Saturday, September 30, 2006

Stanley Kunitz "Day of Foreboding"

Day of Foreboding

Great events are about to happen.
I have seen migratory birds
in unprecedented numbers
descend on the coastal plain,
picking the margins clean.
My bones are a family in their tent
huddled over a small fire
waiting for the uncertain signal
to resume the long march.


Friday, September 29, 2006

Cathy Smith Bowers

Flying to Sausalito with My Sisters

In a cloud above the Badlands
Rosie's right hand
newly bandaged.
Beside her, rage

disguised - tiny carninoma
grazing Trisha's
wrist. Under my
arm the knot I've

just discovered. Our bodies' deep
cargo of grief
enroute to our
dying brother.


Thursday, September 28, 2006


On Reading

Some fathers hate to read but love to take the family on trips. Some children hate trips but love to read. Funny how often these find themselves passengers in the same automobile. I glimpsed the stupendous clear-cut shoulders of the Rockies from between paragraphs of Madame Bovary. Cloud shadows roved languidly across her huge rock throat, traced her fir flanks. Since those days, I do not look at hair on female flesh without thinking, Deciduous?

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The DNA of Literature

Paris Review DNA of Literature is an online collection of interviews from the 1950s onward. You can search by author, or by decade. It is a treasure trove. The 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s are complete, the 1980s interviews are being completed. For the 1990s up to today there are only snippets.

Here's Andrea Barrett interviewed by Elizabeth Gaffney in 2003


You said you didn’t go home much for twenty years. Your books contain quite a few lost parents, separated siblings, adoptions. Does any of that derive from your own life story?


Writers tend to guard themselves from perceiving that kind of thing, but even I can see themes in my work. But it’s not an autobiography; it’s metaphor. I’m not adopted. Nobody in my family that I’m aware of was adopted, and my family is actually large, blended, and complicated. But that longing and that sense of absence and fragmentation are perhaps other ways of expressing the actualities of my family. Different facts, same emotions.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Chaucer translation update

Thanks to advice from Jilly, I now have a the Nevill Coghill translation of The Canterbury Tales.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Korinna of Tanagra 6th C BCE

I Korinna am here to sing the courage
of heroes and heroines in old myths.
to Tanagra's daughters in their white robes
I sing. And all the city is delighted
with the clean water of my plaintive voice.

-translation by Willis Barnstone

Information on Korinna.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

National Punctuation Day, September 24

Yup, it's National Punctuation Day, " a day to remind business people that they are often judged by how they present themselves."

Here are some photos of chronic punctuation abusers.

Thanks to my pal Jilly at Poetry Hut for the link.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Chaucer translations?

I was in the mood for The Canterbury Tales, so I picked up my Portable Chaucer and started to read, but gawwwwk. Too awful. So I'm on a hunt for a good translation. Suggestions? I think the best for me might be a side by side, like a classical gloss.

Here's the original, which unfortunately I find too difficult to read:
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Here is the clunky translation by Theodore Morrison from The Portable Chaucer:
As soon as April pierces to the root
The dought of march, and bathes each bud and shoot
Through every vein of sap with gentle showers,
From whose engendering liquor spring the flowers;

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Lucille Clifton


i don't promise you nothing
but this
what you pawn
i will redeem
what you steal
i will conceal
my private silence to
your public guilt
is all i got

first time a white man
opens his fly
like a good thing
we'll just laugh
laugh real loud my
black women

when they ask you
why is your mama so funny
she is a poet
she don't have no sense

Lucille Clifton at The Academy of American Poets.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Liz Carpenter

Arthur Schlesinger, JR, stopped Carpenter to make the following comment, "I liked your book, Liz. Who wrote it for you?"
She replied brightly, "I'm glad you liked it, Arthur. Who read it to you?"

Texas Women's Hall of Fame on Liz Carpenter, which includes a photo. "Under President Gerald Ford, Mrs. Carpenter served on the International Women's Year Commission, and President Jimmy Carter appointed her Assistant Secretary of Education for Public Affairs...She is a founding member of the National Women's Political Caucus."


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Francis Steegmuller 1906-1994

I compared translations of Madame Bovary, and Steegmuller's was the best. Also, his wife, Shirley Hazzard, is one of my favorite authors. Here's what the New York Review of Books says about Steegmuller:

"Francis Steegmuller was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1906, and educated in the public schools of Greenwich and at Columbia University. He was the author of many works about French culture and its great literary figures; translator of Gustave Flaubert's letters and of the Modern Library edition of Madame Bovary. He was the recipient of many literary honors, including the National Book Award for his biography of Jean Cocteau, and he was a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

Steegmuller divided his life between New York City and Europe. In 1963, he married the novelist Shirley Hazzard. He died in Naples in 1994."

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Monday, September 18, 2006


Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the correct name, but everyone always says, "I'm going to Ashland for a Shakespeare fix." We go every year and see six plays in four days. This year we saw these plays, in order of best to worst:

King John by WS
Intimate Apparel by Lynn Notage*
Bus Stop by William Inge*
The Winter's Tale by WS
Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde by David Edgar
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.**

*tied for second place in my ranking.

**Earnest is my favorite comedy in the whole wide world. The director of this production apparently felt that he was funnier than Mr. Wilde. He was in error.

I like Winter's Tale more each time I see it. It is truly a play for the middle of life. When I first saw it, as a teenager, I simply did not get it. Now I get it. The Leontes was pretty awful in this production, lots of ranting and not much going on underneath the wig, but what redeemed the entire production was how deep Hermione was. Hermione was played by Miriam A. Laube, and she is now on my short list of exceptional actors: Robynn Rodriguez, Armando Duran, Suzanne Irving, Derek Lee Weeden, Tyler Layton, Richard Howard, G. Valmont Thomas. Hey, actually this is a pretty long list!


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas

Abby Thomas is a fine writer, an excellent teacher, and an all around swell person. She teaches at the New School in NY, and at Queens, which is where I studied with her.

Safekeeping: some true stores from a life, is a memoir told in very short chapters. Here's a sample:

Something Overheard

It was at a party in what was to become SoHo, lots of drinking, lots of smoke, and somebody said something I didn't catch, and another man replied, one hand on the back of his own head, the other holding a cigarette, both men wearing togas as I recall, "Oh honey, any sense of security is a false sense of security." Everybody laughed, but I didn't get it. I just didn't get it. What was so funny? What did it mean?
Now I get it.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Women in Greek Myth

Women in Greek Myth by Mary Lefkowitz is a scholarly work. Does that make you want to run and scream? Or draw near and wrinkle your brow? She's a professor at Wellesley College, and her thesis is that ancient men were afraid of ancient women's intelligence, not their sexuality. And she's got the footnotes to back it up. Here's the beginning of the Preface:

"The Greeks' most important legacy is not, as we would like to think, democracy; it is their mythology...even in the twentieth century, when man has acquired greater power than ever before to alter the natural world, the old myths continue to haunt us, not just in the form of nymphs and shepherds on vases or garden statuary, but in many common assumptions about the shape of human experience...

In this book I wish not only to describe how the Greeks portrayed female experience in myth, but also to suggest why in the hands of the great poets the narrative patterns were not as restrictive...I believe that it is possible to show that the Greeks at least attributed to women a capacity for understanding that we do not always find in the other great mythological tradition that has influenced us, namely, the Old and New Testaments."

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

more Ogden Nash


I've never seen an abominable snowman,
I'm hoping not to see one,
I'm also hoping, if I do,
That it will be a wee one.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006



The speaker in this case
is a middle-aged witch, me--
tangled on my two great arms,
my face in a book
and my mouth wide,
ready to tell you a story or two.
I have come to remind you,
all of you:
Alice, Samuel, Kurt, Eleanor,
Jane, Brian, Maryel,
all of you draw near.
at fifty-six do you remember?
Do you remember when you
were read to as a child?
at twenty-two have you forgotten?
Forgotten the ten p.m. dreams
where the wicked king
went up in smoke?
Are you comatose?
Are you undersea?
my dears,
let me present to you this boy.
He is sixteen and he wants some answers.
he is each of us.
I mean you.
I mean me.
It is not enough to read Hesse
and drink clam chowder
we must have the answers.
The boy has found a gold key
and he is looking for what it will open.
This boy!
Upon finding a nickel
he would look for a wallet.
This boy!
Upon finding a string
he would look for a harp.
Therefore he holds the key tightly.
Its secrets whimper
like a dog in heat.
He turns the key.
It opens this book of odd tales
which transform the Brothers Grimm.
As if an enlarged paper clip
could be a piece of sculpture.
(And it could.)


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bret Lott

"Ah. Surrender.

This is the rub, finally, to becoming a writer of any merit: the surrending of one's will to the work at hand...

listen to what I can only think of as the heartbeat of your character's story, the rhythm of associations combined with the action you see before you, both evolving in and of themselves to form what is the time of the story. Not your time...

Certainly it pays to have a plan, a ballpark idea of what might occur. But by allowing association to be made--whether in the form of flashbacks, or impressions, dreams, influences, even shapes in the clouds or the way shadows change between late August and the first day of September--time will reel itself in the direction it so choses, so long as the author is listening to the story, allowing its heartbeat to become the author's own."


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

H.D. 1886-1961

H.D. bio at The Academy of American Poets. Trilogy came out in 1946.


Too old to be useful
(whether in years or experience,

we are the same lot)
not old enough to be dead,

we are the keepers of the secret,
the carriers, the spinners

of the rare intangible thread
that binds all humanity

to ancient wisdom,
to antiquity;

our joy is unique, to us,
grape, knife, cup, wheat

are symbols in eternity,
and every concrete object

has abstract value, is timeless
in the dream parallel

whose relative sigil has not changed
since Nineveh and Babel.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Zsa Zsa Gabor b.1917/8?

Zsa Zsa Gabor was pretty, witty, much-married, and famous for being famous. For a list of all nine husbands, click here.

" A girl must marry for love, and keep on marrying until she finds it."

"I'm a wonderful housekeeper. Every time I get a divorce, I keep the house."

"Conrad Hilton was very generous to me in the divorce settlement. He gave me 5,000 Gideon Bibles."

Her answer to the question of how many husbands she had: "You mean, other than my own?"


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Alix Ohlin's Babylon and Other Stories

Alix Ohlin has a new book out, Babylon and Other Stories, and I just this evening finished reading the final story. Wow. Now I'm ready to read her novel, The Missing Person, newly arrived in paperback, originally published in 2005. Ohlin's understanding of the undercurrents of terror and misery is pitch perfect. Her characters are varied and unpredictable and believable. Her plots are surprising and inevitable. What a pleasure!

Here's the beginning of the first story, "The King of Kohlrabi:"

It was a summer of disasters. I was sixteen and just starting to relax fully into my vacation when my father took my mother and me out to dinner at the New Chinatown and told us over the King Pao chicken that he'd fallen in love with his law partner, Margaret, and the two of them were "going away for a while" to "sort things out." While he was talking, he twisted a corner of the tablecloth into a ring in his right hand.

My mother, leaning back in the corner of the booth, said, "Oh, for crying out loud." She sounded annoyed. She was drinking a Mai Tai, as usual, and had given me the umbrella, also as usual. Tonight's was blue and I twirled it between my fingers. I was always pleasantly surprised that it really opened and closed, just like a real umbrella. I stuck it into a piece of my chicken and moved some baby carrots and water chestnuts into an arrangement around it, like small, edible patio furniture. No one said anything. I stared at the couple at the table next to us, who were sharing a Volcano, holidng hands over the blue flame in the center of it. They saw me looking and loosed their hands as if they were embarrassed.


Friday, September 01, 2006

more from Andrew Dalby

from Part II, Food & Gastronomy of the Classical Aegean

"Sparta attracted all the worst anecdotes for bad food and uncomfortable hospitality. The 'black broth' was legendary. 'Naturally Spartans are the bravest men in the world. Anyone in his senses would rather die ten thousand times than take his share of such a sorry diet,' a Subarite was supposed to have said." p 126.