Tag Archives: bbc radio play

Four Trees Down from Ponte Sisto

I first came across a sampling of Sharon Charde’s poetry completely by chance, while browsing through a local women’s magazine. I was instantly struck by the disarming directness and documentary detail in poems that dared to articulate the unspeakable loss of her son Geoffrey while a student abroad, under circumstances that remained obscure, with no known witnesses. At the bottom of the page, there was mention of a forthcoming reading at a library nearby, which I attended. As Sharon read, I was once again moved by the calm precision she was able to bring to the most terrible scenes, and by the rich polyphonies that gave subtle dimension to such a raw wound:


That evening confirmed my sense that her poems, written across three decades, comprised an important body of writing that deserved a wider audience. Fortunately, Sharon agreed to the idea of a BBC radio adaptation, and generously provided me with Geoffrey’s own journals, photographs and documents, as well as many supplementary stories and recollections, some of which I then incorporated into the script. Since her writings obliterate the idea that grief unfolds in tidy linear stages, I became increasingly committed to the fundamental truthfulness of an unresolved narrative structure, where the traumatic moment of the fall remains vivid, through to the very last sound.

We considered many actresses to give voice to the play, though my first choice was always Anne Undeland, who brings an open spirit of brave simplicity and deep insight to everything she does. I knew that Anne had recently performed a one woman show based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and she has worked with me on a number of other radio plays, including The Loneliest Road. As it happens, she also lived in Rome during the 1980s, and knew the Trastevere neighborhood where Geoffrey had lived, which helped bring the story fully into the present.


For music and sound design, I had in mind the image of a precious Roman mosaic that I had let slip from my hands, and thus it was left for me to piece it together again. There would be jagged edges to be sure – imperfections – and sometimes the edges might cut fingers. To achieve this acoustically, I improvised to recordings of Anne’s voicings on mandolin, bowed psaltery and a cigar box guitar, and then added a variety of sounds to the mix, including the snapping of twigs and the crushing of dry leaves.

I knew Geoffrey liked Simon & Garfunkle, and that he had used a quote from the song “Old Friends” in his High School yearbook. Though I never actually play the song, those chords and rhythms were certainly on my mind as I slowly assembled the final montage.

An informative article by the Litchfield County Times can be found here.

The play will air on BBC Radio 4 on Friday, June 29th. The first three minutes are excerpted here:

Post-broadcast comments on Netartery

From the blog Beyond Goodbye:



American Heavy

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I confess to harboring a certain perverse fascination for the figure of the Shock Jock, the bottom of the media feed chain, and therefore the most highly paid. The very antithesis of the enlightened highbrow radiomaker, the successful Shock Jock is a relentlessly abusive persona whose combination of manic charm and bottomless cynicism seems to strike at the black heart of our Shining City On A Hill.

opening monologueAH

In 2001, the centennial for Marconi’s famously twitching letter “s”, dot dot dot, the first translatlantic wireless transmission (and yes, I am aware this S may ultimately have been more imagined than real), coincided with the 150th birthday of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The coincidence seems apt, as I have long thought of Captain Ahab as America’s first Shock Jock:   Ahab, struck by lightning, and then never stops talking, as he berates, cajoles and ridicules his doomed crew, rants that are supported nocturnally by the tapping of his wooden leg against the quarterboards of the Pequod, an encryption that perhaps only Queequeg understands; Queequeg, whose entire body is a carved cosmogony for his people, and whose coffin is therefore a kind of book box, a box that in turn becomes a lifeboat for the lone survivor, who we call Ishmael — SOS.


The Shock Jock convenes community, and then puts it to waste, and in so doing replicates in daily, hourly episodes, in a thousand segmented markets, the fallen status of true dialogue in the time zone of this still fairly new yet already battered millenium — and so like this, Jack French sinks into the Big Sloppy:

AH final