A BOOK OF POEMS

As an undergrad, I majored in English.  I knew by then that I wanted to be a writer, and I anticipated that this would be the best route to go by.

So my last year and a half at the university concerned intensive studies in mostly English literature, interrupted only by one course in the post-Civil War American novel. By this time, I was past the usual adolescent obsession with Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

My main interest then was in the English poets, particularly the earlier ones, such as Chaucer and Shakespeare.  I was also happy, in a medieval history course, to also read Dante’s Inferno.  My appreciation for such bards as Milton and the Pearl Poet would develop later.

Being an English major turned out to be unpleasant in many ways.  I have consistently found literary environments to be uncongenial.

But writing is meant to be experienced in solitude.   Soon after I finished college, my grandfather passed away, and left me his large library.  This kept me reading, and enabled me to become a writer.

For a long time I considered myself primarily a prose writer.  Poetry today is little read.  Prominent poets have been compelled for their livelihood to write novels, plays or nonfiction books.

But through my writing of songs, I came to write poems on the side   Song lyrics are poetry.  Through the songs and recited poems, I came to see that my readings of the older English poets had been a major help to me.  My decision to become an English major had been the correct one.

After years of writing poems, I decided to put together a collection.  My book, On a Rainy Night, is now on sale through Amazon Kindle.

I encourage readers interested in my work to purchase a copy.  Poetry remains, in my opinion, literature’s highest achievement.  A poem constitutes language in its most distilled state.

On a personal level, the writing of a poem is always a happy surprise.  I’ve enjoyed writing these poems, and I hope you will enjoy reading them.

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ISLANDS

The falcon women in my life

were born on islands:

my wife, Oahu, in the hospital

known for Pearl Harbor,

my mother Long Island of the hurricanes,

one grandmother, the policeman’s daughter,

Staten Island,

the other Sicily,

where Aetna rocked her girlhood.

Two great grandmothers in Ireland,

where one’s house was burned

in the troubles.

 

And I, who have spent so much time on

continents, would be lost for following

the sea, but islands give me bearings.

 

 

The above poem is from my verse collection On a Rainy Night, soon to be

released as a book through Amazon Kindle.

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A NOTE ON ALASKA

As the daytime temperature remains above 100 degrees, I walk the city streets thinking of lakes and woodlands.  Especially lately, I’ve been remembering Alaska.

The wildness of Alaska always captured my imagination.  As a lad of eleven, I hoped that someday I could spend a winter staying in cabin up in the Yukon.  Not quite grasping the wildlife then, I imagined myself being confronted by polar bears.  That didn’t quite happen, but a year after I married, I took a cruise off the Alaskan coast with my wife.

Roughly three years ago, I went salmon fishing on a charter boat motoring the waters of Lake Ontario.  That cruise was quite successful.  A number of salmon were caught by me that day.  But the captain shook his head when my friend Jimmy told him that I had caught no salmon in Alaska.

“How’d you go all the way up to Alaska, and catch no salmon?” the captain asked me.

But stranger things have happened.  I’ve seen enough film clips of grizzlies swatting up salmon for their next meal.  That, unfortunately, was not my experience of Alaska.

As a group of tourists, we chartered boats one afternoon off of Juneau.  The boat’s mates gave us smoked salmon to eat as we went out on the water, and told us the salmon we’d be looking for.  “We catch some king salmon,” he said.

This caught the attention of one man from Tennessee.  “King fish!” he said.  “They’ve got king fish here?!”

“No, that’s king salmon,” the boat mate told him.

There was only one salmon caught out of our boat that afternoon.  I think that one other salmon was caught in a fleet of four.  I got one nibble.  A salmon was on my line, but quickly ran under the boat away from me.

Still, I don’t consider the journey a total loss.  The bald eagle has made an impressive comeback, and a number of bald eagles were with us that afternoon.  These large birds are impressive fishers, and a large flock of them swooped up the pig fat slices that the mates through from our boat.  My wife was able to get a number of photos of them.

The best nature experiences are the ones unexpected.  Perhaps the biggest thrill of that day involved seeing the spouting of a humpback whale off in the distance.  Because of climate changes already occurring, this whale was arriving in the area slightly before its usual season.

Alaska remains a unique experience.  I may someday go back, probably to explore its majesty through the inland railroad.  And if I decide to fish in the 50th state again, the grizzlies there won’t consider me much of a competition.

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CRITICAL PATRIOTISM

I’m here to talk about something I call Critical Patriotism.  We all know only too well that our government’s practices are often a far cry from the ideals we espouse as Americans.

I have repeatedly witnessed gross injustice occur in this country.  We should not assume because we are Americans, and have democratic laws and institutions, that we do not make the same mistakes or achieve the same injustices that people commit in authoritarian countries.  As humans, we are vulnerable to making these errors.  To think that our American status will keep us from making them is delusion.

We have developed several disturbing habits in this country during the past few decades.  Not merely do large numbers of people continue to live in poverty, but the middle class has dwindled to the extent of now being a minority.  The standard of living for all but a few has substantially declined.

We also like to think of racism as a vestige of the past, but our federal, state and local governments practice institutional racism.  It is an essential part of police procedures that result in the constant harassment of black people.  It is institutionalized in the mass incarceration of black men that has been the ruin of many families.

So seeing these injustices, the question then arises: If America is not what it appears to be, should we continue to be patriotic?  Our should we lose faith in our stated mission as a free society?

Seeing all these practices, I understood why the football player Koepernick chose to kneel during the National Anthem.  Yet I fundamentally disagree with that decision.  I felt nothing but anger when Andrew Cuomo said that America was never so great.

My nephew served the Army in Iraq and Kuwait.  My father-in-law was shot in the chest in Vietnam.  Had the bullet landed less than an inch away from where it did, he would not have survived.

My mother’s uncle served in France during World War I.  While driving a supply truck there, his truck was blown up.  He lost two ribs, and spent time in a wheelchair.

My father served in the Army four years.  While he was not engaged in combat, he served the Army well.

I will not dishonor these relatives.  Nor will I dishonor the others who served, often at the cost of their lives, or physical or mental wellbeing.  They deserve better.

Our government fails because it is made of human beings.  Such frailty creates the need for vigilance in upholding our democratic principles.  If we are patriotic, we should not blindly accept what our leaders do.

We must fight injustice.  We must work for economic and legal change.  We must resist the calls of future leaders for the nation’s further entry into unjust wars.

But patriotic we must be.  Archibald MacLeish said that America was promises, and it is our task to see that these promises are kept.  This is done by faith in those promises, and an active commitment to them.

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NYC SPRING 2019

I’ve come to consider New York City trips as including stops in the Hudson Valley.  The Hudson Valley is a particularly rich area.  Rich in history, and handsome in topography.  It seems to have almost as much history as the City, going back to the 1600’s.

Many of the Dutch who originally settled in Nieuw Amsterdam soon enough made their way out of the City.  They made homes on both sides of the Hudson River, going up as far as Albany on the west, and Rensselaer County on the east.  Among these settlers were the Roosevelts, who established commercial and political connections in Duchess County.

In recent trips to the City, my wife and I have stayed in Tarrytown, near the River in Westchester.  We’ve found that New York is mainly a rural state.  In the Hudson Valley, as soon as you get as far north as upper Westchester, you are back in the country.  So removed from the urban sprawl that has overcome White Plains and Yonkers.

The route we take to Tarrytown starts with Interstate 81 south.  Near Binghamton we get onto 17 southeast.  There are not many diversions on 17 between Hancock and Monticello, but 17 has become considerably faster since it’s been widened.  The traveler no longer needs to do into Pennsylvania and then New Jersey as a faster route to the City.

In Rockland County, where the traffic suddenly builds up, 17 converts into the Thruway.  From Rockland, the traveler crosses the new Mario Cuomo Bridge across the Hudson into Westchester.

But on our most recent trip, we took a detour from Goshen, in Orange County, into Newburgh.  Newburgh is a very old city, dating from the late 1700’s.  It seems more urban than most of the places in the Hudson Valley.  Many of its houses are quite old.

We went to Newburgh for the purpose of seeing George Washington’s headquarters there.  Washington had many experiences in the Hudson Valley, most of them unpleasant.  He was all but chased out of Manhattan, the upper part still wooded, by the British.  In Brooklyn he lost the Battle of Long Island.  He then had the disastrous Battle of White Plains.

But his stay in Newburgh, from 1782 to 1783, was probably more pleasant.  The recent battle at Yorktown had all but ensured the Colonists’ victory, and the General’s work was now to administratively wrap up the war while peace terms were being negotiated in Paris.

Still, the General’s stay in Newburgh wasn’t entirely happy.  Considerable unrest and anxiety arise among a number of his officers as to their future after the war, and Washington had to use his best skills as a politician to placate them.

The headquarters, a home rented by the colonial army from local farmers, is like other eighteenth century homes in its stark simplicity.  All of which comes as a shock to tourists used to seeing graceful nineteenth century homes.  My wife, who, unlike me, had been to Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, said that this house reminded her of Mount Vernon in that respect.  While the place was probably comfortable enough for Washington to use with his wife and office staff, it was little more than utilitarian.

Tow at Washington's Headquarters

Tower at Washington’s Headquarters

A final word should be said on Washington’s headquarters.  In the late nineteenth century, a tower was built on the grounds.  The tower features impressive statues honoring the military and states of the new nation, and offers the tourist hardy enough to climb its stairs an imposing view of the Hudson.

The following day, after we had spent the first day of our trip in the Hudson Valley, we took the Metro North into the City.  From Manhattan we subwayed into the area of Brooklyn near Prospect Park.

Brooklyn was the home base of my mother’s family for a century, from the 1840’s through the 1940’s.  The areas I’ve seen of it have always been pleasant.  With its brownstones, it’s always seemed more residential than Manhattan, although Manhattan is actually residential and family-orientated, if at a faster pace.

After walking a few blocks, we went to the famous Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.  The Botanical Gardens, like the Met Museum and the Natural History Museum, is an immense experience.  There is more for a visitor to look and smell through than perhaps can be accomplished in a day.  It has several types of flowers and plants featured from all parts of the world.

Brooklyn Botanical GardensOf particular interest to me was the Shakespeare Garden.  William Shakespeare was an avid gardener, and the plants presented in the garden named for him had quotes from his poems and plays referring to them specifically.

The Botanical Gardens are now involved in a local zoning controversy.  A developer named Continuum has petitioned the City of New York for permission to build 39-story residential towers.  This building would deprive the Botanical Gardens of needed sunlight, and severely affect the planting there.  The rezoning and proposed towers should be blocked as being against the public good.

Angelo's Pizza NYCFrom Brooklyn, we returned to midtown Manhattan, and saw a show.  Before the show we had dinner at Angelo’s Pizza, located in the Ed Sullivan Theatre building on Broadway, near 53rd Street.  We can depend on Angelo’s for getting us quickly through dinner in time for the show, and that night we were able even to do a little shopping.

The show we saw was a musical version of Beetlejuice.  It was well written and well performed, certainly one of the more comic shows I’ve seen on the Great White Way.  But it was not among my favorites.

The following day we went to see the T. Rex exhibit at the Natural History Museum, located by 78th Street on the west side of Central Park.  I’ve been to the Natural History Museum a number of times, and usually with my interest concentrated on its dinosaurs.

T. Rex skeletonThe exhibit presented bone samples of T. Rex individuals, as well as close relatives.  One feature was an interactive video presenting a giant T. Rex and small dinosaurs, probably the behemoth’s children.

This video was a special delight to the human children there.  Many of them would chase after the small dinosaurs on the screen.  When the protective mother T. Rex would chase after them, the little humans would scurry away laughing.

Paleontology has been revolutionized since I was a small boy interested in dinosaurs, and the T. Rex presentation showed many of the fruits of those developments.

The exhibit posited that a T. Rex was actually small and birdlike in its early years.  A young T. Rex would have feathers.  But as T. Rex would grow to a gigantic size, the feathers would disappear.  The huge creature, like an elephant, would be in danger of being overheated, and nature required that the feathers fell off with its growth spurt.

A T. Rex would reach maximum size at about 20 years of age, and the average life expectancy was in the area of 27 years.  This had much to do with (1) the vulnerability of the small T. Rex to predatory attacks from other species and (2) the need for the full-grown giant to have a huge food supply.  As the earth changed, and food supplies became less plentiful, the T. Rex disappeared along with other huge dinosaurs.  The Jurassic era ended.

One particularly interesting theory advanced at the exhibit was that the skull of a T. Rex only fused around the age of 20 years.  This was showed both a huge growth spurt of the individual as well as the considerable complexity in this dinosaur’s development.  Far from the crude, slow-moving dinosaur generally imagined in my childhood, the T. Rex was a highly-evolved creature.

After leaving the Natural History Museum, we took a short trip to the Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore located on Lexington Ave.  Shakespeare serves as the official bookstore for nearby Hunter College, but it is small and cozy like an independently-owned bookseller.

We went there to see the Book Espresso machine, a mechanism that prints and binds books in minutes upon a customer’s order.  But no books were being made while we were there, so I had to simply look at the machine, and leave.

From there we made a trip St. Patrick’s Cathedral, with its refurbished, fresh-scrubbed walls.  And finally we went to the Magnolia Bakery in Rockefeller Center.  The Magnolia, known mainly for its cupcakes, became famous through the TV show Sex and the City.

Its original shop was in the Village.  It has since opened branches in Rockefeller Center and Grand Central Station.  The one in Rockefeller Center is the best: that is, the cupcakes there are the freshest.  It doesn’t perhaps have the huge lines that the bakery in the Village had a few years ago, but it is always busy.

Finally, with our purchased cupcakes in a box, we headed back to Westchester, knowing that the next day we’d be finding our way upstate.

Charles Lupia in Times Square NYC

Author with theatre tickets in Times Square

New York City is many things to many people.  To me a trip there has always been  a shot of adrenaline.

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BEETLEJUICE AS A MUSICAL

A few weeks ago I saw the musical version of Beetlejuice.  Based on the classic Tim Burton film, Beetlejuice is currently running at the Winter Garden, a space best remembered for hosting Cats.

The musical follows the film relatively closely.  It tells the story of the recently-dead likeable couple that hires the demon Beetlejuice in an attempt to expel an annoying living family from the old house they still are placed in.

Alex Brightman is close to Michael Keaton, the original Beetlejuice, in manic energy.  Beetlejuice, as we know, is a classic trickster.  He produces chaos everywhere he turns.  He is perhaps a descendant of the similarly troublemaking characters depicted by the Marx Brothers.

The entire cast is strong.  Special praise should be given to Kerry Butler, who plays the recently departed young wife in the house, and Leslie Kritzer, portraying the wannabe psychic Delia.  Sophia Caruso also holds her own, as the Gothic, death-obsessed teenager who is compelled by her father to move into the New England house.

The entire show, with a script by Scott Brown and Anthony King, has many hilarious moments.  The score, by Eddie Perfect, matches the script in wit.

But the musical doesn’t quite have the film’s punch.  The new living residents of the house come across as eccentric rather than arrogant.  Unlike Catherine O’Hara’s Delia, they don’t need to be cut down to size.  The dance scene, in which  the intruders and their dinner guests become possessed, and compelled to do a tropical dance, just seems part of the piece’s general silliness.

Departing from the film, the musical seeks to explain the Gothic teen’s obsession with death: she is wishing to reunite with her departed mother.  But the rational explanation makes this teen seem less real than her film prototype, portrayed by Winona Ryder.  And the ghost couple, while joining in the general eccentricity, lack the caring qualities that would have drawn the Gothic teen to them as surrogate parents.

Something essential is missing from this show.  It’s a given that musicals must entertain.  Yet as part of the dramatic art, they should pursue deeper truths.  It’s not enough for people to laugh at a show, and then all but forget it when they pass the exit.  Human life, even at a surreal or satirical level, must be presented in its essential reality.

Despite its successful packaging, BEETLEJUICE does not stir our souls as Hamilton or Rent do.

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SUPPORT FOR BROOKLYN BOTANICAL GARDEN

Japanese Garden - Brooklyn Botanical GardenOne of the seemingly strangest areas of real property law involves of air rights.  Yet this esoteric area has become quite pertinent, particularly as buildings have climbed to unprecedented heights in urban areas.

The buildings and activities of our neighbors affect our sunlight, air, quiet or disturbance, and the general quality of our lives.  The plot of land we inhabit is not merely the ground beneath our feet but also the air over us.

Brooklyn Botanical Garden is currently being threatened in its essential activities by a neighbor.  Continuum Development Company is seeking to build a 39 story residential complex close to the gardens.  In its effort to achieve this, Continuum is asking the City of New York to rezone its land.

This project should be blocked.  The proposed buildings, with their tall shadows, would deprive the Botanical Garden of needed sunlight.  The Garden would be unable to plant flowers and other plants over a considerable area.

We should agree that there are limits to what an owner is allowed to do with its property.  The public good may outweigh the owner’s discretion under certain circumstances, and the one in Brooklyn is one such circumstance.

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