Jun 23, 2012

NASCAR Prayer: Boogity Boogity Boogity






JUNE 25, 2012:



It's Monday and readers might need a follow-up prayer after yesterday's services. Or they might just need some comic relief. For awhile I was laughing at this preacher from Lebanon, Tennessee, but lately I've been thinking how much more honest his theology might be than much of what's heard on the Sabbath.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0E8EYTyACQk&feature=colik

I hope someone else enjoyed that half as much as I did.

For those who came for poetry, here are two more serious items on related topics. They're both new to me.

Do you have a preference between the two poems? Why? If we include the Tennessee preacher, what do these three preachers offer in terms of an eye for divinity?

The New World by Amiri Baraka : The Poetry Foundation

Psalm to Be Read with Closed Eyes by D. Nurkse : Poetry Magazine


Jun 22, 2012

3 MOVIE REVIEWS: PROMETHEUS, BERNIE, HUNGER GAMES



PROMETHEUS:  Since this film is the most recent of the three, I’ll begin with it, though I have nothing good to say. Visually, it’s a big movie, but darkness is the constant, so why make it big? There is no variety in setting, pace, atmosphere, or emotion. (Well, some of the particulars have comic potential, but the movie doesn’t realize that). Every character has stepped from clich√© or a comic book, and every event is a crisis. The plot takes big turns about every 40 seconds; after a half-hour I didn’t care what was going to happen next, or to whom—I knew it would be precipitous and bad. Apparently, the movie’s makers presume an audience attention span that’s rather like broccoli on meth. If you enjoy dimly lit, constant though meaningless action, go ahead. Maybe the popcorn will be warm. 

BERNIE:  I’m not much of a Jack Black fan, but he was just right in the role of Bernie—a gay mortician in east Texas, who develops an unusual friendship with the most hated old widow in town. There’s plenty of comedy here, but there’s also some substance in the character studies of Bernie and the widow (Shirley MacLaine).  So the humor often comes in a more casual, droll way, something like the pacing of Woody Allen or Ross McElwee rather than, say, a frantic Jim Carrey.  If you have a pulse, however, you will laugh at least a few times, perhaps at Jack Black, perhaps at or with the local Texans’ commentaries, which are woven into this narrative based on a true story.

HUNGER GAMES:  I’m usually not a fan of fantasy or sci-fi, but Hunger Games lives up to its billing. Jennifer Lawrence’s acting (remember her lead in Winter's Bone?) is the brightest star in this galaxy of fine performances.

The social criticism is inventive, and it precisely nails a new and ridiculous style for the people who run a futuristic, amoral and savagely absurd show.  The satire captures our human appetite for crime and carnivals, the more realistic, the better (though it’s not an especially gory movie).

We witness a voyeuristic bloodlust that’s become a central force in popular culture, with a special nod to reality TV and our need to turn everything into a game. (I also sensed slings and arrows directed at football and hockey).

The adult world in Hunger Games likes the fact that the participants are the innocent young. They have no trouble shaking bothersome social and moral restraints upon their hunger for violence and entertainment. If we're to commit a group crime on a massive scale—a socially embraced holocaust with a smaller body count—it might look like this movie’s update of Lord of the Flies. The hyper action and lovey-dovey stuff of the second hour are a bit over the top, but we’re likely to accept it all, for we are part of the movie’s target: we like what we like and want what we want, especially if, in a beautiful woods, the athletic hunters are young and beautiful, warriors and lovers, and these players are. 

Jun 21, 2012

Chloe Honum, "Spring": Another Kind of Rebirth




http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/238028

While looking for seasonal poems a few weeks ago, I came across Chloe Honum’s “Spring” (at Poetryfoundation.org, which just keeps on giving), and it’s a fitting poem with which to say goodbye to spring.

Depression and suicide are sadly common subjects among writers, but the first line of “Spring” still grabbed my attention. Even in its plainness it’s dramatic, and I wondered if the whole poem would prove overly dramatic? Will it be a confessional poem on steroids, trying to outdo Plath, Sexton, et al?

As for the poem’s relevance to spring, traditionally viewed as the season of birth and renewal, I wonder if Chloe Honum also has in mind T.S. Eliot’s “April is the cruelest month” and the fact (if it is one) that spring is the most common season for suicide? Whether or not that’s relevant, she is offering a new, tough, and imaginative take on old ideas. Also, her spring, unlike Eliot’s has at least as much pleasantness as darkness, in spite of the mother’s attempted suicide.

“Spring” is full of surprising images, which are expressed with leanness and torque. The opening juxtapositions tell us to fasten our seatbelts. Paraphrased, the first stanza gives us something like this:

         Mother attempted suicide.
         Icicles are dripping.
         Our house has a raincoat
         but we couldn’t make it wear that coat.

I feel punched—in a good way—by the unexpectedness of each new line and its connection (or apparent lack of it) to the surrounding lines.

The overall pattern of the poem also has movement and variety. After the uneasy opening, stanzas two and three are mostly homey and comforting—garden, birds, woods, daisy chains. However, we do have the combination of “bickered” and “prayed” to keep us off balance. (I might even hear an echo of Eliot’s “wept and fasted, wept and prayed,” but that’s probably far-fetched).
Then there’s a turn to a lyrical mix of philosophy and science in the final quatrain. What I hear at the end is that the mother, though alive, has fallen, and earth catches falling things; gravity is good. But it doesn’t catch moonlight, which goes right through cedar and rock, and moonlight might describe the state of the mother. She has only attempted suicide, not completed the act. It makes at least some kind of psychological sense to offer that she is (and the children are?) in a luminous state of dream or surrealistic drift.

The moonlight has “no pace to speak of.” What does that mean? Is  moonlight so outside our understanding of time, space and matter that its speed is incomprehensible? Again, we have probably entered a dreamy realm beyond logic and measurement. Is it a good thing if a human mind or soul passes through cedar and rock, avoiding collision and destruction? Or does that mean the mother keeps on dreamily falling forever? Or is it both?

Poetry has long offered the possibility of opposites coexisting (Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” is my favorite example; Keats’ “Cold Pastoral” is another). Scholars have posited that paradox is the very language of poetry; poetry must be allowed to transcend logic in order to offer the possibility of supra-rational ways of being.

Those ways might seem contradictory in our temporal, rational state, but what good is eternity or the sublime if they are bound by the same rules and restraints we find in our physical lives? And how is a poet to suggest such a realm beyond reason if not through paradox—which, we must remember, is only an apparent contradiction in terms?

“Spring” manages, in language accessible to sixth-graders, to present age-old complexities about states of being that whack science and philosophy upside the head.
And as we look at the poem’s particulars, how can we not be intrigued by a house’s raincoat?  “Birds flew from the woods’”—for a second that sounds ordinary. But we notice there’s also an apostrophe—these woods possess something, and that’s left dangling at the end of a poetic line. For an important moment we’re left hanging in the mystery of space between one line and the next  (“hanging in the enjambment”—that ought to be the title of a book).  We’re waiting breathlessly to find the mystery solved by the upcoming line, where we find “fingertips.”

Well, of course, the woods’ trees have fingertips! What is more fingertip-like than the tree-line of a woods in, say, early April? It’s a wonderful image, adding a lyrical originality to the familiar comparison between tree branches and fingers (or arms). And the birds—they belong in trees, of course, but when they fly from a tree’s fingertips, they become at least a little magical.

So does the entire poem, as it wonders just how to embrace or say farewell to a season full of images and contradictions that are all at once awe-ful, magical, mystical.


http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/238028





Jun 19, 2012

Yeats' "The Second Coming," Mob Mentality and Community

Fernandina Beach, Florida, January 2012
How scary it must be to live in Greece or Egypt right now, to name just two trouble spots. When I hear the word "anarchy," I'll likely as not think of Yeats' "The Second Coming" with its daunting line, "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." Here's the whole of what might be the Irishman's most famous poem:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172062

Especially with the four-minute Russian video (link below, over two million views), I wonder how we creatures can come together so harmoniously at one minute and want to eat each other the next. Sometimes it's as simple as hunger, territory, and mating (I suppose the Russian students were working on full stomachs and maybe the promise of coupling just ahead).  But often it's the neighborhood bully, clinging to power (which is both an abstraction and a visceral drive) and ordinary humanity's reaction, sooner or later. I wonder if that's the most common pattern in human history.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9z2b9FTC0u8&feature=related

Kensington Metropark, Michigan, Late February 2012





Fernandina Beach, Florida


Jun 14, 2012

Doc Watson, Two Songs, Glitch Corrected

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3ZWdyhkkLQ


Doc Watson, "Don't Think Twice" and "Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor"



Roethke's "The Geranium": Following Up




Roethke’s “The Geranium” was well-received, and the visitor comments were again thoughtful and interesting. So once again, I’m turning my responses to your responses into a post. 

Here again is the poem, and for additional information about Roethke, you might start here:

In addition to the whole premise of a man-geranium love affair, an actual love affair between a man and a green thing, here are some parts I find comic, usually because of extreme comparisons and comic hyperbole:

“like a sick poodle”

                                                “she'd lived
So long on gin, bobbie pins, half-smoked cigars, dead beer”

“The dumb dames shrieking half the night
Or the two of us, alone, both seedy,
Me breathing booze at her,
She leaning out of her pot toward the window.”

“that snuffling cretin of a maid”

“I sacked the presumptuous hag “


The Geranium

When I put her out, once, by the garbage pail,
She looked so limp and bedraggled,
So foolish and trusting, like a sick poodle,
Or a wizened aster in late September,
I brought her back in again
For a new routine--
Vitamins, water, and whatever
Sustenance seemed sensible
At the time: she'd lived
So long on gin, bobbie pins, half-smoked cigars, dead beer,
Her shriveled petals falling
On the faded carpet, the stale
Steak grease stuck to her fuzzy leaves.
(Dried-out, she creaked like a tulip.)

The things she endured!--
The dumb dames shrieking half the night
Or the two of us, alone, both seedy,
Me breathing booze at her,
She leaning out of her pot toward the window.

Near the end, she seemed almost to hear me--
And that was scary--
So when that snuffling cretin of a maid
Threw her, pot and all, into the trash-can,
I said nothing.

But I sacked the presumptuous hag the next week,
I was that lonely.


The very subject matter, a lowly geranium, sets the stage for comedy. The duo of Pathetic and Pathetic(er). Nearly indestructible.
The poem is very visual but without any kind of evocative romance one tends to expect from poems that take on nature. In my mind’s eye, I can see this odd couple - the only thing keeping them from bottoming out is the (once a week) cleaning woman. 

The line "But I sacked the presumptuous hag the next week," seems kind of heavy handed but I like it placed between "I said nothing" and "I was that lonely"

An ending thats not exactly a slam dunk; more like a kind of - huh? 

Good choice, Banjo

PA, that “huh” ending seems more frequent in contemporary poems than in older ones. I think it’s the poets’ attempts to avoid moralistic grand aphorisms, and I think that’s wise.

 


 ‪altadenahiker said...
I think it's ok to take this poem literally. Don't we feel companionship with certain objects in our life that can't feel back? Infuse them with personality because they've gone the distance. 

It also makes me think about when you're a child and bond with a stuffed animal or blanket. Isn't that a curious thing, by the way?

AH, it is a curious thing indeed. I bet it’s largely a matter of humans not doing such a great job of “feeling back” to each other. Do pets rank in the middle, between humans and objects? They seem better than humans at “feeling back”  but not as good as objects, which can feel back, think back, speak back, any time and any way we want them to.

 ‪Jean Spitzer said...
I've become a fan of Roethke, because of your blog. As a fan, I just don't want to hear any criticism. I like this story of co-dependency.

Jean, it is a kind of co-dependency, isn’t it. That’s great news about you and Roethke.

 ‪Kitty said...
I like that he refers to the plant and himself as 'seedy'. Ha.
 And the poem at the end seems to say that he learned about himself? He looked the other way when the maid threw it out, but then fired her because he missed the plant. It was as if the plant has its say in the end?

 Hope you are well, banjo!

Kitty, I missed “seedy”—thank you!  And yes to his learning about himself. “I was that lonely” could easily have been too loud, obvious, and direct, but I think his skillful handling of events, images and emotions leads us to the same “aha!” moment the speaker has, so that it’s not so much a preached truth as a sudden, honest discovery about himself.

 ‪Paula said...
I love the poem, it reminds me of me when I'm in a self-pitying funk, "I'll show them!"
 I have to wonder if he, a boozer, fired the housekeeper or if she left of her own accord. Obviously, she's more rational than he is. Very humorous.

Paula, there’s no doubt that the speaker has lost the rationality contest. I’m taking him at his word that he literally fired her, though in real life she might have chosen not to return. I suppose that depends in part on how desperate the maid was for wages, but I bet the poem would have lost its focus on the speaker if Roethke had veered into that.

 ‪RuneE said...
Of course I hear the humour. It may be black, but it also is what we call "self irony" (I don't know if that is the proper expression in English), that it is - irony turned on yourself. In my opinion, the most important humour a person can have.

To me, the word "presumptuous" underscores this. It has a different taste from "cretin" and "hag" - not your ordinary slang. In an elegant way he turns the tables on himself - and smiles.

Rune, I’ve heard people use “self-irony.” In any case, I agree that it’s an essential quality in both literature and life. In the 60s and 70s, I occasionally heard American writing credited by the rest of the (western) world with taking humor (along with the short story as a genre) to new heights. Those were our contributions, which amounted to “damning with faint praise” from prestigious, wannabe-Victorian folks here and abroad. America was the new kid-nuisance on the intellectual block, ruffians, not “our” kind of people.

I’d now take both of those compliments very seriously. Although irony, including humor, can become too much of a shield against straightforward, earned, honest emotion, without irony and other kinds of restraint or distancing tools, we might never stop wallowing and moralizing in earnestness and self-pity.

(And what a fine weapon the short story has become—Charles Baxter, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Tobias Wolff, and others have buttressed Faulkner’s idea: a short story is a failed poem, and a novel is a failed short story.)

I very much like Roethke and I like this poem.
My ex-boyfriend and I bought 2 small, scrawny plants at the 99¢ Store. I nursed those plants (and our relationship) thru the years and for some odd reason, held the belief that if one of those plants went, so would the relationship (which was always kinda rocky). After many years, one of the plants gave out, the other is still thriving. And the relationship gave out right in step with the plant that fizzled...

Altadenahiker said it better, but I thought about my plants as I was reading this poem.


Stickup, thanks for that. It’s amazing when a piece of writing touches on some detail or aspect of our own lives, and we end up feeling more connected because of that.

In the past Faulkner and Wordsworth did that for me, with regard to rural settings. Their Mississippi and northern England might seem irrelevant to my southern Ohio, but I think they gave me additional ways to think about small town life and hills (and for some reason, they did that more than Sherwood Anderson did).

More recently it might be the short stories of Alice Munro and Raymond Carver, who reveal more about their characters in 10-50 pages than most novelists do in 400. Munro’s stories are usually set in rural Ontario, sometimes in the early twentieth century, and Raymond Carver’s blue-collar characters always feel like small-town folks whose small lives he enlarges with his minimalist plain language (yes, it’s quite a paradox, though I suppose another version of the “less is more” paradox).


I'll have to re-read this poem for the humor... my mind doesn't see it just yet. Instead, I think of the commercial (was a Target commercial?) where someone puts an old desk lamp out in the trash alongside the curb. That night it rains, and the lamp looks so sad, so alone. It is amazing how a lamp can capture your heart - usually it takes puppy dog eyes to do that! 
OK, back to read for the humor. REALLY?

Brenda, does it help if I say that a lightness might be present here and there in addition to the serious substance, not instead of it. To some extent, the poem is a portrait of romantic love between a man and a bedraggled plant. He claims to have knocked her over with his boozy breath. Surely that’s comic hyperbole and should not be taken as straightforward and grave, lest some readers find themselves feeling superior to the speaker rather than moved by him. Since he tries to be just a bit amused at himself, we’re likely to credit him with perspective and awareness, not just self-pity alone.

Therefore, when we get to that big last line, it’s more dramatic by virtue of contrast in its entirely serious tone. It’s terse, direct, no-nonsense.  We can feel legitimately moved because the speaker earned our respect as well as our sympathy by not taking himself as seriously as he might have.

And without that respect, surely some would find him a cry baby, a drama queen, a wimp, a loser. “Dude, you fired a human and called her a cretin and hag because she dumped your pathetic old flower? Isn’t it you who’s pathetic?” 

But given the fuller portrait of the speaker, we might be thinking, as a couple of you have stated outright, “It’s OK, dude. I’ve been somewhere like that. Let me tell you what I did once, how low I was, even though I might have had less cause than you have . . . .” 

The touches of humor help us to see the speaker as our equal, or even our superior when it comes to suffering; he might be tougher and more aware of himself than we are toward ourselves—and someone in more dire straits than our own. If so, that strength was born partly in his ability to see funny traces within his isolation and suffering.  

That story is as good as the poem Stick Up artist. 

When we unconsciously set up escapes routes, it's really a form of wishful thinking. 

Mine is, if I ever find myself on Death Row, I can start smoking again. I hope I'm not unconsciously setting up my future (or it's ending)

PA, Once in a great while, I miss tobacco too.  But rumor has it that prison can be . . . inconvenient. Noisy. Unclean. Claustrophobic.




Jun 8, 2012

Theodore Roethke, "The Geranium"


OK, OK, you literalists, it's not a geranium . . . 
http://gawow.com/roethke/poems/220.html

I’ve delayed posting Theodore Roethke’s “The Geranium” because it’s a downer. Also, I have some reservations or questions about the poem. I can imagine some readers’ criticizing it as self-indulgent or maudlin (just as I can imagine some readers' relating completely to the speaker's loneliness). I wonder if the turn to the housekeeper at the end is too sudden or too extreme. I'll have more questions in a minute, but for whatever reason, the poem has stuck with me for decades, maybe because its confession seems honest and convincing:

The Geranium
When I put her out, once, by the garbage pail,
She looked so limp and bedraggled,
So foolish and trusting, like a sick poodle,
Or a wizened aster in late September,
I brought her back in again
For a new routine--
Vitamins, water, and whatever
Sustenance seemed sensible
At the time: she'd lived
So long on gin, bobbie pins, half-smoked cigars, dead beer,
Her shriveled petals falling
On the faded carpet, the stale
Steak grease stuck to her fuzzy leaves.
(Dried-out, she creaked like a tulip.)

The things she endured!--

The dumb dames shrieking half the night

Or the two of us, alone, both seedy,

Me breathing booze at her,

She leaning out of her pot toward the window.

Near the end, she seemed almost to hear me--

And that was scary--

So when that snuffling cretin of a maid

Threw her, pot and all, into the trash-can,

I said nothing.

But I sacked the presumptuous hag the next week,

I was that lonely.

Shapes of a Woman
Of course I have some questions. Do you hear a touch of dark humor in the poem? If nothing else, isn't there lightness in the very fact of Roethke’s presenting the geranium as a woman—a woman who leans her head out the window to escape the speaker’s boozy breath? In a movie, that would be funny.



The Loneliness of Right Field
The best humor has substance. There’s no doubting the poem has substance, but isn’t there also in some of the details an undercurrent of comedy? And doesn’t it work against any tendency the poem might have toward falling too emotionally into a Roethke abyss?
Inspecting for Hags and Cretins
In the poem's language, I wonder about 




"presumptuous" in the penultimate line. I think that I think it's unnecessary, intrusive and awkward. I hear it disrupting the line’s rhythm, but even more so it seems like dead weight in the content. The speaker is calling the maid a cretin and a hag, which seem like plenty of insult on their own. The many-syllabled “presumptuous” slows, overburdens, fattens and softens the bullets fired in “cretin” and “hag.”  (I know, I know, a proper scholar would have said "multisyllabic"). 

I can hear an argument saying “presumptuous” turns the humor back on the speaker. It’s a ponderous word from a verbalist, and many times a verbalist makes a fool of himself by being absurdly, ponderously verbal. 

That opens the door to hearing “cretin” and “hag” as self-mockery too. A man of  words (silent, not spoken words, but many of them) is labeling a laborer in terms that might have little meaning to her. Her world is work, action, behavior, tossing out what’s dead and what stinks. She might take exception if he called her "whoring bitch," but "cretin" and "hag"?  The speaker, by contrast, perhaps wallows a bit in his own anguish, over-thinking, over-verbaling and over-emoting with regard to it.
"In Full Bloom"? Are You Sure?
Even if he is overdoing it, it doesn't kill the legitimacy of his loneliness. Most of us have been where he is (more briefly and less intensely, one hopes), so we’re not likely to laugh off his extreme isolation. But at the same time we hear the author, if not the speaker, sensing that the dismissal of the maid might be too extreme, thus adding a hint, a wink of understanding of what’s reasonable and what crosses a line. Firing a housekeeper for tossing a rotten plant goes too far. The speaker’s action probably has a more dire impact on her than her moment of carelessness has on him.

It’s worth noting that this difference between an author and his speaker’s understanding of things was at the heart of my last post. I think Roethke shows more awareness of that difference than David Wagoner does in “To a Farmer . . .”.   In "The Geranium" the author-speaker disparity enriches the poem rather than confusing it. 

For those who especially like hearing works read aloud, here is Blue Mamie, presumably another lover of “The Geranium.” She reads it a bit too fast, I think, but her voice is good, and her presentation is clear and crisp:


Lovers' Lane