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Re: You Are What You Read


I wrote this around the time I read "Inner Revolution":

knife's edge

My heart is on the edge of a knife--
not licensed surgery
just self-medication for pain.
What else is true?
Betrayal by the gods can result in confusion.
Sometimes it all seems clear and clean and real --
When sensation makes sense.
Nobody knows the trouble I've seen,
'cause they're all busy looking at their own.
Knife's edge -- the end of the rainbow
See the shining beatitude, the joyous reunion.
When all the lonely, separated strands and coloured bands
finally find their proper placement in celestial harmony.
Oh, the trumpets will sound calling all to glory.
But what else is true?
Are there cries for war throughout the land?
Are there crises crying for attendance while our leaders are otherwise involved?
Are there cowering souls, beyond earthly torment, crying for release
while hiding in cubicles or corner offices or ivory towers
playing at mind games, convoluted strategies, never quite sure
who they are?
Are there banners flying, urging all to attend the great banquet?
Is this the feast for which we've come?
The knife cuts both ways.
Does it matter why we bleed?
Sep/11/2010, 6:41 pm Link to this post Send Email to libramoon   Send PM to libramoon Blog
 
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Re: You Are What You Read


What about something low brow, which is not meant pejoratively but more as a compliment.

If I was an English teacher I would teach a course, more like mediating a course, on three of the best writers in American lit and who almost worked in tandem with each other. Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain. And to me it is not at all contradictory to say that, viewed as writers who taught me by example, they complimented what I got from Colette.

It is fun comparing them to each other, and justified, since, they all worked in the so-called school of hard boiled fiction. Stylisticly they could not have been more different. Hammett worked in symbolic action mostly, by which I mean he predicated action almost entirely on dialogue. Chandler was just the opposite, relying mightily on description. A Chandler story is almost a tone poem, always looking to convey atmosphere and environment. Caine, hands down my favorite of the trio and, I might argue, the best story teller of the three, is harder to characterize. Maybe he was the most proportioned of the three. Clean narative line, clean language (neither too atmospheric or too much dialogue), and I think he was more philosophical. By which I mean he always bodied out ideas, and they were rarely the same, which is not something that can be said about Hemingway. (Mostly lost on American readers but Camus got his idea for his Stranger novel from Caine's Postman novel.) And It is easy to parody Hammett's style and Chandler's too. Not so with Caine.

Again I was binge reading, reading everything I could find of theirs, which was substantial in as much as in those years I was a buyer for a bookstore. It is hard to pick out what was a favorite Chandler novel, since, after awhile they all kind of ran on the same tone, novel after novel. This doesn't mean I wasn't enchanted. It just means plots rarely varied nor did treatment. My favorite Hammett novel, the one that sucked the breath out of me was his Continental Op novel The Red Harvest. As brutal and uncompromising a portrait of America's dark side as has ever been penned. Nothing to soften his vision. With Caine it is hard for me to pick out a favorite because they were all favorites. Postman Always Rings Twice, Love's Lovely Counterfeit, The Serenade, The Butterfly, Mignon, Double Endemnity. Had I written those novels I might have stayed with the form.

And ideas. Man, he could ideate. And seemlessly, like a micky got put in your cocktail. The Serenade starts out in Mexico where a washed up opera singer is working a second-rate circuit. Falls in love with a fiery Mexican beauty, gets back his masculinity, returns to America. Traveling back to America the two are on one of those package steamers that would take on a few passengers in addition to cargo. Singer and ship captain get into a debate about who is the best: Mozart or Beethoven. The Postman is everything as existential as Camus recognized. The Butterly deals with incest in the hollers of the Apallachians. Double Endemnity goes out on one hell of a twist. And then there is Mignon. A Union officer in occupied New Orleans falls in love with a southern girl who is devoted to her rebel father. Officer is faced with the choice between duty and love. But there is something else about Mignon, a sad young girl devoted to her father.

Mignon, originally, was a literary invention of Goethe's in his Wilhelm novel. She is a girl of the south of Europe devoted to the hero but stuck in the north and home sick. I think I remember she dies from a broken heart. Same young girl will show up in a mid 19th C Opera where, as I recall, she is also estranged from her homeland and in search of her father. Another hundred years or so and Caine takes up this same character type. In a poem entitled "Mignon" Goethe said this about her type: "What's the world done, poor child, to hurt you so?" I remember finding Caine's Mignon in a used bookstore. I already knew about her through Goethe and, by second hand info., through the 19th C opera. I was blown away. That was when realized just how resonant Caine's novel approaches were. Some years and maybe because I have a daughter, an only child, I too treated with the theme. Same girl and by now 200 years old.

I read other detective stories too. McDonald comes to mind. And the author's name escapes, the writer who invented an overweight solver of crimes with a green house on an apartment rooftop and whose side kick was a felllow named Archie, I think. But nothing satisfied me as fully after the trio of Chandler, Hammett, and Caine. They really did do that thing of taking Poe's idea and making the genre classic.

I bet everyone knows the feeling of regret after reading the tasty stuff, knowing you can't ever discover it again for the first time. Yes?

Tere
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Re: You Are What You Read


So the one mystery writer you cite that I am familiar with, you forget his name: Rex Stout

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nero_Wolfe

Last edited by Terreson, Sep/11/2010, 8:19 pm
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Chuckling big time, Libra. Thank you, ma'am. Not remembering was bugging the bejesus out of me.

On a different note I am trying to figure out the problem you are having with posting links. It isn't making sense to me. There are no settings to change either in a member's control panel or the board's. You are a premium member of Runboard, meaning you are given considerations. Another way I have found to tweek the feature is to first preview before submitting a post. This always pulls in the hyperlink, at least so far. Sorry for the inconvenience. I'll keep at it.

Rex Stout it is. There was a certain elegance to his novels. I think a critic once called his Archie the Huck Fin of the era.

Tere
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Re: You Are What You Read


Yes, I loved his breezy style. When I was in (what I think is called middle school but my high school was 7-12 grades) high school, a friend and I had a little Sherlock Holmes admiration society. According to some mythology within this fictional universe, Nero Wolfe was said to be the illegitimate son of Sherlock and Irene Adler. Thus, we were also admirers of Mr. Wolfe.
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Re: You Are What You Read


I almost missed the poem, Libra. You posted it while I was still composing my thing on hard boiled fiction. I don't know the book, or its author, but the dialogue between author and reader comes through. Knife metaphor indeed works for me and how it can cut both ways. It can cleanse the festering and it can kill the patient, ne's pas? What a diminishment must occur in people who do not read, do not dive down this way.

Tere
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Re: You Are What You Read


Late Saturday night. Anyway, late night is a good hour to sit a while with EA Poe, who someone has already mentioned.

This thread is not for the critical thinking stuff, which I could certainly get into when it comes to Poe, having thought on him long and hard for over a few decades. Maybe I'll note I finally convinced my professor brother to take Poe seriously as a critic, a theorist, and as a proto-Modern who, hands down, out-Dostoeyvskied Doestoyevsky and a bunch of others of his kind. I remember something Yeats said in a late-life journal entry. He said the Moderns speak to the partial, fractured man. The ancients spoke to the whole man. Reading that observation and Poe came immediately to mind. Not said pejoratively. It is just a condition in which we all find ourselves Poe was the first to speak to. And you bet civ has fractured us all.

I hadn't read the biographies on him or his critical writings when I first read Poe. I was a naive reading his collected tales and with no compass points to refer to. His lesser known tales were his best. They were the ones that took me up in toto. Same is true of his lesser known poems. The poem, The Conqueror Worm, still manages to scare the !@#$ out of me. I can almost remember the name of the one tale that particularly made me shudder, but that made me feel spine tinglingly alive. The man's wife is dead. He looks to remarry and live again. Man's wife comes back from the dead and he knows certainly she owns him.

Hell, I was a young man. I wasn't 25 yet when I took Poe on. And he pretty much shook me down. Night after night I read him. When I finished his tales I read his one novel. Probably, no, certainly, the greatest unfinished novel in American lit. The Narrative of J. Gordon Pym. That novel is unrelenting. I figure it was only unfinished because it had no more corporal place to go. It's a sea voyage novel ending in the unexplored arctic of his day. This before Melville.

Poe. His definition of the Gothic romance still resonates, still lives on in SF. Gothic, he said, is the unexplained terror of the soul. Poe's tales are not for everybody nor is his poetry. I saw this poem of his up on an army base movie screen in maybe '70 while the Nam war was still hot.
The movie was a Vincent Price type grade B movie.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=178359

Tere
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Re: You Are What You Read


I always found "The Bells" quite beautifully horrific.
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Terreson,
I read through the posts on this thread this morning. You went through this over a period of days or evenings (or mornings?) probably beginning Sept. 7. So there's a lot of material here, a lot of ideas. Stimulating ideas. As I recall it begins with memories. Dredging up things from the early years that don't really require a lot of dredging. My own reading was cut off for nearly three years while I was in the army. I was mostly overseas, and found it inconvenient to do a lot of literary reading. But did manage to enroll in some classes set up by the military in Saigon (I was there for two years, so I had the time). I was introduced to Goethe by a tank commander who taught literature at West Point. He and I had a falling out about the conduct of the war. He was the prototypical American soldier, you couldn't have cast him better, he had no faults, but we disagreed.

Your comments about how readers (we're talking readers of serious lit) maybe have always been a small group. The advent of the Gutenberg press didn't necessarily turn everybody into serious readers. Many people simply read Harlequin or books on bookkeeping or porno.

But I'm getting off what I wanted to say. I only visit two sites, Occasionally I've done fly-by's on other sites, but don't want to spend a lot of time on the net. On the other site there are occasional threads that do get interesting. But I don't find he consistency there that I find here, the exploration of big ideas about literature. The number of participants there is much larger there, so that means that among them are people who don't value deep reading. I recently read that Ezra Pound's explanations of his poetic method was arrogant and very unclear, and that he had little patience for those who couldn't understand his work (or explanations). We have that type at the other site, too. This site is slower, and therefore we are given more time to digest. I don't agree with all of your viewpoints but probably agree with the greater part. I understand the feminine principle but it doesn't have as large an influence on me. However, I'm glad you are where you are, and find your work in this area worthwhile.

Not sure I would agree that civilization is responsible for mass murder. Genghis Khan did a pretty good job of wiping out a lot of cities without the benefit of the Church or the press. Maybe it's the ying and the yang, violence by the state and against the state. For me the violence of the state is that committed against our deeper need for rituals (in the ancient sense, not in the modern sense); also, the raping of the environment by our consumer society. War, on the other hand seems to have always been there. What civilization has done is to mass produce weapons and armies, thereby maybe increasing the degree of the violence.

Thanks for the marvelous postings. The review of the literature is wonderful. Zak
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Zak, I always appreciate your thoughts and reflections. You think about things. You think about what you see and what you experience, which makes you my kind of person. Not meaning to speak badly about any other poetry/lit board, and maybe I should step out from time to time, but I kind of gave up on the larger boards. This after years of plying them. How to say it without giving offense? I don't know. Maybe it is the nature of the beast. Larger boards can be like pressure cookers with things getting heated up and the cover so tightly screwed down there is no chance of release. Or maybe it's more that larger boards can be like particle accelerators in which the particle bombardments can get random and furious. But I am not looking to speak badly about anybody or any other place. As you know I know some of the principals on the other board you visit. They have my respect.

As for our little niche, as you say it is slow moving enough to be able to digest information and exchanges. Also, I think, slow moving enough so that people get to cultivate each other's ideas and poetry over time. And people get relaxed enough, perhaps getting familiar enough, to get expansive, do a little stretching. To give examples I would have to single out members, which might make some feel uncomfortable. But examples I could give. Maybe it is enough to say, as Miles Davis would put it, I like the way everyone here is running the voodoo down. I also like how it is new members get welcomed and how older members come and go at their own pace. It is working for me. I hope it works for all.

About the reading thread it is a fun idea. It makes me realize what a personal, intimate activity reading is.

Tere
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Re: You Are What You Read


Auto has given us the gift of a translation of a Baudelaire poem, his most famous, and I can't resist. Again, this is not a thread for trading in lit crit. So I wont go there. Baudelaire is a poet I took personally, which actually isn't saying much, since, I take all my poets personally.
But I still don't know why; and on both counts.

I read his poetry first. Then I read his prose poetry, stuff that still reads fresh today. He is credited with inventing the form, even though he gave the credit to an older French poet. And some scholars say prose poetry is as old as the Bible's Old Testament, which I can see. But he certainly made the form classic. He didn't write all that much. I've read somewhere that he left countless notes towards ideas for novels. I think it is right to say he never wrote one. One of the reasons for the paucity of his writing might be that he had to devote much time to hack writing in order to make a living. His reviews for newspapers were mostly art reviews, reviews of paintings and art shows. I read these too just to read him, not knowing much about painters and paintings mostly forgotten.

Why the fascination with him? He was one of the first, if not the first, to get E.A. Poe's genius. On reading Poe he said something like he had found his twin soul. What does that say about him? He then went on to translate Poe's tales into French, which translations, in turn, impacted an entire generation of French writers. What does that say about them? He has been called the first modern poet, eventhough he still worked mostly in traditional forms. It took me a while but I think I finally figured out what made him first. Yes. He was the first poet to squarely face the modern crisis in values, a crisis brought on by the commercialization of value itself, much the same as what we might call the commodification of value today. And I think he as squarely understood the nature of the crisis, that it was, still is, a spiritual crisis involving beliefs. By golly he hated the bourgeoise! Mightily. And he sprang from it. He also hated authority, maybe because of a tyranical step-father, a French general.

He was drawn to dangerous women, no other description for it. One such was a Creole actress, Jeanne Duval, a painting of whom I've seen and she is indeed a Creole beauty. He did opium. And his mental state was often such he could not meet contractual, writing obligations. I think I remember that his collected poems, Flowers of Evil, was first banned as immoral. And "immoral" it was. Then it caught on like wild fire, went through at least 2 printings in his lifetime, a third soon after his death. Everybody recognized his genius. I suspect Baudelaire got that he was his own worst enemy.

I am trying to figure through my facination with him. I am not like him. Almost too fastidiously I'll pay my bills, unlike Baudelaire who was regularly in arrears. I've been attracted to a few dangerous women and have always had the savior sense to pull back just before reaching cliff's edge. Baudelaire spoke to something in my soul is all I can figure and long before I knew much about him, when I only knew him through his writings. He still does in a way, but not as impactingly. There is a Jacques Brel song line coming to mind: "perhaps you pray too much / and there isn't any shrine." That is Baudelaire. He wanted God more than anything else. But he looked around and saw the smallness and meanness surrounding him and he couldn't believe. That is what it is, the reason for my fascination with him. He wanted God so much but his intellectual integrity could not reconcile him to the contradictions. Torn between two worlds he was, this one and the heavenly other. Perpetually torn. That is what did him in. I count him an honest man for it. Let me put it this way.

In the intro to his collection of prose poetry called, fittingly enough, Paris Spleen, he defined prose poetry this way: "Which one of us, in his moments of ambition, has not dreamed of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical, without rhythm and without rhyme, supple enough and rugged enough to adapt itself to the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of reverie, the jibes of conscience?" (italics mine) Catch that. Catch how he will not compromise his conscience for the sake of a reverie.

That's what I intuitively caught back then, barely 21.

Here is one of my favorite Baudelaire prose poems. It's called Get Drunk:

http://poetrydispatch.wordpress.com/2007/10/10/charles-baudelaire-get-drunk/

Tere

  

Last edited by Terreson, Sep/12/2010, 4:26 pm
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Re: You Are What You Read


Speaking of mystery writers, I'd add Walter Mosley, especially the Easy Rawlins novels. His novel, "RL's Dream" is a stand out, not a mystery though.

Just finished one entitled "Anagrams" by Lorrie Moore...heard of her by way of reading some protests against the coronation of Jonathan Franzen as this generation's Great Writer on account of he's a guy when girl writers who are equally if not more terrific are less exalted. Ms. Moore was identified as one such...(also Mona Simpson, who I'm about to read)

Well, I don't know about all that but Moore's a fine writer and "Anagrams" shook me up. The novel's main characters, Gerard and Benna, are reconfigured (in relation to one-another and other aspects of their lives)
throughout the novel. By novel's end, the existence of certain characters and the fundamentals of the story itself are revealed to be, well, not entirely solid. Very disturbing.

Moore's better known for her short stories and this novel, considered 'experimental' got mixed reviews. I'm giving it two thumbs up emoticon

"But I had, I thought, figured it out. People didn't get married because they had found someone. It wasn't a treasure hunt. It was more like musical chairs: Wherever you were when the music of being single stopped, that's where you sat. I was twenty-six when the notes started winding down and going minor. A dark loneliness, in a raincoat and fedora, scuffed in instead. Or maybe I was just tired of saying I was twenty-six years old and having it sound like 'I am a transsexual.'"

from "Anagrams"



Last edited by Christine98, Sep/13/2010, 7:12 am
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It’s going to take me a while to catch up on all the posts in this thread, but I’ll make a start.

Kat, I just gotta know!

Why did you stop reading poetry for 14 years? Tell us the story behind that. Please.


Chris, I didn’t read poetry for 14 years when I stopped writing it, and for the same length of time, which was after I got out of graduate school. As I am wont to say, “Never underestimate the power of a higher education. “ I came back to both activities after I watched Bill Moyers’ “Language of Life” series on PBS. Listening to all those poets, some new to me, read and talk about poetry made me feel, hokey as it might seem, “These are my people. This is my tribe.”

About 8 years ago I had a "nervous breakdown". I stopped eating, slept enormously, couldn't rationally communicate, couldn't read at all. As I slowly tried to find some way to reconnect with myself, to make sense of what I had become, I started being drawn to philosophies (broadly defined). I could not (really could not) absorb fiction any more. The words would not translate. Poetry became so much clearer a language than prose. Philosophy made so much more sense than fiction.


Libra, For years, decades really, I read fiction just about nonstop. At least a book a week. But somewhere along the line, I, too, stopped reading it. I felt impatient and frustrated with it. The best I can say is that it bored me. Same old, same old is how it felt, and I was looking for something else. That’s when I started reading psychology, mythology, poetry and books on spirituality. I jumped into those books with the same gusto I had once directed at fiction and equate that time with a reawakening of both the soul and senses.

A few years back, an online friend told me about a handful of novels, “You just have to read.” So I did and was pleasantly surprised. Now I am back to reading fiction again, now and then, while reading less on the other subjects.

So yeah, that was a good time to spend with my dad. On the down side, he wanted me to read serious things; I was about 7-8 years old. So it was Steinbeck's "The Red Pony," London's "Call of the Wild," "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith, that kind of stuff. I loved those books...also loved stuff he wouldn't approve of like these books for girls called the Betsy-Tacy series by, get this, Maude Hart Lovelace. Man did I get a kick out of those books. I just had to sneak around and read them during reading period at school. Never took them home. Didn't want to disappoint dad. Funny, huh?

Chris, it strikes me that in a very real way you were homeschooled in novel reading. My early reading involved Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew books, the Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.

Joseph Campbell. I've always felt the world kind of got a little smaller after his death. I can't remember how I came across him. Probably I was in a bookstore just browsing. I never viewed the Bill Moyers interviews with him. Reading his four volume Masks of God series was one of those events producing a sense of vertigo. Big time.

Tere, Ah, Campbell. I’ve been mocked online more than once for referring to him, but I owe the man a debt of gratitude. And Moyers too for first introducing me to him. In fact, I owe Moyers a double debt for “The Language of Life” and “The Power of Myth” series he hosted. Can’t imagine where I’d be (actually, I can, and it’s not a happy prospect) without exposure to both of them. Campbell’s The Masks of God series were among the best books I discovered when I turned away from fiction and began “binge reading” on other subjects.

I fell in love with Hesse during my late high school/early college years. Siddhartha first and then Steppenwolf opened new worlds of possibility for me, not as a writer but as a person. Thus Spake Zarathustra I read as a college assignment and remember finding Nietzsche’s ideas thrilling, dangerous, energizing. Reflecting now, I think Hesse and Nietzsche, along with Eliot, laid the seeds for my later interest in folks like Jung and Campbell.

I've never gotten bored with poetry.

I find myself bored with poetry sometimes these days, or at least certain kinds of poetry. “What kind is that?” you ask. Short answer: The kind that doesn’t give me the shiver.

Just finished one entitled "Anagrams" by Lorrie Moore...heard of her by way of reading some protests against the coronation of Jonathan Franzen as this generation's Great Writer on account of he's a guy when girl writers who are equally if not more terrific are less exalted. Ms. Moore was identified as one such...(also Mona Simpson, who I'm about to read)

Mona Simpson I have read and remember liking, but per usual, my memory of her books is sketchy on specifics. Another female writer I would add to the list of terrific but less exalted women writers is Barbara Kingsolver. I say this despite the fact that I have not read either of her latest novels, “The Poisonwood Bible” or “The Lacuna” (both of which I have on my bookshelf).

I haven’t done justice to the many rich posts in this thread, but as I said I wanted to make a start. I was beginning to feel, reading this thread and clutching my mouse, like hollering “Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!”
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Over the summer, in anticipation of Tere starting this thread, I jotted down this quote from the movie "Butterfly's Tongue":

"In books our dreams take refuge so as not to freeze to death."

http://www.cinema.com/film/691/butterflys-tongue/synopsis.phtml
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Help! I've fallen, and I can't get up!

Ha! I know what you mean.

I read Hesse too, at around that age--guess it was obligatory, but he left me cold. Loved Vonegut and Heller's "Catch 22," Salinger...

In high school, we read a short story, "The Lottery." Can't remember the author's name just now but that story embedded itself in my consciousness. Forever. It goes like this: every year the inhabitants of a small town engage in a little ritual, a lottery. The winner is stoned to death by the others. So now when I see or read about the current "reality shows," or see some poor slob being brow-beaten by Dr. Phil--I think, "That's it! It's The Lottery." Never did understand that story but I know it when I see it.

Chris


Last edited by Christine98, Sep/14/2010, 3:32 pm
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Tere,

Something you said upthread struck me. You referred to novelists as the "supreme psychologists," you mentioned the Bronte sisters in this regard. Well, I read "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights" recently and, in comparing the two, I had a very similar thought.

Seems to me, "Jane Eyre" is the more elegantly crafted of the two. Jane herself, such a thorough going little character; rages at injustice but keeps her own counsel, intelligent, articulate. What can you say? It's a fine book.

Then "Wuthering Heights." A big, ungainly clod-hopper of a thing. Characters behaving badly irrationally...succumbing to primal impulses...then just dropping dead of mysterious ailments...fevers and compulsions.

I mean, it must violate some mighty taboo to dig up a grave, then jump in and caress the corpse, no matter how miraculously well-preserved.

So I'm fond of that one. It explores the dark, destructive, obsessive aspect of love. Also shows an abused child return to the scene as an adult and re-enact the abusive behavior, this time as the perpetrator. Gruesome. And courageous.

I think Emily must have entered some dark room and locked the door behind her; then pried the lid off Pandora's box. I can see her clinging to parchment and quill for dear life; just wanting to get it all down before she got blown out the window.

And I thought, "How did she know this stuff?" as if, absent psych. 101, it would have been unknowable.

Chris


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Re: You Are What You Read


"The Lottery" was Shirley Jackson, one of my favorite authors way back, when? I think I was in my later teens. Her "The Haunting of Hill House" was made into perhaps my favorite horror movie: "The Haunting"
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That's the original with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom. I don't watch re-makes of classics as they are always so disappointing.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057129/
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Yeah, Shirley Jackson. Thanks Libra! You cannot go wrong with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom; can't improve on them either.

Chris
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First night home after getting back to work and needing to return to a work schedule.

I can't speak to some of the writers whose names are getting parlayed but that doesn't actually matter, does it? What matters is the engagement, the impact, and the memory. Vonnegut I got into too. And so it goes, Billy Pilgrim said. I lost interest in him with the Breakfast of Champions novel, I think having read everything he wrote up until then. Mid-seventies? Truth is I figure he was losing interest in himself about then. Hands down his best novel was one of his least popular. Mother Night. The protaganist is an American agent during WW2, a playwright living in Berlin, in the employ of the OSS. The novel is briliant. During the war he is married to a German actress, loves her desperately, cannot tell her about his real self, all the while collecting intel. I think his name was Campbell. After the war his OSS contact keeps in touch with him but cannot bring him in from the cold, as La Carre once put it. Campbell gets arrested for his "war crimes." I'll not say about the story's denouement. But I remember this huge thing Vonnegutt says through Campbell. The character is watching a parade in NYC, I think, commemorating Veterans Day or Memorial Day. He watches the marching band with colors flying and playing music to a Sousa 4/4 time and the majorettes with their batons all scantily clad and he gets an idea. For Americans war is sexy. (talk about a psychological insight made by a novelist, huh?) Americans do find war sexy, men and women, they get off on it. Foreign wars in particular.

Heller's big novel I read twice. The first time I laughed heartily. Second time I cried. I got the tragedy of the human comedy Poe meant by his poem the Conqueror Worm.

In my office at work there hangs a calendar made by The New York Review of Books people. For each month there is a David Levine caricature of some famous person. This year has been devoted mostly to writers. This month's caricature is of James Baldwin.

James Baldwin. I read him at age 19 or 20, read maybe four of his novels and some of his short stories. Sociologically there is no reason I would have taken to him. He was Black, grew up in Harlem, the son of a preacher, and gay. I am a white boy grown in the south and a dyed in the wool hetero. But few writers have spoken to me the way he did.

Of that generation Mailer left me cold. When I read his early big novel, The Naked and the Dead, I remember thinking I can spin a story better than this and I still can't spell. T. Capote left me cold and still does: an exquisite word smith perfectly in love with himself. G. Vidal left me cold too and, again, still does. Without meaning to offend here, Vidal is at his best when he is bitchy, which he can be in his reviews and lit critiques. While I enjoy his bite on occassion you get to where you want something under the picante in your dish.

Baldwin. James Baldwin. The best novelist to come out of the fifties. And he may be the closest America has come to her own Flaubert. Another Country might be his best novel. Story is not just rich it is lyrically told in the way story tellers should tell their stories.

The plot is coming back to me. It amounts to this: a jazzman's death, either by suicide or overdose, brings all of these characters together and what onfolds gets damn serious.

It might be the best novel I've ever read.

Tere
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Re: You Are What You Read


What's the title of the Baldwin novel, Tere?

Chris
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Chris, it's called Another Country. Title is perect for the story told. I sometimes use the phrase to sum up where an artist's life is found, in another country.

I would give the plot and describe the characters, all of whom I remember clearly, but for that it might ruin the pleasure for anyone who has not yet read the book. Baldwin was a master when it came to handling materials.

Wow! I am remembering a poem I wrote upon hearing the news of his death. Dec of '87 as I recall. But it might have been Jan of '88. So if I read him in '69 or '70 this would have amounted to my regard for him, and his impact on me still, some 17 years later. Poem's style few will recognize. Reading it again, the adoration I had for the man, still do, comes through.


The Gift Giver

He wouldn't live among us,
he chose not to mimic
the American madness
he said was holding to us.
And so he lived where he died
in the south of France,
which has set me to wondering
about the language he used
when he was dreaming;
or how he might have viewed
the crosshatched pictures
that must have hung before him
through out those years.

And I tend to believe
he was one of those men
who you couldn't help but love.
For sure he was one of those men
to show how close the thing
of crosshatching images should be.
Which brings me back to what happened
on the day I heard he was dead,
the day a blue heron came up the bay,
the day I awoke
to an unaccountable sadness
until I finally read
the newspaper notice.
The day after the night
when a storm came riding through,
riding in waves of blue-black ink
like a Stellar's jay
like a crosshatched day
like a world-soul's moan
or like sadness suddenly getting
stapled to a name.

And maybe I might not've known
if someone hadn't called it a storm.
It just seemed so normal,
the beating winds
and the banshee squall coming through
the inlet's funnel.
Sweet James
the mighty-main James
the famed James Baldwin
who long ago said good-bye
to his first country's shame,
and for no better reason
I'd be willing to bet
than that he was quick to figure out
how crosshatched seasons can present
the baby face choice in twos:

The twisted-sister face for some,
for anyone bent on searching
for pleasure in pain,
or the dreamy sweet scheme
in the silver lead string
of the moon guard motion.
And the bird in the bush
who still eyes the bay.
Good-bye James.

(A note from the editorial voice calling over my shoulder. Early on Baldwin went expat., lived in the south of France, and from there he wrote, or composed, his best stories about one man's American experience. (Chris, didn't our mutual buddy, John Steinbeck, do something similar, writing from the isle of Capri?)

Tere

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This thread is letting me check back in with old friends, buddies I once had. Is this true for anyone else?

Why did I pay attention to the Russians? There was a suragate father figure into Russian Civ. Maybe that is why. There was an older woman into Russian lit who influenced me. Maybe that is why. The four greatest novelists of 19th C Russia were Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. The Gogol case breaks my heart. He let a priest convince him sensuality is immoral and so he destroyed most of his novels. Dostoevsky was always working out personal anguish, universal enough, but still personal. Tolstoy, as one critic put it, was a fox knowing many tricks trying to make himself into a hedgehog knowing only one, a good one. His moralizing is what turned me off. He is as didactic as they come.

But then there was Turgenev. Having read his novels, some of them, I finally found a collection of tales called A Sportsman's Sketches. It blew my socks off. Blew my socks off. The lit conceit is perfect. A huntsman of the landed gentry walks the woods and the fields and the roads. He finds nature but he finds people not so unnaturalized by wealth and urbanity. His descriptions of what he finds engages the senses.

I sometimes think great lit is too big for its britches; that the smaller, more lyrical stuff, gets closer to things. Turgenev certainly got close to things.

Tere
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Does everyone else have their all time favorite reads, books that produce unadulterated delight? I thought of two today.

I love archeology, fascinated with it. I found a book in a used book store once, published in '56. Gods, Graves, and Scholars, by C.W. Ceram. Engagingly it tells the stories of many of the major archeological break throughs of the 19th and early 20th centuries. These would have been the discoveries that mightily pushed back our view(s) into the ancient world.

There is the rich German merchant and amateur archeologist, Schliemenn, who discovered Troy or Illium. He pretty much established there had once been an ancient citadel and city fortress in the environs of where Homer had said it stood. He then went on to discover an ancient Mycenean fortress castle. He even unearths a bronze(?) face mask that would have belonged to a king or chieftan Agamemnon-like in Greece of the same era. So in effect he produces physical evidence that around 1,000 B.C. +- there were two powerful city-states that could have vied for pre-eminence in the eastern Mediterranean. One Trojan, the other Mycenean. Maybe Homer was just a journalist who elaborated on the portraits of his characters and scenes.

I love the Evans story too. A British archeologist working on the island of Crete. There he found a palace dating to the Minoan era of 1,700 +-. In Knossos I think. He was struck especially by its floor plan. It was labyrinthine. His wry comment was to the effect that he found everything belonging to the labyrinth involving the Minataur and King Theseus of Athens except for Ariadne's thread. My third favorite story involves the Rosetta stone. After Napolean's conquest of Egypt a French officer (another amateur archeologist) found this stone plaque in the ancient town of Rosetta. The plaque dated to the Ptolemic (Greek) occupation of Egypt, Cleopatra's dynasty. What was curious about the stone was that the messages were written in both ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics AND in Greek. Demotic or country Greek as I recall. Some scholar would come along, translate the Greek and thereby decipher the hieroglyphic. And so the ancient Egyptian Hieorglyphs could finally be interpreted. There are other stories of the early archeological discoveries, in both Old World and New, from Babylon to the Mayans. It is all fun stuff.

Another all time favorite book. I am a sucker for adventure stories. Anybody else remember H. Ryder Haggard's Ayesha, she-who-must-be-obeyed? Hands down the best adventure story I've read is an autobiographical account of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during WW1 and written by a British intel officer first stationed in Egypt. T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). The story rivets. And I think what makes the story so powerful is that Lawrence didn't just recount the events of those years. He thought about what he was recounting while recounting. He must have kept field notes while going from tribal leader to tribal leader, from Emir to Emir. Starting in the south and working his way north and the final battles in the Palestine. My sense is that Lawrence ultimately was disillusioned with the outcome. Such is history.

He called his account of the Arab revolt Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It took me awhile. I finally got what he meant. He took the title from the Old Testament's Proverbs, Chapter 9. I think what he had in mind particularly was verse 6: Leave simpleness, and live, / and walk in the way of insight.

Tere

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I am trying to think of an all-time favorite book. But how do you cull through the memories of old friends who've impacted you, shaped you, who've even romanced you, and decide which one touched you the most? It doesn't happen.

There is one possible candidate that comes to mind, but I reserve the right to change my opinion before going to bed tonight. Stendhal's De L'Amour. Turns out it was his favorite production among his novels, scholarly treatises, and biographies. The book sold all of 17 copies in his lifetime.

In the early 1820s Stendhal was a charge d'affairs for France in Italy. Born in Grenoble he would have been almost French and almost Italian. In those years Italy, northern Italy especially, was under the dominance of the Austrian Empire which, after the Napoleanic wars, won concessions over the region. The local patriots suspected Stendhal of being a spy in the employ of the Austrians. He had the mischance to fall in love with one such Italian patriot. She was an aristocrat. As I recall she was married to a Polish officer. Mathilde Visconti Dembrowski. He called her Matilde. Spurned by her, probably because she thought him a spy, and his life threatened by the Austrians because they figured he was in with the Italian Carbonari, in June of 1821 he left for Paris.

How is that for a story? Novelist, diplomat, scholar suspected of treasonous behavior by a government, a Nationalist rebellion, and by the woman he loved passionately? Did I forget to say Stendhal was in contact with the more radical liberals of his day, including Byron? What a twist of fate.

In Italy he had already started writing his treatise on love. Back in Paris he finished it, published it in 1822. His unrequited love for Matilde incited him. The thing I really like about Stendhal is that he got the thing. Politics and power play take second chair to love.

He got that love has many faces, from vanity love to romantic love. He was another psychologist before there were psychologists. He then went on to characterize how different nationality types type love. He then said a huge thing, coined a word for it actually. Chrystalization is the word he made. He got the idea while visiting a salt mine and noticing how salt can crystalize on pine bows. He said that is how love works. When we find imperfections in our loved ones we chrystalize until we can find back to the lover we fell in love with. That is what he said. My experience of love tells me Stendhal had a truth.

One last note on his book. He was a feminist almost before there were feminists.

Tere
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Re: favorite books. Seems like I've had different favorites for different times. I think I'm fonder of books that articulate and confirm my perception of things than I am of books that offer something entirely different; I'm sure that doesn't say anything good about me but it's true. If I look at my favorites from different times...I guess I can see how my perception has changed.

In my early 20's, I was an ardent fan of R.D. Lang. Still think he has an important point of view, just don't think it's the only point of view any more.

Chris

 
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I read Hesse too, at around that age--guess it was obligatory, but he left me cold. Loved Vonegut and Heller's "Catch 22," Salinger...

Chris, I think I know what you mean about Hesse. Not Siddhartha, which I read first, but with Steppenwolf, yes. I never read Hesse after that. Loved Vonnegut, too (still feel sometimes that I become unstuck in time), and have a vivid memory of reading "Catch 22" as a college freshman for pleasure in my leisure time. A counterintuitive attempt to maintain my own sanity (outside the confines of the Christian college I attended) and my love of literature (outside the prescribed curriculum). The character of Snowden haunted me for years. "I'm cold."

Chris & Libra, yep, "The Lottery." Wow, I had forgotten that story despite the fact that I found it mesmerizing and shocking at the time.

Damn, Chris, I found your September 13th post about the Bronte sisters spot on.

"I think Emily must have entered some dark room and locked the door behind her; then pried the lid off Pandora's box. I can see her clinging to parchment and quill for dear life; just wanting to get it all down before she got blown out the window."

Love that bit of writing and thinking.




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Libra and Tere,

Coming back to your poems, "knife's edge" and "The Gift Giver." Good stuff, both. So much in this thread to come back to! Not the least of which, the authors I've never read. James Baldwin, for one, and many others mentioned. I really have fallen and can't get up.
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Terreson,
I've noticed this more concretely here than anywhere else: you have a definite style of writing. Like Hemingway has a style, like Faulkner, whom (who?) I am curently reading. The only difference between you and them is that you are writing straight narrative. If God gave you a McArthur Fellowship (it used to be $500,000), you could sit down and apply this style to expanding those wonderful stories you gave us over the last year. You could weld the the smaller pieces into short stories or into novels. Then, the work would be "conventionally" ready for wider consumer approval. That's the irony of all of this. Your stories, snippets sometimes, were perfectly satisfactory to those of us here who read them. It would be interesting how they would make you rework them, expand them if you enrolled in the famous Iowa creative writing school.

That's why I sometimes say that are blessed with what we have NOW. Few of us are going to survive in time like Jesus or Alexander the Great, or even like Mark Twain or Beckett. There, I went off on a tangent. Let me reiterate: I liked recognizing that you have a definite style, probably have had it for a long time. Keep up the good work. Zak

quote:

Terreson wrote:

I am trying to think of an all-time favorite book. But how do you cull through the memories of old friends who've impacted you, shaped you, who've even romanced you, and decide which one touched you the most? It doesn't happen.

There is one possible candidate that comes to mind, but I reserve the right to change my opinion before going to bed tonight. Stendhal's De L'Amour. Turns out it was his favorite production among his novels, scholarly treatises, and biographies. The book sold all of 17 copies in his lifetime.

In the early 1820s Stendhal was a charge d'affairs for France in Italy. Born in Grenoble he would have been almost French and almost Italian. In those years Italy, northern Italy especially, was under the dominance of the Austrian Empire which, after the Napoleanic wars, won concessions over the region. The local patriots suspected Stendhal of being a spy in the employ of the Austrians. He had the mischance to fall in love with one such Italian patriot. She was an aristocrat. As I recall she was married to a Polish officer. Mathilde Visconti Dembrowski. He called her Matilde. Spurned by her, probably because she thought him a spy, and his life threatened by the Austrians because they figured he was in with the Italian Carbonari, in June of 1821 he left for Paris.

How is that for a story? Novelist, diplomat, scholar suspected of treasonous behavior by a government, a Nationalist rebellion, and by the woman he loved passionately? Did I forget to say Stendhal was in contact with the more radical liberals of his day, including Byron? What a twist of fate.

In Italy he had already started writing his treatise on love. Back in Paris he finished it, published it in 1822. His unrequited love for Matilde incited him. The thing I really like about Stendhal is that he got the thing. Politics and power play take second chair to love.

He got that love has many faces, from vanity love to romantic love. He was another psychologist before there were psychologists. He then went on to characterize how different nationality types type love. He then said a huge thing, coined a word for it actually. Chrystalization is the word he made. He got the idea while visiting a salt mine and noticing how salt can crystalize on pine bows. He said that is how love works. When we find imperfections in our loved ones we chrystalize until we can find back to the lover we fell in love with. That is what he said. My experience of love tells me Stendhal had a truth.

One last note on his book. He was a feminist almost before there were feminists.

Tere



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Zak, I am going to be honest, Dude. I get very few compliments on my writing. When they come they humble me. Mostly I can tell that maybe I have something by the reaction my stuff has on its readers. A couple of years ago, for example, I was having Thanksgiving dinner with friends, scientist types. The hostest asked me to bring a couple of stories to read after dinner. I took a chance and read a short story, more a lyrical essay, with some length to it. Afterwards, stepping outside to smoke a cigarette, the host damn near ran out the door after me and said: "What the f**k are you doing here. Why isn't that published?" Funny huh? Anyway, thank you for saying something. Readers like you and everyone else here actually I listen to.

As for the question of style here is maybe something for you. Back in the seventies I found a book of essays on writing by Jean Cocteau. It is called "Professional Secrets." He said a huge and, for me, determining thing. "To cultivate one's thought - to learn to shape and handle it - is to cultivate one's style. Looked at from any other point of view, style merely makes for obscurity and acts as a drag." Pretty big, don't ya'll think? Both fundamentally liberating and enough to get every writer back to the raw, to the rough and ready of what makes for one's style. Really just a matter of cultivating your own thinking. I especially love the gardening metaphor involved.

There is something I want to pass by everyone. It could get posted seperately, another field note. But I like the idea of including it here where we chase down the idea of being what we read.

Two weeks ago today, in Saturday's dark A.M., my laptop growled at me. Keyboard was way too hot to the touch. Then the error message: hard drive cannot be found. Because it was a replacement hard drive for a pc not two years old I figured there was a larger problem, maybe involving the mother board, and decided to get a new pc through HP. While waiting for the new computer I decided to do something I do every 5 years or so: read through as much of the old material, and looking to cull through the stuff, as I could. As always happens the poetry came first, starting with the most recent poems.

Age 59 as of the 22nd of Sept. Six collections ranging in size of 21 to 73 poems. In all 246 poems having survived the morgue file test since age 16. This is not exactly a cost effective amount of production. Damn good thing I keep to a day time, sometimes a night time, job. Oldest viable poem going back to age 23. I encountered three surprises.

Surprise 1. There was only one poem that struck me as a complete failure and not meeting my holy trinity test. It was first penned in '86, revisted a half-dozen times, and still a failure. Out it went. In the two most recent collections there are a few poems I am uncertain about. Some may be built on too small a conception. Others are certainly not nicely poetic. But I am going to let them stand through another 5 year plan.

(As an aside I've discovered something these last two weeks. From time to time in a workshop setting I am taken to task for not being demanding enough when critting the poetry of others. There is truth to this. In part it is because I am afraid of running interference in how a poet developes her or his own way. It is why I tend to concentrate on what works, not on what doesn't. The last, I figure, the poet can discover on her own. But there is another, closer reason. I love the idea of poetry too much, love the audacity of poets too much, to submit anybody to the tests I demand of myself. It would not be fair. And a whole bunch of less self-convinced poets might go down in the collateral damage. Not going there. Behind the poem is the urge to poetry and that is the larger thing deserving of nurturing.)

Surprise 2. The oldest collection is young man poetry. Not at all layered, developed, nuanced. I almost didn't read through it for fear of what I would find. The collection's title is a beauty, pretty much sums up everything I know. "Bitter Root and Sweet." Bitter root and sweet. Isn't that what experience amounts to, being human and because human chowing down on and storing up the tuberous roots that feed a life? It is to me at least. Anyway, decades later and I'll stand by those poems. They are like the messages of a yet untested Percival perpetually surprised by what he finds. And as perpetually trying to figure through life's algebra gracefully.

Surprise 3. After reading through the poetry I went for a novel not read since soon after it was finished. This goes back to '91. I made the novel because my first was rather scant on women. The first novel focused on the rock n roll experience as experienced in a rhythm and blues roadhouse. Paglia was right. R n R is mostly a guy thing with testosterone energy projected from the stage. I wanted to make amends. I invented Ena, a natural beauty living alone in a cottage inherited from her grandmother on Puget Sound. She is in her thirties, long brown hair, big in the hips, tends to shift between laziness and sudden bursts of emotional energy, and recently having dissed a man in a long line of men. She calls her last man a machine man because he thought of his machines first, her second.

The novel breaks all the rules and a few taboos. A sometime visitor to our board has taken me to task for projecting, portraying women. Goodness. This novel would give her a seizure. It is all about Ena. What she sees, how she sees in the feeling way I am convinced women see. The novel has sex too, some of it not polite sex. In the midddle of a blizzard Ena masturbates while curled up and warmed by her wood stove. One night she makes love with a woman, Ginny by name who is married. (My lesbian friends gave me approval on that scene.) Then there will be David, an archeologist from Columbia. A man who finally takes her on who she is and not on what he needs her to be. Then the witchy thing. It turns out her grandmother was a witch. Her name was Elizabeth. And she leaves Ena a box of goodies, witchy stuff, and Ena discovers she herself is an intuitive witch.

It is all a fantastic tale written when I still thought women are better, smarter, more intuitive, more connected then men. While I still hold out for Ena I've since realized that, generally speaking, women are just as disconnected as are men.

I forgot to say that when Ena goes meditative and reflective the prose telling goes poetic. The narrative goes to poetic prose.

The novel breaks all the rules. But you are what you read and maybe what you write.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Oct/3/2010, 3:46 pm
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