Saturday, 15 May 2021

Arts & Life

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

Tracy K. Smith won the Pulitzer Prize for her book of poems, Life on Mars, from which I’ve selected this week’s poem, which presents a payday in the way many of us at some time have experienced it. The poet lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Editor’s Note: This column (197) is a reprint from the American Life in Poetry archive as we bid farewell to Ted Kooser, and work to finalize the new website and forthcoming columns curated by Kwame Dawes.

The Good Life

When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Tracy K. Smith from her most recent book of poems, Life on Mars, Graywolf Press, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Tracy K. Smith and the publisher. Introduction copyright @2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Author Michelle Scully and her horse Simba. Photo by Nathan DeHart.

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – Writers, creatives, artists and community members are invited to join Lake County author Michelle Scully on a quest to uncover Hemingway's famous quote exhorting writers to write the “truest sentence you know.”

“Truth Serum” is offered Saturday, March 6, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. on Zoom by the Middletown Art Center.

“The workshop format will be free-flowing and begin with a discussion of what ‘the truest sentence’ means to each of us, then move into time to write, share, think, for sure laugh and maybe cry,” said Scully. “The quote blows me away, and while I challenged myself to do just that as a new year’s intention, I’ve shied away from the ferocity of it. These are such strange and challenging times, but filled with opportunity to winnow through what matters to us, to see more clearly the depths of our hearts, to stretch ourselves to find the good, bad, ugly, beautiful, redemptive within.”

Scully has written a memoir of her journey through a debilitating riding accident, recovery fueled by the wonderment of nature, horses, dogs, family and faith. She’s recently completed a children’s empowerment book and is watching dust collect on a historical fiction novel that’s challenging and exciting her.

Participants will only need a willingness to unravel Hemingway's challenge, computer, paper, pen or quill and papyrus whatever moves you to write.

Please register at www.middletownartcenter.org/classes. Participation is by donation of $25 to $50. A Zoom link will be provided following payment. No one is turned away for lack of funds.

The MAC continues to adjust and adapt its programming during this time of COVID-19. The gallery is open Thursday through Monday, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or by appointment by phoning 707-809-8118.

Social distancing and mask-wearing are always observed at MAC. You can also visit the show virtually at www.middletownartcenter.org/current.

Find out more about events, programs, opportunities, and ways to support the MAC’s efforts to weave the arts and culture into the fabric of life in Lake County at www.middletownartcenter.org.



‘BLITHE SPIRIT’ (Rated PG-13)

Anyone that is an aficionado of stage productions is well aware of the prolific nature of noted playwright Noel Coward, with many of his works such as “Present Laughter,” “Hay Fever,” “Private Lives;” and “Blithe Spirit” regularly staged for revivals.

Known for a wide range of styles that included farce and drawing room comedy, Noel Coward’s work displayed a casual ease with witty dialogue and biting humor that infused the insults and banter of his upper-class characters.

Coward’s high comedy was evident in “Blithe Spirit,” a comic play that was first staged on London’s West End in 1941 and then adapted for film starring Rex Harrison a few short years later.

One could easily lose count of the number of times “Blithe Spirit,” befitting its ghostly nature, has been revived on the West End and Broadway as well as in several film iterations, with the latest starring British actor Dan Stevens as leading character Charles Condomine.

Taking liberties with its source material, the newest “Blithe Spirit” concerns wealthy socialite and novelist Charles flailing in his attempts to adapt one of his bestselling books into a movie script for a Hollywood production of his impatient father-in-law.

The setting is the late 1930s in the gorgeous English countryside at an elegantly-appointed Art Deco mansion that might make one think of “Downton Abbey” if only because Dan Stevens had a central romantic role in that British period drama television series.

A love story is not really in the cards for Stevens this time around because it’s not just his writing that has been obstructed. His libido has faltered to the point that he whines, “Big Ben’s stopped chiming.” Such pedestrian wit would not likely escape Noel Coward’s lips.

Life would otherwise be grand for crime fiction novelist Charles with his second wife Ruth (Isla Fisher) if his writer’s block wasn’t so terrible that he could only type the word “HELP” followed by chewing madly on wadded-up sheets of paper.

Charles’ increasingly eccentric behavior proves to be a source of annoyance for Ruth because her father, a producer at the famous Pinewood Studios, gave her husband the job of turning one of his award-winning books into a ticket to fame and fortune in Hollywood.

For a temporary escape, Charles and Ruth choose an evening at a London theatre to enjoy a performance by the medium Madame Arcati (Dame Judi Dench), who ends up being exposed as a fraud by a failed rope trick.

Needing some inspiration to get back on track with his screenplay, Charles, his wife and two friends invite Madame Arcati to their country home for a séance that might help the writer inject an element of the occult into his script.

What could not have been foreseen is that the fake psychic conjures up Charles’ late wife Elvira (Leslie Mann), a vivacious American and his muse who died in a riding accident seven years ago.

None too happy that she’s been replaced in Charles’ life with another woman and visible only to her husband, Elvira decides to be a disruptive presence by tossing dishes, scaring the help and destroying garden plants.

That Ruth has also redecorated the house has caused Elvira great displeasure. With her devilish nature and spiteful streak, Elvira seeks to undermine the second wife’s superficial social affairs.

Elvira’s aim may be to drive Ruth from the arms of Charles to have him all to herself. In any event, Charles needs her inspiration as he’s been unable to write in the years since her death.

A clash between the earthly and astral planes is inevitable. Unlike the proper Ruth, Elvira is wildly passionate, unpredictable and so seductive that Charles succumbs to her bewitching spell.

What’s the endgame in store for a supernatural battle to rid the couple’s home of an increasingly unhinged ghost? Will Madame Arcati be able to send the unwanted apparition back to her spectral resting place?

The resolution of these dilemmas would matter little if director Edward Hall and the three writers had employed the services of a clairvoyant to conjure up Noel Coward himself for help on the proper mix of dry wit and farce.

At its screwball core, “Blithe Spirit” is supposed to be a comedy of manners that should elicit plenty of laughs, which are unfortunately in relatively short supply in this newest adaptation.

With a cast as suffused with comedic talent normally evinced by Dan Stevens, Leslie Mann and Isla Fisher, one would have expected a charming comedic romp instead of a flaccid remake.

That “Blithe Spirit” has the fizzle of stale champagne must ultimately rest at the feet of the three writers that took license with Coward’s comedic gem. Perhaps they too suffered writer’s block in trying to channel the spirit of Noel Coward.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.



‘YOUNG ROCK’ ON NBC

Though the 2024 presidential election seems a bit distant, at this moment in time political junkies are already talking about prospective scenarios.

Imagine then what kind of speculation it takes to leap so far ahead to the next decade.

We can now let it be known that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is on the trail for the 2032 presidential race, and “Young Rock” is a retrospective on his formative years that is revealed in a puff-piece interview with Randall Park who has moved on from acting to a cable news desk.

While the agreeably recognizable Johnson doesn’t need to be humanized for a presidential run, the actor-cum-politician takes us back to his origin story as a 10-year-old (Adrian Groulx) growing up in Hawaii in 1982.

Living in a family of pro wrestlers, young Johnson idolizes his father “Soul Man” Rocky Johnson (Joseph Lee Anderson) and is lovingly supported by his caring mother Ata (Stacey Leilua).

Johnson’s extended family includes colorful characters Andre the Giant (Matthew Willig), the Iron Sheik (Brett Azar) and Junkyard Dog (Nate Jackson) who come over to play cards and swap stories. Dwayne learns from Andre the Giant that using the word “fake” to describe wrestling is taboo.

Five years later, the family has relocated to Pennsylvania where Rocky’s career is in such decline that he wrestles at a flea market and Ata is making ends meet with house cleaning work for a rich, bored housewife.

Meanwhile, 15-year-old Dwayne (Bradley Constant) is working in a pizza shop to scrape together $103 to buy a rusted-out car that turns out to be the domicile of homeless men living in the trunk and backseat.

At his high school Dwayne is so smitten with blonde beauty Karen (Lexie Duncan) that he resorts to shoplifting to create the façade of wealth with a new wardrobe and calls himself “Tomas” for a hip identity.

The next stage of growing up takes 18-year-old Dwayne (Uli Latukefu) to the University of Miami where he joins the football team and impresses his dubious teammates in a bench-pressing competition.

The framing of Dwayne’s upbringing in three phases allows for an amiable and often humorous behind-the-curtain look at what made “The Rock” shine as an athlete in football and wrestling and one of the biggest names in show business.

In the Johnson’s extended family of wrestlers, “working the gimmick” was a modus operandi for self-promotion if not a bit of a con in the world of professional wrestling.

“Young Rock” might be a gimmick on its own terms to showcase the scrappy but endearing Dwayne Johnson’s coming-of-age story, one that realizes its subject’s remarkable charisma could be the draw to pull in a hefty audience share.



‘KENAN’ ON NBC

Moving into a Tuesday night time slot following “Young Rock,” comedian Kenan Thompson, a veteran of “Saturday Night Live,” stars in “Kenan” as a widowed father of two smart-aleck kids who hosts a morning TV show in Atlanta.

Having only recently become a widower, Kenan Williams struggles with processing his grief, putting on a brave face when he’s prodded to talk about his deceased wife either on his show or at home with his live-in father-in-law Rick (Don Johnson).

Kenan is not getting help only from his father-in-law, who’s been hanging around now for about a year and doesn’t look ready to return home anytime soon. If it takes three men to care for two girls, then Kenan’s laid-back brother Gary (Chris Redd) is fully onboard.

Notwithstanding his desire to not talk about the past, Kenan’s two adorable daughters Aubrey and Birdie (real life sisters Dani and Dannah Lane) need to hear stories about their mother, Cori (Niccole Thurman).

One of the more interesting stories is how Kenan and Cori met on a sitcom in which, despite an insignificant age difference, she played his mother in a scene tucking her future husband into bed for the night.

Don Johnson may never shake his “Miami Vice” persona, but here he’s got a comedic touch that was more apparent in his role as a San Francisco police inspector partnered with comedian Cheech Marin.

With his paternal role in “Kenan,” Johnson’s meddling, wise-cracking father-in-law allows for even better comedic timing in the wacky bantering that takes place at the kitchen table.

As the host of the “Wake Up With Kenan!” morning show, Kenan is able to engage his natural comedic impulses and allow moments of public humiliation for his boneheaded moves to play out as humorous self-inflicted wounds.

“Kenan” may not cover new ground for a sitcom but it does allow its star to shine with his sunny disposition, trademark grin and overall humanity, even as his character copes with grief and a sense of loss.

As a familiar face from a career in show business dating back to his childhood, Kenan Thompson is the anchor on which “Kenan” either succeeds or fails. Here’s hoping the series rises above the trappings of standard comedy fare.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

I suspect that one thing some people have against reading poems is that they are so often so serious, so devoid of joy, as if we poets spend all our time brooding about mutability and death and never having any fun.

Here Cornelius Eady, who lives and teaches in Indiana, offers us a poem of pure pleasure.

Editor’s Note: This column is a reprint from the American Life in Poetry archive as we bid farewell to Ted Kooser, and work to finalize the new website and forthcoming columns curated by Kwame Dawes.

A Small Moment

I walk into the bakery next door
To my apartment. They are about
To pull some sort of toast with cheese
From the oven. When I ask:
What’s that smell? I am being
A poet, I am asking

What everyone else in the shop
Wanted to ask, but somehow couldn’t;
I am speaking on behalf of two other
Customers who wanted to buy the
Name of it. I ask the woman
Behind the counter for a percentage
Of her sale. Am I flirting?
Am I happy because the days
Are longer? Here’s what

She does: She takes her time
Choosing the slices. “I am picking
Out the good ones,” she tells me. It’s
April 14th. Spring, with five to ten
Degrees to go. Some days, I feel my duty;
Some days, I love my work.

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 1997 by Cornelius Eady, from Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems (Putnam, 2008). Reprinted by permission of Cornelius Eady. Introduction copyright @2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

“Pollinator Pole” by Emily Scheibel. Courtesy photo.

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. – Middletown Art Center is seeking artists interested in responding to the natural environment of Middletown Trailside Park through materials and content.

Participation is a unique opportunity to address continuous recovery through thoughtful artistry and/or restoration.

Projects should integrate the spirit and materials of the park and the ‘locus’ of Lake County.

The first public art venue in Lake County, EcoArts Sculpture Walk was founded in 2003 and featured work by 20 to 30 regional artists annually.

MAC opened in the spring of 2015 to expand arts access and provide a year-round arts venue.

That fall, the Valley fire devastated 76,067 acres in the South Lake County area, including the park, Sculpture Walk and 1,300 homes.

Though the park was transformed, the Sculpture Walk reopened in 2019.

The 2020 exhibit was stymied by COVID-19 but several works from the 2019 exhibit remain on view in the park.

“This 15th year of the Sculpture Walk our primary purpose remains supporting revitalization of the land, mending of damaged ecosystems, and inspiring a dialogue with nature both for artists and visitors”, said MAC Director Lisa Kaplan. “Historically, most work was removed in November, at the beginning of winter, but strong work that contributes to ecosystem revitalization may be permitted to remain onsite.”

A visit to the park is encouraged to observe the changed and recovering environment. Trailside Park is open from dawn to dusk daily and located about 1.5 miles outside of Middletown off Highway 175 at 21435 Dry Creek Cutoff.

Additional samples and videos of work and the 2019 exhibit guide can be found at​ www.middletownartcenter.org/ecoarts ​.

Applications and concept sketches may be submitted anytime before April 12.

Photos of work in progress or finished work are welcome. Applications can be found at www.middletownartcenter.org/ecoarts and should be submitted via email to
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.​.

The MAC Gallery is open Thursday through Monday, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or by appointment at 707-809-8118.

You can also see the current show virtually at ​www.middletownartcenter.org/home ​.

The MAC continues to adjust and innovate during this time of COVID-19. Social distancing and masking are always observed.

Find out more about MAC events, programs, opportunities, and ways to support the MAC’s efforts to weave the arts and culture into the fabric of life in Lake County at www.middletownartcenter.org ​.

Upcoming Calendar

15May
05.15.2021 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Lake County Farmers’ Finest Saturday market
15May
05.15.2021 10:00 am - 2:00 pm
American Legion Post flag retirement ceremony
15May
16May
05.16.2021 9:00 am - 2:00 pm
Lake County Fair cleanup event
16May
05.16.2021 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Konocti Fire Lookout volunteer meeting
17May
05.17.2021
Tax Day
18May
05.18.2021 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Lake County Farmers’ Finest Tuesday market
18May
05.18.2021 11:00 am - 3:30 pm
Lakeport Community Blood Drive
22May
05.22.2021 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Lake County Farmers’ Finest Saturday market
25May
05.25.2021 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Lake County Farmers’ Finest Tuesday market

Mini Calendar

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