Something like the first three weeks of November got filled with the composition of a new book. The title is My Petite Gridiron, and it was produced "all of a piece" at the bidding of the muses (not a compilation of preexisting material like my last issued collection). The book is made up of 100 poems, each eight lines in length. If you scroll back to what I posted during the first three weeks of (this) November, you will find five representative samples; I'm not ready to update the main poetry page of this site so as to fix them more firmly in the firmament so to speak. This dovetails neatly in thematic and personal ways with aspects of my first collection, Embodiment & Release, which merely suggests that—if it is so that “the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time”—then the net result may turn out to be something more pleasurable to its author than an enhanced reading experience for the reader.
Three days ago, in my rush to fall over myself in praise over Charles Newell's staging of Agamemnon by Aeschylus at Court Theatre in Chicago, I stated: "I take back every bad thing I've said about him during his tenure". I was too broad in my absolution, but, since it would be ungenerous to rescind, let it stand. However, I must be clear, one brilliant production—fulfilling adequately or even perfectly the function of a theater devoted to "classical" works—does not make up for or otherwise undo a tenure significantly devoted to abdicating that responsibility.
For full disclosure, let me note that I once submitted a play to Court. Which I cannot recall. Some of my earlier efforts were "comic inventions" based on pre-existing "classical" material. In July of 2000 I got a rejection note from Celise Kalke:
Thank you very much for your interest in Court Theatre, and for contacting Artistic Director Charles Newell about your work. Unfortunately, we do not accept unsolicited scripts and also are a classical theatre and do not produce original plays. I do, however, encourage you to consider sending your work to one of the Chicago theatres devoted to new plays. I also urge you to become familiar with the work of Chicago Dramatists, which is devoted to new play and developing writers.
What burned me up at the time, of course, was that Court Theatre was by no means producing exclusively "classical theatre". The season that year included: Life's a Dream (Calderón), The Real Thing (Stoppard), Desire Under the Elms (O'Neill), Fair Ladies at a Game of Poem Cards (Chikamatsu Monzaemon), and The Learned Ladies (Molière). First play up on the bill for the next season was Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love.
I consider myself a fan of Stoppard's stagecraft—but there was no way, at that time, to presume his work a "classic." So of course Kalke's statement reeked to me of hypocrisy. (Let me not go so far as to suggest that Desire Under the Elms may not be a classic—supposing, at least in the mind of Charles Newell at the time, or his predecessor in choosing the season, that it was so.) Fair Ladies at a Game of Poem Cards was a well-crafted play, and an excellent production; but it was an original play by Peter Oswald, based on a classic by Chikamatsu—I believe he even expressed that it was disconcerting to him that Court Theatre persisted in misrepresenting his play.
(Also incendiary, but not germane to this post, was Kalke's disingenuous condescension urging me on to Chicago Dramatists Workshop—a parasitical outfit that bills itself as "helping" playwrights but actually serves as a gatekeeper exacting not insignificant access tolls, as I have written. Nor, for all its vileness, is Chicago Dramatists the lone predatory player in Chicago's or the national theater scene.)
If you look at this year's season—or many of the intervening years'—Court Theatre under Charles Newell's stewardship continues in the abdication of its touted function. Next up is Satchmo? [Originally here I listed titles from last and current seasons, followed by snarky comments; but the theater publicizes its production history—the names are available and tell the story. Adaptations of whichever relatively "classic" text, or even plays written in the last several decades, do not, in any form, constitute "classical theater": if not misrepresentation then severe ignorance is afoot.]
A company truly invested in "classic theatre" would probably need to produce at least one ancient Greek play per season to justify its standing. Newell, after a long tenure of all-over-the-map, is giving Chicago that for three consecutive seasons and should be praised for it (amidst the effluvia). In this Newell resembles nothing so much as a strip-miner who designs a beautiful garden. Go see Agamemnon if you can; but understand that under his tenure Court Theatre has contributed its share of decimation on the "classical" environment in a most impactful way.
I wrote previously, I presume Charles Newell's intentions to be good, and that he operates as he does based on sound financial considerations. It's not easy keeping a classical theater company afloat these days.
Cummings is never far from mind as Thanksgiving approaches. Last year I posted his poem THANKSGIVING (1956) and wrote a little about what it meant to me. This year I thought about Cummings in a different conjunction. Wikipedia has this about his book No Thanks:
No Thanks is a 1935 collection of poetry by E. E. Cummings. Cummings is also often referred to as e.e. cummings due to his creative use of orthography in some of his work, and his perceived bias for the lowercase form of his name. He self-published the collection with the help of his mother and dedicated it to the fourteen publishing houses who turned the collection down. The book is unconventionally bound not on the left but rather the top, like a stenographer's pad. This was his most difficult collection of poems to publish.
His dedication always impressed me, as I imagine it must most young people who come upon it:
Perhaps this came into mind today because earlier in the day I got a new title up at Lulu.com. The whole work feels rather perfunctory to me, but I had reasons for wanting to rush it out—mainly a 30% off sale at the site that only has a few hours left to run.
Many friends of mine have used it or any other of various POD sites to get their manuscripts out in perfect bound form—as such we don't have to ask our mothers to spot us $300, the sum his is reported to have given in order to enable his self-publication. We also don't need to indulge in the perhaps somewhat peevish bitterness Cummings did (however justifiable) in this case or in others, as was one of the centers of attraction to his work when we were young.
We being brand new, we have other things to be peevishly bitter about if we choose that path; but being older, it becomes less appealing. Meanwhile, as the Master stated, youth keeps right on
It may take me a day or two to put something more splashy about the new book up here at the site.
A few days ago I posted this on social media to let Chicago friends know about this production of Agamemnon at Court Theater. I haven't seen any reviews of it, but I don't need to. Since I've posted about Newell and Court before I thought I should paste it here:
Right now Agamemnon is at the Court Theatre. If you must beg, borrow or scrape to get the ticket price, I would advise it—especially if you have an interest in drama (or in the human condition). This is astounding. Only three of us stood up afterwards, in place of the habitual standing ovations plays get now, because I think people were stunned. The rarity of this opportunity cannot be overstated. Last season's Iphigenia at Aulis, which told the story of Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter on the battlefield of Troy, was good...but this continuation (of the story) is really beyond that. If drama is religion then Aeschylus is Jesus Christ or some such towering figure. The chances of seeing a straightforward Greek presentation in Chicago (and especially Aeschylus) are practically nil, but Charles Newell pulled it off. I take back every bad thing I've said about him during his tenure, and that's been a lot. I've been involved in theater in some capacity for 30 years, at least the last 23 of that as a dramatist—but in an amateur (going to the root of the word) rather than professional capacity. There have been two momentous occasions for me as a theater goer (and I've seen a lot of good theater). One was Oedipus Rex in the Yeats translation done as the original in masks up at Stratford. And now this. (Present day companies have gone for spectacle ahead of drama—but this is pure "zero to the bone" drama like you've never seen it. Try not to sit extreme left (auditorium left) if you go because sightlines issues, and be prepared to listen.) I saw Brecht the other night at Loyola. Forget it. The odds are likely more than 1,000 to one that you'll see Brecht staged before Aeschylus. And—much as Brecht's theater is admirable—Aeschylus makes the rest of us look like pastry cooks.
It is a wound that sometimes suppurates,
Erupts, infects, and then sometimes abates;
"Lilies that fester"—even while it festers
Or while lies dormant, equally it pesters.
If you but acquiesced unto this love,
The poet's mantle I might then remove,
Relinquishing my torment, and—relinquished—
The tenor of it would no more be Englished.
My strength lies in my willingness to leave you;
I will not crawl and cower for your favor.
My words fall easy, straight, will not deceive you,
Though, lacking flattery, you hardly savor.
No, heed then your cabal of followers,
When they describe how beautiful you are—
I will not proposition you in verse,
Leaving not only words that soothe, but jar.
Upon the last, I cry unto the heavens,
Unto the gods if they be in Olympus,
To ask why outcome with desire ne'er evens,
As if they set a plan to cramp and crimp us.
If our expenses evened out with earnings,
If pleasures somehow equalled cost in pain,
If all our losses were outweighed by learnings,
Then my ordeal in love would be a gain.
He writes about your beauty even though
It is a vanity he ought escape—
To order syllables and make a show,
Meters with gilded fineries to drape.
Come, let us have a laugh at his expense:
I know that he would gladly give up breath
To satisfy a passion so immense,
But he must live, condemned—a life like death.
You want to be the subject of his art?
So you have been. He tells what's in his heart,
But your ears might as well be filled with clay
For the attention that you turn his way.
I tell you this: your beauty is sublime,
But he can never capture it in rhyme—
The verses that he writes are not so good
Touching on you; but they are writ with blood.
A new poem is always news to the poet.