Saturday, December 12, 2015

Stee-phen! Stee-phen! Stee-phen!

Three months is too long even for an occasional blog.  I've been in a major creative drought for months now, but I still have some poetry news to report:
1. My new chapbook, Hits and Sacrifices, will have a full first printing.  Thanks to everyone who supported me by buying a preorder copy (or two or more!). The publisher's timeline is behind, and I haven't got the galleys yet, so the original publication date of January 8 looks increasingly unlikely.  I hope to see the first copies go out sometimes by late January or early February - at least that's my guess.
2. I mentioned in my prior blog post that I was entering a contest sponsored by the Hickory (NC) Museum of Art, inviting poets to write poetry inspired by any of the works in their museum. I wrote three short poems about three photographs by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry from his temporary exhibit there, and the curators picked all three to be featured in their upcoming quarterly Art of Poetry presentation, which is a walking tour of the museum and reading of the poems. They will also be posted next to the photos. I won't be able to attend the reading (which is actually today, Dec. 12) but I'm very honored. If the poems are posted on their website I'll share them.

I just got back from a great mini-vacation in New York, where we visited our two sons who live there, as well as doing a little Christmas shopping and decoration-gazing. We admired the Rockefeller Center tree and the gorgeous baroque-angel tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, took in views of the city from the Empire State Building and our nice timeshare unit on the 25th floor of a midtown resort hotel.  But the highlight of this trip was getting to be an audience member on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
I was lucky enough to snag two tickets online about a week or so before we went, but that was no guarantee of admission because they always overbook to make sure all the seats are filled. So we had to get in line early to be sure to get in. We arrived a little after noon and ended up ninth and tenth in line. At two o'clock a production assistant came out to check our tickets and ID, then gave us numbers, stamped our hands, and told us to come back around 3:45 to get back in line to go into the theater. Our numbers got us front-row center seats.

There was a warmup comedian, Paul Mercurio, who was very funny, pulling folks out of the audience and asking them questions, and pumping up the audience to get them to cheer and laugh as loudly as possible once Stephen arrived. (The Ed Sullivan Theater actually seats less than 300 people, so I guess they want us to sound like a crowd twice as big.) Stephen himself came on shortly before taping for a brief Q&A session with the audience - he seems like a pretty nice guy. Then the house band, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, started to crank it up. Oh man, can they cook!  They just might be the best house band on the planet. (Sorry, Roots.) They really got the audience psyched up with their exuberant New Orleans-style jazz - you only get to see a small portion of their performances on TV.  Then Stephen came on, and of course the crowd went wild.

The show, taped and broadcast on Tuesday, December 8, featured French actress Marion Cotillard, author George Saunders, and singer-songwriter-harpist Joanna Newsom.  Stephen also did a funny bit involving defending a Turkish doctor who was arrested for physically comparing his president on social media to Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Stephen (who is a huge Tolkeinophile) presented his defense of the doctor in the guise of Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. Later, he went on a rant about the misshapen Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Christmas Trees, but then shifted gears and complained about a single light bulb that burned out on his marquee outside, so he feigned going outside to change it. (That bit was cut from the Tuesday show and shown on Wednesday instead.)

We slightly regretted that we didn't try to get tickets instead for the Wednesday show, which featured cast members from Downton Abbey (we are both big fans), but the guests for Tuesday were good. Marion Cotillard looked a bit uncomfortable and hemmed and hawed during the early part of the interview (part of which was edited out), but she warmed up to Stephen by the end, and they did a cute bit about how even the most mundane things in English sound so romantic in French.  George Saunders (with whose work I wasn't familiar) was very engaging, talking about the writing process and singing an amusing song he wrote, accompanying himself on guitar. (He had one of the funniest lines of the night, saying that playing his guitar in front of Stephen's band was "like having sex in front of porn stars".) Joanna Newsom was interesting - she is a good harpist and songwriter, and she had a good band, but I have a hard time with her quirky, affected voice. And at the end, George Saunders, who recently released a children's book,  read a bedtime story to Stephen, who was all tucked into bed with a nightcap (the hat, that is) and a teddy bear.  

The taping was efficient and well-rehearsed, and took only about an hour and a half for the one-hour show.  (Most of the few short delays were for costume changes, waiting for the guests, and conferences with the production staff.) I noticed, watching the broadcast later, that there is some minor editing of the interviews and other show banter, but the only major edit was the bit I mentioned before that they saved for the following night. They did censor a conversation between Marion and Stephen about why the French say  "merde" ("shit") for good luck before a theater performance - they not only deleted the word in both languages but also whited out their mouths.  In any event, it was a great way to spend an evening and part of our vacation.

Poem: How about a silly verse about a recent seasonal "controversy"?

Seeing Red

Red cup, red cup, what have you wrought?
You're a scandal each time Starbucks coffee is bought!
Some say you're proof holiday spirit is listless,
just another example of the "War on Christmas".
No snowflakes or snowmen or reindeer so nimble,
in fact not one single darned holiday symbol!
There's talk of a boycott by no less than Trump,
that billionaire candidate and Grinchy-faced grump.
You've divided our nation with this heathen display
that houses the tall chestnut praline latte!
A Starbucks green logo with plain red field behind -
wait, green on red? Good enough - never mind....

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