2019 LitFest to Honor screenplay: “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”

Fred Rogers and François Clemmons reprising their famous foot bath in 1993. The scene was a message of inclusion during an era of racial segregation. Photo courtesy of Dr. François S. Clemmons under CC BY-SA 4.0 license

“When I was very young, most of my childhood heroes wore capes, flew through the air, or picked up buildings with one arm. They were spectacular and got a lot of attention. But as I grew, my heroes changed, so that now I can honestly say that anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me.” The World According to Mister Rogers

PEN America‘s announced that on November 1st it will recognize A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a film about Fred Rogers, his television show, and the effect Mr. Rogers had on the life of a reporter, at PEN’s 2019 LitFest Gala. The film is considered one of this year’s most acclaimed works.

Screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster will receive the Award for Screenplay Excellence. Fitzeman-Blue and Harpster are Peabody Award-winning and Emmy-nominated writers and producers.

The Rev. Fred Rogers / This photo is under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Fred Rogers (1928 – 2003): An American television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and Presbyterian minister was known as the creator, composer, producer, head writer, manager and host of the preschool television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968–2001). The program was marked by its slow pace and Fred Roger’s signature calm manner.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood ran for almost nine-hundred episodes, until 2001. The program emphasized children’s developing psyche, feelings, sense of moral and ethical reasoning, civility, tolerance, sharing, and self-worth. Difficult topics such as the death of a family pet, sibling rivalry, the addition of a newborn into families, moving and enrolling in a new school, and divorce were also addressed.

Rogers died on February 27, 2003 of stomach cancer. His work in children’s television is still widely praised. Fred Rogers received over forty honorary degrees and several awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 and a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 1997. He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999. Rogers influenced many writers and producers of children’s television shows, and served as a source of comfort during tragic events, even after his death.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” Spoken in 1994, quoted in his obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Courtesy of MentalFloss)

A poster for the 2019 film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. / published under Fair Use

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2019, and is scheduled to be theatrically released in the United States on November 22, 2019, by Sony Pictures Releasing, just in time for our Thanksgiving and the beginning of the holiday season.  What could be better timing? What the world needs now is more of Mr. Rogers and more people like Mr. Rogers. I’m delighted though I won’t get to see it until it comes to Amazon or Netflix.

THE PREMISE: A cynical, award-winning journalist, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write an Esquire profile of the beloved television icon Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Vogel’s perspective on life is transformed after his encounter with Rogers.

If you are viewing this post from an email subscription, it is likely you’ll have to link through to the site to view this movie trailer:

A sweater worn by Rogers, on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History courtesy of Rudi RietFlickr under CC BY-SA 2.0

“Whenever a great tragedy strikes—war, famine, mass shootings, or even an outbreak of populist rage—millions of people turn to Fred’s messages about life. Then the web is filled with his words and images. With fascinating frequency, his written messages and video clips surge across the internet, reaching hundreds of thousands of people who, confronted with a tough issue or ominous development, open themselves to Rogers’ messages of quiet contemplation, of simplicity, of active listening and the practice of human kindness.” Rogers biographer Maxwell King


This post is courtesy of Pen America, Wikipedia, and Mental Floss. For more info on the the LitFest Gala 2019 to be held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, November 1st, link HERE.

 PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

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Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications Poets Advocate for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

Dreaming of the Sheik, a poem

I’m the Sheik of Araby,

Your love belongs to me.

At night when you’re asleep

Into your tent I’ll creep.

The Sheik of Araby, lyrics by Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler, music by Ted Snyder, written in 1921 in response to the popularity of Rudolph Valentino and the movie The Sheik.

Valentino by James Abbe

This – probably silly little poem – was inspired by the tales my mother told me of how the women swooned over the actor Rudolph Valentino, even the women from the Arabic-speaking world who seemed not to have realized their beloved “Sheik” was Italian (Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguella).  She also told me how the streets were lined with adoring fans as Valentino’s funeral cottage passed through the city. Valentino died at 31 years of peritonitis. I included a clip from the movie at the end of this post. You can watch the whole abysmal thing on YouTube if you have an unhealthy inclination to do so. 

Doe eyes stare at the waiting world

Long lashed, bright with longing, feeding

An inner vision, a secret, hers alone


Music played the strings of that heart

Magical whispers of marriage, she’d

Assume love as young people do


Predictable fantasies, the house with a white

Porch and rocker, a picket fence, a back yard

Rich dark earth, flower bedecked, fruit


Of the womb, of course, expected and roses

On birthdays, lilies at Easter, garlands in May

Christmas trees and mistletoe and other such


She watered beets on the fire escape,

Helped her mother with siblings, dreamed

Dreams gifted by movies and magazines


There, tying her boots, ready for school

Smooth the hand-me-down dress, then

Down the steps and on through the streets


Dreaming of ocean mists, oak trees

Well-groomed houses, polished rides

In horseless-carriages, easy transit


She grew old enough, hopeful enough

To dance in the jaundiced night, a ghetto-bound

Diana waiting for her Sheik, and he


Looking for his Sheba, he took her

Hand for one bright minute, then gone

To be followed by another, and each


Sheik stayed to steal her heart, rode off

With another piece of her, a souvenir of

Yearning and promise, love and gullibility


“The movies and the magazines”, she says, “they lied …”

Then whispered softly: “When Valentino died, women

lined the streets for his funeral cortége and cried  … “


Rudolf Valentino as the Sheik and Agnes Ayers as Lady Diana.

“Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas on which women paint their dreams.” Rudolph Valentino – 1923

Becoming Earthlings by Resident Skeptic, James R. Cowles


James R. Cowles is a member of the diverse Bardo Group Beguines, which publishes The BeZine, a publication that  I manage and edit. James also regularly contributes to The BeZine’s sister site, Beguine Again. The jumping off point for this essay is The Martian (2015). The screenplay was written by Drew Goddard and is based on Andy Weir’s book (2011) of the same name. The questions are: Do we (the human race) have the “heart-ware” for space exploration? Have we (the human race) matured enough for the venture?  / J.D.

It might be a good idea to save this “Skeptics Collection” column, print it off, and put it in a safe-deposit box or a time capsule. You see, this post is going to be in the nature of a movie review. Sorta. Kinda. I normally do not do movie reviews, and consider movie reviews about as relevant to me, personally, as a bicycle is to a fish. Or a condom to a Republican. (Sorry … couldn’t resist!) But I am going to make an exception in the case of the recent and justly renowned Matt Damon science-fiction movie The Martian. Virtually all the reviews I have read concentrate on the movie as a paean to international cooperation, the STEM disciplines, and an essential optimism about the ability of the human species to triumph over catastrophe. All that is true. The Martian is all those things. But there is a darker and far more pessimistic subtext to the movie that, at least so far, has seemed to escape the notice of all the critics whose reviews I have read. Matt Damon’s razzle-dazzle and the technological / special-effects pyrotechnics, both Oscar-worthy, easily cause us to lose sight of the movie’s departure from – even its detachment from – historical context.


My apologies in advance for any spoilers in what follows. But the number of people who have not at least read a synopsis of The Martian could hold a convention in a phone booth. But just in case … the movie is about a medium-future – a few decades, but less than a century – expedition to Mars on the part of six astronauts. (I say “medium future” because all the cell phones look suspiciously like late-model i-Phones.) The expedition in question, Ares III, is the third of a projected five human expeditions to Mars jointly comprised by Project Ares. But a little less than halfway through their projected stay on the surface of Mars, a severe storm blows into the landing site, and the Ares III mission commander, Commander Melissa Lewis, coolly played by Jessica Chastain, orders the astronauts outside the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) to return to the ship and to prepare to liftoff the surface and into orbit:  if the wind blows the MAV over on its side, no one is going home. On the way back to the MAV, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by a piece of wind-driven debris, knocked unconscious, and basically buried in the shifting sands. Since the MAV is about to tip over from the vertical, Lewis orders the launch, leaving Watney behind. The rest of the movie is about the near-miraculous survival of Watney, his ingenuity in bolstering the abandoned living quarters on the Martian surface, his communication with Earth, and his eventual rescue by the mother ship, the Hermes, whose crew – basically staging a mutiny against the express orders of NASA senior management – elects to swing around earth, postpone returning to Earth, and return to Mars to rescue their lost-but-now-found comrade Mark Watney.

We can nit-pick at the few places where the movie taxes credibility. The most prominent such – though still inside the envelope of believability – is Mark Watney’s psychological resilience. But then, presumably one of the salient requirements for being a Mars astronaut would be exceptionally robust emotional strength. There are a couple of technical points one could question. For one thing, the vehicle Watney uses to rendezvous with the Hermes – a MAV for the future Ares IV mission pre-positioned on the Martian surface – is stripped of its nose cone to provide a means of egress into the mother ship … so, as Watney himself notes, when he ascends from Mars in the Ares IV MAV, he will be flying a “convertible”. There is also a subtle issue in which a Jet Propulsion Laboratory mega-nerd equates a slingshot trajectory with a Hohmann maneuver using the Oberth effect. But that may well be just a misinterpretation of movie dialogue on my part. (The movie plot was getting pretty intense at that point.) And in any case, all such reservations pertain to the “picture” of the movie. My problem is a more comprehensive issue with the “frame”, i.e., the larger historical context.


In what follows, I wish I were dead-wrong. But I don’t think so.

The “frame” of The Martian, its fundamental presupposition, is a very simple – and simply impossible – postulate: the US has embarked alone on a massive, demanding, presumably staggeringly expensive, and unprecedentedly sophisticated multi-phase program of human exploration of Mars. The crew members are international, but the project is entirely American-financed – judging by some dialogue concerning congressional reluctance to finance Ares IV and V if an attempt were not made to rescue Mark Watney. Project Apollo “only” went to the moon, but Apollo strained America’s science economy to the breaking point, and even so, funding only persisted because the US was competing with the Soviets. (Without naming names, of course, I will say that I know perhaps a baker’s dozen NASA scientists, most deceased, some retired, who still resent Apollo’s monopolization of funding for space exploration.) The point is that The Martian – again, I wish I were wrong – is predicated on the type of large-scale science project that no individual nation has the resources to undertake: human exploration of the planets. (In fairness to the movie, I should probably say that, if the writers had dealt with this issue, neither the story nor the movie would ever have gotten off the ground … so to speak.) I say “I wish I were wrong” because I have always had a burning curiosity – “lust” would not be too strong a word – to see just what the hell is out there. And, while robotic probes are indisputably impressive, I want humans to venture forth and see for themselves. My conclusion: long-term, sustained human exploration of the planets — or even one relatively earth-like planet such as Mars — is a project that can only – only – be undertaken, not by any individual nation or even any restricted consortium of nations, but by the human race itself. Are we – meaning “the human race” – presently capable of this? That is, do we (= the human race) have the ability to work together as a global civilization, not for a few years or even for a few decades, but for time-scales that would support the sustained exploration of the solar system … almost certainly generations at least, most likely centuries?

My short answer: no. Nor do we (= the human race) show signs of being able to do so for generations … it may well be centuries. Remember Stanley Kubrick’s still-iconic 2001:  A Space Odyssey? It projected the human exploration of Saturn by 2001, a degree of optimism that makes my toenails ache now for its naivete. No wonder Mad magazine entitled its satire of the movie 2001 Minutes of Space Idiocy. Admittedly that is a bit harsh.  Remember: we were much more innocent and much less nihilistic in 1968.


Hardware is the easy part. Ditto software. In fact, I would venture the educated guess that the technology exists right now – this moment – to undertake a real-world version of The Martian’s Project Ares. What we lack, and will lack into the indefinite future, is not hardware but … well … call it “heart-ware”. The sustained, large-scale exploration of the solar system will require human beings to develop the capacity to act, not as a loose collection of squabbling, often warring, nations and tribes competing for preeminence on this one small planet, and will require something like the subordination of nationalistic competitions, religious prejudice, and racial fractiousness in favor of devoting prime loyalty to the human race as such, the human race per se, the human race tout court. Conservatives’ knees will jerk toward the charge of “collectivism” … one minor but telltale instance of the problem.

Herewith an analogy:  during the run-up to the American Civil War, it was customary to reference the United States with a first-person plural verb — ” … the United States are … ” — because the antebellum States were thought of as quasi-autonomous sovereignties in their own right. After the Civil War, the first-person plural verb became first-person singular: ” .. the United States is … “. State sovereignty was not forsaken. People still knew they were Virginians, Georgians, etc. But this sense of separateness was subordinated to a sense that the United States was not only, or even primarily, a collection of sovereign States, but “one Nation indivisible”. Then the process of Nation-building could begin in earnest, and the energies hitherto diverted by controversies over the great Compromises, States’ rights, nullification, etc., etc., could be directed toward truly national goals. The great Question of all questions had been settled:  we were one Nation. Note that this required, above all else, a change of heart. That is what I mean by “heart-ware”. In the period following 1865, the Nation underwent, is still undergoing, a “heart-ware” update. Something analogous will be required, something above and beyond and transcending mere law, something in the heart, before we (= the human race) can ever hope to undertake the serious and sustained exploration of the planets and — who knows? — someday, perhaps, the stars. Only then can the energies we presently devote to pointless competition among religions and ideologies, to developing newer and more efficient ways of hacking one another to bits, to the despoilation of the very planet we all share be diverted to the welfare of each other, the  nurturing of the common human spirit, and the exploration of the Universe before which we all stand in awe. Somewhere in the Galaxy, there may be species that comprises “hive minds”, a benevolent version of Star Trek‘s Borg or the formics of the Ender’s Game cycle. But I would speculate that, for species that evolved as individuals and developed tribal identities — in other words, nations — this may well be one of the “gates” determining how long the species survives a la the Drake Equation. In any case, before we have any hope of becoming Martians, we first have to become Earthlings.

We first have to grow up.

© 2015, James R. Cowles

“Pangur Bán” ~ The Gift of a 9th Century Irish Poem Revisited in “The White Cat and the Monk” & “The Secret of the Kells”

The White Cat and the Monk was a 2016 Christmas gift to me from my son and daughter-in-law. It’s a charmingly illustrated retelling of an old Irish poem, Pangur Bán, a lovely gift and a lovely addition to my bookshelves.

I wasn’t familiar with the poem, so the gift inspired – as such gifts are want to do – a few hours of pleasurable reading and research, an effort lightly akin to the endeavors of the anonymous but renown author of the poem. Pangur Bán was written by a 9th Century monk somewhere inside or in the vicinity of Reichenau Abby, which is on Reichenau Island in Lake Constance in the south of Germany.

The page of the Reichenau Primer on which Pangur Bán is written. It is now housed in St. Paul’s Abbey – a Benedictine Abby – in the Lavanttal, a market town in Carinthia, Austria. (public domain photograph)

The poet monk tells of a white cat who shares his work and living space. While the monk single-mindedly finds pleasure in scholarly pursuits, the white cat finds pleasure in single-mindedly chasing mice.

There are many translations of Pangur Bán, notably by W. H. Auden and Seamus Heaney. The most famous translation – which turned out to be my favorite – is by Robin Flowler (1881-1946), an English poet and scholar, a Celticist, Anglo-Saxonist and translator of Gaelic.

The Scholar and His Cat, Pangur Bán

I and Pangur Bán my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

-translated from the Gaelic by Robin Flowler


Featuring Pangur Bán, both cat and poem

In 2009 the Flatiron Film Company released an animated film, The Secret of Kells, which is inspired by a mix of history, Celtic mythology, magic and fantasy. One of the characters is a white cat, Pangur Bán,  and during the credits Pangur Bán is read in modern Irish.

If you are viewing this by email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to view this video, the Pangur Bán Song from the film.

The Secret of the Kells is a relief from horrifying news and the overflow of often vapid and violent movie offerings. The pace of the film is relaxed. Unlike a lot of movies, it doesn’t yell at you. It does engage with story and beautiful animation reminiscent of traditional Irish art.

Though the story is a fiction, it is grounded in history: an Ireland besieged by Viking raids and a mythical mystical take on the production and preservation of The Book of Kells, an early illustrated (illuminated) New Testament. The Book of Kells is housed now at Trinity College Library in Dublin. The film incorporates the Irish poetic genre – aisling – developed in Irish poetry of the 17th and 18th centuries and in which Ireland appears in a poet’s dream as a woman – maiden, mother or crone – and bemoans the state of Ireland.

The White Cat and the Monk was written by JoEllen Bogart and illustrated by Sydney Smith. It was short-listed for the Governor General’s Literary Awards, Young People’s Literature (Illustrated Books). It was named New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book and listed on Brain Pickings’ Best Children’s Books of 2016.

The Secret of the Kells was nominated for an Oscar and won several other film awards including the Audience Award of the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. It has an overall approval rating of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes where the consensus is “Beautifully drawn and refreshingly calm. The Secret of the Kells harkens back to animation’s gold age …”



Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes: An Aisling, 1883 – Public Domain