Thursday, September 30, 2010

"We can never be with loss too long"

We can never be with loss too long.
Behind the warped door that sticks,
the wood thrush calls to the monks,
pausing upon the stone crucifix,
singing: “I am marvelous alone!”
Thrash, thrash goes the hayfield:
rows of marrow and bone undone ...

From "At Thomas Merton's Grave" by Spencer Reece

(A profile of Spencer Reece can be found here.)

Haystacks, Autumn, Jean-Fran├žois Millet, 1873

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dolor of Autumn: A Perfume Series

As I indicated in my Mabon post, I'm stealing a phrase and a feeling from D.H. Lawrence for my more-or-less annual autumn series. This year the theme is unhappy perfumes. You know, the ones that make you feel bad in a good way--the ones that encourage you to wallow in melancholy thoughts, that join you in a cathartic scream, that whisper words of despair in your ear.

I'll start with the mildly dysthymic Nocturnes de Caron. You’d expect this aldehydic green floral to be a pick-me-up, judging from the notes. Orange, bergamot, ylang-ylang, rose, sandalwood, vanilla—how could that cheery cohort possibly produce a downer? For me, though, there’s something antique and wistful in the dry softness of Nocturnes. It evokes the feeling of opening a flea market book to find a flower pressed between the pages, a relic of some ancient happiness that has passed from living memory. Nocturnes is a scent for walking gray streets at twilight, nursing a vague longing for the past. Though there's nothing vague or wistful about Auden's "As I Walked Out One Evening,"* the fragrance of Nocturnes always makes think of that poem's last stanza--

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.

A Paris Street, Evening, Victor Olivier Gilsoul (1867-1939)

*I once had a teacher who insisted that all her students memorize this poem, and she declared that we should recite it to ourselves before we commenced to write anything. Not a bad policy, I have found.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Quizzing the poets

I've done a few Q&As with poets recently at Chapter 16 that might interest those of you who come here for the verse:

Claudia Emerson won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for Late Wife, and she has some interesting things to say about how writers mine personal experience. Her interview is here.

Blas Falconer is a wonderful poet I've written about in the past. (In fact, he was featured in this blog's inaugural post.) Blas has edited a new book on the craft of poetry, Mentor and Muse, which he talks about here.

Bill Brown is another local writer I've discussed before. He's a wonderful teacher as well as a poet, and he shares some thoughts on both vocations here.

Of course, there's plenty of other interesting stuff at Chapter 16. Go to the home page to find it all.

Poetry, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1879

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Sibylline voices flicker..."

Through the bound cable strands, the arching path   
Upward, veering with light, the flight of strings,—
Taut miles of shuttling moonlight syncopate   
The whispered rush, telepathy of wires.
Up the index of night, granite and steel—
Transparent meshes—fleckless the gleaming staves—
Sibylline voices flicker, waveringly stream   
As though a god were issue of the strings. . . .

From "The Bridge: Atlantis" by Hart Crane, 1930

"It is my hope to go through the combined materials of the poem, using our "real" world somewhat as a spring-board, and to give the poem as a whole an orbit or predetermined direction of its own. I would like to establish it as free from my own personality as from any chance evaluation on the reader’s part. (This is, of course, an impossibility, but it is a characteristic worth mentioning.) Such a poem is at least a stab at a truth, and to such an extent may be differentiated from other kinds of poetry and called "absolute." It evocation will not be toward decoration or amusement, but rather toward a state of consciousness, and "innocence" (Blake) or absolute beauty. In this condition there may be discoverable under new forms certain spiritual illuminations, shining with a morality essentialized from experience directly, and not from previous precepts or preconceptions. It is as though a poem gave the reader as he left it a singe, new word, never before spoken and impossible to actually enunciate, but self-evident as an active principle in the reader’s consciousness henceforward."

From Crane's "General Aims and Theories," 1925 (Text via The Museum of American Poetics)

Eight Bells Folly: Memorial to Hart Crane, Marsden Hartley, 1933

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"It is ignorance we blink from, dark, unhoused"

Going abruptly into a starry night
It is ignorance we blink from, dark, unhoused;
There is a gaze of animal delight
Before the human vision. Then, aroused
To nebulous danger, we may look for easy stars,
Orion and the Dipper; but they are not ours,

These learned fields. Dark and ignorant,
Unable to see here what our forebears saw,
We keep some fear of random firmament
Vestigial in us. And we think, Ah,
If I had lived then, when these stories were made up, I
Could have found more likely pictures in haphazard sky.

From "Starlight" by William Meredith

Lily of Light and Morning Star, Philipp Otto Runge, 1808

Read the instructions

Kinda funny.

Melancholy, Domenico Feti (1589-1623)

Monday, September 20, 2010

"stealthy, brindled odours"

Busy here, preparing for Mabon and taking care of other, less delightful chores. I've been thinking about a series for this Mabon to Samhain season, and I believe I've come up with a good one. I'll tell you about it on Thursday, when I return to the blog. The D.H Lawrence poem below will give you a hint. Meanwhile, enjoy your Equinox (whichever one you're having) and the full moon that follows. A beautiful Mabon to all who observe.

Dolor of Autumn

The acrid scents of autumn,
Reminiscent of slinking beasts, make me fear
Everything, tear-trembling stars of autumn
And the snore of the night in my ear.

For suddenly, flush-fallen,
All my life, in a rush
Of shedding away, has left me
Naked, exposed on the bush.

I, on the bush of the globe,
Like a newly-naked berry, shrink
Disclosed: but I also am prowling
As well in the scents that slink

Abroad: I in this naked berry
Of flesh that stands dismayed on the bush;
And I in the stealthy, brindled odours
Prowling about the lush

And acrid night of autumn;
My soul, along with the rout,
Rank and treacherous, prowling,
Disseminated out.

For the night, with a great breath intaken,
Has taken my spirit outside
Me, till I reel with disseminated consciousness,
Like a man who has died.

At the same time I stand exposed
Here on the bush of the globe,
A newly-naked berry of flesh
For the stars to probe.

From Amores, D.H. Lawrence, 1916, via

A Sorceress, Bartolomeo Guidobono (1654-1709)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Better trust all..."

Better trust all, and be deceived,
   And weep that trust, and that deceiving;
Than doubt one heart, that, if believed,
   Had blessed one’s life with true believing.

From "Faith" by Frances Anne Kemble

Les Amoureux (Soir d'automne), Emile Friant (1863-1932)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"The petals of tenderness in them..."

Eastward the city with scarcely even a murmur
          turns in the soft dusk,
          the lights of it blur,
          the delicate spires are unequal
as though the emollient dusk had begun to dissolve them...

          And the soft air-breathers,
their soft bosoms rising and falling as ferns under water
responding to some impalpably soft pressure,
          turn with the city, too.

          The petals of tenderness in them,
their tentative ways of feeling, not quite reaching out
but ever so gently half reaching out and withdrawing,

withdrawing to where their feminine star is withdrawing,
the planet that turns with them,
          faithfully always and softly...

From "The Soft City" by Tennessee Williams

Marseille at Dusk, Andre Maglione (1838-1923)

Monday, September 13, 2010

BitterGrace is departing the blog for a spell...

 wander in the Enchanted Forest, among other places. Back soon.

A Tree, Otto Mueller (1874-1930)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"In Mind"

In Mind
Denise Levertov

There's in my mind a woman
of innocence, unadorned but
fair-featured, and smelling of
apples or grass.  She wears
a utopian smock or shift, her hair
is light brown and smooth, and she
is kind and very clean without
              but she has
no imagination.
               And there's a
turbulent moon-ridden girl
or old woman, or both,
dressed in opals and rags, feathers
and torn taffeta,
who knows strange songs---
but she is not kind.

Rote Cocotte, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, c.1914

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"a song in the ears of all men unborn"

Hast thou come, dear youth, with the third night and the dawning; hast thou come? but men in longing grow old in a day! As spring than the winter is sweeter, as the apple than the sloe, as the ewe is deeper of fleece than the lamb she bore; as a maiden surpasses a thrice-wedded wife, as the fawn is nimbler than the calf; nay, by as much as sweetest of all fowls sings the clear-voiced nightingale, so much has thy coming gladdened me! To thee have I hastened as the traveller hastens under the burning sun to the shadow of the ilex tree.

Ah, would that equally the Loves may breathe upon us twain, may we become a song in the ears of all men unborn.

Idyl XII: The Passionate Friend, Theocritus (3rd century BCE), trans. by Andrew Lang

Jupiter kissing Ganymede, Raffaelle da Montelupo (1505–1566)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Heracles by Lord's Jester

Adam Gottschalk at Lord's Jester has been kind enough to share some samples of his classical creations for review, and since friend-of-the-blog J recently pointed out that I seem to have a thing for the "ol' Herc," I might as well start with handsome Heracles.

I must admit I was all set for something heavy and sweaty with this one, having previously experienced the exalted barnyard affair that is LJ's Dionysis. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover there's nothing muscle-bound about Heracles, no suggestion of unwashed funk. The top is green, peppery, and bracing--one of the most delightful uses of petitgrain I've ever encountered. I expected the fragrance to head toward a conventional, woodsy guy scent after such a zippy opening, and was surprised again when it literally bloomed into a terrific floral, with hints of orange flower, rose and jasmine. A dose of boronia saves the heart from becoming too typically feminine, but it definitely deserves to be called romantic and sensual. The base emerges slowly to take the perfume into more macho territory, with a sweet and salty mix of blackcurrant bud, resinous notes and ambergris. This is my favorite stage in the scent. It's sexy in a gentle, cuddly way that makes me think of snuggling inside a boyfriend's jacket (or his lion skin).

The verdict: Definitely a keeper. Unisex, casual, and perfect for early fall. Sillage is moderate, and Heracles lasts fairly well for a natural--about three hours on me.

Hercules and the Hydra, Gustave Moreau, 1876

Saturday, September 4, 2010

It's just work, work, work around here ...

...but I hope my fellow Americans are all taking a break for Labor Day. Enjoy the weekend, everybody.

Hercules and the Nemean lion, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1634

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"an intuition of an order, a form beyond forms"

A partial definition, then, of organic poetry might be that it is a method of apperception, i.e., of recognizing what we perceive, and is based on an intuition of an order, a form beyond forms, in which forms partake, and of which man’s creative works are analogies, resemblances, natural allegories. Such a poetry is exploratory.
How does one go about such a poetry? I think it’s like this: First there must be an experience, a sequence or constellation of perceptions of sufficient interest, felt by the poet intensely enough to demand of him their equivalence in words: he is brought to speech. Suppose there’s the sight of the sky through a dusty window, birds and clouds and bits of paper flying through the sky, the sound of music from his radio, feelings of anger and love and amusement roused by a letter just received, the memory of some long ago thought or event associated with what’s seen or heard or felt, and an idea, a concept, he has been pondering, each qualifying the other; together with what he knows about history; and what he has been dreaming—whether or not he remembers it—working in him. This is only a rough outline of a possible moment in a life. But the condition of being a poet is that periodically such a cross-section, or constellation, of experiences (in which one or another element may predominate) demands, or wakes in him this demand, the poem. The beginning of the fulfillment of this demand is to contemplate, to meditate; words which connote a state in which the heat of feeling warms the intellect. To contemplate comes from "templum, temple, a place, a space for observation, marked out by the augur." It means, not simply to observe, to regard, but to do these things in the presence of a god. And to meditate is "to keep the mind in a state of contemplation’’; its synonym is "to muse," and to muse comes from a word meaning "to stand with open mouth"; not so comical if we think of "inspiration"—to breathe in.

Denise Levertov, "Some Notes on Organic Form," 1965. Text from Museum of American Poetics.

Beginning with Color: Pink Sky, J.M.W. Turner, 1820-30

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Think this painting is obscene?

No, of course you don't. No one in her right mind would. But 11 years ago, a mother in Oberlin, Ohio created a similarly innocent image of her child and was indicted on child pornography charges. Lynn Powell has written a fascinating book about the case, Framing Innocence. You can read my review at Chapter 16.

As always, there's a lot of other interesting stuff at Chapter 16, including an interview with Michael Sims about his current project, Kingfisher Days. (Facebook denizens can get a daily dose of natural history at a page Michael hosts, "Today on Earth".)

Happy reading.

Madonna with the Child Reading, Jan van Eyck, 1433