Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Arts & Life

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.

NORTH COAST, Calif. – The Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference, or MCWC, has posted the program for MCWC 2021, its 32nd conference, which like last year’s event will be held online via Zoom in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s conference faculty will include keynote speaker Wendy C. Ortiz, authors Lillian Li, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Saretta Morgan, Chris Dennis, Alex Sanchez, Suzanne Rivecca, Krys Malcolm Belc and Sam Krowchenko, and literary agents Elise Capron and Tricia Skinner, along with other special guests, writers and publishing experts.

View the complete schedule by visiting http://mcwc.org.

Applications for scholarships to attend MCWC 2021 are now open for submissions. Writers of all ages and levels of experience are encouraged to apply by visiting http://mcwc.org/scholarships. The deadline to apply for a scholarship is Feb. 15, 2021.

Applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application by Feb. 28, and general registration will open to the public on March 1.

“MCWC is pleased to offer a range of full scholarships to our conference designed to make our conference accessible to writers from diverse backgrounds and to reward writing of outstanding merit,” Executive Director Lisa Locascio said.

She said scholarships are available specifically for writers from underrepresented groups on the basis of age, ethnicity, sexual identity, disability, social or cultural background, and financial need.

There are scholarships available for MCWC first-time attendees and for those who have never attended a writers’ conference before. There are scholarships for Mendocino County high school students as well.

“We especially want to encourage local young writers to apply and come get a taste of a world-class literary gathering where they can meet fellow writers and gain valuable feedback on their writing. MCWC exists to serve and enrich our beautiful Mendocino County home, and we want to give back in every way we can,” said Locascio.

The scholarship judging categories are organized by submission genre, including the categories of novel, short fiction, middle grade/young adult, poetry, memoir, nonfiction, and speculative fiction.

All applications will be considered for all possible scholarships, and all applicants are welcome to register for the conference regardless of the outcome of their scholarship application.

Locascio added, “Since the conference is online again this year, we hope that writers who might not be able to come to the coast for a four-day stay will apply for a scholarship that will enable them to join from the comfort of their homes.”

The conference encourages all writers to apply.

For more information about registration, visit www.mcwc.org. Questions can be directed to Lisa Locascio at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




‘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.

Ted‌ ‌Kooser.‌ ‌Photo‌ ‌credit:‌ ‌UNL‌ ‌Publications‌ ‌and‌ ‌Photography.‌ ‌

 ‌Time‌ ‌to‌ ‌clean‌ ‌out‌ ‌a‌ ‌closet‌ ‌and‌ ‌make‌ ‌room‌ ‌for‌ ‌whatever‌ ‌2021‌ ‌will‌ ‌bring‌ ‌us!‌ ‌ ‌

I‌ ‌hope‌ ‌every‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌you‌ ‌has‌ ‌a‌ ‌new‌ ‌year‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌much‌ ‌better‌ ‌and‌ ‌happier‌ ‌than‌ ‌the‌ ‌one‌ ‌we’re‌ ‌all‌ ‌shoving‌ ‌behind.‌ ‌ ‌

This‌ ‌is‌ ‌the‌ ‌last‌ ‌column‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌have‌ ‌a‌ ‌part‌ ‌in,‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌written‌ ‌a‌ ‌little‌ ‌goodbye‌ ‌poem‌ ‌for‌ ‌you.‌ ‌ ‌

Happy‌ ‌New‌ ‌Year!‌ ‌

A‌ ‌Donation‌ ‌of‌ ‌Shoes‌ ‌

They’re‌ ‌on‌ ‌their‌ ‌way‌ ‌to‌ ‌Goodwill‌ ‌
in‌ ‌Destiny’s‌ ‌old‌ ‌cardboard‌ ‌carton,‌ ‌
the‌ ‌flaps‌ ‌folded‌ ‌inside,‌ ‌lending‌ ‌its‌ ‌
scuffed‌ ‌shoulders‌ ‌a‌ ‌look‌ ‌of‌ ‌authority,‌ ‌
the‌ ‌box‌ ‌knowing‌ ‌the‌ ‌route,‌ ‌the‌ ‌shoes‌ ‌
badly‌ ‌lost‌ ‌and‌ ‌confused,‌ ‌their‌ ‌toes‌ ‌
starting‌ ‌in‌ ‌every‌ ‌direction‌ ‌at‌ ‌once,‌ ‌
clambering‌ ‌over‌ ‌each‌ ‌other,‌ ‌laces‌ ‌
entangled—wingtip,‌ ‌slip-on,‌ ‌work-‌ ‌
boot‌ ‌and‌ ‌sneaker—every‌ ‌pair‌ ‌
trying‌ ‌to‌ ‌get‌ ‌one‌ ‌last,‌ ‌lingering‌ ‌look‌ ‌
at‌ ‌the‌ ‌closet‌ ‌before‌ ‌settling‌ ‌down‌ ‌
into‌ ‌their‌ ‌smell.‌ ‌What’s‌ ‌the‌ ‌saddest‌ ‌
about‌ ‌this‌ ‌is‌ ‌seeing‌ ‌those‌ ‌insoles‌ ‌
floating‌ ‌up‌ ‌naked,‌ ‌pale‌ ‌flounders‌ ‌
beat‌ ‌flat‌ ‌and‌ ‌then‌ ‌dried,‌ ‌no‌ ‌longer‌ ‌
to‌ ‌swim‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌ocean‌ ‌of‌ ‌days,‌ ‌
led‌ ‌on‌ ‌by‌ ‌plump‌ ‌dolphins‌ ‌of‌ ‌feet.‌ ‌


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 ‌©2020‌ ‌by‌ ‌Ted‌ ‌Kooser,‌ ‌"A‌ ‌Donation‌ ‌of‌ ‌Shoes."‌ ‌Poem‌ ‌reprinted‌ ‌by‌ ‌permission‌ ‌of‌ ‌Ted‌ ‌Kooser.‌ ‌

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