How Cool is THIS?--Poetry to Wait By

This is triply cool:

First, our town (Northampton, Massachusetts) has a poet laureate.

Second, she is Lesléa Newman, author of the acclaimed (and occasionally banned) Heather has Two Mommies.

And third, she has spearheaded a project called "Poetry to Wait By" that involves placing books of poetry in the waiting rooms of local businesses.

So instead of having to choose between a three-month-old copy of Golf magazine or the latest Dentists' Monthly, you might feast your eyes on Keats, Ferlinghetti, or former US poet laureate Billy Collins.

What's in any given waiting room depends on what volunteers have donated to the cause. But whatever the meter and rhyme on offer, it's bound to be superior to the gossip and dross of the usual waiting-room reading.



Appalachia Music from Home
Lonesome Records 094

Appalachia and bluegrass are so synonymous that a lot of people forget that the latter was only invented in the 1940s and isn’t really “roots music” in the strictest sense. A new collection of Appalachian music—a companion to the PBS series Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People—contains plenty of bluegrass, but it’s also a reminder that the region’s roots are deep, broad, and stretch beyond the Mason-Dixon Line. Appropriately enough, it opens with a corn dance sung by Seneca peoples living on a reservation in New York State.

Appalachia is where the first “song catchers” scoured the hills for variants of British ballads and dance tunes. These are represented on this collection, with Jean Ritchie turning in a dry-toned “Pretty Saro,” Molly Slemp an emotive version of “The Blackest Crow,” and fiddlers such as Martin Fox and Benny Thomasson laying down solid old-time melodies. Also included is “Coal Creek March,” a classic Dock Boggs banjo performance.

Other reminders of Appalachia’s musical diversity come in the form of shape-note hymns, a stately rendition of “Haste to the Wedding,” and union songs. The album is a fine mix of lesser-known performers and those who have graced stages worldwide. The latter, however, do shine brighter. Standout tracks include Darrell Scott’s reworking of “Old Joe Clark” and a gorgeous song from Robin and Linda Williams, the melodic and memorable “Don’t Let Me Come Home a Stranger.” And no Appalachian collection is complete without the incomparable Ralph Stanley, whose “Gloryland” could convert sinners and atheists alike.

A notable omission: Although slavery was not as widespread in the Piedmont as along the coast, the region nonetheless contained hundreds of thousands of chattels. Where are their songs? Carl Martin’s bluesy “Let’s Have a New Deal” is a small step in the right direction, but another way to break Appalachian stereotypes is to add more color to the narrative.--LV

Click here for a nice cover of "Don't Let Me Come Home a Stranger."


Star Trek: Not So Boldly Going Where Many Have Been Before

*** 1/2
No Star Trek film has ever won an Oscar but its newest incarnation deserves one in a brand-new category—casting. Unfortunately, that’s the only Oscar it should get.

The film’s creators had the unenviable task of rebooting the moribund franchise for the (excuse the expression) next generation without alienating all the ageing Trekkers and Trekkies who can recite decades-old dialogue from the original TV series. What’s a filmmaker to do?

Hiring solid but little- to-slightly-known actors who absolutely nail their characters was a great first step. Much has been made of the, um, fascinating physical likeness (even without makeup) of the original Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock as a young Vulcan who’s not yet learned to control the emotional impulses of his human half. And Quinto deserves every bit of the praise, having not only absorbed Spock’s mannerisms (canny raised eyebrow, deadpan quizzical look) but also made the character his own. (This Spock is softer somehow, yet just as logical as ever.)

The other key casting decision was, of course, who would replace William Shatner in Kirk’s captain’s chair. Though Chris Pine’s physical similarity to Shatner isn’t striking, there’s no denying he channels Kirk’s cowboy eagerness, bravado, bombast, and tendency to pepper his speeches with…dramatic…pauses.

The spirit of the rest of the old gang on the Enterprise bridge is recognizable in their replacements too, even if some—Sulu (John Cho) and Uhuru (the delectable Zoe Saldana) in particular—are still shortchanged in the character- development department. Karl Urban (also delectable) as Dr. McCoy and Scots comedian Simon Pegg are particularly refreshing as the show’s comic relief. (And thank heaven Scotty is played by an actual Scot this time around.)
And when the “real” Mr. Spock (Nimoy) shows up in a welcome but bizarre subplot, you can almost feel the torch being passed to the new crew.

Director JJ Abrams had the wisdom to give the millions who recall the original series enough nostalgia hits and in-jokes to keep them (me) happy without slavishly staying true to every aspect of the 1960s series. (The cheesy special effects and aliens with visible zippers on their rubber costumes are thankfully replaced by up-to-date CGI effects).

Too bad then, that Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman opted for a story so convoluted yet lightweight that even killer tattoos on the baldheaded Romulan villains headed by Eric Bana don’t compel us to care whether the Enterprise crew survives to begin its mission to seek out new life and new civilizations.

OK, so we can’t expect mature, humanitarian thought of The Next Generation kind from a bunch of Starfleet Academy cadets, but still there are far too many fistfights and things blowing up. We got that Kirk’s not in control of his impulses during the fight that opens the film; there was no need to belabor the point endlessly.

The new film has broken opening-weekend box office records, so surely it will be followed by more Treks. I just hope the series takes some lessons from the weightier Next Generation and Deep Space Nine scripts so that its bluff, buff new crew can live long and prosper.