Sunday, August 24
Here’s a short collection of our boys that no one but me and Rosalie cares about.
Wednesday, August 20
Tuesday, August 19
Also, concrete poems, when read aloud, lose most of their intended meaning. For example:
Shape poems arrange the words of the poem into a pre-determined shape. Shape poems go back as far as poetry itself. For example, George Herbert in the seventeenth century, wrote “The Altar” in the shape of an altar.
Other traditional shapes are the cross, egg, taper, diamond, lozenge, etc. And then there’s visual poetry, which seems to be a term that incorporates all visual poems.
Some concrete poems simply can’t be read aloud. So far so good? All this is leading up to an examination of one such poem by e. e. cummings, one that depends almost entirely on how the words and punctuation marks are placed on the page.
Cummings is such a good example of what modern poets were doing in the last century—breaking with tradition, avoiding poetic diction, using traditional forms but then twisting them into new forms. If you’ve never read any of the poetry of e. e. cummings (his way of saying he’s not important enough for capital letters), you should find him and taste him for yourself.
Monday, August 18
Twirling your blue skirts, travelling the sward
Under the towers of your seminary,
Go listen to your teachers old and contrary
Without believing a word.
Tie the white fillets then about your hair
And think no more of what will come to pass
Than bluebirds that go walking on the grass
And chattering on the air.
Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail;
And I will cry with my loud lips and publish
Beauty which all our power shall never establish,
It is so frail.
For I could tell you a story which is true;
I know a woman with a terrible tongue,
Blear eyes fallen from blue,
All her perfections tarnished—yet it is not long
Since she was lovelier than any of you.
Another by Ransom that echoes T. S. Eliot’s warning in “The Hollow Men,” in which the world ends, “not with a bang, but a whimper.” In “The End of the World,” Ransom envisions the world as a circus, with all the meaninglessness of near-comical circus acts, ending with the top being blown off and the frightening image above of an immense bird of prey, black skies, and “nothing, nothing, nothing--nothing at all.”
Quite unexpectedly, as Vasserot
The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe,
And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting
The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
Pointed, and teeny was about to cough
In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:
And there, there overhead, there, there hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark, the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,
There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing—nothing at all.
The poet uses a combination of the English and Italian sonnet, English by the rhyme pattern and Italian by the octave/sestet split. Two paradoxes stand out: an armless ambidextrian and this huge bird which is really nothing. All the circus images are in the tradition of Theatre of the Absurd, funny but also frightening, saying something about the absurdity of life on earth. The other thing worth mentioning is the unnerving staccato of the sestet, “there” repeated seven times and “nothing” repeated four times. I loved teaching this poem, and most of my students, still babes-in-arms, probably hated its dark pessimism.
Saturday, August 16
Tuesday, August 12
Now, about the quiet style with a touch of dry humor. “What do they [monks] do, anyway?” asks Dot, Keller’s contractor of his jobs. “Pray,” Keller guessed. “Bake bread. Make cordials.” [Dot] “Cordials?” [Keller] “Benedictine? Chartreuse?” [Dot] “Monks make those? I thought that was Seagram’s.” [Keller] Monks started it. Maybe they sold the business. I think basically they pray, and maybe work in the garden.” [Dot] “The garden-variety monks work in the garden,” she suggested. “The laundry-variety monks keep themselves occupied with money and kidneys. See, the abbot was in cahoots with all the politicians.” [Keller] “Felonious monks,” Keller said. “Dot? You don’t think that was funny?” [Dot] “I chuckled a little,” she said, “the first time I heard it.” [Keller] “I just made it up.” [Dot] “You and every newscaster in the country.”
Keller’s views on gun control. “Keller wasn’t that crazy about guns. They were noisy, unless you used a suppressor. They left nitrate particles on your hand, unless you wore gloves. Sometimes they jammed, and sometimes they misfired. And, unless you got fairly close to your target, there was always the chance that you would miss. If you were close enough to rule out a miss, well, you were probably close enough to get the job done without a gun.”
An overheard conversation between two of his fellow philatelists: “Some days,” he said “all I want is to move everything in my life from the in-box to the out-box.”
A conversation between Keller and his wife Julia: [Julia] “Do you even know what baptism is?” [Keller] “Isn’t it to make you a Catholic?” [Julia] “No, darling, guilt is what makes you a Catholic. What baptism does is rid you of original sin. Do you suppose our daughter is greatly weighed down by the burden of original sin?” [Keller] “I don’t even know how you could go about finding an original sin these days.”
Monday, August 11
And then there’s Roaring Rory winning his third start in a row, last week’s PGA Championship in Soggy Kentucky. And how has he done it? By out-gutting the contenders on the final nine holes on Sunday. Poor Ricky Fowler has gotten close in all four majors but can’t quite make it up that final hill. His time will come, though. And Phil came close, but no cigar. And Tiger simply has to hang it up until next spring, and even then he may not make it even halfway back to his former glory. Meanwhile, Rory may just go on winning tournament after tournament. That would really be something to see. So, golf is back in my life, but only in the watching of the PGA, the up-coming FedEx playoffs and the Tigerless Ryder Cup, but still no playing of golf. That may be in the future or it may not. It all depends on my unreliable body. As William Carlos Williams so aptly and famously said it:
"so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Saturday, August 9
Thursday, August 7
I’m still confused by what’s happening between Israel and Gaza. What exactly does Hamas hope to accomplish by bombing Israel and sending troops through tunnels into Israeli territory? If too many Gazan civilians are being killed, why not simply stop the fighting and killing? I’m confused by Vladimir Putin. Why is he willing to sacrifice the Russian economy with his position on the fighting in Ukraine? Is it just for the power? Is it just so he can thumb his nose at the rest of the world? When will we all be willing to stop senselessly killing each other to gain something that’s not really a gain, but only a loss? Why not just live where we live? Why not allow others to believe as the want to believe? See, I’m still confused.
I guess I’ll have to recant my previous recantation about Tiger. He showed up to play in this week’s PGA championship. I was certain he wouldn’t. But after watching him play his first round, I think he’d have been better off skipping it and just waiting till next year to make some sort of return.
Wednesday, August 6
Tuesday, August 5
In the past year I’ve either sold or given away most of my mile-high pile of books, but for reasons I can’t explain, I’ve kept some that date back to a time when I was young and foolish enough to think that I still had a lifetime to collect and read books. In 1958 I joined a book club called International Collectors Library and bought seven handsomely bound books of classics, each with an attached ribbon one could use for a bookmark: War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, Of Human Bondage, Gone with the Wind, Madame Bovary, The Moonstone, and The History of Tom Jones. I’ve read five of them, but not War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov. Too intimidating for me, I guess. I have the never-read James Joyces, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, both of which were really intimidating. I have one by Stephen King that I bought about ten years ago, Insomnia with its nearly nine hundred pages. King has always intimidated me with the length of his novels, and this one I just know I’ll get around to . . . some day. I have all the Hemingway novels and a collection of his short stories from Scribners, all bound in blue. Did I buy them through a book club or separately? Could have been either since I’ve been in and out of more book clubs than I can keep track of. I have a lovely book by Samuel Eliot Morrison called The European Discovery of America that I bought in 1971. If ever a book deserved the word “tome,” this one does. I think I was always going to improve my knowledge of American history, but I never got around to doing it. But I still have it and can at least pretend I will someday forge through it.
In 1974 I bought Annie Dillard’s delightful Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a sort of philosophical echo of Thoreau’s Walden Pond. I read it, I marked passages that impressed me, and I’ve kept it because of all the marked passages and the way it made me feel forty years ago. I just re-read the opening passage, and now I know why I’ve kept it all these years:
“I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest. I’d half-awaken. He’s stick his skull under my nose and purr, stinking of urine and blood. Some nights he kneaded my bare chest with is front paws, powerfully, arching his back, as if sharpening his claws, or pummeling a mother for milk. And some mornings I’d wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I’d been painted with roses.
It was hot, so hot the mirror felt warm. I washed before the mirror in a daze, my twisted summer sleep still hung about me like sea kelp. What blood was this, and what roses? It could have been the rose of union, the blood of murder, or the rose of beauty bare and the blood of some unspeakable sacrifice or birth. The sign on my body could have been an emblem or a stain, the keys to the kingdom or the mark of Cain. I never knew. I never knew as I washed, and the blood streaked, faded, and finally disappeared, whether I’d purified myself or ruined the blood sign of the Passover. We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery, rumors of death, beauty, violence. . . . ‘Seem like we’re just set down here,’ a woman said to me recently, ‘and don’t nobody know why.’ ”
If you’ve never encountered this book by Annie Dillard, you should find it and read it. I’d send you my copy but I don’t want to part with it, part with all my marginal comments. In fact, I’ve kept all the books I’ve ever marked up with marginal comments. I guess I don’t want any other eyes to see my marginal thoughts, for fear they might think them mundane and silly. But then, this blog contains marginal thoughts and I don’t mind sharing them, so why can’t I part with marginally-marked books? I don’t know. I’m odd, books are odd, book lovers are odd, and life is odd. “And don’t nobody know why.”
Monday, August 4
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