Poetry by Pablo Neruda

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For Arts Express, I helped produce this reading of a short poem by Pablo Neruda, performed by the incomparable Mary Murphy.

To listen click on the triangle or link above.

Charles Bukowski: “Don’t Try”

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It’s August and that’s the month poet Charles Bukowski was born in 1920. With over 5000 poems and six novels and hundreds of short stories to his name, he’s become a kind of cult figure over the last decades. While his writings have stamped him with the indelible persona of an alcoholic anti-social misanthropic and misogynistic git, yet there’s also a gentler humanness in Bukowski.

He died at the age of 74. On his gravestone the epitaph reads, “Don’t Try.”

Come with us now as we go out to our favorite virtual watering hole, knock down a couple of drinks, and listen to a performance of some of Bukowski’s poems as broadcast today on Arts Express radio on Pacifica stations across the nation.

Click on the grey triangle or mp3 link above to listen.

“I Owe So Much To Those I Don’t Love”: Wisława Szymborska

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This month we celebrate the birthday of Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, the winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature, born July 2, 1923. Her experience of the German occupation of Poland during WWII was the backdrop to some of her most famous poems, but she was also a keen observer of everyday domestic life as well.

I recently had the pleasure of performing a selection of her poems along with Mary Murphy for the Arts Express radio program. All of the poems are from Szymborska’s recently published collection of works called MAP.

Click on the triangle or mp3 link above in order to hear the poems as broadcast today on  Pacifica affiliates across the nation.

Many thanks for permission to publicly broadcast the poems granted by the Wisława Symborkska Foundation and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers, the publishers of MAP, excellently translated by Clare Cavanagh and Staislav Baranczak.

 

“Coming To You With A Sad Glass Of Soda And A Vague Sense That The World Was Coming To An End”: Peter Davis

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I first encountered Indiana poet/musician Peter Davis’s work only a few months ago, but his laconic slacker sensibility, quirky playful sense of humor and self-deprecation immediately appealed to me.

His poems start off ordinarily enough, and then often veer into strange territory, defying expectation. Underlying much of it, the poems are about self-justification and what we say to ourselves and others in order to get us out of the existential jam that we have no idea what we’re doing, even as we proceed with bluff assurance.

Click on the triangle or mp3 link above to hear my reading of some of Peter Davis’s poems as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI NY, WBAI.org, and Pacifica affiliates across the country.

You can catch up with Peter Davis’s work  at artisnecessary.com

One Is The Loneliest Number

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Here’s a little piece I put together that was broadcast today on WBAI radio’s Arts Express program and on Pacifica affiliates across the country. Just a fun segment about the  current craziness, along with some appropriate music for the time.

 

Arts Express April Newsletter Preview!

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And here we are with a preview of our third free issue of the Arts Express Newsletter, the jam-packed, super-duper April Issue.

As always, think of the Arts Express newsletter as a print extension of the conversation started on our global radio arts magazine, Arts Express, heard on WBAI 99.5 FM in NYC, WBAI.org, and Pacifica affiliates across the country, in Paris, Beijing, and Berlin.

Every month, it’s full color pages of Arts Express goodness, filled with fascinating interviews, reviews, scripts of our radio drama, photo features, gossip, film, theatre, book recommendations and more.

Here’s a preview of what’s in our April issue, which if you subscribe (just send an email to ArtsExpressList@gmail.com and put Subscribe in the subject line) , you will receive for free the first week in April and every month thereafter:

* Prairie Miller’s  interview with South African writer and anti-apartheid activist Tim Jenkin, who talks about his film Escape From Pretoria, which details his escape from Pretoria Maximum Security Prison, and his work setting up a communication system for the imprisoned Nelson Mandela.

*A joyful portfolio of photographs of the world’s largest flower parade held every year in Zundert, Netherlands, the birthplace of Vincent Van Gogh.

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* Red Vienna: An Arts Express Extra: Culture critic Dennis Broe writes about the city of Vienna in the 1920s, when a socialist city government planned and built public housing and public facilities throughout the city, which to this day makes Vienna one of the most livable cities in Europe.

* The poetry of Trinidad and Tobagoan poet Camryn Bruno, also known as “Queen Bee,” from her book Queen Bee Cavity.

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*And Announcing the Arts Express Community Call-in. Would you like to join your fellow listeners in a telephone conversation about culture in a time of pandemic? Write us at artsexpresslist@gmail.com and we’ll give you more details!

*Plus: The Guest List–our recent and upcoming guests; The Back Room–news and gossip about WBAI and the Arts Express crew; and information about exclusive giveaways, and how to win an opportunity to broadcast your own work on the air.

It’s all in the new free Arts Express Newsletter.

If you’re not yet subscribed, you can get your free pdf copy every month to your email address, by sending an email to ArtsExpressList@gmail.com and put Subscribe in the subject line. We’ll do the rest!

And don’t miss our next radio show, Tuesday 3/31 at 4am NYC time, which you can hear on WBAI.org or WBAI 99.5FM NYC., featuring:

 Film: Mrs. America – Actress Margo Martindale discusses playing Bella Abzug in this upcoming feminist mini-series

TV: Asian American actress Keiko Agena on Prodigal Son, Gilmore Girls, Better Call Saul

Report From The Front: Europe And The Coronavirus. Arts Express Paris correspondent Professor Dennis Broe’s news and analysis from the European pandemic epicenter. And what all of this may have to do with austerity and automation; Shakespeare, the plague, King Lear and Macbeth; and Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal – where the poor are served up as a source of nutrition and fine dining.

Plus…Pandemic radio drama, Syrian comic pandemic satire in the No Laughing Matter Comedy Corner episode – and Bernie Sanders in performance.

 

 

 

Going Viral

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(The latest pandemic has caused an outbreak of poetical inspiration in me.)

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There’s nothing to fret about, see?
Even though treatment won’t be for free
Now ladies and gents,
I give you Mike Pence
Whoops, we just lost our latest VP

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Corona is better as beer,
There’s nothing from that I would fear.
A bottle or two–
We laid up a few–
Will brighten the rest of the year

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The Plague isn’t new in the mix
In London in Sixteen-Oh-Six,
They shuttered the plays
For hundreds of days
For Lear and for Hamlet, no tix!

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Please pardon the lace and damask
And the heavy gauge armor–don’t ask
The pads and the plugs
Are all for the bugs
And excuse, please, the Donald Trump mask

“Queen Bee” Cavity: The Poetry of Camryn Bruno

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Our newest Arts Express contributor, KeShaun Luckie, put together this audio segment highlighting the wonderful poems of Camryn “Queen Bee” Bruno, performed by the author. It was a pleasure to have two such talented artists over here recording.

You can listen to Queen Bee’s reading, as broadcast today on Arts Express on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC, by clicking on the triangle above.

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A title is a frame,
An instruction,
A message from above,
A set of clothes.

Untitled: too lazy to do it myself? Too coy?
Like: you do the work. Like: go ahead,
I’ll hide my eyes.
Whatever you say.

Unserious. Nice Guy. Idiot Savant. Poet.
To be or not to be?
It’s enough to make me think
How entitled to be untitled.

Holiday Greetings, Magic Friends 2019

 

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Photo by Harrison Haines on Pexels.com

Twas the end of the year, and I noticed the clock,
The months had passed by, it was time to take stock
Of our magical friends and the pleasures they’d brought
A harkening back to some memories, I thought.

In my mind there’s a party of magical folk
Right here on my doorstep, but as I awoke
The doorbell was chiming, is this just a dream?
In front of my house, a whole magic team:

Chief Geniis are here, both Richard and Liz
The number one names of the magic news biz.
Hi Dustin, Hi Chloe, they seemed to prefer
No small talk, but writing up ten thousand words

The party began, with effortless ease,
The boundless good will of Juan Tamariz.
And here’s another great Spaniard, ah please!
Not Buddha, but better, Dani DaOrtiz

In walked juggler Penn, with his close partner Teller
Assuring us all, Ray’s back was much well-er
Harrison Greenbaum and Max Maven, too
Came with menorahs, ‘cause they both are Jews.

Next was a couple with talent and looks:
Dorothy Dietrich and partner Dick Brookz.
The next four, indeed, were also a thrill,
Regal and Mancha and Vincent and Spill.

The company’s magic just couldn’t be grander
Without the flotations of Mr. Losander
And candy and ice cream—you wouldn’t believe!
Came tumbling out of dear Rocco’s big sleeve.

Lucy Darling, (Carisa is really her name)
Hilarious magic, she plays a tough dame.
And who says a lawyer can’t be a charmer?
Her fellow Canadian, “Bammo” Bob Farmer.

The English chap Hollingsworth, in tails and in tie,
Did some cool sleight of hand, he’s a heck of a Guy.
Mark Lewis walked by, with some jokes and some jollies
Then immediately sold me a deck of Svengalis.

Pop Haydn, Todd Robbins, they put the log on,
And threw us some hype, ye masters of con.
Then cards flew about and changed at his whim:
The marvelous fingers of Master Shin Lim.

What’s this that we see upon the white drapes?
A bear and a dragon and other strange shapes.
The shadows appeared midst the bottles and cans
Sigh of relief—‘twas Raymond Crowe’s hands.

The bubbly’s flowing it’s time to converse
While Jerry Deutsch shows us some magic perverse.
And here comes Greg Chapman, fresh off of Four F;
Masks off to McBride, you know him as Jeff.

The blowout was awesome, the guests all a treat
To see all those folks on my little street!
Pit Hartling, Yann Frisch, and cool David Blaine,
The greatest legends of legerdemain.

And you were there, too, I remember it well,
Your name is too secret for us to re-tell
You showed us a trick in the house where I dwell
It was there that we all fell beneath your deep spell.

But all of a sudden, without a portent
The house was devoid of a lady or gent.
My head got too dizzy, was feeling all weird
For poof, gone and vanished; it all disappeared!

My eyes they were hurting, both bleary and groggy
I lurched around drunk, too high and egg-noggy.
I shook off the feeling, I got myself sober
But one thing was clear, it now all was over.

The people were gone, the food and the drink
The fantasy popped, but you know what I think?
Don’t look at me strangely, don’t think me insane
While the dream is a whisper, the magic remains.

And so as you enter the coming New Year
Be kind to your neighbors and wish them good cheer
For more than our cards, either red-backed or blue
The magic is in what we say and we do.

This story was brief, but I had a ball.
Happy holidays, my friends, and Peace to you all!

War Is Kind

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

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Had enough of that old-time military jingoism? Stephen Crane’s your man. The Red Badge of Courage author penned a series of poems called War is Kind that taken together are devastating reading. You can listen to my performance of a selection of those poems as performed today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC.

Click on the triangle above to hear.

Three Poems

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I don’t write much poetry, but lately I’ve been reading the poems of the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska (bathroom reading—that’s a compliment in my house) and perhaps she has inspired me.

Announcement

I’m ready to begin my life
Did you get the notice in the mail?
I’m ready to begin my life
Balloons, a cake, a sale

The leaking eyes repaired,
The crumpled mouth refurbished
The heart painted a new shade of pink
The hours lost recovered
The unfortunate pants replaced
Astro turf hair glued down
In the privacy of my home

I’m ready to begin my life
Don’t bother me with how
I’m ready to begin my life
In just a week or two from now

 

The Mystery of Avocados

No one has cracked it.
You crack them
In two
And greedily spoon the new terrain
Leave that pit filled
Half for later.

But what later?
The rotting grey
Mocks your prudence
Calls you out as a chump
For thinking you could postpone
Happiness
With frozen insides

 

Abacus

What am I feeling?
Take a look
There are only—what?—seven of the damn things.
But thoughts
As many as the sparrows

Wall Poem

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Florence, Italy

We saw a number of different poems pasted to walls in Florence. I know very little Italian, but here’s my best attempt at the English translation of this one, based on a variety of internet translation sites and a large dose of poetic license. Feel free to let me know if you have a better translation:

Flying

This shaded roof
with a fiery frame
its excess
piercing the air.

The view from up here:
calm,
alive.

The scary sky
cradles me
while I travel between its layers
and the next dream.

 

Federico Garcia Lorca And The Duende

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Federico Garcia Lorca was an extraordinary poet, painter, composer, actor, director, playwright, and socialist. We celebrated his June birthday on Arts Express today with a short selection of his poems read in English by myself and the wonderful Mary Murphy.

You can hear the poems and a brief intro as broadcast on WBAI 99.5FM NYC by clicking on the grey triangle above.

Rendering Shakespeare: Sonnet 126

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At this year’s Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Slam, where all 154 sonnets are performed, because of no-shows, producer Melinda Hall unexpectedly pressed some of us into double duty bound; in addition to performing our pre-arranged sonnets (mine was Sonnet 27) we performed other sonnets as well, with fifteen minutes notice.

And that is how I became acquainted with Sonnet 126. Here’s what I saw when the paper was handed to me:

O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy pow’r
Dost hold Time’s fickle glass, his sickle, hour,
Who hast by waning grown, and therein show’st
Thy lovers withering, as thy sweet self grow’st—
If Nature, (sovereign mistress over wrack,)
As thou goest onwards still will pluck thee back,
She keeps thee to this purpose: that her skill
May Time disgrace, and wretched minute kill.
Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure;
She may detain, but not still keep, her treasure.
Her audit, though delayed, answered must be,
And her quietus is to render thee.
  (     )
  (     )

 

If this looks strange to you, you’re on the right track. It looks very different from all the other Shakespeare sonnets. As you probably know if you’re reading this, the Shakespearean sonnets are three quatrains of alternating rhyme, and then a final couplet to make fourteen lines. Now take a look at Sonnet 126—first of all it’s only twelve lines long—the last two lines seem to have been truncated—and what’s more the remaining lines are all couplets. It barely deserves to be called a sonnet. And, to my way of thinking, the content of it is more pessimistic than most of Shakespeare’s other sonnets.

Ever-reliable Wikipedia tells us that Sonnet 126 is the capstone to the group of sonnets known as the Fair Youth sonnets. As a group they speak of a young man of sexual power who, despite the ravages of time, will live on—either through his immortalization in the poet’s words, or through the siring of offspring. Sonnet 126 is the last of this group, but it appears to tell a somewhat different story: our Fair Youth might think, even as he gets older, that  he is cheating Nature and Time in his pursuit of worldly pleasures,  but it is all for naught. In the end, Time demands his due, despite Nature’s endowing the Youth with potency even in his later years—no, Nature must eventually render thee; that is, surrender him, as money paid in debt. Indeed, the end comes so suddenly, it can even come two lines too early. We have run out of Time.

It’s a bleaker outlook than many of the other sonnets. While Shakespeare never denies the inevitability of death in his writings, it is rare that he wags it so forcefully in the face of his sonnet subjects without some promise of remembrance. There’s a palpable jealousy there of the youth’s enduring power. There doesn’t seem to be a chance of redemption.

And yet, hidden within the last words is a double meaning that seems kinder. For the word render not only means “to surrender,” but also “to depict,” as in the rendering of a portrait. Nature may not only surrender him to Time, but will portray him. So once again, the Fair Youth has the opportunity of becoming immortal through his children or through Shakespeare’s rendering of him in his poems.

And so he has.

 

 

You Don’t Look A Day Over 450

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In celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday this past week, Mary Murphy and I put together a short segment about the Shakespearean sonnets, aired last night on the Arts Express program (on radio station WBAI 99.5 FM NYC). I talk a bit about the history and structure of the poems, and then we read five of our favorite lesser-known sonnets. Click on the triangle above to wish Will a Happy 455th.

By the way, the portrait above may just well be the only extant likeness of Shakespeare done in his lifetime, . It is purported to be Shakespeare at age 39. I like the idea of seeing  of seeing him with a full head of hair and a sly smile.

“Weary With Toil, I Haste Me To My Bed”

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It’s always a pleasure to welcome the Annual Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet slam. This is the 9th slam produced by director and Shakespeare scholar Melinda Hall,  (you can listen to an interview I did with her a few years ago where she talks about, among other things, who Shakespeare was), and this year introduces a change of venue. Usually the slam is in the center of Central Park, outdoors at the Naumburg Bandshell. But if you’ve dropped by in the last few years, you may have noticed that the bandshell is in a precarious state with pieces of roof falling and stones from the stairs getting dislodged. Just as Shakespeare moved his company in the winter from the naked elements of the Globe Theatre to the more protected clime of the indoors Blackfriars Theatre, this year we now go to the cozy environs of Riverside Church’s 9th floor lounge. You can see in the picture above that it looks a lot like a Shakespearean stage. While it’s true that we will not get the traffic of curious passersby, it looks like we may actually have chairs in this space for the audience to sit in, which would be a treat.

I just got my randomly assigned sonnet number this week and the luck of the draw has given me sonnet #27. It’s probably the most straightforward sonnet I’ve been assigned to over the years:

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts (from far where I abide)
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo, thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

I’ve talked several times before about how I go about analyzing a sonnet. Last year’s sonnet had a very similar conceit concerning day and night, light and dark, but there is much less involved wordplay in this one. Often when I’m faced with an unfamiliar sonnet, I feel like I have to wrestle it to the ground to get it to reveal its secrets to me.  That fight results in a kind of tension in the performance that reflects the prior struggle with the meaning, syntax, and meter. But this time, especially since this sonnet is so accessible to a modern audience, my goal will simply be to relax and let the sonnet and the words do the work. In a way, I want to see how little I can do and yet still be effective, if that makes any sense.

The 9th Annual Sonnet Slam will take place Friday April 26th from 1-4pm at Riverside Church, 9th Floor. Use the 91 Claremont Avenue entrance. It’s free and it should be a lot of fun. Or better yet, sign up to read a randomly assigned sonnet. You can find the information here.