Once in awhile a sentence in a newspaper article startles me with its inventiveness, like this one by Natalie Angier from an article on Trilobites in the Tuesday Science Times.
The scientist points to “a flawless specimen of Walliserops, a five-inch trilobite that swam the Devonian seas around what is now Morocco some 150 million years before the first dinosaurs hatched. With its elongated, triple-tined head horn and a bristle brush of spines encircling its lower body, the trilobite could be a kitchen utensil for Salvador Dali.” Continue reading
Maxine Kumin died last month. Right until a month before her death, we carried on a sporadic correspondence. She was extremely gracious and generous to me, and I think somewhat under- recognized as a poet. Here’s one of my favorites of hers:
Afterward, the compromise.
Bodies resume their boundaries.
These legs, for instance, mine.
Your arms take you back in. Continue reading
I’m making scones. Larry is reading me snatches from the NY Times, including this from the Book Review: “When Shirley Temple Black died at 85 on Feb. 10, The Times’s obituary made brief note of her connection to Graham Greene. In a review of the 1937 film ‘Wee Willie Winkie,’ Greene wrote that Temple’s ‘infancy is her disguise, her appeal is more secret and more adult. ‘He unwisely continued: ‘Her admirers — middle-aged men and clergymen — respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire.’
In his memoirs, the film director Alberto Cavalcanti said Greene fled to Mexico, where he wrote “The Power and the Glory,” rather than face a possible prison sentence in a libel case inspired by the review. Cavalcanti wrote: “Very likely Shirley Temple never learned that it was partly thanks to her that, during his exile, Graham Greene wrote one of his best books.”
The NY Times this morning had an article about chickens on the front page, “Wishing They All Could Be California Hens.” The article discussed a California law that requires cages for chickens “roomy enough to stand up, lie down — even extend their wings fully without touching another bird.” This law requires importers of eggs to meet these same generous standards, which has inspired potential lawsuits from out-of-state hen jailers. These larger California cages mean that you have about 60 hens in a cage the size of the back of a large pickup truck. In other states, farmers can continue to house chickens “in battery cages about as big as a filing-cabinet drawer.” The article compared this to “sitting in an airplane seat in the economy section all your life.” Continue reading
It’s not quite Monday, but I’ve been reading Forrest Gander’s splendid translations of Coral Bracho, a Mexican poet. The book is worth reading just for the introduction, but the poems are, well, rapturous might be the adjective I’m looking for. Here’s a short sample, in Spanish and English:
En la entraña del tiempo
El tiempo cede
su delicada profundidad. (puertas
que unas a otras se protegen; que unas en otras entran;
rastro de mar.) Un otoño
de leños y hojarascas. En su fondo: Continue reading
One of the young hens has begun to sit on eggs, or get “broody,” as chicken folk say. (Yet another metaphor from the world of chickens.) With a great deal of perseverance (though not much discrimination), she was sitting on one wooden egg in the hen house until I moved her to a separate box and put some real eggs under her. I got the eggs from an accommodating hatchery in Pennsylvania, who shipped them in bubble wrap. For 21 days the hen will barely get up, perhaps rising once a day to eat, drink and eliminate, and then renew her slow vigil on the eggs. Talk about confinement! I’m not going to disturb her by opening the door and taking her picture. She has enough to deal with.
Actually, I had put a few of my hens’ eggs under her for the first ten days, until the new eggs arrived. She had to start over with the new batch. Continue reading
Come Come where the booze is cheaper,
Come Come where the pots hold more,
Come Come where the boss is a bit of a sport,
Come Come to the pub next door!
George Orwell, that master of the essay, has a lovely piece on writing called “Good Bad Books.” Of course, you can read all his essays online now (although they are rife with typos, even more than my notes here!), including this one. In it, he notes that some authors who write commercially, without intellectual pretensions, remain readable long after their higher-toned colleagues are forgotten. He comments: “In each of these books the author has been able to identify himself with his imagined characters, to feel with them and invite sympathy on their behalf…In novelists, almost as much as in poets, the connection between intelligence and creative power is hard to establish. A good novelist may be a prodigy of self-discipline like Flaubert, or he may be an intellectual sprawl like Dickens. Enough talent to set up dozens of ordinary writers has been poured into Wyndham Lewis’s so-called novels, such as Tarr or Snooty Baronet. Yet it would be a very heavy labour to read one of these books right through. Some indefinable quality, a sort of literary vitamin, which exists even in a book like If Winter Comes, is absent from them.”
I was reminded of and searched out the essay because I recently went to my first poetry slam, at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. The raw energy of the poets was invigorating and made the evening better than many a literary night of droning poets searching their soul for meaning. Lots of that indefinable literary vitamin. I was reminded of this sentence from Orwell’s essay:
There are music-hall songs which are better poems than three-quarters of the stuff
that gets into the anthologies.
Here, here! Next time I go, I may perform.
I found this poem, cut out from the New Yorker, no idea when…
First, you took the parakeet out of its cage,
Its body warm and folded, a blue-green kite
With a surprised heart. Then you scoured the metal,
The door a loose pocket of bars on two wire hinges,
The clawed perches, the swing and its endless dialogue
With the invisible. Slowly, you removed the racks
From the dishwasher and placed the cage in it.
We laughed at your ingenuity, at the way
It expressed your secret ambition to be
The one least mauled by the predictable.
And I think I knew then that I would carry on this hope
Of yours. There is such harm in love.
But let it be the green-and-blue acrobat it is,
A tropical danger in the midst of my body,
The body that you built for me.
Let it be the cage you cared for from which
Birdsong was pulled into the cool and odorless air.
I’ve written before about Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical short story, “Harrison Bergeron,” and its Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers. She’s the one who makes sure no one stands out as better than anyone else by assigning the appropriate handicap. This doesn’t seem so much like satire in the current environment of political correctness.
I just came across a reaction by Zoë Heller to the proposition posited by Lee Siegel for The New Yorker and Isaac Fitzgerald at BuzzFeed that reviewers should only publish positive book reviews. Siegel and Fitzgerald feel we shouldn’t say anything negative about the poor authors who have worked so hard. Heller makes the case that banning “negativity” is bad for the culture and unfair to authors. I couldn’t agree more. In fact I more than agree. Continue reading