Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Today, the Musical, Part Four or So

The minute I turn from composing the piece to talking about the piece--say, for a grant application--the thing threatens to dry up. But today did bring an idea or two. 
1
I'd been thinking of how to move what I might call poems--really just a series of character sketches, not unlike many poems I've written--to what I might call songs. Working the former into the latter. Instead, maybe the song can move to where the poem is. If I have something that works as poem, find a way to sing it.
2
The play involves people who live in an apartment building, a setting that offers potential for both individual and group exploration. I'd been thinking that sooner or later, likely later in Act Two, a meeting of the Tenants' Committee would be a chance for the individuals to sing in duos, trios, etc., maybe even by way of resolution/climax, but don't quote me on that. Anyway, today |I realized that I'll need an earlier iteration of a group voice in some form. A scene writ smaller than the TC meeting, but building toward it.
3
The cast of characters, and their individual developments, must remain fluid at this point. So far, one of them is the live-in janitor who at one point takes the woman in the vestibule to an (imaginary) patio on the building roof. His doing so, and his singing up there, doesn't fit with the "silent one" tag I've stuck on this guy so far. But that's the kind of work I'll have to do with all these characters. Find out who they are, and let them be true to it.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Musical, the Idea

I meant to start sooner in telling you how things are going with the musical I'm writing. Since it occurred to me that as long as I get one useful idea per day, work is moving ahead (unlike, say, construction on Lorne street in Regina) I'm going to try daily entries on the idea of the day.
Today it was the old man and the old woman. I'd listed them with about a dozen others as characters who lived in a heritage apartment in a western prairie city. I came up with an idea for a song. 
He:      Old man.
She:     Old woman. Old man,
He:       Old woman,
is how it begins. This comes from reading Stephen Sondheim's commentary on Irving Berlin about keeping it simple. Hard to do.
Anyway, the man and woman get to a song called "Body Flaws," several verses leading to a refrain, as in,
He:     We've got a lot of parts to our bodies.
She:    We've put a lot of feet in our shoes.
He:     Not wearing shoes.
She:    You should try it
Both:   (with a jump) and diet!
He:     Ah, what the hell . . .
She:    We all hear the bell
Both:   that tolls for our body flaws.
Not sure how to stage it yet. But that's the kind of thing I've been after so far today. 
The man and woman decide to go swimming at an outdoor pool, an obvious golden-tan-mine of body looks and images.
It may turn out by the end of the song that all this has been some kind of dream/fantasy (a stock element in musicals of the past), and we see the two of them in their living room, reading. A tremolo sustains in the score but no other sound, light or action. To black.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Wet

But it wasn't the other day.











I'd stopped in at Tangerine for a coffee. Bless their hearts, they still play satellite jazz, the only place that does. This was quarter to five, driest summer since 1887.

"Hot, the Musical," is how I might say it, given the weather and all these musicals I've been reading and listening to. I'm going for rhyme in pieces I'm writing. I'm aiming for song.

Hot, too, the jazz--contemporary, free-form, with a mix of classics. The musicians push the far edges, both in charge of and carried by the settings they create.

Today's sky, to name one, I was about to finish my americano and crash. For the fortieth day of the last forty-four, the shadows cut sharply wherever they fall.

Playing Sweeney Todd

Tonight I'm playing Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and reading Stephen Sondheim's lyrics. Act One is just over and I've leapt to my feet.
I can say I've always loved Broadway show tunes. I heard them at home as a boy. Dad had joined the Columbia Record Club, or one like it, and the Rogers and Hammerstein sang out from our mahogany living room in Herbert.
Musical theatre as an art form, however, didn't sink in until I got hooked on Mary Poppins at Globe Theatre two years ago, when I was retiring from Luther, launching Hillsdale Book, and writing A Round for Fifty Years: a History of Regina's Globe Theatre. Working on the book during the rehearsal period of the show, I became so inspired by the excellence of cast and crew that I built in a Mary Poppins diary into the book, making of point of finishing the first draft of the complete text on opening night.
Something like that happened again during the recent run of The Little Mermaid at Globe, for which I was hired to do a live audio commentary, delivered via mic and earphones to vision-impaired patrons. I felt as if I had a small stake in the delivery of the show. But more than that, I fell in love with the cast--the brilliance of their work as singers and dancers and actors, the genial hand of Stephanie Graham as Choreographer and Director.
Here's the kicker: I was deeply moved by these performances. As in, to tears. Such shows are products of the Disney musical theatre machine but high-end products, artfully composed, that sent me trembling into the night, wondering where I'd been.
So I've decided to write a musical. I might as well say it. It will take a long time. Lots of time to listen and study and write. 
Hence my viewing of Newsies (Broadway hit, 2011, also a Disney product) on film at the Cineplex last Saturday. Original Broadway cast. It was stunning. Think Brando, think Baryshnikov. And they could sing.
And kicker of kickers, tonight I played Act One of Sweeney Todd, with Len Cariou as the barber and Angela Lansbury as his co-conspirator. (Spoiler: he slits their throats upstairs, she serves them in pies downstairs.) Unfuckinbelievably good, this show. 
I'm trying to learn why all these shows--and a shout out to Kinky Boots, which I saw in Toronto in '15--move me so. I'm teaching myself. 

Monday, 24 April 2017

Day After

I wonder how a writing moment full of motion is like any in a game you're playing. Hockey or ball, I mean. Waiting for the fly ball to come down. Or a split second from crashing with boards, puck, and back-checker who may or may not be taking a run at you, at the same time. ("If it feels so good, it ain't ever going to lie," I heard just now in a song lyric on CBC, but that's not what I'm saying.) 
The word time doesn't quite apply to any of those moments. So why use it. Ok, deleted. 
Hitched as it is to the past, now has no meaning except more of it. 
I think that's what athletes love about play-offs. They get pure, the players do. Beyond language, my cue to end this entry. 
There's nothing I need add about the Maple Leafs. They're out. 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Sight of Day

        Can’t stand the sight of day is a claim I cannot make. At any gas station along the Trans-Canada or highway 3 west of Medicine Hat, “half-decent out there” / “gettin’ there” is conversation anyone can do. Not even the light industrial landscape of southern Alberta, with its canals and irrigation rigs and wires, can take away a day like this, +15 at times, highway dry.
Dry as a bone, I’d thought, pulling into the graveyard in my home town four hours ago. I have a photo from there, three sisters around the grave of a fourth, baby Jennifer Donna, as the headstone says. She’s buried near a pine tree up the south slope. Up on the flat, the newer graves—Jennifer died in 57—spread east as if about to re-occupy the town.
What I remember of the day she was buried is not being allowed to go out to the burial. The kids don’t need to be there, is the kind of thing dad would say. I don’t remember grief, just the pantlegs of the adults back at our house afterwards.
Beyond the graveyard and the CP mainline next to it, the old #1 highway crumbles along east-west, what pavement looks like left for forty years. Readers of that text called “To Be Opened In the Event of My Death” will know that I’ve asked for my ashes to be scattered along that stretch of ex-highway through Herbert forty years ago replaced by the four-lane south of town.
Well I’ve changed my mind. Plant me on the flat above Jennifer Donna. And come on out and say hello some March 15th years from now, there by the tracks and highway, when winter shows signs of letting go.
















Friday, 10 March 2017

Nelson, BC

I lived in Nelson in '81-82, a student at David Thompson University Centre (DTUC), where my first three creative writing teachers were Fred Wah, Tom Wayman, and Dave McFadden. I felt lucky to be learning from them, and have remained so ever since. It's not much of a stretch to say that everything I do as a writer carries a grain of what I learned. Not just individually, Wah-Wayman-McFadden as a group made for a vital blend of approaches to pretty much everything. 
So, in Nelson on March 17 I plan to read poems from my first and last books (a span of thirty years) which shimmy with residue of my first three teachers. 
More on this later.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Anecdote of Feeling Miffed

“Please give us your Birthday so we can give you a present,” said the gateway to wifi at Broken Rack, 3806 Albert Street, Golden Mile Shopping Centre.

I asked the server if she was a manager. No, but she could take a message. Thanks, I’ll send a note, I said.

(I was on the verge: leave for a movie or stay to watch curling.
By the time Howard was left a double-raise double in the 2nd which he didn’t come close to making, leaving Jacobs a draw for three,
I was staying. Wing Special and Caesar salad didn’t hurt.)

So this is the note to the Broken Rack, 3806 Albert Street,
Golden Mile Shopping Centre:

I know you want the best for your customers of Wifi Hotspot
and did not become successful by giving away your services but  
do you not see the moral stakes in withholding your gift of internet connection until we give something to you?

Nevertheless, I stayed, 3-1 Jacobs in the fourth, 4-1 through five.

We have choices. In other bars, wifi comes without condition. Are we to take our business elsewhere?

One Rebellion Amber on, my complaint would be finished if not for its righteousness, as Howard was finished, down 6-2 after seven
without hammer.

I was down to my last sentence: Just give.


Monday, 27 February 2017

Remembering St. Peter's Abbey

I notice a dead spot when I meet a face known so intensely years ago. The windmill at St. Pete’s, the crossroads and grid, god-damned chickadees massed like avengers over the graveyard path. Back and to the right, the junkyard, sweet enough for me in ’98 or so, my outdoor office there.












By dead I mean I mean looked-out (maybe lucked out)--something so burned into perception that I shy away from more of it.










Idea attributed to F.G. Lorca, who pinned
a version to his door:

book a sheet of curling 
for those who had never curled,
never split the house,
never hit.  









Lorca showed up in time to join
old-timers hockey in Leroy
Tuesday and Friday mornings in Leroy
10:00 for an hour and half
because the ice here’s no good.
Everybody behaves himself?
Oh, you betcha.
We all know each other.











Where I walked, I'd walked before. 


Sunday, 26 February 2017

Watching the Scotties

Homan makes an in-off double for 3 in the second, and the Scotties crowd, mostly Ontario homers, goes nuts.
By the time Homan hits another double to leave Englot a draw for only 1 in the third, it looks uphill for the Manitobans, though Englot's confident draw to the heart of the rings makes a powerful statement.
Manitoba has to take over somehow. They're in it but behind after four.
Englot's steal of 1 in the fifth gives them new life. And she steals another in the seventh for a 4-3 lead.
Honan looked good to take her deuce with last rock in the eighth. After the four tricky skips' shots, a deuce it is.
As action in the ninth builds, both teams demand challenging shots from the other. Englot is left with a difficult pick for 1 but she racks on a guard. Steal of 1 for Ontario and a 6-4 lead.
With last rock in the tenth, Englot has her 3 set up. But by making a much-needed double, Honan leaves Englot a draw for 2 only. On to the extra end.
Englot fights to the end. Honan has to make her last shot--a simple raise take-out to leave the winning point.
Big smiles from everyone, both teams curling so well.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Highway 6

I mean it when I say lucky me today, heading up highway 6 from Regina, straight north. 









What choice did I have? The one time I tried to drive where the highway wasn't, I got stuck. Taking this photo.









I called the motor club and got terrific service from the young buy running the towtruck from Southey, about 15 km north of my bog on the north slope of the valley. Needing to winch my car straight back, to prevent it from sliding further into the ditch, he rigged up a pulley system at the back of his truck so that force applied to it translates to force applied perpendicular to my rear axle. 










The diagram is not drawn to scale. The back of the truck was another half-length back. He got me going and I carried on.



Waiting for the truck, I'd begun a piece called "Lorca in Saskatchewan." What he'd find holy here.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

At the Moment

I'm excited about going back into my Cities manuscript, pieces based on travels in Europe and beyond in the last few years. Of course, the fact that I'm composing this blog entry says much about what "excited" means here: a glam opening, the sheer fun of what I'm about to do, before I do it. 
Still, I look forward to breaking down the pieces not so much in terms of language (they've been stripped down) but in terms of stanza and line form. 
Previous intrusions of prose journal-esque entries: delete. 
Remove "City" from name of poem. Bread, instead of City of Bread. 
Remove date and location (though saying so, I feel a shudder). 
Saying all this, I remember A Dictionary of Altitudes in the Dominion of Canada--found in Nelson, somehow, 1981-82--a listing, by altitude and source of survey, of every location in Canada where altitudes had been measured. As if attracted to the look of its pages, I produced poems named after towns, with the rest of the data included in each title. I swung beginnings of lines back and forth. Some of them worked great. Others, well, cut to Regina a year later. Get Paul, Anne, Bruce, or Brenda to tell you how I closed one line with "passing" and opened the next with "wind." 
A few of these--known (as the months passed) as the "better ones"--were published, in Dandelion and places I've forgotten. I felt at home with the approach. I didn't see any reason not to. It gave me a lot of room. 
The only snag was that after the first seven or eight poems, things got a tad repetitive. Neat bits were buried in fussy regularities of form.
So it has gone with my Cities. More than a half-dozen have found homes in print. The rest continue to hover, now that I've brought them to mind again, like aircraft on the fringes of a storm. 
Time to land them, I can't help saying. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Ten Reasons To Love La La Land (the movie)

The irresistible vein of its pop hooks.

The good-natured nod to its own traditions in terms of theme (boy meets girl, boy and girl chase dreams) and look and pace.

A slew of non-Hollywood allusions, to boot. Take them or leave them.

Virtuostic performances by Emma Stone, and Gosling's not bad either--a blend of Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant.

That opening number on the LA freeway. First you fear it's a Coke commercial, then WHAM!

Surprise, plenty available.

Courage and artistry to evoke potentially asphyxiating elements of story but develop them freshly.

The devotion to place. LA, obviously. Like everything else, this devotion is delivered cheerfully, with full knowledge of its own impossibility.

That the representation of jazz music isn't any more reductive than it already is.

Lorca would love it.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Farewell Puerto Morelos

No doubt my dedicated readers--good day, uncle Dano and aunt Dana--will have blamed chronic sadsackitis for that melancholy that shows up whenever I leave a place.  This time it's Puerto Morelos, on the Mayan coast of Mexico, where I've lived for three weeks, the first two down the block from a sister or two. I blame it on lifestyle routine which, once established, is what living means to me and which, once lost, as today, leaves life a little hollow.
What is this routine I speak of? Mornings at the notebook, afternoons at the beach, in short (and I don't forget you, my angels of coffee, beer, chitchat, reading, food, walkabout).
As for the notebook segments, let me try to show you. The other night this line came to me in bed: If we were now a rowboat. Most of the time in my writing life, I would try to build from that, as in, say, If we were now a rowboat we'd be strong in the sea's long arms or the like. However, that's precisely the mode I've been struggling to avoid, preferring, as noted in an earlier entry, to write wrong, as in If we were now a rowboat pacing you-know-who, the rooster next door, Ashok would come to mean us.
How this matters, who knows. But I've written--or will have, with one more spell up at the airport in an hour or two--five thousands words embracing wrong. 
But farewell, Puerto Morelos. Whoever's in my chair, enjoy!


Friday, 20 January 2017

Booking

As a frequent solo traveller [accidental comma I deleted but like: As a frequent so, lo traveller . . .], I'm often seen, if seen at all, in the company of books.
Let me tell you about three I packed down to the My Paradise beach club for a six-hour session in the sun, shade and water today:
First, The Remains of the Day (K.Ishiguro), told in a butler's voice, a marvel of decorum and restraint which gives up its thematic kicks ever so subtly. 
Second, The Art of War, which accompanies my re-integration into the world of online backgammon.
Third, and most important for my present writing purposes, The Poet in New York by F.G.Lorca. This is the second time this book has blown up my world. Three years ago, it provided text-track for my poet-in-Andalusia travels. I brought it to Mexico now for more poet-in-a-new-land orientation. But, you faithful readers of this blog--buenos tardes, Uncle Copa and Aunt Vaso--will have noticed something or other a few entries ago about a certain non-approach approach to writing that I'm now calling "writing wrong," as in writing that refuses itself. What it looks like so far is five thousand words which may interact conventionally with nearby words but, a few words further off, have lost touch. Wouldn't you know it: that's sort of what Lorca was up to during his visit to New York in 1929-30. I'm no Lorca, you understand. But I'm trying to write evasion. (See Lorca's "Imagination, Inspiration, Evasion" in his Conferencias.) 
Come to think of it, Ishiguro's novel is full of evasion of the English butlerish sort. 
And Sun Tzu's 2500-year-old treatise on the theory of warfare is famous for this nugget: "All warfare is based on deception."

Monday, 9 January 2017

Red Flag

No fishing today.








Plenty warm enough but windy, good chance of rain. My sisters work on pelicans.








Pelicans chase smaller birds off their perch.









Puerto Morelos parks its low-tech charm.









And the boys pour concrete for a new restaurant.








Later, there were fish after all: catch of the day.