Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chickens in the Grass. . . Alas . . .

Seeing the yard birds out wandering around yesterday made me think of  Gertrude Stein and her famous "Pigeons in the grass, alas.." 

Though what is 'alas' about birds in the grass, I don't  know -- pigeons (or chickens) on the porch, leaving pigeon (or chicken) poo all over, now that would be worth an alas or something stronger.

Stein was one of the literary figures of the 1920s -- known for her Paris salon where all the ex-pat writers gathered. (She was also an early patron and collector of Picasso, Braque, and Matisse.)

 I must admit that I've never been able to make my way through any of her writing except for The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas -- (which is not an autobiography though it is told through the voice of Toklas, Stein's life partner. )
I'm not alone in finding much of Gertrude S. unreadable, The following is from her obituary in the New York Times (July 1946.)

Although Gertrude Stein could and did write intelligibly at times, her distinction rested on her use of words apart from their conventional meaning. Her emphasis on sound rather than sense is illustrated by her oft-quoted "A rose is a rose is a rose." 

Devotees of her cult professed to find her restoring a pristine freshness and rhythm to language. Medical authorities compared her effusions to the rantings of the insane. The Hearst press inquired, "Is Gertrude Stein not Gertrude Stein but somebody else living and talking in the same body?" Sinclair Lewis concluded she was conducting a racket.
 Probably in every area of the arts, there are controversial figures  -- I'm thinking of the shark in formaldehyde guy, the composer who limits himself to one note, the performance artist who covers herself in chocolate -- and I'm wondering, Are they pushing the boundaries of art to reveal something new and illuminating? 

Or are they conducting a racket?

 Chickens in the grass, alas . . .
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Monday, January 28, 2013

Listening to NIGHTWOODS

I read really fast. Sometime I say that I read a book fast so I know if I'll want to read it again -- slower.  When I encounter a novel as rich in description and poetic imagery as Frazier's are, I try really hard to slow down and savor the prose. But if, as in Nightwoods, there's a compelling plot -- two young children traumatized by witnessing the murder of their mother are hunted by the murderer -- I'm likely to skim over the description and imagery in pursuit of WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

Fortunately, there's a fix for my sort of reader -- audiobooks.  And Nightwoods is beautifully read -- really, performed is a better word -- by Will Patton whose pleasant Southern voice suits the material perfectly.  I listened to the book over several days in manageable bits -- like pacing myself at a seven course meal. The prose is so rich, the descriptions so true -- and the villain so truly awful that, although I was eager as ever to find out what happened, I used the breaks to imagine where Frazier would take the story. 

At that memorable lunch, I mentioned to Charles that he had upset some folks with the death of one of his main character at the end of Cold Mountain and he just smiled and said it was what had to happen. So I spent some time in wondering what had to happen in this book,  knowing that no one was safe -- not the children, nor Luce, the aunt who is trying to bring the children out of their silent world, nor Stubblefield, the quiet suitor who is trying to win Luce's confidence.

I guessed right about a few things and was pleasantly surprised by being wrong about some others. I loved this book and will, I'm sure, re-read and re-listen to it soon. This man's writing is amazing. It's a good thing I hadn't read this before he came to lunch -- I would have been an even more babbling fan-girl.

Highly recommended -- especially the audio book!
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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Now It Can Be Told!

... Darth Vader's humble beginnings as a chicken farmer in rural North Carolina...
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Friday, January 25, 2013


Wabi-sabi  represents a  Japanese aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection -- finding beauty in the worn wood of a much-used staircase, the last faded rose, or, in this case, a trio of raspberry leaves.

I posted  this picture a few days ago and something about it captivated me -- it's now my screen saver/ wallpaper and it seems to me that it says something about life (and, thinking of yesterday's post, the three ages of Man) -- the old giving way to the new . . .  the little sprig of pale green new growth on top of a mature leaf  . . .

That sprig sits atop an older, tattered leaf. I notice that the two older leaves have much more interesting color.  I notice too how the shadows of the older leaves show up on the younger.
And those holes in the oldest leaf -- to me they seem like openings into eternity.

The image of the three leaves is a poem waiting to happen.

For more about wabi-sabi, go HERE.
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Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Riddle of the Sphinx

What goes on four legs in the morning, on  two in the afternoon, and on three in the evening?

This, according to Greek mythology, was what the Sphinx asked every traveler who sought to enter Thebes. A correct answer was the price of admittance; a wrong answer and the sphinx gobbled up the unlucky traveler.

Of course, you may not want to go to Thebes . . .
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

One Poem

I really liked Richard Blanco's inaugural poem "One Sun" -- it made me remember flying across the country and thinking of all the different lives going on down there on the ground ...  A poem for the whole country -- what an impossible task! But I think he did a fine job: it's well worth reading or re-reading
 One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the "I have a dream" we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever.
 Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches 
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day's gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling, or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello
shalom, buon giorno
namaste or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound 
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn't give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together

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