History of Burlesque: Burlesque Coming to Potsdam August 31st, 2022

History of Burlesque: Burlesque Coming to Potsdam August 31st, 2022


by Larissa Fawkner, Advancement Committee Chair

SLC Arts is kicking off the 2nd annual North Country Arts Festival by hosting an adult-only 21+ Art After Dark fundraising party with headlining act, The Rougettes, an Ottawa Ontario-based Burlesque dance troupe. Formed in 2018 with routines choreographed by Randi Rouge, The Rougettes bring sweetness, sass, and sensation to every stage these gorgeous glitzy gal’s grace. The Rougettes, including Arctic Blondo, Babycakes, Carmel Spysse, Rosa Diamond, and Viva Van Diva, will perform a 90-minute sexy set that is sure to please the audience with acts including Diamonds, Boots, Buttons, and Money.

Burlesque has its origins in the 17th century. The word “Burlesque”, is derived from the Italian word, ‘burlesco’ which stems from ‘burla’ meaning a joke or mockery. Burlesque shows were often described as an ‘extravaganza’ a style of elaborate literary or musical performance containing elements of cabaret, circus, vaudeville, and mime. Victorian era Burlesque was popular in London theaters from the 1830’s – 1890’s. Burlesque actors took well-known plays, opera’s, ballet, and popular music of the time and re-wrote the lyrics for comic effect. Victorian Burlesque style came to NYC in the 1840’s and was popularized in 1868 by Lydia Thompson’s visiting dance troupe, The British Blondes. Shows were performed by an all-female cast and focused on parody. Women actors wore tights that were risqué and considered entirely scandalous when compared to the Victorian fashion of hoop skirts, petticoats, and high necklines. The women would also spoof the crowd by playing men’s roles and performing satirical skits poking fun at patriarchal society. New York Burlesque continued to evolve as elements of minstrel shows were added. Unlike cabaret which was performed in nightclubs, burlesque shows were performed in theaters, music halls, and other venues with separate stages for performances. The show consisted of three parts: first, a series of songs, course humor sketches and monologues by baggy-pants comics; second, the olio, a variety of acts such as acrobats, magicians, and instrumental and vocal soloists; and third, chorus numbers, burlesque, or a play. The finale was a performance by an exotic dancer or a wrestling or boxing match.

In the 1870’s, New York’s first American born Burlesque star, Mabel Santley, became a pioneer of modern Burlesque. Having once been arrested for lifting her skirt during a Can-Can, she is acclaimed for feminizing the genre with her turn in Madame Rentz’s Female Minstrels which forever re-shaped the minstrel all-male tradition. In the 1930’s burlesque thrived in the US, but the shows were much naughtier. The art form flourished for almost 100 years before censorship, “clean-up” political policies, and the competition of motion pictures, led to the decline of the craft. By the 1960’s few Burlesque houses remained.

Then, burlesque experienced a revival. In 1979, Sugar Babies opened on Broadway starring Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller, the lavish hit ran 1,200 performances and recreated classic burlesque. Later, in the 1990’s, there was a new wave of burlesque activity. Dixie Lee Evans, the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque, took over an abandoned goat farm in Helendale California and filled it with burlesque memorabilia collected by retired dancer Jennie Lee thus creating the Exotic World Burlesque Museum. In 1991, Dixie founded the Miss Exotic World pageant to attract visitors and attention to the museum. Then, in 1995, Ami Goodheart’s “Dutch Weismann’s Follies” in New York and Michelle Carr’s Velvet Hammer Burlesque troupe in Los Angeles spurred a revival called, “Neo-Burlesque” combining classic “pasties and a G-string” burly-q, swing music, rockabilly, punk rock, tattoos, girl power, lingerie, fetishism, and a healthy dose of humor. In 2000, the Tease-O-Rama Yahoo Group was launched providing the first national forum for modern burlesque performers. In 2005, the Exotic World Museum moved to Las Vegas where it was renamed the “Burlesque Hall of Fame.”

Modern burlesque performers are trained dancing professionals. Just as ballet has its arabesque, assemblé, balancé, brisé, ciseaux, and pas de basque, burlesque has its bevel, bounce, shimmy, grind, goddess legs,  heart drop, side split, and sexy walk. Dancers must become proficient in the steps of their performing art. Along with glamor and flashiness, burlesque is famous for its fashion style which includes corsets, stockings, hats, feathered clothing, and extravagant lush hairdos. Neo-burlesque shows are classier, more exotic, and truly focus on striptease as an art show form. That means the shows are not centered for a typically male audience.

When asked about Burlesque as a dance genre, Dr. Robin L. Collen, SUNY Potsdam Professor of Theatre & Dance and Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences said, “the choreographer, Bob Fosse comes to mind when I think about burlesque. As a young dancer he worked in burlesque shows which had a strong impression on him—influencing his potent and articulate choreography with its sexuality and dark humor. In my 20th and 21st Century dance history course, I challenge students to investigate their beliefs about when they consider dance to be art, entertainment, or pornography. This inquiry is a journey into one’s beliefs and biases about the human body, sex, high and low art, humor, and much more. When you watch The Rougettes, you can enjoy this inquiry for yourselves.” The Rougettes, will perform a 90-minute sexy Neo-Burlesque set list that is sure to entertain. Get your tickets today at SLC Arts and support all forms and expressions of art in Northern NY.

Tickets to the Art After Dark party are $25 per person (online) and available on the SLC Arts website https://slcartscouncil.org/events/goldenjubilee and $30 at the door on the evening of the event.

Andrew Thacher & His One-Man Show

Andrew Thacher & His One-Man Show

Photo by Eric Keitel

John Berbrich: Hey, Andy. How you doing?
Andrew Thacher: Hi, John!  I’m great—Glad to talk with you.

JB: So, how did your career get started?  Was it a role back in school?
AT: I definitely got my start there.  My first stage show was “Teen: The Musical” in 8th grade at AA Kingston Middle School in Potsdam.  I think someone either dropped out or they needed one more chorus person, so I was invited to join the cast.  It was great fun, and, although I didn’t know it at the time, a great first step in becoming a performer.  Honestly, I was really quite shy, but I covered it at times by being a show-off!  I was too scared to audition for the show at first, and I credit my family, especially my mother, for encouraging me to join the cast later.  I’m certainly glad I did, because it whetted my appetite for more.  I think we forget sometimes how important those formative childhood experiences are.  After that, I performed in the school musical every year until I graduated, and continued performing and studying theater in college.  However, I never took it seriously as a career until my early twenties, when I found myself living and working in Tokyo, of all places.

JB: Japan?  Wow.  Tell me about that experience.
AT: I had studied in Japan briefly in college, and was keen to return there after graduating.  My “Grand Plan” was to teach English and study Japanese there for a year until I could return to the States and earn a graduate degree in Japanese Studies.  However, six months into my time there, I realized I was enjoying it too much to leave!  It took a little while to figure things out, but I ended up making a living in Tokyo in English-teaching voiceovers, radio and television programs, in addition to performing community and semi-professional theater with fellow expats.  I even performed in a couple of musical showcases on a Japanese cruise ship over a three-month period—something I never imagined doing when I first arrived.  I had been so sure of my path when I got there in 1991, but I’m happy things worked out the way they did.  I like to say that it took “four years and 10,000 miles” for me to figure out I wanted to be a professional actor.

JB: That’s a fantastic experience.  And that’s the second time you’ve mentioned musicals.  Do you sing—or play a musical instrument?
AT: My grandfather gave me my first music lesson, on clarinet.  I played that for a couple years before switching to trumpet, which I played throughout high school.  But, I think singing always felt more natural to me.  I was in choral groups throughout my school days, and I studied voice quite seriously for several years, during and after college.  Now, my vocal warm up is an integral part of how I prepare before going on stage, whether or not a role requires singing.  It’s a way for me to connect with myself as well as to get energized and focused for a performance.

JB: What was your first professional role as an actor?
AT: I think my first pro gig was in Tokyo for NHK Educational, the language-teaching division of NHK, or Japan Broadcasting Corporation.  I was hired as a voice actor to record conversations for an English-teaching radio program.  The serialized dialog gave the listeners a story to follow as well as material for the weekly grammar and vocabulary lesson.  That job led to others with a similar format: Conversations or on-camera sketches from actors provided the basis for lessons that would be led by either a Japanese educator or an American teacher fluent in Japanese, paired with the show’s host.

JB: What was your first acting job in the States?
AT: My first gig in Los Angeles was quite an experience.  I had been auditioning fairly regularly through most of 2005 before I finally broke through that fall on a new Fox buddy dramedy called “Head Cases”.  Three or four episodes had already been completed when my rep called to give me the good news that I had booked a co-star role on the next one.  I was both thrilled and relieved!  My wife and I had moved to LA so that I could pursue on-camera work, so it felt incredibly validating to get that call.  My euphoria was short-lived, however, as my manager called back an hour later to tell me the gig was off!  The show had been cancelled that same day by the network after airing only two episodes.  I couldn’t believe it!  “Welcome to Hollywood,” I thought.  But, I knew there was nothing I could do about it except keep going and be ready for the next opportunity.  That was a good lesson to learn.

JB: Now I want to talk about Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.  When did you first read that book?
AT: I was twenty-six, and had known of the book for a few years.  Several friends had recommended it to me, and so I finally borrowed a copy.  I devoured it!

JB: When were you first inspired to turn it into a one-man show?
AT: I had seen a number of one-person shows in New York and Los Angeles, and by 2008 the challenge of creating my own full-length solo performance had gotten a hold of me.  However, at the time I didn’t feel capable of creating one from scratch, so I began researching source material to adapt.  I had been reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull out loud to folks for years—taking after my father, who had read to me and my brother many times when we were kids.  Richard Bach’s novella seemed a perfect fit: The book wasn’t overly long, and the original 1970 edition had a three-act structure which I thought was ideal for the stage.  (Note: A 2014 re-release of the book included a long-lost 4th section, which I didn’t feel was necessary to include in my version.)  I began tinkering with the first part, which ran about 20 minutes.  I performed it as a staged reading for the first time in 2009 at a theater showcase in LA, and the response I got was enough to convince me to continue adapting the rest of the book.

JB: What intrigued you about the book so much that you wanted to share your hard work and inspiration with others?
AT: There is a delightful relatability in the way Richard Bach tells Jonathan’s story.  His youthful, daredevil passion to learn all he can about flight becomes a life-long journey of self-discovery.  I think anyone who has faced personal demons—who has struggled to express their best and truest inward parts—can see themselves in him.  There is a strong spiritual and metaphysical theme to the story which I feel Bach presents in a down-to-earth way that never becomes preachy.  The story’s focus is always on how Jonathan, and later his students, strive to stay true to themselves in the face of their own self-doubt and society’s judgement.  It is easy to become jaded and cynical in life, especially today, which is why I feel the book is more relevant than ever.  We need compelling stories that uplift and transport us, at least for a little while, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull does just that.

JB: You’re right that we need uplifting & transporting—especially now.  I’d like to talk more about your show, but right now we’re out of time.  But I do have tickets for the Friday, August 12th performance.  As a closing remark, why don’t you tell us how you feel about performing this show in your hometown of Potsdam, New York.
AT: I’m overjoyed!  It’s a dream come true, but also a bit surreal.  The last time I performed in Potsdam was 1987 as a chorus member in Music Theater North’s South Pacific.  There will be friends and classmates at the show who’ve known me since I was eleven years old!  So, I’ll be performing for family, really.  I only wish my parents could be there—I know they would be delighted.  They were both artists and staunch supporters of the arts in Potsdam.  And, they always encouraged me and my brother in whatever we wanted to pursue in life.  Every moment on that stage will be a tribute to them.

*Andrew Thacher lives in North Hollywood, California, with his wife Kelly and cats Stanley and Sofia.  (He was a dog person growing up, but Kelly has managed to convert him.)  He has studied Shakespeare in London, rubbed shoulders with Kabuki stars in Tokyo, and assisted with mink vaccinations in Denmark (and has the scars to prove it).  You may have glimpsed him on TV here and there (find him on imdb.com) and you can catch him next on September 28th in Netflix’s Blonde.  (At least, he hopes so—he’s in the trailer!)  Andrew is also proud of his work in Audio Description, recording narrative tracks that aid those with sight impairment to more fully experience the films and shows they love.

You can see his show Jonathan Livingston Seagull: A Solo Flight at SLC Arts’ Creative Spirit Community Arts Center on Friday, August 12th, 2022 at 4 PM and Saturday, August 13th at 1 PM. Visit slcartscouncil.org/soloflight for more information and to buy tickets.

Arts Blog | Gleefully Insane Piano

If anyone wanted to enumerate the top ten best completely forgotten albums by a rock band of the late 1960s, “Another Time, Another Place” by Fever Tree should certainly rank high on the list.  

Fever Tree started out as a garage band in Houston.  After playing a variety of gigs along the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast, they moved in 1967 to Los Angeles & in 1968 recorded their first album, simply titled “Fever Tree.”  This was a funny record, half hard & half soft.  The hard songs included “Where Do You Go?” “Man Who Paints the Pictures,” & their biggest radio song, “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native),” plus their version of wicked Wilson Pickett’s hit tune “Ninety-Nine and one Half.”  The soft songs were slow & placid, featuring piano, gently plucked guitar, & even orchestration.  Next came “Another Time, Another Place.”

But first let’s introduce the band.  The lead singer is Dennis Keller, a mysterious figure w/ a raspy voice.  Keller’s official bio says that his birthplace is “unknown,” which certainly adds to the mystery.  On lead guitar we’ve got Michael Knust (known on recordings only as Michael).  He was apparently inspired as a lad by attending live performances by Jimi Hendrix & Eric Clapton, which accounts for much of his ethereal, experimental guitar work.  Thumping the bass is E.E. Wolfe III, a solid & steady performer.  The guy who really gives the band class is Rob Landes; his elegant organ, flute, clavinette, & piano perfectly fill in any dead spaces & set the mood for every song.  Mean-faced drummer John Tuttle can slam the snare as hard as anyone, but he also knows when to pull back & just cool it.  Together, this ensemble always plays as a synchronized unit, particularly on their second album—oh, one more thing: husband-wife team Scott & Vivian Holtzman write most of the lyrics & seem to act as inspirational gurus for the band.  

Anyway, now for “Another Time, Another Place.”  The album kicks off w/ a remake of “Man Who Paints the Pictures” from their first record.  When they recorded the song on their initial album, it sounded to me like a mad, rapid march, a little dark & sinister.  They slowed down its pace on their second album, creating a classic nearly-seven minute FM radio monster.  The song has everything: husky vocals, intriguing lyrics, wild forward-&-backward guitar, oceanic organ, savage drums, lurking bass, varied tempo.  It’s really a masterpiece, followed by “What Time Did You Say it is in Salt Lake City?” a group party song w/ honky-tonk piano apparently about a guy (stoned or drunk) stuck in a Georgia airport while he’s trying to get to Utah.  We’ve all been there.

“Don’t Come Crying to Me Girl” sounds exactly like you’d expect.  The guy has little pity or sympathy for the girl, but in truth we don’t know much about the particular situation.  Next up is a fairly steamy version of “Fever,” a song earlier popularized by red-hot Peggy Lee, that displays singer Dennis Keller at his vocal best.  Side One closes w/ “Grand Candy Young Sweet,” a brief powerhouse that features Keller experiencing extreme lust.

Side Two begins w/ “Jokes are for Sad People,” a sweet, playful, & sporadically melancholy instrumental in excess of seven minutes.  It’s all done w/ piano, guitar, & flute.  “I’ve Never Seen Evergreen” is gentle & filled w/ dreamlike images, sung by guitarist Michael Knust & written by him in collaboration w/ the Holtzmans.  

“Peace of Mind” starts out gentle too, but don’t worry—the pace picks up quickly, the whole band charging forward aggressively.  Which bring us to the album’s closer, “Death is the Dancer.”  Drums & bass tap out an insistent beat—you can tell that something great is about to arrive.  And it does.  And it’s a smart song, too—kind of about social justice, but really bigger than that.  It’s sort of an angry & disillusioned shout at the cosmic void, the vast hungry maw that awaits us all at the end of our days.  This is capped by a coda of gleefully insane piano, the kind you don’t hear very often.  It’s exciting & an absolute curtain-closer.  

Well, if you plan to list the top ten best completely forgotten albums by a rock band of the late 60s, “Another Time, Another Place,” by Fever Tree gets my vote.



Arts Blog | And what is Arcology?

How would you like to live in the desert? I do appreciate the strange and austere beauty of these arid lands, but everything there seems to want to kill you: rattlesnakes, coral snakes, Gila monsters, wild pigs, scorpions, giant spiders (tarantulas and huge wolf spiders), centipedes, jaguars, wolves, mountain lions. Look up—you’ll see vultures, hawks, eagles, ravens. Even the plants are all spiked with nasty needles, and the juices of some are deadly to drink. Not a hospitable and easily domesticated place at all!

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.architecturalrecord.com%2Farticles%2F2847-remembering-paolo-soleri-1919-2013&psig=AOvVaw0BYCSizQHEQ2Q1QWNvh0te&ust=1649350693360000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAoQjRxqFwoTCKDJ76T0__YCFQAAAAAdAAAAABADPaolo Soleri was born in Italy in 1919. Shortly after the conclusion of the Second World War, he earned his master’s degree in Architecture and came to the USA to study with famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Arizona. In 1950, he and his wife Colly went to Italy to work on several large architectural projects; they must have liked the desert because they returned to Arizona in 1956. In 1969, by then a professor at Arizona State University, Soleri coined the term Arcology, a combo of Architecture and Ecology, for his book, Arcology: The City in the Image of Man. And in 1970, with a group of supporters, he began to build Arcosanti. 

Arcosanti was Soleri’s dream project. The intent was for it to be an example of Arcology, a self-sustaining community in the desert with a full-time population of roughly 5,000. Located about an hour north of Phoenix, just off Route I-17, it’s been going ever since, over 50 years. Soleri died in 2013, but his followers carry on the tradition. At this point, Arcosanti has a bakery, a spacious café, apartments and dorms for residents and guests, an art gallery, gardens and greenhouses, hiking trails, a foundry, various ceramic and woodworking studios, a swimming pool, and an amphitheater (live music). Visitors have access to tours and workshops. The actual full-time population is now only around 100. Still, the idea is to build a sustainable micro-city by building up, not out. Soleri was wary of unregulated urban and suburban sprawl.

Soleri evidently had a fondness for working with bronze. So the foundry here specializes in bronze work, specifically elaborate bronze bells, internationally famous. You can hear the wind-blown bells chime and bong across the grounds.

https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Tatooine/LegendsLiving in the middle of the desert may not sound like such a treat, but you never know. George Lucas is said to have visited Arcosanti and based Luke Skywalker’s home Tatooine (the desert planet) on it, but this story is unverified. If you want to visit, I hear there’s a lot to do—you can book an Airbnb or a guest room, but it’s advisable to call several months in advance; hosting over 30,000 visitors every year keeps the joint fairly packed.

The domes, spires, inclined walkways, and odd artistic architecture—all the color of sand and stone—make the place look like the cover of a futuristic science-fiction novel. You can check out lots of recent videos online.

I think the world needs more Arcosantis.

Arts Blog | The Latest Event: Poetry & Music

The Latest Event: Poetry & Music

The third open-mic poetry & music event of the season was held on Saturday,
March 5th , at the Creative Spirit Community Arts Center in downtown Potsdam.
The event was hosted by the St. Lawrence Area Poets (SLAP) in collaboration with
the St. Lawrence County Arts Council. The turnout was pretty good, about 25-30
people. I’ll run through the poets & musicians & hope I don’t leave anyone out.
Steve LaMere kicked things off with four songs strummed on acoustic guitar,
including Creedence Clearwater Revival, & the big hit—David Bowie’s “Space
Oddity.” Steve sings with verve.

Nikki Farris read one of the poems from her brand-new book, Pieces of Me.
Nikki was forced to leave early but promises that she’ll be back.

Next up was the always surprising & resourceful Alaina Goodrich, who
recited some poems, sang a cappella a cute song that she had written that morning,
& concluded with a wicked rap poem inspired by Will Smith.

Donald McNutt read a seasonal late-winter early-spring poem by William
Carlos Williams then sang & played a number of Pink Floyd songs, his specialty.
Aviva Gold followed McNutt with a few acoustic songs that to me belong
somewhere between Folk & Country. Let’s call them bits of Americana. My
favorite was the one about plowing the roads in St. Lawrence County where it’s
always snowing. Aviva also included a song she wrote about her chief musical
inspiration, Brandi Carlile.

Back to poetry. Kayla French shared several amazing poems about growing
up in a toxic city, life & death–& gritty, enlightening travels through Latin
America. And, a first-time apiarist, Kayla also read one about her sweet little bees.
Rivka Eckert shared a couple of hers including one serious poem about

Esthela Calderón read two of her poems written in Spanish; her husband
Steven White then read his translations of her poems in English.
Kris Rozelle’s kaleidoscopic poems were like her colorful art collages,
vibrating with words, images, & emotions.

Photographer, painter, & poet Thomas LaBarge read his two image-filled

And Marie Engels drove all the way from Dickinson Center for the event,
bringing her acoustic guitar, sheet music, & her strong, clear voice. Marie sang
roughly a half-dozen sad folk songs. The best was “Galileo” by the Indigo Girls &
one by Jewel.

Exotic John Berbrich read a couple of his & also honored the crowd with an a
cappella version of his original hard rock song, “Osaka Rocker,” after which the
joint was hopping.

Microphones & amplifiers were provided by SUNY Potsdam’s Madstop
Records. Madstop’s CEO Olivia Cole-Berry & Events Coordinator Joshua Phelps
were on hand to lend expert technical assistance.

Delicious refreshments were kindly donated by Dunkin’ Donuts & Subway.
Keeping things running smoothly were the Arts Council’s Marketing
Coordinator Jenna Clute & Programs Coordinator Amanda Mason.

A big Thank-You to everyone who donated, participated, or showed up to
watch & listen. Hope I haven’t forgotten anyone.

Amanda Mason is working on another open-mic event for April so check
the Art’s Council’s web page or Facebook page, both at slcarts, for upcoming
programs & events.

Arts Blog | Two Book Reviews

Two Book Reviews




One Branch. Stuart Bartow.

Winchester, Virginia. Red Moon Press. 2019
Reviewed by John Berbrich


Stuart Bartow’s latest collection of poetry contains roughly one-hundred
haiku and some half-dozen haibun. His book opens with an invitation,
reminding me of Robert Frost’s poem “Pasture,” which opens his Complete
Poems (1958): Frost’s entire poem is longer than a haiku, yet still short, only
two 4-line stanzas, each of which ends with the line: “I shan’t be gone
long.—You come too.” It’s a friendly invitation. Bartow’s opening haiku is

open all night
the path
into the woods

I can see that path and longed to follow it into the depths of the book. So I did.
Haiku is frequently organized according to the season. One Branch begins
early in the year, deep winter, and concludes somewhere in late autumn. So let’s
follow along chronologically, shall we.

winter nights near the woodstove
cats sprawled
across my table

This is a plausible winter scene, although in my house instead of cats on the table
you’d see dogs on the floor—sprawled, of course.
Haiku are traditionally written in three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. Like Jack
Kerouac, Bartow doesn’t stick strictly to this standard, but he does keep his poems
short. Here’s a one-liner:

the bear in my window winter stars

His work is so visual. There’s that constellation, right in the window, Ursa Major
of course. And he’s got this thing about the stars and the sky:
blizzard night
above it all

antenna still over the roof
those old shows
deep space

In the blizzard poem, you can’t see the stars yet you know they’re there—you can
feel them. And everyone can see that antenna. In my mind, I discern its skeletal
shadow on the metal roof, cast by the moon.

clothing drop off

my brother’s cowboy boots

Memories linger behind that one, some sad and others happy. One of the things I
like about real haiku is how it captures moments of life exactly right. And edging
into spring, an example:

a wobbly V of geese
in the wrong direction

Everyone who occasionally looks up has seen geese flying north in winter and
south in summer. It doesn’t make any sense, but life seldom makes real sense.
The point here is that our expectations are often thwarted and delightfully turned
on their heads.

full moon over my house
just as bright
as over McMansions

Can you see that one? I can, brightly. And there’s room for a bit of startling
humor from Oz and a North Country field:

someone whistling
in the diner’s kitchen
if I only had a brain
away in a field
stray goats

Summer, all fresh and radiant, comes next:

not one soul tonight
mimic the Pleiades
a picture-book garden
but mine
has wild bees
1930’s first baseman’s mitt
summers buried
in the leather
peony buds
trying to open the doors
old farm gone
to meadow
brown butterflies grazing

This next I’ve experienced many times:

before the lawnmower grasshopper stampede

This one reminds me of the haiku of Issa, Japanese master poet from 200 years
ago, who often wrote with a concern for the poor unfortunates of the world.

October spiderlings
where will you go

for winter

And the year draws toward its close with things dark and a little spooky:

Halloween night
a witch rings
my dead doorbell
the far side of the moon
we never found
just before dawn

something dark
moving across the yard
3:00 a.m.
the wind changes
her song

To conclude, a well-written haiku is like a small gem. Within the pages of this
book, I have found treasure. I plan to read it again.—You come too.






Save Our Ship. Barbara Ungar.

Ashland, Ohio. Ashland Poetry Press. 2019.
Reviewed by John Berbrich


Let’s start with the title. Who could devise a better title for a poetry book
published in these tumultuous, chaotic, deadly times than Save Our Ship? And
Ungar is sending Morse Code—a genuine plea for help. The title of each poem is
accompanied by a key letter from that title fashioned in code: like . . . – – – . . . for
Save Our Ship, et cetera. The poems are listed on the Contents page in roughly
alphabetical order; for instance, “Dear Bill” appears between “Emily Dickinson’s
Estate Sale” and “Endnotes to Coral Reefs.” Otherwise we start with “Accident
Report” and end with “After Zumba.”

Although Ungar’s poems immerse us in the dangerous destructive waters of
the present day, she includes many references to and epigraphs by historical
personages like Horace, Melville, Yeats, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Paul Ehrlich,
including numerous epigraphs from the Old Testament and references to figures in
Greek mythology. These either support the theme of the poem or present what
Ungar opposes.

The poet tackles big global problems like the death of coral reefs, climate
change, the disappearance of words, troubles in the Middle East, extremes of
genetic research, big bombs, animal extinction, and wrecked relationships.
Some of these are presented simply as “mostly” found poems. The contents
of “Endnotes of Coral Reefs” come from the book Coral Reefs by Lesley A.
DuTemple and an unattributed New York Times article from April 2016. The title
“Endnotes” is meant to be taken literally. And “Naming the Animals” takes us on
an alphabetical tour of extinct species—from the Angel Island Mouse to the
Zanzibar Leopard—and concludes with the stark line: “Four species an hour.”

“Elegy” simply lists words culled from the 2018 Oxford Junior
Dictionary—samples include “acorn,” “buttercup,” “dandelion,” “heron,” “lark,”
“mistletoe,” “nectar,” “newt,” “pasture,” and “willow,”—and replaced with “blog,”
“MP3 player,” “voice-mail,” “chatroom,” and “attachment,” among others, a true

Romantic entanglements don’t always fare well in Ungar’s lines. So many
years later, she sees bits of her old flame in her first boyfriend’s face. There’s a
chance encounter with her son’s father while cross-country skiing. Although we
have the wrecked relationship of “X-Wife,” messy break-ups in Lower Manhattan,
and some bitter words for men in “Quoth the Queane,” it’s not all bad. “Interior
Paramour” is about a suave dream-lover; the poem concludes with a glow: “his
radiance / like a jack-o-lantern’s / shines from within // even when you wake /
weirdly happy / and alone again.”

In a collection as rich as this, one is sure to find intensely personal work.
Ungar addresses her deceased brother in “Dear Bill,” quoting his individualistic
wisdom in every stanza, apologizing toward the end, “I’m always late with thank
yous, / this one, decades.”

Ungar comes out in support of public breast-feeding in “Maria Lactans,”
telling mothers not to “worry about your wasband or consort. / They’re just
jealous. / American men are obsessed with nursies. / If only more fed to their
heart’s delight / there’d be less war, more / lineaments of satisfied desire.”

Let’s finish with “Cassandra,” a beautiful woman of ancient Greek literature,
cursed to prophesy the truth but never to be believed. To me, this sounds like
Barbara Ungar herself, peeking into the future, although she says it’s “Hard to see
its exact shape. The hot parts / hotter, vineyards aflame. / Cities underwater. /
Archipelagos of plastic trash. / Flotillas of fire ants.” Sound familiar? Her
comment at the end: “So many lotus eaters. / What would it take / to wake them
up?” And what, indeed, will it take for people to heed this current-day Cassandra?
Save Our Ship is the worthy winner of the prestigious Richard Snyder
Memorial Prize, awarded in memory of Professor Richard Snyder, who served for
fifteen years as the English department chair at Ashland University, co-founded the
university’s creative writing major, and also co-founded and co-edited the Ashland
Poetry Press. I’d like to see more work from this poet.