Monday, September 25, 2006

September 25, 2006

Five years ago, with help from my gardener-housemates, I planted a little fig tree in the front yard. It was a spindly little stick that came up to my hip bone. The first year, it gave two figs. The second year it grew taller and gave maybe half a dozen. This year it is towering high above my head, spreading its arms beyond the borders of our front yard and reaching out to the sidewalk. As I pulled up into my driveway this morning, two women--strangers to me--had stopped their car outside the house and were taking figs. They had collected a few handfuls. They looked guilty and surprised when they saw me, and then explained in Spanish that they were only taking the fruit that had extended past the front yard boundary onto the sidewalk.
I shrugged and laughed and went inside. The tree has gotten so big that I can't gather all the figs myself. The ones at the top are too high to reach and the birds eat them. I'm sure that schoolchildren and other passersby take whatever fruit they find as they walk up the sidewalk.

I have done the same myself. When my friend, the poet Ruth Schwartz and I would go walking around her neighborhood, which is rich in front yard fruit trees, we would always take a few figs here, a handfull of grapes there--and of course, blackberries by the dozen, which were growing wild by the side of the road.

The tree reminds me of my poetry "career" if you can call poetry a career. It started out miniscule and nondescript, and now my poems appear on stranger's web sites, and show up in sermons of churches I will never visit. That's fine. Art just grows, (if you're lucky), and gives itself away, and it's a blessing that everyone can eat from it.

So my friend and colleague Elizabeth Mendana proposed to me that we create a show based on my poetry and her dance choreography/direction. Elizabeth and I perform together in an improvisation troupe called Wing It! under the direction of Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry, two dancers/artists/spoken word/prophets who started something called Interplay 25 years ago. (Check out Interplay and Wing It! at

From our work with the other twenty members of the troupe, Elizabeth and I share a vocabulary of simple forms, and an interest in creating provocative multi-disciplinary multi-layered and textured theatre. Plus a willingness to step out into the void and improvise/make a fool of ourselves, which is essential.

So here we are. The title of my next book of poems, which has not yet been accepted for publication, but I hope and pray will be this year, is See How We Almost Fly. Elizabeth thought that would be a good name for the show as well, and I agreed. It seems particularly apt, as Theron Shaw, also in Wing It! with us, and Elizabeth's partner, is an aerialist.

The phrase See How We Almost Fly refers to the way the human species swings between the divine and the bestial, occasionally pausing at the human level for a cup of coffee.

I hope this blog will be like drinking a cup of coffee and eating some figs together every once in a while, and checking in on the progress of our show, including our quest for a good theatre space to perform in, money to cover the technical and labor costs, the joys and pains of collaboration, the creative process, and whatever else seems quasi-relevant.

Much love,


Theresa Williams said...

The phrase See How We Almost Fly refers to the way the human species swings between the divine and the bestial, occasionally pausing at the human level for a cup of coffee.
Love this, Alison. It gave me a smile of recognition. I also liked reading about your fig tree. That was something that delightfully surprised me about CA, fig trees! A woman came into our hotel with a basket of fresh figs off her tree and offered Allen and I one. How beautiful. So wonderful about your collaboration and the direction your art is going. Did you see the PBS documentary on Andy Warhol by any chance? Spectacular. I did get the Joan poem; will comment when I can get a breath of air: teaching an overload this semester and trouble with our son's condition. I'm pretty worn out. Keep going on the blog. xoxxoxox

Marci Riseman said...

Alison, This is lovely, thank you for sharing. I am eager to read more, and to see the poems in print, and, as a human who often feels more bestial than divine, learning more about those two places from your perspective.

Alison said...

Thanks, Theresa and Marci, it's so good to hear from you!