Friday, April 30, 2010

Quote du Jour: Some Lucid Pound


As one soul who fell into the world in the midst of the shitstorm known as the post-war baby boom, Donald Hall’s brilliant book, Their Ancient Glittering Eyes, with its intimate portraits of Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, Marianne Moore and Ezra Pound (among others) is particularly significant. With the exception of Dylan Thomas, who had already committed his public suicide when I was very young, these poets were all still alive in those years when I was first discovering my love of poetry. Collectively they formed what was at that time the Poetry Establishment. I only wish that Hall had also had experiences which would have allowed him to include e. e. cummings in the mix.

It is true that Pound was considered crazy and pretty much discounted by the time I have memories of him, but he loomed large in the pantheon, nonetheless. Pound may have been an ex-patriot fascist nutcase where it came to politics, but as an artist he was both brilliant and crucially important to the development of Modernism. Today's QdJ, from Hall’s interview with Pound, is an example of the perceptive intelligence underlying the madness:

Interviewer: Your work includes a great range of experience, as well as of form. What do you think is the greatest quality a poet can have? Is it formal, or is it a quality of thinking?

Ezra Pound: I don’t know that you can put the needed qualities in hierarchic order, but he must have a continuous curiosity, which of course does not make him a writer, but if he hasn’t got that he will wither. And the question of doing anything about it depends on a persistent energy. ...The transit from the reception of stimuli to the recording, to the correlation, that is what takes the whole energy of a lifetime.

(How could any poet look more American than does Pound in the portrait above? And don’t it make your brown eyes blue?)


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reminiscences: A Diamond Sutra

Q: xxRodak—are you able to alchemically meld your current enthusiasm for poetry with your stated intention of posting images from your collection of vintage baseball pix?

A: xxFuck, yeah! As Latka might have said on Taxi, back in the day, “It’s a piece of pie!"


Here, from Donald Hall’s excellent book on famous poets, Their Ancient Glittering Eyes, is an excerpt of his interview with famous Modernist poet, Marianne Moore:

Marianne Moore

Interviewer: I know you have a number of diverse fascinations. Have you been going to baseball games at all lately?

Miss Moore: No, a Mets and Pirates game in the spring of 1964 is the last thing I saw. Oh, yes, on television I saw Warren Spahn. It’s wonderful what confidence he inspires. And he’s not just a child, either.

Warren Spahn

Interviewer: He’s forty-three years old.

Miss Moore: Yes. And I was delighted when the Cardinals won the World Series, because of Ken Boyer. He has shown great fortitude, I think. He had only dreamed of playing in the World Series, let alone hoped to win. I thought that rather touching. Cletis and he ought to be on the same team.

So, how’m I doin’? To close the circle, here is Marianne Moore, writing poetry about baseball.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Reminiscences: The Reporter- Part 2: 1949



In this previous post I wrote of how a small collection of the long-defunct magazine The Reporter had come into my possession. I said that I would soon be posting more about it, and I have yet to do so. This has been nagging at me and preventing me from concentrating on other interests. If there is one thing I hate, it’s people who say they are going to do something and then fail to do it. I say this knowing full-well that there is nobody out there tapping his foot while he impatiently waits for my next post on The Reporter. That doesn't help.

It is also true that I don’t feel much like writing about The Reporter right now. My heart isn’t in it. I’m currently into poetry and sick of politics. Looking through these old magazines, heavily weighted with Cold War, Red Scare, and pre-Civil Rights politics as they are, does not much appeal to me. But, do it I must, since I have said that I would.

The cover story of the earliest issue of the magazine in the collection is presented by a cartoonist’s depiction of the Alger Hiss trial. The listing of the article in the table of contents goes like this: The Case of Alger Hiss: Perjury and the defendant have little to do with it; to the public the ghosts of the New Deal are on trial. Hmm. Plus ça change, eh?

The issue is from 1949, the first year of the magazine’s publication. This is not, however, the premiere issue; it is Volume 1, No. 10. In featuring graphic cover art with topical themes, rather than photographs, the magazine is reminiscent of The New Yorker. It also reminds me of another defunct periodical to which I was once a subscriber: the Saturday Review.

The collection of the magazine that I've acquired is not comprehensive. It includes only those issues of the mag in which articles—mostly book reviews, I think—by the scholar and critic, Sidney Alexander, appear. The one in this issue is “G.I.’s and Giottos”—an article about the “four hundred American veterans studying in Italy under the G.I. Bill,” fifty of whom Alexander has discovered to be in Florence.

One interesting paragraph, which seems to be typical of the magazine’s focus, begins with this sentence: “Among the veterans, Negroes form a special group of what I would call American Displaced Persons. Many of them have been here now for more than five years—in suntans and in mufti.” He quotes one Black expatriot: “When am I going home?...Never, I hope. …First time in my life I’ve been treated like a human being. Nobody here cares about the color of my skin. I’m married to an Italian girl. In Italy we can live anywhere we want if we have the money. Why should I go back to Jim Crow and colored slums?”

The same issue contains a full article, written by an African American woman: From Where I Stand: A Negro housewife looks back on a good (and bad) life. This article is presented under the heading “Inside America”. The author’s name is Alyce McComb. It is a reminiscence of growing up Black in the north: “While growing up, we kids learned to work with what we had, in the virtual paradise back of the railway yards in Chicago where God had seen fit to place us. In those days two dollars a day supported a family of five in pretty good style.” It would seem that The Reporter strived to be fair and balanced.

There is an article about Adlai Stevenson’s first year as governor of Illinois. Another is entitled, A Vote for Academic Freedom: A college president says that in choosing teachers the universities can and should govern themselves. One of the conspicuously Cold War-oriented pieces is, Tito is Not for Sale: Yugoslavia’s Communist-in-Chief, who would not bow to Stalin, will not be easy for the West to handle. There is also an article about the great and famous cellist, Pablo Casals, who at that time was conducting a boycott: “Please state very clearly,” said Pablo Casals, “that I love the Americans and I love the British. I once had faith in their governments, but I have been deceived. It would not be dignified to go to those countries and earn money under such circumstances.” ...“I merely cannot accept the fact that the American and British governments have relations with such a man as Franco. It is not dignified.”

You gotta love those artists (and hate those poltiticians.)

There: I’ve done my duty. I’ll close with one of this issue's Cold War cartoons:

I forgot to mention that the "A-Bomb" was also an obsession in those years, and for long after.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Quote du Jour: Gutting a Sacred Cow

"The Romantic theory assumes that literature is mainly or even purely an emotional experience, that man is naturally good, that man's impulses are trustworthy, that the rational faculty is unreliable to the point of being dangerous or possibly evil. The Romantic theory of human nature teaches that if man will rely upon his impulses, he will achieve the good life. When this notion is combined, as it frequently is, with a pantheistic philosophy or religion, it commonly teaches that through surrender to impulse man will not only achieve the good life but will achieve also a kind of mystical union with the Divinity: this, for example, is the doctrine of Emerson." ~ Yvor Winters, In Defense of Reason.

This guy certainly has my number...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Quote(s) du Jour: some Proust

In tipping my hat to both the artistic (painterly) sensibilities of Marcel Proust himself, and to the mastery of his translator, C. K. Scott Moncrieff, I offer first the steeple of Saint-Hilaire through the young eyes of the narrator,

And on one of the longest walks we ever took from Combray there was a spot where the narrow road emerged suddenly on to an immense plain, closed at the horizon by strips of forest over which rose and stood alone the fine point of Saint-Hilaire’s steeple, but so sharpened and so pink that it seemed to be no more than sketched on the sky by the finger-nail of a painter anxious to give to such a landscape, to so pure a piece of ‘nature,’ this little sign of art, this single indication of human existence.
and then through the venerable eyes of his grandmother:

“My dears, laugh at me if you like; it is not conventionally beautiful, but there is something in its quaint old face which pleases me. If it could play the piano, I am sure it would really play.” And when she gazed on it, when her eyes followed the gentle tension, the fervent inclination of its stony slopes which drew together as they rose, like hands joined in prayer, she would absorb herself so utterly in the outpouring of the spire that her gaze seemed to leap upwards with it; her lips at the same time curving in a friendly smile for the worn old stones of which the setting sun now illumined no more than the topmost pinnacles, which, at the point where they entered that zone of sunlight and were softened and sweetened by it, seemed to have mounted suddenly far higher, to have become truly remote, like a song whose singer breaks into falsetto, an octave above the accompanying air.
Gorgeous. Somehow, it seems that one obtains such perspectives only in Europe.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Remembrances: Root-root-root for the home team

Now that baseball season is well under way, a nostalgic Rodak remembers the good old days back in Michigan, when Jim Bunning was one of the Good Guys.

As this picture makes crystal clear, Bunning was real nasty in his playing days, coming at you from the right. That much hasn't changed. But, today the senile old fart is throwing the wrong kind of heat.

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, already. Sheeesh!


That picture of Bunning, btw, did not come from Google Images, but from a cache of similar pix, clipped by yours truly from sports mags in the late '50s and early '60s and kept all these years. I have dozens and dozens of them and will share others throughout the baseball season this year.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Remembrances: The Reporter – Part 1: The Archives


Space is always the issue in an archives; specifically, shelf-space. Even though from this time forward much that is archived for posterity will be preserved digitally, boxes of paper records will continue to be carted into the archives of the world for decades to come. A Distinguished Professor retires, or dies with his tweeds on, and it is as though a cosmic lever were flipped and a trapdoor thrown open. A huge mass of paper, crammed more or less randomly into manila folders, themselves crammed more or less randomly into cardboard boxes—all of it indifferently labeled—is funneled into the archives with a great WHOOSH.

When the dust has settled, it is necessary for somebody to put it all into indexed order, for use down time’s weary road by the archives’ only patron: the Researcher of the Future.

In point of fact, it is often decades before an accessioned collection receives even preliminary attention. To “accession” a set of records is to take possession of those records; to sign on for their care and feeding for the duration. It is, in a sense, not unlike adopting a child. But there is a dark side to archiving that is not available to the foster parent—deaccession. (Well, it wasn’t available until that woman in Tennessee sent that kid back to Mother Russia alone with a note pinned to his shirt.)

But I digress. Cue the shark music from Jaws and let’s get on with it:

Deaccessioning is a matter as dire as defenestration. It is a matter more grave to be deaccessioned than it is to be defrocked. For the deaccessioned all is finito; the merely defrocked will live to grope again. To be deaccessioned is to be torn from the security of the only shelf you can remember, from the snug and cozy eyrie where you spent many months and years, safe and sound in your warm, dry box. It is to be tossed with extreme prejudice into time’s oubliette. It is to find yourself suddenly stacked with mere trash on a damp, dark loading dock, awaiting the arrival of the Grim Shredder’s recycling truck. It is the end of the road.

Only once in a blue moon does a set of deaccessioned materials fall into the hands of a compulsive human pack rat before the worst has happened. This is one such story.

It’s not a long one, but I will make it even shorter. A set of approximately 35 issues of the magazine The Reporter, marked for deaccession, came to my attention. And I snatched them up and gave them a new home. The earliest one is dated August 30, 1949. The last one in the collection is dated December 15, 1966. The magazine covers current events--both political and cultural--during a period of history in which I was a toddler, child, and adolescent. There is much that I can learn from perusing the pages of this cache of liberal journalism from the past. It is my intention to share, from time to time, some of the insights thus gleaned here at Rodak Riffs.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Readings: Proust


I am now forty pages into the first section of Swann's Way, and determined, after a lifetime of failed attempts, to finally read the whole thing.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rants: An Irony

The irony is that certain comments of mine have recently been characterized as “bigoted” by a Catholic.

Objective observers will have noted that the context provided for the word “Protestant” by Catholic priests (and committed laymen) will most frequently cause it to resonate like the epithet “Nigra,” as spewed from the Mail Pouch-stained lips of a Mississippi deputy sheriff, circa 1960.

“Who is my mother? and who are my brothers?”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reflections: Why His Old Eyes Shine


I have written before about the poet, Donald Hall. I find myself currently reading a book of his that I picked up some time ago and have never gotten around to reading. This book, Their Ancient Glittering Eyes, is a revision of an earlier book – Remembering Poets – extended by the addition of “More Poets.”

I may have mentioned in earlier posts that I consider Donald Hall to be a better writer of prose than he is a poet. In my humble, though perhaps biased, opinion, Hall’s wife (and my high school classmate), Jane Kenyon, was a better poet. Given the excerpt that follows, clipped from Hall’s introduction to Their Ancient Glittering Eyes (“Introduction: Old Poets”), I believe that he gives me permission to execute such a ranking. That which applies to the poem must likewise be applicable to the poet. Here is Hall:

It goes without saying – or it ought to – that we love some poems and call them great. When I wrote Remembering Poets I felt unabashed in my admiration for great poems. I still do. In the early 1920s Robert Grave’s examiners at Oxford reproved him for thinking that some poems were better than others. For decades, Graves’s anecdote ridiculed dons who found quality irrelevant, or the assertion of quality presumptuous. Now, in academic America, some dons again find it unscrupulous or naïve or oppressive to claim that one poem is better than another. The idea of superiority comes into question. Surely superiority is an awkward idea, even oppressive; but so is death. “There is no order,” said Samuel Johnson, “without subordination.”

A few pages further on in the same introduction, Hall introduces the topic of intimations of mortality, insofar as these harbingers of finality affect the emotional comfort of poets, and others. You may find it laughable that I have regarded myself primarily as a poet throughout my adult life. Since I’ve had neither the kind of ambition of which Hall speaks below, nor any capacity for self-promotion, my bardic self-image has gone virtually undetected by the world-at-large. But I’ve had no other profession. Ergo, whether I merit such bittersweet agony, or not, I feel that which Hall presents below to the very marrow:

... All poets die without knowing what their work is worth; many fear not only that they have messed up their lives for nothing, but that they have harmed the lives of others.
Maybe no one ambitious, in any line of work, dies with conviction of accomplishment. Throughout their lives, dissatisfaction with work done drives ambitious people to try again. While they keep life and energy, the disparity between goal and achievement can be countered by plans for further work, but when death is imminent, or when old age drains ability and strength, depression over failure may become inexorable. Remember Leonardo’s melancholy question at the end of his life: “Tell me if anything ever was done.”

Okay. So I’m an elitist, suffering under the self-delusion that I’m a poet. So shoot me.

Addendum: Depending, I guess, on whether your orientation is one of introversion or extraversion, should you remove the dust jacket of my copy of Their Ancient Glittering Eyes, you would discover that either: the cover is attached upside down; or the pages are inverted top-to-bottom.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Reportage: The First Victim

Having been involved (as a member of the loyal opposition) since before Easter in the roiling waters of the Catholic blogosphere with regard to the Vatican/child abuse issue, I was relieved to learn via Fox News yesterday evening that the Vatican had announced a straight-forward policy stating unequivocally that abusive priests should be reported to the proper authorities in accordance with local statutes. While victims groups have apparently not been fully satisfied with the language of this announcement, it was good enough to satisfy my jones for justice. I praised this move on the part of the Vatican on Twitter, as well as below here.

During this period of controversy I have taken part in interesting discussions of the issue at Vox Nova, and then (uncomfortably heated) at Disputations. In the aftermath, I became curious as to what—if anything— my erstwhile cyberbuddy, Zippy, was saying about the issue. So I zipped over to Zippy Catholic to take a peek.

Since, in my experience, Zippy is ever wont to have strong opinions on subjects that interest him, I was prepared to find that he’d had much to say on this issue. I was surprised to find that, while the topic did headline his latest post, it was brief to the point of minimalism.

Zippy’s header is self-explanatory; he thinks the public is being spun by an evil press corps. His only comment consists of what—to me anyway—is a non-sequitur: from what hat does the Zipster yank his “kittens?” The substance of his post is a link to an article at the blog, Philokalia Republic (PR). You may read the whole thing here, if you haven’t already linked to it from Zippy Catholic.

The author of the PR piece is in full agreement with Zippy that the news-hungry, but gullible, public is being spun by a biased press, determined—for obscure reasons of its own—to discredit the Catholic Church. These allegations are focused on these words:

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Benedict, facing one of the gravest crises of his pontificate as a sexual abuse scandal sweeps the Church, indicated on Sunday that his faith would give him the courage not to be intimidated by critics. [emphasis added]

Although the PR post mentions the following disclaimer in the Reuters piece,

While he did not directly mention the scandal involving sexual abuse of children by priests, parts of his sermon could be applicable to the crisis he and the Roman Catholic Church are facing.

The pontiff said faith in God helps lead one "toward the courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion."

PR goes on to discredit that disclaimer with the suggestion that,

That “could be" then becomes a basis for a load of inflammatory speculation as the Reuters writer presents himself as a reliable interpreter of these "signals."

Yes, it certainly does look as though PR has identified and brought to light the deployment of disinformation and spin-most-foul on the part of those anti-Eucharistic conspirators at Reuters:

The implication, of course, is that the Pope thinks the abuse allegations are "petty gossip" used to "intimidate" him. This is the hook most major media, including Reuters, used to attract readers and spin the story.

But, wait…

What PR has in turn failed to inform its readers about is this prior Reuters piece in which we learn that

VATICAN CITY, April 4 (Reuters) - A leading cardinal defended Pope Benedict at an unusual address [emphasis added] at the pontiff's Easter Sunday Mass, saying the Church would not be intimidated by "petty gossip" about sexual abuse of children by priests.

Wow. It sure does look like there was every reason to assume that the mention of gossip “in [the pope’s] own Easter address hours later [emphasis added] was meant to be taken as an allusion to the heated sexual abuse controversy--to receive some message concerning which the entire world had been waiting in anticipation for the pope’s Easter address.

The “leading cardinal” had softened up the pope’s audience by providing a talking point (no intimidation/influence) and a buzz-word (gossip) within the explicit context of the sexual abuse controversy. So just how, then, was any well-informed listener to take the pope’s subsequent use of those same words as anything other than an allusion to that same scandal?

To sum up, then, just who is zooming whom here? It looks to this Protestant heretic that the Catholic press is spinning its readership at least as hard, and with as little integrity, as the pagan press is spinning the general public.

Predictably, where there are shames to be shunted off into the shadows, and where there are axes to be ground, the Truth is the first victim led to the chopping block.

Quote du Jour: Social Reprobation

"Pharisees: 'Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward.' Inversely, Christ could have said of the publicans and prostitutes: 'Verily I say unto you, they have received their punishment'--that is to say social reprobation. In so far as they have received this, the Father who is in secret does not punish them. Whereas the sins which are not accompanied by social reprobation receive their full measure of punishment from the Father who is in secret. Thus social reprobation is a favour on the part of destiny. It turns into a supplementary evil, however, for those who, under the pressure of this reprobation, manufacture for themselves eccentric social surroundings within which they have full licence."
XXXX ~ Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, "The Great Beast"

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Reflections: Sing the Blues, 'Zeke

On the one hand we have...

On the other hand, there's always the hope that...

Ezekiel 37:1 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he led me out in the spirit of the LORD and set me in the center of the plain, which was now filled with bones. 2 He made me walk among them in every direction so that I saw how many they were on the surface of the plain. How dry they were! 3 He asked me: Son of man, can these bones come to life? "Lord GOD," I answered, "you alone know that." 4 Then he said to me: Prophesy over these bones, and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: See! I will bring spirit into you, that you may come to life. 6 I will put sinews upon you, make flesh grow over you, cover you with skin, and put spirit in you so that you may come to life and know that I am the LORD. 7 I prophesied as I had been told, and even as I was prophesying I heard a noise; it was a rattling as the bones came together, bone joining bone. 8 I saw the sinews and the flesh come upon them, and the skin cover them, but there was no spirit in them. 9 Then he said to me: Prophesy to the spirit, prophesy, son of man, and say to the spirit: Thus says the Lord GOD: From the four winds come, O spirit, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life. 10 I prophesied as he told me, and the spirit came into them; they came alive and stood upright, a vast army. 11 Then he said to me: Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They have been saying, "Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off." 12 Therefore, prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! 14 I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the LORD. I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.

Graphic credit: Shaun Tan-

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Rodak's Drawings

I call it Nippled Seraph with Webcam Reflection. Feast your failed eyes, you sorry collection of philistines and trolls.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Riffs: Been There, Done That



Reviews: Play It Again, Sam

Barack Obama throws like Joe Frazier swims and like Chris Matthews dances.

Reflections: Lame

Human society throws like a girl--no follow-through.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Readings/Writings: Conjunctions


Anybody who has stopped by Rodak Riffs in the past couple of weeks is aware that I’ve been reading the poetry of Kay Ryan. What I haven’t mentioned recently is that during this period I’ve also still been deep into Robin D. G. Kelley’s detailed and rather wonderful biography of jazz great, Thelonious Monk.

A couple of days ago, after putting down the Monk bio, I picked up Kay Ryan’s collection, Elephant Rocks, and read the following poem:

Les Petites Confitures

(The Little Jams)

These three pieces
in Satie’s elegant notation
were just discovered
at the Métro station
where he rolled them
in a Figaro of April twenty-second,
nineteen twenty-seven,
and put them in a pipe
two inches in diameter, the type
then commonly used for banisters.
They are three sticky pieces
for piano or banjo—
each instrument to be played
so as to sound like the other.
That is really the hub
Of the amustement. Each piece
Lasts about a minute.

When they were first tried
after being in the pipe,
they kept rolling back up.
Really, keeping them flat
was half the banjo-piano
man’s work.

Nice poem. Not my favorite of hers, but nice. The thing that struck me about it, though, was that it speaks of French composer, Erik Satie (like Monk, a pianist) hiding his musical scores—a bizarre kind of notion, perhaps based on fact?

Anyway, what this brought to mind was a passage from a short story that I wrote years ago, which story includes a dream sequence in which Thelonious Monk is featured, and in which Erik Satie hides sheet music. Here is that passage:

In another world, Erik Satie slept. In a dream, Satie saw Thelonious Monk kneel to remove a ring of gold from the toe of a reclining blonde, who was Jean Harlow. Monk cut the ring with a steel blade and slipped it through the black lobe of his right ear. When Satie awoke, he crossed to his piano and composed new music of duned snow and spun gold. He gave his piece but one perfect note per measure. Invisible birds looped in crimson frenzy between those vibrant jewels of sound. When he had finished, Satie removed the soiled sheets from his bed, stuffing them between the wall and the back of his battered upright piano, where he concealed from prying eyes the best of his compositions.

Yet, another synchronicitous correspondence manifested in my reading life.

The passage is from a story entitled “The Kid.” The theme of the story is the vulnerability of art and the artistic life to the encroachments of the larger world. If interested, you can read the whole thing here.

Readings: Oracle Cat


A Cat/A Future

A cat can draw
the blinds
behind her eyes
whenever she
decides. Nothing
alters in the stare
itself but she's
not there. Likewise
a future can occlude:
still sitting there,
doing nothing rude.

xx~ Kay Ryan, Elephant Rocks

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Reflections: ?

The fundamental question seems to be, "Why bother?"

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Quote du Jour: Ecclesiastes 10:1

Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour; so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.

Rants: ...but not funny ha-ha.


Wholly weak, Batman! Benny dicked us!