Friday, June 19, 2009

Takoma Park Poets Make It an Evening

A little local poetry, including a visit from the Poet Laureate of Takoma Park, Anne Becker, is good for the soul. After a long day at work on deadline, there's nothing like an open mike.

It sounds like I go to one every night! I don't, of course, except in my dreams.

The sound of someone's voice reading her (or his) poetry is like relaxing in a field of flowers (with no bees or bugs).

The microphone helps.

It's like when you were a kid and your mother gave you one of those big cardboard rolls for wrapping paper. She planned to throw it away, but you could have it for a while. Remember that? Maybe it was just me. Let me know if you remember.

Yelling into it, I sounded like a circus ringmaster announcing the elephants or the cast of Gone with the Wind who were all poodles. I love yelling. I yell in the shower. I don't have the ego to call it singing. Show tunes mostly.

Blame it on my evenings with my mother at the Warwick Musical Theater, the "Tent," for shows like "Guys and Dolls" where I got Lloyd Bridges's autograph.

Or another musical, "Brigadoon." All live up on Route 3.

Thursday evening at the Community Center, everybody had 5 minutes, which was more than enough time to read three poems. I read "The Cormorant Dries Her Wings," which I'll be posting here next time with the backstory. And I read the last stanza of a poem about my dad.

The audience -- 20 people? -- were still as a lake at sunrise. Except when they were clapping (after every poem), and except for the fellow in the back eating his fourth lemon cookie from a plate set out for after the reading. What a noisy gnosher. And I swear his crumbs, a few of his crumbs, made it to the podium when I was still up there.

Microphones are strange appliances. That screeching when things go wrong is the worst. But this one worked great. All voices sounded full, and the poems, so much the person who was reading. As if what you write down on paper really matters, as if no less than your life depends on it. Every single day.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

June 10 Birthdays . . .

With many humble apologies to the Writer's Almanac and Garrison Kiellor who posts poems and birthdays every day of the week all year long . . . I added a b'day for today. See #2.

1. It's the birthday of Judy Garland, born Frances Ethel Gumm in 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where her father operated the only movie theater in town. She starred in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), Easter Parade (1948), and many more movies. (from Writer's Almanac, June 10, 2009)

2. It's the birthday of Ted Ciesla, a lifelong resident of Coventry, RI, where he taught science at the local high school and also coached the baseball team for more than 30 years. Born in 1920, Ted was a veteran of WWII.

As a young man and a student at the University of Rhode Island, Ted won many state and regional diving competitions. For many years, he spent his summers with his wife Jan teaching swimming to underprivileged children at Lake Tiogue. Ted had four children, all excellent swimmers, including Meredith Pond, a fan of the Writer’s Alamanac.

Ted loved baseball and especially the Boston Red Sox. On the night before he died, Ted watched the Red Sox trounce the Baltimore Orioles in overtime. He died at home in his son’s arms the following morning. Ted’s favorite song was “Moonlight in Vermont.”

He preferred to make his own clam chowder, but in a pinch you could talk him into going down to Galilee for a piping-hot bowl “New England style” and some clamcakes at Champlain’s near the Block Island Ferry dock.

3. It's the birthday of the children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1928.

His parents were Polish immigrants, and as Maurice was growing up, many extended family members died in the Holocaust. So his parents were constantly grieving for their family back in Poland, and they were worried about Maurice, who was a very sick child. He almost never went outside — most of what he knew about the world outside his bedroom came from visiting family members, from the view through his window, and from books.

His dad read to him before bed every night, and his mom was constantly hovering around, making sure he was all right.

So when he eventually became an illustrator, he oftentimes painted a moon in the background as a symbol of his watchful mother. He started drawing, got a job in high school drawing the Mutt and Jeff cartoon strip into comic books, and went on to art school.

When he was 19, he illustrated a physics book, Atomics for the Millions (1947). Then he worked for years designing the window displays for FAO Schwartz while he took night classes at art school.

And eventually he started writing and illustrating his own books for children, books about normal kids who end up in surreal settings where strange things happen, books like Where the Wild Things Are (1963) and In the Night Kitchen (1970). Maurice Sendak has illustrated more than 90 books.

He said: "You cannot write for children. They're much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them." (from Writer's Almanac, June 10, 2009)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dad

My answering machine holds a collection of messages from past holidays. In my family, this is what we call insurance.

You never know when you'll fall out of favor with one person or another. And, there's no chance of knowing the reason why they are mad at you either.

So when I play the answering machine's messages, I can hear my son wishing me happy Mother's Day, my nephew saying, "Merry Christmas," my friend from college (40 years ago) singing, happy birthday to you, etc., etc.

And then there's my dad's voice loud and clear as if I'm about to dive off the dock into shallow water . . . "Meredith!" He never did say hello on the phone. But there's one message in a softer voice that says, "Meri, this is dad calling." He sounds as if I might not recognize his voice.

This is my collection. Years of good wishes are right at my fingertips. If somebody forgets to call? No problem, I'm covered.

In my dream the other night, my father and I were walking along the beach in Narragansett talking about why I wouldn't want to live so close to the water. The house we were looking at a few dream-moments earlier had little waves breaking right at the white picket fence.

"You're right," I said. "But I like the place. It's near you."

A dream like this on a week night is hard to come by. I'm grateful for it.

So here's my chance to leave a message on the cosmic answering machine: happy birthday, dad. Yup, it's June again. And you would be 89 in earth years. I hope the cake in heaven is as tasty as the one you're eating in this photo . . .