Happy birthday to the sensational Jane Russell, who was born on June 21, 1921 and passed away last year.
She caused a stir in 1954 when she sang "Lookin' for Trouble" while wearing a bodysuit with three strategic cutouts in The French Line. Producer Howard Hughes reportedly designed the film's outrageous costumes himself.
The river never threatens to
dry itself up, or cast itself into itself.
The river holds the plank
but never walks it. River,
you must be my summer friend.
I will explore every blade
of your manmade banks until I know
you properly, and I will write you
these stories about myself, not as an act
of ego but an effort to expose myself
to you, so you might know me
and call me friend, too
-- Stephanie Paterik
After more research on Olga Holtz, the beautiful math professor, I've come to an unfortunate conclusion. While she is clearly beautiful and brilliant, perhaps she is not a great teacher or lecturer. This is what I gather from her reviews on ratemyprofessor.com -- and also from the clip below. What do you think?
But there is good news too. Over at the University of Massachusetts we have Professor Carlin Barton. I first learned of her when I read her book entitled The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans; The Gladiator and the Monster. I was fascinated by this book, and becamse fascinated also by the author when I met someone who had been her student at Berkeley. He described her passionate lectures about gladiators, Stoicism, and related topics. I've also read portions of Prof. Barton's subsequent book, Roman Honor, which is great too.
In contrast to Prof. Holtz, Carlin Barton gets rave reviews on ratemyprofessor. And I myself have found her to be quite wonderful. When the HBO miniseries "Rome" was showing, I wrote to Prof. Barton asking whether she'd seen any of it. I also inquired whether she'd seen any old movies like Demetrius and the Gladiators, The Robe, or maybe Land of the Pharaohs (written by William Faulkner.),
I got an email reply from Carlin Barton that gave no hint of her standing as a world class authority on ancient Rome. She said that unfortunately she had not seen Demetriius and the Gladiators or the HBO series. She also remarked that it was possible that her work had nothing to do with what the anicent world was really like. Maybe it was all just something she'd made up, she said. There's no way to tell. But in my opinion she's a great writer on this topic. Again, read her for yourself and see what you think.
Here's Carlin Barton with a rabbi or at least a man in a kepah after they gave a lecture on martyrdom in the ancient world.
That is, the topic of the lecture was martyrdom. They were not actually in the ancient world when they gave the lecture.
Yesterday I taught The Rite of Spring and Jonah Lehrer’s excellent essay on Stravinsky from his first book Proust Was a Neuroscientist. It’s about how difficult it is for the brain to accept new sounds even when those new sounds are the only sounds that make us feel. Every time I teach it I can’t help thinking of the great poetry that goes neglected by publishers year after year perhaps for the same reason. We are pattern-loving, meaning-making creatures. That stuff makes us happy. Not least because we depend on it for survival. When we can’t recognize a familiar pattern of sounds, our brains and bodies revolt. Our pupils dilate, our blood pressure rises…we freak and we feel, and for the most part, we don’t want to do that.
My favorite book of poetry from the last several years isn’t a book. It’s a manuscript—a book length poem called The Palisades by Gillian Kiley, a spacious, dynamic meditation that mines every register of grief, occupying it all with a tremendous wingspan and exploring its terrible incommunicability. In that regard, the poem becomes about the inability to communicate the most private, vulnerable parts of ourselves, especially in this speedy culture that seems intent not to give us the time and space to feel, let alone articulate those strange feelings:
People will be afraid to talk to you
if you insist on remaining humid
and alert to detail.
It’s through elliptical, unflinching, and sustained discussion of our inability to convey these deeper hidden feelings that Kiley manages to do so.
between any two sovereign nations
is also the point of contact.
The poem responds to her father’s death, and part of that response is a mid-life reckoning. The speaker asks how has she been of use? Did a tragic sense of decorum keeping her from loving deep and far enough?
I remember feeling so lucky
to hear the old stories.
To me it seems the speaker goes as far into death with the loved one as it can go and because it is death and things become impersonal in that territory, that speaker feels like all of us.
In some zones, the rain that came
was an almost unnoticeable quiet,
words that never broke
on the tongue.
I am guessing this book hasn’t been published because it’s a book-length poem and about grief. Grief isn’t cool, and Kiley’s unsentimental treatment of it doesn’t fit neatly into any camp or category of poetry we’ve seen before. Besides, who wants to feel sad? Well, I do. Really and truly. It makes me feel human by making me feel close to other humans. First Kiley and then the rest of you.
Throughout the book, there is not only sadness but rage, a rage for separateness and a desperate yearning for distance from the event--the relief of perspective. And then there is all the intelligence that was used to overcome that rage and sadness.
To give someone advice
is to show a complete lack of respect
for that person’s God-given ability
to make mistakes.
In addition, you sound like an asshole.
The person I want to speak to is dead.
You are in comparison, a smudge.
He is history.
My half-crazed sister
put the ashes of her dog in a tea tin
and buried it under the grass by the headstone.
I am a dog belly up and writhing.
I hate dogs
And the notion that the grieving
need anything but protection.
A higher storey would enlarge my vista.
but for now I spread the city before me
The materials of my pleasure
include take-out Chinese
and new ways to drape myself.
Vanity burnishes the lack like sun on dung.
I feel like throwing up my arms
and shouting out things of unheard-of savagery,
exchanging words with the higher mysteries,
proclaiming to the vast spaces of empty matter
the existence of a new expansive personality.
What else could be wanted?
Oh dead highway. The thought turning out until—oh—
Oh, borrowing, borrowing neighbor,
burrowing in, forgetting that all they own
is the space next to you.
When did my palm become the place to inscribe so many names?
Toward the end of the book the voice softens. The speaker finds a book “so much like [herself]—[she] felt that [she] had been happy / and that [she] could be happy again.” The Palisades is that book for me—not that I need to be lifted out of grief at the moment, only in that the book is so much like me. It will be so much like you too, probably, if it ever gets published. Earlier in the book, the speaker remarks on how healthy the animals are “that emerge from the dark barn.” At the end of the book, the speaker becomes one of those animals emerging and we get to feel what the sun feels like after all that darkness.
Reading Catherine Woodard's post last week about NBA coach Phil Jackson reminded me that way back in the mid-1980s Jackson coached the Continental Basketball Association Albany (NY) Patroons. The Patroons' home arena was the 3,500-seat Washington Avenue Armory, a former New York National Guard center with a forbidding castle-like exterior. Jackson won his first championship ring when he guided the Albany Patroons to the 1984 CBA championship. Walter (Walt The Stalt) Williams was named MVP of the series and went on to become a key assistant coach to Jackson.
I lived a short block away from the Armory and with my girlfriends regularly attended Patroons home games. The mid-week games rarely sold out and we were able to get great seats near the floor. Phil Jackson no longer had the unruly hair and beard of his Knicks days but he was easily recognizable by the way he paced along the sidelines, hands on hips, shoulders back. It was sometimes more fun to watch him than the action on the court.
Those were the days!
Nearly everything reminds me of fracking these days. On the bus home from New York this morning, there was the usual offender, a woman having a long, loud conversation on her cell phone. I put in my ear plugs. Then someone in the back, probably in the bathroom, decided to smoke a cigarette, holding us all hostage to his or her desperate addiction for a couple of hours as the smoke settled into the upholstery and our lungs. I didn’t have nose plugs. Besides, nose plugs wouldn’t have worked for my lungs. Why didn’t I walk the length of the bus and ferret out the smoker and demand him or her to put out his or her cigarette pronto? I don’t know. Everyone was pretending like it wasn’t happening. Soon enough I was calmed by the busload’s indifference, their eerie denial. Rilke was getting interesting again. Do you see where I am going with this?
I used to come from the Rust Belt, but now I come from the Frack Belt, fifteen miles east of Youngstown, Ohio, where fracking wastewater pumped back into the ground caused a series of earthquakes this New Year’s Eve. The media tends to characterize the natural gas boom as either environmental disaster or economic panacea—a technology that has arrived just in time to save small farmers from foreclosure and provide jobs for those who have been struggling without them. But the people I know who have sold leases to their land to the energy companies are doing just fine. They are doctors, professionals, small business owners, large business owners. They are not on the brink of disaster. They own McMansions, send their kids to private schools (or don’t… because they don’t really believe in education that much and would rather pocket the money rather than waste it on sensibility or whatnot.) Consider the country club where my parents golf and swim. Does it really need the extra dough from the gas in the bedrock under their land? Of course it does. That way it can pay off its bills without raising members’ dues.
My father, a recently retired doctor and Goldwater Republican has a complex relationship to the industry which has swept up his town. In theory he believes in deregulation, in a person’s freedom to determine his or her own entire fate, financial or otherwise, but he also doesn’t want people to die of cancers caused by the chemicals the fracking companies pump into the ground (benzene, toluene, the list goes on…) or the chemicals and metals that fracking draws up (arsenic, uranium, etc.) In the Rabbit room of the country club, a room where men go to smoke cigars and gossip—yes, only men—he has raised concerns about these agents and by-products of the fracking process known to cause cancer. What if they pollute the acquifer as they have been known to do at many sites? What if fracking on the property of a family who has sold the rights to their land pollutes the water of families who have refused the companies’ lure?
It’s here that I should include information about my parents’ living situation. Half the year, they are trying out retirement in my mom’s hometown in Italy, the place where they met and where I was born and spent my early childhood. When my father raised concerns about cancer to his golf buddies, one of them, a toilet magnate, said, “Why do you care? You’re going to be gone soon, anyway.” Indeed, why does he care? Why do I? I don’t even live there anymore.
There are good things that remind me of fracking, too. Like Gregory Lawless’s poems. He is from Northeastern Pennsylvania, but the culture is nonetheless familiar to me. I identify in particular with the speaker’s ambivalence toward an already compromised landscape in “Sere,” which appears in White Whale Review. In the context of the burgeoning fracking industry in Pennsylvania and climate change, delicate, elegiac and precise pastoral poems like “Mint” from Gulfstream become ethical stands, which give their beauty uncommon depth. Here’s another called “Factoryville Eclogue,” which appears in Devil’s Lake:
November fields. Ice-withered parsley and wild
alfalfa after a morning of freezing rain. I look
for heart-leaved asters in the open woods,
with riust-colored scissors and a plastic bag. They go
in an old glass inkwell on my wife’s nightstand
and last eight days in water. Winter flowers,
she says, but that’s not quite right. I don’t
correct her. Winter is her business. Fall
is mine. Christmas ferns wither well
before December. I keep a bed of them
in a bucket out back and watch ravens
snatch the leaflets for their nests. Parabolic birds.
The color of stories. Maybe not. Everyone has a neighbor
who shoots them. Not everyone has a neighbor,
thank God. Thank God, for what? For winter, the sound
of ravens sorting ferns in the snow. My wife thinks
I look too much. At what? You look too much,
that’s all. It’s fall. A truck from Dalton Lumber
tipped over in the field. Everyone is alive.
They left an hour ago and left their lumber.
Stacks of blond planks stained with ice, fifty yards
From dead asters. What do I tell her? They were out
of flowers. Who are they? The field, the fall,
who knows. They were out. I take some dead ones
back, my scissors frozen shut. Thanks. Thank
God for what? The field-kill dressed in ice, a lumber
spill, generations of ravens in the firs. No snow
yet. Is that a blessing? I don’t know. Who’s in charge
of these blessings?
And another called “Factoryville Anabasis” from The South Dakota Review:
Three great blue heron eggs chewed apart by young raccoons
between sleeves of jewelweed and slender nettle.
I used to paint vulture eggs in Petaluma.
They laid them in the loft of an abandoned barn nearby and sometimes in the crotch of a fallen pepper tree.
I never got the brown spots quite right, like flecks of blood on a washed-out white cotton shirt.
I used to hang our wash on the bare branches of an old arroyo willow.
My wife said her shirts smelled like leaves, but I could never tell.
The coyotes here in Pennsylvania will eat raccoons during long, lean winters.
I never know what I’m hearing in the woods.
The shells of heron eggs like broken lakes.
I can see the creek where the raccoons clean their feet.
Low water now, dry summer: lures, beer bottles, and a pair of broken oars on the banks.
The grocery store in town sells gopher poison and heavy-duty grease for tractor gears.
I haven’t seen a vulture egg in years.
Gregory Lawless’s first book of poems is I Thought I Was New Here (BlazeVOX). Look him up!
Spend time talking with nurses and you’re likely to hear some amazing stories. They’ll tell you about their patients and their patients’ families, about wounds and pain and organ failure, about premature birth and sudden death. They’ll also tell you about surgeons, psychiatrists, residents, attending physicians, social workers, and hospital administrators. And they’ll tell you about their own kids and parents and siblings and in-laws. Sometimes they’ll even tell you about other nurses. But most of the time they don’t tell you all that much about themselves—or if they do, it’s almost always in terms of the demands of their jobs and the needs of the other people in their lives. Nurses’ stories are filled with other people, their suffering, and their caregiving. Ask them how they handle all that and they’ll tell you they have to put their feelings on the back burner just to get through the day.
Two years ago, poet and health care journalist Joy Jacobson and I started a program in Narrative Writing for Health Care Professionals at the Hunter College Center for Health, Media & Policy (CHMP). We teach writing to undergraduate and graduate nursing students at the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing and offer workshops in writing reflective narratives to nurses who work in hospitals. We use creative means to engage our students in reading and writing, with the goal of giving nurses a new appreciation for their own voices and stories.
As part of this program, we are offering a writing conference, “Telling Stories, Discovering Voice: A Writing Weekend for Nurses,” to be held Friday, July 20 through Sunday, July 22. As Joy wrote in a post about the workshop on the CHMP blog: “The weekend will be open to nurses, nursing faculty, nurse researchers, and nursing students, giving them an opportunity to explore the power of narrative writing. We’ll write, read aloud, and create what we hope will be an ongoing community of new and experienced writers.”
We’re also very lucky to have Karen Roush, MS, RN, as a keynote speaker. Karen has extensive experience as a writer, teacher, and nurse and has a long list of published books, scholarly articles, essays, and poems to her credit. She is the founder of the Scholar’s Voice and the clinical managing editor of the American Journal of Nursing.
If you know any nurses who love to write, want to write, wish they could write, or plan to get around to writing someday, please tell them to check out the CHMP blog for more information on the writing weekend, registration, discount hotel accommodations, and the continuing education credits we’re offering. Some scholarships and discounts are available. We expect to hear some amazing stories!
Let me leave you with a thought from Joy: “Poetry is an antidote to medical jargon. Bringing a poem into a hospital and reading it with busy nurse managers can help to jumpstart their writing. Jargon is deadly.”
Ed note: Jim Stubenrauch is a longtime editor at the American Journal of Nursing. He teaches writing to nursing students at the Hunter–Bellevue School of Nursing and, as a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media, & Policy conducts workshops in writing reflective narratives to nurses in hospital settings. Jim earned is MFA at Columbia University.
"I don't want to talk about love, I just want to make it." (D'amore non voglio parlare, lo voglio solamente fare.) I hear this Patrizia Cavalli line, made famous in Kenneth Koch's poem "Talking to Patrizia" and think, I don't want to talk about poems, I just want to make them. And yet here I am talking about poems. And I will talk about them endlessly (the way Patrizia wound up talking about love in Koch's poem)...or at least until the end of the week.
This reminds me of a Kenneth Koch comic I have up in my bathroom. I'll scan and post The Italian Cabdriver Comics and maybe a few others in the next couple of days. It goes like this: The Italian Cabdriver said Poetry? Poetry in English?...Nay Nay Signore...Poetry, Poetry...is in Italian!...What is your word for nature, for example?..."Nature," I weakly said, knowing I was defeated...Ah hah! exclaimed..my driver Luigi Piccione hailing from Paestum, Lacania...But now resident in Rome..."In OUR language...IN OUR LANGUAGE," HE SAID"..."IT IS"...LA NATURA!
I've been to Paestum. My sister and I went on a wild boat and bus trek there about 15 years ago. It's home to the enchanting Tomb of the Diver, a fresco of a diver painted on the interior of a tomb. At first people thought it was the tomb of a diver. Then, given the things they found in the grave, a musician.
The question on everyone's mind is, What is German Chancellor Angela Merkel going to do? She's reportedly still undecided. so I recommend that she listen to Ella singing this song with the Chick Webb band in the late 1930s.
On late night TV, I had the chance to interview Soren Kierkegaard on the Eurozone crisis on the day the yield on the ten-year Spanish bond surged to a euro-era high above 7%. "The German Chancellor seems to be lowering expectations and addressing a domestic audience, just as she has in advance of prior summits," noted Kierkegaard, a research fellow with the Oscar Peterson Institute for Internatinal Economics. "Refusing to dampen the growing panic may be strategic, a way to give European leaders more room to maneuver." I asked Kierkegaard to forecast a likely outcome. "Past summits failed to appease markets," he shrugged. "I think we can expect significant progress on a European bamking union and a long-term plan for eurobonds. But there's no quick fix in sight, especially if Merkel demands power transfers requiring new treaties as part of the quid pro quo. That would be a year-long process, and markets don't like to be kept waiting."
Meanwhile, I said, unemployment in Greece remains over 25%, and the Greek people are pulling their cash out of the bank at the rate of a billion euros a day. Kierkegaard reflected before replying in his deadpan manner that "an awkward moment of silence" might best suit the occasion. The remark drew an appreciative laugh from the studio audience. We shook hands, and the segment ended with my guest standing up to leave. "Ladies and gentlemen," I said, "Soren Kierkegaard." -- DL
The star of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying mystifies the panelists of "What's My Line?" including Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis, Martin Gabel, and Pamela Tiffin. John Daly is the moderator. O Mnemosyne, mother of the nine muses. This is what TV was like on Sunday nights in the era of Mad Men. "Bobby" Morse in another interview says that he sometimes shows up for work on the Mad Men set singing "A Secretary is not a Toy" from How to Succeed way back when. -- DL
Today's offering is perhaps not the usual Hallmark take on Father's Day, okay. Tony Hoagland as usual slashes right through convention with the straight razor he keeps in his back pocket even when he's sleeping. This poem rides on a wave of brutal honesty that is riveting, disturbing, and perversely satisfying, the way the person at the funeral who stands up and tells an unflattering anecdote about the deceased is the only one who makes you finally break down and weep. I have admired Tony Hoagland's work since I first encountered it for his absolute, Lawrentian insistence on candor at all costs. Hoagland's voice characteristically plunges and swerves through the rapids of our culture's amorality, all the while "simply" telling you about something that happened to him one day. His is a crafted and deeply thoughtful recklessness. Which sounds contradictory until you read, for example, this poem, which first appeared in New Ohio Review 5, Spring 2009.
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This week we welcome Tanya Larkin as our guest blogger. Tanya is the author of My Scarlet Ways, winner of the 2011 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize and Hothouse Orphan, a chapbook published by Convulsive Editions. She is an Associate Professor at The New England Institute of Art in Brookline, MA.
Upon hearing of the Russian poetry event scheduled for May 25th as part of the Festival of Russian Arts 2012, I instantly expected surprising connections. Gathered at Poets House would be Debut Prize recipients Lev Oborin and Polina Barskova; the Debut Prize administrators Vitaly Pukhanov and Olga Slavnikova, renowned writers themselves; Alice Quinn, the head of the Poetry Society of America and former poetry editor of the New Yorker; and John William Narins the founder Causa Artium, a NYC-nonprofit dedicated to expanding the place of literary, visual, performance, musical and other forms of art in the world and one of the event’s sponsoring organizations. Mix in a full auditorium of approximately 50% native English and 50% native Russian speakers and each country’s fascination with the other’s literature, how could it be anything but thrilling?
Alice Quinn moderated the evening’s event, John William Narins translated the poems and parts of the subsequent discussion, and the audience was treated to the poetry and insights of Vitaly Pukhanov, Lev Oborin, and Polina Barskova.
Novelist and Director of the Debut Prize Olga Slavnikova opened the evening with an overview of the history and scope of the prize and acknowledged several in the audience who are key to the current Russian literary landscape including Natasha Perova of GLAS Publishing House and Vitaly Pukhanov, current Executive Secretary of the Debut Prize and the first poet to read.
Vitaly Pukhanov, a former editor at the “October” journal, and an enigmatic figure in Moscow poetry stood to enthusiastic applause and read the first poetry of the evening. He also spoke of the vision and philanthropy of Andrei Scotch, who through the Generation Foundation makes the Debut Prize possible. Lev Oborin’s poetry was engagingly diverse, giving voice to several perspectives: a poem titled “A Page from a Textbook, Natural History, 5th Grade,” resonant lines such as no place for skepsis or sepsis, and a poem that ended with a pun on the name, Soviet Union. In addition to his work as a poet, Mr. Oborin is a graduate student examining Russian-British cultural ties and a guitarist in a Moscow indie rock band. Polina Barskova, a prolific writer and professor of Russian literature at Hampshire College, read in Russian and her own English translations – narrative, image-rich poems, with sometimes syncopated rhythms.
Over the course of a lively discussion, questions arose of the reach and influence of various poets, the panel spoke of Joseph Brodsky, Elizabeth Bishop, Ilya Kaminsky, Czeslaw Milosz, Wislawa Szymborska, Zbigniew Herbert, Adam Zagajewski, Charles Simic, Robert Frost, and Wallace Stevens. “Poles produce poetry that humbles Russians,” one of the panelists commented, and another remarked that Polish books of poetry are always important and always important to have accessible. Polina Barskova described her delight in finding Elizabeth Bishop’s Petropolis while working on her own project on the Siege of Leningrad.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.