Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Two Mistakes - The Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Award Winning Poem

 Two Mistakes: A Non-Musical Musical.

My epic, narrative (warning: very long) poem, Two Mistakes took second place prize in the Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Competition. I believe it is among my best works.

Here is the press release
Here is the poem.

The idea for this came to me after reading A Comedy of Errors. I couldn't help but feel Shakespeare missed the better themes inside the story.

In brief summary, Shakespeare wrote about a pair of identical twins separated when they were very young by a violent storm at sea. One set of twins were slaves, one set were masters. One master and one slave were rescued and returned home to their native city of Ephesus. The other child and his slave were rescued by a different boat and were seemingly forever lost. The lost twins, who grew up in a free state, were unaware of their siblings. They go on a mission that takes them to the Ephesus. Mistaken identities ensue.

Shakespeare was often ahead of his time regarding themes. On other occasions he was a product of his time. It seemed to me that the question of nature versus nurture was left unexplored and that the consequences of slavery is not dealt with. I transplanted the piece, beginning it in the 1820s in Louisville, Kentucky, a city at the border of North and South. A steamboat explosion along the Ohio river separate the pairs of twins. One child and slave are rescued and taken back to their home in Kentucky, a slave state. The corresponding pair are placed in an ash tub as part of their rescue. They wash down the river to where they arrive in Troy, Indiana. There, they are raised by an abolitionist family. Twenty years later, circumstance leads the twins who were raised by abolitionists to go to Louisville where they encounter those raised by slave owners.

Although my piece retains some of the farcical nature of the original, it also undertakes a serious exploration of the nature of slavery and how the institution destroys both slave and slaveholder.

The poem is presented in metered verse. I envisioned my piece as being the book to a "non-musical" musical.

Main Characters, abbreviated for the purpose of this excerpt:
Annie and Frances. Identical twin sisters born to the Sharper family, Louisville.
Anthony and Remmy Cobb. Identical twin slaves, purchased as a birthday gift for Annie and Frances. Remmy is renamed Moses after his adoption.
Demetrius Darling, An abolitionist living in Troy, Indiana who rescues and raises Remmy and Frances.

Selections from the story.

At one year of age, the two pairs of twin are separated from each other after a steamboat explosion.

   It would never have burst were it tough as Old Hans:
   If the boiler 'd been forged from the flesh of its stoker.
   A hulk of a giant with brawn cast from bronze,
   His two hands vast as shovels, his fingers like pokers.
   But the steam pipes were brittle, their knuckles corroded.
   With a blast of hot steam a bolt ripped from a seam.
   The pressure increased and then soon overloaded.

Remmy, the slave, and Frances, both one-year-old are set inside a tub used to collect ashes and launched down the river before the steamboat finally sinks. Amidst rain and hail, they drift down the river.

   Enduring a rite that was grimly baptismal
   The two in the tub got a rude sort of christening.
   The river, unwilling to choose between sides,
   Sent the ark ever westward, their fates undecided.
   To the river, it mattered not whether they died.
   It remained apathetic to lands it divided;

They are rescued by Demetrius Darling, a Quaker and abolitionist. They are raised to adulthood in a free land.

In the 1840s, Demetrius loses the deed of his farm to a swindler from Louisville. Of Demetrius:

   In a wreckage of shadows, alone and alone,
   His soul crumbled to dust and then sifted through floorboards.
   Now, he wept at the thought he would soon lose this place,
   Shedding tears for the land where he buried his wife.

Anthony and Frances journey to Louisville to settle their father's account. Anthony goes disguised as a slave; Frances is disguised as a man.

Meanwhile, at the Sharper family estate, Annie (the twin of Frances) has mixed feelings regarding her pending arranged marriage to a pompous aristocrat. While reading Thackeray:

   Without breaking her rhythm she switched from her book
   To her grievances, "Dare and the world always yields?
   I'm just property." Anthony shot her a look.
   "To daddy, I'm merely some crop from his fields.
   To be bartered for status.

Of course, her slave Anthony is more the prisoner. As he polishes the piano:

   Each key thumped as he rubbed in a smudge of bees' wax.
   He began at the bass end, the throatier notes.
   Tensions peaked then released as he scaled whites and blacks.
   Bitter tones were relieved by their sweet antidotes.
   There were candle snuff notes that could put out a flame.
   Some delivered a shiver without a deliverance.
   There were notes for emotions that no one could name.
   [the] Notes were steep steps on his way to the gallows.
   Once the last key was beat, his ascension complete,
   The piano lid dropped with a jolt swift and shallow.

The stage is set. When Moses and Frances arrive, mistaken identities create a storm of problems ending in a duel and a perilous flight to freedom.

The Unused Prologue to Two Mistakes

Louisville, 1846

A Predator's Game, now available, Rook's Page Publishing.


Back page blurb.

Manhattan, 1896.

When the author Arthur Conan Doyle meets Nikola Tesla he finds a tall, thin genius with a photographic memory and a keen eye, and recognizes in the eccentric inventor the embodiment of his creation, Sherlock. Together, they team up to take on an "evil Holmes." Multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes has escaped execution and is unleashing a reign of terror upon the metropolis. Set in the late nineteenth century in a world of modern marvels, danger and invention, Conan Doyle and Tesla engage the madman in a deadly game of wits.


Post a Comment