Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fading

He loved dogs.

I write this in past tense because I don't know where he is.  Until recently, he lived in a house, alone, which was as he had always lived. But, today I learned he had been moved to a nursing home. Its name? No one knows. 

We weren't friends. He was one of my teachers. In fact, I didn't really care for him or his class. He was quiet and opaque, aside from the frequent smirks and winks to his entourage of drooling graduate students who were dedicated, it seemed, to preserving his mystique. When I was done with his course, I vowed I wouldn't take any more from him. And I was certain he was out of my life. Good riddance, I said.

But after I was done with the degree, and got married, things changed. I was not just an alum, I was a faculty wife, with all the associations and duties that went along with it.  And because my former teacher and husband were colleagues, there were the inevitable suggestions that we invite him over for dinner.

Which we did.

I remember dreading his arrival, wondering what I was going to say, how he was going to get along with our other guests. He didn't generally socialize outside of the university, and was famous for backing out of invitations he'd accepted...always at the last minute. Yet, he was at our door on time.

And although he was pleasant, he was as tight-lipped in our home as he'd been in class. Without his entourage, he seemed adrift.

My husband served drinks. Our other guests sat near him and tried to engage him in conversation. He politely answered their questions, but didn't offer much. The guests tried harder.

I was ready for a long evening.

And then my husband let the dog back into the house.

She was barely out of puppyhood,  a Jack Russell a friend of a friend had found trying to climb out of a garbage can in alley. We had recently lost a dog, another rescue, to old age, and fell in love with this adorable little pooch instantly. But she was a handful, wired with terrier energy, and still working through behavior problems that came from being abused and abandoned.  She was great with people she knew and trusted, but skittish around strangers. We always warned guests not to approach or handle her without her permission. She had never bitten anyone, but was quick to growl if frightened. 

She did a few laps around the first floor before deciding that the living room was the place to be, and went directly to my former teacher and panted at his feet. 

He burst out laughing.

The dog stood on her hind legs and rested her paws on his thigh, still panting.

He patted her head and offered her a little piece of cheese, which she took politely, and ran to another room to eat. A minute later she was back, tail wagging, mouth open, on her hind legs, yipping at him.

Tears ran down his cheeks.

He had to put his drink down to take out a handkerchief.

The dog reached for his arm. And on and off, throughout the evening, he and our dog entertained each other, and us, as they got acquainted.

Before he left, he thanked us and said he had never had so much fun. It was his birthday, you see—a fact we hadn't known, and this was a perfect way to celebrate it.

I looked at him differently after that, and asked him back many times. Even after the Jack Russell died, he was glad for the invitation.

The last time we shared a meal, a year ago, he had become terribly frail. My husband and I had taken him to lunch, and I had to help him in and out of the car.  His hands shook, and his voice barely rose above a whisper.

He was fading—this odd, guarded, occasionally smug, brilliant, and accomplished man who was once famous, sought-after, revered by his students and colleagues, this man I didn't like. I could say that's the way life is, that's the price of aging, except for the fact that he has more than faded from our lives: he has disappeared.

And that breaks my heart.

We'll continue to look for him, but I hope that wherever he is, there are dogs. He did love them so.




Thursday, August 7, 2014

Music and Prose: Holding Back

Restraint.

It's been on my mind lately—what I've thought but haven't said, what I've written and removed.

And I've thought about the lack of it—when I've said too much, or clung, shamefully, to too many words.

I've always been lured by understatement, suggestion, what is left unsaid.  And I've been spellbound by the tense spaces between notes and words, phrases and action.

Listen to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's and Christa Ludwig's exquisitely controlled performances of Mozart's "Porgi Amor" from Marriage of Figaro, and Brahms's "Sapphische Ode".  Both artists exercise tremendous restraint, rein in their instruments to highlight the music's subtlety and spare, quiet beauty.  They understand that when they hold back, the audience listens...

...and sometimes, they forget to breathe....

©2014
All Rights Reserved







 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review: The Twain by Rosy Cole

Title:  The Twain, Poems of Earth and Ether
Author: Rosy Cole
Genre: Poetry

The Twain is an exquisite collection of poetry by a writer of tremendous power and range. From the title poem's observations about that which separates nations and their peoples, to the lighthearted depiction of canine antics in “The Nose that Interposes,” Rosy Cole treats readers to verse that engages, intrigues, challenges, and beguiles, all with a profound respect for form and substance, and especially, language itself. As with all great poetry, these poems beckon the reader back for multiple readings, so that the layers in each word and phrase can be explored. This is a volume to keep close, and to treasure.

Buy The Twain

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fiddling



In a way, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two years.

When I received word in 2011 that Shadows and Ghosts was going to published, it caught me off-guard. I was thrilled, but soon lost track of the future as I readied the novel for release. Then, when it was released, I suddenly found myself bombarded by an internet storm of expert advice:

                                       “Get a web site!”
                                       “Start a blog!”
                                       “Join Twitter!”
                                       “Join Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest…”
                                       “No platform? No Brand? Get one! Stick to it!”

So, I set about earnestly following this formula—set up a web site, started blogging, and established profiles in all the recommended places. But establishing a platform? Branding myself? 

I tried, earnestly, and created Beyond Willow Bend as a place to showcase my interests (and Shadow’s main character’s interests) in film. along with film-related guest posts, and promotional material for films involving family and friends.

It went well for a while, except, as is often the case with all my projects, the blog evolved into something else.

It’s taken a lifetime, but I’ve finally realized I’m not a person who can stick to a platform, be branded. I am too changeable, diverse, prone to experiment—too unsure of what I actually am; and that’s okay.

What I do know is that both my web site and Beyond Willow Bend needed reorganization—sorting out, if you will. And that is precisely what I’ve done.

Beyond Willow Bend will continue to host writing about film, but will also host short essays about writing itself.  You’ll still find the Music and Prose series, as well as Music and Prose interviews and conversations here, but you’ll also find the occasional book review, and information about, and excerpts from my books.

Beginning on July 28th, my web site will be the new and sole home for my poetry,  excerpts from works-in-progress, and essays. Eventually, a blog page on that site will host these, but for now, I’ve created pages for “Poetry” and “Music and Prose” and will add to them until that site’s blog goes live.

Of course, I’ll be dropping in at Twitter and Facebook to announce all the new offerings.

I hope you’ll visit both of my sites, and spend some time exploring them. Thanks!

©2014
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Voices....

"The Voice" Edvard Munch 1893
They used to hang out on Red Room. We all did. And we read each other's work, and commented on, admired, and sometimes wrote reviews of it.  We were a community.

But Red Room has closed and so  I've assembled a list, because all of these writers deserve attention. A few names you will know, others will be new to you. But seek them out, read their work, follow them  All the links are live, and the list can be copied and pasted as is.

They have such wonderful voices.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Review: The Glass Sponge by Jules Jacob

Genre: Poetry

Consider for a moment the title of Jules Jacob's poetry chapbook—a creature which prefers the ocean depths to shallow waters, one with a unique ability to conduct and react to electrical impulses. Yet, for all their heightened sensitivity, they are remarkably old, almost impossibly, suggesting an ability to survive that is miraculous. Jacob's rich and ironic poems suggest similar strength. In these poems, there are not only relationships between opposites, a world where a dream home can be simultaneously “familiar” and  “strange,” and “command the tides” while harboring tragic secrets, or a child’s toy can embody the all-too-human pain of being used and manipulated, there are  also poignant observations about life’s brutality—abuse, ravages—addiction—and inevitability—aging. But there is also beauty and love—perfectly expressed by the stirring image of a child’s breath “floating to the candle on his first birthday cake.” Each poem in The Glass Sponge reflects different aspects of that extraordinary sea creature, and all are evocative, masterful, and truly unforgettable.

Buy The Glass Sponge.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Sound of Language: Conversations with Orna B. Raz, Part I

In early December of last year, fellow Red Room author, Orna B. Raz, wrote a blog post entitled, “‘Promises to Keep’ and Reading.”  

The title, which refers to a line in one of my favorite poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, immediately caught my attention. Even though I was in the midst of holiday preparations, I took the time to read it because of the title, and the fact that Orna writes beautifully about every subject she chooses. Very quickly, I was glad I had. I had been trying to think of new ideas for Music and Prose, and now here was one, wrapped like a gift, in Orna’s lovely post:

“... listening to audio books has become my favorite pastime while driving. I feel they add life to the written text, and ignite the imagination.”

What better way to express the belief central to every Music and Prose post? That language is an art of meaning and sound?

I was so inspired and excited, I contacted Orna to ask if she would be willing to engage in a series of conversations with me for Music and Prose about the sound of language, and to my delight, she said, “Yes.”

And so, it my great pleasure to share our discussions with you….

BF:  There are so many places we could begin, but it occurs to me that it might be best to start with those experiences that led us to develop an aural relationship with literature. My first experiences with literature came from being read to as a child. Because I already had a love of sound, and my parents were expressive readers, I instantly related to the tones and rhythms of the text. Was this how it happened for you? 

OR:  I believe it all started with the radio, I don’t remember my mother reading a lot to me when I was little. But I always loved the radio and especially radio plays. I read that over one million people watched on television the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth the 2nd in June 1953. It was a year-and-a-half before I was born. Until the beginning of 1970’s we didn’t have a television set at home and Israeli television only started broadcasting around 1966.

As children we listened to children's programs. I don’t remember much of their content, but as a result of some of them my brother and I, together with a cousin, started our own secret society. In our games, as in life, we followed my brother’s instructions (he was always my inspiration, and besides he was much older than us). Most of the children’s program were in the early afternoon, after school programs.  However,  we were also allowed to listen to the best radio drama, at night. It was the program that everyone listened to, about the detective Paul Temple.  I just Googled it and found that it was a well know British radio drama which was translated into Hebrew from English.

BF: Ah, radio…. You know, there’s a popular Saturday afternoon radio show around these parts called Those were the Days, which features recordings of old broadcasts from the 1930’s and ’40’s.” Of particular interest to me in that show are the wonderful plays, such as “Sorry, Wrong Number,” which were introduced to so many on radio. In some ways, I think radio allows the listener multiple benefits: it provides the enactment dramatic works need in order to give them life, and it gives the listener/audience a chance to exercise their imaginations, fill in with images. In a concrete way, it is the best of both worlds—theatrical and literary—and a superb introduction to writing. As a bonus, it also allows the listener, who is not distracted by action on a stage, to really hear the dialogue and words, savor the language itself.

OR: You are right, radio makes the imagination work harder. For me it is the perfect medium. I have vivid memories of my father listening to the radio (especially classical music and news), and my brother, who is a journalist. He started his career in the Israeli public radio and has been working for many years in public television.

BF:  Wonderful, and what an impressive and distinguished career he’s had.  It’s interesting that he moved into that medium, and you moved from radio into print. Yet you point out in your post,  how ideal the medium is for drama, particularly the works of Shakespeare.

OR:  Yes, listening to the records of Shakespeare’s plays helped me understand them better, and they suddenly came to life, especially when I read along with the record. Then Shakespeare was no longer  an old difficult text, but a funny or a sad drama.

Later I read with my girls, usually in Hebrew. At the time we lived in the US, and they learnt to read English very early and read very fast, thus they had no patience to read together. But they wanted me to read aloud in Hebrew.

Years later I discovered that audio books were perfect for long distance driving, I loved listening to them. This method also helped me tackle some difficult texts that otherwise, I don’t think, I would have had the patience to read, like Bleak House.

In the last couple of years, I have been listening to another radio program This American Life, on PBS, and it is a source of inspiration for me. I listen to it regularly as I skate in the park and often write down key words and sentences which I later use. In fact, the last program of This American Life, which just aired, was about radio drama.
 
Once a week I read aloud with a young friend (she is 10). She is very smart but doesn't like to read. It is a great fun when we do it together. (I wrote about it in two posts: "Can Great Literature Save Lives?" and "Ramona the Reader or What Can We Learn From An 8 Year Old Girl?")

BF: I find it interesting that your daughters prefer for you to read to them in Hebrew. Is there a reason for this beyond their greater familiarity with the language?  I ask because every language has its own unique characteristics.  I remember having to sing an aria in English, when the original text was in Italian, and hating it. Everything about the pairing felt wrong to me, as though even the words’ meanings were fighting with the music.

OR: An important reason why, when we lived in the US, I  read to my daughters in Hebrew was that I couldn't find  translated literature in the library or in  used books stores. Almost all the children’s books around were written originally in English. I looked for the books which I read (and loved) as a child, and wanted to share them with my girls. Somehow it was very important for me that they would read them. Since most of the books in Hebrew are translated from different languages it has always been easy to find great children books in Hebrew.

I also wrote about that challenge in several posts: "Judging a Town by its Library," "God’s language – translated literature and subtitled film," and "Balancing between Instruction and Delight—Erich Kastner."

The conversation continues with Part II: Hearing the Printed Word.

 About Orna B. Raz:

I live in Israel and have been teaching ESL for almost twenty years. I write about literature, cultures, women and education. My main area of research is British literature and society, specifically the cultural scene of the 1950s. I also enjoy translating Israeli poetry into English You could find research material and translations in my site on Blogger.