At The Folger Shakespeare Library – The Legacy Of Seamus Heaney

April 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Without going into the two books I purchased and got signed (Matter of Fact by Eamon Grennan and Selected Poems by Bernard O’Donoghue), I’ll just write about my impressions of the Monday night’s event.

Originally, Heaney himself was scheduled to appears. But, of course, he died.

So, with some help from the Irish embassy, a collection of three prominent Irish poets (Paula Meehan and the two aforementioned poets whose books I purchased) and two American (Frank Bidart and Jane Hirschfield).

I feel like I have Hirschfield’s collection, After, somewhere in my library but didn’t find it nor, consequently, bring it for a signature. Which is okay. Because one of my takeaways from the evening is that she rubs me the wrong. It’s entirely personal. I feel like that if I were younger (let’s say, late teens or early twenties), I would gladly be here willing disciple and nurture a secret crush on her. At this point in my life, she strikes me as a name dropping caricature of the poet as spiritual shaman. The outfit, the attitude… I feel like she is villain in made for Christian television movie, where the young girl is almost led astray by the wild and probably atheist poet-professor, but is saved by… I don’t know, maybe a pastor the youthful heroine used to think boring and staid or a wise old gardener who never finished college. Something like that. She also dropped a lot of names and locations that made her seem very cool. Did you know that she hung out with Heaney in Rome, at the American school? After he left the boring others behind, he and and his wife drank wine and ate awesome Italian things with Hirschfield in an apartment, probably overlooking somewhere romantic and historical. Having attended the lecture, variations on this incident were drilled into my head. Repeatedly. But, it has to be said and cannot be ignored: Jane Hirschfield is a very, very, very good poet. Not completely my cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize quality when I see it (or hear it).

Bidart, who is a poet I greatly admire, was the most interesting speaker, because he actually took the time to not to just read his own poetry (in fact, he read very little of his own), but to almost give a lecture on a particular aspect of Heaney’s oeuvre, namely, political poetry in Heaney’s canon. Bidart also had the longest line of people looking for autographs, which made me feel bad, so I was happy that I went for some of the lesser known poets.

Paula Meehan has one of those great reading voices that seem tailor made for poetry. I’m not sure how if I’d buy a collection of her poetry (I didn’t that night), but I would definitely buy an album of her reading her poetry. She spoke melodically and at length about Heaney’s place in Ireland’s history, literary or otherwise. More than any other poet, she gave a feel for Heaney as a larger than life figure.

Eamon Grennan, besides having a wondrous, Amish style beard, spoke movingly about Heaney’s poetic influence on his work (which is great – I’ll write more about it at a later date, I’m sure).

Finally, Bernard O’Donoghue. A nervous speaker, but also the most knowledgeable about Heaney (as one might expect from someone who has written a book about Heaney’s poetry). He is probably the one I would have most enjoyed hearing more from (though I wish, in the time that he did have, he had taken a page from Bidart’s approach). Again, I’ll write about the book I bought from him later.

At the signing period, I was waiting in line, before realizing that everyone was waiting for Bidart, so I just skipped around and got to chat with both Grennan and O’Donoghue. Of course, one also can’t help but feel bad for the non-superstar poets (at least, non-superstars to the Folger attending, poetry reading public of the DC metropolitan area) and I hope more folks made their way over to the other parts of the table, not being bum rushed by Bidart aficionados.

Sieve Portrait

April 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

When I went on my annual ritual of attending the Folger’s ‘Shakespeare Birthday Bash,‘ I came across a fantastic portrait of Elizabeth that I had never seen before.

Not so much that I previously believed I had seen all portraits ever made of her, but rather that I was mostly just aware of the Folger’s collection of paintings of Shakespearean themese from later centuries.

This was a beautiful bit of portraiture from the late sixteenth century and it’s just… just amazing. It’s known as the ‘Sieve’ portrait and was painted by George Gower.

Art Coll. 246171

Things You Didn’t Know About Thailand: Hot Dogs

April 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

Sausages are advertised very heavily in Thai television. But to an American, they look exactly like hot dogs.

I see a pale piece of flavorless processed meat, but the ads show the hot dog being breathlessly broken in two by a twenty something male model, steam rising from the warm, delicious center of… well, processed meat. It really doesn’t look any different from a hot dog to me. Or more appetizing.

I mean, I know that I’m vegetarian, so maybe my judgement is a little skewed, but living in DC, we have a lot of good food carts that sell sausages that look pretty good. DC even has a signature one: the half smoke.

Midweek Staff Meeting – Naptime

April 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

Rizzoli-BookstoreThis article contains the most useful map of Washington, DC that you will ever encounter.

This is a fantastic bookstore and I’ve found some incredibly interesting books there and it’s always on my list of places to visit when I’m in NYC, so it would be a terrible shame if were to close.

Some great ways to celebrate National Poetry Month that will also make your more employable. I’m not kidding.

How is this not blowing people’s minds? Or is it? It’s blowing my mind, I know that. The BLACK PLAGUE OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY WAS NOT THE BUBONIC PLAGUE BUT SOMETHING ELSE. That’s right. It was some kind of pneumonia thing spread by sneezing and not something with pus filled pustules spread by rats and fleas. Holy cow, Batman! I’m not kidding. This upends a lot of what I used to think I knew. And what about Camus’ novel, La Peste? How do you say sneeze in French? Le Sneeze? Should that be the new title? OMG!

Happy National Poetry Month!

April 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

I was on vacation for a good chunk of March and got some good poetry reading in – finishing a collection by William Carlos Williams and dipping heavily into Wordsworth (who has become my standby in the last several years, replacing folks like Eliot).

So how will I celebrate?

I’ll buy some poetry, I think that’s a given. For a small investment, anyone can do a great deal to support poetry simply by buying a brand new book of poetry. There is an argument for buying directly from the publisher, so that the poet gets a larger share of the proceeds. I actually prefer to buy from a bookstore, so that I can support bookstores, but also, by buying at one, I am doing some small part to make stocking poets more profitable for them, thereby encouraging that store to invest in poetry.

I suppose that I’ll find some poetry readings to attend (check out the Library of Congress’ poetry schedule here)

And, I’m going to read some more Cantos. I started to make some progress again this year after a more than one year hiatus and I’m ready to dive in some more.

What do you say?

Midweek Meeting – From The Mouths Of Babes

March 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

Because it’s what smart people do.

Krausian theater.

The end of brutalist worship in DC.

‘Type Rider II: The Tandem Poetry Tour’ – I know, cool, right?


Had To Re-Post This One…

February 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

Go to #15 and replace “Carol” with “Christopher.” I’d say replace the age, too, but it’s close enough to being true that arguing the point would sound pathetic.

The 21 People You Will Meet in a Washington, DC Bar

Midweek Staff Meeting – Don’t Go Mistaking Me

February 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

We are not a southern city.

Build a better subway station and they will come.

‘Selfies’ and knowledge of the self. Not the same thing, apparently.

Adorno and the Ends of Philosophy

Books that changed people’s lives. We’ve all got them. But if you’re going to check this one out, I suggest you go down to Eileen Myles’ list. She’s a great poet and her opinions are worth listening to.

DC is good place to buy vinyl.

The (not so) strange friendship between Frank O’Hara and Amiri Baraka.

Joshua Bell Plays Mendelssohn

February 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

Friday night, we saw Joshua Bell play Mendelssohn’s concerto in E minor for violin and orchestra, followed by Hindemith’s When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d (a setting of selections from Whitman to music).

Naturally, Bell was the real draw. He was very ‘present’ during the first movement, but didn’t always impose himself on the second and third movements. That said. Joshua Bell. Wouldn’t have missed it. And, c’mon. You just can’t go wrong with a Mendelssohn violin concerto. It’s like sex. Great sex is, well, great. Bad sex… is still pretty good. And Bell makes it like sex with a supermodel, so even if the sex is not good, well, there a supermodel.

The Hindemith piece was very moving. There was a huge chorus and two leads, a baritone and a mezzo-soprano, so the tones were pretty deep and necessarily somber. The Whitman selections were about the Civil War and the death of Lincoln, so it was almost an elegy, but a distinctly American elegy. Hindemith may have been a German expatriate, but When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d inspired a sort of patriotism in me.

Anyway. You’re not supposed to ever take photographs inside the hall, but I did anyway.


Review: ‘Richard III’ at the Folger Shakespeare Library

February 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

We saw the second night performance at the Folger Shakespeare Library, a very elaborately (for a small theater like the Folger) staged production, with the stage moved to the center and raised up and the audience on four sides all around (occasionally with actors moving among us). The costumes were gorgeous and little goth. Queen Elizabeth, in particular, wore a blood red, form-fitting dress, leather corset, and a great plunging collar of black and red-black feathers. The widow of Henry VI, Margaret, was dressed like a mad woman from your local Renaissance Faire. The men, Richard excepted, wore items like leather trench coats and velvet jackets – all in black. Richard, though, wore a simple, military looking grey overcoat.

When a character died (was killed, usually by one of Richard’s lackeys), the ‘body’ was taken down, beneath the stage, through a series of trapdoors built into the stage. At the end, the central trap door was made translucent by the light on it and a skeleton was visible: a reference to the relatively recent discovery of the historical Richard’s bones beneath a shopping center parking lot.

Most actors in a production of Richard III are going to seem a little pale in contrast to the oversized presence of Richard himself – exception being Elizabeth. Her height (she was taller than Richard and, indeed, taller than almost everyone else in the play) gave her some physical advantage in matching Richard’s presence. His opening soliloquy breaks the fourth wall (or, in this production’s case, all four fourth walls), something he does several times throughout the first half of the play. The actor played with a strong limp, but was (so my companion assured me) very good looking and radiated an oily, sexual charm. Certainly, one could see Ann falling for him.

Queen Elizabeth did match him well and the greatest sexual tension was not between Richard and Ann nor Richard and Buckingham, but between Richard and Elizabeth. Even when asking for her daughter’s hand in marriage, the real fire was between the two of them. The director even went ahead and made it explicit, with the two of them sharing a brief, but passionate kiss. Had this play been x-rated, you would have expected the two of them to immediately get down to some really dirty hate sex at that point.

Richard did lose me for a bit. Between his initial, risky, but calculated murders and his descent into paranoia, I wasn’t keeping up with where the production was going. But, at some point in the final act, it clicked for me again.

In general, the whole thing was done at a fast pace, well acted, exciting, and innovatively done. And, I finally got to see Richard III performed live!


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