Monday, November 22, 2021




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Arrest Fauci? - Opinion Essay by Ryan Ritchie

Arrest Fauci?

Opinion Essay by Ryan Ritchie

It took me less than a minute to find a picture of South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace standing behind a dead fish. The shot was posted July 25 on Facebook and shows the recently elected United States Representative smiling as she looks into the camera standing behind what moments earlier was a sentient being.

This photograph matters because it proves Mace is a hypocrite, the kind who bends rules for political gain. We shouldn’t be surprised. She’s a politician.

Mace isn’t alone. The hashtag “ArrestFauci” trended Sunday on Twitter after multiple media outlets reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci’s National Institutes of Health provided a grant to a Tunisian lab where dogs were reportedly tortured and killed — some had their vocal cords removed so they wouldn’t bark during the testing. According to some outlets, the supposed research involved injecting beagles with parasites that cause diseases.

If you are like Mace and the thought of dogs being tortured bothers you — good. It should. But where is Mace’s consistency? Why is she smiling in a picture of a dead fish yet killing dogs is an act that caused her and 23 colleagues to pen a letter to the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases? That fish didn’t want to be pulled from the water to sit for a photograph just like those beagles never volunteered to participate in something posing as scientific experimentation.

The answer to those questions is, of course, money. Specifically, the fact that American taxpayer dollars were spent to fund this supposed “research.”

Mace is correct. No government and no person should ever torture animals. The countless others who made “ArrestFauci” trend are also correct. If the allegations are true, Fauci should face serious consequences if he knew animals would be tortured (and if he didn’t know? That’s an equally serious offense.)

But Mace, her 23 colleagues and anyone else who made “ArrestFauci” trend have some explaining to do. What did Mace, her colleagues and those social media users have for Sunday breakfast? And for lunch? A snack? Dinner?

I’d love to think everyone involved in “ArrestFauci” is vegan, but they’re not. I know this because I’ve been vegan for approximately 18 years (vegetarian since Thanksgiving 1997) and can count on both hands — not including the thumbs — the amount of ethical plant-based eaters I consider close friends. I know plenty of pescatarians, vegetarians and whatever-atarians, but the number of people who intentionally forgo animal products because they know (emphasis on “know”) animal cruelty in all of its heinous forms is wrong is infinitesimal.

For years, research has suggested that one percent of the world’s population is vegan. It’s a start, but imagine would what happen if everyone upset about Fauci’s allegations today woke tomorrow and eschewed all animal products forever. Imagine if those same people tweeted about the well-known brands in their cabinets, dresser drawers and linen closets (do people still have those?) that do the exact horrible thing about which they are tweeting in regard to Fauci.

One good thing about “ArrestFauci” is that the hashtag has created a discussion regarding an often-overlooked part of the animal rights conversation. Last week Los Angeles Times ran eight stories about fake meats and how they are changing what’s on our plates. I’ve yet to find a vegan who doesn’t ethically support these food innovations, but anyone who tweeted “ArrestFauci” should be as upset about Clearasil, Clinique, Clorox and Comet are tested on animals — and that’s just a portion of the “C” category from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ “Beauty Without Bunnies” website — as they are about Fauci.

You want more? Try Kiehl’s, L’Oreál, Listerine, Pine-Sol, Prada, Revlon and Swiffer. And there are, sadly, plenty of other recognizable brands that do what Fauci is accused of doing.

This argument isn’t a what-aboutism. Instead, let’s ask ourselves how some people can get so upset when dogs are tortured yet days later sit in a too-long-for-fast-food In-N-Out Burger drive-thru. If you’re mad about Fauci and the dogs, be mad about all animal suffering. Tweet about the horrific ways in which cows, chickens, fish, pigs and other living creatures are exploited for human consumption, “enjoyment” and science. Look at Mace’s fish photo and stare into the dead eyes. Now look down at your plate and envision the eyes that used to be attached to whatever you’re calling a meal.

If you’re one of those people, it’s time to face a harsh reality — animal cruelty is always wrong. The good news is that you have an opportunity to stop engaging in deadly acts. Animal testing should bother you enough to take to social media and post about the horrors, but don’t be a hypocrite. There is a way to avoid these products. That way?

Go vegan.

- Ryan Ritchie is a writer from Lomita, CA. His work has been published in Rolling Stone, Vice and Los Angeles Times. He went vegetarian on Thanksgiving 1997 and has been vegan for approximately 18 years. Follow him at https://twitter.com/RyanLRitchie

                                                       Copyright©2021 by Ryan Ritchie. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Ghosts of America - Novel by Caroline Hagood - Reviewed by Mitch Levenberg

Ghosts of America by Caroline Hagood. Hanging Loose Press, 2021. ISBN: 978-1934909713. $18.00. 200 pages

Reviewed by Mitch Levenberg

Caroline Hagood’s Ghosts of America is profound, witty and entertaining. I’d call it a page turner except I never wanted to turn the page. The narrator of the novel is Norman Roth III, Herzog to his friends, great American novelist, masturbator, voyeur, writer of “literary academia, the “overweight ugly balding white guy’s tenured ticket to young tail.” Herzog represents a long line of male writers, writers like the country itself, “formed from the dusk of masculine language, language that has skewered and slighted, misrepresented and misconstrued the role and importance of women since this country’s inception. Who better then to be visited one night, a la Ebenezer Scrooge, by the ghosts of Jackie Kennedy and Valerie Solanas?  Herzog himself is a contradiction. He will gladly “jack off” to Marilyn Monroe but at the same time see something greater than the whole, greater than, as Jackie Kennedy later observes, the “blonde-haired breasts that launched American cinematic romance, but also “as complete as the end of something,” someone the “universe might transfigure her at any time.” Herzog can think about “the fluidity of existence” yet, at the same time admit “how solid it can get in the pants region.”

Herzog’s first visitor is Jackie Kennedy, his muse, his “pixie dream girl,” wife of JFK, president, Womanizer Laureate of the U.S., the man who, in his own words, “accompanied Jacquelyn Kennedy to Paris,” and later, of course, to his own assassination. Indeed, it is Jackie’s powerful narration of JFK’s assassination that sticks with me the most, that twists my own gut memory, that is rendered so terrifyingly beautiful, so painful yet poetic. The scene explodes in our minds like JFK’s own glorious mind “exploding onto Jackie’s skin.”

The writing here is truly “blood writing” at its best. According to Herzog, it’s the writer Denis Johnson, who believes that all writers should write in blood and that the more blood you write in, the more you put your life on the line. “What better way to build sentences,” Herzog states earlier, “than with our own “jets of blood,” again not his own idea, but one taken from Sylvia Plath, one of the greatest blood writers ever.

It’s truly amazing how in this gut-wrenching scene, one of the most beautifully gut-wrenching scenes I have ever read, Caroline Hagood becomes Jackie Kennedy, in both mind and body, as if she herself were in that car, as if her own life were on the line, her words, her incredible imagination evoking both the horrible and the exquisite. Here, Jackie Kennedy becomes the poet laureate of the great American Tragedy, the symbol of the blood-soaked American Dream, of Camelot, not only “deconstructed, (see the title of Herzog’s book on the Kennedys) but destroyed. JFK is Lancelot, his brain bleeding out in the back of that “midnight blue” limo, dripping on a pink dress which only a few hours earlier glittered with hope and promise in, of all places, Love Field. As Jackie says, “That part of his head that wasn’t blown away was so exquisite. I tried to hold it all together. If I could just reclaim the bits of him, all would suddenly be whole.”

Herzog’s next visitor is the ghost of Valerie Solanas, famous for shooting Andy Warhol, but not for killing him. “I’m going to teach you,” she says to Herzog, “how to write a woman.” For sure she is the scarier of the two ghosts, the bad one as in good ghost, bad ghost:  loud, brash, unapologetic, wild-eyed, sloppy, soiled, hungry, (she raids Herzog’s fridge) a “crazy pants,” a “bimbo psychopath,” and in Norman Mailer’s words (see “Norman” as in Norman Roth III) “The Robespierre of Feminism.” She’s also the author of the SCUM Manifesto and the play “Up Your Ass,” titles that don’t exactly roll off the tongue, but who needs tongues? Solanas tells Herzog Ovid’s story of Philomela, imprisoned, raped and tortured by King Tereus who rips out her tongue so she can never tell her story, yet she does anyway by weaving it with purple yarn into a tapestry. She becomes the artist weaving her words, her actions, her very existence into the world. Tongue or no tongue, she cannot and will not be silenced.

This is not a linear book; it is not plot, but premise. It is a tapestry of plots and subplots, a concentric circle of stories within stories. Valerie Solana telling Herzog her story vis a vis Ovid’s story of Philomela and Tereus so flawlessly weaved by the author into this crazy quilt of a novel, “crazy” in this case meaning parts or isolated fragments of things comprising the whole of something. Indeed, this novel reflects the mind itself broken up into many minds. I often felt as if I were not only experiencing what was happening outside a character’s mind, that is by words and actions, but inside it as well. In Jackie’s mind, I am tormented; my heart breaks, I feel the burden of history, its violence and brutality, its poetry and beauty, its possibilities for redemption. I feel sad and frustrated. I feel beautiful and bloody. I like the feeling of haunting Herzog with dignity and class. I like this mind and want to stay for a while. I want to keep trying, haunted still by childhood memories of Humpty Dumpty, to put JFK’s brain back together again.

Inside Valerie Solanas’ mind, I feel pissed and anxious and vengeful but knowing I’m a bad shot, instead of a bullet, I try out my poor swollen tongue, my  against that bastard Herzog. As for Herzog’s mind, I am in it from the very beginning of the novel. At first, I must step over empty whiskey bottles and look lustfully through women’s legs; mirrors are only to look at bodies, to pleasure myself, my mind is only to misconstrue and degrade others, especially women, my heart is to deceive, to hide, to secretly despise myself and others. I enter a room where the floors and walls are sticky, filthy and dark. There is loud, cacophonous music piercing my ear drums. There are shelves lined with decaying books, all containing distorted, misleading words about women. Then, suddenly I turn into another room, clean and bright and filled with blank canvases, with art waiting to be created, with empty shelves waiting to be lined with books dripping with truth and historical accuracy. Finally, and most refreshingly, there are new, blank notebooks waiting to be filled. I feel hopeful. I sense change, redemption.

Herzog’s is the representative mind, the Motherboard where in the end all the other minds will merge to form a new and enlightened mind. We can’t help wonder if he’s willing to take in all these other minds, to change, to experience a metamorphosis. He certainly has a long way to go but he’s willing to do it, to plunge finally into a woman’s mind rather than her body. Now in this new incarnation of his mind he has wild, uncertain dreams. He speeds through women’s bodies turned into tunnels. He goes on a Mecca to Coney Island where he rides the Wonder Wheel and observes a hungry three-legged dog, a final, symbolic descent into the underworld, perhaps before his ultimate transcendence.

For Herzog, this is not just a physical Metamorphosis where he wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into an insect, or a butterfly and still thinks like a man or a caterpillar, but it is a Metamorphosis of the mind and spirit, where Herzog must turn the world upside down, as Jove does in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, where” the Dolphins climb trees, and mermaids stare in wonder at cities now underwater.”

Indeed, Caroline Hagood’s ability to merge the real and the imagined is remarkable. This novel is so well balanced, so flawlessly navigated in what seems to be an unbalanceable, unnavigable world. It is rich in language, in metaphor, it blends, mixes, merges almost everything, the living and the dead, mythology, history, and contemporary culture. At times it can be heavy and dark, but just as often can be funny and satirical. And then there are the ghosts, wonderful, enlightened, beautiful ghosts I can listen to forever. And as for the novel ending in a bang or a whimper, there is neither, but instead there is a “sharp inhale, the heart flutter, then a shot of warmth, then some kind of quiet.”

Monday, August 16, 2021

Poems on Waiting by Isabel Rimanoczy

“The Wait” By Isabel Rimanoczy

The wait
is a sacred time
magic, outside of time.
It’s a parenthesis
sketched with our hands
(the hands of the soul).
It’s funny, the wait…
Because it’s a space we fill
with void,
and it’s time we empty
of content.
It’s just that: a wait.
The silence between two events.

Certainly, sometimes
it’s anxiety, impatience,
uncertainty, angst and pain.
But this happens because
we aren’t able to see
its sacred essence.
It’s the denial
of the wait’s being:
To think that it’s the moment
that shouldn’t exist,
that should be filled
with what will come next.

But if you’re able
to listen to the wait
like you hear the voice
of silence
you will be able to enjoy it
and allow yourself to be
in the wait,
simply being.


“Waiting” By Isabel Rimanoczy

Waiting
What a wonderful state
Where one doesn’t have anything
To do
Waiting,
Is letting life low
Letting it come and find us
Surround us, lift us up
Take us along, rock us,
And then drop us
In a new place.

Ah, waiting, miracle and gift
That i sometimes misunderstand
When my ego
Thinks it has to control
Whatever happens.

A present from the skies
An allowed limbo
Time to float.
Parenthesis
That I want to learn to extend
So that my plans
And my attempts to control
Become, them,
The brief parenthesis
Between one wait and another wait.

- Isabel Rimanoczy, Ph.D. is a professor of sustainability studies and the author of The Sustainability Mindset Principles (Routledge 2021). The poems here are reprinted by permission from her book called Exploring My Soul. Visit her website, here: https://isabelrimanoczy.net/

Copyright©2021 by Isabel Rimanoczy. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 9, 2021

"Digging A Moose From The Snow" by Skaidrite Stelzer - Book Review by Tija Spitsberg

Skaidrite Stelzer, Digging a Moose from the Snow. Finishing Line Press, 2021. $14.99 U.S. 38 pages, paperback. ISBN: 978-1646624553 

Reviewed by Tija Spitsberg

 

In the poetry collection Digging a Moose from the Snow by Skaidrite Stelzer, the speaker ultimately draws the conclusion that we are all animals participating in shaping our shared landscape and seeking solutions to secure our survival. The opening poem serves as a preamble introducing the speaker of the poems by recalling a warning she receives from the “Pirushke lady” – a wise old sage who predicts the “fatal decline, spiraling toward death...In a few years your arches will fall/your feet grow hooved/toes become turtles/your husband will leave.”

 

What follows is a series of poems, each describing the trajectory from birth to death, linking our demise to the universal experience of all creatures; but there are glimmers of hope, especially for our children who approach the world with optimism. In “Cicada Shells,” “the granddaughters string them into long necklaces before they learn their fear of bugs, predicting the inevitable end of innocence.” The closing poem, “The First to Die,” suggests that we are losing the battle, yet also clings to possible redemption in the next generation, our children. “The forest now a pile of tender sticks/All color lost, white bone beneath the sea/Still children look for stars within the rifts/The first to die will be the coral reef.” This, however, is undercut by the final line, dictated by its form, the Villanelle, where the repetition of the final line is determined by its form: “The first to die will be the coral reef.”  

 

Death comes to all of us, but we struggle to evade and delay its reality. In the title poem “Digging a moose from the snow” the struggle for survival is explored through the personification of the moose who “now knows we are animal/surviving/all of us/as best we can.” A “moose in a snowbank” emerges as the central symbol for our struggle to survive. This image solidifies the position the speaker of the poem takes in regard to the human condition: “the world is cruel/a world that will kill us (it’s true.)” But like the moose, “we must move against the snow banks/dig deeper than we believe…surviving all of us as best we can.”

 

These poems contemplate death and loss, as well as displacement and the salvation and pain of memory. Stelzer nimbly navigates this terrain as she explores these challenges through the use of fantasy, humor and sudden bursts of surrealism to deftly explore the natural world.


Copyright©2021 by Tija Spitsberg All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Tribute to Kriben Pillay by Vaneshran Arumugam


Editor’s note: What follows is a tribute to Professor Kriben Pillay, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, who passed away in December 2020, from his nephew, Royal Shakespeare Company actor and Fulbright Scholar, Vaneshran Arumugam.

“I have known Kriben Pillay my entire life. He was a storyteller through his writing and teaching, an avid seeker through his study, research and spiritual quest for understanding and self-mastery. He is my mother’s eldest brother and I have watched him since my own childhood in the 70’s, when South Africa was a battleground, as a student, as a teacher, as an activist, as a rebel. The rules seemed to stretch to fit where he was headed. He travelled the world, met with luminaries such as J. Krishnamurti, wrote books and songs, mounted plays and productions, mentored artists and academics.

When days were darkest, with violence in our home, uncle Kriben made it his responsibility to be present. He was a family man and a connector of people and stories, which became apparent at any of the gatherings that he would orchestrate or preside over, a master of ceremony and a Joker extraordinaire.

Articulate and intelligent, his wit belied his consummate readiness to be silly and to enjoy above all the company of children (I was the first, and my own daughter the last in the family to know this)
We riffed together on many ideas and worked together on writing and productions and performances, and I feel that I had a glimpse into every facet of his diamond personality – vast, containing multitudes. He pointed me to Whitman, amongst many things.

Let me point you to him now, his award-winning poetry and writings, his legacy as a teacher and learner, his indelible influence as a father, son, brother, uncle...friend.”

“Owed to uncle Kriben”

you were always there
like how the moon is

together we did not grow up
though you could play the part quite convincingly
you always let me inside the story

I feel we were always in mid-conversation, few conversations at a time
sometimes few words
looking for a laugh with no excuse
- that irresistible one -
like when a plastic patio chair breaks in super slowmo, delivering a chunky challenger to the ground
or a piece of snot pokes impertinently out of a sincere testimonial’s nose
or, indeed, when a man of esteemed physical prowess trippingly flails his arms at the edge of a wedding stage like the Warner Bros coyote, very nearly almost regaining balance
before taking an almighty backward swan-dive into the grassy deck below, feet in the air.

I wish I could see you watch that moment, because watching you really laugh was a pleasure of the most involuntary proportions and the definition of giddy

We all laughed when you laughed.
by the way, everyone is still amazed by you.
Even if they think they knew the punchline. It hasn’t quite stuck yet that you are light years inside of us now
eternally close
beyond reach

you always hinted at that

times are hard and the chocolates have gotten smaller
and we saw some of the very worst together, arm in arm
father and son sometimes brothers sometimes
but you snuck magic into the jail and it disappeared in the most impossible times

but now is a time for gratitude
as the Phoenix durga rides her tiger into victorious battle against the demon lord and all odds
as the Twofold Tamil Rule in a just world mind rises
as the Cosmic Koeksuster improbably holds to its celestial choreography
and we realise our captaincy
O
great one
you introduced me to the harmonica and telling stories and mastering the Forces
I do these things now, singing my song
they call me uncle someplaces

I was once the apprentice to your sorcery, sir

seeking and taste for truth we shared
that blossoms in me and I’m addicted to its fragrance
you still learn me to see

Like the moon
you are still here even when the sun is out, besieging

dispelling the darkness
when the cool night comes

aum namah shivaya, you’re in our songs
aum namah shivaya, you’re on your way
aum namah shivaya, your turn to play



Copyright©2021 by Vaneshran Arumugam. All Rights Reserved.


Saturday, April 17, 2021

Review of Damian Kim's book Cherish the Invisible Mind

Cherish the Invisible Mind: A Plan to Heal Humanity by Defeating Narcissism andNeurosis. Damian B. Kim, M.D. Braugler Books. ISBN: 978-1970063837. $19.99US. Paper. 142 pages.

Dr. Damian B. Kim is a healer, and his words of wisdom in his new book Cherish the Invisible Mind offer sound guidance in our age of mental health crises. The book is excellently written, engaging, and well organized. Drawing on a number of scientific studies and psychological theories, as well as his own vast clinical experience, Dr. Kim tackles a range of problems and offers a number of solutions. For instance, narcissism and ego-centrism found among many younger Americans is leading to high expectations unfulfilled, competitiveness, and hence loneliness, depression, and even acts of suicide. Overall, Dr. Kim’s book is a succinct but commanding appraisal of and relevant response to a host of mental health disorders, ranging from anxiety and depression to drug abuse and violence, plaguing the American mind today.

As a highly-trained psychiatrist, Dr. Kim sees that some neuroses can be cultural; that is, mental health can be negatively affected or triggered by social conditions immersing people, often unwittingly, in a materialistic and power oriented society. This predicament is then compounded, Dr. Kim goes on, by professionally trained counselors who miss the cues or provide a failing treatment. With a focus on millennials, Dr. Kim’s head and heart are in the right place: he cares about the future of Americans and the U.S. This honest approach has not, of course, been embraced by all his peers, as he is the first to admit.

In an age of rampant psychiatric medications, Dr. Kim believes the source of people’s problems should be treated using psychotherapy whenever possible. A major concern of Dr. Kim is the rise of suicide rates in the U.S., perhaps because, not to oversimplify, the comfort of the body (using medicines and technology) has taken pride of place over the health of mind (using talk therapy). So Dr. Kim, as implied in the title of his book, seeks to penetrate and renew the unconscious mind which can often take a pernicious grip on one’s life with baneful results. This is more of a qualitative rather than a quantitative approach and hence, today, often ignored by many professionals though quite useful. At the same time, the unconscious mind can be a wellspring of sustenance if properly recognized, gently cared for, and ably negotiated. That’s the area of Dr. Kim’s expertise.

Dr. Kim rightly draws an analogy between the deteriorating and widespread harms of neuroses to a pandemic virus spiraling out of control, also unseen and destructive. Oddly, part of the cause for the spread of neuroses, he suggests, is capitalistic technology meant to make life easy and enjoyable, since it draws people apart and distracts them away from mindfulness and empathy. This book is a profound assessment of the current and at times superficial practices of psychiatry and yet an eloquent antidote to this profession’s shortcomings. Dr. Kim’s emphasis on character (using theory from Karen Horney) and interpersonal relationships correctly asks that contemporary people, especially the younger generations who will eventually be in control of government and the economy, engage in self-discovery. Some people might require professional therapy to do so, but the investment in self-understanding in a community of others is of paramount importance to Dr. Kim.

How do we solve these individual and social problems? There are some remedies that don’t require medication: education to increase knowledge of neuroses; meditation to help one come to grips with the self and comprehend the inner experience; psychotherapy, if required. In other words, answers to these problems are not necessarily in technology, more possessions, or competition among others but in acceptance and understanding of the unconscious mind. I found this book easy to read, enjoyable, and informative; it provides valuable guideposts to the future, and I recommend it to all students of psychology.

- Gregory F. Tague, Ph.D., professor, departments of Literature, Writing and Publishing / Interdisciplinary Studies, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Four Remembrances of Greg Trupiano


Gregory Trupiano—December 13, 1955 – February 18, 2020.

Greg Trupiano, born in Brooklyn, New York, passed away suddenly in February, 2020. He was Director of Artistic Administration at Sarasota Opera in Florida. He worked there for 33 seasons while maintaining his residence in Brooklyn. Mr. Trupiano made tremendous contributions to the arts community, especially in New York City. He assisted and consulted with several opera and theatre companies and worked various theatre jobs around the City from stage manager to producer to director. Greg’s lifelong passion for and knowledge of Walt Whitman inspired him to launch the Walt Whitman Project, devoted to the performance of Whitman’s words to the public. [Photo credit, Matthew Holler]

I

A man of contrasts. This personality trait enabled Greg intellectually and emotionally to take in Walt Whitman, the history of a nation, New York City, and particularly Brooklyn. Juggling overwhelming concepts?!  No problem, Greg fearlessly rushed right into the middle and then managed to step into the light of truth. Being with Greg when he uncovered a fact that didn’t fit logically or hearing him tell stories that on the surface didn’t make sense, Greg would notice my furrowed brow. He would pause with a disarming, sly smile, eyes wide with pleasure. He radiated calmness as if to say, life is complex, it’s okay, together we move forward. He possessed clarity. 

Working with Greg was a joy. He was cheerful and prepared. Everyone who associated with Greg knew about his high professional standards and formidable organization skills, skills needed to bring a new opera to life. When Greg was not immersed in American Opera Project’s risky ventures, or in a NYC theatre project, he was an expert in realistic restagings of 19th century Italian grand opera.

Greg taught me about operatically trained voices. He had a command of the technical aspects and could evaluate superior qualities in a human voice. When we finished auditions at AOP headquarters or perhaps after an evening performance, we frequently went to a diner—Greg was familiar with diners in every dark corner of the city—and it was fun and illuminating to compare notes and catch up about concerts and operas that we had attended. For hours we could discuss composers, rising vocal talents, iconoclastic productions, international opera trends, and on and on. Greg had the latest news about singers coming onto the scene, operas premiering around the country (and in Europe), and the gossip about opera powerbrokers, who was in, and who was out (in every meaning of the phrase).

Given Greg’s vast knowledge about opera’s cutting edge, to me it seemed a mistake that Greg was not employed by the big NYC opera companies. At AOP, he volunteered on projects for years, generously returning his small fees to the company. It often struck me as incongruous that his main work was at a conservative opera company in Sarasota, Florida, a “snowbird” resort town, known for programming traditional “warhorse” operas.

At AOP, Greg’s satisfaction came from developing operas from the ground up, for example, Paula Kimper and Wende Persons’ Patience & Sarah, which premiered at the Lincoln Center Festival in 1998. (Anne Whitehouse was part of our team, too.) Through The Walt Whitman Project, which he founded with Lon Black, Greg established a successful track record of producing poetry in outdoor settings, finding a home base at Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park, a landmark park that lists Walt Whitman among its founders. 

Greg continued to surprise me after more than thirty years. There was always new information coming from him: deeper, more multi-layered understandings of history and tradition, which bore fruit in Sarasota Opera’s Verdi productions. Greg possessed the spirit for the clash of opposing forces and shared his passion with anyone who would listen, in a theater lobby or on a neighborhood sidewalk. His sensitivity and empathy convinced skeptics of the power of poetry and avant-garde music theatre. In casual conversations, Greg generously revealed himself to others and teased out a commonality of interests. Every day I remember and try to use this tool.

-Charles Jarden, Director of Strategic Planning, American Opera Projects

II

I’ve never known anyone like Greg Trupiano, and I don’t expect I ever shall. We met when I joined American Opera Projects in 1995. The programs Greg conceived for American Opera Projects were original, innovative, and memorable. Conversations with Greg about music—genres, compositions, composers, performers, productions—fascinated me. He helped me to become a more discerning listener. 

As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of his character Jay Gatsby, Greg sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. Much of his learning and expertise was self-acquired. He was the most knowledgeable person about music, Walt Whitman, and the history of Brooklyn that I have ever met. He founded the Walt Whitman Project to realize his dream of awakening today’s readers to the beauty and humanity of Whitman’s writing and to connect Whitman’s New York to the current metropolis. Greg’s walking tours of Fort Greene Park and the Prison Ship Monument and Walt Whitman’s Brooklyn are the best walking tours I ever took, enriched by his encyclopedic knowledge and enlivened by the inclusion of musical performances and readings and prints and photographs depicting the sites we were visiting in times gone by. Like opera singers, Greg eschewed microphones on these tours, and for our edification and amusement, he corrected the errors on the historical plaques. 

For decades, Greg kept to a set routine, dividing his year between Sarasota and New York City. At the Sarasota Opera, he nurtured many careers and was devoted to the summer opera camp he began for children. Despite his learning, Greg was never pedantic. He was modest and disinclined to talk about himself. He had a genuine interest in others. Aside from his long-distance commutes between New York City and Sarasota, he rarely traveled anywhere, and yet he was one of the most open-minded and least provincial people I have ever encountered. 

He had simple tastes. He liked diners and Chinese restaurants. Other than books and music, he did not acquire possessions. His devotions were deep and sustaining. He could be counted on to be punctual. He showed up and forged connections between like-minded people in different artistic communities. His programming was diverse before diversity became a goal. In recent years, he was increasingly committed to education and young people.

As Greg nurtured the careers of many singers, he helped me become a better performer of my own work. Participating in his Walt Whitman programs, I noticed that the singers were invariably better readers than the writers. They came prepared and rehearsed, whereas the writers winged it, and the results showed. I began to understand the many connections between singing and speaking, and I tried to think as a singer when preparing for a reading of my work. When I give a reading, I think of Greg. It is a way for me to keep him with me as a sustaining spirit.                    

-Anne Whitehouse, writer and former Development Consultant, American Opera Projects

III 

Trupiano. That’s how Greg Trupiano signed every missive to me, never Greg. As if we were on a high stakes mission together. And indeed we were. There was a lot to do and time was of the essence. Trupiano was my comrade on a trajectory to, as Whitman would say, “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!”  

Trupiano was an Advisory Board member of Compagnia de’ Colombari and, signing on to that role, he became a rare friend to me, to Compagnia de’ Colombari and to all the projects including More Or Less I Am, the opera Judith, The Merchant of Venice and all the others. He listened hard to all of us at board meetings. Civility and practical wisdom marked his every contribution to the company, but nothing replaced his particular joy at witnessing the performances of the actors and singers themselves. They were the heart of the company and their presence was paramount to him. 

The Whitman Project was Trupiano’s “urge and urge and urge, always the procreant urge” in which he single handedly brought Walt Whitman into the consciousness of New Yorkers as a force to be reckoned with. In a persistent grassroots movement, he led countless tours of folk around the many neighborhoods of Brooklyn, freely offering knowledge of Whitman and New York history. His lucky auditors always left these itinerant gatherings ecstatic: deepened in their knowledge and renewed in their New York citizenship. If it were up to me, I would designate Trupiano a New York landmark.

Trupiano’s other great love was the opera: he was Associate Artistic Director at the Sarasota Opera where his knowledge was indispensable and where he galvanized a great variety of singers. He was a go-to repository of all things operatic and theatrical. Yet, making connections and bringing people together to serve shared missions was of greatest delight to him. A democratic soul, he relished meeting people, more than anybody I know and, remarkably, kept everyone’s name and history perfectly unmuddled. 

Words mattered to Trupiano. If we spoke of something happening, he always kept his word, a surefire bond in a slippery time. I was a beneficiary of that integrity and attention. When Greg Trupiano left us suddenly in February 2020, I was struck by the vast resounding silence his absence carved. Yet just now, now, I begin to hear him challenging and encouraging us all in this extraordinary American moment—along with his beloved Walt, “What is known I strip away….I launch all men and women forward with me into the unknown.” 

-Karin Coonrod, Founding Director of Compagnia de’ Colombari

IV

Two of the most important events of my life happened in 1981. In May, I moved to New York City. Three months later, August 15, 1981, I met Greg Trupiano. We were at a theatre party in the East Village. This wasn’t a love at first sight story, but within a year our relationship evolved into something beautiful and Whitmanic that lasted 38 years. August 15 became our anniversary date. To Greg, the Ides of August.

On my first day in New York, I knew I was finally home. Then Greg appeared and became my custom Welcome Wagon. He was a native Brooklynite, he loved his city, and he was eager to show it to me. “He was a welcoming presence” wrote a friend after his passing. What made him so welcoming? These other descriptors used in tributes to Greg will explain: kind, gentle, respectful, compassionate, trustworthy, supportive, generous, inspiring, funny, professional, organized, smart, a treasure, a true gentleman, an incredible human, a true ray of sunshine, a class act, one-of-a-kind.

In our early years, we were together all the time, working at the same job during the day (William Morrow Publishers), rehearsing plays together (me acting, Greg directing), and seeing performances together (theatre, opera, cabaret, film). For most of the 1980s, we were in a theatre or opera house an average of 5 times a week. Broadway, Off- and Off-Off- Broadway, The Met, New York City Opera.

We wandered the city together. We visited the popular touristy and sought the obscure. Many of our jaunts were in Downtown Manhattan and the West Side when Battery Park City was just landfill. 

In the late 1980s Greg started getting out-of-town jobs in opera so we’d be apart for up to 5 months in a year. For 33 years, Greg worked at Sarasota Opera in Florida and was a vital force there as Director of Artistic Administration.

We managed these relationship fluctuations with ease which was a testament to the strength of our partnership.

Greg was a fervent Walt Whitman ambassador. He loved people. He created community. He had a zest and reverence for life. He embraced Whitman’s words on democracy and the spirit of America.

In 2000 Greg launched The Walt Whitman Project. We produced readings, tours and related events. Greg’s specialty was Whitman during his Brooklyn years. He created tours of Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights and Fort Greene Park. We commissioned composers to create music based on, or using, Whitman’s words. Greg’s intention was to bring the words of Whitman, spoken and sung, to the people. It was an expression of his celebration of life that he shared with Walt.

There were some sticky years in Greg’s health story. He almost succumbed to a subdural hematoma in 2014. In July 2017, Greg began a new chemotherapy regimen for chronic lymphocytic leukemia that he had been managing since 2004. As a result, he regained a vibrancy not experienced in several years. His death in February 2020 was sudden and unexpected.

It was easy for Greg to bolster people’s spirits. He freely gave moral support and career guidance. He was a good listener. He could make you feel safe and quickly garner your trust. It made him a positive force for so many people. I was a fortunate recipient…24/7. 

I’m still receiving. I was always intrigued by the final, periodless line in Song of Myself, and after Greg’s passing it has even more significance.

“I stop some where waiting for you”
                  

-Lon Black, Greg’s life partner and Artistic Director of The Walt Whitman Project


Friday, October 16, 2020

Evan Nicholls on Poetry by Anne Whitehouse

Review: Outside From the Inside (Dos Madres Press, 2020) by Anne Whitehouse. Loveland, OH. 122 pages. $19.00 U.S. ISBN: 978-1-948017-96-1.

Anne Whitehouse’s new book of poetry, Outside From the Inside, is a many-legged thing. Maybe, it’s something like Whitman’s spider, launching “filament, filament, filament, out of itself.” Or maybe, that is an overly dramatic comparison. Whatever description you like, what you need to know is that this book revolves around the body and its place. Also, the body and its person. Whitehouse explores these topics through a handful of forms – free verse, the odd cento, more – offering a generous 95 pages of poetry.

Of course, there are plenty of details I found myself savoring throughout the collection. Always, I love a book with good sectioning (Whitehouse divides her work into four parts). I also admired Outside’s embrace of often-times clinical language – this occurring in the first section, “Tides of the Body.” In one poem, the poet lauds the anconeus and popliteus muscles as if they were Greek heroes. Above all, though, my interest was piqued by Whitehouse’s forays into persona.

The second section of Outside, entitled “It Wasn’t A Hallucination,” (one of my favorite titles) is where the bulk of this work happens. In the book, Whitehouse inhabits the voices of Carlos Santana and the prolific sculptor Isamu Noguchi, among others. This last instance is the title poem of the book.

As someone with a real soft spot for Noguchi’s work, it was a pleasant surprise to find his voice inhabited inside. Moreover, the poem is an epistolary gem – a reimaging of a letter from Noguchi to Man Ray. [Editor: Whitehouse explains the genesis of the poem in an interview.] But – maybe this is of note – I also began reading it with a healthy dose of skepticism. Persona requires a great amount of care: it is never not a balancing act. Soon enough, though, I found “Outside From the Inside” to be full of care. It is also timely, placing Noguchi back in the Poston camp in Arizona during Japanese American internment, reminding us now of the current detention camp crisis at the border.

Considering Noguchi’s work, too, it becomes easy to draw conclusions on how the artist’s contemplative style may have influenced Whitehouse in piecing this collection together. Lines like “Here, there is a memory / of ancient places, / wind and sun, endlessness, / where I came from, / and where I will go. ...” align with both Noguchi’s expression of wind, flight and movement as well as the core mood of the book – a poetics wrapped up in being placed by moments. Emphasizing this paradoxy – in the sense that moments always seem to pick up and move on – “Outside From the Inside” ends on a nicely juxtaposed note, placing the small alongside the large: “Oh, for an orange, / Oh, for the sea.” Whitehouse borrows these lines from the real Noguchi letter. It is in details like this where I think Whitehouse is most successful.

Other poems worth mentioning from the book include “Salt-Rising Bread”, which tracks the life of an ancient recipe, and “Koko and Robin”, which is an imagining of the relationship between the late Robin Williams and Koko, the gorilla who was famous for her command of American Sign Language (ASL). But, maybe what will appeal to some readers the most – especially casual readers of poetry – are Outside’s quieter, brief poems (of which there are plenty). “Balm” is one of these.

In the days of Instagram poetry, it’s comforting to come across short poems that deal their cards quickly but don’t leave you feeling cheated. While it was not always my specific taste, Outside From the Inside never left me feeling cheated. Instead, a little more placed, on “a gray road like a fallen ribbon.”

- Evan Nicholls is a graduate of James Madison University and has poetry appearing or forthcoming in Guesthouse, Sporklet, DIAGRAM, Hobart and Yalobusha Review, among others. He was raised in the peach, fox, horse and wine country of Fauquier County, Virginia. He tweets at @nicholls_evan.

Copyright©2020 by Evan Nicholls. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

"Disintegration" by S.E. Soldwedel - A Review by Carlo Alvaro


More than a Story, a Literary ‘Singularity’

By Carlo Alvaro


Disintegration by S.E. Soldwedel. Inkshares (2019). Paperback 412 pages, $ 14.71.

On its surface, S.E. Soldwedel’s Disintegration seems a series of interweaving adventure tales. They take place in an indefinite future. The adroit narrative leaves the reader free to interpret. To one, it may be a traditional, hard-boiled sci-fi story that at times is reminiscent of Aliens and Blade Runner. To another, it may be a perverse hallucination akin to Jacob’s Ladder or In the Mouth of Madness. It is both cinematic and literary at once.

Soldwedel doesn’t moralize. He doesn’t indict his own characters. He lets them damn or redeem themselves—often both, in one order or the other. We could say that we don’t know what he intended, but it seems a conscious choice to allow the reader to project his or her paradigm. The way we think affects the way we perceive the media we consume. Soldwedel understands the subjectivity of perception, and he exploits it to create a rich, ambitious tale rife with moral ambiguity.

There is no singular protagonist. Instead, this is an ensemble drama. Soldwedel skillfully interweaves these storylines without dropping any threads. The brevity of certain chapters and a lengthy hiatus of one storyline only add mystery and pique intrigue. This aspect of the book is the one that I like most. Why settle for a simple, comfortable story? Rather, Soldwedel’s tale is the literary equivalent of taking a trip through a wormhole: terrifying, fascinating, compelling! While an Einstein-Rosen Bridge underpins the entire premise, he sends the reader through a series of figurative portals to arrive at surprising but satisfying destinations. We travel these warped paths with the various characters, feel their discomfort, experience their perversion and, in a few cases, their redemption.

In this text, I see subversion. At the same moment a misogynist might revel in depictions of violence, a more discerning reader would recognize that the heroes of this book are, in fact, its women. Soldwedel’s lens unflinchingly examines things from which most people would prefer to turn away. He seems to be saying that, yes, humanity is capable of great ugliness but the only way to confront it is to pay dutiful witness to the evils that we perpetrate. What good does it do us to ignore them? He posits that our champions should be those who have experienced abuse, know trauma, and have persevered despite. And who—rather than continue the cycle—lash out at the engines of oppression that churn out the men and women who perpetrate such abuse.

One character, Ada, is a counselor by trade and she is the most emotionally intelligent of all the players. Even still, she is averse to commitment, polyamorous, and bisexual. Further, neither her sexuality nor that of any of the characters is played for titillation. Instead, Soldwedel uses sex to develop the characters—to reveal how they act at their most vulnerable, and how they prey upon or protect the vulnerabilities of others. By some estimations, Ada might be considered a “minor” character, but her influence upon multiple “major” and “minor” characters is so profound that I consider her one of the most important figures. She is, in many ways, the conscience of the book.

Playing with and against Ada is Carina, an Algerian refugee turned soldier, whose late, French father served in the same military. Carina smolders with rage borne of trauma, and of resentment that she had to pretend to be French to join the martial empire that she reluctantly serves. One of the many striking things about her is her size. Soldwedel describes her to be over six-feet tall and powerfully built, enough to dwarf many of the men she encounters. She also presents as a militant, misandrist homosexual, but is so beautiful that the men around her refuse to withhold their “appreciation.” It’s a fitting anecdote for where we find ourselves, at present. It can be read as an endorsement of certain trends, but the author doesn’t vilify the villains of that paradigm. Instead, the narrator is neutral. The characters speak for themselves, and even the bad actors are permitted their moments of nuance, exhibiting even beneficence and empathy.

Though rife with coarse language, there is beauty and elegance in the prose. The narrator is not just neutral but erudite, whereas the characters are as aberrant and multifaceted as real people. Soldwedel’s creations are so credible as to seem real—even those who are not human. The aliens are allegorical, though not in a trite way. The author knows the razor’s edge upon which dance such trappings of science fiction, and he manages to keep them balanced. They neither fall off one side into the absurd, nor off the other into belabored self-consciousness.

Disintegration is the work of a writer who understands craft and that all contrivances are products of ego. Yet, it is rare for a debut author to have seemingly barred his ego a place in the narrative. At the very least, he’s prevented it from infecting the book with the sort of obvious wish-fulfillment that damns the early work of so many writers. As such, the novel appears to be a labor that has undergone many iterations. Parts of it indicate a certain brash youthfulness, which might to some audiences seem puerile. Other parts—the characterizations—boast deep understanding of the human condition.

I won’t leave you without a taste of the plot itself. The back cover tells us of a world in disarray, the victim of a long conflict that hints at an immortal architect, which imbues the fiction with an element of the fantastic. It then teases a plan to restore order, but not before an assassination. There are elements of political intrigue, global war, and personal betrayals. It’s an ambitious work. But it works. What holds it together are its well-drawn and eminently relatable characters, even those whom you may wish not to like. I look forward to Soldwedel’s further output. A debut of this caliber promises even greater things to come.

- Dr. Carlo Alvaro has been teaching philosophy at New York City College of Technology of the City University of New York since 2011. He has also taught at St. Francis College and at Kean University. He’s the author of Ethical Veganism (2019) and Raw Veganism (forthcoming, 2020).

Copyright©2019 by Carlo Alvaro, All Rights Reserved


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Songs of Story Men - Vaneshran Arumugam and Emmanuel Castis

Vaneshran Arumugam (left) and Emmanuel Castis (right)

ON Saturday, 28 September we held the fourth Moral Sense Colloquium, which focused on cross cultural morality, human and animal. As part of the program, two seasoned actors and musicians from South Africa, Vaneshran Arumugam and Emmanuel Castis performed their work, SONGS OF STORY MEN. We witnessed a moving, multicultural feast that weaved a story of two men and one shared love in New York. There was tension, conflict, and yet above all brotherhood. Everything was told through a medley of crisp song and sprightly movement, a sharing of tones through the textures of a steel-string guitar and a nylon-string guitar. Every moment of the performance was well orchestrated to achieve maximum effect. There was Indian chanting and yoga-like rhythms along with light shared from one man to another. Words consisted of texts from Shakespeare to popular songs. The audience was engaged in part of the performance, and everyone I spoke to afterward confirmed having a deeply satisfying experience. I know I did. The lighting and sound engineer was Guy de Lancey.

Among the many guiding questions of the Colloquium, here are a few that would have been addressed by Songs of Story Men: What is cross-cultural morality? What principles and standards of behavior are shared among cultures? How do values, beliefs, and practices differ among cultures? And as Charles Darwin says, in The Descent of Man, “The following proposition seems to me in a high degree probable – namely, that any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well developed, or nearly as well developed, as in man.” Today we’d say “humankind” and not “man,” but the point is that Vaneshran Arumugam and Emmanuel Castis, through their artistry of words, music, and song, epitomize the type of universal moral sense, evident even among animal species, Darwin alludes to.

IN their own words, here’s a bit of what Arumugam and Castis say, put together especially for the event program by their colleague and manager, Jacqueline Acres, of Sixface Creatives: “Songs of Story Men is an experiential meditation on cultural relationships and story. It aims to incite the imagination and evoke the emotions of the audience into drawing together different musical, literary and performance styles and techniques into a cohesive “narrative.” The piece aims to present a thinking, feeling platform for experiencing one’s own reflections and glimmers of memory... The creation and curation of content is evolving and arises from and in response to the actual life experience of the performers, as men, as children of immigrants, as Africans... and as storytellers.”

About The Performers.

Vaneshran Arumugam is a veteran of the South African and International independent film scene, and a film maker in his own right with the independent offbeat hit, “Actorholic.” On stage, he has played the part of parts – Hamlet – for the Royal Shakespeare Company in England, while in South Africa he has become the very image of Othello gracing the cover of the Oxford University press edition of the play. Vaneshran graduated with a Master’s degree in Consciousness in Performance as a Ford Fellow in 2008, which first brought him to New York where he studied at Columbia University under Kristin Linklater. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Residence at St. Francis College in 2013, teaching and performing. Vaneshran and his wife Jacqueline have been selected as a winner in the competitive global social innovation challenge 2019 (Civil Society Academy) in recognition of their innovative vision for the arts in social design, Living University.

Emmanuel Castis became a household name through his character Steve in the popular South African drama, Isidingo. Since then he has been on film sets and stages all around the world. Having played a role in major soaps/dramas in South Africa (Sevende Laan, Erfsondes, Scandal) and the United States (General Hospital, Days of our Lives), Emmanuel is a well-known star of the screen. Emmanuel started his theatre career in Bloemfontein on the Sandt Du Plesis stage playing Rocky in the Rocky Horror show (1999). He has gone on to star in a host of musical and live theatre productions, including, Jersey Boys and Grease. His other claim to fame is beating Trevor Noah in strictly come dancing season 4, 2008, proving that white men can dance! Emmanuel released an album in 2008 called South of Nowhere. He now gigs regularly with his band, Dalliance.