Jul 12, 2014

Guns and Morons, plus Chase Twichell's "Stripped Car"

aka Peace and Wisdom Party
Thirty seconds of this video conveys plenty, but I’m a masochist and watched all four minutes. The film wants to be funny, and sometimes it may be, but I find it a troubling sequence too. When I caught myself smiling a few times, I didn’t like myself. So I wrote the snarky treatise below.


What’s the moral of the story in the video, which is passed off as humor?

1.  Guns don’t shoot themselves. Unequivocally true.

2.  In spite of some delusions, people can’t fire bullets from their fingers or genitalia. Unequivocally true. 


1.  Eliminate gun control for people who have never made a mistake of any kind.

2.  Hate
each other over the two unequivocal truths above.

3.  I'm pretty sure  there are 8 billion mountain tops on Planet Earth.  Give each human a mountain top and all the firearms he can carry, which will lead to all the ammo-orgasms he has time for. Or energy. And alone on a mountain top, that’s a lot of time. Food? With all that weaponry, if they can’t find enough to kill, fuck ‘em. Shelter? Ammo-orgasms will keep ‘em warm.

4.  Uh-oh. My research team isn't sure there are 8 billion mountain tops.

5.  Someone also asked about propagation of the species?  Uh-oh.


Then I went to Poetry Foundation, typed “guns” in the search box, and was offered “Stripped Car” by Chase Twichell. I’ve liked her work before, so I read it, though it's a little longer than what I usually post here:

Notice white fuzz ball in nest
    I’m not sure every line needs to be there, but the style is breezy, and some of the images were poignant,

    so I stuck with it. Do you like the poem? Respect it? Do you have some favorite lines, images or ideas? How about a “sulking adolescent” . . . “with a silky little shadow-moustache/and a gun”? Or the play of fruit and gardens against the images of metal and violence?


Jun 28, 2014

Phillip Levine, "Coming Close": Labor and Place

Here is former Poet Laureate, and native Detroiter, Phillip Levine with a portrait of women who labor. Really labor.  Would you agree that he does not sentimentalize her or the work?


Am I the only one who thinks of a slight connection to Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters, although they strike me as agrarian while Levine’s woman is part of the American industrial scene? 

In “You must feed her, as they say in the language of the place,” the “her” is the machinery. (Right?).  So Levine characterizes industrial machinery as female, then goes on to say, “Make no mistake, the place has a language.” In this place the machinery is female, perhaps a demanding maternal figure who must be fed.

I think Levine's treatment of place and language might be the most interesting idea in the poem. Does a place have its own language? Does our language change according to place and situation? If so, is that about the power of place to shape human language, which amounts to human thought, emotion, and personality?

If our language changes as we move from place to place, are we being dishonest? No? Simply pragmatic? Is pragmatism inherently dishonest? And then of course, the old adolescent question, how much honesty can any of us handle? “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”  Remember the Jackster delivering that one?

Does the laborer’s laughter at the end amount to meanness, or is it an effort at jolly, rough fellowship?

Is the speaker’s feeling “marked” a bad thing?  What does “for your own” mean? I really don’t know why that’s there.


Jun 16, 2014

Hannah Gamble's "Growing a Bear": Entertainment and Art

First a note on the photos: which of these women might be the poem's speaker? Now, on to the work itself.

In poetry, humor is such a tricky thing, a tightrope—veer left and you fall into superficiality or mean sarcasm or commercial slickness and pandering; veer right and you reveal an underbelly too dark for genuine levity--no belly laughs, no breeziness at cocktail parties, no appreciation of the absurdity of it all. It's all too grave for that, as Dostoevsky knew.

In my college years and into my twenties, I heard more than once that America’s only contributions to world literature were the short story as a genre and American humor. We were supposed to feel bad about that—inferior, provincial lightweights. Well, if those are our only contributions—and how can one make such a claim in the first place?—I say we’ve done pretty well, as I whisk dreary dust off my shirt and visor from long, long, dark, dark European tomes. Especially on the continent, none of the languages have a word for "concise."

So Hannah Gamble’s “Growing a Bear” interests me quite a bit. I hope no one disputes that it’s funny. But is it fluff? We’re back to The School of Accessibility and the constant question it presents: is the work mere entertainment or does it have enough heft to be labeled significant literature—enough insight into and commentary on big issues like the environment or social justice or simply being a lone human with human complexity? And is the work’s expression artful enough to make us take the piece seriously?

After reading “Growing a Bear” a few times, I’m not at all sure what the Bear is, but I think it's vaguely naughty and funny and grave. How would you pin it down? Or would you decline the invitation to pin it down?

And did you enjoy the poem?

Jun 6, 2014

D.H. Lawrence's "Bavarian Gentians" and Dylan Thomas, Follow-up

Here is D.H. Lawrence’s poem, “Bavarian Gentians.” I think I know why it came to mind as I talked last time about Dylan Thomas and “The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower," but I'm not sure. Ideas?  Which of the two poems do you prefer, and of course, why?

I don't have a photo of a Bavarian Gentian, but I'm including some with important blues or purples and darkening and excess.

My posting twice about the same poem has never elicited much visitor interest, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. Here are some further questions and thoughts about Dylan Thomas’ “The Force That through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower.”

One word that might confuse or alienate readers is “the green fuse,” which I take to mean the flower’s stem. Does Thomas get enough bang for his buck with “fuse” as a metaphor? In exchange for potential confusion in some readers, what, if anything, does he gain by using “fuse”?

Same question for “dumb”?

Why is the poem so full of violence? About a hundred and fifty years before Dylan Thomas came along in Wales, the English Romantics, especially Wordsworth, had conceived of a dynamism in Nature—its potential for destructive activity along with its beauty and spirituality. But isn’t Thomas going further than the Romantics in seeing and insisting upon Nature’s fearsome extremes and thus complicating its beauty with its violence? Thomas’ Nature wreaks such havoc that he cannot express its extremes; he can only give examples and ask us to perceive natural presences as he does. 

Do you think a single force governs the life and death of humans, plants, and animals? Are we that much a part of nature?

Where in the human being would you locate that force? The heart? The brain? The mouth? The hand? The genitals? Or the mind or soul or spirit?—none of which can be located on an anatomical chart.
English teachers are sex-crazed nerds; that’s old news. Therefore, I ask if the poem has anything to do with sex—potency and lack of it, or Freud’s “libido” versus “thanatos.” I’m pretty sure I recall accurately that Freud expanded his concept of the libido from a specifically erotic drive to a broader meaning of life force, a quest for survival, which of course was in continuous conflict with “thanatos,” or death drive.

Thus, Freud, like the Romantics, saw the essential condition of humans as one of tumult,  inner turmoil, conflict, unlike Buddhism’s sense of a calm inner place, nirvana, which we should try to reach. Do you favor one of these views of human nature over the other? If the human is an onion and you keep peeling off layers, what’s at the center—a roiling ocean or a still pond?

May 28, 2014

Spring and Dylan Thomas' "The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower"

I'm pretty sure I was a college freshman when I first encountered Dylan Thomas' "The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower," and I'm pretty sure I had no clue what it meant or why anyone would write such a thing or why I was in college or where Wales was or why anybody lived there instead of Ohio.

Well, here is the poem again. I think it's one of the great works about the mysteries and rhythms of all kinds of life. And death. Yin and Yang, I suppose. Libido, broadly defined, and Thanatos?


In the photos from early May, a Great Egret kept retrieving sticks for his nest. (For obvious reasons, I'm making him a hard-working male). I don't know how it could have been clearer that a natural force was driving him to go fetch and to come back, again and again. And maybe that force is larger and more complex than anyone can explain. Hence, the repetition of "I am dumb."

Dylan Thomas claims it's that same force that drives a flower through its stem (its "fuse") and propels a human through his green age, even though it's also the force that brings death to lovers and to us all. The poem is an interesting combination of elegant, romantic, musical language and thought with a realistic insistence that what lives also dies.

I especially love these lines:

And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

Dylan Thomas may be as romantic and effusive as e.e. cummings about nature, but maybe Thomas is more realistic and complex. Opinions?



May 26, 2014

The Great Speckled Bird . . . Is a Robin?

I'd like to think this is the bird in the gospel song:

What a beautiful thought I am thinking
Concerning a great speckled bird.
It cometh descending from heaven
On the pages of God's holy word. 

However, having seen a nightmare version of a blue jay child in its early
adolescence, my guess is that the splotchity bird in the pic is a juvenile robin growing into her or his plumage. Birders, yea or nay?  I hope this guy only needs some Clearisil rather than major surgery or a feather transplant.

May 8, 2014

Poking and Prodding: e.e. cummings’ “O sweet spontaneous” and the Nature of Nature (and; un-Schooling

At Kensington Metropark the other day, I discovered an island hubbub, a rookery full of Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and Cormorants. Below them Canada Geese squawked. Closer to shore, red winged blackbirds clung to reeds and half-seriously threatened me, I assume because of nearby nests. Two male geese squared off as if to fight—much hissing and honking in goose profanity, I'm sure. Later, two male redwings got into the longest physical squabble (maybe ten seconds) I’ve ever seen between two birds. At home, the wiser gold finches, doves, cardinals, and sparrows make only symbolic gestures of combat. 
My big birding day at Kensington got me thinking even more about spring and nature, and that reminded me of e.e. cummings’ poem,  “O sweet spontaneous,” in which he offers mockery and contempt for philosophy, science, and religion. Whatever those three endeavors might be, what they are not—and never will be—is spontaneous. They are considered, rehearsed, systematic invasions and perversions of nature, which is so magical and supra-rational that spring, season of rebirth and renewal, is the “rhythmic/lover” of death.

Nature is spontaneous in the sense that it simply is; it cannot be understood empirically. Philosophers and scientists are “prurient” and “naughty” voyeurs, while religionists try to knock nature around, “buffeting” it as they attempt to pull gods from its womb. Is that not a rather violent image of birthing, perhaps suggestive of abortion?

In the ongoing American hostility and debate about evolutionism vs. creationism, what might e.e. cummings say? And what might he say about religion in the schools? Would he tell us to avoid teaching philosophy, science and religion altogether?

As a poem, “O sweet spontaneous” is surely vulnerable to charges of oversimplification and sentimentality (that is, excessive or unearned emotional content).  Does it cross that line into touchy-feely, art-fart mush? Or does it try to demonstrate through simplicity its own argument that nature and the cosmos cannot be known in Academy-sanctioned curricula? 
Does the poem ask us to plop the kid in a field to witness the elk and experience snakebite? Shall we cancel science classes nationwide? What would a school run by cummings look like?

What would cummings do about climate change? Or cancer?

Would he argue that pantheism, animism, atheism and their ilk are also “prurient,” “naughty,” and “squeezing” and “buffeting”?  Do they too have “scraggy knees”? Or is it only mainstream schools of thought that are villains and morons? Kill the Presbyterian, let the hippie roam.
See how easy it is to take cummings to task? And aren’t his anti-traditional punctuation, capitalization, and diction rather juvenile, facile, disingenuous rebellions?

Or are they the most honest, urgent, cogent way to challenge authority? Maybe they demand that we experience the world as cummings does, unfettered by semicolons.
Whatever the case, when I’m having a good experience in nature, what I’m feeling feels unknowable—fwom de pwitty wittle finchee (change now to a baritone voice) to the big mean hawk that eats him (“the incomparable/couch of death”?).  What I’m experiencing might be such a vigorous firing of neurons, or such a jiggling of stardust as it wiggles with what I am, that no mere empirical Discipline can touch it.

Surely the solution is to invite politicians to write up an exam that tests a student’s life-essential knowledge at age 15. For if politicians don’t know what must be learned, who does? 

Lovers' Lane