Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ah, Philip Larkin.  Being shown Larkin in college was revelatory for me.  I wrote my final paper on his poetry.  Looking at it now I can see both what appealed to me then, but I can also see how amazing his writing is, what depths can be discovered.  I think that I found him to be a bridge between the formal poetry of the past and the themes that would come to dominate poetry in the late 50's and 60's in free verse. 
Larkin was a bitter and cynical man and his poems reflect a very post-war, British sensibility of austerity and change (in my American eyes).  And while his poems reflect that cynicism, it is interesting to me that he was still able to produce this body of work--that nihilism and pessimism did not stop him from the need to write.  Like Dorothy Parker, he flirted with suicide, wrote of it as a desirable thing, and yet staggered on creating.

This is probably his most famous poem.

This Be the Verse
~Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

April, 1971


And a much earlier one

'Since the majority of me'

Since the majority of me
Rejectts the majority of you,
Debating ends forthwith, and we
Divide.  And sure of what to do

We disinfect new blocks of days
For our majorities to rent
With unshared friends and unwalked ways.
But silence too is eloquent:

A silence of minorities
That, unopposed at last, return
Each night with cancelled promises
That want renewed.  They never learn

December 6, 1950

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Poems for National Poetry Month


~Simon Armitage

Batman, big shot, when you gave the order

to grow up, then let me loose to wander

leeward, freely through the wild blue yonder

as you liked to say, or ditched me rather,

in the gutter…well, I turned the corner.

Now I’ve scotched that ‘he was like a father

to me’ rumour, sacked it, blown the cover

on that ‘he was like an elder brother’

story, let the cat out on the caper

with the married woman, how you took her

downtown on expenses in the motor.

Holy robin-redbreast-nest-egg shocker!

Holy roll-me-over-in-the-clover,

I’m not playing ball boy any longer

Batman, now I’ve doffed that off-the-shoulder

Sherwood-Forest-green and scarlet number

for a pair of jeans and crew-neck jumper;

now I’m taller, harder, stronger, older.

Batman, it makes a marvelous picture:

you without a shadow, stewing over

chicken giblets in the pressure cooker,

next to nothing in the walk-in larder,

punching the palm of your hand all winter,

you baby, now I’m the real boy wonder.

On Being a Woman

~Dorothy Parker

Why is it, when I am in Rome

I'd give an eye to be at home,

But when on native earth I be,

My soul is sick for Italy?

And why with you, my love, my lord,

Am I spectacularly bored,

Yet do you up and leave me--then

I scream to have you back again?

Review of the two versions of Frankenstein

Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature, Jonny Lee Miller as Frankenstein Alas, they put him in a loin cloth--probably to not have to rate it R over here. But the bum was still awesome and yes, I thought how uncomfortable those boys must be during--like puppetry of the penis. The play (IMHO): BC/Creature--11 (BC was perhaps a tad too funny--I'm dying now to see the reversal) JLM/Victor--10 (a little too one-note, but I think that was a fault of the script.) Karl Johnson/De Lacey--9 Rest of cast--5 (except the maid--she was cool) Text--8 Set--besides the big musical numbers (Steampunk Starlight Express and Brigadoon, the Zombie Version)--9 (the floor in particular was perfect) Music/sound (in our version)--too loud and inappropriate in some scenes Lighting--intriguing, prob. 8. I liked the use of lightbulbs--the subtle suggestion of industry and electricity--and there were enough of them to be very, very good. Some bursting flares that were a little odd. Reminded me of a recent production of Copenhagen I saw where there were lights whizzing around as if colliding electrons around a nucleus. Costumes--7, ok but really boring and kind of cheap looking. The fur suit was nice. The designer in me has a couple of totally practical questions as the filming often did close ups and pans during the scene changes (close-ups were awesome btw, seeing them sweat) Were the walls plaster? Where did the grass come from? How did BC pop out of the bed? Were the poles he climbed on always on the stage? I may think of some others, but that's a start. Okay, and I'm probably going to get some arguments here. (I subscribe to the if you put a gun on stage theory and I'm a minimalist set designer--if the play wants to be stripped down to a good floor, then that's all it needs to be). Birth scene: FANTASTIC. Perfectly done. For some reason walking on his knuckles really got to me. The joy at each new thing. Perfect. Victor's entrance: necessary if only in the purely practical sense of giving him the cloak, felt like we might have explored the rejection better. Creature in the wild: What was with the GD steampunk train???? Yeah, it looked cool and stuff, and I guess it was supposed to show industrialization and the rejection of the cities, but seriously--Steampunk Starlight Express? We never see the crowds again, we never see industrialization again. Just a throwaway metaphor that might have worked if it had been embellished upon, but was an utter annoying waste the way it was. Do it big or don't do it at all. The countryside: Good, might have pushed further. Air, earth, fire, water. We had real fire (man, the fire codes on this thing must be intense--once had to get fire regulation approval on a curtain--pain in the ASS--and we didn't have any fire on stage). So we had real rain. I thought that unnecessary too. Later we have a whole thunderstorm, but no rain. I'm sure BC could have acted being in the rain. The fire I get because fire is important later. Oh, and the choir of angels? Not so much for me at any rate. De Lacey's cottage: Really, really good. Decoration on scrim a little odd, but that may have been because we were so close to it (there were naked people in the trees??). De Lacey's performance was beautiful. The kids were decent and the 'natural' desire and method of reproduction. There were some really funny bits--BC's mimicry of De Lacey--which made the heartbreak worse. "You promised!" Hated, hated, hated the wet dream ballet. It so felt like Zombie Brigadoon--Come to Me, Bend to Me. Really? That was the best you could come up with for sexual awakening? Death of William: OMG the set was so good here. The look of the water, the appearance of the dock--wow, minimal but perfect. The acting, not so much. Good lord, could George Harris possibly have been any worse? I'll talk really quietly for a bit and THEN I'LL SHRIEK A BIT and then get quiet and call it levels. Oh, and the murder of William was a bit abrupt. I'll get to Elizabeth a little later. In the house: Again, just feel like the scenes are rushed. Father useless, maid fun, Elizabeth weedy. Set, kind of like, kind of get, papercut effect very, very nice. MAJOR sideways rake--why? Why that steep? Pain in the butt for the actors, added nothing--we're skewed? Saw a Hedda Gabbler kind of like it once--worked there because Hedda is all kinds of skewed. Elizabeth--oh, go under my maiden's skirts my love and make with me the babies--because you're not doing it right what with the playing God and stuff. (What was up with that dress? Just because she's titless doesn't mean you can't build out the dress a bit--it was a look at my boobs kind of era. And up close it was clear that they had cut the dresses very authentically, so just not sure why they couldn't have made it fit better. I mean, they gave Kiera Knightly tits in P&P!) Victor and Creature in the mountains: Excellent. Liked BC jumping on poles etc. but we didn't really get to see the entrance, which is why I wondered if they were always there. And here's my big thought--I could imagine this whole play being JUST Victor and the Creature (when I first heard about it, I hoped it would be), with maybe De Lacey, on a nearly empty stage, and some good sound effects and gobos. Victor arrives in the Orkneys: Big old rainstorm with just lighting and sound and ACTING. Serious comedy relief in the form of...wait for it...grave diggers! Brother's ghost--I don't mind it. It was a nice reveal of Victor's character and exposition for what's coming. Again, the creature's joy and sensual desire. The mere touch of her hand was exquisite. And then the denial and the fury. Oh, and set--reversal of house with suggested roof--very nice. Back to Geneva: So, Victor's an ass to Elizabeth and we don't know why she loves him. Then HE JUMPS OUT OF THE BED--seriously, how was he hiding? I thought it was a fake bed somehow, but then they lay on it??? And she's not scared at all, nope not even a little bit, or concerned or puzzled at all. I'm just happy and chipper. And they sit and she's nice AND then despite this he rapes and murders her. (Annoyingly they showed this from above. Made it more weird than it needed to be.) The arctic: Am I remembering correctly that this is the Creature's only soliloquy? If you're going to do it once, you have to do it twice! Question--did Victor pull the sled on stage or did it appear when the house set went a way? Then, the really good (but too short)--I just wanted your love ending and pursuit across the ice. So--big themes. I read Frankenstein a long time ago, but I wrote a paper on it at the time and I've seen all the films, good, bad and ugly + hilarious and camp, as well as sort of meta-ing on the story of its creation (like Gothic, dear God, and The Stress of Her Regard. Like I said above, I'd rather have had more dialog between Victor and the Creature than anything else to explore the nature vs. nurture, what do we owe that which we create, power of hate, power of love. Going back to Copenhagen, it's very dialog heavy (some think too much so) and some of it is esoteric, but the themes are explored and re-examined, parallels made. The little teaser film was kind of limp too, but we did get to see them rehearsing--far too many cuts to montages, like they thought they couldn't talk over the rehearsal scenes or something--like a bad Oscars montage. Bits from the film, birds flying, nuclear reactors--yeah, we get it, science dangerous, nature good. Oh, and I love the original--I wept, wept for the Creature, silly as the make-up was. I thought that Karloff conveyed a world of dialog with no words at all.

Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature, Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein

STILL cannot figure out the bed trick, and this time we saw the bed more completely. Friend and I were completely focused on the bed trying to figure it out. Heard other people on the train discussing it. Humorously someone in the theater screamed when the Creature leapt up. I would stick with my previous numbers. Both JLM and BC were excellent in both roles. And while each brought something to each character, I felt overall that JLM made a better Creature and BC the better Victor. It was interesting to see how JLM did approach it as a child, each thing learned, while BC approached it as someone recovering--a step forward, a step back. After the initial birth I liked JLM's pathos and his anger and dark actions seemed much more believable to me. The rape and murder was much more believable and frightening. (Also, JLM is a fine figure of a man, perhaps not quite BC but certainly very good--really nice legs. He is also a perfectly able to act with his toes as well.) It was especially interesting to see how much was similar in each performance and how much their portrayal of one bled into the other. Again, I wish so much that it had been a two person show. I really do. BC has a great sense of comedic timing which is interestingly not something I would have thought from his two big roles over here. But going back and seeing even something as heartbreaking as "Hawking," you can see that he finds the joy in a role. I think it's part of what makes his "Sherlock" so much fun. There are funny lines, but his delivery is spot on. That said, he has certain mannerisms as an actor which become more apparent when you watch several of his roles back to back. This is not a bad thing. It's certainly true of most actors, but there was much of Sherlock in his Victor. There was also a great deal of comedy in his Creature and while most of it worked, some of it was distracting. As Victor, however, this slight comedic timing made Victor both a more ridiculous character and a more sympathetic one. BC is very, very good at finding levels between beats and at articulating each point with a gesture or a body movement. It's almost dance or mime or mask work. He made Victor's somewhat stilted lines interesting and showed a nice vulnerability with Elizabeth that was not apparent in JLM's. He made the initial beat of seeing the Creature and throwing the cape over him far more believable. There is also something very believably aristocratic about BC, either his stature and figure or his Harrovian schooling or something, but he owned the area more than JLM. (Someone commented on how BC seems like Sherlock is very upperclass, while poor Gatiss doesn't seem as well-born as Mycroft, more a middle-class image of the upper-classes). BC looked more at home in his boots and fine coat. On colorblind casting. I was less bothered this time because William was black. Go figure... You know, elder Frankenstein is a rich man from the plantations in the Caribbean and he married a white woman who already had a son and then started a younger family with her. Or something. Harris was marginally better this night. Very glad that I had the chance to see both. Would view them both again (with remote to skim some parts). Still wonder if it would be so overwhelmingly popular if the leads were not both famous--one for previous work and BC newly for Sherlock. Granted Danny Boyle returning to the theater also helps. Certainly Frankenstein in the theater is an interesting concept, but interesting concepts do not sell out extended runs. Quick question--the "womb" is onstage and visible at the beginning, correct? Does that mean that the actor has to be in place before the house is opened? I've done shows like that, where the nature of the staging meant you had to get into position and stay there while the house filled, and it's...terrifying, so even more kudos to them.