Erica Barnes asked me to work on this project many months ago and without knowing anything of the poem or her plans for it, I agreed. I am past the point in my life where I take projects blindly. There is criteria on which I base my participation in any artistic project:
I have been planning this for over a year.
Somewhere, after quitting my theatre company, receiving rejection letters from grad school and facing myself in the mirror wearing an expression of oh-shit-what-now, I asked myself this very important question-what do I want to do?
The answer did not come to me so easily.
Inspiration, ideas, random (but solid!) thoughts used to creep up on me sporadically.
I would jot them down on a napkin, my arm, pen clutched in teeth, digging in my purse for my tiny (carefully labeled “Ideas!”) spiral.
But, then I ran out of ideas.
Inspiration quit smacking me in the head at every turn and the spiral was blank.
I rekindled my relationship with writing bad poetry.
And OH BOY, was it bad. But while I was writing my own sad couplets, I did some research, fell in some internet rabbit holes, and began consuming good poetry on a regular basis. I had affairs with the beautiful, winding, rhyming kind; stints with the short, sweet, punch you in the gut types; and flings with the quick and dirty pieces in old copies of The New Yorker.
On a whim, I visited the Poetry Foundation website, one day and clicked on their “Poem of the Day.” And there he was. I was five stanzas in when I fell in love.
“Paradise was hardly what Psyche
With her bleeding blackberries and nervous orgasms
Could have foretold, enjoyed,
And renounced for the sake of some querulous abstraction
Designed to keep us unhappy but alive.
Call it civilization. Call our disobedience instinctive.”
-David Lehman, “Mythologies”, Stanza V, 1-6
I reread the poem all day. It was thirty stanzas long. THIRTY! My mind was working again. The imagination part of my brain was filling up that carefully labeled spiral. Stacks and stacks of those spirals, actually. By the end of the day, my objective was clear: This poem must be performed.
One year and some change later, a creative and design team of seven, a cast of
eight, conversations with a Poetry Ph. D. candidate and permission from Mr. Lehman himself to embark, we are finally ready to start this journey.
We started rehearsal last night.
We need new myths. Our old heroes are too unattainable, too perfect, too… heroic. David Lehman’s poem ‘Mythologies’ tells the story of a man struggling to construct new myths in the wake of the disintegration of his expectations. Blending the language of poetry with the ritual of theatre, ‘Mythologies’ searches for the answer to the age- old question–what is it to be human?
The Fates have been busy with me. Weaving and measuring, tying a few knots to unravel here and there. My creative dry spell subsided when I found this poem. I suppose I see a reflection of myself in this found poetry—striving for perfection, running out of ideas. Making do. How….human.