January 10th                                                                                               baby, it’s cold outside

Draft two.

People sometimes often ask me how I know when a play is done.

I ask Kenneth Koch. He wrote a poem about it (The Art of Poetry).

I swear by the first rule:

            ask 1) Is it astonishing?

If you can answer that, you probably don’t need all the other questions, but they are good too.

            7) Is there any unwanted awkwardness, cheap effects, asking illegitimately for attention,
Show-offiness, cuteness, pseudo-profundity, old hat checks,
Unassimilated dream fragments, or other “literary,” “kiss-me-I’m-poetical” junk?
Is my poem free of this? 8) Does it move smoothly and swiftly
From excitement to dream and then come flooding reason
With purity and soundness and joy? 9) Is this the kind of poem
I would envy in another if he could write? 10)
Would I be happy to go to Heaven with this pinned on to my
Angelic jacket as an entrance show? Oh, would I?

If you are thinking, don’t you have to sort through more analytical stuff about your play, too?
The answer is yes, but I only do a good job of it when I’m feeling like a poet.

the new york school of poets (painters welcome)


December 23

I recently came across imaginary tiny Walter Bilderback (Wilma’s Literary Manager/ Resident Dramaturg), nestled between two branches of a holiday tree in a hotel lobby. Tiny Walter was perched on a bulbous red ornament and fixing a defective Christmas light.

Here we are.

The end of the year.

Cheers, to 2017.

What a terrible year this has been.

It has also been a great year.
I got engaged, for example.
The world has many narratives.

You wrote our play.

I did! First draft.

How do you feel?

Proud. Happy. Tired. Baffled.


At the end of a draft, I often don’t feel like I wrote the play.

Did you manage to forget yourself, while writing?

Yes, despite endless hours of conscious effort and revision.

I know of a poet who doesn’t look in mirrors on days when he’s writing, that’s how urgent the need is, to forget the self.

Walter plugs in the Christmas lights.

Sometimes I think we would be a much kinder and wiser species if we just got rid of mirrors.

The lights turns on.

Aaah! It’s like looking at the sun!

He turns the lights back off.

I am blind.

I’m sorry.

Contemplating the self is like looking at the sun.

They drink tea and think about that for hours.

All I know is, we are most alive when we are inflamed with passions that draw us out of ourselves.

The self is greater than the self.

The self is greater than the selfie.

May we discuss sleep and creativity. You sent me this draft at 3 am.

I don’t keep banker’s hours.

No regular writing schedule?

It’s never the same. Last week, I took a two-hour nap in the evening, then woke up and had five new insights about the play. A few days later, I implemented some of those intuitions from 5 am to 9:30 am. Another day later, I wrote down the rest of it from 10pm until 3 am.

I hope some day you are blessed with a regular writing schedule.

Me too.

Do you want to talk about dreams.


Let’s talk about dreams.

Let’s talk about Picasso. He said something true about process. He said (I paraphrase): The first brushstroke is always a mistake. The rest of the work is trying to correct it.

Have you had dreams about Picasso?

I used to have one recurring dream. I would dream he was trying to seduce me, in his studio. He wouldn’t recognize me as an artist.

Picasso looms large in your personal mythology.

I think these dreams had something to do with giving up painting.

To me, Pablo embodies that collective modernist dream of the male artist as a tempestuous, lecherous, drunken man-child.

Yes! He represents this enormous life force. Unapologetic, enormous drive… the walking id… the seducer who does not worry about social norms or expectations. In my commission play, there is a character named Polybus. I drew him partly from the ribs of Silenius and Picasso. Both are handmaidens of Dionysus.



Walter is asleep on the branch, dreaming of sugar plum fairies.

See you in the new year, Walter.

Alex Katz, Winter Branch, 1993.


December 4
How is the weather relevant?

In the light of America’s regime change, playwrights and theaters are inevitably asking themselves,  “How is what I am doing relevant?”

How is this play relevant?
How is this season programming relevant?
How is buying holiday gifts relevant?
How is taking a bath relevant?
How is this toothbrush relevant?
This chair. Relevant, or not?
How is going about my day relevant?

Awareness of The Thing is, naturally, already finding its way into my post-election writing, and I’m sure it will continue to do so in many guises.

I am thinking about it constantly and yet, I do not believe every second in our heads should become about The Thing. I also will get bored if every American theater programs Rhinoceros. Although then I suppose I can write a play called “100 Productions of Rhinoceros,” satirizing our times.

The Thing is so intrusive. The Thing is a constantly blundering fool. The Thing is a master of distraction. How to address The Thing without letting it shrink the landscape of our minds?

An offering:

In Victorian and Edwardian days, the theatre had curtain raisers. Programming would include short pieces at the beginning of the evening, or sometimes after pieces following the main event.

Why not bring this back?

It would allow theaters and writers the ability to respond swiftly to our political situation in the face of ever-shifting circumstances.
It would expand civil discourse.
It could spark debate and engagement.
It might even lead to greater understanding.
It could get your patrons talking to each other.
You could program voices you don’t necessarily agree with.
Even if you have already programmed your entire season, you could still make this change.

It could be a way to celebrate the voices of emerging playwrights whom you’re not quite ready to program but whom you fanatically adore.
Emerging directors, too.
It could spark ideas for plays to commission and develop in depth over the next season.

You could program international writers, because what is happening to us is happening in a larger context and it is easy to miss that fact. One of the weaknesses of American theatre is our paucity of exchange with other countries.

It could be a way to expand the breadth of voices that get heard in the theater.
It could be a way to defend artistic freedom and freedom of dissent.
It could be really fun.

I have programmed a sum total of zero seasons in my life. I speak only as a concerned citizen and writer.


November 20, 2016
Salt Lake City
sun and shadow

I had a workshop of the commission play during election week, in Minneapolis, at the Playwrights’ Center. Dominique Serrand directed (despite his protests: “I am not going to direct. I am just a first responder.”). Walter came out to join us. We had some of the funniest and loveliest Minneapolis actors in the room. I didn’t have a public reading, which freed us up to play and explore the entire time. We switched actors into different roles endlessly, casting against age and type. The first act is in a solid place.

I was in a hotel room on election night. Lulled into the sleep of confidence by polls, I thought I’d write all evening, checking the internet once an hour and then go out for a drink when Hillary won. Instead, I couldn’t look away from the news until 3 am.  Then I wrote. In a daze of pain.

What now?

I come from a large Pennsylvania family that is part of the “white working class.” They are not liberal. That is an understatement.

What does that mean, “white working class.”

What does that mean, “white.”

For that matter, what meaning do any words hold, when the word of the year in America and Britain is “post-truth”?

They still hold immense meaning, but it is the meaning of prosody. If content is dead, form is everything. Words are king. Rhetoric, you’re our last hope and savior.

Make America Great Again. In content, that is meaningless. In form, it is supreme.

Stronger Together. Two words ending with weak, unstressed syllables. It pains me that prosody calls those “feminine endings.” That other slogan too has a feminine ending, but only after three hard punch hard stresses, and the energetic iambs of am – ER- i  -CA.

Then, there’s this (which has already been pointed out by another writer):

I’m With Her
She’s With Us

Uneducated voters chose Trump. I am reflecting on my speech, our speech, and our need to find words that sing.

Our language of tolerance is extremely educated. Academic language speaks to academic people. It does not speak to people outside of that realm. Can we come up with another compendium?  Racist. To me, that word hits like a bomb. To them, it hits like a bomb in a foreign country that has nothing to do with them. They don’t spend all their time dissecting racism and why it’s problematic. So just calling them that isn’t enough.

Besides, my family calls each other names all the time. “You’re an ass.” “That man is an animal.” What’s another insult to people who trade in insults? They also trade in God. “I will pray for you.” They speak God and we speak academic. They speak crass and we speak carefully vetted internet. I have started speaking God back.

We need to go high and low. Humanity is both high and low. I have been trying out words like bully. Sin. Compassion.

I know we can do better. The City of San Francisco issued the most eloquent and inspiring manifesto for its status as a sanctuary city. Yes We Can, We Still Can.

Call your representatives, call your relatives, see you over hard conversations and in the streets.

Installation Sam Durant’s “End White Supremacy” (2008) at Paula Cooper Gallery (photo by Kyle Dunn)
Installation Sam Durant’s “End White Supremacy” (2008) at Paula Cooper Gallery (photo by Kyle Dunn)






November 1st
Partly cloudy & alarmingly warm

A list of things I’d like to see more of onstage

representatives of the animal kingdom
uncontrollable laughter
existential confusion
soundscapes – intricately composed sonic worlds
things that go on too long
to-do lists
slapping flights
physical games
bull fights
food fights
skillful debate
There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy
freedom of speech, thought, movement
a completely fearless world
solving problems through collective action (note for the future)
children in Halloween costumes (note for the future)

A list of things I’d like to see less of onstage

Horatio’s philosophy

A list of things I don’t know how to address without replicating trauma


A list of formal elements that I am chewing on

socratic dialogue
character as the expression of a philosophical idea, to be put through tests
testing of an idea and its carrier by means of temptations (and maybe martyrdom)
going to extremes
going to heaven
going to hell
going on an adventure without going anywhere
making your own reality
mock crowning and decrowning of the carnival king
people who get everything wrong

A list of human emotions of interest to me

indomitable optimism

A human behavior of interest to me

propensity toward self-destruction

A list of ideas I want to test

We can move to a new country and build a utopian society
Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die
Love is all you need
Be good
Everything in moderation
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so
Productivity destroys the world
Laziness is a virtue
Life is a party
Life might be better if everyone just drank beer all day instead of coffee

To illustrate the last question:


They are sitting around.
They are bored.
They drink coffee.


They have a lot of energy. They destroy the world.
They look at each other.


They drink beer.





Oct 16                                                                                                     

Kinderhook Farm, NY.
“Are you here for the tour?” asks a man in overalls. “Yes, is the tour happening?” “It’s happening if you want it to happen,” he says, and walks off.                                                                                                Another woman walks up, and as it happens, she is the shepherdess. For most of the next two hours, there is no one on the tour except for my partner and me. It is blissfully useful. I learn about orphan sheep. She curls her finger into a tongue, to demonstrate the difference between how cows eat grass and how sheep chomp. I ask her bizarre questions and she recommends a movie.

Oct 17

Philadelphia, PA.
10 am – 3pm. Observing the Hothouse. Yury Urnov is leading the room. They are doing relatively straightforward text analysis on a decidedly unstraightforward play about hacktivism. I think: hell yes hacktivism, hell yes, anarchy, hell yes, Wilma. The play, for me, does a brilliant job at highlighting the aggression behind internet humor and memes. It’s a window into disaffected emotional chaos when it is directionless, and how it gathers incredible force when it takes on targets. I think about what it says about me, that I am drawn to that playfully destabilizing energy. Rage is powerful. Collective rage even more so. Collective Rage is also the title of a play by Jen Silverman. In the elevator, people talk about that play.

I also think, f**k… The Internet Is Serious Business and Dionysus Was A Very Nice Man are similarly structured titles.

New York, NY.                                                                                              6:30pm. I am at a fancy party. I found out a couple hours ago that I won an award. Now the award is being announced at the fancy party.

Oct 22

New York, NY.                                                                                              8:30am. Heavy rain. I am getting drenched at this Megabus stop.

Philadelphia, PA.                                                                                               11:30 am – 5:10pm. At an Academic Conference in a UPenn Library.           It is called Timescales: Ecological Temporalities Across Disciplines.            I wish they’d called it something more rocknroll, like                    Collective Academic Rage: Climate Change Is Beyond Real (If You’re Poor) I am there with Pig Iron, as a collaborator on their music-theater project, A Period of Animate Existence.

I find the conference comforting, especially on the heels of the presidential debates. Even though I’m looking at charts of catastrophe, I am relieved just to hear people define their terms and organize their discourse. I make a note to self, to read Dale Jamieson.

We are reminded, in concluding remarks from Paul Saint-Amour, to think of climate change as a condition, rather than a problem. Let’s take our time developing our thoughts, he urges, because this particular condition demands a deeper engagement than panic.

6 pm. Dinner with Walter. Walter has just come from leading a discussion about climate change at The Wilma. Talking with Walter is also comforting.

7:50 pm. Ten-minute nap in my audience seat.

8 pm. When The Rain Stops Falling, at the Wilma. It’s stunning. They’ve carved out a dark dreamspace. I feel the plot working on me, the slow ritual movements working on me.

Oct 23

Philadelphia, PA.
8:50 am. I realize I am collecting a lot of memories at this Megabus stop.

New York, NY.                                                                                                    11:30 am. Wildlife sighting! It’s the elegant crested tinamou. Ok I’m lying, it was an author, I spotted an author: Rebecca Solnit. My primary hobby these days is reading essays by Rebecca Solnit. She ducks into a clothing store. I follow. I observe her over a stack of sweaters. Have I correctly identified her? I’m not sure. “Excuse me, are you Rebecca?” The condition of admiration also demands a deeper engagement than panic. But I stumble over the few words I can muster. How do you casually say to someone:

“Thank you! I know you don’t know who I am, but I think you’re one of the great thinkers of our age. I am blown away by the breadth and depth and style of your work, by your redefinition of non-fiction, by your bravery, by your honesty. You have gifted me a framework for thinking about activism and optimism that keeps me going. Your words have been a significant wedge for me against despair.”

I am overwhelmed. I say something like: “I’m Kate Tarker, I’m a playwright, I love your work, thank you… for your optimism, I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry.”

Total failure of speech. Who wrote me?

I buy two articles of clothing.

Oct 24
New York, NY.
Drinking coffee. Writing.



October 4, 2016

I sat down recently with imaginary tiny Walter Bilderback (Wilma’s Literary Manager/ Resident Dramaturg) over tea and biscuits in a spare room, where I keep him. Tiny Walter was wearing corduroy pants and his trademark glasses, and drinking mint tea.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                  So my writing is going well, actually.

TINY WALTER                                                                                               Oh, excellent!

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                But I keep having these thoughts, as I shape this play, along the lines of  “what can I get away with….”

TINY WALTER                                                                                              Fun! What have you decided?

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                             Well, I’ve made a list of potentially offensive things that I’d like to include in the play.

Do you want to share them with me?

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                     I don’t want that to be mistaken for asking for permission.

Let’s talk in the abstract, then.

I find myself once again returning to Bakhtin, to the grotesque, to the rude and crude –

Love him.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                But I do want you to do the play. So I just wonder sometimes, what is “too much” for the Wilma? I ask this in the context of wanting to totally revolutionize the theater.

Is that the only context?

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                 My dad used to tell my mom that she was “too much” and that she “overdid everything.”
Then they divorced.

Eat more biscuits.


I sense what you really want to do here is talk about the very idea of  “good taste.”

Yes! Yes!

TINY WALTER                                                                                                  Is good taste built by consensus…. should works of art even be in good taste… how much do class and childhood shape someone’s aesthetics… not to mention the odd connections between personality and political views…. that sort of stuff.

Yes. And, naturally, I find myself once again thinking about that sensory metaphor: that we experience a work of art through taste – as if through the tongue –
But if it’s really good we are “touched”  –
And if it’s extreme in some way we are “shaken” –

TINY WALTER                                                                                           Those are of course words we use for real emotions that we have in our everyday life too, whereas taste as a metaphor seems to be reserved for aesthetic experiences.

No one says, that rape was not quite to my taste.
That cloud formation. Not to my taste.
A joke – can be tasteless.
A walk in the park  – probably not tasteless.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                 My point exactly.                                                                                           But then, offensive is often equated with tastelessness.                       Which is funny to me because offensive things are not things I would describe as devoid of flavor. If anything, they leave an unpleasant taste.

So really if I go to the theater and I’m bored, it makes more sense for me to leave and say “ugh that was tasteless.”

Don’t eat more biscuits.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                You can’t tell me what to do.

(She eats all the biscuits.)

TINY WALTER                                                                                                    I think I understand the basic tenets of your psychology.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                              Let’s not dissect that.                                                                          America, since the Great Depression, has struggled with its food. We made bland food choices that still haunt us.

TINY WALTER                                                                                                 As a dramaturg, I assume you are referring to this NPR piece:

Yup. It is also true that we are in a food renaissance.
AND it is also true that we are still confused about basic nutrition.

Do you think America’s tastes in plays are connected to its tastes in food?

That also brings up: How is art appreciation related to our understanding of nutrition?

PLAYWRIGHT Yes.                                                                                                                And what is the meal that we are preparing.

Do we, as playwrights, want to cook to individual’s tastes?
Are we making individual meals?

Or do we try to get a sense of how the whole pot tastes – the whole pot being the culture – and then try to serve a side dish that is in conversation with that.

So that if the main dish is bland, you might intentionally make something that is over-salted, not because you love over-salting but because you are in conversation with the main dish.

…                                                                                                                       …                                                                                                                       …
Sometimes I think about, would I rather someday win an Obie, or an Obscenity Charge?                                                                                        And I kind of think, Obscenity Charge has more potential.

I think you would really enjoy an Obie, too.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                 Do you want to talk about digestibility?

You know Kate, blog posts are supposed to be short, and digestible.

I’m not by temperament a blogger.

Let’s continue our conversation another time.

PLAYWRIGHT                                                                                                Can we retitle this blog “SPOILER ALERT!”
As in –                                                                                                “SPOILER ALERT! Dispatches From The Desk of Kate Tarker”

TINY WALTER                                                                                                 Do whatever makes you happy.

Do you think Home Depot should be retitled Home Despot.

Goodbye, Kate.


September 26, 2016                                                                                Writing from an airplane                                                                        Clouds underneath me


Tone tone tone tone tone.
Tone tone.

At the beginning of a script, you’re both making up the rules of the game and trying to play it. I find I have to hammer exactly the right words into place in the first ten to fifteen pages, if I want to lose myself in the process after that.

Sometimes that means I have to get really really quiet.
And listen to myself.
And listen to words.
And pull apart words.                                                                                   And listen carefully to nothing.

I’m almost there.

Found these little figurines at an antiques store just outside of Oxford, PA, during a weekend with my family.  Felt such a visual, sensual thrill while browsing that store and its tchotchkes. I’m not typically one to connect deeply with antiquing – in most antique stores I’ve felt once removed, as if performing the enjoyment of browsing. As if walking through an advertisement of someone else’s good time. In this store, though, things got personal. They had light up Hess trucks, just like the ones my grandparents used to send me for Christmas. Beer steins, from the region of Germany I grew up in, made of glass and metal and painted inscriptions; drinking apparatuses to last a lifetime. There were train sets (a little pricey – alas)… one of them a freight car from the New Haven line, where I went to grad school. I slid the small door open. Closed. Open.

I thought: I want toys. Why don’t I have more toys? I am not a grown up. I am a writer. I want things to play with. My least favorite part of being a writer is the anti-sensuousness of laptops.

So I bought little people and a house and a cow and a sheep. Those are all the characters in my play.

They also had a miniature version of the 1964 Worlds Fair fountain in Queens. I broke my toe playing in that fountain. So I bought that too.


September 12, 2016

dailyhabits_img Every morning Gunter Grass kick-started his daily word ablutions with rolling on the ground. Arms extended, he would propel himself violently from side to side on his Persian carpet, yelling “huppah!” Early in his career, he also found Diet Coke to be an effective lozenge for his creative juices; later he preferred cookies with milk. Grass took great pains to never be distracted by the outside world when doing the difficult and dangerous work of writing. To this end, he would keep the blinds on his window drawn. Eventually, he took this six steps further, and blinded himself.

dailyhabits_img2Susan Sontag held herself to an exacting writing routine. She would get up at 4.5 am, dance around to the Bangles in her Hello Kitty night shirt, get amped on several bowls of sugar cereal, do some acroyoga, and then sit quietly at her desk and get to it. She preferred no distractions. If a bird whistled outside, she would send her pitbull to eat it.

dailyhabits_img3Hildegaard von Bingen was a self-professed flaneuse and carouser, who did her best to take the “writing” out of writing routine. She would begin her day by checking Facebook (sometimes upwards of several times a day), 5 a.m. dialing former flames who were in new relationships, and tweeting transcriptions of actual birdsong. She tried to honor a daily word goal of 25 words. Sometimes those were just Words With Friends. Between sex, drugs, drinking, and long walks in the woods, it’s a divine mystery how she got anything written ever.

I’m considering titling my play DIONYSUS WAS A VERY NICE MAN.


August 19, 2016

Bright Brooklyn sunshine, illuminating bare arms with flower tattoos on stylishly dressed freelance writer women

I am writing this play now. I started writing scenes a couple days ago and I forgot some things about how this tends to go at first.  The writing so far (I can’t believe I’m telling you this) has the quaint but useless quality of twirling aimlessly in a field while hoping lightening will strike.

And don’t get me wrong, the lightening god sees what you’re doing. It is lying up there on a cloud, bored to the nines, waiting just waiting for some worthwhile mortal to light with bottomless curiosity about the great electric mystery. It sizes up your twirling. It thinks: meh? The lightening god is not going to summon all its power to bless the meh dancer.

You have to rise to meet it. You have to rev yourself up. You have to call yourself out on your shit when you are just half-writing at one-quarter strength.

You think writing a play is easy? No. You have to put all your attention, intelligence, and life force into it. And the only way to do that, I find, is by killing your censor.

I have the dumbest thoughts, most every day. Bla bla bla who are you to think you can do this bla bla bla other writers already exist bla bla bla you need a haircut bla bla Gunter Grass was a novelist and sculptor and illustrator and playwright and won the Nobel Prize what have you ever done?

To which I reply.

You wanna fight? Then get down here
With me                                                                                                           In the ring
I will punch you in the nutsack if you try to talk to me like that                   I will teach you how to talk to a writer                                                    There are other snails, does that mean there should be no more snails? Oh, schoolboy logic, snap
I will school you on words, Jimmy                                                          You’re nothing without me
I made you
And I can call you Jimmy                                                                             I’ve unmade bigger fish than you
I’ve unmade narwhals
And by the way Gunter Grass was in the Waffen SS when he was young  AKA an elite Nazi                                                                                          And he didn’t admit it for 60 years
SO MAYBE SOMETIMES LESS IS MORE                                       LIGHTENING GOD

My journal often disintegrates into stuff like the above.
I find it tremendously useful and freeing. I need somewhere to be a lunatic.

I’d rather be unfettered than tentative.

Break down the self. The self is shallow, polite, and masking deep hostility and fear and inappropriate aggression and confusion and desire and longing and hope.

When you write, you go deeper in the water.