Friday, December 12, 2014

An American Master



"Few authors in any genre matched Chandler's prose,
which employed the use of metaphor and simile in a masterly way.
The poet W.H. Auden described his books as 'works of art' rather than escape literature."
--Otto Penzler, editor of The Black Lizard: Big Book of Pulps

Por ejemplo, Marlowe at this from Raymond Chandler's first novel, "The Big Sleep":



"This room was too big, the ceiling was too high, the doors were too tall, and the white carpet that went from wall to wall looked like a fresh fall of snow at Lake Arrowhead.

. . .

I sat down on the edge of a deep soft chair and looked at Mrs. Regan. She was worth a stare. She was trouble. She was stretched out on a modernistic chaise-longue with her slippers off, so I stared at her legs in the sheerest silk stockings. They seemed to be arranged to stare at. They were visible to the knee and one of them well beyond. The knees were dimpled, not bony and sharp. The calves were beautiful, the ankles long and slim and with enough melodic line for a tone poem. She was tall and rangy and strong-looking. Her head was against an ivory satin cushion. Her hair was black and wiry and parted in the middle and she had the hot black eyes of the portrait in the hall. She had a good mouth and a good chin. There was a sulky droop to her lips and the lower lip was full."


The preceding paragraph demonstrates why Auden's perception and Penzler's admiration are spot on, and why the hard-boiled private eyes were literally created by Chandler's images.

Monday, December 8, 2014

<<---< Thessalonike >--->>



        Thessalonike


                   I

Those who fail to answer 
Thessalonike's timeless query
She reels and jerks and drops
Depthfully down undead
With her cold and stony stares.

Alone the mermaid asks away
To away the circling hours
As in unfurled beauty
She cleaves the waves
And rules her bitter seas.

Who save Alexander dare to ask
"How fare you, fair maid?"
Would she herself dare to ask?
Alone to him she would answer--

              
                  II

These plebeian styles--
This unwound world,
So--au currant--
So deep its lack,
Brother, of mystery;
Nothing does it offer,
But such a life
I'd need contrive--
Here, at sea, forever
I hold the better part of
Earth's full realm, and
Unbound fully, save to ask,
How fares Alexander?
Is that too much, I ask?




Inspired by Gwendolyn MacEwen
and Dedicated to Karen Lyn Keeperman



Happy Birthday KLK

Friday, December 5, 2014

Where There's Laugh There's Hope

Adam Gopnik, who writes extremely well about an infinite variety of topics and whose work can usually be found gracing the pages of The New Yorker magazine, has written an article about one of my earliest comedic heroes (forties and fifties), Bob Hope. Though Gopnik is not quite the fan of Hope that I would have hoped, he has written such an immensely readable article that I can forgive him for not always getting the same happy vibes that I did from the ski-nosed, smart-alecky, Saturday matinee idol of my early Bronxhood days. While normal kids were reading Archie and Jughead, I opted for Bugs Bunny and Bob Hope comic books. (Not entirely barbaric, for heavier reading I often adventured over to Captain Marvel and Blackhawk).

As anyone who knows me soon becomes aware, Bugs Bunny has long been one of my favorite people in the entire galaxy. I have been a fan of the "Wascally Wabbit" since my terrible 2's when I was first getting myself acclimated, and gently indoctrinated into Looneyland. How fortuitous then, that I should pick up the November 17 number of the fabled magazine this morning and run-onto the following paragraph:


"The real parallel to Hope--the great American comedian whose career most resembles his--is, of course, Bugs Bunny. Like Hope, he arrived in Hollywood in the late thirties and became a huge star with the war. Like Hope, he was usually paired with a more inward character who loves to sing (Daffy Duck is Bugs's Bing, though blustery rather than cool), and, like Hope, his appeal rises entirely from the limitless brashness and self-confidence with which he approaches even the most threatening circumstances. Together, they are the highest expression of the smart-aleck sensibility in American laughter. Their fame in wartime may have something to do with the way that, as A.J. Liebling documents, the American Army itself was essentially an urban creature dispatched to deserts and jungles: Bugs, with his Bronx-Brooklyn accent has somehow been sent out there in the countryside, among the hunters, as Hope ends up in the sands of Morocco with no weapon but street-corner sass."


Thursday, December 4, 2014

What When Where James Baldwin Walked?

From the archives:

From his telling essay, "Uptown: Fifth Avenue" written more than a half-century ago, by James Baldwin:

"It is hard, on the other hand, to blame the policeman, blank, good-natured, thoughtless, and insuperably innocent, for being such a perfect representative of the people he serves. He, too, believes in good intentions and is astounded and offended when they are not taken for the deed. He has never, himself, done anything for which to be hated--which of us has?--and yet he is facing, daily and nightly, people who would gladly see him dead, and he knows it. There is no way for him not to know it: there are few things under heaven more unnerving than the silent, accumulating hate of a people. He moves through Harlem, therefore, like an occupying soldier in a bitterly hostile country; which is precisely what, and where, he is, and is the reason he walks in two's and three's. And he is not the only one who knows why he is always in company: the people who are watching him know why, too. Any street meeting, sacred or secular, which he and his colleagues uneasily cover has as its explicit or implicit burden the cruelty and injustice of the white domination. And these days, of course, in terms increasingly vivid and jubilant, it speaks of the end of that domination."

______________________________________________________________________


If you want to learn more about inequality, racism, and their effects upon our society from someone who knew how best to explain these things, track down this 1960 essay by James Baldwin.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Et tu, Пу́тин?

From the archives:


"Early in the Sixties Esquire was in the middle of the discovery that a novelist can sometimes do a journalist's job better than a journalist can, and got Mr. Bellow to interrupt briefly his work on Herzog for a report on the rhetorical style of the number-one diplomatic orator of his time. The result was published in March, 1961."

An excerpt from "Literary Notes on Khruschev" by Saul Bellow:

It may, in fact, take not only Russia, but the entire world to feed the needs of a single individual. For it can't be ideology alone that produces such outbursts; it must be character. "I have often thought," wrote William James, "that the best way to define a man's character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: 'This is the real me!'" So perhaps Khruschev [Пу́тин?] feels himself, or attempts to reach himself, in these outbursts. And perhaps it is when the entire world is watching him soar and he is touching the limits of control that he feels most alive. He does not exhibit a great range of feelings.When he takes off the rudimentary masks of bureaucratic composure or peasant dignity or affability, he is angry or jeering. But fear is not the best school for expressiveness, and no man could be an important party functionary under Stalin without the ability to live in fear. We cannot therefore expect him to be versatile. He had, however, what it took to finish the course, the nerves, the control, the patience, the piercing ambition, the strength to kill and to endure the threat of death. It would be premature to say that he has survived all that there is to survive in Russia, but it is a safe guess that in the relief of having reached first place he is whooping it up. Instead of having been punished for his crimes he has become a great leader, which persuades him that life is inherently dramatic. And in his joy at having reversed the moral-accounting system of bourgeois civilization he plays his role with ever greater spirit.






Saturday, November 29, 2014

Yay for Seren-deepity-Doo-Dah!

When I got up at 4:30 this morning for no better reason than that I must have had enough wild dreams for one night, I had no idea that the day would be ushering in big rewards. Not those chintzy few bucks kind of rewards that bank credit card companies try to goad you into accepting just because they can. No, I'm talking, well let me tell you.

First, thanks to Al Filreis for e-mailing a link to a bunch of really wonderful poems which are great examples of the kind of poetry that has been written during the past decade. Poems that demand and are going to receive appropriately dainty scoops of my time. Second, I get another link. This, to a site that has recordings of a poet that I had never heard of before. Recordings from 1935, but clear as crystal, more than words--revelations--beamed in broadcast across time and space forward from their timeless capsule--with a voice that raised gooseflesh on my arms and the hairs on, well in certain places where images dare not go. James Weldon Johnson. You can look him up. There were more-mails to follow, like crumbs, to the chambers that hit both home and heart. Better than the spent dreams of Black Friday's slumber was the becoming light of dawn.

I delivered Hajnalka at high noon to the stoves of Evergreen House and shopped quickly for carrots as my turkey goulash waited for their splash. Onions check parsnips check celery check turkey neck check garlic check parsley check sea salt check peppercorns check bay leaves check barley check CARROTS SPLASH! Come on Baby, Light My Fire! Okay sez I, I'll run my bath while this cauldron brews some fine Saturday afternoon chowdown.

I go downstairs and grab a dozen magazines, my kindle, phones, and a book that has caught my eye, "I Shudder At Your Touch: 22 Tales of Sex and Horror", edited by Michele Slung. YES! Dyn-O-Mite! This is gonna be so hot it'll be cool. I add some Johnson's Baby Shampoo to the running water. Bubble bath's a-comin' baby! Now, I know you've been waiting for the Serendipitous stuff to start...so here goes.

There was a bookmark placed in the book at the start of a story entitled, "Consanguinity". Mind you, I haven't seen or touched this book in about 20 years. I have no idea how it got next to that random batch of magazines that I had grabbed and tossed onto the bathroom floor before settling myself into the scalding hot bathwater. The editor of the book warns that this story written "by Ronald Duncan, a poet, playwright, librettist, translator, disciple of Gandhi," would require several readings before one would truly digest the unfolded events, but there could be no guarantee that any number of readings would disclose what has transpired. Looks like I'm hooked into it and so I am.

As I do when reading any prose piece, genre, drama, fiction, essay, biography, memoir--whatever--I look for that part of the whole that stands out. That part that socks me in my brain and says, "Take me home with you. You don't want to leave me here to die in obscurity." Oblivion is a hurtful place, I know, so take it I do, as Yoda would be the first to advise and consent.

I come across this passage that seems out of place, given the title and subtitle of this book:


"Historians maintain that wars are caused by economics. They are wrong. Economics is their excuse; the reason for war is that it destroys that which we all want destroyed: the status quo, with which we identify our own inhibitions. War alone releases our personal relationships. It is not a necessary evil but a necessary pleasure. If we were honest, we would admit that all the slaughter, cruelty, and suffering that war entails remain for us merely a matter of regrettable statistics. What means something to us is that war provides us with that sense of insecurity which is life, when peace has seemed as respectable and as dull as death. It is true that a drunken orgy might provide a similar release, but it is quite difficult to remain completely drunk for several years and impossible to indulge in the briefest fling without some curious sense of remorse. In war, we can release ourselves without guilt; indeed, our excuses become duties and any behavior is condoned under the blanket of the great sacrifice which we curse publicly but enjoy privately. National disasters can be borne with comfortable fortitude: it is personal sorrow, not grief for another but a lack in our own life, which is so unbearable. It is a burden we would put down though a million men fall with it."

_________________________________________

True or not, there is something about the passage above which begs to be explored. Close read. Translated into a language that we have taught ourselves to understand, or conversely, translated into a language that we ought to learn in order to hear what the words are really saying...which brings me to Serendipity Numero Dos.

After I finish the story, which is a ghost story it turns out--A ghost story that takes place in a village near Edinburgh, Scotland--a village which is being bombarded by the Luftwaffe during World War II, I place the book gently on the floor making a note to myself to read this story again, and maybe again. I then pick up the first magazine from the pile of magazines on the floor. I take a sip of my still-hot-honeyed tea from its container. I open up the magazine, Poets & Writers Sept./Oct. 2013, it turns out, to a random page. Page 29 ("Sometimes desire found its own desperation," today's the 29th, no screech, man.):

I read, "The Art of Reading Rosmarie Waldrop: Language in Motion", by Susannah Lawrence. I recognize the name, Rosmarie Waldrop, because I had just met her several weeks ago as she did a reading on a ModPo video that I caught. First, I remembered that I liked her European accent (though my wife's is meatier) (for a Hungarian vegetarian.)) Then I remembered that I liked that she was a publisher of new poets. Then I also remembered that I thought that she had a lot of spunk, and a lot of energy given her long life of hard work. Only finally did I remember that I liked hearing her recite her poetry so much that I looked for more of it, and found some, in an anthology of postmodern poetry that I had placed nearby my "I'm-so-ready-to-read-right-now-reclining chair."

So, then I start reading this article about Rosmarie living in a village that was under bombardment by the allied airforce during World War II. And I'm thinking, hmmm, there is more to this than mere coincidence. This is more on the level of an intervention, whether divine, or diabolical, does it really matter when it comes to the supernatural?

So, I'm reading Lawrence's close reading of the Waldrop poem, "In Early November" and a certain feeling of something seriously better left tattered and fragmented than pieced together starts to flow through me from toes to eyes. Two totally unrelated and different styles and pieces of writing have risen up phoenix-like from the ashes of war-torn Europe and had been birthed by a hell of a lot more than mere happenstance. Something, if it blows the top of your head off from blasts of shocking epiphanic proportion from sources that only moments before had lain dormant, dark, inert, waiting in absentia carrying a wagonload of desperation while waiting to cross the threshold to this plane where received trepidation would breathe life into it and speak, "And it was good."

So, what was your day like?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The ModPo MOOC

For the past 10 weeks I have been engaged with a world-wide community of people who shared an interest with me, surely a myriad of interests, but specifically that of learning more than we had already known, or thought we had known, about American Modern and Contemporary poetry.

There were as many different reasons for us becoming engaged; at least as many reasons, I'd venture, as the number of people ethereally in communion, and probably for more reasons than the wisest of us could fathom. The conception/innovation that brought this happening to fruition was the MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course. In this particular case, a Coursera MOOC called, endearingly: ModPo.

One can browse/search for terms such as Coursera, MOOC, and ModPo, and quickly learn the nuts and bolts, nitty-gritty of these technological wonders that are changing the methods of society's new approaches to educating its thirsty members, but therein one would find only a small part of the unfolding story.

For, therein would be missing the truest knowledge of the possible value of a MOOC such as ModPo; its value to an individual, a community of individuals, a society of individuals, a culture of individuals, and finally, its value to a planet of individuals who share a simple, single purpose: to fulfill the urgent need to share with each other. An ancient and, out of necessity, a desire, an impulse, a full-blown resurgent instinct for survival.

Sharing is what the ModPo MOOC does best. Sharing not only knowledge, but compassion, wisdom, empathy, illumination, friendship, love, understanding, frankness, reverie, longing, soul, peace, and solace. Life itself, in all its chaotic splendor that ties the wide Universe that binds us.

It is literally a space where the Living and the Dead, the Young and the Old, the Learning and the Learned commingle and shall and will connect, because all share their never-ending journey on This--

One infinite line upon which everything that exists, and everything that does not exist, can be separated from each other only by a matter of degrees.

This is not Metaphysics, folks. This is the one Reality that I know to be true.

Friday, November 7, 2014

ISBN 0-684-83533-9 / "A Piece of Work"

I9 Virgil

0 It was early November and Columbia's leaves were just about gone.
6 For here was an official poem
8 He turned to Homer, Educated Romans, Professor Taylor
4 Dido welcomes the lordly
8 His words remained with her to haunt her
3 Collapsing time and
5 Enthralled by him, the image
3 ("Can our love
3 Came home to
9 I had walked around campus shivering in a tweed


This experimental process uses a selected book's ISBN Number, and a system of alphanumeric code-keys to glean titles and lines to produce new poems from an existing work.

Chapters 9, 19, 2, and 14 only are used as these correspond to the letters: I-S-B-N. The use of chapter titles is optional. Because 0 cannot be represented as a letter in English, the entire first sentence of a chapter is transcribed verbatim and becomes the first line of a stanza. Subsequent lines are selected and shortened equal to the word length of their corresponding digit in the selected book's ISBN number. Thus, the line whose initial letter corresponds to the numerical position of that letter in the English alphabet and is first to appear in its corresponding chapter becomes the second line of the stanza.  In the example above note that the number eight appears twice in the ISBN number and the number three thrice, in these cases the 1st, 2nd, and when necessary 3rd appearance, and so forth, of these letters at the start of a sentence, or following a colon, or semi-colon in its given chapter are used. Hyphens cannot be represented, and are treated as null characters to be totally ignored. If the selected book should have insufficient chapters (less than 19) the experimenter would have the option of:

a) selecting another book and using its ISBN number

b) devising another system, or

c) taking a brisk walk whilst meditating on the efficacy of the experiment.

The processor concedes that the accumulated verbiage garnered by following the preceding steps is to be regarded as a poem, if for no other reason than that a poem has yet to be defined satisfactorily by all notable authorities, living or dead. The processor, therefore, invites interested parties to examine the resulting poems with the object of disclosing any in- or external artistic merit, if any, by noting its:

a) revealed and/or hidden, or absent beauty, not limited to: its sound, shape, imagery, effect, creative process or other determinant, or

b) revealed and/or hidden meaning, if any, not limited to: purpose, value, intent, or unintent, malcontent, discontent, or modus existencia et operandi, or

c) other possible determinants for explication, evaluation, or poetic license revocation.


An interpretive reading follows:

By using late autumn as the time period, "It was early November and Columbia's leaves were just about gone," one can logically assume that a reputable urban Ivy League University is the setting for the poem. Further, that the school is in the Northeast Quadrant of the United States many years and many miles from the poem's center of interest: Western Civilization.

The line that proclaims, "For here was an official poem," implies that a poem that was produced in a place far removed from the current venue, which is somehow unofficial, superficial, or in someotherwise unworthy, is about to be examined.

With "He turned to Homer, Educated Romans, Professor Taylor," the line resorts to a pronounced and callous disregard for cultural diversity and a formulative strategy possibly meant to ostracize students of modernity and their protective Mythological structures which have been craftily preserved and safeguarded by institutions and authorities for purposes that invite closer inspection.

It must be noted that although "Dido welcomes the lordly," she soon appears to regret her decision and attempts to withdraw, by "Collapsing time and" apparently fails in the attempt because she has become "Enthralled by him, the image" of which has her questioning what could possibly transpire:

Somewhat anticlimactically asking, ("Can our love", and answering, "Came home to" an unresolved, wide open denouement.

The process server closed by stating that "I had walked around campus shivering in a tweed"--and then stopped short, at the exact moment that the Lights were Lit on Broadway.


[tk-S19 Montaigne tk-B2 Sappho tk-N14 Hobbes and Locke]

A Piece of Work was Processed by REKlektikos on 11/3/2014 Updated on 11/7/2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Here's Looking At You, Kid

As the Spirit of '76 approaches--
Still, in remembrance, Herbert Louis, as I said...

Herbie, you are a good brother. A bit extraordinary, odd even, but good. Born on Halloween in '38 within 24 hours of Welles' notorious "War of the Worlds" broadcast. Did that scare send Mom rushing to the hospital, only you, not I, would know, (and so would it ever be). I've read that Seabiscuit was victorious over War Admiral the next day, but you know that, too.

Do you remember the time when I was seven and you were eleven and you pushed me into the Duck Pond at the Bronx Zoo to see if little brothers could float? Your inquiring mind was active even then.

How about the time, a couple of weeks later, when you gave me my first cigarette and started my lifelong addiction to nicotine? I was told that you were conducting experiments at the time for the Department of Agriculture...for E.T. Benson was it?...studying the effects of tobacco on various living organisms, plants, and your brother, forinstance. You took me to the lab that they set up for you at the Botanical Gardens, you would be twelve in a few months. I still have the old corncob pipe that you had smoked in those days. A regular Huckleberry Finn, kiddo.

Herbie, do you remember when Castro came in and you guys fled Havana for Miami and then bicycled it up, you and Esther, all the way to New York City? The press clippings are around somewhere. I guess Es, or maybe Mom, saved them. You set up then on West End Avenue in that studio and I'd come over after work and we'd play chess and you'd beat me every game while reading the complete works of Ian Fleming. What a wise ass. I said, "Herbie, pay attention to the game," and you just snickered and pointed to the pile of paperbacks that you'd already tossed on the floor. Hansa and Goethe were poking their noses in the pile. "Pick any of those books, open it to any page. Just give me the page number."

"Doctor No, page 35!"
"Got any money you want to lose?"
"Just do it!"

"Running Head: Reception Committee
that it was a big American type taxicab and that there was no one in it but the driver. Then it was gone.
     The dust settled slowly. They sat for ten minutes saying nothing. Then Bond told Quarrel to turn the car and take the--time out--move my Knight to Queen 7, mate in 3--He said, I think that car was interested in us, Quarrel."--
     "Fuck you, Herbie."
     "Nobody likes a sore loser little brother."

Herbie, I know that now that you've retired you've begun watching all of the movies that were ever made, because you've already read every book that was ever written, but let me ask you, have you seen that Dirty Harry movie, the one where he warns a perp that, "a man has to know his limitations," yet?

You're just like him you know. Dirty Harry. You've got your personal code that you follow; you can't keep yourself from crossing lines. Always the Mathematician, first drawing the lines to follow, but then moving them when you feel that they must be moved. Quite a trick to be able to get away with that, but now we know, don't we, now we know, the truth, that is, don't we know, Herbie, now...about limitations, that is.

And Herbie, just one more thing, well two now that I've decided: First, I'll be talking to you, and second, here's looking at you, kid.

Your little brother,
Ronald








Friday, October 24, 2014

What Al "Don't Make a Sisyphus" Camus Told Me Before He Died

Reflections on ModPo, Aloneness vs. Loneliness, and the Creative Urge

If History has taught me anything, it is that I know nothing of things future, and next to nothing about this moment. Yet not being accredited academically in the fields of Psychology, Sociology, or Art does not pressure me to disqualify myself as an able spokesman to reflect and report, credibly, from whatever depth of knowledge, experience and intuition that the past has deposited upon myself; gravity being the only force that can lay a thinking man low, and keep him there, and even then with visible exceptions to the rule.

I read once, at the tail-end of the book, The Pursuit of Loneliness,* that "One could also make this argument for art: if our emotional life were not so impoverished by the sacrifices we make to utility, we would not need art to enrich it, See The Glory of Hera,** pp. 463-464." The author of these words was referring the reader from Freud's, Civilization and Its Discontents*** to a work of his own for further clarification and perhaps emphasis, or possibly another reason, it doesn't matter. The important point is that what I had read would only be true, if I chose then, or choose now, personally, to accept its validity.

Fully more than forty years after reading the above quoted I haven't decided whether to accept it as true, but whether I ever accept it has no bearing on the unchanging line, but much to say about myself and that line's effect on me throughout the intervening years. I read it: therefore I am what I am: Popeye, the reader.

Since I was once asked to say something about what I think is the difference between the state of "aloneness" and that of "loneliness", I believe that the preceding example of my capability for slow thought processing demonstrates, effectively, how I came to accept, by strictly subjective means, that "Loneliness" is being without a companion, thus possibly lonely, devoid, or dejected, and is not the same thing as being in the condition of "Aloneness" which means being in a desired place, e.g., consciously meditative, contemplative, but in some way busily engaged in separation, by personal choice, from others. I cannot see why the difference isn't readily apparent, but anything containing the word "lone" seems to immediately spark unwanted sympathy from onlookers and listeners. What I have concluded in this paragraph is true only if, as I've said before, if I accept its validity by means of the TAPI (The Applied Popeye Imperative) and I do.

Now, Etta James, ("Metaphors be with you")**** to relate the foregoing riff with ModPo and the urge to create.

To begin, I will again quote from The Pursuit of Loneliness, "I would like to suggest three human desires that are deeply and uniquely frustrated by American culture:

(1) The desire for community--the wish to live in trust and fraternal cooperation with one's fellows in a total and visible collective entity.

(2) The desire for engagement--the wish to come directly to grips with social and interpersonal problems and to confront on equal terms an environment which is not composed of ego-extensions.

(3) The desire for dependence--the wish to share responsibility for the control of one's impulses and the direction of one's life."

Using the TAPI, explained above, I contend that ModPo counteracts, and indeed, alleviates these frustrations in varying degrees. These counteractions and alleviations are governed by my powerful, but entirely discretionary willingness to give and forgive, and my barely controllable feral urge to participate in acts of creation. This is what ModPo and I bring to each other. For better or for verse, Popeye, alone, must decide.

   *P.E. Slater,    The Pursuit of Loneliness (Boston: Beacon Press, 1970), p. 154
  **_______,     The Glory of Hera (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), pp. 463-464
 ***S. Freud,    Civilization and Its Discontents (London: Hogarth, 1953), pp. 46-48
****A. Wolf,    Immersed in Verse (New York: Lark Books, 2006), p. 33

Friday, October 17, 2014

"The Tragedy of Macdeth"


by Francis X. Bacon
from ACT II
Scene I--A cavern. In the middle, a boiling cauldron.

WITCHES:  Double, treble toil and trouble,

Fan the flamers, prick the bubble,
In the cauldron boil and bake
Packwood's acne, Bobbitt's ache.
Lorena's shiv and Tonya's shank,
Constituents of Barney Frank,
Eye of World Trade Center bomber,
Midnight snack of Jeffrey Dahmer,
                  ...
Distill our brew with earwig venom,
Compound with Amy Fisher's denim,
Teddy's poppers, Willie's toke,
Jonestown punch, Anita's Coke,
Janet Reno's rescue tactics,
Magic Johnson's prophylactics,
G-man's sting and he-man's stench,
Powder'd harlot, Liquid Wrench,
Jaws of Jersey City mobster,
Claws of Chappaquiddick lobster
(clutching in its briny clickers
Mary Jo Kopechne's knickers),
Possum's blister, maggot's wen,
Susan Estrich estrogen--
Macdeth shall thus the networks charm
To spin the news and spare him harm!  [Exeunt]

__________________________________________

The foregoing: one answer to what can be said when

asked about the use and value of humor in poetry in
"The Age of Civility."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Something to Crow About

from:
The Merchant of Venice,
Act V, Scene 1


'THE CROW DOTH SING...'
The crow doth sing as sweetly as the lark
When neither is attended, and I think
The nightingale, if she should sing by day,
When every goose is cackling, would be thought
No better a musician than the wren.
How many things by season season'd are
To their right praise and true perfection!
                                          --Wm. Shakespeare

______________________________________

Patchin' Solo o
Divertimento in d Op. 2

Yes, Dennis, rain can dew.

Glaze a wheelbarrow.
          I see it now.
See, too, an American Crow,
          Big fella,
High-wirin' after the rain.

White-tailed deer
Givin' me the stink-eye, and
Twitchin' their oven-glove ears at me,

Jack-rabbit hops, Once,
          Twice, and then
Ducks under my
          Glazy-day deck.
Heard no spring peepers.

Don't hear like I used to do.

Ways of Words

From Instructions of Cormac,
King of Cashel
9th Century,
Eire

       
          Be not too wise, nor too foolish,
          Be not too conceited, nor too diffident,
          Be not too haughty, nor too humble,
          Be not too talkative, nor too silent,
          Be not too hard, nor too feeble.
If you be too wise, men will expect too much of you;
If you be too foolish, you will be deceived;
If you be too conceited, you will be thought vexatious;
If you be too humble, you will be without honour;
If you be too talkative, you will not be heeded;
If you be too silent, you will not be regarded;
If you be too hard, you will be broken;
If you be too feeble, you will be crushed.



Late in the year, 1966.

Scene:
A community center in Newark, New Jersey.

A large group of reasonably educated young people (in their 20’s and 30’s) gathered in a large basement room of the community center. About two dozen whites on one side of the room. An equal number of young Blacks on the opposing side. The Blacks stared angrily at the Whites. The Whites looked back fearfully at the Blacks. They had been charged, and also had volunteered, to be the subject of an experiment in which they would spend 14 hours in this particular room without food, without sleep, without anything, save dialogue between each other if they so chose to instigate it. They were told to say, or scream whatever was on their minds to each other, or forever hold their peace, [or piece], if they so desired.

I had been invited to witness this gathering of tinder, and partake in these festivities by a certain Professor Nameless [Psychology, Cornell University] under the auspices of a School of Industrial Relations that had solicited my labor union to serve up likely candidates for this exciting bake-off.

In all fairness, I did eventually get to go to the Cornell Club on New York’s Eastside to pick up a Certificate that indicated that I had demonstrated, for all intents and purposes, that in the Art of Communications, I was, at least, a passable specimen. All of this had transpired in the year before LeRoi Jones’ second marriage, and coincidentally, the year before my second marriage.

Also, in the coming year, 1967, the Eye of the Chimera would get seriously singed before the nation, and the world.

So how interesting is it, therefore, this less renowned Baraka “Incident”? His poem, the one under theoretical discussion in the video that I watched today, after reading the poem this morning for the first time in my still-charmed life, somewhat less interesting, but only somewhat less. Here is all that I otherwise remember about that long night’s journey into light.

JONES: “Do you know that I could kill you? I could kill you right now!”

KEEPERMAN: “Yes, but you won’t, LeRoi.”

JONES: “Really. And just why is that, pretty boy?”

KEEPERMAN: “Because if you do kill me, nobody in this room, nobody…and nobody outside of this room, nobody…but most of all, you, LeRoi, will ever know if you killed me because I was White, or because you were Black.”

Jones smiled, everyone smiled, everyone hugged. The next 12 hours were without 'incident', if I recall.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Doin' the NOLA 9

Hajnalka told me to add that she was at my side every step of the way, just so you know.

Monday
Landed at MSY.
Shuttled to FrQuarter.
Hiked through Bywater.
Swallowed Scotch on Bourbon.
Hoofed it downtown.
Cabbed it home.
Slept like baby.

Tuesday
The Saenger marquee shouted down Rampart
CHICAGO in big black block letters
As the St. Charles streetcar clanged
Louder for my attention, but still
I asked the ticket hawk, "the Band?"
"Naw, dawg, da Musicool. We got plenny bannareddy."

Wednesday
Walked St. Claude from the Bywater,
Two, maybe three miles to Bourbon
Passing lots of lots and lots of ramshackles with blown gutters.
Katrina?
Passed Meatshops, Family Dollar, Mickey D's
(Free coffee all this week only!) How'd he know I was coming?
Eschewed the RTA #88, being daylight and all.
Sticky hot daylight.
Passed a poorfolk's Parish Medical Office,
Covenant House and then...like a ray of sunshine--
Louis Armstrong's Archway entrance to Louis Armstrong Park.
A few feet from a 12-foot-tall statue of Satchmo
I booked a ride from a United Cabbie.
"Next Tuesday at 11am, right? $33 to Louis Armstrong Airport, right?
You got my number, right? You got my address, right?"
"Yeah, man, be cool. I be willin' if y'all be willin'. Dis N'Orleans not N'Yawk!"

Thursday
Caught "Kid" Merv and--his?--quartet while
Parked on the coolest green metal bench. I'd
Return to this bench every morning at 10:30am
Every evening at 6:00pm.
The homeless guys got to know my schedule and
Stretched on adjacent benches. As if they knew
Their place was now my place. San Fran without the hills.
And Philly, and Baltimore, and Washington, and New York,
And Providence, and Hartford, and L.A.
Saw none at Gettysburg or Quebec.
Maybe I just wasn't looking hard enough.

Friday
Walked Magazine, five, maybe six miles--
Checking out the 30-room mansions in the
Garden District. 25-cent Martinis at the
Commander's Palace. Ate roast stuffed quail,
Had Brandied Bread Pudding with my 2nd Martini.
Strolled the Cemetery across the street on Washington
Trying to come down off a high-flying lunch.
(It would take 5 hours).
Trolleyed back Mississippi-side. Aren't the days
Getting hotter, longer? I'm getting thinner, but eating like
A pig and drinking like a whale.
Book passage while on the Riverwalk for the Natchez
Sunday Brunch Cruise with the Dixieland Band.
It has to be done once in every life, no?
Got gumbo?

Saturday
No rain all week. But there was at odd moments

Guilty as charged: The conspicuous consumption of Andouille Sausage,
Alligator Sausage, Boudin, Etouffee, Crawfish File Gumbo,
Shrimp Creole, Red Rice and Beans, a Central Grocery Muffaletta,
A Johnny's Po'Boy, 8 dozen oysters (only 3-dozen were grilled
With Butter, Oregano, and Garlic), Beignets, and a liter and a half of 100 Pipers Scotch
Sucked through a catheter hanging from my backpack while hiking the Quarter.
No room yet for more Sazerac, Brews and Hurricanes--
Caught the NCIS New Orleans crew shooting a Halloween scene.
Glad I set my DVR! Missing Person of Interest, The Blacklist, and ModPo!
Copped my green bench at 6:00pm to hear "Kid" Merv blow some riffs.
Great listening. Eyeballed the tourist parade. What a friggin' plug-ugly
Nation we live in. (Me with only 3 teeth talkin'.)
Shiver my timbers mate,
There goes a Dude in a Jean Lafitte outfit, rapier and all.
And get a load of that slavegirl with him!
Who let them off of Bourbon Street?
I cannot describe Bourbon Street in less than 1,001 nights.

Sunday
Rained today until noon. Boarded the Natchez. Don't eat the Ham.
Had 3 refills of the fruit salad and a Bloody Mary.
Tossed a fin to the Band to play St. James Infirmary, thought
I might need it after the brunch buffet.
Thought about Mark Twain while looking at the oil refineries,
And smelling gasoline as we churned up (could have been down)
The Mississippi. Twain liked living in Connecticut.
My favorite Yankee. God, it's friggin' humid here.
Just so you know, Long Island Iced Tea packs more punch
Than the Pat O'Brien Hurricane.
The rain tapers off and I stroll the Quarter. Check out Frenchman,
Royal, Chartres for the 3rd time. Bourbon for the fifth! No pun, really.
Did I tell you about the oysters at the Blind Pelican on St. Charles and Euterpe?
$3 a dozen during happy hour. Swear to God! But you gotta buy a beer.
Heard two concerts this week:
The U.S. Marine Band performing at St. Louis Cathedral, and
The Rhythm, Blues and Soul Concert at Louis Armstrong Park.
Two of the best concerts I've ever attended. And both free!
Bought some spices at the French Market to experiment
When I get home, because I nailed a 103-year-old Housekeeper's
Cajun and Creole Cookbook (the cookbook yo!) with more
Than 1,000 original home recipes at an Estate Sale
In the Garden District. Price $1.00. Lovin' it!
The coffee is free through September 29. Ain't life beautiful?

Monday
One more day. Home tomorrow night.
My heart beats furiously as I play with my maroon
Beaded necklace and stir the mint leaf in my Sazerac with my tanned finger.
Although I'm toast I leg the 10 or so miles to Tulane by way of Loyola.
Through Audubon Park, the closed Zoo, and back 10 miles down Magazine Street
To the Red Trolley back to my Green Bench.
I slip my last fin to "Kid" Merv and the gang as they play "When the Saints..."
I hug him good-bye and tell him to look me up when he gets to New York. He
Smiles and lights a Lark.
I picked up a Round Loaf of Herb and Garlic Bread at a fancy
French Bakery in The Garden District.
In the Quarter I slip into a crowded deli-cum-liquor store
And a slicer guy who looks smashed thin-slices me a quarter of
Mortadella, Genoa, and Provolone, he's got no Cappiocola,
So I pass on the ham (visions of the Natchez Dance in my head).
These victuals are my economy meal for my return Delta flight.
Saw a lot of statues, besides the ones at the Art Museum in New Orleans City Park.
Saw General Beauregard, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Satchmo.
A statue to honor Immigrants.
New Orleans is a great walking city and I did it justice.
I'm glad I was able to do it.
Warts and all, pound for pound, it warn't half bad.

Tuesday
Gone, man, gone. And, oh yeah--
Don't forget, Hajni was at my side every step of the way. Just so you know.


















Friday, October 3, 2014

Across the Sea

The New York Times
Letter to the Editor
September 19, 2014
E Pluribus Unum, mates
The people of Scotland have stepped back from an abyss, and for this I give thanks, for their being not fearful, but for being prudent, and hopeful for a better future standing united. The political motivators that stir the passions of nationalism by division play a dangerous game that time and again fails to deliver but the stuff of nightmares to those who simply fancy a dream. Those who dream of separation, division, destruction are multitudinous, “the past is prologue,” as one great Britain wrote, and knowingly added this: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep." We of the United States, salute you, forever friends.‑-Cyberswamped=Reklektikos

_________________________________

Across the Sea

Took the High Road--
Took the Low--
Climbed all night to
Maine's full height,
Then I looked up, and up,
Across the sea,
And by God, there--
Along the Firth of Forth,
Lie still our own
Dunfermline still
Home to you and me.
Full Disclosure:
I'm not from Scotland,
But once, I rode an elevator
4 flights down with
Maureen O'Hara.
'tho she's surely Irish, so
Does that even count?
Say, did I ever tell you about
The time I bought Judy Garland
A Pina Colada in Times Square?
She passed on the hot dog
That I offered to buy for her.
Gee, she was shorter than
I had ever imagined.
Damn, that was a juicy hot dog.


Friday, September 19, 2014

PLEASE

A year ago, Hajnalka and I were trekking through Golden Gate Park, eyeing the yachts off in the distance, as they raced mightily for "The Cup". We gave them barely a side-long glance; we were there for the hills to climb, to revisit the Haights, so to speak. We are packing now to spend some downtime with them crawfish and po'boys "'way down yonder in N'Orleans". We don't expect to see many hills there, save those of steamin' hot rice and red beans that We Shall Overcome.

While completing a writing assignment for Penn U.'s ModPo (a Coursera program), distant voices came back to me, spanning across years, carrying their precious cargo. One of those voices was from the "Minstrel of the Dawn", Gordon Lightfoot. The year was 1968...On the back of his album, "Back Here on Earth", were the capped-words below, words to all, or any, of us who have never heard what it is exactly, that is "Blowing in the Wind".

Bob Dylan, like myself, a Lightfoot fan, called him one of his favorite songwriters, and observed that "when he heard a Gordon Lightfoot song he wished it would last forever."

Here's why:

PLEASE

I SEE MYSELF AS A CHILD
STILL EAGER TO LEARN BUT LOATHE TO ACCEPT
WHAT PASSES FOR REASON
I SEE MY FELLOW MAN
AS A CREATURE OF INFINITE GRACE
BOUND BY NATURAL LAW TO CREATE
YET CONTROLLED BY HIS OWN CREATIONS
I SEE THE WILD BEAST OF THE FOREST
AS NATURE'S OFFSPRING
SURROUNDED BY MYSTERIOUS BEAUTY
SEEKING COMFORT AT THE BREAST
OF MOTHER EARTH
VIOLENT YET INNOCENT
LIVING UPON THE REMAINS OF THE WEAKER ANIMALS
WHICH HE HAS STALKED AND KILLED
I SEE THE POET AS A WORD PROPHET
A DEALER IN SONGS AND PHRASES
OF WISTFUL MELODIES AND SUBTLE WARNINGS
PASSING HIS NIGHTS IN LONELINESS
TORMENTED BY BLANK PAGES
WHICH CRY OUT WITH DYING BREATH
TO BE FILLED WITH THE
SECRETS OF HIS HEART
I SEE HIM STANDING THIN AND RAGGED
IN THE DOORWAY OF HIS EMPORIUM
FACING EAST ACROSS THE BUSY MARKETPLACE
PAST THE TEEMING CROWDS
ACROSS THE BLAZING CONTINENT
TO THE MOUNTAINS BEYOND
TO WHERE THE MORNING SUN
SHOOTS ARROWS OF ENERGY
AT THE HOLLOWS OF HIS SLEEPLESS EYES
I SEE HIM WALKING
QUIETLY UNNOTICED
THROUGH THE GHETTOS OF OUR CITIES
ACROSS THE ROLLING COUNTRYSIDE
BESIDE THE SWOLLEN RIVERS OF SPRINGTIME
ALONG TRAIN TRACKS AND HIGHWAYS
I SEE HIM TAKING HIS REST
AT TRUCKSTOPS AND SLEAZY HOTELS
IN WORKSHEDS AND WAREHOUSES
LOADING DOCKS AND SHIPYARDS
AND CABINS UPON MOUNTAINSIDES
I WATCH HIM PLUNGE HEADLONG
INTO A RIVER TURNED RED
WITH THE BLOOD OF SLAIN ARMIES
BESIDE BATTLEFIELDS WHERE
PRIDE OUTWEIGHED THE VALUE OF LIFE ITSELF
I SEE HIM WALKING NAKED
THROUGH BUSY UPTOWN STREETS
FILLED WITH PEOPLE AT CHRISTMAS TIME
A SIGN ABOUT HIS NECK
UPON WHICH HE HAS PASTED
IN BOLD TYPE FOR ALL TO SEE
HIS LIFE'S WORK AND EPIC POEM
CONCEIVED BY HIS LONGING AND
FILLED WITH THE PERCEPTION OF HUMANITY
WHICH THE BUSY CROWDS IGNORE
AS THE WIND IGNORES THE TREES
THE ONE WORD                                  PLEASE

(c) 1968 Callee Music Corp
    

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Windows on the World


ModPo friends and


To all those who dwell in Possibility—
To all those who Sing Themselves—This


 ____________________________________________________


1.

As strikes Thirteen—This Eleventh of September—Morn—

As Dreaded midnight hour flees—This—Our Dreaded Dawn—



I awoke just past midnight restless of mind. Thoughts meandering. Thinking a lot about Dickinson’s and Whitman’s poetry. The place of it in my life. Why should I invest of myself digging for their meaning, I wondered, when I’ve been spending a lifetime—happily—creating large and small meaning for Myself.

I got out of bed and heated up a cup of coffee. I went downstairs to my study and glanced at the volcano, an eruption of books that I’m reading and referencing, piled like lava rocks alongside my easy chair. A biography of T.S. Eliot, and another of his Collected Poems and Plays, Pete Hamill’s Forever, (the one book that I never want to finish reading. It will take me, well, forever,) The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, a collection of Wallace Stevens, The Complete Works of William Blake, The Complete Works of Walt Whitman, The Great Modern Poets of England and America, The Making of a Poem, A Handbook to Literature, Eighteenth Century Poetry and Prose, The Claw of the Conciliator, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, An Anthology of French Poetry (from Nerval to Valery), Dictionaries of English, French, German, and Latin…and these are just the titles that I can make out without restarting the lava flow.Why should I bother? I am just restless and wondering, I think. The coffee is old and strong…it begins to settle me. I need to go back to the future to find the answer. Cup in hand I scan the seeming acres of my often thrice-filled shelves. There, behind J. Barzun and his Decadence and scolding N. Ferguson, almost hidden by good-hearted Lewis' Clash of Civilizations I find what I’ve been searching for. All is calm. All is bright. The coffee has done its job, now I must do mine.

I slide out the autographed copy that I got from him at Barnes & Noble two decades ago. The neat signature--Harold Bloom--under the title, The Western Canon. (Subtitled on the cover, The Books and School of the Ages)From Dawn to Decadence tumbles to the floor and down again crashes Civilization: The West and The Rest, sorry Niall, but I think I can pick them both up afterwards. But, right now I've got work to do.

I tune to WQXR, adjusting down the volume (so as not to disturb my wife who’s asleep upstairs—I have to wake her at 5:00 a.m.—she'll be off to the Presbytery to prepare breakfast for the hungry mob)—I plop into my Lay-Z-Boy Recliner and turn to those two chapters that expound upon Whitman and Dickinson, and after the closest of close readings place them at the very core of the Western Canon. He’s undecided who’s the better. Not between these two poets, O no, not Professor Bloom. He’s weighing them against Dante and Shakespeare for bragging rights. He slants slightly toward Walt, but is convinced that there has never been, nor will there ever be, a smarter poet than Emily, even if he is never absolutely sure what she means. He complains that she is so difficult that she gave him headaches. So armed now, with that knowledge, I can lay me down to sleep, restfully. At peace with Myself and My Songs.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What Cannot Be Without the Other Is the Other

Many years ago. Many, many, years ago, in fact, I sat in a lecture hall and listened to a very bright young professor of Philosophy, whom I shall call John Smith, largely because, believe it or not, John Smith was his actual name, expound upon the various themes in the branch of Philosophy known as Ethics. It was an introductory course, and I found it very, very interesting and threw myself into the study of the subject with a dizzying passion. After a few weeks of this, I felt myself becoming, smarter somehow, perhaps even wiser, as the ever-growing wealth of information passed through my fingers and beyond my eyes and seeped into my mind like a rich, green tea. After a few more weeks of near total immersion, the tea began to feel more like a thick, grayish soup that was starting to congeal in my brain, rather than the healthy and easily disgestible tea that I had enjoyed earlier.

My mind began to wander in class. I was perhaps nearing exhaustion, since at the time I was carrying a full course load, which included Spanish, Cultural Anthropology, English Literature of the 18th Century, American History, and Philosophy while working full-time at night as a Proofreader/Typesetter to support my wife, our child, Benjamin Franklin Keeperman, and myself. From out of nowhere, and for what purpose I do not recall, it came to my meandering mind that opposites do not occur in Reality, but rather they are illusions created by us to order “things” in a manner that gives us a sense of actually having the power to create such order out of what any reasonably sane person would believe was a chaotic existence.

I had been reading much at the time about right and wrong, good and evil, free will versus Determinism (although I think Determinism went by a different name in those old days. Was it Cause and Effect? I can’t recall). Anyway, I gave up a week or so of sleep, and in the very spare time I had after doing my required reading, studying, working, commuting, etc., I managed to put several hundreds of single-spaced lines with my old L.C. Smith typewriter on some cheap legal-size pulp paper and titled it: Hypothesis: What Cannot Be Without the Other is the Other. I handed the same to my friend, the Professor, (we really had become friends by that time, because I was the only one that partook of his Office Hours where he was generous enough to listen to me praise to the high heavens the philosophical genius of our Founding Fathers whom, next to Captain Marvel and Blackhawk, remained my childhood heroes.)

He returned the typed work to me after the following class meeting. I could see that he had read it carefully, because it was practically impossible to read what I had typed under the abundance of questions that he had raised and inscribed; sometimes adding a half-dozen or more comments for each sentence that I had written. Even a novice such as myself could see that all of these questions were legitimate, and I found that I couldn’t, given my state of apparent ignorance, answer even one of them coherently. At the bottom of the last page, however, he wrote the following: Well, to tell you the truth the paper is around here somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. Maybe it is with those other pulps, Captain Marvel and Blackhawk. If I find it I’ll add his exact remarks to this blogpost.

The gist of what Professor Smith wrote was this: “Sir, you would be doing I, yourself, and Philosophy an honor and a service if you would consider making Philosophy your major and consider me as a Mentor in the months and years to come.” Well, needless to say, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I realized quickly that all those questions that he had raised about my hypothesis, all those questions that matter, are what makes being a Philosopher tick. They thrive on asking questions. That is why I decided to stick with Literature. I just love answering the questions that matter. Even if I am dead wrong.








Thursday, August 28, 2014

On a Clear Night

“I inquired of that ‘Learn’d Astronomer,’”

You know the one I mean,

“Now see here, bud--if I may be so bold--

That what with the universe expanding,
So rapidly and all, oughtn’t you get a bigger telescope,
To stand a decent chance in Hell of gettin’ a glimpse of God before He’s up and gone?"




Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Revelations


Now that universal anti-Semitism has again reared its inevitable head, and the bloodsport of scapegoating has clogged both the Cyberswamp and the genuine Ether with instantaneous reports--like Scoreboards--Palestinians 1153/Israelis 67--with everyone but [some?] Jews rooting for more Jewish casualties to justify the carnage, perhaps one should take a short time-out to recall that in his novel, The Haj, Leon Uris is as prophetic, at least, as William Blake, if not Elijah himself, and thoroughly puts Nostradamus to shame when in Part Two, Chapter Eleven, one of his Israeli characters, Gideon Asch, speaking in April, 1948 makes a couple of startling observations which follow. Amazingly, Uris penned these dialogues 30 years ago, in 1984.

"When you see Ben-Gurion, you'd better impress upon him that he has to dissolve and absorb the Irgun. If you continue to allow a private little army in your midst, [ISIS, Hamas, Al Qaeda, ad inf] you'll end up with the same anarchy that pervades the Arab world. Allow it to continue, as the Irish have with the IRA, and you'll condemn yourself to everlasting chaos."

And this, later on the same page...

"Strange, isn't it, that we Jews are once again stuck with a dirty job no one else wants? You and all your snide friends in all the foreign offices know in your hearts the cruelty, the evil that emanates from the Moslem world. But you are afraid to hold Islam up to the light and tell your people, 'Look, this is what we have to live with.' No, let the Jews do it. We once again man the barricades alone, berated by our smug, so-called allies of the Western democracies. Islam is going to turn this world upside-down before this century is out [9-11-2001) and you'd better have enough guts to deal with it. It's lonely, here, Brompton. It's lonely."

Despite the bald-faced truths that Uris told, critics at the time dismissed him as biased in his writing--Pro-Semitic, you might say, as opposed to Israel's critics today.

As long as Islamists believe that the only peaceful solution is "the final solution," there will be no respite from the forces of reaction. That is not a prediction; it's merely a plain fact.

Moses and his followers wandered in the wilderness for forty years, Israel has been mired there for more than sixty. Who knew?


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sunnyside Gardens: A Bright Side of Life

A Slice of Life from Jonathan Lethem's
Dissident Gardens:




That's how you know you're still alive, Miriam wanted to tell her. Dying inside was for Rose a way of life. Within her mother was a volcano of death. Rose had spent her whole life stoking it, trying to keep the mess inside contained but fuming. In Rose's lava of disappointment the ideals of American Communism had gone to die their slow death eternally; Rose would never die precisely because she needed to live forever, a flesh monument, commemorating Socialism's failure as an intimate wound. Rose's sisters' unwillingness to defy, by their marriages, by their life stories, the obedient Judaic domestic-life scripts Miriam's grandparents had salvaged from that shtetl that was neither Poland nor Russia but some unholy no-Jew's land between; this rage too had to smolder eternally inside the radioactive container, the unexploded bomb that was Rose Zimmer. God himself had gone inside her to die: Rose's disbelief, her secularism, wasn't a freedom from superstition but the tragic burden of her intelligence. God existed just to the puny extent he could disappoint her by his nonexistence, and while he was puny, her anger at him was immense, almost Godlike. Finally, if you dared argue, if you needed proof of Godlessness in this vale of outrage, the Holocaust. Each of the six million was a personal injury nursed within the volcano, too.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Forever


From Forever, by Pete Hamill:


He had given Cormac the address on Stone Street of a place called Hughson's, where he might rent a room while Mr. Partridge looked for a place for his print shop. He himself would be staying at the Black Horse Tavern. Run by friends. Booked long ago. Cormac should call on him once a day, that was the plan, and Mr. Partridge would tell him of his progress. He had given Cormac a crudely printed map of the town, along with a litany of dire warnings. Don't let anyone carry your bag, or you'll never see it again. (The fastest thieves in the world live here.) Don't get drunk and lose control, or you'll lose even your shoes. (Lock your door, button your coat, strap your hat, tie your laces.) Don't sleep with any woman who offers her services (It's a city of whores), or you'll end up with a pox that will swell your tongue to the width of a plank. New York was a dangerous place, Mr. Partridge said. Full of thieves from many nations. (They speak seventeen different tongues, not counting the African languages.) The English were the worst. Lazy buggers. Rather steal than work. (As an Englishman, they fill me with shame.) There were hundreds of Englishmen transported to America for crimes committed in English cities. (They start by cutting their mothers' throats and then go downhill.) And they weren't even the worst.

"The most dangerous of the lot are the ones who now think they're respectable," he said when they were a week away from America. "They go to church. They wear fine clothes. They use snuff. And they'd steal the eyeballs out of your head."

He paused, staring at his journeyman's hands.

"Still and all, they'll give us much to print."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Stranger Than Fiction

From the Prologue of "Stranger Than Fiction" by Lewis Browne:

...Dawn is stealing up behind blackened chimeys in the east. The city is awaking. There is a feeble stir in the streets, a rattling of milk wagons and a rumbling of trucks. Workmen with lunch boxes under their arms, their hair frowsy, their faces still swollen with sleep, clump along over echoing pavements.

But in the east, over where the roof tops dully gleam in the morning light, there is a greater stir, I know. Old men with matted beards, and young men and boys, crawl out from under feather beds and shiveringly don their clothes. They touch their hands and faces with water from kitchen faucets, whisper a prayer, and then hurry out into the streets.

Where are they going?...But where should pious Jews go so early in the morning?...To the synagogues, of course!

So they go, hundreds of them, old and middle-aged and young. They go to their little synagogues hidden away in basements, there to pray as their fathers have prayed these two thousand years or more.

For there in the east, where now the roof tops are turning from black to pearl in the growing light of the dawn, lies the great ghetto of New York. More Jews are huddled there than ever were seen in old Jerusalem--more probably than were known in all the world when Solomon was King in Zion.

What are they doing there? How did they come? And why?...

It is almost four thousand years since they were born, and fully five thousand miles from their birthplace. What have they seen and thought, what have they lived through and learnt, in all that long trek through time and space?

But that is just the story I have been wanting to tell all along, the story I will tell--so soon as I can begin.

Only I am too tired now.

Perhaps a little later, after I have slept, I shall be able to begin....

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Diamonds in the Rough

It's not for nothing, I guess, that it's called "The Old ballgame." Watching the opening day New York Mets' 9-7 loss to the Washington Nationals was not so much disheartening as it was at once a remembrance of things past and a prophesy of things to come.

Baseball, with its utter closeness to who we are is pure catharsis for us. From this rite of spring to the forever waving pennants of October we rededicate ourselves to the American spirits of hope and despair. Baseball evokes a feeling of cultural connection with our past in all its ugly beauty that mere words cannot convey. One must smell the sound of the crowd as it swells with apprehension as the first pitch of a new season races to the catcher's mitt.

You and your team are about to strike out for old frontiers to conquer. Or, if not, well, there's always next year.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Benedict Arnold: He Had His Moments...


From Kenneth Roberts' Rabble in Arms...

Up and down behind our guns went Arnold, a demon of energy. His face was smeared with powder smudges; from his hat hung a strip of gold lace, ripped loose by a passing grape shot; his shoulder was crusted with a smear of brown, the blood of a gunner shot through the throat as Arnold crouched beneath him to sight a gun.

His biting voice, shrill and harsh, drove the gun-crews as though he lashed them with a whip. "Double-shot!" he told them. "Double-shot! Give her another! We've got her now! Hurry it up! One more, boys! Double-shot! Don't waste time! She can't get away! Hurry, boys, hurry! Double-shot! Double-shot!

Whenever one of the three sternmost guns was loaded, the gunner shouted, the crew fell back beside the gun and Arnold ran to the carriage, sighting and wrenching; giving the word to fire. As the linstock slammed down and the gun jerked backward, Arnold was off again: up and down, making jabbing motions with his fist: urging the gun-crews on: urging them on.

There was something about his violent determination that was catching. It was like a sort of flame, searing all those exposed to it. No longer were my nerves and muscles rigid with the expectation of death: I burned with an eagerness to see our shots go home against the black schooner. So hot was this desire that it parched my lips and tongue: singed my cheeks until they seemed half charred.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Not Your Father's Tea Party


"We are the people who have land, belongings, position, and we're standing by our guns in opposition to the people who have nothing. We're the conservative people; and what has been true of conservative people in all ages and all lands is true of us. We dissent from extreme and injudicious measures, from violence, from oppression, from revolution, from reckless statements and misrepresentation. We can't stomach liars, bullies or demagogues, or leaders without experience, ability or sound judgment..."

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The words above were spoken by Judge Herndon (Loyalist) in a Long Island marshland to Oliver Wiswell (Loyalist) of Massachusetts. This dialogue occurs in the historical novel, Oliver Wiswell, by Kenneth Roberts, which records the American Revolutionary era, convincingly, from the perspective of the much-beleagured Loyalist.

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What is remarkable is how the opposing sides--Patriots vs. Loyalists--each saw the other as traitors and continued speaking past each other for months and years on end. It was the British, through their misguided policies and aggression, that finally brought the matter to a fiery conclusion.

One wonders what outside force it will take to bring the Democrats and the Republicans to their senses, and act in unity, finally, for the common good? Yes, one does indeed wonder...

Friday, January 3, 2014

One Perspective




"No age has ever been so self-conscious as ours. At any rate, the quantity of journalism the modern age has turned out in the process of its own self-analysis already overflows our archives and, were it not that most of it is doomed to perish, would be a dull burden to hand down to our descendants. The task still goes on, as indeed it must, for the last word has not been spoken, and modern man seems even further from understanding himself than when he first began to question his own identity. Of documentation of external facts we have had enough and to spare, more than the squirrellike scholars will ever be able to piece together into a single whole, enough to keep the busy popularizers spouting in bright-eyed knowledgeability the rest of their days; but of the inner facts--of what goes on at the center where the forces of our fate first announce themselves--we are still pretty much in ignorance, and most of the contemporary world is caught up in an unconscious and gigantic conspiracy to run away from these facts. Hence the necessity of returning to a subject that only appears to be well worn. With civilizations, as with individuals, the outer fact is often merely the explosion resulting from accumulated inner tension, the signs of which were plentifully present, though none of the persons concerned chose to heed them.

--William Barrett
(c) 1958 Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy