In 1966, Burlingame was only 31 but was just starting to receive professional accolades as a stage designer on Broadway in...

A BLESSING WELL DISGUISED

A BLINDED ARTIST'S INNER JOURNEY OUT OF THE DARK

In this candid memoir, Broadway and opera stage designer Burlingame (Sets, Lights, & Lunacy: A Stage Designer’s Adventures on Broadway and in Opera, 2013, etc.) shines the spotlight on his broken childhood and his painful—but enlightening—loss of eyesight.

In 1966, Burlingame was only 31 but was just starting to receive professional accolades as a stage designer on Broadway in addition to his working with the renowned producer David Merrick. Burlingame ultimately became co-chair of the design department at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, but he continued to grapple with turmoil caused by his past. As a gay man who grew up in the 1930s and ’40s in Arlington, Virginia, Burlingame had learned to hate himself and his abusive, alcoholic father, who once threatened his mother with an ax. To make matters worse, the author discovered that he was slowly going blind. His job at NYU allowed him the financial privilege of receiving psychological help from Edward Edinger, an influential Jungian analyst. This honest, swiftly paced account details Burlingame’s 20-plus-year journey of self-discovery as he came to terms with the past and prepared for a future without eyesight (he’s now fully blind). A fan of Jungian analysis, Burlingame includes color pictures of his own dream-inspired artwork, as well as descriptions of some meetings with Edinger. He first thought of his blindness as a curse from an evil god who poked out his eyes, and he wondered how a blind artist could be any good. Yet as he realized his own self-worth, he eventually considered his blindness to be a blessing: “Going to the heart of the matter, maybe one way to understand ‘what good is a blind man?’ is to ask the fundamental question ‘what good is any man or woman?’ ” Burlingame admirably reinvented himself: Unable to design sets due to his failing eyesight, he embraced the art of quilting. Though at first he was afraid to walk with a cane through the sometimes-hostile streets of New York City, he eventually fell in love with two guide dogs who helped him navigate. Unlike his father, who committed suicide, Burlingame made peace with the past and at almost 80 has learned to love his inner child and “inner gay brother.”

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500190927

Page Count: 276

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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