Sunday, June 18, 2017

MEdia Dragon: `Incapable of Any Folly'

To be a writer is to sit down at one's desk in the chill portion of every day, and to write; not waiting for the little jet of the blue flame of genius to start from the breastbone - just plain going at it, in pain and delight. To be a writer is to throw away a great deal, not to be satisfied, to type again, and then again, and once more, and over and over ....
— John Hersey, born on around date in 1914  Brilliance Into Cold Darkness

All day I have been rearranging my body

to fit the world. It’s hopeless. I can’t leave
anything behind. I drag all memories
after, a kite’s tail in a blue-grey sky.

Flying, I can see fields below, fields where
I once played, had my first kiss. There
is the young girl I taught to be cruel when
I was so cruel to her. I sigh. She laughs.

All my former selves live together in
a small house frozen in that one moment
when you think nobody is looking. They
argue about everything, forever.
We forget goodness, are famished
for kindness, nothing is enough. Nothing
except sorrow. The sorrow of hearts spills

into all souls. Nowhere else to keep it.
Poems of Broken Hearts in MMXVII exploring MCMLXXs

phoenix reborn by iron phoenix
Phoenix Reborn by Iron Phoenix
If I had to choose the circumstances of my birth,
the mother of all do-overs
it would be alone, slick and silent
and I would shine on an empty stage
numinous like livestock:
But of which variety?
Which animal is without sin?
Meat on the hoof
or at the breast,
horns as vestigial anatomy
like the human pineal gland
or an appendix.
Which species denies pleasure
to its executioners
before the profits come rolling in?
After the capillaries are broken,
the rest is choice
about sentience and organs.
I would like to be more than my body
more than the limitations of my skin ;
and certain angles, slopes, ratios
of costume medals: never the good stuff
the markets trade in.
They say touch is nothing to us,
nothing to me
and yet I rub my hide
along a fence collapsing
from a surfeit of rain
and too little maintenance
until the follicles are breached,
ripped free of their burden
and I am another layer,
fresh and naked.
In the moonlight I will bray
at other possibilities,
Other systems,
and wait as patiently as I might
for my next set of parents. 
Phoenix by Jane Rosenberg LaForge 

Paul Davis On Crime: Back Story: Celebrating The 50th Anniversary Of The James Bond Film 'You Only Live Twice'

`Is Everybody Happy?'

I reviewed the Polish-born poet Stanislaw Baranczak’s Breathing Under Water and Other East European Essays for the newspaper where I worked when it was published by Harvard University Press in 1990 – auspicious timing. If a date is required, let’s pick Aug. 24, 1989, when the Polish Parliament ended more than 40 years of one-party rule by naming Tadeusz Mazowiecki the country’s first non-Communist prime minister since 1948. Or Nov. 17, when the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the Polish founder of Lenin’s Cheka, was pulled down in Bank Square, Warsaw. Baranczak’s book was already in press by the time these events were taking place. Reading it was like watching history supply the dénouement he could never be certain would arrive.

Reading it again after twenty-seven years I’m struck by Baranczak’s hopefulness and good humor. One persistent myth about Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe (or “Western Asia,” as Josef Brodsky called it) is its supposed gloom. Writers as various as Gogol and Gombrowicz refute this impression. Only the humorless fail to laugh. Baranczak may be on to a fundamental cultural difference. Take his examination of happy in his opening essay, “E.E. [Eastern European]: The Extraterritorial.” He describes the word as “perhaps one of the most frequently used words in Basic American.” Baranczak had lived in the U.S. since 1981, the year Poland’s masters declared martial law, and wrote his essays in English. His point is that happy has no equivalent in his native tongue:

“The Polish word for `happy’ (and I believe this holds for other Slavic languages) has a much more restricted meaning; it is generally reserved for rare states of profound bliss, or total satisfaction with serious things such as love, family, the meaning of life. And so on. Accordingly, it is not used as often as `happy’ is in American common parlance.”

This confirms my old sense that we speak of happiness too glibly, as though it were an entitlement. If I’m not happy, it’s somebody’s fault and ought to be corrected. Not so, at least among Poles, Baranczak suggests: “The question one hears at (stand-up) parties--`Is everybody happy?’—if translated literally into Polish, would seem to come from a metaphysical treatise or a political utopia rather than from social chitchat.”

Baranczak dispels any suggestion of condescension or anti-American sentiment: “I don’t mean to say that Americans are a nation of superficial, backslapping enjoyers and happy-makers, as opposed to our suffering Slavic souls . . . . `Are you happy?’ E.E. is asked by his cordial host. `Yes, I am.’ `Are you enjoying yourself?’ `Sure I am.’ What else can be said? What would be the point in trying to explain that his Eastern European mind does not necessarily mean what his American vocabulary communicates?”

`Capable of Any Folly'

Forget consistency. It’s not in our nature. Who hasn’t already contradicted himself before getting out of bed in the morning? Among writers, the purest example I know of this human quality is Edward Dahlberg (1900-1977). Dahlberg is probably best read when we are young and most susceptible to contrarianism in words and acts. I still read him, against all good sense, because I first read him when I was twenty. Nostalgia? Not exactly. There are plenty of writers I first read at that age and wouldn’t touch today (Exhibit A: William Gaddis). I see the faults of Dahlberg the man and writer as I didn’t then, and acknowledge them. Beneath the often florid life and prose I perceive some essential wisdom. As Michael Perkins writes in “Edward Dahlberg: A Portrait from Life” (Notre Dame Review, 2011):

“In the time I knew him I loved him better than I loved my father, but he was a deeply flawed man, and a deeply flawed writer. As a man he was mercurial in his moods, touchy, ungrateful, homophobic and racist; as a writer his rhetoric often reached the page without passing through his intelligence. He could be a windbag. But he was also gracious, generous, and open with the young man I was. He was an authentic grand old man of American letters, the kind they stopped making when Creative Writing Programs became ascendant in the literary world.”

Perkins met Dahlberg at a reading in 1967. He was twenty-four; Dahlberg, sixty-seven. Perkins says he “apprenticed” himself to the older writer. Many young men are predisposed to father-figures and hero-worship. Knowing the man in the flesh must have been exhausting and rewarding. In his revised diary from those years, Perkins says the books he remembers best are Because I was Flesh(1964), Can These Bones Live (1941) and Alms for Oblivion(1967). The first, an autobiography, is his masterpiece, in part because he gets some distance on himself by focusing on his mother and writing with a cooler eye. It begins memorably, with echoes of Homer:

 “Kansas City is a vast inland city, and its marvelous river, the Missouri, heats the senses; the maple, alder, elm and cherry trees with which the town abounds are songs of desire, and only the almonds of ancient Palestine can awaken the hungry pores more deeply. It is a wild, concupiscent city, and few there are troubled about death until they age or are sick. Only those who know the ocean ponder death as they behold it, whereas those bound closely to the ground are more sensual.”

The prose grows overheated but the chill of honesty keeps things from blowing up. Those first sentences always remind me of the opening to Virgil Thomson: An Autobiography(1966): “To anyone brought up there, as I was, `Kansas City’ always meant the Missouri one. . . . You did not speak of Kansas City, Kansas, often . . . or go there unless you had business.” Geography is central. For all the recycling of Burton and Browne in his prose, the Dahlberg passage reminds us of the Midwestern roots he shared with such one-time friends as Theodore Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson.

Most of his friends, sooner or later, were “one-time.” He had a gift for alienation. Inevitably, Dahlberg dumps Perkins. When he reads Charles DeFanti’s biography of Dahlberg,The Wages of Expectation (1978), Perkins learns that “what had happened to me was not unusual. As time passed my favorite book of Edward’s became Reasons of the Heart[1965], his aphorisms. Edward was a maker of profound sentences. I turn to them now when I remember my old friend.” Here are the first and second aphorisms in that collection:

“A painter can hang his pictures, but a writer can only hang himself.”

“One who is enough of a simpleton to become a writer is capable of any folly.”