Wednesday, February 01, 2012

once upon a time

I liked poetry. I went through a phase. Not too long ago. Clare Cavanagh, a frequent translator of the Polish writer, Wislawa Szymborska, came once to speak at Borders and I was, at the time, enthralled.

A poem for you today, by Szymborska (this one is translated by Joanna Trzeciak):

Some like poetry

that means not all.
Not even the majority of all but the minority.
Not counting the schools, where one must,
and the poets themselves, there will be perhaps two in a thousand.
but one also likes chicken noodle soup,
one likes compliments and the color blue, one likes an old scarf,
one likes to prove one's point,
one likes to pet a dog.
but what sort of thing is poetry?
More than one shaky answer
has been given to this question.
But I do not know and do not know and clutch on to it,
as to a saving bannister.

As I read today about the death of Szymborska (in Krakow, where she lived virtually her entire long life) I spin back to the time when poems (of others) were scattered across my table and if asked, I would have told you that they would be part of my life forever.

They weren’t. These days, I prefer essays.

In that same period of time (the time of poetry), I was being a mom to two young girls. Each had her own set of fleeting passions, but today I remember the one belonging to my older girl. At the age of twelve, maybe thirteen, she developed a love of musicals and especially as belted by the unstoppable Patti LuPone.

Patti was with us on long car trips – on tapes played on the boring highways between Madison and Pittsburgh (where the paternal grandparents once lived) and she was with us at home, played loudly, or maybe it’s just that Patti always sang so loudly!

Fifteen, or was it seventeen years ago, my older girl learned that, after a bit of a hiatus, Patti LuPone would be again appearing in public, singing through her beloved Broadway repertoire in a theater in New York. It was not our habit to take weekend trips those days. Funds were tight, college was looming. But, I badly wanted this one:  a mother daughter week-end in New York. Since then, I have traveled frequently with my younger girl, but that New York weekend remains the only trip that I ever took alone with my older daughter.

It was a fantastic set of days! At the end of the performance, we stood and watched as the show’s entourage left through the theater back door. Patti was there, real, alive, Patti LuPone – my daughter and I, the oddest demographic in the theater, to be sure, watching as fans like to watch. Satisfied, satiated.

Patti LuPone is in Madison tonight. My older girl and I meet for dinner downtown…

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…and then proceed to the theater.


When you are a star, a diva, a performing musician, when you write award winning poetry, or more humbly, an obscure little blog called Ocean, oftentimes you don’t know who your audience is. Or if maybe someone is reading, listening, someone who is living a flight of momentary fancy, only then to disappear, until maybe fifteen years down the road, something happens and a memory comes back and he (or she) is with you again. Hey, I remember when I once read your poems and they made me smile, ever so broadly.

Patti LuPone sang well -- that's a given. But, time reshuffles cards for us, so that what is today is just a shade different than what was once upon a time. After the show, my girl and I went to the backstage door. For old time's sake. A small crowd -- maybe a dozen or two dozen people -- hovered, waiting for the grande dame to step out into her limo.We were told to form a line, to put away cameras. Patti came, scribbled a half formed letter (L? P? something altogether different?)  on people's outstretched programs and left.

Wieslawa Szymborska shied away from big crowds. She once said that any more than a dozen in one room made her uneasy.

I think how when you aim for big audiences and you get them, it changes you.

I hope that I never aim for big audiences. I hope that I remain shy with crowds of more than twelve.