Saturday, March 28, 2009

A facebook meme

(Copied from Eve. I'm not on Facebook.)

1) What author do you own the most books by?
Shakespeare? Wilde? Cummings?

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
I've gone through several copies of Dylan Thomas's poems; Seamus Heaney's Field Work.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
That's a fake rule. So, no.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
Don't read much fiction. Probably someone from the movies.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children; i.e., Goodnight Moon does not count)?
My copy of Marianne Moore's prose is pretty beat up.

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Believe it or not, it was probably something about baseball.

7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
I don't read many bad books. A bad book is one I can't finish.

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?
Oh, I don't know. Probably something I've reread. Cummings.

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
Cummings; Roethke; Dylan Thomas. I can't choose.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?
Wendy Cope. Better yet, Stephen Fry.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
Michael Ramsey: A Life by Owen Chadwick.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
Dreamed I was in my high-school auditorium after a Dylan Thomas reading. I asked for the poet's autograph, and he hastily scribbled "Dylan Moreorless Thomas." Also dreamed, more weirdly, of meeting President Eisenhower on a park bench.

14) What is the most low-brow book you've read as an adult?
A Bobby Darin biography. Wait -- the autobiography of the Weakest Link lady. No, wait -- Rush Limbaugh's The Way Things Ought to Be. But I've always wanted to read Little Girl Lost by Drew Barrymore.

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
I attempted both Ulysses and The Glass Bead Game in high school.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?
I've just seen the biggies.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
The world needs both. But I think I'll give the slight edge to the French.

18) Roth or Updike?
From what little I know of both, Updike.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
Sedaris. Who's Eggers?

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
Shakespeare. As Eve said, duh.

21) Austen or Eliot?
For the most part, I've escaped them both (if Eliot means George, as I suspect). I also suspect I'd find them both unendurable. But then again, most fiction is, to me.

Auden or (TS) Eliot, now there's a question! (Auden for me.)

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
Recently admitted to a friend that I've read neither Brave New World nor Fahrenheit 451. Addendum, 3/29 : Chesterton! Inexcusably for a Catholic in the English-speaking world, I've read nothing by him save a few poems and his biography of St Francis of Assisi. And I haven't read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books.

23) What is your favorite novel?
19th century: The Picture of Dorian Gray. 20th century: Walker Percy's Love In the Ruins.

24) Play?
I'm tempted to steal Eve's answer of Lear, but I give the slight edge to Hamlet.

25) Poem?
Shakespeare's 18th sonnet; Dante's "Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare"; "Prayer" by George Herbert; Dylan Thomas's "Prologue."

26) Essay?
Any prose by Marianne Moore can be counted on to edify.

27) Short story?
Don't have one.

28) Work of non-fiction?
Moab Is My Washpot by Stephen Fry. (It's not for the prudish, as Miss Moore would say.)

29) Who is your favorite writer?
At the moment, Cummings.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
Tom Robbins? John Irving? Anne Lamott? And several poets.

31) What is your desert island book?
The Atlantic Book of British and American Poetry, edited by Dame Edith Sitwell.

32) And... what are you reading right now?
Re-reading Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled; also, two books about Eastern Orthodoxy.


Airplane or aeroplane or just plain plane

Malcolm Lowry

About Marianne Moore

Moore’s hospitality never flagged throughout her long life. Donald Hall recounts a touching lunch visit to Cumberland Street in 1965 at which Moore, then in her seventies, suspecting that he was still hungry, poured a small pile of corn chips onto his tray. A known lover of health foods, she quipped: “I like Fritos. They’re so nutritious.” Hall was delighted.


Thursday, March 26, 2009


From the Wikipedia page on English poet Geoffrey Hill (b. 1932):
In an interview in The Paris Review (2000), which published Hill's early poem 'Genesis' when he was still at Oxford, Hill defended the right of poets to difficulty as a form of resistance to the demeaning simplifications imposed by 'maestros of the world'. Hill also argued that to be difficult is to be democratic, equating the demand for simplicity with the demands of tyrants.

(Of course, this could be an inaccurate paraphrase of whatever he said in the interview. Still. The idea fascinates.)

My 2 cents: I know I can't live without the apparent obscurities of Dylan Thomas and Hart Crane, the luminous intricacies of Wallace Stevens, and at one time was even seduced by the somewhat surreal (some would say meaningless) verse of John Ashbery. But when does obscurity become an evasion? I hear Miss Marianne Moore chiding, "Nor can we dignify confusion by calling it baroque." There is, of course, a difference between obscurity and confusion: something very meaningful can be obscure at a first glance.

Geoffrey Hill is no idler or surrealist. As Donald Hall noted with admiring bewilderment in the 1970s, Hill was still writing devotional sonnets when everyone else was letting it all hang out. Hill's writing has weight, and is not (at least in the poems I half-remember) as obscure as the work of the others I've mentioned.

So: how much obscurity does a poet have a right to? Should we ask the surrealists, the Language poets, the ghost of Gertrude Stein?

I guess what puzzles me about the paraphrase of Hill's words (and I hope Wikipedia is being true to what he said) is the bit about obscurity being democratic. Obscurity is certainly libertarian; I don't know about democratic.

As usual, I find myself a bit confused. Anyone out there with a helpful thought or two?

Archbishop Chaput

If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or immigrants, or the unborn child. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn’t need to waste each other’s time arguing about whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow ‘balanced out’ or excused by three other good social policies.


(HT: Peony.)


The Academy of American Poets' website,, reminds us that April is National Poetry Writing Month, when poetbloggers (?!?!) write and post a poem a day for thirty days.

It might be great fun to try rhymed iambic couplets, something small.

Apparently, there's a pledge drive associated with NaPoWriMo this year. The link provides more details.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

10 random thoughts

News of the day: from grim to just plain dull.
It has been ever thus since Adam fell.

Hip-hop vernacular grows quickly stale.

It's time to put the winter boots away.
Soon, we shall have a fourteen-hour day.

iPods and cellphones on the noonday bus.

"The very bastard son of a mongrel bitch ..."

Squawking of seagulls or the crank of crows?

The Muses are not easily astonished!
They can detect when skill and strength have vanished.

Cloudless cerulean, no trace of white.
Still, we prefer the teeming stars of night.

Nightmare: I failed to save a long lost friend.

Gregarious in solitude, strange scribe
Who bids his muses romp, carouse, imbibe.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Soonest, sonnets!

There's a sonnet contest going on, courtesy of the blogger at Enchiridion. With the winners to be announced shortly after Easter, if memory serves.

Ah, the reader exclaims; that's why dylan's been foisting all these fourteen-line misadventures in rhyme and metronomic meter upon us. The Cummings was the only decent one!

Be that as it may: I've even produced a sonnet with the word "Enchiridion" in it. Which, of course, I can't submit to the contest, lest it seem like I'm trying to curry favor with the judge. Nothing of the sort. Really. I just like pentasyllables that begin with "E"!

Maybe I'll work the name "Enbrethiliel" into a sonnet. Hmmm ...

This is kinda cute

The 5th Dimension as presenters at the '72 Grammys:

Part of the fun in seeing this for the first time was trying to predict who would win!