Thursday, January 19, 2012

Stephen Sondheim Reads Phyllis McGinley "Love Note to a Playwright" at The Public Forum – Sondheim/Kushner

In Stephen Sondheim's  Look, I Made a Hat, he writes:
Finally, I have a gift to offer every hatmaker…read Phyllis McGinley’s poem "Love Note to a Playwright." Not only is it a technical marvel, it’s as important a piece of advice as you will ever get, and if I’d listened to it the way I think every artist should, I wouldn’t have written these books, I’d have written a couple of musicals instead. 
At Tuesday's Public Form dialogue, Mr. Kushner asked Mr. Sondheim to read the poem. Mr. Sondheim warned that he always gets choked up whenever he reads it. However he went ahead and yes, he did get choked up.

Here is the the poem - Phyllis McGinley's (March 1905 – February 1978) Love Note to a Playwright. Many thanks to artist Galen Fott for posting it on his blog – BLOGFOTT.  

Love Note to a Playwright

Perhaps the literary man
I most admire among my betters
Is Richard Brinsley Sheridan,
Who, viewing life as more than letters,
Persisted, like a stubborn Gael,
In not acknowledging his mail.

They say he hardly ever penned
A proper "Yrs. received & noted,"
But spent what time he had to spend
Shaping the law that England voted,
Or calling, on his comic flute,
The tune for Captain Absolute.

Though chief of the prodigious wits
That Georgian taverns set to bubblin',
He did not answer Please Remits
Or scoldings from his aunts in Dublin
Or birthday messages or half
The notes that begged an autograph.

I hear it sent his household wild—
Became a sort of parlor fable—
The way that correspondence piled,
Mountainous, on his writing table,
While he ignored the double ring
And wouldn't answer anything;

Not scrawls from friends or screeds from foes
Or scribble from the quibble-lover
Or chits beginning "I enclose
Manuscript under separate cover,"
Or cards from people off on journeys,
Or formal statements from attorneys.

The post came in. He let it lie.
(All this biographers agree on.)
Especially he did not reply
To things that had R.S.V.P. on.
Sometimes for months he dropped no lines
To dear ones, or sent Valentines;

But, polishing a second act
Or coaxing kings to license Freedom,
Let his epistles wait. In fact,
They say he didn't even read'm.
The which, some mornings, seems to me
A glorious blow for Liberty.

Brave Celt! Although one must deplore
His manners, and with reason ample,
How bright from duty's other shore,
This moment, seems his bold example!
And would I owned in equal balance
His courage (and, of course, his talents),

Who, using up his mail to start
An autumn fire or chink a crevice,
Cried, "Letters longer are than art,
But vita is extremely brevis!"
Then, choosing what was worth the candle,
Sat down and wrote The School for Scandal.

—Phyllis McGinley

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