October 7, 2012 § 2 Comments
The 7th Annual IPRC Text Ball was last night and it was a fun, entertaining time. I almost didn’t go.
For starters, I didn’t have a text-inspired costume. But, really, because it’s so hard for me to just wear the skin I’m in.
We all have social anxiety to some extent, even the most extrovert are manifesting a deep down shyness, I think. (Or maybe not. Lucky sods.)
Knowing this, I mitigated myself, and went.
I almost went as a black sky scattered with bright stars. This was my idea on Wednesday, when I was reading Mary Ruefle and a thing she said in an essay about Poetry and the Moon in her collected lectures Madness, Rack, and Honey:
“The great lunacy of most lyric poems is that they attempt to use words to convey what cannot be put into words. On the other hand, stars were the first text, the first instance of gabbiness; connecting the stars, making a pattern out of them, was the first story, sacred to storytellers. But the moon was the first poem…”
It was a good idea for a costume I think but I looked up from my book and it was Friday and too late to shop for stars in the dollar store or cut and stitch constellations. Instead I wore a yellow silk dress and my best don’t be afraid, do not worry, everyone here are only humans smile.
Jonathan Safran Foer wrote: “Shyness is turning your head away from something you want…”
A thing said about masks also helped put my shyness about going to a party into perspective on a very grand scale: ”Masks beneath masks until suddenly the bare bloodless skull,” said Salman Rushdie in The Satanic Verses. That’ll get ya out the door on a Saturday night!
My friend Emily gave me a ride and we talked about it. When you say yourself out loud, you are able to see how silly you are. Emily does not enjoy Halloween, that upcoming night of masks and disguises. I like this part of a poem she wrote in her beautiful collection The Grief Performance (it’s so good):
Horror is self-
Choose Halloween costumes
that bore you shitless.
Being afraid and embarrassed of myself bores me shitless. I don’t know if I can step out of that costume though, it fits so snug, like a glove, like an essentially me skin-stitched glove. The thing to do is wear it. But to wear it out, and maybe, in the process wear it away.
September 29, 2012 § 6 Comments
Tonight, the full moon will rise to meet Uranus in the Northern night-sky.
I will be somewhere, watching. I have no vegetable garden or crops to gather, but I will think of all the things that I am ready to reap.
The Harvest Moon
The flame-red moon, the harvest moon,
Rolls along the hills, gently bouncing,
A vast balloon,
Till it takes off, and sinks upward
To lie on the bottom of the sky, like a gold doubloon.
The harvest moon has come,
Booming softly through heaven, like a bassoon.
And the earth replies all night, like a deep drum.
So people can’t sleep,
So they go out where elms and oak trees keep
A kneeling vigil, in a religious hush.
The harvest moon has come!
And all the moonlit cows and all the sheep
Stare up at her petrified, while she swells
Filling heaven, as if red hot, and sailing
Closer and closer like the end of the world.
Till the gold fields of stiff wheat
Cry `We are ripe, reap us!’ and the rivers
Sweat from the melting hills.
- by Ted Hughes.
September 4, 2012 § 6 Comments
Yes, my parents are in Portland, it’s been busy busy. And, on a side-note that makes sense to me, I grew up listening to Woody Guthrie.
This morning, we are resting, drinking many cups of milky tea and nibbling on crusty bread and berry pastries. I am stealing away to visit my wee blog and I may even go back to bed. Yesterday was a long and beautiful day.
We drove up to Mount Hood to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the historic Timberline Lodge and to visit the impressive volcanic mountain. Really, we were there for another event and special occasion – a Tribute to Tradition and a musical homage to Guthrie who would have been 100 this year.
An amazing group of musicians gathered at Timberline’s natural amphitheater, and a happy audience – on blankets and log-benches – gloried in a day of music and poetry that wound its way into the night.
By the time the concert had ended, the moon had risen, and the stage was singing into the darkness, whose inky crowd confirmed they were still present by singing right back to them. Moths performed percussion as they dinged and danced against the stage lights. Earlier, the snow on Mt Hood glowed pink in the setting sun and wildflowers swayed in the breeze, keeping time with harp and guitar.
“Music is in all the sounds of nature and there never was a sound that was not music…”
Among the musicians were Sarah Lee Guthrie – granddaughter of Woody – and her husband Johnny Irion, who is the great-nephew of John Steinbeck. What a marriage!
The Steinbecks and the Guthries have a long relationship. Steinbeck, of course, is “the Woody Guthrie of American authors,” sharing a concern for social injustice and a particular understanding of the American spirit. Guthrie’s song Tom Joad was inspired by the fictional character in Steinbeck’s masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath. And Steinbeck had this to say about him:
“Woody is just Woody. Thousands of people do not know he has any other name. He is just a voice and a guitar. He sings the songs of a people and I suspect that he is, in a way, that people. Harsh voiced and nasal, his guitar hanging like a tire iron on a rusty rim, there is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who will listen. There is the will of the people to endure and fight against oppression. I think we call this the American spirit.”
- as quoted in Woody Guthrie: a Life, by Joe Klein.
What I found remarkable yesterday was that so many of the words and sentiments of Woody Guthrie remain pertinent in these oppressive and repressive times. He is a man for all times and I fear he will speak for us far into the future. I know I’ll still be listening.
On that note, I heard (belatedly, as always) that a “lost”, unpublished novel of Guthrie’s – House of Earth - is being edited for publication next year by Johnny Depp and Douglas Brinkley. It is a fictional response to the Dust Bowl storms in the 1930s, of which he wrote many a sad and beautiful ballad.
I look forward to its release.
For now I should check on my guests who are asleep in my bed while I – with no spare room to speak of – will make my bed on the floor.
Reminds me of a song…
August 25, 2012 § 3 Comments
I came across some lovely Moon Lore a couple of weeks ago, a Victorian collection of superstition and mythology, written just eighty-four years before man set foot upon it. How sadly serendipitous.
Neil Armstrong passed away today. Imagine. Most of us have only one moment when we leave this world and step into the dark unknown. Imagine looking back on a life that contains intimate memories of the moon.
I don’t think I can.
The moon is as incomprehensible to me now as it was to those who watched, transfixed, that giant leap of discovery and investigation in 1969. Perhaps one day it will seem as common as a spoon, but I doubt it.
I like to think that we won’t ever know so much that we can completely disregard these gorgeous myths and legends and fancy. These are some I especially like, mostly from Moon Lore (1885) but some other places too.
The Man in the Moon
I was surprised to see how many cultures share a concept of the Man in the Moon.
Many myths originated biblically, says author of Moon Lore, Timothy Harley.
A French superstition regarded the man in the moon as Judas Iscariot, transported to the moon for his treason. And, the Jewish have a Talmudic tradition that Jacob is in the moon, though the Hebrew Scriptures make no mention of the myth.
“The Chinese ‘Old Man in the Moon’ is known as Yue-lao, and is reputed to hold in his hands the power of predestining the marriages of mortals–so that marriages, if not, according to the native idea, exactly made in heaven, are made somewhere beyond the bounds of earth.”
“Among the Khasias of the Himalaya Mountains “the changes of the moon are accounted for by the theory that this orb, who is a man, monthly falls in love with his wife’s mother, who throws ashes in his face”
For the aborigines of New Zealand, it is quoted from D’Urville by De Rougemont in his Le Peuple Primitif as follows:
“Before the moon gave light, a New Zealander named Rona went out in the night to fetch some water from the well. But he stumbled and unfortunately sprained his ankle, and was unable to return home. All at once, as he cried out for very anguish, he beheld with fear and horror that the moon, suddenly becoming visible, descended towards him. He seized hold of a tree, and clung to it for safety; but it gave way, and fell with Rona upon the moon; and he remains there to this day.”
The Man in the Moon? She is Woman, non?
“In English, French, Italian, Latin, and Greek, the moon is feminine; but in all the Teutonic tongues the moon is masculine. Which of the twain is its true gender?”
“The moon, it has been said, was viewed as of the masculine gender in respect of the earth, whose husband he was supposed to be; but as a female in relation to the sun, as being his spouse.”
“The woman in the moon as a myth does not obtain to any extent in Europe; she is to be found chiefly in Polynesia, and among the native races of North America.”
“In Samoa, we are told that the moon came down one evening, and picked up a woman, called Sina, and her child. It was during a time of famine. She was working in the evening twilight, beating out some bark with which to make native cloth. The moon was just rising, and it reminded her of a great bread-fruit. Looking up to it, she said, ‘Why cannot you come down and let my child have a bit of you?’ The moon was indignant at the idea of being eaten, came down forthwith, and took her up, child, board, mallet, and all. The popular superstition is not yet forgotten in Samoa of the woman in the moon. ‘Yonder is Sina,’ they say, ‘and her child, and her mallet, and board.”
One thing is for certain though:
The Man in the Moon Drinks Claret
“Several astronomers assert the absence of water in the moon; if this be the case, what is the poor man to drink?”
“The man in the moon drinks claret,
But he is a dull Jack-a-Dandy;
Would he know a sheep’s head from a carrot,
He should learn to drink cyder and brandy.”
Ah, I love it!
The moon, of course, has endlessly fascinated and inspired us. There is so much more written besides and beyond Reverend Harley’s Moon Lore, though I think it is a wonderful source.
Some caution against its exploration:
“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous” – Thomas Merton.
But I prefer those – like Carl Sandburg who often turned to the moon as muse – who regard it in whimsy and wonder through the eyes of a child:
Comes back nightly.
She points her finger
To the far silent yellow thing
Shining through the branches
Filtering on the leaves a golden sand,
Crying with her little tongue, “See the moon!”
And in her bed fading to sleep
With babblings of the moon on her little mouth.
Jeux Olympiques! A round-up of the literary world’s participation in that… thing that everyone’s excited about.
July 27, 2012 § 24 Comments
The mister is outraged. We live in a TV-less abode and our basic internet package doesn’t cover live Olympic streaming through NBC.
I’m only aware there’s a problem when a rather loud “NO. I would NOT” startles me from my book. He would not like to pay an extra seventy dollars on top of our existing sixty-something dollars for an upgrade.
But he would very much like to see the games, poor dear, especially those esoteric sports like fencing and trampoline, though he does draw the line with dressage which, in case you don’t know, are freaking dancing horses.
(On another weird note, I admit I’m quite intrigued by this now-discontinued Club Swinging event thingy. It gives me a touch of déjà vu; though in my memory I’m wielding wine bottles and am barefoot on the streets of Dublin…)
The point is: he’s in a huff and I’m in my book and can’t quite relate, though I do feel for him. I just don’t care about it all that much myself.
But I’m trying.
In an attempt to make an effort and engage with the Games in a way that makes sense to me, I googled something like ‘the Olympics in Literature’ and came up with all sorts of fascinating goodies. I was thinking something along the lines of a good book or a poem that features the Games in some way. Little did I know that Literature itself performed in the Olympics: in the early modern Olympic Games, from 1912 to 1952, medals were awarded in the Arts for works inspired by Sport.
Apart from these know-it-sporty-alls:
The Village Voice takes it all the way back to 440BC and “a struggling, celebrity-hungry, young prose stylist named Herodotus” who decides to debut his work at the Olympic Games:
“According to the admiring author Lucian, when the festival had begun—it usually attracted some 40,000 spectators to the remote sanctuary of Olympia—Herodotus waited for a decent crowd to gather in the cavernous Temple of Zeus, then proceeded to recite his golden prose. The audience was utterly transfixed; word raced around the Olympic venue that a hot young author was on the scene. Not only did hundreds of Greek celebrities vie to hear Herodotus read in the five days of the sports festival, but they carried his name after the games to the far corners of the ancient world. “By this time he was much better known than the Olympic victors themselves,” notes Lucian enviously—which is saying quite a lot, since athletic champions were revered as virtual demigods by the Greeks, a cross between NFL players and rock stars.”
Also chiming in, The New York Times waxes sporty poetry and unearths this 1924 Paris games gold-medal-winner “Jeux Olympiques”:
(“The runners bend, tense flowers, . . . / A shot: A violent word! / And suddenly / Necks extended, forward / like stalks / faces like pale snatched / apples, / teeth and jaws rushing into / space.”)
All wonderful places to start from if you’re ever planning on taking a class at East Tennessee State University on the Olympic Games and Literature. Course objectives include recognizing how and why authors use the Olympics to express viewpoints about the human condition, and analyzing gifted writers who use the Olympics as a metaphor.
I’m not convinced, though. And I’m not alone. Shakespeare couldn’t stand all that sporty stuff. I wonder what he’d make of being a part of tonight’s opening ceremony in London? Not much, says this Guardian book blog.
In the old Bard’s words:
“‘I am not gamesome. I do lack some part of that quick spirit that is in Antony. Let me not hinder, Cassius, your desires. I’ll leave you.’”
July 11, 2011 § 4 Comments
Walking to work today, I passed a paper memorial on the steps above the Eastbank Esplanade: RIP Coop Dog, it said, You Will Be Missed. It was written with a black felt-tip in bubble writing and taped to the concrete with a piece of electrical tape. Six or seven wilted roses and yellow irises lay around the meager monument along with some small grey rocks and two empty beer cans: Old English 800 and Rolling Rock. The words Christian Cooper May 11th 1973 to July 2011 were printed at the top of the page and a childlike drawing of a man in a baseball cap beneath a tree filled the remainder of the white space.
I don’t know for certain but I’m assuming Christian Cooper was one of the many homeless people in Portland. Living in Chinatown, our loft looks over Transition Projects and every day dozens of men and women queue around our block for food at Blanchet House. It’s impossible not to notice but noticing is different than seeing, and seeing is a long way from understanding let alone caring.
I do care but I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to help. Thankfully, somebody in Portland is thinking outside the box and in ways that go beyond the issue of core survival needs like food and shelter. When I heard about Street Librarian Laura Moulton and her mobile library, it was one of those of course! concepts that seem so obvious in retrospect but I know I’d never have thought of it. Me! To whom books and reading are so important, so vital, so unthinkable of life without.
I was struck by the makeshift memorial for the same reason I am moved by Street Books: the humanity of it. The universal need to place stones and roses around written words and say You will be missed. The need to read, to escape, to discover, to explore, to feed off of language, to nourish the mind and soul. When I try to contemplate the experience of a homeless person, I never think much beyond base needs and necessities. And yet, why should reading be less of a necessity or a priority for someone who lives out of doors?
I love that the people who frequent Street Books have very distinct and specific tastes and preferences and aren’t afraid to request more of what they’d like. They’re not willing to settle and their librarian is doing her best to get them what they want: Book Requests include Louis L’Amour, Stephen King, Tim O’Brien, Johanna Lindsey, Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows, Ojibwa Warrior: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement, Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land, Richard Wright’s Black Boy, Native Son, Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, On the Road and Subterranean Blues, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath and any Philosophy/Psychology books.
This project makes me so happy and inspired to think beyond the obvious and the assumed. Street Books reminds me that each of us has a face, a name and a favourite book. And, hopefully, someone who’ll think of us when we’re here and miss us when we’re gone.
May 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I live in Old-Town/China-Town so if you’re familiar with Portland, you’ll know that Powells is my local bookshop. If you don’t know Powells or Portland, local bookshop probably conjures somewhat quaint, cosy and itty-bitty images in your mind. Most local bookshops are small – and mothbally. Powells is not your average local bookshop. Recently named one of the world’s most inspiring bookstores, it’s a behemoth, bountiful and cavernous – but orderly – and one of my most favourite of all my most favourite places.
But there’s more to books than Powells y’know and I’m making it my mission to explore them more.
Beginning with Annie Bloom’s Books next week. I was so pleased to hear that Robin Black will be reading there Tuesday 24th, I loved her short-story collection If I Loved You I Would Tell You This and am happy to read anything she writes, even her Tweets!
If I wasn’t at Robin Black next Tuesday, I’d be at Broadway Books to see Vivian Swift and her beautifully illustrated book When Wanderers Cease to Roam: a Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put. It’s just so gorgeous.
I will be there June 2nd to see Lydia Yunkavitch read from The Chronology of Water. I missed her visit to Powells in April and was raging!! when I read this review in HTML Giant. Yay for second chances on the second!
Readers from the VoiceCatcher anthology will be there Thursday May 26th at 7pm and I really encourage anyone in the Portland area to attend. I went to another of their readings at In Other Words on North Killingsworth and it was a really interesting and worthwhile event.
Speaking of In Other Words, Portland’s feminist bookstore is following Toronto, London and dozens more cities with their own Slut Walk on June 4th. I’m not sure I want to reclaim the word Slut so much as get rid of it altogether… but I support the Reclaim The Night vibe, and – being a Gender Studies gal – it’s another favourite spot of mine. Don’t be scared by the word Feminist, these ladies have a wicked sense of humour and were gracious enough to let Portlandia use the store to film the show.
Funny stuff with Steve Buscemi eyes, check it out. And check out another bookstore besides Powells why dontcha!