The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

March 17, 2010

Blogging, ballet & beer — with a perturbed poetry mention

I remember when I used to blog.

I know, it’s been a while.  Coming up on a month, actually.  So many cool things to write about and yet I don’t seem to be doing my job.  When we left off, Bonnie and I were just returning from New York City where it was cold and all Alan Shore-y.  Oh yeah, and a nice man in a bar bought me a drink while I was talking to the Beer Doc on the phone.  That still feels good.  I went out to the Art Bar last night to check out the final poetry slam competition — scouting for an upcoming undefined poetry reading (and by the way, Chris McCormick was robbed!) — and couldn’t find anyone to go with, so I put on my big girl panties and went alone.  Lo and behold, another dude tried to buy me a drink while I was talking to my friend Gillian on the phone.  He was creepy though — cowboy hat creepy, to be precise — so I gave him the Nora look and moved into another room.  (The Nora look is this “eat shite you pathetic fool or I’ll burn your house down” snarl that is passed genetically through the Boiter side of my family.  My dead grandmother Nora had it, and my also late Dad had it, then me, then Bonnie.  Bonnie has actually perfected it — you’ve probably seen it before from one or both of us.)

  In the interim since my last post, the Beer Doc and I spent Spring Break doing some final research on NC and SC beer.  Actually, I’m working on a story for Sandlapper on SC micros and brewpubs — focusing on COAST beer in North Charleston — a wife/husband team who are brewing organic, environmentally conscious beer that absolutely rocks; RJ Rockers in Spartanburg — home of the Son of a Peach summertime sensation; Thomas Creek in Greenville — home of the Deep Water Double Bock which is sumptuous; the Aiken Brewpub, which is in Aiken; and our own local Hunter Gatherer — the place I keep calling “our” pub and for some reason, people who don’t know it think it belongs to us.  I tend to get a little proprietary, I guess.  People who don’t know the Cellar may think I own it, too. 

In any case, much has been written about beer lately and less about my beloved arts.  (No, I don’t own them — it’s a figure of speech.)  However, I have done a couple of reviews for the Free Times of local Columbia dance companies over the past few weeks.  Here’s the piece on Columbia Classical Ballet’s Aladdin, in case you missed it.

And I’ll try to be a better blogger in the future.

 

Issue #23.10 :: 03/10/2010 – 03/16/2010

Aladdin Gives us More — and Less — of What We Expect from Columbia Classical Ballet

BY CYNTHIA BOITER

   

Columbia Classical Ballet’s Aladdin presented itself last Friday at the Koger Center as something big — something spectacular. In many ways, the company met its objective. Resplendent costuming in shimmering warm shades; a multiplicity of dancers at various stages of training; informed choreography courtesy of the rare former dancer who actually knows how to choreograph; delicate women; threatening thieves; and a plethora of adorable children littering the stage.  There is no arguing — it was a big show.

Based ever-so-loosely on a Middle-Eastern folk tale taken from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (though the characters of Jasmine and a blue Genie do not appear in the story’s history until Walt Disney Pictures adapted the tale in 1992), Aladdin is a classic tale of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back and defeats the evil sorcerer with the help of a genie in a lamp. Choreographed by Classical Ballet resident choreographer Simone Cuttino — a John Cranko Ballet alum — the ballet Aladdin offers quite a lot of dancing.

In the first act, some might argue, it offers too much.

It’s not that exposition in a narrative ballet is a bad thing, but Act I could have used more of the fine-tuning — the winnowing out of superfluous movement and detail — that Act II demonstrated.

In a word, the first act was long.

That said, one of the most aesthetically pleasing parts of the ballet came in Scene Two when Aladdin, danced by Aoi Anraku (a Gold Prize winner in the All Japan Ballet Competition in Nagoya), encounters Lauren Frere’s Goddess of Diamonds and her accompanying attendants (danced by Anna Porter, Renata Franco, Kaori Yanagida, Akari Manabe and Dee Dee Rosner).  Though Anraku rarely demonstrated much commitment to his character, stepping in and out of choreography as if it were a series of disconnected exercises, the women accomplished their parts exquisitely.

It can also be argued that the ballet itself didn’t fully take off until the very end of Act I when the character of Jafar, danced by the Ukrainian Oleksandr Vykhrest — who heretofore had lacked the menacing energy one might expect from a villain — came alive with malice as he danced the lights down on the act. Once the ballet found itself, the remainder of the program was a delight.

The highlight of the night was the desert scene in Act II, when the company rallied to produce a mesmerizing scene of conspiracy and deception. Jasmine, danced by Kaleena Burks (former student of Magda Aunon and Magaly Suarez), demonstrated particularly stunning pointe work and arabesques while committing to her character in a manner she had previously yet to reveal. Vykhrest’s Jafar exhibited not just a capacity for peril, but also for affection, as he pined hopelessly for the princess. Kazuki Ichihashi, in the role of the Genie, might have relied excessively on his turns to wow the audience, but he executed them spectacularly. The lighting, courtesy of technical director and lighting designer Aaron Pelzek, painted the desert scene with subtle, yet beautiful changing hues suggesting the passage of time as the scene progressed.

Why did this simple scene with few props and no stage clutter satisfy so?

Because big isn’t always better. Give me the respect for the aesthetic of dance, the purity of exquisite technique, the confidence of simplicity audiences have come to expect from director Radenko Pavlovich’s classically trained and, usually, impeccably coached dancers, any day. My favorite Pavlovich productions are the ones with little production at all — beautiful, proficient dancers on a bare stage with nothing but a capable lighting director to illuminate their prowess.

We got to see a peek of this local treasure Friday night — but only a glimpse and not nearly enough to last until next season begins.             

Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

   

 

 

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January 6, 2010

McCormick, Hartvigsen, Buckner, Dickey — the art of the spoken word at FOM

I’m pretty excited about the presentation of spoken word art this Thursday night at Frame of Mind.  In addition to Cassie Premo Steele’s readings, which I recently told you about, three exceptional poets in their own rights will be sharing their work — and each has an impressive background in poetry with unique experiences to offer the listening audience.

In all likelihood, those of you who are into Columbia poetry will have already heard Christopher McCormick read.  Chris created the Art Bar’s VerseWorks poetry series back in September 2007 and, still today, Tuesday nights find Chris and his family of brethren and sister poets offering up the spoken word to the drunk and sober alike.    A self-professed combo meal of science nerd, IT geek, and  juggling poet, Chris is also a single father who still finds time to lead zombie parades about the city when the need arises.  Like many good poets, he has written all his life and even studied poetry under the late, great, and oh-so-straight James Dickey who, despite his bad comb over,  (I’m sorry — there’s a good comb over?), was the recipient of a number of honors including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Book Award, and an invitation to read his poem, The Strength of Fields, at the inauguration of my favorite president, Jimmy Carter.

According to Chris, who visits the Lord every Tuesday night during VerseWorks at Columbia’s Church of Free Speech, “I used to write to get the attention of girls.  Now I write because spoken word poetry is my favorite form of honesty — because I have found a true diversity and acceptance in this community that doesn’t exist anywhere else.  Oh, and also to get the attention of girls.”

What say Ladies?  Let’s give the boy what he’s looking for on  Thursday night at FOM.

~~~~~

Kristine Hartvigsen came to poetry later in life, having her first poem published in Brett Bursey and Becci Robbins’ The Point, in 1993.  Like Chris, Kristine also developed a relationship with the Art Bar and took over hosting their Open Mic poetry nights from 1997 – 1999, during which time she also published a monthly newsletter for poetry called Aurora Borealis. Since then, Kristine has built a career in prose, serving as editor of South Carolina Business Magazine and Lake Murray – Columbia Magazine, in addition to single parenting her exceedingly creative son, Colin.  A regular by night at local readings, Kristine spends her days fighting the good fight for the environment as marketing communications manager for the South Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.  I can’t wait to hear what she brings to the event on Thursday.

~~~~~

The final poet offering up her wares of words is Zen massage therapist, Melissa Buckner.  Poetry has been a part of Melissa’s life as long as she can remember, her first poetry seeing print in the USC -Sumter literary magazine, Sandhill. Hiker, songstress, Usui Reiki healer, Melissa describes herself as a Bohemian hippie living the life she wants to live.  She spent five years living in Prague, learning the Czech language while teaching English as a second language to impressionable Czech youth.  It was during her ex-pat days that Melissa published her first book of poetry, Little Bruises and Bits of Jade.

Here is one of my favorite poems from that collection —

~~

Yes, It’s Me

by Melissa Buckner

~

yes, it’s me

whispering poetry

slipping lines fluidly

one by one

counting lips

strands of silken

sleepy halo

speaking to each

curling sigh

~

calming skin

wishing words

spread willing

beneath

~

forefinger crisp and pink

smile closing upon the spine

knuckles kneading a song

~

one in two part harmony

swoon

I pretend to rest

~~~~~

Looking forward to seeing your smiling faces on Thursday night for Susan Lenz, Cassie Premo Steele, Chris, Kristine, & Melissa, and Heidi Carey playing the cello.

~

Until then — here is James Dickey’s poem delivered in honor of President Carter.

~

The Strength of Fields

by James L. Dickey

… a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power and a life-enhancing return …

Van Gennep: Rites de Passage
Moth-force a small town always has,
Given the night.
What field-forms can be,
Outlying the small civic light-decisions over
A man walking near home?
Men are not where he is
Exactly now, but they are around him    around him like the strength
Of fields.    The solar system floats on
Above him in town-moths.
Tell me, train-sound,
With all your long-lost grief,
what I can give.
Dear Lord of all the fields
what am I going to do?
Street-lights, blue-force and frail
As the homes of men, tell me how to do it    how
To withdraw    how to penetrate and find the source
Of the power you always had
light as a moth, and rising
With the level and moonlit expansion
Of the fields around, and the sleep of hoping men.
You?    I?    What difference is there?    We can all be saved
By a secret blooming. Now as I walk
The night    and you walk with me    we know simplicity
Is close to the source that sleeping men
Search for in their home-deep beds.
We know that the sun is away    we know that the sun can be conquered
By moths, in blue home-town air.
The stars splinter, pointed and wild. The dead lie under
The pastures.    They look on and help.    Tell me, freight-train,
When there is no one else
To hear. Tell me in a voice the sea
Would have, if it had not a better one: as it lifts,
Hundreds of miles away, its fumbling, deep-structured roar
Like the profound, unstoppable craving
Of nations for their wish.
Hunger, time and the moon:
The moon lying on the brain
as on the excited sea    as on
The strength of fields. Lord, let me shake
With purpose.    Wild hope can always spring
From tended strength.    Everything is in that.
That and nothing but kindness.    More kindness, dear Lord
Of the renewing green.    That is where it all has to start:
With the simplest things. More kindness will do nothing less
Than save every sleeping one
And night-walking one
Of us.

My life belongs to the world. I will do what I can.


January 1, 2010

The New Year, Cassie Premo Steele, The Poemgranate, & my favorite poem from Ruin

Educator, author, creativity coach, and poet, Cassie Premo Steele has a multitude of gifts that she generously shares with her community, near and far.  Next Thursday night, January 7th, Cassie will be the featured poet reading a selection of her poetry as part of the entertainment component of the FOM series on Main Street.  Her work will focus on relationships and intimate issues — such as parenthood, marriage, and family & work struggles — and she’ll be reading and signing her books at 7:30 pm.  Poets Melissa Buckner, Kristine Hartvigsen, and Chris McCormick will be reading at 6:30 and 8:30 pm, as well.

Cassie’s poem, The Poemgranate, was recently nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize. The first time I heard this poem, the author was standing on the front porch at Muddy Ford on a cold and drizzly autumn day, speaking the words intimately to our group of 8 women who were participants in the first Women Writing Naturally Workshop.  The day was all crisp and spicy and promising despite the gray dormancy of the woods around us.  After the reading, Cassie broke apart a pomegranate and shared seeds with all of us, then invited us each to commit our seeds to the ground with our own personal wishes and blessings.  If you can imagine how special that moment in time was for our small group, you’ll know how important it is that you come and hear Cassie read next week.  Here is the poem below.

~~~

The Poemgranate
By Cassie Premo Steele

It is fall, the time after the beginning.
Not spring, not one thing in its infancy.
No fantasy of pregnancy or baby again.

I am in a hotel room, far from home.
Next door a baby cries. The mama
Coos her sweet southern comfort.

I did this with you, when you were young.
I ran like Persephone, but with a baby,
Smoky Mountains, New Mexico plains,

Boston, and beaches—we’ve seen the insides
Of hotel rooms turned tombs as I tried
To get what all mothers want, peace

And quiet. I would put you on the floor,
My lily, my orchid, my crocus, let you
Play with plastic cups, suck from multiple

Bottles, anything for one moment
When I could look away without fear
Of falling or choking or hurt.

It is fall, the time after the beginning.
Not spring, not one thing in its infancy.
No fantasy of pregnancy or baby again.

You are no baby anymore, at eight
You have fallen from grace
Many times—not from your mother

But from yourself, which is worse.
I mourn like Demeter, even though
You are still here. You inherited

More than my eyes: my vision,
My moods, my hungers, my cycles
And sins. They live in your skin.

You told me last week you had waited
For thousands of years in the sky
For a mother who would take you in.

Me, I said, smiling, I was the best one.
And then you stuck in the pin: No,
You were the only one to be so dumb.

It is fall, the time after the beginning.
Not spring, not one thing in its infancy.
No fantasy of pregnancy or baby again.

I have no flowers to welcome you back,
No seeds to plant, no chants to make
You whole again. I am human.

Not a goddess with magic or power
To create seasons that mirror
My immense sorrow, your great need.

All I can do is to feed my desire
For solitude, find a way back
To myself through these words

That I harvest like fruits, plucked
From my head, cut open in bed,
And eaten, forbidden or not.

Seeds and core, peel and stem, entire.
It is with this poemgranate that I might
Make myself, mother, whole again.

~~~

Cassie is also the author of five books, one if which is Ruin. Here is my favorite poem from that collection.

~

What Woods

by Cassie Premo Steele

~

What woods are these, that would begin

with this bitchy little seed, so ferocious?

What good is this mean tree that tries

to cut my fingers until they bleed?

Podlike I crawl back into the earth’s

prehistoric sandied shore, and let her take these

teeth from me, let her keep me

from biting back, or biting more.

There I listen, earlike, for the crowned

dawn so I can emerge from this

horrible beginning, so I can split

from my nightmare heritage

and learn to stand where I belong.

~~~

For more information on Cassie, to follow her blog, listen to her radio show, or order books that you may have signed at the FOM event, visit the following link:  http://www.cassiepremosteele.com


December 22, 2009

Reflections brought to you by Susan Lenz and FOM, with Cassie Premo Steele, Melissa Buckner, Kristine Hartvigsen, & Chris McCormick plus Treadmill Trackstar’s Heidi Carey

If you’re like me, it’s hard to think about anything but Christmas these days — wrapping, eating, unwrapping, eating some more.  But the calendar does go on after Christmas Eve, and just two weeks beyond today, there’s an arts event you want to go ahead and mark on your calendars.  I’m particularly partial to this event because I got to help put it together and, consequently, I get to show off some of my favorite people whose works help make your city such a great place to live.

I’m talking about the January edition of Mark Plessinger’s FOM series — titled for this month only, Reflections.

(I know it’s a little trite and constructed to always make January the month for contemplation, assessment, and resolutions.  But given that our culture is, in so many ways, devoid of these very necessary components to a healthy and happy life, I say, take it where and when you can find it.)

Frame of Mind’s  featured artist for the month of January is Columbia’s own internationally renowned fiber artist, Susan Lenz.  Susan, who references herself as a contemporary embroiderer (a term which seems too limiting for the magic this woman comes up with to me), brings us creations like art quilts, amazingly symmetrical bowls made from acorn caps and moss, embellished images of graves she has hand rubbed onto silken cloths, beautiful found objects captured onto unique canvasses — the kind of thing that puts the art into artifact.

In the days to come, I’ll be writing more about this upcoming event — telling you more about what to expect from Susan’s show, and offering a bit of information about the performance art scheduled for that evening.  But here’s a preview — Cassie Premo Steele reading her poetry and signing and selling books, with additional poetry readings by Melissa Buckner, Kristine Hartvigsen, and Christopher McCormick.  And when these guys aren’t enlightening you, Treadmill Trackstar’s own Heidi Carey will be serenading us with her sweet cello sounds, persuading us all to look inward a little — to reflect.

Sounds like a lovely night — and a wonderful way to start the new year in Columbia arts.

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