Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Class rules everything around me, getcha money, dolla dolla bills, y'all!

There is an opinion, not held very widely, that Shakespeare, were he alive today, would be a rapper. I disagree. Look at this pansy.

The only rapping he would do is of Christmas gifts for his momma [oooh, burn!]. No seriously, I think he would wrap gifts for his mom. Shakespeare the son is little spoken about (as opposed to the playwright, the lover, etc), but I imagine him as quite dutiful. In fact, it's what I like to admire about him the most.

But in terms of deceased social forces that might or might not be rappers, we've got to - we simply must - give it up for Marx and Engels. They are the original OG, NWA, Rage Against the Machine, um...Common? (I think those are all the socially revolutionary rappers I know. Is Rage Against the Machine even rap? I just remember their music as being largely distasteful.) But as if you doubt, check out this little seen portrait.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swine Flu in Mexico: A Magical Realist Nightmare

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Live Strong!

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Orwell is the bizzomb. To see the poem he's is writing about, ‘Felix Randal’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins (who, by the way, is also dope), click here.

from “The Meaning of a Poem” by George Orwell

“...in any criticism of poetry, of course, it seems natural to judge primarily by the ear. For in verse the words – the sounds of words, their associations, and the harmonies of sound and association that two or three words together can set up – obviously matter more than they do in prose. Otherwise there would be no reason for writing in metrical form. And with Hopkins, in particular, the strangeness of his language and the astonishing beauty of some of the sound-effects he manages to bring off seem to overshadow everything else....

One cannot regard a poem as simply a pattern of words on paper, like a sort of mosaic. This poem is moving because of its sound, its musical qualities, but it is also moving because of an emotional content which could not be there if Hopkins’ philosophy and beliefs were different from what they were. It is the poem, first of all, of a Catholic, and secondly of a man living at a particular moment of time, the latter part of the nineteenth century, when the old English agricultural way of life – the old Saxon village community – was finally passing away. The whole feeling of the poem is Christian. It is about death, and the attitude towards death varies in the great religions of the world. The Christian attitude towards death is not that it is something to be welcomed, or that it is something to be met with stoical indifference, or that it is something to be avoided as long as possible; but that it is something profoundly tragic which has to be gone through with. A Christian, I suppose, if he were offered the chance of everlasting life on this earth would refuse it, but he would still feel that death is profoundly sad. Now this feeling conditions Hopkins’ use of words. If it were not for his special relationship as priest it would not, probably, occur to him to address the dead blacksmith as ‘child’. And he could not, probably, have evolved that phrase I have quoted, ‘all the more boisterous years’, if he had not the special Christian vision of the necessity and the sadness of death. But, as I have said, the poem is also conditioned by the fact that Hopkins lived at the latter end of the nineteenth century. He had lived in rural communities when they were still distinctly similar to what they had been in Saxon times, but when they were just beginning to break up under the impact of the railway. Therefore he can see a type like Felix Randal, the small independent village craftsman, in perspective, as one can only see something when it is passing away....”


Friday, April 24, 2009

“Time past is not believed to have any bearing upon time present or future, out in the golden land where every day the world is born anew.” – Joan Didion

On Monday I spoke, through Dick Cavett, of Nebraska and the pull of place. I’ve never felt a particular draw to the Midwest, or the plains, or the mountains. Nor has the South ever appealed to me, though an adolescent fondness for the novels of Pat Conroy generated for a time a distant image of weeping willows lining long drives to stately white mansions where handsome military families resided in the shade of violent dysfunction. The Northeast, my home, does exert a kind of personal pull – the surprising lushness and heat of the summer, nearly unimaginable in the cold days of rain and the small buds of spring; and then the famous fall and all too soon the exposure of the spindly, twisting trees ending, and then beginning, the years with snow. The hills, the forests, winding roads, the clusters of neighborhoods and towns and cities inevitably miniaturize the landscape. Vistas are always limited, but wonderfully varied, and these small scenes are altered and renewed in each season. I think it was Chesterton who wrote that it is the fence that creates the landscape, and New England, quite literally, is a world of fences.

And yet an exception needs to be made for Southern California. There exists a place in my imagination not only for the experienced landscape of the Northeast of my own life, but for the idea of California, an idea that doesn’t have anything to do with the typical attraction to “the West;” you know, frontier theory, or the promise of reinvention, or the weather, or Hollywood. Rather, the strong sense of place I get from Southern California is largely a visual one, and I owe it, like so much else, to television.

When I think of sitcoms that have a definite sense of place, I can’t think of many. Most of the shows I watched seemed to be set in non-distinct suburban houses that looked a little bit like my own, despite allusions to Chicago or Ohio or what have you (a notable exception – Sesame Street has always evoked New York City). But it was The Brady Bunch that stands out in my mind as somehow different and I think it is my early experiences of this show that exposed me to a landscape and a lifestyle that I still somehow feel.

First of all it was the house itself. Modern, split level, interesting, colorful. And then it was the few glimpses you got of its setting: exotic palm tree, small but well-kept green lawn (California green, that which Cary McWilliams called “surreal”), the unspoken intimation of good weather. It was all so different from the wooden colonial houses, uneven lawns covered in trees and rocks, and the patchy brown grass of my New England.

But this external scene cannot be separated from the show itself. There was something about the uniqueness of this fictional family that I responded to when I was young. The unlikely story sung to you each day was seductive, the necessity by which they became a family, the various anxieties and potential difficulties you might imagine, and yet the daily reinforcement of their charmed life. Their familial environment seemed somehow more demanding, more delicate, but also more rewarding than my own. An analogous situation, I think, would be the week spent with a friend’s family, or time spent (sans parents) with relatives where one is not quite at home, unsure, better mannered, less at ease, where you can’t help but marvel at, or at least compare, the variations of family life. I was always apprehensive when placed into the caring ward of genial uncles and aunts, subjected to the mercy of cousins, some of whom smoked corn silk and shot at me with BB guns, but after a period of warming to my environment, I inevitably loved it, loved familiarizing the foreignness, the daily novelty, the everyday ordinariness of their lives which was, in turn, so strange to me. The Brady Bunch then had something of that feel about it; a family created anew almost out of nothing, a family that was a source of constant fun and togetherness. It was a place where loneliness was foreign, not discouraged, but not possible. The loneliness was at the end of the episode, and that wistful impermanence of the half hour. When the episode ended and I thought of the Brady kids going outside - their house, yes, but also, by extension, into the world - I felt they possessed a sense of entitlement, of security, where they would never be at the mercy of inclemency. If I didn’t share that attitude, I couldn’t help but appreciate it.

This is domestic escapism, a fantasy of familial transference, and it’s both a pretty weird fantasy for a young boy to have and I think completely normal. But that I came to associate it with Southern California still interests me. It was reinforced by other shows, CHiPs, for example, and by the cities such as Burbank named as I watched TV on summer mornings with my oversized glasses sliding down my nose. It was here, in this mythical land, where I probably first thought it possible that family life existed not entirely unlike mine, but somehow better, newer, where you’d be ferried in large wood-paneled station wagons and race along wide sun-kissed highways, passed by cops on motorcycles. A place where people were so comfortable with life, so used to fortune smiling on them, that they gathered on bright warm days in air-conditioned studios to watch tapings of Press Your Luck rooting and laughing in the cool darkness. I watched all this from afar, in the encroaching humidity of an early Connecticut July, waiting to be chased out of my house by my Mom into the unforgiving sun and the unattractive neighborhood pool and the long games of wiffle ball all of which I liked, mind you, but when a part of me really wanted to be in world in which people went to game shows for fun.

I won’t go on any longer, but I will say that this, like all fantasies, was a lie and its exposure was subtle, and untraumatic, and part of what we call growing up. And yet when I’ve gone to California as an adult I’ve often felt a simultaneous fascination with the environment and a kind of odd deflation there. Indeed, I think a line may be drawn from the seed that The Brady Bunch planted in me to, say, John Cassavetes’s A Woman under the Influence. It’s a very long line, one that goes over many years, but it shares the recognizable Southern California of the 70s and that remains somehow alluring; but it is, in this case, the difficulties, the inarticulateness, the grasping, well, that has become what is more than recognizable, but meaningful. Et in Arcadia ego.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A longer poem today, my apologies for the demand on your attention, but give it a read when you have the time. It's actually just an excerpt from the very interesting Weldon Kees. If piqued, check out this piece by Anthony Lane. First I learn Dick Cavett is from Nebraska, and now Weldon Kees. This from Cavett's autobiography:

"There was so much about Nebraska, so much beauty and history, that I didn't fully appreciate when I was there. It was that stupid notion that if anything good has ever happened it couldn't have happened in my boring home state. I didn't realize until I left that Crazy Horse had been killed in Nebraska, that the major trails to the West - the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail - went through the state, that Lewis and Clark passed through, that Buffalo Bill's ranch was there, that the Red Cloud Agency had been there, that the Cheyenne came through the sand hills on their tragic attempt to regain their homeland, and that the first reports of Wounded Knee were telegraphed from Rushville. I even learned a few years ago, in reading Oscar Wilde's letters, that he was not only in Nebraska but in my home town of Lincoln, where - ironically, when you think of what was going to happen to him - he spoke of the forlorn looks of the prisoners in the penitentiary. If they taught us any of this in school, I was asleep. All I knew was that someone named William Jennings Bryan, who had lived in Lincoln, had once run for president, and I assumed that was all there was worth knowing."

Transcription NB; I nearly typed "washboard abs" instead of the proper "washboard roads."

from Travels in North America by Weldon Kees

And sometimes, shivering in St. Paul or baking in Atlanta,
The sudden sense that you have seen it all before:
The man who took your ticket at the Gem in Council Bluffs
Performed a similar function for you at the Shreveport Tivoli.
Joe's Lunch appears again, town after town, next door
To Larry's Shoe Repair, adjoining, inescapably, the Acme
Doughnut Shop.
Main, First, and Market fuse together.
Bert and Lena run the laundromat. John Foster, D.D.S.,
Has offices above the City Bank.-At three or four,
On winter afternoons, when school is letting out
And rows of children pass you, near the firehouse,
This sense is keenest, piercing as the wind
That sweeps you toward the frosted door of your hotel
And past the portly hatted traveler with moist cigar
Who turns his paper as you brush against the rubber plant.
You have forgotten singularities. You have forgotten
Rooms that overlooked a park in Boston, brown walls hung

With congo masks and Miros, rain
Against a skylight, and the screaming girl
Who threw a cocktail shaker at a man in tweeds
Who quoted passages from Marlowe and 'Tis Pity She's a
You have forgotten yellow lights of San Francisco coming on,
The bridges choked with cars, and islands in the fog.
Or have forgotten why you left or why you came to where you
Or by what roads and passages,
Or what it was, if anything, that you were hoping for.

Journeys are ways of marking out a distance,
Or dealing with the past, however ineffectually,
Or ways of searching for some new enclosure in this space
Between the oceans.-Now the smaller waves of afternoon re-
This sand where breakers threw their cargoes up-
Old rafts and spongy two-by-fours and inner tubes,
The spines of sharks and broken codheads,
Tinned stuff with the labels gone, and yellow weeds
Like entrails; mattresses and stones, and, by a grapefruit crate,
A ragged map, imperfectly enclosed by seaworn oilskin.
Two tiny scarlet crabs run out as I unfold it on the beach.
Here, sodden, fading, green ink blending into blue,
Is Brooklyn Heights, and I am walking toward the subway
In a January snow again, at night, ten years ago. Here is
California, filling stations and a Ford
Assembly plant. Here are the washboard roads
Of Wellfleet, on the Cape, and summer light and dust.
And here, now textured like a blotter, like the going years
And difficult to see, is where you are, and where I am,
And where the oceans cover us.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

In other Yeats-related news, Yeatsiana, his plays are coming to New York, at the Irish Rep. Seehere.

Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emporer awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How to Tell Portraits from Still-Lifes by Phyllis McGinley

Ladies whose necks are long and swanny
Are always signed Modigliani.
But flowers explosive in a crock?


Monday, April 13, 2009

Crossing Kansas by Train by Donald Justice

The telephone poles
Have been holding their
Arms out
A long time now
To birds
That will not
Settle there
But pass with
Strange cawings
Westward to
Where dark trees
Gather about a
Water hole this
Is Kansas the
Mountains start here
Just behind
The closed eyes
Of a farmer's
Sons asleep
In their work clothes


Saturday, April 11, 2009

May by Mark Van Doren

All at once it is here.
But then it takes its time.
The best month is the longest,
Thank God: the slow smile,
Loving its own dearness
Daily, with delicate changes
As more and more is remembered
Of what again must be:
Spring turning to summer
And yet remaining spring;
Trees still transparent;
Leaves clear and green;
Everywhere flowers;
Ferns--look--in a ring;
And birds flying over
As if this were forever.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Even If You Weren't My Father by Camillo Sbarbaro

Father, even if you weren't my father,
were you an utter stranger,
for your own self I'd love you.
Remembering how you saw, one winter morning,
the first violet on the wall across the way,
and with what joy you shared the revelation;
then, hoisting the ladder to your shoulder,
out you went and propped it to the wall.
We, your children, stood watching at the window.

And I remember how, another time,
you chased my little sister through the house
(pigheadedly, she'd done I know not what).
But when she, run to earth, shrieked out in fear,
your heart misgave you,
for you saw yourself hunt down your helpless child.
Relenting then, you took her in her arms
in all her terror: caressing her, enclosed in your embrace
as in some shelter from that brute
who'd been, one moment since, yourself.

Father, even were you not my father,
were you some utter stranger,
for your innocence, your artless tender heart
I would love you above all other men
so love you.

translated by Shirley Hazzard


Thursday, April 09, 2009

My Humps (a poem in five parts) by W. I Am and D. Payton

What ever are you going do with all that junk?
All that junk inside your trunk?
Why, I'm going to get you drunk!
Get you love drunk off of my hump.
My hump.
My lovely, little lumps

I drive these brothers crazy,
I even do it on the daily,
They do treat me really nicely,
Why, they buy me all these ices!
Dolce & Gabbana,
Fendi and NaDonna
Karan, they are sharing
All their money has got me wearing fly
Oh, brother, I am not asking,
They say they love my ass in,
Seven Jeans, True Religion's,
I do say no, but they do keep giving
So I must keep on taking
And no I am not taken
We can keep on dating
But I shall keep on demonstrating.

My love, my love,
You love my lady lumps,
My hump, my hump,
My humps...why, they've got you.

She has got me spending.
Spending all your money on me and spending time on me.
She has got me spending.
Spending all your money on me, up on me, on me.

What ever are you going to do with all that junk?
All that junk inside that trunk?
Why, I'm going to get you drunk!
Get you love drunk off of my hump.
What ever are you going do with all that ass?
All that ass inside them jeans?
Why, I'm going to make you scream!
Make you scream.
Because of my hump.
My lovely, lady lumps.

I say, I met a girl down at the disco.
She said "Hey, hey, hey yes, let's go.
I could be your baby, you can be my honey
Let's spend time - not money.
I mix your milk with my cocoa puff,
Milky, milky cocoa,
Mix your milk with my cocoa puff -- milky, yes, milky."

They say I'm really quite sexy,
The boys, well, they want to sex me.
They are always standing next to me,
Always dancing next to me,
Trying to feel my hump.
Looking at my lump.
You can look but you mustn't, mustn't touch it,
If you touch it I'm afraid I'm going to start some drama,
You don't want any drama,
No, no drama.
So don't pull on my hand, boy;
You are not my man, boy;
I'm just trying to dance, boy;
And move my hump.

My hump.
My lovely, lady lumps
In the back and in the front
My loving has got you.

She has got me spending.
Spending all your money on me and spending time on me.
She has got me spending.
Spending all your money on me, up on me, on me.

Now, what, may I ask, are you going to do with all that junk?
All that junk inside that trunk?
Why, I'm going to get you drunk!
Get you love drunk off of my hump.
And what are you going to do with all that ass?
All that ass inside them jeans?
Oh, I'm going to make you scream!
Make you scream.
Hmmm, what are you going to do with all that junk?
All that junk inside that trunk?
I'm going to get you drunk!
Get you love drunk off of this here hump.
Praytell, what are you going to do with all that breast?
All that breast inside that shirt?
I'm going to make you work!
Make you work.

She has got me spending.
Spending all your money on me and spending time on me
She has got me spending.
Spending all your money on me, up on me, on me.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Wayfarer by Padraic Pearse

The beauty of the world hath made me sad,
This beauty that will pass;
Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree,
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
Lit by a slanting sun,
Or some green hill where mountainy men hath sown
And soon would reap; near to the gate of heaven;
Or children with bare feet upon the sands
Of some ebbed sea, or playing on the streets
Of little towns in Connacht,
Things young and happy.
And then my heart hath told me:
These will pass,
Will pass and change, will die and be no more,
Things bright and green, things young and happy;
And I have gone upon my way


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Daytime Drinking by Patrick McGuinness

First sip: gentle as a stream overreaching,
supple as a rope-bridge in the air;

The second, long as the creak of floorboards,
firm as a leg-iron clasp;

The third: sudden as the trap door beneath you,
the rudderless slide back to thirst.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Musee des Beaux Arts by WH Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just
walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy
life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Translation From Du Bellay by GK Chesterton

Happy, who like Ulysses or that lord
Who raped the fleece, returning full and sage,
With usage and the world's wide reason stored,
With his own kin can wait the end of age.
When shall I see, when shall I see, God knows!
My dear little village smoke; or pass the door,
The old dear door of that unhappy house
That is to me a kingdom and much more?
Mightier to me the house my fathers made
Than your audacious heads, O Halls of Rome!
More than immortal marbles undecayed,
The thin sad slates that cover up my home;
More than your Tiber is my Loire to me,
Than Palatine my little Lyre there;
And more than all the winds of all the sea
The quiet kindness of the Angevin air.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Felix Randal by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Felix Randal the farrier, O he is dead then? my duty all ended,
Who have watched his mould of man, big boned and hardy-
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

Sickness broke him. Impatient he cursed at first, but mended
Being annointed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some
Months earlier, since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom
Tendered to him. Ah well, God rest him all road ever he

This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears.
My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,
Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;

How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering


Friday, April 03, 2009

First Sight by Philip Larkin

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.