A fool, a fool! I met a fool i' the forest,
A motley fool; a miserable world!
As I do live by food, I met a fool
Who laid him down and bask'd him in the sun,
And rail'd on Lady Fortune in good terms,
In good set terms and yet a motley fool.
As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7
L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.
Les Fleurs du Mal, “Correspondances”
Together Again for the First Time: Harry Potter and Bob Dylan
By way of ArtsJournal comes this amusing commentary by young persons’ author Louisa Young, aka Zizou Corder(?), on being declared the New JK Rowling.
You may think that being the New JK Rowling is an experience granted to few, of little interest to the general reader - but you'd be wrong. New JK Rowlings are ten a penny (which must be galling for the Actual JK Rowling). There was Georgia Byng, Eoin Colfer, Lemony Snicket, Lorraine Kelly and that vicar, and the guy whose mother saved his manuscript from the bin.I could not but be reminded by this of the way in which music writers for almost forty years now have repeatedly discovered that the musician of whom they are writing is The New Bob Dylan. Loudon Wainwright III, John Prine, Bruce Springsteen: all the New Bob Dylan. A quick Google search reveals that Beck is the New Dylan; that Eminem is The New Dylan; that if you want to be The New Dylan, it doesn't hurt to be the son of the old Dylan. When all else fails, writer just keep spawning More New Dylans [Pete Yorn? Jack Johnson? Please.] And did you know that Baltimore House Music Is The New Dylan? I thought not.
Recently, the BBC held a contest for the position, which a drama student from Canterbury won. Even the AJKR was herself voted the NJKR in a poll. In fact, if you can just get off your arse and write a children's book (though I'm sure we will have some NJKRs soon who have not written a word), and perhaps demonstrate some vague similarity to the AJKR, then before you know it you too will be getting emails from your friends saying: "Haha! I hear you're JKRowling in it!"
Those who have been following this blog in its short life will recognize certain recurring themes behind this post. If you are newer, you will find prior mentions of the original Bob Dylan here and here. Harry Potter and Philip Pullman (who himself earns a mention in Louisa Young's NJKR piece above) were taken up at length here.
Saturday Morning Miscellany [no poetry content]
Tasty treats you may be missing this fine Saturday:
Michael J. Totten wraps up Ann Coulter and "Tailgunner Joe" McCarthy in a neat little package; Christopher Hitchens supplies the bow.
At Crooked Timber, Tom Runnacles tells us more than we needed to know perhaps about the Truck Driver's Gear Change, a musical technique favored by those who "having flogged every last bit of life from their tune [are] unable think of any natural way of killing the damn thing off." Even the Beatles, it seems, were offenders.
Dr. Frank (whose ongoing series of diaries from the recording studio might also interest you - just scroll back over the past few weeks of posts on his site) shares the notebook of a bride to be; or it may be the notebook of a future CEO, I can't be sure.
And, if you are curious about the progress of the California Recall on this Last Day to Qualify, you can check Secretary of State Kevin Shelly's Candidate Status Report. At this writing, only 17 candidates have actually qualified for the ballot (out of nearly 600 believed to be trying). Oddly enough, nearly half of them (8 of 17) are Democrats. Everyone you may actually have heard of has yet to qualify. Stay tuned.
Pass the Lucent Syrops, Agnes
So there I was taking a hot shower this morning and I found myself thinking about Bullwinkle’s Corner. Those of a certain generation will recall that the Corner was a 60-90 second feature within the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” show during which the intrepid Bullwinkle J. Moose would attempt to read or recite a famous poem, only to be interrupted by comic mayhem of one sort or another. Bullwinkle can be seen here, his book of verse in hand, sporting a tasteful morning coat and string tie, leaning all nonchalant on his Greco-roman podium, surrounded by the trappings of culture: a green curtain and a large potted plant.
What struck me -- apart from the steamy droplets falling from the showerhead, ho ho -- was this: Bullwinkle’s Corner mocked the convention of the public poetry reading as civic occasion and therefore assumes the audience is familiar with those conventions. Moreover, it assumes that its audience of early-1960s children already knows most of the poems. There is a presumed familiarity with the material and the cultural milieu that would make no sense today.
Checking a list of the works presented by the majestic moose reveals a larger percentage of nursery rhymes than I had at first recalled -- which we will assume were still a familiar part of the standard American childhood at the time. But the list also features a hefty proportion of Serious Verse: hefty helpings of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (The Village Blacksmith, The Children’s Hour, Excelsior), Robert Louis Stevenson (My Shadow, Where Go the Boats), Edgar Allan Poe (The Raven, of course), John Greenleaf Whittier (Barefoot Boy (with cheeks of tan)) and William [no middle name] Wordsworth (The Daffodils, for picking which without a license the antlered aesthete is incarcerated). Who, creating a cartoon today, would expect any audience familiarity with such things? Nobody, that’s who.
Which brings us to the oft-remarked disappearance of poetry from public consciousness. Over the course of 40 years, poetry has declined from being a sufficiently common experience that it could be the subject of jokes in a cartoon to being essentially invisible in the popular sphere. Some of the particular poems and poets in the Bullwinkle canon have faded from view because their homespun sentiment or thumpy thumpy meters just aren’t fashionable anymore. Others have no doubt been given the boot because they are seen as part of the Dead White Male conspiracy that Dominated Our Culture With Its [insert derogatory sociopolitical descriptor here] Values for Too Long. Longfellow in particular has been sent down repeatedly on both charges, neither of which is necessarily fair to him.
Another explanation, it seems, can be seen in the fact that even Bullwinkle had to turn back to the 19th Century for his material. Copyright issues aside, the quantity of 20th Century verse that is memorably recitable and readily familiar to the ordinary television viewer is limited at best. And the public evidence of poetry has declined steadily from there. Poets themselves have been a part of the problem: actually conveying a recognizable meaning, let alone doing it in a manner that might be remotely pleasurable to the reader, has become almost a mark of shame. To be taken seriously among the avant-garde, it helps not to be understood at all. Coincidentally, Joan Houlihan has just put up one of her irregular but reliably interesting commentaries at Web Del Sol, laying into the practitioners of post-post poetry. A snippet:
But one must ask: why is this being said? What is the purpose of these words? Why are they printed in a journal someone paid to produce, for someone else to pay to read instead of being spoken by a stroke victim in a rest home? Who is the intended reader? If it is a slice of something, what is it a slice of?The objection here is not difficulty: the world is full of difficult poems in difficult forms that are nonetheless worthwhile (if not readily recitable by a moose). No, the objection is that the difficulty of the post-post poem is itself an illusion. The poem is not a puzzle in which the challenge is to find the substance or meaning disguised by the appearance of drivel. The poem simply is drivel. Or maybe, as Houlihan suggests, the form has devolved to become not the Next Big Thing but the Last Big Thing:
Such poems are as inevitable as old age and its unstoppable deterioration of language. The avant-avant-garde as displayed by much of the work in [the journals under consideration] is, in fact, indistinguishable from the early stages of dementia. And really, what could be more avant-garde, more against-the-grain, more anti-tradition, more post-post than dementia? Perhaps this is the dawning of the New Senility, the next new thing, so daringly close to death itself, this intentional discarding of connections—synapse to synapse, word to word, person to person—any word, any order, anytime.Not, I fear, a very appetizing prospect. At least not to this particular Fool.
In coming posts (which you have already read perhaps, since they will appear above this one on your screen) I will bring up some poets and poetry about which I actually have something kind and constructive to say. Will this be an all-poetry weekend on the blog? We will soon see, gentle reader. . . .
[Houlihan link via the indispensable Arts & Letters Daily.]
I Only Post About the Recall to be Sociable; I Could Quit Any Time
After yesterday's overabundance of posting about the Gray Davis recall, I'm planning to swear it off for a bit. But if you need more, roll over to Loyola Law School Prof. Rick Hasen's Election Law blog. He has news, comment, the complete text of the California Supreme Court's orders (which I can't seem to find on the Court's site) . . . and much, much more!
Of course, if I stop chattering about the recall, it is likely I will backslide to talking about poetry again. Consider yourself forewarned.
Oprah, Like Elvis, Is Everywhere
Yesterday, in my usual blog reading rounds, I ran across Erin O'Connor's comments her blog Critical Mass on Oprah Winfrey's book club. After abandoning it for a time, Oprah has revived her reading recommendations and has opted to start with Steinbeck's East of Eden. There has been some huffing in academe over the semi-lowbrow nature of the choice, but Ms. O'Connor sees positive signs:
But it's hard to get too snooty about Oprah's enthusiastic literary populism when your own profession has discarded the notion of the classic for being elitist. Possibly without knowing it, Oprah has hoist the troubled and misguided profession of letters on its own ideological petard. 'It's very hard to say Oprah is wrong,' said Louisville English professor and literary theorist Matthew Biberman. 'She seems to be reinventing the notion of a classic.' Some even think Oprah might be the future of English: 'The literary elite persist in dismissing Oprah and her readers ... (as) lowbrow, unworthy of serious attention,' said Mark Hall, who teaches rhetoric and composition at Cal State Chico. 'As a teacher, however, I struggle to engage my students in reading, and so I wonder if academics might learn something from Winfrey about how to tap into the interests of general readers. ... In my experience, the treatment of literature in the classroom often kills the joy of reading for many students. By contrast, Winfrey fosters the deeply felt pleasure that hooks readers and keeps them engaged.'When I was leaving the office yesterday, the elevator stopped and a woman stepped in. She was carrying, as you will have already guessed, a copy of East of Eden. I'm more of a Faulkner kind of guy than a fan of Steinbeck, but I will allow as how Oprah could have done a lot worse. Read on, citizens, read on.
Supreme Court Sees Juggernaut, Steps Out of the Way
I was trying to get the information the hard way through the California Supreme Court's own site, when I decided to check for news elsewhere. Sure enough, about 15 minutes earlier, Daniel Weintraub at California Insider had the whole story:
The election is on. Gray Davis is not on both ends of the ballot. The court has rejected all five lawsuits, ruling unanimously on four of them. In the fifth, the case involving the signature requirements for getting on the ballot, It was a 5-2 vote. The federal courts still have jurisdiction over one of the voting rights cases.He has the complete text of the Court's release, with annotations as to which case was which.
On My Other Blog: More Recall News
It now appears that Insurance Commissioner (and past unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate) John Garamendi will be among the Democratic contenders to replace Gray Davis. Because this relates potentially to the insurance industry in California, I have posted it to my not-yet-quite-officially-up new blog on California insurance law issues, Declarations and Exclusions.
I will add here that Garamendi is another of those who previously promised not to lend any encouragement to the recall by running, as reported here.
And while I'm yet again on the subject of the recall, let me refer you to the opposing viewpoints of my good friend Rick Coencas, posted at his blog, Futurballa.
N!xau, For Something Completely Different
While looking at something else entirely, I stumbled on the sad news of the passing of N!xau, the Kalahari bushman with the Buster Keaton face who starred in the African comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy.
The film was made in Botswana by South African director Jamie Uys and proved to be a worldwide hit in the early '80s, despite the fact that much of its humor is dependent on speeding up or reversing the action and on various actors exposing their underwear. There is more than a little apartheid-era condescension toward N'xau's character, a bushman on a mission to return an empty Coca Cola bottle which was tossed out by a passing aviator but which N!xau concludes was dropped by the gods. N!xau's natural and unassuming screen presence, and his role as a perplexed observer of the folly of the white, "civilized" characters he encounters combine to make the film more enjoyable thatn it probably has any right to be.
Gods is also in a very close race for Best Performance By a Discarded Coke Bottle in a Film, the chief competitor being the wondrously inventive and funny Bolero sequence in Bruno Bozzetto's 1977 Italian Fantasia parody, Allegro Non Troppo.
More Praise of a Rational Democratic Official
I have earlier had kind words for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer for his admonitions to Governor Davis not to take the low road in the coming recall campaign. Now, it appears that Lockyer is also acting as a voice of reason - contra the increasingly unpopular governor - in the petitions now before the California Supreme Court. He seems particularly skeptical of the "it will be another Florida" argument, according to this report in the Sacramento Bee:
Meanwhile, stacks of preliminary written arguments piled up in the court clerk's office, including the first written opposition to a suit filed Monday by Davis.The Court is set to decide which, if any, of the pending petitions it will actually hear on the merits later today.
The suit contends a recall vote in October would invite Florida-style post-election chaos because of slapdash preparations.
On Wednesday, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer told the court the chaos theory was based on supposition rather than evidence.
In a separate legal filing, recall proponent Ted Costa also said Davis' suit was 'full of 'if's' and 'maybe's.'
Conny McCormack, the registrar-recorder for the state's largest voting jurisdiction, Los Angeles, wrote to the court, as well.
'I have every confidence,' McCormack said, 'that the gubernatorial recall election presently scheduled for Oct. 7, 2003, can and will be administered fairly and effectively ....'
Election officials in Sacramento County have made similar statements, and Lockyer said election officials statewide agreed.
Lockyer and Costa also filed papers opposing a pair of suits that claim only Bustamante can succeed Davis. The arguments in that debate hinge on the parsing of terminology -- words such as 'vacancy' and phrases such as 'if appropriate' -- in the state constitution.
UPDATE: More on Bill Lockyer -- as a potential candidate himself -- at Internet Ronin. Link via Instapundit.
UPDATE 2: Via Howard Bashman's indispensable How Appealing blog, we learn of an early aspirant to fill the job of California Attorney General now occupied by the aforementioned Bill Lockyer. It's former Governor (infamously if somewhat unfairly dubbed "Governor Moonbeam"), now Mayor of the City of Oakland, Jerry Brown.
NYC -- Progressivism is Our Most Important Product
Friedrich Blowhard has followed up his earlier nutshell history of "progressive" educational reform [which I noted here] with an update on seemingly ill-fated educational reforms on New York City. His conclusion:
New York City is probably a bad place to be a poor or dyslexic child—but a heck of a place to be a 'progressive' educator!Worth your attention, if you share my pet fixation on education issues. [This post corrected for spelling, 8/8/03]
Life Imitates Art
Apropos of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the invaluable professor Eugene Volokh passes along some video advisories from his readers at The Volokh Conspiracy. Sylvester "Toymaker" Stallone and erstwhile Governor Jesse "the Body" Ventura are invoked.
Update: I know, just about everyone on my side of the blogging aisle reads and cites regularly to James Lileks. I haven't done it previously because . . . everyone on my side of the aisle, etc. But since he has first-hand experience on which to make the comparison, you might want to check into the first few paragraphs of Lileks' Bleat today, for a Schwarzenegger-Ventura compare and contrast.
A Clever Plan
Good grief. A fella goes out for the evening (more of that later, I expect) and when he wakes up the next morning the entire complexion of the California recall election seems to have changed: Arnold Schwarzenegger is running to replace Gray Davis after a week of sources assuring us all that he would not, former LA Mayor Richard Riordan is reportedly caught by surprise as his friend Arnold reverses his field, Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante may be swearing off his prior assurance that he would never have anything to do with the recall*, and so on and on.
Meanwhile, yesterday brought this site its highest hit levels yet, driven largely by my betes noir: people who cannot correctly spell the first name of K. Bean** Bryant.
What can this concatenation of events possibly mean (other than nothing at all)? It can only signify that Bryant must run for Governor of California. He has immense name recognition, even among those who can't spell that name, and remains hugely popular despite the possibility that he may actually be Guilty As Charged. Winning the governsorhip should be, dare I say it, a Slam Dunk. Once in office, Mr. Bryant simply needs to run the Berlusconi Defense and have the Legislature - grateful no doubt to have a popular figure again at the head of state government - vote him immunity from prosecution while in office. It is the perfect solution to the young man's many problems.
*Postscript: Lt. Governor Bustamante was so unequivocal in June that his words bear repeating, so that we may draw what conclusions we will from whatever he chooses to do this week:
'I will not participate in any way other than to urge voters to reject this expensive perversion of the recall process,' he said. 'I will not attempt to advance my career at the expense of the people I was elected to serve. I do not intend to put my name on that ballot.'**Postscript 2: We learn from the L.A. Daily News that "Bryant's unusual middle name -- not generally known before now -- comes from the nickname of his father, former NBA player Joe 'Jelly Bean' Bryant."
New Blogging Tools to Spawn New Blogs
I am reading about this now in several places, but I first found it through Ernie the Attorney: Six Apart, the folks responsible for the popular and well regarded Moveable Type blogging software, have now launched TypePad, an inexpensive and feature-filled alternative to Blogger and Blogspot.
I've given TypePad the once-over and have signed up for the free 30-day trial period, with the result that next week will finally see the launch of my promised "serious" blog on California insurance law and related topics. Stay tuned for the premier of Declarations and Exclusions, coming to a server near you.
Andy's Hunky Dory
Andy Warhol, we are reminded, would have been 75 years old today. He is coming in for his share of, shall we say, cogent reappraisal. Here for example is Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal:
It always seemed faintly silly for Clement Greenberg, the pre-eminent art critic of his day, to have called Warhol a purveyor of 'nice small art' ('The soup cans I think are especially good on account of the color and when he groups them'), or for Robert Hughes to have declared that 'most of Warhol's best work was done over a span of about six years, finishing in 1968.' That's how you talk about artists, and Andy Warhol wasn't one. He was, instead, a preternaturally shrewd operator who transformed Marcel Duchamp's anti-art into glossy gewgaws suitable for mail-order merchandising. He silk-screened money.Link courtesy of (where else?) About Last Night
At The New Criterion's blog Roger Kimball, typically for him, sees the Abyss behind the joke:
We are told to refrain from speaking ill of the dead. But there is a sense in which Andy Warhol is not dead: he lives on in all the insouciant trash that populates vast neighborhoods of the contemporary art world--the pandering to mass media and advertising culture: that's pure Warhol; the 'lifestyle radicalism' that extols pop icons, gutter celebrities, weary denizens of the demimonde: that too is pure Warhol. Warhol helped to put the giggle into art: it seemed like fun at first, but soon revealed itself as a corrosive, a thoroughly decadent rictus. In short, Warhol's legacy has been disastrous.Elsewhere, Julian Spalding of the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, without actually mentioning Warhol, pegs the legacy he left for later artistic generations in a piece for spiked-culture:
There is a cynicism in the heart of much that passes for art today, which sits oddly with its claim to be art. After all, art has to be positive, even when it deals with the most depressing aspects of experience, because if it isn't what is the point of making it? But far from seeking a positive response to its work, the establishment art of today actually stimulates a negative reaction.Art is somehow like New Labour as well, but you'll have to read the piece to find out more. Link courtesy ArtsJournal.
For my part, I will honor Andy by meditating on what David Bowie sang about him on Bowie's own treatise on art and Fame, Hunky Dory:
Andy walking, Andy tired
Andy take a little snooze
Tie him up when he's fast asleep
Send him on a pleasant cruise
When he wakes up on the sea
He's sure to think of me and you
He'll think about paint
and he'll think about glue
What a jolly boring thing to do.
Remember: You Can't Spell "Kobe" Without a ¿Que?
Those earlier posts about search engines sending readers here when they go looking for information on the non-existent athlete "Colby" Bryant have themselves started to turn up repeatedly among the results for similarly misguided searches. My protests only fuel the frenzy, it seem. *Sigh*
Applause, however, to the searcher who spelled Mr. Bryant's name correctly and still got sent here after searching for: "Kobe Bryant's fool story".
I'm Late, I'm Late . . . But At Least I Got His Name Right
Well, this is embarrassing . . . .
Despite the fact that his link to this post gave us a Very Big Traffic Spike, I had somehow omitted Doc Searls from my blogroll. The omission has been corrected. And you can visit Doc to learn that he, like "Colby" Bryant, is a regular victim of misspelling.
Poets At War
I cited Aaron Haspel's blog God of the Machine in the preceding post, having started to follow it just recently. While catching up there, I found this observation -- deep within a longer July 31 post that begins with, of all things, an explosion by explosion summary of Bad Boys II -- that strikes me as a fair summary:
[F]ifty people blog about politics for every one who blogs about culture not because people are more interested in politics than culture, but because, in a sense, they are less interested: one's taste is a little too personal. There is also a well-established vocabulary for political writing; not for art.What with the earlier discussions of children's books and animated films, my readers can be forgiven if they think that the "cultural" component of this blog is leaning toward the juvenile, so the time has come to reveal a Dark Secret: this Fool spends a nontrivial portion of his free reading time perusing poetry, for pleasure. Those who feel compelled to leave the room while I expand on that subject may do so now.
My current reading in the field is the anthology of Poets of World War II edited by Harvey Shapiro and published as part of the Library of America's American Poets Project. The collection brings together work by poets who fought in, refused to fight in, participated in a civilian capacity or were otherwise affected by the war. I've not finished it yet, but I have read enough to recommend the book and to offer some random musings and comments:
The poets represented in this volume whose other work I know at all well seem to have responded to the war with a distilled version of their usual stylistic signatures: they write like themselves, only moreso. A Robert Fitzgerald poem about an assault in the Pacific draws directly on Homer, pointing toward the later translations of the Iliad and Odyssey for which Fitzgerald is now best known:
'I am green under my cloud,' the island said,The late John Ciardi -- whose commentaries on words were a favorite of mine in the 80's when I first started listening to NPR's news programs (slinging critiques at which I leave to other bloggers) -- works in rhyme with strong rhythms and a mordant wit, as in his "Elegy Just in Case":
At dawn in a dim glass on the port side,
Foresail dovebreasted leaning to that bride,
Hesperidean, in her blossoming bed.
Target enlarging, gunned in the needling roar
Until drawn downward under ponderous blood,
We left her rocket-torm perimeter
As the pale brain labored for altitude.
Here lie Ciardi's pearly bonesOne of the pleasures of this book is the discovery of poets previously unknown to me, such as Peter Viereck whose "Kilroy" is a mock ode to the peripatetic graffitist. Viereck's "Vale from Carthage" is a meditation upon learning, while stationed among the Roman graveyards at Carthage, of his brother's death at Anzio.
In their ripe organic mess.
Jungle blown, his chromosomes
Breed to a new address.
Was it bullets or a wind
Or a rip cord fouled on chance?
Artifacts the natives find
Decorate them when they dance.
Swift and single as a shark
I have seen you churn my sleep
Now if beetles hunt my dark
What will beetles find to keep?
Fractured meat and open bone --
Nothing single or surprised.
Fragments of a written stone
Undeciphered but surmised.
Roman, my shipmate's dream walks hand in handLest you should think that the war only produced elegantly framed classical allusion, Shapiro has also included poems such as Lincoln Kirstein's profane reminiscence of soldiers on leave in a brothel, Richard Hugo's "Where We Crashed," which vividly recreates a forced landing in lines mostly of one or two syllables peppered with expletives appropriate to the occasion.
With yours to night ('New York again' and 'Rome'),
Like widowed sisters bearing water home
On tired heads through hot Tunisian sand
In cool urns, and says, 'I understand.'
Roman, you'll see your Forum Square no more.
What's left but this to say of any war?
A longer discussion might draw comparisons between the work presented here of poets who wrote against the war, some of whom refused to participate and were dealt with as conscientious objectors, and the works of contemporary poets critiquing the events in Iraq. My personal taste prefers the work of the earlier generation on this topic; I've yet to find a really compelling new poem among those that have been written against the nation's current campaign. There's no arguing with taste, of course.
The claim made for this book is that it is the first of its kind, that the work of American* poets in and around and about World War II has not been the express focus of any earlier collection. I cannot say whether that it true or not, but this volume is worth your while as a reflection of its era and as a means of exploring one's own responses to our long-established human habit of slaughtering one another.
Back soon, probably with something more cheery.
* Does Auden count? He is represented, perhaps inevitably, by "September 1, 1939," still sitting "in one of the dives/ On Fifty-Second Street/ . . ./ As the clever hopes expire/Of a low dishonest decade." It's such a fine poem, I suppose our editor couldn't resist the opportunity to print it yet again.
As they say.
First in the Hearts of the Underinformed
I am sufficiently new at blogging that I am still a compulsive checker of my referral logs. Today, I discover that this blog has generated several hits in the past 24 hours from Google and other search engines, all from seekers seeking information on the prosecution of one "Colby Bryant." This Fool is happy to oblige with a passing reference to Kobe Bryant -- who I understand to be some sort of well regarded local sports figure -- and an adjacent but unrelated entry referencing Colby Cosh -- who I understand to be a Canadian who writes well. This Colby Bryant character, however, remains a mystery to me. I suppose I should look him up on Google.