Friday, October 28, 2022

Outlier/Indweller: Writing as Walking

Milkweed Editions, 2022.

“The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods.” – Cheryl Strayed
In her 2012 memoir called Wild: From Lost to Found, the American writer Cheryl Strayed recalls taking herself off on a thousand-mile hike of self-discovery, observing, “I’d finally come to understand what it had been: a yearning for a way out, when actually what I had wanted to find was a way in.” She was also sharing her experience of wanting per se, almost as a location in space and time, one she could arrive at by escaping from its insistent desire, even comparing her wanting to a wilderness she needed to be liberated from. Unfettered physical space and its traversal are frequently perceived as a conduit to expanded consciousness, but the latter is, however, not the only way to free oneself from the sense of confinement which often ironically accompanies a heightened sense of self-awareness.

The Canadian poet and visual artist Adam Wolfond’s new book of mesmerizing poems, The Wanting Way, is perhaps an ideal example of how effectively a being who at first glance appears to occupy a profound sense of confinement can, upon reflection and closer observation, reveal himself to be freely traversing interior expansive landscapes of exquisite beauty with a charming sense of humility and grace. He has, in fact, clearly documented, in his own inimitable style, how he manages to travel as an exceptionally gifted poetic flâneur and arrive at an often poignant way out of the woods of wanting and also to arrive at a way into self-expression of a truly extraordinary sort. He explores an interior wilderness.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Leopoldstadt: Jews in Vienna

A scene from the London production of Leopoldstadt, now on Broadway. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

With a cast of twenty-six actors of all ages playing thirty-seven characters in a family saga – two hours and a quarter without intermission – set in Vienna in 1899, 1900, 1924, 1938 and 1955, Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt is undoubtedly the biggest non-musical play on Broadway. (It opened in London in January 2020, shuttered during the pandemic, and reopened a year and a half later.) It follows the fortunes of a wealthy Jewish family – the neighborhood Leopoldstadt was the center of Jewish life and culture before the Holocaust – most of whom wind up dead in the late thirties and forties. (One survives Auschwitz, and a few lucky ones manage to escape to London or America.) It’s a hefty hunk of a play that Stoppard, a Jew who got away from Europe as a child and was raised in England, has studded with elements of his own Czech family. Leo (Arty Froushan), a writer of comic short stories who was raised by his stepfather, an English journalist (Seth Numrich), and who remembers his early years in the stripped-down family mansion after the Nazis moved in only in the final moments of the play, is Stoppard’s fictionalized version of himself.