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Monday, August 19, 2019

Summer Reading: The Line of Beauty

I had wanted to read this for a while. Forgot about it. Then saw a library copy at my daughter's house. I picked it up and she said that she didn't like people starting books she was in the middle of reading.

Forgot again. Then I came upon a copy during the closing days of the wonderful Friends of Library building a short walk away. The building has since been torn down. The land had become very valuable and a little book sale was a relic from another time.

As it happened, I was not very engaged by the book, which is set in the early 80s in London. The main character is a young gay man, supposedly working on a thesis on Henry James (several of whose books I reread this summer). He is living in the home of a very wealthy power couple, the parents of a college chum.

Percolating through the book is the advent of AIDS--and I remember those days well, though from a distance. Since the book was not engaging, I did what I have started to do: jumped to the end.

The main character has been kicked out of the house and is preparing to get another test for AIDS. He imagines that the results will be positive.

The time had come, and they learned the news in the room they were in, at a certain moment in their planned and continuing day. They woke the next morning, and after a while it came back to them. Nick searched their faces as they explored their feelings. He seemed to fade pretty quickly.He found himself yearning to know of their affairs, their successes, the novels and the new ideas that the few who remembered him might say he never knew, he never lived to find out.

This passage got me back to read the whole book that I was about to abandon. I thought of the Alumni Bulletin (one) sent by my college, perhaps in the late 90s or early 00s. As I read through the names, I saw many Ls and Ds. L was for LOST. D was for DEAD.

Nearly all the Ds of the years around my graduation were the gay guys. I remembered a few: Marty B, with his pony tail and smile. He went into advertising in San Francisco. Steve J, who had a crush on me for a while and then confessed that he hitchhiked and had sex for money with the men who picked him up, Bob C, who was so smart and confident. He became a dancer in Boston. He wrote his thesis on Richard Crashaw.

I could not find any mention of them via the internet. I thought of all they had missed.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Another French Poem: Mallarme

I'm starting with short poems that aren't too difficult to translate. I did this one with M Danon in college. I later wrote about translations of the poem for a graduate class "Methods of Comparative Literature."

Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujourd’hui
Va-t-il nous déchirer avec un coup d’aile ivre
Ce lac dur oublié que hante sous le givre
Le transparent glacier des vols qui n’ont pas fui!
Un cygne d’autrefois se souvient que c’est lui
Magnifique mais qui sans espoir se délivre
Pour n’avoir pas chanté la région où vivre
Quand du stérile hiver a resplendi l’ennui.
Tout son col secouera cette blanche agonie
Par l’espace infligée à l’oiseau qui le nie,
Mais non l’horreur du sol où le plumage est pris
Fantôme qu’à ce lieu son pur éclat assigne,
Il s’immobilise au songe froid de mépris
Que vêt parmi l’exil inutile le Cygne.

from Harvard Center for Hellenic studies (There is a lengthy essay on the poem on this site. Also a translation by Barbara Johnson.)

I remember that M Danon showed us how the last line is a pun: par mille exils inutiles le Signe." I can't remember if he did anything with the beginning of the line. How amazing that I remember this after almost 50 years! 
I showed this to my French-speaking, Proust-loving spouse. He told me the title of a famous book on Proust: "Proust and Signs." That is a bit of cleverness because the first volume of Proust's masterwork is "Swann's Way." Swan=Cygne.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Reading List: A French poem/poem in French

To prepare for retirement
I declare myself semi-retired
I will try to read a French poem every day
Today's poem
I searched for my old textbook--"French Romantic and Symbolist Poetry"
In the meantime, the internet.
I could translate this without much trouble and (mostly) without looking at the translation
Merci to my teachers, esp Ms ??, who quit after a dispute with the administration, M. S. Giordano, M R. Moore and M. S. Danon. For M. Danon, I wrote a paper on Paul Valery. Not one of these teachers  would remember me. That is the way of teachers and students.



1- “La Feuille Blanche” de Paul Valéry – French Poem

En vérité, une feuille blanche
Nous déclare par le vide
Qu’il n’est rien de si beau
Que ce qui n’existe pas.
Sur le miroir magique de sa blanche étendue,
L’âme voit devant elle le lieu des miracles
Que l’on ferait naître avec des signes et des lignes.
Cette présence d’absence surexcite
Et paralyse à la fois l’acte sans retour de la plume.
Il y a dans toute beauté une interdiction de toucher,
Il en émane je ne sais quoi de sacré
Qui suspend le geste, et fait l’homme
Sur le point d’agir se craindre soi-même.

2 – The Blank Sheet – English Translation of the French Poem

In truth, a blank sheet
Declares by the void
That there is nothing as beautiful
As that which does not exist.
]On the magic mirror of its white space,
The soul sees before her the place of the miracles
That we would bring to life with signs and lines.
This presence of absence over-excites
And at the same time paralyses the definitive act of the pen.
There is in all beauty a forbiddance to touch,
From which emanates I don’t know what of sacred
That stops the movement and puts the man
On the point of acting in fear of himself.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Summer Reading: Wuthering Heights/a poem by John Donne

I had a good friend in graduate school named Steve. We ended up with similar jobs. I called him now and again. The last time I spoke to him, lying on the floor of my office at school, he sounded, I told my husband, as if he were dead: his speech was halting and slurred. He was going through a divorce. It was not his idea.

Via the internet, I checked up on him now and again. A few years ago, I read an interview with him (conducted by a student). He said that his favorite book was "Wuthering Heights"--that he reread it every year and tried to teach it as much as he could.

I filed that away and thought that I would reread it and send him an email. Last month I finally read it while I was in Paris. It is not, I'm afraid, my favorite book. Maybe I need to try again--and again. I looked him up in a google search yesterday and discovered he died last November at the age of 68. No cause was given.

His obituary, written by a colleague, was kind, noting his wit and crankiness, making mention of his superlative gardening skills and his love of cats.  That sounded about right. I saw that his divorce took place in 1992--that was the last time I spoke to him, 26 years ago.

He wrote his thesis on numerology in Donne's poetry. He never published anything from it.

We were in a class together under an extraordinary scholar who directed both our dissertations. In that class he wrote a paper on Donne's "Hymn to God, my God in my Sickness." It is a magnificent poem. His paper was so good that he received an A+ on it. It had something to do with music. His father was an organ tuner in a small town in Indiana and Steve had some technical knowledge.

I always meant to ask him for a copy of the paper. An A+ is a rare accomplishment.



SINCE I am coming to that Holy room,
    Where, with Thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made Thy music ; as I come
    I tune the instrument here at the door,
    And what I must do then, think here before ;

Whilst my physicians by their love are grown
    Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie
Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown
    That this is my south-west discovery,
    Per fretum febris, by these straits to die ;

I joy, that in these straits I see my west ;
    For, though those currents yield return to none,
What shall my west hurt me ?  As west and east
    In all flat maps—and I am one—are one,
    So death doth touch the resurrection.

Is the Pacific sea my home ?  Or are
    The eastern riches ?  Is Jerusalem ?
Anyan, and Magellan, and Gibraltar ?
    All straits, and none but straits, are ways to them
    Whether where Japhet dwelt, or Cham, or Shem.

We think that Paradise and Calvary,
    Christ's cross and Adam's tree, stood in one place ;
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me ;
    As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face,
    May the last Adam's blood my soul embrace.

So, in His purple wrapp'd, receive me, Lord ;
    By these His thorns, give me His other crown ;
And as to others' souls I preach'd Thy word,
    Be this my text, my sermon to mine own,
    “Therefore that He may raise, the Lord throws down.”






Sunday, April 14, 2019

Stanley Plumly

I saw an obituary for the poet Stanley Plumly.
I have never read one of his poems.
His work is "not in my field"--loathsome concept.

When I taught at a college in Texas, grad student and friend VC (who was about 45--so 15 years ahead of me) took me to a poetry reading. She had owned a bookstore before returning to school.
SP was a handsome and distinguished fellow. Perhaps he taught at University of Houston at the time.
VC sat next to me with tears running down her face.
It turned out that she--smart, beautiful, and wealthy, though troubled--had had a brief affair with SP. He had spurned her.

That was 35 years ago. VC is close to 80. If we passed in an airport (I have met several people from the past in airports), we would not recognize each other.

I just read a few poems by Stanley Plumly. And a few by one of his wives, who jumped off a building at UMass, dying at 59.

I would like to read his work on Keats. Will I find the time?

Perhaps I should retire.

Infidelity

The two-toned Olds swinging sideways out of
the drive, the bone-white gravel kicked up in
a shot, my mother in the deathseat half

out the door, the door half shut--she’s being
pushed or wants to jump, I don’t remember.
The Olds is two kinds of green, hand-painted,
and blows black smoke like a coal-oil fire. I’m
stunned and feel a wind, like a machine, pass
through me, through my heart and mouth; I’m standing
in a field not fifty feet away, the
wheel of the wind closing the distance.
Then suddenly the car stops and my mother
falls with nothing, nothing to break the fall . . .

One of those moments we give too much to,
like the moment of acknowledgment of
betrayal, when the one who’s faithless has
nothing more to say and the silence is
terrifying since you must choose between
one or the other emptiness. I know
my mother’s face was covered black with blood
and that when she rose she too said nothing.
Language is a darkness pulled out of us.
But I screamed that day she was almost killed,
whether I wept or ran or threw a stone,
or stood stone-still, choosing at last between
parents, one of whom was driving away.

Infidelity

The two-toned Olds swinging sideways out of
the drive, the bone-white gravel kicked up in
a shot, my mother in the deathseat half

out the door, the door half shut--she's being
pushed or wants to jump, I don't remember.
The Olds is two kinds of green, hand-painted,
and blows black smoke like a coal-oil fire. I'm
stunned and feel a wind, like a machine, pass
through me, through my heart and mouth; I'm standing
in a field not fifty feet away, the
wheel of the wind closing the distance.
Then suddenly the car stops and my mother
falls with nothing, nothing to break the fall . . .

One of those moments we give too much to,
like the moment of acknowledgment of
betrayal, when the one who's faithless has
nothing more to say and the silence is
terrifying since you must choose between
one or the other emptiness. I know
my mother's face was covered black with blood
and that when she rose she too said nothing.
Language is a darkness pulled out of us.
But I screamed that day she was almost killed,
whether I wept or ran or threw a stone,
or stood stone-still, choosing at last between
parents, one of whom was driving away.
From Boy on the Step by Stanley Plumly. Copyright © 1989 by Stanley Plumly. Reprinted by permission of The Ecco Press.

Friday, September 21, 2018

About that time my friend and I were victims of sexual assault

Let's see, I was 16. Teri was 15.
We had a club held over our heads.
We got back to Teri's house and called the police.
I was crying as i gave the info to the operator--we had car description, perpetrator description, etc.
We waited for many hours.
The police never showed up.

WE DID NOT TELL OUR PARENTS.

Massapequa NY circa 1970.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

In Between: a Draft

When Tom and I first lived here, we met a very brainy couple. Cara was the daughter of a nurse and a radical lawyer. Cara and Kirk explained to us  a characteristic of Louisiana. They said that to understand Louisiana, we had to understand that there was a small upper class, a giant lower/poverty class, and a relatively small middle class. I don't know if this is statistically true, but it APPEARS to be true.

At the gallery opening, I talked to other people in the middle, teachers mostly. As I wandered around, I overheard bits of conversation. A tough looking guy in a motorcycle teeshirt with cut-off sleeves was talking about a property in Paris that he had looked at for 800,000 euros. Only 1800 square feet, he exclaimed. He must have been the owner of the Harley outside.

Most of the attendees were members of the upper classes: beautifully dressed women, preppily dressed men (except for Mr Harley), who bore themselves with aristocratic self-assurance. Everyone was white.

Earlier that day, I visited the Food Bank Thrift Store (which has recently rebranded as a RESALE store). There I mostly encounter members of the lower classes, some black, some white, and, since Hurricane Katrina, some Hispanic. I have quite a few buddies among the shoppers--we go way back! But their financial struggles are not mine. I try not to mention that I travel to Europe. I call myself a teacher, not a professor. I dress way down.

I do encounter some of the upper classes at the thrift store...erm RESALE store. Based on newspaper coverage, I can say that this is the high status place to volunteer, to serve on the board, and to donate. Recently, a whole fleet of black Mercedes were in the parking lot, including one with an Honorary Consul license plate!

My encounters with the upper classes are with their cast-offs. I have learned a lot from drycleaning tags!

To be continued....maybe