Tuesday, October 26, 2010

For a discussion of environmental ethics...

...and a lot of other things, mostly not including literature, click here to read my interview with Margaret Atwood. And when you're done with that (or with deciding to skip it), please cruise around Chapter 16 for all the other good stuff there — for example, Ed Tarkington's review of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, and Charlotte Pence's Q&A with Marge Piercy.

Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill), Thomas Cole, 1825

(Cole's painting seemed fitting to Atwood's discussion of the environment, and the post-apocalyptic settings of her speculative fiction. Cole's aesthetic seems very much in sync with Atwood's generally, I think. You can see a bunch more of his work here.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Peacock, Manguel, Boldini...

Apologies for being so scattershot with my posts in recent days. Life is a full-time job lately. Since I've been away so much, I thought I'd do a multipurpose post that hits all my usual topics. Here I give you:

1. Antique smutReclining nude, Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931)

2. A link to my last piece at Chapter 16 — My interview with poet Molly Peacock is online here.

3. A mention of perfume — Since there were only a few people interested in the Enigma draw, you can all have a sample. Lisa BTB, Margi, and StellaP, please email me your addresses!

4. Something of interest off-blog — Here's a great essay by Alberto Manguel, "The Muse of Impossibility."

5. Poetry — I'll be posting my interview with Margaret Atwood tomorrow, so here's a bit of one of her poems to whet your appetite.

I watch you
watching my face
yet with the same taut curiosity
with which you might regard
a suddenly discovered part
of your own body:
a wart perhaps,

and I remember that
you said
in childhood you were
a tracer of maps
(not making but) moving
a pen or a forefinger
over the courses of the rivers,
the different colours
that mark the rise of mountains;
a memorizer
of names (to hold
these places
in their proper places)

So now you trace me
like a country’s boundary
or a strange new wrinkle in
your own wellknown skin
and I am fixed, stuck
down on the outspread map
of this room, of your mind’s continent...

From "The Circle Game" by Margaret Atwood

There, I think that covers all the bases. Back tomorrow with Atwood. Y'all enjoy your week.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Soul, one's life is one's enemy"

Against weather, and the random
Harpies — mood, circumstance, the laws
Of biography, chance, physics —
The unseasonable soul holds forth,
Eager for form as a renowned
Pedant, the emperor's man of worth,
Hereditary arbiter of manners.

Soul, one's life is one's enemy.
As the small children learn, what happens
Takes over, and what you were goes away.

From "Ceremony for Any Beginning" by Robert Pinsky

Two Children in a Stable, Madeline Green (1884-1947)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dolor of Autumn: Enigma

This fall I've been making a weekly trip to Memphis, which is about a three hour drive away. I go down in the early afternoon and head back home around 8:30 pm, which puts me on a long, dark stretch of interstate at a time when there's very little traffic. I don't really mind it -- in fact, I enjoy the utter solitude. But at some point in the trip I always start flashing on the face of the The Man from Carnival of Souls. Funny how all it takes is the right set of factors -- i.e., isolation and darkness -- for the make-believe ghosts to come out. (The real ghosts always show up when you least expect them, like last Christmas when my father passed me in a Ford Focus as I drove to my friend's house for a holiday dinner. He's been dead for years but I swear it was him.)

Anyway, this is supposed to be a perfume post. What's all this talk of ghosts? Well, the theme here is the dolor of autumn, and what's more dolorous than the feeling of being pursued by ghosts, fictional or otherwise? And yes, I do have a perfume that evokes just such a feeling: Enigma, a largely forgotten fragrance from the largely forgotten Alexandra de Markoff line. Fragrantica calls it a woody oriental, and that's true enough, if the wood in question is musty, worm-eaten and dark with age. Although Enigma starts out with a blast of generic, floral-tinged spice, it quickly becomes a sort of eau de haunted house, with a grim bitterness that overwhelms its deceptive introductory smile. If you tested it blind, you'd swear it was some edgy niche creation, rather than a 70s era mainstream. I give it high marks for originality, though it is so unsettling and insistent -- kinda like those ghosts -- that I generally wear it only when I'm home alone and feel like surrendering to its strangeness.

Leave a comment or email me to enter the draw for a sample of Enigma. Or, if you don't want to wait to be creeped out, just watch the end of Carnival of Souls:

Photo above is a still from the movie. If you've never seen Carnival of Souls, you can watch the whole thing here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mommy and me

(Last Friday was my mother's 74th birthday, and the occasion reminded me of this post I wrote a couple of years ago. Although, as usual, I'm blathering on about me here, I'm also paying tribute to her.)

I caught a glimpse of my mother in a department store mirror the other day. There she was—her loose, energetic walk, her vaguely blissful expression, the distinctive tilt of her head.

It was me, of course.

Middle-aged women are supposed to be horrified when they see themselves morphing into their mothers, but I can’t say I mind it much. My mother is an attractive person. She’s in her seventies now, and she’s still lively and curious. She goes dancing every weekend with her boyfriend, who’s a bit younger than her. He’s got a few dozen acres of land out in the sticks, where the two of them have separate houses but a shared existence. They enjoy a menagerie of dogs, goats and chickens, and while neither of them has a lot of money, they’re happy and do as they please. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I could do a lot worse than to end up like my mother.

Still, it was a shock to see her looking back at me in the mirror, because I’ve always been so certain that I’m nothing like my mother. Physically, we’re built on completely different models. We have the same dark eyes—and, alas, the same freckles—but there the resemblance ends. From my soft facial features to my long skinny feet, I am unmistakably my father’s child. Neither of us is a bombshell, but my mother has always been very attractive to men. Even now they follow her around like puppies. I have never had that problem, although actual puppies do seem to find me alluring.

In personality and temperament, we might as well be different species. My mother is charming, caring, a people pleaser who loves attention. She’s no doormat, but she’s prone to hero worship. I am a bookish introvert, soft-hearted but basically selfish, and (my father’s influence again) I’ve got an anti-authoritarian streak a mile wide. My mother is a natural mediator, whereas I am opinionated and argumentative. One of her favorite sayings is, “There’s always a happy medium.” You would have to hold a gun to my head to get me to say that.

Still, there’s obviously some powerful genetic inheritance from her that is beginning to show itself as I age. It’s strange to be reminded that characteristics we think of as profoundly our own—even ones as seemingly individual as a facial expression—are built into our DNA; stranger still to think that they can be wired to hide themselves for decades, emerging when the organism hits just the right level of decay. Not that I’m complaining. As genetic time bombs go, a quirky walk beats the hell out of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Like I said, I’ll be happy to have an old age like my mother’s—and who knows? I may yet find out what it’s like to have men follow me around like puppies.

Peggy Shippen (wife of Benedict Arnold) and Daughter, Sir Thomas Lawrence (1790-1830). Image from Wikimedia Commons. There's an interesting old article about Arnold and Shippen here

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In case you need this as much as I do...

"O hushed October morning mild"

We are well into fall here, though it's still pretty warm. The leaves are at a wonderful point of turning -- warm autumn color touched with lingering green. There was a fierce little storm Tuesday night, and the next morning the trees were draped in mist. There was a wonderful perfume in the air, a fine mixture of damp greenery, fallen leaves and wet earth, traveling on a sweet northern breeze.

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.

From "October" by Robert Frost

The Emerald Pool, Albert Bierstadt, 1870

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Early risers

"Early risers feel at ease with each other, perhaps because, unlike those who sleep late, they are given to understatement of their own achievements. Orion, the most widely traveled, says literally nothing. The coffee pot, from its first soft gurgle, underclaims the virtues of what simmers within. The owl, in his trisyllabic commentary, plays down the story of the night's murders. The goose on the bar, rising briefly to a point of order in some inaudible anserine debate, lets fall no hint that he speaks with the authority of all the far hills and the sea."

From A Sand County Almanac ("October"), Aldo Leopold.

A Faggot Gatherer At Dawn, Iulii Iul'evich (Julius) Klever (1850-1924)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"the nothing it cares for me"

How did we do? A medium job,
which is well above average. But because
she had opened her heart to me as far
as she did, I saw her fierce privacy,

like a gnarled, luxuriant tree all hung
with disappointments, and I knew
that to love her I must love the tree
and the nothing it cares for me.

From "The Cloister" by William Matthews

Leda and the swan, Giovanni Boldini, 1884

Friday, October 1, 2010

"the innocence of your fragrance"

Because the rare perfume
Of your swanlike paleness,
Because the innocence
  Of your fragrance,

Ah, because all your being,
Music so piercing,
Clouds of lost angels,
  Tones and scents,

Has by soft cadences
With its correspondences,
Lured my subtle heart, Oh
  Let it be so!

From "To Clymène" by Paul Verlaine, translated by A.S Kline, text from Poetry in Translation

Study to the Morning, Philipp Otto Runge, 1809