Poor Keats. A Scorpio with Virgo rising and, just to clinch the deal, his moon in Gemini. This is the equivalent of being dealt the Fool, the Lovers (inverted), and the Tower as the three culminating cards in an eleven-card Tarot reading. There is sadness in his life, illness, a consumptive cough. But he has a generous soul, he meets afflictions with renewed resolve, he is capable of great feats of self-discipline. Willing to work hours on meters and rhymes, he is a born dreamer, who can shut his eyes and transport himself in a second to fairy lands forlorn, an enchantment of mist, an early Autumn of heirloom tomatoes and three varieties of peaches. Life is a struggle, but he prevails, and then dies young.
Born today, Keats had a soft spot for Halloween and tried his hand at writing spooky verses that would scare school chums sitting around the campfire during the season of burning leaves. The fact that Keats's moon is in Gemini, that the nocturnal northeastern quadrant is predominant in his natal chart, and above all that Mercury is his ruling planet, supports the view of this poet as a divinely-ordained messenger of the gods trapped in the frail body of an undernourished London lad with his face pressed against the sweet shop window, as Yeats wrote. [Note: If you mix up the names Keats and Yeats, or pronounce one as if it were the other, the chances of your appreciating either are diminished by a seventh but not eliminated. The two names are separated by nearly five decades but linked by lyrical genius, with the prophetic mode ascendant in Yeats, while Keats -- brainy, anxious, and quick as befits a son of Mercury -- wins the laurels for sensuality and freshness: the palpable bubbles in the wine glass, the burst of a grape in the satyr's mouth, the humming of flies on the porch screen in August, keen fitful gusts of wind.]
Keats's Venus is, like his sun, in Scorpio. This is crucial. It means he is as passionate as he is sensitive and a gambler not by instinct or by social association but by his intransigent attachment to his ideals. Among Sinatra songs "All or Nothing At All" comes closest to expressing Keats's point of view. He is one who can be loved by many but who reserves his own love for one. Auden's poem "The More Loving One" depicts a conflict that Keats resolved each time he picked up his pen to write. He knew he was destined to be the more loving one in any partnership, and he would not have had it any other way. Keats loved the four elements and presented their interaction with the cool exactness that Vermeer brought to the study of light. Not surprisingly, the two share a birthday: the 31st of October.
Neither Keats nor Vermeer enjoyed trick or treating, though the co-called "Cockney poet" did have an impish nature as a youth, and he loved his junkets. The rumor that Keats died because of a bad review in an infuential Edinburgh journal is to the biography of English poets what history was in the mind of the automobile manufacturer who invented the assembly line, bunk, notwithstanding Byron's oft-quoted couplet in Don Juan: "Tis strange the mind, that fiery particle / should be snuffed out by an article." But the mischievous Byron, born on January 22 (1788) -- an Aquarius trailing clouds of Capricorn, and with Cancer as his rising sign -- was as conflicted on the subject of his younger working-class contemporary as Emerson was about Whitman after the latter expanded Leaves of Grass beyond recognition. The position of Mercury in the third house has caused the greatest amount of comment among professional astrologists. The consensus view is that Keats resembled certain musical geniuses in his extraordinary talent, his humble origins, and his early death. Though he was less dashing than the noble Byron and less angelic of aspect than Shelley, all the women polled said they would welcome a relationship with Keats, especially if she is in England while he is in Italy writing long gorgeous letters to her about Shakespeare plays, the nature of inspiration, the smell of mortality, and what Adam felt like waking up in Eden.
Emily Dickinson, tipsy on lovemaking with Byron, said she nevertheless preferred to spend the night with Keats, despite his well-known proclivity for premature ejaculation. In his poems (ED wrote) Keats proved that greatness descends on the novice only after he has opened himself up to the risk of failure or embarrassment. If Shelley is the poet of the autumn wind, the wind that destroys and preserves, animating the leaves and the waves and the clouds in a fury of activity, Keats is the poet of autumnal ripeness. Consider his great ode to the "season of mist and mellow fruitfulness." The final stanza of "To Autumn" is as sensual in its handling of language and rhyme as in its vision of the fullness of the harvest-time:
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
The closing music shows that Keats took his own advice to Shelley ("load every rift with ore") to heart. A comparison of the two poets -- the one prospective, anticipatory, the other all righteous fire and visionary fury but also retrospective and melancholy -- is a fascinating study in comparative astrology. It has been said that the single most revealing piece of information you may have about a potential dating partner is whether he identifies himself more with Keats or with Shelley. The muse visited Keats often in the spring of 1819. First came "The Eve of St. Agnes," the lovers rushing away into the night; then "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," the lover seduced and abandoned. And then came the odes, the greatest odes that English has to offer: to Psyche, to a Nightingale, on a Grecian Urn, on Melancholy, to Indolence. No poet ever packed as much magnificence in a line or wrote stanzas of such melodious charm that a simple, naive statement of Platonic optimism, which in lesser hands would be anticlimactic or worse, should seem to penetrate the heart of the mystery: "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty." -- DL
Note: Readers of "astrological profiles" know that the use of astrological terms is laid on pretty thick but with tongue in cheek, firmly so, on the nervy assumption that the horoscope -- like the "haruspicate or scry," "sortilege, or tea leaves," playing cards, pentagrams, handwriting analysis, palm-reading, and the "preconscious terrors" of the dreaming mind in T. S. Eliot's "The Dry Salvages" -- may be a bust at prediction bur may turn out to be not only "usual pastimes and drugs" but the means of poetic exploration.
The bow-tie is having more than a moment. Consider this: David and I recently visited Benjamin Peters mens' clothing store in Ithaca, New York. Where just a few years ago the bow-ties would have been relegated to a small corner of a display case, they now occupy a full rack in prime real-estate near the front of the store. Every day we spot fashionable young men sporting bow-ties. At the recent celebration of Mark Strand, David and John Guare compared notes on their preference for the bow-tie, and David came to its defence recently in the New York Times .
This, in my view, is a positive development along with the Mad Men inspired return to the fedora.
So get on board, little children, and dress like grown ups! If not knowing how to tie a bow-tie is the only thing holding you back, I'm here to help. These are instructions from The Art of Manliness, one of my favorite websites, introduced to me in 2009 by Sally Ashton:
Click over to the Art of Manliness website to watch the "How to Tie a Bow Tie" video.
You will have to practice but mastering the bow-tie is worthwhile. Soon you will be as expert as Paul F. Tompkins. Richard Sherman breaks it down here:
La Mafia is a restaurant in Zaragoza, Spain, where posters of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino adorn the walls and all the waiters and a surprising number of patrons sport black bow-ties. There are exhibits that are viewer-friendly and very informative on the Valentine’s Day massacre, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and why Prohibition led directly to mob control of night clubs and casinos. They have a loyalty program that is the envy of the hospitality industry. If you reach the level of 20,000 points you get free admission to the Fidelity Club where the Omertas (three drops of anis in a gin martini) are free and served on circular silver platters irreverently nicknamed Baptists.
But not all is as orderly as a daily glass of red wine, blue skies, and the sun setting orange on the construction trade and the community of citizens beyond government (CCBY), a secret society that came into being when it was understood, after the crazy Texan with the big ears cost Bush Senior the election in 1992, that the two-party system was doomed and yet no third-party could avoid doing more damage than good.
The American, nursing an Omerta at the bar, heard about the restaurant’s problems from the bartender, Paco.
“Bad,” Paco said shoving a newspaper article on the counter. It suggested that La Mafia, now a restaurant chain, “normalizes organized crime.”
“Where did this appear?”
“But that is an Italian newspaper.”
”Look what they say about us.”
The article made much of the Italian dishes in the menu named after murdered judges.
Also, it was reported that Italian Mafiosi and cocaine kingpins routinely meet at restaurants on Spain such as La Mafia.
Children under seven in a company of four or more are given Ray Liotta coloring books and little plastic bags of confectioner’s sugar packed like cocaine.
Pablo Martinez, La Mafia’s consiglieri coordinator, was quoted in the article from La Republica. He was indignant. “We are roses,” he said. “We are love.”
But the article’s author, Rinaldo something, had another word for it. “They are cocaine.”
The American laughed. Paco refilled his glass.
Pablo Martinez joined him at the bar.
“We’re going international,” he said. “Europe and Latin America. The foreign market shows a lot of potential.”
(Ed. note: Thanks to Willliam Brennan of The Atlantic (November 2014, p. 30), for the scoop.)
7:30 pm. 85 E 4th St, New York, New York 10003
DARA WIER's most recent book is You Good Thing from Wave Books, 2013, a Believer's readers' choice for 2014. Her previous books include Reverse Rapture (Poetry Book of the Year, American Poetry Center, San Francisco St. University, 2009), Remnants of Hannah, Voyages in English, and Blue for the Plough. She writes a sporadic blog for Flying Object, flying-object.org/, a community arts space and project in Hadley, Massachusetts, and she leads workshops and seminars for the University of Massachusetts Amherst MFA for Poets and Writers.
DAVID LEHMAN is the author of many collections of poems, including New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 2013), Yeshiva Boys (Scriber, 2011), When a Woman Loves a Man (Scribner, 2005), Jim and Dave Defeat the Masked Man (with James Cummins, Soft Skull Press, 2005), and The Evening Sun (2002). Among his books of non-fiction are A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (Shocken Books, 2009) and The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (Doubleday, 1998), which was named a "Book to Remember 1999" by the New York Public Library. He edited The Oxford Book of American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006), and is the series editor of The Best American Poetry. He is on the core faculty of the graduate writing programs at the New School and New York University. He lives in New York City and Ithaca, NY
THIRSTY: Was the poet Shelley correct that poetry can be a source of knowledge and power?
DAVID LEHMAN: Yes. I agree with this statement and with most of the claims for poetry that Shelley makes in his "Defence." He does, however, argue that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world," and here I draw the line. W. H. Auden expresses my view when he contends that this phrase describes "the secret police, not the poets."
THIRSTY: What role does the poet play in a mature, democratic society? Can a poet in today's world awaken people to change their opinions or even their institutions? Can a poem inspire and move people to rethink their reality?
DAVID LEHMAN: Poetry can change the world one mind at a time. There are faster ways to get your message out, but poetry isn't a matter of "messages." Poetry is strangeness, is beauty shrouded in mystery (or mystery shrouded in beauty). Poetry is meant to give pleasure, to inspire, and to help us as, in Frost's phrase, "a momentary stay against confusion." Poetry keeps the chaos and madness at bay. It is something we need not because it can change our social reality but because it allows us to escape from it.
THIRSTY: How effective are the dead poets of past centuries in informing contemporary life?
David Lehman is the author of several collections of poems and criticism, including “The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets” (Doubleday, 1998). His most recent work is “New and Selected Poems” (Scribner, 2013).
Leah Umansky is the author of the Mad-Men inspired chapbook, “Don Dreams and I Dream” (Kattywompus Press, 2014) and the full length collection, “Domestic Uncertainties,” (BlazeVOX, 2013).
This event is free. Find more information here.
(Ed note: David Lehman's poem was yesterday's feature over at the Academy of American Poets. Read the full post over at the Academy's website.)
According to today's Wall Street Journal, page one (below the fold), veteran bandleader Tommy Dorsey has come out strongly in favor of the Indonesian stock market. His top pick: PT Perusahaan Perkebunan London Sumatra Indonesia Tbk. "I can't pronounce it, and I have no friggin' idea what they do. But I know it's number one -- do I need to know anything else?"
Dorsey explained his unconventional technique. "I'm not the guy who cared about love and I'm not the guy who cared about fortunes and such, never cared much," he admitted. But after listening to "Yes, Indeed" (as arranged by Sy Oliver) and "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)," he had a change of heart.
The rationale for buying only the best-performing investments in any given sector is that of momentum investing on steroids. Has it worked? Dorsey's experience has emboldened him. He and associates have gone from $1.6 billion to $5.1 billion in the last three years. It should be noted that dart-throwing would have produced a similar return in blue chips, with a lot less risk than Indonesia, since 2011, but let's not be killljoys. Dorsey is enjoying his moment in the sun and he has, despite maninfold pressures, maintained eighteen instrumentalists, including Bunny Berigan on trumpet, plus vocalists such as Sinatra and Dick Haymes, always, come rain or come shine.
Should people be tempted to throw caution to the winds, the trombonist quickly reminded them that you should not make an important decision within twelve months of anything major happening in your life. He exemplified his legato approach with a sweet rendering of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You." With the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 still a painful memory, he reminded people that prudence remains wise when the outlook is gloomy. "I'll never smile again," he remembered thinking. He would discourage anyone who might be tempted to go into hock to buy Asian shares on margin. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," Dorsey said.
Thank you, Tommy. I'll be seeing you.
-- David Lehman
Do they still write "The Guggenheim Fellowship Poem,"
which takes place in Italy -- in Venice, often, but sometimes Florence
with side trips to Siena, and maybe Arezzo, and certainly Ravenna,
and once in a while Naples? The poet goes to a museum in a flimsy skirt
in the fierce heat and the eyes of the men are upon her
as she walks on the hot stone street and she wears sunglasses
in the Audrey Hepburn fashion but all pretense and fancy melt
when she comes face to face with Titian's La Bella
or the Penitent Magdalene at the Pitti Palace
or Donatello's naked bronze David at the Bargello
or a Perugino fresco of the Crucifixion
or Piero's Madonna and Child in Urbino
or Raphael's Madonna of the Goldfinch at the Uffizi
or a Giorgione self-portrait in Venice, which is a vision
of her father or her husband, she's not sure which,
though she will spend hours analyzing the possibilities, but this
she knows this: it was a sudden flash, an epiphany even,
like seeing a broken statue and realizing you had to change your life.
Tonight in 1957 one of the all-time great Broadway musicals made its debut: West Side Story, with music by Leonard Bernstein (left, in 1947), lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents, and choreography by Jerome Robbins.
The show translated Romeo and Juliet into a Broadway show -- but with a tragic soul and a socially-conscious purpose absent from the most notable previous instance of Shakespeare transmuted into musical comedy: Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate, which took as its text The Taming of the Shrew. This is not to denigrate Porter's wonderful show, with its immortal "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," its superb blend of lyricism and humor ("Always True to You, Darling, in My Fashion"), and its crazy witty backstage plot blending the antics of inept gangsters and a troupe of players in and out of costume.
What made West Side Story unusual was that it took to the furthest extreme the strand in musical theater that begins in Showboat (1927), continues with Porgy and Bess in the 1930s and in the postwar South Pacific (1949). In each case, elements of seriousness and melancholy, of defeat even unto death, coexist with the singing and dancing, sometimes joyous, always life-aiffrming. In each, too, there is a spark of serious indignation -- a moral insistence on right and wrong.
West Side Story brings this theme home. It takes place not on a Mississippi River barge in the nineteenth century, or in a segregated African-American community in the deep South, or on a south Pacific island in World War II. West Side Story takes place in the very city synonymous with Broadway -- only about six miles to the north on the edge of Washington Heights.The fights between Jets and Sharks, whites and Puerto Ricans, are as pointless as they are homocidal. And the fault lies not in our laws or the authorities (clueless and indifferent though they be) but in our selves.
Musically, Bernstein in West Side Story produces a score that in its sheer variety and sublime lyricism appears not only to define its genre but somehow to transcend it. It is a quality that perhaps only Kern, Gershwin, and Rodgers possessed. This places Bernstein in the highest company of Broadway composers. But he had a complicating predicament. Lenny (everyone who knew him called him Lenny) had a second career, even a third. Skills lead to imperatives. Bernstein was an inspired conductor, and he was a composer of quote serious unquote music at a time when high art and low dwelled in places where border patrol was tight -- a time when a major composer was expected to write masses and symphonies, not just a divertimento or two. You weren't supposed to be satisfied with the likes of On the Town, Candide, and West Side Story. At the same time Bernstein felt an equal and opposite pressure. There were aways people saying to him, "Why don't you run upstairs and write a nice Gershwin tune?"
Most of the critics liked West Side Story. Brooks Atkinson, the dean of New York theater reviewers, said he was "profoundly" moved by this "organic work of art." Kenneth Tynan aired a more ambiguous note. He felt that the music "sounds as if Puccini and Stravinsky had gone on a roller-coaster ride into the precincts of modern jazz," a grand simile that makes you wonder whether the writer knew much about either jazz or amusement park rides. Howard Taubman, who (if memory serves) succeeded Brooks Atkinson as the NY Times chief drama critic, said that Bernstein's score fell short on "melodic invention." Ha! The songs thus indicted include "America," "Tonight," "Maria," "Something's Coming," "There's a Place for Us," "Gee, Officer Krupke," "Cool," "I Feel Pretty," and the Jets' song.
But the cake was taken by Harold Clurman, the widely respected critic for The Nation, who questioned the authors' sincerity. West Side Story was, said Clurman, "phony," the appropriation of "the pain of a real problem" for the sake of "popular showmanship." Furthermore, Bernstein and company were guilty of "intellectually slumming." The worst of their sins was to combine the goal of being "progressive" in their views with the objective of attracting "several million playgoers" as if it might be wiser to aim at being reactionary and closing after two performances.
Not that this sort of treatment is unprecedented. Earlier shows containing immortal scores by Kern (with "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes") and Berlin (with "No Business Like Show Business") were polly toed by reviewers with a tin ear and a close deadline. So if your poems or your novel or your play or your songs get denounced by a compulsive loud-mouth or practitioner of critical dummheit, take heart. You have distinguished company.
For more on this score, in two senses, read Allen Shawn's new book, Leonard Bernstein: An American Musician, just out from Yale UP. -- DL
It is hard to believe
that six years
have passed since
the day Lehman’s
their desks into
banker’s boxes and
triggered the Great
Recession the worst
threat to our banking
system since the runs
on banks in 1933,
the worst crisis
of credit and confidence
with bad debts, loans
irresponsibly made, credit
swaps, the use of derivatives
so complicated it makes
options trading look like
checkers in Fort Tryon Park,
and on this unhappy
anniversary you may wonder
whether mind-sets have
changed in risk management?
I look around and see a lot
balance sheets, and as
a survivor of that grim day
when Lehman went under,
I ask myself and my brothers:
what have we learned
from Lehman’s collapse?
9 / 15/ 14
Series editor and School of Writing professor David Lehman joins contributors to The Best American Poetry 2014 to launch the 27th edition of this acclaimed annual anthology.
Readers will include Lucie Brock-Broido, Mark Doty, Joel Dias-Porter, Natalie Diaz, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Cornelius Eady, Ross Gay, Le Hinton, Major Jackson, Yusef Komunyakaa, Hailey Leithauser, Frannie Lindsay, Cate Marvin, Shara McCallum, Valzhyna Mort, Eileen Myles, D. Nurkse, Sharon Olds, Greg Pardlo, Roger Reeves, Patrick Rosal, Jon Sands, Jane Springer, Afaa Michael Weaver, and Rachel Zucker.
Sponsored by the School of Writing.
Books will be for sale.
Free, no tickets required.
So I took this photo the first time I met Erin. It was shortly after I had moved to New York City and I was quite nervous. We were at David's Greenwich Village apartment, about to go to Quantum Leap for lunch. Erin let me try on her gloves, which were made out of Polar Fleece and lined with Thinsulate. They were extremely warm and confirmed that Erin was up on the latest in cold weather fashion.
In case you're wondering about the title of this post, for some reason this song popped into my head so I went with it:
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.