Sunday, January 4, 2015

Edgar Allan Poe, the Mysteries of the World Writ Large

1849 "Annie" daguerrotype of Poe courtesy of site
 Edgar Allan Poe married his cousin Virginia Clemm when she was 13 and he was 27; the dichotomy was legion-his experience to her youthful and naive innocence. Whether her immune system was weakened from the stresses of the marriage and Poe's rumored philanderings which devastated her, Virginia Eliza Clemm contracted tuberculosis and withered for 5 years until she died. On her deathbed, she accused the woman with whom Poe allegedly had an affair as being indirectly responsible for her death. Poe never forgave himself and was wracked by guilt, though he attempted to expiate this through his writings and poems like Annabel Lee, The Raven and others.

The stress and burden of this guilt as well as the anxiety of attempting to make a successful writing career for himself and potentially effect a marriage with various women eventually consumed him along with alcoholic binges and mysterious illnesses. He was found lying in a Baltimore gutter delirious and under great duress. Poe was transported to Washington Medical College where he died four days later. His cause of death was occluded; the truth has yet to materialize. Indeed, the mysteries that he had confronted during his lifetime brought him to an early and lonely end. To this day, his death is steeped in speculation and one author has posited that Poe was a diabetic and was in a diabetic coma when he was found. Along with his brilliant unparalleled poems, criticisms, novels and short stories, this mystery infuses his ethos as romantic and adds to the mystique of one of the grandest and most globally beloved American writers.

The mysteries of the world writ large
Upon your soul as deep as darkness' sea.
Your prescient being over wrought and charged
With quantifying consciousness. To free
Your loving cousin to communicate
In ethers, time warps stretching toward the stars,
Bending spirits within altered states,
You'd bring her close to you who was so far.
The gulf of death you crossed; scorned mortal shores.
Alone upon the waves of time and light
You drove your words and thoughts and hope restored
Continued through life's hellish days and nights.
And then your soul's cruel wanderings did cease.
Joined with your love eternal in Christ's peace.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Mike Nichols, In Memoriam

Mike Nichols in later years. Courtesy of website.
I remember Mike Nichols and Elaine May as a kid. They were a hysterical, witty, vibrant comedy team. I missed Nichols' Barefoot in the Park on Broadway, his first outing. The production helped to put Robert Redford on the map and was the first of his truly innovative and memorable collaborations with Neil Simon. I saw Catch-22, years later and appreciated its sardonic humor and great acting. After his prior two film successes (see the next sentences), critics were unkind to Catch-22, though it holds up to time, especially in the currency of our government's war travesties. But it was Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate that put Nichols on the map as an incredible film director. The rest is nearly one success after another with What Planet Are You From? (yes he probably did it as a favor), as perhaps the only really dire exception. I have seen most of his films and much of his most recent work on Broadway, including his fabulous Death of a Salesman. He never lost his humor, genius, humanity and quiet wisdom in all of his work; if he did, he fooled us.

I had the opportunity to speak to Nichols at a performance of Betrayal which he directed. I was compelled as if by ordination to go over to him and repeatedly state, "God Bless you for your work and what you have contributed." If I sounded like an idiot stating that he had "made a difference" in my life and I was so appreciative for it, I don't care. It was an unction that I am glad took over me. I saw him again at a performance of Richard III with Mark Rylance or was it Twelfth Night? It was right after Philip Seymour Hoffman died. Mark Rylance spoke and there was a moment of silence for Hoffman, and it was just awful. Nichols was obviously suffering as were all in the theatre and film community. Then, I did not feel compelled to speak to him again, though as we walked out of the theater we glanced into each other's eyes. He, I am sure, did NOT recognize me as "the woman who said he made a difference in her life." I am sure he received such compliments so often, he filtered them into his vast storage capacity of memory as he charged ahead to his next project. I was glad that I told him what I did, however effusively "infantile."

Nichols! He was an amazing talent and genius who sparked us to life and made us forget the monsters we were...for an hour or two or three as we laughed at his comedies (The Birdcage), or cried/mourned/grieved for ourselves (Death of a Salesman). He made his art look easy and reminded us of what could be accomplished, despite economic woes and the grumblings of the profit-hungry about barely breaking even. Nichols your value is beyond measure. Thanks for the truth and hope and energy of self. We're better for your having been in the world.

Of platinum character and brilliant mind
You forged a path no one but you could make:
Courageous artistry one-of-a-kind,
A determined will no studio could break.
Elucidating themes of life for us
Reflecting hope, highlighting human flaws
With wisdom, clarity, acumen's trust.
Your films and plays and works? You gave us pause.
Your legacy's a beacon: we turn away
From vapid, puerile, soulless media fare
That Philistines present; the empty arts-
Are lacking substance, draining truth and care.
Your spiritual gifts and talents do inspire
Us to rekindle ancient drama's fires.