Saturday, February 7, 2015



I did in Chicago during the Sixties give many poetry readings, mostly of my own work, but also of some of my favorites , Dylan Thomas, Stephen Spender, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Federico Garcia Lorca. I was invited to be luncheon speaker and guest-of-honor by countless ladies' literary organizations, like Friends of American Writers, which means that I consumed over the years a ton or so of chicken, mashed potatoes, and creamed peas. They paid well, partly because I had a decent reputation as literary critic, publishing reviews and essays in the local newspapers; and, as a kind of fringe benefit, one of the ladies, usually wealthy and widowed, would take me home with her to help her more fully understand the role of the struggling poet in the current social revolution. I never considered myself a performer or actor, just a teacher in another kind of classroom, with sometimes an audience of a hundred "students," sometimes of three or four free-loaders who came for the usual wine and crackers. Even though most of my presentations were quite dramatic, with more than an occasional slice of ham, I never wanted to "act" until: A fellow-poet friend of mine was also a little-theater producer planning to mount a showing of "Brecht on Brecht." The day before its scheduled opening, his leading actor and understudy were seriously hurt in an automobile accident. Not wanting to cancel, and knowing my reputation as the possessor of a phenomenal memory, Ron asked me if I would step into the role, to help him avoid the heavy financial loss that would result from not opening. I agreed, and made my theatrical debut as an aging Bertolt Brecht, a character I liked mainly because he championed whiskey-drinking. The town's leading critic wrote in his next day's column: "Stephen T. Davis has added acting to the list of things he cannot do," alluding to my various roles as poet, editor, essayist, critic, columnist, political activist, etc. I went on to appear in several other plays, studying acting in night classes. Three years later I had the starring role in a stage adaptation of William Faulkners's "As I Lay Dying." Opening night, looking out at the audience from behind the curtain just seconds before my entrance, I noticed Mr.Critic sitting in the third row. My throat tightened as if stuffed with cotton. I entered stage left and, after three months learning how to speak with a slow Southern drawl, I panicked, and, as if in a trance, delivered the drama's key speech with a lilting Irish accent! The audience gasped and groaned. I didn't read the reviews. Oy vey!

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