and to V.–should I come alive again. I have deliberately killed my senses–I have deliberately died–in order to go on with the outward form of living–What will happen if I live again?…Have I the right to be I–But the dilemma–to kill another person by being dead, or to kill them by being alive? Is it best to make oneself a machine, and kill them by not giving nourishment, or to be alive, and kill them by wanting something that one cannot get from that person?”


  • The misery of Eliot’s bank job produced these lines:

He didn’t know if he was alive / and the girl was dead

He didn’t know if the girl was alive / and he was dead

He didn’t know if they both were alive / or both were dead


  • The opportunity in hand, the next logical step was to re-watch the film, Tom and Viv. Which I did.

I first saw the film in the mid-1990’s when it was released. With Willem DeFoe, Miranda Richardson and Rosemary Harris, it’s a gorgeous film. The character of Ezra Pound is noticeably absent (perhaps because he was an anti-semite). But the film includes Bertrand Russell (an extramarital affair, or the allusion to one, naturally being a more juicy topic).


  • To complete my experience of total T. S. Eliot immersion, I pulled from the bookshelf my marked up college edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature and re-read The Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

As I contemplate (dread, more like) returning to work tomorrow, these lines stand out:

“And indeed there will be time

To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’

Time to turn back and descend the stair…”


I’ve made a promise to myself that, one day, I will dare.

But in my case, my descent will take place in the elevator — and I’ll be eating that peach.

The Poetry Cure

August 20, 2012

* * * * * * * * * * * *

You’re having one of those days at work. You imagine fitting an engine to your swivel chair and helicoptering to freedom over the cubicle wall…

You want   O.  U. T.

Nasty thoughts churn in your brain. You’re trapped. You’re going crazy.

You finger the mouse. Open the browser.

Google, surreptitiously.

By chance (or providence or a good mercury aspect), you come across a N.Y. Times article titled Where Do Sentences Come From? by Verlyn Klinkenborg.

Verlyn Klinkenborg! You loved his column, The Rural Life.

You click on the link. Read the article; re-read this paragraph:

“You almost surely have a voice inside your head. At present, it’s an untrained voice. It natters along quite happily, constructing delayed ripostes and hypothetical conversations. Why not give it something useful to do? Memorize some poetry or prose, nothing too arcane. A rhythmic kind of writing works best, something that sounds almost spoken. Then play those passages over and over again in your memory. You now have in your head something that is identifiably “language,” not merely thoughts that somehow seem unlinguistic.”

The Ancient Mariner comes to mind. You google it. Select three stanzas:


All in a hot and copper sky,

The bloody sun, at noon,

Right up above the mast did stand,

No bigger than the moon.


Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship,

Upon a painted ocean.


Water, water everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.


The lines move you. Excite you.

By lunchtime, you’ve committed them to memory. And for the rest of the afternoon, when the hum inside your head rears up again, you chant the lines.

Quietly, like a mantra. A mantra with literary merit and residual enrichment. You’ve hit the jackpot.

Your spirits lift!

Blessed be the poets. You will never run out of poetry.

You are saved!

“Covert in April / Candid in May”

May 17, 2010

Or as Frank Sinatra sang it: “You’re ridin’ high in April/ Shot down in May.” Was the lyricist inspired by  Emily Dickinson…? Could be.

The weather on Sunday was sunny and temperate, white puffy clouds drifted across the sky and we were looking for a good excuse to be outside. Even if that meant going to The Bronx.

Nothing personal, Bronxites. It’s just that every time  we cross over the Triboro Bridge, we get lost. Following the directions provided by the New York Botanical Garden’s website didn’t help matters. But we soldiered on, determined to have an extraordinary day, and arrived at our destination — eventually.

Oh, my, it was worth all the wrong turns and ugliness of Willis Avenue and its environs. The New York Botanical Garden is paradise. On my list of places I’d never seen as a born and bred New Yorker, I fell deeply in love with its astonishing beauty.

The subject of the special exhibition during our visit was Emily Dickinson and her gardens. Meandering down the winding paths literally immersed in flowers was to experience utter joy. Randomly placed placards offering verses from Dickinson’s poetry were more often than not eclipsed by the sheer beauty of Nature at its finest.

Invoking Keats (”Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know) as well as Dickinson, there’s no better way to stanch the impending dread of Monday’s arrival (work! the office!) than to spend a Sunday afternoon awash in color.

(Click on any photo to enlarge)

My first acquaintanceship with the astonishing Paeonie — a mum inside a rose!

Inside the conservatory, jasmine-perfumed air.

Emily clones. But they were lovely and charming.

I’ve never seen hydrangeas quite as beautiful.

Flower Power, truly.

It’s only fitting to close with some choice lines from Dickinson: 

To make a prairie it takes a clover

and one bee, —

And revery.

The revery alone will do

If bees are few.

More Snow! More Reading!

February 17, 2010

Peering down into  the “backyard” from my bedroom window

A week or so ago, I clipped this Robert Bly poem out of The New Yorker and taped it to my computer monitor. He’s always been a favorite poet of mine. Reading this poem each morning — especially when it’s snowing — just makes me feel kind of good.


The snow is falling, and the world is calm.

The flakes are light, but they cool the world

As they fall, and add to the calm of the house.

It’s Sunday afternoon. I am reading

Longinus while the Super Bowl is on.

The snow is falling, and the world is calm.

What else makes me feel good? Books.

I’ve been reading a lot of them in the last few months. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Brooklyn (fiction) by Colm Toíbín: I loved this novel. Intimate, deeply affective and bittersweet, it tells the story of a young Irish girl who emigrates to New York City in the early 1950s. The characters are rich and unforgettable.
  • Olive Kitteridge (fiction) by Elizabeth Strout: Marvelous. Un-put-downable. A string of short stories stitched together with the formidable, complex character of Olive as its thread. A seventh grade teacher in Maine who is married to a pharmacist, Olive is the type of person that changes the weather of a room just by entering it. I’ve read Strout’s other two beautiful novels, Amy and Isabelle and Abide With Me. My one regret is that she has only written three. OK has one of the most spot-on, completely satisfying endings I’ve read since Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
  • Stitches (memoir) by David Small: Writer and illustrator (and Caldecott Medal-winner) of this jaw-dropping, deeply moving graphic memoir, Small manages, though the artistry of his sketches and prose, to portray the story of his bizarre, traumatic childhood with unusual insight and surprising compassion.
  • This is Where I Leave You (fiction) by Jonathan Tropper: obsessively readable, crack-you-up funny, with some of the sharpest and most original metaphors I’ve had the pleasure of reading. He’s a splendid writer.
  • The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia (non-fiction) by Mike Dash: I’m a mafia junkie. I like the movies, the books, the newspaper articles. This book differs from most in that it is assiduously researched and sharply written by a brilliant Ph.D. journalist. The first page will knock you out. Beginning around 1890, it tells the story of Guiseppe Morello, a.k.a. “The Clutch Hand” (so-named because of his deformed left arm and hand — missing all fingers save for the pinky.) The first true “capo,” he was a ruthless monster from Sicily responsible for bringing the Mafia to America. Thanks, Clutch Hand. Compulsively readable. Dash is a superb writer.
  • Invisible (fiction) by Paul Auster: I’ve said it in other posts. I’m a Paul Auster fan. I’ve read a lot of his books. I think you either like him, or you don’t. I do. Very much.
  • My Faith As a Writer: Life, Craft, Art (essay collection) by Joyce Carol Oates: In this slim volume, the anecdotes she supplies to describe the successes and failures, trials and tribulations, influences and self-doubts experienced by herself and other writers make for enjoyable reading and provide enlightenment as to process.
  • Fierce Attachments (memoir) by Vivian Gornick: I may have alluded to this book in another post, but I’ll mention again how much I enjoyed it. I love the way it’s structured. Also not to be missed by Gornick: The Situation and the Story, her brilliant book on the craft of writing.
  • Tree of Life (a fictionalized journal of the life of lapsed minister Thomas Keene) by Hugh Nisseson: Deftly written in diary form, a fascinating glimpse into American life of both settlers and Indians around the time of the the War of 1812. Johnny Appleseed, who appears throughout these pages, is quite an interesting fellow, and, arguably, America’s first “hippie.” Original, disturbing, powerful and haunting.

Others I’ve read, which I’ve enjoyed, but not with the same intensity as those mentioned above:

  • Nothing Was the Same (memoir) by Kate Redfield Jamison: In this memoir, Jamison (a clinical psychologist with manic-depressive illness) writes about coping with her grief after the death of her husband (a leader in schizophrenic research.) It’s impossible not to compare this book with her brilliantly written first memoir about her manic-depressive illness, The Unquiet Mind. This new book is just not as compelling.
  • Lit (memoir) by Mary Karr: After page 145, when Karr gives birth to her son, the book finally becomes interesting. Up until that point, however, the writing felt rushed, as if she were trying to encapsulate the earlier events of her life (which, perhaps, she’d written about in other books) so she could arrive more quickly to the moment of her son’s birth — a pivotal point in the book (and, in retrospect, maybe a better starting point for it). Admittedly, I haven’t read The Liar’s Club or any of her other books, so this is speculation on my part. Even so, regarding the relationship with her poet-husband, the father of her son, I felt similarly frustrated by her lack of detail. The juxtaposition of his wealthy birth family vs. her not-so-wealthy family is played out in stereotypes and contributes little to perceiving them as three-dimensional people. Puzzling, too, is that the writing process, itself, is barely mentioned, except to say that her husband is kind of a poet workaholic. Overall, this book brings nothing new to the table regarding alcohol abuse. It reiterates the familiar path of joining AA and, alas, becoming born-again. Yet, this memoir was wildly praised by the press before it was even released. Makes me a little suspicious.

Slab City, CA

  • The English Major (fiction) by Jim Harrison: Engaging, yes, but I sense that it is more of a “guy’s” book. The main character, a 60 year-old retired teacher who has just lost his farm, wife and dog, decides to drive around aimlessly through several mountain states motivated by a half-baked idea to rename each one (N.B., the names he chooses are not witty.) Along the way, meets up with a former student (now married and in her 40s). They have a fling. He then spends the remainder of the novel daydreaming about her incredible ass. Really. Maybe if I were a guy… Nah.
  • The Sugarless Plum (memoir) by Zippora Karz: As much as I enjoy reading about ballet (I was a dancer once, see photo, below), Karz’s memoir about dancing while battling diabetes amounted to a little too much diabetes and not enough dance to sustain my interest.

  • This Book Could Save Your Life (fiction) by A.M. Homes: if you’ve ever lived in Los Angeles, this book will evoke from you frequent, knowing chuckles (and a few guffaws.) It was definitely a fun read — even if the ending is a bit farfetched.
  • Mafia Son (non-fiction) by Sandra Harmon: I managed to get through the entire book, but Harmon had lost her credibility early on when, for reasons unknown, she opted to portray the murderous moronic thug of the title in a sympathetic way — as a victim of an unfair system of justice (even though he viciously murdered 25 people.) Please. The lunatic mobsters inhabiting these pages and their capacity for bloodbaths and violence will curl your hair. Most of them are lower echelon mobsters, meaning they live in middle class houses in Bensonhurst and Staten Island, and prefer not to delegate. They do the murders themselves because they simply like to kill.
  • Omega Point (fiction) by Don DeLillo: a relatively short novel that I did enjoy, but at the same time found thin. The opening chapter, a literary replication, if you will, of an art installation in NYC — a slowed down, frame-by-frame screening of the film “Psycho” was recounted in a mesmerizing way. It was the best part of the book. What followed never matched the power of the opening chapter. As always, DeLillo has interesting things to say about the state of the world, but, for me, he just never delves deeply enough.
  • Falling Man (fiction) by Don De Lillo: Same problem as in Omega Man. The first half of the novel captured my interest. Set right after 9/11, the events, scenes and references were skillfully portrayed. Some were quite poignant. Half-way through, though, I lost interest. I just didn’t feel like finishing the book. I’ve read White Noise by DeLillo and did enjoy it. But these two books somehow felt unfocused and missed the mark, at least, for me.

Next on my list? Shadow Tag (fiction) by Louise Erdrich.

Happy Reading!