Wednesday, December 31
As long as we can believe anything
we believe in measure
we do it with the first breath we take
and the first sound we make
it is in each word we learn
and in each of them it means
what will come again and when
it is there in meal and in moon
and in meaning it is the meaning
it is the firmament and the furrow
turning at the end of the field
and the verse turning with its breath
it is in memory that keeps telling us
some of the old story about us.
-- W.S. Merwin
The Poetic 'Shadow' of Memory, Mortality (Merwin on NPR)
Copper Canyon Press is offering this poem as a free broadside to download
Thursday, December 25
In the december graveyard blossom moved
against remembering stone, softer than snow.
Along the christmas river we surprised
buds in the act of daring, sweet as toffee;
fields lay stretched and steaming in the sun,
and smoke was neat as feathers on the sky.
But discandying breath was only held. We felt
the afternoon turn over in its sleep
restless before it woke and blew us elsewhere
to practice separation like a scale
over and over until we run foolish,
to hoard and stroke the past till Now is gone,
to forget the past is now or not at all.
-- P.J. Kavanagh
Saturday, December 20
Copernicus would have named
constellations after its
Pinball on the tongue,
like the anticipatory chatter
in a theatre.
a high octave chill
in fishnet tights,
All lips and no shoulders.
Sweet pretending to be brut,
a very brigand of a wine.
-- Michael Henry
Saturday, December 13
. . .the meteorological processes taking place in the clouds, the formation and dissolution of the mist with different directions of the wind, the play of colors, the generation of hail and rolling thunder are described with individual plasticity. Also many questions are posed which our present discipline of physics knows how to formulate in scientific terminology but which it cannot solve sufficiently.
-- Alexander von Humboldt on the 37th chapter of Book of Job, in Kosmos III
Alexander von Humboldt
Job chapter 37
Tuesday, December 9
But outside, everything is immeasurable. And when the level rises outside, it also rises in you, not in the vessels that are partially controlled by you, or in the phlegm of your most unimpressionable organs: but it grows in the capillary veins, drawn upward into the furthermost branches of your infinitely ramified existence. This is where it rises, where it overflows from you, higher than your respiration, and, as a final resort, you take refuge, as though on the tip of your breath. Ah! where, where next? Your heart banishes you from yourself, your heart pursues you, and you are already almost beside yourself, and you can't stand it any longer. Like a beetle that has been stepped on, you flow from yourself, and your lack of hardness or elasticity means nothing any more.
Oh night without objects. Oh window muffled on the outside, oh, doors carefully closed; customs that have come down from times long past, transmitted, verified, never entirely understood. Oh silence in the stair-well, silence in the adjoining rooms, silence up there, on the ceiling. Oh mother, oh one and only you, who faced all this silence, when I was a child.
-- R.M. Rilke Les Cahiers de Malte Laurids Brigge
Tr. Maria Jolas
Sunday, November 30
I have taken to walking through this landscape with a mental map that demands completion; the blanks are the outline of what I still need to know. In order to see our connection to the rest of the world, we have to know what lies between, and then look further, beyond the horizon. If there is a hill in front of us, we must look from its top. All of these imperatives would be frightening if they came from outside; coming from within, the dictatorship of geography becomes a means of self-knowledge of not only who we are but where we belong.
-- Ron Matous "Among These Mountains" Parabola 18:2
Friday, November 28
At the head, my grandfather,
the sharp protrusions of his elbows
taking too much room; my brother
kicking the table leg, as if
a faster beat could speed up time;
my mother, wan-faced from her vigil
over pots; grandma muttering
rude asides under her breath;
and the space beside me
where my father
used to sit,
close to the kitchen door, so that he
could lean far back in his chair
to fit us in his camera's frame.
All of us, the plates, cups, cornbread,
turkey steeped in all its trimmings,
even the dog, held upright, squirming
had its place. All that he loved,
compressed. He held that camera
like a sleeping child;
it gained weight in his palm, became
a measure of what one man's life
and then let fall. The years
slide under us, but this day hangs
frozen: the table stacked with food,
our smiles opening
toward him like hands.
-- Ayelet Amittay
Tuesday, November 25
Let my dream while I'm wide-awake
loose. Let me be drowned, baptized,
in the light given me. Day comes around,
night, fall, winter, spring,
summer. Leaves overhead, underfoot.
Waves arrive, buffets from friends
offended, enemies. Let it all come:
this is my way, this is the canoe I'm in.
-- William Stafford
Saturday, November 8
On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree
not for the fruit
the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted
I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time
with the sun already
and the water
touching its roots
in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing
one by one
over its leaves
-- W.S. Merwin Migration
Posted by rb at 11/08/2008
Friday, October 31
'. . . But I'll tell you, Luśnia — here Wawera lowered his voice as if about to part with a secret — 'that there is also another thing that keeps me here. That it exists, I am sure, I can feel it deep in my breast. I just can't express it, can't put a name to it. But it's here, that thing, that strange reason.'
Luśnia was now looking at his friend with eyes wide open, his curiosity stirred.
'You mean now that it's not just this yearning-like for the trains?'
'No, no, that's something else. It's something that connects in me with that yearning but it exists beyond me, and without me, out of itself.'
'What's that, Wawera?'
'Shush. It's a secret. The secret of the dead run.'
They both fell silent, suddenly struck by a strange intangible fear, their eyes following the line into the already darkening mouth of the gully. In that bottomless silence of an August evening quiet but clear rustlings and murmurings began to waft towards them from the tracks: muffled lisps, fearful whispers, hollow knocks and clangs . . .
'Hear that?' the lineman broke the silence. 'Track talk . . .'
'Sure they often do of a summer evening. They shrink from the cold and so they clang.'
'Track talk,' repeated Wawera, ignoring the blacksmith's explanation. 'They talk in the evening, after the day's toil.'
'Track talk . . .' Luśnia echoed.
'Oh aye,' continued the lineman dreamily. 'Do you think they don't live like we humans do, like animals or trees?'
The blacksmith glanced at him quickly, surprised by the question.
'They do, Luśnia. They do. But they live their own lives, different to all the other creatures.'
That was a little too much for Luśnia's imagination. He looked at Wawera as at someone deranged, shook his head, spat from the corner of his mouth and moved a little to the right.
'And this line, do you think it doesn't live?' Wawera pressed on, goaded by Luśnia's passive resistance. 'And this gully, this station with the signal-box, this whole run?'
'It's a dead run,' dropped in Luśnia in a half-voice.
-- Stefan Grabiński "The Dead Run" (from In Sarah's House)
Tr. Wiesek Powaga
Posted by rb at 10/31/2008
Thursday, October 23
Bottomless water, heart's glass.
Each year the autumn comes that was not supposed to be
Back in the garden without language,
Each year, dead leaves like words
falling about our shoulders,
Each year, same words, same flash and gold guise.
So be it. The Angel of the Serpent That Never Arrives
Never arrives, the gates stay shut
under a shine and a timelessness.
-- Charles Wright, lines from "Via Negativa"
Posted by rb at 10/23/2008
Monday, October 20
Let us begin with what we now call water. We see it, as we suppose, solidifying into stones and earth, and again dissolving and evaporating into wind and air; air by combustion becomes fire, and fire in turn when extinguished and condenses takes the form of air again; air contracts and condenses into cloud and mist, and these when still more closely compacted become running water, which again turns into earth and stones. There is in fact a process of cyclical transformation.
-- Plato Timaeus and Critias
Tr. Henry Desmond Pritchard Lee
Timaeus and Critias
Posted by rb at 10/20/2008
Friday, October 10
Return me, oh sun,
to my wild destiny,
rain of the ancient wood
bring me back the aroma and the swords
that fall from the sky,
the solitary peace of pasture and rock,
the damp at the river-margins,
the smell of the larch tree,
the wind alive like a heart
beating in the crowded reslessness
of the towering araucaria.
Earth, give me back your pure gifts,
the towers of silence which rose
from the solemnity of their roots.
I want to go back to being what I have not been,
and learn to go back from such deeps
that amongst all natural things
I could live or not live; it does not matter
to be one stone more, the dark stone,
the pure stone which the river bears away.
-- Pablo Neruda
Posted by rb at 10/10/2008
Tuesday, October 7
Because the digging of the swimming hole was moving so fast and changes would be expensive, Maggie concentrated on shaping the water while I designed the Snail Mound. I had to give it this common name in order to communicate an unambiguous shape to Hastings' men, and to distinguish it from other shapes on which I would soon be working. The "Snail" drawings and models showed a double-curved ascent, two paths that only meet at the top and that lie at an angle.
In my mind were several different ideas . . . I thought of the most important shape behind life, the double helix of DNA. This has two spirals of ascent and they reminded me in turn of a utopian design of 1919 that had a diminishing spiral: Tatlin's tower. A wonderful quality of this is the way it illustrates the dance of history's surprising dialectic; it often proceeds in a counter rhythm, as two steps forward one step back, a progress in fits and starts, an ascent that has descent built into it. Another idea in the back of my mind was the 16th-century spiral stairway at Chambord which the French king, François I, had designed so that if he saw an unwelcome guest coming up one way, he could escape down the other. I would not understand the beauty of this until much later, when the mound was used in a way I had not foreseen: during a memorial service it separated those going up with flowers from those coming down empty handed.
-- Charles Jencks The Garden of Cosmic Speculation
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation
Composer Michael Gandolfi on The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (interviewed by conductor Robert Spano)
Posted by rb at 10/07/2008
Tuesday, September 30
The everlasting universe of Things
Flows through the Mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom—
Now lending splendour, where from secret springs
The source of human thought its tribute brings
Of waters,—with a sound but half its own,
Such as a feeble brook will oft assume
In the wild woods, among the Mountains lone,
Where waterfalls around it leap for ever,
Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river
Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, lines from "Mont Blanc"
Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni
Every scheme for the analysis of nature has to face these two facts, change and endurance. There is yet a third fact to be placed by it, eternality, I will call it. The mountain endures. But when after ages it has been worn away, it has gone. If a replica arises, it is yet a new mountain. A colour is eternal. It haunts time like a spirit. It comes and it goes. But where it comes, it is the same colour. It neither survives nor does it live. It appears when it is wanted. The mountain has to time and space a different relation from that which colour has.
-- Alfred North Whitehead Science and the Modern World
Posted by rb at 9/30/2008
Monday, September 15
Finding a gentleness in my pictures, that's about the highest compliment I've had. If my pictures help some people to see things in a certain way, it's probably to look at serious things non-seriously. Everything's serious. Everything's not serious.
-- Elliott Erwitt Elliott Erwitt
Posted by rb at 9/15/2008
Friday, September 12
Monday, September 8
All our evenings we have been looking at the death of candles:
we use and are used up. What is the using for?
Light, light . . . how, why, should there be light? And what is it? What is it for?
It travels a hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second, exists only as it travels.
Could it exist if it had nowhere to travel to? Could we? Do we?
--Peyton Houston XVI Complex Songs at the Borders of Silence
Posted by rb at 9/08/2008
Friday, September 5
Some soldier stopped a moment and spoke. "It's indescribably rich in the dark, isn't it?" Without waiting for an answer he continued, a little unlike a soldier. "This soft mist, the dark outlines of the boats in the convoy make it seem as if the long strong limbs of my woman are what cause the rhythmic heaving of this bloody ship. And the wind is like her hair in my face. And the foam and blue-green glints of light are like her fleeting expressions of smile and seduction. Can you see that faint red gleam on the water like flesh in the moonlight is red from your memory of flesh?"
I could not, so I laid his faulty vision to the hot red blood of him who spoke. He must have been full of the dreams the endless ocean engenders to talk so freely and so expressively of his feelings, instead of using the vulgar language we usually use to hide the tenderness of our passion. I had been dreaming of love myself, I guess, though you were not consciously in my thoughts. The night was too misty, mysterious to be one of yours. It is the clear, sparkling jeweled nights and days that are yours; those times when mystery is so cunningly hidden in the apparent clarity, it is more absolute, more unresolved than any other.
-- Minor White, letter to Isabel Kane, July-August 1943
Posted by rb at 9/05/2008
Thursday, September 4
Wednesday, September 3
Photography is a marked art, a spectacle of light marks. A photograph is a touch from the distance that has its own unforeseen time. In photographs nature thinks with light, sometimes almost invisibly, on the threshold of perception. Science seeks the meanings and classifications of things, whereas photographic art examines the limits of its own seeing.
At the junction of these two kinds of vision there operates a world with its own laws, where new and fantastical creatures have a fleeting existence. Gaze seeks out the blind spot of meaning, from which it examines the world through the eyes of a poet. [more]
-- Harri Laakso Grey Matters (Aftercrop)
Posted by rb at 9/03/2008
Tuesday, September 2
If I sit at the piano and play that low C, you may think you're hearing only that one tone—a dark, rich bass note—but you're not; you are simultaneously hearing a whole series of higher tones that are sounding at the same time. These are arranged in an order preordained by nature and ruled by universal physical laws . . . All these upper notes of which you may be unaware result from a phenomenon of nature whereby any sound-producing source, or I should say "pitch-producing source," such as that piano string, vibrates not only as the whole string, in all its whatever-inch glory, sounding that low C, but also in fractional segments of that string—each vibrating separately. It's as though the string were infinitely divisible, into two halves, into three thirds, four quarters, and so on. And the smaller those segments are, the faster they vibrate, producing higher and higher frequencies and therefore higher and higher tones—OVERtones. And these overtones, or harmonics, as they're also called, are all sounding together with the fundamental sound of the full string. This is the basic principle by which the entire harmonic series is generated, starting on any fundamental tone . . . Any note I strike will contain its own series of overtones, but the lower the note I strike, the more abundantly audible will be its harmonic series, which accounts in part for the comparative richness of that low C.
-- Leonard Bernstein The Unanswered Question
Posted by rb at 9/02/2008
Monday, September 1
As if Atlantis could haul the past up into the sky, the weightless void of a there that has no here, and dump it, disassociated and infinite, bursts of event, lost loves, revolutions, matter matter, murmur murmur, all the hoodlum detritus of our hopes, dreams, triumphs, and defeats, construed into the frozen region. The screen's flatness, the world's flatness. Loss of depth of field, of vision, of the tactile variety of hair, skin, limb, the disembodied wilderness in which we now live; metaphor of the cycle expunged, surface lifted up so as to exclude periphery and vanishing point, whatever illusions of inclusion we had invented along the way. A bar. Television on, sound on, music on, talk, eye contact, orders, moneys exchanging hands, things on a wall, scents. How much is enough? All on the same plane, on the horizontal field that is not horizontal at all but flat, upright and flat. This is the space on which the literal basks.
-- Ann Lauterbach The Night Sky
Posted by rb at 9/01/2008
Friday, August 29
A man has two conditions: in this world and in the world beyond. But there is also a twilight juncture: the condition of sleep (or dream, svapna). In this twilight juncture, one sees both of the other conditions, this world and the other world . . . When someone falls asleep, he takes the stuff of the entire world and he himself takes it apart, and he himself builds it up, and by his own bright light he dreams . . . There are no chariots there, no harnessings, no roads; but he emits chariots, harnessings, and roads. There are no joys, happinesses, or delights there; but he emits joys, happinesses, and delights. There are no ponds, lotus-pools, or flowing streams there, but he emits ponds, lotus-pools, and flowing streams. For he is the Maker (Kartr).
-- Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad, quoted in Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty
Tr. Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty
Posted by rb at 8/29/2008
Sunday, August 24
The world's body is not our body,
although we'd have it so.
Our body's not infinite, although
This afternoon, under the underwater slant-shine
Of sunlight and cloud shadow,
It almost seems that way in the wind,
a wind that comes
From a world away with its sweet breath and its tart tongue
And casts us loose, like a cloud,
Heaven-ravaged, blue pocket, small change for the hand.
I used to think the power of words was inexhaustible,
That how we said the world
was how it was, and how it would be.
I used to imagine that word-sway and word-thunder
Would silence the Silence and all that,
That words were the Word,
That language could lead us inexplicably to grace,
As though it were geographical.
I used to think these things when I was young.
I still do.
Some poems exist still on the other side of our lives,
And shine out,
but we'll never see them.
They are unutterable, in a language without an alphabet.
Unseen. World-long. Bone music.
Too bad. We'd know them by heart
if we could summer them out in our wounds.
Too bad. Listening hard.
Clouds, of course, are everywhere, and blue sky in between.
Blue sky. Then what comes after the blue . . .
Insubstantial as smoke, our words
Drum down like fingertips across the page,
leaving no smudge or mark.
Unlike our purloined selves, they will not rise from the dead.
Unlike our whimpers and prayers, they lie low and disappear.
This word, that word, all fall down.
How far from heaven the stars are,
how far the heart from the page.
We don't know what counts—
It's as simple as that, isn't it,
we just don't know what counts . . .
These are the four lessons I have learned,
One from Martha Graham,
three others from here and there—
Walk as though you'd been given one brown eye and one blue,
Think as though you thought best with somebody else's brain,
Write as though you had in hand the last pencil on earth,
Pray as though you were praying with someone else's soul.
-- Charles Wright, lines from "Body and Soul" in A Short History of the Shadow
Posted by rb at 8/24/2008
Saturday, August 23
Thursday, August 21
I stand on my dune top watching a great wave coursing in from sea, and know that I am watching an illusion, that the distant water has not left its place in ocean to advance upon me, but only a force shaped in water, a bodiless pulse beat, a vibration . . . Somewhere in ocean, perhaps a thousand miles and more from this beach, the pulse beat of earth liberates a vibration, an ocean wave. Is the original force circular, I wonder? and do ocean waves ring out from the creative beat as they do on a quiet surface broken by a stone? Are there, perhaps, ocean circles so great and so intricate that they are unperceived? Once created, the wave or the arc of a wave begins its journey through the sea. Countless vibrations precede it, countless vibrations follow after. It approaches the continent, swings into the coast line, courses ashore, breaks, dissolves, is gone. The innermost waters it last inhabited flow back in marbly foam to become a body to another beat, and to be again flung down. So it goes night and day, and will go till the secret heart of earth strikes out its last slow beat and the last wave dissolves upon the last forsaken shore.
-- Henry Beston The Outermost House
Posted by rb at 8/21/2008
Wednesday, August 20
Nobody could reconstruct a nineteenth-century steamer from Turner's seascape. All he gives us is the impression of the dark hull, of the flag flying bravely from the mast—of a battle with the raging seas and threatening squalls. We almost feel the rush of the wind and the impact of the waves. We have no time to look for details. They are swallowed up by the dazzling light and the dark shadows of the storm cloud. I do not know whether a blizzard at sea really looks like this. But I do know that it is a storm of this awe-inspiring and overwhelming kind that we imagine when reading a romantic poem or listening to romantic music. In Turner, nature always reflects and expresses man's emotions. We feel small and overwhelmed in the face of the powers we cannot control, and are compelled to admire the artist who had nature's forces at his command.
-- E.H. Gombrich The Story of Art
J.M.W. Turner's Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth
Posted by rb at 8/20/2008
Tuesday, August 19
In my memory is an episode the leading figures of which are Frost and Stevens. I was told it by Stevens and I often play it over in my mind, like a short home movie, for the pleasure it gives me. The time is late at night and the place is Florida. Frost and Stevens, who are staying at the same resort hotel, have been out drinking at a bar somewhere along the beach. Tipsily, in perfect contentment, they are making their way back to the hotel on a boardwalk that runs a foot or so above the sand. They are holding fast to each other, and each is sure that it is he who is supporting his companion. Frost staggers, catches his heel on the edge of the boardwalk, and starts to fall. Stevens strengthens his hold on him, but in vain—over Frost goes, with Stevens on top of him. The two bulky old poets fall in a single knot onto the sand and start rolling over and over in the moonlight down the long slope of the beach to the edge of the sea.
-- Brendan Gill, on Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost, in Here at The New Yorker
Here at The New Yorker
Posted by rb at 8/19/2008
Monday, August 18
Friday, August 15
The drowning poet hours before he drowned
Had whirlpool eyes, salt at his wrists, and wore
A watery emphasis. The sea was aware
As flowers at the bedside of a wound
Of an imminent responsibility
And lay like a magnet beside him the blue day long
Ambiguous as a lung.
He watched the divers learn an element
Familiar as, to the musician, scales,
Where to swim is a progression of long vowels,
A communication never to be sought
being itself all searching: certain as pearls,
Simple as rocks in sun, a happiness
Bound up with happenings.
To drown was the perfection of technique,
The word containing its own sense, like Time;
And turning to the sea he entered it
As one might speak of poems in a poem
Or at the crisis in the sonata quote
Five-finger exercises: a compliment
to all accomplishment.
-- James Merrill
Posted by rb at 8/15/2008
Wednesday, August 13
Art's perpetually new beginning means that anything is possible and that there is an inexhaustible amount for artists to do. "[Our] capacities have never been measured," Thoreau writes in Walden, "nor are we to judge of what [one] can do by any precedents, so little has been tried . . . It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me."
-- Charles Bernstein A Poetics
Posted by rb at 8/13/2008
Monday, August 11
When, therefore, we say that the world is a compact of real things so like the unreal things of the imagination that they are indistinguishable from one another and when, by way of illustration, we cite, say, the blue sky, we can be sure that the thing cited is always something that, whether by thinking or feeling, has become a part of our vital experience of life, even though we are not aware of it. It is easy to suppose that few people realize on that occasion, which comes to all of us, when we look at the blue sky for the first time, that is to say: not merely see it, but look at it and experience it and for the first time have a sense that we live in the center of a physical poetry, a geography that would be intolerable except for the non-geography that exists there—few people realize that they are looking at the world of their own thoughts and the world of their own feelings. On that occasion, the blue sky is a particular of life that we have thought of often, even though unconsciously, and that we have felt intensely in those crystallizations of freshness that we no more remember than we remember this or that gust of wind in spring or autumn.
-- Wallace Stevens The Necessary Angel
Posted by rb at 8/11/2008
Friday, August 8
"I'll stop," thought Aschenbach. "Where could it be better than here?" With his hands clasped in his lap he let his eyes swim in the wideness of the sea, his gaze lose focus, blur, and grow vague in the misty immensity of space. His love of the ocean had profound sources: the hard-worked artist's longing for rest, his yearning to seek refuge from the thronging manifold shapes of his fancy in the bosom of the simple and vast; and another yearning, opposed to his art and perhaps for that very reason a lure, for the unorganized, the immeasurable, the eternal—in short, for nothingness. He whose preoccupation is with excellence longs fervently to find rest in perfection; and is not nothingness a form of perfection? As he sat there dreaming thus, deep, deep into the void, suddenly the margin line of the shore was cut by a human form.
-- Thomas Mann Death in Venice
Tr. H.T. Lowe-Porter
Posted by rb at 8/08/2008
Wednesday, August 6
One kind has to do with the temporal succession of events, as though the single point of the idea must be viewed in an added dimension as a straight line; in order to tell how a distinguished German author dies in Venice we must get him to Venice, keep him there, and supply a disease for him to die of. He will doubtless see many things, and think many things, on his journey—what things? We need another kind of relevance, having to do with association, symbol, metaphor, as well as with probable and realistic observation; while the distinguished author is in Venice it occurs to him, waking, that his situation is like that discussed in the Phaedrus, and dreaming, that his situation is like that of King Pentheus in The Bacchae of Euripides . . .
When Aschenbach dies, there by the shore, we are told that the weather was autumnal, the beach deserted and not even very clean; suddenly we are given this: "A camera on a tripod stood at the edge of the water, apparently abandoned; its black cloth snapped in the freshening wind." That is all, our attention is given to Tadzio, Aschenbach's death soon follows, the camera is never mentioned again.
Crudely speaking, this camera is unnecessary and no one could possibly have noticed anything missing had the author decided against its inclusion; yet in a musical, compositional sense it exquisitely touches the center of the story and creates a resonance which makes us for a moment aware of the entire inner space of the action, of all things relevant and their relations to one another.
Our sense of this is mostly beyond exposition, as symbolic things have a way of being; but some of its elements may be mentioned. About the camera by the sea there is, first, a poignant desolation, the emptiness of vast spaces, and in its pictorial quality it resembles one of the earliest images in the story, when Aschenbach, standing by the cemetery, looks away down the empty streets: "not a wagon in sight, either on the paved Ungererstrasse, with its gleaming tram-lines stretching off towards Schwabing, nor on the Föhring highway." Both pictures are by Di Chirico. The camera's black cloth reminds us of the gondola, "black as nothing else on earth except a coffin," and the repeated insistence on black in that description; also of the "labor in darkness" which brings forth the work of art. For we perceive that the camera stands to the sea as, throughout this story, the artist has stood to experience, in a morally heroic yet at the same time dubious or ridiculous or even impossible relation of form to all possibility, and that at the summer's end, in the freshening wind, the camera is abandoned. It would be near forgivable, so full of Greek mysteries is this work, if we thought the tripod itself remotely Delphic.
-- Howard Nemerov Poetry and Fiction: Essays (on Thomas Mann's Death in Venice)
Posted by rb at 8/06/2008
Tuesday, August 5
My theory involves the entire abandonment of the notion that simple location is the primary way in which things are involved in space-time. In a certain sense, everything is everywhere at all times, for every location involves an aspect of itself in every other location. Thus every spatio-temporal standpoint mirrors the world.
-- Alfred North Whitehead Science and the Modern World
Posted by rb at 8/05/2008
Monday, August 4
after reading Rilke
No angel speaks to me.
And though the wind
plucks the dry leaves
as if they were so many notes
of music, I can hear no words.
Still, I listen. I search
the feathery shapes of clouds
hoping to find the curve of a wing.
And sometimes, when the static
of the world clears just for a moment
a small voice comes through,
is its own language, it says.
Along the indifferent corridors
of space, angels could be hiding.
-- Linda Pastan
more poems by Linda Pastan
Posted by rb at 8/04/2008
Thursday, July 31
Butterflies: a long, shimmering curtain. Millions of them. They practically blotted out the sky. I felt as if some secret had torn free from the earth, something very private and old, something much larger than myself . . . Salmon, wildebeest, locusts. Storks, swifts, snow geese. What if the torrents of animals migrating past us every year left behind traces of their routes? What if Arctic terns sketched lines through the sky as they poured out of Antarctica and back; what if steelhead trout left thin, colourful ﬁlaments behind as they muscled up our rivers? The skies above our ﬁelds would become a loom; the continents would be bundled in thread. [more]
-- Anthony Doerr "Butterflies on a wheel" Granta 102
Posted by rb at 7/31/2008
Wednesday, July 30
Not scattered legions,
not a dozen from
a single region
for whom accent
matters, not a seven-
not five shirttail
one free citizen—
maybe not alive
will know with
that only we two
ever found this room.
-- Kay Ryan
I am always a student of poetry, and in it I find a rest that I don't find anywhere else, whether writing my own or reading the masters. And by rest I mean not quiescence or stop, but release. What poetry does is put more oxygen into the atmosphere. Poetry makes it easier to breathe. [more]
-- Kay Ryan
Posted by rb at 7/30/2008
Tuesday, July 29
Professor Block has told you how one can detect the precession of the magnetic nuclei in a drop of water. Commonplace as such experiments have become in our laboratories, I have not yet lost a feeling of wonder and of delight, that this delicate motion should reside in all the ordinary things around us, revealing itself only to him who looks for it. I remember, in the winter of our first experiments, just seven years ago, looking on snow with new eyes. There the snow lay around my doorstep—great heaps of protons quietly precessing in the earth's magnetic field. To see the world for a moment as something rich and strange is the private reward of many a discovery.
-- Edward M. Purcell Nobel Lecture 1952
Nobel Lecture- Nobel Prize in Physics (Research in Nuclear Magnetism)
Posted by rb at 7/29/2008
Saturday, July 26
Friday, July 25
"Run!" said Bernard. "Run! The gardener with the black beard has seen us! We shall be shot! We shall be shot like jays and pinned to the wall! We are in a hostile country. We must escape to the beech wood. We must hide under the trees. I turned a twig as we came. There is a secret path. Bend as low as you can. Follow without looking back. They will think we are foxes. Run!
"Now we are safe. Now we can stand upright again. Now we can stretch our arms in this high canopy, in this vast wood. I hear nothing. That is only the murmur of the waves in the air. That is a wood-pigeon breaking cover in the tops of the beech trees. The pigeon beats the air; the pigeon beats the air with wooden wings."
"Now you trail away," said Susan, "making phrases. Now you mount like an air-ball's string, higher and higher through the layers of leaves, out of reach. Now you lag. Now you tug at my skirts, looking back, making phrases. You have escaped me. Here is the garden. Here is the hedge. Here is Rhoda on the path rocking petals to and fro in her brown basin."
"All my ships are white," said Rhoda. "I do not want red petals of hollyhocks or geranium. I want white petals that float when I tip the basin up. I have a fleet now swimming from shore to shore. I will drop a twig in as a raft for a drowning sailor. I will drop a stone in and see bubbles rise from the depths of the sea . . . I have picked all the fallen petals and made them swim. I have put raindrops in some. I will plant a lighthouse here, a head of Sweet Alice. And I will now rock the brown basin from side to side so that my ships may ride the waves. Some will founder. Some will dash themselves against the cliffs. One sails alone. That is my ship. It sails into icy caverns where the sea-bear barks and stalactites swing green chains. The waves rise; their crests curl; look at the lights on the mastheads. They have scattered, they have foundered, all except my ship which mounts the wave and sweeps before the gale and reaches the islands where the parrots chatter and the creepers . . ."
-- Virginia Woolf The Waves
Posted by rb at 7/25/2008
Wednesday, July 23
The clouds began to gather in the morning, light, fleecy ones; they were gathering from different directions, mostly from south-west; the sun raced between them and shadows covered the land. Towards the evening, the sky was dark and rain was in the air . . . it began to drizzle; it laid the all-prevading dust, washed the leaves clean and it brought that fragrance of rain on dry earth. It was a pleasant smell and the birds had taken shelter for the night . . . Suddenly two forks of lightning tore through darkness and for a second in great clarity [were] the naked branches of the trees and the straight electric poles and a man crouching under a tree. And now it had settled down to rain for the night. The little boy with the string was no longer on the road.
Attention is seeing. Seeing is an art as listening. But one hardly ever listens or sees; everyone is so occupied, so busy with the things that have to be done, with one's joys, problems and tears. One has no time to see. But time does not give you sight; time hinders seeing, listening. Time is the space for experiencing and experience only dulls the mind and heart. The mind is filled and the heart has turned away and so there is no seeing. To see knowledge must be kept in the books and not in the mind; knowledge interprets, chooses, giving colour, opinion, weighing, criticising, choosing and then there is no seeing. When the mind is so crowded and the heart dull with sorrow, how can there be seeing? What you see is your own projections, your own desires, your own fears but you don't see what is. It goes by and you are lost with your own toys. But when you do see, do listen, then that act is the miracle that transforms, that has emptied the mind and the heart of the past. You don't have to do anything, thought is incapable of this miracle; then that seeing is love, as listening is. You cannot come by these through exertion, through the dullness of discipline, through any bargaining nor through the shock of unanswerable questions. There must be emptiness to see, to listen there must be a quietness.
It was rather late in the night; lightning and rain were making great noise. Again, the brain was aware of the lightning, and the rain on the window, but it was motionless, astonishingly still, for that immensity was there with clarity and unapproachable strength.
-- J. Krishnamurti Krishnamurti's Notebook
Posted by rb at 7/23/2008
Tuesday, July 22
Sunday, July 20
i am so glad and very
merely my fourth will cure
the laziest self of weary
the hugest sea of shore
so far your nearness reaches
a lucky fifth of you
turns people into eachs
and cowards into grow
our can'ts were born to happen
our mosts have died in more
our twentieth will open
wide a wide open door
we are so both and oneful
night cannot be so sky
sky cannot be so sunful
i am through you so i
-- E.E. Cummings
Posted by rb at 7/20/2008
Saturday, July 19
[A] few years ago I was invited to a record club in Lower Manhattan by a painter friend. The record club worked this way: each of the twelve attendants brought two songs that they were in love with at the moment, and, according to a sequence generated by randomly dealt playing cards, we circled the room in two rounds with everyone playing his or her songs in turn. Though I've never really been a book club sort of guy, I was taken with the spirit of this gathering right away.
On the Friday night in question, the record club was marching along, doing what it does, glancing off of jazz, electronica, Britpop, early rock and roll, Old Time, when suddenly there emerged from the speakers the most strangled, desperate racket I had heard in ages.
The first problem was the singer's voice. The singer sang in a tortured falsetto, or most of the time he did. Sometimes he hovered just above and below the line that separated his chest voice from his falsetto. In the tenor range, he had a boyish drawl, sort of like Kurt Cobain, if Kurt had been raised in the Ozarks. But then there was his boy soprano, into which he lurched for various pitches, where he was silly and ghostly and a little bit shrill all at the same time.
Having noted the singer, I shifted my focus to the accompanying ensemble: acoustic guitar, organ, celeste, two rather primitive drummers. The band would probably have sounded adorable, like the soundtrack to the tugboat in Mister Rogers' neighborhood, were it not for the structure of the song itself, which I later learned was entitled "Holy Kisser's Block Party." It began with an alarm clock, followed by section A, some kind of whispery chant in which Daniel, the lead vocalist, and some girl backup singers intoned their rhetorical intention, "I do vow, / here and now, / I will kiss again / It starts right now." This was followed by section B, in which the celeste, or chimes, dominated, and a very different melody was explored, followed by a section C, in which varieties of love were described and suggested by the narrator, "Begin your loving to the one who bothers most," this in turn followed by a section D, an actual chorus, in which piano propelled the rhythms, major triads, while above hovered some really strange counterpoint between Daniel and the backup singers, his sisters. Did I not say that the band in question, the Danielson Famile, really are a family? Daniel on acoustic guitar and vocals; Rachel on vocals and flute and sometimes organ; Megan on bells and vocals; David and Andrew on drums and percussion, respectively. "Get your rear in gear, lend an ear, have no fear, draw near, my dear, bring the cheer, take time to hear." And then a section E, which was really section B in a minor key, consisting only of a repetition of the line, "As coals of fire rest on their heads," with minimal accompaniment. Back to section A.
I thought it was some of the worst caterwauling I had ever heard. And I like caterwauling.
The record club always produces a little anthology—the minutes of the proceedings, if you will—and so I had the opportunity to hear "Holy Kisser's Block Party" again, in my car, because that's often where I first listen to compact discs, and I confess I was a little shocked by the song. I resisted its complex demands. And yet when I stumbled on it, periodically, when playing the anthology of the record club event, I realized that I was beginning to think the song was indisputably great.
-- Rick Moody "How to Be a Christian Artist" The Believer 25
Posted by rb at 7/19/2008
Friday, July 18
Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s 1965 opera “Die Soldaten,” the story of a woman’s degradation at the hands of a series of heartless soldiers, has a prelude of such stupefying intensity that it stands for the moment as the ne plus ultra. The full orchestra sustains an enormous dissonance spread out over many octaves. Beneath it, the timpani pound out, “in iron rhythm,” the note D—perhaps a nod backward to “Don Giovanni.” The onslaught returns several times as the prelude unfolds, though it periodically gives way to a frenzy of competing voices: the trumpets tangle in independent rhythms, violins buzz around maniacally in their upper registers, the timpani repeatedly fall out of synch with the principal one-two pulse. The music is at once hyper-organized and deranged, a death machine that leaves chaos in its wake . . .
Before the music started, we were seated in bleachers, which rested on wheels at one end of an array of railroad tracks. When Steven Sloane, the conductor, gave the downbeat, the apparatus began gliding slowly across the vast expanse of the Armory’s Drill Hall. Five minutes later, we came to a halt at the far end of the space, more than two hundred feet away. As we moved, we passed the writhing orchestra, which was positioned on risers to the left; it was a bit like taking a hot-air-balloon ride over a volcanic eruption. [more]
-- Alex Ross "Infernal Opera" The New Yorker July 21, 2008
via Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
I visited the preparations for this performance about a year ago in Bochum, an industrial town in the Ruhr valley of Germany. The town’s former steel foundries closed down one by one throughout the post-war decades, and the vast, empty hangers and steel buildings are being converted into cultural spaces, mainly for performance. I was there to perform in a former foundry, and the old gas power plant, Jahrhunderthalle (or, Hundred Year Hall) was being refitted for a production of Die Soldaten . . .
Given the shape of the hall, I suspect that the production team decided that an unconventional staging would work best. As one can surmise, building a stage at only one end of this massive building leaves much of the audience ridiculously far away. So, in keeping with Zimmerman’s dream of “total theater,” the team employed an innovative alternative. They built a ramp that ran the entire length of the space, and at one end there was bleacher seating on either side. In front of the bleachers were rails, and the idea was to move the audience alongside the runway and the action would take place in stages. The German government subsidizes theater with massive grants, and the public has grown accustomed to weird, massive, innovative productions — but this one was rare even in that world.
This staging was recreated in the Park Avenue Armory here in New York. [more]
-- David Byrne Modern Music - Die Soldaten
via The Standing Room
Iron Tongue of Midnight Compares and Contrasts
Sylvia Plachy's photographs: David Pountney’s staging of "Die Soldaten" slideshow
Bernd Alois Zimmermann
Bernd Alois Zimmermann at UbuWeb : Sound
David Pountney lecture: The Future of Opera (2000)
Sylvia Plachy at lensculture
Posted by rb at 7/18/2008
Wednesday, July 16
There's a bit of Faust in us all, believing as we do that the more we learn about something the closer we are to it. Not so. Any event, fully attended, uproots all our knowing at the source and carries inexhaustible surprises . . .
The point is that all phenomena, all dharmas, whether seen or heard or felt or whatever and whether pleasurable or painful, it matters not, all without exception, open us to reality if we give ourselves to them. "How can we know the dancer from the dance?" wrote William Butler Yeats. Zen says the whole universe is art and we are the artists.
-- Flora Courtois "The Door to Infinity" Parabola 15:2
The Door to Infinity
Posted by rb at 7/16/2008
Monday, July 14
I have wished that the wind would stop blowing, that birds would stop dead still in their flight, without falling into the sea, that waves would stand ready to break upon shores without breaking, that all time, all impulse, all movement, mood, hungers, everything would stop and stand hushed and still for a moment.
-- Sherwood Anderson A Story Teller's Story
Posted by rb at 7/14/2008
Sunday, July 13
Saturday, July 12
El amor como la resina
de un árbol colmado de sangre
cuelga su extraño olor a germen
del embeleso natural;
entra el mar en el extremismo
o la noche devoradora
se desploma el alma en ti mismo,
suenan dos campanas de hueso
y no sucede sino el peso
de tu cuerpo otra vez vacío.
Love floods the tree of
our blood like a sap
and distills its strange odor from
the seed of our physical ravishment:
the sea enters us utterly
and the ravenous night,
the soul veers out of plumb, and within you
two bells sound in the bone
and nothing remains but your body's
weight on my own, another time spent.
-- Pablo Neruda (b. 12 July 1904)
Tr. Ben Belitt
There is poetry to spare in the hands of a craftsman who caresses the wood or the metal given him to shape with the magic of his craft. The hand of the poet grasps nothing but paper and pen, and gropes for the words to accommodate his thoughts and feelings. That is another useful and necessary labor, but it is an estranging rather than a gregarious one, a symbolic contact in which the writer works only with words, vocables that cannot be touched, caressed, embraced: signs that remain manmade abstractions rather than palpable objects. A hand can make its signature, it can write a number, invent decimal places. It can multiply ciphers and ideas, chapters and cantos, covering all people, all things, with the mathematician's magic. Yet at this stage in his life, Neruda's principal regret was that he had unwittingly trained his hands in ways that separated them from natural objects.
-- Manuel Duran, Introduction to Pablo Neruda: Late and Posthumous Poems 1968-1974 ed. Ben Belitt
Posted by rb at 7/12/2008
Thursday, July 10
Our feelings, like the artist's paints and brush, are ways of communicating and sharing something meaningful from us to the world. Our feelings not only take into consideration the other person but are in a real sense partially formed by the feelings of the other persons present. We feel in a magnetic field. A sensitive person learns, often without being conscious of doing so, to pick up the feelings of the persons around him, as a violin string resonates to the vibration of every other musical string in the room, although in such infinitesimally small degrees that it may not be detectable to the ear.
-- Rollo May Love and Will
Posted by rb at 7/10/2008
Saturday, July 5
With cautious movements, and only a groan or two, the good Doctor transferred himself from the bed to the floor, where he stood awhile, gazing from one piece of quaint furniture to another, (such as stiff-backed Mayflower chairs, an oaken chest-of-drawers carved cunningly with shapes of animals and wreaths of foliage, a table with multitudinous legs, a family-record in faded embroidery, a shelf of black-bound books, a dirty heap of gallipots and phials in a dim corner,)—gazing at these things and steadying himself by the bedpost, while his inert brain, still partially benumbed with sleep, came slowly into accordance with the realities about him. The object which most helped to bring Dr. Dolliver completely to his waking perceptions was one that common observers might supposed to have been snatched bodily out of his dreams. The same sunbeam that had dazzled the Doctor between the bed curtains gleamed on the weather-beaten gilding which had once adorned this mysterious symbol, and showed it to be an enormous serpent, twining round a wooden post, and reaching quite from the floor of the chamber to its ceiling.
-- Nathaniel Hawthorne (b. 4 July 1804) "A Scene from the Dolliver Romance" The Atlantic Monthly July 1864
A Scene from the Dolliver Romance: The opening section of an unfinished novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Atlantic Monthly
Posted by rb at 7/05/2008