In her new chapbook, poet Estha Weiner observes life from a theatrical perspective.
To quote a familiar line that appears more than once in this little gem of a collection, “all the world’s a stage.” Estha Weiner knows her way around a stage, and around a poem, demonstrating both proficiencies here, in the process parting the scrim that only seems to separate the “real” from the “insubstantial,” observing life around her as characters strutting and fretting, all depicted with affection for her fellow players: the backyard chef who might be Bourdain or Prospero, street vendors and buskers, a guy in a bar spraying his throat while checking his cell phone, and most poignantly, memories of her parents. “It seems the mask works just as well / off-stage as it works on,” she observes (and even if not intended therapeutically, this seems especially apt when we’ve all been performing our COVID play on a surreal stage). “You with the drama, enough already!” she recalls as a particularly Jewish bit of parental caution against being overly theatrical. We can be thankful that Weiner ignored that advice; and like the best show people (and poets), she makes her exit leaving us wanting more, far from enough.
“Now may be the perfect moment—a moment that feels both menacing and ludicrous by turns— for us to read the witty and compassionate poems in This Insubstantial Pageant. Estha Weiner finds performers and audiences everywhere she looks, from avant-garde venues to an urban rooftop barbecue, from the subway to the intimacies of lovers and families. When life collides with art and a Nazi shout interrupts a theater performance in the park, the familiar phrase, ‘free Shakespeare,’ reverberates with new meanings. Conversely, raised on the movies, who’s to say we don’t all make ‘each event a rehearsal for that / starry starry day…’? These are the poems of a poet who has indeed, with open mind and open heart, ‘been having one hell / of a wonderful life.’ We’re lucky, with this collection, to be able to join her, onstage and off.” —Ann Lauinger, author of Dime Saint, Nickel Devil
“The theater of the mind and the theatrical impulses of the body govern Estha Weiner’s smart, lively, and wide-ranging new book. Invoking film, theater, and the art of the actor, she explores the pageantry that unfolds on all the various stages that make up our lives. Jimmy Stewart and Robert Mitchum, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Mother and Father, Lover and Child, even MOMA and Momma become subtle metaphors for the dissonance between our private desires and our public avowals. Her wit and subtly cadenced music are accurately rendered and underline the passion of the true maker.” —Tom Sleigh, author of eleven books of poetry, including The King’s Touch
Estha Weiner is the author of at the last minute (Salmon Poetry), In the Weather of the World (Salmon Poetry), The Mistress Manuscript (Asheville Book Works), TRANSFIGURATION BEGINS AT HOME (Tiger Bark Press); and co-editor/contributor to Blues for Bill: A Tribute to William Matthews ( Akron Poetry Series, University of Akron Press). Her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including The New Republic and Barrow Street. Winner of a Paterson Poetry Prize and a Visiting Scholar at The Shakespeare Institute, Stratford, England, she is founding director of Sarah Lawrence College NY Alumni/ae Writers Nights, Marymount Writers Nights, and a Speaker on Shakespeare for The New York Council For The Humanities. She is a Professor in the English Department at City College of NY, and Sarah Lawrence College Writing Institute, and serves or has served on the Poetry/Writing faculties of The Frost Place, Hudson Valley Writers Center, Stone Coast Writers Conference, Poets and Writers, Poets House, and The Writers Voice. She also serves on the Advisory Committee of Slapering Hol Press, Hudson Valley Writers Center. In her previous life, she was an actor and worked for BBC Radio.