1st Day in Chicago: “Smokefall”

Self embarked on this trip to see plays.

She’s always felt that Chicago is a much more exciting theater city than New York.

Every time she comes (this is only her 3rd time), she sees plays. Didn’t Second City originate here? Second City once did a play on Rod Blagojevich’s hair. It was called “Rod Blagojevich: Superstar.”  Second City is sort of like LA’s Upright Citizens Brigade.

Now Rahm Emmanuel’s in charge.

Last night, self and poet Angela Narciso Torres went to see “Smokefall.”

As in her last play at the Goodman, “Desire Under the Elms,” the set was a mix of realistic and symbolic elements. In “Desire,” there was a huge carcass of a butchered pig hanging above the stage (To give credit where credit is due, it was Angela who remembered about the pig carcass. Self is embarrassed to admit that the one memory that burns most brightly in her mind about “Desire Under the Elms” is Pablo Schreiber, Liev’s half-brother, appearing in the buff).  In last night’s “Smokefall” there was a 1950s kind of kitchen, yellow table and chairs, and a deep red sofa. At the very back of the stage was a slanted gray platform, which characters used to run up and down or to declaim inner monologues and so forth. Clever!

After the play, there was Q & A. Self must say, the first time she ever experienced this kind of after-performance discussion was at the Goodman. Now Cal Shakes has started doing this (at least, they did it last year, after the production of Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan”) It is wonderful to have discussion, right after, because everyone’s head is still popping with ideas.  There was a young man in the audience, sitting in the row directly in front of self and her friend, who looked like the Second Coming of Chris Blackett, even down to the voice (Chris is self’s nephew; he lives in New York City).

Someone asked why the play was called “Smokefall,” which was a very good question.  And the Goodman’s artistic director (who had said he would be joined by some of the actors, but wasn’t) said the word “Smokefall” was taken from a T. S. Eliot poem called “Burnt Norton.” Here’s an excerpt (which was printed on a bookmark inserted into the play’s programme):

Time past and time future
Allow but a little
consciousness.

To be conscious is not
to be in time

But only in time
can the moment in the
rose-garden

The moment in the arbour
where the rain beat,

The moment in the
draughty church at
smokefall

Be remembered; involved
with past and future.

Only through time
time is conquered.

– T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton” (1935)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Nighttimes/Happy Times: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge Post # 4

Self's birthday last year: she celebrated with Niece G in San Francisco restaurant SPQR.

Self’s birthday last year: she celebrated with Niece G in San Francisco restaurant SPQR.

The view behind the Globe Theatre in London: She stumbled across it only during the intermission for TITUS ANDRONICUS, late April.

The view behind the Globe Theatre in London: Self stumbled across it during the intermission for TITUS ANDRONICUS, late April of this year, when she stopped off in London en route to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland.

Lining up for Improv in LA's Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, a few months ago

Lining up for a show at LA’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, a few months ago. The improv surprised self by being so much about politics: When the comedians asked the audience for the name of a city in Libya/Iraq/Iran that had been in the news, audience members came right back with several choices. The only name self had been able to dredge up was ‘Fallujah.’

 

Adventure 3: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

Self saw a production of “Titus Andronicus” in the Globe during a week in London, en route to Ireland and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, in late April 2014. When she told her friend Joan McGavin that she was going to see it, Joan said: “Bring a bucket. Loads of gore.”

And indeed, Joan was right. There was indeed loads of gore. The production was a bit Quentin Tarantino-ish. But it was still bloody great.

Titus Andronicus at the Globe:  Wild, Bloody, Great

Titus Andronicus at the Globe: Wild, Bloody, Great

Then self proceeded to Ireland, where she had many more adventures. Including, her first actual acquaintance-ship with real swans (as opposed to the swans in Hans Christian Andersen or the Grimm brothers’ fairytales). Here is a picture of a loan swan, powering across a blustery lake, early May 2014:

Sighted Yesterday, on the Way to Annaghmakerrig: A determined swan powers its way across a wide lake, in blustery winds.

Sighted on the Way to Annaghmakerrig: A determined swan powers its way across a wide lake, in blustery winds.

She was so impressed with this swan that she started to write a story about swans which evolved into a story about Noah’s ark, after she saw the Darren Aronofsky movie “The Ark.” The last rejection letter she received for her ark story was just last week:  “Sorry,” quoth the young man, “Revisionist Bible stories aren’t really my thing.”

Self’s most recent adventure was attending the Squaw Valley Writers Conference, this past July.  She’d been hearing about it forever. Last year, she finally bit the bullet and applied. And she got in! And they offered her partial aid.  She is so glad she went soon after getting back from Ireland. For by the time she got to Squaw Valley, in early July, she was fit, mentally and physically, from six weeks of traveling all over Ireland and England. And she made so many new friends.

The Olympic House at Squaw Valley: July, 2014

The Olympic House at Squaw Valley: July, 2014

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Extra, Extra: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

The prompt this week:

This week, share a photo that has a little something extra:  an unexpected visitor, or a tranquil landscape with a splash of color.

Here’s self’s first take on the prompt:

What makes the first shot:  the Coke bottle.  The snack lady on this trip was simply delightful.  She asked self more than once if self wanted anything.

The train back to Dublin after catching Janet Pierce's painting exhibit in the Hamilton Gallery in Sligo

The train back to Dublin after catching Janet Pierce’s painting exhibit in the Hamilton Gallery in Sligo

What makes this shot:  the armful of yellow roses someone handed Janet just before self took the shot:

Janet Pierce with her friend, ceramic artist Ann McNulty, at the Hamilton Gallery in Sligo, where Janet's paintings are on exhibit until August 4.

Janet Pierce with her friend, ceramic artist Ann McNulty, at the Hamilton Gallery in Sligo, where Janet’s paintings are on exhibit until August 4.

What makes THIS shot:  the barge?  The reflections on the water?

The view behind the Globe Theatre in London: She stumbled across it only during the intermission for TITUS ANDRONICUS, late April.

The view behind the Globe Theatre in London: Self stumbled across it only during the intermission for TITUS ANDRONICUS, late April.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Another Day at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Anaghmakkerig, Another Irish Writer Discovered

The writer today is David Park.  Here’s a short bio:

Oranges From Spain, a volume of short stories, set against the background of the Troubles, was first published in the 1980s.  Since then, David Park has written five novels:  The Healing, The Rye Man, Stone Kingdoms, The Big Snow, and Swallowing the Sun.  A teacher, he lives in County Down with his wife Alberta and their two children.

Park was interviewed in Netting the Flow, “the first anthology of work by members of the Comber Reading and Creative Writing Group.”

Which of your books gave you the most satisfaction to write?

I don’t often dwell on past books and I never go back to them after they’re written.  There is an element of fear in this because I’m probably frightened that they’ll disappoint me and when they’re out in the world it’s too late to call them back to try and remedy real or imagined imperfections.  This feeling of apprehension is both a positive and a negative because it’s the constant dissatisfaction that acts as the spur to try and try again.  So when I’m asked about favourite books, the truth is that there are only books that dissatisfy me less than others.

Speaking of favorite books, self brought copies of two of her collections —  Mayor of the Roses and The Lost Language — with her on this trip.  One copy of The Lost Language went to Joan McGavin (the 2014 Hampshire Poet) and her husband, who so patiently put self up, when she first arrived in the UK.  She’d never been to Southampton before; Joan met self at the station and then took self to see a play staged in Her Majesty’s Prison in Winchester, in which all of the male roles were acted by prison inmates, and the female roles by students in the University of Winchester.  (This would never have happened in the States, let her tell ya.  They’d be too worried about the young women rehearsing with inmates.)  It was a very excellent play.  Set in World War I, about conscientious objectors and how they were reviled.

She’s managed to give away all her copies except one, her last copy of Mayor of the Roses.  She offered poet Csilla Today a choice of which of self’s collections she wanted to trade her poetry collection for, and she picked The Lost Language.  Interesting choice!  Then self went into her usual disclaimer, telling Csilla the stories were rather “dark.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

Spring 5: Roses and Other Blooming Things

It’s Friday morning, raining again.  “Ireland’s a bog,” someone told her yesterday.

Two years ago, when she was preparing to do an artists residency at Hawthornden, someone told her, “Scotland is rainy and wet.”  No one said the slightest thing to her about Ireland.  And guess what.  It’s even colder and wetter in Ireland than it is in Scotland!

Self has been dutifully posting pictures of flowers for the current WordPress Photo Challenge, SPRING.

She’s also been browsing other WordPress blogs and the flower pictures have been simply breathtaking.

This is self’s very own floribunda, a Fourth of July:

Fourth of July, the 2nd Rose that self ever bought, over 10 years ago.

Fourth of July, the 2nd Rose that self ever bought, over 10 years ago.

Because of all the rain, the Irish countryside is lush and lovely.

Gingko Tree, by the Main House at the Tyrone Guthrie Center, Annamakherrig

Tree, by the Main House at the Tyrone Guthrie Center, Annamakherrig:  Is this a Horse Chestnut?

Near the farmyard at the Centre

Near the Farmyard at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre

Is it or is it not coincidence that this morning, self is reading John Millington Synge?

Mary:  (Lying back sleepily)  Don’t mind him, Sarah Casey.  Sit down now, and I’ll be telling you a story would be fit to tell a woman the like of you in the springtime of the year.

–  from “The Tinker’s Wedding”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

1st of May (2014): Drama and Poetry, Southampton

It’s the first of May, and self is spending a few days in Southampton with Joan McGavin, who she met two years ago in Hawthornden.

Joan and her husband are professors at the University of Winchester and are two of the kindest, warmest people on the whole planet.

Joan is the Hampshire Poet 2014, and is busy organizing all sorts of workshops, plus a literary festival in September.

Last night, Joan took self to a play presented in a PRISON, dear blog readers.  The prison’s official name is Her Majesty’s Royal Prison of Winchester.  The play, about conscientious objectors during World War I — it’s the centennial of The Great War, after all — was performed by actual prison inmates.  The Mayor of Winchester was in attendance, and he wore a great gold chain around his neck. Self had never seen the like.  Not, at least, in America.

There is a very strong historical role played by this particular prison in World War I.  Read about it in The Huffington Post.

Anyhoo, we arrived home very late, past 10 p.m.  When Joan’s husband learned we hadn’t yet had dinner, he stepped out and got food-to-go from a Chinese take-out place around the corner.  The chow mein was delicious!  We had it with a bottle of French wine!

Self has been hugely enjoying her stay in England.  Can’t believe she’s been here a week already!  Time is just flying by!

Joan is teaching a workshop this July, in Normandy:

Joan is teaching a poetry workshop July 11-15  in Normandy

Joan is teaching a poetry workshop July 11-15 in Normandy

The workshop, including tuition and accommodations, is 380 British pounds (US $640).

Self, looking over Joan’s teaching materials, finds a book by Mary Oliver.  She opens to the chapter on Imagery.  Oliver writes:

The language of the poem is the language of particulars.  Without it, poetry might still be wise, but it would surely be pallid.  And thin.  It is the detailed, sensory language incorporating images that gives the poem dash and tenderness.  And authenticity.  Poems are “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” said Marianne Moore.

What a wonderful image!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Bloody Great “Titus Andronicus” at the Globe, and Letters 7

Titus Andronicus at the Globe:  Wild, Bloody, Great

Titus Andronicus at the Globe: Wild, Bloody, Great

This evening, self caught a performance of Titus Andronicus at the Globe.  She snagged the greatest seat:  middle gallery, first row, center section.  She had a completely unrestricted view of the stage and the audience in the pit.

What is it about British stage actors?  They can make the grandest of gestures feel so intimate.  Of the play itself, could anything equal the horror of seeing the beautiful Lavinia turned into a twitching horror, stumps for hands? Self knew the play would be violent; she didn’t know it would also be so moving.  And darn if the production didn’t have two brilliant actresses tearing up the scenery:  because of them, self actually forgot that the play was called Titus Andronicus.  And — talk about melodrama!  Talk about angst! Both actresses were beautiful, lithe, and perfectly emblematic. The men were adequate, but after the scene where Lavinia, still bruised and bleeding, picks up her father’s hand with her teeth — her teeth, dear blog readers! — self was completely overwhelmed with horror and pity. What an outrageous sight.  It might interest dear blog readers to know that the play was directed by a woman.  (The only criticism self could make about the production is:  they used way too much bloody incense.  What was the point?  To emphasize the ritual aspects of sacrifice?  Phew!)

It’s strange how her London sojourn has ended up being about the brilliance of women:  poets Jenny Lewis and Joan McGavin; filmmaker Sally Potter; and now the director of Titus Andronicus.

Moving on to the ostensible reason for this post: here’s another set of photographs on this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge, LETTERS.

The New Orleans Review has a new look!  Took this picture at the AWP Book Fair, February 2014.

The New Orleans Review has a new look! Took this picture at the AWP Book Fair, February 2014.

The Chinese Character for Longevity.  Self bought this from the Redwood City Nursery, ages ago.

The Chinese Character for Longevity. Self bought this from the Redwood City Nursery, ages ago.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Threes: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

The prompt this week from the WordPress Daily Post is THREES.

Threes meaning: “three-picture stories.” Meaning, narrative.

QED, self thinks. After all, self has often thought that most of her pictures function better as a sequence.  Each photo like a still of a silent film.

But when she finally sat down this afternoon to select her three-picture sequence, she ended up choosing three pictures she took of a site (the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda) that don’t seem to tell much of a story. Shrug. Self will keep posting. Even when she’s in Seattle, attending the AWP annual conference for the first time in something like six years.

Below are pictures she took last summer, when she indulged in two Cal Shakes performancesRomeo and Juliet, on her birthday, with son and The Man and Jessika and Pepe and a small group of son’s high school classmates (Self still finds it hard to believe that Margarita Donnelly, who ended up publishing self’s first book, Ginseng and Other Tales From Manila, was a graduate of that same school, Sacred Heart in Atherton, CA.  Back when it used to be an all-girls school!)

She saw another Cal Shakes production in August, this time with just one other person, Jessika Remolona (who’s expecting a baby this June! Woot Woot!): Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan. Jessika and self brought enough bottles of wine to carry us through almost three hours (They let you take the wine inside the theater. You can actually drink during the performance. Which makes self feel like she is in the Golden Globes or something)

Bruns Amphitheater, Orinda, July 2013

Bruns Amphitheater, Orinda, Summer 2013

Close-up of the Theater Lights

Close-up of the Theater Lights

The grounds outside the amphitheater have very unexpected artwork.  Part of the fun of the whole Cal Shakes experience is having a picnic just before the start of the performance.

The grounds outside the amphitheater have very unexpected artwork. Part of the fun of the whole Cal Shakes experience is having a picnic just before the start of the performance.

Self loves Shakespeare.  She loves Shakespeare outside.

After she saw her first Cal Shakes play (Romeo and Juliet with Adam Scott playing Romeo.  Adam Scott) she could never watch Shakespeare in any other guise than outdoors.  In the summer.  With a bottle of wine.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Object 2: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

Various objects — er, emblems — from self’s recent past:

Gamboling Lizards!  Found these in the gift shop of the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

Gamboling Lizards! Found these in the gift shop of the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

Petit-Fours were provided by Jessika and Pepe.  Thanks a bunch, guys! We were celebrating self's birthday by watching Cal Shakes' "Romeo and Juliet," July 2013

Picnic, July 2013:  Petit-Fours were provided by Jessika and Pepe. Thanks a bunch, guys! We were celebrating self’s birthday by watching Cal Shakes’ “Romeo and Juliet.” Jessika accompanied self to Cal Shakes one more time last summer: to watch Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windrmere’s Fan.”  She and Pepe are expecting their first child this June.

Raincoat, Edinburgh, June 2012:  Self was spending the month at the Hawthornden Writers Retreat.

Raincoat, Edinburgh, June 2012: Self was spending the month at the Hawthornden Writers Retreat.

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