The Life of a Gnat

“Christy’s Song” from THE MOST ENGAGED GIRL,
music by Alan Hovhaness, book and lyrics by Andrew Glaze.
© 1969 music,  © 2015 lyrics in Overheard in a Drugstore by Andrew Glaze

The life of a gnat is so simple and straight
as she crawls in the palm of your hand.
She’s born in the dawn, at the heart of the dew
and she dries out her wings in the sun.
Then she flies with her love,
tiny, tiny love
with her love, only hers,
tiny love but true.

The moon rolls around through the sky in the night
all alone in the wind and the dark.
She knows where she goes she has only got one
and revolves in the light of her love.
Once a year in his arms
reeling round the sky
with her love, only hers
clasped in the arms of her sun.

The life of a girl is nothing like that,
though I wish and I dream that it were.
I look for the one that will set me afire
or dance me all day in the wind.
I would swim through the sky
if I thought he were there,
I would fly through the air
to capture my lonely desire.

You can listen to the audio of the song using the link below, made in 2014 with the help of Ned, a friend and Music History student at the University of Pennsylvania.  I offer my sincere apologies for the non-professional vocal portion.

In the mid-60’s, my father once confided a pet peeve of his, “I can’t stand it when people refer to John Lennon or Bob Dylan as POETS! No, they aren’t! They write songs and lyrics, dammit”.  He then explained that poetry is a form of writing that follows very specific rules and format protocols, even if it doesn’t rhyme.  

So I chuckled years later, when I opened the initial manuscript for his 2015 poetry book Overheard In a Drugstore, and realized it included his lyrics for “The Life Of A Gnat”. It was his subtle way of fighting back.  The song is from a 1969 project he’d worked on with composer Alan Hovhaness that never went into final production.

It all started with an invitation…

Alan’s wife at that time was from Birmingham, and she brought him into our lives. Elizabeth Whittington Hovhaness was an accomplished pianist and the daughter of Dorsey Whittington, the conductor of the Birmingham Civic Orchestra.  Her mother Frances and sister Barbara were also musicians. Both parents were college music teachers in Birmingham, and family home life included two grand pianos in the living room.  My father knew her as “Betty”, and Alan called her “Naru” a Japanese name that means “become”. Married in 1959, she was 19 years younger than Alan, his fifth out of an eventual six wives, and a champion of his work as a composer.

So when Betty unexpectedly phoned our home one day to say they’d recently moved to Manhattan, my father immediately asked them over for dinner.  When they arrived, both were tall and slender. Betty had dark hair she pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck and a vaguely Japanese style of dress-robe. It was an interesting evening. We talked about music, ballet, theater and my father’s first poetry book— which was still relatively new.  Soon after, my father became a serious fan of Alan’s music.

Apparently it was a case of mutual respect at first meeting, and the visit triggered something in Alan’s thought process as well. A few weeks later he suddenly called my father with a question. “Do you think it’s possible to write lyrics and a plot for music that already exists?” My father replied, “Sure”. A few days later Alan brought him an already completed score for a small scale musical/light operetta that he and another student had written in college. Alan still liked his own end of it, but said he’d never been satisfied with the plot and libretto. 

Intrigued, my father got to work and came up with a turn of the century small scale musical comedy about boat racing in the mid-West titled, “The Most Engaged Girl”.  Since my father was highly musical, but not a musician, Alan made a reel to reel piano recording of the full score for him to refer to. Initially used to help him memorize the musical score, it later became the background accompaniment to his song lyrics. At one point, in need of an unpretentious female soprano, he asked me to sing “The Life of a Gnat” into a cassette tape recorder, with Alan’s piano recording playing in the background. I was all of 18 and did my best.  At the time I had no clue why, but I now realize this must have been how my father presented his efforts to Alan.

In any case, Alan loved it and they got to work. Meant for a small cast on a small stage, they brought the finished work to Joseph Papp, the highly successful producer and director of The New York Public Theater. Papp was the brilliant visionary who guided the musicals “HAIR” and “A Chorus Line” into production and world success. He immediately agreed to take it on, began working on script edits, and proclaimed he’d produce it at The Cubiculo (an off-Broadway theater at 51st street and 9th Avenue, until 1990).  Then negotiations on details began. Unfortunately they quickly ground to a halt at that point over how the music would be presented. Papp insisted that a very small orchestra would be necessary, and Alan insisted that the production be accompanied by two pianos.  Neither of them would budge on that point, and the whole thing fell apart. My father was hugely disappointed, but remained nonjudgmental. For my part, knowing that in 1980 Papp went on to produce a very entertaining version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance”, with minimal orchestra, which ended up moving to Broadway, I think Alan made an enormous mistake.

Meanwhile, back on the poetry side of things:
In 1969, Betty’s father passed away and she used her inheritance to enhance a record company, titled Poseidon Society, that she and Alan originally founded in 1963. Apparently she was quite gifted at the recording process and had a great ear for it.  I am guessing this helped the two of them introduce Alan’s work to classical music radio stations in the USA, as well as potential orchestras that might be interested.  However, Betty did do at least one side project. In the early ‘70’s, she used the company to create a record of my father and Galway Kinnell reading their poems.  She titled it, “Poets reading their Poems”. It is numbered Poseidon Society 1003. I remember my father saying that she’d asked him about poets for the other side of the album, and he’d replied, “I like Galway Kinnell’s poetry”.  In the last year of his life he mentioned in passing that Betty considered it a “secret project”.  I have no idea why. There weren’t many copies, but they still turn up here and there.

After a while, Betty and Alan moved from New York to Seattle, possibly because Alan was obsessed with all things Japanese and it was easier to commute from Seattle. It was an enthusiasm that Betty enjoyed and shared with him. Alan also enjoyed the mountains around Seattle, and regularly spent time in Lucerne, Switzerland, because he found the landscape highly inspiring. In 1977, I happened to visit Richard Wagner’s former home “Tribschen” just outside of Lucerne.  Converted into a museum devoted to Wagner, a fair portion of the museums musical instrument collection was donated by Alan.

Sadly, Alan’s obsession with Japan eventually led him to divorce Betty. According to my father, Alan’s request for a divorce involved him telling Betty, “I don’t love you any longer. I don’t think I could truly love anything that wasn’t Japanese”. Betty was crushed and heartbroken. She retained the rights to the record company after the divorce and later sold them. In 1977, Alan married his sixth wife, a Japanese soprano who remained with him until he died in 2000.  

Alan still continued to contact my father off and on whenever he visited New York City.  There was a general sense that Alan still felt guilty over the collapse of negotiations with Papp.  At some point before 1988, Alan contacted my father to say he was coming to Manhattan, and wanted to meet with him. When he arrived he brought the score for “The Most Engaged Girl”, saying that he wanted my father to have it in his charge. I believe that was the last time my father saw Alan in person, although I spoke with Alan myself briefly in 1990.  At the time I was on the board of a chamber music trio that was searching for music suited to piano, French horn, and viola (a surprisingly beautiful combination). My father had Alan’s contact information and so I wrote and asked if he’d be interested. Lo and behold, my phone rang one day and it was Alan. We spoke, he asked how my father was,  and said he would definitely be interested and that I should have the trio call him. They did and Alan said they’d need to talk with his wife about commission, as she was his business manager. Unfortunately when it got down to money they couldn’t afford his fee, so that was the end of it.

My father’s music career didn’t end with “The Most Engaged Girl”.  He went on to compose both the music and the lyrics for his 1974 play “Kleinhoff Demonstrates Tonight”, a play that Joseph Papp produced at the Cricket Theater in Minneapolis. It has had various readings and productions since then.  In 2013, by looking at the internet, I discovered that the singer known as “Meatloaf” played the lead role in a reading of the play in Manhattan, and a theater group in Denver, Colorado performed the play in 1988.  My father had no inkling of either of those events.  Apparently, like prodigal children, when you send creative works out into the world, they can end up in surprising places.

But that’s another story.

—–E Glaze

Poseidon Society front

Poseidon Society back

Dog Dancing

Big Fred Carey hobbled over to me last night
in a dream, giving his heart-sworn thunderous grin,
reminding me how he’d once paid twenty a week,
as I pumped gas from a Pure Oil station in Mountain Brook—
and how one time an old man parked his busted pickup
next, on the grass, some strange kind of lank fellow,
whose beard was dirty, who’s eye was witty,
whose truck was square at the back
closed off with a delicate netting of wire.

When he’d gotten a sack of day-old buns and rolls
from the bake shop down the street,
he opened the veiled doors behind and called out a company
of trim little dogs like grasshopper children,
fox terriers and kindred mongrels on spindly legs.
He watched them shake themselves,
then cranked his old Victrola.
Hearing its stately scratches, the dogs began to dance.

What a strange sight, to see those dozen dogs
gravely turning about in slow pirouettes, hopping,
spinning in schottisches, somersaulting over their heads.
The old man stood there, watching,
slowly nodding, bidding them persevere
with squashed bits of stale bakery trash.
They silently waited with anxious fortitude
and gnawed crumbs in the wings like refugees.

On a tiny lady dog he strapped a pink skirt.
She treadled beneath the ruffles.
While the needle squeaked a bagpipe wail,
she did a slow and mystic spin
with paws upraised and eyes in a heavenly transit,
turning and hopping, mincing her toes below.
When she’d done her turn, she took the old man’s tambourine
between her teeth and grandly made the ring
of those who watched, and took their nickels and dimes.

I saw the thought fester in Big Fred’s eyes,
that this old man, who should be safe somewhere,
sucking his pipe, reading the weather–-
he and his dogs were out on the whim of the world.
“One morning he’ll wake up dead” he said, whisking his hands.
“I mean, all right for him, he won’t know any better,
but what about the dogs?”
What was there I could say that he would believe,
and what did I know about the demands of art?

© 1991 by Andrew Glaze, from the book Fantasy Street.
In 2003, the poem appeared in the anthology The Remembered Gate: Memoirs by Alabama Writers.
In 1985, an earlier version of the poem appeared in Earth That Sings.

The poem was autobiographical of course, like many of my father’s poems.

In 1985 he wrote, “The third job I ever had, just after college, can be considered the conclusion of my growing up in Alabama, because after that, I went off to the army and came back at least officially, an adult.

Jobs can’t be measured in salary. This was one of the best I ever had, pumping gas at the Pure Oil Station in Mountain Brook. My copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses still has brown oil stains on it from those days, in addition to the chewed marks on the cover and the edges administered by a rabbit that belonged to my first wife.

If I ask myself why it was such a gold embossed job, I am honestly at a loss to say, except that it was fun, and I got to know a rich joy loving character like Fred Carey. I also found out how unevenhandedly life repays decency and character. He died at age 43, leaving an infant child and a young wife. I also remember Willie, the emaciated looking mechanic, who waited around every Friday for “the eagle to fly” and whose iron arms made our customers habitual because no other mechanic was strong enough to undo his bolts.”

 In 2003, for an anthology titled, The Remembered Gate, he added, “…World War ll interrupted all that. I joined the Air Force. Waiting to be called, I pumped gas from a filling station in Mountain Brook. Between customers, I’d struggle through Joyce’s Ulysses.  My ancient copy still has oil stains on it. One day, an old pickup truck parked nearby and the even older man who drove it called out a little army of tiny dogs who performed dances. Many years later, it came back to me for my poem “Dog Dancing.”

In 2015, this poem was one of three featured at the induction ceremony for the first annual Alabama Writer’s Hall of Fame. Read aloud by a local actor, it was a favorite of the audience. My father was one of the new inductees and was very pleased with the performance.

 After I was born, our full sized pet white rabbit was my babyhood partner in crime. I would crawl past the lower shelves of our family bookcase, pull the books down, draw in them with a crayon, and leave them for “Bunny” to nibble on. Apparently my father’s already oil stained copy of Ulysses was a target of our efforts.

Pure Oil was founded in 1914, and eventually purchased by what is now Union Oil in California. Mountain Brook is still a wealthy suburb of Birmingham. In those days, gas stations often had their workers wear a uniform and made great efforts to look chic.  Attendants not only pumped your gas, but cleaned your car windows. The postcard below is an example of a Pure Oil gas station in Ohio from the same time period.

For those of you who are too young to know what a “hand cranked Victrola” was, it was a “phonograph”/ record player. Originally they came with a hand crank that allowed the user to wind them, like a watch or music box, to play music for a limited period of time. Initially expensive and built into self standing wooden cabinets, less expensive portable versions became available as they became more popular.  The photo below is probably similar to what the dog’s owner used to accompany their “performance”. 

—E. Glaze

Pure Oil in Ohio
As cars became more affordable, people began to travel and send postcards from the  places they visited.  Apparently Ohio was so proud of this Pure Oil gas station that they sold postcards of it. The facade is probably similar to the one where my father worked.

Victrola hand cranked
© 2nd Cents, Inc.
A portable Victrola with crank handle to wind it up.

Fantasy Street

Feeling all at once imprisoned, I stalk for the door,
as I go, closing my coat up. Three gin and tonics–
no, I never should have allowed myself to have them.
But the hell with it,
Go–get out! Get through the blunt glass
and off into the incalculable darkness.
Sure enough: as I burst out, there it is —
freedom! freedom! freedom!

It seems I am going to explode out of my skin,
to shout! By some miracle, I keep my silence.
The lights are amazing and flashing– Fifth Avenue!
The cold is like being struck by a soprano bell:
clear, fine, trembling, penetrating.
An Irish policeman outside Canada House supports the dusk
like a dark column or pedestal.
Shuffling his slow black feet, he looks at me warily.
Am I too happy, too feverish? Might I be the camouflage
for our next I.R.A. bomber? Shaking with careless excess,
I push my bike across the south corner
toward 53d Street, past St. Thomas Church.
This morning three young French artists
had drawn in chalk near the staircase Delacroix’s
portrait of a peasant girl. It is almost half walked-off now,
ragged in the sodium vapor light mixed with late sun,
but somehow still thumping with life, like an angry heart.
Suddenly I look up and have
stepped into a furious cockpit of battling cacophonous music.
A bagpiper on the church steps is squalling “Scotland the Brave”
The clanless Highland vestment is Macspinningmill tartan.
“Help me get hame”, says his sign. A boon he’s been asking six months.
There’s talk he lives on East 76th Street with a Neapolitan mother.
Tonight he will not have the street to himself.
Six yellow trucks across the way–
pasted prow to taffrail with signs–squall, screech,
swarmed about by crowds of little men in beards,
tieless shirts, black coats. The speakers jitter and skid,
throwing away horas between the Chassidic hymns.
It is the Lubavicher bringing us messages from the Rebbe.
They inquire of every soul who passes,
“Are you Jewish?” They shout after us, “Wear phylacteries!
Observe dietary laws!” Shy little men with burning eyes,
they pop like skyrockets showering down on us with
flashing religious courage.
And straight ahead on the corner by the Tishman Building
the steel band won’t give up: it hammers wildly, dexterously,
mellifluously pouring out, over the already earthquake-torn ears
of our intersection, “Yellow Bird.”
It is battered to fragments by horas,
diced in the knives of the pipe chanters,
shot down over the crossway by up-to-date piety.
Enough! I run to the corner, almost throw the bike
ahead of me into the street,
fling myself on it like a demon.
A taxi klaxons by, coughing in my ears “Get out!
Fly from the hell of this music, fly! fly!”
At the end of such a day, give me a wonderful gift.
It is given. It’s as though a door closes–
silence–all the madness trapped in the intersection
turns in upon itself. Only a hundred feet away
a single violinist scratches at Bach arpeggios
under the beggars’ arcade at the back of the church,
uninterrupted, watched over by one serious girl.
And the Museum of Modern Art on the right gleams and billows
like a wave of quiet illumination. Through the ground-floor window
Marilyn Monroe’s enormous lips poise to eat
a nameless art student looking somewhere else in a timid beret.
And now, up the left of the street advances that old beggar
who looks like Khrushchev. He bangs his vicious
steel cane upon the sidewalk like a shoe.
He pierces you with malevolent eyes, snarls.
“Hee!” he whines “Hee!” jabbing his hands like a threat.
Now I’m gathering speed, everything begins to hurry into a blur,
the people in red, purple, yellow-green, violet
sew themselves along the quilt strip of the sidewalk like checks.
My time of day! Excitement and events
bob in and out of windows like winking eyes!

Ahead, Sixth Avenue, and the hour
and the kind of weather that makes me take a fierce breath.
The sky is full of clouds weighing hundreds of millions of tons,
overwhelming us like a wonderful painting.
Down southwest, vast new buildings glow with strange colors
like ice colored blocks of honeycomb candy riddled with yellow bees.
Now they fall over toward me under the weight
of enormous lilac and puce cotton cumuli streaked with smoke,
and salmon edges sliding along between upper surfaces of hazy blue.
I put my hands up to protect my head.
I look out and nothing has moved–
and yet–don’t I know absolutely everything has moved?

So it’s all right. On! On! Across the street
fresh kitchen odors from the Hilton:
shrimp and cinnamon from this imitation New Orleans,
bay and thyme, garlic  and parsley from that pretension of Paris,
and a smoky broiled steak from a mock Kansas City.
The kitchen ducts snuffle over the marquees like wet commercial noses.
I glare at the animal doctor’s office across the way.
My wife stood there the other day shouting at the nurse,
who would not ask her boss to look at Peter’s gerbil.
Poor thing, with a paw swollen the size of a raisin,
all the local blood stopped by a tangled thread.
What kind of vicious snobbery chooses pet cats over pet mice?
On the second floor above is a sign
“Stairway to the Stars Bellydance Studio.”
I imagine them practicing their Phrygian birth dances,
palpitating from shaking diaphragm to the splay of the groin,
bent over backwards like some antique climax,
an ancient Busby Berkeley Musical improvidence
with thousands of finger gongs tingle-ringing,
thousands of stars in galaxies ascending
out of silver quivering up into the black empyrean.
Where are they now?

I am buffeted by the wind past the Americana Hotel.
I wave to the doorman of the old CBS building.
proving his manhood, he sneers back.
Why is it I am slowly encroached upon by I don’t know what?
The immense trenches of something going to happen
are about to swallow me.
It’s after six, I go home like this every day, but still
my heart pounds like a riot policeman’s feet, rapidly, gloomily.
By the side of Roseland stands the old black man
I see here often slapping his tennis ball
off the back of the Dance Palace,
catching it again on his worn racquet through the weft of traffic.
His T-shirt says “Old Men Need Love too”
He holds back his arm till I’ve passed by.
Thank You!  I shake my head to drive away the fear
that relentlessly extends its wires.
Eighth Avenue at 6:15, and traffic like Ney’s final
cavalry charge at Waterloo.  Stupid, enormous, brutal,
meaningless–you can almost see the empty-headed marshal
whacking the brass guns with the furious butt of his sword.
And now I know something is happening. From across the boulevard,
it catches my ear and eye.
Underneath bilious street lights, some vast mob
is pouring out of the church in the center of the block,
each carrying a vespers candle.
And over them the sky has poured closer
as the buildings droop, against a half-darkness
of invisible sunset in front of which the clouds
dip and rise, stately, like great black-and-orange whales
spuming with anger.
Beyond the choir and the escort of police cars
I hear a flapping torn screaming,
a red banner of fire sirens and police cars
pasting together toward me across the extremities of sound.
What’s happening? Is the Last Judgement arriving?
On a ragged spring evening when we know it’s impossible
to put up with one more day of the old winter’s ugliness?
No!–No!—I get down, I hurry my bicycle
along past the army of illuminated penitents.
I drift beside them watching, presided over
by a sky full of brooding, distant, frightened wails.
Their soft faces over the candles are peaceful,
even earnestly fatuous, overborne with importance and duty.
“What we are doing”–they shine–” is so
very urgently necessary for this city–for us!”

But now I hurry past the
to the place where there are sounds of everything burning up
and thieves coming through all the windows.
Vast rivers of candles are turning north.
I wait, biting my lip as they pass by me to the last baby.
I catapult my imagination
to the front of the Bodega Garcia,
where twenty-five of my neighbors wait quietly
standing on the sidewalk with beer cans.
It’s cocktail hour.
Frantically I urge them, look up at the windows of my house!
Find out what’s happening!
Is everyone there broken on the floor?
Is my kitchen crammed with policemen
looking at cut throats? Or are they–is everyone gone?
Snatched away to Little Neck or Patchogue?
“Wait! Wait! Christ, don’t go, even if you are dying,
wait for me! I’m coming, I want to go too!”
My heart crowded with catastrophes, I vault across,
half running, half riding,
thick with foreboding and excitement,
pick up my bicycle and stumble up the stairs,
face full of tears.

© Andrew Glaze 1978, from the book The Trash Dragon of Shensi.
(Originally published in The New Yorker, which buys all rights, and
therefore requires special mention each time a poem is reprinted.)

My father always told me “Fantasy Street” and “Reality Street” were published in the opposite order of how he wrote them. Although written first, “Fantasy Street” was published by The New Yorker three years after Atlantic Monthly published “Reality Street”. In both cases, the poems were the longest that either magazine had published up to that date. I don’t know if that record still stands or not.

In an interview my father explained that he was inspired by 17th century poet John Milton.  “I was trying to figure out how Milton would tackle “L’allegro” and “Il Pensero” if he were doing it in the second half of the twentieth century”.  My father referred to “Fantasy Street” and “Reality Street” as “Two Odes”. They are genuine bookends; “Reality Street” follows his bicycle route to work in the morning along eastbound 54th Street, and “Fantasy Street” is his return route home along westbound 53rd Street. Since he often bicycled home for lunch as well, it was a well wheeled path

In 1978, “Fantasy Street” was one of many poems in my father’s newly published book, The Trash Dragon of Shensi. That December, a wonderful review of the book appeared in The New York Times, written by Peter Schjeldahl. In it, he highlighted the poem as a favorite.
“The best rarely provide such companionable pleasures as “Fantasy Street,” a long, lush, windy rhapsody of a New York dusk, in which the poet, slightly drunk, went out on his bicycle. His bicycle? It’s an every so faintly ludicrous, cartoon touch (the poem fittingly appeared in The New Yorker), but it’s perfect Glaze. Just like his muse to catch him aboard that civilized vehicle.”

 Amusingly, before The New Yorker agreed to publish the poem, they sent an employee out on foot to trace the route. His assignment was to fact check 53rd street between 5th and 9th Avenues and make sure the poem was geographically accurate. In August of 1978, my father mentioned this in a WNYC radio interview before reading several of his poems from The Trash Dragon of Shensi. The link to WNYC’s podcast of the interview is at the bottom of this post.

At the time the poem was written, my father’s personal office at British Tourist Authority overlooked 54th Street at the corner of 5th Avenue. Occasionally I would find myself walking past, stand across the street, and wave frantically until he or someone visiting his desk would notice my presence. They’d wave back.

“BTA”, as it was commonly referred to, originally had a two level storefront on 5th Avenue, but eventually consolidated on the 2nd floor. The organization was owned by the British government and most of the employees were English, but the PR department was an anomaly of US citizens. “The British don’t understand how to write PR for Americans” was my father’s explanation. At one point his job involved taking a British policeman (“a bobby”) on a tour of the US. At other times my father led US journalists on tours of the UK. I seem to remember something involving a visit from the Sheriff of Nottingham as well. Even now, online, I stumble across press releases with his byline in archived newspapers from all over the country.

Our British connection had unexpected benefits. In 1959 my mother was cast as Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest. To help her perfect an English accent, one of the BTA secretaries agreed to read the lines into a reel to reel tape recorder. My mother played it over and over again. By the end of the month, all three of us had the entire play memorized with a British accent.

 In 1963, when the Beatles were to arrive at the Warwick Hotel at 54th Street and 6th Avenue, I divided my day between cheering at the barricades with other fans, and taking breaks at the BTA office. Co-workers of my father would pop into his office to get an update from me. Ironically, when the Beatles did finally arrive, they drove the wrong way up 54th street to avoid a riot of fans at the opposite end, and passed directly below my father’s office. Sadly, I was at the barricades at that exact moment.

As for the landmarks mentioned in “Fantasy Street”, the Americana Hotel on 7th Avenue became the “Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel” in 2013.  The Museum of Modern Art still occupies a plot of land between 53rd and 54th streets, and their sculpture garden faces 53rd street.  The Marilyn Monroe picture my father mentions seeing inside the museum is the famous 1967 Pop Art version by Andy Warhol.  At some point in later years the Stairway to the Stars Bellydance Studio made it’s final ascent to heaven and vanished, but the owner (“Serena”) is considered a pioneer of the art form in the US.  Roseland Ballroom finally closed in 2014.  Originally built in the 1920’s as an ice skating rink, it survived several wars, hosted concerts ranging from Sinatra to Lady Gaga, and outlived nearby Studio 54.  A need for mammoth structural repairs killed it in the end. “The old CBS building” is at Broadway and 53rd where it housed The Ed Sullivan Show for many years, and is the second location I haunted as a teenager when the Beatles were in town.  Now titled, “The Ed Sullivan Theater” it has a long side brick wall on 53rd street with an unmarked stage entrance for performers. The back of the Roseland Ballroom was directly across the street. 

The “Bodega Garcia” mini-market that my father mentions near the end of the poem eventually went on to inspire a poem titled “Garcia’s Store”. It further describes the street life below our apartment window and highlights the owner of the store. That poem is included in the 2015 poetry collection, Overheard In A Drugstore.

“Garcia’s Store” and “Reality Street” have been discussed on this site in earlier entries. You can find them in the Poem Index on the Home Page.

Below is the link to the WNYC podcast mentioned earlier:
National Public Radio WNYC, August 21, 1978, New York City
“Andrew Glaze discusses his collection of poems, The Trash Dragon of Shensi. He reads some poems from the book including “Lights,” “Choir,” “Becoming,”and “Fantasy Street.”
http://www.wnyc.org/story/andrew-glaze/

—E.  Glaze
Marilyn Monroe Fantasy Street
Andy Warhols 1967 Pop Art vision of Marilyn Monroe, at the Museum of Modern Art.

BTA 1971
The poster says “Nottingham  Festival ’71”. My father is in the middle, “Maid Marian” is on the left, a coworker is on the right.  The photo was taken in 1971 at the British Tourist Authority offices, as part of a public relations campaign. My father was renown for wearing bow ties on a regular basis. 

Fly Ball

Grandpa shagging flies
In the civil war dusk
Once the horses were picketed
If nobody turned up sick or shot.

Daddy wound twine about cork,
Sewed horsehide to make a ball, a century past,
Helping him stitch in surgery
Or stretching for wild throws
Under the town crag by the Elk Creek.

The stiff-lacing
Cuffed the fingers so
What’s the delicious remnant,
The swivel of whack!
Aha!  Or slipping it past them.

Some Baltimore chop
A downward blow
That escapes itself sunward,
Up bounding beyond reach
Plashing the creeks of rough and private sky.

© Andrew Glaze 2015, from Overheard In A Drugstore

My father was a lifelong baseball fan.
Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, his family would go to see the Birmingham Barons play games at Rickwood Field,. It was in the West End of town. There were two teams in those days. The better players were African American, they played as the “Birmingham Black Barons”, and their members included Alabama natives Willie Mays, and Satchel Paige, as teenagers.

Given the fact that the state of Alabama, much less the city of Birmingham, has never had a Major League Baseball Team, you’d probably be surprised to learn that Birmingham has become a modern mecca for Hollywood baseball films. This is because Rickwood Field, the same ball park my father visited, and which was built in 1910, is now the oldest remaining baseball field in the entire United States.

In the Jackie Robinson bio pic “42”, they used Rickwood to portray both itself and another ball park that no longer exists.  Robinson genuinely did play an exhibition game at Rickwood. My mother was there in the stands with her parents and siblings that day.

Impressively, Rickwood Park still has all of its original structures intact, right down to the old style advertisements on the walls of the Outfield. The gates, the turnstiles, even the hot dog stands, remain ancient looking by design. The ticket sign proclaims, “Adults $1”. Hollywood has provided money to help maintain the facility, and it is used by a few schools and various amateur leagues during the year.  In 1987, the long since integrated Birmingham Barons finally moved to a modern facility in downtown Birmingham.  They currently play as a double A affiliate team for the Chicago White Sox. 

The poem references my father’s grandfather, who was a doctor during the Civil War.  It also references my dad’s father, a dermatologist, who apparently created his own baseballs and enjoyed playing the game growing up in Elkton, Tennessee. 

Although my father learned to play baseball, his preference was to enjoy it from the stands, watch it on TV, or listen to the radio.  In the 80’s and 90’s, when my parents had rural land in Dutchess County New York, we’d spend weekends camping at three small cabins on the property.  As there was no electricity available, my father would periodically turn on the car radio to find out how the Mets were doing.  Strange as it may sound, there is a very Zen like feeling that occurs when you combine the sound of a baseball broadcast with the gentle hum of nearby bees working their way across a field of wildflowers.

Unlike my father, the urge to actually play the game was very strong in my brother. He dreamed of becoming a baseball pro when he was growing up and spent his free time on the softball fields of Central Park. There was a friendly rivalry at home as my brother preferred the Yankees. But regardless of what team was playing, we always watched the World Series through to the last game.

I assume that the last time my father actually played baseball himself was when he attended the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Vermont on three or four occasions. The annual baseball game was a tradition born out of Robert Frost’s love of the game. A member of the faculty there for many summers, he was a team participant when he was young enough to play, and the event was originally held on a field at his nearby farm. Wisely, the organizers would stack his team with the better players, knowing that Frost hated to lose. I have no idea if my father was assigned to Frost’s team or not.  In any case, I remember my father once saying, “It’s hard to take a bad photo of a professional baseball player. They move so gracefully”.  Clearly to my father, baseball was poetry in motion.

—E. Glaze

Breadloaf '48 Ted facing camera, John Ciardi with bat, AG left with batAndrew Glaze (holding the bat) along with staff and participants of the 1946 Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference.

Rick frontRickwood Field’s front entrance.  You would enter under the arches and head through turnstiles that were further inside.

 

Rick standsOne side of the seating.

Rick scoreThe scoreboard and carefully maintained old fashioned signs.

Book Burial

Among the Chou,
who ruled in China after the Shang and before the Ch’in,
there were an Accomplished King and a Martial King:
who came out of the land of Wei
in the far west.
They gave new laws.
But most of all there was among them
a marvelous exaggerated respect
for books and bronzes.

Scholars could do anything they liked!
And they carried everywhere tablets and brushes
suspended at the waistband
so they could write about it–
write down everything–
gossip—dirty jokes–grocery prices!
They were so proud of being able to say things
with their fingers!  Oh, it was new!
And a serious consequential joy,
saying it ceremoniously,
saying it at all!  With holy black calligraphy!
What pleasures!
They loved writing so much
they were buried with their books.
One king had himself interred with twenty
cartloads of classics on bamboo slivers.
That was a funeral fit
to make being buried worth thinking about!
I had always thought of being shot out of a cannon
into the mountains,
But no!  This is the way I shall have it.

I’m resolved that if worst comes to worst
and I have to die,
well, I will insist on being buried with my books.
Now, first of all—in a rough cedar box
lined with broadsides, and funny poems.

Ugh!  Spare me your bassinet linings
of pink artificial silk.
Spend the money on a good workable lamp.
If I should wake up, let me spend
the time reading.
Let my head lie on Sake,
let Yeats and Whitman and Cervantes,
Mark Twain and Chaucer, my pockmarked
pencil-scratched edition—lie somewhere about my fingers.
Emily Dickinson I shall have cast in bronze cartouches
to lie on my tongue.  Put Hopkins on my chest.
He won’t be heavy, he floats like hydrogen.

Thesaurus, wretched book!
Put that over my eyes.
Shakespeare, I will be all new-dressed
in your blue Yale edition.

If there should be room, throw in Su Tung Po,
Tu Fu, Dante, Joyce, and of course Basho and Issa.
That way I shall never get restless.
I shall never be tempted to come back
and twine about the chimney pots
of the still alive, jealous and
trying to make them uncomfortable.
Oh, I’ll be quite happy, thank you,
for as long as you like.
What’s best, when someday
they dig me up for my bronzes
to put my bones on exhibition
in a brightly lighted museum case,
I shall have come home
to a theatrical way of thinking,
and lie among minds moving about
in a place of learning and repose.

© Andrew Glaze, from the book REALITY STREET , 1991

“Book Burial” is a poem from my father’s “Asian Period”. It was written around the same time as “The Trash Dragon of Shensi”, and “To A Little Han Horse”.

My father came from a family of book lovers and he never read fewer than three books at a time. His side table in the living room always housed a pile of the ones he was working his way through.  In addition, one was always reserved for bedtime reading and two others sat at various spots in our apartment. A fourth consisted of one he read to my stepmother in the evening (they gradually worked their way through the entire series of “Jeeves The Butler” books).  And while I still lived at home, a fifth involved “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings Trilogy”, which he read to me over the course of my High School years.  He successfully instilled a love of books in both my brother and myself.

 His tastes varied from poetry to plays, murder mysteries, political topics, and everything in between. At one point he read The Double Helix, followed by my stepmom, followed by me. Then we all read In Cold  Blood by Truman Capote. One of the stand outs for me was Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time. My stepmom read it after my father. I was next in line.  In 2007, I was pleased when I managed to continue the cycle. My daughter came home from school one day with instructions to “Read a detective novel” as homework. I promptly presented her with The Daughter of Time.  If you’ve never read it, it’s about a modern day bedridden detective who becomes obsessed with figuring out the truth about King Richard the Third.  I figured she’d get a murder mystery, and an English history lesson, all conveniently rolled into one story! 

Near the end of his life my father handed me a biography of John Adams by John Ferling saying, “This is one of the better written novels I’ve read recently”. Knowing that this was high praise indeed, I brought the book home with me.  He’d always been picky.

All of the books listed in “Book Burial” graced the bookshelves of our Manhattan apartment and later residences.  As a teenager, I remember reading some of them on lazy Sunday afternoons. We really did have the entire blue jacketed Yale series of Shakespeare. A complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories sat nearby.  One shelf held the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. My mother told me that, as a baby, I would pull books off of their lower shelves and draw in them with crayon. My partner in crime was a large white rabbit named “Bunny” who would follow and nibble the edges when I moved on to the next book. We still had those books too!

The year before he died I personally went through his book collection together with him and we narrowed it down considerably. Whitman and Dickinson remained on the shelves, along with Homer, Cervantes, and all of the other authors mentioned in the poem.

 Since his passing, I’ve discovered that he was often in the habit of making marks or comments in the margins of books whenever there was something he particularly liked,…or disliked. Sometimes he would argue with the content, or the author. Humorously, this was even true for spare copies of his own poetry books. Ever the editor, he would cross out entire lines to make his already “finished” poems even tighter.

 In the end, since he’d long before made up his mind that he was donating his body to medical research when he died, an Asian style burial along with his books was not in the cards.  In theory, we could have set up a sacrificial pyre, burnt his favorites to a crisp and mixed the remnants with his ashes, but he probably would have looked at that as a huge waste of perfectly good books. We decided that, given a choice, he’d have said, “Good gracious, no, please donate them somewhere!”  And so that’s exactly what we did.
—E. Glaze

1992 Miami
Andrew Glaze in Miami, 1991. The table beside his favorite chair is covered with a typical pile of books.  Photo property of the Andrew Glaze Estate.

Trees

In memory of Adele de la Barre Robinson

It was a strange wood in which she decided
to consider herself lost.
It was filled with sun at cool angles,
Sylvanum densiflora, bracken,
live trees with lulling voices.
Trunks of bodies starting from the earth like plants.
Screams without throats,
Lianas tangled in unnamable wildness—
a world which would not accept order.

Existence snuffled with warty nozzle about this stranger
unacquainted with mere fact,
but who did not evade its vilest bubblings and quakings.
She would not draw back from the black crevasses,
which allowed her to name it a name,
imagine it to a shape it had not become
except as a neighbor to fear.
She recollected a prophet who spoke from a tree.

At first doubtfully, then gratefully, at last
brimming with courage, became what
was determined to take her,
and turning it inside out,
grew herself into death and gave it her soul.

© Andrew Glaze 2015, from Overheard In A Drugstore

Adele Robinson, as my father referred to her, was a highly unusual female. In 1960’s Birmingham, Alabama, she began publishing a series of small press literary magazines, using her degree in Design and interest in writing and editing. The goal was to cultivate the careers of poets and writers that she believed in, and my father was fortunate enough to become a favorite in her start-up.

In 1963 her pioneer effort, a booklet titled The TOKEN, landed on my lap when my father tossed it from the doorway as he muttered, “I have poems in it” and headed off to eat lunch. It had just arrived in the mail. This was actually a pivotal moment in our relationship. Before then, I’d never realized that my father wrote poems that people actually published much less read any of them. Even more significant, this publication contained a poem about ME. I immediately became a lifelong fan at the age of twelve. (In 1965 “To Betsy” became a poem in my father’s first book, Damned Ugly Children.)

According to my research, Adele Sophie De La Barre was a descendant of a French founding family of New Orleans which still lays claim to an ancestral mansion in that city. She herself was born in Pass Christian, Mississippi in 1905. In 1928 she graduated from Tulane University with a degree in Design and was an editor for the girl’s college magazine. During this same period, her future husband True W. Robinson (the W. was for William), was studying Science at CalTech, where he graduated in 1929. He was from San Diego.

How they met is unclear, but they married on July 4th weekend in 1931. The wedding was in Biloxi, Mississippi, so I think it’s safe to assume the day was fairly humid. By 1939, Adele was teaching Art at Wellesley College as Adele de la Barre Robinson, and in 1941, armed with a new MS degree, she became an Assistant Professor of Art.  Meanwhile, over at Harvard, True Robinson was studying for a Doctorate in Pathology. Then, from around 1942 until at least 1947, he was an Associate of Zoology at the University of Illinois in Chicago.  Somewhere in this time period he also managed to add Physiologist to his title. Eventually the couple settled in Birmingham, Alabama, possibly because of his job, and possibly because of its closer proximity to her hometown in Mississippi. True worked with medical schools in Birmingham. But his main claim to fame is that in 1961 he and Southern Bell Labs announced a partnership that allowed heart electrocardiograms to be transmitted live via telephone to an oscillograph machine at a distant location. In other words, he became AN INVENTOR.

At this point, you might wonder how on earth an Art Design major, debate team, Drama Club member ended up marrying a microbiology and technical geek, but get this:  — in 1923, as eighteen year old teenagers still living at home with their parents, they were BOTH licensed Amateur HAM radio operators!

While True was busy studying and inventing, Adele kept busy creatively. In 1949 she published a booklet of selected verse titled, Summer’s Lease.  And when they moved to Alabama she became an Assistant Professor of Art at Howard College (now Samford University), while True also taught at the school. In 1959, students performed a play she wrote titled “Birthday in Venice”. More importantly, by 1955 she was friendly with the local female State Arts Chairman. This is most likely why, in 1963, the Birmingham Festival of the Arts sponsored a booklet called The TOKEN. It was Adele’s first recognized foray into publishing other writers. I should probably remind you now that The TOKEN is the booklet my father tossed onto my lap back at the beginning of this story.

Sometime before 1965, Adele and Charlotte Kelly Gafford, a poet and teacher from the English Dept. at UAB, began producing quarterly issues of a highly regarded magazine titled FOLIO. The content included poetry, short stores, undergraduate writings, and occasional graphic art. Many of the issues had poems by my father near the front. By 1968 Charlotte had accepted a teaching position in Vermont and moved there. On her own, Adele ran the magazine for a while and then Myra Ward Johnson joined her as co-editor. In 2015 I had a telephone conversation with Myra and she commented, “We always got excited when your father sent us poems!” Initially a quarterly magazine, FOLIO later settled into a semi-annual production schedule.

For his part, my father introduced FOLIO to his circle of friends and helped its reputation spread around the poetry world of Manhattan. An issue from 1968 contains a poem by his friend Elizabeth Lambert and graphic art from Umaña.  Elizabeth was married to Cesar Ortiz-Tinoco, who later became the subject of my father’s poem “What’s That You Say Cesar?”  Umaña was a 1964 collaborator with my father for a publication titled “LINES/POEMS”. His wife, Helen Mcgehee, was a lead dancer with the Martha Graham Company and friends with my stepmom.

Adele managed to keep FOLIO going for 10 volumes consisting of two or more issues per year. I think she would be pleased to know that copies of the magazine are now sold as a cherished commodity on auction sites. It was never a money making venture, and it seems likely that Adele and her husband financed it. As far as I can tell, the final issue of FOLIO was in 1974.

In 1978 Adele passed away at the age of 72, and the world became that much less creative. I recently asked my stepmom if she knew why Adele died at such a relatively young age. I must admit, I was surprised at the answer. “Alzheimer’s Disease; it was very sad”.
A vague feeling of loss settled over me initially, but this was gradually followed by a sense of peace that comes from solving a puzzle. I realized that I now had the key to a deeper understanding of the poem.

The poets Adele helped launch and nurture continued to grow in stature, expand their network, and even teach upcoming poets. That is a legacy worth having. I think she would have been incredibly proud to learn that my father eventually became the Poet Laureate of Alabama. After all, she had an early hand in putting him on that path. And clearly he realized it and was grateful.
—-E. Glaze

 

 

(Left) FOLIO cover. Each issue was the same design, but with different colors.
(Right) Adele Sophie de la Barre Robinson, at the age of 22. Senior year photo from the 1928 Tulane yearbook. Born May 27, 1905  — Died Jan. 30, 1978.

I Want To Turn To The South: 1941

Little known fact:
Andrew Glaze did translations from Russian and Spanish poets, even though he studied and spoke French. In April 1972, The Atlantic Monthly published his translation of Pablo Neruda’s poem “I Want to Turn to the South: 1941”. Later a mutual friend brought him a copy of the magazine’s page, on which Neruda had scribbled, “Andrew you did make a great poem of my poem. Thanking you, Pablo Neruda. In Algonquin, New York, 1972.”  I’m pretty positive that the mutual friend was the writer and anthologist Selden Rodman.  Selden featured both my father and Neruda in his 1997 book, Geniuses & Other Eccentrics:  photographing my friends.

Unfortunately, Neruda’s hand written note has faded a lot as he used a pen marker rather than an ink pen, and it hung in a frame on a wall for a long time, but it is still visible.  I once asked my father what led him to do translations and he said, “Because I felt that I could do a better job than the ones I was reading.” By which, I understood him to mean that he found the previously existing translations to be frustratingly awkward.
—-E. Glaze

Pablo Neruda scan w color adjustment copy
By Pablo Neruda, Translated by Andrew Glaze, April, 1972 The Atlantic Monthly
Later published in 1974 in Andrew Glaze’s book “A Masque Of Surgery”.
Translated version © 1974 by Andrew Glaze.

“From a sickbed in Veracruz, I remember a day
of the South in my country, a silver-plated day
like the quickest fish in the waters of heaven.
Lonchonche, Lonquimay, Carahue, whose heights
are barren, ringed around with silence and roots,
watchmen from the thrones of leather and timber.
The South is a great horse sunk like a stone
crowned with slow-moving trees and rocks,
as though lifting his green snout hanging with waterdrops.
The shade of his streaming tail is a great Archipelago
and in his intestine sprouts the miraculous coal.
Will you never more give me, darkness, never more, oh, hand,
never more foot, threshold, thigh, my struggle–
to startle the forest, the highway, the ear of wheat,
the mist, the cold, which like azure decides
which one of your ceaseless steps shall accomplish itself?
Sky summon up a day when I move star on star
trampling the light like fireworks, wasting my blood
till I come to the nest of the rains,
I ask to go
back to the river of the timber, the musky
Tolten, let me pass by the sawmills,
and enter the cantinas my feet soaked with water,
guide me past the light of the hazelnut’s electricity.
lay me out full length in the excrement of cattle
to die and revive gnawing at the wheat.
Ocean, bring me
a day of the South, a day gripped by your waves,
a day of wet trees, brought by a wind
of azure, out of the pole, to my ice-bound banner.”