Monday, November 27, 2006

Paul Auster, "It's my corner after all"

Looks like someone forgot a camera.

Yeah. I did.

It's yours?

That's mine alright. I've owned that little sucker for a long time.

I didn't know you took pictures.

Well, I guess you could call it a hobby. Only takes me five minutes a day to do it but I do it every day. Rain or shine, sleet or snow. Sort of like the postman.

So you're not just some guy who pushes coins across a counter.

Well that's what people see. But that ain't necessarily what I am.

(Cut to black and white photos, arranged in an album)

They're all the same.

That's right. More than four thousand pictures of the same place. The corner of third street and seventh avenue at eight o'clock in the morning. Four thousand straight days in all kinds of weather. That's why I can never take a vacation, I've got to be in my spot every morning at the same time. Every morning in the same spot at the same time.

I've never seen anything like this.

That's my project. What you'd call my life's work.

It's amazing. I'm not sure I get it, though. I mean, what was it that gave you the idea to do this… project.

I don't know. It just came to me. It's my corner after all. I mean, it's just one little part of the world, but things take place there too, just like everywhere else. It's a record of my little spot.

It's kind of overwhelming.

(He finishes with one book. Auggie give him another.)

You'll never get it if you don't slow down my friend.

What do you mean?

I mean you're going too fast, you're hardly even looking at the pictures.

They're all the same.

They're all the same, but each one is different from every other one. You've got your bright mornings and your dark mornings, you got your summer light and your autumn light, you got your weekdays and your weekends, you got your people in overcoats and galoshes and you've got your people in T shirts and shorts. Sometimes the same people, sometimes different ones. Sometimes the different ones become the same, or the same ones disappear. The earth revolves around the sun, and every day the light from the sun hits the earth at a different angle.

Slow down, huh?

That's what I recommend. You know how it is. "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, time creeps on its petty pace."

(We look at the photos, more slowly)

Oh Jesus. Look. It's Ellen.

Yeah, that's her alright. She's in quite a few from that year. Must have been on her way to work.

It's Ellen. Look at her. Look at my sweet darling.

(He cries. New scene: Auggie takes a picture of his corner.)

from "Smoke"
by Paul Auster, directed by Wayne Wang
(11:14-17:38, 17:38-18:03)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Robert Farrar Capon, "The Oblation of Things"

I take my children to the beach. On the north shore of Long Island it is a pretty stony proposition. The mills of the gods grind coarsely here; but, in exchange for busied feet and a sore coccyx, they provide gravel for the foundation of the arts. Every year we hunt for perfect stones: ovals, spheroids, lozenges, eggs. By the end of the summer there are pebbles all over the house. They have no apparent use other than the delight that they provide to man, but that is the whole point of the collection. The very act of hunting them is an introduction to the oblation of things. Look at this one! Do you think it will split evenly enough for arrowheads? What color is that one when it's wet? Lick it and see. Daddy wants a big flat round one to hold the sauerkraut under the brine. Will this one do? We walk down the beach lifting stones into our history: we are collectors, ingatherers of being. Man is the lover of textures, colors and shapes – the only creature in the whole world who knows a good pickling stone when he sees one. The arts go way beyond that; but that is where they begin.

The child who runs the satin binding of his blanket between this fingers, the boy who carefully oils his collection of ball bearings so they will not rust, the woman who loves to handle thick braids, the man who opens his pocket-knife just to hear the satisfying click with which it closes – all these are priestly builders. It is in his simplest oblations that man is at his historical best. When he rises higher, he makes more mistakes – he diagrams and spiritualizes what should have been loved and offered as a thing; but at these low levels he is a success. The world has seen few badly offered blanket bindings, few profaned ball bearings. As long as man can hunt stones, he will know that the fire of his priesthood has not gone out.

But the oblation of things goes far beyond such simplicities. It is in the arts and the crafts that man most displays his priestliness and historicity. ...

It is a common error to suppose that the artist does what he does for himself – that he is a peculiar being who loves certain things in a way not open to others. It is also common to dismiss the craftsman as a fellow who does things for money. To some degree, of course, that is all true. Artists are usually a little odd; the laborer commonly, and legitimately, looks forward to his hire. But after that it falls short. For each is engaged in an offering of things not simply for his own benefit, but for the sake of the things themselves – and for the sake of other men. The painter paints because he loves the way things look and wants to offer his sight of them to others. The poet speaks because he loves words and longs for them to be heard as he hears them. And the cabinetmaker fashions and the joiner joins, and the chef cooks and the vintner toils because they love the conjunctions of things and will them to be moved into the weaving of the web. All arts come from having open eyes; and all arts are performing arts. Even the solitary artist in the cave draws to be seen, offers up what he looks at as a priest for other men. It is only in bad drawing, bad writing and bad woodwork that motives other than priestly ones become primary. It is when man stops loving what he does and stops caring whether others see that he becomes guilty of artistry that is not art and of craftsmanship that is only shoddy. ...

If speech is the crowning gift of man, then the arts of language probably qualify as the most nearly universal. Not all men can draw, many men cannot sing, and the world is full of cooks who ought to be allowed to rise no higher than the scullery; but all men speak, and practically no one is immune to the delights of rhyme and reason. The child, as soon as he learns words, plays with words. The teen-ager, with his stock of current clich├ęs and his mercurial pattern of jargon, is a poet. He may recite only commercial slogans and comparable idiocies; but he recites them, at least partly, because he loves the way the words rattle. And somewhere along the line he will, unless he is starved to death, come to love some very grand rattles indeed.

I remember the first time I read Shakespeare's sonnets. "Lillies that fester smell far worse than weeds" stuck in my head for weeks – not so much for its meaning as for its marvellous wordiness. The city of speech is old and new, and rich beyond counting. ...

That only a few have the craft to forge such words takes nothing off the edge of the marvel by which man can sense the priestliness of their oblation And it is not only the grand and the gorgeous that qualify. ...

Speech is no mere tool of communication; it is a joy in itself. ... Speech should indeed inform, as food should indeed nourish, but what sane man will let either subject go at that? ...

Man's failure in music is like his failure in all the arts – a failure to make them really priestly, a penchant for non-historical and irrelevant forms. Far too much of the music we now have is only heard, not played or sung. It makes no demands, does not ask to be lifted; it just hangs around. We have canned music, background music, and music to do everything but listen to music by. But music cannot be only entertainment any more than speech can be only communication. We aim too low. Both are major oblations, and they will settle for nothing less. Neither can be merely used: they must be played.

Thank God for wine. Without it we would have almost no singing at all. Practically the only place where men now sing when they are cold sober is in church; and, to tell the truth, it sounds like it. As a professional religionist, I wish I could make a more glowing report; but, by and large, it is wretched. It is a triumph of use, not play. And for every man in church who sings, there are five who stand aloof from the whole business as if it were faintly disreputable.

Why? Because they are embarrassed by the sound of their own voices: they are ashamed of their priesthood. The city of music, which fairly cries for lifting into their history, is firmly and permanently locked out. I think that secretly, in their heart of hearts, perhaps, they envy people who play. But they do not show it often. If only they would. It isn't a matter of working themselves into miniature Isaac Sterns; the harmonica will do if it comes to that – or even tenth-rate four-part harmony. They underestimate the power of the arts. A man can practice for weeks on the strength of one-chord progression. Even the smallest oblation will lift the priest as he makes it; even a little attention to what is really there will be a historical triumph.

from An Offering Of Uncles: The Priesthood of Adam and The Shape of the World
by Robert Farrar Capon

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Karl Petersen, CONFESSIONS poems

God Laughed
and They Said Yes

Infant baptism isn’t good enough for full salvation,
the church folks were saying. Even had an unscheduled meeting

to confirm once and for all nobody shall enter the kingdom
till they confirm their commitment to the Lord as an adult.

So the implants from infant baptizing churches need do it again
at the age of understanding, so it takes for good.

“So the Lord died for me twice then,” Larry complains
from the back row of the meeting hall. “I gotta get baptized again?”

“That’s right, because you wasn’t of your full wits and mind
when you was four weeks old.” (“Still not,” his wife interjects.)

“Now, that ain’t right,” says Larry. “I remember it like yesterday.
I was asleep, see, and God’s hand come like a light cloud,

cold and wet on my head, ya see, and I heard him say my name.
Then I took in a deep breath like he was blowin’ right into me

and I kicked a big hallelujah! just like that. Then I heard him say,
Boy, they’ll be saying it never happened.” And as Larry sat down,

from the other side of the church basement meeting, on cue
little six-month Brandon (an implant) let out an intoxicating giggle

that sent the whole congregation into stitches. When
they’d stopped laughing, Brandon was still going stronger than ever.

The vote came whether to accept those baptized as infants,
and all, except a few short of the age of understanding, said “yes.”


Crayon City

Downtown is a throbbing brain.
As kids we had it spot on
drawing the cityscape
as a crayon collage of heads,
eyes, noses, and mouths—
a simple truth: downtown
is the face of us
with its shiny make-up
and made over places,
the cover-up
of pits, moles, and deep scars.
And at the end of the day
when we stream for home
like tears from the city, we carry
with its sublime creations,
all its abscesses and ulcers
and a few more holes to fill.


Fossett Flies Solo
Around the World

Our phrases praise us
and our go-it-aloneness.
Accolades to ourselves
ring the skies:
we have conquered space,
made one giant leap,
gained air superiority,
broken barriers
of sound, of time
and atmosphere.
These thoughts propel us
but to the heavens.


American Gothic

Just when you don’t have your brush or canvas
another permutation of American Gothic
walks through the door
and fills the frame at Krispy Kreme—

A couple in black, 600 lbs. together,
approach the display case and sway euphorically,
peer in through the glass, and the man mumbles
his litany: Chocolate Custard, and…
Cinnamon Apple… Lemon Filled…
His voice is muffled between complimentary bites
of the Original Glazed he holds aloft like a pitch fork.

Their young server stands stoic at the altar
offering communion in his crisp green vestments
and cream paper crown

while the pastry case glows ethereal, casting
donut auras wide around two gothic frames. And
on their black T-shirts our pilgrims celebrate
their motto in orange outrage: Forgiven!



After the fireworks,
the oo’s and ah’s, the applause,
the forced cheers,
after the smoke clears,
gunpowder still lingers
like the untimely fart of a one-bang lover;

and in the afterglow
through cracks in the clouds
there comes a glowering down from True Love,

casting a remark to the backs of those played out
and retiring early home: Is that all you’ve got?—
a challenge to the tender hearted
to tarry in her garden under the great dome
and await the wonders she discloses
with slow and ripened reverie,
hands freely splaying
to True Love’s night sky
all your confessions and dreams.



on a Cascade ridge
hushed under
a November crescent

a deafening mist
amplifying the lungs

dark wings
on an updraft
the hollow
of your central chambers
into a vaporous canopy

the raven’s guttural call
so laden
so utter
with ancient truth

the deadwood
in a yawning rib cage

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ron Reed, "Dad And Music"

My father had many 78s he no longer listened to. But I would listen, listen for long hours in our concrete Calgary basement, in our rumpus room in its various incarnations. "In The Cool Cool Cool Of The Evening." "Abba-Dabba Honeymoon." Then there was the one that went, "The music goes round and round, woe-oe-oe-oe, woe-oe, and it comes out here." Another where this man was talking, I figured it was funny to grown-ups because the grown-ups on the record were laughing, but now that I'm a grown-up and I play it over in my mind, I still don't get it. "It isn't raining inside tonight." So?

And I think it never occurred to me then, but it occurs to me now as I begin to see my father as a person with an existence
not dependent on my own, it occurs to me that he must have bought these at some time, some particular time, on some particular afternoon in Camrose, Alberta. Must have gone into a record store, or the record department at McLeod's more likely I suppose, gone in with a tune or two in his head that he'd heard on the radio in the taxi that he drove around Camrose Alberta, gone in with the tune in his head and taken money out of his wallet, money he'd been paid by the people who rode around in his cab, turned those bills into records he could take home and play whenever he liked.

"Across The Valley From The Alamo." "From Here To Eternity." Others I can't think of now, but when they come back to me, I'll remember every note and inflection.

* * * *

Why do I think he bought these when he was courting my mom? Or maybe before they met? But surely not after they were married, or not more than a year after they were married. Is it because I've seen my friends marry and stop buying music, stop making music, and perhaps my father was like my friends? Is there something about marrying that can take the song out of a boy?

* * * *

Or did he stop buying because, as I imagine, there wasn't spare money anymore for unnecessaries, once he moved away from Camrose and therefore away from his parents' home, rent to pay and bills and before long a baby, me.

One date I have in hand, fulcrum for those years: the date of my birth. As the birth of Christ is to all history, so the birth of me is to my history. January 11, 1957. Before that, not exactly prehistory, but certainly another era, strange and distant to me because I wasn't part of it. Strange and distant as the Old Testament.

But the time is come when I see Don and Agnes split off from me: they live and move and have their being independent of me. And so, as I grow up and grow fascinated with them, I grow curious about this time in particular, this Old Testament time, this almost prehistory that I listened to on scratchy 78s in concrete basements in Calgary in my childhood. With those discs I put my ear up to the wall of my birth and listen, and hear voices talking, but I can't quite make out the words.

* * * *

In some way, this is all part of why I bought my daughter Kate a garage sale record player, a suitcase model with fold-out speakers and all the blessed mechanics that drop records one at a time from the bottom of a stack, that move the arm back and forth to play one record after another. My delight in teaching her the arcane secrets, how to stack and start and stop and reject, how to select 78 or 45 or 33 1/3 or 16 - now there was an arcane speed - mysteries of no value except the aesthetic in these modern times.

Mysteries of no value except the practical to a four year old. For now she is her own. Now she can decide when she wants to entrance herself, she can decide which vinyl spells to cast and in what order. At four years of age, she and that
fascination machine can weave together spells of sound in the deep places of her forming heart.

This is her heritage. With this I endow her.

* * * *

I have a theory. The breezy, optimistic radio tunes are from the Camrose taxi era, the sophisticated feel of a small town boy doing a big city job and having his own money to spend just exactly as he liked, spring, falling in love, finding out he is his own man.

The movie soundtracks are from the Calgary basement suite era, a small town couple on their own, together, in a big city, bringing home souvenirs from romantic adventures together in lush movie palaces, The Grand, The Odeon, souvenirs from the South Pacific and the Wild West where Annie got her gun.

But then even the movie soundtracks fade away, except the one they buy for the kids, "Mary Poppins." And then it's only what the kids buy for them, "Strangers In The Night" and "Morningtown Ride" and "Little Arrows." And then it's only what the kids buy for themselves, "I Love You" by the People and "Alice Long (You Are Still My Favourite Girlfriend)" by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, then the Monkees then the Beatles then Cat Stevens and Jethro Tull and then they're gone to college, the kids and their music.

* * * *

But this isn't just about listening to music. It's about making music.

My little brother Curtis made his own music. Loved to play guitar and sing, lived to play guitar and sing. Brad made music too, I know, for a time had dreams of playing concerts, wrote at least one song on the piano. There was a time when I played whole days away at the piano.

All his sons made music. But Donny never did.

* * * *

And it's not just that his sons made music after him but he never did. It's also that his brothers made music before him and around him, but he never did.

Al made music, Keith made music, I think they even made money making music. In fact it's the main thing I remember about them, the music making.

Same with his big sisters: always there was that old piano in Mil's rec room, and always me being asked to play. I'd play the few tunes I could out of the Readers Digest book and Grandma would sit off in a comfortable chair while Mil and Doris and my cousin Jimmy and my dad and his aunt Bea if she was there would get in close where they could see the music and sing along. As if they needed to see the music to sing along. Maybe all they needed was to get in close.

And we would have to keep passing by the tunes I didn't know, maybe I would try and fumble through one here, one there, until eventually I could coax Mil or Bea to take my place at the keys.

Then we'd have real music. Music you could sing to, music you could dance to, octave bass and big chords, the melody banged out on top, it wasn't fancy and it wasn't art but it sure as heck was music.

* * * *

But I don't remember my father making a lot of it. Singing along, yes, but playing, no. And I don't remember his little brother making music either. And yet my sense of Grant is all about music.

Grant and I grew close, attracted as I was to his warmth and friendliness, the warmth and friendliness that he shares with my dad. But as much as Grant and I built our friendship around music, talking about jazz and jazz musicians and about what it was like to listen to jazz, late at night on the radio from faraway places or in little clubs in Europe, still I don't remember him being a music maker. Another thing he shares with my Dad.

The love of it runs through them all, Al and Keith and Mil most of all, but why did the making of it stop with my father?
Is there some pattern there, some progression, or is it more random than that?

* * * *

Because he had the music in him, my dad. Has. He whistles a lot, sings along when there's a song on the radio. Fell in love with bluegrass music, in fact with a particular bluegrass act, a family from Tennessee or somewhere who play together and travel together and have a bluegrass festival every year at their home in Tennessee or wherever that is that Dad dreams of going to, a vision of heaven where you stroll around days on end and listen to people just making music everywhere, just sitting right there outside their Winnebagos or wherever, fiddles and banjoes and guitars just a-goin' just wherever they feel like it.

But see, in his dream, or at least the part of it he speaks out loud, he's a listener, an appreciator, loving the music in the air all around him. But not a participant, not one of the makers. I don't see him seeing himself bowing that fiddle, practising those bluegrass licks on a banjo, those lightning scales on a guitar. No, he wanders among, meets the people who do. But the part of the dream that has the fiddle in his hands instead of just in his ears is buried deeper than I've ever heard spoken or hinted.

* * * *

I do remember him sitting at the piano Mom worked an extra job so we could have, him sitting there and picking out a melody on one or two occasions. I remember he showed me how to play "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me" on the harmonica, must have been grade five or six. I remember a girlfriend I had, a singer, heard him singing in church, not a solo, don't get me wrong, not in the choir or anything like that, but just singing one of the hymns along with everybody else, and she who had only ever done what she could to keep me from singing, she said after that my dad had a wonderful voice, a clear and natural tenor.

And why do my eyes start to sting and these words in front of me blur when this comes back to me?

* * * *

Dad was a listener. Grew up a listener to music, with a mom and aunts and older brothers who all played in bands, dance bands with out of tune pianos and saxaphones and accordions in Elks Halls and Moose Halls on the Alberta prairie. I take the wedding anniversaries and family reunions that were held in those halls in my own childhood and project back twenty, thirty, forty years to the times when it was my Dad who was surrounded by the buzz of relatives and syrup-sweet harmonies and dancing.

I have a memory so early it seems more that it is my father's memory, his memory of something that happened to me or my memory of something that happened to him. I remember lying on a pile of coats, in among sleeping cousins and coats, all of us heaped together on the floor in a small room, a cloak room, a door shut between me and the music, voices, very late into the night, and I can't quite make out the words, drifting off to sleep to the music of the adults as they danced and played and ate and talked of grown up things in that other room, so near.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

True Or False?

This was the last question on a quiz my friend gave her Intro To Theatre students. I laughed and laughed.

10. Acting is a low-paid life, more often than not depressing, anxious, beset by demands for sacrificed from every direction: psychological, financial, and moral. True or false?