Saturday, 15 May 2021

Arts & Life

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

Arizonan Alberto Rios probably observed this shamel ash often, its year-round green leaves never changing.

On this particular day, however, he recognizes a difference—a yellow leaf. In doing so he offers us a glimpse of how something small yet unexpected may stay with us, perhaps even become a secret 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 Yellow Leaf

A yellow leaf in the branches
Of a shamel ash
In the front yard;
I see it, a yellow leaf
Among so many.
Nothing distinguishes it,
Nothing striking, striped, stripped,
Strident, nothing
More than its yellow
On this day,
Which is enough, which makes me
Think of it later in the day,
Remember it in conversation
With a friend,
Though I do not mention it—
A yellow leaf on a shamel ash
On a clear day
In an Arizona winter,
A January like so many.

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. Reprinted from The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body, Copper Canyon Press, 2002, by permission of the author. 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.

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

Here, poet Yusef Komunyakaa, who teaches at New York University, shows us a fine portrait of the hard life of a worker—in this case, a horse—and, through metaphor, the terrible, clumsy beauty of his final moments.

Editor’s Note: This column (154) 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.

Yellowjackets

When the plowblade struck
An old stump hiding under
The soil like a beggar’s
Rotten tooth, they swarmed up
& Mister Jackson left the plow
Wedged like a whaler’s harpoon.
The horse was midnight
Against dusk, tethered to somebody’s
Pocketwatch. He shivered, but not
The way women shook their heads
Before mirrors at the five
& dime—a deeper connection
To the low field’s evening star.
He stood there, in tracechains,
Lathered in froth, just
Stopped by a great, goofy
Calmness. He whinnied
Once, & then the whole
Beautiful, blue-black sky
Fell on his back.


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. Poem copyright ©2001 by Yusef Komunyakaa, reprinted from “Pleasure Dome: New & Collected Poems, 1975-1999,” Wesleyan Univ. Press, 2001, by permission. 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.

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

Naomi Shihab Nye lives in San Antonio, Texas. Here she perfectly captures a moment in childhood that nearly all of us may remember: being too small for the games the big kids were playing, and fastening tightly upon some little thing of our own.

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.

Boy and Egg

Every few minutes, he wants
to march the trail of flattened rye grass
back to the house of muttering
hens. He too could make
a bed in hay. Yesterday the egg so fresh
it felt hot in his hand and he pressed it
to his ear while the other children
laughed and ran with a ball, leaving him,
so little yet, too forgetful in games,
ready to cry if the ball brushed him,
riveted to the secret of birds
caught up inside his fist,
not ready to give it over
to the refrigerator
or the rest of the day.


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. Reprinted from Fuel, published by BOA Editions by permission of the author. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. 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.



‘CALL YOUR MOTHER’ ON ABC

The new ABC sitcom “Call Your Mother” stars Kyra Sedgwick as an overbearing mom so concerned about not hearing from her adult son for four days that if she were piloting a helicopter from Iowa to Los Angeles to drop in on her child it would have seemed fitting.

As a widowed single mother who raised two millennial children, Jean wonders how she ended-up alone while Freddie (Joey Bragg) and his older sister Jackie (Rachel Sennott) moved to the carefree paradise of California.

Fretting that an endless stream of phone calls to her son go answered, Jean jumps on a plane to Los Angeles and barges in on Freddie at his apartment just at the moment he’s cuddling with vacuous social media influencer Celia (Emma Caymares).

That mom’s unannounced visit is not greeted with enthusiasm is an understatement, even if she came bearing gifts of socks and Freddie’s favorite toilet paper. If there’s a joke with these presents, it fails to connect, much like misfiring punchlines.

Then there’s Jackie, who not only is aghast at mom’s arrival but has not been on speaking terms with her brother for reasons not immediately clear but may be related to a mother’s meddling contributing to a dysfunctional family dynamic.

However, both Jackie and Freddie, though maybe not equal in the eyes of their mother, are relatively excitable persons not able to appreciate Jean’s “we are a village” speech when gathered at mom’s place.

As one who says her sex life has been nonexistent for years, Jean may soon find romantic comfort with her landlord Danny (Patrick Brammall), a newly-divorced therapist who may need counseling for his oversharing about his wife’s infidelity.

That the lovable golden retriever Ripper, belonging to the owner of the guest house rented by Jean, proves to be the most winning character in the series does not bode well for the future of the formulaic “Call Your Mother.”

After all, the cute canine does not have any lines of dialogue to spice up the mostly flat humor delivered by the two-legged actors. Maybe it’s time to call in new writers if there is a chance to salvage a series that sputters right out of the gate.

To be fair, only one episode of “Call Your Mother” was available to review, but the characters need to be more than one-dimensional, though Austin Crute, as Jackie’s gay roommate Lane, shines with his off-beat demeanor.

‘THE CHASE’ ON ABC

Watching an episode of the new, at least on network television, game show “The Chase” was purely accidental, and then it dawned on me that I had already seen this TV series in a foreign land.

While on the treadmill at a London hotel in 2019, I became engrossed with “The Chase,” where the host was some guy they called “The Beast,” and not just for his physical size but for the fact he was a quiz genius that relished pummeling the contestants.

For the episode I watched on ABC, “Jeopardy” champion Ken Jennings, the all-time greatest winner now serving in the position of the Chaser that three contestants must outperform in answering trivia questions, comes off like the irritating brainy kid in school.

Not only is Jennings going to match his British cousin as a trivia bully, two other “Jeopardy” champions, namely Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer, will alternate as Chasers.
Meanwhile, the Chasers-in-waiting sit in a lounge and occasionally lob a few snarky remarks.

The game show is gimmicky in that each contestant participates in a one-minute lightning round to bank money for their team before being positioned at the bottom of a huge angled game board where the Chaser looms above in a most intimidating manner.

The money earned in the lightning round is placed on the game board and each contestant must answer multiple-choice questions correctly to move the money down into the bank while trying to stay ahead of the Chaser who has to answer the same questions.

If the Chaser overtakes a contestant, that player is out of the game and the only chance for the other players to have a shot of winning any money is, as expected, to beat the Chaser to the bank during their turn.

But that’s not the end of the line. There’s the “Final Chase” where the surviving players now act as a team to beat the Chaser in a more convoluted round that does up the ante for tension and excitement.

The fun part of game shows that test trivia knowledge was never more evident than during the reign of Alex Trebek as the genial host of “Jeopardy.” Viewers at home could blurt out their own responses in the form of a question and feel like actual contestants.

Attempting to answer questions in “The Chase” offers vicarious thrills when you get something right that the host failed to do, especially if you best the smug Ken Jennings who will never be as likable as Alex Trebek, at least in my opinion.

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




‘MR. MAYOR’ ON NBC

The tag line for the new NBC comedy series “Mr. Mayor” is “L.A. called. Neil answered.”

Neil would be Ted Danson’s Neil Bremer, a retired billboard mogul who runs for mayor of Los Angeles to prove he’s “still got it.”

Back in 1993, voters in the city of Los Angeles did, in fact, elect businessman Richard Riordan as its leader, though it seems he did not have much to prove with a successful career that included a partnership in a top law firm and ownership of a popular downtown eatery.

As things stand right now in California’s largest city, it seems incomprehensible that anyone would want the task of being mayor. For one thing, the current occupant of the post is under attack for a homeless population that was growing exponentially even before the pandemic.

The NBC press notes describes Los Angeles as America’s “second weirdest city.” That may be true but it begs the question of what city is the weirdest. Could it be Portland, Oregon, where the designation seems most likely appropriate? Or is San Francisco in the running?

All that matters is whether “Mr. Mayor” might be worth watching. There’s potential for optimism for a sitcom that has been shaped by the same creative forces of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock that brought the surreal humor of “30 Rock” to prominence on the NBC schedule.

Voter turnout in city elections is already low, so when the current mayor announces his resignation because he was broken by the year 2020 due to the pandemic and supposedly murder hornets, among other things, a special election draws Bremer into the race.

A mayoral aide lets it be known that Bremer is not qualified for the office and yet won 68 percent of the vote of the 8 percent of voters who bothered to show up when the competition consisted of a libertarian porn star and Gary Coleman’s ghost.

That Bremer’s opponents were gadflies is a bit of humor that jogs one’s memory of candidates during the 2003 Grey Davis gubernatorial recall election in which Arnold Schwarzenegger emerged victorious. How many people will remember or catch that particular joke?

What propelled Bremer into the political arena was no high-minded purpose of crafting public policy and solutions, but rather to prove his worth to his politically engaged teenage daughter Orly (Kyla Kennedy).

Within moments of taking office, Bremer bumbles his way through advocating a ban on plastic straws to the chagrin of his daughter only because she’s running for sophomore class president on the same issue and feels co-opted by her father’s action.

A television screen captures a clip from the mayor’s press conference which notes his openness to the idea of a robot police force. Apparently, potential initiatives will be randomly tossed out and almost immediately forgotten.

Bremer’s campaign manager and social influencer Mikaela Shaw (Vella Lovell) comes on board as the “first woman of color without a master’s degree to be chief of staff,” and yet wonders how she can work for a politician who thinks Santa Monica is part of the City of Los Angeles.

A more eccentric member of the mayor’s staff is the awkward Jayden Kwapis (Bobby Moynihan), the holdover communications director who wears prescription flip-flops for his “podiatric claustrophobia” condition.

Meanwhile, Mikaela and the mayor’s strategist Tommy Tomas (Mike Cabellon), more of a bureaucratic functionary whose role remains mostly undefined, think it best to keep the oddball Jayden on staff as the person to throw under the bus when it becomes convenient.

Bremer’s primary nemesis is veteran council member Arpi Meskimen (Holly Hunter), a caricature of an agenda-driven progressive, who quickly attacks the mayor’s straw ban as an attack on disabled persons.

In a Machiavellian move, Bremer, who at first eschewed having any deputy mayors, brings Arpi into his inner circle in that position on the timeworn concept of “keep your enemies closer.”

Will this arrangement work? Arpi is definitely out in left field. She takes the stance that it is cultural appropriation to call coyotes anything other than “mini wolves” who should also get government funded birth control.

As Bremer gets dragged around town by his staff, the mayor soon realizes that his job is “90% photo ops and animal funerals” and he proves clueless and widely inept even in ceremonial situations.

After visiting a weed dispensary where he ingests proffered edible products, the mayor becomes so increasingly loopy on his city tour that he knocks out the beloved mascot for the Los Angeles Kings hockey team.

With only two episodes offered for critical judgment, “Mr. Mayor” is congenial and amusing enough as a conventional sitcom with its political issues tending so far to innocuous topics and that may be a good thing after a contentious election year.

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



‘CALL ME KAT’ ON FOX

You could probably count on one finger the number of times the biography of a television performer would list both actor and neuroscientist as their occupation. That narrows it down to Mayim Bialik, best known for small screen roles in “Blossom” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

Starting her career as a child actress, Bialik has an extensive resume of roles in both film and television, but mostly the latter. Now she has the lead role in the new FOX series “Call Me Kat” as the titular character.

In between acting gigs spanning a few decades from a young age, Bialik found time to pursue an academic career as well. It wasn’t enough to graduate with a degree in neuroscience and teach; Bialik managed to secure a doctorate in the same field of study at UCLA.

Fans of British television may recognize the premise of “Call Me Kat” from a BBC production comedy of “Miranda,” which was written by and starred Miranda Hart as the impossibly clumsy and hopeless romantic who lives above the joke shop she owns and operates.

During a recent FOX pre-Winter Press Tour, Bialik observed that “Miranda” was about a character breaking the fourth wall and “having this kind of dynamic, exceedingly eccentric and really life-loving kind of woman,” which is the type of vibe coming to an American program.

In a similar fashion to its British cousin, Bialik’s Kat has to cope with a bossy mother who is desperately trying to marry her off, considering that she’s 39 and does not have many prospects until possibly an old high school classmate arrives on the scene.

Struggling every day against society and her mother Sheila (Swoosie Kurtz) to prove that she can still live a happy and fulfilling life despite still being single, Kat arrives at a crossroads in her life after the death of her father and quitting her job as a math professor.

With finding Mr. Right a possible option but not a pressing need, Kate decides to spend her entire life savings to open a cat café in Louisville, Kentucky and employ friends in her new venture.

Helping to run the café are impudent Randi (Kyla Pratt), who chastises a regular who fails to tip, and flamboyant Phil (Leslie Jordan), a senior citizen recently dumped by his partner.

The British series may not have feline companions roaming the joke shop, so at least the idea of serving coffee and pastries to patrons that are not allergic to cats is one facet of originality for this series.

In “Miranda” one running gag is that the lead character is so tall and sturdy that she is often called “sir” or otherwise mistaken for the opposite sex. That’s not so much an issue for Kat, though there is a slight nod to that notion in the first episode.

Social anxiety is a condition that plagues both Miranda and Kat. Both are not very good at relationships or make bad choices in dating. They tend to fabricate false identities when engaging a conversation with an unattached male.

That Kat is socially awkward, stumbles when talking to a member of the opposite sex or nervously prevaricates about her romantic life can’t be fully blamed on her meddling mother.

Maybe the return to Louisville of her former crush and good friend Max (Cheyenne Jackson) to take a job as a bartender at the piano bar across the street, working with his friend Carter (Julian Grant), will lead to something.

Kat’s insecurity or social anxiety plays out with Max when she fibs about her status, claiming to be married with two kids until the story shifts to a divorce and the loss of the children to frostbite on a Himalayan vacation.

The $64,000 question hanging over Kat is whether she remains content to be single at age 39 as often claimed, or whether chemistry with Max leads to something more than a platonic relationship.

Much like the British version, Kat talks directly to the camera, breaking the fourth wall. During the press tour, Bialik referred to the audience as “another person in her life,” noting that the viewers are “in on her experiences because that’s how she views the world.”

That Bialik, by all measures, has a cheerful, amiable personality is an endearing quality for any performer, which may explain her observation during the press tour that “acting chose me” when she had two possible career paths.

Despite the sweetly awkward vulnerability of Bialik’s Kat, the comedy material on display in the series, at least for the four episodes offered for press preview, allows for a modest sitcom of no lasting significance.

However, there would be no harm in giving “Call Me Kat” a quick onceover before switching over to Hulu to compare it to “Miranda,” and then deciding whether to watch either series if you have the inclination or desire.

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

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
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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
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Lake County Farmers’ Finest Tuesday market

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