Saturday, June 30, 2018

Ian McEwan

When it comes to Ian McEwan, I think it's time we be a bit more honest. 

Let's start with the good: McEwan can write a pretty sentence -- and On Chesil Beach, the novel I've just finished, is filled with them. There they are, one after another, one more beautiful than the next. 

But does McEwan have a style? How would you describe his writing? For me, this is the difficulty: Chesil Beach is loaded with delicate -- almost ethereal -- sentences. Some of them are even memorable. But as I say: what's his style? This isn't like reading David Lodge or Philip Roth. It's not even like reading Graham Swift. There's a beauty here, but it's not part of something larger.  

Which is not to say that Chesil Beach is a failure: indeed, there are sections of the novel which are very well done. But to my mind, there's a guilty pleasure here, there's a sense in which the novel is a bit too easy: the reader doesn't have to work for satisfaction. 

And more: Chesil Beach struck me as less a novel than a novella, less a finished work that one in need of a second act. Because it's right at the moment of tension, of conflict, that the book effectively ends. McEwan appends an epilogue of sorts which takes the central characters through forty years in ten pages -- but it's not effective. To my mind, the book needed a second half, one in which that conflict is explored further (and perhaps resolved). 

All is not lost here: Chesil Beach does present an accurate rendering, I think, of the early 1960s, that moment just before it all came undone. These are characters born during the war, who came of age amidst the last of the Victorians. The sexual dynamics in the novel are especially strained, and I certainly believe McEwen was on to something in his treatment of what happened there, to that young couple, on Chesil Beach. 

Ultimately, Chesil Beach held my attention: indeed, I finished it in three sittings. But I felt throughout that the narration and plot were held together by something artificial, even gimmicky. I'll be the first to concede that there's the kernel of a tragedy here; I just wish that sorrow had been packaged in more muscular prose, with an accompanying character arc that was allowed to fully develop. 


A.M. Juster on Twitter: "I was expecting this news today, but it doesn't make it any easier. Tim was a quirky, feisty, wondrous piece of work and a great poet/translator who taught me a lot. I will miss him.". (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The saving grace of poetry …

 R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : Poetry — Sounding out the Darkness.

The one he chose …

… The road taken by Robert Frost through New England.(Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Though the man was born in California, it’s clear that the poet was born in New England. He moved from San Francisco to Massachusetts with his mother and sister at the age of eleven after his father died of tuberculosis. In these dense forests and endless forks in the road, Frost found his voice.

The flow …

… Zealotry of Guerin: River in the Plain (Cezanne), Sonnet #411.

Something to think on …

One of the painful signs of years of dumbed-down education is how many people are unable to make a coherent argument. They can vent their emotions, question other people's motives, make bold assertions, repeat slogans — anything except reason.
— Thomas Sowell, born on this date in 1930

Friday, June 29, 2018

Show business anniversary …

… R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : The Globe burns to the ground, but the show must go on.

Papa in context …

 Paul Davis On Crime: Hemingway's Life And Legacy Inspire New JFK Museum Display.

The world surprises...

The way we were …

… The Ornate Ice Cream Saloons That Served Unchaperoned Women - Gastro Obscura. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

As recently as the early 1970s, my then-wife and I discovered a bar in Germantown (where we lived) that insisted women enter through the Women's Entrance.

The woman behind the man …

… The Enduring Enigma of Véra Nabokov | Literary Hub,.(Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Véra is now perhaps most famous for having saved an early draft of Lolita from an incinerator, but it’s in these individually unremarkable anecdotes, these dreary lists, that the force of her everyday necessity is most powerfully felt. As Schiff writes in her introduction, quoting the illustrator Saul Steinberg: “It would be difficult to write about Véra without mentioning Vladimir. But it would impossible to write about Vladimir without mentioning Véra.”
She remains an enigma because that is what she wanted to be.

Q&A …

 A Lot of My 'Process' is Just Mucking About | Literary Hub. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Reading is absolutely vital. It’s simply naive to think that any good writing is sui generis. The connection between poiesis and imitation goes back to Aristotle, and poets throughout history have raided the same hoard of myths and stories. One ideally weaves oneself into a larger tapestry (textile = text). I’m at the point of actually believing there’s no poetry that is not tangential to Ovid’s Metamorphoses! You start out believing that poetry is either self-expression or memoir (not to denigrate personal experience—our individual lives are of monumental importance to each of us). But gradually you end up knowing that the great texts issue from a larger, deeper, more communal body of—well, “knowledge” is a puny word to describe it. It’s a kind of transpersonal experience. And you can’t get there without a slow, laborious, time-consuming effort of reading and re-reading. It’s the re-reading that has mattered most to me—realizing that things I read in school 20 or 30 years ago are only now making sense to me.

Beautiful …

… The Photographer in the Garden | Glimpses | Zócalo Public Square. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

I love the toilet planter.

In case you wondered …

… Why "Wilder" Nature Is Better for Your Health | Outside Online. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

I used to hike all the time in Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains. Haven't done that in a while.

Tougher times …

… R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : After great pain, a formal feeling comes.

The thought police …

… Little House on the Orwellian Prairie - LewRockwell. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

For the uninitiated, Wilder’s work is ‘the real McCoy,’ the living, breathing, organic material that uncovers the very essence of the young, impetuous nation as it ambles recklessly towards an elusive maturity. ‘Little House on the Prairie’ is an artistic work of huge historic importance that provides a first-person account of a tumultuous period in America’s history; essential reading for coming to grips with the collective events behind our national origins. In other words, it’s not all roses and picnics, nor is it meant to be.
It's really sad that all of us wonderful people alive today are descended from such really awful people as our ancestors.

Something to think on …

Real love begins where nothing is expected in return.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, born on this date in 1900

Thursday, June 28, 2018


… Writer Harlan Ellison Dead At 84.

Centenary …

 Snapshots of Muriel Spark – Margaret Drabble | Literature. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

… Spark has unquestionably achieved classic status, but what kind of a classic is she? She founded no movement, and she belongs to none. The general reader is familiar with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), popularized by stage and screen, and perhaps The Girls of Slender Means (1963), both short and both dealing with female group behaviour. The Girls of Slender Means, set nostalgically in wartime London – and as slim and elegant as the Schiaparelli dress which the girls share for their evenings out – has the narrative panache of its predecessor, and a more benign view of most of the girls. Biographers are drawn to Loitering with Intent (1981) and A Far Cry from Kensington, with their provocative reflections on the relationship of fact with fiction and their emphasis on the greater veracity of fiction.

Starting over …

… R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : Turning back the pages of the calendar.

Sounds a little cranky to me …

… The Mischievous Warmth of Donald Hall | Commonweal Magazine. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

he is led to some sharp remarks about two of last century’s favorite poetry anthologists, Louis Untermeyer and Oscar Williams. Williams’s Little Treasure of Modern Poetry “prints nine bad poems by Oscar Williams and four by his wife Gene Derwood,” Halls reports, and continues parenthetically, “(William Carlos Williams gets two.)” This reader remembers that book, with its “printed oval photographs of the poets,” but failed to remember one salient fact acerbically noted by Hall, who asks, “Would you care to guess whose portrait ends the book? Or whose portrait resides next to Homer on the cover of the paperback?” Randall Jarrell once said that Oscar Williams’s poems were “written on a typewriter by a typewriter.” Hall deflates Williams’s status further still, by recounting once introducing him to T. S. Eliot at a dinner party. “Eliot said, ‘I recognize you from your photographs,’” writes Hall, adding that “without irony Williams burbled that he recognized Eliot too.”
Williams may not have been such a great poet, but The Pocket Book of Modern Verse introduced a lot of people to a lot of worthwhile poets. He deserves some credit for that.

Inspiration …

… Real Lolita, Jun 1 2018 | Video | (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Paul Bunyan Day …

 Superior Public Library - Posts | Facebook. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

See also: W H Auden’s libretto for Benjamin Britten’s opera.

Music and mystery …

 Poem | Conversation with Messiaen | Commonweal Magazine. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Solitary nomad …

… Figures in a Landscape by Paul Theroux review – a writer driven by divided loyalties | Books | The Guardian.

Strikingly, Theroux rarely refers to interviews or hangs out with contemporary American writers. The literary fellows with whom he’s most at home are expats and oddballs: Henry Thoreau, William Burroughs, Hunter S Thompson and Paul Bowles. In this collection, they keep company with some notable weirdos: Liz Taylor, the goose-farmer EB White, a Manhattan dominatrix and Robin Williams.

As good as it gets …

… R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : 2,000-year-old advice.

Something to think on …

In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but how many can get through to you.
— Mortimer J. Adler, who died on this date in 2001

How do you title this? ...

Inventor who made ballpark beer flow freely pulled lifeless from cooler at Atlanta Braves stadium...
Keeling was putting finishing touches on the tap system, plans for which he had been devising ever since he finished college...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The still point …

 R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : Silence by Thomas Hood.

Well, I guess …

… Ten Rules for Aspiring Poets | Brian Bilston's Poetry Laboetry. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The last one sounds good.

Blogging note …

This is a tight day for me, so blogging must take a back seat until later on.

Defiance …

… R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : Death, be not proud — John Donne.

Still timely after all these years …

… The Golden Apples of the Sun. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Via Juster’s words, we can relate to Maximianus’s complaints and longings; after fifteen-hundred years, the speaker’s issues are exactly the same as our own. 

Together at last …

… Wodehouse and Wittgenstein — Great War Fiction. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

… Wittgenstein named Wodehouse’s Honeysuckle Cottage as the funniest thing he’d ever read. 

Something to think on …

There are reveries so deep, reveries which help us descend so deeply within ourselves that they rid us of our history. They liberate us from our name. These solitudes of today return us to the original solitudes.
— Gaston Bachelard. born on this date in 1884

Sea power …

… Paul Davis On Crime: My Washington Times Review Of John Lehman's 'Oceans Ventured: Winning The Cold War At Sea'.

About Depression ...

I suffer from depression, and I think I've mentioned that before here.  If not, there it is.  But I have the  bi-polar side too, what used to be called manic as in manic depression.

Frank and I have talked about depression, and he thinks it may be caused by a virus/infection of some kind, and I get that too, but depression can be accelerated by external events, like bad news, or bad surroundings or bad events too.

But it can be lifted sometimes too for me, a break in the gray heaviness, the clouds lift and it is blue sky and sun.   That has happened recently and I realized I was falling in love with life again, when the birds talk, and the families are out, and the people are souls and the city is alive and I realize that I need to reclaim my place, and sometimes even discover it anew, in this world of interrelationships, which is terrifying yet necessarily and oh so life affirming when it is right and I am right within it.

So that is even maybe a third place, not manic, nor depressed.  And I understood yet again  "Do not worry little one."  

Helping those with Depression ...

I suffer from depression, and this article has good advice from my perspective, on what to do when a loved one is depressed.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Serious matters …

In case you wondered...

The world and Dickens …

… R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : Blogging Note: Reading Charles Dickens.

Check this out …

… Replay: Richard Wilbur and Robert Lowell read and talk about their work | About Last Night.

In case you wondered …

… Should You Quit Writing? | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

The practice of writing …

… Back in the Woodshed: Practice and Seclusion in Words and Music | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

Hmm …

… How Physics Lost Its Way - Scientific American Blog Network.

See also: The impossibility—and the necessity—of distinguishing science from nonscience.
(Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

It seems to me that science is a system of knowledge, not a system of belief. Theories and hypotheses are  provisional strategies designed to arrive at verifiable facts.

Something to think on …

It was a morning in early summer. A silver haze shimmered and trembled over the lime trees. The air was laden with their fragrance. The temperature was like a caress. I remember - I need not recall - that I climbed up a tree stump and felt suddenly immersed in Itness. I did not call it by that name. I had no need for words. It and I were one.
Bernard Berenson, born on this date in 1865

Free Speech at Berkeley

Recently, on Fox News, Ben Shapiro said, “Everything has been deemed hate speech on campus. . . . There is a big part of the left—and it’s growing—that says that it is incumbent to protect the campus from ideas that are dissenting.” This premise has become commonplace, even among liberals, but the evidence is mixed. One study, from 2015, did find that forty per cent of millennials, a greater proportion than in any other age group, would want the government to be able to censor speech that is “offensive to minority groups.” But another study, conducted the following year, found that only twenty-two per cent of college students wanted universities to ban offensive speech—a lower proportion than in the rest of the American adult population. In March, a political scientist named Jeffrey Sachs analyzed the most recent data, broken down by age. In conclusion, he tweeted, “There is no campus free speech crisis, the kids are all right, those that say otherwise have lost all perspective, and the real crisis may be elsewhere.”

From The New Yorker

Monday, June 25, 2018

Watch and read …

Here is the book.

Listen in …

… The Biblio File hosted by Nigel Beale: Glenn Horowitz on the sale and placement of author archives.

 Among the archives: Bob Dylan's.

Ah, yes …

… Remembering the Great Man | George Hunka. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Tracking the decline …

… Europe has lost its way in culture and economics – Orange County Register.

A generation ago Europe’s cities seemed safe, well-maintained and glorious while ours were often dangerous, debilitated and dying. Today Paris, arguably the most beautiful city ever crafted by humans, is graffiti-scarred and, in the wake of terrorist attacks, struggles to attract enough tourists. Crime, particularly property crime, is palpably worse — my wife’s Parisian relatives warned about not wearing nice jewelry or watches for fear of them being snatched. Once ultra-peaceful London, meanwhile, once the paragon of safety, in some months now has a higher murder rate than an increasingly safe New York.

Q&A …

… The Age of Acceleration: An Interview with Martin Amis - Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

… the huge figures are no longer there, in poetry. Lowell, Seamus Heaney was one of the last. And I’m convinced, for that reason, that we live in the age of acceleration. Novels have evolved to deal with that, as the novel is able to do — just by moving a bit faster. Not being so speculative, digressive, intellectual. But poetry moves at its own pace, I think — and you can’t speed that up.

Just so you know …

… Nine “striking” facts about the history of the typewriter | OUPblog. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Have a look …

… Your Street Art Pictures. (Ha tip, Rus Bowden.)

This one was taken by Rus.

Something to think on …

The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.
— George Orwell, born on this date in 1903

e.e. CUMMINGS ...

Certainly, the core of his belief system was much more staid than his explosions of font. The poems gravitate toward the time-honored themes set down by Yeats: “sex and the dead.” With regard to form, my sense is that there’s been very little new in the field of the visual pun or typographical jeu d’esprit since 1759, the year of the publication of “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,” in which Laurence Sterne marked the death of one character with a black page and mimicked the twirling of a stick by another with a squiggle

NYT's list of 25 best plays since 1993

here.  and readers' responses here.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Check these out …

 Forgotten Poems travel hiatus (but have some anthology recommendations).

Poem and gloss …

… Laudator Temporis Acti: Pay Thy Blessing to Delight. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)


… Prolific, painfully candid ex-poet laureate Donald Hall dies | Hosted. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall dies in New Hampshire. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)


Anniversary …

… R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : John Ciardi and the purpose-driven journey.

Worrisome …

… R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : “Surgeons must be very careful” — Emily Dickinson.

Who needs it …

… First Known When Lost: News.


… Poet David McFadden, 77, was a master of magical yet accessible verse - The Globe and Mail. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Something to think on …

Silence is God's first language.
— John of the Cross, born on this date in 1542

Health risk...

...‘Cultural Marxism’ Explained and Re-Evaluated
Indeed, Cultural Marxism as a worldview often produces a quite depressed and dysfunctional personality. I therefore worry more about the impact it may have on the psyches of its most committed adherents than I do about those who reject it. How a person looks at the world can deeply affect their well-being, and the organising principles of Cultural Marxism can be difficult to live with because they leave individuals both hyperaware of injustice as well as distraught by how little power their analytical framework affords them as individuals.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

A most noteworthy centenary …

… Celebrating the unnoticed | A letter to Gerard Manley Hopkins. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
Today, at Roehampton University in your beloved London, forty Hopkins scholars, from around the world, have come together to talk about you: about you, your poems – and your Poems. There’s plenty to say – about religion, of course, sprung rhythm and so on. But I wonder if another aspect of your work has been forgotten: your poetic care for unnoticed or unimportant people. That’s a significant achievement in itself. Though born into an affluent family and growing up in fashionable, moneyed Hampstead, you didn’t write about kings or queens or popes or people of power and wealth, but of “little” people – a rare, countercultural choice, for both your age and, for the most part, ours, too.

Father Feeney is a friend of many years. The link above is of an excerpt from his letter. Here is the whole thing: A Love Letter to Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poet.

Post bumped.

Innocence and beauty …

… Zealotry of Guerin: La Cigale, “The Grasshopper” (Joseph Lefebvre), Sonnet #410.

Please note the link to Christopher's book.

Who knew …

 How Christianity Created Rock ’n’ Roll | Public Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

As Stephens points out, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, James Brown, Johnny Cash, B. B. King, and Jerry Lee Lewis (cousin of Jimmy Swaggart, the now-defrocked televangelist) all grew up under the influence of Pentecostal or holiness churches. In those settings, religious experience for congregants of all colors was defined by its deep emotionality, submission to otherworldly forces, and all-consuming, overwhelming physicality. It shakes your nerves, and it rattles your brain. It breaks your will, but ooh, what a thrill. Goodness gracious, great balls of hellfire!

Sound advice …

… eileen chengyin chow on Twitter: Try to praise the mutilated world. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The typewriter is born …

 R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : QWERTY birthday.

Something to think on …

Metaphysics abstracts the mind from the senses, and the poetic faculty must submerge the whole mind in the senses. Metaphysics soars up to universals, and the poetic faculty must plunge deep into particulars.
— Giambattista Vico, born on this date in 1668

Multispecies contribution...

...Scholar writes a paper about her cat dying

This is a Twitter link. Just keep scrolling.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Hermit lore …

… R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : Cave of Kelpius — Philadelphia.

I have walked the Wissahickon to Chestnut Hill and back many, many times. I lived not far from the Wissahickon for 20 years. Ah, those were the days.


… City Journal’s Leonardo — Remembering Stefan Kanfer  | City Journal.

… Farewell, Old Friend | City Journal.

… Irreplaceable Steve.

(Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Predicting is difficult …

… especially the future: Thirty Years On, How Well Do Global Warming Predictions Stand Up? - WSJ.

The problem with Mr. Hansen’s models—and the U.N.’s—is that they don’t consider more-precise measures of how aerosol emissions counter warming caused by greenhouse gases. Several newer climate models account for this trend and routinely project about half the warming predicted by U.N. models, placing their numbers much closer to observed temperatures. The most recent of these was published in April by Nic Lewis and Judith Curry in the Journal of Climate, a reliably mainstream journal.
Sounds as if these people were had: Hansen receives Tang Prize award. (Hat tip, Dan Bloom)

Blake and America …

… A natural ally – TheTLS. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

In terms of direct poet-to-poet inspiration, “Howl” is a high point. Blake’s America: “every thing that lives is holy, life delights in life”. Ginsberg’s “Howl”: “Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!” You get the idea. As Ginsberg saw it, Blake was “a social critic and rebel etc but the ROOT of his work as of ours [that is, the post-war Beat writers, with their commitment to free speech, opening the doors of perception and the rest] has been in exploration of modes of consciousness”.


… Koko, gorilla famed for using sign language and crying over kitten, dead at 46.
Koko was believed to have had an IQ of between 75 and 95 and could sign more than 1,000 words. The average IQ of a human is around 90 to 110. She also understood spoken English.
Too bad she couldn't have run for office.

Hope for those feeling helpless …

… Literary Nonprofits Using Books to Make a Difference. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I don't feel helpless myself, at least with respect to things over which I have no control. But that's just me. I am sure much good will come of this.

Something to think on …

Never do anything complicated when something simple will serve as well. It's one of the most important secrets of living.
— Erich Maria Remarque, born this date in 1898

Literary Inquisition...

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Longest day, shortest night …

… Nigeness: Solstice,

In case you wondered …

How to Be Serious in a Time of Absurdity. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
… the law of trespass governing literary territory has become noticeably less liberal, but Shriver remains resolute in the conviction that she is as entitled to describe the speech, look, and attitudes of fellow creatures of whatever race or class as anybody else is to describe her. “All boundaries between cultures are fluid,” she told me recently. “We are living in a big hash. It’s fun . . . and interesting . . . and it’s complicated.” In her pacing, and not least in her impressive articulacy, Shriver sometimes talks as if addressing a lecture room. As it happens, she has done so on this topic, “cultural appropriation,” more than once. Her thoughts emerge in clear outlines. “But the solution is not to place a fence around everybody. We are putting together a version of the world that is false: Not only do you not own your culture, whose boundaries you are therefore not allowed to police, but you don’t even own your self. Which is to say, you are unavoidably a part of other people’s lives.”

As the trail nears its end …

… “My Friends Don’t Get Buried” | The New Yorker. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Landmark …

… Nina Simone's Childhood Home – Tryon, North Carolina - Atlas Obscura. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Living beneath a shadow …

… The Oakling and the Oak | Lapham’s Quarterly. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

When I recently mentioned Hartley Coleridge to an English professor at Yale, she said, “Ah yes, Hartley! Didn’t he lose his fellowship at Oriel?” And I thought how strange it was that people who know little else about Hartley have somehow heard of what STC’s friend Harriet Martineau called “the great catastrophe, the ruinous blow.” 
I would like to interject a small reality check. In the academic sphere, Hartley did better than his father, who dropped out of Cambridge. He did better than Wordsworth, who took his degree from Cambridge “without distinction.” He did better than Southey, who dropped out of Oxford. And he did better than Byron, who dropped out of Cambridge, and Shelley, who was expelled from Oxford. Hartley graduated—with a second! 191 years after the fact, why do we continue to associate him with the loss of a job for which he was unsuited? Might the memory of this episode be less adhesive—and might Hartley have been more resilient—had his father viewed it as a disappointment rather than an apocalypse?


… R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : A midsummer detour into an operating room.

Let's all pray that everything goes well.

A favorite of Joyce …

… James Clarence Mangan, the rebel poet. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

… in a 1903 article, Joyce declared Mangan to be “one of the greatest romantic poets among those who use the lyrical form”. And in two other substantial pieces, he swallows his various reservations, conceding finally, surprisingly and reluctantly that “with Mangan a narrow and hysterical nationality receives a last justification” (1902) – which in 1907 becomes: “in that “miserable, reedy, and feeble figure, a hysteric nationalism receives its final justification”. In this latter article, Joyce called Mangan “the most distinguished poet of the modern Celtic world and one of the most inspired poets of any country ever to make use of the lyric form.” His “winged, lyric music and fervid idealism…manifested themselves in his extraordinary rhythms and unstudied beauty, perhaps unencountered elsewhere in English literature, if we except the inspired songs of Shelley.”

Something to think on …

Humor is a prelude to faith and laughter is the beginning of prayer.
— Reinhold Niebuhr, born on this date in 1892

Tom Wolfe and Me

No not me, but the author...reappreciating Tom Wolfe's work, including his later books:
... a reconsideration of Charlotte Simmons, a book I now hold to be a masterpiece. It took me a decade of rumination and other study to “get it,” but once I did, its impact became as indelible as Wolfe’s other books, its theme just as urgent.
I should reread Charlotte Simmons.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


In my continued effort to tackle the Shakespeare plays which I did not read in high school or college, I've landed most recently on The Winter's Tale.

Let me say at the start just how much I enjoyed it. This is a play with lots going on: there's commentary on gender relations and power dynamics; there's discussion of inheritance and social class; and more, there's analysis of oaths and promises, and how characters hold themselves to account. 

Among these themes, gender dynamics is perhaps most central to the play. King Leontes banishes his wife, Hermione, after accusing her of infidelity. This suspicion is quickly proven false, but the damage has been done: Leontes loses everything -- his wife, his children, his happiness. 

The rest of the play focuses on how this beleaguered king might make up for what he's done. Though victimized, women are not exactly victims: they serve instead as counterpoints to Leontes and other male characters. They serve as the voice of reason, as the unexpected source of justice. It is, after all, Hermione's friend and protector, Paulina, who orchestrates the grand reunion at the end of the play (when all, in effect, are forgiven). It is she who has the power to do so. 

Men here -- especially Leontes -- are seen as impatient and conniving; they act impulsively, sometimes with disastrous result. Women, meanwhile, represent reason and method, and are mostly void of the emotional quality Shakespearean audiences might have expected. In many ways, gender roles here are inverted. 

The Winter's Tale seems one of those Shakespearean plays that straddles the line between tragedy and comedy -- or at least between drama and comedy. Certainly, there are comic aspects to the play, and there's some tomfoolery among tertiary characters that fits the mold. But there are parts of the play -- particularly the first two acts -- which border on tragic, and which speak to darker human impulses. 

I found those sections of the play particularly compelling: because while the resolution of the play is fun and satisfying, the road leading there is full of missteps and accusation. It was that route -- that early part of the play -- which shed most light on the human condition and our propensity to act without reason, to accuse without first confirming blame. The result of that tension propels The Winter's Tale.


 Stanley Cavell, 1926–2018 | by Christopher Benfey | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Oh, please …

… Strunk at 100: A Centennial Not to Celebrate – Lingua Franca - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Talk about using a sledgehammer to crush a gnat. I read the book during the year I spent between high school and college, which was when White’s edition came out. I found it quite useful. Robertson Davies was probably right when he said that what it could teach you was how to build the literary equivalent of a chicken coop. But you have to start somewhere. Better a sturdy chicken coop than a faulty bridge. 

Still of help after all these years …

Manhunt …

… Paul Davis On Crime: My Washington Times Review of 'Hunting El Chapo: The Inside Story of the American Lawman Who Captured The World's Most-Wanted Drug Lord'.

Listen in …

… Episode 274 – Chris Reynolds – The Virtual Memories Show.

“I once had this idea that anything that was already in the world when you were born was okay, but anything that was invented or came up after you were born, you weren’t quite sure.”

Court of law …

 R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : Lizzie Borden acquitted June 20, 1893.

Blogging note …

I am awaiting a visit from my computer doctor. I am not logging in to my desktop until he arrives. Among other things, I have been phished. I am also getting strange messages. So I won’t be doing much blogging until after Kevin performs his magic.

Hmm …

… Useful Idiots | The Point Magazine. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The significance of The Idiot, as of Batuman’s writing in general, is not literary so much as literary-theoretical: it throws these issues into sharp relief by imposing upon the reader a paralytic attentiveness antithetical to narrative and development, let alone drama. It is an ideological novel composed under the assumption that reading and writing, in and of themselves, might substitute for x. Despite her towering disdain for program fiction, Batuman appears to have reiterated its central principle on her own initiative. This accounts for why the difference between The Idiot and the median MFA novel feels like one of degree, not kind: though Batuman is immeasurably more amusing in tone and more cosmopolitan in setting, the same parochial suspicion of belief systems strong enough to grapple with America’s intrinsic egoism lingers over both.
Great novels are about life, not writing qua writing, not ideology, not programs. The great novelists did not have degrees.

Something to think on …

Reading is not an operation performed on something inert but a relationship entered into with another vital being.
— Clifton Fadiman, who died on this date in 1999

Something I missed …

 R.T.’s Informal Inquiries : Blaise Pascal — born June 19, 1623.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Creative Destruction

General Electric Co. will drop out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average next week, a milestone in the decline of a firm that once ranked among the mightiest of blue-chips and was a pillar of the U.S. economy.


Hear, hear …

… Undernews: Why journalism isn't a profession. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

As late as the 1950s more than half of all reporters lacked a college degree.
And Clarence Darrow never graduated from law school. He just got around one day to passing the bar exam. I have a degree, though it is not in journalism. I don't think many activities are improved by being reduced to a syllabus.

Bob and Frank …

… Dylanizing the Great American Songbook - Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Though the singer just turned 77 (born May 24, 1941), his recent efforts to echo the sounds of his parents’ radio — the sonic world his voice helped overturn — showcase some of his most distinguished singing and punctuate his catalog in a way nobody would have thought necessary.
His parents' radio? Dylan is just a few months older than I am. We both grew up listening to Frank and Perry and Nat — and lots more. And — surprise, surprise — we really liked them.

Something to think on …

It's not those who write the laws that have the greatest impact on society. It's those who write the songs.
— Blaise Pascal, born on this date in 1623


… Diversity in publishing is under attack. I hear the sound of knuckles dragging | Hanif Kureishi | Opinion | The Guardian.

When I was invited to join Faber, in 1984, the fiction editor was Robert McCrum. He was excitable then, and so was I. I couldn’t wait to be on his list of writers, since he was publishing Kazuo IshiguroMilan KunderaJosef ŠkvoreckýPeter Carey, Mario Vargas Llosa, Caryl Phillips, Paul Auster, Lorrie Moore, Danilo KišMarilynne Robinson and Vikram Seth. Not long before, Rushdie had won the Booker prize for Midnight’s Children and that masterpiece, with its echoes of Günter Grass and Gabriel García Márquez, suddenly seemed like a great opportunity. The world was coming in. What had been a narrow and sterile place was opening up. These books were successful; readers discovered that they wanted them. Today something similar can happen to Penguin.

McCrum, of course, is one of those white Oxbridge men. The list of authors in this paragraph rather undercuts the thesis of the piece, since it provides evidence that a lot of diversification has been under way for quite some time — though it would appear that the authors were chosen not for ethnic reasons, but for the quality of their work. Kureishi, I gather, would prefer that an author's ethnicity be given pride of place.

The British creativity I grew up with – in pop, fashion, poetry, the visual arts and the novel – has almost always come from outside the mainstream: from clubs, gay subcultures, the working class and from the street. Many of the instigators may have been white, but they were not from the middle class – a class that lacks, in my experience, the imagination, fearlessness and talent to be truly subversive.
Why art that is subversive is better than art that is not  escapes me. As for the suggestion elsewhere that Lionel Shriver may not realize that "greatness can come from anywhere," I can assure our sanctimonious author that  she is well aware of that.

Fascinating ...

Some 16 years ago, The Boston Globe published an article about a jobless man who haunted Marsh Plaza, at the center of Boston University. The picture showed a curious figure in a long overcoat, hunched beneath a black fedora near the central sculpture. He spent his days talking with pigeons to whom he had given names: Checkers and Wingtip and Speckles. The article could have been just another human-interest story about our society’s failing commitment to mental health, except that the man crouched in conversation with the birds was John Kidd, once celebrated as the greatest James Joyce scholar alive.


Monday, June 18, 2018

Listen in …

… The Biblio File hosted by Nigel Beale: Jonas Hassen Khemiri on writing, memory, death, speed and language.

Tomorrow night …


P O E T R Y   I N   C O M M O N



                                POETRY + MUSIC

DICK LOURIE, Poet, Saxophonist

BOBBY ZANKEL, Saxophonist

SEKAI ‘afua ZANKEL, Poet



Tuesday, June 19, 2018, 7 P/M.

(Please note the address, there are
  other Green Line Café locations.)

     This Event Is Free

Bobby Zankel

Writing in the Boston Phoenix, ASCAP Deems Taylor, award winning author Norman Weinstein
declared that ”Bobby Zankel deserves any Talent Deserving Wider Recognition Award that the
jazz press might offer”. In reviewing the CD “Emerging from the Earth, ”Jazz Times wrote, “He’s
headed to the status of a prime jazz innovator “. But who is Bobby Zankel and where has he

The Brooklyn born composer/alto saxophonist first began attracting national attention
around 1971, while a student at the University of Wisconsin as a member of the legendary jazz
master, MacArthur Fellow Cecil Taylor’s “Unit Core Ensemble”. Zankel was combining his
performing and research with Taylor with saxophone studies with the renown Fred Hemke and
working with master drummer George Brown’s quartet that featured organist Melvin Rhyne. His
“underground” reputation grew on the New York “Loft Scene” (73-75), where he performed with
the likes of Sunny Murray, William Parker, and Ray Anderson. He continued his apprenticeship
with Taylor working in his large group which at times included Jimmy Lyons , Hannibal, David S.
Ware, and Andrew Cyrille. In 1975, Zankel moved to Philadelphia to raise his family and to
expand his artistic vision without heed to commercialism or the trends of the times.
Since arriving in Philadelphia his performances as a sideman have ranged widely from the
Hank Mobley Quintet ,Sunny Murray Group, Jymie Merritt’s Forerunners, the Dells, NRBQ,
Odean Pope’s Saxophone Choir, Tyrone Brown’s Group, and Mogauwane Mahoele (who he
toured South Africa with). He has continued into the 21st century to work in different ensembles
lead by Cecil Taylor in Europe and New York. Zankel has recorded as a sideman with Fred Ho,
Odean Pope,Tyrone Brown and his string ensemble,, and Ruth Naomi Floyd(alongside with
Gary Thomas, Terri Lynn Carrington, and James Wideman....).

Zankel’s ten years of intensive study of tonality with the legendary master teacher, Dennis
Sandole (students include John Coltrane, Pat Martino, and James Moody among others) have
been a big part in his development into one of the most brilliant and original composers of our
time. Zankel’s compositions are characterized by a stunning blend of rhythmic layers, a highly
personal complex chromatic harmonic language, and a hauntingly beautiful melodic lyricism His
alto playing has been called “a unique amalgam of the rhythm and intricacy of bebop, with the
soul and drive of hardbop, and the spirituality, creativity and intensity of the avant garde.”
Zankel’s tenure in Philadelphia has been marked by a series of acclaimed collaborations with
choreographers, visual artists, writers, He has received commissions from Network for New
Music, Relache , Meet the Composer, the Kimmel Center, Jazz Bridge , and 2 Pew supported
dance projects . In 1995 he was awarded the prestigious PEW FELLOWSHIP. In 2001 he
organized Warriors of the Wonderful Sound Inc an organization dedicated to promoting new jazz
and the big band with the same name. The Warrior big band has developed a world wide
reputations for its collaborations with Muhal Richard Abams, Steve Coleman, Rudresh
Mahaanthaapa, Dave Liebman Don Byron, Oliver Lake, Steve Lehman, and Marty Ehrlich.The
seven CDs he has recorded as a leader have received outstanding reviews and featured such
magnificent musicians as Johnny Coles, Odean Pope, Uri Caine, Ralph Peterrson Jr., Marilyn
Crispell, Dave Burrell, John Blake, Sumi Tonooka, and William Parker

Sekai’afua Zankel, (s’az) 

Actor, writer and poet,
a Buddhist, born on the first day of spring, Sekai was destined to be an artist-activist, a
force for good. She began acting at Philadelphia’s Freedom Theater in 1972, mentored by
the late John E Allen Jr. Sekai started writing and performing poetry and what she calls, a
human revolution for the stage using music and dance. One reviewer called her an
“Extraordinary performance poet,” Sekai defines “Performance Poetry“ as poetry that is
“visceral and active”.

Her first book “Behind These Eyes /Optical Poems” was published in Philadelphia in 2007.
Sekai won the Frank Moore Poetry Prize 2008. She received a Leeway Foundation Art and
Change Grant in 2010 to present her poetry play, “Miss Pearl’s Spirit: In the Mysteries of
Mirrors" presented at the Hawthorne Cultural Center and the CEC. She performed as poet
and writer, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, in “A Brighter Coming Day” for Harper’s 100th
anniversary celebration at Moonstone Arts Center and several other presentations and
performances at, The African American Historical Museum and Mother Bethel AME
Church. In addition, Sekai has performed in Winston- Salem North Carolina at The Black
Theatre Festival Poetry Slam where she won as second place winner. She was a visiting poet
at Virginia State University Poet Artist program. Her poems have been published In the
CAP literary magazine, “Poetry Ink” Anthologies, and in “Apiary”, 7 Power Issue. Sekai
lives with her husband, musician Bobby Zankel in University City.

Leonard Gontarek

Leonard Gontarek is the author of six books of poems, including, Take Your Hand
Out of My Pocket, Shiva (2016), and He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My 
Needs (2013), both published by Hanging Loose Press. His poems have appeared 
in American Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Verse, Blackbird, The Awl, Spinning Jenny,
Verse Daily, Exquisite Corpse, The Best American Poetry, among others. 

He has presented 1000 poetry readings, political readings, and events in the
Philadelphia area, featuring Patti Smith, Pink, Nas and Busta Rhymes, among others.
Since 2006 he has conducted 1000 poetry workshops in venues including,
The Moonstone Arts Center, Musehouse, The Kelly Writers House,
University City Arts League, Free Library of Philadelphia, Philadelphia
Arts in Education Partnership, and a weekly Saturday workshop from his
home in West Philadelphia. He has been Mad Poet-in-Residence since 2008.

He coordinates Poetry In Common, Peace/Works, Philly Poetry Day,
The Philadelphia Poetry Festival, and hosts The Green Line 
Reading & Interview Series. Gontarek has received Poetry fellowships from the
Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Philadelphia Writers Conference Community Service Award, and was a Literary Death Match Champion. His poem, 37 Photos 
From The Bridge, was a Poetry winner for the Big Bridges MotionPoems project 
and the basis for the award-winning film by Lori Ersolmaz sponsored by the 
Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis:
He is Poetry Consultant for the Whitman at 200: Art And Democracy project.

Dick Lourie

Dick Lourie’s poems have been published widely for 50 years. Denise Levertov wrote that his poetry “ . . . has never failed to give me a keen sense of his integrity and individuality. [H]is voice . . . speaks with a unique nd convincing eloquence.”
Since 1997, as both poet and blues saxophone player, he has been visiting the Mississippi Delta city of Clarksdale. His most recent collection, If the Delta Was the Sea, explores the city’s blues music, history, and diversity of cultures. National Book Award winner Ha Jin calls it “a rich and spacious book” and “a genuine delight.” Poet Martín Espada notes the work’s “irony, humor, and honest insight.  . . . [Lourie] fully understands the burdens and blessings of history, and knows that there is much to celebrate in the spirit of the survivors.” In an accompanying CD, he transforms the spoken word into conversations between the poet, his sax, and a blues band .
As a musician, he performed for fifteen years with internationally known bluesman Big Jack Johnson, who observed that “his sax playing adds a complete and satisfying taste to the band . . . ”
A veteran of small press publishing, he is a co-founder and still co-editor of Hanging Loose Press—with over 200 titles to its credit, mostly individual collections of poems—and Hanging Loose magazine, now celebrating, with issue #109, fifty-one years of continuous publication.