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Sunday, July 31, 2011


(Zobeide -- perhaps from the Arabic "Zubaida," a female name for "elite" or "prime")
  1. Smacks a bit of Christopher Nolan's Inception, doesn't it--this dream sharing?
  2. What is Calvino getting at when he describes the city as having forgotten the dream of its ... err ... inception?
  3. The later men who had shared the dream of the running woman: did they have the dream and seek out the city, or did they stumble upon the city coincidentally?
  4. Why is the city so ugly?

M.C. Escher -- again

INVISIBLE CITIES XX -- Chapter 3, ..... 1

  1. Kublai Khan notices that all of the cities are similar.  Really?  They all seem remarkably different to me--at least superficially.  How are they (here we go) perhaps even all the same city?  What evidence is there here at the opening of chapter 3 that this is so?
  2. What then is the difference--if different at all--between Marco's various accounts (of the same or different city/ies) and what Kublai does when giving details and asking if there is such a city?
  3. Now tie this into dreams.

M.C. Escher

Sunday Poetry XXXVI -- Textbook Poetry 3.7

Section VII wore me out.  I was interested for the first six poems, as all were about birds, and I thought perhaps an interesting and perhaps poetic motif might emerge.  Nope.  Just six excellent poems on birds and then – pff! – hodge-podge, and, as hodge-podge goes, bland.  Oh well.  Not bothering with the last poem of the book.  It annoyed me, and it’s long.  Instead three bird poems, all new to me and all quite enjoyable.  (Corbies are crows or ravens, by the way.)

An Approach to Literature
Brooks, Purser, Warren

The Twa Corbies
As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies makin a mane;
The tane unto the ither say,
"Whar sall we gang and dine the-day?"

"In ahint yon auld fail dyke,
I wot there lies a new slain knight;
And nane do ken that he lies there,
But his hawk, his hound an his lady fair."

"His hound is tae the huntin gane,
His hawk tae fetch the wild-fowl hame, 
His lady's tain anither mate,
So we may mak oor dinner swate."

"Ye'll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I'll pike oot his bonny blue een;
Wi ae lock o his gowden hair 
We'll theek oor nest whan it grows bare."

"Mony a one for him makes mane,
But nane sall ken whar he is gane;
Oer his white banes, whan they are bare,
The wind sall blaw for evermair."

The Oven Bird
Robert Frost
There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing. 

William Carlos Williams
My townspeople, beyond in the great world,
Are many with whom it were far more
Profitable for me to live than here with you.
These whirr about me calling, calling!
And for my own part I answer them loud as I can,
But they, being free pass!
I remain! Therefore, listen!
For you will not soon have another singer

First I say this: You have seen
The strange birds, have you not, that sometimes
Rest upon our river in winter?
Let them cause you to think well then of the storms
That drive many to shelter. These things
Do not happen without reason.

And next thing I say is this:
I saw an eagle once circling against the clouds
Over one of our principal churches
Easter, it was a beautiful day!
Three gulls came from above the river
And crossed slowly seaward!
Oh, I know you have your own hymns, I have heard them
And because I knew they invoked some great protector
I could not be angry with you, no matter
How much they outraged true music

You see, it is not necessary for us to leap at each other,
And, as I told you, in the end
The gulls moved seaward very quietly.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

INVISIBLE CITIES XIX -- Chapter 2, ..... 2

  1. Considering what "an hourglass could mean," what are your thoughts on everything we've read to this point?  Has your interpretation changed?
  2. Similarly, we've discussed a few times how getting to the root of an author's motives or the source of his creativity or his biography can assist the interpretation of a text, so here is Marco Polo an author.  Is it possible for his audience, Kublai Kahn, to get behind the stories?
  3. How might Polo's stories, despite their general incomprehensibility yet provide a new avenue for Kublai to understand his own cities?
  4. "The foreigner had learned to speak the emperor's language or the emperor to understand the language of the foreigner."  Is there a difference?
  5. This exposition was an "aha" moment for me the first time I read it.  What is the great benefit of the charades over the "precise words"?  How do the verbal descriptions given by Calvino perhaps fit better the charades than whatever Polo may have actually spoken?

Droodle 13

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Thoughts on MOBY DICK, 1: Two Particularly Excellent Quotations

In my spare time, I am currently reading the eponymous Moby Dick, by Herman Melville (special thanks to Jennifer Fulmer for the copy, and thanks to James Smith for the prod to do it now and the promise from his review), and am enjoying it.  It's slow going, but not for the text: for all the distractions of life.

While there have been many other good lines, these two are the most recent additions to my list of favorites of all time (and now, with the blog, I get to actually create said list), the first for its euphony, the second its analogy:

  1. "...however it was, Flask, alas! was a butterless man!" (chapter 34).
  2. "...my one cogged circle fits into all their various wheels, and they revolve.  Or, if you will, like so many ant-hills of powder, they all stand before me; and I their match.  Oh, hard! that to fire others, the match itself must needs be wasting!" (chapter 37).


  1. The culturality (to use a new-ish and very iffy word) of Euphemia and its crossroads and the merchants who visit and trade there make me wonder how you see the legitimacy of Calvino's prose.  Does his stuff feel like he really understands the Old World dessert, trade, Spice Road, and Mongol elements he's professing to tell us about, or does it all feel like so much contrivance, or is this a non-issue for whatever reason?
  2. I wonder why campfires are such natural centerpieces for storytelling (not that it would take much to lay such reason out and make sense of it, but it is a magical thing).
  3. Something about the trade routes, the city at the crossroads, the storytelling and, in my mind, its natural "one-up-manship" remind me of Kim (a book that seems to get better the further away you are from the time you actually forced yourself to sit and read it--you know, as the concept of it takes over the terrible writing of it).  Thoughts?

Monday, July 25, 2011


source here
Not much in the way of questions with Zenobia, but a couple thoughts, especially as they apply to what I said in the last post about the important I lay upon an author's creative source for a particular work: is it as pointless for me to do that as it is for a traveler to determine whether Zenobia is a happy or unhappy city?  While I can't full define it at the moment, these two questions, as well as the alternative Calvino offers on the second, seem strangely parallel.

So what do you think of Zenobia?  There are, of course, the typical questions I could ask.  Answer a question I haven't asked--whatever you think that might be?  I don't see everything--not by any stretch of the imagination; and my one limited viewpoint is in a bit of a rut.  What am I not touching upon, and what is the answer?
Why is Zenobia a Thin City rather than a City [of] Desire (and is my "of" rather than the given "and" significantly altering the meaning?)?


source here
"Zoe" is Greek for "life," and is a name sometimes used by Greeks to refer to our Eve, whose name, by the way, means "breath."

In my own writing, names are very important, and I really enjoy reading a work where names and etymology are similarly significant and certainly far better and more poetically employed.  I wonder--and encourage your thoughts and hypotheses--how Calvino built up this book.  Did he start with a list of feminine names and searched out their meanings and connected these to the metaphoric constructs of his cities?  The point from where an author's work germinates is a target at which I'm constantly pitching guesses.  This, perhaps more than anything else save the words and narration themselves, for me contributes to the life of a text.
  1. Interesting the unacknowledged assumption of the traveler here: that all cities have, unquestioningly, these certain features.  It's just the organization and situation of these in relation to these others that vary.
  2. How does the "city of differences" that abides within every man connect, in counterpoint, as it happens, to the name, Zoe?  Along this line, what do you think about the sentence, particularly the second half: "This--some say--confirms the hypothesis that each man bears in his mind a city made only of differences, a city without figures and without form, and the individual cities fill it up"?
  3. Perhaps the hardest question: What is then Zoe, the city?  This city is, for me, the hardest to grasp city so far, and I think it may indicate a turning point in the "story."  Thoughts?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Droodle 12

Sunday Poetry XXXV -- Textbook Poetry 3.6

It’s been a while, so welcome back: to you, if you’re reading this; to me, because, honestly, that's who this is mostly for, right?  Is blogging not a selfish endeavor?  After all, I can’t manage to find my words or name in print anywhere else!  (Yeah, I'm whining.  Sorry.  Just got another rejection last week.  I'm running out of publishers to submit to.)

So, getting right back to it: we’re nearly done with the textbook poetry.  Why?  Because there’s only one poetry section left of An Approach to Literature, and if there’s an old textbook of mine we haven’t yet covered, I can’t and won’t be able to get to it for quite some time, as they’re all in boxes since I don’t have bookshelves anymore (sold them for the move), and I don’t exactly anticipate a fortuitous coming-into of both free bookshelves and space in which to set them up.  Considering we’re—or I’m, really—very nearly finished, how happy I was to see the first poem of section VI, then, no less, the next I found (after a bunch of British stuff like so much of all the British stuff I’ve ever read), and finally … well, that’s it, because the last five poems I already knew:

An Approach to Literature
Brooks, Purser, Warren

The Convergence of the Twain
Lines on the Loss of the Titanic
Thomas Hardy
      In a solitude of the sea
      Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

      Steel chambers, late the pyres
      Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.

      Over the mirrors meant
      To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls – grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

      Jewels in joy designed
      To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

      Dim moon-eyed fishes near
      Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?" ...

      Well: while was fashioning
      This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

      Prepared a sinister mate
      For her – so gaily great –
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.

      And as the smart ship grew
      In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

      Alien they seemed to be;
      No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,

      Or sign that they were bent
      By paths coincident 
On being anon twin halves of one august event,

      Till the Spinner of the Years
      Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres. 

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum
Stephen Spender
Far far from gusty waves these children's faces.
Like rootless weeds, the hair torn around their pallor.
The tall girl with her weighed-down head. The paper-
seeming boy, with rat's eyes. The stunted, unlucky heir
Of twisted bones, reciting a father's gnarled disease,
His lesson from his desk. At back of the dim class
One unnoted, sweet and young. His eyes live in a dream,
Of squirrel's game, in the tree room, other than this.

On sour cream walls, donations. Shakespeare's head,
Cloudless at dawn, civilized dome riding all cities.
Belled, flowery, Tyrolese valley. Open-handed map
Awarding the world its world. And yet, for these
Children, these windows, not this world, are world,
Where all their future's painted with a fog,
A narrow street sealed in with a lead sky,
Far far from rivers, capes, and stars of words.

Surely, Shakespeare is wicked, and the map a bad example
With ships and sun and love tempting them to steal--
For lives that slyly turn in their cramped holes
From fog to endless night? On their slag heap, these children
Wear skins peeped through by bones and spectacles of steel
With mended glass, like bottle bits on stones.
All of their time and space are foggy slum.
So blot their maps with slums as big as doom.

Unless, governor, teacher, inspector, visitor,
This map becomes their window and these windows
That shut upon their lives like catacombs,
Break O break open 'till they break the town
And show the children green fields and make their world
Run azure on gold sands, and let their tongues
Run naked into books, the white and green leaves open
History is theirs whose language is the sun.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Maybe it's just me.  Does any other reader out there (of the few who actually read this) find that reading--the Reading Beast--is actually an autotrophic being?  I'm at a point in my life when I can't really spare the time or the money to casually head over to the book store and spend a couple hours parsing out a new author to approach, and if reading--or at least, my Reading--didn't manage to feed itself, I would quickly lose energy, atrophy, wind down, and just watch television (not that I don't do too much of this-the-latter anyway).  Thankfully, authors can't seem to help revealing their own inspiration for writing the very book I'm reading in the words of their characters and narrators.  While this has happened with likely half the books I've read in the last year (and if not directly then indirectly in narrators' and characters' word, with little research (thank Worldwide Web!) I learn who and what inspired these authors), I've been able to create, or locate rather, a whole network of authors and artists and poets and musicians that tie back to those authors, and aren't subsequently found creators so more so a sure thing (reading enjoyment-wise), since they inspired those of whom I already approve, than something I gamblingly picked up at the bookstore from some, say, bargain shelf?

I recently finished Kate Milford's YA The Boneshaker, a fantastic (and phantastic) little novel that successfully manages to combine American folklore, deals with the devil, steam-punk, crossroads, and bicycles.  I loved it.  I want to read it again.  If I were still teaching 7th grade English, I'd put it on my yearly book list and do up study questions and research projects and everything.  In the story--or the American of the story--are demons and angels.  Well, the angels are fallen angels, or, in this case, "jumpers," and one of comes out during a traveling medicine show and admits that he can't tell if he's alive or dead (this is before we know he was a "jumper").  When the protagonist, a spunky young teen by the name of Natalie Minks, approaches him and asks about it, the old--VERY old--man mentions a poet named Rilke who said something of the same think: angles can't tell if they're alive or dead.  

Rilke?  Sounded familiar.  Sounded like one I was supposed to read in college and maybe skipped to go play steel drums.

The next day, at the library (no home internet connection at this point), I looked him up (sadly, I couldn't post then, as per the library's stringent web security measures) and was delighted with what I found.  I expect there will be more posts on Rainer Rilke and, if nothing else, his elegies:

The First Elegy
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic
Orders? And even if one were to suddenly
take me to its heart, I would vanish into its
stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,
and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every Angel is terror.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the cry
of a darkened sobbing. Ah, who then can
we make use of? Not Angels: not men,
and the resourceful creatures see clearly
that we are not really at home
in the interpreted world. Perhaps there remains
some tree on a slope, that we can see
again each day: there remains to us yesterday’s street,
and the thinned-out loyalty of a habit
that liked us, and so stayed, and never departed.
Oh, and the night, the night, when the wind full of space
wears out our faces – whom would she not stay for,
the longed-for, gentle, disappointing one, whom the solitary heart
with difficulty stands before. Is she less heavy for lovers?
Ah, they only hide their fate between themselves.
Do you not know yet? Throw the emptiness out of your arms
to add to the spaces we breathe; maybe the birds
will feel the expansion of air, in more intimate flight.
Yes, the Spring-times needed you deeply. Many a star
must have been there for you so you might feel it. A wave
lifted towards you out of the past, or, as you walked
past an open window, a violin
gave of itself. All this was their mission.
But could you handle it? Were you not always,
still, distracted by expectation, as if all you experienced,
like a Beloved, came near to you? (Where could you contain her,
with all the vast strange thoughts in you
going in and out, and often staying the night.)
But if you are yearning, then sing the lovers: for long
their notorious feelings have not been immortal enough.
Those, you almost envied them, the forsaken, that you
found as loving as those who were satisfied. Begin,
always as new, the unattainable praising:
think: the hero prolongs himself, even his falling
was only a pretext for being, his latest rebirth.
But lovers are taken back by exhausted Nature
into herself, as if there were not the power
to make them again. Have you remembered
Gastara Stampa sufficiently yet, that any girl,
whose lover has gone, might feel from that
intenser example of love: ‘Could I only become like her?’
Should not these ancient sufferings be finally
fruitful for us? Isn’t it time that, loving,
we freed ourselves from the beloved, and, trembling, endured
as the arrow endures the bow, so as to be, in its flight,
something more than itself? For staying is nowhere.
Voices, voices. Hear then, my heart, as only
saints have heard: so that the mighty call
raised them from the earth: they, though, knelt on
impossibly and paid no attention:
such was their listening. Not that you could withstand
God’s voice: far from it. But listen to the breath,
the unbroken message that creates itself from the silence.
It rushes towards you now, from those youthfully dead.
Whenever you entered, didn’t their fate speak to you,
quietly, in churches in Naples or Rome?
Or else an inscription exaltedly impressed itself on you,
as lately the tablet in Santa Maria Formosa.
What do they will of me? That I should gently remove
the semblance of injustice, that slightly, at times,
hinders their spirits from a pure moving-on.
It is truly strange to no longer inhabit the earth,
to no longer practice customs barely acquired,
not to give a meaning of human futurity
to roses, and other expressly promising things:
no longer to be what one was in endlessly anxious hands,
and to set aside even one’s own
proper name like a broken plaything.
Strange: not to go on wishing one’s wishes. Strange
to see all that was once in place, floating
so loosely in space. And it’s hard being dead,
and full of retrieval, before one gradually feels
a little eternity. Though the living
all make the error of drawing too sharp a distinction.
Angels (they say) would often not know whether
they moved among living or dead. The eternal current
sweeps all the ages, within it, through both the spheres,
forever, and resounds above them in both.
Finally they have no more need of us, the early-departed,
weaned gently from earthly things, as one outgrows
the mother’s mild breast. But we, needing
such great secrets, for whom sadness is often
the source of a blessed progress, could we exist without them?
Is it a meaningless story how once, in the grieving for Linos,
first music ventured to penetrate arid rigidity,
so that, in startled space, which an almost godlike youth
suddenly left forever, the emptiness first felt
the quivering that now enraptures us, and comforts, and helps.
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