Friday, March 30, 2007

Study in Orange and White by Billy Collins



I knew that James Whistler was part of the Paris scene,
but I was still surprised when I found the painting
of his mother at the Musée d'Orsay
among all the colored dots and mobile brushstrokes
of the French Impressionists.

And I was surprised to notice
after a few minutes of benign staring,
how that woman, stark in profile
and fixed forever in her chair,
began to resemble my own ancient mother
who was now fixed forever in the stars, the air, the earth.

You can understand why he titled the painting
"Arrangement in Gray and Black"
instead of what everyone naturally calls it,
but afterward, as I walked along the river bank,
I imagined how it might have broken
the woman's heart to be demoted from mother
to a mere composition, a study in colorlessness.

As the summer couples leaned into each other
along the quay and the wide, low-slung boats
full of spectators slid up and down the Seine
between the carved stone bridges
and their watery reflections,
I thought: how ridiculous, how off-base.

It would be like Botticelli calling "The Birth of Venus"
"Composition in Blue, Ochre, Green, and Pink,"
or the other way around
like Rothko titling one of his sandwiches of color
"Fishing Boats Leaving Falmouth Harbor at Dawn."

Or, as I scanned the menu at the cafe
where I now had come to rest,
it would be like painting something laughable,
like a chef turning on a spit
over a blazing fire in front of an audience of ducks
and calling it "Study in Orange and White."

But by that time, a waiter had appeared
with my glass of Pernod and a clear pitcher of water,
and I sat there thinking of nothing
but the women and men passing by--
mothers and sons walking their small fragile dogs--
and about myself,
a kind of composition in blue and khaki,
and, now that I had poured
some water into the glass, milky-green.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sing me a poem.

It's surprising how often we encounter poetry in our everyday lives and don't even realize it. There is poetry in every art, from dance to sculpture, from film to needlework, even an exquisite meal can be poetic. Every creative endeavor has some of what can only be described as poetry in it. Don't get me wrong - I'm not going all American Beauty on you and espousing the glories of plastic bags blowing in the wind (I suppose that is beautiful to someone). I'm just saying that you don't have to read a poem to experience poetry.

The most common example of this is a song. The lyrics to some of my favorite songs are poems in their own right, with the music enhancing the experience. One fairly modern example for me is Comfortable by John Mayer, off of the album, Inside Wants Out. You can listen to the song at last.fm, but please take a moment to read through the lyrics, as they are superb on their own:

I just remembered that time at the market
Snuck up behind me and jumped on my shopping cart
And rolled down aisle five
You looked behind you to smile back at me
Crashed into a rack full of magazines
They asked us if we could leave

I can't remember what went wrong last September
Though I'm sure you'd remind me if you had to

Our love was comfortable and so broken in

I sleep with this new girl I'm still getting used to
My friends all approve,
Say she's gonna be good for you
They throw me high fives
She says the Bible is all that she reads
And prefers that I not use profanity
Your mouth was so dirty

Life of the party and she swears that she's artsy
But you could distinguish Miles from Coltrane

Our love was comfortable and so broken in
She's perfect
So flawless
Or so they say

She thinks I can't see the smile that she's faking
And poses for pictures that aren't being taken
I loved you
Grey sweatpants
No makeup
So perfect

Our love was comfortable and so broken in
She's perfect
So flawless
I'm not impressed
I want you back

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Natural Selection by Alan Shapiro

proceeds by chance
and necessity

becomes nonrandom
through randomness

builds complexity
from simplicity

nurtures consciousness
unconsciously

evolves purposelessly
creatures who demand

purpose
and discover

natural selection

It’s not easy bein’ green.

Let me start this post by saying that I tried. But as I have recently discovered, I am just not cut out to be as environmentally responsible as I'd like to say I am. Let me go back a bit.

Since I am trying to lose weight, I've decided that it would be good for me to get out and mow the lawn this summer. For the last couple of years, my father-in-law has performed these honors, as lawn care is something he enjoys. But in the spirit of getting in some shape other than round, I'll be assuming lawn duties this year. This means that we needed a lawn mower. I read recently that mowing a lawn for one hour with a conventional gas-powered lawn mower causes more air pollution than driving from Kansas City to Columbia, MO. With this in mind, coupled with the fact that our yard is not very big, I researched electric lawn mowers.

Most reviewers spoke very highly of their experiences with electric mowers. One reviewer after another on epinions and Amazon gave their electric mower four or five stars. Their electric mowers, they said, were light-weight, much quieter than conventional mowers, and could cut through even the most dense of grassy patches. The only drawback, cited by all of them, was the power cord, and most reviewers glossed over this negative, as if it were really a minor inconvenience that could be addressed with little effort. In my mind, I am picturing my lawn like a room in my house, and the mower as a vacuum cleaner. A corded mower would be just like vacuuming, only outside. How easy is that?

On Sunday, we went to Lowe's and picked out our new mower. I was really excited - I would get some exercise AND be doing something nice for the environment. Once home, we unpacked the mower and it was ready to go in just a couple of minutes. I plugged in my 100-foot extension cord and proceeded to tackle my yard. The mower was a breeze to start and the motor hummed along at a respectable volume. This is going to be great, I thought. Easy, quiet, light-weight - just like all the reviews said it would be.

And then the cord came unplugged from the mower. No problem, I thought, I'll just plug it back in and keep going. It came unplugged again. So I plugged it back in again. At this point, I'm slightly annoyed, but I'm fairly confident I can devise a system to keep weight off the cord by looping around the handle.

I mow up one row, and as I am preparing to come back, I notice the cord laying in the middle of the path I need to take. I grab the cord and attempt to flip it over the mower to the other side, like I would do with the vacuum cord. Only this cord, being that it is 100 feet long and heavier, just kind of flops back down in the same place. I try to flip it again, and this time, it comes unplugged from the mower again. I'm beginning to think that maybe the cord is going to be a bit more of a challenge than I originally thought. But challenges are meant to be overcome, and I, convinced that I am smarter than the average bear, was solid in my conviction that I could master this whole cord thing, for the sake of Mother Earth.

I press on. Up a row, start to turn to go back, cord comes unplugged. I plug back in, try to flip the cord out of my way, cord comes unplugged and cord is still in the way. I plug back in and keep going, repeating this sequence of events until my back yard is almost entirely mowed. Then I notice two things. One, how in the hell do I maneuver this corded contraption around the two trees at the end of my yard without wrapping the cord around them? But the second thing I notice is more troubling - instead of the neat, straight mower lines I wanted in my yard, I have these wavy, zig-zag patterns. In the course of all the unplugging and flipping and replugging, it was impossible to cut in a straight line. In short, my yard looked like ass.

By now, I've had it with this mower. I'm standing at the end of my yard, hot, sweaty, exhausted, grass-covered. I want to go inside and take a shower and get this mower out of my life. Instead, I have to wind up 100 feet of cord and drag the damn thing into the garage, which makes me cuss it even more. I haul it in, I hose it off, and I pack it as best as I can back into its box. Back to Lowe's you go, little environmentally-friendly machine. I mourn a bit at my inability to adjust to the corded lifestyle.

So, as much as I hate to say it, the corded mower is not for me. I don't have the patience or willpower or whatever it is that other people with corded mowers have that makes them continue to sing their praises. Get a cordless electric mower, you say. Unfortunately, I don't have $450 to spend on a lawn mower. My mower budget cuts out somewhere around $250.

I caved and bought a conventional push-mower last night at Sears. So long, ozone layer.

So there you have it. I tried. I really, really tried to like the electric mower and I'm disappointed in myself that I can't singlehandedly save the environment. But I also know my limitations. If I had kept the corded mower, I wouldn't have used it at all and my father-in-law would be getting all of my lawn-related exercise. But I recycle some, and I have a few compact florescent bulbs in my house, and I don't gas up during the hottest part of the day. I don't shop at Wal-Mart, I don't eat fast food, and I've never seen a Fast and the Furious movie. I'm trying, dammit.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

From “A Rolling Stone” by Robert W. Service

To scorn all strife, and to view all life
With the curious eyes of a child;
From the plangent sea to the prairie,
From the slum to the heart of the Wild.
From the red-rimmed star to the speck of sand,
From the vast to the greatly small;
For I know that the whole for good is planned,
And I want to see it all.

Read the complete poem here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

King of the road.


"Temptation of St. Anthony" by Hieronymous Bosch

I am a tramp by the long trail's border,
Given to squalor, rags and disorder.
I nap and amble and yawn and look,
Write fool-thoughts in my grubby book,
Recite to the children, explore at my ease,
Work when I work, beg when I please,
Give crank-drawings, that make folks stare
To the half-grown boys in the sunset glare,
And get me a place to sleep in the hay
At the end of a live-and-let-live day.

- From "The Santa Fe Trail: A Humoresque" by Vachel Lindsay

Sanskrit Poem


"New Moon Eclipsed" by Ron Gonsalves

Although I conquer all the earth,
Yet for me there is only one city.
In that city there is for me only one house;
And in that house, one room only;
And in that room a bed.
And one woman sleeps there,
The shining joy and jewel of all my kingdom.

Monday, March 19, 2007

From First Poems by Ranier Maria Rilke

From First Poems by Ranier Maria Rilke

Understand, I'll slip quietly
away from the noisy crowd
when I see the pale
stars rising, blooming over the oaks.

I'll pursue solitary pathways
through the pale twilit meadows,
with only this one dream:
You come too.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Three short poems.

It Often Comes Into My Head by Walter Savage Landor
It often comes into my head
That we may dream when we are dead,
But I am far from sure we do.
O that it were so! then my rest
Would be indeed among the blest;
I should forever dream of you!!!

A gloss on Decartes:
Sometimes I think and sometimes I am.
- Paul Valery

For Anne by Leonard Cohen
With Anne gone
Whose eyes compare
To the morning sun?

Not that I did
compare
But I do compare
Now that she's gone.

Symptoms of Love by Robert Graves


Symptoms of Love by Robert Graves

Love is universal migraine,
A bright stain on the vision
Blotting out reason.

Symptoms of true love
Are leanness, jealousy,
Laggard dawns;

Are omens and nightmares -
Listening for a knock,
Waiting for a sign:
For a touch of her fingers
In a darkened room,
For a searching look.

Take courage, lover!
Could you endure such pain
At any hand but hers?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Get him a body bag, Johnny!

As a child of the 80s, The Karate Kid is as much a part of my cultural makeup as Sesame Street and Madonna. The cast of the original movie has come together for a sequal of sorts in a brilliant music video from the band No More Kings.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Sweep the Leg.

To My Dear and Loving Husband by Anne Bradstreet


To My Dear and Loving Husband by Anne Bradstreet
If ever two were one then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife were happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor aught but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persevere
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Finding meaning.

"My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but to just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate."
- Thornton Wilder

"An Atheist loves himself and his fellow man instead of a god. An Atheist knows that heaven is something for which we should work now - here on earth - for all men together to enjoy..."
- Madalyn Murray O'Hair

"I wouldn't recommend sex, drugs or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me."
- Hunter S. Thompson

"Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired."
- Robert Frost

"The fellow that agrees with everything you say is either a fool or he is getting ready to skin you."
- Kin Hubbard

"Love can sweep you off your feet and carry you along in a way you've never known before. But the ride always ends, and you end up feeling lonely and bitter. Wait - it's not love I'm describing. I'm thinking of a monorail."
- Jack Handy

"If A is a success in life, then A equals X plus Y plus Z. Work is X, Y is play, and Z is keeping your mouth shut."
- Albert Einstein

"Terra! Terra! Terra! Looooooooooooong war! Patient country. Looooooooooooooong war! Terra, evil, terra. Evil evil evil. Loooooooooooong war. Terra, terra everywhere. Loooooooooooooong war! God bless America."
- Summary of pResident Bu$h's 2002 State of the Union Address by Salon.com Table Talkers.

Count That Day Lost by George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans)

Count That Day Lost by George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans)

If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went --
Then you may count that day well spent.

But if, through all the livelong day,
You've cheered no heart, by yea or nay --
If, through it all
You've nothing done that you can trace
That brought the sunshine to one face--
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost --
Then count that day as worse than lost.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Oh, Happy Day!

Most people don't know this, but April is National Poetry Month. To help celebrate, poets.org sends out commemorative posters to students, educators, librarians, and others who can help spread the word about the goodness that is poetry. I've requested and received the posters for the last five years, with each year's arrival even more exciting to me than the last. I really, really look forward to receiving my new poster in the mail every year. they each have a prominent place in my office, and I love seeing them every day:





Guess what arrived in my mailbox today?!

Yup - the 2007 National Poetry Month poster! See it here hanging in my office, in all its Whitman-esque glory:



In honor of National Poetry Month, I'm going to post more of my favorite poems. I've already posted several on this site, so please take some time to read them. To make that easier, I've added a poetry category to the list on the right. Now you can choose to browse through poetry or higgledy-piggledy (everything else).
Here's one of the only poems I've written, Requiem for a Groundhog. Don't worry - I didn't quit my day job.

Even if you don't think you like poetry, you may not have found the right poem yet, and there's no better time like the present to start your search.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Even better than expected.

I just got back from seeing 300. I think I can speak for the 6 females in the nearly sold-out theater when I say that this was one of the best movies I've ever seen. Ever. If it had been on in HD when I got home from the theater I would have watched it again, and TiVo'd it so I could turn it on again in the morning.

Let's see... fire-bombing wizards: check! At least 3 characters that look just like Sloth from The Goonies: check! An army of chromed V for Vendetta clones: check! Three hundred ripped and badass dudes in nothing but loincloths and capes: check! In short, everything great about a movie in one gorgeous package. Well, almost everything...

At one point in the film I did mention that the only thing that would have made it perfect is if all the Persian corpses that littered the field would rise up and fight behind the Spartans as a zombie army. THAT would have made 300 the best movie ever made. Even so, even without the zombies, all I can say about 300 that I haven't already said is, "holy fuck, why are you still reading this and not out seeing 300 RIGHT NOW?!?"

Great expectations.



A while back, I read this review by Neill Cumpston, which cemented in me the need to see 300 as soon as it came to our cow town. "I can't spoil the plot because THANK GOD THERE ISN'T ONE. Just ass kicking that kicks ass that, while said ass is getting kicked, is kicking yet more ass that's hitting someone's balls with a hammer made of ice but the ice is frozen whiskey."

If that wasn't enough, if I wasn't already hyped to see 300 tonight, this review would get me there. "The movie "300" is rated R for "RAAAAAR!" and is about as inspirational as "Field of Dreams" multiplied by "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," plus infinity."

Sweet Jesus, I can hardly wait.

Linkaloo.

The Secret Life of Chairs - Terrific short film by a group of young actors. This will make your day.

How was your day? Meh.

Need cash, how about you bang the bricks?

Who's crazier - Tracy Morgan or Tracy Jordan?

Got extra cash to piss away? How about you spend it on bling h2O.

Play You Don't Know Jack online. Hot damn - I didn't know this site was still around! I was playing this back in the mid 90s. It was way cool then - I've gotta give it another run to see if its held up.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Radiohead - then and now

Here are two different versions of Radiohead performing Creep, one of my favorite songs.

This one, from 1994, is aggressive and raw, but softened by Thom Yorke's emotional vocals. Note the absence of "fuck" in the chorus.

This one, from a live performance in 2006, is much more robotic and, in my opinion, mush less effective. Maybe it's the crowd that dulls it, or the fact that the band is 12 years older, or that they have performed this song too many times to count and they're just sick of it now. Even the inclusion of casual cussing doesn't help; it almost makes this version worse because even though all the ingredients for a hella-powerful performance are there, it just doesn't happen.

There's no point to this post, really, except as an excuse to listen to Radiohead, even not-so-good Radiohead.