Friday, April 28, 2006

New Publication: Puppetry International

Just arrived in the mail! I have an essay in the latest issue of Puppetry International on medievalism in Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker. I look at the ritual of the Punch and Judy show in the novel's post-apocalyptic setting, and how Hoban uses the relics of Canterbury Cathedral and the legend of St. Eustace as rendered in a medieval wall painting in the cathedral.

The magazine itself is a fascinating collection of articles on puppetry (naturally), a medium that proves amazingly varied. It really expands the idea of what can be done with puppets. There is a two page spread of the grants awarded by the Jim Henson Foundation that is simply stunning in the variety of works, although I was particularly intrigued by the Hotel Obligato Physical Theater's production of Punch's Progress.

Insert your swazzle and repeat after me: "That's the way to do it!"

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Complete Fiasco

Well, more or less -- my play Fiasco, that is. While not perhaps as newsworthy to the world as a lost Beckett play, I hope that I can drum up some interest in this black comedy about recent events on the third coast. The last part (that took so long to finish for some reason) is the "New School for Scandal" section that ends the revue. Ironically, I'm teaching Sheridan's play in my early British literature survey this week. Funny how the idea of manipulating public opinion with lies and innuendo never goes out of style.

As always, I am interested in feedback, so download a copy today and enjoy!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Kinky Boots

All right -- when you get a song stuck in your head, the best way to get it out is to pass it along to others, right? So, here I go. We've finally got around to watching Catterick (more goofy fun from Vic and Bob) and not only does the song "Kinky Boots" appear in the series, but it provides the theme for the main menu of the DVD so everytime we put it in, we'd hear the song again. It's real brain taffy! Just try to dislodge it.

According to Avengers Forever, the song came about like this:

The Cathy Gale-era of the show spawned a novelty record called "Kinky Boots," performed by Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman. Patrick was so petrified about singing (or, in particular, being unable to sing) that after several failed takes, he was escorted to a local pub, lubricated with brandy, and returned to the recording studio. Even after that, a sound engineer had to stand next to him and tap him on the shoulder whenever he was supposed to sing. When the single was re-issued in 1990, it hit the charts, selling over 40,000 copies!

And did you know:

The name of the famous rock band "The Kinks" actually comes from the song "Kinky Boots." In a 1995 interview with Kinks lead singer Ray Davies, he related how the band acquired its name... "Dave and Pete wore these capes and boots... Kinky Boots I think was a single that a program called The Avengers had out -- a TV show. And this drunk guy at the bar looked over and said, 'You blokes should call yourselves the Kinks because you look like one.' And Larry page, who became one of our managers, said, 'He's got a point there!'"

Amazing what you can learn from a pop song!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Why Do They Vex Me?

I had a discussion with a student about a paper returned to him with comments and a grade (sophomore lit, for those keeping score). He took issue with my coments, oddly enough. The assignment was to compare the themes in an historical document to those in a play (Elizabethan, early colonialism -- you know, that whole "let's put literature in an historical context" idea). In his paper, he discussed one text, then talked about the other. About midpoint, there was a sort of thesis which was not (to my eyes) actually carried out in the discussion.

The student informed me that he "didn't think it necessary" to discuss the two texts together, which I suggested made comparison rather difficult. He also instructed me that in all his classes in high school and two years of college, he had never heard of the idea that a thesis ought to be near the beginning of a paper. Clearly I was being unreasonable. It certainly did not help our discussion that the entire time his eyes were on my chest.


I don't know if that was a deliberate attempt to make me feel uncomfortable or an unconscious one. Well, it did make me feel uncomfortable; it is rude and disgusting. But it was not enough to make me change my mind. I polled the following class, not all of whom are stellar students by any means. Nonetheless, they unanimously declared (without prompting) that the proper place for a thesis was the beginning of the paper -- in fact, some were even more specific, suggesting it ought to be the last sentence of the first paragraph. Good; even though not all their papers followed that rule, it must be said.

It's par for the course, unfortunately. The complaining student is in the "soul sucker" class of this semester, the kind of group that sucks the energy right out of you when you enter the room. There are a couple of terrific students in the class, but by this point they too have been sucked of all energy. I find it hard to maintain my usual level of enthusiasm -- sometimes I even (gasp!) sit down while leading that class. Group dynamics -- it's a tricky thing.

I'm grateful that they're not the class with whom I end the day. After them I go to a class which has a more equitably energy flow. Yesterday I thanked them for it. They're not necessarily better students on the whole, gradewise. But I'd much sooner spend my time with them, as human beings as well as students.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Medieval Weblogs & Wombats in the News

I didn't realize I was linked on this list of medieval weblogs. There's a meeting at Kalamazoo this year on medieval bloggers; naturally, I am chairing a panel at the same time. But pal Scott Nokes will be there, so I'm sure he'll pass along the news. There's also a meet-up for anonymous medieval bloggers put together by the author of Ancrene Wiseass. Although I am not anonymous, I am thinking of attending (dependent always on other various social engagements).

And without transition, I almost forgot to mention the full page ad in the NYT Sunday from a large international coffee seller that listed among the wonderful things on the earth (you guessed it) wombats! Of course, we agree. While cute and cuddly, one should also remember that "these animals are not to be taken lightly and should be treated with a great deal of respect."

Back from PopCulture

Somehow blogging seems more attractive than the mass of grading I have to do at present, so I'm taking a break after getting the immediate emergencies done. PCA was wonderful as always -- our papers went well and we had fun seeing all our friends like "Sailor" Wendy Goldberg (and her family -- we had a terrific passover seder with all the clan); Mark "Captain Hook" Rogers (he's not this Mark or this one) and new wife (well, new to us) Jessica ("The Counselor"); Amy "Hold the Presses" Kiste Nyberg; John "All Asian Media" Lent and wife Ying (and a big box of IJOCA) -- not to mention our fun colleagues from UHD, Stephanie and Antonio. What could be better than kicking off our visit to Atlanta by dining with Phil and Anya -- the voices of Atlanta culture! My medieval popular culture section, while still small, went very well with some excellent papers and good discussion.

Back in Houston where the weather as usual is "scorchio" and enthusiasm, as the end of the semester approaches, less so.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Goin' to Atlanta

[Yes, it does sound a lot like the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black] We're off to PCA as usual about this time of year. We always look forward to PCA, a big conference with lot of friends. And while Atlanta is no New Orleans, neither is NO these days...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


For the near future anyway, I am profiled at the UHD College of Humanities and Social Sciences new webpage (below the student profile). A little free publicity!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Sisu! Sisu!

Gene just called: a letter arrived at home telling me I have won a Finlandia Foundation grant! Whoo hoo! This means I'M GOING TO FINLAND!

I applied for the grant as part of my ongoing work on Unikirja which I hope to complete this summer. I didn't really feel I could finish, however, without seeing, touching and even smelling! ancient Finland. The best place for that, it seemed to me, would be to visit the rock paintings by hiking through Finland's countryside. I am so excited to know I'll really be there and not have to just imagine it.

Paljon kiitos, Finlandia Foundation! Now I really have to work on my Finnish!

Friday, April 07, 2006

(Not so) New Publication

I finally got my copy of the three volume encyclopedia co-edited by S.T. Joshi and Stefan Dziemianowicz for which I wrote entries on Clive Barker (80-84) and on his Books of Blood (138-139). It's quite an honor to be among so many stellar writers and scholars. Primarily designed as a reference books for public libraries, high schools and universities, I'm certainly not expecting folks to pick up individual copies for themselves! However, couldn't YOUR local library use a copy?

And yes, as always, I am sure high school students are plagiarizing entries as we speak!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Easter Witches

My good pal Diane Saarinen has a piece in the Living in Season Newsletter about the wonderful Easter Witch tradition in Finland and Sweden. It includes some lovely vintage Easter Witch postcards, so be sure to check it out. Diane writes for numerous newsletters and magazines -- we have often appeared together in the pages of both The Beltane Papers and New World Finn.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


And who doesn't need some? Particularly for folks near enough the end of the semester to feel the fatigue, but not quite near enough to begin to feel the surge of adrenaline that fuels that last sprint to the deadline.

It's an essay by Paul Graham called "How To Do What You Love" -- something we all aim to do, but few of us find our way there. Here's a snippet:

That's what leads people to try to write novels, for example. They like reading novels. They notice that people who write them win Nobel prizes. What could be more wonderful, they think, than to be a novelist? But liking the idea of being a novelist is not enough; you have to like the actual work of novel-writing if you're going to be good at it; you have to like making up elaborate lies.

Oh yeah! And here's a bit that drew my attention:

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That's the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn't suck, they wouldn't have had to make it prestigious.

Sound familiar? He does however tip his hand as a science geek who can see no use in the liberal arts:

Math would happen without math departments, but it is the existence of English majors, and therefore jobs teaching them, that calls into being all those thousands of dreary papers about gender and identity in the novels of Conrad. No one does that kind of thing for fun.

He doesn't understand that the same drive to understand fuels literary analysis, too, "dreary" papers or no (says the literary geek). But personal prejudices aside, the general points are still valid.

A Grading Gem

While reading a student essay I encountered the following phonetic rendering of a common aphorism: "despite times call for despite measures." I suspect it has to do with the local accent making desperate sound somewhat similar. Not quite as bad as the innumerable comments in the past few years about the "doggy dog world" in which we live...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tempest in the Classroom

The master, the swabber, the boatswain and I,
The gunner and his mate
Loved Mall, Meg and Marian and Margery,
But none of us cared for Kate;
For she had a tongue with a tang,
Would cry to a sailor, Go hang!
She loved not the savour of tar nor of pitch,
Yet a tailor might scratch her where'er she did itch:
Then to sea, boys, and let her go hang!

I'm teaching The Tempest as I usually do about this time. Students always complain about how hard it is to read plays, although they like Shakespeare a lot better than Marlowe. I'm not sure why -- yes, I do realize the stature Shakespeare holds in the world, but I so love Marlowe's audacity and sheer exuberance. But my students find him more challenging -- or as they would say, "too hard."

Tis magic, magic that hath ravished me...

Marlowe has all the beauty of Shakespeare; what he lacked, perhaps, was the thought of the audience -- or not awareness so much as concern for their reaction. Shakespeare can be equally devastating, but he seemed to always have been aware of the paying audience. Perhaps it is the difference of being an actor as well as a writer. I expect that would make it impossible to forget the eyes upon you, not to desire their approval, just as Prospero (like Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream) exhorts the audience to applaud at the end of the play. The Tempest does contain my all time favorite Shakespearean line:

I shall laugh myself to death at this puppy-headed monster.

Why? I don't know. Humor is a difficult thing to analyze. Not that it stops us from trying. I am still immersed in my British comedy at present, reading Harry Thompson's biography of Peter Cook which was recommended by folks at the Establishment. Although I didn't get much reading done this weekend as I was trying to finish up my draft of an essay on The Sorcerer for S.T. Joshi's icons of horror and fantasy anthology. I tried not to get carried away talking about Faustus and Prospero, but I couldn't resist a bit of a digression on them. That's magic for you --

Where the bee sucks. there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

April Fool!

For a good chuckle, run on over to the American Blogress for a group of cartoons sponsored by BTPBHTP (Back the President Because He Is The President). Organized by Connecticut cartoonist Elena Steier, the display begs for your support of the poor, beleaguered President.