Archives for posts with tag: Broadway

By Gregory Djanikian

I had never seen a cornfield in my life,
I had never been to Oklahoma,
But I was singing as loud as anyone,
“Oh what a beautiful morning. . . . The corn
Is as high as an elephant’s eye,”
Though I knew something about elephants, I thought,
Coming from the same continent as they did,
And they being more like camels than anything else.

And when we sang from Meet Me in St. Louis,
“Clang, clang, clang went the trolley,”
I remembered the ride from Ramleh Station
In the heart of Alexandria
All the way to Roushdy where my grandmother lived,
The autos on the roadways vying
With mule carts and bicycles,
The Mediterranean half a mile off on the left,
The air smelling sharply of diesel and salt.

It was a problem which had dogged me
For a few years, this confusion of places.
And when in 5th grade geography I had pronounced
“Des Moines” as though it were a village in France,
Mr. Kephart led me to the map on the front wall,
And so I’d know where I was,
Pressed my forehead squarely against Iowa.
Des Moines, he’d said. Rhymes with coins.

Now we were singing “zippidy-doo-dah, zippidy-ay,”
And every song we’d sung had in it
Either sun or bluebirds, fair weather
Or fancy fringe, O beautiful America!
And one tier below me,
There was Linda Deemer with her amber waves
And lovely fruited plains,
And she was part of America too
Along with sun and spacious sky
Though untouchable, and as distant
As purple mountains of majesty.

“This is my country,” we sang,
And a few years ago there would have been
A scent of figs in the air, mangoes,
And someone playing the oud along a clear stream.

But now it was “My country ’tis of thee”
And I sang it out with all my heart
And now with Linda Deemer in mind.
“Land where my fathers died,” I bellowed,
And it was not too hard to imagine

A host of my great-uncles and -grandfathers
Stunned from their graves in the Turkish interior
And finding themselves suddenly
On a rock among maize and poultry
And Squanto shaking their hands.

How could anyone not think America
Was exotic when it had Massachusetts
And the long tables of thanksgiving?
And how could it not be home
If it were the place where love first struck?

We had finished singing.
The sun was shining through large windows
On the beatified faces of all
Who had sung well and with feeling.
We were ready to file out and march back
To our room where Mr. Kephart was waiting.

Already Linda Deemer had disappeared
Into the high society of the hallway.
One day I was going to tell her something.
Des Moines, I was saying to myself,
Baton Rouge. Terre Haute. Boise.

SOURCE: “In the Elementary School Choir” appears in Gregory Djanikian’s collection Falling Deeply into America. (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1989), available at


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gregory Djanikian’s collections include So I Will Till the Ground (2007), Years Later (2000), Falling Deeply into America (1989), and The Man in the Middle (1984). His poems have also appeared in numerous magazines and journals, such as Poetry, the Nation, and the American Scholar, as well as on television, when he was featured on PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. 

His work explores, among other things, the private and public legacies of family, history, and culture, often through meditations on his own Armenian heritage and childhood emigration to the United States. Born in Alexandria, Egypt, he now lives in Philadelphia, where he directs the creative writing program at the University of Pennsylvania.


Lois Smith made her film debut in East of Eden, based on the John Steinbeck novel, where she shared the screen with James DeanWarner Brothers released the movie in April 1955, about six months before Dean’s death in a car crash.


More than a half century later, in 2012, Lois Smith starred on Broadway in Heartless, the Sam Shepard-penned drama, where she played Mable, a woman partially paralyzed because she fell out of a tree while watching East of Eden on a drive-in movie screen.


CAPTION: Is there a doctor of literature in the house?

CREDIT: New Yorker cartoon by Michael Maslin, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Prints available at

by Liam Rector

Fat Southern men in their summer suits,
Usually with suspenders, love to sweat
Into and even through their coats,

Taking it as a matter of honor to do so,
Especially when the humidity gets as close
As it does each Southern summer.

Some think men could do better
By just going ahead and taking the damned
Coats off, but the summer code stays

Because summer is the time
For many men, no matter what their class,
To be Southern Gentlemen by keeping

Those coats on. So late in life here I am
Down here again, having run to fat
(As Southern men tend), visiting the farm

Where my grandfather deposited
So much of his own working sweat,
Where Granddaddy never bought into any

Of “that Southern Gentleman crap.”
Up north where I landed in the urban
Middle class I am seldom caught

Not wearing a coat of some kind. I love
The coats, and though I love them most
In the fall I still enact the summer code,

I suppose, because my father and I did buy
That code, even though I organized students
To strike down any dress code whatsoever

In the high school I attended (it was a matter
Of honor). And it still puts me in good humor
To abide with the many pockets, including

One for a flask. So whether it’s New York,
Vermont, or Virginia, the spectacle
Of the summer seersucker proceeds,

Suspenders and all, and I lean into the sweat
(Right down to where the weather really is)
Until it has entirely soaked through my jacket.

…From Liam Rector‘s collection The Executive Director of the Fallen World (University of Chicago Press, 2006), available at

Photo: Ned Beatty as Big Daddy in a 2003 production (on Broadway in NYC) of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams.

ImageABOUT THE AUTHOR: Liam Rector (1949-2007) received an MA from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and an MPA from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. His books of poems include The Executive Director of the Fallen World (University of Chicago Press, 2006), American Prodigal (1994) and The Sorrow of Architecture (1984). Rector’s honors include fellowships in poetry from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Friend to Writers Award from PEN New England. He served as poetry editor of Harvard Magazine and as associate editor of Harvard Review and Agni. Rector taught at Columbia University, The New School, Emerson College, George Mason University, and elsewhere. He founded and directed the graduate Writing Seminars at Bennington College, and administered literary programs at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets. (Read more at

Author photo by Star Black

Editor’s Note: We have been suffering with killer heat in Los Angeles for the past four days, which sent me on a search for poetry about surviving the heat. Couldn’t resist posting “Fat Southern Men in Their Summer Suits.” I must add that I’ve spent a lot of time in South during various summers, and — at least for me — the heat in the Southern states can’t match anything in Southern California. One more thing…a nod to those Southern gentlemen who suffer through the heat in their seersucker suits — your gallantry has not gone unappreciated.


“I know some things when I start. I know, let’s say, that the play is going to be a 1970s or a 1930s play, and it’s going to be about a piano, but that’s it. I slowly discover who the characters are as I go along.” AUGUST WILSON (1945-2005)

For writers who make it up as they go along (and I plead guilty), August Wilson‘s comment about his working method makes us feel…well, okay about not knowing where we’re going when we start.


Born on April 27, 1945, Wilson grew up poor in Pittsburgh, dropped out of high school at 16, and educated himself at the Carnegie Library while working a series of menial jobs. In 1965, at age 20, he purchased a used typewriter for 10 dollars and started to compose poetry. A few years later, in 1968, he cofounded the Black Horizon Theatre and began to write and produce plays — starting with Recycling. Wilson went on to author many plays — including the Pulitzer Prize winning Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson (1990). One of the all-time great American playwrights — with a career that spanned nearly 40 years — Wilson’s work continues to inspire and promote discussion. He passed away at age 60 in 2005, and has been the recipient of many posthumous tributes — including a theater in the New York City Broadway Theater District named in his honor.



Memoir by Barbara Alfaro

I don’t have as much time for reading as I’d like – if it were up to me, I’d read as a full-time occupation, eight hours a day. Most of my reading these days is work related – material I’m editing, manuscripts I’m evaluating, or reference materials for writing projects. But once in a while I’m able to spend time with a book that’s so enjoyable the pages just breeze by – and, I’ll admit, books like these aren’t easy to find. I’m happy to report I recently encountered a book that succeeded on all fronts – beautiful prose, laugh-out-loud humor, as well as depth and introspection. The book is Mirror Talk, a memoir by Barbara Alfaro – winner of the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Award.

In the approximately 30,000-word book, available at in paperback and Kindle versions, Alfaro covers a lot of territory – from her Catholic girlhood in New York during the 1950s, her career as an actor and director during the 1960s and 1970s, and her eventual development as a poet, playwright, and writer.

The Mirror Talk chapter entitled “Make Mine Cognac” about an experimental play Alfaro appeared in was the funniest story I’ve read in years – and had me laughing, and laughing, and laughing out loud. Alfaro’s sharp, witty writing style is reminiscent of the wisecracking reporter Hildy Johnson in the Ben Hecht comedy His Girl Friday or even the ultimate wit – Dorothy Parker herself.

About the experimental play “smuggled from behind the Iron Curtain,” Alfaro writes: “After weeks of rehearsal, it became depressingly clear that no one in the cast had the slightest idea of what the play was about…the director said something about ‘symbolic juxtaposition.’ Finally, one of the symbols clanged. ‘What the hell is this play about?’ The director smiled that knowing, smug smile only directors and successful orthodontists seem able to accomplish…”

If you’re looking for a quick, fun read with a lot of heart and soul, check out Mirror Talk by Barbara Alfaro, available at The Kindle version, available, here is just $1.99!


I held the copper subway token up close and examined it. The outer part of the circular slug had a complex crisscross pattern imprinted on it and in its center there was an aluminum plug…The token read Good for One Fare on one side, and on the other side, New York City Transit Authority. As I held the token, I realized just how much it meant to me. When I had first pulled it out of Mrs. Romero’s sinkhole on that Saturday morning so long ago, along with the autographed picture of Carmen Miranda and a pair of sunglasses, it had, in an instant, crystallized my decision to leave Arroyo Grande. I had dreamed of New York and an acting career for years, but always felt it was a hopeless goal, a silly dream. But the moment I picked the token out of the sinkhole, my life changed. Suddenly, New York didn’t seem so far away. It was as if the token was urging me on, saying, “Yes, Julia, you can become that actress. Just go to New York! Look, here’s your first subway ride!” 


From “Subway to the Future,” a short story in by Jesús Salvador Treviño (Found in The Skyscraper that Flew and Other Stories available at


Currently starring in a New York production of Sam Shepard‘s new play Heartless, Lois Smith made her first screen appearance in East of Eden (1955), based on the novel by John Steinbeck. In 1988, Smith created the role of Ma Joad in the Steppenwolf Theatre production of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. (She is pictured at right with Gary Sinise, who starred as Tom Joad in the adaptation.) Smith has appeared in over 50 films and scores of theater productions — for which she has won numerous awards, including the Obie and the Drama Desk Award.


Lois Smith made her film debut in East of Eden, based on the John Steinbeck novel, where she shared the screen with James Dean — or more aptly, he shared his sizzling screen presence with her. Warner Brothers released the movie in April 1955, about six months before Dean’s death in a car crash.


Now, 57 years later, Lois Smith is starring in Heartless, the Sam Shepard-penned drama that opened in New York earlier this week, where she plays Mable, a woman who is partially paralyzed because she fell out of a tree while watching East of Eden on a drive-in movie screen. Somehow, this begs the expression “fearful symmetry.” (A nod to William Blake.)

Break a leg, Lois. Wait a minute, let me rephrase that. Have a great run, Lois. No, let me rephrase that. Enjoy the fearful symmetry of your full-circle experience, Lois.


I am a huge Sam Shepard fan, but am I the only one who thinks it odd that his photo appears so prominently on the poster for his new play? (Wouldn’t his name over the title have been enough — and infinitely more tasteful)? Did Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill ever appear on a poster? (Granted, they were not as handsome as Sam Shepard.)

Shepard’s new play Heartless opens August 27, 2012, at the Signature Theatre Company in New York City. The official website describes the play this way: Sally lives with her mysterious family in a cavernous home overlooking Los Angeles. When a visitor arrives, Sally’s dark secrets —  and the secrets of those around her —  threaten to come into the light. 

Back in the day, I attended the first preview of  Shepard’s comic masterpiece True West — produced by the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago — which starred John Malkovich, Jeff Perry, Laurie Metcalf, and Francis Guinan. It remains the most engaging, stunning, engrossing, dramatic, hilarious play I’ve ever seen. I wish I were in New York — my very favorite city — right now with tickets to Heartless in my hands.