Sunday, September 6, 2009

Avoiding the Deadly Undertow

Yesterday, the Steiny Road Poet received an email from composer John Supko who has been germinating an opera project with the Poet. His message read, how about changing the name of the work from the storytellers of Tangier (actually Raconteurs in Tangier) to an actual story title by Paul Bowles. Paul and Jane Bowles are the focus of this work. While the question from the composer wasn’t put to the Poet in exactly that way, she is now thinking after a walk along the Potomac River this is how the conversation has evolved.

One of the things that the Poet liked about this suggestion is how intimate the composer is with the literary side of Paul Bowles. For those who don’t know PB, he was both a writer of words (fiction and poetry) and music. More importantly, John’s suggestion took the Poet outside of the box she had created for herself. While she was OK with Raconteurs in Tangier, she knew deep down that it wasn’t the most evocative title because while raconteur is a word used in English, it’s not familiar to most people.

“How Many Midnights,” the story title that John is suggesting, comes from Paul’s collection The Delicate Prey. In “How Many Midnights,” the main character June (surely modeled after Jane Bowles) is engaged to be married to a very private man named Van. For some period of time, she has been focused nightly (midnight) out her bedroom window on where he lives. She is much younger than Van and she still lives with her parents. Finally, Van makes the ultimate sacrifice and gives her a key to his apartment. The trouble is the first night she goes there by herself, he never comes home from his book store. The story deals with privacy, the threat of suicide, and abandonment. Paul Bowles was the master of suggestion.

While the libretto the Steiny Road Poet wrote never mentions midnight, there is a suggestion that midnight could be the timeframe during which the anchoring characters Paul and Jane's Moroccan lover Cherifa are rehashing Jane's life. (She has already died when these two unlikely smoking partners get together.) So now the quandary is whether to insert the phrase how many midnights somewhere in the libretto. The Poet is thinking, why make the audience for this opera work so hard on how the title connects, especially if they are unfamiliar with this particular story by Bowles. The gift of its connection to PB's short story should stand out of the way and only go to the Paul Bowles aficionado.

So that’s it on a Labor Day weekend from the Steiny Road Poet who went for a walk along the C & O canal and learned today about an enticing dam across the Potomac River that kayakers might like to run. Well, the only rapids this Poet will run deal with the creative process. How wonderful to have a creative partner who can set the Poet free without sending her into a deadly undertow.

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