Saturday, March 31, 2012

Certified Lunatic and Master of the Impossible Tomas Kubinek

Certified Lunatic and Master of the Impossible 
 Tomas Kubinek
March 29- April Fool’s Day (April 1)
Presented by ArtsEmerson
Playing at the Paramount Center
559 Washington Street, Boston, MA

For information and tickets:

By Amy R. Tighe

(The notes I scribbled in the dark during the performance say “laughter was held tenderly in the room.”)
Sell that old silver tea pot and that vintage Hawaiian shirt (yes I know you look great in it) and take the grandkids and also every other kid you know and your auntie too and go see this show. Right now. It’s only here this weekend and you need it now. I’m sorry. Ditch the brunch party. Better yet, take the entire brunch gang. Just go alone or do what some unrenowned Emerson student did—he or she gave 10 tickets to the local Boys and Girls Club and helped kids get hungry for real art and then- amazingly—let them be completely served by Tomas Kubinek, Certified Lunatic, Master of the Impossible and most definitely, an artist to experience. In his opening remarks, Rob Orchard, Executive Director of ArtsEmerson, movingly reminds us that budgets for the arts are being cut everywhere. Tonight, we see what we could lose and also, what could be ours to reclaim.

There is a song called “The Road I Took to You” by Barbara Keith that says “the way back home to me is the road I took to you.” An evening with Tomas Kubinek could be called “the Clown I Took to You” because he brings us back home to what it means to be human, together in a human crowd, completely present to the enormous human possibility we each have. This is NOT a return to the nostalgia of vaudeville although there are charming and compelling moments of that. It is NOT quaint. It is NOT cute. It is a forecast to what happens when an artist brings a disparate community together where wonder and laughter are our founding members.

On the subway, on my way home, I suddenly realized there were no t-shirts, no plastic cups, no overpriced brochures. No dolls. There was nothing for my 9 year old niece to drool over. There was just my heart opening. This is NOT Disney on ice. This is gazing into the edges of humanity and creativity and having a guide who loves you and loves humanity at the same time, and on your time, wants to play. With you. Okay, that may sound grandiose, especially when you consider there are only a few props, one man and bad chicken jokes. But I come home empty handed and mind fed. How did that happen?

Tomas Kubinek was about 4 when he saw his first circus. At age 9, he performed in front of a council of magicians and at 13, acquired an agent. He has been performing ever since. He is both ethereal and pedestrian, truly a magical combination. Born in Prague, escaped to and raised in Canada, Kubinek studied every magician, clown and circus act his parents allowed. He has spent his lifetime learning from international masters and performing on the world’s stage.

My knees are pretty much the same age as his and yet, his knees speak Wikipedias about the power and delight a career focused on being simply human brings. He does a dance with his knees and six shoes which seem impossible, and yet as he does it, he acts as if it’s the easiest and most enjoyable dance anyone could ever do. I want lessons. Don’t worry, I already have the shoes.

Like any good street performer, Kubinek gets members of the audience to play. One man, over 50, comes up on stage and in front of a full theatre, transforms into a master acrobat under Kubinek’s safe guidance. At the end of the trick, he is asked “Did you ever think you could do that?” And the man says quietly, “No. Never.” We are stunned. We saw him do it. He was amazing.

By now, we have all been transformed into Kubinek’s playmates and the Paramount has become our beloved playground. After the performance, Kubinek comes out to the front of the stage and welcomes visitors, talks to all of us, and engages respectfully with the children who come to ask him their wide-eyed “How did you do thats?”

This is also why the performance is remarkable. The audience was composed of a healthy number of children, the adults that love them, regular theatre goers, students and other clowns. And somehow, through Kubinek’s generous mastery, we were all included in this evening of intelligent, fortifying and inspiring play. The children in the audience got to see adults happily play. The adults got to see children learning from another human. (I asked the 11 year olds next to me what they thought. They had told me before the show that they loved their computer games, but afterwards, they thought he was totally awesome and made them want to learn magic.)

We all got to be a part of the play.
Go see it. Bring whomever you can. And welcome home.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Swimming In A Southern Reservoir by Laverne Firth

Swimming In A Southern Reservoir
            by Laverne Firth  $12

Review by Alice Weiss

            As a reader who spent half her adult life in Louisiana, Laverne Firth’s poems were a call to homesickness and desire.  The poet cast me back to tender awful moments, for example, suffering through  the “Southern Summer,” 
                        our stickiness
                        carried over into humid nights. . .
                        we crossed our fingers
                        wished . . .that quickly
                        time would claim the season.
or in “The Fill of Summer,” “rustlings in the grass, and the havey breathing/ we always take for granted.”
The poems evoke the simple  tropes of Southern rural experience, porches, circling chicken hawks, singing through rows of cotton, but they also  rise past the conventions of Southern writing because
they are populated with family, growing boys, Deacons, and singers.  Of aunts on the porch (I count five in the poem),” Distances,” Aunts seem to crowd on a porch. The poem is structured  according to their birth order.  The youngest, who speaks of men, the two oldest who do not, and “Two aunts sandwiched in between/start an argument.  A frog is heard,/ loud, near.”  A speaker,a little boy is listening and doesn’t quite get what’s going on . . .”Things become complex.”  It is a poem where the title seems to pinch all our perceptions with irony of the distances living close creates. 
            Further, I find the In addition, Firth manages to portray the  struggles  Black families endure in the context of institutional racism with amazing grace.  In the voice of mourners at the funeral of  a woman in “Everybody Was Impressed,”

            She must have been happy  how could she
            have not been so after nine birthings, sixty years

            of heavy domestic service, most of it in the best
            of homes,

and in “From the Time I was Born” singing through the wounds, and miseries,

             for my chance to breathe. . .

            My grandmother sang and sang and sang
            through the rows of cotton, through the
            two hundred pounds she would pick in one day.

We are conviced that “From the time that [he} was born, [he] knew singing.”

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Review of POETICA MAGAZINE, CONTEMPORARY JEWISH WRITING, SPRING 2012,, PO Box 11014, Norfolk, Virginia 23517, one-year subscription $19.50, Editor-in-Chief, Michal Mahgerefteh

Review by Barbara Bialick, author of TIME LEAVES

I just gave POETICA a great report on their Holocaust edition. But this issue is a little more elusive as it is a “general” issue filled with Jewish voices rising just above

stereotyped or “typical” to fresher modern wordplay, as in “A Supermarket Sonnet” by Ehud Sela:

“Today by the produce section/an old man sneezed a few times/...Disturbing infused sounds/From overhead speakers/And squeaking carts, rusting/at metal wheels, pushed/By elder Jewish women, crooked/By time-lost calcium,/And their sight/Glazed by a cataract’s veil…”

Also clothed in newer imagery is “Zachrenu L’Chaim (Remember Us Unto Life)” by Beth SK Morris:

“I still see him walking/in that pigeon-toed gait/the old sprinter with a high hurdler’s grace/ ‘Keep going’/…feel his strong hands/lifting me out of the dirt and glass/in an open field where I’d gone down/trying to ride my bike too fast/’Don’t Worry’/…but I can’t recall his voice--/his pitch his rate the pattern of his speech/Why are the other memories so clear when/the sound of his voice is just out of reach?/’Soon Enough’”

There are 41 poets represented in this issue as well as beautiful cover art depicting scenes from Israel in hues of turquoise, green and pink, “Dreams of Israel” by Melanie Lewis, that would make the curious reader want to grab a copy.

Meanwhile, bordering near “typical” yet with the twist of visiting New Jersey from out in Oregon, is “Challah in New Jersey” by Lois Rosen, which rises above the familiar east coast Jewish family dinner. “Yearly pilgrimage east from Oregon/to the old ways: Marian, the linear napkin/on her hair darker brown than the crust/…We slow down to savor the egginess, the hint/of honey that continues dissolving in your mouth…”

For anyone interested in reading a good literary journal with Jewish themes,

POETICA would make a good gift subscription.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lorca at Sevilla By B.Z. Niditch

Lorca at Sevilla                                                    (B.Z. Niditch)

By B.Z. Niditch

March Street Press

Greensboro NC

ISBN: 1-59661-169-3

65 pages


Review by Dennis Daly

These poems by B.Z. Niditch roll in at you like ocean waves with the incoming tide, one after the other, inexorably, reinforcing the poet’s internal imagery with an insomniac’s edgy persistence. Even the cover portrait of Frederico Garcia Lorca is repeated as the title page and again appears after the table of contents.

As a matter of fact, one of the poems in this attractive book entitled Memory is printed twice, first on page 16 and then again on page 64. I suspect this is simply a production error. Nevertheless, the logic of printing this particular poem twice does make odd sense, given its title and context.

Many of the poetic images also repeat, but with different twists and varying impacts. In the poem, The Disappearance, an anonymous child vanishes along with all connections to civilization,

the child disappeared

as the lasting echo

trembled in the wind

she or he was

as anonymous

as war itself

a town vanished

along with

an empty room,

an unmade bed,


Yes, the sunglasses especially; the smallest details of human life have vanished from the landscape. Not surprisingly, the very sex of the child is undetermined in this wartime mystery.

The persona in the poem Missing Person has taken to sleepwalking.  Madness has supplanted humanity as he looks forward to deal with the reality of death. Even the sirens of memory are powerless over this morbid meditation,

With sleepwalking


daily nightmares cut off

infantilized cries

of every motioning memory…

Under the Marquee uses memory as a time machine to deliver the human reality of seemingly past, but still anticipated, moments,

beneath an oversized dark sky

waiting up for you

expecting your flattery

to make us human

if memory holds up.

As in this poem, Dictation, memories dictate the future and sometimes the future is not very pleasant,

…the pitiable

are hungry and cold

among grim neighborhoods

the future is crowded

with written promises

of wretched memory

on stone tablets…

Another disappearance takes place in the poem Absentia,

Fixing his torn scarf,

clothing words

in an open notebook

for a season

of scattered winds,

he forgets the universe,

and disappears.

Sleeplessness, bemoaned throughout this book, finds eloquence in this poem called Sleepless Poet,

you taste

a murdered blood orange

in the cool air

trying to capture

the A.M.

after hours…

In Mondrian Niditch speaks of the insomnia of the painter as part of a way of life, almost necessary to his art,

your painting disguises

then reinvents

an edgy maze

on a blinded surface

with an orange wash

along Dutch parchment

reminding the marred canvas

of dismantled visions

in your sleepless limbs

shaped by solitude

and traces of reveries.

The fears, the secrecy, and again the anonymity are palpable in Niditch’s poem, Budapest. I like this poem a lot. It not only touches on his continuing themes but it seems to add depth to the collection as a whole.  Here shadows from before wartime proliferate. The “lumps of sugar” in the last stanza really work for me,

Since I cannot

wake you

our fears

are battlefields

of a distant green

and we like angels

fallen in to lumps of sugar

only speak gravely

when the matre d’ leaves

Off the Cape combines a number of marine images to make the conditional point of nature’s enmity to man.  Between the morning’s coldness, the impotence of sails, and the jelly fish I’m convinced. The reddened sun desiring my friendship doesn’t warm me up.

The last poem in the book, Waiting Room, is Niditch’s masterwork. Like a number of his nature poems it is set in winter, only this time inside a hospital perhaps. It is the opposite of claustrophobic. There are empty chairs, that feeling of absence again, corridors that go on and on, and mirrors. There are white walls inside and there is snow outside. A Dali green vase with dried flowers sits strangely there. The poem ends with drama,

wishing to escape

on any trolley,

with an apple croissant

when my initials are called.

There is no unscathed exit this time from that drab institutional universe.  Timing is everything. Niditch understands this and writes about it in this book as well as any poet I know.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sophocles' Ajax A modern translation Dennis Daly

Sophocles' Ajax
A modern translation
Dennis Daly
Wilderness House Press 2012
ISBN 978-0-9827115-6-9

“Athena! How happy I am to hear
your voice. The voice which of all
the gods is dearest to me.”

In the year 1980, restoration of the Sistine Chapel was
painstakingly begun. The general and not so general
public was dismayed by the clarity, the bright simple
colors that appeared from underneath the patina. We, as
an audience, to the masters paintings, fresco, thought
the build-up of dirt and dust that lay on the surface of
the fresco, was intentional and that the artist Michelangelo,
intended the effect that was being viewed. Perhaps, one
might view it as a natural intention and that would then
result in the decline of the pigment originally painted.
Personally, I reveled in the clean, unearthed images
in wonderful coral and blue pigments.

Daly's translation is indeed modern, not contemporary, but
modern in relating an ancient story/play that was meant
to be read and heard by a then modern audience. We being
the modern audience can now read what was then modern:


… “I am on the trail
Of Ajax, possessor of the seven-fold
Shield. I've been following him for hours.
Last night he carried out an incredible
Attack against us. Or at least we think
It was he. The facts at this point are still
Not very clear. I have offered to track down
The perpetrator of the deed and discover
His motive. This much we know: our Trojan spoils,
All of our cattle and sheep, were found
Butchered this morning...”

After the controversy of the restoration of the Sistine
ceiling was lain aside, tourists once again gazed at a
masterpiece, in the knowledge, that what was being
seen, was indeed, the original Michelangelo.

Can we ever know, truly, if  Sophocles meant what
any translation tries to translate? My criteria for any
given translation is, is that the story or the play I'm
reading, is relate-able to my present or past circumstances
or experiences or to my cultural experiences. The trans-
lation needs to relate to the culture at hand, otherwise it
become lost in translation:


I know of none greater. He is
My enemy and I hate him, yet I
Pity him also for his helplessness
In the face of misfortune and the shame,
The awful shame he will feel. For this touches
My condition as well. Are we-all living
Beings-mere phantoms, a moment's shadow?”

Daly has cleared away all the debris that so often falls onto
translations, that has fallen onto so many ancient plays. In
the introduction to Ajax, Daly writes.... “In Ajax, madness
leads to shame and shame leads to self-knowledge and
nobility...”  We come to a better understanding of
Sophocles, and his intentions in Ajax, because of the translation.
An account of nobility after a long traverse into madness,
the characters emerge clean, refreshed in understanding
the human directives as well as the feminine, higher voice,
Athena, that the characters participate with. The readers will
revel in the clear language and hear their own voices:


...O brother, let me
Lift you off this accursed weapon
Which boasts even now of your stolen breathe.
Did you guess that Hector, although gone
Before you, would be the parent of this deed?
How strange the fortune of these two men!
With the same girdle that Ajax had given him,
Hector was dragged to death under the wheels
Of Achilles' chariot. And this hateful sword
On which Ajax fell and died was a gift
From Hector. Only a Fury could have forged
This blade! Only the grim artisan
Of Hades contrived that girdle! These things
Like all others which torment men's lives...”

We the reader are in view of a great masterpiece, un-
covered, after many long years in obscurity, uncovered
after being buried beneath scholarship and rhetoric,
we the general populace, now get the gift of being
able to participate in this passionate work of art:


The matter of life a man may see
And from it learn a wisdom.
But who has sight enough
To envision the future
Or perceive his own fate?”

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor: Wilderness House Literary Review
Reviewer: Ibbetson Street Press

Sunday, March 25, 2012

FOUND IN TRANSLATION: Emerson Reading Series Presents the Pains and Pleasures of the Impossible Art

FOUND IN TRANSLATION: Emerson Reading Series Presents
the Pains and Pleasures of the Impossible Art

by Michael T. Steffen

     The Bright Family Screening Room drew nearly a full house last evening (3/12) for The Art of Translation, an evening in the Spring 2012 Emerson College Reading Series. And for good reasons. The topic is inexhaustibly interesting, and the participants, all familiar to the reading public, were generous, insightful and engaging.

     Each of the panelists were bound to address the difficulties of translation—or, one step further, the impossibility of a foolproof translation respecting the original’s multiple texts (pretext, subtext, context, para-text…), its nuances along with its literal sense.

At the same time, each of them agreed the nail-biting, hair-pulling endeavor of making a best translation (poet Michael Palma said, “It takes a hell of a nerve to do this kind of thing”) was, and each of them used the word, “pleasurable.”

     We were privileged to listen to DAVID FERRY at first lull us with talk about the inevitable differences between Latin and English, their syntactic estrangements, anapests and trochees, iambs and whatnot, only to burst into a passionate reading of Horace’s 

“O navis, referent in mare te novi/fluctus, o quid agis!” (“O ship, o battered ship, the backward running waves/Are taking you out to sea again! O what to do?”)

     Ferry spoke of the importance of “hearing” the cadences of urgency in the original, lingering on the Latin “fluctus, o quid agis!,” and suggested how he found his English equivalent in the exclamatory voice.

     MICHAEL PALMA, who has won awards bringing modern Italian poets to readers of English as well as putting out a fully rimed translation of Dante’s Inferno, argued on behalf of the “poetry” of poetry, its musical qualities, its rhythms and resonances as being every bit as important as its images and literal meanings. Palma spoke of Robert Frost’s famous definition: “Poetry is what gets lost in translation”; yet held firm that “good translators are good poets first,” and citing the artistry of Richard Wilbur’s work in formal renditions of formal poems, commented that “a good translation must be able to stand as a good poem on its own.” He aptly illustrated his argument: When he paraphrases passages from Shakespeare for his students, they often ask him why Shakespeare hadn’t just written it out that way to begin with…

     What reaction would we have to Ariel’s song, “Full fathom five thy father lies/Of his bones are coral made/Those are pearls that were his eyes…” if it had been written out as—

                        Your father’s corpse is gathering coral
                        about 8 or so meters underwater off the coast
                        and his faded eyeballs look sort of like pearls… ?

PETER FILKINS, a poet and translator of poetry in his own right, brought variety to the evening by discussing his work translating the novels of H.G. Adler, and “the unseen, invisible problems of translation.” It was eye-opening to hear Filkins point out the difficult task of “developing a voice” and maintaining “a consistent sense of tone and meaning” throughout a long narrative, while respecting the speaker’s unique character and point of view. With his colleagues, Filkins agreed that translation is full of thorns, yet pointed out that the problems of translation in particular made it a pleasurable pursuit.

     SHEILA FISHER, a scholar and author on Medieval and Renaissance studies, including The Selected Canterbury Tales: A New Verse Translation, made the ironic admission that she “translated English into English.” It bothered her that Chaucer wasn’t getting as much attention in the classrooms as Shakespeare and Homer, believing this so due to the difficulties of Chaucer’s Middle English (“So pricketh hem Nature in hir corages”). Alone amid her panelists, it was Fisher’s task to keep the original as present as possible in the translation, which led her through no fewer quandaries. Yet like Filkins, Fisher revealed the delight she found in working such problems as “brood, a thikke knarre” out as “and broad, a thick-thewed thug.”

     Many young faces were among the audience at The Paramount Center, aspiring writers and creditable students who were told how good a tool translation is in developing their own sense of the possibilities of language. David Ferry, elsewhere, has commented that the impossibility of getting a translation right has led him to much closer readings of texts than he would have had otherwise. And Sheila Fisher spoke of the “zillion tiny choices” translation confronts the writer with.
     So the evening came—time flying in the fun we were having—to what seemed an abrupt halt. So much having been said, with so much left to say: the original referable dilemma of translation.

     The Emerson College Spring 2012 Reading Series concludes with a reading by the poet CARL PHILLIPS on April 11 at 6:00 p.m. It will be held in the Bright Family Screening Room, 4th floor at The Paramount Center, 559 Washington Street in Boston.