Key complicating factors in the friendship of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were the influence of Charles Williams and Roy Campbell. When viewed as a love story (however platonic), Williams and Campbell clearly play the role of interlopers, and the ways that Jack and Tollers read these two men and respond to them so very differently provides some of the irony and complexity of the story as it played out historically.
My play has prompted one friend to dig in and read biographies of these four men, and of the Inklings as a group. Here are some thoughts I sent him.
You won’t find a lot on Roy Campbell’s role in the Tolkien-Lewis friendship, because his involvement with them was very brief. I included it because I think it is very telling, and I think highly significant - it’s the first evidence I’ve seen of Tolkien beginning to perceive Lewis as anti-Catholic, which by the time of Lewis’s death had become a virulent (and I think unfounded) conviction. Here’s all there is about Campbell’s interaction with the lads, from the letters of JRR. You’ll see how closely I stuck to the events of the two encounters, apart from the fact that I separated them by months instead of only a couple days (and put some of the content into an invented intervening scene).
Oct 6 1944: JRR Tolkien to Christopher
"On Tuesday [Oct 3] at noon I looked in at the Bird and B. with C. Williams. There to my surprise I found Jack and Warnie already ensconced. (For the present the beer shortage is over, and the inns are almost habitable again). The conversation was pretty lively... & I noticed a strange tall gaunt man half in khaki half in mufti with a large wide-awake hat, bright eyes and a hooked nose sitting in the corner. The others had their backs to him, but I could see in his eye that he was taking an interest in the conversation quite unlike the ordinary pained astonishment of the British (and American) public at the presence of the Lewises (and myself) in a pub. It was rather like Trotter [an early name for the character later renamed Strider] at the Prancing Pony... In a few seconds he was revealed as Roy Campbell (of Flowering Rifle and Flaming Terrapin'). Tableau! Especially as C.S.L. had not long ago violently lampooned him in the Oxford Magazine, and his press-cutters miss nothing. There is a good deal of Ulster still left in C.S.L. if hidden from himself. After that things became fast and furious and I was late for lunch. It was (perhaps) gratifying to find that this powerful poet and soldier desired in Oxford chiefly to see Lewis (and myself).
"We made an appointment for Thursday (that is last) night [Oct 5]. If I could remember all that I heard in C.S.L.'s room last night it would fill several airletters. C.S.L. had taken a fair deal of port and was a little belligerent (insisted on reading out his lampoon again while R.C. laughed at him), but we were mostly obliged to listen to the guest. A window on a wild world, yet the man is in himself gentle, modest, and compassionate. Mostly it interested me to learn that this old-looking war-scarred Trotter, limping from recent wounds, is 9 years younger than I am, and we prob. met when he was a lad, as he lived in 0[xford] at the time when we lived in Pusey Street... Here is a scion of an Ulster prot. family resident in S. Africa, most of whom fought in both wars, who became a Catholic after sheltering the Carmelite fathers in Barcelona – in vain, they were caught & butchered, and R.C. nearly lost his life. But he got the Carmelite archives from the burning library and took them through the Red country. He speaks Spanish fluently (he has been a professional bullfighter). As you know he then fought through the war on Franco's side... it is not possible to convey an impression of such a rare character, both a soldier and a poet, and a Christian convert. How unlike the Left – the 'corduroy panzers' who fled to America (Auden among them who with his friends got R.C.'s works 'banned' by the Birmingham T. Council!). I hope to see this man again next week. We did not leave Magdalen until midnight, and I walked up to Beaumont Street with him. C.S.L.'s reactions were odd. Nothing is a greater tribute to Red propaganda than the fact that he (who knows they are in all other subjects liars and traducers) believes all that is said against Franco, and nothing that is said for him. Even Churchill's open speech in Parliament left him unshaken. But hatred of our church is after all the real only final foundation of the C of E – so deep laid that it remains even when all the superstructure seems removed (C.S.L. for instance reveres the Blessed Sacrament, and admires nuns!). Yet if a Lutheran is put in jail he is up in arms; but if Catholic priests are slaughtered – he disbelieves it (and I daresay really thinks they asked for it). But R.C. shook him a bit....."
I believe the best-rounded source on Roy Campbell himself is Peter Alexander’s “Roy Campbell: A Critical Biography,” which not only makes clear Campbell’s, shall we say, lack of veracity (show in this excerpt, for example) but also does a good job celebrating his real accomplishments.
"The Campbells' most immediate need, once they had settled into their rented rooms [in Barcelona] was for money... He had written 20,000 words of his autobiography before leaving France, and now he raced to finish it, writing the last chapters stanidng up against a bureau so as not to fall asleep... He padded the book with any story he could remember, adapting the anecdotes of friends into autobiography, and giving himself a leading role. Few of his stories are imaginary; fewer still are entirely accurate. For example, his stories about boating on the lagoon in Durban, being chased by a python or being nearly drowned by the tidal bore, are true enough – but they happened to his elder brother George, not to himself. A tale about kidnapping dogs in Cannes was taken from a book of reminiscenses by JB Booth. Another yarn, of sailing a drunken doctor out to Bardsey Island in a storm, was the genuine feat of the barman in the Ship Inn in Aberdaron, the Welsh village in which the Campbells had lived immediately after their marriage. In most of these tales, Campbell figures as the sort of assured, devil-may-care man of action he would so much have liked to have been, the sort of man he felt his father and brothers would have admired. Of his poetic achievements he said virtually nothing. This became the pattern of his myth-making; he seldom boasted of things he could do."
Peter Alexander, "Roy Campbell: A Critical Biography"
As for Williams, the was no authoritative biography until Grevel Lindop’s 2015 “The Third Inkling”, which is a marvel of scholarship and readable writing - though he doesn’t actually devote a lot of pages to the Tolkien friendship. I corresponded with him prior to the release of that book, and while he confirmed my sense that perhaps Tolkien’s qualms about Williams (esp his involvement in the occult, and his relations with women) didn’t really flower until after Williams’ death, Grevel did feel it would be legitimate to incorporate them into the play, simply due to the timeline coherence required for the stage. They were real enough issues; there’s just no telling when exactly they materialized, and no point keeping them out of the story just because the actual timing was probably different. The other thing worth reading re: Williams is “Letters To Lalage,” his correspondence with a young woman during his Oxford / WW2 years, which makes it clear that Tolkien’s misgivings were actually very well founded. In earlier drafts of the play I had scenes showing the Williams-Lalage relationship, but they pulled the play off-centre and I cut them (along with many, many other scenes!).
So pleased you’re digging into the ground of these fertile fields. These are fascinating, and great, men!
Sunday, June 10, 2018
You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.
Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.
Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
“I thought they had such beautiful eyes.”
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.
Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the off sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.
It begins to seem that I am a man of snow, and I am beginning to melt. A desperate feeling; soon there will be nothing left of me, melted away. Then the sense there is something prowling about, circling me; a tiger perhaps, or a lion. Something wild, and terrible, and I must protect myself. Which becomes the sensation of being trapped, encased in something. Stiff, and tight, and stifling in the summer heat. A suit of armour? And I realize I am being given a choice: stay as I am, imprisoned, armoured against Whatever was stalking me, or shed it all, and stand naked, freed, the summer breeze on my skin. Free – but not necessarily safe.
So. Unbuckle the armour, and be shed of everything safe and familiar. Or keep it on. I chose unbuckling. But was it me choosing, at all?
from the beginning of the Addison's Walk scene in my play "Tolkien," derived from C.S. Lewis's description of his Headington Bus experience found in "Surprised By Joy."
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Here are links to several found poems I've assembled over the years. They are centos, "poetical works wholly composed of verses or passages taken from other authors, disposed in a new form or order."
Musicians and night-club proprietors lead complicated lives...
I know nothing about her but what I heard from the scuzbut on the streets...
It came to pass in New York...
gift wrap, old prescriptions, old chargers, broken headphones...
Other people's minds are a foreign country...
Earthlings are fragile, demanding, and germy...
Movements of the lower lip in dance,
A work consisting of a hundred love lyrics...
A work consisting of a hundred love lyrics...
The morning was cold and the sky was bright...
My own true love...
Saturday, April 14, 2018
While creating the universe,
did God have in mind that,
at a certain point,
a stuffed goat with a car tire around its middle
would materialize to round out the scheme?
It came to pass,
in New York -
where index cards escape their drawers and soar like white moths into the musty air,
and dried, vacuum-packed meats show promise as landing gear.
lost entities: out-of-print books,
decades-old damning quotes by politicians,
headlines with the words "sad last days" and "six months to live."
I think of the itch in world history and my mind goes blank.
by Ron Reed
Friday, April 13, 2018
I know nothing about her but what I heard from the scuzbut on the streets.
Not real slender, not real bulky,
not black but not quite real blond;
polished trailer trash,
wasted, moody, and easy to snap,
A Cabbage Patch doll come to life.
We weren't really conducting our lives in a Christian manner for the most part.
We were all broken in one way, shape, or form,
brothers in the asshole nature.
Some were killed by flamethrowers;
others were shot by anti-aircraft guns before outdoor audiences.
O.K. But in the meantime my life has just went down the tubes,
sunk dead in the water.
I come from a very suicide-attempting home.
I am a work in progress on soft;
On the inside there is a soft person waiting to be released.
by Ron Reed
All but two lines in this poem are from
"Remembering the Murder You Didn't Commit" by Rachel Aviv
The New Yorker, June 19, 2017
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Musicians and night-club proprietors lead complicated lives;
it's advisable to check in advance to confirm engagements.
Like a surly crew of mercenaries adrift at sea,
exhausted, strung out, and hungry,
they are so bored out of their wits
that they’ve taken to drinking the ship’s supply of whale oil
and throwing one another overboard for fun.
Rather than erupting in this healthy manner,
writers go home and quietly develop suicidal snacking habits,
or unnecessary family troubles,
or a rash.
He was a cineaste, plump and sedentary,
who made his own version of "Godzilla."
Made his name designing wryly impersonal T-shirts and
sculptures of clustered ductlike forms
in shiny aluminum sheeting,
home-made with shears and staple.
Call it post-zombie or born-again formalism.
During a break-in last summer, thieves took several tons of lead.
His job has allowed him to visit several countries,
which he described in terms of their cleanliness:
Switzerland (very clean),
Belgium (not so clean),
Bangladesh (not very clean at all).
In 2015, he went to Utah (clean).
He told me I was like a snail;
I was reaching out to be loved, but I was closing my doors.
Hypocondriacs aren't wrong. They're just early.
they pick up scraps of talk and offcuts of sensation,
tuneless singing and the slap of plastic slippers
that often flit about unpredictably,
like a mosquito stuck inside a car;
nothing goes to waste.
Communists hate to work.
They'd rather burn churches.
It makes them feel more alive.
If I had my ideal world I would not allow weapons and atom bombs anymore.
I would destroy all terrorists with the Hollywood star Jean-Claude Van Damme.
by Ron Reed
Sunday, January 21, 2018
untitled (city hall bench)
untitled (hockey rink)
front row seats at the accident
dog show contestants
from the article
"I was a small-town newspaper photographer. The paper's gone, but the images live forever: J. Kevin Dunn looks back at the vanished world he chronicled with his camera for the Moose Jaw Times-Herald"
Globe & Mail, January 19, 2018
Friday, January 05, 2018
There were days heaven seemed easy.
Days it came right down,
drifting into my hair like pollen.
Then it seemed natural to pray.
Then everyone showed up in my prayer.
Talking was prayer, unlocking
the door was. In those days
I was all praise and thank yous,
without even moving my lips.
People will die for less--
to be taken into the sky like that,
to walk as the holy do, without exegesis,
without needing to explain. Now
the clouds above Chestnut Street
have clicked shut, locking us out.
One day we have a hunch. Next day
a grudge divides us.
Oh, to live before we made
separations our thesis. As if
a child has drawn a line with a crayon:
here's the sky, here's the earth,
here's a woman, here's everything else.
It's name is Enemy.
from Helping the Morning: New & Selected Poems
Monday, December 25, 2017
Saturday, December 23, 2017
This Christmas we are away from family and friends. The decision to leave was mine, and I wonder if I'm flawed, like a sweater with a snag, or worse, a defect in the domestic fabric of motherhood. I feel so overwhelmed at this time of year when other wives and mothers immerse themselves in the traditions of the season. Part of what makes leaving a little easier is that we both have families living close by that we see regularly, so, with our children, my husband and I come to an island in the sea this year. There will be no usual Christmas activities and obligations. And, as if to justify missing the snowfall at home, I imagine that a balmy breeze is truer to the nativity setting in Bethlehem anyway.
I have brought along a book, Gift From The Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in which she comments on the luxury of choice many of us in our North American culture have, including me, between complexity and simplification of life. "For the most part, we who could choose simplification choose complication." This statement stirs me. The author goes on to say that a simplified outward life is not enough, but I decide that it is definitely a start.
Throughout the book, the author uses the image of an island as a metaphor for solitude and reflection. Solitude is necessary for a peaceful inner life, and vacations, she writes, are like an island of space and time – I think of the five of us here as being our own island. My thoughts shift like the sand in the breaking waves to another place, to home, where it is snowing. Our mothers will be engaged in activity for Christmas Eve while I have spent the day at the beach with no responsibilities – lazy hours liberally sprinkled with sand and salt.
Showered and refreshed, I recline on the patio sipping a glass of eggnog and gaze at the ocean in anticipation of the sunset and the descent of this special night. Just offshore, the water softly breaks and a dark shape emereges; the back of a whale! Elated, I call my family over with a hushed trace of urgency in my voice. They know how inexplicably drawn I am to these mysterious graceful giants and quickly gather around me. Together we watch, captivated, as the whale gently rolls to the side and a long fin, like a slender hand, claps the water's surface, as if to ensure our attention. Her act is audible a moment later, just as thunder is heard moments after lightning. Again and again, fin against water. Then a tiny fluked tail pops up from the waves and wags in response. The mother raises her tail, bringing it down with a thud and displacing water into a fan of spray that areches and showers like a summer downpour.
I am mesmerized by this affectionate interplay between whale and offspring. It goes on for fifteen minutes, a halfhour, is it longer? And suddenly during that time I sense the significance of what I am witnessing, so grateful that I wasn't preoccupied but rather sill and available. That these whales should pause along their journey to play in front of us, on this evening, seems intentional, as if this was an intimate gift from the Divine Creator to me. Time seems to stop, until the shimmering sun slowly slips into the sea.
At church, in the glow of the candlelight, once again I think of our families at home, gahtered by now around the tree, exchanging gifts. Mild guilt washes over me like a wave, then flows away as the singing begins. "O Holy Night... The night when Christ was born..." As if speaking to reassure me, the pastor prefaces his sermon by commenting on all the things we do to get ready for Christmas, making ourselves three times busier than usual – baking, cooking, shopping, visiting, decorating – yet that is not what Christmas is about. All around me heads nod slightly, creating a subtle movement throughout the congregtion, like an undulating body of water. I feel acceptable. The purpose of Christmas, he declares, is simply for us to know God personally. The message that follows warms me like tropical sun rays.
A few days later, I enquire about a whale-watching excursion and an islander tells me that this is not the right time of year; experts have sensed only about twenty whales in this waters. He says I'd be lucky to see any activity at all. My intuition about the whales on Christmas Eve was correct; they were a gift, and they will become my personal metaphor for a simpler life wherein I recognize God's grace in the deeper, quieter moments.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
So there’s no safe place. God, it seems,
might insert himself into any conversation,
any century. Might settle in - any old place,
as he quintessentially did in the West Bank,
Palestine, small town called Bethlehem.
The story is - God breathed himself
into the womb of a woman, turning himself
over to her umbilical care, folding himself
into fetal position, pressing and turning
inside Mary, ‘til she, breathing hard, bore down.
Mary’s womb turned inside out - amniotic
water, gasping infant, placenta spilling
into the night, messy and miraculous
as any birth anywhere and not a safe place.
Did he know - he must have - when he took on
flesh and fingernail and bone marrow,
he would be at our mercy?
For us too, no safe place. For you see what
he’s done - given notice how he, at any time,
might break into our conversation, West Bank,
West Coast, Bethlehem, Vancouver. There’s no place
safe from his radical willingness to be among us.
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
The owner of a Michigan Avenue restaurant called me with a problem that frequently comes up at Christmas. He had planned a party at his place for 100 needy children. But for some reason he had only half that many coming. Now, with the party only two days off, he was frantically trying to find an extra fifty needy children.
"Do you know where I can get them?" he said. I asked if he had tried an orphanage. He hadn't, so I gave him the name of one.
He called back a few minutes later and said: "No luck. They're already taken." All I could do was suggest that he keep trying, call orphanages and social agencies. But I warned him to expect disappointment. He had waited much too long. When you get down to the last week before Christmas, the needy children - especially orphans - already have been pretty well picked over.
Last year, on Christmas Eve afternoon, a very angry young woman called. She and some friends had just rounded up old clothes and old toys to give away, but couldn't find anyone to give them to. They had called several social agencies but they had closed for the day.
Knowing how upsetting such disappointment could be, I tried to be helpful and suggested that they wait until after Christmas when the social agencies reopened, since the clothes and toys would be needed then, too.
"But Christmas will be over then," the woman said, "and it won't be the same."
One should start thinking about these things as early as Thanksgiving-- or before, if possible...
One of the problems in looking for someone to good-deed is that there is no convenient way to shop around. What may be needed is some kind of special Christmas catalog, such as Sears put out for their merchandise, but containing instead a complete assortment of the needy. If people had something like that, they could plan calmly and avoid the frantic, last-minute rush to perform a good deed.
Best of all, there wouldn't be any disappointment. Christmas comes but once a year, and everyone should get a chance to do good. It's such a long wait until next time.
Monday, December 18, 2017
Tim Anderson | Re: Loneliness Can Be Contagious
Connie Braun | A Christmas Gift from the Sea
Frederick Buechner | The Annunciation
Frederick Buechner | Emmanuel
Frederick Buechner | The Face in the Sky
Frederick Buechner | Gabriel
Robert Farrar Capon | Advent
Robert Farrar Capon | Better Watch Out
Robert Farrar Capon | Naughty or Nice
Truman Capote | A Christmas Memory
Tom Carson | Snow Angel
Nicola Colhoun | Creche
John F. Deane | Driving To Midnight Mass in Dublin on Christmas Eve
Annie Dillard | Feast Days
Annie Dillard | God in the Doorway
Dina Donohue | No Room
Craig Erickson | Christmas Rant
John Henry Faulk | A Child's Christmas in Texas
Paul Flucke | The Secret of the Gifts
Rev. J.M. Gates | Death Might Be Your Santa Claus
William Gibson | Butterfingers Angel
Lorenz Graham | Every Man Heart Lay Down
Wayne Harrel | The Camels of Ancient Yore
Rory Holland | Frail Humanity
Rory Holland | Nativity
Garrison Keillor | The Seven Principles of a Successful Christmas
Ron Klug | Joseph's Lullaby
David Kossoff | Seth
David Kossoff | Shem
Rudi Krause | one way
Rudi Krause | unforeseen
Madeleine L'Engle | O Sapientia
Madeleine L'Engle | The Tree
Peter La Grand | Christmas Memory
Mike Mason | Three Fools
William Nicholoson | Christmas Drinks Party
Lance Odegard | Impossible Dream
Richard Osler | Advent Poems 2006
Richard Osler | Afterwards
Ron Reed | Clay
Ron Reed | It's a Wonderful Life
Sheila Rosen | No Safe Place
Mike Royko | Pretty Well Picked Over
Luci Shaw | Advent III
Luci Shaw | December
Luci Shaw | Madonna and Child, with Saints
Luci Shaw | Mary Considers Her Situation
Luci Shaw | Presents
Sufjan Stevens | Christmas Tube Socks
Diane Tucker | Advent Couplets
Diane Tucker | Christmas Couplets
Various Authors | Joseph & Mary
Sunday, November 05, 2017
|Families enjoy National Liberation Day at the Rungna Dolphinarium|
My guide was Pak Song Il, whose job has allowed him to visit several countries, which he described in terms of their cleanliness: Switzerland (very clean); Belgium (not so clean); Bangladesh (not clean at all). In 2015, he went to Utah (clean) for a nongovernmental exchange attended by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The experience convinced him that Mormons have a lot in common with North Koreans. "When the L.D.S. started, they were hated. They were sent to the desert. But they made it thrive. They are organized like a bee colony, where everyone works for one purpose and they would die for it. And they make huge output, as a result. We understand each other very well."
When you buy a North Korean newspaper with an image of Kim Jong Un on the front page, the clerk folds it carefully to avoid creasing his face.
Kim Jong Un executed his uncle Jang Song Thaek. The charges against Jang ranged from “treachery” to applauding “halfheartedly” when Kim entered the room. Many of Jang’s children and aides were also put to death. Some were killed by flamethrowers; others were shot by anti-aircraft guns before outdoor audiences.
Kim Jong Il, who assumed power in 1994, was a cinéaste, plump and sedentary, who made his own version of “Godzilla.” (His favorite films also included Rambo and Gone With The Wind.) On foreign trips, his aides brought home his feces and urine, to prevent foreign powers from hijacking the waste and evaluating his health. He was five feet two inches tall, and insecure about his height. In 1978, he ordered the kidnapping of his favorite South Korean actress, Choi Eun-hee, and greeted her by saying, “Small as a midget’s turd, aren’t I?”
Kim Jong Il's second son, Jong Chul, was reserved and gentle. While in Switzerland, he had written a poem called “My Ideal World,” which began, “If I had my ideal world I would not allow weapons and atom bombs anymore. I would destroy all terrorists with the Hollywood star Jean-Claude Van Damme.”
* * *
The Risk Of Nuclear War With North Korea
by Evan Osnos
The New Yorker, September 18, 2017
Friday, November 03, 2017
If Dylan and the Band, buoyed by Levon Helm’s strutting, deep-in-the-pocket Southern groove, had sounded like American comfort food, a triumphant homecoming football team on a crisp Thanksgiving afternoon, the singer and his band on the Hard Rain album sound like a surly crew of mercenaries adrift at sea; exhausted, strung out, and hungry, they are so bored out of their wits that they’ve taken to drinking the ship’s supply of whale oil and throwing one another overboard for fun.
howard fishman compares two performances of maggie's farm
in never ending bob dylan
the new yorker, november 3, 2017
Monday, October 30, 2017
"As Doc fired several rounds into the attacking platoon, he heard the unmistakeable rat-a-tat-tat of enemy fire, and felt a tearing, burning sensation in his left leg. Damn! He was hit..."
A shocking tale of wasted youth! He stole his father's money, fled his home town, and cast off every rule of decent society! He slept with hookers! He ate with pigs! And now... He's back! The long awaited sequel to the searing thrill-o-rama that shocked a generation! If you liked "The Prodigal Son," you'll LOVE... "The Return Of The Prodigal Son"!!
Thursday, October 12, 2017
Friday, September 29, 2017
What You Missed that Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade
Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,
how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer.
She took questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.
After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s
voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—
something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted
Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,
and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.
The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.
And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,
and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person
add up to something.
by Brad Aaron Modlin
from the book Everyone At This Party Has Two Names
where do we find hope in the face of loss?
a burlap sack of beans, jars of salsa verde
making things grow
walking your daughter to school
watching your wife in a play
smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee in a friend's 57 Thunderbird
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Ernst Haas, New York City, USA, 1981
Karl Baden, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, 2009
Carolyn Drake, Breeze, Zhetisay Kazakhstan, 2009
from Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour
the inaugural show of The Positive View Foundation,
Somerset House, London
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Shakespeare believed in fate, order, and forgiveness; we believe in history, justice, and compassion – three pairings so similar as to sometimes seem the same, though they are not. The novelistic, psychological work of explaining why evil people are evil gets very little energy from him. His villains are the products not of trauma and history but of nature and destiny. He amputated Iago's motive for malignancy from the Italian story where he found Othello's tragedy, in order to make the evil more absolute. Even to ask if Shylock's graspingness is a product of his people's history of exclusion would not have seemed important to him. He wasn't looking for causes. Though not satisfying to our modern sense of psychology, this is actually psychologically quite satisfying. The malevolent people we encounter in life are mostly just like that. They don't have a particular trauma that, if addressed and cured, would stop them from being evil. They were creepy, malignant kids, too....
Shakespeare also believe in forgiveness in a way that we don't. Really rotten people get forgiven, in the comedies and romances, at least, in ways that still make us uneasy. In The Tempest, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, bad actors get easy outs. Even Shylock isn't killed. Dr Johnson thought the moment when Hamlet delays killing Claudius in order to deprive him of any chance of forgiveness was "too horrible to be read or to be uttered." We are much more ostentatiously compassionate and much more effectively vindictive. Small incidents of plagiarism end careers – not a rule that Shakespeare himself would have escaped – and sexual sins can place their perpetrators forever beyond the bounds of redemption. In Shakespeare, rotten people do rotten things, but if they stick around and say they're sorry they are forgiven. By contrast, we feel everyone's pain, forgive no one's trespasses."
Adam Gopnik, "Why Rewrite Shakespeare?"
The New Yorker, October 17, 2016
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Sunday, April 16, 2017
On the outskirts of Sychar,
I bear my empty water jar to Jacob's well.
Under searing sun this daily trek is only one
of the vexing complications of my day.
Mornings I wake with dryness. I've dreamed again
of water pots, spilling, cracking, falling into shards.
I rouse myself before others, to keep my tryst
with the tiny bird that darts and sings each morning.
by my door. This small fidelity is all
that whets my appetite for another day.
The sun is high. Each day’s a new beginning, they say.
I set out alone, turning over, like dusty prayer beads,
the usual string of questions:
How is each day new? I am who I am, and was
all the other beginnings. Where is my help?
Neither in me nor the man who is not my husband
and isn’t likely to stay. I look up to the hills.
Where is the one true worship that might lift me,
even me, to the heights? Where is running water
for this never-ending thirst? Where, in this heat
is there even one bird singing?
My throat is dry. My feet hurt. I'll do well
to fill my water pot and bear it home. I'll climb
no bless/ed mountain today. Would that God
were a man who’d come down off his holy hill
and give me a hand drawing water. Deep water
from Jacob’s ancient well. And sweet,
I want sweet water, I want a soaking —
water enough to set a small bird singing,
under this scorching Samaritan sky.