Monthly Archives: September 2012

Genius Loci: the Sh*tty Barn

Some time-traveling incarnation of Ma Rainey possessed by Brian Eno,
serving the cooked and the raw, together, straight up—
that’s the guiding spirit of the Sh*tty Barn.

Here’s what we got going in Spring Green, Wisconsin right now: the nights are colder, the leaves are changing, a lot of the architects are heading to Arizona next week, but there are 10 days left of up-the-hill shows at APT, three and half more weeks at the Touchstone, and a full month of Sh*tty Barn sessions left to go. I can still pretend it’s summer, at least for a while.

Bessie Smith sang, “I hate to see that evening sun go down” in “St. Louis Blues.” I would sing, “I hate to see the Autumn Equinox.” Dark and getting darker, that’s where we are, so I rely on these local portkeys to take me somewhere else–somewhere midterms and winter aren’t on the way.

I can’t tell you how special the Sh*tty Barn is to me. Nowhere else did it make sense to perform something that I didn’t even know what to call. Not a poetry reading. Not a verse play. So what was it, in the end?

A special night, or, as one of my students told me today, “It was dope.” One terrific director, David Daniel, took a big schmear of narrative poems and shaped them into a narrative that worked on stage.

David working with Nate.

Three terrific actors–how lucky am I? Terrific venue, grants from the Spring Green Area Arts Coalition and the Sauk County Good Idea Grants program, all benefits of this wonderful place. The poet Honor Moore said Spring Green seemed to have some kind of special vortex going on–or maybe I said that and she agreed–in any case, this is a special place, with special people here for a good long while, or just a brief passing through. (You can see David, Sarah, and Nate a few more times yet this season at APT.)

Here’s Sarah Day, as Elizabeth, a character I wrote with her in mind–she’s reading from a book of poems called Speakeasy Love Hard:

Sarah reacting to Nate singing.

Here’s Ashleigh LaThrop as May, who is certainly the guiding spirit of Speakeasy Love Hard, but I think May’s also secretly the poet of it all:

Ashleigh’s sweet smile.

Here’s Nate Burger, just absolutely nailing a poem after the intermission. It’s called “Mobius Strip of a Man.” Did I mention he nailed it? He just nailed it.

Nate reading “Mobius Strip of a Man.”

Also on the list of my luckiness–being married to a man who can take such fantastic pictures.

After they’d finished Speakeasy Love Hard, Sarah asked if it was all right. “You’re scowling,” she said. I hope I conveyed sufficiently how wonderful it was (IT WAS WONDERFUL), that the look on my face is how I look when my mind is blown. Do playwrights ever get used to hearing their words come out of the mouths of amazing actors?

I feel as though a nuclear reaction has gone off in Gashouse Love, the play that needed Speakeasy Love Hard. No wonder the look on my face was intense, and not just blissed out (though I was feeling the bliss just as much). I have a lot of processing to do.

Will I be lucky enough to work more with these people in this place?

So grateful to the universe that it happened this one time. It was dope.

Speakeasy Love Hard: The Interview

I recently sat down with myself to ask myself some questions about the September 24th performance of Speakeasy Love Hard @ the Shitty Barn in Spring Green. We enjoyed some mocha latte in the busy dining room of our Spring Green home, as little Lego men tried to corral Jurassic Park dinosaurs and our crazy cat chased pipe cleaners.

Tell us about Speakeasy Love Hard .

Sexy. Funny. Poetry.

That’s what I’ve been saying, and that just about covers it, but in more specific terms, I’ve worked with David Daniel to come up with a lightly-, slightly-staged version of some of my narrative poetry.

The main feature is based around a set of poems called Speakeasy Love Hard, which take place in the 1920s. A young woman leaves home, makes a friend, meets a veteran of WWI, falls in love—experiences all the wildness of Prohibition St. Louis. There’s a little baseball, too—I have a poem called “Urban Shocker.”

Sarah Day and Nate Burger and possibly another mystery woman will be the performers for Speakeasy Love Hard.

After half-time, Nate Burger will be reading some other poems, also sexy, also shocking. David Daniel might even get in on the fun.

Shocking? Could you give us an example?

Well, sure—some general warnings—there’s profanity here and there, and what the ratings board would call sexual situations. No actual nudity though. That I know of. But definitely for mature audiences only.

This one’s called “Ballad of the Bad Man.” It’s sort of mildly shocking.

You take me down to the wrong side of town
At night you do, you know it.
For you, baby, I’d swallow the moon.
All that dark, and us glowing.

My whole life I’ve hated morning.
A sunny day can slay you.
The only thing between me and you
Is hours. I’m pretty good at waiting.

Report for duty at midnight, sir.
We get one shift of happiness.
Every joke and drink is work
To get us started. Make it last.

We both wake up from bad dreams at 3:00.
You hit me once without seeing
Who it was you hit.
I was crying before I felt it.

You take me down to the bad side of town.
At night you do, you know it.
I go down without a fight.
Wherever you want me, I’m going.

So, other than the appeal of a life of illicit lust, what would you say the message of the piece is?

Well, as I told Mr. Daniel, I don’t actually think too much about the message. I figure if I’m doing my job focusing on the music of the language and the flesh-and-bloodness of the characters, the message will just come out on its own.

But once he asked me that, I started thinking about it, and I think my work centers on these four things:

You have to laugh.
You could always have sex.
You rail at God.
You make it through.
(Repeat as needed.)

The poster is pretty hot. Could you talk a little about that?

I’m so lucky to be married to a multi-talented man! Nath Dresser is a singer songwriter—he performed recently at the Shitty Barn at a celebration of Townes Van Zandt. But he’s also a talented photographer, and he designed the poster. When he showed me the image, I just about swooned.

Have you worked with David Daniel or Sarah Day or Nate Burger before?

David was the director last year for my 10-minute play for 24-7 here in Spring Green. On the first read-through he said, “You’re insane,” but I assumed he meant that in the nicest possible way. I’d written a verse play overnight, with three sonnets and two sea-chanteys that had to be cut back for the performance. He did an admirable job shepherding my terrific actors through my insanity, so I thought he’d be good to work with again.

Sarah Day inspires me, generally and consistently and greatly, but she’s also done me the honor of reading my play drafts, and she’s done several dinner-table readings of them, and she participated in a reading/workshop at UW-Richland, of a play which is now called Second Blessing.

I think Sarah and David are phenomenal—I can’t really say enough about how thrilled I am to work with them again.

I haven’t worked with Nate before, but I’ve seen his work at APT, and I know he loves poetry, so I’m excited to get to work with him.

What’s your Bacon Number?

I think four, if writers count (and they might not). Because Randall Duk Kim’s number is two, so Sarah Day’s number is three (or hers might be higher—I’ll have to ask), so if writers count (and, again, they probably don’t), mine is four.

Everybody’s too busy and everybody’s broke. Why should anyone fork out $7 and three hours for Speakeasy Love Hard?

Great question. First of all, the actors are terrific. You know how people say they’d pay to hear certain actors read from the phone book? Well, these poems are at least as good as a phone book. Second, the Shitty Barn. I’ve never not had a good time at the Shitty Barn.

And finally, how many golf balls can you fit in a 747?

I have no idea. But 7:47 was when I was supposed to leave for school when I was grade school. I was a latch-key kid, so I was in charge of getting myself to school on time. Knowing me, 7:47 is not when I left. It’s probably just when I thought, “I’m supposed to leave now.”

All righty then. Anything else you want people to know?

Nope—just hope to see everyone on Monday, September 24, at 7:30 at the Shitty Barn! Buy your tickets in advance if you don’t want to wait in line!

Updates and information are available at

Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance at

The Heart of the Farm

for Joy

The woman, the wife, of course, could be the heart,

The husband could, or the children, doing their part

To keep machinery humming—the chore machine,

The pet machine, the house-barn-garden machine.

They grow up fast on farms, those children do.

Maybe the heart of the farm is the land. It’s true

Each generation adds their hard-earned sweat

To the soil, but it’s the land sustaining it.

I think the heart of the farm is made of wood,

Or maybe metal and enamel, handed down

When someone in the family could buy new

Or someone died. The kitchen table holds

Conversations, accounts payable, and food–

It’s so alive it almost makes a sound.

Fall Semester 2012: Already Not Excellent

I say this somewhat ironically–really, it’s too early to tell, especially since none of my classes meet until tomorrow.

But I decided to make up a “First Day of the Semester Rubric” as a way to introduce the concept of rubrics to students, and to begin talking about expectations (mine for me, theirs for me, mine for them, theirs for themselves, ours for the universe in general).

first-day rubric

And this is how the semester is already not excellent–I don’t have the full semester schedule for all my classes ready yet, and it won’t be ready for all of them by tomorrow.

But I do have a lot done, and, as per the rubric, I anticipate showing up early and being enthusiastic and focused for each of my four classes tomorrow.  I’ll report back and let you know how it went!

In the meantime, I’m relatively fired up and kinda sorta ready to go.