Archive for the ‘ Obits/Memoirs ’ Category

Poems New and Collected
1957 – 1997
by Wislawa Szymborska
Translated from the Polish
by Stanislaw Baranczak
and Clare Cavanagh

Reviewed by Merilyn Oniszczuk Jackson
For The Inquirer
April 19, 1998


Reading Wislawa Szymborksa’s poems is like gazing into Poland’s famed amber. What does the cracked, ancient resin refract? An insect’s eyelash, a fish’s scale? Her verse exposes the universe’s most mundane rubbish and mankind’s banal indifference to all in its grip.

When she won the 1996 Nobel prize, Szymborska titled her acceptance speech, (included in this book) “The Poet and the World.” She spoke about the respectability of being a poet and places poets in “a select group of Fortune’s darlings.” The world is their subject.

Not surprisingly, Szymborska writes about the conflicting desires in the world; how they multiply and cancel each other out with dizzying speed. Every minute, every word is a wild card waiting to be dealt. Clothes parses no less than two dozen parts of clothing; nevertheless it presents a model of terse economy. The doctor tells the patient that for now it’s not too bad, and the matter-of-fact tone belies the relief in the lines:

…to pull out of handbags, pockets, sleeves
a crumpled, dotted, flowered, checkered scarf
whose usefulness has suddenly been prolonged.

At age 75, Szymborska has published nine volumes of poetry. This welcome new English translation of Szymborska’s poetry is by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. Baranczak, beloved as a poet and activist in Poland and respected as a poet abroad, holds the chair in Slavic literature at Harvard University. Cavanagh, is a professor in the department of Slavic languages at the University of Wisconsin. Cavanagh and Baranczak received the 1996 PEN Translation Prize for their View with a Grain of Sand. One hundred of Szymborska’s poems appeared in that 1995 volume, also published by Harcourt Brace & Co.

This latest translation is punchier, more direct, closer to Szymborska’s understated perceptions than the 1981 English translation by Robert A. Maguire and the late Magnus Jan Krynski. Some differences are worth noting because the present translation better projects Szymborska’s ironic voice.

A brief comparison between some of the older titles and the new, shows the earlier translations may be more lyrical, but wordier. What had been Two Monkeys by Breughel, becomes Breughel’s Two Monkeys. Four in the Morning is now Four A.M.
A sea change in cadence also occurs. In one of her most famous poems, A Million Laughs, A Bright Hope, it is “easy to drown in a teaspoon of ocean.” The subject in the current volume’s No End of Fun is “easily drowned in the ocean’s teaspoon.”

Szymborksa more or less repudiates a 1952 collection written in the political themes acceptable during Stalinist times, and her 1954 publication is inexplicably ignored in this translation as well as in the Krynski/Maguire edition. Both begin with the 1957 collection, Calling Out To Yeti. With the addition of 64 previously untranslated poems, including seven written in the last five years, this volume becomes the most complete English-language collection to date.

Her poems can be innocent and wise or truckling and truculent. Szymborska revels in contradictions like these. Seance ends “radiant and deceptive” and Sky in “rapture and despair.”

For Szymborska though, a word is only one consonant away from being a world, one continent away from being free. As a young adult living in the circumscribed world of post-war Poland, in the smoke-blackened, medieval town of Krakow, her writing found flight for her and her readers. She wrote a host of poems on poetry, death, and of course, war. In The End and the Beginning, she provides a formula for cleaning up after war where

Someone has to lie there
in the grass that covers up
the causes and effects
with a cornstalk in his teeth,
gawking at clouds. p.228

She takes us, her readers, with her on microscopic visits to the insectal world of “ants stitching in the grass” (No Title Required) and beetles “for such great despair/that beetle’s six legs wouldn’t be enough” (Interview With a Child.) And just as simply and swiftly she telescopes us into the universe. In Over Wine, she describes perhaps her own coquetishness at meeting a man:

And I tell him tales about
ants that die of love beneath
a dandelion’s constellation.

Along with inversions like these, Szymborska, like other great Polish writers, uses irony and self-mockery. An Opinion on the Question of Pornography, is a disquisition on the intelligentsia’s preference for “the forbidden tree of knowledge to the pink buttocks found in glossy magazines.”

Though Szymborska talks overtly about love or falling in love in at least five poems, she too, steers away from pornography. Two lines in Ruben’s Women, however, are powerful enough to make up for any lack of eroticism:

thick-whiskered Phoebus, on a sweaty steed,
riding straight into the seething bedchamber.
As intimate as her poetry can be, Szymborska is an intensely private person. She does not care for the attention she’s received since winning the prize and is said to go out even in Krakow in disguises. Fellow Nobel laureate and countryman, Czeslaw Milosz, [cq] wrote about writers in internal exile behind the Iron Curtain. In her poetry, Szymborska found internal freedom and so shared with her readers a space to breathe. May our continuing discovery of her poetry not diminish her freedom.

Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer
Posted: Tuesday, January 6, 2015, 3:01 AM

Barańczak and Merilyn Jackson at Drexel Poetry reading 1987
Stanislaw Baranczak and Merilyn Jackson and a notice for a 1987 reading that she arranged.

A few months before martial law was declared in Poland on Dec. 13, 1981, the poet and samizdat writer Stanislaw Baranczak arrived at Harvard. He was the Alfred Jurzykowski Professor of Polish Language and Literature there until Parkinson’s disease forced him to retire in 1997. He died of pneumonia Dec. 26 at age 68.
Baranczak was a cofounder of a pre-Solidarity organization, the KOR, was arrested for supporting the workers, and was fired from his teaching post at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. He then edited Zapis, an underground literary journal. After the regime banned his work, he finally accepted Harvard’s repeated offers of an appointment. Even then, the Polish government denied him a visa for years, making him wait.
A few months after Baranczak got to the United States, I wrote him, asking how I could help the thousands imprisoned or detained by the Polish government. He wrote back promptly, putting me in touch with activist and exile Irena Lasota in New York and linguistics professor Henryk Híz at the University of Pennsylvania. Within weeks we would form a committee to support the Solidarity movement, mainly the underground press.
Baranczak’s letter ended with characteristic commitment and irony:
“Being a newcomer to America (I arrived here nine months ago) I am still astonished by how much sympathy this country has for the Polish cause. But I am also getting used to the fact that this is the country where some basic values of mankind are still considered essential.”
The following year, our Solidarity support committee produced a Solidarity exhibit at Moore College of Art. Besides artifacts and mementos smuggled out from the detainees, it also included a photography exhibit by Reuters photojournalist Joseph Czarnecki, whose photographs graced every major publication worldwide, exposing the brutality of the regime Baranczak had escaped.
In March of 1987, our committee organized a reading for Baranczak at Drexel University. I still remember his soft, gentle voice reading these incongruously harsh words from his poem “Because Only This World of Pain”:
Because only this world of pain, only this
body in the vise of earth and air,
flogged with bullets, put into the hands
of torturers, cracking at the bone-seams
of the skull struck with a truncheon, only this
thin crust of human skin, gushing
blood, salty with seas of sweat,
between the blow of birth and the blow of death.
In an essay titled “The Revenge of the Mortal Hand,” which appeared in the 2007 anthology Polish Writers on Writing, edited by Adam Zagajewski, Baranczak spoke of what is accomplished by the poet writing in protest: “Don’t we find pleasure in writing because writing, as such, even though it doesn’t make the pain actually disappear, is nonetheless a way of retaliating against what causes the pain?”
Irena Grudzinska-Gross, research scholar at Princeton University’s Slavic languages and literatures department, was one of that exhibit’s organizers. Reached by phone, she spoke of Baranczak’s “unusual mastery of languages, a talent for rhyming, punning, word creation, great knowledge, wisdom, and wit – quite an unusual combination. He enriched both Polish- and English-language cultures enormously, and brought new literary forms into both cultures. For example, he is the most innovative pure-nonsense author in Polish.” Baranczak even translated American limerick master Ogden Nash into Polish.
With Clare Cavanagh, his former student, he won the PEN Translation Prize in 1996 for a translation of the poetry of Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, who won the Nobel Prize in literature that year. Earlier translations were ponderously formal, but theirs captured Szymborska’s ironic, modern lilt.
He also translated English into Polish. Allen Kuharski, chair of the theater department at Swarthmore College and translator of Polish and English texts, called Baranczak “the most significant contemporary translator of Shakespeare’s plays into Polish: 25 of the Bard’s works since 1986, with almost 200 productions staged by the country’s most noted directors.
“The combination of Baranczak at Harvard and Czeslaw Milosz at Berkeley powerfully buttressed the status of Polish poetry and literature in the U.S.,” Kuharski continued. “Their promotion of other major Polish poets such as Szymborska and Zagajewski as outspoken public intellectuals and dissidents ushered in a period of unprecedented interest and prestige for Polish poetry in the English-speaking world.”
The life and career of poets like Baranczak make us realize that it may take electricians and trade unionists to finish a revolution, but it’s often a poet who begins it.
Merilyn Jackson writes regularly on dance and Polish culture for The Inquirer and other publications.

This morning I lost one of my dearest friends and most important musical role models, and the world lost one of its best composers. Bill Duckworth was diagnosed with pancreas cancer a year ago last February. He got into a state-of-the-art therapy program, and had the disease in remission, and for quite a few months it looked like he was going to beat one of the fastest and most lethal cancers there is (and the same one that killed Morton Feldman). But he finally started having bad reactions to the chemo, and it wore him down. I had heard about a week ago that he had decided to go off chemo, and he went fast after that, slipping away about midnight last night, according to his wife Nora, who called this morning.

to read more:

Finding my voice at poetry camp

BY: Merilyn Jackson 07.17.2012

Tom Lux— aka the Wrecking Ball— plowed over my lines.

Suck in that iambic pentameter! Or:
Notes from summer poetry boot camp

I’ve written poetry since I was a kid— not much of it very good, but I wrote it as best I could. In the ‘70s I took poetry classes and attended readings with my professor. At the original Painted Bride on South Street one June night, I met AJ Sabatini reading his poetry.

Six weeks later I broke my husband’s heart (and my professor’s) by moving in with Sabatini. Together we read poetry by Plath, Stevens and Williams, and passages from Finnegans Wake, in varying cadences to each other as foreplay. We didn’t have a TV.

Almost everyone we knew then wrote, composed or choreographed— all language forms that demand attention, interpretation, parsing and translation.

There was Jack, Maralyn, Patience, Jett, Annson, Karen and Joseph. Steve Berg, who had just started the American Poetry Review, left his shoeprints on our wall one night during an impromptu party we threw after an APR-sponsored reading by Robert Bly. Bly left a more impersonal ring on our end table from his icy glass. Unlike the wall, the table— with its cloudy nimbus moon in full eclipse— has traveled with us throughout the years.

Veiled eroticism

Some time ago, I became a little bored with writing arts criticism and began “raiding” old poems for good lines that refreshed my dance writing. Soon I was writing more and more poetry— mostly what you’d call arch-romantic stuff filled with lightly veiled eroticism. I confess I am a tease.

This year I applied to three summer poetry-writing workshops and was accepted to all three. I chose Colgate and Sarah Lawrence, since both gave me some scholarship funding. I just got back, after working with Peter Balakian at Colgate and Tom Lux at Sarah Lawrence.

I have just one question: Why didn’t I do this 30 years ago?

Colgate’s campus in upstate New York is art-gallery print beautiful. The college sits on a hill that seems a 90-degree angle when you climb it in 90-degree heat. The town of Hamilton is a 15-minute walk from the foot of its slope. And that’s about it if you’re without wheels. If you’re there for only a week there’s enough to explore on foot.

Emboldened by drink

But you find little time for sightseeing at a writing workshop. Matt Leone, who has run Colgate’s summer writing program for ten years, wedges in more talks, readings and social gatherings than a day can hold. It’s all you can do to steal an hour or two for writing.

Most of the faculty are published authors— Balakian, J. Robert Lennon, Dana Spiotta and Bruce Smith— who grew up in Philadelphia and got my Philly Girl ’tude as if we were cousins. Participants chatted with them after their readings and talks. Among the pithiest readers were Lennon— whose book of flash fiction, Pieces for the Left Hand, I gobbled at the beach in one afternoon last week— and Smith, whose Devotions are still wending homeward via the mail.

They also comprised a generous audience for the student readings each afternoon and again late into the evenings, when drinks emboldened us. These readings ranged from drab to dazzling, ho-hum to outrageous. Best of all, I got my first opportunity to read my work to an audience.

Finding my voice

Some of my fellow workshoppers weren’t sure my poems read well on the page. But when I stood up and said, “I don’t need no stinkin’ podium” and plowed into the crowd, performing my poems, they got it. I had never read to an audience before, but the minute the floor didn’t open up and swallow me, I knew I owned it. I had a voice, a pretty good one; I just had to find better ways to translate its tonalities from the stage to the page.

The workshops with Balakian had a warm and fuzzy quality, tentative and blanketed in political correctness and politesse. Balakian has a delicious international sidekick in Ioanna Karatzaferi, the Greek-born and part-time Manhattanite author and translator of more than 50 books in Greek. I had the pleasure of riding the six-hour bus to New York with her on my way down to Sarah Lawrence. I learned as much in those six hours as I did in the previous six days.

Ioanna and I shared common past adventures in political activism: she for Greek democracy, I for a free Poland. Each of us understood that meant we were working for people to be free to fuck up or succeed— their choice. By the end of the bus ride I reached the conclusion— which I think Ioanna supported— that I should follow my heart as well as my intellect in my poetic choices. That is, I should let the poems find their audiences instead of changing them to please less passionate, less nuanced readers.

Confronting the ‘Wrecking Ball’

Sarah Lawrence, just north of New York City, is more like jumping out of the print into a live, micro-version of Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill. Very tony. Its much less sprawling campus put our living quarters within a two-minute walk of the dining hall and most of our workshops and events.

Here on Sunday afternoon the poet Tom Lux, who designed and founded the Sarah Lawrence workshop 19 years ago, sat in wait for our group of 11 on a large round table. We jumped right in with no introduction.

Lux— whom I dubbed The Wrecking Ball— was fiercely devoted to the cause, the sound and the meaning of poetry. He plowed over each of our lines, questioning our choices; then, after demolishing them, he assured us that as poets we are the final arbiters. We were left to pick up the pieces and rebuild our work then, as best we could.

You could sign up for as many one-on-one conferences with other instructors as you could squeeze in. Each of Lux’s workshop participants got almost a couple of hours of his time– that made for about 20 hours out of a week that immersed us all for 12 hours a day in wrenching, hard-driving poetry-talk.

During my freewheeling one-on-one with Lux, I pulled an old poem out of the pile at random. A short one, I figured, and one that had already been published. Lux immediately liked the title, “It makes you want to find out,” he said.

My original read:

How You Warriors Came to Farm

Hearth embers singe the soles of my feet.
My hair, ashen, tangles in the treetops.
I turn my back to you.

To you, it is the steppes of Georgia.
You, Cossack, gouge furrows
Spew seed.

The bruised land yields up
unending riches:
The groans of Eve,
a loamy perfume —
so dark and hard to chew,
your eye must soften it
with salty tears.

Lux didn’t get that this poem is about a certain kind of sex (like pretty much all of my poems). Both he and another reader thought I should drop the last line. So I tried this version:

How You Warriors Came to Farm

Hearth embers singe the soles of my feet.
My hair, ashen, tangles in the treetops.
I turn my back to you.

To you, it is the steppes of Georgia.
You, Cossack, gouge furrows
along my ribs, spur your seed deep.

The bruised land yields up
unending riches:
The groans of Eve,
a loamy perfume —
so dark and hard to chew,
your eye must soften it.

What was the point of this exercise (not to mention the point of attending poetry camps)? The late Nobel laureate poet Wisława Szymborska, one of my favorites, sometimes wonders who reads poetry. Many poets tackle the subject. So here’s my attempt:

The Efficacy of Poetry

What the fuck’s it for —
poetry – anyway?
It doesn’t give back what was yours.
It doesn’t pick you up from all fours.

When we need it most:
Funerals, the end of love affairs,
the birth of a child,
the cresting of delphiniums
the blistering of desert heat —
does it deaden pain,
mollify our fear of the unspeakable
breathing of cheeses?
(Not to speak of drying your tears.)

Or these tears, cracking laughter,
triangles of reference,
The Finger of God,
chitchat on that porch,
and that halleluwhat?

What is poetry for?
Does it give us closure?
What a conceit!
Who came up with that?
I’d like to stick his hand down
my garbage disposal
before he writes his next.

The only closure is death.

And everything between birth and death

— poetry.

Five poems by Merilyn Jackson were published this year in Andrei Codrescu’s Exquisite Corpse. To read them, click here.


Another Titanic night to remember

BY: AJ Sabatini 04.13.2012

Originally appeared in Broad Street Review

It was sad (so sad):
The night the Titanic went down, again


It was a night that we would remember, but the people in attendance would like to forget. Especially the hostess.

Dateline: Philadelphia, April 15, 1987. Party to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic in a loft near South Street. The invitations were embossed; the affair— as we found out— included a replication of the final night’s menu: oysters, consommé fermier, cock-a-leekie soup for first courses, a buffet with potted shrimps, round of spiced beef, corned ox tongue. A well stocked bar, champagne everywhere.

The loft was meticulously decorated for the occasion. In fact, the hostess was an artist working as a free-lance set designer and food stylist for local advertising companies. With her artist’s eye and attention to period detail, everything from the sculpted white drapery to cut glass clamshell ashtrays sparkled with the prim elegance of Edwardian First Class comfort.

Guests were invited to dress for dinner and, fully in the spirit, men wore black lapel buffed tuxedos and the women gracefully sipped cocktails in floor-length gowns, their hair coiffed (though the younger, cheekier women made themselves up with Betty Boop curls spiraling onto their cheeks). They swayed to recorded band music— and their dates, mostly what were then called yuppies— waved their ridiculously fat cigars in the air and, as guys unaccustomed to wearing tuxedos, were as puffed up as high schoolers at a prom.

A job audition

One couple actually didn’t receive a formal invitation. That would be my wife Merilyn Jackson and me. We met Lauren, the hostess, a week or so before at the home of a friend where we all drank wine and laughed, as we did a lot back then. She casually invited us to her Titanic party, and we said sure.

Now, some of our friends in those days used to refer us as the Arthur & Merilyn Show. No need to go into specifics, but antics were us. Had Lauren known us better, she might have thought twice about inviting us to what she had planned as a party to show the city’s hot, up-and-coming advertising people what she could do. This Titanic party would be her showcase. If things went well, one of these potential employers might offer her a job.

The party was slated for a Saturday night, and I spent the afternoon going to used clothing stores in search of a tuxedo, which I found for $5 by about 5 o’clock. I also picked up a pair of blue-and-grey striped, heavyweight engineer-style bib overalls, a comically large monkey wrench and a long, thick rope.

Merilyn, a beauty, rested, having already decided on a flapper chic black dress. Our imaginations, sad to say, reached Second-Class level, at best. But, then, what attracted us was the word party, not Titanic.

Water, water everywhere

By 8 p.m. or so, inspiration struck: This soiree was intended to celebrate a sunk ship, or water, water everywhere. So I filled up a few gallon containers with water and steadied them in the trunk of our unreliable chartreuse Fiat.

From Queen Village, Merilyn chauffeured us over to Kater Street, where I took the water out of the car while she parked. I dropped the bib overalls and monkey wrench– along with Deep Down in the Jungle..Negro Narrative Folklore From the Streets of Philadelphia (by the world famous Penn folklorist Roger Abrahams)– in the entranceway to the second story apartment.

From the street, it looked like a grand party was in progress. A neat young couple, dressed like movie extras, nodded to us on their way in. When the coast was clear, Merilyn slipped off her jacket, we tied the rope around my waist and she climbed, other end of the rope in hand, upstairs in her black teddy, as if the sinking ship had interrupted an intimate engagement somewhere above steerage but below the swells.

‘Where’s the dame?’

As we’d planned, Merilyn poured gallons of water over my head, soaking my second-hand tuxedo. As I trailed a few steps behind her, she burst into the party, squealing, “Help! Man Overboard,” while I, lay on my side in a puddle clutching the rope.

The hired mock maitre d’ at the top of the stairs, greeting everyone and finding their name cards, was the first one to widen his eyes in disbelief.

Moments later, dripping wet as a dog after a swim, I scrambled to my feet, shouting, “Where’s the dame? Where’s the dame?” as if completing the scenario whereby Merilyn and I had been rudely interrupted down below and I swept overboard.

It took only a few seconds for us to read the open mouths, turned heads and perturbed raised eyebrows as signs that joking still wasn’t the accepted tone when it came to the subject of what happened that night when the great ship went down.

African-American toast

But the umbrage from the cummerbunds and frowns from the gowns faded quickly and turned to laughter. Lauren greeted us and seemed amused, even if we had possibly sunk her career.

Merilyn quickly slipped back into her jacket and headed for the champagne and canapés.

I, always one to compound disaster with calamity, returned downstairs, picked up the book, bib overalls and monkey wrench, and retreated to the bathroom to change.

Grabbing a bottle of wine, I found a corner. When a few guests drifted over to applaud my role and ask about my costume change, I read aloud the African-American “toast,” Shine on the Titanic (quoted in Deep Down in the Jungle)

A “toast” is what we might call today a rap. It’s a satire based on a character named “Shine,” who supposedly worked in the Titanic’s engine room. Shine repeatedly tries to warn Captain Smith that the ship is sinking but is ignored. At one point he rhymes:

Shine went downstairs, he ate a piece of bread.
That’s when the water came above his head.
He said, “Captain, Captain, I was downstairs eating my bread
And the motherfuckin’ water came above my head.”
He said, “Shine, Shine, set your black self down.
I got 99 pumps to pump the water down.”

‘Let it sink’

Eventually, Shine realizes what’s going on and saves himself. The refrain, “and Shine swam on” in Shine’s euphemistic way of saying, “Let the ship and the people on it sink.”

So I sat with my book, wine and monkey wrench, toasting away in my best mock-Shine style. Lauren looked on from time to time to make sure there wasn’t a third act in our show.

So now it’s the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking and Merilyn and I have just one question: Is anyone out there planning a Titanic party this month?

One more reason to move to Arizona

for Broad Street Review
Posted: 3/10/12

In Warsaw 12 years ago I attended an afternoon concert and afterward dashed across the square to the Teatr Wielki to see if I could get into a Nijinsky Gala on just that one night. The box office was closed, but I stuffed 20-zloty notes into the pockets of two apple-cheeked ushers— “For piwo (beer),” I explained— and they sneaked me in.

The choreographer Emil Wesolowski’s fabulous reconstruction of Nijinsky’s Jeux was just beginning, with Slawomir Wozniak Sr. dancing lead. After Wesolowski’s over-the-top Rite of Spring, I went backstage to meet him.

When each of us exhausted our respective supplies of Polish and English, Wesolowski took me to Wozniak’s dressing room. Still in his dance belt, Wozniak became our interlocutor. Upon hearing his excellent English, I asked if he’d been to the States.

“Oh, every year I go to dance Nutcracker in some place called Phoenix,” he replied.

When I laughed, he asked archly, “I said something funny?”

Oczywiscie (of course),” I explained. “I have a home in Phoenix where my husband teaches, but we’re never there over Nutcracker season.”

The dance world can be as small as it’s grand. Wozniak eventually moved to Phoenix permanently and now is the director of its Master Ballet Academy, where the recent Bolshoi defector David Hallberg trained as a youngster. Wozniak’s sons, now entering their 20s, are dancing with Ballet Arizona.

Sneaking in, again

Now fast-forward 12 years. I was flying from Philadelphia to Phoenix a few weeks ago, planning to see the Trisha Brown Dance Company at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and hoping to see works by Will Bond and Michael O’Connor in Phoenix as well. I’d also hoped to pop in on David Krensing, the former Pennsylvania Ballet principal, who now lives in Tucson but teaches at Ballet Arizona on alternate Saturdays.

But once seated on the plane, when I picked up US Airways Magazine, it opened to a page about Ballet Arizona and its director, Ib Andersen. Lucky me. That weekend Ballet Arizona was dancing Sleeping Beauty, and I immediately changed my plans so I could catch the last show at 5:30 Sunday night.

Yes, Phoenix is still a sleepy town, with just about everything happening an hour or two earlier than we Eastern folks are accustomed to. The State of Arizona was celebrating its 100th anniversary— that is, it’s been around as long as Sleeping Beauty slept.

At the box office, I introduced myself and asked if they could get me in. Once inside, I went to the bank of dancers’ photos to see who was new and whom I might remember from years past. I was happy to see Paola Hartley was still there, dancing that night as Fairy of the Enchanted Garden with her Cavalier, Zherlin Ndudi. The great Astrit Zejnati was still there too.

Familiar faces

I found many new faces since I’d last seen Ballet Arizona. But Ilir Shtylla, an Albanian (like Zejnati) who first danced at Pennsylvania Ballet when he came to the States in 1999, has been with Ballet Arizona since 2003. So the Ballet Arizona boasts a strong core that upholds its institutional memory while bringing in fresh and hungry young upstarts as well.

As I pored over the photos, it was déjà vu all over again as I caught the young faces of two such young upstarts: Michal and Slawomir Wozniak, sons of the dancer I’d met in Warsaw.

In Sleeping Beauty, they performed several roles, with Michal dancing Bluebird the night I saw it, to thrilling heights in his jêtés, but also as an equally thrilling stage presence. The brothers alternated in the Bluebird role on different nights.

It was one of those unforgettable nights in the theater. The newly refurbished Phoenix Symphony Hall’s fantastic acoustics perfectly caught the conductor Timothy Russell’s sparkling reading of the Tchaikovsky score. The sumptuous sets (which filled the huge stage) and costumes were borrowed from the Boston Ballet, via the Royal Ballet circa 1970. The house was almost sold out, with many yummy little girls in gumdrop-like outfits on display.

In a big, story ballet like Sleeping Beauty, all 34 of Ballet Arizona’s dancers had roles. But best of all was Ib Andersen’s faithful yet fresh interpretation of the original 1890 Marius Petipa choreography.

From Taiwan, via Pennsylvania

It’s in the big ballets that Andersen’s light touch and meticulous attention to detail really shine. Even at over two and a half hours (minus intermission), Andersen’s Beauty never put anyone to sleep (other than the court on stage).

On my program, Natalia Magnicaballi, who’s been with Ballet Arizona since 2002, danced the Lilac Fairy and Shtylla played her Cavalier. The exquisite Taiwanese and Pennsylvania-trained Tzu-Chia Huang took command of the stage as Princess Aurora. In Act II, a century later (well, it seemed that way, waiting for him), Zejnati finally appeared as Prince Désiré (yes, can you take the subtlety?).

Zejnati’s pas de trois with Magnicaballi and Huang, after he kisses her awake, gave a taste of the glory to come in his grand pas de deux with Huang. There, his footwork and strength as a leaper contrasted with Huang’s unutterable delicacy and poise. The Wozniak brothers acquitted themselves like true Slavs in the Polonaise/Mazurka finale. I hope I’ll be lucky enough to follow their careers for many years, whether in the East or the West.


Spammer Alert!

Note to Spammers: I am a professional writer with more than 20 years experience. I write every single word that I upload onto my blog and use the blog as a repository for my published work. I would have no need to hire any writers especially at .01 cents per word. What sort of person would write for such peanuts? But you can hire me for $1.00 per word. Merilyn

February 9, 2012

By Merilyn Jackson

Few choreographers have the power to effect life-altering changes the way Pina Bausch did over the course of her 50-year career, and, even now, three years after her untimely death. That is what Pina does. She changes your life. She changed mine and she changed the lives of others I know. She altered my life so much, before and still long after I met her, that I have always felt touched, blessed, and saw my own work stretch to a level beyond what I had achieved. I’m even writing a poem about her effect called Pina, Queen of the Desert.

German filmmaker Wim Wenders in a recent NPR interview spoke about the first time he went to a performance by Bausch and her Tanztheater Wuppertal. “I found myself on the edge of my seat, crying like a baby after five minutes, and crying through the entire thing,” he recalled. “I was hopelessly, helplessly crying, and didn’t know what was happening. It was like lightning struck me.” The work? It was Café Müller, from 1985, and he says it changed his life.

Anyone who’s seen the film Pina (I have, three times, in previews in Philadelphia and New York) is struck with wonder, even if they haven’t seen it in 3D. I made a new friend: a German professor teaching in the U.S., he had not known about Bausch, but was so taken by her and the film that he ordered it in Blu-Ray for his university library, yet hasn’t seen it in 3D. I told him he can’t imagine the adrenaline rush of nearly ducking when a sheer curtain flies toward you, a Wuppertalian monorail car feels as if it will run you over, or buckets of water come splashing at you.

To read the remainder of the article:

Ode to Pork

A couple of Christmases ago, before the Swine Flu outbreak, I gave a foodie friend a book from Italy, Pigs and Pork. Coincidentally, I unwrapped the same book from my husband.  He knows my love for the flesh and skin of pig – not the kind you pass and kick, the kind you slow roast to a snap and a pop of the crackling. The book’s slightly skewered translation says scratchings for what I take to mean cracklings. And the title — how does one separate the pig from the pork? After all, Pigs R Pork.

The book says there are approximately 960 million pigs in the world, roughly a third of them in China. Europe has 243 million and the United States only 95 million. Boiled Pig’s Cheek with Garbanza Beans is just one of the book’s recipes I have yet to make. But now that we’re getting succulent pork dishes in restaurants like Chifa and Lolita, I may not take the time.

In Chinese astrology, I’m a goat and my most compatible match is the pig. Alas, I am married to a rat. But he must have ascendant pig qualities:  nice to a fault, they delight in eating good food and lovemaking, believe in the best qualities of humankind, are highly intelligent, and make wonderful life partners due to their hearts of gold and love of family.

Not only is pork the other white meat, pig is featured in fairytales, cartoons, the Babe movies. Philly’s most celebrated theater company calls itself Pig Iron Theater. And New York’s redoubtable Mabou Mines, does an off-off Broadway production Ecco Porco. Actor Frederic Neumann starred as Gonzo Porco. About a pig by that name, the play runs four hours – enough to roast a suckling in time for an aftermath party.

After seeing the play in the East Village one brittle January night, we found Col Legno’s cozy room still open. We warmed up not far from the brick oven where they bake quail, pizza, and white beans with sage in glass flasks.

I have eaten wild boar throughout Eastern Europe where it is still available in butcher shops and featured on the menus of fine old hotel restaurants. Its musty taste surprised me and reminded me of the deep tones of the marrow sauces of my childhood. In honor of Gonzo, we ordered Col Legno’s Pasta with Wild Boar sauce – a Bolognese with finely chopped boar and sage.

Zimne Nogy (literally, cold feet) is pickled pig’s feet — Souse to y’all. You can go into a bar in Poland and order “binoculars and jellyfish” — two shots of vodka and a small plate of Zimne Nogy. Although I would not eat the stuff as a kid, I now ferret it out wherever I go. Krakus Market in Port Richmond prepares the best I’ve had locally. But I adore the Crispy Pig’s feet at Cochon.  And I’m heading up to Northern Spy in the East Village soon as I can to try their shredded pig’s feet wrapped around mustard greens, breaded, then fried!

On cold winter Sundays, my family’s favorite was a huge (and cheap) fresh ham, slow cooked until it fell apart. Pepper, salt, garlic, and maybe ginger or cloves, made up the limited palette of spices in the Polish “Kuchnia.” It was always good enough to eat like Guinea islanders, who, normally vegetarian, annually binge over a three-day feast on the pigs that ferret out their root veggies.

Once, after a visit to Taller Puertoriquenno up at 5th and Lehigh, we stopped into a Puerto Rican restaurant down the street. I looked over the unfamiliar menu, unsuccessful in my attempts to wrest meaning from our surly waiter, who, it later dawned on us, had feigned insufficiency in the Queen’s English.

Cuchifritos are crisply fried pork parts that include ears, tails, and stomach. I used to get them from K-Rico Bakery in Phoenix and they were mouthwatering. Since I’ll eat anything fried, when the word Cuchifritos popped out, I ordered it.

The waiter crooked his eyebrow, smirked, and bowed as he wheeled away to the kitchen.  Shortly, he placed before me a plate of what looked like lukewarm, undoctored, off-brand baked beans with wilted, pasty-looking triangles poking through here and there. He stood at attention, waiting for me to dig in. The first rubbery bite was undistinguishable from an old girdle.

“Do you know what you are eating, Senora?”  I smiled weakly, trying to chew as he hastened to tell me. “Pig’s ears.”

I offered a taste to Herb, a non-practicing Jew, who, nevertheless, does not eat pork. He declined.

“Oh, well, would you mind bringing me the chicken like his and wrapping this up to go?  My husband will love it,” I said with a wink at Herb.

Herb told me a story about a man in Israel who needed a new heart valve, and how the rabbis, after much Talmudic discussion, decided to approve the use of a pig’s valve. Since pigs, like us, are omnivorous and have similar tissue makeup, we use them in medical research. I asked if he’d heard about the researchers’ latest fear, that, like the transfer of the HIV virus from animal to human, something similar could happen with pigs.

“Well,” Herb began after asking the waiter to pack the remains his chicken, “that came from eating monkey. So, if the same hasn’t yet happened from eating pig all these millennia, maybe it’s OK – even though I still wouldn’t.”

At home I placed my foam carton on the counter and turned to read the mail. My husband rummaged behind me. “What did you bring me?”

“Oh, just some leftovers.”

“Well, this is really fall-apart delicious. Best I’ve had.”

I spun around.  The pig’s ears had turned into something other than a silk purse. As I watched my husband tucking into Herb’s chicken, I pictured Herb opening his carton tomorrow. Oink vey!


Horrible.  Rain again.  Found out yesterday my xray of last week shows I have a fractured kneecap from a fall more than a month ago.  I’m supposed to stay off of it.  OK, starting next week. On my way to review I Think I Ken, take my rental car back to the airport.  (This is not Enterprise.)  They’ve lost my records, can’t give me a receipt or release the hold on my credit card.  I make a stink.  They do it, but I miss my train back into town from the airport.  Finally at Market East I get a cabbie from Nairobi who insists on slowing down at the green lights even though he knows I’m in a hurry.  I jump out and run the rest of the way to the National, refusing to pay him.  At the National showroom the volunteer won’t let me in.  NO LATE SEATING ALLOWED.  I tell her to tell @dance why they didn’t get a review.  Before I leave the building, someone grabs me and they take me in.  Another reviewer tells me it got better since I arrived.  Show’s good.  Jokes fly faster than you can catch them.  Barbie tells Kira, the “Oriental” doll “You can’t drive,”  and I laugh louder than anybody cause I just yelled that at the cabbie.

Go to St. George’s for a Relache piece by Joe Kasinskas, a favorite composer of mine.  It’s last instead of first and we must sit through an excrutiating half hour of the Taylor/Madof Acoustic Trio — supposedly partly structured and partly improvised.  But I’ll be dadblamed if I could tell the difference.  I had shingles on my forehead 15 years ago and their music reactivated it.

Go to Cabaret with Jack D.  G Rich sings some songs and asks for a smoke machine.  Deborah and Diane get Camels (the venue’s sponsor — hey there were no kids there) and get down on their knees, puffing away.  I lean over to Diane and say, “Boy, Deborah really will do anything for her job.”  Diane says “Yeah but that’s her boyfriend.”  I say, “So, I guess she’s not just blowin’ smoke.”


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