Saturday, November 7, 2009

This is what happens when I look up my alma mater on YouTube..

Unexpectedly... exciting footage of my beloved St. John the Evangelist Library.

Me and my friends once plotted to hide in the library after hours and spend the night... good thing we didn't!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The worlds's oldest recorded melody - enjoy!

My friend Sean sent me this video from YouTube.

I have Savae's recording of old Spanish and Aztec music for our Lady of Guadalupe - it's something else.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Be Emily Dickenson for Halloween

You Will Need
- An old-school nightgown or simple white cotton dress
- A ribbon
- Hair pulled back in a modest bun
- A fascicle (a small bundle of folded poems)

Extra Credit:

Hand out plastic flies while reciting the immortal line: "I heard a Fly buzz—when I died..."

Another item from Choriamb today:

The World is Fundamentally a Great Wonder: a conversation with Richard Wilbur.
I well remember what drew me to Key West in the first place. It was the 1960s, and a colleague of mine at Wesleyan, the painter Samuel Green, said to me, "Why do you take winter vacations in remote places like Tobago, using up all your money on air fare? You ought to try Key West, our American subtropics." He asked if I liked the movie Bonnie and Clyde. "Well, yes," I said. "It's morally questionable, but, aesthetically, very pleasing." "Then you'll love," he said, "the combined beauty and tackiness of Key West."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Laboring to be beautiful

"I said, 'A line will take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought, / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught." It was impossible not to think of these lines of Yeats while watching Bright Star. The film's very first shot is a close-up of a needle being pulled through cloth. Fanny Brawne, all of 18, is an artist with her needle as Keats is with his pen; and her work has a lushness and inventiveness that echos his. It doesn't take long for her to become an admirer of his verse, despite her initial skepticism. She's no marble-eyed muse - she's as inspired by him as he is by her.

Naturally, it delighted me to see poetry being batted around in the movie theater. I sighed happily when Keats compared poetry to diving into a lake and just floating in the luxury of it. "You're not trying to 'work it out.'" And I got a charge from hearing bits of Keats' letters, along with entire poems. Yet this is not really a film about art. Fanny's triple-pleated collars and Keats' highly-wrought sonnets are only frames for life - the setting, not the jewel. It's about love, real and true and strong enough to create a world within a world. The lovers have a courageous ease with beautiful artifice - he writes "Bright Star" and "Ode to a Nightingale"; she fills her bedroom with live butterflies - but they are only underlining the inherent artistry of all romantic love. A kiss, after all, is as artificial as a poem - as artificial as language - as eccentric as being human when you could have been a cat or a seraph. This film shows the wonder and surprise of just being in love - something that tends to get trampled over in most movies in the hurry to get to the sex scene. Bright Star shows much less, and much more.

And John and Fanny's first kiss is one of the loveliest cinematic kisses ever. There are so many beautiful images that it seems wrong to single out just one - fields of blue flowers, fields of daffodils, changing seasons, light reflecting from open books, knocks exchanged through a wall, Keats and his friends forming a human orchestra and singing Mozart. (The "Serenade for Winds" has been stuck in my head... it took me back to middle school when I first saw Amadeus. Which reminds me: I thought Keats' friend Brown came off as a little too Salieri.) And I can't go without mentioning Fanny's little sister Toots, whom Keats accuses of eating rosebuds:

The romance is pretty much the entire plot, and as long as it continues, the movie has just enough structure to absorb you. It all feels very unaffected and true to life, so much so that I scarcely feel the need to see it again.

There's no artistry to death though; at least not to Keats' death. That medieval title you sometimes come across in Catholic bookstores, The Art of Dying, is a little beyond most of us. Keats' poverty isn't insurmountable: by the end of the film his books are selling a little better and Fanny's mother has totally accepted him and welcomed him into the family. It's nothing more than the bacteria in his lungs that's keeping him from starting a life, as they say, with Fanny. His death ends the film with a leaden and inartistic thud - which is perfectly appropriate. This isn't a tragedy in the Greek sense. There's no dramatic satisfaction. The final minutes of the film are raw and hard to watch. The whole experience raises more questions than it can answer, and that's really a good thing. Before Keats leaves for Italy he has to say goodbye to Fanny, and she bursts out, "Shall I awake and find all this a dream? We cannot be created for this sort of suffering." She's right. It's all wrong. In the past, I have sometimes wondered at the vehemence of the grief that some people still feel for Keats. What makes him so special? And I myself have stood in the little room where he died, spellbound with sadness, and taken the metro down to the cemetery so I could pray by his grave. He was so good at communicating the sensuous joy of being alive and the sadness of living in death's shadow that we have learned to mourn with him; and I feel grateful to him for that. Bright Star does the work of his poetry in making you feel the weight of love and the horror and wrongness of death. If we could always see that clearly, we would always be in tears like Tolkien's Nienna. (It's a good thing we can't; how would we drive or cook or keep our mascara on?)

Near the end of the film, Keats offers that "poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery." Mystery is what he was left with, as all of us are. The poem that Ben Wishaw recites over the credits works as well as any. Poetry may be frail, but sometimes it's just enough: a patch or splice or bit of silken string that holds us together.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Oh for Keat's sake. Seriously.

I just found the trailer for "Bright Star," which opens tomorrow. Blech! It looks insufferably gooey. Call me cold-blooded, but the only moment that really sent my heart racing was the second-long glimpse of Keats lining up the scraps of "Ode to a Nightingale." Eeeeeee!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Enbrethiliel's Meme

Dragged from hibernation again! I'd like to thank Enbrethiliel for tagging me...

Ten Honest Facts About Meredith

1. I will happily spend half an hour staring into space and morphing words into rhymes and pararhymes: "Flick, fluke, flake, flock... shock, walk, knock, lock... luck, lack, like, Luke..." and so on ad nauseam.

2. I have referred, in a poem, to eyes as "orbs." (Once. When I was thirteen, people.)

3. Until I got to high school, I had a phobia of foreign languages. I seriously thought I was incapable of learning another language. Which proves that there's hope for all of us.

4. My knowledge of macrons in Latin words is imperfect. For instance, I always thought that "rosa" has a long O, and it doesn't. And now I have to make sure that my students put macrons in the right places. Ei mihi!

5. I avidly follow fashion blogs like The Cherry Blossom Girl and The Glamorous Grad Student.

6. If I go with people to a restaurant, I'm always the last person to finish eating.

7. When no one else is listening, I read Virgil with 90% ecclesiastical pronunciation.

8. I still like Philip Pullman, even after The Amber Spyglass. Even though he's trying to build an army of anticlerical zombie children. (Can I come along, as long as I don't have to sing the Marseillaise?) I and a Certain Friend still talk about what our daemons would be, if we had them.

9. I didn't have a boyfriend in high school. I was too deeply absorbed in my relationships with old, dead poets.

10. (This last is for Enbrethiliel) My Little Pony was an alright cartoon, but Rainbow Brite was the bestest ever! I haven't heard the theme song for years, but if I did, I'd get chills.

Whom should I tag? I think most of our circle has already been tagged... Well, if you're reading this and it appeals to you and you haven't done it yet... consider yourself tagged!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New Dappled Things

Dear Friends,

Has the summer heat gotten you down? Fear not! The cool new edition of Dappled Things is sure to refresh you with an invigorating selection of prose, poetry, and art.

Our fiction this issue runs the gamut from the weighty to the wild. We have Dena Hunt's The Funeral, a moving meditation on the finitude of human loves, followed by a story that features a troop of Dominican friars dispassionately considering whether they should eat each other or not—Eleanor Donlon's wacky but affecting De virtute cannibalismi—and conclude with Tony France's The Ninth Floor, the often bizarre tale of a young thief set on making off with the treasures of a legendary department store:
Leyland’s catalogue was a thousand pages filled with hope, joy, and goodwill. The actual wares offered for sale seemed like a pretext for displaying tapestries, paintings, mosaics, frescoes, fountains, statuary rising above cobalt blue pools, hanging gardens, tropical forests, marble temples, and ancient ruins. Walking into the blue and gold aura of the Leyland’s Fifth Avenue main entrance reinforced the impression that at Leyland’s, merchandising, although necessary, served an ulterior motive.

If you're looking for solid non-fiction, we've got that too. Eileen Cunis delves into the Catholic tradition for insight in her essay "What is Art?," the first installment of a three part series titled "On the Vocation of the Christian Artist." Then in "The Wisconsin Baroque, Priests, and Paper Architecture" Matthew Alderman lays out a vision of how sacred architecture might develop in the future by building on—rathern than discarding—the foundations laid out in the past. Along those line, our featured article this issue—"Restoring the Fresco of Progress" by Dr. Wilfred McClay—considers the danger of paralysis in a culture that has come to question the very possibility of positive change:
But our compulsive belief in progress is being challenged constantly by the honesty of our unbelief. Hence when we speak of progress, it is so often “progress” that we speak of. The use of sneer quotes is often a way of pretending to be superior to the concept being quoted, and to those who would be so na├»ve or mendacious as to use the words without critical distance. But their use may also be a way of frankly confessing one’s inability to get beyond straddling an issue. It may even be a way of evading the law of noncontradiction, by both asserting and not asserting something at the same time. A way of saying tacitly what was once said biblically: “Lord I believe; help thou my unbelief.” (Mark 9: 24)

If you are looking for a new book to read this summer, make sure to check out Bernardo Aparicio and Katy Carl's interview with Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy. Eire's book won the National Book Award in 2003 and is a gem of Catholic literature that has remained hidden only to Catholics. In this thought-provoking interview, our president and editor-in-chief give this fascinating memoir the long-overdue attention it deserves:
Eire’s voice is one we overlook at our own loss. His memoir, though a work of non-fiction, is suffused with the magical realism of the best Latin American novels. His is the kind of realism that grows out of an understanding that reality is, indeed, magical—full of depth and possibility, sacramental. Eire’s facts are never flat; he can follow the simplest details in surprising directions, all of which lead to either hilarious or deeply poignant conclusions, most often both. For this reason, even as Waiting for Snow succeeds as a memoir of childhood and exile, it accomplishes much more than that. Something solid moves beneath the words. Don’t be surprised at that. It is Augustine, not Rousseau, that Professor Eire is echoing in the memoir’s subtitle: Confessions of a Cuban Boy.

If poetry and art is what you crave, you have come to the right place. Just consider artist James Dean Erickson's beautiful and moving portraits of humble workers and homeless men. Erickson uses everyday materials to create works of fine art, a method that supports his interest in highlighting the dignity of those we so often turn away from in the street. And as Erickson paints with brushes our poets paint with words: take a look at Meredith Wise's "Roman April" or John Savoie's "Beads," among many others, to see what we mean.

These are just some of the many excellent fiction pieces, essays, poems, and works of art that we have prepared for you this time.

Wishing you a joyful and blessed summer,

The Editors

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More humor from A.E. Housman

From the indispensable Laudator Temporis Acti, a glimpse at A.E. Housman's silly side:

The Latin author Lucan
When bitten by a toucan,
Exclaimed in anguish "O!
That bird must have been frantic
To cross the broad Atlantic
From distant Mexico,
And come to ancient Rome,
And bite me in my home,
And make me cry in anguish
And in the Latin language

- A.E. Housman, Miscellaneous Verses, Chiefly Educational

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Polyphonic Virgil

This is a first for my blog: a CD review. I want to tell any of my readers who love poetry, Classics, or choral music that Rome's Golden Poets is a fantastic recording! Also: if anyone was put off by the king's ransom that Bolchazy-Carducci is asking for it, know that you can write directly to the Saint Louis Chamber Chorus and get it for $18. My copy got to me really fast.

The composers are Flemish, Italian, French, German, Brazilian, Hungarian, Czech, American. Dates of composition range from the 16th to the 20th century. But the Latin comes through loud and clear. The first track is a supercharged rendition of "Odi et Amo" (Catullus) by Jacob Handl (1550-1591), full of freshness and passion. Next there is a setting of "Lugete O Veneres Cupidinesque" by Gian-Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973), in which every nuance of this short, perfect poem about a girlfriend's dead sparrow is carefully brought out. There are three versions of the same passage from the Aeneid, all mournfully sacral in their treatment of Dido's grief and regret. There is a 1974 setting of a passage from the Fourth Eclogue, impressive with packed chords and intelligently placed discords. But the lion's share of the poetry on this CD belongs to Horace: "O fons Bandusiae," "Felices ter," "Nunc est bibendum," "Iam satis terris," and many others. Of all these, I thought that "Iam satis terris" was especially lovely. The American Randall Thompson does beautiful things with "O fons Bandusiae": you can just feel the burning sun at "atrox hora Caniculae," and you can positively splash around in the cascading music of "unde loquaces lymphae desiliunt tuae."

I should say that the last three tracks weren't to my taste: "Eheu fugaces" and "Tu ne quaesieris" were murky and strange, which was an especially sad fate for "Tu ne quaesieris," with its intoxicating rhythm. The last track is a Latin version of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," which I found extremely quaint. Otherwise, though, this is a great recording. The music has increased my appreciation of the poems. Taken as a whole, this music is a testament to the happiness hidden in those Latin classes you took in high school. It's a glimpse at the ancient, glowing heart of Latin letters, and the warmth that writers and musicians and their audiences have taken from it through the centuries. Five stars.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My next move:

Grad school! I've been accepted to the Classics program at the University of Kentucky. Some of you already know about it, but for those who don't, I should say that it's an MA program, and that it's distinctive for its emphasis on active Latin and more recent Latin literature. Within the MA program is a series of courses where Latin, as in much of European history, is the language of instruction. This Institute for Latin Studies is the work of Terence Tunberg and Milena Minkova - if you go here, you can watch videos of them speaking fluent Latin to each other and to students. Last summer I went to a conventiculum led by Dr. Tunberg, and loved it. (Sadly, I don't think I'll be able to go this summer because of work.)

I'm really excited, because I know that I will learn how to teach Latin at UK, and I will go deeper into Latin literature than I ever thought was possible when I started learning the language.

My mom actually went to UK for library school. It's funny how life turns out!

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Grand Day

To prove that I was not, in fact, angsty on my birthday, I offer this picture.

My mom and dad and my brother and I went for a drive in the hills and visited a couple of wineries. We went for a walk in the woods and had a picnic. Then we went to a vigil Mass, and then we went out to dinner with more family. Finally we came back home and had coffee and a fallen-chocolate-souffle cake. (YUM!!!) Mom and Dad, if you are reading this, thanks for a great day!

Warning: Lions Ahead

There is one of these signs near my house. I love the way the cougar looks the same in all three panels, and how they leave the last scene to your imagination. Let's go hiking!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sonnet VII

By John Milton
On his being arrived at the age of 23.

How soon hath time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stolen on his wing my three and twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom sheweth.
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth,
That I to manhood am arrived so near,
And inward ripeness doth much less appear
That some more timely happy spirits indueth.
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure even
To that same lot however mean or high,
Toward which time leads me and the will of heaven.
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
As ever in my great taskmaster's eye.

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Some Guy on the Street" has a blog!

Null Epistolary. Random acts of apostrophe, and occasional math.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Freaky Magic Latin Square

SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS. Forget that "Arepo" is a made-up word, and marvel at this sentence that goes into a grid and reads the same from four directions. The guy who came up with this would have loved sudoku. I had never seen it before today, when I discovered that Geoffrey Chaucer had put it on a t-shirt. Wikipedia seems to know all about it, as usual. You can also rearrange the letters to form "PATERNOSTER" twice, with a double alpha and omega left over. This all goes nicely into a sort of crusader cross. All very interesting, but reciting it to guard your cattle from witchcraft is a bit much!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Terror vs. Embarrassment

An interesting (and cathartic) review in Poetry which takes Christian poets to task for being too diffident and reader-friendly.
Terror’s potential as a creative source is all but unrecognizable in today’s religious poetry. Many critics would even contend that the genre as such no longer exists (witness Harold Bloom’s fascinating but labored attempt to articulate “the American religion” in his recent anthology). Labels aside, however, it seems clear that past pursuits of “a Discontent / Too exquisite—to tell” (Dickinson) have been replaced by slacker, more self-deprecating pieties. Instead of confronting you with a soul drowning in God, the contemporary religious poem is much more likely to invite you in for a dip.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Yes! Exactly! Hooray!

Of the eight manifestos that Poetry printed this month, I found two that actually had me longing to declaim them through a megaphone (and one satirical specimen that made me laugh--just imagine Ezra Pound howling it!). I've cut out my favorite thoughts and pasted them below.

Presto Manifesto!
AE Stallings

The freedom to not-rhyme must include the freedom to rhyme. Then verse will be “free.”

All rhymed poetry must be rhyme-driven. This is no longer to be considered pejorative.

English is not rhyme poor. It is only uninflected. On the contrary, English has a richness in rhymes across different parts of speech; whereas in many other languages, rhyme is often merely a coincident jingle of accidence.

There are no tired rhymes. There are no forbidden rhymes. Rhymes are not predictable unless lines are. Death and breath, womb and tomb, love and of, moon, June, spoon, all still have great poems ahead of them.

Rhymes may be so far apart, you cannot hear them, but they can hear each other, as if whispering on a toy telephone made of two paper cups and a length of string. [The great exemplar of this is Dylan Thomas's "Author's Prologue" See "farms-arms" Or see my "Roman April."]

Off rhymes founded on consonants are more literary than off rhymes founded on vowels (assonance). Vowels are shifty. Assonance is in the mouth, not the ear. It is performative. [Listen to your average rock song: assonance, not rhyme. Vowels are harder to hide when you're singing.]

Translators who translate poems that rhyme into poems that don’t rhyme solely because they claim keeping the rhyme is impossible without doing violence to the poem have done violence to the poem. They are also lazy.

Rhyme is an irrational, sensual link between two words. It is chemical. It is alchemical.

April, silver, orange, month. [I actually have a rhyme for "orange." I am willing to sell it.]

Rhyme frees the poet from what he wants to say.

Rhyme schemes.

Rhyme annoys people, but only people who write poetry that doesn’t rhyme, and critics.

Perform-A-Form: A Page Vs. Stage Alliance
Thomas Sayers Ellis

The performance body, via breathing and gesture, dramatizes form. It makes it theater. It makes it action....The idea body, via text and thought, flattens form. It makes it fixed. It makes it language. It makes it literature....The work of the performance body is not without craft, control, or form. It is not lowly. The work of the idea body is not without attitude, improvisation, or flow. It is not closed.

Perform–a–formers seek a path around both academic and slam poetry....The utterance, paged or memorized, is only a schema in need of diverse modes of respiration.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Centennial of Futurism

It's been a hundred years since an Italian poet named Marinetti dropped his Futurist manifesto all over Milan. Poetry is commemorating it, only half-seriously, by having a lot of poets write their own manifestos of Whateverism. I, on the other hand, am commemorating it with the following excerpt from GK Chesterton's shrewd and amusing essay, 'The Futurists.' (That guy has something for everything...)

It was a warm golden evening, fit for October, and I was watching
(with regret) a lot of little black pigs being turned out of my garden, when the postman handed to me, with a perfunctory haste which doubtless masked his emotion, the Declaration of Futurism. If you ask me what Futurism is, I cannot tell you; even the Futurists themselves seem a little doubtful; perhaps they are waiting for the future to find out. But if you ask me what its Declaration is, I answer eagerly; for I can tell you quite a lot about that. It is written by an Italian named Marinetti, in a magazine which is called Poesia. It is headed "Declaration of Futurism" in enormous letters; it is divided off with little numbers; and it starts straight away like this: "1. We intend to glorify the love of danger, the custom of energy, the strengt of daring. 2. The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity, and revolt. 3. Literature having up to now glorified thoughtful immobility, ecstasy, and slumber, we wish to exalt the aggressive movement, the feverish insomnia, running, the perilous leap, the cuff and the blow." While I am quite willing to exalt the cuff within reason, it scarcely seems such an entirely new subject for literature as the Futurists imagine. It seems to me that even through the slumber which fills the Siege of Troy, the Song of Roland, and the Orlando Furioso, and in spite of the thoughtful immobility which marks "Pantagruel," "Henry V," and the Ballad of Chevy Chase, there are occasional gleams of an admiration for courage, a readiness to glorify the love of danger, and even the "strengt of daring," I seem to remember, slightly differently spelt, somewhere in literature. The distinction, however, seems to be that the warriors of the past went in for tournaments, which were at least dangerous for themselves, while the Futurists go in for motor-cars, which are mainly alarming for other people. It is the Futurist in his motor who does the "aggressive movement," but it is the pedestrians who go in for the "running" and the "perilous leap." Section No. 4 says, "We declare that the splendour of the world has been enriched with a new form of beauty, the beauty of speed. A race-automobile adorned with great pipes like serpents with explosive breath. ... A race-automobile which seems to rush over exploding powder is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace." It is also much easier, if you have the money. It is quite clear, however, that you cannot be a Futurist at all unless you are frightfully rich.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wanted: Silicon Valley Poet Laureate

Quick. What rhymes with Clara?

Yogi Berra.

Father Junipero Serra.

The goddess Hera?

It's time to get your assonance in gear because the Arts Council Silicon Valley is searching for the first-ever poet laureate of Santa Clara County. It's a sweet gig: to elevate the status of poetry in the valley, a place far more famous for high-tech than haiku.

I found this hilarious article in the Mercury today. What do you say, dear Readers? Should I run? I am a model candidate! 1. I have lived in Santa Clara County all my life. 2. I have published ONE POEM in a Real Magazine, and I have been recognized with ONE PUSHCART NOMINATION (poetic fame is so relative, you know). 3. Diversity is fine by me. 4. I have shown my passion for engaging in civic discourse about poetry by writing this blog.

Duties of Santa Clara County Poet Laureate

1) Represent Santa Clara County and the art of poetry through outreach related to poetry

2) Present appropriate works at the annual State of the County ceremony and at least four selected County-sponsored events, dedications, or memorials per year

3) Act as a resource for poetry and literary activities of the Santa Clara County Library

4) Participate in National Poetry Month events and activities

5) Undertake a project that will make poetry more available and accessible to people in their everyday lives

The Poet Laureate will receive a modest honorarium.

It sounds like the Poet Laureate will actually have to produce a substantial amount of public occasional verse. (This is not required of the US Poet Laureate!) And that honorarium is only $4000 for two years. It will be interesting to see who they get.

If the official poet of Santa Clara County ends up immortalizing home, sweet home in a poem, so much the better. The result might be a sonnet that captures the pulse of life here in the valley. Might we suggest: A Valediction Forbidding Blogging? To His Soy Mistress? Ode on a Grecian URL?

"Right now there are many local poets writing about the valley, about the transition from agriculture to technology and our changing status in the world," Jones notes. "I think the great Silicon Valley poem is still out there."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum.

Wow, the inaugural poem was not as terrible as I expected it to be. It was still incredibly dull. But there was potential for hilarious and orotund badness! Oh well. Maybe next time.

Elizabeth Alexander showed the entire nation just how impoverished American poetry has become. If anyone was unaware that our poets are often rewarded for flatness, slackness, and a regal disregard for the ears of their audience, they were sadly enlightened on Tuesday.

And I'm not impressed by the pleas for lenience I've been hearing. Aretha Franklin and Yo Yo Ma are artists, and they performed. They fulfilled expectations. Elizabeth Alexander was supposed to be on the same plane, but she was not. This is the paradox of American poetry today: it has become a profession, and it has become disgracefully unprofessional.

She had her work cut out for her. She even put in a stitch or two:
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

This was the only relevant section in the entire poem! It's like Alexander was going along, tossing stuff out there, and then she thought: "What's really poetry-worthy about this occasion? That America has finally elected a black man to the presidency, that this resonates with our history--that it evokes our worst war and our most shameful crimes, but also our bravery, the bravery of individuals, the indestructible beauty of words uttered by Lincoln and King; that there is vindication here, that it is worthy and fitting to honor our ancestors who suffered so much--yeah, I guess you could look at it that way. I'll throw in a reference to that."

"Say it plain, that many have died for this day." This proposition should have been the heart of Alexander's poem; the beat and impulse of it. Instead, it was more like an awkward appendix. The poem should have been a musical but focused lyric, sure of its theme, disciplined in sticking to it, conscientious as a good movie about setups and payoffs. Instead, it languished under poetic pork and earmarks. And as for meter...

What depressed me most about "Praise song for the day" was the revelation that it was not meant to be free verse. It was supposed to be iambic pentameter. The transcript looked like this, but the formal print version looks like this. If you read the latter carefully, you can see the pentameter; but the rhythm was hardly perceptible in performance. The meter is just a shape, not a sound. One news source described it as "free verse iambic pentameter," which is like saying "crimson green" or "Chardonnay ale"--but unfortunately accurate.

And any poet who writes a line like "Love that casts a widening pool of light" for a powerful politician should be ritually expelled from the College of Bards. Finis.

Now, as to the inevitable challenge: "Why don't you try it and see how easy it is?" I was actually starting to take notes for my own effort, but frankly I have not been inclined to praise Obama even obliquely and in jest since he restored government funding for abortions in foreign countries. My last comment on this little affair: the poet and the president deserve each other. But I'd rather listen to Alexander's poetry all day long than hear some of the news that is coming from Washington now.

Adam Kirsch
Steven Colbert
The Guardian

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sunday, January 11, 2009

ode on a german um?

Recent keywords that have brought people to my blog:
- ode on a german um by keats
- orberg lingua latina cheat (Oh no you don't!)
- limericks about keats
- a funny poem about bailout (Try this.)
- chuck norris christmas poem
- dylan thomas, fairy rings to the moon (Dylan
Thomas's initials are so appropriate
- iambic pentameter feels weird (Weirder than this?)
- "if you were meant to be a writer you would already be writing Catholic fiction" (Ouch.)
- golden compass keats poem
- jabberwocky in latin hassard dodgson (That was your lucky day...)
- keats in latin (Sorry. I'll try and get around to that.)
- vergil in quenya (Maybe later.)
- paradimethylaminobenzaldehyde (Excuse me?!)
- poems about march for life
- snow gods
- tennyson pigs fly ("And all thy bacon sizzled unto me.")
- the oroma in ancient egypt (what's an oroma?)
- worst cento peoms done (Hey, don't look for them *here*!)
- "dance of vowels and consonants"
- per amica silentia lunae
I will be sure to take all of this into my consideration when I blog. Also, I resolve to blog more about WH Auden. (Nearly half of the searches were Auden-related.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Starry Kalends

I just remembered another New Year's poem, this one by Hopkins. It happens to be my favorite of all the Latin poems that he wrote. It starts out as a description of Orion on a strangely warm night, the first of January; and it turns into a prayer for a good new year. I included the image of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" because Hopkins' vision has an uncanny resemblance to it! The moon's overbearing light tries to block out the stars, but they shine out anyway; their "soft glory" comes and goes and they almost seem to whirl like pinwheels in the wind.

Miror surgentem per puram Oriona noctem,
Candida luna licet
Adstet et exiguis incumbat durior astris
Nec simul esse sinat.
Verum hic Orion miror quam crescat in altum et
Quam micet igne suo,
Non suus aetherium quem purpurat impetus, itque
Molle reditque decus:
Quin versare aliquos septena cacumina ventos
Turbine posse putes.
Miror item suaves adeo spirarier auras
Egelidumque Notum
Atque hiemem tantum primasque tepere Kalendas
Quas novus annus agit,
Namque ab eo qui jam pulcerrimus occidit anni
Dicimus ire dies.
O Jesu qui nos homines caelestis et alta haec
Contrahis astra manu,
Omnia sunt a te: precor a te currat et annus:
Is bonus annus erit.
Omnia sunt in te: nostrum vivat genus in te,
Quod tua membra sumus,
Omnes concessas inquam quot carpimus auras
Suspicimusque polum.
Gratia deest sed enim multis: ut gratia desit,
Omnibus alma tamen,
Alma etiam natura subest, cui tenditur ista
Provida cunque manus.

The meter is the same as in Horace's "Diffugere nives," and "Miror surgentem" is also a poem about the end of winter. Neither poem, though, is a joyous hymn to spring. Horace says that even though spring is here now, winter will be back again, and in the end we're dust and shades. Despite the green unfading beauty of its opening, Horace's ode is all about giving up hope. Hopkins' poem, on the other hand, is an explicit "act of hope." The sense of spring is much more fragile: one day of unseasonable warmth in January is an aberration; it isn't going to last. But Hopkins has this stubborn idea that a warm New Year's Day may augur a good new year, and he prays to Jesus for this: "precor a te currat et annus: / Is bonus annus erit." There is a switch back into a minor key when Hopkins says sadly that "Gratia deest sed enim multis" - many people have no gratitude for the air and the sky and the earth in general - and then it ends with that "authentic cadence" that Hopkins loved: "Omnibus alma tamen, / Alma etiam natura subest, cui tenditur ista / Provida cunque manus." "Even so, kind nature is still there for everyone, nature to whom that provident hand is stretched out everywhere." (Someday I should try to make an actual poetic translation of this poem. It easily becomes flat and inaccurate in English.)

So I think that this will be my prayer for the new year:
O Jesu qui nos homines caelestis et alta haec
Contrahis astra manu,
Omnia sunt a te: precor a te currat et annus:
Is bonus annus erit.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Gazing upon all the pleated skirts that the world doth hold

Ah, the pleasures of Bluefly and Google Image Search! My generation lives everywhere, all at once, which is what makes us so "appealing, highly promising — and also radically vulnerable," according to U. of Virginia professor Mark Edmundson. His essay in the Chronicle Review made me think about the way I have been living my life, and I was a little surprised to see just how different I am from his students. The things he talks about resonate with me, to be sure; but I think I have a different attitude about them than his students do. Yes, I'm addicted to the internet, and I know what it's like to wish for ten impossible things before breakfast; but my vision of happiness has always had something quiet, closed in, and unchanging about it. Studying abroad is good - especially if a close friend is with you. An overnight train from Marseille to Lourdes, no luggage with you but a water bottle and a bag of Italian pastries - that's an Experience, but it's all held together by the hot croissant at the station, eaten very slowly as the sun rises. In my (possibly perverse) little world, you crawl through a half-drowned cave system to find one small chamber with gypsum flowers glinting on the ceiling, you go sailing for the night watches, and you go There mainly so that you can go Back Again. This a fancy way of admitting what most of my readers know already: that I'm not one of the double-majoring, Red Bull-drinking, mission-tripping, super-connected young graduates who are profiled in that article. (Okay Mom, you can stop laughing now.) Really, sometimes I wish I were! I would get so many things done! But I'm not, so I might as well enjoy my odd way of doing one thing at a time.

"Dwelling in Possibilities" is just one of five essays from the last year that Santiago Ramos thinks are keepers. You can find the others in his post on the Image blog. I wouldn't have found some of these if I hadn't read it. Thanks, Santiago!

Poems for the New Year

I like "The Darkling Thrush" myself. Thanks, Dylan!