Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Goreyesque



Last night was a momentous occasion—and I neglected to get a new outfit for it. Nevertheless, we had a great time at this: Goreyesque.

As you can see from the details, my daughter, Grace Hertenstein, was a featured reader, reading her creepy short story (completely in the Goreyesque vein) “The New Arrival.” She was second to last before Joe Meno, whose work The Office Girl I loved.

Anyway the reading gala gave us free access to the exhibit, where coincidentally one of the first display cases I visited made mention of Gorey illustrating V.R. Lang’s memoirs.

The name rang a bell, but could it be . . . ? Bunny?

What triggered this question was the fact that Gorey in 1949 was at Harvard and was initiated into drama poetry—this was exactly what happened to Frank O’Hara, AND one his muses was Bunny Lang. He would often return to Cambridge to write and perform in the Poet’s Theater.

Gorey said of Poets’ Theater,

“I was connected with this thing called the Poets’ Theater of Cambridge while I was at Harvard and afterwards. I loved it. It was kind of a goofy amateur theater where we all did the very arty plays and so forth. It was great fun… It was the most fun I had in the early days because of the variety of people who were involved – faculty, faculty children, graduates, undergraduates, and strange people.”

From Banalization.blogspot: The Poets’ Theater performed in a small 50-seat theater on Palmer St. where the COOP Annex now stands in Cambridge. When the Palmer St. theater burned down in 1968, it temporarily halted The Poets’ Theater. It was resurrected twenty years later, but in the process the Poets’ theater lost its avant-garde edge since its revival was headed by Harvard’s faculty. In Gorey’s day, one of Poets’ Theater’s claims to fame was that it staged an early production of Dylan Thomas’s work. Gorey liked to call these theatricals “entertainments,” which is inline with his affinity for Edwardian language and visuals.

I’m not sure how Violet Ranney “Bunny” Lang became the glue for a wide assortment of creatives. The Harvard class of 1950 graduated a bumper crop of poets who went on to pretty much set the stage of American poetry in the latter part of the 20th century. John Ciardi, Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Donald Hall, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Adrienne Rich, John Hawkes, Harold Brodkey, John Updike, George Plimpton, and Alison Lurie.

Again from Banalization: After his service Gorey began his studies at Harvard in 1946 at the age of twenty-one, though he was initially accepted into the school in 1943. He was part of the fabled class of 1950, the first to capitalize on the GI bill after World War Two. During that first post-war year Harvard’s student body ballooned in terms of sheer size, and also expanded in terms of social diversity. Though by no means a “multi-cultural” class in the way we think of that term today, the GI bill did allow many to attend Harvard who would otherwise never have had the financial wherewithal to do so. This was the case, for instance, for one of Gorey’s sophomore and junior year roommates, the poet Frank O’Hara. Gorey said of O’Hara: “We were giddy and aimless and wanting to have a good time and to be artists… we were just terribly intellectual and avant-garde and all that jazz.”

For O’Hara’s Try, Try, a play later included in O’Hara’s Hopwood award-winning manuscript, Gorey did the sets; the stars were John Ashbery and Bunny Lang.

I can’t believe she was that strong of a personality—I mean there were so many strong personalities—that I wonder what it was that made her stand out. I know O’Hara had a passion for witty repartee, snarky back and forth conversation that sometimes went on all night long. Also from what I’ve been able to glean (there seems to be so very little written about her) that she was supportive of the experimental arts—especially performance poetry. She paid attention.

From Alison Lurie’s memoir: People were addicted to her opinion of them; she seemed to stamp her followers with her own authenticity. “She was a special kind of woman--one who combined great literary talent with great organizational ability, driving energy and a gift for publicity.” She once wrote, directed and starred in her own play. Her “angry loyalty’ to friends and lovers helped, of course; the absolute social security of her background was perhaps even more important. “Bunny had grown up in a society so small and stable that to give someone's name was sufficient description. She was unique only in that she extended this rule to people from outside this society.” Apparently she came from money.

And costumes. As Alison Lurie marveled in her  memoir of Lang, “From the beginning Bunny was involved in every Poets’ Theatre show, as actress, director, writer, designer, and producer.” Not only that, because she never discarded something that could be worn, she had a curious collection of old clothes out of which entire poetic plays were spun. 
 
Whatever her influence, it faded like a meteor fairly quickly. She was dead by age 32 from cancer, Hodgkin’s disease in 1956.

In his Lunch Poems, “A Step Away From Them,” O’Hara writes of his friends Jackson Pollock, John Latouche, and Bunny Lang who have died, “Is the earth as full as life was full, of them?”

One more thing before I close—there is a Cape Cod connection with Edward Gorey. He had a house called Elephant House at 8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth Port. The home currently serves as a museum celebrating the life and work of Edward Gorey. Not sure if I will get down there, but would love to see it when I go to Cape Cod next week.

REMEMBER: if by any chance you—both of my readers—feel compelled to send a donation of $20 to help with my travel expenses (I’m not biking, the woman laughed, “honey you couldn’t ride over that much sand”) e-mail me or leave a comment. I surely would appreciate it—and I’ll send you a FREE PDF of my book Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir. Thanks for considering

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