MONTE & PINKY at BHMVA . . . and COMING AROUND at Tottering Tea Cup

Some Links to what’s coming up:

On Saturday, April 7, 2018, the opera Monte & Pinky, featuring Erin Wind as Monte and Del Sykes as Pinky,  will be performed by Richmond Concert Opera (  at the Black History Museum in Richmond ( at 2:00 p.m.

It will be followed by dramatic readings featuring Del Sykes, Diana Carver, and Richard Rose on the lives of domestic workers during the Great Migration.

Besides the reading, another companion to Monte & Pinky is the publication of Coming Around, a poetry collection by Richard Rose.  Although the general release will be in August, some advanced copies will be available for some upcoming events.  Rose will speak during the RVA Literary Crawl (2018_RVALitCrawl ) at the Tottering Teacup (  with other poets on April 21 at 5:00 pm:

On April 22, both Monte & Pinky and Amber  will be produced as STRIKE THE ROCK! in a concert reading at the Church of the Holy Comforter ( at 2:00 p.m.

An extended reading from Coming Around is planned for late April or early May.  Details TBD.

STRIKE THE ROCK! opens at the Gellman Room, Richmond Main Library


WINGS . . . and other invitations

Ten years ago this May, Susie and I returned to Virginia in a small plane flown by a friend of my sister in Oklahoma.  Following ten days of hospital treatment for pneumonia, Susie was propped by the window for the take-off.  Nine years of Alzheimer’s had left her without speech and unable to sit up, but when we lifted off, she looked at the sky and smiled.  It was the last time I saw her enjoy herself.


Like Susie, Emily Stilson flew many times with her father in small planes, but Emily walked on the wings of bi-planes. Her wing-walking over crowds in cornfields and state fairs forms the background for WINGS, the current production at Richmond’s Firehouse Theatre ( ). A 1992 adaptation by composer Jeffrey Lunden and lyricist Arthur Perlman of the play by Arthur Kopit, the story begins with Emily’s debilitating stroke, from which she never fully recovers–an unlikely premise for a musical.

But we are the beings who see beyond the worlds and wounds we have created–the beings with imagination. As Kopit was writing the play, his father had a stroke.  He took the invitation to imagine his father’s experience.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor described her stroke as feeling like a liquid, in some ways like the “flow” or absorption felt when we are creatively engaged (see Csikszentmihalyi’s book, cited below) or like the uncensored “ejaculatory speech” of a person with Tourette’s syndrome, as described by Oliver Sacks: a flow of sounds and words uncensored and unmodulated by speech centers; a flow of images flooding the visual centers. With speech disabled, one recruits first-responders from other parts of the cortex; as more former associates appear on the scene, they bring lost words and new connections.  Given gentle care, time, and opportunities for little awakenings through participation in arts, one may even imagine herself back into the same reality that others imagine. Emily, however, never quite lands again in the acceptably imagined world.

She stays in the territory of what Robinson Jeffers called “edgeless dreams.” The loss of nouns (anomia), the struggle with consonant clusters, nonsense rhymes, gibberish, and sudden memory lapses, and failure to recognize faces: these impediments are like a torn cowling or swathe of fabric ripped up and plastered against the visor and the pilot’s face. The plane flies on; Emily’s identity is intact. Recovery is slow and incomplete, her dreams as real as her daily routine in various institutions.

But how do you portray this in a musical?

Firehouse Theatre willingly takes on such projects, such as the challenge it met earlier in the month with the successful production of Walter Braxton’s To Damascus. In the production of Wings, Lunden’s score for keyboard, flute, ‘cello, and  samples lays down a tentative landscape for the territory Emily inhabits. Maddening, confusing, elusive, her conflicting emotions sink and soar in a spare but lyrical idiom under the capable musical direction of pianist Kim Fox.  Director Kerrigan Sullivan and Scenic and Lighting Designers Vinnie Gonzalez and Bill Miller use minimal staging to create a space seamlessly transformed into hospital, airfield with landing lights, rest home, barn, bi-plane, and the cloudy, unnamed regions that Emily inhabits with doctors, nurses, attendants, and other patients. Supporting roles are  played by the flexible cast of four  actors: Andrew Colletti, Lauren Elens, Lucinda McDermott, and Landon Nagel.

For eighty minutes, Bianca Bryan is center-stage as Emily Stilson in a remarkable performance.  In a part that requires not only singing and acting but also speaking gibberish, she is completely convincing–whether playing the disabled Emily frustrated with others’ inability to understand her or the intact individual beneath all the afflictions who grasps new insights about the feel of the mind coming through clouds.

Invitations announce themselves in many ways. Grief asks you what you will make of it. Confusion and conflict ask you to discover the roles and realms available to you. We want to get outside our old eyes, our old world, our maddening wounds, and imagine ourselves into a new reality:  Dangerous territory.  Emily wondered whether she’d crashed somewhere.  So much to take in–and what does one make of it?

The invitation is to choose something for yourself–not to have it chosen for you, by the way. Choose how to imagine yourself. Both your world and dream-world are imaginative works. To take on an imaginative work is to breathe capaciously, to hold and examine the potential of it, to release and give shape to it, and then to hold the absence of it, the grief of it, which always becomes a new invitation.

That Last Rites are a Lift-Off


Set meters to aught.

Let sorrows depart.



Let go.

Instruments zero.

Forget what you know.

Let go.


Pierce eyes.

Fly with your heart.

Let sorrows depart.

Pierce eyes.


The poem was written in 2008 after our last ride, coming home in a Piper. Jill Bolte Taylor’s book is My Stroke of Insight (2006). Oliver Sacks’ last book is The River of Consciousness (2017).  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book is Flow (1990).  Joel Bassin is the Producing Artistic Director of the Firehouse Theatre, where Wings continues for several more weeks.  Amber will be at the Firehouse on April 10 for a one-night concert performance.  (See “Coming Performances.”)







Strike the Rock! COMES AROUND to Richmond

To find out what these performers have in common, see STR by COR 2018

And watch this site for news about the book tour for Coming Around, a new book of poetry by Richard Rose, published this spring by Brandylane/ Belle Isle Publishers.

Rejuvenation & the 8-fold path



This year I will be making a series of blogs concerning the musical production, Strike the Rock! and the publication of Coming Around, a book of poems that is a companion work to the musical production.  Before launching the series, however, I’d like to share an earlier essay by Robert Rose, “Rejuvenation,” because its message is another way of saying what I shall present in music and poetry:  REJUVENATION by Robt. Rose 20161113

Hear Five Poets at Book People

January 20, 2018  A day of celebrations, some marched. Not much of a marcher, I continued to work on a different kind of demonstration for this spring:


Then I took a break to join the crowd listening to five poets in a small bookstore in Richmond, BookPeople, which is currently doing a GoFundMe drive:  Perhaps you’d like to join us.

Here’s the shop:

2. BookPeople

The poets spoke behind this bay window:

3. Bookpeople


Here’s some of the crowd behind the window.0. Cover shot


There were many notables present–



Susan Hankla read first. I missed part of her presentation, but this will give you an idea.

Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda:

Then Joanna Lee:

The inimitable Derek Kannemeyer:

Last, Elizabeth Seydel Morgan:

Glad you could make it!  If you’d like to send me a message or to post some of your own work on this blog-site, contact me at

Artism: The World Through the Eyes of Autism


You haven’t heard much lately from Not for lack of news–I have a book & opera production coming in 2018. (More on that later.) No, I’ve been in a funk and a serious case of TMI. Social and asocial media are manageable afflictions, but sometimes one weakens.

Navigators who go off course a few degrees may arrive in Greenland rather than Georgia.  A slight displacement at the beginning of a journey results in a major transformation.  I want a displacement when I read, make, or listen to a work of words, music and images–a little shift in my frame of reference. For a little while, I am Huck Finn, or live in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town,  or hear a Greek sculptor, dead for centuries, telling me through the artistry of a god’s broken statue, “You must change your life!”

Readers of this blog-site who have read past blogs, delved into the works posted, or read my book Frameshifts (2 volumes), or attended an opera like La Rinuncia or The Fisher of the James will hear an echo.

My “Frameshifts Project” for the last 50 years has been an extended invitation to you, saying, “Shift your frame of reference a few degrees and see where it takes you!” Even if the shift lasts no longer than a poem, or song, or story, it may send your journey to a new place.

Which brings me to what brought me out of my funk:  An announcement of a new exhibition which is all about frame-shifting:


    My friend, Reid Hall, is showing his photographic images  at Art Works, 320 Hull St., Richmond, VA 23224 from November 24, 2017 through January 21, 2018. As he says, “I never really thought I saw things differently from others until the people around me said the way that I think is interesting. I hope you will come and let me know what you think about that.”

Reid's Show

I bet you have time to visit, because

“By countless steps

and endlessly

coming and going,

all things make their way

at different strides.


All things pass away,

return, step fully

in and fully out,

turn inside out,

and make their way.


Time is not part of this.

Its hours and minutes

are surrogates for framing

stride to stride,

or scale to scale.


No, in your walk,

your divine walk,

keep shifting frames.

Let steps leap nebulae

at solar strides;


or carve nucleotides

at enzymatic clip;

or lift, piece by piece,

fragments the conservator


restores. You choose.

I implore you:  choose.         .  .  .  ”


(from “Zoom In And Out”   See complete text in an earlier blog.)

“A Year’s Worth” (film review)

Stories of transformation are usually stunning and prescriptive. Scrooge makes a 180 degree turn after the ghosts visit. Self-help gurus prescribe a dozen DVDs to watch before you qualify as enlightened.

Real transformations, however, are recognized only in retrospect, and the steps you climbed to work on yourself are scantily recovered from dreams, casual comments by friends, and other imperfect records.  One never begins a transformation with “Start here.”

Joan’s transformation in A Year’s Worth is neither spectacular nor inspiring.  It is simply believable. As another stand-up comic tells her, he likes comedy because you get to tell the truth. So, also, the camera lovingly lingers on Joan’s boozy solo dance after a break-up, inviting us to watch the unflattering beginning of a pilgrimage from delusion to how things are, from sloppy half-truths to the real article. In this way, Joan moves through the precisely choreographed first steps required to wriggle from an old skin. Played by Sara Roan, a co-writer of this small-scaled production shown today at Richmond’s Byrd Theatre, Joan is an aspiring young writer employed as a dog-walker.  In this, and in another film about dog-walking, Thomas Vincent’s La Nouvelle Vie de Paul Sneijder, featured in the French Film Festival at the Byrd in March, the inner work to be done by the main character is portrayed, as in all spiritual pilgrimages, by a walk.

But Joan’s pilgrimage is not solemn. She wanders through the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, and many stores and markets familiar to Richmonders, karaoke parties, and trips to James River Park and Virginia Beach.  Roan, her husband and co-writer, John Randal Reaves, and filmmaker Eric Gilkey have made the city her friendly guide, who shows that a turn of only a few degrees is enough to change your perspective and make it possible to shake off clinging reminders of the old life.

Made from humble local materials, produced with the help of friends, and paid for by the filmmakers, this impressive film captures the life of some of today’s young people, who are often underemployed in several low-paying jobs, burdened by student loans, seeking outlets in alcoholic gatherings, uncertain of where they are going, but skeptical of the advice coming from parents and other real “adults,” as Joan calls them.  As a member of the sententious generation whose advice is suspect, I felt my own frame of reference shift a few degrees closer to Joan’s world.  With minimal verbiage and stage direction, this story advances naturally and concisely, and the worthiness of this Year’s Worth lies, for me, in the encouraging and sensible world revealed.


References: .  See also Mary Lee Clark’s review in the Richmond Times Dispatch of 5/31/2017


Inspector O, Frontal Messages, and Dr. Bronner’s Toothpaste




Spring arrives with dandelions, cat’s ears, and self-heal. Seems like all we trade with North Korea is insults.  How about more commerce—maybe even more communion? Would we could heal all wounds! It’s hard to commune, however, with an abstraction.

Let’s shift to the world of a Korean soldier returning home after marching behind the missiles in circles around the giant screen of exploding Americans.

What a relief to pull off boots and to detach the strings that the sergeants pull to get that extra kick in every step! Soldier’s rations guarantee her two meals today, maybe rice and kim-chi, and tonight, maybe a fish head.  Put half of the food away, just in case. For an hour at the end of the day, while she is away from the puppeteers, their ideas to think, and their abstractions to hold dear, she thinks about her starving cousins in the country.  Fatigue sweeps over her. The frame, dim as it already is, fades away. And she returns to our abstraction of a North-Korean.

I recall some Korean friends—gentle, kindly folks; mostly Christians. One was a fellow graduate student, a scholar of the Korean alphabet or Hangui. Ho-Tok seemed to approach it with the fervor of a scholar of the Kabbalah.  In 1443 C.E., King Sejong the Great of Choson, sponsored the creation of a syllable-block system of writing that would be easy enough for the lowliest peasant to learn.  Long before general literacy in Europe, Koreans of all social strata were writing and reading stories. Today more than 60% of  Koreans under age 50 are college graduates.  Of course, the aristocrats who used only the elite Hanja or Chinese characters, demeaned the vulgar language efforts of the low classes.  One dynast even banned Hangui for a time. But it returned and is now used in both North and South. Literacy is too important to give up. The Great Script of Sejong, published in The Proper Sounds for the Education of the People, is still the standard for Korean language. Perhaps my friend’s almost mystical attachment to the alphabet was his way of cherishing a talisman of the historic importance of education.  As the Jewish child kisses the honeyed text of scripture, my friend yearned for a sweeter and deeper fulfillment of the dream of King Sejong for his people.

The frame shifts to Inspector O, the famous detective in the stories of Frank Church. No doubt he still stalks the streets of Pyongyang, puzzling over murders and thefts and proceeding cautiously in disregard of  slogans to understand the shadow forces of the intelligence service who often turn out to be at the root of many crimes. Mostly, he has to avoid being himself detained for questioning—or worse—and to make his single servings of tea and rice, if he has them, to last for the whole day.

The frame shifts to Professor Henry Randall (alias “Henson”), my character in Frameshifts, who also was detained and interrogated by a couple of intelligence types at Richmond’s Berkeley Hotel about 200 years from now:

Alvarez: “We saw the photos in your valise. You know, we couldn’t find out what you were doing before coming to the agency.” 

Henson: “No? It wasn’t very exciting. Some consulting in western states.” 

Alvarez: “Places like Santa Fe? The reason I ask is because of the photos.” 

Henson: “From Santa Fe?” 

Alvarez: “Downloads from one of those—what were they called, cellulites?” 

Henson: “Cell phones.”

Alvarez: “Yes. From the cell phones people used before frontal messaging. See this picture? It looks like you without a beard.” 

Henson: “Good likeness.” 

Alvarez: “He looks like your twin. See? Here you are at home with your wife and another lady.” 

Henson: “Dr. Irene Brooks.” 

Alvarez: “The same woman who was kidnapped by the North Region cult. You know anything about that?” 

Henson: “Quite a bit, actually. And not what’s in the newspapers.” 

Smythe: “How about telling us what you know?” 

Henson: “I see that you finished your call, Agent Smythe. Can’t say that I ever wanted voices wired to my head, but I’m sure you don’t mind.”

—from the chapter “Agents Smythe & Alvarez” in Primary Sources, in the third part of Frameshifts (2011).

The idea of having direct wireless service to the frontal lobes of the citizenry would be attractive to any autocrat—a great step forward into communion of thoughts and purity of purpose, no doubt. Better even than the literacy needed to read slogans. It’s also the kind of ideal toward which marketing has aspired for decades—the ultimate in branding.  When I wrote about “frontal messaging,” however, I didn’t explain how it worked because I only wanted a plausible bit of science fiction to advance the plot. But as the Cloud, Big Data, wearable technology, and AI converge, our civilization has moved closer to the technology and the kind of unity and communion it may offer. Consider the recent remarks by Mark Zuckerberg at the ominously titled “Fate” (F8) conference.

Asked to respond to the murder of Mr. Robert Godwin, which was broadcast by Facebook in real time, Mr. Zuckerberg said, “we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this.” He then quickly turned to the vibrant three-dimensional imaginary worlds soon to be available through augmented reality.  What if you could give your child the birthday gift of a virtual reality trip to Hogwarts where she would become Harry Potter? What indeed? While it is unclear what Facebook could do to prevent random killings, even with 3000 more employees dedicated to filtering images bad for the brand, it is clear that to control the publishing of such content or to confront any  tragedies that might follow viewing it are minor issues to be resolved on the path to platform perfection.

It’s hard to commune with abstractions. Certainly my uncle had no such intention as he parachuted from Army airplanes, always having his spine snapped in the propellers’ back-draft.  In 1952, troops had many names for the enemy who resisted them at every hill, just as my Army buddies did for a different enemy less than two decades later. The epithets, like the grenades on their utility belts, were part of the job—whether they were capturing a hill or recapturing it.  The lower back pain and the epithets stuck with my uncle even after fifty years. Communion was out.

Great distractions are made of abstractions.  The autocrat creates Us and Them to miscue citizens during his plunder-magic. The marketer abstracts the wishes of consumers to create brands that “tattoo the brain,” in Karen Post’s phrase. Better to think of benevolent products than of environmental damage or disease.  Better to know that a politician follows the People’s Platform than to be concerned with consequences of policies—what Brian Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, calls “proximate knowledge.” As he says,

When you get close to a problem, you see the detail, you see the nuances.  And until we get proximate to communities where there’s poverty and suffering and violence and despair, until we get proximate to the incarcerated, until we get proximate to people who are dealing with the trauma and neglect, we’re not going to be able to change the world.

Proximate knowledge comes from the cultivation of attention.  I am skeptical that branding in commerce, media, or politics will ever seek to cultivate attention as long as distraction is handy.  Communion through branding seems illusory.

But maybe there are exceptions. Consider Dr. Bronner’s Toothpaste.  The motto for the brand is “All One.” The simple meaning of this is explained on the label and apparently is central to the company’s business practices:

In all we do, let us be generous, fair, and loving to Spaceship Earth and all its inhabitants. For we’re all-one or none!  All one! 

From a German-Jewish family in the soap-making industry since 1858, Emanuel Bronner arrived in the United States in 1948.  After his death in 1997, the family continued to operate along the lines he had developed:

He used the labels on his ecological soaps to spread the message that we must realize our transcendent unity across religious and ethnic divides or perish.

This marketing plan incorporated what Karen Post has called a “self-reinvention” in which a company “picks a lane with its own distinct assets—things that they could do over and over again.” Like brushing teeth. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the product is something everyone can use, and that it’s nontoxic.

But like the product itself, which must come into contact with real teeth in order to function properly, the messages on every label, do their work by making us attend to our real “unity across . . . divides” rather than by the usual tactics of sloganeering—that is,  creating miscues, epithets, vague abstractions, and comforting distractions to direct our attention away from reality. If acts of attention were to become as habitual as brushing teeth, then communion might be possible. Therefore, if I were to recommend a marketing path to communion based on proximate rather than virtual reality, it would be to follow the lead of Bronner’s toothpaste.

As mentioned in the previous blog, frame-shifting is the practice of frequently setting up your studio in different worlds to see where your work will lead. A final shift on the topics of brands, communion, and abstractions leads me to three poems:

          Main Bullets

Some try to confound knowledge

by creating confusion,

netting a debit.

Some love hands, clouds, trees and faces

more than abstractions & social graces,

to their credit.



like twelve gauge shot splintering the wall

that hides the runaway, or Tom, the man

who was a thing, or lesson Epictetus

gave the master twisting leg from hip,

or Constitution automatically

assuring reason, are our very selves

reconstituted, meant to carry on

calmly and impartially without us.


Step aside to find a name or image

easier to clasp than vanished sob

or stripped heart banished to the dream

that will not stop. At a remove, a code

transforms or mechanism supplants rage.

The winding scream becomes a channeled race

flowing indifferently to turn a stone

that grinds down grief and sweeps the passage clean.


Step inside the passage we are making.

Proceed by grasps and dwelling on each step,

each turn; by slipstreams pulling us along;

by finding terms to turn aside the movement

that will not stop. Each level of remove

imagined well transfers us into things

moving on without us—arrows, flames,

pumps, books, lines of code, and names of names.



A Clean Sweep


Most heroes had a gift

for sweeping vermin out.

Was it a calling, rage,

or holy disposition

to smash the infant heads

of sullen opposition?


Ages upon ages

wealth and wisdom went

to cure the innocent

like fresh-flayed meat.


An evil agency,

perhaps, its distant seat

a star, intends this hurt,

these wounds, this carefree strafing;

gangs cornering young girls,

their lawful prey and safe

to use and throw away.


Come, welcome all the heroes

in our name. Welcome!

Ever be the same!


All who decimate

for an abstraction

never underestimate.


Their purity of action

is simply a subtraction

of what offends the mind.

Look on no distant star.

The Evil Agency

is easier to find.


Quick Links (Paste url to search when you can’t click directly.)

To Korean Alphabet: See entry on Hangui in Wikipedia.

To Mark Zuckerberg at F8:

See also:

To another essay on Inspector O entitled “Target, Teepees, and Inspector O”:

and more on the work of James Church:

References to Frameshifts can be found in hardcopy and Kindle ebook at   and in original manuscript public access at

To Karen Post on Brain Tattoos & branding:

To Dr. Bronner’s products & messages:

The quotation from Brian Stevenson comes from M.P. Williams’ column in The Richmond Times Dispatch of April 14, 2017.