Friday, October 29, 2004

New Poetry Interreview #4 

PHOEBE 2002: An Essay In Verse
(Turtle Point Press)
written by the collaborative trio
David Trinidad
Jeffery Conway
Lynn Conway

qustions by CAConrad

At first seeing your 651 page book, I couldn't believe there was that much to say about All About Eve. I should be embarrassed for having thought this for 2 reasons (at least 2)

1) that the book encompasses a far greater embrace of film as a whole: "Filmic Fashion Shows," for instance, profiling stylish details of movie fashion from Edith Head to Diana Ross (remember Mahogany?) "Ross personally designed every costume in the movie, which explains a lot." This being one example of a constant horde of shared film knowledge, and other entertainment, like "The Tainted Awards" section, etc.

2) that, after seeing the film again, the richness of its layers was full of our culture's most closely guarded archetypes, but few films or plays have developed the nuances of these archetypes as well as All About Eve. (by the way, the calligrams of a wine bottle and an Oscar were great, I wish there were others.)

David Trinidad
There are! There�s also a champagne glass--with bubbles!

My first question though is, how did this enormous project originate? Was it talked out, designed or planned in any way, or something that started and took on a life of its own?

Jeffery Conway
I just remember finishing "Chain Chain Chain," our collaborative Renga (which is 100 stanzas) and David calling me on the phone one night and saying, "Lynn wants us to write an essay in verse about All About Eve." I think I just intoned, "O.K." It was like one of those statements that makes no sense, yet at the same time, feels like a piece of your own DNA has been revealed--like all of a sudden you have another small glimmer of exactly who you are and why you were born. The three of us had often talked together or written one another about the film and the ominous "Everyeve" that each of us had had to do battle with at some point in our lives. The next thing I knew, David had emailed me a stanza--the first couplet of the book: "Alfred's music grand and cloying ('Eve's Theme'?) / while the credits appear on what: a scrap of gray burlap?" I popped my copy of the movie into the VCR and responded with the next three stanzas of the book and then sent what we had to Lynn. So I'd say that I don't recall really any planning--it just began and, indeed, it took on a life of its own.

David Trinidad
Yes, our renga, which we wrote in the last months of the century, somehow opened the door for "le monstre" (the name Susan Wheeler eventually dubbed Phoebe). I seem to recall that someone (me? it�s hard to remember anymore) suggested that the poem should read like a DVD commentary of All About Eve. DVDs were new to me; I was enthralled by the idea of chatting about a film as you were viewing it. I�d listened several times to Marian Keane�s commentary (actually, on the DVD it�s called an "audio essay") of Hitchcock�s The 39 Steps. She�s brilliant; her commentary adds this whole other dimension to the film. So I was excited about the possibilities. One of the first DVDs I purchased was All About Eve. It�s a film the three of us were obsessed with; as Jeffery says, we�d discussed it many times. Once, Lynn was visiting me in New York and we watched AAE together. When we got to the scene where Eve�s caught holding up Margo�s dress in front of the mirror, we both gasped---appalled and fascinated. We must have replayed Eve�s startled reaction ten times. Also, having the film on DVD made it very easy to maneuver through the movie: freezing and rewinding and fast-forwarding. Made it very easy to examine it closely. Lynn and I both had DVD players. Eventually Jeffery caught up with us. I remember him complaining about how difficult it was to navigate the film on VHS. It was like he was in the dark ages. And yes, the project just took off and had a life of its own. It was very exciting, intoxicating really. And addictive. By the time we got to Book 5, I think, we knew we were on to something. The process had become exhilarating. Later in the book---mind you, this became a three-year commitment---we planned/outlined a few things, but in a very loose way. We always made room for the surprise, and for spontaneous reactions to what each other wrote.

Lynn Crosbie
The concept was my idea, which arose after we three had finished "Chain, Chain, Chain," and we all felt we should keep going. There was talk of a third project, "Anne and Her Dolls," based on the musical Jacqueline Susann wanted to write ("Helen and Her Dolls" and Anne Sexton's bad poetry (her last poems, that is). We all shaped the idea together: epic, stations of the cross, etc., and Jeffery and Davis made a far more substantive contribution too the text as a whole. I was pretty much a wreck for most of it, lost my husband, fell into disrepair, and so on. Jeffery and David, as writers of this text, are the spine, binding and bulk. I am, often, like a shaky hand, passing through it.

David, when reading from the manuscript in Philadelphia, you made a statement, something like, "Bette Davis was not glamorous, but she was about glamour." That's always stayed with me, and I wondered if you could please expand or explain the idea of the statement? And Lynn and Jeffery, do either of you have anything to say or add to this?

Jeffery Conway
I have nothing to say or add to this as I feel I'm not qualified. You see, regarding myself, I've always felt exactly the opposite: Jeffery Conway is glamorous, but he is not about glamour. I love and hate Bette, but I am not "Her Kind," and therefore refrain from commenting.

David Trinidad
In Phoebe I quote Tallulah Bankhead�s biographer, Lee Israel, who wrote that such actresses as Bankhead, Davis, Crawford, etc. were "about glamour rather than glamorous." Israel also says about Bankhead, and I equate this to Davis and Crawford as well, "Her lip-line had ceased . . . to have anything to do with the shape of her mouth." I think that certain women, especially movie stars of yore, as they age become such exaggerations or caricatures of youthful femininity, they are about the thing, rather than the thing itself. Maybe it�s that they�re trying to hold onto their youth. It�s also about miming certain mannerisms, certain gestures. Perhaps certain movie star gestures. The waving of the cigarette, the downing of the martini, the tossing of the hair. Oh, and the hand on the hip. Everything�s too big, too loud. How can that be truly glamorous. It�s the broadcasting of an idea, not a genuine, or natural, expression.

Lynn Crosbie
I can't speak for David, but think I know what he means. In this film in particular, she is a amphibian-eyed, crepe-faced fully 40 woman, which was not a glamourous age then, and barely is now. Yet, her gestures, her temper, her disposition, even her sensibilities are glamourous: the way in which she descends a stair-case, reveals her stockinged leg, smokes a cigarette (reminds me a bit of that Asnevour song, "She who always seems so happy in a crowd/whose eyes can be so private and so proud/so one's allowed to see them when they cry." Her life is appearances; her glam-tragic stature emerges from the unsettling of the same.

The poem "Ode to My Eve" is a wonderful transference of the film's theme of a young wannabe stealing the star's thunder to the world of poetry. Actually, thunder is possibly the least of what's taken in the end. But I was wondering what insights you developed while working on this project into the phenomenon of celebrity, and all the dysfunction and thirst poured into it? The book as a whole is a testament (& celebration) to something being askew with our world, but maybe you could share some highlights about your deeper insights from this project?

Jeffery Conway
As we moved through the movie/book, and as we challenged one another to reveal more and more about our own experiences, I was shocked to discover not only the audacity of Eves past, but that Evedom was alive and well, and that Phoebes and Phoebedom were on the rise! It's like they were all conspiring to fuel our mock epic! I didn't want to write "Ode to My Eve'' (for obvious reasons), but Lynn and David pushed me in that direction. There was a great relief, a solid cleansing after I finished it; I felt like I had been reborn and that I could now move back into the world that I had gradually retreated from over the course of five or six years. I am no longer afraid of Eves and Phoebes; I welcome them as part of the Fame Foodchain. Now they just simply amuse me--the way one was amused watching classroom science movies as a kid--the visceral thrill of watching bottom feeders eat one another up.

David Trinidad
It�s something that we promise on page one of the book: "But more of Phoebe[s], later." So hundreds and hundreds of pages later we had to live up to that promise, deliver the goods. We do circle around it throughout the book. But by the time we got to Book 16, "le monstre" seemed to demand that we hit it on the head. "It" being Phoebedom, as Jeffery called it, the disease of blind ambition, fame-mongering, careerism run rampant---whatever you want to call it. I was being plagued by several out-of-control beginning poets. One, a woman who knew I was gay, decided she was in love with me, was sending me hostile, drunken emails. Another, a young man I had worked with as an instructor, was writing inappropriate sexual poems about me (really lewd stuff) and posting them on the internet. I depict them as crazed Phoebes in the book. I was leaving New York at the time, packing to move to Chicago. The move seemed to give me permission to unload a lot of poetry world resentments; you know, poets who had been mean to me over the years, or who I�d witnessed acting out in public---ridiculously egotistical or self-important or whatever. So I just went for it, wrote a few sections about poets behaving badly. As Jeffery says, it was very freeing. Other poets� bad behavior does seem amusing now; it doesn�t offend me the way it used to. Egomaniacs with inferiority complexes. That�s how I see such poets. Dime a dozen. Of course the secret is that I too have those feelings from time to time; I just choose not to act out on them.

Lynn Crosbie
I write about celebrity constantly in my journalism, yet do not feel inclined to extend an analysis of its relationship to one of the film's (cited by you) deep tropes. It is obvious that genuine celebrity is like a rat's warren; concealed, filthy, and cannibalistic. But the reason I am hesitant to make more analogies is because the section you cited is different, and well-liked by me because it is confessional, and has to do with each of our Eves (I suppose you could say everyone has one.)

Please share with us some things you have learned about collaboration as a result of this book?

Jeffery Conway
Collaborating on this book with Lynn and David was the most fun I've ever had writing. I think collaboration is the wave of the future. O.K., I'm being melodramatic. Yesterday I said, "Steel cut Irish oatmeal is the wave of the future." So, you get the idea about my world view--a little askewed? What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that on some gut, deep level I feel like writing collaboratively might be an antithesis to celebrity fever within the poetry world and in the greater world of authorialship in general. One must *share* any praise or glory that comes from the project (and one must also share in the criticism and slams, too). It feels very "Eastern spiritual," you know what I mean? And as God knows, China is the wave of the future.

David Trinidad
Actually, Soy Crisps are the wave of the future. The new potato chip. Yes, it was the most fun ever. I loved collaborating with Jeffery and Lynn. It was so easy to jump into writing, I think because I was writing *to* them. There was an instant, specific audience. We were talking to each other, entertaining each other, mocking each other, goading each other on. I was very sad when it ended. I knew something special, maybe a once-in-lifetime opportunity, was over. Now it�s back to business as usual, writing one�s own poems. I haven�t written very many poems the last few years, since Phoebe ended. I tend to write slowly, with occasional bursts. I miss that Jeffery and Lynn aren�t on the other end, as it were. I mean who am I writing my poems to? The world, I guess, that never wrote to me. Same as always. But Jeffery and Lynn wrote to me!

Okay, I hope you don't mind this question. But I want to ask it, because I think it's fun. The idea of a remake of All About Eve is slightly horrifying, UNLESS (in my opinion) it were done in the way the recent remake of The Stepford Wives was done, that is, with humor. So my question is, if there were to be a drag remake, all female roles played by men, and male roles by women, who would you have play what roles, and why?

Jeffery Conway
First of all, I think All About Eve has already been remade with humor--namely, Showgirls. I have to be honest though, I didn't see the remake of The Stepford Wives I saw the trailer when I went to see Mean Girls (!), and I was repelled. I loved the original one--it was super scary to me as a kid! I didn't like the idea of it being turned into a sitcommy comedy. On the other hand, the idea of a drag remake for All About Eve doesn't annoy me (in the same way that drag stage versions of Valley of the Dolls make perfect sense to me). I think I would try to assemble a cast of aging 90s East Village drag queens for two of the principal female roles: maybe The "Lady" Bunny as Margo, and Tabboo as Karen. For Eve, we'd have to get some nefarious drag newcomer, and for Phoebe, gee, does it matter? I can't tell you why, exactly, I'd choose such a cast . . . it's just that it's a lazy Sunday morning, I'm eating steel cut Irish oatmeal, and dreaming of the wave of the future when drag queens will rule the world.

David Trinidad
Do I have to answer this question? I think Jeffery did a good job. I will say something about the remake of The Stepford Wives, though. When I heard Nicole Kidman was going to star in it, I was excited. I thought it was going to be a serious, scary remake. Instead, they did this stupid comedy. It had a few laughs, but it was pretty pointless. And for a camp remake, they didn�t make much use of the campiest moment in the original: the scene where Katharine Ross stabs the robot Paula Prentiss and she short circuits, repeating "I thought we were friends" over and over. In the remake I think Bette Midler just sticks her hand in a flame. Anyway, remakes, robotic replacements, young poetry Phoebes . . . it�s the endless recycling of Phoebedom, as Jeffery would say. It�s a carbon-copy world, as Sparks would say.

Lynn Crosbie
Addison: Sharon Stone (she possessed only of a grotesque allure, and is capable of arch-cruelty.

Eve: Matt Damon, has that wonderful faux-nice quality, seems genuinely repulsive.

Bill: Sandra Bullock.So obvious.
Birdie: Brian Denehy. Good actor, capable of shrewd malice (cf Rambo, John Wayne Gacy Story).
Margo: Richard Chamberlin. (Ditto Bullock)
Marilyn Monroe: Her sepulcher

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