Friday, February 26, 2021

How To Wash A Heart By Bhanu Kapil

 

How To Wash A Heart

By Bhanu Kapil

Liverpool University Press

www.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk

ISBN: 978-1-789-62168-6

52 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly


Hospitality confers a plethora of emotions upon both host and guest. Some of these sensations, like empathy and gratitude, seem obvious. Others, like intrusiveness and resentment, seem less so. Cultural hospitality evolved historically as a survival trait, inhabiting the very center of tribal society. In her new collection of poems, How to Wash a Heart, Bhanu Kapil examines this interesting phenomenon with intimacy and tough-mindedness.


Nothing, if not original, Kapil sets her collection up in five sections of eight untitled poems apiece. The compositions are twenty lines long in the first section and twenty-two lines in the remaining four. She telescopes in and out, engaging in stories, images, scenes, and speculations of an Indian immigrant. Most of the lines are short and they work well lending emphasis and exposing drama.


Kapil is not the protagonist, yet the poems are so deeply personal, so confessional that you wonder at her precise knowledge and the sensitivities conveyed by the narrator. The poet herself was born in Britain and both of her parents were Indian immigrants. She currently resides in both the United States and Great Britain.


Feeling a little like a hoax, Kapil’s protagonist, identified as K, a valued refugee, gets her gratefulness out in the very first poem of the collection. This begins a counterpoint of dueling emotions, which frames the forward motion of the host/guest plot as it unfurls,


Its inky-early outside and I’m wearing my knitted scarf, like

John Betjeman, poet of the British past.

I like to go outside straight away and stand in the brisk air.

Yesterday, you vanished into those snowflakes like the ragged beast

You are.

Perhaps I can write here again.

A “fleeting sense of possibility.” –K.

Keywords: Hospitality, stars, jasmine,

Privacy.

You made a space for me in your home, for my books and clothes,

And I’ll

Never forget that.


Uneasiness pervades K’s guest status. Sexual innuendos appear and disappear. She reaches out to determine her limits and the rules of her new foreign home. Her writing begets a sense of comfort and belonging, but that does not solve the problem. She explains,


As I write these words, stretching out

These early spring or late winter

Mornings with coffee

And TV.

I don’t remember the underneath,

Everything I will miss when I die.

It’s exhausting to be a guest

In somebody else’s house

Forever.

Even though the host invites

The guest to say

Whatever it is they want to say,

The guest knows the host logic

Is variable.

Prick me.


Before arriving, trauma clutched this refugee. The truth in detail cannot be forgotten, and only temporarily sidestepped. Kapil weaves in the details of K’s past life before, and as she fled the violence endemic to her country. Consider these telltale lines,


When our neighbors

Said go, we fled.

Our hearts beating

Like fish.

Hello, sang Lionel Richie, on the taxi’s orange

Radio.

My grandfather burned his notebooks

Then scraped the ash

Into a hole

He could button up.

Don’t ask me to remember

The word for zip.

My secret is this:

Though we lost all our possessions

I felt

A strange relief

To see my home explode in the rearview mirror.


Liberal altruism most often needs recognition of good deeds and applause, all of which result from actions closely fitting expectations. Real world venality must suppress itself and conform. The performance should match this insipid world outlook and follow the stage directions as the plot unfolds. Kapil’s protagonist cannily does this at first. Here she dissects her own situation,


Like a thing of beauty

In the pudding basin

Of tap water by the door.

Was I your art?

My involvement with your family

Was an act of volition

And consensus.

The political face you showed

To your neighbors,

For example, was contra-

Regime.

My links to the community

Of writers I had been part of

Had broken overnight.

And so, I smiled

And laughed when you did.


K details her experience from “treasured pet” to exotic disappointment. She explores “the link/ Between creativity/ And survival.” K gets to the point in the penultimate section of the collection. She says,


So many of my experiences

Were about waiting,

Noting the reserve,

Anxiety and palpable fear

In those guarded

Rooms.

Perhaps you know

What comes next.

Perhaps you don’t.

Perhaps you have lived your life

Without error, fortitude,

Or end.


The more especial the relationship is between guest and host the steeper the denouement and the fall. Western liberality extends only to the border of its precious narrative. Guests who do not live up to presumptive notions break a sacred trust. It’s almost a religious test. Far from the survival origin of neighborly sanctuary (found in throwback cultures of say Afghanistan and Pakistan), the sponsor strikes out in sneering colonial fashion,


The host’s gleaming hair

Responds beautifully to the shampoo

She has set out for us

To share.

What’s mine is yours,

She says with a sweet

Smile.

I don’t want you taking her out

Without asking me

First, she continues,

Holding her daughter tight

Against her side.

I can smell your body

Odor.


Kapil’s poetic sequence concludes in prosaic melodrama. The ending gives a topical and political edge to the collection. It does fit the loose plot and even some of the surreal images. However, the remarkable uniqueness of the book becomes really clear through the reading-trek itself, its ambivalent protagonist, and her definitive, if uncomfortable, relationships.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Airborne in Uncertain Sound: How I Became a Poet : Essay by B. Lynne Zika

 



Airborne in Uncertain Sound:

How I Became a Poet

Essay by B. Lynne Zika

It’s not that I was intimidated by famous people. Or eccentrics. By the time I was nine, I’d had dinner with Werner Von Braun. I’d ridden a hundred-year-old tortoise with a white-haired woman at the Washington Zoo. I’d made friends with the daughter of a fellow named Al who broke into our house one midnight to play a crashing rendition of The Brandenburg Concerto on the downstairs baby grand. So the fact that Felix Molzer had directed the Vienna Boys Choir, the fact that his hands floated above the keyboard with the grace of a saw-whet owl—neither of these was the reason I sat down on the piano bench beside him and began to cry.

Felix taught my sister and me piano. In exchange, our mother cooked him rich Southern dinners and basked (albeit shyly) in his benign adoration. Our mother wore a chignon and deep purple lipstick. She was not difficult to adore. Probably he was handsome: broad shoulders, steel-grey hair. I’d have called him imposing, had I known the word at the time.

I was certainly bent on pleasing him. I practiced every day. B, B, B, thwang. B, B, B—

B, B, B, G, thwang. By 3:00 on Tuesdays I managed an accurate, if halting, recital of that week’s Bach or Haydn minuet. But this particular Tuesday, Felix dispensed with the assignment and asked me to place my thumbs on middle C and play the scales backwards.

I stared at the keyboard. I placed my right pinky on the high C and gave him a descending scale.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Begin with both thumbs on middle C.”

I settled the thumbs and tried to stretch a diminutive right pinky an octave higher.

“No,” he said. “Not descending. Backwards.”

I stood up, took a deep breath, sat down again, and cried.

Years later I would attempt to master the backwards reflexes of driving a car in reverse. If you want to back up toward your right, you must turn the wheel so that the front end of the car moves left. I tried to conceptualize this phenomenon. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made and the more paralyzed I became. My body learned to parallel park only when it disengaged my brain.

Felix Molzer was a bit surprised to find his charge weeping. He took a white handkerchief from his pocket and wiped my eyes. He took me onto his lap. The long, white hands glided together and rested on middle C. Then, like an owl opening its wings, they feathered across the keyboard, one hand flying up the scale; the other, down. They landed, in simple precision, on the low and high C.

During the following week, my hands learned their flight. I also carefully prepared my next failure, the one that would end my career with the piano and begin my career with—well, a different sort of keyboard.

As our homework, Felix had asked us for an original composition. I wanted to create an accompaniment to a poem I had written. The music was to complement the words—to underscore them—not as a melody for a lyric but as a subtext to the spoken word. It was impossible. I couldn’t even manage a bar.

The next Tuesday, as I was creeping down the stairs toward certain humiliation, I over-heard my father in the living room.

“And she told me,” he said, “that it wouldn’t work because she could not make the piano sound like a rabbit!” Felix and my father laughed (and laughed).

Then my father recited the poem:

The rabbit has a habit

of sitting on his heels,

and when I see him doing it,

I wonder how it feels.

I knew they were pleased. I could not tame the piano, but I had tried. I knew also that the words were clear, that the sound of them ruffled the air, as if a hand were passing over a silent keyboard, as if a bird stopped for a moment in mid-flight.




B. Lynne Zika’s poetry has appeared in numerous literary publications, including globalpoemic, Poetry East, and The Anthology of American Poets. In addition to editing poetry and nonfiction, she worked as a closed-captioning editor for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. She received a Pacificus Foundation Literary Award in short fiction. Her photography has received several awards, including the 2020 Top Creator Award from Viewbug. Her images may be viewed at



https://artsawry.com/.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Somerville's Robson Lemos: A Brazilian Chef with a taste for the theatre



I was glad to catch up with Robson Lemos-- a chef and now a theatre producer.  He is one of the many artists in " The Paris of New England" who have an interesting and eclectic background. 



How did you discover Somerville, and how has it been for you?



I arrived in the USA in 2004 -- for an immigrant it is difficult to build the feeling of belonging. In 2007, I came to visit a friend at Union Square in Somerville and there was a summer festival going on. The artist on stage was Brazilian and invited me to sing a song, and from there I fell in love with the city.

The following year I moved to the city and started participating in various artistic events in the city. Somerville is a city that not only offers spaces for artists but also for immigrant artists, and that is why I have always felt welcome.

In 2015 I was invited to participate in a culinary course in the city. So I started to participate in several events in the city as a chef. I am part of the culinary group "Nibble Kitchens" in Somerville, Ma.



You are from Brazil--but you often say you are from the Brazilian state, Bahia. Is there different cultural feel to Bahia?

I always say I am from Bahia but when I participate in international interviews it is difficult to explain deeply about Brazilian culture so I talk more about Brazil in general. But Bahia, in particular, is the Brazilian state with the largest black concentration outside Africa. Although I am not black, here in the USA I am considered a person of color. I grew up within an Afro-Brazilian culture.




You are an actor?

Yes, I am an actor and that is my great passion. My first contact with theater I was 13 years old and it was through a method called: theater of the oppressed. I discovered that we are all oppressed in some way and the basis of creation is in the breakdown of oppression. So being an actor for me is to express, create, speak and use art as a form of education.

In 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, we had the Black Lives Matter Movement and the mayor of Somerville declared that racism is a matter of public health.

I identified with this statement because in addition to being an artist and a chef, I also work in an organization called the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers and became a community health worker. In various training courses I realized how the racial issues interfere with public health issues.
Using art and education as an instrument of empowerment would initially be a good way to combat racism.




Tell us about the play you are working on?

In "Omolu" I bring African mythology to tell a story of discrimination.

Omolu was an African God who was abandoned by his mother and lived wandering around Africa. He had a skin disease and covered his whole body with straw.

Omolu traveled around many lands and met several other Gods and nobody accepted him until he was found by YEMANJA, queen of the sea. She adopted Omolu as her son and healed her wounds with seawater. Oxala, the father of all, recognized Omolu as the God of healing.


Omolu is a history of inclusion using elements of African mythology with a Brazilian touch. Initially, I thought it would be a concert but because of the pandemic I decided to make the recordings separately-- as a form of documentary. This project involves theater, music, dance, capoeira, visual arts, culinary , and political speeches with history teachers...

We started doing outreach in December, rehearsals in January, recording thematic in February and editing in March.

My intention is to offer this project as a gift to the city of Somerville, so that future generations know that Somerville welcomes and includes all the stories, my story and the story of Omolu.




Brazil has the largest black population on the American continent and obviously reflects a lot on cultural expression. As in the USA, Brazil faces problems with racism. The Black Lives Matter movement will also influence racial movements in Brazil in the future.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Somerville's Marlena Merrin: A Foxtrot Between High Tech And The Arts

 


I first met Marlena Merrin at a Zoom meeting for the literary group "The Bagel Bards"--that was once happily housed in Davis Square. The Bards remain, and the Au Bon Pain closed--lost in the Pandemic sea. When you first meet someone in a group you really don't know them until you talk one on one. I was glad to catch up with this accomplished woman, who has many dimensions and diverse interests.




How has it been for you as a creative, living in Somerville and thereabouts for all these years?





When I first moved here, which was right after college, I wasn't a creative person. I spent nearly ten years working in high technology, admiring creativity and creative people—and thinking I simply didn't have it in me.




I was in my thirties when I first attempted writing fiction. I found it intimidating to live here because of all the accomplished authors inhabiting every corner and cafe. I wondered what I had to offer. Fortunately, a very helpful and insightful life coach (Allan G. Hunter) managed to instill in me that it was important to write, and write creatively. It's because of him that I continued on with my writing, and then ventured into other creative activities (acting, improv, singing, standup comedy, and songwriting). I've had a large number of wonderful experiences—and met many wonderful people— because I didn't give up in discouragement when I was first starting out.




I also want to mention how much I've benefited from all of the arts education available in the area. This really mattered in the years before video conferencing. I've had excellent teachers! And I'm still learning.




**




You are an accomplished computer scientist--occupying high level positions in the industry, when this was uncommon for women. One would not immediately associate "secure network software design" with the musical theatre--but you do.






Yes, they seem to be not very related! However, both require attention to overall concepts and flow, as well as extreme care with very fine details. Also, both involve "different angles" on what may seem to be a commonplace situation. Here's one huge difference: In software, I work at having my designs be conceptually clean and elegantly spare; in theater (and in any fiction I write), I'm seeking rich entanglements of ideas, feelings, and characters.




**

You use two different last names "Erdos" and Merrin. "Erdos" is your computer industry name and Merrin is for the theatre. Poet Wallace Stevens said that he would never reveal his identity as a poet to his colleagues in the insurance industry because he would lose his credibility. What is your take on this?




I understand Stevens' point of view. While some of my computing colleagues think it's fun and interesting (in a good way) that I do arts, others have been terribly disconcerted by the simple fact that I have a love other than secure distributed systems (whose study and application could entirely fill one's life).




Obviously, I've chosen differently than Wallace Stevens. And yet, if I were doing things over again, I'd chose an entirely different arts name. And I'd be more careful about which computing colleagues I reveal my arts life to. That said, I'd likely have some mis-steps anyway. One boss laughed at some songs I sang for him—I knew he would!—and still found my arts life distressing, even though I did very good work for him. Oh well....

**




Can you talk a bit about your nascent exposure to the theatre--and what plays sparked your passion for the art form?




My mother took me to see shows in New York City starting from when I was about eleven years old. After taking the train and then subway in from New Jersey, we'd wait for our turn at the half-priced ticket booth in Times Square. I got to see all sorts of plays, including musicals.




One of the musicals I saw early on was "A Little Night Music." This show has a wonderful set of interacting storylines and great songs which are superbly matched to the characters—and the predicaments they're in. It's also funny while having a soul. In my own musicals, I strive for the humor and depth that's in "A Little Night Music."




**




You wrote two full length musicals "College Bound", "Pipette Dreams." You are working on a third one " Risky Dishes." Is there a strong thread among these plays?




That's a great question! I'm surprised to find that the answer is "yes." Each show has a motif about "expectations": expectations from parents, from oneself, and one's community. The way expectations fit into each show though varies greatly.




**




Why should people view your work?

Get to know interesting characters, laugh a lot, and have things to think about and talk about with family and friends afterwards.




Here are some of the questions each show raises:




From College/Bound: What were your parents' expectations for you? Did anything—or anyone—upend those expectations? And what were the consequences?




From Pipette Dreams: What is your own measure of "success"? What is it for your loved ones, friends, and colleagues? Has your notion of "success" changed over time? And how does success relate to happiness?




From Risky Dishes: How did you stack up personally with ideals of each community you belonged to as a young adult? Did any of these communities know about ways you didn't stack up? What communities do you belong to now, and in what ways do you conform and not conform to expectations?







(You can find out more about College/Bound and Pipette Dreams at collegeboundthemusical.com .)

Friday, February 12, 2021

Beyond The Curtain Lies Magic and Enchantment. A review of "The Beloved Children" by Tina Jackson

 



Beyond The Curtain Lies Magic and Enchantment. A review of "The Beloved Children" by Tina Jackson

Review by Paul Steven Stone

It only takes a few paragraphs for the reader to grasp they have entered a uniquely strange and magical world inside the covers of Tina Jackson’s “The Beloved Children.” Ms. Jackson wastes no time in upsetting the reader’s sense of reality, so much so that a warning should be issued urging readers to wear weighted boots if they hold any hope of staying grounded in reality.

Ostensibly a wonderful tale of theater life in wartime Britain, “The Beloved Children” follows the exploits of three young women entering the theater world at a time when war has shaken all sense of normalcy upside down. A time when one might easily question, "Is there a better time for magic than when War roams the land?"

The three young women come from different backgrounds, all vying for openings in Fankes Theater’s in-house terpsichorien act known as The Three Graces. It quickly becomes clear that the fates of the three novice dancers are tightly entwined with those of two fantastic mainstays of Fankes' house staff, a timeworn, bearded seamstress whose powers of creation and enchantment extend far beyond the limits of needles, thread and costume scraps, and a Russian émigré whose fantastic history includes dancing before the Czar with a bear who later accompanied her across the European continent in her travels west.

Sound fantastic? It most certainly is!

Ms. Jackson exhibits tremendous depths of storytelling magic in weaving her spell and tossing all the elements of her fantastic story into the air like so much magic dust that eventually falls to earth much like the final dance steps of The Three Graces, with charm, grace and the enduring hopes of youth. “The Beloved Children” is magic realism at its most daring and accomplished. And Tina Jackson a literary prestidigitator of the highest order.



Thursday, February 04, 2021

Somerville's Callie Chapman: A chat with a multi-faceted dancer, media artist and choreographer.

 




I was pleased to catch up with the versatile Callie Chapman. She is a woman of many hats--as you will discover. She is an artist with a strong mission statement and one who can't be labeled into any particular genre.




You have lived in Somerville for the past 15 years--how has this been for you as a creative?


Somerville has been a 'safe haven' if you will for my creative practice. Although I have worked on my practice mostly in Cambridge, purely due to space availability, Somerville is where I can dream and where there is an acceptance that whatever is dreamed can be possible. I've received project grants and was a recipient of multiple fellowship grants from the Somerville Arts Council (including this past year). During the pandemic, the SAC provided encouragement (and funding) for creating in our homes, and that, for me, was a glimmer of light during some very isolating times.




Because of the Pandemic--many art organizations have been forced to close. How are you and the Zoe Dance Company surviving? I heard Zoe's Studio 550-- was forced out from their Cambridge home--and now you are looking for a new space in Somerville.



As a professional artist I wear many hats. One of which is directing Zoe Dance Company. Another is the director of Studio at 550. ZDC was housed in Studio at 550, which had a space at 550 Mass Ave., Cambridge. And yes, we were displaced. Not particularly due to the pandemic (although that expedited our departure), but due to the landlord intending on creating micro-unit apartments in a mostly residential area. Truthfully, we knew it was coming at one time or another, the pandemic just made it happen quicker, with less time to plan our relocation strategy (and less money in the bank to do so). Somerville has always needed more spaces for dance and performing arts. We would love to find our home in Somerville, and I think both artists who live here and want to create, perform, and present here would love it too. Somerville would also benefit from the performing artists who do live here, yet have to go elsewhere for their work. If we identify a suitable location in Somerville, we would love to fill that void and help provide that stability and outlet to showcase our working performing artists in Somerville (particularly the dance community).




Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of the Zoe Dance company? What would be its mission statement? What genre of dance does it fit under?


Zoe Dance Company was founded in 2002 with a mission statement that read, "Zoé Dance nurtures the art of dance, dance theatre and performance through accessible performance venues, educates the public and creates social awareness through themes explored in repertory." The company has performed locally, regionally, and internationally in self-produced concerts, festivals, and commissioned works. Since its inception, we have integrated digital media in many forms into the performances, and also creation. Utilizing cameras, projectors, generative art, and media servers ZDC's integrations brings the 'dream world' to its audiences through various theatrical techniques to create worlds which stretch beyond the tangible and embodied. As far as a genre of dance goes we could get into the inefficiencies of genre labeling and the strange evolution of terms that comes with it. It's as vanilla as "contemporary dance" or as niche as "multi-media dance". I like to just settle on the word "performance" as I've always been compelled to not define before I do as to open the options up a bit. Perhaps my next piece has spoken word and theatre. Perhaps it contains original music, or an art installation. Trying to contain that in a genre or even discipline is just too limiting. For the audience as well as for myself as the creator.




You are also a marketer and graphic designer, and have worked with many arts organizations. How do you meet the challenge to get the word out.? What is your process for developing a 'brand'?"


Getting the word out requires a fine tuning and a consistency of the message (whatever that may be). I worked for Boston Dance Alliance for 11 years and the building of that 'brand' when I came into the organization required many strategies and constant engagement with our base. We grew the membership form 180 individuals and dance arts organizations to nearly 400 by the time I left in 2015. It took constant programming, communication strategies, and one to one engagement. And over time I helped take a grassroots organization with no logo or branding consistency and helped craft an organization where I created the logo, colors, fonts, and consistency it needed to be clear in its message. We also had a lot of fun doing that. In shorter time frames, for shows let's say, you are working with the established "brand" of the presenting artist/organization, so again, consistency is key. Tapping into multiple networks through various methods is fundamental to being successful in the project. Having a strong and energetic team is also helpful as expanding networks and getting the word out always starts with the people who you already know.


You studied at the Boston Conservatory. Were there any folks who mentored you there that you can mention?. What did they bring to the plate?


As a 18 year old from Lynn, MA I went into the Boston Conservatory with very wide eyes, basically eating anything up I could get my hands on. I also worked afternoons and evenings for my spending money and somehow on top of the already rigorous program I carried the momentum and felt appreciative of my time there (even getting into a studio by myself to choreograph, or improvise until 11pm some nights, having to go home (to Lynn) and get back at 8am the next morning for Dance History class)). All my teachers were so wonderful there. They taught me things I now pass on to the students I teach (with credit of course).


In 1999 one of my modern dance teachers, Diane Arvanites asked me to perform with her company Prometheus Dance over the summer as part of Somerville Arts Council's ArtBeat Festival. Of course I accepted and danced "the first one out" in the piece, "The Game", which was based off of the game of musical chairs. Previously, outside of Conservatory training I was taking open class with the company at the Dance Complex when I could (winter and spring break). It was Diane who "signed up" to be my mentor at the Conservatory as the faculty was asked to pair off with the incoming freshmen. And I guess those roles kind of stuck. I danced with Prometheus Dance until its folding in 2019 having toured with the company to many wonderful places and theatres. Many of very good lifelong friendships were built in that company, and still remain to this day.


How would you convince someone who has no experience with dance to attend a performance? Why should they view your work?


Again, circling back to the presentation of "dance" in the marketing of it to be more about the experience and the performance. This helps disassociate potential stereotypical associations with the word "dance" coming from that prospective audience member. Perhaps they have the notion it could be like their 5 year old niece's dance recital and there's no way they want to sit through 'professional dancers' doing the same thing! Tailoring the marketing and the 'brand' to match what the audience should expect from going to the performance with the way they talk about it, the visuals they use for publicity materials, and fine tuning any media that's out there can really help get people to not associate the dance recital to professional dance performance. Truth is, it CAN be all over the board, so just saying it's "dance" doesn't say much at all and walking into a theatre (or even thinking about walking into a theatre) with such little information is absolutely terrifying.
While I design and create experiences for as many people as I can. To touch them in some way through many senses and sensory preferences, I also understand many people may not enjoy it. And that is totally where I want to be. Instead of chasing down and force feeding people who have other preferences in taste, I create what is important to me and design to share that experience with others. Mostly I love the theme of transformation and I believe it's a thread that shows up throughout my work over the last 19 years. I mean, that's part of the experience which we all share and can get on common ground together with. Tapping into what makes us human and sharing different relatable experiences through various lenses is what makes me want to create. The cycle is nearly completed when I've fleshed it out enough times to share it with others. It's an open ended cycle as those who experience "it" go out and have that experience linger with them for a while into their own lived experience after the show is done.