Friday, January 30, 2015

From an Air of the Troubador

"It is doubtful that any author could be as home in the world re-created in his novels as Louis Dearborn L'Amour. Not only could he physically fill the boots of the rugged characters he wrote about, but he literally "walked the land my characters walk."

"I think of myself in the oral tradition--as a troubador, a village tale-teller, the man in the shadows of the campfire. That's the way I'd like to be remembered--as a storyteller. A good storyteller."

From Kiowa Trail, one of the more than 100 books by the Medal of Freedom-winning author:

"It was after we got back to the ranch that Jim Sotherton started my education.

"Somehow or other we got on the subject of poetry and I quoted him some of 'Marmion' that I recalled from the readings at home. After that, there was a change.

"While I taught him to track and to live off the country like an Apache, he taught me all he could think of about English literature, history, and other subjects. At some time or other he had been an instructor in a military school in England--I think it was Sandhurst--and he knew a good deal about teaching.

"We spent a good bit of time riding over the country, and from time to time we went to San Antonio or to Austin, and then one day to New Orleans. There we went to a bank and Sotherton picked up some money, quite a lot of it, in gold.

"Then he bought some books and some new equipment, and he bought me a Henry .44 rifle.

"It was the day after we got back to the place at the foot of Burro Mesa that I found the tracks--and they were not Apache tracks. Somebody had been around the place while we were gone.

"Every man's track is distinctive. A man's trail is as easily recognized as his signature. In my own mind I was sure one of the men whose tracks I saw was . . . "

Monday, January 26, 2015

Retrieving Our Beautiful Due

Tomorrow it will be 6 years since John Updike died. He is noted for remarking that he wanted "to give the mundane its beautiful due," and it cannot be denied that he best succeeded when he applied himself to describing the life and times of Mr. Everyman, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom. It is notable that when I came across the following poem written by another gifted writer, also a poet, her words conjured up for me, despite the degrees of separation in their socio-political views, an image of these two authors at rest, peaceful and hugely satisfied, melding well, at one with each other and as well with our Universe.

Come into Animal Presence

Come into animal presence.
No man is so guileless as
the serpent. The lonely white
rabbit on the roof is a star
twitching its ears at the rain.
The llama intricately
folding its hind legs to be seated
not disdains but mildly
disregards human approval.
What joy when the insouciant
armadillo glances at us and doesn't
quicken his trotting
across the track into the palm bush.
What is this joy? That no animal
falters, but knows what it must do?
That the snake has no blemish,
that the rabbit inspects his strange surroundings
in white star-silence? The llama
rests in dignity, the armadillo
has some intention to pursue in the palm forest.
Those who were sacred have remained so,
holiness does not dissolve, it is a presence
of bronze, only the sight that saw it
faltered and turned from it.
An old joy returns in holy presence.

--Denise Levertov

Thursday, January 22, 2015

In Medias Res

From "Updike", Adam Begley's comprehensive and enlightening biography of America's eminently versatile and valuable author, John Updike, these lines, this perfect bouquet, picked from Updike's Collected Poems, 1953-1993.

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market--
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same.

                                                   --John Updike

"The in-medias-res opening line, the verve, the rapid flow, the cheeky cynicism of the complaint--even the deflated last line--all remind us that despite his worries about death...the poet himself was very much alive. And thanks to the performance captured in "Perfection Wasted," he lives to this day, at least in the sense that his magic is preserved in the fourteen lines of the sonnet.

"But the old Shakespearean ploy of cheating death by grafting the perishable self onto 'eternal lines' of poetry works only if the sonnet continues to be read."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

First and Foremost is the Final Frontier

In his book of carefully wrought reflections, "Bright Book of Life: American Novelists and Storytellers from Hemingway to Mailer," the esteemed literary critic, Alfred Kazin, makes poignant observations about many acclaimed writers who had plied their talents and applied their arts in middlish 20th-century America. The following passage is but one of many sparkling gems an interested reader can find unearthed there:

"Certainly Nabokov's ideas about the simultaneity of all events in time are not original. Baudelaire said it all: 'Talent is nothing more nor less than childhood rediscovered at will -- a childhood now equipped for self-expression, with manhood's capacities and a power of analysis which enables it to order the mass of raw material which it has involuntarily accumulated.' Or as the painter Claes Oldenburg recently put it: 'Everything I do is completely original. I made it up when I was a little kid.'

"Self-sufficiency, for our time a major form of freedom, is Nabokov's real genius. And freedom as it expresses itself in and through the creative act is its object. There is finally no 'truth,' just this sense of freedom. Love is the pleasure of freedom. Even in lovemaking, genius is the only actor."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The State of Our State

From Alain de Botton's, "How Proust Can Change Your Life"

the following premise:

"There are few things humans are more dedicated to than unhappiness. Had we been placed on earth by a malign creator for the exclusive purpose of suffering, we would have good reason to congratulate ourselves on our enthusiastic response to the task. Reasons to be inconsolable abound: the frailty of our bodies, the fickleness of love, the insincerities of social life, the compromises of friendship, the deadening effects of habit. In the face of such persistent ills, we might naturally expect that no event would be awaited with greater anticipation than the moment of our own extinction."