Thursday, March 18, 2021

Now Comes The Hard Part: A home for GHOST LIGHT

 


 

 It’s hard to say how long it’s taken me to put together GHOST LIGHT, what I feel is a cohesive collection of poems inspired by the Ziegfeld Follies of 1919. Does a lifetime of isolating interest count? Where did it begin, you might ask? I was born in 1962, well after Vaudeville’s heyday and on the cusp of Beatlemania. Many performers had retired to the suburbs of Long Island, a fact that causes me no small amount of regret. I had neither the nerve nor the ability in those pre-Internet days to seek these treasures out while they were still with us to tell their stories. Luckily a few others did, and we have those interviews, and at very least their obituaries, to tease our hunger for more.

In 1956, The Wizard of Oz made its television debut, and by the time I started watching and absorbing it a decade later, it had become an annual event as big as Christmas. Growing up, we may have lacked for material things here and there, but we always had a great, big color console TV. Those ruby slippers practically leapt off the screen! I believe that for me, Oz and Funny Girl were indirectly my two greatest inspirations to learn more about entertainers of the early 20th century. Up until the mid-1970s, prime time programming was heavily influenced by vaudeville, burlesque, and even the presence of many of those entertainment pioneers. From Ed Sullivan to Sonny & Cher, most shamelessly borrowed from well-loved routines, thus perpetuating the art into this century.

It is an epiphany of sorts when one discovers that Glinda was in 1939, the year Oz debuted, the middle-aged widow of Florenz Ziegfeld himself. Both Ray Bolger and Bert Lahr worked briefly for Ziegfeld. Judy Garland would star not so long after as a Ziegfeld Girl in a thoroughly whitewashed melodrama that nonetheless captures some of the magic that happened on the New Amsterdam stage. And so I went down the glittery rabbit hole.

Once I allowed myself the freedom to let the poems be inspired by history, and not slavishly document the exact color of every spotlight, I was able to make significant progress on the work. I hope that the poems breath life back into the people portrayed for a moment, some as popular in their day as Beyonce or Brad Pitt are today. I would love if one or two readers are inspired to explore these histories on their own. I’ve included short bios at the back of the book, hoping to tease and intrigue.

But now here’s that hard part I mentioned. Although I’ve had individual poems published in magazines and anthologies around the world, had several chapbooks produced by small, fine publishers, and even self-published some chapbooks on my own under the dubious “Flying Monkey Press” imprint, I have never submitted a completed, themed manuscript for consideration. It is a unique work for me in that it did require a great deal of research, and the poems although able to stand on their own individually, are intended to be a narrative of highlights. The earliest poem is set in 1896, and the latest in present day, but the bulk tell a story of the Follies of 1919, a year of radical unrest, irrational temperance, and relative calm before the coming decades terrible storms.

I consider it a version of embellished history, with a sound core and some poetical license entwined with the facts. If I didn’t think the poems were good I’d have written it all in prose, and frankly, that’s been done before and by more skillful writers than me. The days of firsthand sources have gotten away from us. Since I am moved nevertheless to write about the times, poetry became my genre of choice. My first step is to reach out to some of the university presses that deal with material close to the subject: Theater, New York City & New York State History, Early 20th Century Music. I have a proposal letter in the works, and I do think the unique nature of the manuscript could be in my favor. I don’t seem to be able to locate much other poetry about the Follies, although one or two pieces showed up in Google searches.

I am willing to self-publish again if need be, but I would like these poems to reach as wide an audience as possible. It is the collection I have invested the most time, effort, and research into, and I am proud of it, flawed as it is. I suppose Ziegfeld felt the same way, but it will never be the grand performance of epic scope that I first envisioned. Perhaps that’s why it’s taken me so long to complete. The Pandemic, for the most part, did not afford me any extra time to complete this task. Between working from home, fretting about finding new work, and finally working at several new jobs that were not a great “fit,” my hour or so in the morning before the world began to spin was all I could spare. But circumstances have certainly been driving me to take up long unfinished tasks and bring them to some kind of closure. So it has been with GHOST LIGHT, and so it shall be with other endeavors that have been cluttering up Casa Diva for years.

Monday, February 1, 2021

**Poem: "Snow Day"

 


 

 Snow Day

 

If it is beautiful, it is because it’s transforming,

changing the look of the corner you turn on to go home,

bringing you around the steepest bend, because when

everything is white, nothing is clear.

If it is welcoming, it is because it’s engaging,

bringing your powers of suggestion to the forefront,

bringing the layers you’ve chosen to engage with the weather in

closer to the source of all that is you in this flesh.

If it is winter, it’s because despite everything,

the sun has managed to creep along its trail

to the next available season, done with scattering

the spent leaves of autumn, not yet convinced

we need any new ones. It’s the sun’s vacation,

relaxing as we should with a good book, fuzzy pants,

a cup of whatever tea we haven’t tried yet in this

age of home alert. If it’s snow, it’s because

the sun hasn’t the time or inclination to make it

otherwise. The plants make do with what little

entertainment ice provides. The sidewalks

bond with the crystalline intruders,

block the path from postal carriers and rabbits alike.

The squirrels perpetuate, their brains too

hollow to grasp the true meaning of a plow,

never minding where the nuts are buried,

sinking without fear into their logs of content.

 

CAR   2/1/21

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Still Woman After All: Feminism in the Age of Proud Racism

 


My 4th grade class, in lieu of a full-blown play, offered a selection of songs from Mary Poppins, probably in theaters on its first re-release in 1971. I had a wonderful light blue Granny Gown that I’d worn for Easter, and it fit perfectly with the time period. It even won me the task of handing out programs. The song that sticks most in my mind from that score is, “Sister Suffragette.” As with all Disney productions, it was a white-washed version of the actual struggle for women’s rights, leaving out the arrests and force feedings, but it did become an anthem of sorts for me. Even at nine, I was very aware of the inequities between the sexes. At the time, I believed I was in the majority in my community, and especially my middle-class school in the suburbs. But how far could a nine-year old get out into that community?

In 1974, “I Am Woman,” came out. It was the first single record I purchased, “Hear me roar,” sang out Helen Reddy, but I was anything but a roarer. Always a writer, my public speaking days were far off in the future. I began to use the prefix “Ms.” early on. That was my small roar. But I still had crushes on the most unlikely boys, still bought Ringo’s quirky remake, “You’re Sixteen,” not getting the creep factor then of a thirty-year old man lusting after teenagers. I  experimented with make-up, clothes when I could afford to, but I had no idea how to work with my early curves. I wore thick glasses which camouflaged a multitude of make-up sins, peacock greens, pearly purples muted behind the lenses. I did not know, and still don’t most days, what being a woman in American was supposed to look like. I still functioned under the illusion that we had more freedoms here. Now I’m not even sure what freedom means.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg grew up on another planet from mine. Brilliant, with an education that only multiplied her natural talents, she saw clearly what freedoms had been denied to women, and worked her whole career to change those restrictions. In 1971, when I was warbling on about suffragettes and kites in my small cafetorium, she was updating laws so that women like me could have their own credit cards, with their own names on them. When I left for college in 1980, it was brand-new territory for both me and my family, supportive yet trying to protect me with vague warnings about how it was still, “a man’s world.” I went on to explore this new world of college, and married young without much forethought. I managed to finish my degree in four years, but it would prove to be of no practical use on the job market. I graduated at 21 still without a driver’s license. I was in no way capable of managing a classroom.

I had a husband who berated me for ever wearing make-up, asking who I was, “getting dressed up for.” I kept my poems at work, after he’d ripped up some at our home. I got two black eyes for my troubles, and had even changed my name to his for a time, something I swore I wouldn’t do, but rationalized at the time that it made little difference. It made all the difference, I know now. I always used, “Ms.” but with my own identity all but erased, the prefix was powerless.

Ultimately I changed the course of my life, with help from a few key women. I took back my birth name, supported myself, moved and lived. I’ve got a rich history of friends, lovers, companions, jobs that would all make wonderful stories, if I live long enough to tell them. For the last twenty years, I have been settled with a man whose history nearly equals my own in drama and missteps. We are quiet observers for the most part. In this internet age, we travel via You Tube, saving ourselves the trouble of packing. We are adventurous in the kitchen, plagued no more by faux-vegan roommates or ramen budgets. We sleep well. He is my companion, but not my whole life. If he decided to go tomorrow, I would still have something here of my own.

I still strive for the equality of the sexes, and the races the genders. So much more has come to the surface. The Old Guard clings to the comforts of a black & white picture of an America that never really existed. Ozzie & Harriet met when his band needed a girl singer. Annette passed away after years of MS destroyed her once beautiful body. The President is a proud racist, and has followers empowered by his unchecked hate. But I still stand, shoulder to shoulder, with  others striving for equality, respect, opportunity, and security for all of us. Into the fray we go. I am still woman after all.


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Second Prize Winner Alan Catlin!

 

A Journal of the Plague Year

 

"A crowd here wearing yellow ribbons is

crying for infants to be born."

Leslie Scalapino, The Front Matter, Dead Souls

 

Inside the painted city, double locked doors,

black crosses seared into the buckled paint,

yellow flags hanging from the masts of dormant

ships quarantined well beyond the harbor,

flotsam floating amidst the rainbow stained

garbage, the bloated heads of the diseased

slipped into the water under cover of darkness,

their candy apple eyes leaving wax impressions

on the skin of sleepers walking out of doors,

gauze contagion masks sucked inward covering

jagged teeth, soiled gowns bearing the marks

of inflated skins, tumors hard as fists

blackening the stilled night, powerless streets,

stricken power lines no longer sparking

in greasy puddles, mucal like burnt skin,

leaking oils on blacktop, concrete losing

definition, dissolving along with everything

else in the burning, hazing, mustard gas.

 

Alan Catlin has been publishing since the Seventies. In addition to more than sixty books and chapbooks of prose and poetry, he has won a number of national contests and awards. He has been a finalist for the Brittingham Book Prize from the University of Wisconsin Press, the Lena Miles Wever Poetry Book Award and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, twenty times, in both fiction and poetry. Alan is one of the editors and founder of Misfit Magazine (misfitmagazine.net).