Wednesday, December 12, 2007

STL #63: A Year in Reading

I toyed with the idea of incorporating other "texts" into my review of my 2007 reading, but nixed the idea at the last second. While an interpretation of Bleak House draws on similar skills as one of The Sopranos (and some point in a hierarchy of skills anyway), I'm ultimately partitioning the printed word for somewhat political reasons. Traditional reading is beset by a tangle of cultural forces, though not to the degree some would think. I'm including online reading in the following list as well as other non-book reading. As with my music list, I'm doing away with canonical form, in this case the "book." Unfortunately, my records of what I read are spotty, so I'm relying on memory in the following alphabetical list of notable reading experiences.


  • "A" I begin each year by reading a "big book," sometimes for the first time and sometimes not.* To focus my energy toward completing my dissertation, I read this huge poem entire for fourth time.
  • Assassins The Nicholas Mosley books I've read remind me of Graham Greene. I may have read Greene's terrific Haitian novel
  • The Comedians this year, I'm not sure. Greene's better than Mosley, who I'm including so I can talk about Greene.
  • Epileptic Twenty pages in I knew that David B. had created a unique perceptual world. At this writing, I've only read the first volume.
  • Freakanomics This book shows how economists think. I'm not saying that's good or bad, but the idea that their are modes of thinking about idea is crucial to education, which is what I do.
  • Google Reader has changed how I read blogs. No more aimless clicking, now I get to scan my 25 feeds several times a day, marking some for later reference and letting the rest slide into the dustbin of my subconscious. There are problems with this model of reading to be sure.
  • Iron Fist is my monthly comic of the year, edging out JSA and another Matt Fraction book, Casanova. Fraction's work deserves a longer consideration. Maybe after the current IF and Casanova arcs are done.
  • Love and Hate in Jamestown I don't read much history, but bought this on my house-hunting trip to Richmond to learn a little of Virginia history. There is, needless to say, much more to learn.
  • Letters of James Laughlin and Guy Davenport. Not italicized because I'm not sure of the volume's proper name. I selected this to note the manner of reading rather than the matter. I read this over several afternoons while waiting for my wife to get off work at the bookstore. The fact of its presence there symbolizes the kind of refuge a bookstore can provide. Two relatively unknown carrying on a conversation in face of general disregard. The book is actually quite chit-chatty and even embarrassing (especially for JL), but it marks my general pursuit of Davenport ephemera.
  • Party-Going. My first take on Henry Green is as a funny Virginia Woolf. I think I'll stick with that for the time being.
  • Portable People (Which I finished the day before Freakanomics while housesitting in Austin this spring). Wonderful, short sketches of artists and the ilk in a fat, square volume.
  • "Projective Verse" by Charles Olson. Which I've read many times but really resonated during a recent rereading. There will be a post on Olson soon. (I'm publishing a piece on Olson next year, BTW)
  • The Real Life of Sebastian Knight Wonderfully enjoyable, especially the ending with the narrator listening to his brother breathing. The last novel I read.
  • What the Best College Teachers Do. A great tool for thinking about my own practice.

*I originally intended a history of my "big reading" project to be the topic of this STL, but along the way I got sidetracked. I do at least want to record the list:

1995 Ulysses
1996 Swann's Way
1997 Poetry of William Carlos Williams
1998 In Search of Lost Time
1999 Don Quixote

2000 The Divine Comedy
2001 The Cantos
2002 Middlemarch
2003 Bleak House
2004 Paradise Lost
2005 The Recognitions
2006 The Odyssey
2007 "A"

On 1 Jan 2008, I began rereading Anna Karenina. Not counting 2008 (since I'm only 100 pages in), I've read 13 works, including 7 novels and 6 works of poetry. Since the split will grow after this year, I should read poetry in 2009, or perhaps branch into drama or nonfiction? (I once planned 30 years of reading while working at Boeing. That was a fun diversion, but I don't want to be so strict as to plan my reading years in advance.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

STL #62: Done with ^unplayed

Technology and listening to music.

I made a small move the other day--I deleted a carat (^) from the name of a playlist on iTunes--that's going to have a determinative effect on what music I listen to. An on-again off-again obsession of mine from at least six months was listening to a huge number of songs that I had in my iTunes library but had never listened to on my iPod or computer. That least was huge when I created a 'smart' playlist of all songs with a playcount of 0. This generated a playlist of over 5,000 songs. That number is a little misleading, since it reflects the uploading of many CD's over the summer. Many of these CD's we had had for years, and if we felt like listening to them, we simply put it in the player. But since we resolved to sell those artifacts, I uploaded dozens of CDs with a failing drive. Unfortunately, I was to learn that many of those unheard tracks had blips toward the ends of the songs, and some had distracting skips and blips throughout, to the extent that they are unlistenable. I came to this realization after months of dedicated listening to a playlist I titled "unplayed," or more precisely, "^unplayed." The non-alphabetical symbol caused that playlist to rise to the top of my many playlists, so it was always handy for listening.

As I said, I'm done with ^unplayed for now. At the moment that I'm typing this, there's a trivial 322 songs left to be played, and many of those are classical pieces I listened to intently on CD before uploading for posterity. My present listening is mostly recent music, the smart playlist ^December, and a random shuffle through outside authorities' ^bestof2007. So much of my music-listening is done on my iPod, as I walk to work or walk the dog, that I didn't much regret getting rid of my CDs. Some remorse is creeping in, as the limitations of the mp3 format become apparent. Perhaps when the money loosens up a bit, I will buy the occasional CD that I want to sit down and listen to intently. An upcoming listening project is to rent DVD's of operas, which we'll watch one day a week as a movie. That kind of attention is a model of music listening that I admire but seldom followed, apart from my recent classical education project.

This post has been incubating for so long that I'm disappointed to see how boring it is turning out. Among the notes on how technology has affected my listening to music is "emusic/open source movement," which alludes to the fact that most of our musical acquisition in 2007 was through the online music store eMusic. Only independent labels comfortable with releasing tracks without DRM (and for cheap) are on eMusic, obviously affecting what I listen to. You might link this with the ideological freeware of the open source movement--a democratic mass of individuals courageously offering there labor for little, trusting that they will be paid back by a changed world. That's a crude homoloy that I only mention to satisfying my nagging past self who made the note.

Mentioning eMusic also allows me to make a top 10 of 2007, since we're on the subject of new music. Most, not all of these came through that pipeline. I used play count for music added in the last 400 days to determine what should be on here, then used my judgment to finalize it. For the first time, these mix single tracks with increasingly irrelevant "albums."

1. Lily Allen, Alright, Still
2. Amy Winehouse "Rehab"
3. Panther, "You Don't Want Your Nails Done"
4. Jens Lekman, Night Fell on Kordova
5. Dude n Em "Watch My Feet"
6. The National, The Boxer
7. Burial, "Ghost Hardware"
8. Pigeon John, "Growing Old"
9. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
10. "Lindsay Lohan," Spank Rock


Eh, I'm not crazy about that list, so maybe I'll revise it in a month or so.

STL #61: Numbers

Finding my place in the history of STL, and beginning again.

I promised this bibliographic essay on the numbering of the Simplest Things Last series in the then-unnumbered follow up to the "Test of Poetry." The problem at that time was how to account for my free-form, months long sporadic engagement with the poetry in Zukofsky's anthology. My obligation to my dissertation got the best of me, and I never posted under the title Simplest Thing Last again. Early this year, I claimed the blog spot that unsurprisingly no one had taken and began posting a handful of short essayistic pieces, but did not post them explicitly under the STL imprimatur. The Archives Series (and life, in the form of finishing the dissertation, landing and starting the job) overshadowed these original posts, but with that project over and the free time of winter break imminent, I'm finally ready to return to posting new pieces under the STL banner. First though, I want to sort through the very STL-ish pieces I've written and posted since June of 2005. Doing so will not only give me a number under which to file this, but will help me articulate my intentions for STL posts.

Following the demise of the first generation of STL, I posted (and have archived) 13 posts on my Locus site. The backstory of Locus is simply that it is a CMS created to give CWRL staffers a place separate from where the were posting class materials to work on personal or professional projects. The fluidity of the CMS allowed for powerful searching and sorting, but also broke down boundaries so that students might not recognize the difference between a personal blog post and course materials. My plan was to use Locus more as a notebook, to seed and build on future projects. After making an introductory sketch or blurb on a subject, I could search by tags later to add to or consult it. My 5th Locus post was simply notes on Other British Poetry compiled after reading the anthology by that name and denoting names of authors I'd like to read more of. These notes are then "other" than what I was doing with STL. They do not have a claim to completion nor the acknowledgment of a hypothetical reader. STL posts are nothing if not essayistic: they have some formal structure, a unified purpose or subject, and some notion of an audience. Locus notes thus do not qualify on any of these criteria, but the five posts tagged as "eleven" arguably meet them all. These annotated lists of eleven current enthusiasms do possess a formal structure and are written for an audience. Some clearly have a unified subject: Eleven for Free Comic Book Day is grouped around comics; Eleven from Best American Poetry 2005 is essentially a review of that book, just like STL # 7 reviewed the 2002 volume. The only Eleven that doesn't have an obvious unified theme is the one date 4/13/2006, number 7 in the series. Yet even this one traces a narrative from sickness to health. Therefore, I'm designating the following posts as part of the STL series:

STL 49/Locus 6 Eleven for 3/24/2006 (organized by nerdiness)
STL 50/Locus 7 Eleven for 4/13/2006 (sickness to health--not bad for a 50th post because it avoids the embarrassing pomposity I'd be predisposed toward)
STL 51/Locus 8 Eleven Poems from BAP 2005
STL 52/Locus 9 Eleven for Free Comic Book Day
STL 53/Locus 10 Basho's Narrow Road (selects 11 scenes from the problematic Cid Corman translation. This is a bit shorter and less developed than the others.)
I didn't record the date of Locus 10 and don't particularly want to go back to look. I know that it was summer of 2006, soon after I bought the translation in question on a trip to the West Coast. I bought it at a wonderfully shambly bookshop in Newport Oregon on the way down to San Francisco for a Charles Olson conference. (This will be important later.)

I got back into blogging with the current Blogger space, thanks in part to the conveince of Google gobbling up the company and in essence creating an account for me. (Flooding back to me at this moment is my "creative" blog buspoems which recorded poems I wrote while waiting for/riding the bus to work in the summer of 2005. Someday, someday.) In the current incarnation of STL, any essayistic post is by implication an edition of STL, since it was published under the heading. There must be exceptions: again, undeveloped notes do not count. By the tradition of the first post to the first blog, "meta" posts about what I intend to do don't count. Therefore, the first post to this incarnation, announcing the excellent goals

1. Catalogue my intellectual pursuits by reviewing various "cultural artifacts" like movies, books, and comics.
2. Articulate my critical perception of the world, especially in regard to aesthetics and information literacy.
3. Archive past writing from the aforementioned projects.

and Rules

1. Make one substantial post a week, on Tuesdays if possible.
2. Archive one previously written post per week, on Thursdays if possible.
3. Tag each post.
4. Review each quarter's posts to refine my taxonomy and revise these rules.
5. Eschew obsfucation.

(Yet this post is a meta post, is it not? It's more in depth then the first post or the "15 Minutes to Meta" post and it reflects on the cultural artifacts of previous posts rather than speculating on unwritten pieces. Yeah. That's it.)

Following the initial meta post, I posted 3 or 4 posts on appropriate topics and one underdeveloped post on teaching appropriately titled "Improvised Blather." On January 4 and 5, I posted "Reading Wang Wei" in two parts. After a gentle revision, this will become STL 54. "Three Thrillers" is a piece from which the properties of STL could be adduced. A loose structure drawing together related cultural artifacts, written in an affectedly "charming" style for the purpose of uncovering a personal aesthetic. "Three Thrillers" must be STL 55. The "Comics Round-up" is relatively unimpressive, but not in the manner of a note and so will be swept up as STL 56.

The "Blog Every Day Month" of November saw the end of the Archives Series, but also a few items of new content. Several of these are clearly notes or meta statements of practice ("meta statements of practice"?). Those that are not will also be incorporated into the STL numbering:
STL 57: Detachment (about getting rid of the materials objects of music)
STL 58: Horrorfest 2007
STL 59: Why Study Literature? The Usable Past
STL 60: 300 (followed by a note on a possible future post on the movie, which will certainly never be written)

I've written my way to the present STL 61, which re-institutes the Title/Description format. I do not intend to do the clerical work of editing the above posts in the near future, which makes this piece so important, dear reader. In the coming weeks, expect to see one or two posts on music listening practices, a reading roundup of some challenging and enjoyable novels, and the beginning of another Test of Poetry, this time based on Don Allen's New American Poetry anthology.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Archives Project: STL #48

Title: Final Exam
Description: Afterthoughts on The Test of Poetry.
Date: 22 June 2005

This is the final edition of the first series of Simplest Things Last. I've numerically passed the number of days in November, but obviously haven't blogged every day to do it. This post ends with the promise of a bibliographical essay on the numbering STL, which you may very well find in the near future.

Did I "pass" the Test of Poetry? Despite the fact that my intent was wholly exploratory, I still feel a sense of failure about the reading/writing I did on these texts the past several weeks. The sensation of failure can be parsed: failure to identify, failure to read through an understanding of Zuk's aesthetic, and (most distressingly) failure to understand my own taste. The first type of failure might be mitigated by the hurriedness of my reading toward the end, though might more likely by explained by the general shoddiness of my education and the fallibility of my memory. Regardless, I'd like to think I could pick out the passage from Paterson, or tell Byron from Shakespeare. Confusing WCW and LZ makes sense, and I could probably demonstrate something through comparative close readings. But the second case is pretty sad--not only should I have a better knowledge of Shakespeare's plays, but I should be able to distinguish these two styles.

The second manner of failure has led to the anxiety that I don't understand the subject of my dissertation at all. And this cannot be mitigated by Zuk's constraints as a historical subject, b/c I should understand that too. I can counter this by rebutting aspects of the poetics embodied in ToP: in selecting excerpts and critiquing on a word-by-word basis, he shows himself as an absolute formalist, whereas I'm a relative formalist. I want to know how a piece (excerpted or not) relates to a whole and how a context affects the part and whole. In other words, I should disregard this second sense of failure.

The third manner of failure I can wholly blame on the above-mentioned hurriedness and partially redeem in reflection--indeed, creating such a place for reflection was the intention of this project and the larger intent of this ongoing blog. Cid Corman wrote an essay (published as The Practice of Poetry) reading through the 2nd section of the Test, gently critiquing Zuk's assumptions and handling the excerpts with much greater confidence than I could, supplying formal and occasionally social context. I figure Corman's a guy who was pretty in touch with his own aesthetic, and in fact supplements his essay with "As Addendum A Little Compendium of Poets on Poetry" which quotes the usual Objectivist and Modernist suspects. (I'm taken with a matched pair of quotes by Zuk and Oppen: first, the convoluted Zuk "trust of expression, the incentive and end of which is to unite others to it in friendship." Then, the plain spoken Oppen: "I mean to be part of a conversation among honest people." Both quoted from private letters to Corman, I'm guessing) So I'm not the only one to undertake such an exploration. Reading back over my notes, I see I accept the model of melopeia, judged on criteria of suitability (sound that echoes sense), vigor, and mellifluousness; phanopeia, judged by resonance, freshness, and resonance; and logopeia, judged by aptness, pacing, and soundness. I find that my taste responds to complicated surfaces, luminous details, competing systems (frames, registers, etc), slight shifts (when I can detect them), assonance and consonance, and reserved mystery. So do I pass or not?

NEXT: A fascinating bibliographical essay on the numbering of STL.

Archives Project: STL #47.9

Description: TOP 3.19-25
Date: 8 June 2005

The end of this monstrous edition, with one more post left in the Archives Project. woo


I rather rushed to end--my excuse for not identifying the passage from Paterson. I'm afraid that this experiment has failed, but I'll be back with some further reactions next time.

19a-b. Two adequate Burnsian lyrics. The first is built on a simple verbal irony: “Welcom be ye whan ye go,/And farewell whan ye come”) The second on simple hyperbole (“The Deil he could na scaith thee,/Or aught tha wad belang thee;/He’d look into thy bonnie face,/And say, ‘I canna wrang thee.’” Both gud at wha they be B+ (actually anon + Burns)

20a Yet another lament for the poor, but “Take physic, pomp;/Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,/Though mayst shake the superflux to them/And show the heavens more just” A (Lear)

20b. This must be John Webster, despite strangely weak enjambment. Violent, harsh, exciting B+ (Lear)

20c. Bunting? Precise though aphoristic nature suggests translation. A (Wallace Stevens—why was “the imagination” not a give-away?)

21a. speech from a play. a pretty dull passage on disguise. (Shelley)

21b. Turn to language in Shax? “We were and are—I am, even as thou art—/Beings who ne’er each other can resign” A (Byron)

21c. Another speech, this on the happiness of going to prison “And take upon’s the mystery of things,/As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,/In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones/That ebb and flow by the moon.” A (Lear again—which I clearly need to reread)

22a. Practically moribund as far as movement goes with a dose of Romantic landscapism. It sounds like Wordsworth to me “To the dim light and the large circle of shade/I have clomb” And then escalates to crisis immediately. Though there’s no grass, “my longing loses not its green” Here’s how I’d revise it

Shade circle—snow-stomped grass.
Farther down, hard stone

but this sestina goes on a little longer. The vogue for sestina precedes and antedates Romanticism, so I don’t have a guess C (d’oh, it’s Dante trans by Rossetti)

22b. Victorian something. What I know not, and I honestly don’t follow it past the first 3 lines. C+ (Cavalcanti by Rossetti)

22c. Swinburne trans of Sappho. The strength is based on the source B+ (Rossetti’s Sappho, actually)

22d. Strong voice of social protest, probably from the 30s. B+ (Reznikoff!)

22e. Same as above, I wd think. Nice Homeric simile: “you would not die with your work unended,/ As if the iron scythe in the grass stops for a flower?” A (Rez)

23a. Zukofsky himself? Very finely tuned l’s and n’s. A (Paterson II, you idiot)

23b. Is it Herrick? Lyrical and uncluttered. B+ (Troilus and Cressida)

23c. Apparent doggerel. D (Dies Irae trans Walter Scott)

23d. Don’t quite get this riddle. C (cummings)

24a. WCW’s first real poem “what/sort of man was Fragonard?” A (WCW)

24b. Wonderful: Robt Herrick busts a move on Venus who smacks him down: “Hence, Remove,/Herrick, thou art too coorse to love.”(R H “The Vision”)

25a. That same “Negro verse” compilation that’s come before. As much ironic wit as Langston Hughes discovered in this material. A (actually a different one: Chain Gang Song coll. Lawrence Gellert)

25b. Not interesting to me: Unfolds slowly for little reward. C (WC Williams of 1913)

25. I dislike “I too, dislike it” but it’s suggestive for my current project. [N]or is it/vlaid to discriminate against business documents/school-books,//trade reports—these phenoma/are important; but dragged into conscious oddity by/half poets, the result is not poetry./This we know. In a liking for the raw material in all/its rawness,/and for that which is genuine, there is liking for poetry.” B (1932 version)

Archives Project: STL #47.8

Description: TOP 3.11-18
Date: 6 June 2005

I finished this two days later, and my archiving finishes just as I run out of decimals.

Expect a wrap up this week.

11a I have not yet tested by theory that all numbered sections are governed by the corresponding concept and analysis in part 2. It makes sense to me b/c of the overlapping content. In part 2, section 11 is devoted to “Content” of two anonymous folk ballads. This one might be covered by the comment I quoted “There is no use in modern sophistication trying to get back to folk art.” It’s too logical, there’s no outrunning oddity to it. Though it’s pretty nice, B+ (Wyatt, so I think my comment is right)

11b. This though has that inexplicable element, of an abandoned “may” suddenly seized by her old lover. Quite musical through, A (anon, 16th c song book)

12a Ben Jonson, “his best piece of poetry” A

12b. Speech from Shax. Very good emotional depiction of bereaved (Emotion as section head follows my theory in both cases) A (Webster, The White Devil)

13a+b Follows the template exactly: the Inevitability of the music 13a: “a song that will sing to a tune” 13b “a lyric that will not sing to music, but must be declaimed or intoned.” A, B- (Shax, Henry VIII, Richard Crashaw)

14a Donne’s “Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” was one of the first poems I was guided through with any intellectual rigor by my Freshman honors prof Tom Moore. It’s obviously a great poem built on interlocking conceits:

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be tow, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two,
Thy soul the fixt foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

A

14b. This I don’t recognize, though it could be Donne as well. Maybe not though, there’s a little more iambic rhythm, less recourse to intellectual object matter for conceits

For Fate with jealous eye does see
Two perfect loves, nor lets them close;
Their union would her ruin be,
And here tyrannic power depose.

And therefore her decrees of steel
Us as distant poles have place,
(Though Love’s whole world on us doth dwell)
Not by themselves to be embraced.

It’s got that Metaphysical vigor. A

(It’s Andrew Marvell, who I simply must read more of)

15a Must be Chaucer. I’ll say again he’s a narrative master, who might prove a great complement to study of the postmodern tradition, but I don’t feel much from his lyrics. I’m sure they’re good, but I just don’t have a medieval mind

15b. This is Elizabethan, and quite good. An aubade to Aurora “Ere thou rise, stars teach seamen where to saile/But when thou comest, they of their courses fail.” (Ovid by Marlowe)

16a. This might be Herrick. If it is, I’ve learned something from the Test. It’s got a refrain, varied rhythm, clear but not simple love song. A (damn, it’s Campion)

16b. I’ll double down re: Herrick. Not quite as fresh, A- (Sir Frances Kynaston?)

17a. Satire on Truth’s absence from ladies chambers, law courts, church A (Anon 15th C)
17b. Similar moral, though a bit more pronouncedly moralistic B (Samuel Butler, Hudibras)

18a. George Crabbe, lamenting the taverns where working men “taste their coarse delight.” Since, you know, “The gayest place has its sinks and sewers.” Comprehensive eye, and I think the proletarian in Z would like it. It’s just for me, yo: B-

18b. Another lament for the poor. Don’t recognize this though. It’s about the same as above (Philip Ayres)

Archives Project: STL #47.7

Title: Test of Poetry
Description: TOP 3-10
Date: 25 May 2005
Let me say that my comparative reading of 3a&b yields nothing, but was a lot of fun. The previous entry has been edited so that all of #3 is together.
3a+b near contemporaneous versions (Elizabethan) of an ode to classical poets past and present. I feel I should know what it is but I just don’t. The vocabulary and structure are so close, that it’s only the fine details that a reading can focus on. For instance, the two first lines:
a) Envy why carpest thou my time is spent so ill, b)Envy, why twitst thou me, my Time’s spent ill?

so, the differences: one of vocabulary, carpest vs. twitst (not twists); three of punctuation, two commas for an inaccurate parenthetical phrase in b and a comma in a, which better joins the next line as a compound question; one additional word, “so” in A; and one of capitalization, Time is an abstraction in b. The score: A wins for the lower case t easily, and for the sentence construction. It’s a split for the commas: there really should be one comma, after Envy. The lexical substitution and added word leads to a much spritelier rhythm in B, which should count a bit more. So it’s a tie after line one.
line two differences: two of vocabulary termst vs. call’st, works vs. verse termst works better with “fruits” but it’s less direct. Another tie
Line 3: two differences of punctuation: comma at the end of the line in a, parentheses in b. The winner is b, for grammatical accuracy and the slight modulation of an otherwise too-regular line.
Line 4: one difference of phrasing: a says “Wars dusty honors are refused being young? but b says …I pursue not young? There’s a difference of sense here, so I will defer judgment until the end, though instinct says B.
Line 5 two lexical differences, Nor vs. Or, and brawling vs. tedious; and two of punctuation, a comma in the middle of b which also has a terminal semicolon. I’m familiar enough with Elizabethan diction to know that I can’t make a call on Or vs. Nor, and the other difference should resort to the original (“tedious” makes more sense), and like line 3, the punctuation complicates the rhythm in a nice way, as well as the sense “Or that I study not, the tedious laws;” “tedious laws” being both the object of study and the compelling custom that he should study. Slight edge to b

Line 6: one difference of phrasing “Nor set my voice to sale in every cause?” vs “And prostitute my voice…”The second is more incisive, and the first has too smooth a meter. “Prostitute” also uncannily echoes “study not” It goes to B

Line 7 one of punctuation, comma in A (who as is by now clear prefers fewer impediments) vs semicolon in B and a capital F for Fame in B. Maybe I’m misreading the capitals; these rules were less strict at the time. However, the semicolon is just misleading, so I’m awarding this line to A, his first win. (This is so fun, and so useless!)
Line 8 difference of phrasing “That all the world may ever chant my name” vs. “Which through the world shall…”Different subject, so Fame is being personified by B. “May” resonates nicely with “my name” and shall is stuffy anyway, so A wins two in a row.
Line 9: 2 lexical differences: shall vs. will, while vs. whilst; 1 punctuation difference of parenthetical commas added in B. edge to A b/cause the punctuation does not follow sense
Line 10: 2 lexical differences: into Sea vs. to the sea and swift vs. fleet, 1 capitalization: Sea in A; 1 punctuation, period vs. colon for end stop. I think “into” must be the correct sense, and I like the elided article. The period seems a better choice as well. A all the way
Line 11: greatest variation so far, but I guess I’ll categorize it as two differences of phrasing and one of lexicon: “Ascraeus lives,” vs “And so shall Hesiod too” and “while graps with new wine swell,” vs. while vines do bear,” First, I don’t have a handy reference to sort out the name difference. They’re all otherwise the same. Anyway, A is obviously more compact, and B calls on a verb from two lines back (that’s probably more faithful to the Latin) A choose to be brief for the first phrase and expand the second with commendable effect grapes picks up Asraeus, new wine swell is a nice run. the line to A, the comeback kid. Halfway through, the score is A 5, B 3, with two ties and one leaning to B
Line 12: another problematic diagnosis different actor men vs sickles, random cap of Sickle in A, corn down fell vs. crop the ripened ear. I’ve got to go with B in this case, as it’s less contorted. (A pays for the rhyme with swell)
Lines 13-14: “The world shall of Callimachus ever speak,/His art excelled, although his wit was weak.” vs. “Callimachus, though in Invention low,/Shall still be sung, since he in Art doth flowe.”
A is way, way better: the last phrase of b is an ugly solecism.

Line 15: different” “For ever lasts high Sophocles proud vaine” vs. No losse shall come to.Sophocles’...” Tiny advantage B ("high” is padding)
Line 16: no difference
Line 17: two differences of phrasing: "While bond-men cheat” vs. “Whilst Slaves be false,”; "bawds whorish,” vs. “Bawds be whorish,” w3 of capitalization in B. Both have problems of construction and scansion, so I’m calling a tie
Line 18: 2 lexical.cap difference: And vs Whilst; strumpets vs. Harlots. Tiny edge to B: by maintaining grammatic consistency in previous line he earns a little boost from a change
Line 19: “Till Cupid’s Bow and fiery Shafts be broken,” vs “Till Cupids fires be out, and his bow broken,” Edge to A for having a single concrete event
Line 20 1 diff of voca/punct : “Thy verses sweet Tibullus…” vs (neat Tibullus)” B is craftier: setting the addressee and not relying on the too poetic “sweet”
Line 21 1 difference of lexicon: And vs Our; one of punctuation comma vs colon Edge to B “Our” draws together speaker and Tibullus, the colon better for the concluding line
Line 22 One of punctuation, a comma in B and one verb tense: “whom he loved best.” vs “whom he now loves best.” This too you’d have to go to the Latin, but I’d lean to A
Final score: A 7, B 8. If I force a result on every non-identical line, its 10-10
Grades: After all the work, I’m giving both A’s (turns out it’s a: Marlowe and b:Jonson translating Ovid)


4a+b: I think we have Ovid again, Golding vs. Shakespeare. Once again, Golding comes out better, but then again this isn’t the best of Shax. Exhibits: “Ye Ayres and windes: ye Elves of Hilles, of Brookes, of Woods alone, / Of standing Lakes…” vs “Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves;” and “I call up dead men from their graves: and thee O lightsome Moone / I darken oft..” vs “…graves at my command/Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ‘em forth/By my so potent art.” In the first case, Shakes version is a boring list: Golding’s seems like a charm. In the second, G’s first phrase makes Sh’s last totally unnecessary Grades Golding A Shakespeare A-

5a Some prosaic translation with senseless enjambments Grade D (Catullus C)
5b. from When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d. Grade: one supposes A
5c something Modernist, but classically influenced. Cummings? A nice mix of registers, very “Objectivist” construction A (Cummings, Is 5)
6a Again with the Gavin Douglass. In lieu of grading, a transliteral translation
Before his regal high magnificence,
Misty vapor up-sprang and, sweet as sense,
In smoky sop is of donc-do his wake
Mo ick hail some stoves our held and the slack;
The oreat fan is of his throne so very own
With glittering glans o’erspread the oak sheen
The large fluid is lemon All of licked
Bought with a blink of his supernal sicked.

For to behold it was a gloried Uzi
The stabbed wind is and the Comet sea,
The soft session, the firm amend “sir”-in
The loam illuminant air, and further men;
The silver-scalt fishes on the grate
Ortho’er clear stems sprinkling of the heat,
With fins skinned and brow as I know par,
And chisel tallies, stow ‘round here and there;
The new culler all icht-ing all the land is
For gain their standers skein the burial strand is,
Quill the reflex of the diurnal be miss
The being bone kiss kissed full of variant gleam is.


6b possibly another Aeneid, I guess Dryden, because it’s boring C (well, Milton anyway)

6c also maritime, Victorian I think. Nice detail with some beetles: B (how embarrassing: It’s Lear. (King, that is) That I leave this up should show I’m not faking. God I’m embarrassed) )
6d. Cummings, or Williams? Typographically the former, but sounds like the latter. A (Cummings)
7a. A parody or unorthodox pre-Modern translation of the invocation of the Muse from Virgil. I like the light-hearted tone, though might not through the whole epic. A- (It’s Whitman!)
7b. Modern plain spoken trans of same “Tell me, Muse, of that man who got around/ After sacred Troy fell” Undercover Zukofsky? Grade C (Odyssey “Adaptation”)
8a Chaucer? I like the simile: “Madame, ye ben of al beaute shrine,/ As fer as circled is the mappemounde/ For as the crystal glorious ye shyne,/ And lyke ruby ben your chekes round.” Why not finish the stanza: “Therewith ye ben so mery and so jocounde,/That at a revel whan that I see you daunce,/ It is a n oynement unto my wounde,/Thogh ye to me ne do no dalianunce,” Grade: A
8b I can’t say exactly what I mean, but it’s straining after the condition of folk-lyric C (Browning)
9a, Another Chaucer lyric, I think, which summarizes all the Classical, historical, and mythic lore knowable in a 21-line love lyric. Pretty good A (Chaucer, from Legend of Good Women)
9b. Similar to (if not the same) as the Douglass Old Scots “That wele is comen to welaway/To many harde stoundes” Maybe not (Southron)
9c A nice ubi sunt poem: “Hwer is Paris and Heleyne,/That weren so bryht and feyre on bleo.” Z says that last phrase, “on bleo” means literally dark bule, so mayb in bleak weather, in bleak times” “Heo beoth iglyden ut of the reyne, / So the scheft is of the cleo” Means They have glided out of the reins as the form is out of the clay (or sheaf is out of the steep hillside). Fascinating piece A (Thomas of Hales)
9d. Trans of Villon Not that interesting B- (Rosetti)
10a Petrachan sonnet. Rather dry C (Wyatt)
10b Shax sonnet. “the foison of the year” A (Shx 53)

Archives Project: STL #47.6

Title: Test of Poetry
Description: TOP 3.2
Date: 23 May 2005

Follow up to Davenport's list (could be an independent post): since making the list, I've come to enjoy Ives (though not that piece yet) and Franck and read the Simenon novel. Davenport's taste is so reliable that following up on the rest would be profitable.

2a+b 2 versions of the invocation of Venus from the Aeneid(?). At an earlier reading, I coded the corresponding lines—A is stilted and abstract, B direct. Vide: “Be though my aid, my tuneful song inspire;/And kindle with thy own productive fire” vs. “trim my poetry/With your grace; and give peace to write and read and think.” First time thru I gave C and A respectively—the spread still seems right. (Lucretius, not Virgil, by Dryden and Bunting)

Bonus: good things in life, according to Guy Davenport's Apples and Pears: "The Rockstrewn Hills Join the People's Outdoor Mountains" by Charles Ives; Archaic Greek lettering; the Appalachian trail; Simenon's Le Petit Saint, Balthus's "Passage du Commerce," the hordes and bands of Charles Fourier, Hokusaki's 36 Views of Mt Fugi, Franck's Symphony in D Minor (the "little phrase"?), Serat's "Grand Jatte & Bathers," Rilke's angels, Rousseau's "Les Joueurs de Ball," the Oslo sculpture of Adolf Vigeland, Mondrian, George Herriman, Dufy's woodcuts, the photos of Imogen Cunningham, Gerald Murphy's "Wasp and Pear," table manners, Shaker housekeeping, the coloring of Rik Wouters, Robert de Launay's paper on labyrinths.

Archives Project: STL #47.5

Title: Test of Poetry 3
Description: Test of Poetry 3
Date: 19 May 2005

Response to only one of the exhibits. Contains phrase "lap it home" punctuated by a parenthetical "yo."

okay, there’s been a considerable break I know, but let me lap it home (, yo). I did later read Sleeping with the Dictionary, which just isn't as good as Muse and Drudge.

1a. Elpenor and Odysseus in rhyming couplets—Hobbes maybe: fair enough, but I’m distracted by the implication that after death the soul leaves the body to inhabit a shade: I always thought the shade was the soul. Perhaps “this infernal shade” is a synechdoche for Hades, where the exchange takes place. B-

1b. Three lines of expressive iambic pentameter. “Death is not knowing what is not a shadow”—line shows some thoughtful variation Grade: A-

1c. a bit of Bunting: Night swallowed the sun as/the fish swallowed Jonas.” Bunting was a classicist at heart—modest but perfect language Grade: A

1d King James Bible. Stirring even to an unbeliever like me. Grade A (I Samuel)

Shorter more frequent posts coming, including wider ranging blurbery, such as follows...

So what else? Read Harriet Mullen's Muse and Drudge, for the second time (since I can't find Sleeping with the Dictionary in the stacks. Four line stanzas using lots of internal rhyme, four to a page for 80 pages: 320 stanzas and 1280 lines in all. There's no punctuation, no consistent narrative, but a unity of imagery--barely hidden picnics, kitchens, churches. I think this would be a book of difficult poetry (diffpo) to get people who resist difficult poetry.

Continuing a campaign through Guy Davenport's fiction. If I hadn't come through first the essays and then Da Vinci's Bicyle, I'd be really unimpressed by the ponderous eroticism of "Apples and Pears." I should make an inventory of good things according to Guy.

Read Moxley's Imagination Verses which I liked but am already starting to forget. She reminds me that a lot of langpo types have a groundig in 19th C literature, and therefore rhetoric: S. Howe, Friedlander, Bernstein I think. Something to pursue there.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Archives Project: STL #47.4

Title: Test of Poetry
Description: Test of Poetry 2.16-25
Date: 31 March 2005

I had the idea of doing a sort of test of poetry with the Don Allen New American Poetry 1945-1960 which I'm reading right now. I'd invent my own vocabulary, or perhaps adopt it from the corresponding poetics section. It's an interesting and uneven selection. There's great Olson and Duncan (as far as I am right now) but also really subpar work compared to what the pair did in the 1960s. There's also a good number of forgotten poets and dated material from those that are remembered--this is important material for an ongoing poetic education. (Why? To make measurements apart from standards of excellence? To question those very standards?)

I don't have reliable Internet at home, so while I'm writing a few of these measurements everysooften I post much less frequently. In this installment I become distracted from the exhibits toward Z's curatorial practice.

16a. Robt Herrick, “Violets” Uses a varied meter with great deal of grace: Four quatrains abba, the 1st line of each trochee, trochee, ampribrach (I think: .#.), the second and third line single anapests, and the last an iamb and amphibrach. Grade: A

16b. Herrick, “To Keep a True Lent” A number of semantically unimportant stresses, though I do feel informed by the theological explanation. I simply don’t see the “righteous indignation” that Z detects. Grade: B-

17a. Pope’s Dunciad. The first of 5 examples of discourse. I’m not sure what he means, but he does also mention he sees all 5 as satire, this of epic invocation. I’ll read it someday. Grade:B+

17b. George Crabbe. Inebriety. A parody of Pope. Not good and I don’t get the point: C-

17c. Rochester, A Letter. “Your country drinking breath’s enough to kill/ Sour ale corrected with a lemon-peel…” Grade: B

17d. Rochester, Letter. Grade:B

17e. T.S. Eliot, Waste Land. The “What are you thinking of?” bit, not great representation of the whole, which I like more after teaching it twice. Z’s glosses suggest that the keyword “discourse” refers to the deploying of information: satire better when particular the case in point. grade: A


18a. George Crabbe, The Borough. Many of Z’s examples center on Greek hell as portrayed by Homer (which he draws on in “A”-1 as well). This passage riffs on the appearance of the newly dead in Hades, where the denizens beseech the him for news of the world before showing him their world. Crabbe goes at some length to compare this with the poet’s job. Grade: B+

18b. Wordsworth, Laodamia. Is Z the anti-Wordsworth? The beginning of this passage has emotions making direct perception of the world. But as the note tells us, “only objectified emotion endures.” This text might help a reading of “Sincerity and Objectification.” Grade C

19a Robert Burns, A Winter Night. I suppose that the energy at question is the winter storm summoned here-in. Although Burns is one of the real finds of this project for me, this is doesn’t work for me. grade: B-

19b Ibid. Ditto. Actually, this is a bit worse, as he resorts to Everyman kind of personification. Grade: C

19c Burns, For A’ That and A’ That More in line with the Burns I’m coming to like. Limits of power mirroring limits of language. Grade: B+

20a. Shelley, Indian Serenade. Shelley, deep feeler that he is, is critiqued for creating a “lull of sound” with lines like “I arise from dreams of thee/In the first sweet sleep of night.” (The first lines which establish the meter ../ ./ ./, though not afraid of variation) True, some lines are filler, like “And the stars were shining bright” Grade: B+

20b. Hopkins, Moonrise. After reading these exhibits, I still don’t know what duration is. I only have a vague notion of Bergson, but I don’t think that’s it. Z’s argument is that this is semantically denser than Shelley, that “many shades of meaing [are] packed into one word.” Z’s critical eye is local; he makes judgment at the level of the line, though judgments are inevitable instinctive, or at least unsupported. This sounds like his praise of Rez in ‘Sincerity and Objectification”: “The next line is a masterful example of the visual imagination forming a relation of images of facts hitherto unrelated so that the result is a new experience.” Sure, the line he is admiring is nice (“The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe of a fingernail held to the candle,”) but it’s only the 2nd line, so how could these “facts” not be “hitherto unrelated.” The “scientific” criticism of Z and Pound leave out a lot of evidence. Grade: A (the music is so much more energetic )

21a. Browning The Ring and the Book. The impact of a part of a long poem might be thought to be dependent on its relation to the whole, but LZ obviously doesn’t think so. I don’t get much from this excerpt, though I’m intrigued by the observation that the “emotional quality of good poetry is founded on exact observation which is often a combination of humor plus sense.” Satire as Sincerity. Grade:C

22b. Landor Epithamalion. "Walter’s Savage Satire" reads the headline. “Pounds, shilling and pence/And shrewd sober sense/Have clapt the straight waistcoat on”is only the set up for “The cord’s fatal jerk/Has done its last work/And the noose is now slipped upon”

22a Browning, Pippa Passes. There was another section of this poem I liked as well. This is getting old, but I’d like to have a frame for this excerpt. Grade: B

22b Swinburne. Chorus from Atalanta. There is in fact no movement, just swirling about. Z points out for similes for a woman in 2 lines, yet the vehicles are not likened to one another. grade: C

23a. Skelton, “To Mistress Margaret Hussey.” The recurrence of a refrain that makes no sense to me (“Gentle as a falcon/Or a hawk of the tower”—birds of prey are gentle?) doesn’t do much for me. grade: C

23b.Hardy “Timing Her” One of the most contemporary things LZ says: “Poetry does not arise and exist in a vacuum. It is one of the arts—sometimes individual, sometimes collective in origin—and reflects economic and social status of the peoples; their language habits arising out of everyday matter of fact” His comments gesture toward a materialist poetics, and he even thinks Hardy’s piece engages physical cues of repetition used by “folk” to mark sincerity. It's a quick enjoyable poem that he pegs right as a jig. Grade B

24a Anon. “I have a gentil cok” I suspect there’s a sharp satire in praising a common rooster in terms of opulence and noble lineage. I’d be inclined to do some philological research of corel, inde and other words to connect them with wealth. Grade A

24b. WCW “So much depends” What to say? “It may take only four words to shift the level at which emotion is held from neatness of surface to comprehension which includes surface and what is under.” Grade: A

25a. H.C. Work ‘The Year of Jubilee” H.C. Work must be the transcriber of this song sung by black Union troops. First of two thoughts on dialect poetry: I’d like to do a study of AfAm from Work to Dunbar to Jordan and Scots from Douglas to Macdiarmid to Tom Scott, examining issues of anonymity, margin and center, and “speaker’s” relation to both. If I’m ever in the position to propose a senior seminar, that’d be a good topic. This poem is chilling and sublime if you don’t let the “dem darkies” vocabulary/transcription distract you. Grade: A

25b. anon Anglo-Irish dialect. Second thought: (it's a question)—what’s LZ’s position on dialect signify? Is it related to his literal translations? Grade: A

Friday, November 23, 2007

Archives Project: STL #47.3

Title: Test of Poetry
Description: A Test of Poetry I.11-25
Date: 22 February 2005

Thing I like in the following: The observation that why I have trouble with folk sources is that they lack authorial gestures. Thing I find problematic: that statement isn't true.

I finished Part 1 in the past week or so, but am just now getting around to posting. Toward the end I get sketchier and sketchier in my comments; I wonder if I'll finish this project? I will at least start Part 2, which includes attribution and analysis for me to negotiate with.



11a First of a pair of ballads about Robin Hood. I have a hard time evaluating folk poetry, perhaps to the extent that it lacks individuality, or more precisely (I’m going out on a limb here) lacks the kind of authorial gestures I like—knowing and deviating from tradition in a creative way. Of these two, I like this one a little less, although it’s a nice vignette of noble outlawry in Sherwood Forest. Grade B

11b. This one shows a confrontation between Robin and the Sheriff. I like it a little more because of Robin’s inventive threat: “Thou shalt be the first man/Shall flower this gallow tree. Grade A-, and I think I’d like to look up other RH ballads sometime
(Child ballads)

12a. I think Lysander, invoked here-in, is in Shakespeare, so my evaluation is skewed already. This passage isn’t the best Shx, and is on the familiar subject of hearing improving on blindness. None of the rhymes are unusual, though they play off one another in the argument. Grade: A
(Midsummer Night Dream, which I haven’t read)

12b. I’m guessing WS again. Nice insult: “painted maypole” Grade: A-
(Midsummer’s Night Dream again)

12c. Completing the set: King Lear I presume. I note that I’m letting identification trump evaluation, which is troubling . Grade: A
(yep, Lear)

13a Dammit! There’s a phoenix, there’s a turtle. I haven’t read this whole thing either, but like the excerpt. I’m reminded of the lack of context through out, not only in the history and society implied by the name, but the function on the lines in context of a whole. This works fine on its own, but the real test is if it’s a good prologue, climax, etc. Grade: A-
(Shakespeare)
13b. “So virtue, giv’n for lost/Deprest and overthrown, as seemed,/Like that self-begotten bird/In the Arabian woods embost” As I was saying: from near the end of Samson Agonistes, in which the happy news that “Samson hath acquit himself as Samson” is relaid, by way of a comparison to the phoenix. (I believe the phoenix in 13a is literal). What would be interesting wd be to map out the interplay of religious and mythic (pagan) imagery in the play, but this passage succeeds on its own Grade: A
(Milton)

14a I’m on a real streak. The first half of Donne’s “The Ecstasy,” followed by
14b. The second half. This poem is included in Pound, though in a slightly different text. ABC breaks it into quatrains, this forgoes stanza breaks but indents every other line. Crucially though, it read “Atomies” instead of “Anatomies.” Grade: A

15a. Can’t think of a way this is good. Grade: D
(Anonymous)
15b. This “an Angel… sawest my heart” is too thick for my taste, and neither does the style appeal to me. Grade C
(Donne)
15c. A simple plebian ditty. Grade: C-
(John Fletcher)

16a. I like the delicate stanza arrangement of this little song to daffadils a lot. Nice play of meters Grade: A
(Herrick)

16b. Also invokes daffadils (how I love that spelling), but the comparison with the short life of a flower and our own mortality breaks down in the last line Grade: C
(Herrick again)

16c. Zukofsky’s “Little wrists” In many of his lyrics, he circles around his subject, whistling. As it appears in this set, I guess the “wrists” are stems—he asks if the wrists content (hands?) are what’s seen or held or the intangible smell. Grade: A

17a. I don’t know what this is, but I like it—sort of a Something/Nothing “Whose on First’ routine (except not at all, being a monologue) I wrote Wit in the margin, thinking of French Esprit. Grade: A
(Lord Rochester)
17b. Also riffs on “Nothing”—a place holder for non-being has delighted deconstructionists throughout the ages I guess. Grade; C
(The Rubyiat)
17c. Some more metaphysical levity, but with a bit more grounding. Grade: B+
(oh my, it’s Yeats)

18a. A work of portraiture with some vague political comment. Dammit Louie, how can I evaluate “intellection” without context! Rhyming couplets, subdued tone Grade: C+
(Geo. Crabbe)
18b.Probably Golding again. A really moving account of fishermen’s poverty and pride, and it blows 18a out of the… “For when that death bereft him use of aire/Save water he me nothing left.” Grade” A
(Golding)

19a. Scottish dialect poetry—Burns? “A certain Bardie’s rantin’, drinkin’” Grade: A
(Burns)
19b. Same dialect as previous, also preoccupied with the Fall of Adam. If this is Burns, it’s lot more sophisticated than I thought. It’s wearing naiveté as a mask Grade: A-
(Burns)

20a. Flat rhythm and outdated diction. Houseman? Grade: C
(Wordswoth, “Simon Lee”)
20b. Real Scottish folk poem I’m guessing. Similar diffidence as to others Grade: B
(“Waly, Waly”)
20c. Are the last words of lines called teuletons? If so, notice the links in this stanza of the Chimney Sweep: young-tongue (the tongue is young)- ‘weep (what the tongue cries out b/c it is young) sleep (in soot, that makes us weep) Grade: A
(Blake)
20d. Two classical lines Grade: B+
(Byron “Oh! Snatched Away”)

21a “Dusk winding-stairs, dim galleries got past,/ You gain the inmost chambers, gain at last/ A maple paneled room” Back that up with “The Arab’s wisdom everywhere” and it seems like Poe, but it’s not a formally stilted. I’m quite frankly drawn to exoticism Grade: B+
(Browning
21b. WCW. An argument against the preceeding, and an argument I have within myself. Grade: A

22a Mix of registers—the spoken and unfinished with composed and archaic. I wonder what this is Grade: B+
(Browning)
22b Way overblown diction, my “lady of light” Grade: D
(Swinburne)
22cAlso mixing registers, though mostly with vocabulary between the 2 stanzas. Grade: A
(Burns)
22d Strangely compelling, but more like notes to a poem. 16th c, I’d wager Grade:C
(George Peel Batshebe Sings(?)
22e Something modern and (intentionally) naïve. Grade: C-
(Browning, same poem as A)

23a What’s “Hedge-crickets sing” from? Complex, sensual image anyway. Grade: uh, B?
(Keats, “To Autumn”)
23b Play on qualities of mirror. Grade: B+
(Lord Herbert of Cherbury)
24c I’m missing some of sense, but the texture and melody is wonderful Grade: B+
(Shakespeare, Pericles)
23d Niedecker? I’m not really crazy about her Grade:C
(LN)
24a Dislike the poeticizing on rereading. And “My king, my country, alone for whom I love”—really, king and country must be different things. grade: D
(Wyatt)
24b This invokes similar “bad” politics, but does so gracefully “Thou show’dst a subject’s shine, I a true prince.” grade: A
(Shakes)

25a Minstrelsy? I actually kind of like it. Grade:B
(H.C. Work)
25b Another medieval song (“Lollai, lollai, litil child”) Grade: B
25c. “The falling out of faithful friends renewing is of love” grade: B+
(Richard Edwards)

Archives Project: STL #47.2

Title: A Test of Poetry
Description: A Test of Poetry I.6-10
Date: 26 January 2005

I coin both the word "anthological" (pertaining to anthologies") and the term "anthological plagiarism" in the following.


6a This is Gavin Douglass’s translation of The Aeneid. Douglas is well-represented in ABC of Reading, in fact, this very passage is there. (I wonder if might be thought of as a kind anthological plagiarism.) Pound at least provides a crib, but Zuk wants us to take on “takillis grafillis cabillis” and frate and frais w/out any help. I guess I like it as far as I understand: “And euerythyng manissis the men to de/Schewand the ded present before there E.” Grade: B

6b: Shakespeare, from the Tempest. Also about sailing thru a storm, when “Hell is empty/And all the devils are here.” Knowing this is Shakespeare imprints value on the passage, but the pattern of “flamed amazement” is impeccably woven. Grade: A+

7a Two poems on the immortality of verse. This first one incorporates some classical allusions that I don’t know: Propertius and Tibullus. T is a pile of ashes who can’t even fill his urn.
When all bodies meet
In Lethe to be drowned,
Then only numbers sweet
With endless life are crowned.

The situation is confused: poetry not people so never enter the situation describe Grade: B-
(Herrick)

7b: A bit more moralistic take on the same theme: “Let base conceipted wits admire vilde things/ Gair Phoebusl ead me to the Muses spring.” This one ends with a strong image and a paradoxical restatement of the argument: Though death rakes my bones in a funeral fire/ I’ll live, and as he pulls me down mount higher” Grade: B
(Ovid trans Marlowe)

8a This set has three medieval songs. The first is most strongly based on repetition: 12 lines, and only six non-repetons. It dances nicely through this constraint Grade: B+

8b: I know this well “I sing a maiden//That is makeles” I remember that I actually had to be informed by a footnote that this was to Mary. Despite that the text says “Well may swich a lady/Gods moder be.” Implying that I gained something from the English major, like paying attention. Grade: B (but somehow these seem especially irrelevant when applied to the folk tradition)

8c: There’s an almost modern complexity to this one: in the repeated “Erthe out of erthe” phrase, ether becomes an overdetermined term. the final stanza returns to the era and wraps everything up in a pious bundle: a let down. Grade: B
(attributed to Richard Rolle)

9a This longish poem (in rime royal?) has some lushly-sounded lines:”Girls, lovers, glad young folk and newly wed/ Jumpers and jugglers jumping heel over head” but its grounded by a moroseness (word) of a prisoner abandoned by his friends. Grade: B+
(Villon trans Swinburne—of course)

9b No, this is rime royal: ababbcc (I should know this cold). This poem skillfully praises “stedfastnesse” I love the directive to the king to "do law" Grade B+
(Chaucer)

10a Wyatt’s classic “They flee from me that sometime did me seek/ With naked foot stalking in my chamber.” I love the rhythm of this poem, and also admire the hunting conceit. Grade A+

10b Eh. Don't get much from this. Grade: C
(from Tottel’s)

15 minutes to meta

I need to make a decision before I carry on with my November 'daily' blogging: Do I number my long Test of Poetry post as one STL post or more? And how many more, if that's what's needed? Since I have things I need and want to do, I don't want to spend more that 15 minutes on this task, so by the time "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" starts, I must be done with this deliberative post.

There's 7 or 8 posts in this category. However, many of these posts are far sketchier than any other STL post, which are closer to reviews or essays than blog notes (and there is no question of ever numbering the 'notes' I've posted in the STL series. The project as a whole is a bit off of the other STL's, with the exception of the reflective "Final Exam." The "Final Exam" then should be numbered separately, while the other parts will be STL #47.2 ect. To provide further infomatic flexibility, I'll tag each post "TOP" and "poetry." Titles will be Test of Poetry, Description will be the designated portion of the test.

"She's Leaving Home" just started, leaving me a few minutes to review and add further thoughts. [pause] Not really, but the decision does assume some unspoken definition of what an STL post is, which I may pick up next week.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Archives Project: STL #47

Since I won't actually post tomorrow, and since I don't want to start sweeping just yet, I thought I'd do another archive post. This is the last numbered STL, and since it's a multi-part post, this fact sends me to an editorial dilemma. Do I number subsequent posts in serial order (48, 49, 50...) or do I call the whole thing number 47? Possibly 47A, 47B, etc. I'm leading toward the former, since the posts occur over the course of months. Then I miss my 50th anniversary post of STL, but I may have done that anyway since I haven't accounted for/numbered other STL-like posts I've done since opening up shop on blogspot. I guess I can decide on Friday. (I can see a big ol' editorial meta-post coming up.)

Title: A Test of Poetry
Date: 25 January 2005

I actually buy the Pound/Zuk notion that exercising one's discriminating faculties (or call it 'discernment') is a forceful reason for reading poetry. Thus, I’m engaging in LZ’s Test of Poetry I’ll elaborate on criteria as I go, but I’m deferring to LZ’s “sight, sound, and intellection,” which obviously parallels Pound’s phanopeia, melopeia. and logopeia.


If you don't know the book, it's a textbook that Zukofsky put together that consists of "exhibits," or sets of unattributed poems with some connection in content or otherwise. You have to flip to the back for the attribution, so you're reading the poem cold. I’ll be read by batches of 5 “exhibits” before "checking" my answers.


1a “Arrived now at our ship” We start with a set of three translations of the same passage from the Odyssey, which makes for easy comparison. This first one is starts with a howler; apparently the crew loads their sheep after setting sail. To top that off, the two sheep are vaguely called “late-got cattle.” Nothing following the first line makes up for the start. Grade: D
(Chapman’s Homer!)

1b I belatedly realize that Chapman’s “put forth sail” is the actual raising of the sail, which I guess you’d do before depart, and potentially before loading livestock. Ah well. Here, the sheep appear just before the succinct “And so for Hell we stood, with fears in mind, /and tears in eye” The fears/tears rhyme is trite, but nonetheless shows a nice inside/outside mirroring. Grade: C
(Thomas Hobbes—who knew?)

1c.Terse, modern rendering. Maybe by Zuk? This starts “For hell we launched with two sheep to sacrifice/And trimmed the gear despite our tears.” That interior rhyme creates an exteriority that’s probably more accurate—sailors doing their work despite the doom of the first phrase hanging over them. Later, the boredom of sailor is bluntly shown: “We sat, steered, nothing to do.” Grade: A
(“Adaptation”—Zuk?)

2a. The passage continues and Odysseus and chums make their sacrifice. This is the same translator as 1c. It’s just as quick and lean. The elision of “we” in the first line “And paid our respects in hell” suggests Pound, but since it’s so close to “And then went down to the ships like I suspect a Pound imitator. (Like LZ at this point). I like how it represents the creepy fear of being in hell: “Slain soldiers, the wounded armed--/ All clamoring--/My blood paled.” Grade: A
(“Adaptation”)

2b. Here’s a partial catalogue of the folks in hell: “Fair pensive youths, and soft enamour’d maids; And wither’d elders, pale and wrinkled shades.” Dated but nice, but compare to 2a’s “Brides, virgin boys, old men tried in hardship.” Pretty fluffy in comparison, as “aghast I stood/ And a cold fear ran shivering through my blood.” Grade: B-
(Pope)

2c.Pretty bland “I grew pale with fear”Grade: C+
(W.C. Bryant)

3a Okay, now we’re moving on the Ovid’s history of the ages. I like this passage, dwelling on (in this excerpt) the Golden Age “when man, yet new,/No rule but uncorrupted reason knew;/And, with a native bent, did good pursue” and moving on to “Hard Steel” (should be iron, no?) when wars raged over, ironically, gold. Grade: C
(Dryden)

3b. This is much livelier. In the Golden Age, “There was no feare of punishment, there was no threatening lawe/In brazen tables nailed up, to keepe the folk in awe” (note the stately septemeter, the vivid image of the table of laws put in striking assonance”) and ultimately “hurtfull yron came aborde, then came forth yellow golde/More hurtful than the yron farre then came forth battle bolde/That feights with both, and shakes his sword in cruel bloudy hand.” I think this is the Arthur Golding translations praised in ABC of Reading. Grade: A
(Golding)


4a. Account of some flood, probably from Ovid. Same meter and orthography as 3b. Wonderful image of ships floating over fields (“In meddowes greene were Anchors cast”) Grade: A
(Golding)

4b: A love poem from the same period. Nothing particular strikes me. Grade: B-
(Golding’s Ovid)


5a. Some sort of epigram about one “Mentula.” Prosaic, humdrum conclusion. Grade: C
(Catullus CXV, trans F.W. Cornish)

5b High-level folderol: both exhibit 5a and this are satires on wealthy land owners: I like the last stanza of this one:

he had rolled in money like pigs in mud,
Till it seem’d to have enter’d his blood
By some occult projection:
And his cheeks, instead of a healthy hue,
As yellow as any guinea grew
Making the common phrase seem true
About a rich complexion.

The play on “rich” is funny , the feminine rhymes satisfying. I wonder about the relation of pig and guinea though. Grade: B

(Thomas Hood, Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg)

Inane post

So anyway, it's a quarter after nine in the morning and I should start cleaning the house. We aren't having guests for Thanksgiving tomorrow, but it just seems wrong to go into one of the major domestic holidays with a dirty and cluttered house. In a few minutes, I'll put on some music and start sweeping. I'll at least do a general straightening and wipe down bathroom fixtures. I invited my friend M over over lunch to discuss class planning. We'll have ham or meatloaf on rye sandwiches, which reminds me I should run to the corner store to pick up some chips and beer.

This is a meta post. Other things I could post about: a follow up on 300 focusing on the problematic foreign policy of the Spartans(!); a plan for a blog/webzine devoted to the freak-folk scene (an idea I had a year ago--is the moment over); a meditation on how technology controls the way I listen to music; a review of Nicholas Mosley's Assassins; thoughts on Norman Mailer. But I did not post on them, and now I will go sweep.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

300 (STL 60)

I can't say I actually hated 300, the official action film of the Balco entertainment complex, but it disturbed, or maybe just annoyed, me on several levels. The first is it's shitty CGI-ness. Who exactly is this fooling? I guess the wheat fields outside of Sparta kind of looks like wheat, but the composition and texture distract from any real/"real" connection between actors. Speaking of "connection," the 'extreme intimacy' of Leonidas and Queen Independent Woman made me laugh out loud. Just like the violence, the sex was strictly for display. The violence as such didn't bother me, but as a purely aesthetic experience it imitates but falls short of the standards of John Woo. In its segmentation, it seemed to evoke the key combinations you would need to master in the video game version. Historical inaccuracy doesn't bother me, but the transplanting of contemporary mores and values on the past has the apparent good intentions of representing women and minority characters in positive light, but actually has insidious effects. By smoothing over and trivializing past conditions, present ideologies now seem more natural--that they easily extend over millenia. Lucky for us, that only applied to the portrayal of Queen Independent Woman, since the Persians were treated as racial stereotypes and King Xerxes as a nancy boy. American conceptions of Freedom, as a form of capital (yeah, the Queen did actually say "Freedom isn't free") to be hoarded is at very least ironic in considering it applied to the militaristic, slave-holding Spartans.

Yeah, so, anyway. I now get to prepend a stentorian "Spartans!" to any simple statement, such as "Spartans! Pass me the milk." Or "Spartans! I'm going to the store now."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Archives Project: STL #46

Title: War Pigs/Black Celebration
Description: Finding ways to survive--this time, with pop music.
Date:20 January 2005


I think this one speaks for itself, almost 2 years later. (Do we really have that much time left?)

Today Bush gets sworn in as Emporer and I'm thinking of writing about art? It's my continuing dilemma: how do books, movies, etc help at times like these, especially those which appeal to my rareified tastes? A literature of social action, yeah, but for some reason I mostly love difficult work of cultural conservatives from Pound to the recently deceased Guy Davenport.

Today though I've got two songs in my head--Black Sabbath's turgid "War Pigs" and Depeche Mode's "Black Celebration." An unlikely pair to be sure, but at times like these we take nourishment where we find it. I think of this like 45 with two A-sides (an outdated reference, but bear with me). "War Pigs" describes the truth of the coronation: "Generals gathered in their masses/ Just like witches at black masses." Rhyming the same word in a pop song is usually a cop out, but succeeds here in creating an identity between the war mongers who claim to carry out policy and protect the 'homeland' and the "Sorcerers of death's construction" they really are, "making war just for fun" [if fun means extraordinary profit and power consolidated by fear and lies]. Metal has a reputation for conservatism if not fascism, but this song is straight up protest music: "Politicians hide themselves away/ They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?/They leave that role to poor." When thinking about these words in context with the current reign of witches, the conclusion is ironic: Ozzy predicts that the war pigs will fall from power and face divine retribution. In a way this will happen: the rabid right will return to the hills when the theocracy doesn't rise in the next term and the reality based community--be it McCain, Giuliani, Clinton, or Obama, will return to power. I just hope it's in time.

After the ceremonies, when the next round of balls has begun, we'll go home and flip the single. The New Wave dirge fits our mood: "Let's have a black celebration...To celebrate the fact that we've seen the back of another black day." We'll have a few drinks--the hardest stuff we have--and we'll figure out a way to "carry on/ When all hope is gone." My slogan for the last Bush term has been "alcoholism--it's the new suicide," but we'll find other ways to carry on. For me, it's going to be the hard work of teaching and the continuing solace and challenge of art. It's a paradox that a "single" has two songs on it, but even such an overbearing occasion as today's Black Mass is complex and multivalent. I guess this little ditty on two sub-pop songs actually answer me question about aesthetic life in dire times: we learn to eschew simplicity and to strive for something beyond our reach.

/other/
books: The Recognitions by William Gaddis. Three Piece Suit by Eddie Campell
quote: "To patronize the faculty of taste is to patronize oneself. For taste governs every free--as opposed to rote--human response. Nothing is more decisive. There is taste in people, visual taste, taste in emotion--and there is taste in acts, taste in morality. Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas." Susan Sontag, Notes on Camp

Friday, November 16, 2007

Archives Project: STL #45

Title: Strategy
Date: 10 December 2004

The last post of 2004, and 2005 were not to be fabulous years for blogging. The post promises a lot of things I never did:
Best of years (I don't think I've done this in a long time)
Best movies ever
Definitive Buffy entry
Retirement of glenn mcdonal (though he still posts now and then)

I do still manage my projects by scholarship teaching service and personal.

I've got a little time on my hands: What should I do next?

For one, I'm going to revivify the blog. I like doing it, and more I like having it done: I can see exactly how I wasted my time a certain week. It's coming up on the end of the year, the season of best-of lists. I don't have the money or leisure to speak authoritatively on the best X of the year, so last I year I dropped the 50 bestest songs ever on you, and the bestest albums of the last two years (bigger sample size, see). What I lack in money and leisure I make up for with subjectivity. I found in my papers recently a 1999 of my favorite movies ever. In my next entry, I'll type this up for posterity, and make any revisions I see fit. After that, you can expect to see my definitive Buffy entry, since the text is now complete, and maybe a catch up of the last two years of cd's, though I'm not sure that I'm that active a music fan anymore.

Getting back to art, after 2 political posts, an unpublished post on the retirement of glenn mcdonald, and months of nothing, will be a notable return to "normal," if I manage it. I ground my teeth for so long since November 2 that part of a tooth fell out. Art as a refuge might not be that noble, but it keeps me sane. It's also easy to swivel, while immersed in art, to the political conditions of its existence. In fact, it's getting hard not to. During the present reign of terror, with its malaprops, lies, and degradations of language, intense devotion to literature is important, if only to keep language, liberal education, and the human spirit alive.

Next year I'm off from teaching (next year I'm off from teaching!) so I'll pour it on with my dissertation. One of the four categories that I use to manage my time (teaching, admin, research, and leisure) is going latent, so I need to redirect that energy, and I don't mean toward leisure. I hope to have the complete thing drafted next year. I can't say for sure whether A Round of Fiddles will play a role in it or not-- probably not, since I don't really want to get caught up in the rhetorical battles of the poetry blogosphere. I do need to create some other "information architecture" through which to route my work, though, since it took me two years to produce a 30 page prospectus (and my reading really isn't done).

In the face of this little pledge for activity, I should note that I'm about to take off on a two week, cross-country adventure with Willow. I'll be writing while I'm at my mom's I'm sure, but might not actually post again til 2005. But despair not, gentle reader, I shall return.

Archives Project: STL #41

Title: Carl Rakosi 1903-2004
Description:
Date: 30 June 2004

I missed this in first time through while archiving STL. Later obituaries from the U Penn alumni site and a NYT blurb.

The poet Carl Rakosi died Saturday June 25, 2004, at the ripe age 100. He was the last of the Objectivists, those poets who emerged in the early 1930s as left-wing counterparts to the rising tide of Modernism, who nonetheless followed in and elaborated the Pound/Williams project of "thinking with things as they exist" (to quote Zukofsky, and admitting that's a gross oversimplification). A quick search shows no official obituary in the the American press, only one from the Guardian. I actually referred to him in the paper I gave last week, adding that he was "alive and well." I felt a little... guilty almost when I found out a few days later, for not 'touching wood' or something. I only made passing reference to him in my paper, which might add to the guilt, so thought I'd write a little about him this week. I called his work "genial and aphoristic," a phrase I may have unconsciously picked up from someone else but is nonetheless descriptive enough. I want to look at "Lying In Bed On A Summer Morning," supposedly the first poem he wrote after retiring from social work and embarking on a 35 year second career of poetry.

The poem begins

How pleasant are the green
and brown tiles
of my neighbor's roof.
The branches of his elm tree
stretch across
and make a delightful
composition
the angle
of the roof
the exact plane
which the branch needs
to be interesting.
Le mot juste? la branche juste!

From the beginning, it's a sort of origin myth/ poetic exercise. On the first day of his retirement, he takes in the scene outside of his window in an act of explicitly poetic attention. He continues his giddy visual survey:

And you, my dark spruce,
dominate the left side
of this composition.
You are clannish but authentic
and stand, uncompromishing,
for the family of trees.

Here's very self-aware in this stanza, pointing out some fairly hollow poetic tricks he's using--apostrophe to the tree, and exposing a synechdoche that really isn't employed in the poem. Despite how simple this and other CR poems seem, I don't totally get this stanza.

And all at once the early birds
all break out chirping
as when the bidding opens
on the stock exchange.
Then one,
the long sweet warble
of a finch.
Oh stay!
And then a chant from down the street,
two boys triumphant,
very samll in thick glasses:
"We go a bird nest! We got a bird nest!"
A contrary air.
It is gone.
And the blue sky,
clear as in Genesis,
holds.

Here's an obvious image of rebirth, morning birds, linked with the unusual but senible comparison to the Stock Exchange reopening in the morning. The stanza picks through some open lineation, and ends with another "beginning" comparison.

What is there between us?
an abstract air...
a state sans question
or inquietude.....
something light
as a country air
yet serious as gold
or man sui generis

"Air" means both atmosphere and song here: everything changed by poetry. Grappling at significance, he offers some possible consequences of his new life, ending with another image of value and an image of his new, "sui generis," self, which sonically links to "Genesis" above.

Ugh, sorry Carl. You'd think I could at least do a satisfactory exposition of the poem. Maybe by reading it though, you get an idea of his work, and of his 'value' of a life renewed by poetry.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Archives Project: STL #44

Title: A political follow-up
Description: Clarifying last week, before moving on.
Date: 8 November 2004

I didn't exactly follow up on my mission here, but I'd like to rethink this in terms of my teaching.

Last week I may have implied that I'm against abortion and gay marriage, or think they're unimportant. I feel a responsibility to my readers to clarify my position, especially to those readers searching Internet archives in 30 years when I'm unexpectedly appointed to the Supreme Court.

When I was writing last week, I didn't know that Satan's Army (aka the RNC) would successfully use gay marriage as a wedge to pop the competent candidate out and hammer the incompetent bully back into place. If Ohio hadn't had the measure on the ballot, who knows if the wacko turn out would be as high. Now, it'd be simplistic to wish that the DNC would disassociate itself from the issue, especially since the national ticket was against it. The measures in 11 swing states were calculated to do what they did-- solidify the Orcish army. The problem is that in conservative world views, gay marriage is a strong issue, since they really think God hates homosexuality and that gay marriage is a sign of the end. But in liberal world views, it's less compelling, an afterthought-- of course all citizens should be equally protected. Similarly, pro-life is stronger for its believers than pro-choice is for its party: the former see it as murder, the latter as a legal interpretation of the right to privacy. Even I'm not sure: pro-lifers turn me off with their distasteful virulence, and I'm not particularly drawn to the sanctity of life. Since those positions of mine are hardly mainstream, it's easy to see how that particular wedge works.

The problem we're having, then, is that the other side is setting the terms of the debate. I'm hardly the first to point this out, I know. The work we need to do, and liberal educators need to think about in particularly, is to reframe the issues. We should tax-and-spend abortion out of existence: bury girls and boys in condoms and sex education and we'll hardly ever hear of abortions. We should redefine marriage as strictly religious-- the govt will have no role in it whatsoever, but anyone can petition for a civil union at the courthouse. My strategy as a scholar and educator is to go back to the very books the right treasure so much, the Bible and Federalist Papers, and reinterpret them: use these and other texts to build a new frame for national debate on issues.

Archives Project: STL #43

Title: good day/bad day
Description: Back to writing--on politics this time
Date: 2 November 2004

This was the day before the worst day in American history. I was so angry and depressed that day. I remember walking Willow in the morning and picking up and smashing a rock on the ground. I remember sitting in a developer meeting commiserating. I stole a box of pens from the supply cabinet and gave one to everybody because what else can you do.

Today, a gray day in Austin, TX preceding I hope a glorious night, I've been thinking about what I care about. If today's the last day of the American Republic, and I think another Bush term would make an Imperial State impossible to deny, then what I think won't matter much. If John Kerry, who I've decided to love unreservedly, wins, and I really think he will by a considerable margin, then we can stave it off for a little longer and maybe what I believe is important might remain relevant a little bit longer.

I'm backing Kerry as a party man-- like a lot of people I started out strictly anti-Bush. That 'no real difference' argument about both parties invested in the ownership class is fine in theory, but politics is the art of the possible. There are real differences between Democrats and Republicans, but they aren't the dumbed down versions you get from the mass media or even worse from partisan sources.

Two issues that sharply divide the parties and, guess what, the country matter almost not at all to me. In fact, I only care about abortion and gay marriage as they are markers of a civil society. Don't get me wrong--I am in favor of women making informed decisions about their health and personal lives as much as I favor legal rights and due respect for all people. But in all honest they're both special cases. I care far more about a civic-minded society, environmental conservatism, and curbing corporate power.

A civic-minded society respects the variety of its citizens. It reaches decisions through consensus and compromise, and respects minority opinion. I also mean a secular society--one that makes no presumptions about the right or the sacred. Bush, the sanctimonious ass that he is, assumes that whatever he finds in his "heart" was put there by God. Kerry on the other hand quoted Lincoln at the convention-- that we shouldn't assume that God in on our side, but that we should humbly pray that we're on God's side.

I say environmental conservatism rather than proctectionism because despite the Republican's currents hostility toward the world we live in, preserving the environment is at heart a conservative stance. Fiscal responsibility is equivalent to ecological responsibility, and I'm in favor of both. The difference is that we can always print more money.

My first belief is consonant with my general intellectual outlook, developed by years in college. (They don't call it a liberal education for nothing.) My second belief contradicts it in assuming that Nature is Good, but pragmatically recognizes the fact that we only have one environment. My third point is much more specific, and I hope will burn itself out in my lifetime although railing against big business has been a Democratic staple since the party has taken its contemporary form. This is actually a subset of my first point. One mild instance of the corporate invasion of civic life is the selling of sports stadium names to the highest bidder. It's sad that nobody cares, but I'm not expecting any legislation against this soon. But letting drug companies run riot through our health care system impacts a lot of personal lives, so I hold out hope.

It's 10 to 4 on election day. Soon I'll know if there's any justification for that hope. I don't usually write about politics, but since I haven't been writing at all lately I don't think anyone will mind. Even so, here's a few lines that've been relevant since Robinson Jeffers wrote them in the 1920's:

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten masss, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.

Allegory of the Cave, Revised Version

So, anyway, this is pretty good for off-the-cuff commentary. I call it the allegory of the cave two-point-0h.

Don't forget the advice to fully explore your ideas. Think of ideas as caves that may include vast territory full of twists and turns and maybe even buried treasure. Don't walk by a lot of cave openings just glancing in. Instead, pick one to go into and explore. You may find tunnels to other caves, but that's a part of your exploration.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Archives Project: STL #42

Title: Hitting to all fields
Description:
Date: 15 July 2004

I sign off of this July post with "Till next time," which turned out to be November.
[I had posted this as STL #41, but it was corrected to #42. The archives fo #42-44 add edition numbers that were missing in the original publication.

Last week I started and abandoned a defense of difficulty in literature (too hard). I had several things in mind this week, but since I couldn't pick just one I thought I'd do them all. In honor of the recent All-Star game, I'll call this "hitting to all fields" (if music, film, and literature make a totality, and for me they just about do), as if this installment of Simplest demonstrates my versatility. The fact is, I forgot to turn the game on until after 6 runs had been scored and fell asleep between the 6th and 7th innings, so expect this likewise to be sloppy and inattentive.

First, let me pull into right for two albums I downloaded from iTunes. Generally I still buy CDs and only download singles, but I was trying to win a contest, dad-gum, and thought the albums would give me a better chance. I bought Appetite for Destruction, Nothing's Shocking, and part the Cult's Electric, three albums released in 1987 (according to Top of my Head research) which defined that summer. I'm not sure why I cling to hard rock and metal: they're completely declasse, unimaginative, and a little offensive. Oh wait, that's why I've returned to this music--it's mine. I know every note on these three records, even though I probably haven't heard them for 10 years. Jane's Addiction, despite their alt-rock credentials, don't do much for me anymore. While unveiling hypocrisy with arty "poetic" lyrics once strongly appealed to me, "The news is just another show" is so obvious as to be embarrassing. The music alternates between RHCP slack funk and proto-grunge and also sounds played out. The Cult, in their invocations to hippie philosophy and arm whirling guitar heroics, made no claims to originality, and "Peace Dog" sounds just as good as ever. I was most worried about Guns N Roses. I'm sure I listened to Appetite every day for over a year, and I'm just as sure I made sophomoric claims like 'Axl Rose is a poet of the streets.' They became huge of course; Axl spouted nonsense on stage and the band produced some bloated music. But for a moment they towered above the abject LA metal scene--the riffs were tight, funky even, the attitude sharp and exactly right. And it turns out I still love the record--I've listened to it every day since I bought it.

Next, the mainstream smash Spider-Man II. We are, of course, living in the golden age of the super-hero movie. Many factors of brought this about, including the emergence of CG effects (which are fine in this movie, though I'm generally unimpressed), the rise of the geek as a culture hero (including the entrance of the comics fan into the film industry), and the content wars (I mean, what intellectual property isn't being turned into a movie?). But most important of all is the fact that Marvel Comics, the one-time "House of Ideas," finally figured out how to market their characters to the film industry. I mean, Batman's cool and all, but most DC comics characters are hold-overs from the WWII era. The nice thing about Marvel movies is that they import the basic mythos of the characters from the comics. The savvy viewer can have a deeper experience by meditating on the relationship between the film and the canonical comics, while the uninitiated viewer can just have a good time. The question of identity is central to most super-heroes, none more than Spidey (one long(ish) running title was actually "Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man"). It's carried over into the movies in his loss of powers, his repeated maskless appearance, and the relationship between not Peter but Spidey and the ever-dewy Mary Jane. Hopefully, I do another summer movie round up in a few weeks.

Finally: a blooper to left.* A few weeks ago I blurbed Gilbert Sorrentino's collected stories. It was fairly weak I know, and I think I referred to his "craft." I'm pretty embarrassed about this, seeing as how GS savages "fine writing" usually associated with that term (I just meant I liked the way he wrote sentences). In his great novel, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things he proudly renders his characters as cardboard cutouts (from some Art World comic book maybe), saying at one point something like: 'If you want to know what kind of bag she carried ask John O'Hara.' IQAT (heh) far outpaces the short fiction and deserves to be read, not talked about in trite reviewer short hand.

*Hey, look at me dept: Notice, dear reader, the witty structure I've created. As a left-handed batter (an affectation I've abandoned actually) I 'pull' into the conservative, regressive 'field' of hard rock. The "mainstream smash" naturally resides in center, and my flair to left is a defensive swing to the off field. I'm so tickled with myself that I must be done. Till next time.

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