Monday, November 21, 2022

Highs and Lows of an Opera Workshop


The Steiny Road Poet and her collaborating composer went to an opera workshop in Washington, DC recently because we always learn something from these productions, and we want to know what else is out there.


First Steiny will preface this discussion with an admonition from our opera theater director—workshops should NOT be reviewed. The purpose of spending the time and money to hire a venue, singers, musicians, and music director is to see what happens when all the parts are put together. What works and what doesn’t. The audience is supposed to help by making comments.


The audience was told up front that the event, a two-act opera, was scheduled for three hours. About 45 minutes in, Steiny passed a note to her composer saying I can’t understand a single word, can you? This was an opera based on a Hemingway novel, which in Steiny’s mind means every word should be easy to hear since Hemingway’s writing is known for its simple word choices. Steiny’s seatmate’s answer: nope and for that matter, is it in English? She was being facetious.


Steiny found the music beautiful and accessible, but one number blended into the next without differentiation or emphasis. Her partner’s response—very monochromatic, lack of variety, too much ensemble singing and little in the way of emotional high points which are usually created by a single voice singing an aria.


Moreover, the highly talented singers had been placed behind the orchestra (clarinet, 2 violins, viola, cello, base, piano). This made it easy for the music director to cue the singers but then the orchestra overpowered their words. This raises the question where was the opera theater director in this lineup of players? Oops, the printed program listed the composer, librettist, music director, and dramaturg but no opera theater director who would have never allowed the singers to be placed so far away from the audience. For that matter, opera workshops are normally done with piano only.


While the church had good acoustics for a musical program, the wooden bench of the church pew got harder and harder to sit on. Steiny and her partner also realized that not only was Act I too long (running 90 minutes), but the summary (available through a QR code) didn’t reveal any action on the stage beyond the main character walking in and out of cave. Yes, there was a love story and some shouting but that didn’t provide enough excitement to forget their aching backsides. While some comments were written out for the composer and his colleagues and left with an usher, the QR code provided another easy way to send them feedback. Steiny and her partner left at intermission. Both learned a lot and plan to keep these lessons close as they work on their opera.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Launching an ARC


What is an ARC? Some kind of rescue boat in the hungry mouth of a flood?


Well, yes, sort of.


An Advance Reader Copy or ARC is an early peek at a book that a publisher is trying to float above the deluge of other new books. The publisher is fishing for a review. More specifically, a review from a big reviewer like Publisher’s Weekly or Library Journal.


Getting reviewed by the Big Guys of publishing often means the book will be bought by libraries and teachers. This means the author’s book gets wider distribution.


The big drawback for a small press (usually meaning limited resources—financial and editorial) is that the book needs to put its best foot forward (with as few errors as possible) and it is NOT for sale. It’s another case where you cannot go fishing when you are hungry.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

When Poems Get Legs


Getting a single poem published in a literary magazine whether in print or online usually requires effort, time, and lots of patience. Recently I was published in licketedy split time, putting in minimal effort.


How did this happen?


A friend with many connections, working informally on behalf of a magazine editor, sent out an invitation to send poems within 10 days on the theme of teeth. This editor—Taku Chikepe—is a man  from Zimbabwe who is currently a divinity student at Duke University as well as the founding publisher of The Sailors Review. Apparently, some people’s endorsement is enough to merit publication.


I sent my poems on September 1 and by September 18, “Kabuki Dragons” (see page 29) was in beautiful page layout presto change-o. And there were others I knew published there such as Anne Harding Woodworth and Diane Wilbon Parks. That we were published came as a surprise, a pleasant surprise.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Prize Winner


What makes a poetry manuscript a prize winner?


As a small press editor with over 40 years of experience, here are some of the things I expect when reading a manuscript for The Word Works Washington Prize:


— The manuscript conforms to such standards as easy-to-read type like 12 point Times New Roman on 81/2 X 11 pages with a table of contents and page numbers.


— The contest rules have been followed. For example, the Washington Prize is read blind which means the manuscript must not include your name or acknowledgements that list where individual poems have been published.


— The poems demonstrate a mastery of poetic craft. I do not consider lineated text to be poetry. Free verse should demonstrate inclusion of lyricism, rhythm, metaphor, something that indicates the words selected are sensitive to language.


— The manuscript has poems that “talk to each other.” This might mean subject matter, poetic form, stylistic elements. And the poems seem to work well with each other.


—Selected poems address the human condition. This might mean addressing big life events like birth, death, love, marriage, war, political struggle, domestic abuse.


—Individual poems or the overall manuscript teaches the reader something new.


—The poems exhibit that the poet is taking a calculated risk which might be in form or subject matter.


The bottom line is what makes this manuscript different? What makes this manuscript memorable?

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

NYC Reading at the KGB






The last time my work was public in New York City occurred June 2005 Symphony Space Thalia Theater for the world premiere of Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On, my opera with Bill Banfield and Nancy Rhodes. So, reading at the KGB Bar on April 25, 2022, in lower Manhattan with Susana Case and Margo Stever (the organizers of this event featuring Broadstone Books authors) as well as Myra Malkin and Mervyn Taylor was a long overdue treat. The 2nd floor bar where the KGB Monday Night Poetry events occur was full up, including a couple of forthcoming Broadstone authors. The KGB organizers also had fired up their Zoom platform allowing remote audience to attend the event and that’s where my friends had assembled.


I dedicated “Wunkirle, Most Hospitable Woman,” my opening poem to all the people who are opening their homes to the refugees of Ukraine escaping former KGB agent Putin’s war. Wunkirle refers to the sacred ladles sculpted by the Dan people of Africa and is a poem from my first book of poetry. Often these ladles as works of art have legs. Here’s the poem:



(Most Hospitable Woman)


After you receive your guests,

come to me, Spoon Mama

on those supple legs—

muscles flowing like milk

and scoop the agony from my gut.

I have got a lot

but your bowl is large

as your reputation

and though the invited

came for rice

give them each

a portion of pain

and let them then

as I will do

thank you

for your generosity.