Here, two fluttering counties are taking a wink,
up amphitheaters, right and left,
bending over hillocks into empty air,
rope-walking birds skim past beneath.
The woods run down below,
across creek lines,
slithering like snakes, hobo blankets
molting onto brown remembrances,
against the powers of hayfield and wood.
The gypsy moth has crept with needlesome jaw
across the green world fading like a scrim.
Murder hides behind our little tract,
he’s a bony devil, knuckle lumps
rapping his frying pan, while underneath,
the crack of terror burns.
Up country the furious beasts of pandemonium
wildly devour each others tails,
and seesaws rise and fall across Galactic gulfs,
a bucket of water rises in the Malacca Strait,
upping the level in Chile, and spattering on our shore.
But for the moment, our premiums’ paid,
we hang transfixed up the tattered air
where merely to sleep and wake is to walk through miracles.
Higher than eagles, here comes luck.
Making a bargain with the hungry firmament.
In the late 1970’s — 90’s, our family getaway consisted of eleven acres of grassy hillside in Pine Plains, New York. Two hours north of Manhattan, on the border of Duchess and Columbia Counties, the back-to-nature lifestyle there provided a Henri David Thoreau style experience that we enjoyed for its peace and simplicity. After a year or two of tent camping, we purchased four 10’ x 10’ wooden cabins from a defunct children’s camp. One was to be used for spare parts, two were for my parents, and one belonged to me and was set apart from the others. As soon as the cabins were delivered by flatbed truck and mounted on cinder blocks, my father showed me how to replace a roof, door, an entire window, and glass panes. He’d learned these skills back in the early 1950’s. (To learn more about that, read the poem “Bill Where Are You?”).
Happy in our simple cabins, free of electricity, plumbing, and phones, we gradually added a metal tool shed, a pavilion of slender tree-trunks topped by fiberglass roof panels to shelter our picnic table, a rock walled outdoor grill, and a free standing outdoor sink that drained through a hose into the ground. My father liked to joke that he planned to write a book on “Chainsaw Carpentry”, and became quite creative at it.
In his 2002 book Remembering Thunder, my father named one of the chapters “Stissing’s Children”. This was because Mount Stissing was the highest point around Pine Plains and we could see the top of it from our property. The simple fact that the first poem in that chapter is titled “Thoreau Again” explains my father’s viewpoint. Southhill Farm became a retreat where he happily worked on his poetry, tried organic gardening, literally “primed the pump” before drawing water, listened to Mets baseball games over a battery powered radio, watched star formations at night in complete darkness, and invited favorite neighbors to join us at our picnic table for a glass of wine with grilled steak, corn on the cob, and vegetables from the garden. Eventually, my parents insulated their main cabin and added a wood burning stove to it. After that, they were able to stay longer in the fall, and visit earlier in the spring.
When the time came to install a manual water pump, we discovered that the local Water Douser / Deviner was recommended as the starting point. He arrived for the appointment looking as normal as my grandfather, pulled out a V-shaped tree branch, held one end in each hand, pointed it towards the sky, and started roaming the property. When water was near, the branch would fight his efforts to keep it pointing upwards and twist itself downwards. “That one’s about 15 yards underground” he’d pronounce, “Now let’s see where another one crosses it, to increase the volume”. At least once, he had to cut a new tree branch because the old one had wrestled itself into shreds. After his departure, each of us cut a V-shaped tree branch and wandered the property hoping to discover we had untapped skills for dousing. I concluded I had potential.
The acreage behind our land was the fly in the balm of our peaceful existence. The owners were year round residents who enjoyed hunting, with a son who’d drive a noisy all-terrain-vehicle into their back woods to shoot target practice. The foothills around us would reverberate the gun shots like a timpani drum at Carnegie Hall. My softhearted parents immediately nailed “No Hunting, Private Property” signs all around our borders. Bambi and his friends ate our flowers, vegetables, fruit from our trees, and were undeterred by organic efforts to discourage them, but we still loved them.
Straw and Debbie were a young creative couple from Manhattan with a property uphill from ours. Everybody enjoyed Straw’s goofball personality, and Debbie was happy to join the ride. They also had cabins and placed them at the highest point on their hill with a view overlooking the countryside. I remember they had something to do with film production and eventually decided California was the place to be. With that goal, one day they said their goodbyes, and headed West. Only problem was, their overloaded truck soon began strewing belongings like breadcrumbs for Hansel and Gretel. They stopped, regrouped, and finally continued on their merry way. Afterwards, Straw called one of our neighbors to give him an update on their misadventures. Word passed down the grapevine and everybody agreed, “Sounds just like something that would happen to Straw”. He and Debbie promptly became local legends, and we never saw them again.
By the late ‘80’s my parents had moved to Miami and the trek to upstate New York became a very long one. By the mid-90’s my brother and I both had children and lived in Pennsylvania. We brought them with us to Southhill Farm several times to share the experience we’d always enjoyed. My daughter now says I referred to Pine Plains as “The Country” so often that she thought that was the name of the town. Eventually though, it became too much for all of us to make the long drive to get there. My parents were growing older, and so were my brother and I. The property was eventually sold, but I know the times he spent at Southhill Farm were some of the happiest of my father’s life. At times I yearn for the simplicity of those days, remember a lilac tree I started from a single branch that was huge by the time we left, and ponder whether the town still has just one traffic light. My father preserved his memories as poems. I chose to preserve mine as photographs.
Planting a fruit tree.
Behind our cabins. Andrew and Adriana Glaze in the foreground. The organic garden is on the right, with grape vines along the fence.
Our campsite grew more sophisticated every year. Adriana is standing by the “sink”.
Reading a book. On the right is our “icebox”. Behind my father, lying on the ground, are the boards that were used to create the pavilion roof shown in the previous photos.
My brother (standing) and stepmom (sitting), before we had cabins at the bottom of the hill.
And I became the queen of collecting wild flowers.
All photos are the property of Elizabeth Glaze and the Andrew Glaze Estate..
Father Sun is just settled down in a red haze
up the farthest slope of the Ramapos, when suddenly out
from the dusk with a rushing and a tinkling,
we’re assailed by spectral shadows. They swirl our way
down through the sun-careening fire-dazzled woods.
They’re the show girls, draped in Jean Harlow dresses
scissored down to the buttock-nape.
They shriek tinnily in high double heels, giggling and slipping
on shiny Phillipine grass, they spill their bathtub gin
and stand for a moment , lifting their glasses
to toast the sun’s wild footlights off to the West.
They’ve tittered like ghosts down from Billy Rose’s house
on the rise behind, with its English windows and grey slate roof,
its paneled jazz-age rooms.
By the old liquor closet at the unused central flue,
you can almost hear the Volstead dicks come ghosting up the drive,
with a wail, from Wampus Pond and Armonk, down below.
They’ve come, with a great scattering and screeching and to do,
draining the bathtubs, the ghostly Vermouth and Juniper juice,
pouring it out among the actual roots
of the memory trees, where they soar
skyward, like the joyous dream of a lark.
None of them glows in the effulgent sunset
or lays out what blazing road goes by, opens a ghostly door
or fades the light down silent driveways of the imagination.
They are frolicking, a thing and a place where we can never be or go.
Salute their voyage!
There is a school-yard style poem about burlesque dancer Sally Rand and Broadway Producer Billy Rose, which, when read aloud correctly, is obscene. I had completely forgotten the ditty until I looked up Sally Rand on the internet and rediscovered it. Afterwards, I remembered that when I was a teen, the topic of Sally Rand came up one day and my father recited it in amusement. Sally Rand and Billy Rose have long since left this world, but the poem remains.
Said Billy Rose to Sally Rand, “Do your dance without your fan!” She did her dance without her fan; Billy “rose” — and Sally ran!
In reality, Billy Rose didn’t just have a house, he had a giant mansion known as “Rose Hill” in Mount Kisco, just outside of Manhattan in Westchester County, New York. Built in 1928, right in the middle of prohibition, chances are great that they really did have bathtub gin parties. “Volstead Dicks” is a reference to the detectives responsible for enforcing the “Volstead Act” that made alcohol illegal between 1919 — 1933.
Rose had several wives, one of whom was the famous comedienne Fanny Brice. A composer of more than 400 songs, at least 50 of which were huge hits, including, “Me and my shadow”, and “It’s only a paper moon”, Rose became an impresario, producing shows for both stage and screen. In 1936, he produced, “Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch” at the 1936 Fort Worth Centennial as part of his Casa Manana show at the fairgrounds. She was best known for her burlesque routines using giant feather fans to artfully peek-a-boo her way through sensual dances.
I’m not sure what inspired my father to come up with the poem. My stepmom and I have not been able to remember anytime when he saw the house in person, but it’s possible we just weren’t there at the time. Or, perhaps he read an article about it somewhere. There was an enormous fire at Rose Hill in 1956, but the mansion was rebuilt afterwards. It wasn’t until 2019 that another fire completely destroyed it. At this very moment, you can go on-line and purchase undamaged stained glass windows and a stone fireplace that remained. Billy Rose passed away in 1966, but a new replica of Rose Hill is currently in the process of being built. Clearly, the public is reluctant to let it slip away and vanish. I like to think that it’s because they enjoy envisioning the same ghosts that my father imagined.
….”Salute their voyage” indeed.
Sally Rand in one of her feathered burlesque costumes.
The facade of Billy Rose’s home in Mt. Kisco, NY, “Rose Hill”. A birds eye view revealed the full extent of the size, which consisted of extended wings behind the front of the building.
Historically, the word “flue” means the chimney itself. This is a photograph of a room in Billy Rose house. To quote my father’s words, “Paneled jazz-age rooms.
By the old liquor closet at the unused central flue”. Currently, if you have a yen to share history, you can buy the entire mantel for $25,000.
It’s the best road between truckways climbing into miles,
and here come Buckthorn, Hemlock, Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron,
shotgunning everywhere, into light and dark,
our motors’ let-up punctuated with red-eyed-
Vireos, Summer Tanagers, warblers,
the occasional ghost of a raven.
Far below, tractors pull, pickups scurry,
and blue smoke rises from verandahed motels,
hot instant chicken, bible colleges, refineries,
and suburbs. At the other verge,
eerily coming off the blind side uphill, flow boundless forests,
and endless divisions of blue-grey butternut armies.
Racketing with fierce crashes of musketry,
they clatter behind risings, dashing across
bare hills in patterns of horses.
Tiny caissons crawl, shuddering past,
bent with piles of the bloody wounded and dead,
creaking to the bullet-shattered gossamer whinings of fife.
It’s a vision of the kingdom we come from,
the republic we have been setting out for,
two ghostly realms divided
by a mystic ridge running along between
two terrible fates, like a double brink.
What does it want from us? Pointless to weep.
Pointless to blame. The vision clears, rises
like wood-smoke, and does not disband.
Still it’s there, awaiting, as we enter the machine again,
and move off through leaf-doors and walls of shadow play.
My father was very familiar with Route 81. The most direct highway between New York State and Alabama, the highway is paralleled by the Blue Ridge Mountains to the East and the Appalachians to the West. The crest of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range has a road called “Skyline Drive” which is well known for both it’s beautiful views and the fact that it overlooks sites where six major Civil War battles took place in Virginia during the “1862 Valley Campaign”.
The Civil War between the Northern and Southern states is part of our family heritage. We were on the defeated rebel side. Despite that historic loss, memoirs, antiques, ancestral photos, and pride in that history, abound throughout my family tree. So when, in the late ’60’s, a newly published photographic history of the Civil War arrived in the mail, my father pored over it with great interest. It was the first time he’d seen photographic evidence of the darker side, and featured black and white pictures of starving prisoners of war, piles of dead bodies, graphic photos of the wounded, and survivors with missing limbs.
After he and my stepmom moved from Manhattan to Birmingham in 2002, they made an annual summer trek to rural property we owned in Pine Plains, New York. When they decided to visit Skyline Drive during one of those trips, he remembered those photos, and became inspired by the contrast of beautiful views and Civil War battle descriptions. The end result was this poem.
Skyline Drive at the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Virginia. The Shenandoah Valley is below. The valley was the site of 6 major battles during the Civil War.
It’s a great comfort to know this country had a father
and that he was as crazy as my father.
That with a presumption of faultless logic
he was able to get involved in a lifelong attachment to that Potomac mud
trapped in the horseshoe bayous around his farm.
Damn it, he thought (I presume), his fields could feed on that thick black
almost edible slime! And like the rest of us easy-to-humbug men
he thought anything he was able to reason out
was possible. A most endearing fallacy like any number of mine.
Up in his workshop he contrived a machine
for making the river move-to float out the gravel
and leave the dirt. But he was as pragmatic as he was visionary.
While reason plotted, he worked a crew of slaves
in a sort of holy war on behalf of the land.
Of course he was always just about to be almost finished (and happy)
till he caught the pleurisy that made him a finished monument.
The congressmen swarmed in out of the patronage lines
preparing posthumous lies to be brought out
about the honors, etc., appointments, the general had or should have confirmed.
And they came trotting over when he seemed about to speak, saying “any advice for the nation sire?” not wanting any, really
but willing to listen to the man.
Well, he sat up of course and made the fools get out of his way like flies.
His last anger went off like a cannon.
It burst with a splash above the river bank.
“Look at that, gentlemen! –Look at that glorious mud!
That’s what life is about, that mud!
And I shall get my hands on it, or perish!”
Which brought on a fatal convulsion and perfected his vow.
So he had a good death, happy, involved,
convinced he had just been washed by the logic of his century
to a glorious death in the battles of tides and erosions and rivers.
I have no idea how my father learned about George Washington’s flirtations with collecting mud from the Potomac River. Apparently, Washington’s fascination began with an invention titled “The Hippopotamus”, which was invented by a Mr. Donaldson. According to the Mount Vernon website, Washington loved the concept, and there was a flurry of correspondence with Mr. Donaldson, but he never actually purchased the contraption. Instead, he did his own experiments of ways to bring mud up from the Potomac River to his farm fields.
—–E. Glaze The machine created by Mr. Donaldson is shown below.
“The Hippopotamus”, an invention by Mr. Donaldson. It was used to bring river bed mud up from the river to fertilize farm fields. I believe the drawing shows a view from the air.
though love poems may flap and squawk, then escape,
along in years, with luck,
the ghost of one, somehow may come skittering back.
Liquid as mist, its phantom will rise,
the stinks you’ve remembered as bitter
will be dried and perfumed like wild grass.
Long forgotten names and places
will ache to come spilling out
and the hosts of oblivion once more will speak.
Old songs will mutter themselves into life
remembering dreams, and when that time awakens,
you’ll come to swear to yourself
that something has shifted weight
at the earth’s center.
While the harmony lasts
what you dream you will seem to touch,
what evanesces will seem to endure forever
Though it takes life for only a moment or so,
as it awakes from its wraithy home
you’ll once more shudder and sing,
and out of its ghostly enchanted world,
remember the miracle of speech. Copyright Andrew Glaze 2015, from Overheard In A Drugstore
This was originally included in a 1973 love poem anthology titled Loves, Etc. from Doubleday Press. Surprisingly, it didn’t appear in any of my father’s own books until 2015. The earlier anthology of love poems was compiled by my father’s friend Marguerite Harris. “Maggie” was the only poet/Ad photography model I’ve ever met. Her photo career began when she accompanied her daughter to a modeling agency, only to be told that the agency wanted to sign her instead. Far from a glamorous fashion type, they viewed her as the perfect motherly, grandmotherly type. When I was 17, my father pointed to a subway poster of a white haired lady sitting in a rowboat with a parasol. “That’s Maggie” he said. Even at my age I could appreciate the photographic evidence that adventures and opportunities did not end after a persons hair turned white.
As for the poem, there are probably many possible interpretations for it. I feel it’s about the ability of the human heart and mind to recover from disappointments, appreciate the good times by re-framing the memories, and find love again.
This was certainly true of my father and the three romantic loves of his life.
The first was Linda Allardt, to whom he was briefly engaged when they met at the 1948 Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. She was very young, and their long distance engagement was short, but he never forgot her. They got back in touch twenty years later, when they both had poems appear in the same journal. She also arranged for him to do a reading of his poems at the University of Rochester, where she taught. At some point, Linda discovered her neighbor had a good friend in Birmingham. The friend turned out to be my aunt. Through it all, my father and Linda maintained a supportive long distance poetry exchange. Eventually, he dedicated a book to her, and she dedicated a book or two to him; the most recent being a 2016 collection titled Under Construction. That love was one of a shared interest in poetry and memories of youth.
Next was my mother, Dorothy, who was ten years younger and broke his heart when she asked for a divorce after eleven years together. Forced to continue the relationship for the sake of myself and my brother, he managed to look kindly upon her, and shift gears into a love of shared children and mutual past experiences.
Lastly was my stepmom, “Cusi”, who spent 53 years of marriage with him, helped raise my brother and I, and loyally looked after him until the end of his life. Theirs was a loving relationship based on mutual interest in the arts, dance, books, murder mysteries, medical and legal TV dramas, theater, music, and periodic weeks of cabin camping in upstate New York. He dedicated two of his books to Cusi, and wrote one of his best poems for her. (You can read “You and I Make A Movie” in an earlier blog).
Left: Linda Allardt in 1948 at Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Right: Dorothy Elliott (Glaze) Shari in 1952 with daughter Elizabeth Glaze.
1961, Adriana Keathley Glaze in the wings during a performance of “Camelot”, as a dancer in the original cast.
Fred’s great chocolate pie
sat on the table at noon–
while outside the Spring sun dazzled, leapt,
and the Germans marched into Austria.
On the radio came shouts, in a hoarse, hysterical voice,
the future jangled their wits like a telephone.
Our appointed war was waiting for us outside, cocking its thumb.
“Arma virumque cano,” says Virgil,
Dr. Cutt snakes out the words with a dry, ironic, bite,
saying, “This is the war
your generation is set up to perish for,
because my own was an idiot,
and savors itself with the gruel of madness.
The legend says
if you must plant hatred, stay on guard
and lop the heads off the warriors
springing from the ground.
Do it again and again!
But this time, for a change, stay home.”
It was certainly not for lack of battlegrounds.
We’ve plenty of those at hand.
Not ten miles away, at Stones River,
Generals Rosecrans and Bragg
waltzed one another a half turn
about the Murfreesboro Pike.
You can picnic among the twenty five thousand dead.
At Spring Hill, Patrick Cleburne, “bravest of the brave”
let Schofield’s Yankees slip through.
And the next day, under the scatter-shot of John Hood’s rage
he charged himself to death with five other rebel generals.
They lay in a row on the Carlton House porch
Down the Nashville Pike came
General Thomas racketing through,
flogging his horse,
yelling across the clatter
‘Didn’t we drive ’em though? Didn’t we drive ’em!”
And Forrest’s horse lagged to guard the retreat.
Grandpa lived in the saddle for days
near the Surgeon’s wagon taking out his surgical kit
to patch the few come out alive,
subsiding into Alabama.
That, was our war.
What did we know about motorized guns on wheels,
or hawks-foot bombers diving out of the sun?
WW2 Air pilot song: “I wanted wings, ‘til I got the god damn things,
now I don’t want them anymore.
They say air combats called romance, but it makes me wet my pants,
I’m not a fighter I have learned.
For I’d rather be a bellhop
than a flyer on a flattop
with my hand around a bottle
not around a goddamned throttle,
Buster, I wanted wings ‘til I go the god damn things,
now I don’t want them anymore.”
Despite being a non-flying Communications Officer with the Army Air Corps, my father had this catchy WW2 song embedded in his brain for the rest of his life. The version above is the one he occasionally sang when I was growing up.
During the war, he was assigned to the air base on Anglesey Island, a rural island off the coast of North Wales in the UK. Far from the battles in Europe, he found life there quite boring, and wished he were closer to the action. Only later did he realize how lucky he’d been. My father was not fond of his military experience, and resisted taking advantage of any of the benefits offered to Veterans. Ironically, 60+ years after his island experience, Prince William and Kate Middleton moved to Anglesey as newlyweds when William began work at the same air base as a Search and Rescue Helicopter Pilot for the Royal Air Force. I think the slow pace was exactly the break from royal life that they’d both hoped for and they stayed for 3 cherished years.
In case you haven’t figured it out, this poem is written from the perspective of my father in his late teens when he was a High School student at The Webb School in Tennessee. A prep-boarding school for boys that was 53 miles South of Nashville, my father loved his time there because, “they encouraged independence and had an honor system, which was unlike any other school at that time”. His teacher, Dr. Cutt, clearly made a positive impression. Recently, I came across an on-line memo about the history of the Webb School Language Department. It said, “Dr. Cutt, taught 4th Latin – Virgil, 6 or 8 students.” It also states that he taught Greek. Somehow, even in his wildest dreams. I doubt that Dr. Cutt ever expected to be immortalized, quoting Virgil, in a future poem by one of his students. And yet here he is doing exactly that. The advice to “stay home this time”, is probably accurate . My father had a habit of stockpiling verbal nuggets in his brain for future use.
Career-wise, Latin proved to be useful, both for my father’s writing, and to accomplish his translations of Spanish poets like Pablo Neruda. However, on the family side, there was one aspect of his Latin training that drove my brother and I crazy. We had the same problem with our mother, because she also studied Latin in High School. It started when we became old enough to enjoy playing the game “Dictionary”. In order to do so, one person has to select a word nobody else knows the meaning of, while everyone else invents a definition to fool the other players. Our problem was that 95% of the time, our parents used Latin derivations to figure out the words we suggested and it usually took 10 minutes to find an unfamiliar option. My brother eventually solved the problem with a book titled Obscure, Unusual and Preposterous Words, and even that wasn’t 100% perfect. It’s worth noting that, when playing Dictionary, my brother’s goal was never to make up realistic sounding meanings for the dictionary words and score points. He inherited our father’s sense of the ridiculous and just wanted to make everybody laugh. I still remember an afternoon when the two of us played Dictionary with friends, and my brother’s definition of Polyarchy was, “The arc formed by a parrot when thrown from a bridge in Mandarin China.”
His time at boarding school seems to have given our father a keen understanding of where major battles took place in the area. His parents were from Elkton and Pulaski, which are slightly to the West of Nashville. At the time of the Civil War, it’s hard to know if the Glaze family agreed with the rebel cause or not, but given their geographic location and the fact that skirmishes were taking place all around them, abstaining wasn’t much of an option. At the time the war broke out, my father’s grandfather had completed exactly one year of apprenticeship with a local doctor, and one course of lectures at the University of Nashville Medical School. When the Confederate Military Medical Unit called, the battlefield became his on-the-fly arena of higher education. He genuinely was a doctor on horseback. Given a choice between fighting at the front and tending to the wounded in the back, it was certainly the safer position to be in. Five years after the war ended, in 1874, he finally returned to Medical School in Nashville and officially graduated a year later. He set up a private practice in Elkton, married, and started a family. When his first wife died he married the local school teacher. Among the family there are two genetic traits we all hope to avoid. One is large ears that poke out on either side (“Grannie Glaze ears”) and the other is a beak nose (“Grannie Glaze nose”). I once asked, “Okay, so if this lady had huge ears and a beak nose, how on earth did she manage to attract a husband, much less a Doctor?” My father’s reply was logical, “He was a widower and a working doctor with several children. He was educated and more sophisticated than most locals; she was an educated school teacher and possibly one of the few single women in Elkton.” They proceeded to have additional children. He was actually the original Andrew L. Glaze, although his middle name was “Lewis”. Family rumor has it that when his school teacher wife had their first son, she was a bit of a culture snob, and so his son and grandson (my father) were named “Andrew Louis Glaze”.
By the way, if you’ve never heard of the University of Nashville Medical School, it’s because it became the origin of Vanderbilt Medical School. My father’s father later studied medicine there. He went the more conventional route, and, lacking the necessity of becoming a battlefield surgeon, chose Dermatology.
Andrew Louis Glaze Jr. (the poet and writer) at age 18 in 1938. The photo was taken on a break from Webb School, on a visit home in Birmingham, Alabama.
Photo is property of the Andrew L. Glaze Estate.
My father’s beloved teacher, Dr. Thomas Cutt, who was the Latin and Greek teacher at Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. I am guessing the lady on the left was his wife. It looks like it must’ve been a hot weekend summer day, and everybody was going casual.
Photo by Andrew L. Glaze, property of the Andrew L. Glaze Estate.
Andrew L. Glaze as an Army Air Corps Communications Officer. 1942.
Photo is property of the Andrew L. Glaze Estate.
Wolferl, young friend, what about
all this fal-lal and hoorah?
Oh, you’d love the performances,
no doubt of that!
You wrote somebody once
that on taking a theater seat,
hearing the orchestra begin to tune,
immediately, you were beside yourself.
They’ve got a thing at Salzburg
involving the house where you were born.
Probably you felt about the place as fiercely
as anyone does about the place they were born.
It’s a place.
But we’re speaking of serenades—
And three companies recording the same opera
in the same hall, with different people,
in six weeks. Remarkable!
Too bad you won’t get any of the royalties.
It is bound to come to someone
before the year’s over, to dredge
Vienna’s Central Cemetery like a potato farm
Wanted: medium skull, with small cerphalic index,
probably Alpine; prominent nose, tracery upon
the brain pan in C clefs.
A useless labor, certainly, the climate and all.
They’d some to-do, a while ago,
to re-unite the lower Papa Haydn
with his wandering head-piece.
Probably it’s just as well you’ve lost.
Some enthusiastic zealot might bite off your finger,
as some idiot bit off St. Francis Xavier’s toe.
Rest your bones.
How? Rest? Well, possibly not.
Certainly they laid you out by force.
That and Papa’s religious prejudice about
vaccination. I doubt if you care to rest.
But it’s true you sang a bit of the requiem
there at the end. Still, I think it was,
as always with you, the enjoyment of pathos.
Life as the dramatist!
Always the man standing behind the man
standing behind the mask.
You probably thought of death
as postlude-prelude; paying the price,
settling yourself in a cheap seat somewhere
to listen for the tuning of the orchestra.
On hearing it, you’d be
beside yourself at once.
My father had an amazing memory for music. In 2015, when he was 95, I happened to stumble across an old family scrapbook and notice a theater program for a 1948 Birmingham production of Romeo and Juliet. According to the credits, my mother had a role, her mother made the costumes, and my father composed music for a song in the play. Initially, when I showed him the program he claimed to have no memory of the production. Five minutes later he was humming the tune.
My grandmother once said my father blamed her for allowing him to drop out of piano lessons. “He really seemed to hate them, but later said I should have pushed him more and insisted.” He mentioned the same regret to me. And yet he was one of the most musical people I have ever known and music was second only to words and poetry in his world. As a child in a local boys’ choir, he was the only member able to hit high E above C and was rewarded with solos. At Harvard he became a member of the Glee Club. As a young man he joined the Hugh Thomas Choir at Birmingham-Southern College, just for the sheer joy of singing. It was there that he met my mother. One day she was waiting for a bus, and he zoomed around the block so he could casually pull up beside her and offer a lift home.
For as long as I can remember, the first thing my father did every morning was turn the classical radio station on. From that point on, Mozart and company would entertain us all day long until my father climbed into bed at night and turned the radio off. “Name that composer” was a favorite private hobby, and occasional shouts from his corner desk in the living room would announce that he’d accurately guessed the origin of a piece of music he’d never heard before. At some point he remarked that as a boy he’d presented his father with a boxed set of Mozart recordings for his birthday, knowing full well that it was actually something he himself wanted. Mozart remained a lifelong favorite.
In the early 70’s, a burgeoning friendship with classical composer Alan Hovhaness resulted in a collaboration for a Light opera-musical called, “The Most Engaged Girl”. (Read the post “Life of a Gnat” if you’d like to learn more about this). At the same time, my father had a play in the works titled, “Kleinhoff Demonstrates Tonight”. As one of the lead characters was a singer, it was a natural progression for my father to write songs for him. And they were GOOD! The New York Public Theater did a Live Reading of it and asked the performer known as “Meatloaf” to play the role.
My father’s love of music proved to be an inheritable trait. However, when music entered my brain it evoked an irresistible urge for movement and I became a classical ballet dancer. In my brother it evoked an urge to sing, play instruments, and compose. Entirely self-taught, at this point he has learned guitar, ukulele, banjo, mandolin, piano, and finds it difficult to sit still in free moments without an instrument in hand.
The New York City classical station was and still is WQXR. For my father, who later lived in Miami, and then returned to Birmingham, no other station could compete. Near the end of my father’s life, when he was bedridden in Birmingham, my brother and I set up a laptop to livestream broadcasts from New York for him. He’d close his eyes in bliss and wave his hands in time with the music for what seemed like hours.
For 90 plus years, my father’s life, and our life as a family, had been accompanied by classical music. Experts tell us that when we die, the very last sense to leave us is the gift of hearing. So it seems incredibly appropriate that when my father finally took his last breath and slipped away into the next world, his exit was accompanied by WQXR.
Interesting Facts Mentioned in the Poem:
Yes, as a child his name of Wolfgang was shortened to the nickname Wolferl”.
Yes, Mozart’s father chose not to vaccinate his children for small pox. At age 11, Mozartnearly died of the disease. He suffered through a long series of other serious illnesses over the course of his life and died at age 35. Yes, it’s true that grave robbers managed to sever composer Josef Haydn’s head and steal it. Ten years later the thieves were caught and gave authorities a skull that was placed in his grave, but kept the real thing to themselves. 145 years later, Haydn’s genuine skull was finally reunited with his body. To this day, there are two skulls buried with Haydn’s body. One is genuine, and the other a mystery. Yes, it’s true that a fan of St. Francis Xavier was so overcome by grief at his funeral that she bit off his big toe. It was later rescued and encased as a relic. Yes, it’s true that Mozart’s birthplace is now a museum in Salzburg, Austria. The family lived on the 3rd floor from 1747 to 1773. There is also a building in Innsbruck with a plaque stating that Mozart lived there as a child for a while. The one in Innsbruck currently houses a very subdued McDonalds fast food joint. Truth is, Mozart traveled so much, from a very young age, that his trail resembles the American adage “George Washington slept here”. Yes, the poem was published in 2002, and Mozart’s 254th Anniversary was not until 2010. Yes, near the end of his life Mozart was visited by a mysterious masked man who commissioned him to compose a Requiem. As Mozart worked on the piece he became increasingly ill and began to feel that he was writing it for himself. Tragically, he died before it was finished. Yes, Mozart was buried in an unmarked paupers grave and therefore is unlikely to suffer the same fate that Haydn did.
Clouds don’t come at him any more
seething inside with green fire, nor
does the skin of lovers often proclaim,
like a trumpet, fearful surprises.
And where are the river-roads that once he attended,
the quarrels that whistled around him like bullets,
the steaming tracks that swept him along come midnight
with the gift of a single mountain lantern?
Wherefrom are the words that used to hurt,
that hurt now twice as often,–
and where are the friends he loved enough to wish
he might give them a bit of his time on earth.
Also, old man, why can’t left encounter right
any more for a battle?
And where are the rattling snare drums of daylight?
Why do there not canter up these days
poems that stamp the hoof,
and offer the bridle, so he must clamber top-side
the-saddle, and set himself to thunder off,
not caring to guess where the gallop goes,
or by what fork of the road!
or by what fork of the road !
Out trolling the banks–the swirling rivers–the thump of the creel–
the fishermen seek a logical colloquy of wildlife and loaves
with shining words.
Then once in a while,
they watch their talismans over brutishness and power
go down, blighted by the savagery of fact.
As the civil world presses agreeably on
in its ramping, murderous way,
they come to be swept off like us all,
and forced to mouth the blameless blame.
Swearing to lies, they’ll be wasted in the squalor,
but, after the cycles have inched about
they’ll cautiously hoist themselves
from out of the caves of hiding,
and once more casting to catch the shining words,
hang them like silver mornings in the sun.
For my father, being a Writer and Poet meant a lifetime struggle with perfectionism.
How do I know this?
Both of these poems were written sometime before 1997, because both of them were in a manuscript titled Carnal Blessings that became a finalist for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize in 1997. A year later my father changed the title to Overheard In A Drugstore, and continued his lifelong process of tweaking both the poems and the table of contents. He frequently spent years perfecting poems until he was happy with them. Unpublished ones he’d put in a drawer to review a few weeks, months, or even decades later. I personally know of two poems that were published in early books of his, that he altered before they were re-published in later books. AND, after he died, when I went through his personal copies of his own poetry books, I found small edits he’d made in pencil to a few of his already published and well known poems. In some cases I agreed, and in others I didn’t, but that’ll just be our little secret.
“OLD POET”, as I interpret it, reflects on growing older and, judging by the last two lines, is a literal nod to Robert Frost. Frost died at age 88 in 1963, which means that he was in his late ’60’s when my 18-year-old father first knew him at Harvard, and in his ’70’s in 1946 and ’48, when my father worked with him as part of the staff at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. By 1997, when “Old Poet” was submitted to the TS Eliot Prize as part of the Carnal Blessings manuscript, my father was age 77. I think he was feeling a combination of sentiment, admiration, loss, empathy, and camaraderie when he wrote this poem.
(If you want to learn more about Robert Frost and my father, read the poem, “Mr. Frost” from a previous post).
“Fishermen”, was initially surprising to me, because the ONLY time I’ve ever seen evidence that my father even so much as touched a fishing rod is a photo from the early 1950’s. But then when you really read the poem, it becomes clear that it’s not really about fishing for aquatic creatures at all. To a partial extent I think it’s about fishing for the right word, enduring as a writer through the ups and downs of popularity, and surviving harsh poetry critics from a “boys club” you aren’t part of. However, when you pay attention to some of his allusions, and think about his background, suddenly the word “fishing” suggests a potentially deeper meaning. Assigned to Europe as a WW2 Airforce Communications Officer, my father was undoubtedly hyper aware of Hitler’s propaganda machine and the efforts of the European Resistance to counter it. He then became a reporter in Birmingham, Alabama, during the dawn of Civil Rights demonstrations where his newspaper boldly published descriptions of brutal police attacks on peaceful protesters. At the same time, Senator McCarthy was busy adding writers to his increasingly long black list of accused “Communists”. It wasn’t until the respected TV journalist Edward R. Morrow verbally attacked him that the public came out of their 4-year trance and “McCarthyism” ended. Ten years later my father was no longer a reporter, but avidly followed the “Watergate” investigative reporting that led to President Nixon’s resignation.
I think this poem is my father’s personal tribute to the writers who keep fishing for the right words, fishing for success on their own terms, and fishing for the truth , no matter how hard it might be.
Andrew Glaze at Panama City Beach, Florida, early 1950’s. The only time I have ever seen my father hold a fishing rod of any kind, and while wearing loafers!
It’s safe in my head—clacking that typewriter, striking and singing
across my temple—belonging nowhere else on earth anymore
but my press room, my courthouse, being enlarged in my amazement.
Yes—Sheriff MacDowell is there
looking out the wide window of his basement,
resting both rough-shod feet on a 50-year-old roll-top
imaginary desk, hiccupping amidst the cigar smoke.
He is thinking—all over this county
deputies are serving warrants, five dollars a service,
in mud-spattered old Fords,
investigating murders, socking the suspects,
thinking up dumb answers to give
to smart defense attorneys showing off for juries,
buying Camels from bootleggers
in falling-down general stores covered with Retonga signs,
the sinks of galvanized iron set
on tanks of seething smelly mash.
He’s thinking of this network of crime
sluicing for miles to Warrior and Birmingport–
as he watches—his eyes closed, he knows all,
like the Sphinx, he does nothing, thinks everything.
Like the Sphinx, his nose is eaten away by acne.
Every morning the black ladies in blue domestic,
the white-trash ladies in phony leopard-skin
are hurrying past in my head, twittering like barnswifts
in the flyway, blocking the passage to Judge Boner’s court
getting ready to call each other “bitchy,”
to stand in a circle shouting “yessir” to the prosecutor,
puffing out his throat there, glaring power,
his skinny rump on the desk of the shorthand clerk.
This is his lily pad, from which he addresses
a green pond of obedient bullfrogs. They crouch out front,
waiting for him to signal. Then they will sing.
Today, the judge tells him—you—be quiet now–
the judge is going to speak–
it’s Decoration day, he will deliver the annual oration.
All year long he crouches behind that bench.
Now we shall see what he looks like!
Resting his pear-shaped paunch like a ripe fruit
on his blotter, he does not mumble,
“case dismissed for lack of evidence”
or “$25 and costs, pay the clerk.
Today, instead, he remembers how he was a doughboy,
and what a privilege, to be this crowd of citizens we are
star-spangled over by that mighty, motionless
banner gathering coal-smoke there!
We gawk. He spits, then sits down.
The Chairman of the Democratic Committee
is now to be bound over for rigging election returns–
and the drivers of two tow trucks are standing there to be fined
for shooting it out at a traffic accident with signal flares,
and standing together to punch the highway patrol.
Here comes the governor’s nephew, charged with sodomy!
Hooray!—case dismissed for lack of evidence!
Still, there is much more ready to be brought up
in the cockpit of my divided remembrance—how, far up–
past the tallest elevator, each with its paraplegic doughboy,
veteran pilot soaring like a hawk, we fly to the solicitor’s aerie!
His office with its weary view of stars and coke convertors,
of Woodrow Wilson Park below and beyond, the lair
of his gloating nemeses across the way in City Hall.
There’s nothing between us and Heaven but the jail,
with the prisoners overhead to keep us humble.
(He requests them not to sing.)
We never hear them but always know they’re there.
This is our Mr. Perry, he spares a moment for us always
in our dreams, out of his jinxed war with evil and Bull Connor,
senility and Judge Wheeler, all those multiple
assaults of intractable human nature,
the surprises of the hundred kinds of dumbness
ready to fall on you from behind with a leaded weight.
And I think—it’s the burden of being too bright
gives him wrinkles and tired soft patches about the eyes
–that he cares about things—that he softly, kindly
asks us what can be done for us today. Being honest
he knows there is nothing much
either of us could ever do for the other.
Both of us wonder why.
In a quiet corner of the imagination there is a press room,
filled with black machines.
Out the window is a giant lintel, over the east door.
A workman is innocently embracing a farmer, and both
rest and malinger under the knee of the brawny lady
blindfold, and by that token, called by everyone Justice.
Press Room!—my heart folds under—den of ancient
falling apart clickety-clackety typewriters.
Place of never resting more than a minute.
Always we hurry again down yellow, terrazzo, Talladega Marble floors
clacking our heels, to the Deputy’s washroom
—off to read the latest graffiti–
which tells me somebody—is sleeping with his own daughter,
that’s today’s news—and has since she was thirteen,
and she’s a wonderful screw,
would anyone else come along to join and let him see?
And after that we stop for coffee to talk with a Chancery Judge.
He just today disposed of twenty-five million dollars.
–We come away all silvery feeling toe to chin.
–And sit and think about it all, over lunch –.
There in my head these persons and places
take on their own life, assort themselves
in their appointed directions and positions–
to the east, the jittery plaster faced highway patrolman
checking new drivers, hoping they’ll not
collapse him beneath a turning postal van.
To the north, Jimmy, the Deputy Coroner,
driving to work with photos of gunshot heads and slashed throats.
–Through the revolving door of the courthouse
junior clerks escaping for coffee with plump legal typists,
and even this moment, perhaps, the Chairman
of the Personnel Board—meditating whether to call the County Auditor
–dolt—bindle headed ass!—for a front-page fight!
Off to the west, the red and white calla lilies
nod shyly under the tulip and locust trees
whispering like so many bored distracted gentry.
The litigants burp and wad the paper from lunch.
To the south, Miss Frances Mallom’s students
sing see-saws and ladders up in the Ridgeley.
Unchanged, in that Press Room I have by me,
Ed Strickland is busy typing out a scoop.
He’s scooping us, what do we care?
Tomorrow we’ll scoop him.
The creaky machine is flying,
cranking out the lies and appearances,
the happenings that have nothing to do
with what is really going on that you can see—
I sit there and make the novel of my memory.
We are all the plots.
Innocent of compassion or desire or greed
–see, we’ve finished, we type two stars
at the bottom of the page. Life! Life!
Captured at last, tied with an inky ribbon.
We exult and crack our heels.
Something is knocking upon our head upon the door.
Laughing, the copy boy comes in and cracks his gum.
In an interview with Steven Ford Brown, my father said, “I wrote that poem as a sort of rhapsody. A time when I was happy, young and filled with a sense of joy, humor and perversity of life. I could not experience the same events now with such a sense of flying over them. I would inevitably be drawn into the suffering which those external events signify. I would experience more of the pain. One has to choose the tone of a poem of course. This one I wanted to be a flight of joy. A memory.” Brown then described the poem as “Panoramic”, which seems extremely appropriate, like a movie camera scanning and capturing a period of time in history.
But how the heck did a poet end up working in a Birmingham Courthouse?
Having arrived late to WW2, my father had to wait to be shipped home again. Once home, he initially accepted an invitation to do graduate work at Stanford in California as part of a program run by Wallace Stegner. After six months he concluded he did not want to become a teacher, and returned to Birmingham.
Figuring the logical thing to do with his writing skills was to work for the local newspaper, he became a Junior Reporter. “Through editor Jimmy Mills, I got a job as a reporter on the old Birmingham Post, later the Post-Herald.”
Strangely enough, his first major story was one he couldn’t write.
“When Robert Frost came through for his annual reading at Birmingham Southern, he asked if someone could contact me and invite me to spend a day with him. The good Professor, who called me, was obviously baffled. Who in the world was Andrew Glaze? Why in the world would Robert Frost want to see him? Frost was notoriously impatient with younger poets, but he was kind to me, I’ve always suspected, because I never asked him to read my manuscripts. And he knew I’d never write a news feature about him. It was treacherous to my responsibilities as a reporter, but anyway, it made for a nice day.” (To learn more about my father’s relationship with Robert Frost, you can read the poem and blog entry titled, “Mr. Frost”.)
Clearly, my father worked for the Newspaper Entertainment Desk at some point. We have press photos of him interviewing both a parakeet and a movie star German Shepard. For many years my father regaled us with his story of interviewing a teenage aerialist gymnast visiting Birmingham with a Circus. “We took her up to the roof so our photographer could capture action photos of her. The next thing we knew, she hopped up onto the parapet wall and nearly gave us heart failure.”
Oddly enough, that didn’t turn out to be the end of the story. In 1971, for 9 months, I came home from dancing in Europe and joined the (no-longer existent) ballet company of Radio City Music Hall at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. “Radio City”, showed one movie at a time for several weeks, four to five times per day, and offered a live show in between movie showings. Each show had a main theme running through it and offered a mishmash of ballet, singers, guest performers of all types, and The Rockettes (a synchronized tap dance and kick line of statuesque and long legged females who are all over 5’7” tall).
Dancing at Radio City Music Hall was a quick and easy way to make extremely good money, without a long term contract, although doing 4 to 5 shows per day made it challenging to do ballet classes and stay in condition. At one point we did a circus themed show. A Las Vegas choreographer was brought in to teach us a jazz routine in which we were supposed to be tigers. Our unusual but creative costumes had stripes, headpieces with black feathers that shed all over the place, and skin toned fishnet tights. As for the rest of the show, I vaguely remember an act involving spinning plates on sticks, and then there was a trapeze aerialist. She didn’t swing on the trapeze as much as creatively and gracefully hang by one leg, one foot, one arm, one hand, and so forth, all without a net below her (granted she wasn’t more than 9 feet off the ground). Pretty, with a lovely figure, she was foreign born and very pleasant to talk to.
My parents always came to see me in each of our productions, but after this particular show my father was very animated and excited. “That’s HER! I’m sure that’s the girl I interviewed on the roof of the Birmingham Post Herald building, the one who suddenly hopped up onto the parapet!” I confirmed this with her later that week, to my father’s great satisfaction.
Life at the newspaper in Birmingham had its moments, some entirely unintentional. My mother used to tell a story of a colleague of my father’s whose name she remembered, but I do not, who was sent to write about a Mario Lanza concert in Birmingham. For some reason, he ended up downstairs or below the stage, opening doors in search of a telephone. Instead, he stumbled across a young fellow manning a tape recorder. They chatted briefly and the young man said he was playing a tape of Lanza for the performance. The reporter didn’t think much about it (my mother said he’d never been one of the brightest employees), left, wrote his story and casually mentioned the fact that a tape recorder was being used. All hell broke loose, because up to that point Mario Lanza had managed to hide the fact that he’d lost his voice and was lip syncing his concert tour. It quickly became an international scandal.
By the mid-1950’s, my father was assigned to report activities at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Some of the time he covered things like, “Beechwood Homeowners Go To Court, to block expansion of airport, by Andrew Glaze Jr, August, 1956”. But by the mid-50’s the Civil Rights Movement was evolving and Birmingham was at the heart of it. Alabama still had very specific Jim Crow laws of segregation between black and white citizens. Blacks were relegated to their own bathrooms, benches, water fountains, restaurants, the back of the public buses, and the balcony of churches that were run by whites. Having them march in large groups, day or night, even peacefully demanding to be treated as equals, was considered illegal and threatening. “Bull” Connor was a fervent anti-segregationist who held the political position of Commissioner of Public Safety, and he was arresting protesters on a constant basis. My father was reporting on these events both inside and out of the court room.
The effort to suppress Civil Rights Protesters was just as futile as the effort to keep the airport from expanding, but as part of his job, Connor was allowed oversight of both the Fire and Police Departments and he used that power to his full advantage. According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, “He became an international symbol of institutional racism. Bull Connor directed the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against civil rights activists; child protesters were also subject to these attacks. National media broadcast these tactics on television, horrifying much of the country. The outrages served as catalysts for major social and legal change in the Southern United States and contributed to passage by the United States Congress of the Civil Rights Act of 1964”.
But in the mid-1950’s, Connor could be as much of a bully as he wanted, and the Birmingham Post-Herald newspaper was one of the few places that maintained independence and complete honesty. “My boss, Duard LeGrand, the City Editor at the Post Herald, was one of the best people I’ve ever known. When my days as a courthouse reporter brushed up against the race issue, and I had to give controversial testimony, he snatched me out of what he thought might be a dangerous situation, and gave the courthouse beat to another reporter. But that couple of years was fun.”
The “controversial testimony” was as a witness to the beating of a black man, by white police. Afterwards, my father said a sheriff who was involved plaintively reproached, “Now, why did you have to go and do that Mr. Glaze?” He seemed genuinely perplexed. In 2010, a book titled, Speak Truth to Power; the story of Charles Patrick, a Civil Rights Pioneer, was written about the racial turbulence of that time and my father was interviewed both about newspaper articles from the Times-Herald at that time, and his testimony at the trial.
My parents decided this was a good time to get out of Dodge. By the following summer, we were living in New York City.
In closing, I should mention the Art Deco facade of the Jefferson County Courthouse, which has a controversy of its own. In 2010, my brother created and posted an audio recording of my father reading, “I Am The Jefferson County Courthouse” to Youtube.com. It featured a photograph of the courthouse.
One day he received a question,
“Will you tell me about the swastikas on the court house?” !!!!!!—————Swastikas??????? After a bit of research he replied: “The broken cross images on the courthouse were carved in the late 1920s and are actually a Native American symbol that was used by a tribe that had inhabited the area. The symbols were placed in tribute to that tribe.”
Considering the fact that the original Native American residents from that area were displaced to begin with, I guess the phrase, “Karma will eventually catch up” might be considered appropriate when referring to the design debacle.
The left side of the marble base on the left shows the Native American design that causes controversy, despite the fact that it was built in the 1920’s. These are the steps to the main entrance of the building, although the brass facade is a relatively new addition.
“Interview with a Parakeet”. Birmingham Post-Herald press photo, mid-1950’s. I’m pretty sure this was a parakeet that talked and belonged to an acquaintance of my father’s. I remember him talking about a parakeet that sang a popular Hank Williams song.
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.