The "I" of a Storm
Having been chided over the years for using
the editorial "we" in "our" writing, and
taking a cue from a line in the Gettysburg Address—
The world will little note, nor long remember what we
say here—we are giving up the ghost on the first
person plural, and going with "I." Let the chips
fall where they may.
My reticence in using "I" (and other
singular personal pronouns), comes in part from three lines
of Walt Whitman's poem Song of Myself.
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,?
And what I assume you shall assume,?
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
It takes an ego the size of the Titanic
(next piece) to be so presumptuous. Though the "I"
used in this poem has been interpreted by literary critics
to mean, a concept of self that is both individual and universal.
In other words, Whitman uses "I" to mean "we."
Whereas I have been using "we" to mean "I."
This is not to imply that I merit any serious parallel comparison
with a literary giant…just an observation on syntax.
This concern over "I" is particularly
magnified in a world so interconnected, wherein everyone seems
to have a POV on everything, or an agenda to advance. This
dynamic results in infinitely more writers than readers. A
problem that just used to exist in the world of poetry.
There were over 150,000,000 blogs in existence
the last time I checked. It isn't easy to be an "I"
of that kind of storm. Though I refrain from using the B-word
in connection with what I try to do, because I don't think
it applies. Besides, I think the word "blog" itself
is ugly sounding, and suggestive of something that might come
out of one's nose. In actuality, it is derived from combing
the words web log and then shortening it.
I tend to think of my output more as a column
or a magazine piece than a blog. One that just happens to
be on line rather than in print. (Remember print?). But these
distinctions suggest a whole other discussion best suited
for another time. Then again, maybe not. As the great acting
teacher Constantin Stanislavsky used to say, or shout —
me, don't tell me!"
He also said, presumably in a lower tone of
greatest wisdom is to realize one's lack of it."
This seems particularly apropos as to the
purpose of my writing these "Muse-Letters."
And in this manner, "I" will press on.
Poetic License in a Lesson of the
April 14th will mark the 100th anniversary
of the Titanic hitting that iceberg. It is a story
that will never die. Those that offer some great life lesson,
especially in the loss of many lives, never do. Though the
moral of the Titanic story may not be so easy to
nail down, or "rivet down" as may be the case, as
will be explained shortly.
Certainly, it might be one of hubris. The
White Star Line in competition with its main rival, the Cunard
to compete on size rather than speed, and proposed to commission
a new class of liners that would be bigger than anything
that had gone before, as well as being the last word in
comfort and luxury." (Wikipedia)
It was said at the time, that no expense was
spared in achieving that goal.
Has "Bigger than Ever" or "More
is Better," not been the eternal quest? Have we not seen
it throughout history, in the erection of the biggest structures
the world has ever known? ("Mine's Bigger Than Yours"
2010 MUSE-LETTER). Ultimately, to what purpose
one might ask.
The causes and magnitude of the Titanic's
doom, have been much studied and debated these past hundred
years. But one theory that caught my eye a few years ago,
did have to do with expenses being spared after all.
In a piece from The New York Times headlined
"In Weak Rivets, a Possible Key to Titanic's Doom,"
it stated that two scientists in rummaging through the builders
own archives, found evidence of:
deadly mix of low quality rivets and lofty ambition as the
builder labored to construct the three biggest ships in
the world at once—the Titanic and two sisters, the
Olympic and the Britannic."
This article resulted in my writing a cautionary
poem, while teaching poetry to a middle school class of foster
care and abused children, at the Hillsides School in Pasadena.
I used it to illustrate how the idea for a poem can come from
anywhere. Even a headline in a morning paper. Even an event
that happened a hundred years ago.
Skimp on Rivets
Weak Rivets, a Possible Key to Titanic's Doom"
New York Times: April 15, 2008
Reverse it and rivet on skimping, if you must.
For the art of saving could use our attention.
Though a penny today is worth less than rust;
Thin copper-plated and hardly worth mention.
with no irony, are made mostly of copper—
For coins are no longer what once minted to be.
And with the level of zinc in our oceans improper,
Skimp on shrimp or other food from the sea.
don't skimp on rivets. Cheap rivets could mean
A greater disaster in a ship's collision.
In the same way our soul could come apart at the seams
And hit rock bottom in a bad life's decision.
The kids would then go off to write their own poems, far better
than the above example they were provided. Unsurprisingly,
many were about the disasters in their own lives, brought
on by the negligence of parents and family— the skimping
on love and caring.
Quote of the Month
April 15th is a date usually
associated with tax filing (extended to the 17th this year).
But it is also the day on which, in 1947, Jack Roosevelt Robinson
"broke the color line."
"As the first black man to play in
the major leagues since the 1880s, he was instrumental in
bringing an end to racial segregation in professional baseball,
which had relegated black players to the Negro leagues for
six decades." (Wikipedia)
So while Jackie Robinson, technically was
not the first African-American in the major leagues, his impact
was such that he holds an esteemed place in America history.
(By the way, should this come up at your next cocktail party,
Moses Fleetwood Walker of the Toledo Blue Stockings
in 1884 was the first. Soon after, African-American players
were banned from major league baseball altogether.).
While sixty-five years may seem like ancient
history to some, it is about the age of the first wave of
baby boomers. (Medicare anyone?). In that context, it is a
bit startling to realize that it has only been in my lifetime,
that such a highly visible racial barrier has fallen.
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary in
1997 of that day, there was a conference at Long Island University
entitled: “Jackie Robinson: Race, Sports,
and the American Dream.” A poem I wrote
and submitted at the time, was accepted and read at that conference.
(I was unable to attend).
It is short and bittersweet, and I reprise
it here as it appears in Shots from a Passing Car.
Upon Coming Upon a Bus Shelter Poster
If you were to take all that I know about
opera and put it into a peanut shell…it would rattle.
Like many, I am familiar with the legendary
names of Caruso, Merrill, Tucker, Sills, Sutherland, Callas,
Horne and of course The Three Tenors —Pavarotti, Domingo
and Carreras. Not to mention contemporary superstar Renee
Fleming, who has had many "crossover" ventures such
as an album of pop music, a reading with Alec Baldwin last
fall of the popular theater piece Letters, and an
appearance coming up on Law & Order. And my music
collection does include a CD or two, of arias from some of
the world's most renowned operas.
Yet none of this has ever sent me scurrying
to buy a ticket. The main reason perhaps being, that I have
always perceived it to be a somewhat ponderous art form, expressed
in an equally ponderous production, that lasts an eternity,
during which a lot of people die, and sing while doing so.
Arias that sum up the irony of the situation, rather than
calling out for help so desperately needed: "Telefonare
nove uno uno! Rapido!" Yes, I have been a Philistine
in this arena.
Then one night last summer, I came upon a
bus shelter poster. One that was so visceral in its imagery,
so captivating in its boast, that it sent a chill through
the body on a sweltering night.
Who is this woman who reeks such defiance,
in that robust body, so bold of dress and tilt of head, bound
and being led away by what appear to be two smug gendarmes?
I know the potential power of advertising.
I toiled in the vineyards of that field for thirty years.
I just never have quite seen that sort of power harnessed
through one of the most mundane of advertising media—a
bus shelter. And though the message is absent any details
or tangible payoff, it elicits an immediate call to action
all the same.
Unlike those Calvin Klein billboards the size
of Rhode Island, which are selling jeans, The Met
is selling a moment! And all I know is, that if this is opera,
and that woman is in it, I'm going!
With a little probing, I learn that this scene
is from an "opéra comique" in five acts (of
course), entitled Manon (ma-'nawn). It was written
by someone named Jules Massenet, and first performed in Paris
Further, I am told by Wikipedia,
…it is the quintessential example of the charm and vitality
of the music and culture, of the Parisian Belle Époque…it
is frequently performed today—19 countries presenting
a total of nearly 300 performances of 67 productions, just
from 2009 to 2011 alone." Who knew?
And the woman?
Oh, she just turns out to be someone who has
been called things like a genuine superstar and reigning diva
for the 21st century. Time magazine placed her on
their annual list of the most influential people in the world
in 2007. She has been profiled in vehicles as diverse and
far reaching as Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New York Times,
Financial Times of London, 60 Minutes, to name
a few. And she's won awards too numerous to mention; the most
recent being a Gramophone Award in 2011,
often referred to as the Oscar for classical music. That's
As pictured here from her website, she is
Russian born, Anna Netrebko.
As it turned out, Manon was not scheduled
to open until the back end of the Met's current season, meaning
a long eight months following that first poster encounter.
In the interim, I have seen Don Carlo on a big outdoor
screen at Lincoln Center (yes it ran 3 1/2 hours and with
a ton of dying—but wonderful), and a concert at Carnegie
Hall, of a little known opera Notre Dame (as in Hunchback
of) and I've gone back to listening to those aforementioned
CD's. This by way of getting some operatic water wings before
taking the plunge.
Unfortunately, for numerous reasons, I did
miss Ms. Netrebko's bravura performance in the title role
of Anna Bolena, earlier in the season. But finally,
at the end of this month, I will get to see my first live
For now, as Mark Twain once said, "the
poetry is all in the anticipation." Though he depressingly
concluded "…for there is none in the reality."
I hope that he is proven wrong and that there is after all,
truth in advertising. And If I might indulge in a quote of
my own making: "At any age, you can Come of Age."