Monday, December 18, 2006

Suddenly, the Poet

The dead are always looking down on us, they say
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
They are looking down through the
glass-bottom boats
of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity.

Garrison Keillor's sublime radio show Prairie Home Companion featured from New York City this week Billy Collins, the 44th U.S. Poet Laureate and professor of English composition at New York City College. Fans of Collins cheer that he is the first Poet Laureate since Robert Frost to enjoy both critical and popular acclaim. Since I tend to be over-exuberant about things that interest me, I will spare you the descriptors and simply let you decide.

"This lament for the diminished audience is a soap opera, a 'Little Match Girl' of high culture. To me that's ridiculous because the facts are that good poetry is exorbitantly rewarded with grants, travel, fame and positions in universities that were unthinkable 20 years ago. It's a wild time to be a poet." says Collins.

Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.
It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again
I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.
I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.
I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.
And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.
It’s the one about the one-ton
temple bell
with the moth sleeping on the surface,
and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.
When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.
When I say it into the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.
And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,
and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

"Poetry is my cheap means of transportation," Mr. Collins said. "By the end of the poem the reader should be in a different place from where he started. I would like him to be slightly disoriented at the end, like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield. There is a wonderfully self-entertaining aspect to all of this. You feel delightfully insane in a way, slipping the bonds of logic."


“Never use the word suddenly just to
create tension.” —Writing Fiction

Suddenly, you were planting some yellow petunias
outside in the garden,
and suddenly I was in the study
looking up the word oligarchy for the thirty-seventh time.
When suddenly, without warning,
you planted the last petunia in the flat,
and I suddenly closed the dictionary
now that I was reminded of that vile form of governance.
A moment later, we found ourselves
standing suddenly in the kitchen
where you suddenly opened a can of cat food
and I just as suddenly watched you doing that.
I observed a window of leafy activity
and, beyond that, a bird perched on the edge
of the stone birdbath
when suddenly you announced you were leaving
to pick up a few things at the market
and I stunned you by impulsively
pointing out that we were getting low on butter
and another case of wine would not be a bad idea.
Who could tell what the next moment would hold?
Another drip from the faucet?
Another little spasm of the second hand?
Would the painting of a bowl of pears continue
to hang on the wall from that nail?
Would the heavy anthologies remain on their shelves?
Would the stove hold its position?
Suddenly, it was anyone’s guess.
The sun rose ever higher.
The state capitals remained motionless on the wall map
when suddenly I found myself lying on a couch
where I closed my eyes and without any warning
began to picture the Andes, of all places,
and a path that led over the mountain to another country
with strange customs and eye-catching hats
suddenly fringed with little colorful, dangling balls.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wit, Will and Walls - Save the Date

Lend your voice to an historic documentary by participating in 2 public premieres of Wit, Will and Walls; the Betty Kilby Fisher Story. Presented by SUTV and The Knowledge Point.

February 16, Warren County High School, Front Royal

February 18, Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, Winchester

SU graduate Betty Kilby Fisher was just 13-years-old when she became a plaintiff to desegregate Warren County Schools in 1958. The activism that her family embraced and the subsequent violence they endured for their beliefs shaped Betty's life and the lives of those around her. After decades of facing racism and misogyny that brought on rage and depression, Betty now embraces her role as an African American elder whose incredible story leads us on a path to recognition and reconciliation.

Specific times TBD.

Mean People...

Okay, so those who know me understand that I am not opposed to the occasional affront to gentility, nor the well-placed bomblette to civility. But I believe David Pogue is right-on in today's NYTimes blog in calling for a time-out in both online grammer gnashing and etiquette bashing.

Here is an excerpt:

Slashdot and are extremely popular sites for tech fans. Each discussion begins with the presentation of an article or Web page–and then opens up the floor for discussion.

Lately, an increasing number of the discussions devolve into name-calling and bickering. Someone might submit, say, this item to Digg:

685 diggs. “AWESOME astronomy poem.” (posted by MetsFan 3 days ago)
Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky,Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.

Before long, the people’s feedback begins, like this:
by baddude on 12/11/06
What’s yr problem, moron. You already said it’s a star, why would you then wonder what it is. Get a clue, or a life.

by neverland2 on 12/11/06
Dugg down as inaccurate. Stars do not twinkle. It’s the shifting atmosphere that causes an apparent twinkle. Or were you stoned all through science class?

by mrobe on 12/11/06
yo neverland2–It’s a poem, idiot. Nobody’s claiming that stars twinkle. Ever heard of poetic license?

Honestly, the intellectual level of you people is right up there with a gnat’s.

…and so on.

Monday, December 04, 2006

More Wisdom...

Out beyond all ideas
of right doing
and wrong doing
there is a field.

I'll meet you there.


Wit, Will and Walls; Putting the VFH Grant to Bed

It has been a fast and fascinating year creating the short version of Wit, Will and Walls; my first foray into independent filmmaking in conjunction with Shenandoah University. The 15-minute first phase of the program is finished thanks to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities for their research grant of $12,000.00.

I wondered what I would find when I took steps toward social issue documentaries beyond work-for-hire as a director/producer with mainstream broadcast and cable outlets. VFH was an amazing partner on this project; from their support during the grant writing process to the recent final phase of wrapping budget and reports. VFH focus on ideas and the history and culture of Virginia continues to be a huge inspiration and source of energy around a very challenging project.

Thanks specifically to:

Robert Vaughn, VFH President
Dr. David Bearinger, VFH Director, Grants and Public Programs
Tori Talbot, VFH Program Associate

Thank you to the talented filmmakers and actors who worked with me on the project:
Sheila Smith, Director of Photography
Clai Lashley, Lighting Director
Ted Roth, Audio Recordist
Ahren Fehr, 2nd Camera
Theodore Snead, Actor
Tanesia Fisher, Actor
Kevin Matheson
Nick Matheson
Hallie Penwell
Cody Penwell, Production Associates
Javier Inon, Imaging Advisor

Thank you to Shenandoah University faculty and staff:
Dr. Tracy Fitzsimmons, Vice President of Academic Affairs
Bill Austin, The Knowledge Point History and Tourism Center Program Director
Dr. Warren Hofstra, Historian
Dr. James Bryant, Historian
Rick Ours, Director SUTV
Sandy Snyder, Grant Support
Bonnie Miller, Production Support

Thanks to the scholars who participated so eloquently in the public meeting:

Dr. Deborah Lee, Independent Public Historian
Dr. Lisa Lindquist Dorr, Historian University of Alabama
Dr. Cynthia Fleming, Historian, University of Tennessee
Phyllis Slade Martin, Consulting Historian
Dr. Douglas Smith, Occidental College
Dr. Lauranett Lee, Virginia Historical Society
Ray Crawford, PhD Candidate in Political Science, Howard University, Performance Poet

And many, many thanks to the inspiring and insightful Betty Kilby Fisher and to her dynamic and supportive family.

So many people were generous with their support and their time on this project. So far we have tallied more than $31,000 in in-kind contributions.

Here are some excerpts from my final report:

The Public Meeting

The VFH grant fostered better understanding of the humanities in the public meeting by bringing together prominent humanities scholars from around the country to discuss the historic and current state of race, gender and integration in Virginia. The panel achieved that understanding through the examination of Betty Kilby Fisher’s story of being a plaintiff in the Supreme Court case to desegregate Warren County schools in the late 1950’s. The audience of about 20 members was active and responsive with comments and questions during the 4-hour meeting and the participants diverse and cohesive in their contributions to the discussion.

Radio and print media advanced the public meeting and the Northern Virginia Daily and The Winchester Star ran lengthy articles covering the meeting itself. I am pleased to note that the publisher of the Winchester Star is Harry T. Byrd, grandson of the Sen. Harry Byrd Sr., the architect of Massive Resistance. The Star has given this project ongoing and extensive press, including a sidebar to an August article about our reenactments titled “What was Massive Resistance?”.

Those who could not attend the public meeting are still able to watch C-SPAN-style coverage of it in four-30 minute shows that continue to air for one month per show on Winchester Community Television through the rest of 2006. These shows will be made available in the Shenandoah University Library and to anyone who has an interest in them. I will send copies of those to the VFH as soon as they finish airing.

The Promotional Reel

The Wit, Will and Walls project continued to receive press attention in the Winchester area and throughout Northern Virginia in early August when we shot recreations of a few scenes from Betty Kilby Fisher’s life for the promotional reel. Betty’s 16-year-old granddaughter Tanesia portrayed Betty with grace and maturity, veteran DC actor Theodore Snead, of PBS’s upcoming Prince Among Slaves, played Betty’s father and we shot on-location in period costumes at Warren County High School and at the Virginia State Arboretum.

The promo reel carries on where the public meeting left off; by promoting understanding of the humanities in the past and in the present by allowing the narrative of the Betty Kilby Fisher story to be told through the eyes and in the voice of these premiere humanities scholars on a DVD.

The promo reel was originally intended to run 5-minutes, but the material from the public meeting was so compelling that I created a mini-documentary which now runs 15-minutes in length.

I believe this short piece provides an opportunity beyond fundraising for the film to begin community dialogue about race and reconciliation by drawing an audience into a discussion about one individual’s experience. I have already pre-premiered the piece before a journalism class at the University of Richmond and in audience surveys students commented that they felt the piece was moving and that they wanted to know more about Betty’s story. I have also been invited to speak at the University of Tennessee on November 14th and at Virginia Commonwealth University before the end of the semester.
I will actively seek community and educational presentations for this piece and I will look to VFH and others for advice on how to do that effectively. As I mentioned, I hope to premiere the short piece in the Front Royal region at a traditionally black venue and perhaps at Warren County High School in Front Royal preferably during Black History Month of 2007.

I also feel this short piece will make an excellent companion to Betty Kilby Fisher’s book and I hope to distribute it through SU’s History and Tourism center website and through Betty Kilby Fisher’s company. I will also be seeking ideas and advice from VFH on distribution and after life of this short piece.

The Long-Form Documentary

The treatment and the shoot script are underway for the long-form documentary which SU intends to premiere in the fall of 2008; 50 years after the anniversary of the Supreme Court case which desegregated Warren County schools. The main objective that has emerged the course of this grant process is to find a way to make this historical documentary appealing and enlightening to a younger crowd. That means using contemporary footage, music and shooting techniques wherever possible, limiting the use of or stylizing any archival photos and footage. I point to HBO’s Iron Jawed Angels, Alex Gibney’s Academy Award-winning Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Jeff Feuerzeig’s The Devil and Daniel Johnston as inspiration for the fresh style I hope to bring to the Betty Kilby Fisher documentary.

I believe appealing to a younger crowd also means adding another, younger main character such as Betty’s 16-year-old granddaughter Tanesia, who is thoughtful and mature and is able to bridge her family’s legacy of activism and resistance with modern day and often elusive challenges around racism.

Another consideration in reaching a younger audience is the delivery system of the documentary. A traditional broadcast of the piece will reach a certain mature demographic, and I am exploring other forms of delivery including YouTube, cell phone alerts, a website with podcasting and the festival circuit in order to reach the technologically sophisticated younger crowd. I will begin fundraising for the long form documentary around these objectives immediately.


Again, I would like to express my gratitude for including me in VFH’s grant process. I feel the public meeting and the short-form DVD have already begun to reach out and shift public awareness and perhaps they have begun to lay the groundwork for discussion, examination and hopefully reconciliation around race and misogyny that exists in communities across our country. My objectives are to continue to include and inform the public in every stage of creating this documentary, to reach out to a television audience in new and technologically savvy ways, to continue to build my relationship with the VFH around this project, and to ultimately create a fresh, inventive vehicle to educate an audience about how one story, specifically Betty Kilby Fisher’s story, can help us examine our history and the way we relate to each other in the present day.

Sincerely Yours,

Paulette Moore
Director/Producer Special Projects

College Leaders Blog

NYTimes article today about how college presidents approach blogging. Some play it safe, some tackle political issues. All who blog feel it is part of creating a buzz around their universities and opening a direct line to their students.

Some lawyers say blogging for presidents is insane - that off-the-cuff remarks can easily become a legal nightmare, but many feel it is worth the risk.

Dr. Patricia McGuire of Washington DC's Trinity University blogs about how Representative Nancy Pelosi, class of 1962, who will be the first female speaker of the House; about election results; about breaking ground for a memorial to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and about lesbian alumnae and the Roman Catholic Church, sensitive ground for a Catholic undergraduate college serving mostly minority and low-income women.

Dr. McGuire wrote that the church’s rejection of same-sex unions did not mean that the “alma mater must shun her own daughters.” She added, “All alumnae are welcome at Trinity, always.”

At Towson University, outside Baltimore, the president, Robert L. Caret, who writes Bob’s Blog, appears online in sunglasses, casually unshaven and smiling gamely alongside the Towson Tiger mascot. Dr. Caret’s blog, though, plays it safe, mostly praising particular programs like summer courses or studying abroad, or urging students to join clubs and to help spruce up the campus.

New age. Apply groovy tools with caution.

Words of Wisdom

A Zen saying I read in the magazine Shambhala Sun today that made me laugh out loud.

Open mouth, already big mistake.