High Above a Stately River: A Presidential Arts and Fashion Review

I’m back from  Hanover College Presents: The President Honors the Arts and what a night it was!

The program began with a rousing spiritual – The Hanover College Chamber Singers singing “Praise His Holy Name!”  I closed my eyes and for a minute thought I was worshipping in a Spirit-filled African-American church, but then I opened my eyes and noticed colorful hair and black dresses  instead of colorful hats and black faces.  It didn’t mar my appreciation for their zest, however.

Next up was Autumn Barger, a soprano who sang “Una volta che Bastiano” from the opera Bastien und Bastienne.  She had a very strong and beautiful voice and sang with great confidence.  She’ll probably sing at the Met someday.  I’m not sure she’d make it at the Opry, though.

Chen Wang played a piano selection, “Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy (which, I was surprised, was not pronounced like when you refer to Gary Busey in a colloquial way – “Hey it’s Gary – Da’ Busey”).  Wang was a masterful pianist.  Her hair was inexplicably red, but she could certainly tickle those ivories.

The final musician for the night was Ellen Morganett, playing “Andante” from Solo No. 1 by Georg Phillipp Telemann on the violin.  The violin is perhaps my favorite musical instrument (next to the pedal steel) and she certainly did it justice.  With a little practice, I think Ellen could make a fine fiddle player for John Prine (and I’d be willing to put in a good word for her).

Representing the Visual Arts was Kyle Hunteman who shared his senior thesis, “No Struggle, No Progress.”  He first did over a hundred line drawings (though he only showed one).  They were human figures wrestling which brought to mind some of DaVinci’s doodles.  Next, he talked about his own struggle with time (which he represented by, in limited time, creating a life-size torso, a self-image).  The Puritan in me appreciated that he only revealed his torso in his art work.  He could have used a haircut (but, after all, his hair wasn’t part of his sculpture).

Next an award for the “2012-2013 Hanover College Medal for Excellence in the Arts” went to Nathan Montaya and Annette Vestuto.  Get this – they own a bookstore called “The Village Lights”.  Yes, there is still such a thing as a real, live, local bookstore.  Not only do they run the bookstore (which sounds like it has real books on real shelves, though I can’t verify this), they contribute much of their time, talent, and yes, money (after all, not every artist wants to starve) to artistic efforts at the college and in the Madison and Hanover communities.  Bravo, Nathan and Annette!  (Now can I hit you up to do a reading?)

Dan McCormick, representing the Creative Writing department, read some of his own poetry written in his time at Hanover.  (Full disclosure: Dan’s father – Joe – was my college roommate, so this may seem like a biased review.  But believe me, Joe wasn’t that good of a roommate.  Don’t get me wrong, he could put down beer with the best of them and he wasn’t quite as slovenly as I was.   But, well… he did this thing where he would “light his farts” and almost set the bed on fire several times.  You get the picture.)

So anyway, back to Dan.  For a young poet, Dan has a rare gift.  I wish I had a simple word or phrase to describe it (I may have to invent one after I renew my poetic license).  It is where he juxtaposes contrasting ideas in conjoined dual words.  Good haiku poets do it in three lines.  Dan does it with just two words – often at the end of his poems.  The effect is something almost magical – certainly therapeutic.  It is the aesthetic equivalent of doing “kegels” (for those of you pregnant women out there).  For men, there is no good way to understand it other than flexing your butt cheeks repeatedly, then relaxing them.  Then, imagine it being intensely pleasurable (which it may be for some, now that I think of it).  That’s Dan’s poetry.

As for his fashion, well, he may have to dress down to become a starving artist – but his haircut was the best of the evening.

Finally, the theater department (which I noticed they spelled “theatre” in the program – going all European on me).  First, I need to tell you my former classmate Jim Stark is now the theatre director there (and he introduced the short play).  Jim was by far the sharpest dressed on the stage this evening.  (As for his hair, well, there’s not much to comment on.)

The play was called “The Everything Store” (written by Kayla Snabl and directed by Branden Derk).  It was clever play about a store where you can buy a new suit of clothes for your “good judgment”, a European accent and demeanor for “the memory of your best friend”, and “fresh ambition” for a “relationship”.  It was ably performed by Joshua Anderson, Gracie Taylor and Shawn Franklin (each of whom had quite acceptable hair).

As I ducked out of the auditorium to use the bathroom, I thought of what a wonderful evening it had been.  Then, as old folks like me are prone to do, I began to reminisce.  When I was at Hanover in the early 1980s, there was a fair amount of creativity.  Certainly the theater (now called theatre) was top-notch.  The music could hold its own.  Creative writing, well, we were okay… I guess… if you like incessant existential angst spewed across endless pages of bound journals.

But now, it seems they’ve dipped into the fortune amassed by President Horner and are recruiting many world-class students who may well become tops in their fields.

I’m jealous.   But hey, now Hanover looks great on my resume.

Freud’s Last Session: Can I Get My Insurance to Cover It?

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati presents: Freud's Last Session

This afternoon, I went to the Ensemble Theatre in Cincinnati to see a matinee presentation of  “Freud’s Last Session” which depicted a fictitious visit from C.S. Lewis just weeks before Freud’s death.

I didn’t know what to expect from the play.  I was hoping it would be intellectually engaging and reasonably balanced (though I suspected a modern theatrical production would show Freud in a better light than Lewis).

I wasn’t expecting a lot of action.  It would be hard to convincingly portray a meeting between the 83-year-old dying psychoanalyst and the young Oxford don and not focus almost exclusively on the dialogue.  (Though a mud-wrestling contest might have made for an interesting Python-esque twist).

The best assessment I can make of the play is that I was entertained about as much as when I listen to pop music from my high school days (early 1980s).  It’s familiar.  It’s comfortable.  But it’s redundant.  And not very deep.

The playbill said the story was “suggested by the book The Question of God“.  I think the script could have easily been written by looking up Freud and Lewis quotes on-line and just cutting and pasting them one right after the other.

Still, for a play where the most gripping action was an old man taking his dentures out, there were some good moments.   Such as,

–  When Freud backed Lewis into a corner over his strange relationship with “Mrs. Moore”, his war buddy’s mother.

– When Lewis defused Freud’s attack by asking him about his even more bizarre relationship with his daughter Anna.

– When Freud told a story of a hydrocephalic midget who comforted him in a hospital and Freud (almost) conceded to Lewis’ inference that it revealed God’s humor.

– When Freud told a funny joke about an dying atheist calling for the village priest.

I will also say that I was pleased that while we were basically presented with theology lite and pop psychology, it was at least a draw.  Neither Freud nor Lewis had the upper hand.  If anything, there was a “redemptive moment” for Freud in the end.  He doesn’t exactly fall to his knees and say the “Sinner’s Prayer”, but he does find comfort in something beyond himself.

I’m glad I went to the play.  But I’m more glad to be home, where I can sit down with the collection of writings of Freud and Lewis and dig a little deeper.

(photo above from EnsembleTheatreCincy in ETC presents:)

The Six Secrets to Good Tragedy (on “The Poetics of Aristotle”, section VI)

Mel Brooks by Sharon Graphics

Comedian Mel Brooks was once asked to distinguish between Tragedy and Comedy.  He replied –

Comedy is when you fall into a man hole. 

Tragedy is when I get a paper cut.

Aristotle expands this distinction.  In Section VI (excerpted here) of The Poetics, he examines Tragedy.

      Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and  of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions… 

When you go to a Tragedy, you go to witness something happen, not to hear someone describe what happened.  While Tragedies may certainly be enhanced by poetic language, music and rhythm, the primary focus of the drama is on the action.  The actions portrayed evoke emotions that move the audience.

Aristotle goes on to address the personal agents (the characters) and their thoughts, which qualify their actions.  Actions require motivation to make sense, yet it is the actions themselves on which “all success and failure depends”.  He then moves to a discussion of plot –

        …the Plot is the imitation of the action: for by plot I here mean the arrangement of the incidents. By Character I mean that in virtue of which we ascribe certain qualities to the agents.  Thought is required wherever a statement is proved, or, it may be, a general truth enunciated. Every Tragedy, therefore, must have six parts,  which parts determine its quality—namely, Plot, Character, Diction,  Thought, Spectacle, Song.

Before defining these six parts, Aristotle highlights “the structure of the incidents”, which he considers most important.  He writes –

…Now character determines men’s qualities, but it is by their actions that they are happy or the reverse. Dramatic action, therefore, is not with a view      to the representation of character: character comes in as subsidiary to the actions. Hence the incidents and the plot are the end of a tragedy; and the end is the chief thing of all. Again, without action there cannot be a tragedy; there may be without character…

No matter how amusing, engaging, entertaining, or inspiring your characters are, if they do nothing, and nothing happens to them, you won’t have a Tragedy.   Aristotle puts it this way –

… Again, if you string together a set of speeches expressive of character, and well      finished in point of diction and thought, you will not produce the essential tragic effect nearly so well as with a play which, however deficient in these respects, yet has a plot and artistically constructed  incidents… 

Finally, Aristotle prioritizes the six parts of Tragedy:

1)  Plot – “the soul of a tragedy”.

2)  Character – “that which reveals moral purpose”. 

3)  Thought – “the faculty of saying what is possible and pertinent in given circumstances”.

4) Diction –  “the expression of meaning in words”.

5) Song –   which “holds the chief place among the embellishments”.

6) Spectacle – which “depends more on the art of the stage machinist than on that of the poet”

Attending to these six elements, in their proper order, allows the poet (or playwright) to produce a Tragedy worth experiencing.

(photo of Mel Brooks from Sharon Graphics, some rights reserved)


The Ludicrous Ugliness of Comedy: “The Poetics of Aristotle, Section V”

The Marx Brothers (unknown photo) by kndynt2099

In Section V of The Poetics, Aristotle takes a closer look at Comedy.

    Comedy is, as we have said, an imitation of characters of a lower type, not, however, in the full sense of the word bad, the Ludicrous being merely a subdivision of the ugly. It consists in some defect or ugliness which is not painful or destructive. To take an obvious example, the comic mask is ugly and distorted, but does not imply pain.

Comedy does not necessarily portray that which is morally bad, or that which inflicts harm.  It is an depiction of the flaws and foibles of humans (and gods) who seem not to be able to aspire to nobility.  Often in good comedies, circumstances conspire against comic characters such that their best efforts are foiled.  Good comedy is based on miscommunication and double entendre.  It is “ugly” in the sense that is does not “neatly” knit together a beautiful plot – there are ample plot twists in Comedy, but this only adds to the fun.

Aristotle does not have much to say about the history of Comedy.

      The successive changes through which Tragedy passed, and the authors of  these changes, are well known, whereas Comedy has had no history, because it was not at first treated seriously. It was late before the Archon granted a comic chorus to a poet; the performers were till then voluntary.   Comedy had already taken definite shape when comic poets, distinctively so called, are heard of. Who furnished it with masks, or prologues, or increased the number of actors,—these and other similar details remain unknown. As for the plot, it came originally from Sicily; but of  Athenian writers Crates was the first who, abandoning the ‘iambic’ or lampooning form, generalised his themes and plots.    

One gets the impression that early comics, like Rodney Dangerfield, “got no respect”.  Their work was not considered important enough to record for posterity.  They were “voluntary” – amateurs, in the best sense of the term, who performed for the love of the art and we have them to thank for its survival.

Aristotle concludes Section V by comparing and contrasting Epic poetry and Tragedy –

      Epic poetry agrees with Tragedy in so far as it is an imitation in verse of characters of a higher type. They differ, in that Epic poetry admits but one kind of metre, and is narrative in form. They differ, again, in their length: for Tragedy endeavours, as far as possible, to confine itself to a single revolution of the sun, or but slightly to exceed this limit; whereas the Epic action has no limits of time. This, then, is a second point of difference; though at first the same freedom was admitted in Tragedy as in Epic poetry.    

      Of their constituent parts some are common to both, some peculiar to Tragedy, whoever, therefore, knows what is good or bad Tragedy, knows also  about Epic poetry. All the elements of an Epic poem are found in Tragedy, but the elements of a Tragedy are not all found in the Epic poem.

Epic poetry might be considered a sub-set of Tragedy.  It is Tragedy written in a particular kind of metre and which is confined to a single day (or so) of action.

As I consider modern play-writing, it would seem that perhaps musicals and operas have taken the place of Epic poetry.  Perhaps you know of other examples of Epic poetry being produced today?

As for Tragedy, I saw two very good examples of this form in the movies, “Les Miserables” and “Lincoln”.  Both films portray noble characters battling the odds (and ultimately facing death) yet ultimately living out and dying for a higher cause.

(image above The Marx Brothers (unknown photo) from kndynt2099, some rights reserved)

Pleasure in (watching) Pain: “The Poetics of Aristotle – IV”, part one

In the first three sections of The Poetics of Aristotle  (which I reflect on here , here and here), Aristotle addresses the form (genre), the objects (characters), and the manner (perspective) of poetics (drama).  Section IV digs into the foundation for poetics.

      Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he  is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated.

We learn things by “acting them out”.  Acting things out also brings us pleasure, whether we are the actors or the audience.  I remember from way back playing school with my uncle Geoff.  He always had to be the “teacher”, which was fine with me.  I found pleasure following his lead and acting out my part.

Aristotle continues —

We have evidence of this in the facts of experience. Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies. The cause of this again is, that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure, not only to philosophers but to men in general; whose capacity, however, of learning is more limited. Thus the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is, that in contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring, and saying perhaps, ‘Ah, that is he.’ For if you happen not to have seen the original, the pleasure will be due not to the imitation as such, but to the execution, the colouring, or some such other cause. 

Inside the Acting for Film & Television Campus by vancouverfilmschool

People are drawn to both drama and melodrama that acts out human misery.  From the agony of Oedipus killing his father and sleeping with his mother to the latest Jerry Springer episode which depicts, well, people wanting to kill their father and sleep with their mothers (or something like that),  we like to observe others facing moral dilemmas.  More than this, we enjoy watching actors struggle while we’re curled up in the theater seats munching on popcorn and leaning back in the recliner eating ice cream.

Aristotle goes on to examine two aspects of poetics —

      Poetry now diverged in two directions, according to the individual character of the writers. The graver spirits imitated noble actions, and the actions of good men. The more trivial sort imitated the actions of meaner persons, at first composing satires, as the former did hymns to the gods and the praises of famous men. A poem of the satirical kind cannot indeed be put down to any author earlier than Homer; though many such writers probably there were. But from Homer onward, instances can be cited,—his own Margites, for example, and other similar compositions. The appropriate metre was also here introduced; hence the measure is still called the iambic or lampooning measure, being that in which people lampooned one another. Thus the older poets were distinguished as writers of heroic or of lampooning verse.    

So basically, as a writer of classic drama, you could go in one of two directions.  You could take the “nobler” route, and write of the heroic deeds of gods and men or you could offer “lampooning verse” and playfully expose their weaknesses.

The question I would raise is – “Does the noble path still exist for the contemporary playwright?”  I honestly don’t know enough about modern theater to know how others approach it.  Speaking for myself, I firmly believe all human beings are created in the image of God and, though this image has been seriously stained by sin, there is still the possibility of redemption (and thus nobility).   Certainly, just as the Greeks praise their gods in hymns, we can praise God in songs, dialogue, and action.  So, yes, we can produce plays that imitate nobility.

And we certainly produce satire that lampoons flaws in human figures as well as the false images of God so prevalent in culture.  I just wrote a scene in “Liberty” today I called “An Earnest Faith Healer” that was based on a performance I saw in the freshman talent show at Hanover combined with a story I was told when I attended seminary.  I didn’t find much pleasure in writing it, as I was portraying a very true-to-life example that is so tragically wrong you have to laugh to keep from crying.

I will leave off here and pick up the latter part of section IV in a later post…

(image “Inside the Acting for Film &…”  from vancouverfilmschool, some rights reserved)

What’s Your Point of View?: Perspective in “The Poetics of Aristotle – III”

In the first two sections of The Poetics of Aristotle  (which I reflect on here and here), the medium and the objects of the play are addressed.  In section III,  Aristotle considers another aspect of drama —

Oedipus at Colonus by Jean-Antoine-Theodore Giroust 1788 French Oil by mharrsch

       There is still a third difference—the manner in which each of these objects may be imitated. For the medium being the same, and the objects the same, the poet may imitate by narration—in which case he can either take another personality as Homer does, or speak in his own person, unchanged—or he may present all his characters as living and moving before us.    

      These, then, as we said at the beginning, are the three differences which distinguish artistic imitation,—the medium, the objects, and the manner. So that from one point of view, Sophocles is an imitator of the same kind as Homer—for both imitate higher types of character; from another point of view, of the same kind as Aristophanes—for both imitate persons acting and doing.

Playwrights choose the genre (medium) in which they tell the story, the characters (objects) who make up the story,  as well as the narrative perspective (manner) from which the story is told.  Homer, for instance, wrote his classic The Odyssey from the perspective of the hero – Odysseus.  Similarly, Sophocles writes Oedipus the King from the perspective of Oedipus.  Aristophanes, on the other hand, tells the classic sex comedy Lysistrata not only from the main character’s perspective, but through the dialogue among the characters and the songs of the choruses.

I’m not certain what Aristotle means by “higher types” of character.  Perhaps he is referring to the heroic qualities of both Odysseus and Oedipus and their special relationship with the gods.  What I take from this, is that, in good drama both heroic and common characters are shown to act and do things that make sense and that contribute to the plot of the story.

Thus far, I’ve chosen to tell the story “Liberty” from a third-person point of view.  Interestingly, however, all the scenes center on the main character of David.  Nothing takes place that David doesn’t witness, yet he is not the one telling the story.  The only hints we get about what is going on in David’s head is from what he says, from a few of his gestures, and from some carefully selected “soundtrack” music.

Aristotle concludes this section identifying some of the debated geographic and etymological origins of Comedy and Tragedy which I didn’t think would be fruitful here.  One comment he includes is –

… some say, the name of ‘drama’ is given to such poems, as representing action.

Again, action is central in the creation of drama.  When I was chatting with my former theater professor ab0ut the subject of extensive dialogue in drama, I brought up the example of the movie, “My Dinner with Andre” (a film depicting a conversation between two intellectuals that enjoyed a great deal of critical acclaim in the 1980s.)  Essentially, his response was the exception only serves to prove the rule.

I am certainly being mindful of including action in the story “Liberty” as it develops.  While it is true that it is still mostly dialogue (as is “The Pursuit of Happiness”), the dialogue drives, describes, and in some cases dictates the action.  I don’t believe a play has to have sword fights or sex scenes to be good, but neither can you simply record a Twitter conversation about a recent bowel movement and call it good theatre (although I imagine if it hasn’t been done, it will be soon).

(image above “Oedipus at Colonus by  Jean-Antoine-Theodore Giroust”  from mharrsch, some rights reserved)

Art Imitates Life (for better and for worse): “The Poetics of Artistotle – II”

882 Classic Greek drama by jasonvance

Following on the heels of my previous post (“Telling the Truth in Fiction“), I was pleased to read section II of The Poetics.  It begins –

Since the objects of imitation are men in action, and these men must be either of a higher or a lower type (for moral character mainly answers to these divisions, goodness and badness being the distinguishing marks of moral differences), it follows that we must represent men either as better than in real life, or as worse, or as they are. It is the same in painting. Polygnotus depicted men as nobler than they are, Pauson as less noble, Dionysius drew them true to life.

As my former theater professor pointed out to me, good drama is founded on action.  The action of the characters in a play reflect reality, but they extend it for the sake of the story.  In “Liberty”, my current work-in-progress, I am trying to pack 4 years worth of college experience into 2 weeks in the story.  Naturally, I will be condensing and exaggerating certain behaviors.  Some good actions will be better than they were.  Some bad actions will be worse.  If it works well, the end product will be “true to life” though the particular details may be anything but the what really happened.

Section II of The Poetics continues –

Now it is evident that each of the modes of imitation above mentioned will exhibit these differences, and become a distinct kind in imitating objects that are thus distinct. Such diversities may be found even in dancing, flute-playing, and lyre-playing. So again in language, whether prose or verse unaccompanied by music. Homer, for example, makes men better than they are; Cleophon as they are; Hegemon the Thasian, the inventor of parodies, and Nicochares, the author of the Deiliad, worse than they are.  The same thing holds good of Dithyrambs and Nomes; here too one may portray different types, as Timotheus and Philoxenus differed in  representing their Cyclopes. The same distinction marks off Tragedy from Comedy; for Comedy aims at representing men as worse, Tragedy as better than in actual life.

Only the devout student of Greek poetics would follow the many and varied names mentioned here, but the sense of this passage comes through readily.  Basically, each writer must decide precisely how to portray the action  of his/her characters and follow this consistently.  A question that arises in my mind is – could you portray a character who was both better and worse than real life?  It’s possible, I think, to create a complex character who, on some occasions, acts more benevolently than s/he would have while on other occasions, more malevolently.  This may well detract from the consistent believability of the action, however.  Still, a good drama might have an SS soldier open fire on random Jews in the courtyard yet care for a Jewish housekeeper with whom he has fallen in love (in fact, I think they did just this in “Schindler’s List”).

One of the challenges of modern drama, I believe, is to address moral questions in a world that defines itself as amoral.  Or, said better, where moral standards shift and there is no consensus on what is right and wrong.  My hope is, by focusing on the story, showing what the characters do and fail to do and what results as a consequence of their actions and inactions, there will ultimately be a life-affirming “moral” to the story.

(image “882 Classic Greek drama” from jasonvance, some rights reserved)

The Music and Language of Good Drama: Reflecting on “The Poetics of Aristotle – I”

Aristotle by Nick in exsilio

About a week ago, I messaged a former professor of theater from Hanover that I was completing a short story I thought could be adapted as a play.  He offered me some helpful recommendations – one of which was to read “The Poetics of Aristotle” (Butler translation).  Through the magic of the Internet, I found it for free as an e-book at The Project Gutenberg.

I was also pleasantly surprised that this classic work is divided into 26 easily digestible sections.  My plan is to reproduce them here, adding brief reflections on how this wisdom might impact my work and close with a few questions for you to consider how it might influence yours.

The Poetics begins…

I propose to treat of Poetry in itself and of its various kinds, noting the essential quality of each; to inquire into the structure of the plot as requisite to a good poem; into the number and nature of the parts of which a poem is composed; and similarly into whatever else falls within the same inquiry. Following, then, the order of nature, let us begin with the principles which come first.

“Poetry” here equates more broadly today to drama on stage or screen.  The principles contained in this work could equally apply to a play, a movie, even an operatic production.  They will certainly help me as I consider adapting my short story trilogy into a script and/or screenplay.

Poetics continues –

     Epic poetry and Tragedy, Comedy also and Dithyrambic: poetry, and the music of the flute and of the lyre in most of their forms, are all in their general conception modes of imitation. They differ, however, from one another in three respects,— the medium, the objects, the manner or mode of imitation, being in each case distinct.

A few definitions would be in order here for those who either haven’t studied theater or, like me, can’t remember what they learned 30 years ago.

Epic Poetry – long poems, typically derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the past history of a nation.

Tragedy  – A type of drama in which the characters experience reversals of fortune, usually for the worse

Comedy – A type of drama in which the characters experience reversals of fortune, usually for the better

Dithyrambic (adj. form of dithyramb – a wild choral hymn of ancient Greece, especially one dedicated to Dionysus; a passionate or inflated speech, poem, or other writing.

As I reflect on these, I would say my story is a tragi-comic epic poem (that may have dithyrambic elements).  It looks like I have my hands full.

Back to Aristotle –

For as there are persons who, by conscious art or mere habit, imitate and represent various objects through the medium of colour and form, or again by the voice; so in the arts above mentioned, taken as a whole, the imitation is produced by rhythm, language, or ‘harmony,’ either singly or combined.

Thus in the music of the flute and of the lyre, “harmony” and rhythm alone are employed; also in other arts, such as that of the shepherd’s pipe, which are essentially similar to these.  In dancing, rhythm alone is used without “harmony”; for even dancing imitates character, emotion, and action, by rhythmical movement.

I’m no musician (though I did write part of a country song that appears in the story), but music plays a central role in the trilogy – from beginning to end.  You will find there everything from Biblical psalms to country classics (gospel and secular), to early rock-in-roll, folk, 80s alternative, and contemporary Christian. I have sketched out at least one dance scene and I may have some live musical performance.

More than just music in the conventional sense, however, the rhythms and cadence of the language need to harmonize for the piece to gel.  I’m happy to say with a little research today, I found just the right Bob Dylan lyrics to match the action of the scene I was writing (it wasn’t too difficult – Dylan has written more than Moses and Paul combined).

The Poetics goes on to say a little about “prose” (which, I believe, would be like a technical treatise today) and distinguishes it from “poetics”.  It then concludes this section with –

There are, again, some arts which employ all the means above mentioned,  namely, rhythm, tune, and metre.  Such are Dithyrambic and Nomic poetry, and also Tragedy and Comedy; but between them the difference is, that in the first two cases these means are all employed in combination, in the latter, now one means is employed, now another.  Such, then, are the differences of the arts with respect to the medium of imitation.

Since my work is principally tragi-comic, I take from this that I need to employ three essential ingredients  – rhythm, tune, and metre.   Yet, I can focus on them one at a time.  Again, at the risk of being pedantic, some (modern) definitions –

 rhythm- the effect created by the elements in a play, movie, or novel that relate to the temporal development of the action.

tune –  manner of utterance : intonation; specifically, phonetic modulation.

metre/meter – systematically arranged and measured rhythm in verse.

Thus far in my writing, I have focused on dialogue (with only a few gestures and setting comments added) and background music.  While I may want to add more description later, right now the dialogue is driving the action.  I’m not sure I understand the significance of the “tune”, but I by setting the story in mostly Southern Indiana within my lifetime, I have an ear for the dialect.  As for meter, I am intentionally repeating particularly meaningful phrases (like refrains) to connect the story together.

Now, it’s your turn….

How are you demonstrating “poetic” elements in what you are currently writing?

(image above – “Aristotle” from Nick in exsilio, some rights reserved)

Nomination #3 (will it be assassination or failed revolution?)


I have been nominated for this “Very Inspiring Blogger Award” by Veronica of charlottesville winter.  I accept this award with much fear and trepidation.  It is my third blogging award, so it puts me right up there with “Lincoln” and “Les Miserables” – and look what happened to them.  Assassination.  And a failed revolution.  Nonetheless, I accept (both this award and my fate).

The conditions for acceptance are –

1. Display the award logo (see above)

2. Link back to the person who nominated you (also see above)

3. State 7 things about yourself (see below)

4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them (see further below)

As for 7 things about myself, I thought it would be good since this is about being inspiring and my blog is about writing if I were to mention 7 persons who have inspired me to write.  (There have been and continue to be many more, but I’ll limit myself now to 7).

1.  Larry Roberts.  Growing up, we would visit my Uncle Larry and Aunt Linda (and their daughter Leah) in Chicago.  Larry would often break out his guitar and sing songs.  I thoroughly enjoyed all the music, but my favorite songs were the ones he wrote himself.  I hope to convince him to let me publish a sample in upcoming posts.

2. Ivan Lancaster.  Mr. Lancaster taught 5th and 6th grade English at Nineveh Elementary.  After lunch, he read to us from classic books (I remember Johnny Tremain).  He also encouraged each of us to write our autobiographies and this 30+ page bound notebook with line sheets written on in ink was my first sustained piece of writing.

3.  Robert Waldon.  (Joe Rossi on “The Lou Grant Show”) I was captivated by the character of Rossi – his persistence, his commitment to truth, his courage.  He made me want to become a journalist.  One episode was about book banning.  Rossi was appalled that his favorite book – The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was on the list.  Immediately, I checked it out of the library.  It became my favorite book and redirected my focus from journalism to creative writing.

4.  Kevin Ballard.  Mr. B. filled in in the English department one semester and I took his class on “Contemporary Drama.”  He wasn’t the best lecturer, but he was very accessible and showed an interest in my ideas and writing beyond class.  He introduced me to a good friend from his college days – Jim Leonard – a playwright who has won awards for “The Diviners” (which he wrote while at Hanover College).

5.  Buran Phillips & George Love.  I list them together because together they helped keep my creative juices flowing while at seminary as co-creators of our satirical newsletters – “The Institutes” & “Rude Dogma”.  While we wrote most articles separately, we developed concepts together and I was inspired just by our shared laughter.

6.  Alice Roberts.  The woman who would become my wife of over 20 years was for many of these years my most prayerful and careful editor.

7.  Veston & Connie Roberts.  A few winters back, my dad and step-mom offered to type my up 500+ sermons and catalogue them on the computer (and on CDs).  Dad in particular has been my most devoted blog follower.  As I write my new novel (on their computer), I debrief after every finished chapter by telling them what it was about (then Dad goes to read it).

Now, to share the “Inspiring Blogger Award”, I nominate the following (in no particular order)…

russellboyle posts classic, inspiring poetry that helps soothe the troubled soul.

Defeat Despair offers inspiring quotes and brief reflections that lift your spirit.

Teacher as Transformer suggests insights on education, leadership, life, and transformation.

larrywtrimm writes on the blessing of being a Christian author.

Confessions of a Bookworm celebrates the inspiration found in reading good books.

The One Thing I Know for Sure presents thoughts and pictures intended to inspire deeper reflection.

writing young adult lit… and the occasional face plant explores the creativity behind a writing life.

liveconsciously publishes inspiring, life-enhancing, mind-altering books and media.on

Write here, Joel reflects on life, faith, and laughter.

The Twenty Something: An Ordinary Girl Serving an Extraordinary God shares her faith passionately.

Dreams Will Catch You provides refreshing perspectives on life and faith.

todaysdailyword brings God’s Word to life in fresh ways.

hankrules2011 provokes thought for an examined life.

I’ve Got This Friend reveals the personal side of a relationship with Christ.

a surrendered year looks at what it means to give in to God.

Check these out and see let them know they have “A Way With Words” on their side.

Interview with Author and Playwright Rob Diaz II

rob diaz

I first encountered Rob Diaz when he commented on one of my posts.  I’ve since come to know him as one of the masterminds or partners-in-crime (actually, contribuing editors) of the community blog Today’s Authors that has publically opened the day of this writing.  I did an e-mail interview with Rob which resulted in the following –

What is one piece of writing (book, story, play, essay) that has changed your life?

     The phrase “changed your life” makes this question pretty difficult for me to answer.  My initial gut instinct was to say that the book that changed my life was actually a math book given to me by my fourth grade math teacher when I was bored with the regular curriculum and wanted more challenging work (math was and continues to be a passion of mine).

But math books tend to be boring prose, so what my real answer to this question will be is:  Foundation by Isaac Asimov.  I read this book for the first time when I was in fifth grade, about ten years old.  It is the first book in my memory which made me want to read another book.  And then another (and not just the books in the Foundation series, either!). It was also one of the first books I ever wanted to read a second or third time (I’ve probably read it a dozen times now).

The book focuses on the math involved with Psychohistory and its predictions of the downfall and rise of the Galactic Empire.  As I said, math was a passion of mine from an early age and to see it have such a prevalent role in a masterful book such as Foundation, it changed my outlook on reading and, in turn, on writing.  I would certainly be a different person today if I had not become as much of a lover of words as I am a lover of numbers.

How is seeing your plays produced different (and/or similar) to producing other forms of writing?

     Scripts have a special place in my heart and in my writing.  It’s not that I prefer them over other forms of writing, it’s just that at the time I wrote my first script (when I was a freshman in high school), I had been on the verge of giving up on writing at all.  A teacher of mine encouraged me to participate in a Playwrights Workshop that was being held in my school and despite my hesitations I did so.  And I loved it.  The positive feedback and interactions with the other writers and the instructor were so amazing that it rekindled my passion for writing in many ways.

The first script I wrote was horrifically bad (though it was incredibly funny at the time).  The second one I wrote, Bad Impressions, was produced on stage at my high school when I was 16 in a series of one acts (mine and four or five professional scripts were done).  It was incredible and nerve-wracking.  I’ve had two more scripts produced since then and the feeling has been the same: super levels of excitement to see the words and stories transposed onto the stage coupled with lots and lots of anxiety about the audience reaction.

I think the difference for me is simply that when I have a story published in a book, the audience is disparate.  Readers can be anywhere and everywhere and for the most part they are not in one place, reacting at the same time.  A script that is being staged, however, has an audience of many, sitting and experiencing the story together for the first time and at the same time.  For me, I find myself worrying when something I found funny in the script doesn’t get the volume of laughter I expect or something I found dramatic doesn’t get the collective intake of breath that I expected.  Does the audience not like it? Do they not get it?  Do they regret their investment of time and money to see it?

Similarly, I feel energized when they do laugh or catch their breath or applaud.  Honestly, I have all the same fears and excitement with other forms of writing. I suspect the reason it feels different with plays is just the fact that there are so many more people reacting at the same time and in the same place.  The reaction is more real and more direct, if that makes any sense.

“Today’s Author” is now officially launched.  What are your biggest hopes and greatest fears for this blog?

      My hope for Today’s Author is probably much like the hope of everyone else involved with it: that it can be a safe place for writers and readers to interact, that it can be a source of inspiration and entertainment and that it can be a place to share our collective knowledge and experiences with the written word.  Honestly, if we can inspire even just one person to take a chance with words – to tell their story and let the world see it – then I’d think Today’s Author is a success.  I think the openness of the editors and contributors on the site to share their successes, their failures, their hopes and their fears will lend itself to encouraging our readers and participants to do the same.

On the flip side, I think “fear” may be too strong a term for my feelings but I do worry. I worry about making sure that we at Today’s Author are providing content and prompts that are relevant to our readers and useful enough to keep readers coming back.  Readers and participants of the site should drive the direction the site takes as time goes on, so I worry about making sure we read and understand the feedback we get to make sure we react and anticipate the needs of the community we are building.  Ultimately, if we don’t build an engaged and vibrant community, we won’t have the success I hope to have with Today’s Author.

Thanks, Rob, for devoting some of your New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to conduct this interview.  Look for more of Rob and read a generous sampling of his work at his blog Thirteenth Dimension.

(picture of Rob from Today’s Authors, used by permission)