A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bad Poetry: Nature's Cook

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, a.k.a. Mad Meg, was a seventeenth-century writer and amateur scientist with a profoundly odd style. She had bold aspirations and an indulgent husband, but was hampered by her sex. She's the author, among many other works, of This Blazing World, a feminist science fiction/fantasy work panned critically but evidencing much original thought.

Of the place of women she wrote, in Philosophical and Physical Opinions (1655), "We are become like worms, that only live in the dull earth of ignorance, winding our selves sometimes out by the help of some refreshing rain of good education, which seldom is given us, for we are kept like birds in cages, to hop up and down in our houses, not suffered to fly abroad, to see the several changes of fortune, and the various humors, ordained and created by nature, and wanting the experience of nature, we must needs want the understanding and knowledge, and so consequently prudence, and invention of men."

Here's an offering from her first book of poems, 1653:

Nature's Cook

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle

DEATH is the Cook of Nature; and we find
Meat drest severall waies to please her Mind.
Some Meates shee rosts with Feavers, burning hot,
And some shee boiles with Dropsies in a Pot.
Some for Gelly consuming by degrees,
And some with Ulcers, Gravie out to squeese.
Some Flesh as Sage she stuffs with Gouts, and Paines,
Others for tender Meat hangs up in Chaines.
Some in the Sea she pickles up to keep,
Others, as Brawne is sous'd, those in Wine steep.
Some with the Pox, chops Flesh, and Bones so small,
Of which She makes a French Fricasse withall.
Some on Gridirons of Calenture is broyl'd,
And some is trodden on, and so quite spoyl'd.
But those are bak'd, when smother'd they do dye,
By Hectick Feavers some Meat She doth fry.
In Sweat sometimes she stues with savoury smell,
A Hodge-Podge of Diseases tasteth well.
Braines drest with Apoplexy to Natures wish,
Or swimmes with Sauce of Megrimes in a Dish.
And Tongues she dries with Smoak from Stomack's ill,
Which as the second Course she sends up still.
Then Death cuts Throats, for Blood-puddings to make,
And puts them in the Guts, which Collicks rack.
Some hunted are by Death, for Deere that's red.
Or Stal-fed Oxen, knocked on the Head.
Some for Bacon by Death are Sing'd, or scal'd,
Then powdered up with Flegme, and Rhume that's salt.

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Screenwriting Group

I am a member of the Northampton Screenwriters' Group, which ordinarily confines itself to scripts for movies and television, as opposed to theater. (That's the "screen" in screenwriting.) This week, however, we gave the floor to playwright Ezra LeBank, who wanted to workshop his new play, Fresh Air.

At meetings of my poetry group, we each read a piece and others critique it. Since screenplays are typically longer than poems, that format would be unwieldy for the Noho group. So each screenwriting meeting focuses on one writer. That person presents a complete draft, one act, two short pieces--whatever he or she wants help with. Everyone else contributes suggestions, speaking parts, or whatever's needed. The presenter is also responsible for refreshments.

Ezra had a complete draft and mainly wanted to hear it read. Wade Wofford, founder of the group, has an actors' group as well, and pulled some readers from it. Because Ezra is a graduate student at Smith, he scored a meeting room in Smith's gorgeous Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts. Fifteen or twenty people showed up.

This is a pretty new group, and Wade's still working out the kinks. Ezra's play took almost an hour and a half to read. We didn't break until after the full read. With the preliminaries, that took us to over two hours. Snacks were some soda, juice, and chips. Outside it was starting to snow. A pot of hot coffee--the real thing, with caffeine--would have hit the spot.

After the break, we discussed the play. A number of people didn't stay till the end (three and a half hours is a long time for a meeting on a weeknight), but I did. I was more interested in the critique than in the play itself. Some of the comments seemed goofy to me, but Wade's were right on the money.

Wade, who's new to the area, was fairly wowed by the Mendenhall Center, and eager to lock in a room there on a regular basis. Or find another roomy, convenient spot. Next time, we're scheduled to meet at the Media Education Foundation, but they don't allow too many continuous bookings. Packard's, a congenial Noho bar, has a back room available to groups, but the room's not very big.

Will the screenwriters find a home? Will the format get ironed out? Will the refreshments improve? Will Cicily have anything to present by spring? Stay tuned.

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