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Month: May 2008

Edmond Jabes

Edmond Jabes

Edmond Jabes. Photo by Bracha L. Ettinger.
Edmond Jabes. Photo by Bracha L. Ettinger.

I discovered the amazing poetry of Edmond Jabes back in the 80s, thanks to the foundational Random House Anthology of 20th Century French Poetry. Foundational for me, at least. His poetry stunned me with its wisdom, silence, profound silences, and made me think of other poets of the unsaid like Beckett, Camus, Hemingway, Celan and Blanchot. The power of the sun and the desert to create moments beyond language was his unique gift. His attempt to express those moments. The impossibility of using words to emote silence. The impossibility of remembering or forgetting the terrible, the extremes of grief beyond endurance. The impossibility of knowing or forgetting or naming his god. The impossibility of not doing so.

Jabes was a veritible UN of the mind. Jewish, Italian, born in Egypt, he fled to France in 1956 during the Suez crisis. Wrote most of his poetry in French. I know his work … Click to continue . . .

The Idea of Order is Key

The Idea of Order is Key

Wallace Stevens
Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens is probably my favorite English language poet. His elegance, eloquence, and wordsmithiness shine above all others for me. He had wit and whimsy, along with a deep sadness and melancholy coursing through his poetry. A sometimes strange combination that worked, that merged sound and sense better than any other poet in English — to my mind.

The Magritte of poets, Stevens worked for an insurance company, the Hartford, rising eventually to VP. Most, if not all of his coworkers knew nothing of his genius for poetry until after his death.

More on the 92Y series, here, with a response by Helen Vendler. An earlier recording is presented below.

Wallace Stevens reads some of his poetry, recorded in 1951.

Akhmatova

Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova, by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. 1922.
Anna Akhmatova, by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. 1922.

 I love the sound of Russian names. And words in general in Russian. Can’t speak a word of it. But when I hear it, I love the sound. The sound fascinated Rilke as well. I think he wanted to be Russian, but didn’t really know how to work that. It’s more than interesting to ponder if Tsvetaeva and Rilke had a love child, and if that child grew up to be a poet, merging the sounds of German and Russian, the lyrical beauty of his or her parents.

Akhmatova’s poetry is direct, often startling, original. She lived through tumultuous and dangerous times, to put it mildly. Her poetry reflects those times and that danger. She is sometimes considered under the umbrella of the Acmeists, a Russian artistic movement that started in 1910, roughly. The movement bears some resemblance to Imagism. Famous poets under that umbrella (along with Akhmatova) were Boris Pasternak and … Click to continue . . .

More Questions

More Questions

What is sacred? Knowing that the sacred has changed across time and space, knowing that it will change again and again and again, how do we deal with the quandary of holding certain things above the fray, versus switching the sacred as new evidence appears? Or as empires collapse?

Detail of the Acropolis. By Aaron Logan. 2004
Detail of the Acropolis. By Aaron Logan. 2004

 There is a quandary. Rather, one of a multitude of quandaries. That we should cling to the sacred despite change, or the accumulated wisdom of centuries, or hold nothing above the fray. In other words, live in the moment, for the moment, with no hierarchies of the sacred, or remain locked in those hierarchies.

Perhaps the quandary is overstated. Most of us do not deal in absolutes. Most of us do not live either/or lives, black and white lives, manichean lives. Most of us do nuance, degrees, levels. We can handle complexity and uncertainty. Perhaps better now than before the advent of various … Click to continue . . .

The Question

The Question

Humans have two choices. Well, we actually have millions of choices, but for the purpose of this post, we have two.

Believe in a divinity that guides our lives and controls the universe, or in a universe that guides itself, leaving us basically on our own.

Strike that. There may just be a third choice in there somewhere. Yes. At least for the purpose of this post. The belief in a divine entity that no organized religion has yet described, defined, or even remotely gotten close to. Remember, there have been thousands of organized religions throughout the centuries, and thousands of deities on display. Putting them side by side for a moment, letting them hash out their differences across time and space, might just bring us the world’s greatest jam session. Or, the mother of all headaches. Devotees would root for their own, passionately, obstinately, vigorously. Perhaps more than just vigorously.

To me, the fact that there haveClick to continue . . .

On the Edge of Endurance

On the Edge of Endurance

 

Górecki‘s Symphony #3

Like Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Górecki‘s Symphony No. 3 brings us to the extreme of grief, holds us there, locks us in that eternal space, with no escape, no way out, except through a kind of mysterium of hope. A mystery of overcoming something no one can overcome.

In this piece, motherhood is the focus, extreme suffering is the focus, cruelty is the plague. The Holocaust is a driving force for one of the movements, and it drives the vocalist to express something that can’t be expressed outside of music.

Theodor Adorno once said that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” But that didn’t stop Paul Celan, whose Deathfugue may be the single greatest poetic expression of unendurable grief ever written.

I feel extreme sadness for anyone who can’t see what war and empire really are, who benefits from that monstrous, ugly couple, who pays for it, who profits from … Click to continue . . .

Six Degrees of Symbolism

Six Degrees of Symbolism

John Wayne in Rio Bravo
John Wayne in Rio Bravo

 

Watched Rio Bravo the other night. You remember. The story that just wouldn’t die for Howard Hawks. Good film, made three times. Rio Bravo; El Dorado; and Rio Lobo. Added back story each time. Complications. As John Wayne aged, the younger characters gained more importance. From Ricky Nelson, to James Caan, to Christopher Mitchum, son of Robert, who starred in the second film. The cast grew over time, and the core story of The Exchange was embellished, nearly hidden.

Why bring Poe into all of this? Well, because James Caan’s character recites part of Poe’s poem. Possibly because he thinks of Wayne’s character as the person in the poem:

Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe

 

Gaily bedight,
   A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,   
   Had journeyed long,   
   Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

 

   But he grew old—
   This knight so bold—   
And o’er his heart a shadow—   
   Fell as he found
   No
Click to continue . . .
The Script, Context, and Lit Crit

The Script, Context, and Lit Crit

El Greco's View of Toledo. 1596-1600. The Met, NYC.
El Greco’s View of Toledo. 1596-1600. The Met, NYC.

Context is everything and nothing. But mostly always everything when we think. Its importance is critical, when it comes to utilizing the past as prologue, or avoiding that entirely. Without examining context, in full, rationally, holistically, we will stumble about in the dark, without a view of anything. We will fail to see crossroads and convergences. We will fail to see crosscurrents and cross purposes. We will fail.

When studying literature, I like to concentrate on aesthetics, on expressive properties, on the quality of prose. I like to study the characters, their stories and interaction. The dynamics on display. How it all comes together. I prefer that to digging into political subtext and subjective analyses of times we know little about. Unless, of course, we do. Unless we really do know about a time and place, and how that impacts the writer, artist, musician, etc. Because it often adds a certain … Click to continue . . .