Floating, drifting, hovering between, I place my hand in the room of mist and sway it back and forth, feeling the moisture gather on my wrist. The pulse is light, and I am flight itself, leaving, sliding between molecules of air, through skin, through brick and bone. What lives we have are so unseen, not body, barely sheen, and so it takes a strength of mind to keep the rock core of surety staunch. Pity the sad memes who need their ivied halls, their big-wheeled twucks, their constant seens to seem themselves into being. My dears, you are here, rest liquidly in that, and if you drift, you drift through real, and if you leap, you do so bodily or no, and when you pounce, pounce with the sure smack of life, sliding between, insubstantive, unrecognized, surprised.
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ANNOUNCE :: Nothing to announce this month, and I am glad for that. A two-week excursion to the Eastern Coast has occupied my zyme, and I am ready for some down-turn word-wrack time. So back to the pen is all I can ken, and here’s a bit of flection on the hometown clime.
REFLECT :: Ventured back to Jersey and the humid heat to celebrate Mom’s 75th with a giant backyard fête. Seventy-some peeps showed up, family and friends, to honor her with festivities and amazing food. Mom has a tendency to cook elaborate and delicious dishes wherever she goes, and has done so for practically everyone she knows, so we thought it fitting to have a Cook-for-Pat Party, a birthday Pat-Luck where folks could make a gift of their favorite culinary concoctions. And boy was there a spread, with almost thirty platters of salads and veggies and meats, and over a dozen desserts. There was great spirit all around, Mom had a blast, Dad was in fine form, and everyone went home cheered and fulfilled (and with filled to-go boxes). Other highlights of the trip included excursions to PA and NY (see below), visits with lots of relatives (which I rarely get the chance to do), the inevitable glimpse of my roots, a cheesesteak from Laspada’s Original (go there), an amazing seafood dinner at The Lobster House in Cape May (where else?), and lots of general hanging with the parents in and around their fine abode. Needless to say, I’ll be recovering from this two-week jaunt for the next two weeks, at least…
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A couple nights of pleasant dreams can bring the body to a welcome fulcrum. Which leaves the mystery of dreams wide open once again. Why should bicycling across New Jersey one night be a terror, and another sweet relief? Why should wrestling a serial killer fill me with joy, while entering a celebration tips the cup of dread? The best part is that scientists, who really do think hard, still scratch their heads over just how this haps. They’ve got the chemistry but cannot seem to find the angels. So dive we in to our bye-bye skin, and take ourselves an irreal traipse that shows us dearly what we are, sure as science, clear as a puddle. And in the muddle, take what cheer you can, to bolster yourself for the breeze, and the years, and the humdrum blades of chance. And have a dance.
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REFLECT :: Brilliant waylay to my favorite old stone house in the woods to visit the fabulous Jim Leonard and Nieves Saah, artists, inventors, gardeners, cooks, and fantastic cosmic-lit sprites. It’s always great to see them, and especially, this time around, Nieves, who deserves all the kudos in the world for having gone through most of a decade of lymphoma hell, though radiation, chemo, stem cell treatment, and yes, even a bone marrow transplant, and has miraculously been clear for almost a year. This woman is alive as can be, and we are glad. Hooray! And Jim, grand misanthrope and curmudgeon (just kidding) (maybe), has always got something new on the inventor’s block, and is literally bubbling over with eclectic info which he’ll share with you for hours. Also I’m very glad to have made off with a couple bottles of his homemade (and amazing) wines, this time thyme and basil, both terrific cooking wines but also shockingly good chilled in a glass. So a couple days of joy with them, and there’s nothing like a stay in deep mid-June Pennsylvania to fill the soul with chlorophyll (more on that below).
REFLECT :: Stopped by NYC for one fabulicious eve – not my usual descriptor for a night in the belly of the beast, I know, but how can not when I get to spend it with Jason Tallon, Lonely Christopher, and the intractable Jay Laubscher, stars of my cosmos. Started with a fab repast at Nha Trang Centre, my fave NY Vietnamese canteen (Bay Areans, think Tu Lan of the Atlantic), then on to a spirited reading at Bureau of General Services–Queer Division. BGSQD is currently the last queer-focused bookstore left in Manhattan (for SHAME!), and it is a rockin’ little altspace ensconced in East Chinatown. Started by Donnie Jochum and Greg Newton in 2012, the Bureau regularly hosts readings, panels, and performances, along with selling a core (and fairly rad) selection of LGBTQetc ink. On this evening they proffered Something Way More Awesome, a reading by about a dozen trans poets hosted by Cat Fitzpatrick. Everyone was terrific and high energy, and for me the highlights were Paco Buenasnoches, Olympia Perez, Alyssa Harley, EC Crandall, and Mya Byrne. Check out their work! It is on fire and such. Afterward had an awesome wind-down hanging out in the space with Jason, Lonely, Jay, and Greg, gulping conversation, beers, and 80’s music for a couple of hours. All in all a most pleasant summer evening in New York, and though I ain’t planning a repeat residency, it makes me want to stop back through sometime again soon.
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Regreening is the truest way to trump the mad mind of modern man. Go to wood, go to brook, go to leaf and saturate with chlorophyll and chime so the next deep breath may shine. How fine the Pennsylvania air, full of real and far from the burgs of steel and guile, alert to skin and wing and the loose membranes of the soul. What better bole for the spirit to enchant than thick oak or slender lithe elm? Take your pick, and plant yourself in the heartwood dale, ready and refined, and drink your fill of the musky loam. Then roam.
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MINI-REVIEW :: The Orphan of Zhao at American Conservatory Theater
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the good fortune to attend six or seven productions at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, thanks to the saintly Susan Pedrick, who does subscription sales for them (and who deserves a much better job – somebody hire this amazing woman!), and The Orphan of Zhao is easily the best that I’ve seen. I came without expectation, literally having no idea what it’d be like, since the piece is adapted from a 13th Century Chinese play by Ji Junxiang (紀君祥), itself based on a 2500-year-old Confucian tale (okay, only 1800 years old when the play was written). The story itself is an epic and intricate tale of revenge, complex both in its plotting and in the emotional ramifications throughout, focused on a peasant doctor who comes to make a great personal sacrifice (and one of moral ambiguity) in order to help avenge the massacre of an entire noble family. With numerous characters, tortuous twists, and a bundle of onstage slaughter (including, graphically, that of an infant), this could have easily put off an audience in a number of ways, but in fact it rolled along from the very start, depicting the court of a violent, amoral dynasty crumbling under the weight of its own corruption. Though enhanced by the minimalist set of bamboo scaffolding, sparse onstage music and sound effects, and handsome (but not distracting) costumery, what really gave this piece its impetus was the characterization – as it should be – held by this ensemble cast in absolute sync. Anchored by veteran actor B.D. Wong as the doctor Cheng Ying, Orphan was nonetheless not a showcase for the lauded star but rather a whirlwind of energy rippling through the entire cast, most of whom took on multiple roles throughout, that pulled us in and hurled the play along to its both satisfying and tragic conclusion. Some of the productions I’ve seen at ACT have been quite good, a few fair amusing, and a couple somewhat blah, but this was a celebration of theater and culture and praxis and human striving from which I believe ACT derives its rep, and which, one hopes, will power it forward into the coming years. All in all, aside from the sad fact of not getting a date with Mr. Wong, this was a thoroughly fulfilling creative event. Rock on, Ji Junxiang!
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Kablam! and the catamaran flips into the sanguine shoals with the confidence of a world that needs to be inversed. Terse and ruddy, the rudder juts adroitly in the air, carving its way through nothing with grace and cheer. After months of ploughing against the tide, a simple chide of wind and wave puts you in your place, and once again you ride the current as an unshod mare. Slide, capital, into the rill-run plain, and be again the tree-sung spree which animates the congress that you are. Warrior yourself; tread bare-sole grass; and know the loving issue as a new-wrung clan. Now spring your span. Kablam!
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REVIEW :: 2014 Berkeley Festival & Exhibition
I find it curious that the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition goes by that name exactly, without any indication of what type of festival it is – which is, in fact, a biennial Early Music Festival focusing mainly on early-18th Century European works performed on period instruments. I have to wonder whether the organizers of this 22-year-old fest do not want non-aficionados to be aware of it, or whether it hasn’t occurred to them that anyone else would be interested. Still I’ve managed to break through the parchment curtain two years running with the aid of Tom Cirillo, a friend who is Executive Director for the Portland Baroque Orchestra and comes down to check out the event.
Call me crazy or easily amused, but I am generally thrilled to witness people causing amazing sounds to issue from wood and metal and flesh. This year I managed to catch three concerts, and perhaps it’s just the layman in me (or layman’s ear), but I was pretty much blown away by everything I heard, finding any apparent flaws in performance or space instantly forgivable. Got to see (hear) the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Trinity Baroque Orchestra, in from New York, performing several Bach motets for double choir, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard live voices combined in such complex patters and manners. This is incredibly complicated and abstract stuff, with phrases woven in many pitches literally into tapestry, the individual threads disappearing into larger oscillating sound. I found myself straining, in fact, to catch more of the singular voices and parts, to turn on the hi-def and examine the strands as they wove, but it couldn’t easily be done, particularly due to the complexity of the piece, but also, it seems because the venue itself (St. Mark’s Episcopal Church) might not have been perfectly suited to this type of performance, as Tom noted as well, causing the sound to muddy just a bit. That also made it all the more challenging to follow the text, printed in the festival program in both German and translation (ich verstehe ein bißchen Deutsch), which was fascinating to try, though some of the text was unfortunately missing from the program, and the performers skipped over some of the printed text as well. All that aside, this was amazing to hear, and left me feeling as if my brain had been lifted out of its pan, and made me wonder what effect it might have had on listeners in the 1720’s, steeped in belief and unaccustomed to hearing anything less mundane than solemn hymns and the occasional carillon.
Less overwhelming but more nuanced was a set by period ensemble Passamezzo Moderno, a four-piece chamber orchestra bolstered by guest artists Josh Lee on viola da gamba and John Lenti on theorbo. This performance was beset by a few technical problems, including a couple of interruptions due to a missed cue and a misplaced page, but also had quite a few sweet moments of gorgeous writing and playing, at least to my ear, especially by Lee and violinist Adriane Post. The program consisted of nine 17th Century sonatas, and was therefore more pleasing than challenging, mostly German with a couple Italian pieces. Of particular interest were several pieces by Johann Michael Nicolai from Erster Teil Instrumentalischer Sachen, which have been recently discovered and may have been heard here for the first time since 1675. Imagine that.
Really the topper of the festival for me was a stunning set of solo violin pieces performed by Carla Moore, veteran Baroque violinist from our very own Oakland. Moore presented a program entitled L’Arte del Arco: Fantasias, variations, and assaggi for unaccompanied violin, including works by Nicola Matteis, Johan Helmich Roman, Francesco Geminiani, and Guiseppi Tartini, that left several dozen pairs of socks on the floor. Crisp and precise, her sound was honored by the luscious acoustics of the First Congregational Church’s Loper Chapel (talk about an apropos venue). These early 18th Century pieces, by three Italians and a Swede – with none of whom I can claim familiarity – ranged broadly in tonality and style (I cannot speak to form), and were held together beautifully by Moore’s strong and singular voice. I was actually transported – the most one can hope for from live music – and found myself writing a poem through each of the four presentations. And strangely, it didn’t even feel as if I were writing them; I wasn’t writing in various voices, but as various other writers living three hundred years past. I’ve included them this month on the Fresh Words page, with more background and intro, so do check ’em out if you’re curious. Thank you, Carla, for channeling so well, and allowing me to channel, and taking us all away, and bringing us back.
So if any of this sounds enticing, remember, it’s the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition, secretly the Berkeley Early Music Festival, so bookmark it, make a note of it, tell your Baroque-minded friends. The next one is in 2016, and should offer, as did this, a couple dozen featured concerts, along with several dozen Fringe performances. (This year, for instance, Ms. Moore and Passamezzo Moderno were part of the Fringe events.) Tickets seem to range from about $15 to $30+ per concert, and some events do sell out. And of course, you could always check out Carla Moore, the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and Passamezzo Moderno, in their various locations and incarnations.
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Your face breaks into bloom. And why? Because it can. Two thousand seconds pass, five hundred breaths, and the sun shifts slowly overhead. This is how our days go, meticulous and fine, and as we cast our features skyward we are charmed by the mute song of star. The light frond. We bloom in silence, or what seems like silence, stretched, slow, until the faint full rhythm of the firma filters through. And only then, stunned by knowing and nourished by the sheer sharp charge, we unfold, relax, and let our scent into the world.