main: May 2009 Archives

The annual festival begins Friday and already we've got some scuttlebutt. Bank of America and Wachovia have removed their names from the billing of two of Spoleto series. BOA used to put its name for the festival's Chamber Music Series. Wachovia for years did the same for the festival's Jazz Series. They are no longer so willing to have their names on the marquee.

We're told the corporations continue to sponsor the programs. We're told this is not a naming rights issue in which the banks haven't given enough money to claim the marquee. So we're left to wonder why they don't want their names used. Could it be the federal money they have taken to remain solvent since the fall? Don't want to encourage the impression of taxpayer money being at cross purposes.

This and more coverage at Spoleto Buzz.
May 21, 2009 10:11 PM | | Comments (1)

Knowing thyself is the point of "Six Days on the Road," that classic trucker song from 1963. Really, it's true. All that country singer Dave Dudley wants to do is get home to his baby. So he blasts through speed zones, dodges weigh stations and avoids the state patrol. To get through the long night, he takes some little white pills. Now his "eyes are open wide."

So is his mind. The solitude, uppers and time on his hands lead inevitably to moments of self-revelation. As a man alone on the road, the last of America's rugged frontier, he could have a lot of women. He has that freedom -- and that power -- but he knows it can't be. He's not afraid his sin will find him out. He just knows his place. "I could never make believe it's all right." So he's going home. Six days away from baby is long enough.

Freedom to explore who you are, and who you will become over time, is inconceivable to Eilis Lacey, the young adult heroine of Colm Tóibín's charming, witty and unsentimental new novel, Brooklyn (Scribner, 272 pages, $25). Growing up in the small Irish town of Enniscorthy in the 1950s, she fully expects to follow in mother's footsteps -- school, marriage, kids. Life for Eilis is easy to anticipate, like the mist rolling in every morning from the Irish Sea.

The whole story in the New Haven Advocate (plus Hartford Advocate, Fairfield County Weekly) ...

May 21, 2009 9:55 PM |

Last summer, the same critics who've long noted Playboy's declining cultural relevance were surprised to learn that the magazine had commissioned Denis Johnson -- author of the 2007 National Book Award-winning novel Tree of Smoke -- to write a 40,000-word serial novel.

Given the impotence of Playboy's impact -- losses for the last quarter of 2008 exceeded $145 million -- Johnson's crime caper will likely get more exposure now that it's been published in book form by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Nobody Move deserves the attention. Not just for refreshing the hard-boiled idiom of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, but also for inventing a variation of the ethical obsessions of Charles Dickens.

The whole story in the Pittsburgh City Paper ...

May 21, 2009 9:42 PM |
Thumbnail image for 39071350_resized.jpgA wonderful and underrated poet, Michael Blumenthal has published an evocative volume of poetry simply called *And*. The title and the word, connect the world's opposites and how they remain unchanged: The "monstrous stays monstrous," he says, "and the beautiful, too -- it stays." And so it is. The volume is like a sad hymnal, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. I had a chance to [sink my teeth]( into *And* for the *Jewish Forward*. Here's a snip.

The pessimism of the narrative voice is moreover built into the grammar of "And" -- right down to the title. The word befits "the nomenclature of grief and desire," Blumenthal writes. And perhaps it's the perfect word to illustrate humanity's paradox.

To be human is to long for something, and to long for something is to be in pain, and to be in pain is to be human. It looks as if idealism is damned, too.

But is the world according to "And" really the worst of all possible worlds?

Well, yes. And no.

[The whole story . . .](
May 16, 2009 11:08 AM |
It's so tough to get new plays on the stage, especially in a small town like Charleston. Even tougher when they originate from Charleston. Fortunately, we have a courageous theater company that doesn't wait for new work to trickle down from New York. The ensemble is called PURE Theatre and the new play is called *Sheep's Clothing* by local playwright Spencer Deering. The occasion brought to mind Mike Daisey's controversial one-man play about *How Theater Failed America*.

About a year ago, Mike Daisey staged a one-man show in New York called How Theater Failed America. The acclaimed monologuist made the case that regional theater sucks, because it aims for business more than art.

Regional theater typically obsesses over growth, Daisey claimed, focusing on building bigger buildings more than developing better actors. It caters to the wealthy, marketing itself like a luxury item. And it relies too much on importing actors from New York.

Daisey, who is a 2005 Spoleto Festival alum, wasn't saying anything really new, except this: that the usual problems regional theaters cite as their main obstacles -- such as competition from movies and television, drained government subsidies, strained philanthropic communities, and audiences that just don't get it -- are basically hokum.

None of that would matter, Daisey argued in his play, if the focus were on actors and playwriting, not business. In How Theater Failed America, Daisey calls for a return to the repertory model in which a dedicated group of actors hones its skills and creates new work. That means an acting troupe that's smaller, leaner, and more aggressive artistically. If that sounds like a description of PURE Theatre, that's because it is.

[the whole story here]( [And you can read *City Paper*'s review here.](
May 10, 2009 7:35 AM |

It seemed for a long time poets should only write from their point of view. Otherwise, you run the risk of some kind of liberal-political-multicultural offense. Because in speaking for the Other, you risked appearing to oppress the Other. The result was a kind of poetic narcissism. This is a broad outline that surely over reaches in trying to explain what poets have felt over two decades. But its merits are worth considering, as I did in my conversation with poet Jennifer Moxley, author of the new volume Clampdown. Here's a snip.

Walt Whitman was large, contained multitudes and contradicted himself. By the 1960s, few American poets did what he did. The universal subject ("I") was considered a vestige of an old imperial power structure, so Whitman's "I" was no longer democratic and egalitarian but instead a symbol of white dominance in an oppressive culture. Perhaps the only redemption for Whitman came from new evidence suggesting he was gay.

Too simple? Sure, but that's more or less what happened, says poet Jennifer Moxley.

You had to write from your particular social marker and not beyond that," says the University of Maine English professor in a phone interview. "The 1960s saw poetry emerge from identity politics and from politics put into lifestyle choices."

She now specializes in those social markers, teaching classes in gay and lesbian literature, feminist literary theory and women's studies. She's found her own way in volumes of poetry like her latest, Clampdown. In it, one can sense the poet pushing back against a kind of sealed off and self-referential thinking.

"Life is untenable without a universal subject," says Moxley. "At some point, we fracture into shards of self-interest. There's no reason I should write and read about only things related to me -- a white woman from California. You want to grow and change and take risks. Otherwise, your life is the only life. That's not good. It should be a political thing."

Full story at the New Haven Advocate ...

May 9, 2009 9:20 AM |

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