Introduction – to Poet Marc Kelly Smith

Robert Pinsky says that poems are musical scores, to be performed by the instrument of the body. The lungs, ribcage, larynx, the tricky tongue and shaping mouth (some of you heard Kevin Young mention embouchure), the resonators of skull and nasal passages, upheld and amplified by the diaphragm—all these concert together (with pitch, posture, and pulse) to release a poem’s music—

And I haven’t mentioned the face, its members express and admirable as a portable Mummenschanz.

Well. Our guests tonight would seem to agree.

What do you need to know about them? Little to nothing, I expect.

Should you know that Marc Kelly Smith invented the poetry slam at a Chicago bar in 1984, and that he’s been doing it nonstop ever since—a three hour set at the Green Mill every Sunday night, the longest running show in Chicago and poetry slam history?

Does it matter to you that, though there are manifold films/CDs/books about slam, Marc has kept on resisting the co-opters and franchisers with a sweet old-fashioned belief that poetry SLAMS BEST on the fringes, in real bars, in real neighborhoods, in gatherings of the original and inexpert?

Does it make a difference to you that, over the last two days, our man engaged a couple thousand high school students, embodying how a shy person can trust and venture LANGUAGE—and that he got all of them performing, and dozens of them up on their feet, mics into their hands, their voices fat in surround sound?

Should you be forewarned he doesn’t think of himself as a slam poet?

—or that, even so, he’s complained publicly about effete poems feebling forth from page or stage, so that this week our chevalier, Miles Coon, may have greeted him with, “Why am I bringing you to this festival?” (But, of course, he did—a tribute to both.)

—or, finally, that after the DuhamelLuxShapiro reading on Tuesday, this man, who seems never to need a printed page to bear The News, exclaimed, with his slightly Chicago vowels, “That was fantastic. So good, that if I’da heard dem when I was young I wouldn’ta had to invent slam poetry!”

I don’t know if that stuff matters to you now as he approaches the stage. And truth is, you’d get it all for yourself; so this intro is just me glossing the goods beforehand.

Here then, more chastely: Following on thousands of performances in nightclubs, concert halls, libraries, universities in venues worldwide, he brings his malleable, effectual, appealing self to our precincts tonight.

Here is all you need to know.

Welcome, Slampapi—Marc Kelly Smith.

-Delivered at the 2016 Palm Beach Poetry Festival.

Introduction – to Poet Dominique Christina

Having learned a lesson earlier, I hope to carry fewer coals to Newcastle in this introduction of the poet Dominique Christina.

The catalytic Dominique Christina, I might effuse.

But you will shortly write your own superlatives.
What, then, will suffice for me here?
A few instances, perhaps:

—OK, for instance, Dominique Christina didn’t begin, hadn’t thought of performing a poem until six-or-so years ago. She was writing poems—her first, best love. Then some-smart-one said, “Dominique, you should stand up and say these things.”

—for instance, what was she doing then but teaching English, to students with certain troubles who, but for the grace of Dom, were headed down and out, maybe away, maybe for good. A dozen years’ worth of alleged incorrigibles have leapt to her high bar, looked for her kindly lash, and got her good graces in the classroom.

—for instance, when regarding a stadium-full of high schoolers, like she did this week, she will not stir the sanctioned myths of sweetness and light, will not denigrate or prevaricate thereby. She will cut what matters, cut quickly to your matter. Hear me: Were you there, you would watch 800 embodied aspirants writhe, and recognize, and rise to their feet at her accurate beck and call.

—and for instance, you would watch them come boldly forward to meet their provocateur, to touch and hug her, and be hugged hard in return, and to take selfies—yes—

—and (for instance) what MAKES them crowd into the frame with this secret sharer, this slinger of dark-and-bright, is nothing like what compels a pic with Beyonce or Bruno. What is it that compels? It is what she tells them in words and non-words: “You are magnificent. The world needs you. And you gotta SHARE you.” For that we all get in line.

Jamnasium, I tell you (for final instance) that nobody I know of has better intuition, quicker reflex, agiler access to what must inflect a poem’s passage. Or to what will bring the cowed student to her feet, and then to the stage (by a reliable tug on the wrist, and arm round the shoulder blades), there to speak her own truths.

These rarities the slam world knows—she’s a champion five times over—

—and tonight, we will relish our own instance of this coalescing—of grace and impulse, of verve and conviction, of pith and moment.

Dominique, come now and read us your scripture.

-Delivered at the 2016 Palm Beach Poetry Festival. Dominique regaled 2600 students with this poem (“The Period Poem“), among others. You should click to it.

Poem – Waiting Up

Waiting Up

There’s a table in the center of the room,
and the ceiling is ochre and very close.
There’s the sound of rain and nobody is home—
nobody else who can help hold up the house.

There’s a black lacquer table and it’s holding
a candle that stands beyond the windowpane;
its fire is polished brass and barely moving,
and the midnight sitting room is dark as rain.

Upstairs the air is dark but the bed is made,
there’s a book somewhere I haven’t been reading.
Downstairs the bookshelves have been newly arranged,
and the black lacquer tabletop is peeling.

Wax has been tarnishing the brass candlestick,
and the edges of the flower are folded.
Although the sharp edges of the flame reflect
in the picture frame the faces are clouded.

All the room’s dark furnishings conserve their strength;
the black table bears what I need to survive—
the taper, the portrait, and the hyacinth.
When I get up, all the windows throw their knives.

-Published in Best Poem and Plains Poetry Journal. “Waiting Up” was a finalist in the Art in the Air (WPON, Detroit) and the Spoon River Review poetry contests.

Poem – After Shunning

AFTER SHUNNING

                                     -for the Treuherzigen

i. Out of the Dark

The footprints I follow to my door
are mine, and the clutter on the table.

This poem is wrong, because I
have been straightening up for months.

Today when I woke, the air held
the packed silence of snow.

If you came tonight, out of the dark,
snow would slide from my roof.

ii. Just This

Pines on a February afternoon.
Is this enough?—the salt–white road, the half-
hearted walls piled with cinders, a few leaves
leaping up. No one has been kissed, nothing

written. Between towns, an ocean glimpse
is aqua-marine, extravagant. Leaves
leap up. There is water, and sky, then just this
wide light on the needles beneath the pines.

iii. Past Places

These roads again, empty, winding past places
I have known: the frozen shipyard;
the fish house, shuttered up;
the burial ground, still swallowing itself.

Downtown, February snow dozes on doorsteps,
but the avenues here are salt-dry, and rows
of whitewashed houses are remembering the sun.
Every sunlit clapboard is a pang.

iv. What if Bass

In the wood duck’s wake the cypress dimples;
red-winged blackbirds are thrilling the cattails;
wind or water striders ripple the doubled shore.

So what if bass make their unfathomed rounds
or if the moth scribbles his erratic map?
The beaver’s tail is the mad slap of hope.

v. Who Would Not

This October woman crossing a stubbled field,
her hair black and her daughter blowing,
her hair blacker far than the stripped limbs;

who, when she looks up in that field to ask,
(her hair black as crow, blacker yet) who would not
furnish her from his breast one fire-tipped cigarette?

vi. This Birch

Civility rises as this birch
lifts its face, and stretches.

There is remembrance in these limbs,
of wind, and rain, and mute kisses.

All the gestures of the branches say
the gifts I bring must be refused.

Let this tree be dressed as light allows;
let it be white amid dark boughs.

-The poem entire. Winner of The Shine Journal Poetry Contest.

Poem – A Stadium Full of Bears

A Stadium Full of Bears

There are 7,500 bears in Pennsylvania. If you put
all those bears in a stadium—that’s a lot of bears.
-my dad

As the rows fill up, there would be the usual
jostling and scuffles over seats. Even before
the kick-off, imagine the noise from the stands.
Think of the lines to the women’s rooms,
to say nothing of the tussles outside Gate E
to the cheap seats. Vendors hawk fresh peanuts
over a din of growls and complaints about
parking or ticket prices; chums discuss Greenpeace
or annual weight gain; someone points out how
you could make a killing here on smoked salmon;
and everyone is generally ignoring the scoreboard
and adjusting their scarves and seat cushions as they
assemble, everywhere a bear, a common species,
a stadium full of bears growling and shrugging
and sucking their paws, negotiating for a little
space and a decent view, getting ready—the bears
are getting ready for something to happen, something
important, something truly out of the ordinary.

-finalist in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Competition, and published in Imago Dei.

Poem – Bob’s Big Boy

Bob’s Big Boy

comes in
where the miracle happens
again today,
sidles up to the conversation
which never changes like the menu
except for the specials
and hears his name handled confidently
in quadruplicate
and glances over impressed and humble
faces of not-so-regulars
like boring headlines
and fumbles in his shirt for a smoke
and takes a light and a deep drag
before tossing out “Thanks” like a quarter tip
then sees her,
coming toward him,
and sets his watch again as she comes forward
forward bringing his water
right up across the counter
so that he must notice it slide
slightly on its wet cushion and the
square circle ice goes slosh against the
glass with the love handle around its
sweaty waist
and reaches knowingly to accept it
then watches her hands that
dip and feel in the
folds of her orange apron,
down and hidden in
and out again with a pad and pen
and waits for her to ask and says the usual
and she says what’s that and he straightens
and repeats it looking at the pad and wiggling pen
and rolls the glass between his fingers
as she pours his coffee and drops a couple of
Half and Halfs
then walks away with a walk that
makes him hurt.

He reaches for his cigarette and sucks his coffee
in the sound that is his thought
and thinks a while of silverware and glasses
and wonders for a moment in the ache of bacon if
he might just–what was it?
when her hands come bearing plates of food for him
a refill and presto one two no three!
Half and Halfs from her apron
and he smiles back at his eggs
and lovingly begins to eat his number 5 with hash browns
and oh the eating fills him up and makes him hungry
in this friendly restaurant where he brings
his need.

And the salt flows free
and the ketchup rolls slow
until at last again she comes,
his waitress,
wiping spills, wiping round under ashtrays
rainbows round,
wrists dipping softly in her apron
for a pad or pen and things and things
and maybe if he asks who knows she’ll
pull a rabbit out or even–dipping
and wiping and scooping up
tips all at once, all at once, and
he sips his cigarette and smokes
his coffee as she tames him with her
vanishing hands he knows would smell like
dawn if he could only
cig his siparette and cough his smokee
and laugh with the ring of the register and the
talk of plates and glasses being
swung around so easy in this
busy neighborhood and where the
streets all smell of bacon and the
cabbies call him Mayor and the
weather’s on the menu and the
sunny side is orange and the
whole confounding world is round and round and round
and round.

-Published in Literal Latte, and winner of a Literal Latte poetry award. Written when you still smoked in restaurants, and servers brought water without being asked.

Letter – to Bill Littlefield

Dear Bill,

As happens now and then, I stayed in the car in my driveway this morning to hear all of your essay on Never Playing a Friendly Game. Which is to say: great writing, yet again.

What do I remember my coaches saying?

Because there was no proper place for such a thing around the wide, Pennsylvania farmlands where I played little league, my coach replied: “What do you want to do–go in my pocket?”

In Lubbock, Texas, my basketball coach, when my dad inquired if I’d get any playing time, leaned down and offered, “DO YOU WANT TO COACH THE TEAM?”

Same city, a soccer coach introduced me to the word “dadgummit.” And then demonstrated its many forms and uses.

Another soccer coach reminded me often that we who were riding the bench were pretty much responsible for our teammates’ on-field gaffes.

Same city, my something-league baseball coach advised me to stop running under trees, even though I couldn’t see the Top Flites he was fungo-ing toward us with his seven iron.

Same again, a new hoop coach, when I flubbed another easy layup, would become a human calliope, piping a circus theme.

Finally, in high school, a wrestling coach, who liked to pit “heads against jocks” on the mat, picked me to ref a gym class soccer game. Afterward, he eased over and said, “Good work, Stevick. You should think about reffing.”

I took what I could get. It was a legit compliment, finally.

Thanks for your dadgum good essays at WBUR, Littlefield.

Mark Stevick

Bill Littlefield’s essay, “On fathers, sons And Tennis: I’m Glad I Wasn’t That Good,” is here.

Letter – to poet Mark Halliday

Here’s a poem by Mark Halliday. It’s one of many of his that compelled me to send him an email.

GRAY CHECKED SCARF
Mark Halliday

David Porter has said that for Dickinson
death is the summoner of style.
And I think of you placing your gray checked scarf
around your neck on a day in December.
Your hair, like hair that Yeats might have ached to touch,
falls across the scarf and upon the shoulders of
your black coat; we move toward the door;

the street opens upon my gaze like a new feature film
with sober intentions and I stand for a second
awed by the task of appreciation—
your hands—your eyes. There is the banquet
of what we do have while knowing it can vanish
and there is the cold banquet of what we once had
or conceivably could have had—
at both tables we gaze into the lamplit wine
and want to say something true but
not only true, something also lovely
in a respectful and charismatic sadness.
Here is the car, my dear, your gray Mazda,
and here we are in the middle of something,

unreligious, distracted, but lightly touching
each other’s knees from time to time during the ride
for the sake of what has been luminous and is not gone.

-from Tasker Street, The University of Massachusetts Press, © 1992. Winner of the Juniper Prize.

 

I wish I could write like that. Here’s the email I sent him.

Dear Mr. Halliday,

This morning I’m wading through closing documents for a house sale we’ll (Lord help) accomplish at noon, after three years of prep and pain.

I paused just now to read Writer’s Almanac. Which has forced me to look up your email and send you this sort of plaudit and thanks.

I’m almost done. Left to say is that in 1989, late summer, I arrived at a reading sponsored by the Boston University graduate creative writing program that I had, somehow, been accepted into. Only one seat remained in the room; it was in the front row, beside, I later learned, Lloyd Schwartz.

Then you read things that never depart, like “Gimme those worms, Jody.” And “back to his or her perfect desk.” (Forgive any misquoting.)

Your poems have been with me all these years—new poems, too. I never don’t read “Ketchup and Heaven” to my students. Never don’t I read aloud to them “just like this loaded world.”

We all repaired, after that singular reading (at which Mr. Schwartz and I kept looking at each other with amazement), to some restaurant nearby, and sat outside. Robert Pinsky was with us. Every three years or so I drive by that restaurant with my wife and say something feeble and charismatic about that dinner with Halliday. But, I repeat, I read your poems aloud.

Now I’ll click send and return to HUD statements and be glad, in an hour, to be free of a debt and burden. And glad to have said thanks to you meanwhile—and that you and George Saunders are the only writers I’d commit crimes to host at the college north of Boston where I teach. If you’re ever nearby for this or that, and have an inclination to pop in for an evening, we’d gather a keen group to hear, and find some meager funds to fork over.

I’m saying that I love your poems.

Here is the car, my dear,

Mark Wacome Stevick

Astonishingly (to me), and sweetly, Mark Halliday emailed me back within the hour, to say thanks—and to request my address, to which he posted his two newest books of poetry. Character will out.
Let us be heartened by this story.

Poem – The Amish Boy Cruises through Bird-in-Hand

And I become the unleaded god,
rebuking the wind with my foot,
giving and taking life according to
the flex of my whim.

Let me be speed, I say;
I am:
air calms into my face,
unblows my mane back.

In my chariot I hear
in the pulse of pavement
the one heartbeat of the multitudes—
expectant tribes of corn—

When suddenly they part before,
like my thinnest siblings,
bangs in their eyes,
waving palms

And kneel, pious
as I ride by,
what seem to be tongues
of fire upon their heads.

And for myself I’ll have
the bloody reflection of the sun
caught on the lake so like
the side of an 18-wheeler.

-Published in Sharkpack Poetry Review Annual, and finalist for the Prospero Poetry Prize.

Notes – on the Holy Theatre

Your favorite spot on earth is the lobby of the National Theatre in London. Partly because you have to work so hard to get there. Partly, also, because of the lives you’ve lived there, which you still carry in your body. And partly because of the most assured overthrow that awaits you each time you finish your white coffee and head toward the ripple seats.

* * *

One winter, for four months, a play of yours ran at a dingy dinner theatre up in Georgetown, Mass. You’d directed it, too, and built the set, all of it. For four months, as I said, on weekend evenings you climbed into the loft behind the tables and ran lights and sound, while patrons ate thawed chicken parmesan. Sitting up there watching the crowd, you rode their laughter to a kind of pinnacle. Have you been happier? Give me my sin again.

* * *

For years you’ve been herding students toward theatres, the National, and the Traverse and the Pleasance—for plays and musicals, but also for pantos and foolery, for marathons and acts without words. The lights, the urgency onstage reflect off their eyes and their teeth. They grab your arm. Afterward, you all stagger out to a table of spring rolls, to lick wounds.

You take them to these things so they can be flabbergasted, and confused, and confirmed. So they can see what it is we humans care about, and how to care about it not wisely and too well. You take them to be offended. Give us our sin again.

* * *

You attend an Episcopal church. You go there, sometimes, because Andre Dubus, after being hit by a motorist, could manage that, only that. He wheeled to the mass. Sometimes you think of Dubus in your pew, and of theatres. How being at the living theatre can feel like being at a living church. How our faith before the stage is as real and necessary as anyone’s who’d get out of a boat and walk. How we face each other, and agree to believe together.

And when we do, when the show is right, everyone, every single one, is healed of their sniffles and coughs, and we float bodiless and rapt until the script lets us go. Almost a holy edifice, you say. Who are these priests, these prophets? Sarah Kane, I have ears to hear.

-Why not read some pages in Peter Brook’s The Empty Space?

Letter – to the Literary Department at London’s National Theatre

Dear Ms Peters,

I type this with a latte to hand here on one of the National’s high outside balconies. Moments ago the courteous Dominic at the stage door sent me to you through this portal.

I’m a teacher and writer, and since 1995 I’ve brought 350 college students from a hamlet north of Boston (USA) here to London to see shows at the NT. Our tally of seen shows exceeds 100. Yesterday we added Angels in America to the list.

—a production we will never quite get over. Neither will forget the opening of The Bacchae, or the final moment of Iphigenia at Aulis. A hundred-hundred moments that lived first for us in the ripple seats live in us yet, and have livened how we do theatre, how we teach writing, in our small liberal arts school.

When we lay over in London on our way to other Europes, we queue early and stay late under your roof. Conversations with Simon Russell Beale, Patrick Marber, Caryl Churhill, Jeremy Irons, Wallace Shawn, Desmond Barrit, Rita Moreno, Michael Frayn, Christopher Hampton, Judi Dench, William Houston, Emily Watson, Anna Chancellor, even John Gielgud (who came with Dame Judi to see Ian Holm in Lear)—these never leave us, and inspire gratitude still.

We cherish the sweet, savvy tour guides who’ve shown us backstage and front, mentioning the reason for the seat color in the Olivier. We remember jazz on the concert pitch, and the green AstroTurf (as we call it) of Watch This Space, and the bracing shows (with Chiwetel Ejiofor & Andrew Lincoln) in the Lyttelton foyers.

—and the hours we spent kindling with other lovers like us in and around your concrete crucible of lifetimes.

All of this to say: your address is our favorite on earth, and your commitments have improved our days.

In another year or so I expect to be granted a sabbatical from teaching playwriting and poetry. I have no greater wish than to find my way back to your address, for some shorter or longer period. There is no place I’d rather be.

Could I volunteer whatever I have for any need or purpose of yours? Requiring no pay, only a backstage pass to satisfy Dominic, I could write toward a “Making Of” account, like those on Humble Boy and Bacchae that I give my students. Or perhaps I can assist in useful ways with your growing online archive, a resource I access often. Or sign me up as a tour guide, and pay me nothing to enrich as I’ve been. Do you need a diarist? An assistant to a dramaturg? Someone to make copies or phone calls for the New Work Department, or set out chairs and water for Al Senter-and-guest? Or even a fellow to field oddball offers like this one?

If so, I’m your man.

And it needn’t ding a single budget line, because I’ll still be in the pay of my usual employer, a college that’s seen fit to invest in our annual pilgrimage here to the South Bank.

That’s my hopeful pitch. Now this:

Once, jogging to one of your shows, my billfold leapt unawares from my pocket somewhere between the Cottesloe and the base of the stairs from Waterloo Bridge. I realized the loss at the box office, and retraced my steps in a proper panic and haste. And there it was on the stones, fat with 900 quid, somehow invisible to all but me and bronze Sir Laurence.

Like so much that happens where you are—where I sit as I type—this little story is imbued with a grace, and is beautiful because it’s inscrutable and undeserved.

Will you keep me and my lucky wallet in mind?

Sincerely, with gratitude,

Mark Wacome Stevick

-A version of this was sent summer 2016, and this version last summer. No reply yet.

Remarks – on the poems of John Updike

I discovered John Updike’s poetry before his prose, as a college student, reading The Carpentered Hen and Facing Nature on the rocks of West Beach a few miles north of here.

I wrote him a letter praising his work, quoting lines like

“Hosannas of cotton and hallelujahs of wool,” and
“The elms seemed swaying vases full of sky,” and
                                             “They smile because
They know we know, they know we know.”

And he wrote back saying, “Thanks for your kind words about my poetry, which I’ve been neglecting lately, probably due to a dearth of kind words.”

He wouldn’t neglect it for long, of course.  Poetry comforted him, he said, “with its hope of permanence, its packaging of flux,” its “triumphant sense of capture.”  He called his poems “my oeuvre’s beloved waifs.”

I love the humor and the metaphors in his poems—his eye for resemblances, for connecting dissimilar things to help me see them better, which is a mark of genius, according to Aristotle.

You get his genius (and his humor) in this short poem, one he wrote when he was 21.

Why the Telephone Wires Dip and the Poles are Cracked and Crooked

The old men say
young men in gray
hung this thread across our plains
acres and acres ago.

But we, the enlightened, know
in point of fact it’s what remains
of the flight of a marvelous crow
no one saw:
Each pole, a caw.

collected in The Carpentered Hen, 1958, Harper & Brothers. “I still remember the shudder, the triumphant sense of capture, with which I got these lines down, not long after my twenty-first birthday.” J.U.

 

And again, his metaphor-making, in this poem, the last I’ll read.

Before I read it I’ll say:
I loved living near him, bumping into my absolute my favorite writer in the world, at the post office or Harry’s or KC’s or The Book Store—a shop, I expect, he single-handedly put on firm footing.  That he was living and writing and driving his gray Taurus around here ennobled this shore, and me, in some way—

     “as in some mythologies [to quote him]
     beautiful gods stroll unconcerned
     among our mortal apprehensions.”

Alas, this is not the same place without him.

 

The Melancholy of Storm Windows

We touch them at the raw turns
of the year—November
with its whipped trees and cellar sky,
and April, whose air
promises more than the earth
seems willing to yield.
They are unwieldy, of wood, and their panes
monotonously ask the same question—Am I clean?

No, the answer is.
They fit less well, we feel, each year.
But the weather lowers,
watery and wider than a tide,
and if a seam or leak of light shows, well,
nothing’s perfect under Heaven.
Our mortal shell,
they used to call the body.

In need of paint, they heave
up from the cellar and back down again
like a species of cloud,
shedding a snow of flakes and grime.
They rotate heavy in our hands; the screwdriver
stiffly twirls; the Windex swipes evaporate
in air ominous of coming worse
or, at winter’s end, of Easter entombment,
of cobwebbed storage among belittling ants
while the grasshopper world above basks.

Stacked, they savor of the crypt,
of the unvisitable nook
and the stinking pipe, irreparable.
In place, they merely mitigate
death’s whisper at the margins,
the knifing chill that hisses how
the Great Outer cares not a pin for our skins
and the airtight hearts that tremble therein.

We, too, are warped each fall.
They resemble us, storm windows,
in being gaunt, in losing putty,
in height, transparency, fragility—
weak slabs, poor shields, dull clouds.
Ambiguous, we have no place
where we, once screwed, can say, That’s it.

collected in Tossing and Turning, 1977, Knopf
-remarks delivered at Lynch Park in Beverly, Mass. Some of John’s children were present, including Michael Updike, who is a sculptor. He had not known the “Telephone Wires” poem, he said, and later carved it onto the back of Updike’s gravestone in Plowville.

Poem – Elvis in Intercourse

Elvis in Intercourse

for the Rumspringe

Grossdaadi utters Ach,
winnowing his lot
of all mediated chaff;
he cuts the laughter off.

In consecrated barns
a verbal vermin runs
without restraint or heed
for what the bishop said—

innervating dust,
the pious custom tossed,
2 batteries for the show:
go cat go.

-published in Baltimore Review, winner of a Baltimore Review Award. The picture above is from the cover of my dad’s book, Growing Up Amish, also published in Baltimore, by Johns Hopkins University Press. Mom’s book is Beyond the Plain and Simple, published by Kent State University Press.

More Updike Remarks, More Updike Poems

Like John Updike, I grew up in Pennsylvania (in my case Lancaster County instead of Berks) and then came to New England for college; and until 2009 we lived here in Essex County together in view of Great Misery Island and Bowditch’s Ledge.

Of course, there the similarities between us end.

Or do they? No winner of Pulitzers or other laurels, I nevertheless find in John Updike’s poetry moments that I recognize as certifiably me. Here’s an instance:

 

Thoughts While Driving Home

Was I clever enough? Was I charming?
Did I make ay least one good pun?
Was I disconcerting? Disarming?
Was I wise? Was I wan? Was I fun?

Did I answer that girl with white shoulders
Correctly, or should I have said
(Engagingly), “Kierkegaard smolders,
But Eliot’s ashes are dead?”

And did I, while being a smarty,
Yet some wry reserve slyly keep,
So they murmured, when I’d left the party,
“He’s deep. He’s deep. He’s deep”?

-Collected in Telephone Poles and Other Poems, Knopf, 1963.

This piece of light verse from the ‘50s is obviously me, just better turned out, more winningly and memorably voiced. (You’ll know already that John Updike considered the publication in The New Yorker of such light verse, first in 1954, as launching his professional writing life.)

Thirty years later, reading these poems on the beaches of Manchester and Beverly Farms, I repeatedly, reliably felt a “triumphant sense of capture”—which is how he described the shudder he felt after writing a good poem. A splendid man!, I thought, to feel these things, as he himself wrote about James Joyce, in “Wife-Wooing”: “A splendid man, to feel that. Splendid also to feel the curious and potent, inexplicable and irrefutably magical life language leads within itself.”

Exactly.

Here is another light poem, gamely led by language’s life.

 

I Missed His Book but Read His Name

“The Silver Pilgrimage,” by M. Anantanarayanan . . .
160 pages. Criterion. $3.95.
– The New York Times

Though authors are a dreadful clan,
To be avoided if you can,
I’d like to meet the Indian,
M. Anantanarayanan.

I picture him as short and tan,
We’d meet, perhaps, in Hindustan,
I’d say, with admirable élan,
“Ah, Anantanarayanan,

I’ve heard of you. The Times once ran
A notice on your novel, an
Unusual tale of God and Man.”
And Anantanarayanan

Would seat me on a lush divan
And read his name—that sumptuous span
Of “a”s and “n”s more lovely than
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan”—

Aloud to me all day. I plan
Henceforth to be an ardent fan
Of Anantanarayanan,
M. Anantanarayanan.

-Also found in Telephone Poles and Other Poems. He later learned he’d been mispronouncing the name and therefore stopped reading the poem aloud.

In the first poem, it’s the word “smarty” (“and did I, while being a smarty”) that’s spot-on, while not merely rhyming with “party.”

In the second, I enjoy (and I think he did) the flat, deliberate inexactness of the word “tan” (“I think of him as short and tan.”)

As a college student tossing and turning through the pages of Midpoint and Facing Nature and Telephone Poles, it was hard not to want to be John Updike. Still, “I had the timid sense to see that you do not will to be John Updike; you fall into it at birth, ripe from the beginning” (to appropriate The Centaur).

I’ll finish now with a poem set in a place many of you know well, Cape Ann Golf Course. I expect John Updike and I played Cape Ann at the same time on occasion, though I never bumped into him. There I never fail to say “the ball wobbles up and with a glottal rattle bobbles in”—or, on that peerless fourth hole, to recite the paragraph that contains the equally peerless “A divot the size of an undershirt was taken…”

Here’s the poem: “The Great Scarf of Birds,” written in 1962.

 

The Great Scarf of Birds

Playing golf on Cape Ann in October,
I saw something to remember.

Ripe apples were caught like red fish in the nets
of their branches. The maples
were colored like apples,
part orange and red, part green.
The elms, already transparent trees,
seemed swaying vases full of sky. The sky
was dramatic with great straggling V’s
of geese streaming south, mare’s-tails above them.
Their trumpeting made us look up and around.
The course sloped into salt marshes,
and this seemed to cause the abundance of birds.

As if out of the Bible
or science fiction,
a cloud appeared, a cloud of dots
like iron fillings which a magnet
underneath the paper undulates.
It dartingly darkened in spots,
paled, pulsed, compressed, distended, yet
held an identity firm: a flock
of starlings, as much one thing as a rock.
One will moved above the tress
the liquid and hesitant drift.

Come nearer, it became less marvellous,
more legible, and merely huge.
“I never saw so many birds!” my friend exclaimed.
We returned our eyes to the game.
Later, as Lot’s wife must have done,
in a pause of walking, not thinking
of calling down a consequence,
I lazily looked around.

The rise of the fairway above was tinted,
so evenly tinted I might not have noticed
but that at the rim of the delicate shadow
the starlings were thicker and outlined the flock
as an inkstain in drying pronounces its edges.
The gradual rise of green was vastly covered;
I had thought nothing in nature could be so broad but grass.

And as
I watched, one bird,
prompted by accident or will to lead,
ceased resting; and, lifting in a casual billow,
the flock ascended as a lady’s scarf,
transparent, of gray, might be twitched
by one corner, drawn upward and then,
decided against, negligently tossed toward a chair:
the southward cloud withdrew into the air.

Long had it been since my heart
Had been lifted as it was by the lifting of that great scarf.

-Collected in Telephone Poles(The title poem also lodged itself in me permanently.) In his Collected PoemsUpdike cut the first and last stanzas from this poem, which I chastised him for at a church fair in Beverly Farms.
These remarks were delivered at the Congregational Church in Ipswich, with Updike family members also speaking.
Today is the anniversary of his passing, on January 27, 2009.

Remembering – Derek Walcott, 1930-2017

[from an interview conducted by Bryan Parys]

bp: You studied with Derek Walcott in grad school; how much did his tutelage affect your own work?

Mark S: Let me admit here for the good of my soul that I didn’t really know Derek’s work when I applied to Boston University’s graduate creative writing program. Or Robert Pinksy’s either. Just their names, which had appeared over poems I’d seen in Norton’s. I knew a bit of lore about Lowell and Sexton and Plath, and even Starbuck, but I also appreciated that their ghosts weren’t going to help me with my poems (James Merrill notwithstanding). What mattered most to me was that Boston University was only an hour’s train ride from my house. So my pedestrian (or commuter rail) motives were rewarded out of all proportion.

But what did Derek teach me? To rise at 5 and write for hours. To make the beginning of a line as vigorous as its end. To labor not merely for the line or word, but even for the letter. To write longhand. To read aloud both poetry and prose for their training rhythms—Edward Thomas, Hart Crane, Ernest Hemingway… One time Seamus Heaney and Joseph Brodsky came in to argue with Derek about the poems of Thomas Hardy—whose work they all loved and which we all read aloud. These things Derek taught, although they’re not necessarily things I learned. I don’t rise, as he does, at 5 and write for any amount of time. But my work was affected by his tutelage. I became more accountable for each word or phrase in my poems, so they got shorter, denser, better. And Derek liked my poems, which allowed me to believe in them. When he told me to send them out to The New Yorker and The Atlantic, I went ahead and did it. Derek didn’t believe me when I said they hadn’t landed. “Show me the rejection letters.” I showed. “It doesn’t matter. I’d publish them.” So I put that in my pipe and smoked it for a good long time.

He was an extremely alert and agile reader of one’s stuff. Once I brought him a poem which I felt went awry somehow at the end, and when he got to that spot he started saying, “Oh no, no, no, no!”—while I was saying, “I know, I know.” And that’s all we said about it. I was pleased and gratified by our mutual un-enumerated horror. Then there was his most impressive reading moment.

bp: Which was?

MS: You’ve heard this before, and you’ve probably made fun of me for repeating it. But, OK, briefly: once in a sit-down in his office Derek was quietly reading a poem of mine, one that was composed entirely of eleven-syllable lines. On that first reading—the first time through it, mind you—he looked up from the line “and the black lacquer table is peeling,” and said, “Top, I think. Table top is peeling”—thus bringing my errant 10-syllable line into the poem’s overall pattern. I hasten unnecessarily to add that he did this without counting on his fingers, as anyone who hears this anecdote must do.

bp: I remember that story.

MS: I know you do—but it was kind of remarkable. A bit like “The Princess and the Pea” in its way. And now my poem includes a word “written” by a Nobel laureate. It appears unattributed, of course.

-The poem Derek amended is here. Bryan and I did this interview a decade ago. My friendship with Derek warrants an essay I hope to write.

Essaying – Theatre Anglonauts

2016 marks our 21st trip since we launched the UK Theatre course in 1995. We’ve had 345 Anglonauts.

In years of yore, we traveled right after commencement, and our sometimes chilly itinerary included places like Dublin and Galway, and, in England, Bath (with its Royal Crescent and Pulteney Bridge—twin to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence), Stratford-Upon-Avon (home to three very different theatres and to the Bard’s crypt), Oxford (with a cooling pause at the Inklings’ Eagle & Child pub), and Cambridge (there to savor an evensong at King’s College Chapel)—and, always, London. Day trips have taken us to Salisbury (tallest cathedral spire in the UK—at 404 feet) and nearby Stonehenge (big gray stones; little red poppies), to Ely (named for its eels, and home for a decade to Oliver Cromwell), to Coventry (with its massive Graham Sutherland tapestry behind the altar of the 1962 cathedral, itself verging on the ruins of the Nazi-bombed 14th-century cathedral), and, in Ireland, to the Aran Islands, to James Joyce’s tower in Sandycove, to Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, chaste resting place for the 19th century’s greatest English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and to the village of Kinvara, where Dawn and John Sarrouf got engaged and began scheming up Elijah and Esme Sarrouf.

In 2004 we switched to an August trip that included a week in Edinburgh to take advantage of the thousands of theatre, dance, music, spoken word, and nearly unclassifiable performances in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival. There we see as many events as we can in one week: Jeff Miller manages three shows a day on most days (when he’s not supine in Princes Street Gardens). In the lee of the Castle of Edinburgh another engagement occurred, Norm and Jean’s, and soon after that spot was memorialized in a painting.

We’ve honed our approach, so we can offer a lot of culture for a little green. Classes occur in the morning, usually with a white coffee, often in one of the several lobbies of London’s Royal National Theatre, or in an atrium at the foot of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Students live in flats-with-kitchens in the hearts of these two capitols, and the afternoons are free for museum-going, Beefeater-watching, punting, shopping, picnicking—all of which are endeavored. Evenings find us in the front rows of the UK’s best theatres, in the living presence of the English-speaking world’s great actors—Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, Mark Rylance and Maggie Smith, Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Shaw, Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon—and some terrific young actors, too, whose performances mark them as tomorrow’s stars.

John Sarrouf adds: “We’ve written poems in the graveyard on the Avon-thru-Stratford; quaffed with casts at the Dirty Duck; sketched the courtyards of Kenilworth and Warwick Castles; interviewed WWII vets at Lewis’ house, The Kilns; candle dipped at Tintern Abbey; haunted open air markets in Portobello, Cornwall and Penzance; twirled late night pasta Bolognese at Denise’s Restaurant. We were in a West End theatre when John Gielgud died, and the lights were dimmed, and actors came on stage after the show to tell stories of his work and influence. We sat next to Tom Stoppard for the first preview of the revival of The Real Thing, which went on to win the Olivier and the Tony that year. We saw the Shape of Things, and History Boys, and Closer, and The Designated Mourner, and August: Osage County before they became movies.”

The two-week trip is a crucible of culture and conversation, one that inspires the leaders for another year of making art, and impresses some life memories into the still-soft sensibilities of the students.

-On this trip you can do an independent study in creative writing with me. It’s called “Writing the City,” and you’ll use London’s & Edinburgh’s cultural and artistic offerings as material for original compositions of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.
See Molly Elias’s work at https://cleareyesfullpassport.wordpress.com/.

sarroufs at national.2

Tribute – to Matt Doll, John Skillen, and 20 Years in Orvieto

A couple weeks ago, actually it was January, 2002, my buddy Skillen sidled up to me and said, “Three things, OK? One: ekphrasis.”

I said, “Gesundheit.”

He said, “Not a sneeze.”

I said, “A skin disease?”

He said, “No, poetry.”

I said, “Ekphrasis—poetry?”

He said, “About art.”

I said, “Ah”—(sounding like him, suddenly)—“ ‘About suffering they were never wrong’”—

He said, “’The old masters,’ esatto.”

I said, “Gesundheit.”

He said, “Not a sneeze. Item two, OK? You teach it.”

I said, “Ekphrasis? I don’t…”

He said, “You will.”

I said, “When?”

He said, “November.”

I said, “Where?”

He said, “Orvieto.”

I said, “Gesundh… Orv…?”

He said, “Il mio posto favoriàte.

I said, “But… Ma… Non parle… parlo…

He said, “Non ti preoccupare. Insègnerai bene la poesìa. … In Inglese … OK?”

I said, “OK.”

So I got busy studying… ekphrasis.

(BTW, did you notice in my chat with Skillen there were actually only two things? With Skillen, there are always three things, even when there’s only two things.)

The next November I did disembark from a plane, a train, a funicular, and a bus—on a rainy night, luggaged and tiny and daunted beneath the duomo’s almost audible façade—

a façade—and an edifice—and a town—that would furnish 17 years, 34 seminars worth of looking, and of loading into language what light reveals of artists’ handiworks.

Skillen’s ekphrastic impulse was prescient. Since we launched that course in 2002, scores upon scores of books on the subject—on the encounter between word and image—have found their way into print and onto Amazon. (A recent title is Ekphrastia Gone Wild: Poems Inspired by Art. Is that subtitle a letdown, somehow?) Only did luminaries like John Hollander and WJT Mitchell beat us to the museum gallery punch.

A veritable charm of poets, an exaltation of marvelous poet-teachers, and a few prose-ists, have brought rigor, vigor and love to our writing workshop-on-the-tufa: among them Christine Perrin, Paul Mariani, Julia Kasdorf, Scott Cairns, Hannah Badia, Robert Clark, and twice last year Jeanne Walker—all writers of durable works AND of ekphrastic poetry, some of which can be seen on our anniversary website.

By my reckoning, 175 students have written 1400 poems that engage artworks both notable and humble, and respond to locales and vistas they know by heart and by passeggiata.

I’m almost done. The ekphrastic pairings on the stairs here and above us come from my poetry seminars over the years, in San Lodovico, San Paolo, and the Servi. The writers engage both very old and very new artworks, with varying formal techniques and ekphrastic strategies. When you look & read, you might remark those strategies—the difference, for instance, between a poem that thinks about the artist or her studio or her materials or her model—and perhaps one that attempts to construct a verbal equivalent to the image, through formatting, say, or syntax.

This summer I sifted through files and assemble a portfolio featuring one poem from each student in all of my ekphrasis classes; you can download this if you wish as a PDF. (I’ve printed up a copy; it’s somewhere nearby.)

And now, at last, a word about Matt and Sharona Doll.

My thus-far purple pen pales, peters out when I turn to acknowledge and thank Matteo for his continued commitment to this program we love, and to the ekphrastic endeavors that have been a part of it for so long. Poetry, painting, and their tangling in history are clearly highly favored in our curriculum and in our daily lives.

And in his. Here’s a guy who launches the day with poetry, connecting our dots to words wise and beautiful (saying “you KNOW this”)—reading Seamus Heaney or Thomas Merton or (“but first”) Mary Oliver.

Matt, we love you back, immensely. Sharona, Alesandro, Emmanuella, Karen, Becky, Emily (great friends who allow us a glimpse across the limits of ourselves), thank you for your commitment and your welcome. Add to them John, Susie, Bruce, and Z(ingarelli)—thank you, multo grazie for your work which has allowed us this opportunity for a lifetime.

Delivered September, 2018 at the reunion in the Barrington Center for the Arts.

Introducing Mark Sargent (and a pitch for the Liberal Arts)

When they said unto me, “Mark Sargent is coming,” I said unto myself, Nice.

Then they said unto me, “The entire Bible department is at a conference: you have to introduce him.”

But don’t we want one of them at this moment?
-Like Mark Cannister: “Humanities aaaaaaand Mark Sargent, reunited and it feels so good, aha ha ha ha ha…”
-or Sharon Ketcham: “Pastoral care IS imagination, right? So is relationship??? Right?”
-or Marv: ♫ “Hiney matov. Our Father Abraham traveled from Ur. Our speaker Mark Sargent traveled from… wherever…” (Canister: Aha ha ha ha ha…)
-or Ted Hildebrandt: “OK, ok, you guys!—you and Mark Sargent are so, really Imaginative—ok—I just know Jerusalem, ok?” (Canister: Ah! Aha ha ha ha ha…)

Well, they’re not here.
So.
Here’s mine.

For 16 years as provost at Gordon, Mark—hang on, when I was a student here I had no idea what a provost was: let me tell you it’s the chief academic officer, the person responsible for stuff that isn’t fundraising, student life or budget—so, stuff like curriculum, extra curricular programs, faculty, accreditation—OK?

—And Mark Sarg—hang on, when I was a student I had no clue what accreditation was: it’s the establishment of an insti-blah-blah just kidding.

So: Mark Sargent was our academic leader from The Year You Were Born to The Year You Got Your License. (And in The Year You Were Two, he hired me, which was good for me, but maybe not… so good… for you…)

I wouldn’t think it’s the easiest thing in the world to be a provost: all those constituencies to please, intellectuals so passionate about their bailiwicks, lots of moving parts—plenty of room for friction.

But Mark was good at negotiating all that.

—Probably because he was a literary guy. He himself had come into the academy in the humanities, as a literature prof, and like all lit profs he’d learned to value multiple perspectives, and to evaluate contending claims—and how to employ words “to their best advantage.”

And this served Gordon well: though always, at heart, a book lover, Mark here championed
-the sciences, backing green chemistry before it became the usual thing,
-and the social sciences, broadening the scope of The Center for Faith and Inquiry and JAF,
-and education, bolstering our graduate Education programs,
-and the fine arts, endorsing life drawing and medieval mystery plays and difficult films.

By all of which I mean: he was championing the Liberal Arts.

Speaking of film, early on, Mark launched the Provost’s Film Series here, and during his tenure he caused-to-be-shown more than 120 films, by my count, each preceded by some provocative prose of his (maybe provocative is the wrong word)—and then followed by some thought-provoking discussion. (For CL&W credit.)

When he left to be Westmont’s Provost in his home state, I realized that he’d also done a ton of writing here—not just scholarly articles, but personalized pieces, to introduce new faculty, or roast departing ones, to offer congratulations on new babies or birthdays or anniversaries or attained degrees, to celebrate excellent teaching, and to memorialize the passing of dear colleagues.

Often, a friend of mine was heard to say, “Mark Sargent always writes things we wish we could have written.” Too true. Come to think of it, I wish he had written this introduction.

And now I’m nearly done with mine, except to add this: that I came to rely on the integrity with which he did his job—and to admire his “seemingly effortless artfulness, and playfulness,” to quote another colleague.

Earlier, I was hyperbolizing about great literature being one secret to his success. Hey now: great literature (and film) does train the imagination, strengthen the moral imagination, and thereby help us work out, with God’s guidance, a life that is worth leading.

Today I can’t think of anyone I’d rather hear speak to us on “Lives of Imagination” than Dr. Mark Sargent. Please join me in welcoming him back to Gordon.

-Mark Sargent’s address was in November, 2016. Thanks, Jerry Logan, for the artwork.

Essaying – on Grady Spires and Normandy

I took Intro to Philosophy with Grady Spires during my freshman year at Gordon College in the early ’80s. Grady was jazzed by the subject, of course, which sort of got me jazzed, too, though it was clear that philosophy wasn’t going to be my dance partner. In class he would often play a bluesy version of “Rock of Ages.”

And Grady led 20 students (among them Dorothy Boorse and me) on a European Seminar trip through Western Europe in the summer of ’86. He got a nose bleed in the middle of the night in Nuremberg or Augsburg, and had to go to the hospital, where he lay around for a couple days while they tried to figure out the cause–and we soldiered on without him.

But my great Grady memory, the one I tell several times every year, concerns our arrival in Normandy.

We got to our camp site at Omaha Beach late in the day, and the weather wasn’t great, and we were all tired. I suppose because of the conditions, Grady decided we should find a local cafe for dinner. We quickly struck out: there weren’t many cafes around, or they were closed. We pulled forlornly up to a farmhouse with a sign promising food. An old-timer sauntered out to tell us that they, too, were closed. He tried a little French with Grady: no-go. Grady tried a little English: same. Then, Grady shifted into German. And the French fellow answered in German. And they suddenly began to converse IN GERMAN. The man tilted his head toward all of us stale, Keds-wearing students in the back seats and said, “Americans?” Yes, we answered.

Then he was booming something that meant, “Get out right this minute, you’re coming with me.”

“He’s making us dinner, let’s go,” Grady said. We all fell out of the vans and followed the man around to tables in his back yard, and his wife came out. They were going to fix us a huge meal of pasta and salad, and it was going to be free, and it didn’t matter that the cafe was closed–because we were Americans, and he would always welcome Americans, was viscerally grateful to our kin who had hit the beaches a mile away and liberated his village and his country. This he spoke to us in German, with Grady interpreting, as we sat to our meal, under-dressed and dumbstruck, with hands too small to handle what was being served up.

And he brought out a bottle of vodka, and poured himself and Grady a confident amount, and I briefly wondered, “Is Grady going to drink vodka with all of us watching?” And then they toasted and, thank God, Grady did knock back that glass, and did a patented Grady arm-shimmy and whoop, and our man poured them both a second, and Grady did his honorable best with that one, too.

Everything about Grady was equal to that moment. There he decided: Sometimes you grind grain on the Sabbath, or eat meat with publicans, or drink strong drink in the presence of your allies. Speaking German, by Omaha Beach, that’s what you do when you’re Grady Spires.

-There are a million great Grady stories. Some involve bottle caps.

Twelve Years On: a Toast to Kristina & Chad

Sometime Chad embarrasses me.
Strike that. Let me take ownership.
Sometimes I choose to get embarrassed, and Chad happens to be nearby.
Does that ever happen to you?

So, I’m talking with one of my young First-Year Seminar students, saying to her, Well, no, I don’t think Anne Lamott is a going to Hell even though she says swearwords—and suddenly here comes Chad, right up to me, slips his arm around my neck and grabs my nipple—yes, I said nipple, I have them, men have them—and right in front of her starts whispering, “Shhh, shhhhh, it’s okay, shhhhhh.”

My student, who has just re-read the Left Behind series, stands there feeling… conflicted. Me, too.

Like that true story of Chad? Here’s another.

Does Chad ever leave you *unusual* phone messages? “You have ‘14’ new messages. … ‘9th’ new message…”
“Yo yo, que pasa, what’s up where you been? Why I can’t find you? I’m ‘mon slap your side and so on.”
This as I’m hurrying to a candidate interview with Herma Williams and Mark Sargent—
“I’ll slap you all over your side etcetera you don’t call me. Why come you nevuh call me, Silly, I give you seven slappety-slaps about your face—”
“Oh—hi, Herma, be right in—”
“—already left you maybe 8 messages, you slappy-pappy-slapper—” *flute sound*
“Oh, hi, Provost Sargent; big interview, eh?—“ *loud flute* “Uh… can you give me a second?—”
*more flute* “You hear me play that flute and so on? I cuh play that all over your side, etcetera—”

I never know if he says anything important in these “MESSAGES” because I always delete them before I get there.

Once I got this email from Jud’s email address. Verbatim, it read:

MARK,
IT CAME TO MY ATTENTION THAT YOU HAVE BEEN HARASSING YOUNG WOMEN ON CAMPUS ABOUT THEIR UNDERPANTS. ONE GIRL CAME INTO MY OFFICE WITH TEARS IN HER EYES, HAVING BEEN, IN HER WORDS, “TORMENTED BY A FACULTY MEMBER.” I LIKE YOU MARK, AND I HAVE COME TO YOUR AID DURING A NUMBER OF MINI-SCANDALS WHICH HAVE SPROUTED WITH YOU SOMEHOW AT THE CENTER, BUT THIS CANNOT GO ON. PEOPLE AROUND HERE RESPECT YOU AS A CREATIVE DRAMATIST, AND YOU SHOULD NOT TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT TO LOOK AT WOMEN’S ANATOMY. WERE ARE ALL FACED WITH THE SAME CHALLENGES AND EACH DAY IS A NEW BEGINNING. I’M GIVING YOU ANOTHER CHANCE, BUNNY-BOY, BECAUSE – unmentionable unmentionable —
JUD

The next day I got a real email from the real Jud: Verbatim:
Mark, I just turned on my e-mail and found this. Last time I saw Chad he was sitting at my computer at home. I’m afraid that this is the result! Sorry! Jud

This is what makes me ask: What must Chad have been like as a 10-year old? A 6-year-old? I picture his parents late at night:

JUD: Jan, what is this being we have brought into the world?
JAN: I don’t know, Jud, but love him—love him.
JUD: Yes, but—I want to be the president, and I’m worried—
JAN: Jud!
JUD: The big cheese, Jan!—head honcho, the smack daddy of Gordon College!—and if that little guy—
JAN: Then you practice, Jud; practice being president—of this troubled little college we call Chad.
JUD: You’re right. Help me, Jan?

OK. But for all this, (borrowing from Gerard Manley Hopkins)—but for all this, Chad’s good nature is never spent. There lives in him the dearest, freshness, deep down things. True.

And if, at times, I choose to be embarrassed in the vicinity of Chad, I also choose to feel—no, let me be accurate—Chad makes me feel good. This same Chad makes me feel good about myself. Makes me feel good about life.

He lives fearlessly. I’ve almost never seen him hang back or cop out, and he takes you along into discomfort zones that you can survive. —Like, for me, some spans of time in Latin America, a place I wasn’t interested in and now love. When this happens, you emerge a bit better and a bit braver.

He loves beauty, and poetry, and excellence. He’s got a great eye, in so many quarters and fields, and he helps us see beauty better, I think. And he makes beauty, too, in paint, in film, in theater, in words. In gatherings of people.

Chad’s an unfailing, shameless promoter of his friends: he’ll brag about you right in your presence. He can’t help himself; he’s drawn to the stuff about you that’s special, that’s extra, and by affirming it as he does, he makes you a little bit more of whatever it is. He improves you. What a gift that is. Because of Chad I think Will Whittlesey is the funniest guy on earth, but do I know him?

And, get this: for a year, Chad called his girlfriend “Doctor” Harter. Who does that?

I mean He’s proud of you.

And he’s a loyal fellow, which is also a way of saying he loves deeply. Why does he make fun of your quirks?—because he loves. As long as I’ve known him he’s been this way. Here’s sort of what I mean: one morning he and Jud and I went fishing, and because of a malfunctioning winch, as we backed down the boat ramp Jud’s brand new boat leapt off its trailer, slammed onto the asphalt, and went grinding horribly down toward the water. Jud shouted, “Oh no, not again!” And later, after repairing the boat, of course Chad had to make fun of Jud a little. “Oh no, not again!”—but he couldn’t really do it. He said, “It’s so funny, and it’s so sad I want to cry.”

Well. He has that in him, a sweetness that makes you put up with certain shenanigans.

And now I come to the reason for the season: Kristina. In a way, today these qualities that I admire—Chad’s joie de vivre, his celebration of his friends, his eye for beauty and excellence, his sweet loyalty—are matched and consummated by Kristina. I mean, get this: since he met Kristina, Chad has actually become a nicer person. The things I love about him are denser, and the things I detest about him are in need of professional care.

But I misspoke: not “since he met Kristina.” I should have said, since he fell in love with Kristina, because the latter happened when the former did. O how many pictures, how many bragging emails did he send me? How many nagging phone messages did he leave ordering me to instantly come meet her?

Kristina, I know that Chad does love nothing in the world so much as you.

And here this toast falters when it should be strongest and truest, because it doesn’t convey—I can’t convey—how ebullient, how giddy and grateful and peaceful I am about you two. I tried to say this when I said, “We will” during the service, and I’ll try to say it again by eating and drinking and dancing now, and I’ll try say it more by loving my wife. It’s the same thing Jud & Jan, and Susan & Russell, and Susan & Bob want to say today; it’s something we’ll all almost say, with our hearts lifted and our glasses charged with champagne. Something just like hip-hip hooray.

So, friends: here’s to Kristina & Chad—the most excellent couple.

-True enough, true enough twelve years ago; true enough this very month, too.

Cry Innocent – opening day

25 years ago today, “Cry Innocent” opened in Old Town Hall.
The 2016 season opens today.
Congratulations Kristina, and Norm, and these many brilliant Ha’Puritans.
CRY INNOCENT was originally presented by History Alive! (Norman Jones, artistic director) at Old Town Hall, Salem, MA, on June 20, 1992. The production was directed by Norman Jones; costumes were by Donald Daly; set pieces were by David Butler; graphic design was by Chad Carlberg. The cast was as follows:
BRIDGET BISHOP – Leigh Deacon
COLONEL JOHN HATHORNE – Patrick Gray
ALICE PICKERING, ELIZABETH NICHOLS – Elizabeth Eckert
JOHN LOUDER, RICHARD TRASK, SAM GRAY – Steve Baldwin
JOHN COOK, WILLIAM BLY – John Payette
SUSANNA SHELDON, CHRISTINA TRASK – Maryellen Nauman
MARGARET KING, MARY SHATTUCK – Dawn Jenks
REBECCA BLY, LYDIA NICHOLS – Kristen Weiss
JOHN BLY, REV. JOHN HALE – Mark Stevick
CRY INNOCENT 1993 (Norm Jones, director; Ann Levy, business director; Don Daly & Mary-Ellen Smiley, costumes) opened in Old Town Hall on June 19 with this cast: Dawn Jenks, Eva Wilson, Steven Stuart Baldwin, Matthew M. Hillas, Kristen Weiss, Leigh Deacon, Patrick Gray, Philip Austin, Elizabeth Eckert, John Payette, Mark Stevick, and Carol Smith Austin.
CRY INNOCENT 1994 (Norm Jones, director; Ann Levy, business director; Dawn Jenks, production coordinator; Don Daly, Anita Coco, costumes) opened in Old Town Hall on June 18 with this cast: Carol Smith Austin, Krista Cowan, Erik Rodenhiser, John Payette, Eva Wilson, Mignon Mason, Matthew Hillas, Jill Bowen, Steve Baldwin, Mark Stevick, Gabe Zucker, and Amy Robinson.
CRY INNOCENT 1995 (Norm Jones, director; Mark Stevick, associate director; Don Daly and Anita Coco, costumes) opened in Salem’s Old Town Hall on June 30, 1995 with this cast: Eva Wilson, Eric Vendt, Erik Rodenhiser, Steve Baldwin, Wendy Simays, Ryan Leach, Kristi Wacome, Brian Moore, Jon VanderWoude, Heidi Duncan, and Matthew M. Hillas.
CRY INNOCENT 1996 (Norm Jones, director; Mark Stevick, associate director; Eva Wilson, production coordinator; Anita Coco, Eva Wilson, costumes, Jessica Cogdill, box office) opened in Old Town Hall on June 22 with this cast: Heidi Duncan, Kristi Wacome, Erik Rodenhiser, Eric Vendt, Brian Moore, Eliza Benedict, Josh Kuhar, Eva Wilson, Jon VanderWoude, and Rebecca Hall.
CRY INNOCENT 1997 (Norm Jones, director; Mark Stevick, associate director; Eliza Benedict, production coordinator; Anita Coco, Eva Wilson, costumes; Ben Bensen, box office) opened in St. Peter’s Church on June 21 with this cast: Rebecca Hall, Brian Moore, Eric Vendt, Anneliese Stauff, Nate Moniz, Tony Martelle, Jenni Smaltz, Heidi Horner, Heidi Duncan, and Reed Mungovan.
CRY INNOCENT 1998 (Norm Jones, director; Mark Stevick, director of development; Eliza Benedict, production coordinator; Brian Moore, marketing; Anita Coco, Eva Wilson, costumes) opened in Old Town Hall on June 20 with this cast: Jenni Smaltz, Tony Martelle, Nate Moniz, Lori Evans, Seth Henderson, Dan Buck, Ben Wolfe, Heidi Duncan, and Rebekah Clinard.
CRY INNOCENT 1999 (Norm Jones, artistic director; Eric Vendt, company director; Mark Stevick, director of development; Heidi Duncan, costumes, Chelsea Butcher, box office manager) opened in Old Town Hall on June 19 with this cast: Kristi Wacome, Rebekah Clinard, Tony Martelle, Amy Aldrich, Daniel Wall, Pete Holmes, Marc Fillion, and Shana Cassidy.
CRY INNOCENT 2000 (Norm Jones, Mark Stevick, artistic directors; Kristi Wacome, company director; Karen Burch, production coordinator; Heidi Duncan, costumes) opened in Old Town Hall on June 18 with this cast: Amy Aldrich, Marc Fillion, Daniel Wall, Heather Cole, Jeremy McKeen, Adina Rowan, Nate White, Brett DeBose, and Shannyn Harris.
CRY INNOCENT 2001 (Norm Jones, Mark Stevick, artistic directors; Kristi Wacome, company director; Shana Cassidy, production coordinator; Heidi Duncan, costumes) opened in Old Town Hall on June 24 with this cast: Heather Cole, Daniel Wall, Marc Fillion, Amy Aldrich, Bryan Olsen, Danielle Frederick, Jonathan Flanders, Rupert Dudney, Orion Couling, Brielle Montgomery, and Holly Couling.
CRY INNOCENT 2002 (Norm Jones, Mark Stevick, artistic directors; Kristi Wacome, company director; Heidi Horner, production coordinator; Kristi Wacome, costumes) opened in Old Town Hall on June 16 with this cast: Danielle Frederick, Jonathan Flanders, Graham Messier, Daniel Wall, Brielle Montgomery, Warren Wegrzyn, Nathan Seavey, Elizabeth Thompson, and Natalie Hildreth.
CRY INNOCENT 2003 (Norm Jones, Jeff Miller, artistic directors; Kristi Wacome, company director; Lori Evans, production coordinator; Christine Alger, Kristi Wacome, costumes; Jenna Perreault, box office) opened in Old Town Hall on June 22 with this cast: Natalie Hildreth, Graham Messier, Paul Turbiak, Nick Neyeloff, Nora Henderson, Paul D’Agostino, Sue Brown, and Courtney Fitzgerald.
CRY INNOCENT 2004 (Jeffrey Miller, artistic director; Kristina Wacome Stevick, director of education; Lori Evans, production coordinator) opened in Old Town Hall on June 19 with this cast: Brielle Montgomery, Courtney Fitzgerald Maggs, Paul Turbiak, Graham Messier, Paul D’Agostino, Nora Henderson, Andrew Winson, Jill Rogati, and Sara Peterson.
CRY INNOCENT 2005 (Jeffrey Miller, artistic director; Kristina Wacome Stevick, director of education; Lori Evans, production coordinator, Meg Jones, box office) opened in Old Town Hall on June 19 with this cast: Audrey Peters, Kaitlyn Henderson, Jill Rogati, Grace Menzies, Anne Colpitts, Elizabeth Polen, Brett Johnson, Nathan Seavey, Jon Flanders, and Damien Jesperson.
CRY INNOCENT 2006 (Kristina Wacome Stevick, artistic director; Dawn Sarrouf, director; Dreme McClennan, production coordinator; Maria Stuart, production assistant) opened in Old Town Hall on June 23 with this cast: Trisha Hail, Julianne Richards, Victoria Cimino, Rachel Mayer, Rebecca Collura, Mary Seville, Anne Colpitts, Brett Johnson, Andrew Hoover, Stephen Humeston, Eric Stevenson, David Draper.
CRY INNOCENT 2007 (Kristina Wacome Stevick, artistic director; Dawn Jenks Sarrouf, director; Dreme McClennan, prod. coord.) opened in Old Town Hall on June 29 with this cast: Victoria Cimino, Anne Colpitts, Elizabeth Condon, David Draper, Jesse Gilday, Trisha Hail, Andrew Hoover, Hannah McBride, Brittany Perkins, Liz Polen, Julianne Richards, Mary Seville, Eric Stevenson, Joseph Stiliano, and Jacob Watson.
CRY INNOCENT 2008 (Kristina Wacome Stevick, artistic director; Mark Wacome Stevick, director; Allison Petrone, stage manager; Liz Condon, PR; Christina Brandano, a.s.m.; Carrie Midura, costumes) opened in Old Town Hall on June 29 with this cast: Jenney Dale, Eli Donis, Bobby Imperato, Kim Kurczy, Alec Lewis, Hannah McBride, Kathleen McGovern, Natalie Miller, Kim Peck, Jay Pension, Julianne Richards, David Stickney, Joseph Stiliano, Rachel Strasner, and Jacob Watson.
CRY INNOCENT 2009 (Kristina Wacome Stevick, artistic director; David Goss, historian; Sarah Hartlett, site & stage manager; Kaitlyn Prior, stage manager.; Jessica Hackett & Tori Cimino, a.s.m.; Cheri Grishin, box office; Carrie Midura, costumes) opened in Old Town Hall on June 28 with this cast: Lurie Armand, Melissa Federico, Carol Grossi, Nick Hanlon, Bobby Imperato, Bruce Keye, Dennis Lemoine, Nicole Leotzakis, Hannah McBride, Natalie Miller, Daniel Parziale, Jay Pension, Chris Preyor, Nate Punches, Matt Schetne, Leda Uberbacher, and Kristina Walker.
CRY INNOCENT 2010 (Kristina Wacome Stevick, artistic director; Kathleen McGovern, director; Paul D’Agostino, October cast director; Sarah Hartlett, site & stage manager; Cheri Grishin, box office & sales manager; Lisa Landrebe, box office assistant; Carrie Midura and Jill Hall, costumes) opened in Old Town Hall on July 2 with this cast: Jenney Dale, Eli Donis, Marc Ewert, Andrew Hoover, Taylor Jones, Brittany Mitchell, Devon Rattigan, and Susanna Young.
CRY INNOCENT 2011 (Kristina Wacome Stevick, artistic director; Anne Colpitts and Jill Rogati, directors; Sarah Hartlett, site manager; Cheri Grishin, production coordinator; Christine¬ Kohli, box office) opened in Old Town Hall on July 3 with this cast: Conor Burke, Shari Caplan, Jenney Dale, Dominique Gobeil, Brittany Mitchell, Peter Murphy, Jasmine Myers, Jack Souweha, Armerys Suarez, and Steven Turner.
CRY INNOCENT 2012 (Kristina Wacome Stevick, artistic director; Jill Rogati, director; Cheri Grishin, production coordinator; Armerys Suarez, box office) opened in Old Town Hall on June 24 with this cast: Chelsea Borden, Conor Burke, Colin Colford, Kathy-Ann Hart, Sam Joyall, Sarah Mann, Britt Mitchell, Jasmine Myers, Thom Rash, and Keith Trickett.
CRY INNOCENT 2013 (Kristina Wacome Stevick, artistic director; Cheri Grishin, production coordinator) opened in Old Town Hall on June 18 with this cast: Colin Colford, Rachel Stigers, Ameila Haas, Sophie Lieton-Toomey, Diana Dunlap, Chelsea Borden, Carl Schultz, Max Sklar, Ariele Kaplan, Olivia DuMaine, Conor Burke, and Steve Pierce.
CRY INNOCENT 2014 (Kristina Wacome Stevick, artistic director; Cheri Grishin, production coordinator) opened in Old Town Hall on June 18 with this cast: Colin Colford, Rachel Stigers, Ameila Haas, Sophie Lieton-Toomey, Diana Dunlap, Chelsea Borden, Carl Schultz, Max Sklar, Ariele Kaplan, Olivia DuMaine, Conor Burke, Steve Pierce, Hillary Webster, Will Martin, and Pat Bridgeman.
CRY INNOCENT 2015 (Kristina Wacome Stevick, artistic director; Cheri Grishin, group sales; Will Frazier, production coordinator; Sarah Mann, assistant director) opened in Old Town Hall on June 20 with this cast: Colin Colford, Rachel Stigers, Ameila Haas, Nathan Burgette, Sophie Lieton-Toomey, Diana Dunlap, Chelsea Borden, Carl Schultz, Max Sklar, Ariele Kaplan, Olivia DuMaine, Heather Pasquazzi, Will Martin, and Pat Bridgeman.
CRY INNOCENT 2016 (Kristina Wacome Stevick, artistic director; Marc Ewart, production manager; Carl Schultz, shift supervisor; Sarah Tweed, box office) opened in Old Town Hall on June 20 with this cast: Molly Sidell, Daniel Alvarado, Chloe Eaton, Bradley Boutcher, Garrett Reynolds, Macey Jenkins, Patrick Cornacchio, Sophie Lieton-Toomey, Amelia Haas, Max Sklar, Heather Pasquazzi, Pat Bridgeman, and Sydney Taylor.
This list is missing some folks who were October season only.