Nov 30, 2010

Humor Day: Chloe Michelle

What's all that flapping?

If you are not averse to rough language (do not play this in a public place), go on and treat yourself to three and half minutes of funny, original stuff:

YouTube - Italian/Brooklyn man asks me out

Young ChloeMichelle has some other clips at YouTube, but "Brooklyn Man" is decidedly her best material so far. Can Comedy Central be far away?

Nov 28, 2010

Yeats, "The Song of Wandering Aengus"

The Song of Wandering Aengus, by W.B. Yeats

"The Song of Wandering Aengus" is early Yeats and at least a bit on the sentimental side. But I liked it as an undergraduate when I was first getting to know Yeats, and I still find it appealing--the music of the language, the unabashed romanticism of the story and imagery. Also, at Kensington Metropark today, where it was sunny and 40 degrees, I had some luck with chickadees, tufted timice, and nuthatches; looking at the photos reminded me of the poem. Aengus can have his fish if I can have the birds.

If you want to earn an A, you'll need to compare the Yeats poem to Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," posted here November 12.

The Song of Wandering Aengus, by W.B. Yeats

Nov 26, 2010

Faces, Feet, Voices in the Crowd

Turkey and carb hangover? If these faces and the first three minutes of this video don't rouse you, see a doctor.

YouTube - Best Bluegrass Clog Dancing Video Ever Made

Yes, I think they've all appeared here before, but long ago.
And speaking of leftovers, I have no news, so here are two-day-old visitor comments from the November 24 post about Hopkins and hawks. It was a pleasant conversation, so why stop?
Blogger Jean Spitzer said...
I'm enamored of "miasma of insanities." Think I'll just enjoy that and come back later for more. Happy Thanksgiving!
November 24, 2010 5:35 PM
Blogger BANJO52 said...
Jean, thanks. I've gotta admit, I liked it too. Maybe there really are muses, though mine are certainly part time at best.
November 24, 2010 9:09 PM
Blogger Birdman said...
Graceful bird... a beauty.
November 25, 2010 2:05 PM
Blogger altadenahiker said...
"Miasma" is one of them thar words I had herd tell about, but never new the meaning thereov. Still don't. Happy Thanksgiving, Banjo. Thanks for all the good poetry.
November 25, 2010 2:45 PM
Blogger LD said...
Indeed holidays can be a challenge but they don't seem to be going anywhere so I might as well ride with the that falcon by the way!
November 25, 2010 6:35 PM
Blogger Jean Spitzer said...
Came back, listened to the cute kids, read the poem, read the Hopkins' biography on the poetry site. Fascinating: Victorian seeking the way through giving up most worldly pleasures. And then he dies from polluted water.
November 26, 2010 12:08 PM
Blogger Brenda's Arizona said...
Love the photo, Banjomyn. Your back yard? Are such big birds common in your neck of the woods? Hopkins alliteration is distracting? Almost enough to make you fall for it... and to expect it in every line of his poem. Is he longing to be a falcon? Putting cameras on the big birds backs - interesting. But it is easier to admire the bird's skill and grace from the ground, don't ya think? Happy leftovers in all the miasma of insanity!

AH, I was a little off on "miasma" too; looked it up before posting and it turned out I was close enough to keep it.

LD, I heard this piece of wisdom somewhere: You can do the holidays or let them do you. But such control is easier said than done?

Jean, thanks for the bio info on Hopkins. I knew he died from illness, but polluted water is new to me. He's one of my stars, mainly for several of his shorter poems like this one, but I know little about his life--a sad one, I suspect. I did learn recently that, although he was a Jesuit priest, he was "only" Catholic by conversion. Maybe he did nothing halfway?

Birdman and Brenda, the hawk in photo was in Florida, but I did have my second backyard hawk event two days ago, shortly after posting this. Once again, karma, or one of karma's cousins. I looked out and there s/he was, a Cooper's hawk, sitting on the bird bath. I tried to sneak to the camera, but was seen, so bye-bye, hawk.

So, Brenda, I can’t say hawks are common in the Detroit ‘burbs, but they do show up.

With Hopkins, alliteration and all kinds of play with sound are abundant, some would say excessive. So (Jean), in one more way, maybe Hopkins just isn’t a halfway kinda guy. Maybe he sets himself up for sneering from some 21st century readers, but I’d much rather have his kind of excess in richness of imagery and sound than the other extreme (speaking of minimalism, as we were two posts ago. Pierre, and PA, are you here today?).

AH, you have the worthy cause of pet rescue in your arsenal, but I have a zoom lens.

Nov 24, 2010

The Holidays with Hopkins' "The Windhover." Falcon video.

You'll enjoy today's poem more if you permit yourself the pleasure of this falcon on film.
Flying With The Birds on

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

The period from now to the end of the year is a miasma of insanities in America. Families and friends make themselves crazy with revisiting old group dynamics, thinking--no, believing--things will be different this time around. This of course puts enormous pressure on everyone who's wandering through old rooms, "hoping it might be so," as Hardy says about Christmas in "The Oxen."

I don't want to add any grim poems or other downers to this mix, at least for a few days. So here again is Gerard Manley Hopkins and perhaps his most famous poem, "The Windhover." I love the fact that its being a poem of ecstasy does not in any way make it a simple-minded poem. No, this is intelligent adult joy, though fairly sexless. Or is that debatable? And what does Hopkins mean by "buckle"?

Let's digest all that with the turkey, let's gash gold-vermillion, as o'er the fields we go, burping all the way (I'll blame the bird, you can blame Hopkins).

In case today's BanjoBrain has been exhausting, here again are my recently discovered matinee idols for a pick-us-up:

YouTube - The Collins Kids - Dance & Sing

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


Nov 19, 2010

ROBERT MOSKOWITZ, artist, Hard Ball III, 1993

I went to the Detroit Insitute of Arts yesterday, always a pleasant place for lunch and a stroll. But for the third time, one painting, more or less life-sized, has seized me and won't let go.

Is it just me, or is Robert Moskowitz's "Hard Ball III" especially weird and oddly effective? It seems simple, but I don't think it is.

I'm a baseball fan--lukewarm, but a fan. Also, I can fake enough understanding of art to mention Moskowitz's play with depth perception, the smudged background strokes, the hyper drama of this perspective (might it be considered a cheap shot or gimmick?), and I notice that the pitcher might not be in a baseball uniform, which is strange. I can allude dumbly to the impact of red on my cones and rods, or the sentimental and sensory associations of a baseball and childhood--the hundreds of idle tossings of a ball into an oiled leather mitt, never mind the actual playing with buddies or tossing with The Dad or The Son and Daughter and students.

But none of that is adequate to explain why no other work at the D.I.A. (or any museum?), not even the nekkid women, makes my head whirl on its axis the way this one has.

Am I trying to duck from the pitch? If so, how did Moskowitz achieve that much realism in a painting that's so hyper-realistic it transcends realism?

I just learned that Moskowitz, now 75, is a respected though under-recognized hybrid between minimalism and abstract expressionism, and "Hard Ball III" makes sense in that context as well.

Yes, that's all fine and good, but none of it explains the impact this picture has for me. Can anybody help? Some regulars here know their art. Is this picture any good? Is it unusually inventive? Is it outside the box, the way its ball almost is? Does it illustrate the mind and talent of a quasi-obscure genius? Is it a psychological, neurological sneak-attack?

Or does it all amount to just a quirky connection between my brain and those shapes? If so, is that what all artists, poets, musicians, and clog-dancers are after, just some quirky connection, which just might bowl over or decapitate some innocent stroller?

I suppose I shouldn't have to ask. Emily Dickinson said, famously, "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. . . . Is there any other way?"


Nov 17, 2010

Charles Simic, "The Melon." Hay Bales.

The Melon by Charles Simic : Poetry Magazine [poem/magazine] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

"The Melon" by recent Poet Laureate, Charles Simic, is an autumn poem too--maybe less obviously so than Frost the other day, but no less definitely. Without lines 5-6, it might be just another domestic nicety, another trendy adoration of fruit and hearth. HoHum.

But those lines 5-6 completely re-cast and amplify the rest of the poem into a remembrance and a study in psychology. Once again, the devil's in the details, especially the shrewd selection and placement of them.

I don't mean to ignore the shift to first person point of view in the second stanza. That's important too, and I think it's a fascinating strategy by Simic: withhold information about the speaker's connection to this family for the first half of the poem. Then make them "we" and "I." Maybe it's manipulative, but I think it works.

There's still a question about how much understatement a poem can get away with. Do you think "The Melon" is just too emotionless and flat or do its strengths compensate for any lack of overt emotion and intensity?

The Melon by Charles Simic : Poetry Magazine [poem/magazine] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

And here, appropos of very little, is a very short video that ought to lighten the mood:

YouTube - guy-hay-bails-himself.wmv


Nov 14, 2010

Robert Frost, "After Apple Picking." November Continues.

After Apple Picking by Robert Frost : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

Here’s a classic, as well as a quiet Sunday evening and November poem (or literally, October, I suppose). In the language of our time, we might also see it as metaphorical talk about retirement in addition to the approach of old age and death. The speaker's long, careful work has been finished—it had to be, for more would be all “ache” and might supplant the somber, dignified sense of completion he feels.

When a poem seems as natural, approachable and likable as the Tufted Titmouse to the left, we need to ask how it got that way. We need to make a conscious effort to notice any parts or features we especially like. So if you feel like it, please comment on any images, phrasings or ideas you find striking or unusually appealing.

The following three and half lines ring true for me in describing a kind of work that matters to the speaker, maybe a career as opposed to a job.

. . . I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

Is it far-fetched or corny to see those lines as an apt analogy to a teaching career? If students are not delicate apples who (think they) will be tossed onto the cider heap of inferiority if teachers mishandle them, then I have badly misconstrued much of the enterprise.

Mind you, the delicate fruit doesn't have to be students. How about photographs or other works of art, pieces of writing, an attorney's clients, a doctor's patients, a carpenter's pieces, a mechanic's restored machines, one's own children, old or current loves? Haven't most of us carried one or another kind of fruit and felt forced to be careful with it? Maybe this is my favorite idea in the poem: the effort was worth it, but from it we can feel overtired, even though it's the harvest we desired.

As a final note, here is Frost sounding entirely casual and conversational again, for example: "and not let fall." There must be other, but more formal ways to say that, but Frost wants to sound as if he's chatting over a New England stone fence. So we need to notice the poem's rhyme and meter (on a third reading, if not the first). Monday's assignment, therefore, is a five-page paper on the ways Frost's poetic devices affect the poem as a whole, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Of course, your choosing to accept the mission doesn't mean I'm going to read it . . . .

If you focus on the bad and the ugly, you might wonder, with me, whether the woodchuck at the end is just a too-folksy way to avoid saying "death." I'm not being coy; my jury really is still out, has been for decades, on a whole host of things.


Nov 12, 2010

November and Keats' "La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad"

left: earth's first modest swan

La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad by John Keats : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

Every November, two lines from Keats find their way into my consciousness: “The sedge has withered from the lake/And no birds sing.”

Like “The Eve of St. Agnes,” Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” (“The Beautiful Lady without Pity”) is probably easy to mock in our time. On one level, it’s surely a silly soap opera that leans on overly familiar medieval tropes and plot, and some of the variations in meter sound simply awkward.

However, I give Keats credit for replacing the vision of the lady with images of pale warriors; I find genuine mystery there, mostly concerning the blurred boundary between the sleeping or visionary world and the waking one. I hear a larger question: “Where am I, and how did I get here? How many of my choices had anything to do with rational, conscious decision-making?”

As for music or meter, I hope someone else hears and loves as I do the shift from traditional ballad meter (alternating iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter lines, plus a rhyme scheme of abxb). Most of Keats' stanzas here have final lines with two stresses rather than the traditional three. And when we do get three, they arrive as a trio of beats on a bass drum—consecutive hard stresses in “cold hill’s side” and even more so in “no birds sing.”

I’m tempted to say the whole poem is embodied in those final three words and the stresses upon them. Wherever he is, and we are, it’s hard, it’s cold, it’s bare. So is November; so are some—or many—of the loveliest humans. And so is the visionary world when it vanishes and returns to cold consciousness, awake and rational, but dazed, chilled, and alone.

Now hie thee thither into yon pearly weekend, and may'st thou never again feel mid-November in thy bones without hearing, "The sedge has withered from the lake/And no birds sing."


Nov 10, 2010

Football Outside the Box, Donald Hall's "Olives"

Speaking of military strategy (sort of, on Nov. 8) and flanks and such, in case you haven’t seen this clip of a middle school football trick play, give yourself 30 seconds of pleasure to witness something outside the box:

YouTube - Driscoll Middle School Trick Play

"Back in the day," as the young like to say . . . . My daughter once asked, seriously, “Daddy, were there cars when you were little?” Back in the day, we had a tricky football play called The Swinging Gate.

Our center, Hoss, approaches the ball and, all alone, faces the other team’s defense, while the rest of our team pretends to be confused and lines up, raggedy, but in formation, maybe 15 yards east of Hoss and the ball. The line we make is something like a gate.

Our guys look around and holler inventive stuff like,"Hey, where's Hoss? Yo, who killed, Hoss?" or "Dude, where's the ball?"

At the same time, Hoss bellows at us, "Over here, you morons!" (He’s required to insult us in the name of plot, plausibility, and creativity).

Suddenly Hoss picks up the ball and tosses it over to our speed back, Spunky Runnymede, who, theoretically, has the whole team blocking for him. We've melded into one line that swings like a gate toward the center of the field, shielding ol’ Spunk all the way to glory, against little or no defense from the stupefied bad guys, who are already screaming at the refs, demanding a penalty. Surely something here is illegal. Or immoral. What a bunch of candies.

It worked one time for maybe 30 yards. Apparently the bad guys on defense were faster than our halfback. Story of our lives.

Of course, we could never run it a second time because it had been scouted. Word got out that what we lacked in size and speed, we made up for with Sneaky Spunky. But we lost that game; we were 5 – 5 that year, and we’ve been about 5 – 5 at life.

Somewhere in there is a profound moral, but I’m damned if I can find it.

Donald Hall might have a moral about football, or at least a poem in a tone that's vaguely like mine. Sounds as if Mr. Hall knew Spunky and did not, perhaps, admire him.

Olives by Donald Hall : Poetry Magazine [poem/magazine] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.


Nov 8, 2010

Gettysburg and "After the Wilderness" by Andrew Hudgins

I write this from a hotel in Gettysburg, a picturesque, appealing Pennsylvania town if ever there was one.

If Vonnegut is right when he says writing an anti-war novel is like writing an anti-glacier book, can you write an anti-war poem? I suspect the devil is in the details, as always. I'd think that coming at it from a somewhat new, less predictable angle would be important. And understatement, restraint--we keep having loud protests in the same way we keep having wars, so maybe we should consider more muted statements and images, with no gilded abstractions about glory or courage or the tragedy of it all. Just paint me a picture I wouldn't have thought of myself, yet one that captures something important about the subject.

Look what I found on my first click at Poetry Foundation, as I looked for a poem about friendship to go with the breaking bread photo. Sometimes there's a big old spooky presence out there.

After the Wilderness by Andrew Hudgins : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

In sounding partisan about the Confederacy's dubious cause, Hudgins last line bothers me, and I wonder if he wants us bothered, stirred. I wonder if he's directing us to think of all the ways this is not about individuals, not causes.


Lovers' Lane