Archive for November, 2010

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November 30, 2010

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“THE HAUNTED HOST” – BOSTON – 1975 (photos by Don Hanover)

November 29, 2010

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SHELLEY

November 5, 2010

*x*

[photos generously supplied by John Michael Cox Jr.]

In 1976, I was in Seattle, directing a splendid company in “Kennedy’s Children” at the Seattle Rep.  During a technical rehearsal, and a thunderstorm which was making my direction inaudible, a call came through for me.  Over a crackling connection and the shouts of my stagehands, I thought my agent in New York told me that Shelley Winters was taking over a role in the touring company of “Kennedy’s Children,” and that Sally Kelllerman (of Altman’s M*A*S*H and BREWSTER MC CLOUD) was taking another.  I was delighted and extremely busy, and got off the telephone fast.

A couple of weeks later, in New York en route to London, I called my agent to see if I had any  mail.  She said, thrilled, “Get right down to the Golden Theatre and you can see the dress rehearsal of the Shelley Winters company of ‘Kennedy’s Children!’”  I found an entire new cast stumbling through chaos.  The touring company had all quit rather than try to work with Shelley.  She, as the poor schoolteacher, was onstage in Balmain, pearls, and mink, with two working phones, through which she talked to her daughter (who was insisting on moving to her own place) and to Italian relatives of one of her husbands, (who were suffering from the effects of a recent earthquake).  She paused only to yell directions at the other players, who were trying to get through the play.  Three of them (and Shelley when she deigned to participate) said nothing remotely like what I had written.

Farley Granger managed to forget any lines which revealed that his character was gay.  Al Freeman, Jr., translated the soldier’s speeches into Ebonics. Sally Kirkland (not Kellerman), giving her usual brilliant and energetic performance, filled her hippie girl’s speeches with details of her, Sally’s, own affair with Bob Dylan.  Only wonderful Ann Wedgeworth said what I’d written–when she could be sure that the others had finished.  When I objected, Shelley gushed, “Oh, but Robert, this play is all monologues.  Your producer signed an agreement that we can improvise—like we do at Actors Studio!”  I called the producer, who for some reason wasn’t answering his phone. Then I called Equity, which laughed, “Shelley Winters?  Come on.  She’s a star!  We can’t do anything to her!”

I followed the company to Chicago, where I’d built a reputation with the aid of At The Drama Shelter.  Shelley and Company destroyed it opening night when the show ran an hour longer than in London.  Other nights it ran an hour shorter–depending on what they took it into their heads to say.  I would watch a bit, then stagger around the corner to a movie theatre to see Shirley being absolutely fabulous in NEXT STOP, GREENWICH VILLAGE while nearby she was shouting at departing customers that if they’d stay for the second act she’d tell them all about living with Marilyn Monroe.

Throughout, I begged Shelley to fake sick and leave the show.  She blinked enormous false lashes at me and said in apparently genuine hurt wonderment, “Why Robert, you’ll make me think you don’t want me to be in your play!”

I accompanied Shelley to a taping of “Kupp’s Show,” a popular and influential Chicago celebrity talk-fest.  That is, I carried her wig-case and hair-dryer.  The guest-roster that day was stellar.  Harry Belafonte tried delicately to derail Shelley when she went on about Dag Hammarskjöld and Trygve Lie being gay.  Charo listened politely when Shelley ordered her to learn to do more than “shake her boobies.”  Billy Dee Williams said very little as Shelley took complete credit for the liberation of the American black.  And Mary Martin waited for interludes of silence, and then pertly plugged her autobiography.

Kupp wandered over to me as Shelley rambled on and on. He asked if I wanted to step in and be on the show. I flashed him a look that sent him backing away apologetically.

Once the dreadful debacle was done, I was standing, haggard and unkempt, amidst cables and lights, holding Shirley’s luggage, when Mary Martin happened to stop beside me.

I reminded her that two decades before, when I thought I wanted to act, I had asked her backstage at her one-woman show in San Antonio how to succeed, and she had said, “Act, act, act, anywhere and everywhere, and someone will notice.”  I explained that although I had become a playwright, not an actor, I had taken her advice to heart and produced in cafes, bars, and basements—anywhere and everywhere–for years.  Tilting her perfectly-formed head, all apple-cheeks and cowlick, she listened with great courtesy, then stepped back to look me up and down—me, in clothes I hadn’t changed for days while trying to make Shelley learn lines, my hippie hair ratted, my arms full of Shelley’s impedimenta.  Then she chirped with all the verve of Peter Pan, “WELL!  And look where it got you!”

The Chicago reviews (“SHELLEY WINTERS TRAPPED IN RAMBLING, REPETITIOUS PLAY”) ruined me not only in Chicago, but in commercial theatre, which had been iffy about me anyway.  I sued the producer, he sued Shelley, and she split the country despite six months of bookings for her tour.

Many years later, I got a call from a small Chicago theatre company which had revived “Kennedy’s Children” and was about to receive a number of Joe Jefferson awards for their production.  They flew me to Chicago for the ceremony.  The assembled Chicago critics came to me at intermission and begged my forgiveness, pleading that they had had no way in 1976 of knowing that I had written such a beautiful play.  And what could I do but agree?

*x*

21 POEMS ABOUT POETRY by Robert Patrick

November 2, 2010

>>>>>*<<<<<

Your calling me “trivial” of course

Brings me nothing resembling bereavement.

Gravity’s merely a natural force–

Levity, an achievement!

>>>>>*<<<<<


>>>>>*<<<<<


 The Earth is flat ground
A deity made
Stars circle around
And never fade.
Rigors in youth
Make compassionate men.
Justice and truth
Universally win.
It’s vital I plod,
Manufacturing art,
And you are a god,
And have a heart.
 

>>>>>*<<<<<

To loll betimes,
Committing rhymes,
Was nothing that I planned, lord.
If you’ve surmised
That I’m surprised,
You oughta meet my landlord.
 

>>>>>*<<<<<

You never will visit me again
And yet will read this signed
Paper which I found pure and plain
And leave minutely lined,
Slaving (I almost hoped in vain)
With my remaining mind
To fill it with poison which gives no pain.
Would you had been so kind.

 

>>>>>*<<<<<

Still, as of old,
The truthful tale,
Requiring told,
Is tough to nail
As when, a lad,
I first concurred
Mute Being had
To be made Word.

Still, as of eld,
In book-packed room
Serenely celled–
My only gloom
Incompetence
To mingle sight
And sound and sense,
And write it right–

My darling, dumb,
Motif, beseeched
To say that some
Redoubt is reached,
Viewing my verse,
Reality
Must croak to curse,
“That isn’t me.”

>>>>>*<<<<<

Tools ever are extensions of
The finite faculties—
So wheels are feet, Viagra, love
(I said that just to tease.).
Extrapolating from above,
What part is poetry’s?

What is the organ in the lot
Which poetry amends?
Prosody’s palimpsest polyglot
Expands what human ends?
Or: what’s another name for what
Poetry extends?

>>>>>*<<<<<

We’ve little of Sappho, and that’s
Fragments and remnants which
Were stuffing to mummify cats
Egyptians then stuffed in a ditch,

But whatever remnants remain
Condense the inanities men
Have gone through again and again,
Certainly ever since then

And probably even before,
Though Sappho is silent on that.
It’s possible we may find more
By lucking upon the right cat,

And contemplate Sappho complete,
The utter indictment of men,
Defining default and deceit–
But what’ll I write about then?

>>>>>*<<<<<

THEM APPLES

My latest verse I haven’t sent,
For you would carp at its content,
Which is to me (men come and gone)
No more than apples to Cezanne:
The subject readiest at hand
To analyze and understand.

My easy, elegant conceit
Tiptoeing on iambic feet
Around a tiny turn of thought
Then curling in a cunning knot
You’d miss for fixing on the myth
You see me as obsessing with.

>>>>>*<<<<<

I’m grateful to the poets of Greece
Who first discerned that love must cease,
Indebted to the bards of France
Who then discovered it’s a dance.

I owe the larks of Albion
For formulating “pale and wan,”
And even young America
For its one distillation: “Duh.”

>>>>>*<<<<<

Poetry is pointless.
Prose is merely dull.
Erato, I beg you, anoint less
Of a jade empirical as your gull.

Love supplied is graceless.
Love denied is grim.
I’d dread an encounter with Mace less
Than mutating lyrical verse from them.

Living is a burden.
Dying is a bore.
With aging and poverty stirred in,
I shan’t chance the miracle anymore.

>>>>>*<<<<<

The things I miss
Are slight and small—
A sigh, a kiss,
A smile, a call–
Too small and slight
To let impede
The need to write—
A mighty need.

How could I let
Them interfere
When here, or yet
When nowhere near?
What have I then
On this cleared stage?
This tiny pen,
This shiny page.

>>>>>*<<<<<

One needn’t overanalyze
To fashion verses strong and wise.
Just worry words until they do
Something obviously true.

All poets know that little shock
When lines start working like a clock
To fit the rhythm, hit the rhyme,
And tell the universal time.

The words one casts at last will cling
Together and begin to sing
That life is bitter, love is brief
Without one’s blessing or belief.

>>>>>*<<<<<

When I am dead, when I am dead,
Let them say, “He left nought unsaid.”
While I’m alive, while I’m alive,
Let me select what will survive
And anyway, and anyway,
What is there left for them to say?
When I’m defunct, when I’m defunct
This whole collection will be junked.

>>>>>*<<<<<

My head should be examined.
I should be at work, but amn’t.
Or using my writing talent,
I should-er be doing, but shalln’t.

>>>>>*<<<<<

“All depth in art
Is illusion,” said Wilde,
And truly, the heart
Can be beguiled
With a rose that is near,
A tear that is far,
The tear will appear
As far as a star,
The rose as a wall
Against remorse
Which it isn’t at all,
Of course.

Of course,
Wilde meant, the means
Of art present
Illusory scenes.

I know what he meant.

>>>>>*<<<<<

It’s true the composition of fine verse
Will not reform the nature of brute man,
But then, it will not make it any worse
But then, what can?

>>>>>*<<<<<

What Manet with a ripple,
Seurat with a stipple,
Cezanne with prismatic refraction
Conveyed of existence
I shall through persistence
Make verse do, or perish in traction.

>>>>>*<<<<<

You might have murdered me at any time,
But kept me begging for the final blow.
I understood your quibbles about crime.
It was a bitter hardship waiting, though.
But why go on about a sorry state
I most sincerely hope you never know?
It did prepare me to attend and wait
While you consider how to wail and keen
Which you so artfully elaborate
That while I’m waiting through your mourning scene
I’ve time to ratify in triple rhyme
Your honest wish that I had never been.

>>>>>*<<<<<

Think not, because my poetry preserves
The memory of your magnificence,
Before ambition activated nerves
Transforming you and flinging you far hence
So that your sticky shadow wheels and swerves
Over the palace where you were a prince,
That my portrayal of your beauty serves
To prove forgiveness or benevolence.

It is conceivable you have transgressed
Beyond redemption into wanton war,
And peaceful rituals have deliquesced
Beyond recovery or avatar.
What seems memorial may be at best
A cruel slur upon the way you are.

>>>>>*<<<<<

My lack of love is ever-present.
Though it isn’t very pleasant,
It would be much worse if I’d
Let it go unversified.

>>>>>*<<<<<

Raphael died at thirty-seven,
Already deemed, “divine.”
Whereas Caravaggio,
Comparatively adagio,
Waited till thirty-nine.

Toulouse-Lautrec invaded Heaven
Barely still thirty-six.
It’s not very nice that
At just about twice that
I still don’t belong in their mix.

>>>>>*<<<<<

Your calling me “trivial” of course

Brings me nothing resembling bereavement.

Gravity’s merely a natural force–

Levity, an achievement!

>>>>>*<<<<<