Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

If Xeno was a persian lion.png

From a 1500s book of Five Poems, or The Kamsah available online through the British Library. This beastie is looking up at a running hare, and reminds me of Xeno.  Although this scan doesn’t show it to best effect, the ink is gold.  In the next image, you can see where silver ink had been used on the stag’s horns, but centuries have tarnished those sections black..

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Years ago, a friend of mine was trying to make a casual reference to his wife, who he loved dearly, and I knew from the church fellowship we were all attending at the time. The phrase he was trying to avoid was “the little woman”, but then it was immediately clear that saying “the big woman” wouldn’t do either, and so what he ended up with was the awkward and funny [even to her] “woman of moderate size”….

So here, in a somewhat similarly awkward vein, is someone trying to decide if poetry is a lively art, a hobby, a craft, or, by a particular definition, a “minor art”: a craft whose audience is mostly other practitioners of that art…..

Poetry in the twenty-first century is like pottery, woodworking, or the making of carrot carnations. Sophisticated verse was never a major art, and having lost even a small non-practitioner audience, it has lost its status as a minor art. At hobbyist conventions, celebrated practitioners of a craft address an audience made up of other practitioners of the craft, who will then go home and work at the art themselves. Poetry has more residual cultural prestige than carrot carnation making and other hobbies, but that is only because most of the poet-hobbyists are professors with MFAs, while there are no professors of table-setting.From Poesey to Carrot Carnations

I suppose he is talking about “pottery” in the sense of the craft practiced in studio art programs, and “woodworking” in some sense that is similarly rarified — but if you walk around fine craft shows, there seem to be quite a few non-practitioners who come to admire, gawp, collect, and natter. The audiences for these items still do include outsiders: There are people who love a beautifully-sculpted chair arm whether or not they’ve ever picked out a spokeshave from the Veritas or Lie Nielsen. There are degree programs in interior design. There are blogs featuring elaborate tablescapes and business models based around floral sculptures made of fruits and vegetables.

The population of people who talk about politics may be larger [that’s Mr. Lind’s main audience and source of income], and it may be that these days you can get more notariety [or more dates] if you perform in that arena rather than in poetry. But I don’t think the system of political pundits talking about/at/with each other is any less insular [and potentially prone to omphaloskepsis] than specialized communities of discourse in other segments of life or art.  I remember my piano teacher, who traveled around the world on the basis of her skills, telling me once that she had started reading business magazines [Forbes, Fortune, etc.] to see if the world of finance was any less ‘silly’ than the music world….and she came to the conclusion that it wasn’t. If the inhabitants of humanities departments get more mileage [tenure, grants, etc.] by making pronouncements about pop culture than about poetry, that’s not just a “sense of cultural responsibility” owed to one genre over another — it’s just a human desire to be wherever the action is….

Until, with typical human perversity, it becomes more interesting/authentic/hip to be running off in some other, probably opposite, direction. I believe that’s what the Smart Set aims for in its articles most of the time, anyway: a provocatvie contrarianism that reifies the status quo of some earlier time.

And yes, that was a rubbish previous sentence.  Time to get some sleep!

Music: “She’s Actual Size, but She Seems a Lot Bigger to Me”, They Might Be Giants

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The technical term is “Benign Paroxysmal Vertigo”, which has multiple potential causes, from virally-clogged sinuses to a failure of cetirizine in the face of overwhelming allergens — the result is a world that whirls uncomfortably at unexpected moments

And suddenly I’m practicing the most basic of scientific experiments, assays along the lines of  “What happens if I turn my head this way?” “If I manage to keep my head steady while crouching to put the cat food in the bowl, what are my chances of convincing my brain that ‘down’ is the floor and not the door of the stove?” and “When will my brain feel as if it is settled inside my skull, as opposed to hoverring two inches up and to the right?” [Coincidentally, my astigmatism also causes me to believe that the world is two inches or two feet other than it physically exists, resulting in many a bruise on my right shoulder…]

In the midst of this, I am thinking about art and expertise, of experiments with plaster and paper, and trying, trying to make progress on a report I thought had been finished several weeks ago [new criteria were added, and therefore more explication required].

From your perspective, looking at the screen and these letters in some variation on Times Roman, it might seem my net of words is more tangled and dense than usual.  Does that mean they will catch any more fish?

Did I want fish?

Maybe I can make them into a metaphor, and then use it to describe something that doesn’t dart away.

In the meantime, visit with real poets: Discussions of poetics, change, impossibility, and wrestling with what best to do

BONUS: Hundreds of things I can never imagine wearing….

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I expect there will be copies of William Carlos Williams’s poems in the gift shop, and maybe reproduction photos of the mills that grew up around the Paterson Falls‘ power.  But alas, I do fear some people will visit because of the Sopranos connection.

On a completely different note, go watch the PCR choir from BioRad:


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3brothersbuckNot so long ago, I lived in a state where some school districts closed for the first day of hunting season. The first time I realized this, it was disconcerting: some of my freshmen were surprised that the University did not also observe this kind of holiday, as they had not planned on gracing my classroom with their presence for that occassion.

1brobuckBut as the years have worn on, I haven’t found it strange — although perhaps a little disappointing that no one could come and harvest the bounty that kept insisting on delicately tromping up and down the rockery: don’t they look lovely? That was two Januaries ago, looking out my bathroom window into the back yard. Majestic creatures wrought, however indirectly, by the hand of God, and oh-so-tasty with tart raspberry sauce and wild rice.

Elsinore has foxes, but not deer, as far as I know. Probably further west, towards the more baronial areas what have more the proper parkland there are quite a few. Further north a few clicks a University had some students in an uproar over a culling scheduled over winter break. I’m going to guess, if the acorns haven’t shown up in this area either, that there will be more starving animals and more calls for culling in the future. [sigh].

In any event, I wanted to direct your attention to a rolicking poem, courtesy of Writer’s Almanac, which brilliantly captures the chaos and unintended consequences of early December [we will speak of exams and grading some other time] — I give you ” A Deer in the Target” [read it out loud, it’s better!]

A Deer in the Target

by Robert Fanning

I only got a ten-second shot,
grainy footage of the huge deer
caught in the crosshairs
of a ceiling security camera, a scene
of utter chaos in a strip mall store,
shown on the late local news.
The beautiful beast clearly scared
to death in this fluorescent forest,
its once graceful legs giving out
on mopped floors, think Bambi
as a fawn its first time standing.
Seeing the scattering shoppers,
you’d think a demon had barged
into this temple of commerce,
as they sacrificed their merchandise,
stranded full carts and dove for cover.
And when the aisles were emptied
of these bargain hunters, who was left
but an army of brave red-shirted
team members, mobilized by
the store manager over the intercom
to drive this wild animal out.
I wager there’s nothing on this
in the How to Approach
an Unsatisfied Shopper

section in the Target employee handbook,
but there they were: the cashiers
and stockers, the Floor Supervisor,
the Assistant Floor Supervisor,
the Store Manager,
the Assistant Store Manager,
the District Associate Manager,
the District Supervisor,
the District Assistant Supervisor
and visiting members from
the Regional Corporate Office,
running after it, it running after
them, bull’s eye logos on their red golf shirts,
everyone frenzied and panting: razor hooves
clattering on the mirror-white floor tiles,
nostrils heaving, its rack clearing
off-season clothes from clearance racks.
All of them, in Target,
chasing the almighty buck.

“A Deer In The Target” by Robert Fanning. (buy now) Reprinted with permission of the author at Writer’s Almanac, and momentarily highjacked by me.

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Here dead lie we
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.

Life, to be sure, is
Nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.

A. E. Houseman

I memorized this in high school; I can still see the illustrations on the page, smell the musty literature anthology — it was the kind of book that included “The Most Deadly Game” and “The Lottery”. I think it was the unexpected word order in the first line that first caught my attention; I never really associated it with my great-uncle [who lived with us at the time, and had served during World War I]. That might be because he was posted state-side, and never saw the horrors of the trenches….but who knows if he would have talked about it if he had? That wasn’t a typical sort of conversation, at least not with us.

Living in England for a while showed me many more monuments, many more ways to think about what had happened, and where we might find ourselves in the future.

And here we are: the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of the year.

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