or are you just happy to see me?
With National Poetry Month up in just a few short weeks, my Google Alerts have been busy. One of the more interesting items:
In New York City, poetry and burlesque are now under one roof, since the owners of the restaurant Duane Park recently moved from Tribeca to the Bowery Poetry Club’s space. And fine dining, too. Something for everyone, indeed.
The menu, which you can see at NY’s Eater blog, features white wine-steamed mussels from Prince Edward Island, rack of lamb, roast organic chicken, and rhubarb crisp. Eminently suitable for Spring.
Since the new Duane Park opened last week, you can enjoy burlesque and jazz Tuesdays through Saturdays. As of March 18th, poetry will be available from Bowery Poetry, in the same venue, on Sundays and Mondays. Duane Park/Bowery Poetry, at 308 Bowery (between Bleecker and Houston Streets), New York.
If you delve behind the paywall, The New York Times has an article here.
As you might know, National Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 18th: “The idea is simple: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends. You can also share your poem selection on Twitter by using the hashtag #pocketpoem.”
According to a Grub Street report last fall, “The arrangement is flexible, so the duo may do poetry dinners together.” Poem in Your Pocket Day seems like a dandy occasion for such… flexibility.
* * *
The only poems on the subject I know of are
by Laurence Durrell (1912-1990)
Soft toys that make to seem girls
In cool whitewash with two coral
Valves of lip printing each others’ grease …
A clockwork Cupid’s bow. Increase!
Their cherry-ripe hullo brims the open purse
Of eyes washed white by the marmoreal light;
So swaying as if on pyres they go
About the buried business of the night,
Cold witches of the elementary tease
Balanced on the horn of a supposed desire…
Trees shed their leaves like some of these.
by Barbara Crooker
This maple tree’s slipped into something
scarlet, which she’ll peel off slowly,
leaf by leaf. Look at her showing
her bare limbs and bark. She knows
that age is just another ring, a thing
she’s happy to accumulate. O tree.
Do you know your buds are in the bank,
already deposited in the securities
of twig and branch? Your red silk
slip, gorgeous on these sheets
of satin blue, will fray and crumple,
turn into rags. Sooner, or later,
we’ll all fall down.
Ecdysiast, of course, is the term H.L. Mencken came up with in 1940 for burlesque dancer Georgia Sothern (up above in the photograph) in response to her request:
Strip-teasing is a formal and rhythmic disrobing of the body in public. In recent years there has been a great deal of uninformed criticism levelled against my profession. Most of it is without foundation and arises because of the unfortunate word strip-teasing, which creates the wrong connotations in the mind of the public. I feel sure that if you could coin a new and more palatable word to describe this art, the objections to it would vanish and I and my colleagues would have easier going. I hope that the science of semantics can find time to help the verbally underprivileged members of my profession. Thank you.
Although burlesque entertained many through the depths of the Great Depression, the late thirties saw a public outcry against indecency, including burlesque shows. In New York, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was elected in part on a reform platform and commitment to “good morals”, and in 1937 he and his license commissioner Paul Moss succeeded in closing down most of the city’s burlesque theaters, for good, a move from which burlesque never recovered. If you’re interested, find a copy of the 1960 book/1968 movie musical (by Norman Lear!) The Night They Raided Minsky’s. Miss Sothern and Gypsy Rose Lee headlined at Minsky’s over the years, and GRL was arrested during raids there (during one, she claimed, “But officer, I wasn’t naked — I was covered by a blue spotlight!”).
Mencken could not resist Miss Sothern’s request and replied,
I need not tell you that I sympathize with you in your affliction, and wish that I could help you. Unfortunately, no really persuasive new name suggests itself. It might be a good idea to relate strip-teasing in some way or other to the associated zoological phenomenon of molting. Thus the word moltician comes to mind, but it must be rejected because of its likeness to mortician. A resort to the scientific name for molting, which is ecdysis, produces both ecdysist and ecdysiast.
Unfortunately, a new word couldn’t help burlesque’s future. Although Gypsy Rose Lee was able to get a bit of mileage from it. While Lee, who achieved levels of celebrity Georgia Sothern could only dream of, was billed as “the intellectual stripper”, she complained loudly and mightily about Mencken’s new term, which she said considered a highfalutin’. As she told an interviewer,
Ecdysiast, he calls me! Why, the man is an intellectual slob. He has been reading books. Dictionaries! We don’t wear feathers and molt them off…. What does he know about stripping?
And yet, as Gypsy Rose Lee’s recent biographer Karen Abbott has written, “Gypsy was desperate to be taken seriously as a writer and intellectual. She wrote essays for The New Yorker [three autobiographical pieces in 1943], a play that was produced on Broadway, two novels, and a memoir.”
GRL was married for a few years (1948-1955) to Spanish artist Julio de Diego (1900-1979), who apparently wrote a poem about her toward the end of their relationship, the last lines of which include, “Strangled her to shut off her torrent of verbal abuse.” I did look but couldn’t find the rest of the poem. And I’m nowhere near brave enough to Google Dita von Teese and poetry. Proceed at your own risk.
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