Tag Archives: poem

My mother and Emily Dickinson

mom teen boy

by Stephen Sachs

It was my mother who introduced me to Emily Dickinson.

“I want to show you something,” Mom whispered one afternoon when I was boy, pulling down the thick volume of Dickinson’s poetry wedged on the family bookshelf in the den of our home. She patted the brown Naugahyde sofa, instructing me to sit beside down her.

“Listen to this,” mom smiled, opening the collection of poems, her finger hunting through its pages then hitting her target with a tap. “Here. This one. I will read this poem to you. Tell me what you think the poet is writing about.”

My mother then read to me the Dickinson poem, “I like to see it lap the Miles” When done, she looked to me. “What is she describing?”

I had no idea. It made no sense to me. I confessed my confusion.

“It’s a train,” my mother smiled. “Emily is picturing how a train glides across the countryside, chugs up a mountain, winds its way downhill, the sound it makes. Now that you know it’s a train, I’ll read it again. You’ll see and hear the train for yourself.”

She read it again. And I saw it. I heard it. And a world opened.        

My mother offered more of Emily’s poetry to me. Our routine was the same. Mom would read it aloud, then explain it, then read it again. Each poem was a revelation. My mother unlocking the door to each one. “A narrow Fellow in the Grass” was a snake. “A Route of Evanescence” a hummingbird. Soon, I was yanking the hefty The Complete Poems by Emily Dickinson down from the shelf by myself. Alone in the den. My mother nowhere in sight. Perhaps she washed dishes downstairs in our kitchen or lugged a blue plastic basket of family clothes into the laundry room. I was curled up on the couch in the den clutching Emily, her words launching me like a little boat on journeys inward and outward.   

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –

This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –

My mother shared with me her green 1945 first edition of Ancestors’ Brocades, the memoir by Millicent Todd Bingham telling how her own mother, Mabel Loomis Todd, co-edited the first publishing of Dickinson’s poetry, announcing Emily to the world in 1890, four years after her death. Although Mabel Loomis Todd had visited Emily Dickinson’s home for four years by that time, she had never laid eyes on the reclusive poet in person except in her coffin.

Emily’s solitude, her expansive inner life, her monk-like self-ordination to the service of her soul has enthralled me to this day. I am as much enamored of her life as I am of her poetry. To me, they are one and the same.

My mother’s persona was more Donna Reed than Emily Dickinson. Mom was pretty, vivacious, classy. She wore pearls and black heels and Channel No. 5. She gave me her joy, her sense of style and fun. She gave me her intellect, her delight for the arts.  She gave me her love and her friendship. She gave me all of herself.

And she gave me Emily.

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: ‘Citizen’ author Claudia Rankine engages in Q&A at Fountain Theatre

 Claudia Rankine at the Fountain Theatre

Claudia Rankine at the Fountain Theatre

Author Claudia Rankine attended last Sunday’s matinée performance of our world stage premiere of her book, Citizen: An American Lyric, and engaged the audience in a Q&A Talkback discussion with the cast.  It was Ms. Rankine’s first opportunity to see the Fountain’s full production of the stage adaptation of her book  (she attended a reading of an earlier draft of the script two months ago). She was very moved by what she experienced on Sunday.  

Following the performance, Ms. Rankine and the cast addressed issues of racism dramatized on stage in the play and rendered in the book. Audience members shared their insightful comments and asked meaningful questions of the author and the actors. Rankine then signed copies of her book and a catered reception was served in the cafe immediately after.

Another memorable afternoon at the Fountain Theatre.

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Citizen: An American Lyric runs to Sept 14th. MORE INFO/GET TICKETS   

Claudia Rankine: With ‘Citizen’ hopes “to see my community, to understand my place in it, what it looks like, and yet stay on my street anyway”

Claudia Rankine reads at Shakespeare & Company, Paris.

Claudia Rankine reads at Shakespeare & Company, Paris.

by Lauren Berlant

I met Claudia Rankine in a parking lot after a reading, where I said crazy fan things like, “I think we see the same thing.” She read a book of mine and wrote me, “Reading it was like weirdly hearing myself think.” This exchange is different from a celebration of intersubjectivity: neither of us believes in that . Too much noise of racism, misogyny, impatience, and fantasy to weed out. Too much unshared lifeworld—not just from the difference that racial experience makes but also in our relations to queerness, to family, to sickness and to health, to poverty and wealth—while all along wondering in sympathetic ways about the impact of citizenship’s embodiment. Plus, it takes forever to get to know someone and, even then, we are often surprised—by ourselves, by each other. Claudia and I have built a friendship through consultation about whether our tones are crazy, wrong, off, or right; about whether or not our observations show something, and what. And, through frankness: a form of being reliable that we can trust, hard-edged as it can be, loving as it can be (and sometimes the former is easier to take than the latter). We are both interested in how writing can allow us to amplify overwhelming scenes of ordinary violence while interrupting the sense of a fated stuckness. This interview, conducted via email, walks around how we think with and against the convenience of conventionally immiserated forms of life and art.

Experimental work always forces us to imagine analogous genres around it: Citizen: An American Lyric , Rankine’s new book, has the same subtitle as her previous book, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (2004). That’s one route to take. Each is like a commentary track on the bottom of a collective television screen where the ordinary of racism meets a collective nervous system’s desire for events to be profoundly transformative. Both books have tender, sustaining intimacies. Citizen also acts as a kind of art gallery playing out the aesthetics of supremacist sterility, each segment being like a long, painfully white hall we’re walking down, punctuated by stunning images of black intensity and alterity. And then come some moments of relieving care, not just with people but also in the very fact that an aesthetic encounter can make you feel that you have a world to breathe in, after all. Or that you don’t. In the director’s cut of Citizen , many pages ended with the forward slash (/) we associate with the end of the line in a cited poem. On Rankine’s page this / designated the previous writing as a line of poetry embedded in a history captured through citation. These slashes were deleted at the end of the process, but do not forget to read for the breathless cut and join of enjambment, as it figures the core intimate fact of relation in Rankine’s Citizen .

Lauren Berlant

Lauren Berlant

Lauren Berlant What kind of tone do you associate with the word citizen? I ask this because the book Citizen is so much about tone—of voice, atmosphere, history—the unsaids (James Baldwin’s “questions hidden by the answers”), the saids, the spaces within a conversation holding up the encounter both in the sense of sustaining it and of blocking it …

Claudia Rankine Tone is an everyday kind of maneuver. It disrupts and communicates aggression, disgust, dis- respect, and humor, among a myriad of possibilities, thereby allowing language to morph into a blanket or a gun. It helps me know how to read the spaces between things. One has an ear out for it always. It’s a thing to be translated. Yours is a good question because it presupposes certain expectations for tone in public encounters, places where equality and sharing are legislated to happen, places where one has expectations for justice, for evenhandedness, and for “we are all just people here” indifference. I don’t exactly expect disdain when paying for my bagel. Not at 9 AM in a café, anyway!

LB “A blanket or a gun”! What a narrow margin. There’s not a lot of laughter in Citizen. No doubt, that sense motivates your use of the word maneuver—it means, etymologically, “to work with one’s hands,” but it’s usually a way of talking about unsticking something, getting around an impasse or an obstacle course, or dealing with touchy subjects. It’s a word for the delicacy of manner that people develop while trying not to incite unwonted violence.

So yes, tone maneuvers. I might have said alternatively that tone adjusts, pointing to arcs of implied communication and to the spontaneous action of shaping the event while losing and regaining our footing. Your view of it is more intentional. For sure to notice tone is to experience it as a pressure on consciousness. You are very interested in what tone does. The action of the mind’s hands as they move through the air of the encounter. (Thoreau: “My head is hands and feet.”)

This must be what ballasts Citizen’s great phrase about your being “too tired even to turn on any of your devices,” which is metapoetic but also implies that the maneuver of tone is one of your citizen-actions, a weapon for resisting defeat and depletion in the face of the supremacist ordinary. The you that you use that also sometimes means I and we, needs such devices to defend, refuse, and reinvent the ordinary, despite, as you say, being sick with John Henryism and other maladies of the racially subordinated. The more devices the better—Citizen meditates on counter-uses of the pronoun, the metaphor, the catastrophic event, and the wedging phrase. Take the repeated tag, “What did you say?” It’s tone that reroutes the damaging verbal exchange from its target into the shared space of a disowned violence.  Continue reading

Free Reading of New Stage Adaptation of Award-Winning Book ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

citizen-crop

The Fountain will present a free reading of its new stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine‘s acclaimed, award-winning book Citizen: An American Lyric, this Sunday, May 31 at 7pm at the Fountain Theatre. This will be an exclusive first-time reading of the script that is currently in development, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney. The world premiere full production is planned for this summer.

Citizen: An American Lyric is a provocative meditation on race fusing prose, poetry, and the visual image. A lyric poem, snapshots, vignettes, on the acts of everyday racism. Remarks, glances, implied judgments. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV — everywhere, all the time. Those did-that-really-just-happen-did-they-really-just say-that slurs that happen every day and enrage in the moment and later steep poisonously in the mind. And, of course, those larger incidents that become national or international firestorms. As Rankine writes, “This is how you are a citizen.”

Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine

Born in Jamaica, Claudia Rankine earned her BA in English from Williams College and her MFA in poetry from Columbia University. She is the author of five collections of poetry: Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014); Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2004); PLOT (Grove Press, 2001); The End of the Alphabet (Grove Press, 1998); and Nothing in Nature is Private (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1995), which received the Cleveland State Poetry Prize. Her honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowments for the Arts. In 2005, Rankine was awarded the Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by the Academy of American Poets. She is currently the Henry G. Lee Professor of English at Pomona College.

Citizen: An American Lyric has earned international critical praise and has been honored with the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the NAACP Image Award, and is a PEN Award finalist.    

The actors featured in Sunday’s script reading include Bernard K. Addison, Chris Butler, Tina Lifford, Simone Missick, Linda Park, Amy Pietz and Larry Poindexter.

Author Claudia Rankine will be in attendance at the reading.  

The stage reading on Sunday, May 31 at 7pm, is free of charge. Seating is limited.  Click here to reserve your seat, or call (323) 663-1525.  

 

Phenomenal Woman

"Heart Song" at the Fountain Theatre

“Heart Song” at the Fountain Theatre

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Tamlyn Tomita and Juanita Jennings.

Tamlyn Tomita and Juanita Jennings.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings, Pamela Dunlap in "Heart Song"

Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings, Pamela Dunlap in “Heart Song”

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou
Maria Bermudez and Pamela Dunlap.

Maria Bermudez and Pamela Dunlap.

photos by Ed Krieger
Heart Song   Now to July 14   (323) 663-1525   MORE

Poem by ‘Red and Brown Water’ Actress Iona Morris Celebrates “magic, mystery, song, dance”

Cast rehearsal, “In the Red and Brown Water”

Sharing this poem written by actress Iona Morris from the cast of  In the Red and Brown Water.

Magic, mystery, song, dance, lights, costume, set
We have all been gathered together, to again bring our best
As actors speak the words of an author who has bled for his story
Where we all get to creatively breathe life through it, for all its glory.
Every day each of us spends the time to be inspired with this script
To do our job passionately, for this is how we live
With the spirits of creativity, the Gods and Goddesses of imagination
It is us the artist, appearing in many forms who inspires all nations.
So, as your day goes, the hours tick and the minutes fly by
Take a moment to be thankful for the way you live your life
For it is no accident that you and me and all of us are together
Honey, the things we will do come October 20th, will be completely untethered
With magic, mystery, song, dance, lights, costume, set,
The director, the stage manager, pr, producers and support team we’ve yet met
Passion, truth, vulnerability blown wide, in this marvelous journey we lead here,
Will inspire the audiences who will witness your brilliance
at the magnificent Fountain Theatre!
– Iona Morris
Iona Morris is a stage, film, television and voice-over actress. She plays Aunt Elegua in our upcoming LA Premiere of  In the Red and Brown Water
In the Red and Brown Water  Oct 20 – Dec 16  (323) 663-1525  More

Celebrate National Poetry Month with ASL Poet “Cyrano” at the Fountain

Did you know April is National Poetry Month? What better way to celebrate the beauty of poetry than seeing it — not hearing it — expressed in front you by a skilled master? You’ll enjoy that rare treat in our upcoming world premiere of Cyrano, a new signed/spoken spin on the classic love story — now reset in a modern city.  Cyrano is a brilliant deaf poet who writes and shares his poetry entirely with his hands, face and body in American Sign Language. And in the dazzling hands of actor and ASL-wizard Troy Kotsur as Cyrano, you’re in for a mesmerizing and unforgettable experience.

What is ASL Poetry? It’s impossible to convey in written words. You have to see it, experience it in the living moment. In the play, Cyrano describes it this way:

Cyrano: Surprised? A deaf poet? … Yes, a poem. In American Sign Language. Visual. Not written. It cannot be held on paper. It lives in the air. Composed and expressed aloft, in three dimensions. Vivid. Bold.

An ASL poem is meant to be shared face-to-face, in direct connection to another human being. Of course, YouTube has changed all that.  Hundreds of ASL poems are now visually shared on Deaf Vlogs across the blogosphere.

To mark National Poetry Month, here is a video clip of the famous Emily Dickinson poem, “Hope is the Thing with Feathers”, signed by a deaf student. While this is not an example of an original ASL Poem, written and performed in ASL, it shows the timeless universal power of poetry. When Emily Dickinson wrote these words in Amherst more than 150 years ago, never in her wildest imagination could she have dreamed that they’d now be shared electronically world-wide on YouTube in Sign Language:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

After a brief “welcome”, and giving the poem’s title, the deaf student begins.

Enjoy!

Cyrano April 28 – June 10  (323) 663-1525     More Info