No man can find out the world, says Solomon, from beginning to end, because the world is in his heart; and so it is impossible for any of us to understand, from beginning to end, that agreement of harmonious circumstances that creates in us the highest pleasure of admiration, precisely because some of these circumstances are hidden from us forever in the constitution of our own bodies. After we have reckoned up all that we can see or hear or feel, there still remains to be taken into account some sensibility more delicate than usual in the nerves affected, or some exquisite refinement in the architecture of the brain, which is indeed to the sense of the beautiful as the eye or the ear to the sense of hearing or sight. We admire splendid views and great pictures; and yet what is truly admirable is rather the mind within us, that gathers together these scattered details for its delight.[from the essay "Ordered South" (1874)]
Friday, December 31, 2010
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Language, colour, and religious and civil habits of action, are all the instruments and materials of poetry; they may be called poetry by that figure of speech which considers the effect as a synonyme of the cause. But poetry in a more restricted sense expresses those arrangements of language, and especially metrical language, which are created by the imperial faculty, whose throne is curtained within the invisible nature of man. And this springs from the nature itself of language, which is a more direct representation of the actions and passions of our internal being, and is susceptible of more various and delicate combinations, than colour, form, or motion, and is more plastic and obedient to the control of that faculty of which it is the creation. For language is arbitrarily produced by the imagination, and has relation to thoughts alone.* * *Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.* * *A single word may be the spark of inextinguishable thought.* * *Poetry strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man, in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb.* * *Poetry is not like reasoning, a power to be exerted according to the determination of the will. A man cannot say, "I will compose poetry." The greatest poet even cannot say it; for the mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness; this power arises from within, like the colour of a flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the conscious portions of our nature are unprophetic either of its approach or its departure.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Six dollars, used. We never talk about this but I think it's important, how much a book costs. It certainly colors my attitude toward the work. Did I pay full price? Did I pay fifty cents at a stoop sale? Or find it left out on the street in a box? Surely most reviews are influenced by the fact (never taken into account) that the book was provided free of charge. This was a fat paperback, put together from the four-volume Bollingen Edition, containing all the notes to Nabokov's translation of Eugene Onegin but missing the text itself. An accidental genre. Perhaps that is why it was shelved in Fiction.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Sunday, December 26, 2010
[Captain Harville:] "I could bring you fifty quotations in a moment on my side of the argument, and I do not think I opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman's inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of women's fickleness. But, perhaps, you will say, these were all written by men."[Anne Elliot:] "Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything."[from Persuasion (written in 1815-16, published posthumously in 1818)]
We had to find an approach to Jane Austen. . . . I think we did find it and did have some degree of fun with her delicate patterns, with her collection of eggshells in cotton wool. But the fun was forced. We had to slip into a certain mood; we had to focus our eyes in a certain way. Personally I dislike porcelain and the minor arts.[from Lectures on Literature (collected from VN's classroom lecture notes and published posthumously in 1980).]
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Christmas at the RamadaDawn Potter
3. The Bed
It lurks round every Ramada corner,
this bed, single-minded as Sparta.
Once the door chunks shut behind them,
once they inspect all the drawers and snigger
at the Oriental-ish art screwed
to the beige wallpaper, once they suck down
a quick roach at the icy casement,
time runs out for everything but the bed
and K and O—the gravitational pull
of this motel mattress, Charlemagne-
sized, its flowered coverlet severe;
a bed royally firm yet dim as a cave
in the shadow of the light fixtures.
Sex is the heart of the matter:
and perhaps, thinks O,
there is something vital in ugliness,
this reduction to famine,
we two thrown together like phantom
Barbarellas, and all the while the ice machine
crashes in the hall, handyman snowmen
whirr and clack, the fat guys in the lounge
switch to Friars hockey and whiskey sours,
and a tow truck finally drags a smashed-up
Chevy from the parking lot.
In the distance, a siren.
K leans back against the somber headboard,
silken and shy, open-eyed.
What magic to be awaited by a man
whose every rib she must have kissed
at least once in the half-life
they’ve dreamed away.
Though this bed demands a new,
a starker obeisance—
This stripped-down polyester
battlement, this outcast star—
No shepherd awake to guard his ewe lamb.
4. The TV
It’s been Christmas at the Vatican
for hours already; but midnight mass
flickers into their ten p.m. motel room
like an accident. What’s more,
the announcer is busily translating
every Latin phrase into rich
and obfuscating Spanish.
The pope looks terrible.
Under his golden robes and mitre,
he sags to one side like a cat
stuffed into fancy pajamas.
The camera can hardly bear to film him;
it keeps switching to a chanting
Salvadoran priest, dark and beautiful,
voice a thin angelic tenor,
though he is horribly nervous,
his shadowy chin trembling
between each honeyed line.
At home in San Salvador, his mother
is prostrate with fear of God,
O thinks, pressing her cheek into K’s
bare arm. Now the camera shifts
to pan a row of old ladies draped in black
furry coats and orange lipstick;
they glare, outraged;
they look exactly like the old ladies
who instigate fender benders
on Elmwood Avenue, carelessly shooting
homeward after a day spent
plotting dominion; yet thank Heaven,
they’re also the sentimental type
who adore enchanting priests.
How good of the holy church
to meet their needs with such pity
and take the heat off this poor pope
slumping unfilmed beneath his foreign
vault, his cold sky, a few brisk lights
scattered across the black. Not far off,
the faithful sleep, safe as milk.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Christmas at the RamadaDawn Potter
2. The Lounge
The lounge is respectably dim,
decked out with “old” posters
and swags of plastic fir, all its little
tables and vinyl benches clustered
TV-wise. Behind the bar a lady
with the gravelly bark of a classic-
rock DJ forks over a syrupy cocktail
and returns her gaze to the televised
town meeting currently mesmerizing
herself and her five retired fat-guy
customers, and now K and O, requesting
beer. Happy O rubs a shoulder into K’s,
public-access TV displays a local
fiend in chairwoman’s clothing
shouting wild threats at the fire chief,
and everyone in the room sighs with pleasure.
Pouring out K’s Sam Adams, the bartender
cries huskily, “She’s so mean!”
Her Santa hat jiggles in sympathy.
Through the frosted window glass,
emergency vehicles in the parking lot
flash red, white, and blue like a friendly
disco ball; and down the gilt bar a bug-eyed man
in a pressed shirt catches sight of his mirror self.
He turns to O and K, he leans toward O,
eager as a schoolboy, and marvels,
“Hey. I look really nice.”
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Scallops with home-canned tomatoes and the fresh rosemary that's still thriving by my cellar window. Garden kale (via the freezer) with garlic. Couscous. Homemade eggnog alongside a variety platter of baked goods.
Christmas at the Ramada
1. The Lobby
Ramada nearly rhymes with armada
a disarming coincidence, O notes,
as she shoves apart the glass doors
for lingering K and they step into
a Wonderland of holiday cheer
so cheerless she pictures just how hard
the squirrel-faced girl at the front desk
must have laughed when, the day
after Thanksgiving, a burly crew
of Portuguese teens crammed the pale
lobby with misshapen Edwardian carolers
and a giant twitching Santa with a gold-
lamé belt and a broken nose. Across the grubby
carpet, two mechanical elves lugubriously
negotiate a seesaw; the check-in counter
is bestrewn with large rats sporting Mr. and Mrs.
Claus outfits; and toward the lounge, a pair
of handyman snowmen wash and sweep
with the enthusiasm of wind-up convicts.
murmurs O. The air is lightly filled
with the tones of Christmas carols
so faint they might be the rustling
of bat wings. The lobby smells of dust
and industrial rug shampoo.
Beyond the night-time glass, asphalt looms.
The lights of Route 6 tout good prices
and fun. Cars stuffed with after-dinner
shoppers mutter past, tires scraping sand,
satisfaction imminent as a blizzard. O signs up
for a smoking room, a king-sized bed. K thumbs
postcards and examines a rat. In their veins,the spirit of Christmas surges like bourbon.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Well, we have a Moby-Dick winner!
My fellow Harmonian, Scott, has finished the novel, and this is what he has to say about it:
The book reminds me of my great-uncle and aunt's house. It was built in stages, so you are forced to take twisty passages to get from one end of the house to the other. Some rooms open (illogically) onto other rooms. I always wondered about the third set of stairs; they were walled off, and so led nowhere. Still, there are treasures: the view across the river, the rooms full of "stuff" (probably including a copy of Moby-Dick), a great place to rummage on a rainy day.
Like Moby-Dick, the first few rooms/chapters are bright and fun, but confusion sets in once you leave them.
Coincidentally, I received an email update about a new book of Barry Moser portraits, and who should be featured in the advertisement but Herman Melville, looking, as the Wall Street Journal remarks, "put-upon."
Sometimes when I read Moby-Dick, I also feel put-upon, so that makes two of us.
I do not, however, feel put-upon when I read Jane Austen's Persuasion. What a great book. It's like a frothy, sugary, creamy dessert that's actually wholesome and nutritious and moreover improves my IQ.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Person 1: Hi, Ella.Person 2: Hi, Ella Guru.Person 3: Hi, yella. Hi, red. Hi, blue, she blew.Person 1: Hi, Ella; hi, Ella Guru.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Not of your sweet wandering hands, nor even
of yesterday’s seed or tomorrow’s green pear,
but of crime and trouble, yes, offenses that never
crossed my fancy before this wretched night:
for in my dreams a quiet voice at my ear
coaxed me awake; and I thought it was you
cajoling me into the pleasant shadows,
cool and silent, save when silence yields
to cricket scratch or throaty owl,
white moon-face waxing gibbous
and all the Heavens awake in their glory
though none else to revel in them but ourselves;
and I rose and walked out into the night,
but where were you? I called your name,
then ventured, restive, into the lunar
garden I knew so well by day, yet here
I lost myself in white light and black hole,
I staggered through puddles, over stones;
and I heard, in my heartbeat,
an invisible horror, I heard it tease me,
chase me, catch me; and I ran, I ran,
weeping I ran; until, under moonglow,
I saw my own pale hands stretch before me
toward the Tree that blocked my way;
I saw my hands embrace it, caress its satin skin.
And in return, the Tree kissed my captive lips
with its feathery leaves, as if a twist of wind
had leagued us suddenly together;
for it gleamed strange and terrible,
this great rooted flower,
plying me so gently with Knowledge:
though my lips, parched and ravenous,
begged, now, for a rougher, a crueler dram.
[from How the Crimes Happened (CavanKerry Press, 2010)]
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
. . . I did try to find & couldn't, a back-alleyabortionist in the Negro district of Newport News,then took thirty pills of quinineyour father's football coach gave him to give me,leaving me in a coma for three days, pills thatdidn't chase you from my body,although years later I'd learn the tooth buds thatfailed to grow in your mouth were caused by the quinine,& who knows, maybe your bipolar disorder,maybe your ADHD, & back then doctors thoughtnothing of keeping a mother from her newbornor a newborn from his mother. . . .
Poem 7You were a funny kid though, kept us in stitches.You made up little rituals. Your grandfatherlikes to tell of how you'd begin a left-right face,arm-swinging goose-step march from whereveryou were into the bathroom, crying out hep-two,hep-two. Once there you'd square off, click heels,center yourself before the toilet, then bark out,lid up! pants down! underpants down! then squirt!reversing the order of your commands after the actwas done, your aim the usual aim of a four-year-old. If your aunts & I were still laughing orstruggling not to when you marched back in,you'd take umbrage & withdraw, for we wereto understand the seriousness of this. How I wishI could, just once, kneel down before that boy,as I would then, & apologize for laughing,take you in my arms, kiss your cheek or forehead,& hold your little body against mine.No one was supposed to laugh at you,but, my god, you were funny.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
And I am convinced that from the heads of all ponderous profound beings, such as Plato, Pyrrho, the Devil, Jupiter, Dante, and so on, there always goes up a certain semi-visible steam, while in the act of thinking deep thoughts.
In man or fish, wriggling is a sign of inferiority.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Oh, she was the mother of that catastrophe:Her child a spindly hurricane, misshapen boat,A broken spark of resolute energyYet a body named in Christian charity,Yet the call of her cells, her own hard notes.
EveningsBaron WormserThe sort of man always announcing plans,Then plodding off to take a nap."There's worse," his wife once said withoutSullenness, as if love lay in avoidance.Futility rises as well as anyone in the morning.It's evenings that are brown, restless hells,That crumble like plaster and faint like ghosts.I see him in his tee shirt on the porch nextTo our porch, a glass of ice water in his hand.Moths swarm the yellow bulb above his head.The TV chuckles inside. He asks me how I amAnd starts talking about how much jack he couldHave made if only he'd gotten a chance.I listen awhile, then excuse myself. He wagsA finger and asks if I'm too good for him.I start to speak but already he's turned away.[from Impenitent Notes (CavanKerry Press, 2010)]
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Dog in Winter
Up the boggy headland, frozen now, where a stone fence
Submerged in snow and earth-sink hints at pasture
So long vanished that the woods are convinced
Grassland never existed, two bodies climb—one fast,
Black, doe-agile; one slogging and foot-bound
Like a superannuated tortoise. Guess which is me.
Easy to badmouth my grace but oddly hard to expound
On the postcard beauties of our workaday scenery—
Giant pines draped with frosting, wisp of chimney cloud
Threading skyward, and behind the frosted window
A glorious wall of books, lamp-lit; a dear bowed head.
In tales, common enchantment always merits less than woe,
And perhaps I should collapse on the stoop like a starved Jane Eyre,
Pleading heat and mercy. But I earn my joy. I mean, I live here.
[first published as "Sonnet," in the Aurorean (fall/winter 2010-11)]
Dinner tonight: Rabbit pie. Coleslaw. Apple brown betty.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Sunday, December 5, 2010
"We were nervous. . . . For a minute I thought something might have happened at the university, that maybe there'd been a campus shooting I hadn't heard about, or a surprise strike, or that the dean had been assassinated, or they'd kidnapped one of the philosophy professors. But nothing like that was true, and there was no reason to be nervous. No objective reason anyway. But poetry (real poetry) is like that: you can sense it, you can feel it in the air, the way they say certain highly attuned animals (snakes, worms, rats, and some birds) can detect an earthquake.""I'd obviously never heard of the group, but my ignorance in literary matters is to blame for that (every book in the world is out there waiting to be read by me)."