Politics and Society

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Review of “Die Erlkønigin,”-- a poem by Patrick Gillespie

   Up In Vermont, there is a talented poet and amateur, but thorough, literary scholar named Patrick Gillespie, who calls himself Vermont Poet (He is also a blogger – his blog is listed among my favorites). This moniker would be a might presumptuous for most anyone, especially for those who could not say that they have produced at least some fine poems, or at least one great poem of out-standing quality, beauty and charm. This essay is based on the conviction (as I hope to show) that Patrick has earned his self-proclaimed title.

   About a month ago, apropos of nothing, and browsing web-sites I some-times visit, I came upon this post at [poemshape], which is an audio re-cording of Patrick reading his own poem, “Die Erlkønigin,” for public appreciation. [This poem], he said with conviction, was one of the best he has ever written. I listened to the recording and enjoyed it. I read the poem and loved it, and then read the Goethe poem on which it is based - a handy, dual-language link was kindly supplied – and researched the Danish legend (folklore) upon which Goethe had drawn in creating the original, and was fascinated. All the while, the poem was in my head, and in my imagination, and (parts of it, at least) almost on my tongue –and I agreed! It is, certainly, one of the best that he has ever written (Naturally enough but sadly still, I do not feel the same about all the others), as it is also, I believe, one of the best anyone in America has written in many years!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Master, (2004), by Colm Toibin: A Review

    Colm Toibin, the contemporary Irish author of four previous novels and various other writings, has produced a very interesting and enjoyable study of personality, character and Art in The Master. A portrait of the artist – the great American novelist, Henry James - as a middle-aged man, a biographical essay on sensibility and emotional and aesthetic distance, an historical fiction of life informing Art (and vise-versa); it is all of these and more. The 'more' is a wonderful story. For all my doubts going in, I have to say, this seems an unqualified success, and an excellent novel.   My initial hesitation concerned what I take to be a growing trend among novelists to stuff their novels full of actual (i.e. historical) personages as a sign that they are dealing with the real world in their Art. Personally, and generally, I find it aesthetically unconvincing, though the portraits of J. Edgar and Lenny Bruce, for instance, were technical highlights of descriptive fiction in DeLillo’s Underworld. The presence of actual people in fiction is far too often a red flag signaling rather an insecurity, if not an outright capitulation, of imagination.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Birthday Gift

It's times like these that I realize that the great poet (Donne) knew what he was talking about when he said, "No Man is an Island". For even as  I am alone in Providence, yet I am not alone in Providence; for I have family and friends, who think well enough of me to take the time to reach out. I thank you all!  I am humbled by the gesture.
   I took the day off - even an unemployed person can do that - and amused myself with books (Willam Gass, "In Search of Form" and Toibin's "The Master"), philosophical arguments (on-line, mainly) and with poetry (which I still love best). After receiving phone calls and paying some bills, I went out to the bookstore to spend a gift sent from grpagrhr (my Dad). Turns out, they had a sale ( I had no idea) which was extended only because of a calendar mistake - and I took advantage: now "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" (Pessl, 2006), "Snow" (Pamuk, 2004) and "Varieties of Interpretation"  (Mazzeo, 1978) will be on my reading - critiquing - list, thanks to the real master. I feel blessed.
   I have enjoyed my day, in my own way, and I THANK YOU ALL. I love you, too! And I want to give you something which you might not have seen coming: A poem, one that I wrote, years ago, but which remains the  best part of myself:
                                                 First Snow and a Child
While feathery wisps of whiteness swirl
And whisper like a fear,
A child leans on his heels to see
The blur infest the air,
Like icy ashes on his brow
And dust upon his hair,
The white buds bead to droplets, cold,
That shut a wondrous stare.

May it give you some of the joy it gives me!
   Why today? why any day? I guess I am trying to climb out of my shell and share with the people I call family and friends just what it is that makes me me. A birthday just seems like an especially appropriate time to do that.
   Again, thank you all for thinking of me, and thank you for your love and support. I hope and believe that you know that it does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
   Who's better'n you? Ain't nobody!
Thanks again,
Kevin (28 years old and still counting --or learning to count, or sumt'n.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Stephen Millhauser’s “Miracle Polish” (2011)

                                              from the New Yorker Magazine, November 14, 2011

   Stephen Millhauser is an American writer with at least ten novels, three short-story collections and a Pulitzer prize (1997) already under his belt. At 68, he would seem to be a writer of the old guard, but his fiction is probably more popular (even trending, if not trendy) now than at any time in his career. This New Yorker story helps to explain why!

  Stephen Millhauser’s  “Miracle Polish” is the story of an unnamed man’s experience of the bizarre, even the wonderful, when he grudgingly purchases a bottle of glass cleaner, specifically for mirrors, from a (mysterious?) door-to-door salesman. After dismissively squirreling the bottle away in a drawer, he comes to use it eventually only to discover it produces a marvelous effect.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pale Fire (1962), by Vladimir Nabokov A Review

"Et in Arcadia ego"
   In two renaissance memento mori paintings by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), the above Latin phrase appears on the side of an ancient tomb, intrusively and inscrutably situated in an idyllic meadow among the sheep and herders of Arkadia. It says in translation, ‘here also am I’, and the “I”, of course, refers to death. This same phrase appears in Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire --only there it may refer rather more pointedly to madness.
   Pale Fire is a thrillingly suspenseful book, beautifully written, and obviously loaded with the subtle allusions, more obvious references and literary devices cherished by academic readers. It is often cited as Nabokov’s greatest achievement, his modern masterpiece, an American “Prelude” – as in Wordsworth! - and even the proof positive that the novel, as an Art form, is not dead (see Mary McCarthy’s review here.). It is also called the first (and by some the supreme example of) modern American meta-fiction.* Mostly, though, it is an extraordinary example of aesthetic structural design. The way all of its narrative and thematic elements come together is truly amazing, and if nothing else works for you, this aspect alone surely should.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Death of Virgil (1945), by Hermann Broch

A Philosophical Novel Of  First Principles 

             “ . . .yet the seconds following hard upon each other enriched
             in flashes the empty space between them with that inconceivable
             thing called life, and it almost seemed to him as if hope blinked up
             again in those flashes . . . if only in this instant . . .”
       (from Book II: Fire - The Descent, Pg. 96)

   Today (November 1st) is Hermann Broch’s birthday; born this day in 1886 (d. 1951), Broch is best remembered now as a contemporary of Joyce, Mann, Musil, and Freud, and perhaps less well known as the Austrian innovator of the stream-of-consciousness technique in fiction. The son of a prominent Jewish family of fin de siecle Vienna, Broch ran (for ten years) and then sold the family’s textile business, in 1928, to pursue studies in Mathematics and Philosophy (much like Musil), before turning away from Logical Positivism in dismay to seek a unifying “totality” of perception in literature.