The Convergence of the Twain
by Thomas Hardy
(Lines on the loss of the "Titanic")
In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.
Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.
Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls--grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.
Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.
Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?". . .
Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything
Prepared a sinister mate
For her--so gaily great--
A Shape of Ice, for the time fat and dissociate.
And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.
Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history.
Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one August event,
Till the Spinner of the Years
Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.
There is much strange in La Vita Nuova, the libello or “little book” that Dante composed fifteen or so years before starting in on the Divine Comedy. Take, for starters, the form of the book, an alternation of prose and poetry that produces effects as dizzying as any in Williams's Spring and All. Or take the central narrative, which describes a love—young Dante’s, for the slightly younger Beatrice—so intense that it causes the poet to faint in public and forces him, poor lad, to write lying love poems to the donne dello schermo, the “screen ladies” he uses to hide the real object of his affection. Take even Beatrice herself, who begins the book as a girl in a girdled dress only to reveal herself not long after as a miracle made flesh.
All of this is strange for us to read, or should be, even if, grinning behind our commentaries, we spot in the donna dello schermo an unacknowledged ancestor of the celebrity beard. After all, when Dante says that Beatrice is a miracle, he isn’t indulging mere hyperbole, the way Roxette did in that song I remember too well from seventh grade. Nor does he mean it less merely in the manner of an established trope, as John Donne did at the end of “The Relic.” Uniquely for the time and all but blasphemously, Dante meant that his beloved’s appearance on earth was a miracle that repeated (and maybe even competed with) Christ’s Incarnation itself. In the young poet’s eyes, Beatrice was the agent of his religious salvation and the summit of all Creation, the radiant filament that binds together heaven and earth.
Dante’s strangeness, his distance from us in time and cultural space, is the reason Eugenio Montale took T.S. Eliot gently to task for suggesting that the Commedia was “extremely easy to read…for a foreigner who does not know Italian very well.” It’s not that Montale felt any need to defend the reluctant intricacies of his native tongue. His point was to insist that “Dante is not a modern poet…and that the instruments of modern culture are not ideally suited to understanding him.”
And yet even if we accept Montale’s reminder as well warranted, and I do, I don’t think it’s careless or unfair to say that there are times when Dante can feel close to us, “strangely close,” as Montale admitted. Graduate school is far enough behind me that I won’t bother you with theories of transhistorical subjective affiliation. My effort here is only to point out, a little like a finger before the moon, a single small moment that I love in the Vita Nuova.
Right-click to open and download:
Find Part I of this inteview here.
Back in the day, before the Internet and five million cable channels and YouTube and Netflix, television viewers were pretty much at the mercy of network programmers. Of which there were then three: ABC, NBC, and CBS. In the late 1960s, they were joined by PBS; in the early 1980s, by CNN. CNN, however, being an all-news channel, there was little chance of getting emotionally attached to any of the programming.
Otherwise, every season television viewers ran the risk of becoming deeply involved with a show, only to have it canceled after 13 or 26 weeks. (Yes, dear readers, once upon a time, a season was half a year long.) And canceled meant canceled: shows disappeared into the ether, never to be seen again - until the Web arrived to save the day, as long as the master tapes hadn't been erased. (This almost happened to Monty Python's Flying Circus. The BBC were getting ready to pitch the originals when Terry Gilliam, no fool he, bought them for almost nothing.)
One such show was Our World. Broadcast on ABC during the 1986-1987 season, it was a news magazine hosted by the journalists Linda Ellerbee (right) and Ray Gandolf (below left). Each program featured a short but significant era in American history, and explored the historical, political, artistic, and pop culture context of the time with interviews, film clips, music, and commentary. Ellerbee and Gandolf were wonderful hosts - old-school journalists who eschewed spin, but humorous, warm, and cognizant of their audience's intelligence. It was a terrific show, stylish, smart, fun, and informative. It also had the misfortune of airing opposite one of the most popular programs in television history: The Cosby Show.
It is difficult to know what goes on in the minds of television programmers. Our World got rave reviews from critics, educators, and viewers alike, but it could not compete with the juggernaut that was The Cosby Show's audience. News programs always have smaller audiences than entertainment programs; ABC must have known that and known that Our World would never match Cosby's numbers. In fact, over the course of the season, Our World did not lose any viewers; those who loved it, loved it and stayed loyal. But instead of moving Our World to a different time-slot and maybe building its audience, ABC canceled it after one season.
I've been pissed at them ever since.
I thought Our World was gone forever, until a couple of weeks ago, when I found it on YouTube. The only reason it's there is because a YouTuber uploaded it from old VCR recordings. (God bless you, vistavuelounge.) Below is part 1 of the first episode: "The Summer of '69." You also get the benefit of some vintage '80s commercials (no such thing as DVRs back then), but they're fun, too. Then I've included the links to the rest of the episode - you can find other episodes by following them back to YouTube. (And no laughing at Linda Ellerbee's ginormous glasses. I bet you had a pair just like them.)
I wish ABC would release Our World on DVD. It's the least they could do. I've been waiting almost 30 years.
Reading Amy Glynn Greacen's post yesterday about memorization reminded me of the pamphlet I picked up at a book sale a few years ago. If you went to public school in New York City during the first half of the last century, you were required to memorize poems if you wanted to advance to the next grade:
Here's the table of contents from 1925:
I bet that if you approach a public school educated Octogenarian, he or she wouldn't hesitate to recite Invictus or Sea Fever or some other verse. One of my cherished memories is of sitting in a Washington, D.C. restaurant with David's mom Anne Lehman, when she was inspired to recite, in her native German, a Schiller poem that she had learned as a girl, before her world was turned upside down by certain unfortunate events that forced her out of her childhood home in Vienna, 1939. David and I and the diners at the nearby tables were rapt and when she finished: applause.
When I was in the third grade, my friend Adina Bloch and I memorized Poe's "Annabel Lee" for show-and- tell. Years later (many years), after hearing Robert Pinsky lecture about the value of memorization, I made a sustained effort to memorize Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey and I got pretty far into it though I abandoned the project when the same lines kept tripping me up. Was there a psychological reason I wonder, for this resistance to certain words or lines?
One must make a commitment to memorize a beloved poem but to succeed means you will have it always, whenever you want or need, wherever you may be. If you were updating those public school memorization requirements, which poems would you include? Would you keep any of the poems from 1925?
Anything scares me, anything scares anyone but really after all considering how dangerous everything is nothing is really very frightening.
Here’s an excerpt from an unfinished interview I did with Pete Anatra for the Chocolate Submarine Review
But isn’t Emerson fairly stodgy?
Let’s do some comparative literature. Here’s Emerson from an essay that appears late in his second series, “Nominalist and Realist”: “We are amphibious creatures, weaponed for two elements, having two sets of faculties, the particular and the catholic.”
And here’s the Marquis de Sade early on in La Philosophie dans le Boudoir: “Ultimately, my dear, I’m an amphibious creature: I love everything, I enjoy everything, I want to try all kinds of pleasure.”
In the January 2011 issue of Harper’s, Philip Lopate writes eloquently, as ever, about Ralph Waldo Emerson’s journals, recently published in two volumes by the Library of America. I’m always happy when anyone mentions Emerson, especially at length. While Mr. Lopate more or less gets it right (or as right as one can in a 6-page magazine article), I take issue with one statement: “Still, I sense a resistance to Emerson on the part of the young, a falling out of fashion.”
In dealing with the State, we ought to remember that its institutions are not aboriginal, though they existed before we were born: that they are not superior to the citizen: that every one of them was once the act of a single man: every law and usage was a man’s expedient to meet a particular case: that they all are imitable, all alterable; we may make as good; we may make better.
What am I doing in January, you ask? Why, I'm teaching a poetry workshop in Kenya. As Robert Frost, who clearly did not have my good fortune, would say, you come, too! The dates are January 2-11, 2012, and the trip is offered though the MFA in Creative Writing program at Stony Brook Southampton. That means you can take this trip for credit. You can also apply as a curious outsider. The idea here is to gather an ecclectic bunch, including creative minds in fields other than poetry, to write some poems, learn a little Swahili, take a few field trips and hang out with very interesting people (more on the full cast of characters to come).
Most of your ten days will be spent at the Turkana Basin, a mecca for fossil-seeking types in the northern part of Kenya. Situated on the banks of the Turkwel River, on the west side of the Lake Turkana, the Turkana Basin Institute was founded by world renowned paleoanthropologists Richard and Meave Leakey as the preeminent facility to study the origins of modern man. The institute is affiliated with Stony Brook. With 7 million years of fossil record under your feet, channeling the human experience has never been so visceral. The terrain is extraordinary. The energy of neighboring villages is a far cry from the tourist traps of southern Kenya. Turkana is an isolated oasis where culture, creativity and life converge.
Plus Richard Leakey will be there and has promised a talk on the evolution of language. Other faculty from my program--in creative writing, theater, film and visual arts--will be there too, mostly so that they can brag about swimming in the Turkwel River. While in Nairobi, our point of departure, we'll take a day safari to Nairobi National Park.
The poetry workshop will focus on strategies that came to us through the oral tradition. We'll attend to the sounds a poem makes, and explore the connections between sound and memory, aiming for an unforgettable experience.
Eating, sleeping and cocktails are included in the package. Warning: while the food's excellent and the accommodations perfectly adequate, there's no air conditioning and it is HOT there. This is not for the delicate of constitution, nor is it for strict vegetarians. But if the adorable Richard Leakey can do it, so can you.
And how much does this cost? The Curious Outsider rate is $2,930.00 and includes 2 nights in Nairobi, the safari, the round trip flight from Nairobi to Turkana Basin, 8 nights at the Institute, excursions to an archeological site (i.e., time travel to 5 million years ago) and to Elive Springs, and cultural exchanges with neighboring Turkana villages. To get graduate-level credit for the Turkana Basin Writing Workshops, you will need $3,422.00 if you are studying in the fine state of New York or $4,208 if you're not. Again, the dates for this extravaganza are January 2-11, 2012.
Technorati Tags: bartender, Kenya, Leakey, MFA in Creative Writing, poetry, poetry workshop, Richard Leakey, Stony Brook, Stony Brook Southampton, travel, Turkana, Turkana Basin, Turkana Basin Institute
The post-Irene footage from New Jersey, New York, and Vermont is sobering and sad. Our hearts go out to those who have lost so much.
In 1927, Bessie Smith was scheduled to perform in Mississippi when the area was hit by torrential downpours. The Mississippi River flooded, innundating the area, and Smith was taken to the venue via row boat. The audience, many of whom had lost everything in the storm, asked Smith to sing a blues about the flood. She told them that she was sorry, she didn't know one, but she would write one for them. She wrote "Backwater Blues" that evening. This recording features Smith accompanied by the great stride piano master, James P. Johnson.
On this, the last day of my blogging here, I close at the open (hats off for recognizing my paraphrase):
You have enabled yourself to prove of incalculable aid to many, many women—not just today’s women, but women down the ages. You have always been a most important, most significant person, Audre. I am, have been, and always will be proud of you.
– Gwendolyn Brooks to Audre Lorde (Audre Lorde Papers, Spelman College Archives)
Eating my hybrid breakfast of mangu with Finney, I open Lorde’s The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance and throw the pages like the Ifa, the I Ching. What is she saying to this morning’s news?
When I was a very small writer, I lived in a big house on a small street in Washington, DC. My grandmother came to that house one of the last times I saw her alive, as did my father as he was dying, so that house became a house of ancestor visits. To that house also came the poet Chrystos (Menominee), to my incredible delight, thanks to my housemate who had befriended her at a conference. For me, it was like being in the presence of light, someone whose poems I loved, whose voice I so respected, whose song I rang through my bones. Someone who restored me to myself when I felt very afraid of writing from my body. And SHE WAS ON MY COUCH.
In the poem, “Tenderly Your” from In Her I Am, she writes:
We’re in the grass of prairies our grandmothers rode
Sweet smell of distant cookpots edges the blue
Your kisses are a hundred years old & newly born.
Chrystos is fierce and outspoken and sometimes people get mad at her for it, and she laughs at that, though she admits to all the times she was truly afraid for her life. At our house, long ago now, she sat on the couch and while she beaded, talked about butches, sobriety, gathering wild rice, being Indian, and the struggles of the Menominee Nation. Mostly, I remember talking about love and laughing. She was so funny, and kind. And serious. And unstoppable. It is a gift when a warrior artist sits with you and reminds you to live.
In February 2011, she became the first Native American to give a plenary at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change Conference in Minneapolis, MN. She spoke for about half an hour, but I have excerpted some here:
The blog, so often, is about now. But I am here, as Terrance Hayes writes, “because I never could get the hang of time.”
I wanted to begin my stay as guest blogger by pulling off the shelf Best American Poetry 1990, the first of the Best American Poetry volumes I bought.
I don’t remember where I bought it, but in the summer 1991 the most likely source was the Bookland franchise in the Gadsden Mall in Gadsden, Alabama—the only bookstore in town. I had begun college the year before, with the idea of becoming an architect, but by that summer, I had changed course, having realized that one could study writing. At home, between terms, there weren’t many ways to find poems—my parents had a volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets and Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends. There weren’t many more at Bookland, which had a single shelf of poetry books, among them that summer Best American Poetry 1990, which I chose in part because of the title “the best” and in part because almost all of the contributors’ names were new to me.
"Cayuga Lake, Ithaca NY," watercolor by Nari Mistry
I am in receipt of your letter and will say I was pretty tickled when I saw the first mention of Ithaka in Homer's verse because I knew that you were reading it from your own Ithacan abode. I wrote "Stacey!" in the margins beside line 30 and then again alongside line 213:
During a conversation with Samantha the other day, it was suggested that my next post simply be about things that make me happy. Below, you will a find a harum-scarum list of some of the things that happen to make this crazy cat smile. This one is for you, Sam.
Samantha Zighelboim holds an MFA from Columbia University. Her poems, translations, and book reviews have appeared in Maggy, Thumbnail, TheThe Poetry Blog BOMB, Rattapallax, and The People’s Poetry Project. Recently, she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize on behalf of Thumbnail. She received an honorable mention for the 2010 Bennett Poetry Prize at Columbia University, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. Currently she’s working on her first collection of poems, and lives in New York City with her cat, Buddha.
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
FDR died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945. Since then, the twelfth of April has been a somber day in America. Imagine the mirthless merriment in Hitler's bunker when Goebbels came to tell the lunatic of this latest miracle. How odd that FDR predeceased Hitler's death by only a few weeks. Both came to power five weeks apart in the winter of 1933.
Something good did happen on April 12 -- not in 1945 but in 1918, the year when World War I ended. On that day Helen Fogel was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to orthodox Jewish parents, who kept a kosher home. The youngest of four children, and the only girl, she became Helen Forrest, one of the greatest girl singers of the big band era. She did a dynamite swing version of "All the Things You Are" for Artie Shaw's clarinet-led band. She was the perfect voice for Harry James's brassy sound. Between 1944 and 1947, she sang outstanding duets with Dick Haymes on the radio show starring the popular duo.
As a young woman Helen sang at such nightclubs as the Madrillon in Washington, DC. It was there that Artie Shaw heard her sing. Billie Holiday was leaving the Shaw band. Helen Forrest took her place. This was in 1938. A year later Helen married a drummer, almost always a mistake. When Shaw inexplicably broke up his band, at the height of its popularity and fame, another clarinetist came to the fore. In the two years she sang with the Benny Goodman band, Helen recorded more than fifty sides.
In 1941 she joined the Harry James band and sang big brassy tunes for the maestro's distinctive trumpet. She had an affair with James until that mustachioed gentleman up and married Betty Grable. She left the band. Her own marriage went under. She married an actor, divorced him, married a businessman, divorced him. Some men are bums mooching shamelessly and cheating when they can. The more reliable ones are boring, and they may be doing some cheating, too. I'm looking at it from Helen's point of view.
An unhappy childhood, frequent illness, a rocky romantic life. So don't envy Helen Forrest. But look her up and listen to that pure voice -- the voice of the only woman among the eighteen or so players in the band. She has a marvelous version of "Too Marvelous for Words." I love how she bends "too" in the musical phrase "you're much too much." She is the skylark of which she sings when she sings "Skylark" with the James band swinging behind her.
She died on July 11, 1999. -- DL
If, like me, you suspend your usual horror at conspiracy theories in favor of the hiugher paranoia, and you have a weakness for poetgry noir and are convinced that JFK was not assassinated by a lone marksman in the book depository building, have I got the book for you: it is Historic Diary by Tony Trigilio (Buffalo, NY: BlazeVOX). Trigilio uses a variety of styles and forms -- e.g., a pantoum for The Manchurian Candidate, diary entries in porose or prosey verse for the assassination witnesses who met violent deaths.
Here are a couple of sentences or lines lifted almost at random from this compelling new book:
"He shot the President on his lunch hour."
"The PTA overrun with communists."
"Tough to believe, in those 90 seconds
After the shots came off, a man could stash
A rifle, run down four flights of stairs, buy
Himself a Coke, stare down a cop."
"Dressed and sitting
upright in bed, November 8, 1965,
Kilgallen found dead of a drug
overdose, her case notes vanished -- "
"'The Queen of Diamonds'? What did she mean, 'The Queen of Diamonds'?"
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.