Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sunday Poem: Anne Carroll Fowler

Hermit Crab

         Anything you lose comes around in another form

Part of yourself leaves in morphine dreams
and changes shape. You say last night
I was a pine tree, a scrubby beach rose,
a heron, stalking.
And remember
the night we lay on the grass
stared at the thunder moon.

I know you are afraid, but listen!
Hermit crabs outgrow their shells
and find others, bigger, empty--
whelk or periwinkle,
broken husk of a coconut,
coral or sponge. Some carry
their anemones with them
when they move.

Anne Carroll Fowler, Five Islands (Johnstown, OH:
Pudding House Publications, 2002).
Copyright © Anne Carroll Fowler, 2002

Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday Photo (3)

Untitled, 2004/2007

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sunday Poem: John Ashbery           

The Erotic Double

He says he doesn't feel like working today.
It's just as well. Here in the shade
Behind the house, protected from street noises,
One can go over all kinds of old feeling,
Throw some away, keep others.
The wordplay
Between us gets very intense when there are
Fewer feelings around to confuse things.
Another go-round? No, but the last things
You always find to say are charming, and rescue me
Before the night does. We are afloat
On our dreams as on a barge made of ice,
Shot through with questions and fissures of starlight
That keep us awake, thinking about the dreams
As they are happening. Some occurrence. You said it.

I said it but I can hide it. But I choose not to.
Thank you. You are a very pleasant person.
Thank you. You are too.
John Ashbery, Selected Poems ( New York: Penguin Books, 1985).
Copyright © John Ashbery, 1985

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday Photo (2)

Untitled (Mall Series), 2007

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Death of A Pig

E.B. White’s essay tells the story of his unsuccessful attempt to save a pig suffering a fatal illness. The tone is wry. “I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig,” the essay begins

and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting.

White first realizes the pig is in trouble when it does not “appear at the trough for his supper, and when a pig (or child) refuses supper a chill wave of fear runs through any household…” He manages to treat the pig in time to go out to dinner. Returning later that evening, having eaten “well and at someone else’s expense,” he finds the pig has worsened. The lack of eating on the pig’s part leads to White’s theme, the contingency of life:

the stuff that goes into the trough and is received with such enthusiasm is an earnest of some later feast of [man], and when this suddenly comes to an end and the food lies stale and untouched, souring in the sun, the pig’s imbalance become the man’s, vicariously, and life seems insecure, displaced, transitory.

White wants to think of the pig as different from him, in this respect, but cannot. “What could be true of the pig could be true also of the rest of my tidy life.” Using his characteristic wry delivery, he observes that after administering an enema the “pig’s lot and mine were inextricably bound now, as though the rubber tube were the silver cord.” Humor tempers the graver lesson the pig’s death teaches White, and us.

“Death of a Pig” is a deft essay, seamlessly weaving together the metaphysical with the mundane, perfectly balancing humor with White's weighty subject. An essay worthy, I thought, of sharing with my students of expository writing.

Reading “Death of a Pig” again two decades later, sufficient time to forget the turns of my thinking when I taught writing, I wonder what I believed I could gain by asking them to take a look at the essay. Taking a look was all I hoped for from my class, a look perhaps followed by discussion of the essay’s highlights, at least as I saw them.

Experience had tempered my expectations. During my first year of teaching in prison, a student named Shotgun threw chairs around the room after receiving a C on an assignment, a powerful incentive in my mind for grade inflation. I had much difficulty in another class explaining causality as an organizing device; cause and effect seemed as opaque to them as quantum mechanics is to me. Nevertheless, I pushed ahead, encouraging this later group of prisoners to read “Death of a Pig,” speaking enthusiastically about the essay’s virtues. When I received teacher evaluations at the end of the year, one student’s only comment summed up the experience: “We had to read about a dying pig.”

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Sunday Poem: David Edelman

The Yellow in a Field

for Julian

The yellow in a field of mustard waves
in the lingering breeze like a woman's dress,
cotton light and loose, the kind she craves
when the sun hits hard in sultry August.

The yellow of the dress is the woman's feel
as she waves in the breeze like a field
of mustard, bending limber as a peel
of lemon, the tang of her skirt unsealed.

Lifting in the breeze, the dress of the woman
yellows a land that is otherwise grey,
concrete and rubble turned scent of lemon,
the monotonies of weather broken like rain.

The mustard in the field is the woman in wind,
the yellow of her dress the love that bends.

David Edelman, After the Translation (Waldron Island, WA: Brooding Heron Press, 2001).
Copyright © 2001 David Edelman

Friday, January 5, 2007

Friday Photo (1)

Untitled, 2007

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Semour Martin Lipset: 1922-2007

Seymore Martin Lipset, the influential sociologist, died on December 31st. In The First New Nation, he observed that

America was more fortunate than contemporary new states in that the European cutural values which its intellectuals identified with were not very different from those held by the majority of the population. In contemporary new nations, the young intellectuals are likely to be alienated from their own society because they feel drawn to cultures which speak a language foreign to most of the citizens of these societies... For eighteenth- and nineteenth century American intellectuals, London and other European capitals were the centers which had to be impressed. Only Europe's learning, literature, art, and higher education were viewed as good while America's--the product of "colonials and provincials"-- were viewed as inferior....such attitudes may foster anti-intellectualism and populism among nationalists of new states. Some of the intellectuals in America have shown a soaring "belief in the creativity and in the superior moral worth of the ordinary people," just as do intellectuals in the latter-day new states. Even Thomas Jefferson could write: "State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules"...

But as is well known, the leadership of the intellectuals in new states does not survive the first revolutionary generation.

Copyright © 1979, 1973 by Seymour Martin Lipset

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Moments Preserved

A still rowboat and its watery reflection, a man holding two oars in balance, and five yellow lines like a mysterious musical notation: the photograph drew me in as I looked over a table of holiday books. Browsing was my principle pleasure. Book titles and covers, even texts stacked by university course number, set off my imagination. Fifteen years old with little savings and income, I infrequently made a purchase. Browsing was enough. Not tethered to what lay between a book’s covers, my mind could travel where whim might take it. I paged through Irving Penn’s Moments Preserved. Thirty five dollars! An improbable luxury. Later I would return with earnings to make Moments Preserved mine.

I’d not seen Irving Penn’s work before discovering Moments Preserved on the holiday book table (Vogue did not enter our home). Penn’s importance was unknown to me; the formal qualities of his photographs, his references to the still lives of Spanish painters, the aura surrounding the sky lighted studio portraits—I would learn of these later.

In 1960, my sophomore high school year, I was captivated by the beauty of the photographs, entranced by the world they evoked. Penn made the life of the artist and intellectual feel within reach.

My father, the circulation manager of a New York publishing company, offered me an occasional trip to the city. As the train approached the tunnel under the Hudson River, and I saw the tops of midtown skyscrapers, a horizon of possibilities began to edge out my humdrum life. To those who come with fresh eyes to New York, the city is “an infinity romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself,” Joan Didion writes in “Goodbye to All That.” It was this dream that Penn’s book offered me, a jejune middle-class boy living in suburban tract housing.

Forty-six years later, when much seems irrevocable and out of reach, paging through Moments Preserved punctures a hole in the wall of habit, rekindles the imagination, and eases the way forward, if momentarily.