January 17, 2012 § Leave a Comment
One winter night, Benedict’s sister, Scholastica, was awakened by a song bird. How can this be, she thought, and she looked out the window of her cell. Three naked men were dancing in the monastery garden by the light of the moon. One whistled like a bird and made her laugh. The men were fair to look at, Scholastica thought, but she knew she needed more rest before the first prayers of the day.
Kneeling by her bed, she closed her eyes and sleepily said a prayer for the men – if they were men – that they might find shelter, clothing, and rest for their dancing feet, and if (as she suspected) they were demons, that they might return to from whence they came.
When she awoke, her cell was filled with the scent of roses. Where the men had been dancing, a rose bush had sprung up and was blooming in the snow. It bloomed all that winter, and it blooms to this day.
–Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk
December 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Some of my favorite albums each year are the ones that take some getting used to, the ones that are disconcerting or annoying or confusing but still have some extra piece of allure. Albums like that most directly challenge my preconceptions of what art is, what music is, what I like or don’t like and why. They force me outside of myself, the self that naturally says yes or no immediately to a song rather than one that thinks about why I’m responding a certain way.
And that, I think, is an important facet of more postmodern art anyway – a critical examination of response. Duchamp taught us that calling a thing Art does fascinating things to the process of artistic response, and albums like the six below ask their own questions of worth and value, of beauty, of what to think in any respect. « Read the rest of this entry »
December 5, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Though embarrassingly uninformed, my recent incursions into classical music have at least introduced me to the chaconne, a form prominent in the Baroque-era that features an incredible sort of variation within unity, like a wordless sestina. I would say more, but I really know absolutely nothing about music in a way that can be discursively communicated, and what I know in other ways is not particularly useful. Here, though, is the violinist Jascha Heifetz playing the chaconne from Bach’s Partita for Violin No. 2 – a piece that consistently and utterly destroys me.
November 29, 2011 § 1 Comment
The poet Robinson Jeffers, with whom I’ve had a sort of unhealthy obsession lately, came to public fame in the 1940′s, about 20 years after his first critically important book, after writing a hugely popular version of Medea starring Judith Anderson. With the country more seriously focusing on Jeffers and his work, he published an essay in the New York Times called Poetry, Gongorism, and a Thousand Years, which was something of an ars poetica. Jeffers touches on a lot of my omnipresent angst at the culture of poetry, the shifting trends, the incursions of temporal theoretical interests into an art that I’ve always found rotating about the, to use a concept stolen from Jeffers, Permanent quality of poetry. The entire essay is great, though I can’t really find a link to it in whole, but I wanted to post a couple paragraphs I thought especially good – one that sets up Gongorism, and a few that recount his hope and thoughts for the contemporary poet.
November 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Or, to quote another song, We’ve Got A Lot To Be Glad For.
First, a poem by Rabindranath Tagore. Then, a fantastic song, with an equally great video. Thanks.
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail
vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.
This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales,
and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in
joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.
November 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Really, I could title this, Being Pretentious, or Trying To Be A Tastemaker – either would apply. But when it comes down to it, being wrong, staking out something that was partially untrue or not wholly true or not even partly true or wholly untrue, that’s the awful consequence.
See, for some reason, I thought growing up and maturing meant that I would continue to narrow my tastes and my opinions, that eventually I would have more figured out than I have un-figured out. I thought I would get the sense of Me, and that hand-in-hand with that sense is acquiring a thought-through, developed philosophy so that whenever News Event X or Album Y is presented, I could decide pretty quickly if it’s Good or Bad, Right or Wrong, and what my critical stance is. « Read the rest of this entry »
September 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
More explicitly now than ever before, I’ve been turning back to the Minor Prophets. What began as an intellectual curiosity and an aesthetic catalog has taken too long – as it always does – to become the spear that skewers me through and demands ethical action, asks for something real on my part, more real than a few nice metaphors, at least.
In this the Minor Prophets hold sway because of their extremes, their emotions, the impulses and motivations, fears and faiths, that could only come out of them through the poetry they wrote. Habakkuk and Nahum are two of my favorite because even their reception of the prophetic word makes note of its human pain. Where the other prophets begin their records by explaining that “the Word of the Lord” came upon them, Habakkuk and Nahum use a word easily translated as burden. The Burden of Nahum. The Crushing Weight of Habakkuk. The Load I Cannot Carry But Must Carry. The Word I Cannot Speak But Must Speak. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Over the last few weeks, I’ve worked on four or five essay length posts, the kind I typically write that circle like buzzards and rarely hit on anything long-lasting, but that still circle something I have a taste for. I’ve tried to get down thoughts about the monastic idea of accedie, or doubt and questions on a spiritual level, or my changing views of what value is. But nothing is sticking, nothing feels right.
This matches my overall summer, where I’ve written one poem, and revised one poem. Other than those two poems, I haven’t so much as a line. No story outlines, no attempts at the morass of my half-built novel. I still set out time for writing, but mostly this has me staring at the page in front of me, doodling on the margins, and eventually composing a letter to someone. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 15, 2011 § Leave a Comment
And then everyone fell silent, and the major put on the “Tosca” record and, as it was about to start, said mournfully: “Once I wanted to marry Geraldine Farrar.” Then her voice came through the horn, out into the room, and this woman’s voice that all these drunken men where marveling at seemed to step into a lift, and the next instant the lift was flashing away up to the top with her, arriving nowhere, coming down again, bouncing in the air. Her skirts billowed out with the movement, with this up and down, this long lying close to, clinging tightly to, one note, and again there was the rise and fall, and with it all this streaming away as if for ever, and yet again and yet again and again this being seized by yet another spasm, and again a streaming out: a voluptuous ecstasy. He felt it was that naked voluptuousness which is distributed throughout all the things there are in cities, a lust no longer distinguishable from manslaughter, or jealousy, or business, or motor-car racing – ah, it was no longer lust, it was a craving for adventure – no, it was not a craving for adventure either, it was a knife slashing down out of the sky, a destroying angel, angelic madness – the war?
July 26, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The accompanying video is good – the end scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are words, too, that could perhaps add something, or prepare one. But don’t watch the video, and don’t read anything about him or the album or free jazz in general. Load the song and listen, and let that be all.