Issue #12, Winter 2017

15871984_1662431513783177_269419612174271466_nFinally, this beautiful new baby is out into the world. The cover model even decided to show up at the party. Cover art and photograph by Ainslee Golomb:

“If you missed our Release Party and Reading for Issue #12, Winter 2017, you can scroll down for a few photos or view the gallery at the Citizen’s Voice. On Facebook you can watch about fifty”…Source: Issue #12, Winter 2017

Christmas Song, Poetry Mash-up, Gleefully Snow-Bound

The home where Snow-Bound takes place is today...

The home where Snow-Bound takes place is today preserved and open to the public as the John Greenleaf Whittier Homestead. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Again, I am returning to an older post from Christmas past today, with a few editing adjustments. I still love this song, and I want to go snuggle now with Brian while we read this poem.

Last time we featured monks, Handel, and John Greenleaf Whittier. JGW makes an appearance again today–second day in a row!–in my attempt to make up to the famous “Fireside Poet” for never having once mentioned him in all the five years of this blog’s existence. Well, unless you count the words of Kenneth Koch’s “You were Wearing” in reference to today’s poem: “I smelled the mould of your seaside resort hotel bedroom on your hair held in place by a John Greenleaf Whittier clip. / ‘No,’ I said, ‘it’s girls who think that boys are bad.’ Then we read Snowbound together.”

And that little quote, my friends, should be remembered when we look into the song that I’ve hitched up to today’s poem.

First, the Poem

It’s a classic, a rather long poem, but I think its length is deceiving, as the lines are short and metered couplets, with only four stresses per line that carry you through at a nice gallop, whilst giving the appearance on the page of something that mirrors its story of a long period pent-up inside because of an epic old-time Yankee snow storm.

We read the poem in school, or at least I did. Am I dating myself here? I know Whittier’s poems are mostly neglected these days, but it seems that this one has made some inroads into modern American culture. The title is at least recognizable I would think, even if people do not recall much about the text of the poem, which was wildly successful in the mid-1800’s when it was first published. Heck, I am even looking into submitting to the “Snowbound Chapbook Award” from Tupelo Press, although that fact has nothing else really to do with this post or the poem in question.

We cannot relate much to those days, even with the weekend storm we had here in the northeast, and a new snow storm on the way, it’s hard for us to imagine a winter event that would leave us huddled around the fire in our living room telling stories for a week. To preserve page space here click on this link to read the full poem at the Poetry Foundation’s site. Its full title is “Snow-Bound; A Winter Idyl.” Here are just the opening lines as printed in The Critical Pages blog:

The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite, shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.

Modern controversy over the song

I wonder what the old Quaker would think of the song I have to pair up with his poem tonight. It seems appropriate to me as I look down and my tablet tells me it’s a dastardly 13 degrees Fahrenheit outside with snow squalls imminent. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was one of my featured “Random Favorite Christmas Songs” last year, and while I mentioned some names from the long list of artists who have performed it, this one (video below) from the boys of Glee is, remains my favorite it's cold

But it seems I cannot share this song without addressing the criticism it’s undergone in recent years. It’s been, unfairly, I think, disparaged as a date-rape song, as if the guy is bullying the girl to stay, or spiking her drink in order to incapacitate her. I think that what’s happening is that we are reading a modern context into the song for one thing, and missing the obvious, though subtle, reciprocation of flirting from the young lady. Remember the Kenneth Koch line associated with reading “Snow-Bound?” Who’s being bad here, the boy or the girl? Or maybe, the pair wanting to stay by the fire and enjoy each other’s company isn’t bad at all, just not socially acceptable for young ladies of that era.

As a gay man, and a feminist, I was encouraged upon finding that there are still others who see this song much the way I do, and so let me take a few minutes to look at some views that echo my own interpretation of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” To summarize first in a phrase, I’ve always just taken this song as two people flirting, but set in a time when if the girl was going to be “bad,” for reputation’s sake, she had to at least keep up the appearance of being good.

The Case for the song

In a defense of the song in Open Salon back in 2010 Alex Guillen said, “What proves the plot is less skeevy than modern interpretation would hold? She spends much of the song worrying, not about her actually stay over, but rather her family’s reaction” (emphasis mine). To me, this has always been obvious, but have I just been blinded by the norms of rape culture? She has already stayed too long and fears trouble from her mother, father, auntie, and brother. What will they say? What will they think?

She asks for a comb before she’s even agreed to stay, which infers that they have already been making out and her hair has become mussed as a result. Is this too subtle for modern listeners? The camera used to pan away to moonlight or fireworks during physically romantic scenes, whereas now we show as much flesh on camera as we can get away with.

What’s in this drink?

“Say, what’s in this drink?” the young lady quips. I understand the concern when this is heard by a modern ear, but again, I think we read our own 21st-century experiences into it. He mixed a strong one, certainly, and that makes us think of date-rape drugs that I don’t think were available then. I have gone my whole life thinking this was just saying, “holy cow, how much booze did you put in this?” Of course, I understand that’s concerning enough on its own.

Yet, how many times have I heard young folks today say things like, “Dude, I would never have done that if I hadn’t been drinking.” I am ashamed to admit that I have a memory of going home with someone one night years ago and telling myself, “oh well, I can always say later that I was drunk.” But the truth is, and of course I knew it the very second I said that, that if I had the presence of mind to articulate that excuse, that I could not honestly use it.

Please don’t misunderstand me and think that I am placing blame on her. I actually have always seen this as a rather independent move on the part of the young lady within the constraints of her culture, a way for her to rebel and enjoy her own sexual liberation while still keeping up appearances of being a socially acceptable and proper young lady. In her words, seemingly almost under her breath in some versions, “At least I’m gonna say that I tried.”

For me, someone who was sexually abused by a “friend of the family” when I was a child, to call this mutual flirtation song and dance a “date-rape song” feels like an insult to actual victims of the real thing. I can see, though, how this becomes difficult in modern times, the song’s interpretation, I mean, because we all see through the lense of our own experience.

baby it's 2Frank Loesser, the songwriter, originally performed this with his own wife, and if you listen in their version, provided by NPR, to what I can only describe as eager playfulness in her voice when she says, “well maybe just a cigarette more,” you might agree that we are making the whole thing too simplistic and being even more sexist by seeing her as a helpless damsel in distress. I also found this defense from Persephone Magazine, a decidedly feminist publication. Well, actually I think the author makes the guy in the song sound a good deal less lecherous than he actually is. I mean he is trying to get lucky after all, but I think she’s not far off the mark in her perceptions about the young lady:

The song, which is a back and forth, closes with the two voices in harmony. This is important — they’ve come together. They’re happy. They’re in agreement. The music has a wonderfully dramatic upswell and ends on a high note both literally and figuratively. The song ends with the woman doing what she wants to do, not what she’s expected to do, and there’s something very encouraging about that message.

I realize we do not want to make light of issues over consent and I am so glad we live in a world that seems more capable of openness and honesty in matters of sex. But they didn’t live in a time of such honestly, and hence the fun that is so apparent to an older fella like me in the flirting banter between the two characters. There is no threat of force, and even his “coercion” is exaggeratedly unrealistic and silly. His ridiculous plea is, “Think of my life long sorrow / if you caught pneumonia and died.” We are not supposed to imagine she takes his words seriously. Another article, this time from a gay-friendly, transgender blog called Transradical, had these insights:

both the woman’s wishy-washy reasoning for why she should be leaving and the man’s for why she should stay are both pretty weak. Their “argument” never really leaves the realm of playful flirtation and seems to exist only so that the woman can “at least… say that [she] tried.” Again, it’s her reputation she’s worried about, not her safety.

If you actually listen to the song instead of pulling lines out of context, it becomes pretty clear that our mouse never really intends on leaving, our wolf would have no intention of preventing her if she did, and both of them, as well as the audience, are perfectly aware of both facts.

Finally, let’s listen to the song

All this discussion and I only wanted us to enjoy a song! Sigh. In the Related Articles below I’ll include a further link which, while I think it makes a few errant assumptions, in the end, gives a mostly fair look at both sides of the issue. Well, I must say I adore this version, and while perhaps it has been sung in more sinister ways over the years (not that I’ve heard those versions), this one makes it pretty clear that the flirtatious feelings are completely mutual. And in this context, it is clearly a song about the pursuit of love, despite societies demands, a modern and flirtatious twist on being “Snow-Bound.”

To Not Praise the Devil

img_20161214_122532On Facebook I’ve been sharing pictures of my Christmas tree and my favorite ornaments, some sentimental, others decidedly silly. And as I posted a photo of the wreath on my front door, bearing the simple message of “Peace,” I was watching the news out of Aleppo. As I write this, a second cease-fire is allowing for an evacuation of the besieged eastern part of the city.

We Americans like to think we have no part in what’s going on there but I won’t get into that today. My focus for this particular post is about recognizing the evil that is going on, even doing what you can about it, without being completely overwhelmed by it.

It’s an appropriate topic after this recent election in the US, the controversy and conflict of which still rattles on. And for my purposes here, how do I as an artist respond? Do I respond? If I don’t does that mean I am complicit at worst and “enablist” at best?

I’ve got several poems in the making since November 8th that are decidedly political. Will all of those turn out to be publishable, “good” pieces of art? Probably not. But one or two might. Some poets are more gifted at that sort of work than I am. Rattle has an entire section of their site dedicated to poets responding to the news.

You will probably never see one of my poems there. Not because I am against political poetry, but because I am generally not able to crank out a good piece fast enough for the Twitterverse. By the time I’ve let the dough rise and bake, the if-it-bleeds-it-leads news cycle has moved on to other fast-breaking fodder. Perhaps I am envious of those who can respond to world events so quickly and still make great, rather than sloppy, art out of it. Perhaps I am worried about becoming a reactionist instead of an activist.

Mostly I am concerned about all the free advertising I’ve already given to a certain candidate this year. It’s a tough balance; you have to recognize the threat, but if you spend most of your campaign talking about how dangerous the other candidate is, you put yourself at great risk by, as Jack Gilbert says, “Praising the devil.” What’s that old saying: All publicity is good publicity?

I wasn’t going to get into all of this just yet. I do have a longer post on the topic in mind and will be sharing that soon. For now, here is the poem that I’ve thought most about since the 8th and since we’ve finally recognized, after five years of civil war, what’s actually been going on in Aleppo. Read the text of the poem and more about Gilbert himself at The Sun, here.

I first recorded this piece three years ago, about a  year after Jack Gilbert’s death. But with a better microphone and more perspective, I thought it was time to record it again. Whatever is happening in your world today, I bid you peace.

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Stop Asking If People Are Ready for Christmas

This is getting some attention on Facebook, so I thought I’d share it here again.

Things are much better this year, but I still firmly believe in this post. As a great poet once said:

Do I reblog myself? Very well, I reblog myself.
I am not a multitude; I contain singles.

The Dad Poet

christmas tree at shopping mall christmas tree at shopping mall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you want peace on earth? Would you like to spread good will toward women and men? Then please, for the love of god, reindeer and all that is sacred and sane, stop asking that damned question! No, seriously, stop it. What are you thinking? What is wrong with you people? Stop asking others, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

My scenario today : I was going to leave around noon to “finish my shopping,” but after being up for a couple of hours this morning, I found I had a bit of a headache and so, it being Sunday, I crawled back under the covers for a while, thinking when I got up I’d have some more coffee and sit at my kitchen table with my little notebook and pen, and scribble out my list and make my plan. I mean, I…

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Right This Very Minute

Mame (musical)

Mame (musical) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a flashback to four years ago. Yeah, hashtag it with Twirl-back Tuesday or something clever. I missed Music Monday but I can’t let this wait another week. It’s too important. Honestly, I was a bit slow working up to a Christmas spirit this year. I was beginning to think after this election, the best holiday spirit I could come up with would be vodka.

But it’s important to keep our center and not be blown off our course by winds we knew could be coming our way. More on that later. For now, I need a little Chrismas.

This is one of the songs that even when I just have been working too much or shopping too much, or the year has flown by too quickly, no matter what is going on this song gets me in the spirit. But it has to be Angela Lansbury’s version in the musical Mame. Nobody else has the passion, and personality in it. There is something about the urgency in her voice. Oh, it just gives me goosebumps and makes me smile.

The footage from the musical doesn’t seem to be online anywhere, so to remind you, this was set in the roaring twenties before we had commercialized Christmas so much that the department stores were already being preparing for it at Halloween. I believe that it’s just after Thanksgiving in the story line, and so not even a “single flurry” yet in New York. And nobody was thinking about rolling out the holly or the tinsel just yet.

And maybe, like me, this year you have been slow to feel the warmth of the season. Maybe it’s a lonely time or a scary time for you. I understand. But when we flash back to the twenties here via Angela Lansbury’s 1966 voice, think about what we need when it comes to that spirit, what it could really mean, about kindness and giving, not about the buy-them-this-so-they’ll-love-you farce that it’s become.

Four years ago, when I played this for my beloved Brian, youngin’ that he is, he replied, “You mean she was somebody before ‘Murder She Wrote?” I’ve schooled him a bit on her since then, you can be sure.

Happy Christmas!