My first contact with poetry was when I was 10 years old and went to the public library for the very first time. I went by myself on the bus. My grandmother gave me my carfare, and checked to be sure I had on clean underwear just in case “something happened to me.” I went to the Westchester Square  branch, about a 20 minute ride from our house in the Bronx. When I arrived I was immediately taken by the enormity of the place. The stacks of books were much taller than I and the light from the tall casement windows lit up the room. This was a far cry from the Bookmobile, the portable library inside a dark and narrow truck that visited our remote corner of the Bronx every 2 weeks. The librarian, sensing a first time visitor, welcomed me and asked if she could help. She suggested as my first book, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. It was one of those classic works, probably published in the 1920’s with magnificent colored illustrations and a gilt lettered spine. I carried that book back home on the bus with a sense of pride and the expectation of what I would discover inside. Thus began my love of books and libraries. On opening the book for the first time I saw an epigraph poem on the frontispiece whose first stanza went like this:

If sailor tales to sailor tunes, storms and adventure, heat and cold,

If schooners, islands, and maroons, and buccaneers, and buried gold,

And all the old romance, retold exactly in the ancient way,

Can please, as me they pleased of old, the wiser youngsters of today,

So be it, and fall on!

I was immediately taken by this poem and read it so many times that I learned it by heart. A year or so later I came upon a TV series called “The Adventures of Long John Silver” and I heard the poem recited at the beginning of every episode in the voice of Long John Silver himself as voice-over to the black and white images of a 3-masted ship sailing over the waves of our 12 inch TV. I immediately got hooked on the series, which ran only for one year, and even recited the poem along with him, inserting his hearty laughter, “Har, har, har!” between the last 2 lines. That singular experience led me to a lifelong love of poetry in all its forms, best of all the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Many years later I had the opportunity to take a 3-day acting Shakespeare workshop with Patsy Rodenburg of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the coach to Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench and  Helen Mirren. I asked Miss Rodenburg why she thought a 10 year old kid would be so struck by Stevenson’s poem that it would lead to a lifelong love of poetry?  I was prepared for a deep, psychological understanding and explanation of my query, but all she said was, “You liked it, Edward. You simply liked it.”  That was a life lesson. Since then I’ve come to understand that a lot of  the things I’ve liked in my life I’ve liked simply because I’ve liked them.

Next week I will attend a reading of the poetry of  the Polish poet and Nobel Prize winner, Wislawa  Szymborska, Why? Because I like it.

People I Knew When They Were Alive: Dolores Quinton


Dolores Quinton was my friend and teacher. She changed my life. She was very good at that. She was my champion. She encouraged and supported me. She made me courageous. She gave me heart, her heart. She was one of the very few people in my life that I felt really understood me. Because that was the way she was, it came naturally to her. “Thinking makes it so,” she would say. That was her mantra. “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” in Hamlet’s words. (Act II, Scene ii). She loved Hamlet. I can see her excitement now as she quoted his direction to the players. “That is the only acting book you will ever need,” she would say. “He directs us, he tells us what to say and what to do and how to do it and it is all in the text.” She could quote whole speeches from the plays, men’s as well as women’s. She had had a full, active and successful life in the theater as an actor, producer, teacher, and coach. We would often share a cab home from functions together, and on one of those occasions I figured out that this woman who coached Peter Sellers in one of his major film roles just might coach me, who had been acting for about 15 minutes. She was thrilled to take me on and so began a relationship that I will always cherish.

Dolores was passionate about the theater and she had a special love for theater history. She spoke about the great American Shakespearean actor Louis Calvert as if she knew him, and yes she could quote him as well. Although he died before she was born, she knew about him through “The Professor” Randolph Somerville who ran the drama department and theater program at NYU where she trained after her time dancing with Martha Graham at Bennington. She adored The Professor. And she often spoke about him with great respect for his talent and as one who taught her so much. So I had the benefit of learning from all of these masters, through her who channeled their craft. She was especially proud of her producing achievements and often spoke with such joy about her many collaborations. After I had landed a role in an Off-Off-Broadway Sam Shepard play, and the play closed after receiving very good notices, she called me and said “I am sending you to the Players Club!” “Why I asked?” “As a reward for all your hard work, I am so proud of you. I am sending you to Booth Night. The Players Club reeks of Booth, he is everywhere there!” And so I went off to the Players Club. The next day I had to give her a complete review of the evening’s events. And of course she wanted to know every detail. But that was just one example of the full measure of her devotion and generosity.

The morning she died I was walking in the theater district on the way to my first Equity principal audition for a Broadway show. I was thinking about her when my phone rang. It was our friend Elizabeth with the news of her death. My inclination after hanging up was to go home but I could hear her telling me to go on. Which of course I did. Sitting on the bench between 2 actors waiting my turn, I was thinking about her when all of a sudden I heard her say to me “Don’t think of me, think of your monologue, prepare to go in there. Thinking makes it so.” And so I did just that. It was the best audition I ever had. Of course I didn’t get the call back, but that’s show biz. I knew she was very proud anyway.

She often quoted Louis Calvert’s principles for the Actor: Imagination, Desire, Humanity, Generosity, Compassion and Persistence. She embodied and lived these virtues every day of her life, and she instilled them in me. Life is a series of choices, and choices begin with thoughts. She always had the best of both. She also lived a life of deep and abiding faith. I knew this from the chats we had about her daughter, Patricia, who died at age 6. She was her little angel who made her own faith remarkably strong. These stories gave me great comfort and strengthened my own, sometimes, doubting faith.

At the end of our work together she was helping me with a difficult speech from “The Winter’s Tale.” We had met to go over it the week before she died. I had trouble with the line, “I have heard, but not believed the spirits of the dead may walk again.” (Antigonus, Act III, Sc. Iii) We spent a long time on that line but when I got it, she almost leaped out of her chair, “That’s it, that’s it, you’ve got it,” she said laughing and shouting at the same time. I believe Dolores’ spirit will walk again, of that I am sure. Nothing can or ever will restrain her spirit.

Polonius’ parting words to Laertes, as he began his journey came to me as her farewell:

“The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character.”
(Polonius, Hamlet, Act I, Sc. iii)

“Punch out those consonants. The consonants have all the energy and power!,” she would say with great gusto.

“Blossom, speed thee well.”
(Antigonus, The Winters Tale, Act III, Sc. iii)


A clear, crisp September morning, sparkling blue cloudless sky: the beginning of a perfect day.
I was padding around my apartment, cup of coffee in one hand, the New York Times in the other, unemployed and preoccupied with thoughts of a business meeting in a few hours with a potential client.  I was jolted out of my reverie by the sound of my phone ringing. It was my youngest sister , Margaret, calling from Chicago. “You’re ok!,” she screamed, “Oh my God I thought you might be down there.”  “ Down where? What  are you talking about?” I said. “A plane just hit the World Trade Center, turn on the TV.” I hurriedly turned on the TV just in time to see a plane strike the south tower.  Thinking at first it was a replay, I quickly realized that what I was looking at was a second strike. I later learned that the time had been 9:03 am. The date was September 11, 2001. In the coming days and months, and for years to come, for all its horror and complexity, the day would be known simply as 9/11.
The next day I went downtown to visit some friends. The subways were not running so I took my bike and headed down Lexington Avenue. There were no cars and in the eerie silence of a deadened city I made good time. I was startled by the roar of two FA-18 Strike Fighters circling overhead. When I got toward 23rd Street I could see an crowd of hundreds in front of the armory at 26th Street. As I had to walk my bike through the crowd I noticed that they all seemed to be carrying pictures and flyers of missing loved ones hoping that someone would recognize them and direct them to where they might be found. Such hope in that outdoor market place. The armory was set up as a center for loved ones and family members to register their missing persons but the crowd was so large it spilled over onto Lexington Avenue.
A couple of weeks later I asked my friend Russ who drove a truck ladder if I could do anything to support his firehouse which had lost nine men. “We’re selling hats and sweatshirts,” he said, “Come on down and buy some.” So I went there and arrived just in time for lunch and a piece of chocolate cake. As I was finishing my cake, the alarm sounded and within a minute the engine and the truck were out the door fully crewed. They waved to me as they rolled and said. “Finish your cake, Eddie, we’ll see you later.”
As I stood there in the silence, I looked around and saw all their shoes scattered around the floor exactly where they had left them when they jumped into their boots. And then the image flashed in my mind that this was the scene on 9/11 when the men returned to find the shoes of their missing comrades in the lacunae of that firehouse floor..

Inside Job

The one who lacks peace, with all his possessions, the property of this earth or quality of mind, is poor even with both. … True wisdom is to be found in the peaceful, for peacefulness is the sign of wisdom. It is the peaceful one who is observant. It is peace that gives him the power to observe keenly. It is the peaceful one, therefore, who can conceive, for peace helps him to conceive. It is the peaceful who can contemplate; one who has no peace cannot contemplate properly. Therefore, all things pertaining to spiritual progress in life depend upon peace.
To attain peace, what one has to do is to seek that rhythm which is in the depth of our being. It is just like the sea: the surface of the sea is ever moving; the depth of the sea is still. And so it is with our life. If our life is thrown into the sea of activity, it is on the surface. We still live in the profound depths, in that peace. But the thing is to become conscious of that peace which can be found within ourselves. … the first thing is to seek the kingdom of God within ourselves, in which there is our peace. As soon as we have found that, we have found our support, we have found our self. And in spite of all the activity and movement on the surface, we shall be able to keep that peace undisturbed if only we hold it fast by becoming conscious of it.
from http://wahiduddin.net/mv2/I/I_IV_6.htm
The bliss found in the solitude is hidden within every human being; he has inherited it from his heavenly Father. In mystical terms it is called the All-pervading Light.
from http://wahiduddin.net/mv2/VIIIa/VIIIa_1_5.htm
How can one attain to the deeper side? … One method is to acquire the knowledge from the life without, and that is going to school and attaining the knowledge in that way. Another method is quite different; it is not going to school or institution and study, but closing the door of one’s room, sitting in solitude, closing the eyes, being oneself once again, and trying to put one’s mind within, seeking the source within, getting the knowledge which be gotten only from within.
~~~ “Message Papers, December 17, 1923”, by Hazrat Inayat Khan (unpublished)
~~~ Wisdom is attained in solitude.