October 2004

On September 18th, Domenica Press, our start-up publishing company, held a book launching party for our first publication Shots from a Passing Car: Poetry for other people…not just other poets. This was Ron Vazzano’s first published collection of poetry. (Bio). The event was held at the Verve Art Gallery on LaBrea Boulevard in Los Angeles, and was attended by 85 poetry lovers, friends and well-wishers. Ron was at the podium for almost 45 minutes talking about the genesis of his company and first book, and read several selections from his collection. He was accompanied on three of his poems by cellist Sarah O’Brien who composed two original pieces for the reading. ( A good time was had by all. There is a video of the evening to prove it.

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The subtitle of the above publication Poetry for other people…not just other poets, is a reflection of Ron’s belief, and that of many “other people” (particularly Americans), that poetry tends to be an elitist art; a niche form of writing that often goes beyond the comprehension of the masses. And perhaps worse yet, that in this visual hyper-kinetic culture we live in, it lacks any entertainment value. Horrors! But assuredly, this wasn’t always the case.

Once upon a time in America, poetry was not only opium for the masses, but some poets were akin to being, the rock stars of their day. One such poet? Edna St. Vincent Millay. (Voila! A rhyme). Perhaps no poet is more “famous” for a single quatrain than she:

  My candle burns at both ends;
  It will not last the night;
But ah my foes, and oh, my friends?
  It gives a lovely light!

Also few people’s lives could be summed up as aptly in one quatrain, as hers. She led a highly spirited and sexually active life that indeed did burn the candle at both ends. In ways, both literal and metaphoric. She also dispels another commonly held perception of poets: that they are a rather “geeky” and unattractive lot. She was a “hot” to use the vernacular of today; desired and seduced by both sexes. Outrageous stuff for 1912! For a more recent “pop” reference point, think perhaps Madonna?

Two books about her life that we have recently read, are highly recommended: The Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Thorndike Press 2002) by Nancy Milford and What Lips My Lips Have Kissed: The Loves And Love Poems Of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Henry Holt and Company 2001) by Daniel Mark Epstein. The former is a biography in the more traditional sense of the genre, a chronological marking of a life; the latter as the title might suggest, focuses on the passions of her life and the poetry that it spawned.

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Speaking of “hot”, one who has undeservedly been saddled with that translation to the detriment of recognizing her far greater impact on Christianity, is Mary Magdalen. Making this case in the most scholarly fashion is Susan Haskins wonderful book Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor (Riverhead Books 1993).

Talk about repressive societies against woman’s rights? Back in Mary’s time, to quote Ms. Haskins:

  “…the woman apparently wears her hair loose is another sign of her fallen status, as only prostitutes wore their hair thus is public…a good Jewess allowed none but her spouse to see her hair unbound, and by loosening it in public, she gave grounds for mandatory divorce.”

Although on second thought, a pretty easy way for a woman to get out of a bad marriage we would suppose. But all felicitousness aside, equally startling, is to think that here we are in the 21st century, and some cultures and societies are still requiring their women to cover their faces while out in public.

Ms. Haskins’ book offers this conclusive perspective:

  “The true Mary Magdalen has much to offer when freed from the restrictions which gender bias has imposed upon her. Symbolism has done her an injustice; modern scholarship has made restitution possible. If there is still need for symbolism, would not the true Mary Magdalen, the disciple of the cross and herald of the New Life, no less beautiful than her mythical persona, and far more edifying as a figure of independence, courage, action, faith and love, serve women better as a symbol for today.”

And in our opinion, Mary Magdalen— right there, is reason enough for the Catholic Church to remove its stultifying ban disallowing women to join the priesthood. She is no mere footnote in the development of Christianity, but a productive member of Christ’s initial group of followers. She was an “apostle” in every sense of that word. Amen!

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With the passing of Richard Avedon at 81 this past week, an artist of great magnitude was lost. We could not help but recall the evening we met him about ten years ago, at a book launching party for his fabulous pictorial tome: An Autobiography Richard Avedon (Random House 1993).

We had slipped him a poem that night, we had written (“While Jack As Ever” page 106 in Shots from a Passing Car), that was inspired by a photo essay he had done of the surviving members of the Kennedy Era for The New Yorker. He seemed genuinely thrilled to be so honored by us in this small way.

His portrait work in particular was stunning in its ability to totally unmask its subject; often showing them in their most unflattering selves. So stark are his portraits, that at first glance, the individuals— though often world icons—are often barely recognizable. He was almost an assassin with his camera, at such times.

Whenever great artists pass away, it is usually said that they will be missed. But in a larger sense, that is not true. Because unlike most of us, they leave such a rich body of work behind, that they in effect, remain with us forever. And really, it is only through their work, that most of us ever knew them in the first place. Except that in the case of Mr. Avedon, we were able to see him react for a moment like a schoolboy, as he gleefully tucked the poem away in his jacket pocket, for reading at some time after the party’s conclusion.

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If you are in New York or plan to be there soon, there is a fabulous theater company (Atlantic Theater Company 336 West 20th St), doing a couple of Eugene Ionesco revivals that are worth seeing. We caught his one act plays The Bald Soprano and The Lesson, a couple of week ago.

Why Ionesco’s work has been missing from the scene for some time now, is totally lost on us. This “absurdist” playwright, who died in 1994 at age 82, is right up there with Beckett in stature as far as we are concerned. We had last seen “The Bald Soprano” in the early 70’s and can state unequivocally, that 30 years later, it is as biting and relevant as it has ever been. The ringing “doorbell scene” alone is worth the price of admission as it challenges the whole process of what we consider “logical thinking”. This is by the way, a new translation by Tina Howe.

“The Lesson” is more “penetrating” in more ways than one. While also highly satirical, it is much “heavier” in a sense. Having read it about three decades ago as well, it too has not diminished in any way. Really, don’t miss these.

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Arthur Miller is back with a brand new play! His Finishing The Picture will have its world premiere at the Goodman Theater in Chicago on October 5th. It is alleged to be even more autobiographical concerning his relationship to Marilyn Monroe, than the highly praised and equally vilified, “After The Fall”. That play was originally produced in 1964 just two years after Marilyn’s untimely death. And a recent Broadway revival just concluded.

This always raises the question: are people’s personal lives— without their consent— ever fodder for the artistic expression and revelation of others?

While addressing this question in any depth is certainly beyond the scope of a newsletter, we will make this one observation: that time is the key element to the answer.

We hardly suspect that there will be much outcry for Mr. Miller’s latest play regardless of how close it hits home regarding Marilyn’s alleged proclivity for popping pills. She’s been gone now over 42 years. That and the fact that Mr. Miller, now in his 90’s, gets the free pass that age, survival and the passing of time seems to issue.

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Please feel free to offer your input and comments to this newsletter and in fact to any anything appearing on our website. And be sure to come back to check out our November newsletter which will be up exactly on November 1st. Promise.

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