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A Review of The Plays of Jon Lipsky, Volume Two, edited by Bill Barclay and Jonah Lipsky (Hanover, NH: Smith and Kraus, 2014). ISBN: 978-1-57525-893-5
By Joey Madia
If the plays in Volume One of this collection are like a sprout bursting through the soil from a carefully cultivated seed, the four plays in Volume Two are the unfolding of a complex, beautiful patch of flowers, quite unlike each other, or any other, yet recognizable all the same.
I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to share my thoughts on what is now the third book containing the works and ideas of Jon Lipsky. His Dreaming Together: Explore Your Dreams by Acting Them Out (Larson Publications), has had a considerable impact on my theatre education and play-making career, and two of the four plays in Volume Two are directly related to Lipsky’s ground-breaking dreamwork.
The Introduction to this volume, written by Bill Barclay, provides answers to the questions of how Lipsky worked and why these four plays were chosen for this volume. I encourage you to read the introduction a few times before embarking on the journey of the first play, and to return to it before reading each of the others. The following quote sums up the editors’ intent and what this review will explore: “We hope through reading these plays and their introductions that Jon’s unique methods will inspire the artistically inclined reader to engage in similar voyages of their own. Whose story needs to be performed?” (24).
I have certainly been (re)inspired reading these two volumes of plays, and, in answer to the question posed, we ALL need our stories, if not performed, then told, which is the subject of my latest book in the field of theatre education and storytelling, and this is the lens through which I want to discuss the four plays in the volume, starting with Dreaming with an AIDS Patient, based on a book by Robert Bosnak, a world-renowned Jungian psychoanalyst and practitioner of dreamwork (I have had the pleasure to communicate with Dr. Bosnak on several occasions on the benefits of dreamwork in storytelling). Finding the universal in the ultra-personal has been a focus of my work for over a decade, and this play demonstrates its full effect. In the play, both Robert and his patient, Christopher, are played by the same actor, a decision that is out of the box and wholly apt, given the theory that all of our dream characters are aspects of ourselves. This play is full of unabashed truths about the depth of human feeling and having two actors play the main parts would have, I believe, created an unnatural boundary that would have prevented the seamless intertwining of doctor and patient that brings forth the vibrant resonance that the latent story holds. True to form, Lipsky creates a world where image and word are as seamless and re-enforcing in tandem as the play’s subjects. Humanity shines above all in this play; having developed and directed a play a few years ago with an HIV-positive actor, I have a personal sense of what is at work in Dreaming with an AIDS Patient, although any playwright, director, or actor will easily intuit the same after reading the script.
The next play in the collection is Call of the Wild (“A musical adaption of Jack London’s novels, Call of the Wild and White Fang”; written 1997; revised 2011). This is perhaps the most potent example of the derived work at which Lipsky excelled. According to the Foreword by Bill Barclay, the play began as a “class project at Boston University … devising a visceral adaptation.” Visceral, it is. Lipsky and his collaborators have captured the atmosphere, violence, and dark beauty of the lives of humans and dogs in London’s enduring novels. Like the plays in Volume One, Call of the Wild uses an ensemble of actors playing numerous roles, minimal props and costumes, and a tapestry of songs and sounds. The audience is “‘fresh meat’ just arrived to seek their fortunes.” The transformation of actors from dogs to humans is outlined in the ensemble notes and is very much a performance within the performance. If space allowed, I would examine the nuances of the language in the play (e.g., dog/God) and the way sound is used as a character, and the way repetition is used in the lyrics to build width and depth in the playing space that contains the actors, musicians, and audience, but I can only say, if you love theatre, read this play. And then read it again. It is, perhaps, the most purely powerful play in the collection.
Twice in my career I have had the opportunity to develop and direct the life stories of two individuals who portrayed themselves in the debut performances (and I am now writing a screenplay about a third). This is a unique form of storytelling with as many challenges as there are rewards. Coming Up for Air: An AutoJAZZography, conceived and performed by musician Stan Strickland and written by Jon Lipsky, is such a piece. In the introduction, Strickland notes that it was a three year process of conversation and note-taking on the beach on Martha’s Vineyard that brought the play to fruition. Anyone in the fields of storytelling and oral history will find a gold mine of technique and artistic choice-making awaiting them here. Strickland’s experiences and voice—as a person, as a musician—are so unique (the title refers to a near death experience he had in the waters off Hawaii), the ways that Lipsky worked with the text and structure to make them universal provide a roadmap for fellow travelers committed to bringing new stories (and perspectives!) to the world through theatre. Strickland and Lipsky collaborated to show us that everyone has their own rhythm and music—and finding and manifesting them for public performance holds a magic that the modern theatre often lacks.
The last play in this collection, The Wild Place, takes me back to the start of my journey through the processes and plays of Jon Lipsky. In Dreaming Together, he provided the roadmap for creating a work such as this one, which is based on a dream series by Susan Thompson (who was the co-author). Reinforcing a common theme among his collaborators, Thompson, in the Foreword, writes: “[Jon] encouraged performers to find stories within themselves” (301). Similar to the other dream plays in the collection, The Wild Place is deeply personal, taking as its source material dreams from a time when Thompson was “nursing her first child and pregnant with her second child” (Script Notes, 309). It is a moment in time, as the most moving stories are—constructed as a one-woman show with a supporting ensemble. Structurally similar while markedly different in their content and tone, Dreaming with an AIDS Patient and The Wild Place make a strong case for Lipsky’s methods of play creation. And his philosophy that the dreams are presented but not interpreted is one with which I agree. Especially when trying to make the uniquely personal wholly universal.
And that, to me, is what Jon Lipsky did best. Kudos to the editors of the two volumes for making his work available to storytellers throughout the world.

edited by Bill Barclay and Jonah Lipsky (Hanover, NH: Smith and Kraus, 2014). ISBN: 978-1-57525-892-8
I still remember the day, seven years ago, returning to my secluded three acres in West Virginia from a meeting with my theatre company in New Jersey, to find a package from Larson Publications. Inside was a note, and a copy of Jon Lipsky’s Dreaming Together: Explore Your Dreams by Acting Them Out, which I promptly read and reviewed. It has never remained on the shelf for any appreciable length of time. I go to it time and time again.
Jon Lipsky passed away some months later, before we could talk. It was not until many years later, in speaking with the publisher, that I found out that Professor Lipsky had specifically requested that I receive a copy of his book for review.
Perhaps it was the name of my theatre company at the time, New Mystics, or my work with a few theatre companies that used dreams to create plays, that led to my name being placed on the potential reviewers list. Like dreams themselves, how it came to be will, in some aspects, forever remain a mystery.
It was half a year ago that I received word that Jon’s son was co-editing a two-volume collection of his father’s plays. I promptly contacted him, including a copy of my review of Dreaming Together and waited in anticipation for the collection to be released.
This review covers Volume One. I Intend to read and review Volume Two this Winter.
It is clear that the editors have assembled this collection as both a labor of love and with a clear mission to promote Jon Lipsky’s work outside of the relatively small world in which he lived and created for most of his life—Boston and Martha’s Vineyard. Through the Preface and Acknowledgments, the Biography section, and the introductions that preface each of the four plays in the first volume, one can learn a great deal about Professor Lipsky’s life, training, his highly collaborative way of creating theatre, and why he wrote the plays he did. This is essential reading to fully appreciate all that went into these works. Each play is also prefaced by a production history.
The first play in the collection, Living in Exile: A Retelling of the Iliad (1981, revised 2011), includes an Author’s Preface, wherein Lipsky tells us that the “purpose [of this adaptation] is not to modernize Homer’s text, but to tell a war story.” Lipsky succeeds so well that every young man or woman thinking of enlisting in the Armed Forces should be required to experience this play right before sitting down with the recruiter. In several of my own books and plays I present the truths of war that lay beyond the myths of pageantry and stories of heroism that invite the unaware through the prism of Spectacle into a world of all too much Reality. Living in Exile denies Spectacle, and does so in a presentational way that calls to mind the tenets of Brecht, although without so much Alienation effect.
In fact, Living in Exile was designed to be performed intimately, in living rooms. The cast, like the other plays in this volume, play numerous parts and use props, costumes, sound, and music to produce a great deal of theatricality by marrying these familiar devices with the artistry of voice, tableau, and the powerful words of the playwright.
War is war. This becomes shockingly clear if one were to overlay the change in mindset of the soldiers from the Iliad to, say, the Vietnam War, or the very war in the Middle East that the world grapples with today (indeed, the play being written in 1981 and revised 10 years after the events of September 11, 2001, indicates that this is precisely Lipsky’s process). As the narrator tells us, by the eighth year of the war, “Fragging became a rite of passage. Self-mutilation became a source of glory. Suicide, though despised, was commonplace.”
Are you aware of The 22 Project? It is named for the fact that 22 American veterans commit suicide EVERY DAY. I recently helped with an event they co-hosted, in conjunction with the VFW at which my father is Senior Vice Commander. Reading Living in Exile was often hard for me after that experience and I cannot help but think that productions of the play in conjunction with such events would open a dialogue too many Americans are unwilling to have.
Lipsky navigates honoring the classic with inserting the modern with a considerable amount of skill. He uses the universal ageless gem of sex to his advantage, and when he drops in a word like “dude” it does not feel out of place. He also dances rhythmically, flawlessly, between the macro of War and the micro of the deep personal wounds and self-reflections of those who wage it. History often sacrifices the second for the first, making plays like this essential.
In the end, it is the micro that prevails. The narrator reminds us that “This is the way the Iliad ends. Begun in anger, completed in compassion,” referring to Achilles giving King Priam the time he needs to properly bury his son Hector.
In the midst of the devastating terror attacks in France and in San Bernardino, CA and the mounting hatred of Muslims, regardless of their individual beliefs, I wonder if any such compassion will be at play when this long war finally ends.
The next play in the collection is called Walking the Volcano: A Short Play Progression (1991–2009). From the note on the script: “The eight ‘inventions’ … are variations on a theme. … we are looking in on a kind of relationship endemic to the generation that came of age in the sixties … from the moment of falling in love to the last goodbye” (p. 124). In an age where 10-minute plays are all the rage, Walking the Volcano serves as both a starter piece for theatre companies wanting to explore this aspect of theatre and a model for more deeply linking 10-minute pieces in more innovative ways than the broadly thematic one typically seen. The pieces that make up Walking the Volcano are edgy and hard-hitting—perfect for classroom use for advanced actors and directors.
My favorite play in the collection is Beginner’s Luck: A play based on the story of King Saul in the Bible (1977). As indicated by the title of this review, Lipsky had the ability to take the classical stories of antiquity and bring them to contemporary audiences with the lava of their core themes bubbling with intensity. Although not staged specifically for a living room, intimacy is as key here as in Living in Exile; the Act One opening notes suggest: “The audience should feel that a group of people have sat down with them on a hill to tell them a story.” Here we have the fundamental origins, purpose, and power of theatre, divorced from the spectacle that Peter Brook called the Deadly Theatre, which has all but destroyed the modern mainstream theatre experience. Beginner’s Luck uses its poetics and music to full effect, taking this biblical story of Saul, Samuel, Ruth, and David and situating it in the clanking machine of political intrigue and ever-shifting alliances. Beginner’s Luck at times has a Pippin-esque feel, with witty exchanges and an underlying current of the power–sexuality dyad. It is a play that requires actors who have trained their bodies, voices, and storytelling ability with equal dedication, for they truly are the fuel that makes this articulate, high-energy engine go.
The last play in the collection is Maggie’s Riff: A bebop turn on Jack Kerouac’s true life hometown teenage romance Maggie Cassidy (1994). Those who love the nexus of fact and legend that is Kerouac and his Beat comrades will enjoy Lipsky’s take on this dreamlike space. Bringing to mind other interpretative pieces that operate between myth and biography, such as Oliver Stone’s film The Doors, Maggie’s Riff gives us layers of interpretation: Kerouac’s, the playwright’s, and, ultimately, the reader/watcher’s. Benefiting from Lipsky’s masterful incorporation of sound and music, and the assigning of multiple roles to a single actor, Maggie’s Riff shows the heartache and darkness behind the sexy legends of the Duluoz/Lowell and big city years that all fans of this group of tortured geniuses ultimately arrive at sometime after their initial all-out love of drunken anarchy in On the Road.
The Plays of Jon Lipsky, Volume One is a master’s class in not only playwriting, but of making the classic contemporary and working with actors and directors and audiences to bring storytelling back to its central place in human communication and community. I look forward to reading and reviewing Volume Two.

Entry # 1
What is it we’re all searching for in our stories? Why are we spending our time and money on The Hunger Games, The Avengers, Walking Dead, Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey? What makes them so popular? If art is meant to be a reflection of our times, what is it that our artists are reflecting? What are the people looking for in their entertainment? I think, in a way, we are all reaching into the dark and praying for a hand to grab us and lead us into a new era of mystery. Looking around, I see a society faced with accepting its mistakes, torn by its definition of morality and honor, torn by its decision between integrity and success. Wouldn’t that make sense in the wake of this new millennia? After all this new technology and influx of information made readily available at a thumb’s touch, shouldn’t there be a period of adjustment? A period of redefining ourselves in light of all we’ve come to accomplish and destroy? I think if you look at the stories we are telling ourselves, you’ll see a wide array of attempts at this definition.
An apparent irony of our cultural situation is that we used to “know” more about our universe than we do now; at least we thought we did. Today, we know certain truths, like the laws of gravity and light speed, but try understanding the finer details of physics and you’ll start to depart from tangible concepts to the average layman. For the longest time, classical civilizations were convinced of their answers for the workings of the universe. From the humblest of tribes to the greatest of cultures of antiquity, all through the use of metaphor founded the roots upon which their societies were built. Despite the unfortunate greater social hierarchies at play, life had defined order and purpose. Everything was defined either through dogma or myth.
Oddly enough, for every actual answer we have found, more questions have appeared. Modern man is challenged for his beliefs and the answers of our universe have gone into the realm of theory. Of complex symbols and formulas that only some of our people can predict. The true great prophets of today, our great oracles of wisdom, are scientists and mathematicians and experimentalists. Myth and religion once served as the foundation of truth for our existence in this universe, explaining away any question ultimately beyond the understanding of the time, but I think it’s fair to say, at the very least, their current formats are failing. How lucky we are to get a rare glimpse of understanding of our greater universe. But what do we do with it? How does modern man handle the responsibility of an existence with infinite potential? Do we fall into cynicism and apathy? Anger and violence? Do we really abandon the heart of our culture? Collapse when we’ve finally outgrown one of the key functions that’s propped up civilized society?
I think too many of us feel that “specialness” in life to deny this experience of any and all meaning. I also think too many of us understand that we are too bound by our limited sensory perceptions and 3-dimensional existence to say we concretely understand the universe in its totality with any sort of confidence. Until we do, I think we are always going to need story and myth to reconcile ourselves with our existence and social situation. But we are at the beginning of an era. An era of information and technology and communication. For the first time, people of every kind, all around the globe, are talking to each other. They are watching videos of each other’s lives and reading blogs. Injustice is being caught on cellphones, prejudices are being challenged, and the stingy guardians of wealth and progress can’t hide behind the ignorance of the masses anymore. For these reasons, I think we can see and understand what seems to be a cultural spinning of the wheels; an endless wave of reboots, remakes, sequels, prequels(as Jack Black recently sang about at the Oscars). Of sexy glittery teens and fantasies come to the big screen, of chiseled men and blood and fire and monsters and all the controversy you can eat. We are searching for ourselves. We are hiding from ourselves.

Appropriately, I think the true artist takes their rightful place with this issue. We subconsciously gravitate towards the tales that best service us, despite what some would prefer. I think this explains things like the Avengers. A huge money making machine for sure, but about modern gladiators fighting to preserve humanity in new times, against alien (or ‘new’) races, cultures, IDEAS, ways of life. The power and loyalty isn’t given to the state, it’s given to the empowered individual. But the message here isn’t clear and generally, I feel we are still searching for these mainstream stories to lead us into our next stage. They have yet to be concretely defined. Interstellar, I think, being the best modern example of film’s step towards (as Joseph Campbell would say)“new mythologies,” does an excellent job of bringing into view our current understanding of the universe, in a complex but traditional story structure, and forming a new tale by which we can envisage humanity in a different light. We can project our dreams and myths into the future and challenge them. It’s automatic that the artist tries to reflect the times of his lifespan, but is that really the total sum of what we do? Are we that cheap? I think Christopher Nolan along with his brother Jonathan, the writer, are due credit for embarking on a mission to bring enlightened and educated stories to mass audiences. To dare translate the word from our scientists, to the modern audience.
Stories like the Walking Dead are popular in today’s world. They suggest a very old idea of a purging. Of owning up to and literally facing the corpses we’ve left along the way and redefining ourselves in a new age. This idea of progression is obviously on the forefront of our subconscious and social struggle is ripe with potential for the artist. I think this is why we are seeing certain themes being popularized, written and rewritten again. But there is place for inspiration elsewhere. There is other material and there are always new and innovative ways of storytelling. Human inspiration has proven nothing but consistently unpredictable.
Is it possible that inspiration is simply spontaneous? The universe itself (check out Lawrence Krauss or Briane Greene or Neil DeGrasse Tyson), may have come from spontaneity, at least so far as we understand it. So why not inspiration itself? Is it entirely man made and reflective of his times, something random, or a sign of something more? Are we receptors like Bob Dylan, who claims to have pulled his music simply from that “well spring of creativity?” ( Are we like the shamans on a drum journey, or the Tibetan monks deep in meditation? Or are we like Ben Franklin or Tom Edison or Isaac Newton who all, from their own souls, from the human mind, produced tangible reality. Is it a bit of both?
I endeavor, here, to share some conclusions of my private research with hopes of feedback, to form pieces that may lay the foundation for later writings and works, and to explore these ideas faced with life in New York City as a young artist. A single blog cannot cover the endless perspectives and opinions of all the voices out there, but this voyager seeks to explore as many as possible, each one at a time. I’ll sign off to you with my favorite quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson; how he begins his Essays, First Series:
There is no great and no small
To the soul that maketh all:
And where it cometh, all things are
And it cometh everywhere.

Jeremy Madia is an actor, filmmaker, writer, and musician living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He is a Board Member of Seven Stories Theatre Company. Follow his blog, “A Voyager in Brooklyn” at

There is a story that exists in each of us. It is our own personal story, brought forth from our own lives, our own experiences, and our own trials. It is a story that no one else can tell.

In a world of over seven billion individuals, your story is your own, and you continue to write it each day. You give it meaning and verse, you give it rhyme and reason, you give it conflict and resolution. You choose the lens through which it is viewed, and you decide also, how to present it to others.

In your story there are protagonists and antagonists. There are heroes and villains. There is the entire cycle of life and death. And it is yours to tell. And the most beautiful thing about your story is that it isn’t over yet.

Go to a graveyard and look at the tombstones and grave markers. Each has a name, a date of birth, and a date of death. That is their story. It is etched there, in its fullness, complete. It’s now a closed book, whose chapters have been written and put away, most never again to be read.

But what about you? Your story isn’t finished yet. Looking back at the years you’ve lived so far, you may see victory and tragedy, success and defeat, gain and loss. But this is still only part of the story. You’re still alive, and may have many years yet left on this earth. Your story isn’t complete. In those coming years you can create the rest of your own story, write your own lines, introduce and dismiss a range of characters, face many challenges, and find countless resolutions. There will be much in your story that will be out of your control, but that is OK. There is still a very large part where you can direct and shape your story as you will. That is the part that is molded by your own perception.

Is the job loss a tragedy or an opportunity? Is the new person in your life significant or not? How do you find a way through the morass of the present into the life you’ve imagined? Is your tale going to be a sad tragedy or a great adventure?

It’s your own unique rise to the challenges of your life where your story truly lies. It’s how you face those moments of drama, of conflict, of challenge, that makes life worth living and the story worth telling.
The ending isn’t always a fairytale ending; this is true. Life just isn’t designed that way. There are defeats, and sometimes the hero loses. But that’s OK. It’s still part of a wonderful story. It’s wonderful because it’s yours, and no one can tell it but you.

Seven billion lives, seven billion stories, and you have one that is uniquely your own. What will you write today?

Mark Husk is a sometimes teacher, sometimes student, and sometimes poet living in Fairmont WV with his cat, his hiking boots, and his favorite cast iron skillet. He is on the Executive Board of Seven Stories. His poems and other writings can be found at

Seven is one of those universally significant numbers that can be seen as an earmark of sorts, a marker for something of great importance. The number itself is readily sprinkled throughout our lives, from seven days in the week, to the “Seven Deadly Sins” to seven distinct notes in our musical scale. There are also the Seven Ages of Man, the seven Chakras, and of course, seven years of bad luck.
In the creation of our myths and legends, it has long been thought that there are only a certain number of types of stories that can be told. Again, the number seven has appeared. Identified by various people, these types, or plots, have included the following categories:

1. Overcoming the Monster
2. Rags to Riches
3. The Quest
4. Voyage and Return
5. Comedy
6. Tragedy
7. Rags to Riches

There are others who argue that these types are instead:

1. Man against Man
2. Man against Nature
3. Man against Himself
4. Man against God
5. Man against Society
6. Man caught in the middle
7. Man and Woman (

Yet still, there are others who identify them as:

1. Cinderella—Unrecognized Virtue at Last Recognized.
2. Achilles—the Fatal Flaw
3. Faust—The Debt that Must Be Paid
4. Tristan—Standard Love Triangle
5. Tristan—The Spider and the Fly
6. Romeo and Juliet – Boy and Girl
7. Orpheus—The Gift Taken Away
(This author also recognizes an eighth one, The Hero Who Cannot Be Kept Down)

In any case, the idea of a limited number of plots that encompasses the entire breadth and depth of human experiences is interesting. From one perspective, it suggests to us that everything we say, do, and experience, can be boiled down into a simple handful of explanations and reasons. It says that perhaps our own story, no matter the impact upon us, is a common one, one that has been told before, and will be told again. It speaks of boredom, of commonality, and a predictable blandness of the human experience, a gray coverlet thrown over the rainbow.
From another perspective, however, we see a very different picture. What these seven categories show is not blandness, but the commonalities. It shows the features we all share in this vibrant rainbow of humanity all over the world. The story we hear from India may indeed be very like the story told in the United States, the tale that is told in Japan is readily recognized and appreciated by those in Africa. It’s these stories and tales, and the common thread that winds through them that links us one to another, individual to individual and community to community. It’s these very same stories, bound within that common thread that spans time and space and touches us across the barriers of culture and language. It’s these same stories that allow us to communicate with each other, to understand one another, to share in each other’s joy and sorrow, victory and defeat.

The culmination of stories worldwide give to us a picture of who we are as humans living this very human experience, and in that picture, shows the common threads that bind us all together in a common Story, the Human Adventure itself.
So these Seven Stories, whatever they are called, do tell a tale. It tells our tale. It tells our story. It tells of our trials and tribulations, our victories and defeats, our hopes and dreams, our joys and sorrows. It has told that story since the very first tale, thousands of years ago. And the story goes on. And in that telling, through you, through me, through the different guises of custom and culture, we still recognize ourselves, and we recognize each other. Through the telling of the Seven Stories, we see the One Story, the Story of Us.

Mark Husk is a sometimes teacher, sometimes student, and sometimes poet living in Fairmont WV with his cat, his hiking boots, and his favorite cast iron skillet. He is on the Executive Board of Seven Stories. His poems and other writings can be found at

(2013, DK Montague, ISBN: 978-0-615-41295-6;
By Joey Madia
Every now and again I am sent a book for review that breaks down the partitions that I have constructed to separate the various aspects of my professional life. David Karmi’s Survivor’s Game is one of those books. I am going to review this book specifically from the point of view of my role as an artistic director and as resident playwright for two theatre companies that specialize in social justice and story-based education for young audiences and as a writing teacher and the author of the novel Jester-Knight.
Survivor’s Game is specifically named to evoke popular adventure books for young readers like Hunger Games. From there one instantly thinks of the Harry Potter series, Chronicles of Narnia, and other best-selling series where young people come of age through life-threatening circumstances. These much-needed stories at the core of modern culture serve as essential rites of passage. The very popular George R.R. Martin series A Song of Fire and Ice (which just finished its third season on HBO as Game of Thrones) features several young characters, making it appealing to teen readers/viewers. My novel Jester-Knight has seen a similar trend.
There are also several video games, such as Skyrim, that use these genre devices.
As timeless and powerful as these stories are, they are fantasy. They happen in worlds completely or substantially different from our own. And although the authors strive to make their characters relatable and their worlds detailed and inviting to immerse into, there is always the recognition that “this isn’t real, and could never actually happen to me.”
Put Holocaust survivor David Karmi’s memoir in their hands, and they cannot use that “out.”
I am impressed with Mr. Karmi’s engaging narrative style. The book reads like a first-person novel. To borrow from scholars like Joseph Campbell and script and story advisors like Christopher Vogler, it is constructed like a classic Hero’s Journey, with an easily identifiable three-act model of Separation, Initiation, and Return. It begins in the Ordinary World, with a loving Jewish family with strong traditions culturally and religiously and quickly moves to the Call to Adventure as the Nazis gain power and young David’s family is deported from Hungary into Poland (Separation), where they are pulled apart at Auschwitz. From there (Initiation), David is taken to the Warsaw ghetto and on to Dachau and Landsberg in Germany, culminating in a death march to the Tyrol Mountains on the Italian border where the Allies finally free he and his fellow prisoners (Return).
It could have ended there. But upon David’s return to postwar life, he chose to not play it safe, but heeded at least two more Calls to Adventure. He first went to Palestine, fighting for the independence of the Jewish people (including enduring the use of gas by the British army to remove passengers from a transport ship [the British were siding with the Arab nations because of access to petroleum]) and then joining the Army in the new nation of Israel, where he met Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and served under future Prime Minister Ariel Shanon. He later went to America and built hundreds of homes in Brooklyn and elsewhere before turning to the construction of office buildings and condos.
David survives by using his wits and instincts and by knowing when to trust the advice of the mentors he encounters in the camps. He also demonstrates a fierce work ethic and the ability to not only earn money, but to employ it wisely to further his chances of success.
Survivor’s Game is filled with heroes and villains, threshold guardians and mentors, including a Wehrmacht lieutenant that arranges for David to be his orderly and personal messenger, eventually taking him to dinner with his family. It uses short chapters that serve like “episodes” and subtly employs narrative devices like foreshadowing and explores all of its major themes on micro and macro levels.
I defy any young reader to brush off the impact of what Karmi describes in the camps, whether it be the living and work conditions, the incessant death, the chilling irony of the sign that hung at the entrance of the concentration camps that read arbeit macht frei [work will make you free], or the SS officers that decided who lived and died by the direction in which they chose to point their thumb.
In the end, what resonates most clearly in Survivor’s Game is Karmi’s unwavering sense of hope and faith. He writes, “If you lost your belief or will to endure and suffer, you might as well have walked out toward the nearest fence and let the guards shoot you down.”
He also chooses to focus on Forgiveness instead of Revenge, an invaluable lesson for our immediacy-driven, cyber-times, and the violence that they bring.
Survivor’s Game is a welcome addition to books like Diary of Anne Frank and Eli Wiesel’s Night and with its fresh approach and appealing narrative style, could be used in classrooms and as a discuss starter for community groups that work with teens.

We believe deeply in the power of story.

And “every day is a story all its own.” Every day is a chance to revise or re-write the stories that we tell about who we are as individuals, as members of our community and of our world.

Whether it’s the Hero’s Journey as modeled by Joseph Campbell or a simple act of kindness, mentoring, or understanding in the midst of sadness or despair, the stories that we tell to ourselves and each other shape our lives and the world around us.

When we started 9 and a half years ago, we began telling the stories of people who could not tell their own. We told their stories about drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, teen suicide, physical and emotional violence, bullying, and the pursuit of social justice and human and civil rights to tens of thousands of young people and their families and communities.

And many of them told their stories to us, and, best of all, to each other.

We have begun to tell local historical and cultural stories as well, and we plan on telling many more in the months and years to come.

In April of this year, we rewrote our story by helping a playwright tell his story of survival, fear, and love in the face of HIV and homophobia.

What is your story? And how do you revise and retell it every day, seven days a week?

It’s a powerful way to live.

Frequent readers of my book reviews and creative writing are well aware of my belief that mythology, folktales, and multicultural tales, and storytelling in general, are an all-too-often missing and yet vitally important element of a healthy mind and well-functioning society, so when I got the opportunity to read and review this brand new book, I jumped at the chance.
I was not disappointed.
Smoky Trudeau Zeidel is not a Native American, as she tells us in the book’s Afterword. And yet she captures the syntax, symbolism, and simple beauty of the Native American expression of human experience with an artistry that makes for almost hypnotic reading.
The Storyteller’s Bracelet is the story of two young people, Otter and Sun Song, from The Tribe (more on the nonspecificity of exactly which tribe later) who are sent East to an Indian School to be trained in the ways of the Others, the Whites.
The history of the subjugation, the conquering, of the Native Peoples of North America is hopefully known to the reader of this review, so it will suffice to say that in the process of Education, there was no small amount of derision and humiliation directed at these students—forbidden to speak their language, to practice their rituals, to wear their traditional clothing—they were expected to Assimilate. There are countless other examples of this practice on the global scale—the English engineered this very thing against the Scots.
Zeidel has done her research and has woven both Native and White practices seamlessly into her story. Having been a longtime student of Lakota practices and having participated in vision quests and sweat lodge, I can say with some confidence that Zeidel gets it right. And this accuracy undergirds the more mythological and magical parts of the story.
I hesitate to say too much about the story itself—I found myself surprised on more than one occasion by the twists and turns the story took, and I would hate to ruin them for another reader. Instead, I’d like to spend the rest of my allotted space talking about some of the larger thematic issues at work in The Storyteller’s Bracelet.
It is clear that Zeidel’s decision to pull traditions and myths from numerous tribes instead of focusing on a specific group was an excellent one. It gives her freedom to combine the strongest elements available to reinforce her story and it guards her against offending or otherwise misrepresenting any given group. It is also then easier for the reader to get inside the symbols and freely swim around inside of them.
Zeidel also does a fine job of telling the story with balance and multiple viewpoints. As she says in the Afterword, not all Indian Schools were the vicious, disrespectful, and dangerous place as this book’s Oak Tree School is, but in the pursuit of telling an engaging and edgy story that will keep the reader’s attention (especially in our desensitized, visually and aurally overwhelmed modern world) this “heightening and compressing” (as writing theory calls it), is both appropriate and necessary.
The Whites and Native Peoples represent a broad spectrum of beliefs and actions. Zeidel has confidence enough in the tale she wants to tell to let the circumstances speak for themselves. Because all points of view are given equal weight in the core story, there is no agenda on the author’s part, and that is to be applauded. Agenda-ism is killing healthy dialogue in modern America, to our collective peril.
The notion of the bully within the educational system is an important one to examine, again falling under the umbrella of agenda-ism. What version of History or Science is being taught? How are our other social institutions, such as churches, feeding into and shaping the curriculum? How does socioeconomic status and ideas of the Privilege of the Wealthy shape our society?
An albeit rare yet connected element of this is the privileged predator in a position of power who targets children through sexual abuse. There is a character in The Storyteller’s Bracelet that is chillingly close to the recently convicted Jerry Sandusky.
All of these pressing social issues aside, though, The Storyteller’s Bracelet is first and foremost about our collective experiences and histories as a single, whole Humanity, no matter our color, our gender, our religious beliefs, or our socioeconomic status. It is here that our Myths are most important and most resonant. When we consider that the Hopi word for the moon is the Tibetan word for the sun and vice versa, and that all ancient peoples assigned one of four colors—white, red, black, and yellow—to the four cardinal directions in their own unique patterns, then it is hard to rationalize our pervasive attitude of Other, for it seems we all started from the same central point, the Axis Mundi, as philosophers, anthropologists, and comparative mythologists call it.
I applaud Smoky Trudeau Zeidel for keeping story and myth alive and radiant in our darkened modern world, and for doing it with such splendid skill, craft, and heart.

(New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2012; ISBN: 978-0-9846353-2-0)

If you label me, you negate me. —Soren Kierkegaard
Some books help us pass the time. Others entertain or inform us. And then there is the rare book that Inspires us—forces us to see with a different set of eyes and subsequently change our Newly Provoked Thoughts to Actions, enlivening our heart and engaging our Humanity.
This is such a book. And, for that reason, this will be more than just a review. There are excellent reviews about the poetics of this book available on both the back cover and out it in world. And although the book’s content is my basis for all that follows, what this is is an extension of the work begun in the book, as I believe Tabios and hastain would have it.
I should begin by saying that it a great honor for me, as Founding Editor of, to have poetry by both of these poet–philosopher–activists on our literary website. They push the boundaries; even more, they evaporate them—the boundaries of reader and writer, of author and social visionary, of Human and Spirit. This is the energy that makes New Mystics what it has grown to be over the past 10 years, and the energy that keeps the function of the Poet so vital to the world.
the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA carries through one of the main themes in Tabios’ work—the condition of being the Orphan. Sparked by her own experience as an adoptive parent, the socio-political and emotional challenges strike a sharp chord in her work and thus the book begins with “ORPHANED ALGEBRA,” a series of prose-poems that take as their basis Word Problems from a math textbook used by her adopted son.
Word Problems. Or, perhaps, the Problem with WORDS. This is resonant throughout the book. Ancient wisdom says that once you find the moon, you no longer need the finger that points to it. Put another way, once we have a firm grasp of the Idea, the Words no longer matter.
But we are all too poor at grasping the ideas that pool and swirl around us, so we categorize and label and organize, and in doing so, restrict what people can be or become. This is a main point of the civil/humans rights performance piece, “I Am Not Other” that my social justice theatre company, Seven Stories, has been performing the past five years. And this is a thru-thread in this book as well.
So. Word Problems. Through her deft and vivid prose-poems, Tabios tackles the underlying social ramifications of the seemingly innocent scenarios posed in the service of our children learning their math. Math that revolves around an antiquated Industrial model that has no place in the New Millenium, and yet still persists, for the American education system, as an extension of the Corporate–Military–Industrial complex, is more interested in producing Worker-Bees and Consumers than Citizens and Thinkers. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which is one of the most oxymoronic, inaccurate, and reprehensible monikers ever put forth by any government anywhere (and which is, thankfully, beginning to go away), in its effort to clamp down on the critical thinking and arts-based curriculum beginning to take hold around the country prior to its “adoption,” put all the emphasis on the Standardized Test—the shortest way, in their Other-driven thinking—of making a Standardized American, who could then join the military or a corporation that would then created a Standardized World.
But there have been studies done since the implementation of NCLB that show a few unsettling things: (1) It dishonors Multiculturalism, and the pushback by teachers in creating an inclusive classroom is immense; (2) In the case of Word Problems, it makes it all the more difficult for those who use English as a second language, and those native Americans (wink, wink) who are being poorly educated and so are not proficient enough readers to get from Prosody/Fluency to Comprehension (the mind cannot do both at once) to first interpret, then actually answer the Word Problems correctly, so scores do not necessarily reflect Math aptitude, but a slew of other deficiencies in Communication.
I think that Tabios’ use of these Word Problems is about the best use of them that I’ve seen in quite some time.
The following section of the book is authored by j/j hastain, and is an extension/reply to Tabios’ “ORPHANED ALGEBRA.” Instead of the orphan as the starting point, however, hastain looks at the notions of body [in order to break down the rigid gender split //Male–Female// society now employs], modes of procreation, and, most importantly, Identity.
The rest of the book, called “Process,” is a balanced blend of poetry and essay wherein the authors discuss their reasons for, approaches to, and philosophies behind not only this collaboration, but their life’s work. There are sobering statistics on the orphanage self-preserving “system” in our supposedly civilized society [not unlike the military–industrial and pharmaco-medicine complexes that need War and Illness in order to survive—systems that also feed the orphan-making system]. There is also a substantial essay penned by hastain that outlines new ways of looking at Gender, Identity, and the Body.
The book closes as it begins—with the prevailing idea in Tabios’ work that “the poet only begins the poem” (p. 81).
As did hastain, I have endeavored to extend this book-poem through this essay and I invite you to read the book and extend the poem even further in your own unique way.

(Larson Publications, 2011,

This thought-provoking book, subtitled, “Malek O’Shoara of Iran and the Immortal Song of Freedom,” tells the story of Iran’s great political activist and foremost poet of the twentieth century, Malek O’Shoara Bahar, through the eyes and experiences of his daughter. In a time when all the world is focused on the future of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran and the Arab Spring continues to change the course of history in the Middle East, Bahar’s tribute to her father (which doubles as a personal memoir) recalls to the reader not only the circumstances that created the current situation in Iran; it also demonstrates the great power of poetry to help foment change in political activism.

Not unlike Pablo Neruda who said to the Chilean forces sent for him by Pinochet: “Look around—there’s only one thing of danger for you here—poetry” or Federico Garcia Lorca in Spain, Malek O’Shoara Bahar was not only a gifted poet, but a passionate activist and scholar who spent time in prison and exile for his beliefs about democracy and self-government. Parts of his poems, which are now used as songs for the Arab Spring, are strategically placed throughout the book, and although their translations into English render them somewhat less rich than they might be in their native language, one still feels the depth of belief, the commitment to social justice, and the artistic philosophy they contain.

From the time he was 18, when he sent his first poem to a ruler of Iran (which garnered him the title “Prince of Poets” and a small stipend from the shah) to the time of his death in 1951 from tuberculosis, Bahar was not afraid to speak out against tyranny and actively compose a vision for the Iran he wished to see. He was a co-founder of Iran’s Democratic Party and publisher of several subversive newspapers—all at a time (the early twentieth century) when Britain and Russia were exploiting Iran’s wealth and its rulers were selling the soul of their country to the highest bidders. Bahar’s experiences at this time, in and out of favor depending on the diplomatic breeze, can only be likened to a candle in the wind. His resolve—his constancy—during this time of “The Great Game” (as coined by Kipling) shows a courage most often attributed to men like Gandhi, King, and Mandela.

His periods in prison over the course of decades ultimately cost him his life due to the poor conditions ruining his health, and there were times where he was nearly killed outright. (In one instance the assassin killed the wrong man.) It is sometimes hard to understand how a father and husband could put his family in such peril—subjected to the authorities busting down the door in the middle of the night and dragging him off—but the great names come to mind again—Gandhi, King, Mandela—and it becomes clear their was nothing else he could do. It was his destiny, and a path his family willingly walked along with him.

The early chapters of the book recount, amid so much turmoil, a house and home-life idyllic in their simplicity and deification of such pillars as nature and family. Although they had very little money, the Bahars had an exquisite garden and one of the most extensive libraries in all of Iran (both of which were lost when the family was once again exiled). The author writes of a close-knit family where both father and mother were respected by their children and one another. Her descriptions of the foods they grew and ate speak to a life lived close to Nature and Spirit and based in a deep and abiding love.

That love, both long-lasting and not, is a central theme of the book, which recounts in detail not only the courtship of her parents, but Bahar’s two failed marriages. She says on page 56, “I always hoped that I would find a man who combined the qualities of my father and Mehrdad [her brother], but I never found one who came close.”

Indeed, it would be nearly impossible to compete with the deep well of passion and love Malek exhibited to all those he met. In one instance, like the Bishop of Hugo’s Les Miserables, he gives money [instead of candlesticks] to a thief who had stolen rugs and other valuables from their home just days before.

Within a few years of her father’s death, her second husband’s work with the IMF and World Bank brought the author to America, where, due to her husband’s position in Washington, Bahar navigated high-class social and political circles and met more than one president and/or first lady. It is at this point that the book shifts its focus to the domestic and social struggles the author faced as she sought an education and, ultimately, an escape from her controlling and philandering husband and her heartbreak at learning that America’s treatment of minorities—and women—was in many ways worse than the oppression she had witnessed in Iran. This last third of the book details her triumph in learning English, assimilating into American society while remaining true to her cultural roots, and her obtainment of both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Through it all, her father’s words and wisdom give her strength as she participates in the civil rights and women’s movements.

The Epilogue brings the journey full circle, as Bahar recalls the events of the 1979 Iranian revolution (well-known to Americans because of the simultaneous hostage crisis) and her subsequent trips to her home country.

For reasons she makes clear, she has not gone back since Ahmadinejad was elected president.

The book has a carefully selected section of black and white photographs that are helpful in getting to know even better this courageous and important family, both to the history of Iran and to social justice activism around the world.

The Poet’s Daughter helps to bring to light a man whose name should be uttered in America in the same breath with those three pillars of the human struggle for equality mentioned twice in this review.