Tag Archives: spring green wisconsin

Genius Loci: the Sh*tty Barn

Some time-traveling incarnation of Ma Rainey possessed by Brian Eno,
serving the cooked and the raw, together, straight up—
that’s the guiding spirit of the Sh*tty Barn.

Here’s what we got going in Spring Green, Wisconsin right now: the nights are colder, the leaves are changing, a lot of the architects are heading to Arizona next week, but there are 10 days left of up-the-hill shows at APT, three and half more weeks at the Touchstone, and a full month of Sh*tty Barn sessions left to go. I can still pretend it’s summer, at least for a while.

Bessie Smith sang, “I hate to see that evening sun go down” in “St. Louis Blues.” I would sing, “I hate to see the Autumn Equinox.” Dark and getting darker, that’s where we are, so I rely on these local portkeys to take me somewhere else–somewhere midterms and winter aren’t on the way.

I can’t tell you how special the Sh*tty Barn is to me. Nowhere else did it make sense to perform something that I didn’t even know what to call. Not a poetry reading. Not a verse play. So what was it, in the end?

A special night, or, as one of my students told me today, “It was dope.” One terrific director, David Daniel, took a big schmear of narrative poems and shaped them into a narrative that worked on stage.

David working with Nate.

Three terrific actors–how lucky am I? Terrific venue, grants from the Spring Green Area Arts Coalition and the Sauk County Good Idea Grants program, all benefits of this wonderful place. The poet Honor Moore said Spring Green seemed to have some kind of special vortex going on–or maybe I said that and she agreed–in any case, this is a special place, with special people here for a good long while, or just a brief passing through. (You can see David, Sarah, and Nate a few more times yet this season at APT.)

Here’s Sarah Day, as Elizabeth, a character I wrote with her in mind–she’s reading from a book of poems called Speakeasy Love Hard:

Sarah reacting to Nate singing.

Here’s Ashleigh LaThrop as May, who is certainly the guiding spirit of Speakeasy Love Hard, but I think May’s also secretly the poet of it all:

Ashleigh’s sweet smile.

Here’s Nate Burger, just absolutely nailing a poem after the intermission. It’s called “Mobius Strip of a Man.” Did I mention he nailed it? He just nailed it.

Nate reading “Mobius Strip of a Man.”

Also on the list of my luckiness–being married to a man who can take such fantastic pictures.

After they’d finished Speakeasy Love Hard, Sarah asked if it was all right. “You’re scowling,” she said. I hope I conveyed sufficiently how wonderful it was (IT WAS WONDERFUL), that the look on my face is how I look when my mind is blown. Do playwrights ever get used to hearing their words come out of the mouths of amazing actors?

I feel as though a nuclear reaction has gone off in Gashouse Love, the play that needed Speakeasy Love Hard. No wonder the look on my face was intense, and not just blissed out (though I was feeling the bliss just as much). I have a lot of processing to do.

Will I be lucky enough to work more with these people in this place?

So grateful to the universe that it happened this one time. It was dope.

This Is Just to Say Whatever Comes to Mind

Small-town newspapers, where they still exist, are a precious treat. In Spring Green, Wisconsin, we get The Home News, “the only newspaper in the whole, wide world that cares about the River Valley area” every Wednesday. Of course, The Voice of the River Valley, a free monthly, also implicitly cares (though that’s not on its masthead). This past month The Voice had poems (in honor of National Poetry Month) and has regularly carried poems in the past. One of the things I enjoyed about the Home News’ former editor, in addition to his progressive politics and weekly editorials featuring his dog, was his willingness to publish poetry on the editorial page. He was following a long tradition. According to Mike Chasar (whose blog I like and whose book I want),

“through most of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth…amateur poets hotly debated issues of abolition and women’s suffrage in verse form, writing their poems quickly in response not only to the day’s current events but also to the specific ideas and claims put forth in the previous day’s poems. As recently as the mid-1950s, in fact, the New York Times was in the habit of printing poems alongside letters to the editor on its opinion pages, making little or no distinction between the two.”

The fact that I am able to quote at length from Chasar’s article, entitled “Writing Good Bad Poetry,” which appeared in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers magazine in 2008, is the result of an argument I lost (am losing). “We do NOT need to keep all these,” I’ve insisted repeatedly to my husband over the years about the boxes and boxes of magazines. But my school library doesn’t subscribe to Poets & Writers, and there aren’t very many articles archived online, so when I remembered the article & looked it up in the database at school, I could have ordered a copy of the article on interlibrary loan. Or I could do what I did, come home and find it.

The willingness to wait a few more days
To get what I wanted from interlibrary loan
Would free up so much square footage in my home
That I could house a family of refugees.
But I’m married to a pack rat. I am one, too.
It’s just I used to purge more often. He won’t.
Or rather, he seldom does. We never do
Much of anything until we absolutely must.
In preparing for a visit from the appraiser this spring
We both set to work cleaning and organizing
And yes, purging. The appraiser was the amiable dad
Of a former student of mine. He and my husband had
A rambling talk. Appraised well, we locked in three percent.
We’re not an episode of “Hoarders.” At least not yet.

Chasar recounts writing poetry for Iowa City’s Press-Citizen in response to an editor’s request. The editor was wanting something “akin to what George Orwell called ‘good bad novels,’ which the author defined as fiction that doesn’t aspire to official literary greatness but that is nonetheless skillfully and admirably written for the purposes or entertainment or political effect.” He analyzes some of the poems that got printed there and discusses what they did and didn’t accomplish, what “good bad poetry” in the newspaper can and can’t accomplish in general, and concludes the article by pretty much bragging that if nothing else, publishing poems in the paper got him a free beer.

When I include poems in my blog, my pay scale is even lower than Chasar’s (he wrote them for free), because no one’s bought me a beer as yet.

(Consider this a bald plea for a Furthermore or Lake Louie.)

So why do it?

Some of it’s inexplicable: I don’t really know why I write. I don’t really know why I’m compelled to share what I write (although every other memoirist and confessional poet understands why I feel copacetic about sharing my life with strangers).

I do know why I love sonnets, through which I record the world and process the world fairly often. Bob Wrigley once called sonnets the most anal-retentive form in the English language. In one way, you might think sonnets are the anti-clutter form, since you’re limited to a certain number of beats and lines (Song of Myself or Howl being the ultimate hoarder poems). But I think of a sonnet more as a phenomenally well-designed closet. You can pack an awful lot in there. And given the existence of sonnet series, and crowns of sonnets, and George Meredith’s 15-line sonnets, it’s an ever-expandable closet.

I could say I like posting poems in blogs because they encapsulate and elevate my everyday existence.

And if that’s true, it also explains why I don’t mind that the poems I post there aren’t even trying to be my best poems. Not art, necessarily. To chronicle the everyday, I have to write every day. And post every day. (Or as close to it as I can get—can I substitute everyfewdays as a synonym? My everyfewdays existence?) Other than minor tinkering, there’s not a whole of revision that can happen in that scenario.

Ron Wallace published a terrific book with the best sonnets from his project of writing a sonnet a day for a year–but he revised a lot to get to the book, The Uses of Adversity.

In general, I think art takes revision.

This is not all merely to say that when I look back at “Metaphors: A Semester” I pretty much go “meh,” although that is pretty much what I go. I suppose in that sense the five stanzas were art imitating life because “meh” was how I was feeling about the semester at that point, but we don’t really want art imitating life in those moments, now do we.

This is just to say–wait! Where have I heard that before?

And thus the most compelling question I can think of at the moment (other than the whole “What’s cooler? Mod Squad or Starsky & Hutch?” conversation we had at supper) is this:

If all our favorite poets had blogged, what would they have posted?

For better or worse, I feel certain Robert Lowell would have posted EVERYTHING. With him in mind, let me just say that I hope some of my blog poems, eventually, could end up in my own Life Studies. Until then, you know where to find them.