31 March 2011

The Major League Baseball season starts today (my 2011 pre-season picks)

National League

East  Atlanta Braves

Central  Cincinnati Reds    

West  San Francisco Giants

Wild Card  Philadelphia Phillies

American League

East  Boston Red Sox

Central  Minnesota Twins

West  Oakland A's

Wild Card  Texas Rangers

In the World Series, we're gonna party like it's 1972 (albeit with a revised ending)!

The Cincinnati Reds defeat the Oakland A's (in 6 games).

30 March 2011

When President Reagan was shot...

...I was a senior at Xavier University in Cincinnati, and I heard about it around 3:00 PM, while walking through Hinkle Hall and passing the office of John Getz, professor of American literature and one of my favorites!, who was intently listening to the radio.  I popped my head into his office, made a crack approximating "Is this what faculty do all day, sit around listening to the radio?" to which he replied "Reagan's been shot."  (In the picture, he's the one on the right...and, nota bene, the picture was taken several years later.)

More personally (and significantly), this was shortly after returning from Spring Break in Estero Island off the western coast of Florida, where a group of us lived for the better part of a week -- at the family summer cottage of our friends Cathy and Mary -- on a steady diet of Product 19 cereal (in single-serving boxes) and Pabst Blue Ribbon (on a really good sale at the local Winn Dixie).

It was also here and then that I first set eyes on the woman who would become my wife.  Yay!!!!!

And a few weeks before I would graduate.

30 years ago?  Yikes.

And WOW.

26 March 2011

"Into the Woods" at New Britain High School (a poetical recap)

Congratulations to all the talented students who performed in New Britain High School's production of Into the Woods! 

A fine job by all! 

In their honor, a poem:

Stephen Sondheim Despises Singers

mens rea motives
wrapped with lacework word-
play, ranging against the
page, plus no way to
clap at number's end

24 March 2011

Preview Pictures from "Into the Woods" at New Britain High School...

...taken by the mother of Cinderella, to whom this blogger's a bit partial. 

I'm pretty sure these aren't in the order of the action, but, hey, they're only a teaser. 

Performances are tomorrow at 7 and Saturday at 1 and 7. 

You can still get tickets on the New Britain High web site.

It's quite convenient that I like Mr. Costello, REM, and the riff A LOT!

Does anybody else hear what would become the main riff in REM's "Stand" (1989) in the chorus of "Next Time Round," a 1986 Elvis Costello and the Attractions cut from Blood and Chocolate?

Frank Sinatra Song Bracket Needs Your Vote!

Go to my newest blog for Blue-Eyes.com and vote for the Sinatra song "March Madness" tournament!

It says the deadline has passed, but it hasn't! 

VOTE today!

23 March 2011

Requiescat in Pace, Elizabeth Taylor ( a poetic remembrance)

On the day that we've lost Elizabeth Taylor, I offer an excerpt from Gail Wronsky's poem, "Cirque du Liz and Dick Puerto Vallarta" from my anthology Ava Gardner: Touches of Venus

It's treats the time she spent as a hanger-on on the set of the 1964 film Night of the Iguana, directed by John Huston and starring her then-husband Richard Burton, Ava, Deborah Kerr, and Sue Lyon:

"Cirque du Liz and Dick Puerto Vallarta"

Here it’s all La Vida no vale nada.
Life is worth nothing.
Part of her is sorry she became

a public utility.
Part of him wants to do Hamlet again.
But he feels closer to Claudius,

Marrying so quickly on top of the death
of the other marriage. A woman
is like glass, they say here:

always in danger.
they’ve renamed the town Seething

They still have that feeling of antenna
a quivering contact with each other.
Above her head she poses

another spray of artificial roses,
making him think of a novelty rodeo act
he saw a very long time ago in Wales.

20 March 2011

Plumbing is just like running a marathon...

...the only proper way to handle it is the ancient way. 

For the marathon, if one is going to run 26.2 miles, the only appropriate thing to do is die at the end of it, as legend has Pheidippides doing. 

Plumbing, meanwhile, (derived from the Latin plumbum, -i, lead), should drive one to madness through lead poisoning long before having to replace the pipes.

Inexplicably, the modern world doesn't treat either of these things the good old fashioned way...and plumbing still drives you crazy --- WITHOUT the longevity!

Spring must be tomorrow because the Xmas Tree...

...has come down today!

19 March 2011

A VerGILian Poem

Pietas (abridged)

shouldered father
hand-held heir
schlepped penates
two dead wives

Federico Barocci, "Aeneas' Flight from Troy," 1598

18 March 2011

Top 10 Rejected Slogans for the University/Museum/Community event...

…"Night at the Museum" at the New Britain Museum of American Art (31 March 2011).

The slogan is, as you can see, “Where Art Meets Water” (which plays on the NBMAA slogan “Where Art Meets Life”).
Top 10 REJECTED UMC t-shirt slogans:

10. Where Art Makes Water

9. Where Art Makes Your Mouth Water

7. Where Art’s like Water under the Bridge

8. Where Art is Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water

6. Where Art Takes On Water

5. Where Art Retains Water

4. Where Art Hydrates

3. Where There’s Art – Come Hell or High Water

2. Where Art Can Lead a Horse to Water…

And the #1 rejected t-shirt slogan for the UMC Night at the Museum:


1. Where Art’s Like Water for Chocolate

11 March 2011

If you're going to be around the central Connecticut region in late May through June, and are...

...looking for a course to take, might I suggest this 5-week/4-days-a-week course at Central Connecticut State University:

Eng 214: Studies in World Literature: Frank and Ava
By focusing on one of the most high-profile and explosive couples of the 20th Century and by using international and American works, this course will examine the many ways that writers the world over have created and employed their own Frank Sinatras and Ava Gardners, as individuals and as a couple, in a variety of genres (poetry, fiction, non-fiction, drama).  The course will focus on the techniques, expectations, and possibilities that each genre offers to the writers and some of the cultural attitudes that shape their literature.

The Sinatra Film March Madness Bracket

Here's my latest Blue-Eyes.com blog: a Sinatra Film "March Madness" Bracket.

Do you agree?

10 March 2011

A is NOT "You're Adorable": a review of The Scarlet Letter at Playhouse on Park

     I should preface this review with the admission that I LOVE Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. It is probably my favorite novel-length work of literature, only behind Homer’s Iliad. And my love for it dates back to high school, when it struck a far deeper chord with me than the other long work of fiction we were assigned the same year, The Catcher in the Rye. Even as a teenager, I could say, utterly without sarcasm, “Keep your Holden Caulfield; I’ll take Hester Prynne.” This fact perhaps partially explains how I ended up as a professor of early American literature at Central Connecticut State University, where I occasionally teach a course dedicated to Hawthorne and where I always gain an almost preternatural enjoyment in teaching the Puritans. (Indeed I once gave my tap teacher a collection of essays by that father/son Puritan Dynamic Duo Increase and Cotton Mather, entitled The Mathers on Dancing!) I mention all of this simply to make clear how much The Scarlet Letter means to me…indeed, so much so that, as soon as I learned last fall that Playhouse on Park would be mounting this production, I designed my syllabus for this semester’s American literature survey class around reading the book and bringing the class to this production. (But, enough of this “Custom House” essay; on with Hawthorne and the play!)


Spoiler alert: the following includes several important plot details. Stop here if you don’t know the storyline of Hawthorne’s tale and want to be surprised by what unfolds.

My review in short: Go see The Scarlet Letter!


     Nathaniel Hawthorne never called his longer works novels. They were “romances,” a term that for him implies the creation of a world that aimed not for realism but rather a rich penumbra of imagery and symbolism. Throughout his works, light and shadows play with what we can see (or think we see) and what we can know (or think we know). Hawthorne is at his best when any given description includes a) what most probably happened, b) what might possibly have happened, and c) what, given a certain worldview, could be interpreted as having happened. In short, few things in Hawthorne are ever black and white.
     Taking any Hawthorne’s text “from the page to the stage,” therefore, is not an easy task. The Scarlet Letter, as one of my college friends wrote recently on Facebook, is an “interior novel, which is why adaptations fail.” While he is correct about the book’s interiority, I don’t think that necessitates failure, and the Playhouse on Park production that opens tonight proves that.
     The adaptation, by Stuart Vaughn with Marie Kreutziger, is nothing if not faithful to the text of Hawthorne. The vast majority of the script indeed seems to be Hawthorne’s words. As a literature professor – especially one who brought his class to Wednesday night’s preview performance – I think it’s a very good thing to have his students hear the words they’ve been reading for class brought to life by talented actors in beautiful costumes on a strikingly simple set. And the use of the spotlight to distinguish between dialogue and soliloquy/internalized musings was straightforward yet effective.
     That said, as a theatre-goer, I’m not sure the script’s heavy and pervasive dependence upon Hawthorne’s language was the most effective way to present these figures in the flesh. A simpler, but still not contemporary or colloquial, speech may have made some scenes (e.g., the monologues) more effective. By differentiating the public and private spheres/faces even more distinctly, the hypocrisy and irony of the establishment’s attitudes toward Hester, Pearl, Arthur, and Roger may have been underscored even more. Hawthorne, after all, never intended to suggest that his language actually reflected the way 17th-century Puritans in America spoke; it was the artful tongue of this existential romance – a verbal iconography attempting to reflect his awe at the beauty and the flaws of his Puritan ancestors’ faith.
     But, even given the adaptors’ choice, one which demanded more of the actors, the play works…and works well, thanks to the actors and their director (the aforementioned Mr. Vaughn), who simply but deftly kept the (inter)action moving along. Hester, played by Jana Mestecky, and Arthur, played by Craig Rising, were outstanding. Ms. Mestecky balanced the difficult mixture of sadness, strength, loss, and will that is Hester, while Mr. Rising captured Dimmesdale’s suffering, doubt, and debilitating cowardice. Significantly, I believed the two of them as a couple when, out in the forest alone, they dreamed of a loving life together somewhere far away. Both avoided simplifying the complex natures of the individuals and the thorny relationship they share.
     Most impressive was Dimmesdale’s final confession; Mr. Rising conveyed the powerful faith that was the ultimate source of both his solace and torment. The audience could feel in his delivery the pent-up voice of faith, guilt, and love, after years of silence. (But more about this later.)
     Roger Chillingworth, played by William Shust, is a difficult character. On one level, he is the classic (even comic) cuckold, the old man with the young wife who cheats on him. On another level, he is a Faustian type of the scholar gone bad, and, on a third, a gothic embodiment of revenge. His character is thus inextricably linked to his complex relationships with both Hester and Arthur. Mr. Shust acquitted himself very well with so difficult a task, although I do wish his demeanor and physical appearance (aside from his costuming) had changed more dramatically from the beginning of the play to the beginning of Act II, mostly to account for the comments about his transformation made by the townspeople. An essential part of his story is the corruption (both spiritual and physical) of an essentially good person by evil intentions and actions. There simply needed to be more evidence of his corruption.
     Hollis Long, who portrays Pearl – the impish, elfish, scarlet-letter-incarnate daughter of Hester – also did well with had an enormously difficult task. Even in the book, there’s an otherworldly knowingness about the character that makes her probably the least recognizably human of the main characters. As such, for a twelve-year-old to make the younger character work is quite a feat. There’s enough of Pearl as an attention-loving, intellectually precocious, only-child in her performance to compensate for a text that almost suggests that she’s hardly real at all.
     The other cast members provide strong support (Ed Bernstein, Charles Merlis, and Brad Brinkley), especially the quartet of townswomen (Shirley DePhillips, Rayah Martin, Kendra Underwood, and Heidi Weinrich) who never think Hester’s quite gotten her just deserts. The costumes by Martin Thaler were gorgeous – all those buttons can’t but recall many of the wonderful early American portraits in the New Britain Museum of American Art! – and crisply set off the actors from the black set with the large Scarlet A that looms over the action.


Spoiler alert: the following includes several important differences between the book and the play. Stop here if you want to be surprised by the differences and how they may affect your understanding of the story.

My review in (longer) short: Still go see The Scarlet Letter!


     There are two key omissions in the script that I think do alter significantly the way an audience will feel about Hester. In Hawthorne’s book, the meaning of the A is always being re-interpreted. At story’s beginning, of course, it is a sign of her sin and the punishment put upon her by her judges. For Pearl, it is the very source of the identity of her mother. The “A” that miraculously appears in the sky the night Arthur ascends the scaffold and thinks he has publicly confessed is interpreted by everyone else who saw its blaze as “angel” (not “adultery”) because that very night former Governor Winthrop had died and presumably gone to heaven.
     Even the “A” on Hester’s bosom, in the book, at least, changes its meaning. Over the course of years, through her dedicated work with the poor and needy of the town, Hester’s “A” comes to mean not “adultery” but “able;” this quite consequential re-interpretation is never mentioned in this production (although it easily could’ve been in the scene in which Roger mentions talk by the magistrates of possibly allowing the “A” to be removed from Hester’s clothing or, better, in another brief townspeople scene).
     Such an omission isn’t too bad by itself. However, when it is coupled with ending the play at Dimmesdale’s death, the book’s focus on Hester’s life with/in/as the scarlet letter is severely undercut. By not having Hester and Pearl leave, and, most importantly, not having Hester return years later and willingly donning on the scarlet letter once again, the play has become more about Dimmesdale’s struggle with sin and redemption than about Hester’s. This act alone speaks volumes about Hawthorne’s understanding of Hester, her sin, and her life.
     Now, I understand creative choices and understand the impracticalities of having to quickly (st)age Hester in later years. The current ending, however, de-emphasizes Hester and, as a result, disappoints the reader of The Scarlet Letter in me.
     The theatre-goer in me is still very glad he attended.

And now, two final quibbles.

Scholarly quibble #1: If the director is going to offer in the program a quotation from an early American sermon apropos of Puritan beliefs, there are many better selections than Jonathan Edwards’ justly famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” if for no other reason than it was written almost a century after the action of the play. Given the rich tradition, not to mention the plentiful supply, of mid-17th-century Puritan sermons, a more chronologically accurate choice might have been made. (Feel free to call me!)

Scholarly quibble #2: Where was the Mistress Hibbins, the real-life sister of Governor Bellingham, who was sentenced to death as a witch? I think a few choice cameos by her in the play, as in Hawthorne’s text, would’ve been illuminating, especially in light of Pearl’s mention of her in the “black man” scene.

All quibbling aside, and for the last time, go see The Scarlet Letter.

08 March 2011

Top Ten Titles Featuring Present Participles

10. Finding Nemo

9. Educating Rita

8. Singing in the Rain

7. Losing My Religion

6. Killing Me Softly

5. Looking for Mr. Goodbar

4. Entertaining Satan

3. Turning Japanese

2. Waiting for Godot

1. Slouching Toward Bethlehem

Am I missing any better ones?

I think it's time we return Alaska to a woman other than...

...Sarah Palin.

I mean, of course, Michelle Shocked and her "Anchorage"!

In honor of the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day, whom does one play on the radio?

Erin Boheme, Amanda Carr, Cher, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Ava Gardner, Bobbie Gentry, Billie Holiday, Rickie Lee Jones, Carole King, Eartha Kitt, Gladys Knight, Peggy Lee, The Lennon Sisters, Aimee Mann, Marilyn McCoo, Phyllis McGuire, The McGuire Sisters, Carmen McRae, Ethel Merman, Sinead O'Connor, Anita O'Day, Bonnie Raitt, Debbie Reynolds,Linda Ronstadt, Dinah Shore, Carole Sloane, Keely Smith, Yma Sumac, and Margaret Whiting, that's who!

06 March 2011

I was awake too early this morning, so I listened to...

..."The Sporting Life" on ESPN radio.

There was a segment on the golfer Erica Blasberg who committed suicide last May, part of which report included her suicide note.

Aside from the waste of a life cut short, what struck me, as I listened, -- as a teacher of writing -- is that I can't remember coming across a suicide note (in newspaper stories or other news reports...luckily never firsthand!) that was poorly written (i.e., that contained the kind of typical writing errors that plague most assignments/everyday writing/emails/blogs/tweets/facebook posts, et cetera). 

Now, one would think that, in many (most?) cases, people who are about to take their own lives are not in the best mindset to clearly state their thoughts and therefore would write the kinds of run-on or incomplete sentences or include dangling participles, misplaced modifiers, or instances of subject/verb non-agreement so rampant in writing everywhere else.... 

Then again, perhaps this is when people's thinking is indeed the clearest, and their written expression simply reflects that clarity.

Yet another possibility, of course, is that only those who have really thought such a serious course of action through write suicide notes ... or no one actually quotes poorly written ones.  (Remember, always place a comma between "Goodbye" and "cruel world.")

I'd wager there's a study about this being done (or that has been done) somewhere.

04 March 2011

One of the problems with being a pop star with a hit, I understand, is....

...that the star is stuck with that hit forever.

So, which one of the following hits would you be most able to stand singing for the rest of your professional life?

Remember, we're talking DECADES.

Joe Stanton's Sinatra poem!

Listen to Joe Stanton read his poem "For Sinatra In the Wee Small Hours" (with Frank accompanying him in the background!) at the end of this this interview with him from Hawaii Public Radio. 

The poem is included in my anthology "Sinatra But Buddy I'm A Kind of Poem" (Entasis Press, 2008).

03 March 2011

Older daughter's been listening to the film soundtrack of...

...Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd starring Johnny Depp, and then it dawned on me what Mr. Depp's doing throughout is, essentially, an imitation of Anthony Newley!