Saturday, May 23, 2015

Fistful of Comments about Books I've Read This Year 2

Lorca & Jiménez, trans. Robert Bly.  I bought this collection way, way back in grad school as one of the required texts for a poetry workshop.  I don't recall that we ever actually read any of the poems for class, but personally I read just about every poem I could get my hands on in those days.  As a result, I've amassed a long list of poets whom I wouldn't read on a plane, train or boat, not to mention with a fox, mouse or goat.  That list, however, doesn't include Lorca, Jiménez or Bly, though I probably hadn't read this book since I earned my master's--at least not cover to cover--before picking it up recently.  My temptation here is to reminisce about my salad bar days as a poet, but instead, I'm posting a couple of my favorite poems from this volume:


    So much effort!
Effort the horse makes to be the dog!
Effort the dog makes to be the swallow!
Effort the swallow makes to be a bee!
Effort the bee makes to be a horse!
And the horse,
what a sharp arrow it presses out of the rose!
What a gray rose it lifts up from its teeth!
And the rose,
what a mob of lights and barks
it ties into the living sugar of the treetrunk!
As for the sugar,
what tiny daggers it dreams of while awake!
And the tiny daggers,
what a moon without mangers, what naked bodies--
with skin eternal and blushing--they look and look for!
And I, when I am on the roof,
what a pure seraphim of fire I want to be and am!
But this plaster arch,
how immense it is, how invisible, how tiny,
no effort at all.

                       --Federico Garcia Lorca

In New York

   In New York, which is a bad friend--don't ask me why--of Boston, the cultivated city, the Hub, there are some verses going around like this:

                    Here is to good old Boston,
                   the home of the bean and the cod,
                   where the Cabots speak only to the Lowells,
                   and the Lowells speak only to God.

    I know one of the Cabot women well.  How bored the Lowells must be!  I read "The Fountain" by Lowell.  How bored God must be!

                       --Juan Ramón Jiménez

Sanctuary, William Faulkner.  I first read this one hot & humid summer while an undergraduate living at my folks' home.  Lying in bed, surrounded by my boyhood things, a novel about alcoholism, murder & rape seemed a pleasant escapist read.  To be honest, before I picked it up again, I couldn't remember a damn thing about the book.  For all I knew, it was about an enchanted blue humpback at the Mississippi Military Academy (a fully-accredited institution of higher learning) who had to go door-to-door to sell the most magazine subscriptions of Better Guns & Guarding or face Gen. Thumb's academic firing squad, a euphemism for either expulsion or castration, I forget, because he'd gotten the sardonic, sadistic dean's 16-year-old, unmarried, extraterrestrial, suicidal stepdaughter, who was hooked on phonics or bathtub heroin or quilts or some crazy shit like that, drunk & pregnant, both in the same night, before--spoiler alert--getting caught in the crossfire of warring gangs of cross-dressing Nazi bikers. Nah, I just made that last bit up--there were zero bikers.  Anyway, that smug little yellow-paged paperback sat on its shelf mocking me (cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep) for my memory's ever increasing number of drop zones until I broke down & reread it.  Not Faulkner's best--if I recall, he pretty much hated it--but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a waste of time.  What're you doing that's so damned important anyway?

Naked Lunch, William Burroughs.  I pretty much have to agree with Nelson Muntz's assessment of the movie adaptation of this beat classic.  Burroughs adamantly insisted that Naked Lunch isn't a novel; I'll likewise maintain that it's not much of a read either.  Burroughs, however, provides an almost anecdotal breakdown of various drugs in pseudo-glossary form, which the casual user of recreational drugs may find entertaining if not helpful.  I point this out, not because it's my particular thing, but as sort of a Public Service Announcement.  In other words, if you were to O.D. at my place, man, that would be the most inconsiderate thing anyone's ever done to me.

The Sibyl, Par Lagerkvist.  I enjoyed this novel/novella more the first time I read it, but I'd still recommend it to anyone who's not familiar with it, though not to those who've already read it. Lagerkvist explores the Epicurean paradox through the lives of two characters, each cursed by their respective gods.  Jesus, if you'll pardon the pun, as one who sometimes feel cursed himself, I've often pondered, even though I'm agnostic, the question:  How can a god that willingly allow evil be a good god?  (Short answer:  he/she/it can't--that's why it's a paradox; long answer:  read Hume, Kant, Spinoza, Leibniz, Russell, etc.)  Whether you read The Brothers Karamazov or binge watch the Marx Brothers, I doubt if you true-believers among us will find a satisfactory answer unless you truly believe the old pablum that without evil you wouldn't know what good is--solipsism at its finest--or that God, in his infinite wisdom & low-fat goodness, allows people to suffer in order that they may build character.  For instance, consider the plight of the struggling artist who after years of rejection, abandons his creative aspirations & takes up an alternate path, one in which he proves himself a force to be reckoned with, you know, like Adolph Hitler. Oh, good one, God! Indeed,you may, as Lagerkvist seems to do in The Sibyl, begin to ask not only if God is evil, but also if God is a petty & malicious dick, er, dictator.  If we turn to L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, when Glinda the Good Witch of the North, traveling inside her magic bubble, pops in to ask Dorothy, her relocated farmhouse planted firmly atop the withered corpse of the Wicked Witch of the East, if she's a good witch or a bad witch, Dorothy denies that she--or her little dog Toto, for that matter--is a witch at all.  This depiction refers to the generally more well known movie adaptation of Baum's book, but according to the Hagakure--who better to ask than a samurai--this applies to all cases.

The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore.  As the title suggests, this is not a book for anyone looking for Moore's unfinished poems, only the ones that she's completed.  This volume contains several previously unpublished poems, but I'm unsure whether Moore produced a entire volume of incomplete poems.  I tend to doubt it, but if you're curious, why not Google it?  As for myself, I read Moore primarily due to my interest in syllabic verse. Moore-over, ha, it doesn't hurt that Moore's lyrical, philosophical & generally accessible. A few poems I enjoy are "To a Giraffe," "The Icosasphere" and "What Are Years?"

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf.  One of my favorite passages from one of my favorite novels by one of my favorite writers follows:

So he ruminated.  It was his habit.  He did not go deeply.  He brushed surfaces; the dead languages, the living, life in Constantinople, Paris, Rome; riding, shooting, tennis, it had been once.  The malicious asserted that he now kept guard at Buckingham Palace, dressed in silk stockings and knee-breeches, over what nobody knew.  But he did it extremely efficiently.  He had been afloat on the cream of English society for fifty-five years.  He had known Prime Ministers.  His affections were understood to be deep.  And if it were true that he had not taken part in any of the great movements of the time or held important office, one or two humble reforms stood to his credit; an improvement in public shelters was one; the protection of owls in Norfolk another; servant girls had reason to be grateful to him; and his name at the end of letters to the Times, asking for funds, appealing to the public to protect, to preserve, to clear up litter, to abate smoke, and stamp out immortality in parks, commanded respect.

Read more reviews:  Fistful of Comments about Books I've Read This Year