Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Dulce et Decorum of Glory Denied


Glory Denied with words and music by Tom Cipullo based on the book by Tom Philpott is a thoroughly engaging 90-minute chamber opera that has been aired starting in workshop format since 2004 in New York City Opera’s VOX series. The Dresser saw, or should she say experienced, this work January 17 at Washington, DC’s Keegan Theatre in a new production with only four performances by UrbanArias under the able baton of Robert Wood and direction by Kristine McIntyre.

The Dresser says experienced because the emotional load is heavy. It’s a story about a soldier who spends nine years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam while his wife, lacking any other information, believes he is dead and moves on. However,  the opera is also stressful because it goes back and forth quickly between past and present, is presented predominately in ensemble singing with only a few arias which ratchets up the intensity, and because the UrbanArias has employed exceptionally good singers whose voices are sometimes bigger than what the Keegan Theatre can handle, adding a vibration to the auditory overload.

The way Cipullo manages the rapid transitions from past to present is by using a cast of four where the soldier and his wife are represented by younger and older characters. The younger Thompson sung by tenor John Riesen is seen throughout the opera in bare feet and disheveled battle fatigues. The younger Alyce (Thompson) sung by soprano Cree Carrico is costumed in a pink dress with a hairbow and is very pregnant with their fourth child. She continuously  scurries around the stage in her heels without ever giving birth and seems to represent the ultimate teen-aged girly girl. The older Thompson sung by baritone Timothy Mix is at first is seen in formal military uniform and later his formalism is toned down by the removal of his jacket and substitution of a sweater. Because Mix is much taller and broader than Riesen, it was a little hard to see Mix as the older soldier until it dawned on the Dresser that the anchoring character was the older Thompson and the younger versions of himself and his wife were only how the current day Thompson pictured himself and his wife. Likewise the older Alyce sung by mezzo-soprano Caroline Worra who is dressed in pants and sweater is a much bigger woman than Carrico.

Exceptional moments in the opera were Riesen singing the lyrically heartbreaking Psalm 23 from his inhumanly cramped cell, Mix performing a tour-de-force survey of what had changed in America since he was last home, and Worra pouring forth with “He went through Hell, but so did I.” Several times Carrico sings the opening lines of a letter to her husband that begins “My darling.” The first notes of the music for these letters are languid and yearning and Carrico delivers these openings in a moving way that reminds the Dresser of Gershwin’s “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess.





Scenically, the words of Alyce’s letters are often projected in lights on the stage floor. The lighting and projection design of Kathy Maxwell is exceptionally creative. She uses two opposing walls on either side of the stage to project scenes from Vietnam as well as home-based family snapshots and film footage.

In Joe Zealburg’s poem “Apocalyptic Drone,” the Dresser is reminded of what the older Thompson has come face to face with when he returns to civilian life and it clearly seems apocalyptic to him. Here is Thompson’s tirade:

I missed so much I can’t catch up, I can’t catch on.
Ev’ry single fact I knew or thought I knew, is diff’rent now.
Ev’ry thing has changed somehow.
John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, astronauts, moon shots.
Heiress robber Patty Hearst, soldiers coming home get cursed.
Fad diets, Chicago riots, Watts, Newark, Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, My Lai,
Kids get high, Men can cry, Wives can lie.
Terrorists at the Munich Games,
Athletes now with Muslim names.
Credit cards, fast food, Music’s vulgar, movies lewd.
a nation become crude and callous,
Bob and Carol and Ted and Alyce!
Turn on. Tune in. Freak out! Welcome home!
Charles Manson, Sharon Tate, Pentagon Papers, Kent State. Welcome home.
Leonard Berstein’s radical chic, Betty Friedan and her damn mystique. Welcome home.
Failure to communicate, college students demonstrate. Home!
Japanese cars, topless bars, Traitors pass for movie stars. Home!
Home to a regained life. Home to a stained wife. Home. There’ll be Hell to pay.
Home. Who remembers Veterans Day?
Turn on, Tune in, Drop out, Cop out, Right on, Sit-in, Love-in, Come on, Give in, Give out,
Put out, Put on, Right on, Hang-up, Uptight, Far out, Sell-out, Burn out, Freak out.
Welcome ---------home!

While Thompson’s complaints about how things have changed emphasize loose morals, it is pitched in technological advances like getting to the moon and use of credit cards. The you in “Apocalyptic Drone” is a soldier much like Thompson and is especially experienced in the fragment Dulce et decorum est which alludes to the quote from the Roman poet Horace Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, meaning it is sweet and right to die for one’s country. Both the poem and text of Thompson’s tirade about how things have changed makes us ask the question what have I given up for my country and was it worth what has happened or will happen to me?


APOCALYPTIC DRONE

Of course you don’t want to die,
but the drone is coming today.
The drone that delivered your meals, Amen.
The one that pressure-washed your house,
walked your three poodles,
and trimmed your azaleas and sago palms.
The drone is coming today.
It delivered three call girls
and Viagra to your home last week.
By now you’ve received
those benzodiazepines to ease your fear of laserization.
It’s already towed away your driverless car.
Your lupus? Too costly to treat.
As you require dental implants to chew a good steak,
your work is done, your strength is weak.
Remember, you voted for this in 2019.
The drone is coming today.
Repeat the phrase, thy rod and they staff
These words shall bring solace your way.
The drone is soon to arrive. Amen.
Smile. Laugh. Profess your last prayer.
Relax. Rest. Dulce et decorum est.
The drone is coming today.


by Joe Zealberg
from Covalence

Photo credit: Nicholas Karlindr

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

WNO’s Skinny Operas


In the eight year of Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative, the three engaging twenty-minute operas premiered on January 10, 2020 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater all had an educational theme. All three also feature music that provides tonal access. Conductor Anne Manson did a seamless job in coordinating the musicians and Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists who make up the singing casts. These are collaborating teams of composers and librettists worthy of being watched.


Woman of Letters by composer Liliya Ugay and librettist Sokunthary Svay depicts a father-daughter relationship that is on the verge of changing. As an immigrant, Sam, (sung by bass baritone Samuel J. Weiser) who works at a Manhattan university, constantly brings home books to his daughter Sonya (soprano Marlen Nahhas) to give her the advantage he didn’t have himself and to keep her busy and safe at home. She is an excellent student and loves these books. Consequently, she is accepted on full scholarship to a university in England. This upsets Sam who still hasn’t made peace with the death of his wife and mother of Sonya. Complicating this event is a visit by Sonya’s friend Dara (soprano Alexandra Nowakowski) who extols the benefits of going away to study.

The opening music of Woman of Letters appropriately strikes a soundscape of Sonya’s yearning. Dara who is studying opera provides the giddy excitement of a teenage girl with her bel canto singing. While the Dresser liked this piece, she questions the wisdom of making Sam a bass baritone. His heavy voice tended to drag down the energy of the overall work in an exaggerated way.


Admissions by composer Michael Lanci and librettist Kim Davies addresses a real day scandal in the arena of college admissions. Mother (mezzo-soprano Amanda Lynn Bottoms) has paid off various people to get her daughter (soprano Marlen Nahhas) and son (tenor Matthew Pearce) into schools of their choice. As the opera opens, Father (bass baritone William Meinert) and Mother are driving home from court while their kids are discussing where their absent parents are.

The repartee in the libretto is cleverly written and ably delivered by this outstanding cast. Moreover the ensemble work  provides a wonderfully layered counterpoint of voices and concerns.


In the category of “school of hard knocks,” Night Trip, by composer Carlos Simon and librettist Sandra Seaton, features two black WWII veterans—Uncle Wesley (baritone Joshua Conyers) and Uncle Mack (tenor Joshua Blue)—who arrive at the home of their sister in Chicago to pick up their niece teenage Conchetta (mezzo-soprano Rehanna Thelwell) who is unschooled in the ways of the world. The uncles drive Conchitta to see her grandmother and aunts who live in a small town in Tennessee. Set in the summer of 1958, things turn very racist when they ask to use a gas station restroom in the south. They angrily leave the gas station without paying and are quickly overtaken by a police officer and the accusing gas station attendant. Conchetta is manhandled and in danger of more egregious assault so Uncle Wesley offers to pay off the two men with money being sent from Conchetta’s hard-working mother to her Tennessee family.

The music beginning with the overture is jazz inflected. Rehanna Thelwell infuses her role as an innocent, unworldly teen with joyful enthusiasm, making for a memorable evening of new operatic work.

To the Dresser, Truth Thomas’ poem “Papa’s Got a Brand New Pen” evokes the adage that the pen, an implement of learning and wisdom, is mightier than the sword. Thomas directs his message to “children of wooden bellies” (Thomas says wooden bellies refer to the holds of wooden ships that brought Africans as slaves to America and that his poem “attempts to encourage people of color to boldly esteem themselves…in a country that has taught…black folks to hate themselves”) and to “children of Cinque’s sword” (possibly old methods as summoned by a cinqueda which is a short sword of the Italian Renaissance that is five fingers wide). Written as a Skinny (eleven lines where lines one and eleven have the same words and in between the other lines feature one word with a prescribed repetition), this is a form invented by Truth Thomas. The Dresser finds this poem a perfect final word on WNO’s AOI festival of three new operas, all of which deal with issues of speaking truth and overcoming the obstacles of learning. Additionally, Thomas’ title “Papa’s Got a Brand New Pen” suggests the James Brown song “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” Thomas demonstrates (as if he is standing on one foot), as do the collaborators of these new short operas, that a lot can be communicated in a short space of creative work in which many limitations are set.

PAPA’S GOT A BRAND NEW PEN

Speak truth on the good foot—say it loud
children
of
wooden
bellies,
children
of
Cinque’s
sword.
Children
speak truth on the good foot—say it loud.

by Truth Thomas




Photo credit: Scott Suchman

Friday, January 3, 2020

The Wistful Liveliness of The Dead


Coming late—January 2, 2020—to Scene Theatre's and Robert McNamara’s seamlessly lyrical production of TheDead, an award-winning musical by composer Shaun Davey with book by Richard Nelson based on James Joyce’s short story by the same title, the Dresser is grateful to have experienced this wistfully lively show with musical direction by Greg Watkins. Set at Christmas and during a Christmas party at that, it is the perfect winter holiday story. Everyone sings at this party, even the housemaid and the hired man who helps serve the dinner.
 

Everything about this production staged at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC pleased. Carl Gudenius’ set showing the audience three areas of a house—entrance hallway, grand living room with piano and window with an alcove bench, and dining room with a large formal table and chairs—included lots of eye-catching details like a handsome area rug in the living room. The costumes by Alisa Mandel offered realism and flair, particularly in the lovely lace worked into many of the women’s blouses and, of course, the Irish are known for their handmade lace.

What carried the show was the fluid music and dance performed by an able cast of thirteen.

The story at the heart of this musical involves a man named Gabriel Conroy, played by Louis LaVoie, who serves as the narrator, filling in what is not imparted by the musical numbers. He is very much in love with his wife Gretta, played by Danielle Davy, whom his doting and elderly spinster aunts—Aunt Julia Morkan (Andrea Hatfield) and Aunt Kate Morkan (Rosemary Regan) tend to discount, calling Gretta country cute. Nearly everyone at the party initiates a song. Gabriel and Gretta sing “Adieu to Ballyshannon,” a lilting tune in waltz tempo that the partygoers all love even though the couple has sung the same song in other years. Later, Gretta moved by Bartell D’Arcy (Leo Delgado), the special guest who is an opera singer, says she will sing a song that she is reminded of and which, she tells her husband who offers to help her sing it, he has never heard before. She strikes a far away look of radiance and sings in a mesmerizing delicate voice about a lost love of hers by the name of Michael Furey. Initially, Gabriel thinks she is singing about him, but later to his abject disappointment discovers not so. He is sadly angry that she has never told him about this man whom she then reveals died at the age of 17 hopelessly in love with her.

There is lots of fun choreography including a heel-clicking dance to the tune of "Three Jolly Pigeons" by a drunken young man named Freddy Malins (John Gerard Healy).


A subplot is the failed lives of the elderly aunts who live their whole lives through performing and teaching music. At the end of the party, Aunt Julia, dying, is visited by a younger apparition of herself, played by the intriguing looking Antonia Romm, who might have the face of medieval angel.

In Rocky Delaplaine’s poem “Watching Romeo and Juliet,” the narrator is reminded of a past romance with a man who is still the handsomest man she knows. Unlike Michael Furey, the handsome man of Delaplaine’s poem is still out there driving nails and building houses but the poet has chosen another man, her current husband, to build a family with. In James Joyce’s story, the reader never gets to know if Greta would have married Michael had he lived. Therefore, The Dead is a bittersweet story.

WATCHING ROMEO AND JULIET

Tall oaks frame a make-shift stage.
Families gather at River Bend Park
on a warm August night to picnic
and see their kids in a Shakespeare play.
A half-moon rises over the Potomac.
The platform—twelve sheets of plywood
propped on two-by-fours. Staring
at this pared-down set, I think of a man
I left long ago, a carpenter and homebuilder
by trade. Why did I leave, exactly?
At 60 he’s the handsomest man I know,
can still drive a nail through without
hitting the wood. The night I left him
he howled as though his leg were caught
in a steel trap. Never, I vowed, never again.
And who is this man next to me now,
our daughter edging up a few rows to sit
with friends? When the young lovers kiss
I envy their passion, but not their impatience.
At intermission the director reminds us,
If they marry, it’s a comedy, if they die,
it’s a tragedy. On the drive home,
our thirteen-year-old wonders out loud,
It’s both, isn’t it? Yes, I say, it’s both.

by Joanne Rocky Delaplaine
from The Local World


Next play by Scena is Ajax by Sophocles and directed by Robert McNamara from March 20 to April 19, 2020.

Photo credit: Jae Yi Photography

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Erstwhile Blues of Thomas’ Hamlet


On November 24, 2019 at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC, the Dresser attended Washington Concert Opera’s production of Ambroise Thomas’ three-hour opera Hamlet. WCO last presented this Hamlet in 1998. Since 2002, Anthony Walker has served as Artistic Director and Conductor of this robust musical group now in its 33rd season.

By robust, the Dresser means this—on stage for this production, there were 55 musicians, 40 chorus members, a cast of 9 (two who double) and one very active and enthusiastic conductor.

What stood out in this production for the Dresser was an exceptionally fine cast of singers. Soprano Lisette Oropesa as Ophelia rocked the house with her finely controlled coloratura numbers, especially Ophelia’s mad scene. South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo as Hamlet musically exhibited a range of nuanced emotions without the pyrotechnics Thomas awarded to Ophelia. The Dresser also thinks that Thomas inadvertently tipped a disproportionate amount of attention to Ophelia and that a director has to carefully choose the baritone playing Hamlet.

The Dresser who had never heard work by Ambroise Thomas pauses here to wonder why Thomas made the role of Hamlet a baritone and not a tenor. After all the ghost of his father played most ably by Brian Kontes is a bass baritone and Hamlet’s uncle Claudius (Tom Fox)—brother to and murderer of the dead king—is also a baritone. Additionally, the more minor role of Polonius—father of Ophelia and Laertes—is bass baritone (sung by Timothy Bruno). The Dresser wonders if the composer was trying to make his opera as dark as possible by the high ratio of low tone singers—2 baritone and 3 bass singers.

Jonas Hacker as Laertes provides a satisfying performance, but his tenor role was minor. The Dresser loved the drunken grave diggers sung by tenor Matt Hill (also sung the role of Marcellus) and bass baritone Matthew Scollin (also sung the role of Horatio).

The only other female voice in this opera is Hamlet’s mother Gertrude. Mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti masterfully played that role. She has a powerful voice that she uses well and the ability to show with a glance or a gesture what her character is feeling.

Overall the experience of hearing this opera by Ambroise Thomas was good but the Dresser felt impatient with its many interludes. The musical interludes made the opera seem overly long despite the calming effect felt by the end of the opera. The Dresser also had to let go of comparing the libretto by Michel Carré and Jules Barbier based on a French adaptation by Alexandre Dumas and Paul Meurice to William Shakespeare’s major work of tragedy by the same name. Thomas’ opera cuts a lot out of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, dulling the emotional trauma and psychological complexity.

The next Washington Concert Opera will be Verdi's Simon Boccanegra on April 5, 2020.

The Dresser chooses “Kind of Blue” by Reuben Jackson to have the final word in this review because the poem speaks to the knife-stabbing horror suggested by naming the fictional character Norman Bates out of the film Psycho. In the WCO production, the audience does not get to see even a knife among these tuxedo-wearing men not to mention that Hamlet is positioned far from Claudius. Jackson’s final stanza also summons in the Dresser’s mind Ophelia, who in the flower of her youth drowns herself leaving Hamlet alone with his broken heart and erstwhile blues, blues that started with the death of his father.

KIND OF BLUE

You feel bad
And you feel bad about
Feeling bad
And you feel bad
Because your erstwhile blues
Cause some to scatter
As if you forgot to wash
Or as a sagacious sister
Said in group therapy—
“People act like you going to get all Norman Bates on
        them and shit!”

And if you are like me
You blame yourself
The way you blamed yourself for falling in love
With things which further distance you from your peers,
         the planet

Then a rain-soaked rosebud appears
Or your broken heart holds hands with a cello
And there is no one to see you smile

by Reuben Jackson



Photo credit: Don Lassell

Monday, November 4, 2019

From the Phillips Collection—The Poetry of the Nabis


From October 26, 2019 through January 26, 2020, the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, is featuring “Bonnard to Vuillard: The Intimate Poetry of Everyday Life—The Nabi Collection of Vicki and Roger Sant.” The Dresser sensitive to the title of this vibrant exhibition of works promised by the Sants to the Phillips decided to include literary colleagues and poets Margo Stever and Susana Case in this review.

The Nabis were initially a group of art students who came together in the fall of 1888, after seeing a small abstract by Paul Sérusier. For this painting, Sérusier had been instructed by Paul Gauguin about using colorful paints straight from the tube to express what he saw in nature and to elicit an emotional response.
Sérusier’s “Talisman,” painted on the lid of a cigar box, became the flashpoint for this brotherhood that came to include Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Maurice Denis, Aristide Maillol, Paul Ranson, Ker-Xavier Roussel, and Félix Vallotton. The group named themselves Nabi which is a transliteration of the Hebrew word navi, meaning prophet.

While the works of the Nabis began with Gauguin’s vision of nature, these painters expanded their boundaries to find beauty in the everyday life and the decorative arts (such as screens, stained glass windows, book illustrations, murals, posters, and advertising).

Among the favorite works of the Dresser, Margo Stever and Susana Case is Bonnard’s eye-catching screen “Le Maraboutet les Quatre Grenouilles” (“Stork and Four Frogs”). The screen, which introduces the exhibition, has a distinct Japanese layout except that the color is much bolder and the size of the stork, frogs, and flowers are much larger than what a Japanese painter would have portrayed. Japanese subtlety had no place in the work of the Nabis.

The richly red “Intérieur au lit rouge” or “La Chambre nuptiale” (“Interior with Red Bed” or “The Bridal Chamber”) by Édouard Vuillard caught the visiting poets collective eyes not only for that red bed but also for the patterned wallpaper, festive rug, and sophisticated gray-green chair upholstery with dark, possibly brown or black, irregular splotches. Certainly the three women in the room add energy as well as intimacy as they prepare the room for the bridal night.

The poets lingered over a sobering set of Bonnard works that included a study for “La Petite Blanchisseuse” (“The Little Laundry Girl”) and the actual painting as well as a more full-blown canvas showing the little laundry girl walking in the dusty street at a slight remove from a group of well-dressed high-society denizens. This was one of the few instances in the exhibition of social commentary.

On a more abstract level, the exhibit included a number of works that spoke primarily to design. Two works stood out—one of a tiger drawn with disconnected lines in a landscape that looks more like wallpaper than jungle, Paul Ranson’s “Tigre dans les jungles” (Tiger in the jungle) and the other a young woman reading a letter wearing a blouse that possibly imitates primitive hieroglyphs and which echo behind her in an ethereal backdrop, Vuillard’s “La Jeune Femme lisant un lettre” (“Young Woman Reading a Letter”).

To conclude, the Dresser  asks how does The Intimate Poetry of Everyday Life read? Here are two examples. In Margo Stever’s poem “Surfaces,” the poet explores the subtleties of shadow and light—what moonlight or a dark summer storm reveals in the sleeping chamber, what shapes can be discovered like the blanket imitating the body, what sounds are heard such as the paws of the cats tapping out their desire for food until the sea of rumpled covers calm and the cats, and most likely their humans, curl into sleep.


SURFACES
          by Margo Taft Stever

Take possession
of the blanket, the feel
of it, the smooth

and the lean, the lying
down of it, the way it
imitates the body.

This is the promise
I keep—to rest on the
bed under moonlight.

Yet so many cats
knead the surfaces;
their paws tap-dance,

wishing for food.
Th dark summer
storm rips across

the bed, rumpling
covers like waves,
whitecaps against

each other.
Cats’ paws skim
the sheets as if

called by a higher spirit.
Their willowy bodies
curl together in sleep.



In Susana Case’s poem excerpt “No Sign of Activity,” the intimacy of morning between husband and wife turns lethal but also explodes with profound color and intense feeling. Moreover, color in this everyday life is gender coded in the expected way: blue for male and pink for female.

NO SIGN OF ACTIVITY [an excerpt]
                by Susana H. Case

Every day, the shoe factory and then,
one day, inevitably, the shotgun.
Blood blooms more robust
than the flowers stenciled
on the yellow, blue, and white
kitchen linoleum.
Blood stains redder
than the Libby’s tomato juice
next to the Heinz Home Style soup.
A box of bullets sits on a kitchen shelf.
That morning, the weather was so clear.

She thought she was a good wife,
set the table for breakfast the night before,

dusted around the easy chair
where he usually reads the newspaper—
this is a gendered household:
blue and pink, blue and pink.
In bed, blood pooled beneath her,
she wears a pink nightgown
under a pink blanket.
On the floor, next to her, is the husband,
face down, in blue pajamas
on a blue comforter.



As the exhibit displays, the Nabis were commissioned to illustrate books of poetry by such prominent authors as Paul Verlaine and André Gide. Collaborations among artists deepen the audience experience. The Dresser thanks her poetic colleagues for the light, color, and contours they added to the experience of seeing “Bonnard to Vuillard: The Intimate Poetry of Everyday Life” and to the writing of this review.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Showboat: A Cavalieri Odyssey

Whisper loudly that, with this review of Grace Cavalieri’s long poem Showboat, her 21st collection of poetry, the Dresser has phoenix-ed the Scene4 Magazine blog The Dressing.



Grace Cavalieri’s Showboat has arresting wires to The Odyssey, the Greek epic poem attributed to Homer, the mythological tome that tracks the hero Odysseus’ dangerous trek home from the fall of Troy. Cavalieri’s sets up her story of being a US Navy pilot’s wife with three quotes that speak to her subsequent approach which mixes low and high art. No where in these lines by American country singer Dolly Parton, German mystic poet Angelus Silesius, and the multi-award-winning American poet Bob Hicok has she tossed the reader a hook alluding to The Odyssey. However, the back cover of this chapbook pulls one up short with this stanza from the poem:

Asleep in the dark whatever may happen
He’s flying over a postage stamp
Landing on a dime without a light
The phone rings   a voice says
I know your husband’s gone
I know you’re alone
I’m watching you

Cavalieri’s stanza 34 echoes how Penelope, who was true to her husband Odysseus and worried for his life, had to deal with unwanted attention from would-be suitors.

At stanza 28, Cavalieri readies the reader for the more overt Greek epic poem connection when she reveals that while she is waiting for the return of her larger-than-life, war-fighting pilot husband, she is reading—to her young daughters, no less—Kazantzakis, the Greek author who wrote Zorba, the Greek and who was nominated nine times for a Nobel Prize without winning one. Something Cavalieri, who has promoted  thousands of poets through her remarkable 42-year-old radio program “The Poet and the Poem” without a whiff of prize recognition, might be willing to speak to.

How to be selective    to live till age 50
My hair up in a barrette
              waiting
For the mailman
Shelley eats chocolate ice cream
Colleen vanilla with chocolate syrup
Cindy paints on small chairs
Angel listens as I read
         Teilhard de Chardin
Her first steps toddle to the French masters
          Running with Kazantzakis

At stanza 73 out of a total of 75, the poet questions, “How could I a frightened/ Traveler be given so much/ should I list his love…” as well as “How could he be dead/ If his clothes/ Hang in the closet and every day/ I lay out a clean shirt in/ Case it’s needed”. While Penelope busied herself with weaving a shroud for Odysseus' elderly father Laertes to ward off the Suitors, Cavalieri ever true to her husband Ken continues to lay out his clothes for the man who came home alive and whole from his life as a Navy pilot, grew old with her (he too as artist--metal sculptor), and then died. Women have always been associated with fabric as a metaphor for relationship, as the way women take care of their men.

Cavalieri opens and closes her epic poem by setting the telling of the work in a retreat house in New Hampshire. (She in fact has become the Traveler.)  The precursor stanza, appearing alone before the poem starts (call it Stanza 0), reads like a mysterious proem where birds stand in for the jets Ken flew and the poet is “Pressed against the pane” (or should we read "pain"?),  a line that seems to refer to stanza 30 “Women have windows/ From the beginning/ For good reason Mary Ellen and I flew…”. At the end of Showboat, the poet re-evokes New Hampshire and the window pane, writing it is “cracked from the course of time/ It’s just the brink of the abyss/ follies of stained glass”. No reason to stop here, Dear Reader, other themes abound in this surprising, pointillistic poem with artwork by Dan Murano and Cynthia Cavalieri.



Grace Cavalieri is Maryland’s tenth Poet Laureate and Showboat is her 21st collection of poetry. Goss183, an artist collective, has published Showboat.