Dec 31, 2010

New Year, 2011

1. Happy New Year. Happy Way of Being in the World ! ! !

I'm sure you're all doing yoga and meditation tonight, as am I, plus one-armed push-ups and sit-ups with a cement block on my six-pack abs. At 11:45, before the Detroit TV cameras, I'll be wrestling a wild and hungry gorilla in Luna Pier, Michigan. Please tune in.

(Have you ever noticed the sound similarity between yoga and yogurt? And from there, the substance similarity between yogurt and ice cream? And from there . . . .)

2. I'm learning that Blogspot and/or Gmail are not getting all of your visitor comments through to me. Please let me know if you sent something and I didn't respond within a couple of days here at Banjo52. Email my secretary at: or Give my secretary hell--it's probably his fault, the crackhead. Also, he has some apish characteristics.

3. Speaking of those pesky non-verbal moments we all have, my photos are now up on Flickr:

I suggest the "sets" I've titled "Best of Banjo" or "Portraits," but feel free to tiptoe through any of the Flickr daisies, as you please.

There's an amazing array of talent on Flickr, so I'm feeling especially humble about my stuff. Still, there have been nice comments here, and now there, about the photos, so if you feel like one picture instead of a thousand words . . . . Wait, that didn't come out right. We're already on a collision course with a non-verbal, grunting society. A banana-loving, apish society?

Tomorrow, I'll see once again how much football I can endure. My stamina ain't what it used to be. On Sunday, let's everybody see if the Detroit Lions can continue their astonishing rise from the dead. After going 2 - 10, they've won three straight, all come-from-behind games, all against teams at .500 or better, and two of those victories were on the road after their failure to win a road game since 2007.

I'm trying to be realistic, or cynical, about millionaire athletes' digging into the character bin and refusing to implode. I'm trying to be more sophisticated than all that rah rah. I'm failing, and it feels good.

Did I already say Happy New Year?


Dec 26, 2010

Five Pics, a Poem, and Ways of Being

If you’re new to Banjo52, today’s comments will make more sense if you can at least skim the previous two to four posts.

I still hope someone can explain why the words and the idea of one's Way of Being in the World have such purchase with me--and others maybe not so much. The grasp didn't go away with Santa, if that's what you were hoping.

I think maybe "way," "being," and "world" have more heft than other axioms of this nature--the meaning of life business, the "be kind to strangers" and "do unto others" business. They're not invalid, but they've grown flat with time.

When it comes to writing and other art, here's a thought that's less flattering to those engaged in artistic pursuits: we write and paint and sculpt out of fear of death (the art objects are our children, of course, and therefore our immortality) and out of our supreme egotism and narcissism. "Hey, world, look what I saw, felt, thought, and wrought, ingeniously phrased! What a hot ticket am I!"

Maybe artistic endeavor has very little to do with the artist's understanding of or caring for the world and The Other -- the human, the tree, the salamander, human and natural history, and such grand items -- and everything to do with his love of self. Others' ways of being in the world interest him little or not at all, except for making him sound deep to those who seem to matter in the art world.

Other bloggers and I have expressed a weakness for The Great Gatsby. But I've often wondered--without the best words to express it--how much Fitzgerald wondered about the way of being in the world in the nineteen-teens and -twenties for Jews and African-Americans. Oh, yes, and women of all stripes. Of course, not many Caucasians fretted about that, but some did, and they weren't trying to be a great novelist who, presumably, was trying to shed important light on his world.

So in these pictures and Hopkins’ poem, “Pied Beauty," there might be some additional ways of being in the world. Do you respond to/like/respect/admire/identify with one more than the other? Would you care to make a statement, or several, about ways of being in the world presented and implied in these examples or your own? Will I go away after this? In adulthood, my first pet was a bulldog . . . .

Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

Dec 20, 2010

Junco, Jay, Yeats' Ireland, Ways of Being in the World

Easter, 1916 by William Butler Yeats : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

I’ve been trying and failing to persuade readers to consider the meaning—and value—of the phrase “way of being in the world.” For everything that might be unclear or menacing about the subject, surely it’s clear that the shrieking, bright, blue and white, crested, nest-poaching Lord of the forest, the Blue Jay, twice the size and flap of the cardinal, has a way of being in the world that’s nothing like the humble Dark-Eyed Junco’s way.

Junco is an almost nondescript little bird, who eats generic food from the feeder and is amicable with sparrows, cardinals, chickadees, and all manner of birds. He doesn’t look for fights, and they don’t find him. What a coincidence.

Junco also eats from the ground, or pecks at thistle that’s fallen from the webbed sock and tube feeders dedicated to the finicky finches (who become flashy yellow darting fops in the summer).

Junco would eat with Jay if Jay allowed it, but Jay croaks about “Our Kind of People”; he squawks that he is somebody, full of pioneer bluster, descended from Jesse James. After all, he’s related somehow to his fellow-Corvid, Crow, and only eagles might mess with Crow. I’ve watched a crow chase off a turkey buzzard—noise, persistence, bravado. Maybe Jay has done that too.

Junco’s slate-grey back and creamy white belly seem a perfect winter camouflage for a hard life in snow, among leafless trees. Unless we’re willing to cross over to the land of paradox—that way of being in the world—and call him spectacularly unspectacular, he has not one flashy bone in his body, nor one garish feather.

I’m not aware of ever hearing his song or call. I could look it up, but why would I? Junco does not complain. Even his love life is more discreet than that of Jay and other melodramatic, hormonal suitors and floozies, who confuse sex with Carnival and War, diving into copulation as if it were a seizure. That way of being in the world.

Jay has never taken a back seat to anyone in any venue, has never lost an argument, or pondered the opposing view. Sound like anyone you know?

Probably the best political poem ever written is William Butler Yeats’ “Easter 1916,” in which he is troubled by an Irish citizenry—his countrymen—who had been a Junco nation. On Easter 1916, they achieved their most important victory to date, and Yeats sees them as, yes, heroes of freedom, but also as Everymen hardened into stone: “The stone’s in the midst of all.”

It’s true that in water the stone, like the jay, is beautiful; it sparkles and gleams in a shape that began as motley. But how can a thinking man like Yeats—yes, that way of being in the world—ignore the fact that “all is changed, changed utterly”? How can he not be troubled when he sees that it’s “a terrible beauty” that’s been born? Surely it’s necessary, urgent, for the Irish to forfeit their “polite meaningless nods” and seize the moment, to be the rock and hero they haven’t been since Cuchulain’s time. But it’s also terrible, an entirely other way, and the change is frightening.

Shakespeare’s people would have heard the rumble of The Great Chain of Being as it rattled with the thunder and lightning.

Paradox. Crow. Jay. Junco. Ireland’s “motley” rising against England in 1916. These are ways of being in the world. Spoon, fork. Sheep, wolf. Stucco, brick. Passive, Aggressive. Once we are one, can we become the other? If so, what’s the price of admission, and why am I the only one interested in the question?

Easter, 1916 by William Butler Yeats : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.


Dec 17, 2010

Robert Graves, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Julius Stewart, Two Movies

Don’t Let That Horse ... by Lawrence Ferlinghetti : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

The Naked and the Nude by Robert Graves

left: Julius Stewart,
The Glade, 1900.
Detroit Institute of Art

"A way of being in the world": does that phrase ring for you? Viggy, The Philosophy Merchant, tells me it's common, tosses it off the way he might say, "Your shoes are brown." However, I think it speaks, or implies, volumes. It resonates. It reeks, and it perfumes.

What material object, including the material human, does not have a way of being in the world? The banana? The typewriter? The blind grandmother with her blanket and her rocker?

In this time of holiday shopping, are you not picking out a present for Logan because of her/his way of being in the world? If he loves rap, will you give him The Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Because you're a provocateur? Is that your way of being in the world?

Based on his poem, "Don't Let That Horse," how would you describe Lawrence Ferlinghetti's way of being in the world?

And here again is Robert Graves' "The Naked and the Nude," this time black print on white background for easier reading, a more accomodating way for it to be in the world. (So even if you saw it here December 2, please give it another chance).

Of course that raises the question (by the way, it does not "beg" the question! Make them stop saying that! What is their way of being in the world, which permits or causes them such endless parroting? What is a parrot's way of being in the world?) . . . .

I was going to say, before you interrupted, "Whom and what do you know that goes naked in the world, and who or what goes nude?"

I've recently seen the (compelling!) movies "Inside Job," about the recent Wall Street fiasco, and "Fair Game," about Victoria Plame and Joe Wilson's plight in the early months of the second U.S. invasion of Iraq (2001 - 2003). What could be a more classic and obvious case of nudity than politics, all that subterfuge, double-speak, and sociopathy, even when it comes to the lives and deaths of other people? Isn't it true that we like to see such fruit exposed in order to convert the nude to the naked?

Well, that ought to keep you off the streets for a day or two. I wonder if I'll ever let go of the topic, "way of being in the world." I guess I'm still teething on the Slim Jim of Life.

Don’t Let That Horse ... by Lawrence Ferlinghetti : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

The Naked and the Nude by Robert Graves


Dec 14, 2010

Wallace Stevens' "The Snow Man," Take Two

The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

Some poems are so linked to a season or occasion that they must be posted more than once. Last February, we had a good discussion going, but it fizzled. So here is "The Snow Man" again, along with our comments ten months ago.

Like most Stevens, "The Snow Man" is fairly cerebral and philosophical, maybe so much so that it's dry and heartless. Maybe I should argue that Stevens is the Picasso of 20th century poetry. But I like the poem's take on imagination and the possibility of empathic flights, along with the potential outcomes.

Also, I like the poem's effort to simply tell it like it is (whatever "it" might be). Maybe the ending is nihilistic, but maybe it's just cynical about fairy tales.

I also think "The Snow Man" touches on a phrase I haven't yet persuaded readers to respond to: one's "way of being in the world."

Last February, Brenda and I might seem to be disagreeing, but I think we were simply flipping seasons. Whether it's January in Stevens' Connecticut or July in Arizona, what does it mean to be a "snow man" or a "sun man"? What is the Snow Man's way of being in the world? And of course, ditto Sun Man?

Whatever the answer, should we fight it? Is it OK to resign ourselves to what obviously is, or should we reevaluate our way of being and try to alter it to the extent possible? Would that be a minor tweaking or a major overhaul?

Has each of us simply leaked, like Steven's Snow Man, into our environments and become as frigidly sunny or as suffocatingly hot as the landscape and atmosphere? If so, is that leaking into the larger Out There, that surrender of self, inevitable? Does it make sense to "rage, rage against the dying of the light" or should we, after all, "go gentle into that good night"?

The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.


Dec 13, 2010

FINCH FOLLY, Fourteen Degrees

Finch Folly,
or When Charity Bites Your Butt

Fourteen degrees. Though fighting flu,
I faithfully fed the finches,
for which it feels they fault me,
for they foully fight their fulsome friends

and even fuss at family for the final
inch of thistle in a frilly mesh of sock,
forsaking the full and fruity tube of feed
just fourteen flighty feet away,

for which I dared the fates and which
I filled with feed and fealty too.
Forsooth, for all I feel for finches now,
I might go fetch some fearsome, fancy falcon—

What a foppery of flutter then!
Let the flawed and fatuous finger-birds
philosophize again on flaws and filigree
and who flies fast and flightiest--

but first and foremost, who feeds what to whom,
before the final flocks are fed,
and clocks are finished,
and fates are flung afar.


Dec 9, 2010

Shakespeare's "That Time of Year"

We might get six inches of snow late Saturday and into Sunday. So, although I'm a little tardy, I want to post this paean to late November before I forget for another year. I'm not quite at the point described in the sonnet, but that's a quibble. I've been an old soul since I was fourteen; and for an entire teaching career, I've identified with the concluding couplet's "to love that well/ which thou must leave ere long." It's a poem for all teachers and all students as well as those at a certain stage of life.

As I write that, dusk turns to dark, on cue, at 5:30 in Michigan.

Sonnet LXXIII: That Time of Year thou mayst in me Behold by William Shakespeare : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

And at the risk of beating dead horses, what would Picasso say about this poem?


Dec 8, 2010

Charles McGee, Barnett Newman, Picasso, Chick A. Dee

Here I go again, spouting without a license about subjects I do not know.

One day a friend said about some rather dark poem, “What is the gift of that poem?” My friend knows his poetry; he was not looking for sappy sunlight in every poem, but some new and plausible way of seeing and saying things that are worth reporting. And by the way, to be sure he wasn’t plagiarizing or going off half-cocked, he attributed the notion of Poem as Gift to a professor he’d had.

Since then, I’ve taken the liberty of spreading the idea to parts of poems and, always the daredevil, to all art and other objects of beauty. No gift, no beauty; no beauty, no gift and no truth.

Just to demonstrate my hip open-mindedness, I want to say that I can see, and could argue for, the gift in the first two of these paintings, “Spectral Rhythms” (1970s) by Charles McGee and “Be I” (1970) by Barnett Newman (in spite of its pretentious title).

However, I do not see much gift below in Picasso’s “Girl Reading” (1938). It’s likely I have never seen any Picasso painting as a gift, though he certainly shows us new ways of seeing things, and through that, potentially new ways of “being in the world” (a phrase common in the study of philosophy, I’m told, and I think it's a hugely important concept).

Am I the only one who sees Picasso’s girl as a pig? Yea or nay, how is his transmogrification of her a gift? Is it cruel comedy? Should it alter our perception of all females’ ways of being in the world? My own way of being in the world? The way of being in the world if you're a pig that reads?

What is the value of Picasso’s rendering of this subject, except that it’s new? If a surgeon could attach a hand to the top of her head, a hand with fingers that wiggle, that would also give us a new way to think about girls who read, girls who don’t read, and all humans. Wouldn’t it?

Here is young Fritz Chickadee, Certified Gourmand. With his big orange treat, he's pretty cocky; he's also rather common and quite a flighty guy. His way of being in the world is both everything and nothing like my own, which he invited me to think about. In late November, he was a gift.

Dec 2, 2010

Robert Graves' "The Naked and the Nude": Classic and Romantic

The Naked and the Nude

I usually try not to reek of the classroom this much, so first, forgive me if all this sounds like an insulting, incomplete and biased reprise of Art Appreciation 101. In the last paragraph, I try to make my case for the personal importance of this academic/Cliffs Notes discussion.

I’ve always liked Robert Graves’ poem, “The Naked and the Nude,” but I make the mistake of assuming that everyone hears the same distinction Graves does between the two key words and concepts in the title.

Parallel to Graves’ dichotomy, I think that in intellectual history there are only two philosophical or aesthetic traditions in all of art (verbal, visual, musical): the Classical and the Romantic. They supersede or encompass everything else.

Of course, Classical and Romantic features are not often black and white; any given work or artist might be a mix, showing some tendencies of both traditions, both sensibilities.

Graves’ “The Naked and the Nude” sits in the classical or neoclassical or Augustan tradition, which values wit, urbanity, cleverness, and brain power over the romantic values of intense feelings, pastoral settings (as well as Nature's violent forms), idealism, earnestness, and the power of the heart and emotion or intuition or mysticism or spirituality over rationality and logic and restraint and symmetry.

It’s ironic, then, that Graves seems happy to have his restrained Nude folks becoming romantically, full-out Naked in the end.

In this context, Moskowitz's “Hard Ball III” painting, posted here November 19, is, yes, minimalist or abstract expressionist or some other “ism.” But for our (larger) purposes today, it reflects a classical sensibility: spare, trim, reliant upon a trick of neurology and the perception process for its effect—all of which are antithetical to Romantic effusiveness.

In today’s paintings from the Detroit Institute of Arts, there might be room for debate. Does each of these three women belong to one tradition more than the other, Classical or Romantic? If not, how are the features blended? And which of them is naked, which is nude? I’m temporarily omitting the painters’ names for the sake of more honest guessing.

I repeat, responses don’t have to claim all of one tradition and none of the other. Feel free to mix and match. What are the Classical and Romantic elements in any one painting?

By the way, this is not just some academic's B.S. compulsion to categorize. I think the Classical and Romantic are two ways of being in the world—for individuals, for regions, for cultures and segments of cultures. In your truest self, are you more Classical or Romantic? What do you like and dislike about your answer? Surely responding to those questions tells us something worth knowing about ourselves, our country, our times.

And as the quip goes, "I'll show you mine if . . . ."

The Naked and the Nude


Lovers' Lane