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March 21, 2014

Reading Emily Dickinson’s metadata

There’s a terrific article by Helen Vendler in the March 24, 2014 New Republic about what can learn about Emily Dickinson by exploring her handwritten drafts. Helen is a Dickinson scholar of serious repute, and she finds revelatory significance in the words that were crossed out, replaced, or listed as alternatives, in the physical arrangement of the words on the page, etc. For example, Prof. Vendler points to the change of the line in “The Spirit” : “What customs hath the Air?” became “What function hath the Air?” She says that this change points to a more “abstract, unrevealing, even algebraic” understanding of “the future habitation of the spirit.”

Prof. Vendler’s source for many of the poems she points to is Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings, by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin, the book she is reviewing. But she also points to the new online Dickinson collection from Amherst and Harvard. (The site was developed by the Berkman Center’s Geek Cave.)


Unfortunately, the New Republic article is not available online. I very much hope that it will be since it provides such a useful way of reading the materials in the online Dickinson collection which are themselves available under a CreativeCommons license that enables
non-commercial use without asking permission.

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April 16, 2013

Marathon

Everything happens by ones.
Each step
Each cobble
Each mile
Each leg
crossing a line.

Then in a moment
we close our eyes
and remember how
the sea’s front edge
paws at its shore.

April 16, 2013

Please remember that according to the official Rules of Blogging, on the Web we must forgive one another’s bad poetry

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October 14, 2012

Evergreen

I woke up this morning with this forming in my head. Afterwards, I realized it’s about my friend Michael O’Connor Clarke who died yesterday.

Evergreen

The yew that margins our yard
grew so implacably large
that it shoved off the walk
mothers with strollers,
and brought dogs to curse
at its succor for squirrels.
So, when the cold days set in
I did what the Internet said
and lopped and sawed
and hemmed past its quick,
revealing the brute as
a pile of scratchy sticks
without shape except
where it ends.

Now my yew is catching
leaves from more proper plants
that have learned by falling
that autumn is a lie
that winter smoothly tells.

My deepest condolences to Michael’s family. I cannot express the joy he brought to anyone within earshot, and especially to his friends.

Some links: his blog, a page of support, his tweets, tweets about him, joey devilla remembers him, akma celebrates him, Jeneane mourns the loss of a brother on the Net

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November 9, 2011

You Barcelona Birds

You Barcelona birds don’t know how good you have it.
You give your city two stars
because once a tourist left you a crust that had some mustard on it —
Don’t eat the yellow bread, is that so hard to remember? —
and last February a pigeon bullied you aside.
You ought to come to my city some February.
Is there even a word in Spanish for slush?
Yeah, Boston would grow you a pair,
and then would shrivel them up until they make a high-pitched ting.
How you like them tiny frozen apples?
So why don’t you go back to TripAdvisor and fix your ratings
even if you have to make up a new login.
Try “A_Little_Perspective23″
or “WuzWrongDaFirstTime.”
Stoopid Barcelona birds.

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September 12, 2011

A September 12 poem

My friend Evelyn Walsh reminded me of a poem I wrote on September 12, 2001. I had forgotten it entirely:

They dug a hole in the ordinary yesterday,

And already the waves are smoothing its edges.

The earth’s weight

that pulls the tides

draws the bodies that fall

and holds fast the feet

that tomorrow will resume

wearing furrows into its brow.

Sept. 12, 2001

Yeah, it’s a little overwrought, but considering what I was feeling, it was underwrought.

And please remember one of the prime directives: On blogs, we must forgive one another’s bad poetry.

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May 6, 2011

Acting Shakespeare

I’ve been reading John Barton’s book Playing Shakespeare, which pretty much transcribes a series of televised master classes. It’s a pretty amazing book, in which Barton claims that Shakespeare’s lines provide clues to how they should be read — the irregular stresses in the verse, the changes from prose to verse and back again.

I googled around trying to find the original series, but found these instead. Here are two ten-minute segments. Spanning the two is David Suchet reading Sonnet 138 several times, receiving direction. (I think I personally prefer his second reading.)

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April 13, 2011

Life was harder

I was listening today to a podcast of an excellent On Point program, in which Tom Ashbrook interviews Arnold Weinstein about what we can learn from literature about the stages of life. Here’s a passage Arnold read from Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus. (I’m using a 2009 translation by G. Theodoridis — thanks!). These lines are uttered by the chorus:

It is obvious to me that those who shun moderation and want a longer life are fools.

The days of an overly long life are filled with pain.

Happiness eludes those who want to hang on to life longer than what the fates have allotted for them and in the end…

…the same attendant awaits him: Hades! Hades waits upon us all!

No ceremony, no wedding songs, no dances and no songs…

Just death!The end of us all is death.

The best would be not to be born at all.

But then, if he is born, the next best thing for him would be to try and return to where he came from…

…in the quickest possible time!

While youth and its careless mind lasts, no thought is given to what pain, what misery will, most certainly, follow.

Murder, mayhem, quarrels, wars will come before the inescapable end…

The hateful old age, frailty, loneliness, desolation and…

…your own misery’s neighbour, is even more misery.

And so, Oedipus like us, is old. Unhappy Oedipus! Bashed about like a reef facing north…

Bashed about on all sides by tempests of all sorts.

Never ending rain and wind crash over his head…

…fierce waves crash over him.

Now from West…

Now from the East…

Some during the midday’s light…

Some from the mountainous North…

…which the deep night darkens.

I’ve loved the bleakness of these lines ever since I read them in college. But I’ve always wondered whether we should read them as eternal truths that apply to us all, or as an anthropological glimpse into another culture. Today listening to them I had a different reaction: Man, have I had it easy!

When I was a youth, my careless mind was actually fairly morbid. I thought about death a lot. I still do. Yet, I think I did not have a vivid sense of “what misery will, most certainly, follow. Murder, mayhem, quarrels, wars will come before the inescapable end.” In fact, of those four, all I’ve directly experienced are quarrels. Murder? No one I knew has been murdered. Mayhem? Nothing that didn’t occur around a conference table. Wars? I missed the draft and did not serve, although like every other American, I have lived with some of the awful consequences of war. But that’s really not what Sophocles had in mind. He was thinking about the imminent sacking of a city, the cleaving of skulls, the starving of children.

Life sucked back then. To those of us in affluent countries, with a job and some health coverage, I wonder whether Sophocles would have sung a different song.

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May 23, 2010

Martin Gardner should not have been possible

The world is less curious, reasonable, fun and awesome now that Martin Gardner has died.

The Nature of Things / Martin Gardner from Wagner Brenner on Vimeo.

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October 11, 2009

Net uncovers new type of cloud

There are reports of a new type of cloud, one that is not currently in the official International Cloud Atlas. Or, possibly, it is a formation that’s been around forever, but the scattered reports are only now coalescing thanks to the Net.

According to Amazon’s review of Richard Hamblyn’s The Invention of Clouds, we only began thinking clouds could be categorized in 1802 when Luke Howard started giving public lectures. The very idea that clouds — the paradigm of uncatchable — could be divided into groups was (apparently) fascinating and thrilling. (Lamarck had also categorized clouds, but it didn’t catch on.)

A quick googly scan makes it seem that the cloud taxonomy is pretty messy. For example, the University of Illinois’ “cloud types” page lists four broad categories, and a list of miscellaneous clouds, each of which is categorized under one of the four basic types, evoking a “Huh?” reaction from at least one of us. The cloud taxonomy page at Univ. Missouri-Columbia lists eight types. Do you categorize by what they look like, how high they are, what they do (rain or not?), which celebrity profiles they resemble …? Categorizing clouds is truly a Borgesian task.

And, dammit, wouldn’t you know? Here’s a poem by Jorge Luis Borges called: “Clouds (II)” (with the line-endings probably removed):

Placid mountains meander through the air, or tragic cordilleras cast a pall, overshadowing the day. They are what we call clouds. And their shapes are often strange and rare. Shakespeare observed one once. It seemed to be a dragon. That one cloud of an afternoon still kindles in his words and blazes down, so that we go on seeing it today. What are the clouds? An architecture of chance? Perhaps they are the necessary things from which God weaves his vast imaginings, threads of a web of infinite expanse. Maybe the cloud is emptiness returning, just like the man who watches it this morning.

(translated by Richard Barnes. B; Robert Mezey; Richard Barnes. “Clouds (II). (poem).” The American Poetry Review. World Poetry, Inc. 1996. HighBeam Research. 11 Oct. 2009 v)

More Borges poems

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March 23, 2009

Arguing for the sake of Heaven

Disagreement is, in its nature, like the creation of the world.
For the creation of the world came about in essence by way of open space,
without which all would have been endless divinity,
and there would have been no place for the creation of the world.
Therefore, God withdrew light to the margins,
and the open space was formed,
and in that space God created the world,
through acts of speech.
And so it is, too, with disagreement—
for if all the sages were of one mind
there would be no place for the creation of the world.
It is only by way of the disagreement between them,
and their dividing one from another,
each one drawing to a particular side,
that open space comes into being between them—
which, in its nature, is like the withdrawing of primordial divine light to the margins—
in the midst of which creation can take place, through acts of speech.

—Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (1772–1810)
Jonah Steinberg, translator

This is a text a lecture (now postponed) by Nehemia Polen was going to discuss at a class in Newton, MA.

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