Category Archives: Spring Green

Consolation for the Coming Dark

1
Call it what you want–global weirding,
climate change–it’s just flat-out wrong
to hit 80 degrees in mid-October, in Wisconsin,
mosquitoes swarming like it’s June.
Humid muck and sweat, it makes me long for snow,
reconciles me to the dimming of the light.

2
The third trimester has to be ungodly
uncomfortable, the backaches, the chafing,
the raw, red stretch marks. The pain
that’s coming seems at that point,
if not nothing, then at least something
bearable, something, anything, better
than lumbering around. Just get it out.

3
The love that died,
the job that changed,
the tree that lost its leaves.
Rusted muffler,
curdled milk,
worn out shoes.
The show that jumped the shark,
the friend who wouldn’t go home,
the skirt that fell out of style.
Insufficient postage
on the Star Wars stamp
you found in your desk.

4
What’s next and what’s enough and when
will all of this seem clear and would a funeral help?
To signal things are different now,
I know it’s different now,
the past is done, I know it’s done,
I’m ready to move on?
Tomorrow’s wonderful and awful
and so’s today and is tomorrow’s sunrise,
possibly orange and pink and lovely,
any kind of consolation for the coming dark?
__________

I’ve been enjoying Rob Bell’s podcast lately. He had Peter Rollins on a couple times (always blows my mind) and then a great one on Seasons, which made me think maybe we should have a funeral at my workplace, for the way things used to be.

See, budget cuts have made this a very different place to work. In the classroom it’s much the same (wonderful as always, I tell people, and it’s true), but outside class–really different. We’re functioning, for the most part, doing our best, but it’s really, really different.

Then I decided, no, we shouldn’t have a funeral, because there are already enough people worried my sweet little campus will close.  I don’t think it will close, and having a funeral wouldn’t have meant that I was thinking it would close, but I could imagine someone seeing it that way.

Having a funeral would have meant I understand the past is gone.   Whatever was, isn’t now.  Having a funeral would have meant I could feel what I’m feeling, really give it full vent, and then move on.  Look around and see things with clearer eyes.

So, no funeral.  But I might write down a couple things I particularly miss, and light them on fire in my backyard, and tell them goodbye.  I might sing a little song.  I might read this out loud, from Ecclesiastes 3:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

And then just because the changes at work come from budget cuts of which I don’t approve, I might also read this one from Ecclesiastes 9:11:

“the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to those with understanding, nor yet favour to those with skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

And then I think I might feel better. Or maybe not.

 

 

 

Somewhere in Eastern Montana on a Train

The rocks rise up just like Jehovah scat,
vast droppings from the great mad God above.
The train won’t stop. I don’t know where I’m at.

I might be lost. I might have been kidnapped.
The train’s so cold I’m wearing gloves.
The rocks rise up just like Jehovah scat,

but they’re not visible on my little map.
The lounge car is the only home I have
because the train won’t stop. Where I’m at

is a deeply pleasing dizzy place, perhaps
because I’m reading The Sheltering Sky, which I love.
The rocks rise up just like Jehovah scat

on these Great Plains! Foothills! The snow, like sand,
obscures the tracks. How do we even move?
The train won’t stop. I don’t know where I am

with all my wonder wander wonder shit.
I’ll be home for Christmas soon enough.
The rocks rise up like Jehovah scat.
The train won’t stop. I don’t know where I’m at.

____________

Christmas 1989  I rode the Empire Builder train from Whitefish, Montana to Chicago and then the train they call the City of New Orleans on down into Southern Illinois. It was a miserable trip. There was a lot of snow and it was very cold (in North Dakota? Who could have expected that?) and the bathrooms kept freezing up. We stopped at every station, trashed the bathrooms, and by the time I got to St. Louis, the train was more than 24 hours late. You can keep your romantic train travel visions to yourself, thank you very much.

Unless you’re Laura Gibson, in which case I feel so lucky to have caught your show at The Shitty Barn.  (Sometimes I can’t stand how lucky I am to live in Spring Green.  The barn’s just a short walk from my house.)

Her new album is called Empire Builder, and as she sang the title track, I was reminded that I’d tried and tried to write a poem that captured the weirdness of that train trip.  Given my track record of poems about that trip (#27yearsoftrying), I may still not have done it.  But I got inspired whilst Laura was singing and wrote it all, there (almost all–revised some when I got home).

So thanks to the Shitty Barn & thanks to Laura Gibson for a great night and a little fit of inspiration. Have a listen to her song “The Cause”  and see if you get inspired your own self.

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Oh, how I love thee, Shitty Barn.

 

 

The Year of Buffalo Pokey

An embarrassment of entertainment riches, really.

In less than a week, all within a few minutes of my house, I’ve seen two great plays and one great concert.

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Pokey LaFarge and his horn section.

All that greatness is dizzying, apparently.

In a dizzy moment, I asked the usher to help me figure out where I was sitting for David Mamet’s American Buffalo last night.  She looked at the ticket, here:

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“You’re in Aisle 2,” she said (which was actually the only thing I was confused about–still not quite familiar enough with the aisles in the wonderful Touchstone to know for sure where to go). “Row E, Seat 204,” she said.

Well, all of us looking at the ticket now can clearly see it was Row F.

Imagine if I were sitting near Teach or Donny from American Buffalo.

“Fucking usher,” Teach would’ve said (not taking any responsibility for looking closely at his own ticket).

“Sorry, sorry,” Bobby would’ve said, when the correct inhabitants pointed out they wanted the seat they paid for.

“No shame in a simple mistake,” Donny might have said to himself later in the evening, after moving from Row E, Seat 204, to Row D, Seat 204.

But then what would Teach say, when he realized, after the house manager pointed it out later, that Row D, Seat 204 also belonged to someone else?  And what would he have said when he pulled out the ticket to show the house manager who gently pointed out, “That’s the wrong date.  And the wrong play,” thus:

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Teach would’ve had a manic meltdown; I just felt flustered (the house manager was just trying to figure out what the issue was; she’d found seats for the other people already). I said I’m sorry a bunch & I’ll say it again, to whomever I displaced, “I’m sorry.”

Last night, the second half of American Buffalo almost immediately distracted me from my flustered state.

What a play.

I’m so, so pleased American Players Theatre decided to do Mamet.  And this play.  With these actors, because, of course–Brian Mani is perfect as Donny, put-upon, and too generous, and forgiving in such a complex way we feel equal parts pity and admiration for how he navigates his little world.

And oh, what frightening fun to watch Jim Ridge as Teach.

Part of the pleasure of going to APT year after year is seeing the actors in different roles. As I was driving home last night I was remembering Ridge as Tartuffe–serpentine and frightening and clever.  I think Teach thinks he’s serpentine and frightening and clever, but what’s frightening is how wrong he is about everything, how worked up he is about how right he thinks he is.  Poor Teach–he’s in a play by Mamet, not Moliere.

Awfully nice work, too, by Brendan Meyer, as Bobby.  And once again, I love plays directed by Kenneth Albers.

If you haven’t gone yet, you should go.  Or, to put in Mamet terms, you should fucking get there already. Lots of shows available from now through October.

You should also go see The Year of Magical Thinking.

Aaron Conklin has a fine review that I concur with, on every point.

In my head, I routinely mis-label Didion’s amazing piece as The Year of Living Dangerously, and that’s not entirely wrong. It’s a dangerous place Didion goes to, narrating her harrowing time when she lost her husband and child. It strikes me as dangerous for APT to have chosen the play, given the difficult subject matter. Sarah Day plunges into the danger of the subject matter, of course–courage has to be in the top five features of her mode as an actor.

And it is a dangerous journey for an audience, but it’s not unrelenting awfulness.  It really did feel like a journey, a necessary one.  There is humor and insight, too, but most importantly, I felt different when I left.  As though I had traveled somewhere I needed to go, and that I could now move on.  Kind of like a gentler, prettier Charon taking me partway across the river Styx and back to the land of the living.  A three-hour tour (well, actually two).

Pretty amazing. Lots of tickets available from now until October.

There are no more tickets for Pokey LaFarge, that show is done.  There are plenty of tickets left for other shows at The Sh*tty Barn, however, and if you’re kicking yourself for missing Pokey, you might get yourself a ticket for Nick Brown on July 30. In the venn diagram of Barn Sessions, there’s some overlap between Pokey and Nick in the area of Gentlemen Country/Western Swing styles–a genre I hadn’t realized I was craving until Nick’s show last summer.

I knew I was going to enjoy Pokey’s music, but I was a little nervous it was going to be hipster country, given the theatricality of the photos.  When I told people about him I’d been saying he looked like k.d. lang and Pee Wee Herman had a love child, and I’m not taking that back because it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever come up with.

But I was happy to find out that k.d. lang was a good call–musically, it was a rich night, and the theatricality was not so much camp as just big, big fun.

The horn section was great:

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And once again, one of the many extreme pleasures of the Barn is how close you are to the performers.  I zoomed in a little, but not much to get this shot of Pokey his own self:

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Everyone should come see great stuff in Spring Green. All summer long.

Gentlemen in the Rain, Women in the Sun

How fitting that a play highlighting Proteus
would play on a day with various weathers,
rainy and warm then steamy and warm then pouring and warm
then breezy and cool then cool and calm then warm and calm
with the sun changing clouds into haze and then,
when Sylvia crossed the threshold from backstage,
that moment, I would swear it, did the sun
come out, full on,  and turn her blonde hair into blazing
waves of light. I still can’t see, can’t comprehend
why Valentine forgives his awful friend,
why Sylvia forgives her Valentine
for giving her to an inconstant man.
The woman seeming pitiful I get.
The man offending everyone I get.
I choose to see the Bard as having gaps,
not my heart not my brain with this big lapse.

_____

 

Every Thursday this semester I’m trying to do at least one big thing that reminds me I’m teaching only two courses, and have been allowed the grace and space to spend 20 hours a week on my creativity research.

 

Waiting for Two Gentlemen of Verona to start this morning, I was able to touch base with one of the many wonderful folks at APT who do their work offstage—at some point this fall, I’ll be doing some interviews about creativity (and especially, ironically, when they try NOT to be creative).

 

But it was the play itself I was most focused on today.

 

After all—why research creativity without enjoying the fruits of creativity that my fine little town has to offer?

 

Nice job, everyone—very nice to see Marcus Truschinski in another leading role, and Travis Knight right there with him (and very fun watching the high school girls at the matinee get all swoony).  I think no one does fragility mixed with strength the way Susan Shunk does—it’s like glass and steel all curving around each other. Nice job, Steve Haggard as Launce, and Will Mobley as Speed, using their terrific comic timing to sharpen the focus of the students who were, for the MOST part, dealing admirably with the distractions of rain and wind and then bright sun and heat.

 

And I swear, the sun really did come out right at the moment Abbey Siegworth stepped onstage in her tower.

 

This isn’t my favorite Shakespeare play by any stretch, but I’ve seen APT do it well two times now, and seeing it today gave me fond and bittersweet memories of the last time.  Then, it seemed to me and my friend Lee (may she rest in peace), the director emphasized every possible bit of homo-eroticism in the play (which made Valentine’s actions a little more understandable, if he’s as in love with Proteus as Julia is)

“That was hot,” Lee said to me when we chatted in the aisle right after a performance one night. As I remember it, I could only nod yes.

*

 

APT’s Hamlet is Awesome. Go See It.

Q: How’s Hamlet?

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The short answer, for American Players Theatre’s 2013 production is that it’s terrific and I’m still processing how terrific it is.

It took me to my APT happy place numerous times on Sunday night (a very muggy-buggy night), by which I mean I forgot I was watching a play, forgot I knew the actor playing the part, forgot I was anywhere but in the moment on the stage.

Part of me wants to stop there–to say, simply, it was great. Everyone who can get here should get here and see it.

Except this Hamlet was so freakingly brilliant–I thought about it for hours after I got home, and I’ve thought about it all day.

So at the risk of revealing my theatrical and Shakespearean ignorance (the vastness of which undiscovered country has not been mapped), here are some of those thoughts.
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I really think John Langs, the director, is brilliant. I know a theater production is a collaborative process, so my appreciation of the unnerving, stark, gorgeous, imposing, spare set goes to Takeshi Kata and Andrew Boyce. And the way the lighting shows two Hamlets–his posture saying one thing, his face saying another?  Credit for that goes to Michael A. Peterson.

The shadow seems much surer of itself here.

The shadow seems much surer of itself here.

But over and over, each component worked with every other component. The costumes worked with the set. And the set worked with the lighting. And the lighting emphasized the performances. And the performances were awesome. That’s to the director’s credit.

And having James Pickering–a really well-known Milwaukee actor who’s never appeared on the APT stage before–play the ghost and the player who plays the king parts and the gravedigger–that’s not just a casting idea. That’s an interpretive idea.

It made it seem like the ghost was showing up ALL THE TIME.

The child longing for the nuclear family that no longer exists.

The child longing for the nuclear family that no longer exists.

I know directors pluck from other performances (and there are a lot of Shakespeare casting traditions that would be utterly lost on me–I mean, I know about Cordelia/the fool, but that’s about it), and I know Langs directed Darragh Kennan in Hamlet in Seattle pretty recently, so I don’t know if this is the FIRST Hamlet to do that with the ghost/player/gravedigger, and I don’t know if the ghost has shown up other times when he doesn’t have lines, as he does in this performance (I won’t say where-all, because at least one of them seemed like a big risk with a big payoff), but it all went beyond “interpretive idea,” actually. It felt like vision. Genuine artistic vision.

What a counterpoint to Bassanio and Antonio from Merchant of Venice.

What a counterpoint to Bassanio and Antonio from Merchant of Venice.

Casting at APT is a complicated thing–eight plays done in repertory, core company and guest artist needs and contributions considered (who had a huge part last year, who had only supporting roles, who has one huge role this year and needs other supporting roles, who has reliable chemistry with who else)–so I can’t attribute the genius casting of this production of Hamlet to John Langs alone. Whoever had a hand in it, though–bravo.

If I’d been asked, prior to seeing this performance, to list Shakespeare’s really nasty kings, I’d have said Richard and Richard and then changed the subject, since I don’t know the histories as well as I ought. I might not have thought of Claudius at all. It’s not what I would typically think of as a meaty part.

But in Jim DeVita’s hands? Well, I hear Jim’s a fine cook, so I could say it’s like carving a chicken and understanding there’s good meat to be found places other than the drumstick and breast. Anyway, he found the meat. And chewed it up.

I mean, wow. When he says, of Fortinbras, “Holding a weak supposal of our worth,/ Or thinking by our late dear brother’s death / Our state to be disjoint and out of frame,” the delivery was so powerful I found myself wondering if Langs had somehow let Claudius deliver one of Hamlet’s speeches. (He didn’t. At least that one’s not Hamlet’s.)

“I like him not,” he says of Hamlet. And you think, “uh oh.”

I don’t mean Jim was upstaging or scene-stealing or anything bad. He just made it so clear how powerful Claudius was. How mean.

And unlike some productions, which maybe emphasize the Oedipal-incestuous-icky embraces between Hamlet and his Mom because no one can possibly imagine her really being turned on by whatever Claudius they’ve cast (the pompous guy in the Slings and Arrows production comes to mind, Season Two, Episode One, not the first season’s Claudius), De Vita and Staples have awesome onstage chemistry. One review found it “puzzling” why they were “hanging all over each other.” It didn’t puzzle me at all. Wouldn’t you, on him, were you she? And wouldn’t you, her, were you he? I, me, we would, methinks.

Gert and Claud

Gert and Claud

And then of course there’s Hamlet his own self.

Bravo, Matt Schwader. Bravo.

Mike Fischer’s review gets it right, that Matt’s “intensity adds bite and even menace to Hamlet’s encounters.” He calls him “white-hot,” and says he “handles Shakespeare’s verse as well as anyone at APT.” Yes, and yes, and yes.

I am enjoying reading and re-reading about Matt’s Hamlet process in his blog, “Bounded in a Nutshell.”

(He’s not just pretty. He’s also thinky.)

Matt’s explanation of his process helps explain one of the things that amazed me last night: the BIG ASS SPEECHES melded into the play so smoothly. They weren’t under-played, and not muted, but at no point did the production feel like this:

Druuuuuuuuummmmmmmroll: SOLILOQUY. (more stuff, more stuff, more stuff) and then
Druuuuuuummmmmroll: SOLILOQUY.

For example, leading up to the most famous of the BIG ASS SPEECHES, the “to be or not to be” one, because David Daniel’s Polonius is so strong, and Jim De Vita’s Claudius is so strong, and Christina Panfilio’s Ophelia is so strong, I found myself focused on what THEY were doing. Especially Ophelia. (I’ve never felt so pissed at Shakespeare for killing someone off as this Ophelia. She had spunk, damn it.)

Lou Grant to Mary Richards: "You've got spunk. I hate spunk."

Lou Grant to Mary Richards: “You’ve got spunk. I hate spunk.”

So when Matt came onstage and began speaking, to the audience, it took me a beat or two to realize that what he was saying was one of those speeches, even though I’d known what was coming.

In terms of speaking to the audience, as he was, part of the time, in this speech, Matt has this to say, “I’ve found that it is simply much more dramatic and engaging to watch an actor speak with another person (or group of persons, as is the case with direct address), than to be muttering to his or herself. Tremendous drama lives in the unexpected. What unexpected thing can happen to a person talking to his or her self? Not much. On the other hand, talking with an audience opens a flood of possibilities as to what might happen.”

The unexpected here is that Ophelia is listening, and she startles Hamlet, which was startling. In a good way. Because then the “get thee to a nunnery” lines seem startling, even though I knew they were coming.

Hamlet and Ophelia.

Hamlet and Ophelia.

_____

Matt did a fantastic job, which wasn’t startling. Anyone who’s watched him the last few years knew this was coming, that he’d earned it & that he could do it.

But what was startling overall was how his performance seemed utterly in service of the play.

I don’t mean I expected Matt to be selfish or show boaty. I’m just used to thinking of Hamlet as a vehicle for Hamlet (the character and the actor who plays him). This didn’t feel vehicular at all.

What a great play.

Another fantastic shot from Carissa Dixon

Another fantastic shot from Carissa Dixon

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(All these awesome images of the production are used with permission from the awesome Carissa Dixon.)

Driving in a David Cates Novel

“O beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening”
“The End of the Innocence”

Taking the secret detour, the one the natives use,
I fly down Highway T to Z,
past the Cates family farm but really,
it’s the dips and swales and curves
and hills and valleys and long slopes up
and ridge roads that feel impossibly high
for Wisconsin that let me know I’m in a zone
where fiction could happen and also perhaps
some magic but for me, partly panic–

I get agoraphobic on some of these rises
where all you can see past the crest
is the sky. It reminds me of Eastern Montana
a little (except for more trees on both sides),
where I once drove up a long brown hill for so long,
for an hour, forever, I stopped believing in Canada.
I couldn’t imagine anything north of where I was.
Nothing but a sheer drop-off to Hell, maybe,
over the top, nothingness, a crevasse, the crimp-
edge of the known world, no ditch, just–

The trip up, the torture, doesn’t last that long here.
Just when I’m wanting to pull over,
figure out how to turn around or back up,
which is impossible–the road’s too narrow,
the curve’s too sharp, the hill’s too steep–
well, there we are, around the bend
finally, a stretch of open road, another red barn.

Another falling-down house tucked in behind
a mess of blooming lilacs, under which,
if this really is a David Cates novel, someone’s having sex
RIGHT THIS MOMENT, and probably with someone they shouldn’t.

And later the woman, or maybe she’s a girl,
would take a dandelion and say “make a wish”
as she blew the white seeds everywhere at which point
the man, or maybe he’s still a boy,
would think “tampopo” but not say it, not wanting
the girl to feel bad for not knowing Japanese,
and he might also think, but not say,
some racy, clever thing using the word “blow.”
What he probably would say would be “Great.
Now there are more weeds everywhere,”
but then regret having said anything at all.

Because you have to remember, the moment you think
“Anything can happen,” that something bad could.

Just because it’s almost June and everything’s green,
every shade of green, just because the blue sky
is paint-chip sky-blue right overhead, even when
you’ve got Don Henley cranked on the radio,
you can glance in your rear view mirror and see
how the bright blue turns to pale blue and then haze
and then gray along the horizon.

You can see farms you can’t get to on Highway Z.
The people who live there are happy or sad.
But you’ll never get there. You’ll never know.

Coming home, you’ll stop at the T of Highway T and 23
and you’ll see Frank Lloyd Wright’s wind mill
and it won’t impress you this time. Not at all.
_____

I left Southern Illinois to go to graduate school in Missoula, Montana, and there met David Cates, who’d come from Spring Green, Wisconsin, where I live now.

Freaky.

His latest book is odd and beautiful and haunting and two trips to Dodgeville recently I really have felt as though I entered some sort of parallel universe. If you read the book now, there’s probably a silver station wagon taking a curve a little too fast. I’ll be waving.

The latest novel by David Cates (wonderful to read, odd to drive in)

The latest novel by David Cates (wonderful to read, odd to drive in)

Hamlet’s Back at Devil’s Lake

The actor playing him this summer’s there,
I mean to say. He likes to memorize
while hiking, where the purple quartzite shines
and the T-Rex headed vultures soar.
The rock he’s on is so much older than
the play he’s in. They’re metamorphic mirrors–
hard things from Shakespeare and tectonic shifting–
still shiny, still showing us us after years
and years, hundreds, and millions, a billion years.
It is time and timelessness. And time is time,
not out of joint, not yet, still gracious here.

He is morphing, but the actor is still Matt,
and this Prince of Denmark loves his dog.

(If only poor Ophelia’d had a cat.)

_____
Oh! I can’t wait to see Hamlet this summer–great fun to be had and heartache to be felt and always, always interesting to see a new actor take on the old speeches and give them to us new.

Which reminds me–I need to get all my tickets figured out! To the box office with me, anon!

If you haven’t already made your own plans, you really oughta go to American Players Theatre.

_____

(Apologies for the sprung rhyme scheme above. Once I’d thought of “If only poor Ophelia’d had a cat,” I couldn’t let it go. Fortunately “cat” rhymes with “Matt.” But “dog” is just hanging out there, not rhyming with anything. Yet. I might revise. In any case, I know Matt will take care of his dog. And dogs mostly don’t care about rhymes. Thanks, Matt, for letting me share the pics–especially the puppy one. How could anyone look at that picture and not smile?)

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Matt Schwader, appearing this summer in Hamlet.

Matt Schwader, appearing this summer in Hamlet.