Monday, November 30, 2009

Isn't this a lovely scene?

I wish I was relaxing by the lake, but instead I'm busy wrangling dogs and trying to get some work done. If, unlike me, you have a little time to squander, I encourage you spend it with the erotic poetry of Kenneth Rexroth.

Lac dans la forêt avec deux nus, Otto Mueller, c.1915

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Saturday is my birthday...

...I think I'll spend it birdwatching. Hope you all have a nice weekend.

Jupiter and Mnemosyne, Marco Liberi (c.1640-87). Image from Web Gallery of Art.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Her face / Her tongue / Her wit"

Her face / Her tongue / Her wit
so fair / so sweet / so sharp
first bent / then drew / then hit
mine eye / mine ear / my heart

Read the complete poem here.

Prince and lady prolong their intercourse, c.1790

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In praise of bad perfume

If I had to name my least favorite mass market scent, I'd probably say ET White Diamonds. There are plenty of other perfumes that can claim huge and inexplicable popularity, but White Diamonds has a ferocious sillage that puts it a cut above the rest. There's no escaping its dense, distinctive fog, so suggestive of a wedding bouquet fried in chicken fat. To be fair, I don't think it was always as bad as it is now. In its early years (the 90s), I found it mediocre but inoffensive. I own a mini of it from those days, and the scent of that juice seems mellower than the aroma today's wearers leave in their wake. Maybe the formula has changed, or maybe I'm just indulging in the reflexive nostalgia that afflicts most perfumistas. In any case, I always hold my breath a little whenever I get stuck near a White Diamonds dowager, and make a mental note to go easy on my own obnoxious favorites (Miss Balmain, Fracas, etc.) so as not to perpetuate the cycle of suffering.

Last Friday, I was in the supermarket around 2 in the afternoon, and the store was crowded with old folks. (Strange, that, since senior discount day is Wednesday. Maybe they were giving the oldsters an early chance to shop safely, since this is Thanksgiving week, when no sane person enters a supermarket without pepper spray and a firearm.) I was scanning the shelves for club soda when the first cloud of White Diamonds engulfed me. I looked up to see a lady in a wheelchair cruising toward me, pushed along by her hired attendant. Her white hair was carefully curled. Her lips and nails were bright pink, as was her velour tracksuit. I grabbed my club soda and moved on to the cleaning aisle, where I found the sweet fragrance of Comet and Fabuloso competing with the scent of a superannuated redhead toddling along after her middle-aged daughter. She was wearing polyester slacks, a pearl-buttoned sweater, Easy Spirits and meticulous make-up along with her White Diamonds.

I had an impulse to flee from her, too, but instead I stayed put for a moment and watched her out of the corner of my eye. She was a bit feeble and her daughter was being grumpy with her, but you could tell she was a woman who still took a lot of pleasure in living. She put thought and effort into how she presented herself, which takes some courage in a culture that despises old people and would like to erase them from view. Her perfume made her defiantly, undeniably present to everyone she encountered; perhaps not exactly as she imagined it did, but then, what do any of us know about how the world perceives us?

Good for her, I thought, and all her aromatic sisters. They should keep spritzing White Diamonds as long as they have strength to work the nozzle. They should make the family give 'em gift sets for Christmas so they can layer the stuff. May they hang onto pleasure until their last days, and never surrender the juice until it's pried out of their cold, dead hands.

Portrait of the Empress Dowager Ci'an, c. 1850

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Taste of salt on my fingers..."

Taste of salt on my fingers,
that’s how
I like it:
the line of sea rising
above the dark-green pine,
the sea meeting
the horizon,
so always the eyes are lifted higher,
the pulse buoyed upward
with them
So it
should be for us all—

From "Sea-Map" by Hilda Morley. Read the complete poem and see it in its proper shape here.

Ins Meer Schreitende, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1912

Thursday, November 19, 2009

It's Thursday...

 it's time for me to call your attention to the latest offerings at Chapter 16.

Go here for Clay Risen's piece on novelist Richard Bausch, recipient of the 2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for his book (no kidding) Peace.

Lyda Phillips recalls her unlikely encounter with civil rights legend Stokely Carmichael here.

Paul McCoy has a Q&A here with Johnny Cash's biographer, Michael Streissguth, about Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, The List, and the Spirit of Southern Music.

And, in a Confederate double-header, you can go here for Lacey Galbraith's review of Robert Hicks' A Separate Country, while I've got a review of Madison Smartt Bell's novel Devil's Dream here.

Happy reading.

Girl Reading, Franz Eybl, 1850

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"So sad the field, so waste the ground"

Briar and fennel and chincapin,
And rue and ragweed everywhere;
The field seemed sick as a soul with sin,
Or dead of an old despair,
Born of an ancient care.

The cricket's cry and the locust's whirr,
And the note of a bird's distress,
With the rasping sound of the grasshopper,
Clung to the loneliness
Like burrs to a trailing dress.

So sad the field, so waste the ground,
So curst with an old despair,
A woodchuck's burrow, a blind mole's mound,
And a chipmunk's stony lair,
Seemed more than it could bear.

From "Waste Land" by Madison Cawein, 1913. The complete poem is here.

T. S Eliot may have borrowed elements of this poem for "The Waste Land." You'll find discussion and links on the matter at Cawein's Wikipedia page.

Drawing by Caspar David Friedrich, c. 1806

StarFlower, Anya's Garden

Creamy melted chocolate, grainy marzipan, a fleshy petal flecked with dew--those are just a few of the images that come to mind when sniffing StarFlower. You’ll notice all of them are rich with texture, as well as taste and smell. There’s a wonderful tangible quality to StarFlower that sets it apart from the typical sticky-sweet gourmand. Don’t get me wrong—it is sweet, and as luscious as the chocolate cherry cordials I used to gorge on when I was a child, but there’s a roughness present in the scent. Every whiff of StarFlower tickles the back of my throat with the irresistibly abrasive softness of crushed velvet.

The notes on Anya’s site tell the straight story: bitter almond, cherry, lemon, tuberose, chocolate, vanilla, and "animalic playfulness." What you read is what you get. (That final element is a cuddly critter, entirely skank-free.) On my skin, at least, StarFlower harbors no surprises. The almond at the top is gloriously potent, but the slow-arriving tuberose is quite tame. The chocolate note is actually present from the opening, but it gradually ascends to dominance as the flowers fade away. Happily, it lingers for hours without ever becoming stale. The thing I dislike about many gourmands is that the candy-coated base notes eventually begin to remind me of the smell that rises off the floor of a movie theater. No sign of that with StarFlower, which retains its freshness, probably thanks to the ghost of the tuberose.

In case it's not obvious, I am generally not the most ardent fan of sweetie-pie perfumes. Sharp green chypres and aldehydic florals are more my speed. My favorite scents from Anya's Garden are Fairchild and Pan, and their status is never going to be threatened by anything that reminds me of marzipan. But StarFlower is certainly one of the most interesting and beautiful olfactory confections I've ever encountered. Gourmand lovers should definitely check it out. I'm going to keep my sample handy, just for an occasional hit of its sweet charm.

Kinder beim Kirschenessen, Franz von Defregger, 1869

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


...there's a new post at Turn Outward. It may make you sleepy. If you're willing to risk that, go here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The shadows lengthen so fast...

My mother called this afternoon to tell me that her younger brother Hal has died. He had a massive heart attack and was gone before they could get him to a hospital. Hal was a bright spirit, always ready to laugh, and he loved to play practical jokes on my mom. They were very close all their lives, and it's so sad to know that she's lost him.

Hal, my mother, and their eldest brother Jimmy performed as a gospel trio when they were young, and they would usually sing whenever the family got together. I can't say I always enjoyed those impromptu performances, especially when I was a teenager, but the sound of their voices is a wonderful memory for me now. One song I remember them doing is "Suppertime," a country gospel standard. Its religious bathos made me cringe back in the day, and I guess it still does a little, but I understand the sentiment a lot better now than I did then.

This is a clip of Johnny Cash delivering the song about as well as anyone possibly could. I think Hal would enjoy it.

"Suppertime" was penned by Jimmie Davis, an interesting character you can read about here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Weep you lovers..."

Weep you lovers, since Love is also weeping,
and hear the reason that makes him full of tears.
Amor feels ladies calling on Pity,
revealing a bitter sorrow in their eyes,
because the villain Death in gentle heart
has set his cruel machinations,
destroying what the world has given praise to
in gentle lady, all except honour.
Hear how Amor has honoured her,
who in his true form I saw lamenting
bending above the lifeless image:
and often gazing upwards to the heavens,
where the gentle soul had already fled,
that was a lady of such joyful semblance.

From Dante's La Vita Nuova (The New Life), 1295. Translated by A.S. Kline.

Beatrice, Odilon Redon, 1885. Image from WebMuseum.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"The Promise of Living"

Aaron Copland was born on November 14, 1900. In recognition of the day, here's a wonderful montage of old film clips set to "The Promise of Living" from The Tender Land. If it doesn't make you misty with happiness, check yourself for a pulse.

Note to dog lovers: Watch all the way to the end.


Young Lovers (China, Qing Dynasty, 18th-19th century)

Image from World History of Male Love.

Friday, November 13, 2009

New at Chapter 16

If you're feeling bookish, there are some nice offerings at C16 this week. Michael Ray Taylor has a fun Q & A with Roy Blount, Jr., which you can check out here Paul McCoy talks with Barry Mazor about Meeting Jimmie Rodgers here. (Mazor's book, by the way, is excellent.) I've got a couple of new things up, too: A short Q & A with poet Natasha Trethewey here, and a review of a memoir by civil rights activist D'Army Bailey here. There's plenty more--go surf the site.

I've been obliged to neglect the blog a bit lately, but I'll be back soon with an update on the Little Dude and a review of Anya's StarFlower. Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Real World Perfume: Home at Twilight

Hot Yerba Mate, a licorice candle, red ginger incense, chili powder, and a dog warming himself by the heater.

Pug Dog in an Armchair, Alfred Dedreux, 1857.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

*Real world perfume: Late autumn in the Tennessee woods

Damp morning air, crumbling leaves, mold, wood smoke, and deer pee--lots of deer pee.

A stag lying, after Dürer, Wenceslas Hollar (1607-77)

*This is a new series. I'm moved to sniff outside the bottle.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Orson does Plato

While idly cruising YouTube this afternoon, I discovered that there are scads of videos that present Plato's Cave accompanied by diverse visuals. Who knew? Apparently, we have The Matrix to thank for this. (Go here for a clip with discussion of the parallels.)

Some of the Cave videos are classier than the one below, but who can resist its awesome pairing of Orson Welles' voice with cheap animation? Not me.

You can read the text of Book VII of The Republic here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"The leaves talked in the twilight, dear"

To a Child
by Sophie Jewett

The leaves talked in the twilight, dear;
Hearken the tale they told:
How in some far-off place and year,
Before the world grew old,

I was a dreaming forest tree,
You were a wild, sweet bird
Who sheltered at the heart of me
Because the north wind stirred;

How, when the chiding gale was still,
When peace fell soft on fear,
You stayed one golden hour to fill
My dream with singing, dear.

To-night the self-same songs are sung
The first green forest heard;
My heart and the gray world grow young—
To shelter you, my bird.

Woman of the Apocalypse, unknown German master, c. 1390. Image from Web Gallery of Art. Text from Poetry Foundation.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

One Sentence Perfume Review: First, Van Cleef & Arpels (1976)

A classic floral beauty, with an alluring hint of something rank.

A partial list of notes per Fragrantica: Aldehydes, Black Currant, Peach, Bergamot, Carnation, Jasmine, Rose, Lily of the Valley, Narcissus, Tonka, Sandalwood, Honey, Amber, Civet, and Oakmoss.

Galatea, Louis Dorigny (1654-1742)

Go here to read the myth of Galatea and Acis

Friday, November 6, 2009

What the ghost showed me

Every year during the weeks leading up to Samhain, I deliberately turn my thoughts to the dead people I love. Some turn away my attentions, and some pause in their ethereal journey just long enough to say hello, but there’s usually one who parks himself in my mind, demanding that I draw forth every memory of his life. This year my maternal grandfather was the pushy one. He died when I was just six—a slow, awful death from a malignant brain tumor. Even though I was very young when he disappeared, I remember him vividly.

Granddaddy was a preacher, a deeply devout person, but he couldn’t have been less pious or dour. He was outrageous, irascible, and a lot of fun. Thinking about him now, I realize he must have been a very difficult man for my gentle grandmother to live with, but I was blind to that as a child. He doted on me and I adored him. When he took all the grandkids to Nashville’s shabby old amusement park, he’d make a point of sharing the seat with me on the roller coaster, teaching me how to enjoy the terror. Pleasurable fear was always a feature of encounters with my grandfather. He drove like a maniac, and I loved to stand on the back seat and lean over his shoulder as he tore up the streets. This was long before anyone imagined mandatory seatbelt laws, and car seats were unheard of. He’d probably wind up in jail these days, but it was pure joy for me.

A few times I spent the night at my grandparents’ house without my brothers. Those visits were a nice glimpse of what life might have been like as a pampered only child—lots of adult attention, abundant ice cream, and long hours of boredom with no playmates. There weren’t many toys in the house, and the bookshelves were full of preacherly tomes. There were a few picture books about Moses in the bulrushes, Jesus in the manger, etc., but I’d seen more than enough of that kind of stuff in Sunday school.

The one thing in my grandfather's library that fascinated me was a set of medical reference books. I couldn’t read the text, of course, but there were elaborate anatomy illustrations composed of layered transparencies, so that you could reveal progressively more intimate corners of the human body as you turned the pages. The colors were vivid, shocking to the eye, and so were the images: eyeball, colon, penis, breast--all depicted in slightly sickening detail.

Thoughts of those anatomy images have been the chief manifestation of my grandfather’s presence these past weeks. He has whispered in my ear a time or two, shown me his smiling face, reminded me of his love of banana splits and sorghum on biscuits; but mostly he has put those studies of the human organism in my mind. Wandering through the world, I have flashed on the realization that I am that complicated, strange assemblage in the medical books. I’ve looked at the people around me and watched them move, knowing that I am witnessing a miraculous, graceful coherence of blood, nerve, muscle and bone. I have had a fresh vision of the living, courtesy of the dead.

Cadaver of an executed criminal from De Humani Corpis Fabrica, Andreas Vesalius (1514-64)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Devil's Dream

Madison Smartt Bell just published a novel about Nathan Bedford Forrest. I know the idea of plowing through a retelling of Forrest's exploits is not an appealing prospect for most BGN readers, but Devil's Dream is worth a look. If you are at all familiar with Bell's work, you know that he has a gift for capturing violent, morally suspect characters in his writer's net. His account of Forrest is part epic folk tale, part literary fugue, and full of blood-soaked poetry. Go here to read my interview with Bell about the book.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A gem from Neruda

I still haven't gotten around to finishing that post I mentioned yesterday, but here's something much better for your reading pleasure: "Childhood and Poetry" by Pablo Neruda. I had never seen it before David Dark posted a link to it this afternoon on FaceBook. I think it's delightful, a revelation. It's been reprinted often, so some of you have probably already seen it, but I think it deserves multiple readings. Enjoy.

Die Hülsenbeckschen Kinder, Philipp Otto Runge, 1805-10.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Art for art's sake

I'm working on a longer post and don't have time to finish it tonight, so I thought I'd just share this beautiful image. It's Gustave Moreau's A Esfinge Vencedora. (Click on the image to enlarge it.) The sphinx is rather winsome--completely out of keeping with the myth. I like that, and I love the surprise of white skin against the gloomy background.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


The deer have begun to gather into their wintertime herds. It amazes me to see them collectively decide to do this every fall. One day they’re grazing alone or in small groups of three or four, and then the next day a threshold is crossed. ...(more)