Dating Steve – a poem, 1987

Usually I don’t like giving context about a poem before reading it.  I prefer for the title to jumpstart the connection. But this one has a place of special pride. It’s the only officially published poem of mine. It was recognized in the Philadelphia Inquirer in a 2012 Poetry month trawl for local poets’ contributions. Here’s the link for when it was in the paper.  There were a lot of pieces I could have submitted. I always liked the economy of this one.

Dating Steve – Liz Matt, written in Paris in 1987

and there is

in his eyes

some old truth

like whales know

and would share

if the risks

of spears were

not part of

what they’d learned

 

I sat at a cafe table on a spring day in Paris, thinking about the guy I had met at Downey’s Irish Bar on Philadelphia’s South St. on March 6, 1987 … a guy who really put a spring in my step. We had been dating about a month and he was more than a little unknowable.  As I post this now —  just shy of 30 years since this poem was written —  he remains that guy with the whale eyes. And here we are.   As for the structure of the poem, I decided to abandon my free verse style and limit myself to just three words, each with only one syllable, in each line.

 

 

 

 

The Playwright Speaks in a Hoarse Voice – a poem

The Playwright Speaks in a Hoarse Voice – Liz Matt, 1975-76
The playwright speaks in a hoarse voice:
Only characters in a play can tell the truth to one another
because they don’t suffer any consequences.
Oh, they may be killed off:
methodically, articulately, living blow by loving blow.
But this is a technical agony, fixed in literature.
They don’t die really.
As we do.
Can you hear what I’m truly saying out there,
all you my friends and secret loves?
Can you see yourselves?
Can you tell it’s you I’m trying to hold
from my safe and distant proscenium?
Can I penetrate, at last, this terrible propriety
and openly indulge this communion I feel?
Send me telegrams, please,
or a note through the maid, that you knew all along.
I only built this theater so you’d know.
I only built this theater so you’d come.
Author note, 40+ years after this was written and published in a private book for my closest friends at the time:  As I shuffle through the first 65 years of my creative output — stuff that fills drawers, shelves, cartons, and leatherette folders which have moved with me over and over — I’ve decided this is the forum to occasionally post things that still make me feel good. This was from a very theatrical stage of life, in my mid-20s. I was 24 when I wrote this, and working at Temple University running a record library and audio production facility we called “The Audio Suite.” It was a creative center of gravity for a lot of talented young people. My friends were actors, comedians, a talented mime, writers, and budding TV producers. I think they saw themselves, as the poem hoped. Most of them are still in my life.

Liz’s Laws of Showbiz Or, “Close the Curtain, It’s So Embarrassing”

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The clown on the right with me is a wonderful comedian and comedy historian, Tommy Moore, the Professor of Fun. 

Over a recent reunion lunch in the Victorian jewel box town of Cape May, NJ, we compared notes about when in our childhoods we each became convinced that we would work in showbiz.

When my sisters and I were little kids, putting on shows in any available space, our older brother would bray (BRAY! Like an actual donkey!) “Close the curtain, it’s so embarrassing.”  But I never did. 

I promised Tommy that I would post Liz’s Laws, which are as fundamental to me as breathing. Though these little commandments are my highly personal views about performing, I am sure there are things that Tommy and other performers can easily relate to.  It’s bred in the bone for us.

Liz’s Laws of Showbiz

  • If there’s a floor, there’s a stage.
  • If there’s a way to rig up a curtain, you can make a dramatic entrance.
  • If there’s an audience, you owe them something original.
  • If there’s a microphone, it better not howl.
  • If there’s lighting, it’s better with colored gels on it. But it’s best if the performer can choose the color.
  • If there’s a script, it better be memorized, and yet performed as if it were spontaneously erupting from the performer’s lips.
  • If there’s a whole cast of talented people, pace the show so everyone gets their moment before the audience wants to go home.
  • If my mother’s in the audience, don’t worry about it too much.
  • If there’s pay, that’s the best.

And while I have you, please click on the link for Tommy Moore, one of the most sophisticated entertainers in the USA. His goofy act may include a lot of slapstick and resemble old “baggy pants” burlesque. But it’s highly intentional and he can really work a room!  Thanks, Tommy.

 

 

A poem and a painting…and how they came together

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 11.23.52 AMI took my second year of a peer-directed writing class at the Bonita Springs, Florida library this past winter. The class challenge for this workshop was to write poems inspired by photos.

Briefly, the challenge was always to go beyond the photo. The process was masterfully guided by our leader, a Boston escapee-to-the-south, writer/educator named Mary Alice Gruppi. (Here’s a link to her blog.) A secondary challenge was posed by a student who assumed poems should rhyme.  I don’t usually write in rhyme and it was not expected by Mary Alice. But I assigned myself the challenge because I thought it would be interesting.

We did several photo/poems over the course of the 6-week workshop, but here’s the one that means the most to me. At the same time as the writing workshop, in my home studio I was constantly staring at the photo above. It was hanging on my bulletin board and I have it as my computer screen saver.  It is the guiding image for an oil painting that is still unfinished as I post this. The painting was begun in an art class last Fall — my first class in oil painting and a daunting medium to me — back near Philadelphia. Although my goal is not a copy, clearly it’s a pretty direct interpretation.*

I liked the idea of considering the same photo, and the process of making a painting based on it, in a new creative format, literature. Here’s what came out.

Trying to paint the snorkeler – v2

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I seem to manage comfortably

as the students settle readily

into each of our expected places.

Classmates now familiar faces

in the weekly workshop in oils and art.

 

My canvas on easel, locked in place,

I tape above my child’s face:

a photo from a perfect day

so long ago near Nassau Bay

to be captured here with skill and heart.

 

He floats in perfect buoyancy

in a picture shot from below, by me.

Our masks and snorkels made sight and air

available to the humans there

in that perfect Caribbean wave.

 

Though fish are near and shells abound

the photo captures none around.

There’s only him and only me

within the blue Bahamian sea.

And this is what I want to save.

 

It’s time to make an art decision:

to choose with technical precision

which colors capture flesh and glow

the plastic mask, the sand below,

the water that envelops all.

 

A lustrous mix of gold and white

depict the penetrating light

on shoulders, arms. And then some flecks

of aqua where pink skin reflects

the depths that gently rise and fall.

 

I choose a squirt of cobalt pigment

to paint the surf, perhaps a figment

of imagination, hope and drive

that skill can bring this scene alive,

communicating something felt.

 

But this tranquil image in the ocean

mocks my amateurish notion

that with brushstrokes and some oil,

inspiration and much toil

someone else’s heart might melt.

 

Classmates ask about the boy:

“Is he now grown?” “Would he enjoy

such a portrait from vacation?”

Kindly questions prove my station

as an amateur with sentimental vanity.

 

My need to capture and convey

a singular and splendid day

in water clear as sky above,

and the heartbreak in a mother’s love

has an audience of one: my memory.

Liz Matt  1/18/16 – A self-challenge to make a rhyming poem – version

 

* Somebody who saw the painting in progress asked me if I was painting it from a photo. I said: “Yes. Because I can’t hold my breath that long.”

 

 

 

The gaze – painting (and writing about) the A Roll

In most instances, these are not whole paintings but pieces of them. But this is what sits me down and makes me work: the engaged gaze. 

My son asked me if it was a “trope,” so I looked that up and the dictionary said a trope was a kind of literary shorthand. However, in contemporary TV criticism, Mr. Internet informed me that a trope is a screenwriting cliche — for example, the way an NCIS procedural episode always gets its homicidal sailor or the sailor’s murderer.

Not wishing to explain away my interests as being cliched, I prefer to redefine it in the terms of my prior life in TV production: I paint the A Roll.

When we shoot stories, we do the interview and the guest looks at me while I talk to them. I follow their eyes and their expressions while I think of the key moments I will thread together in the editing room. The interview is the A Roll.  

B Roll is all of the cut-away pictures. It’s the critical context for the rest of the story. Getting the B Roll is a job I left to talented field photographers. As the field producer/reporter, it was my job to put us in a scenario where lots of expository B Roll was available.

But in the editing room — and I LOVED the editing room whether I got to push the buttons or not — I later taught my students of production to use the A Roll when the emotional moment was just right. One should always “write to the pictures,” I told them. Use the B Roll to carry the story along and provide context, but show the A Roll when the guest’s face was the key visual at that specific moment. 

I think that’s what I’m doing when I paint the engaged gaze. Painting the A Roll.

In February 2016, at a writing class, I wrote a poem I like about the engagement between me and my son that I am attempting to capture in the snorkeler painting, which is still in progress. I’ll put that in another post.

 

Celebration of Diversity circa 1962 – Philly

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“I remember that picture was on the last page of The Evening Bulletin, up by the comics section. My dad bought ten copies and had the picture laminated. To this day I have it with me.” – Daryl Shall, February 2016 (the boy on the right of this photo)

This photo of two Philly cub scouts at a holiday party in 1962 caught my eye over the winter of 2016, when it was posted on the Facebook site Vintage Philadelphia by a regular post-er named Bill Carpenter. For reasons I’ll explain throughout this memoir, I wanted to find these men, if that was at all possible.

I am still looking for the taller scout with the Christmas tree, identified as Stewart Ross, 3rd from West Philadelphia. But I was successful at tracking down the smaller scout with the Star of David and Menorah, Daryl Shall. I called him up and he was nice enough to chat and to reminisce.

I wanted to meet these men because I know that efforts at diversity are not some new concept that is a product of “political correctness” (which is often spoken with an eye-roll).  The Evening Bulletin took this photo because, 50 years ago, forging mutual understanding was valued. This was just two months after James Meredith became the first African-American student at Ole Miss after President Kennedy ordered U.S. marshals to Mississippi to ensure his safety.

I was just 11 years old that Christmas — right in the same age group as these cubs — and I was sure that brotherhood and equality were just around the corner. I guess that’s why I relate to this photo and wanted to find out what this holiday party meant to those in the photograph.  I also know that these two schools were geographically very far apart in the city and so I concluded that some effort was taken to bring these children together.

The caption on the photo says:  Enjoying a Christmas-Chanukah party at the John F. McCloskey Public School, Gowen Av. and Pickering St., are Stewart Ross, 3rd (left) and Daryl Shall. Cub pack 308 of the McCloskey School was host at the party yesterday for members of Pack 582 of Hamilton School, 57th and Spruce. – December 17, 1962

This is Daryl Shall’s recollection of the photo and what it means to him, in an interview he gave me in February 2016.  “I grew up in the 1960s in a real ‘Leave It To Beaver’ neighborhood, Mt. Airy, right next to Temple stadium. It was the same block where Frank Rizzo lived, and I remember a lot of police protection. I went to McCloskey elementary school from first grade to 6th, and it was pretty much all white students then.

“My mom was the den mother for my little cub scout pack. We didn’t have a lot of exposure to black kids back then. That holiday party always stuck with me. I remember it was a lot of fun. Our whole cub pack was Jewish so it wasn’t just that we were meeting African American kids from different neighborhoods. Having a party that introduced us to Christmas was just as much of a cultural difference.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 4.25.19 PM“The party was at McCloskey elementary. I was just a goofy little 8 year old kid. We both have such big smiles on our faces and it’s so nice. He was taller than me and I remember looking up to him.

“I don’t actually don’t know how the party came about. Or the picture. They kind of pulled us aside at the end of the party and I got selected.

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“What you can’t see is that I had broken my arm and I have a cast on my arm. Once you know, you can kind of see it behind the little display of the menorah and I’m balancing it on my cast and pointing at the menorah with my one good arm. Today they probably wouldn’t let little kids hold lit candles. But back then, I did it, even with a cast on my arm. That makes me laugh to think about it.

“I like the picture, in our cool little cub scout caps. I like knowing I can point to a day long ago when the newspaper made an effort to show a picture of diversity.

“I still use that picture use to prove diversity was always a part of my life. I was glad I was part of something like that. That picture means a lot to me more than 50 years later.

“After McCloskey, I went to Leeds Junior High, more racially mixed. And then to Germantown HS when I was in the minority. It was maybe 10% white. Everyone got along. When you’re not exposed to something you rely on stereotypes and prejudices and whatever. In the Germantown neighborhood at that time, there was a lot of violence. I found out that the kids in class with me were just as afraid of the violence in their neighborhood as I was. I came to understand we all had the same fears.

“I eventually went to Temple University in North Philadelphia. A lot of kids I knew didn’t want to go downtown but I liked going there and being exposed to diversity there. I graduated from Temple in 1975. Then when I went on to work for the federal government in Philadelphia and Washington.

“I made my whole career in the federal government and was always conscious of the importance of diversity. We had a lot of training in inclusiveness and I went on to give that kind of training in my work. It resonated with me back to my days In Mount Airy. I always had that cub scout picture in my head. Once you have Philadelphia in you, you can’t get it out of you. I came back to my roots a little bit.

“In 2001, I was working in Washington. On September 11, I walked home from work that day in DC and I had to walk by the Pentagon, as it was burning. I decided that I somehow wanted to be part of the recovery. After 911, I transferred over to working at TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) from working for HUD (Housing and Urban Development).

“At TSA, I got to work in the most diverse team in my life. It felt like the whole United Nations. And it was the best functioning team in my life. People coming from every perspective … that stuff actually works. It goes back to those days in Mount Airy. When you get to know people, they’re PEOPLE and not what you read about in the paper.

“I am 62 and now I’m retired. About the whole thing that people think diversity is just about Political Correctness in the federal workforce, with women in the work place, or just some words in Washington politics… I know for a fact that this stuff works. Diversity works. I like the positive message and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that people get the message.

“I like to think that all started back when I was that little guy at that party.

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Thank you to Daryl for his memories and inspiring perspective.  Thanks also to Bill Carpenter for the original posting on the Vintage Philadelphia Facebook page. I reached out to Bill and asked him why he selected it. Bill wrote back to me:

“..if you scroll thru the Vintage Philadelphia you can see all the Photos i post theres no pattern its just random photos which i find and eventually Post….If i see something i like i post it.

“I know at one point i was posting anything i could find on christmas related photos in and around philadelphia to bring back memories for everyone who grew up in philly and could reminisce don’t know if thats why i posted it or not.but a lot of times i just post photos that i like and hope people enjoy which i beleive they do for the most part –few complaints”

Finally, if anyone can help me make contact with Stewart Ross, 3rd, who went to Hamilton School in West Philly in 1962, it would be my hope to revisit this from his perspective.

Liz – 4/29/16

 

 

 

Good for me / bad for the landfills

There’s a push-me/pull-you component to learning to make paintings, if you’re the kind of person who dislikes putting things in the landfill.

I could paint my studies on cardboard and then recycle it. But then, how do I get the feel for the real experience of canvas? And — here’s the real deal... the EGO talking — what if one isn’t half-bad?

There isn’t a whole lot to love about this study of the melons except I kind of like the way I rendered the seeds. So I’m taking it to the annual Avalon, NJ yard sale and will suffer the indignity of putting it out with the trash after it is bypassed, along with some of the old ash trays and broken china cups that my sister collects and tries to sell. I will put a price of $1 on it but I will take a quarter.

New topic: the book Oil Painting for Dummies is very very good.

It begins The studio window is open

broad-street-philadelphiaI’ll start with what this is all about. Why do I call this blog-site a studio?  And why the North Broad Studio?  My brain has always been a noisy workroom and this blog-site will be the picture window into what happens there.

After decades as a feature reporter — mostly in Philadelphia commercial TV — the instinct to find and share interesting stories, or to ask questions, doesn’t evaporate with retirement from paid work.

As an instinctive poem-writer — who thinks of poems as “condensed cream of life,” to borrow a notion from Camden’s Campbell’s Soup biz  — the fundamental urge to write down my own story remains vital.

As a person who loves visual media — who enjoys the making of art by and for my own pleasure, supporting living artists as best I can by buying their work, and who can happily pass the time in a museum — this studio will display more than a few images, over time.

It’s called the North Broad Studio because North Broad St in Philadelphia is my spiritual home. It’s the location of my alma mater Temple University, where I grew into myself. My dad grew up there too, as the only child in a raucous boarding house for Temple students that my Nana ran, just a half block off of North Broad St. It’s where I saw my first parades. It’s where I learned that life is complex and that, though I am a singular soul, I definitely discovered that I am not “the default human being.” North Broad made me smarter and made me humbler.

IMG_2840And while I now live a lot of the year in Florida, it’s obvious that I will forever be north broad.  This is it.

We are begun.