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An unexpected gift on the Times Op-Ed page last Sunday, cohabiting with bleak post election columns by Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd: Six poems marking the end of daylight saving time. The work is all by blue chip poets—James Tate, Vijay Seshadri, Louise Glück, W. S. Merwin as well as the two whose poems I have posted below, Derek Walcott and Mary Oliver. Made my day to read these.

The Green Flash

le rayon vert

And the sea’s skin heaves, saurian,
and the spikes of the agave bristle
like a tusked beast bowing to charge
tonight the full moon will soar floating
without any moral or simile
the wind will bend the longbows of the arching casuarinas
the lizard will still scuttle
and the sun will sink silently with a stake in its eye
bleeding behind the shrouding sail
of a skeletal schooner.
You can feel the earth cooling,
you can feel its myth cooling
and watch your own heart go out like the red throbbing dot
of a hospital machine, with a green flash
next to Pigeon Island.

— Derek Walcott

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends
into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?
So let us go on

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

— Mary Oliver

***
Earlier posts written here about these poets:

Vijay Seshadri
That Was All That Happened

Louise Glück
Quiet Revelations
From the Center of My Life Came a Great Fountain
Thoughts on a Moonbeam for a New Year
Evidence
Vineyard Watch
What Could Such Glory Be If Not a Heart?
The Love of Forms

W. S. Merwin
Merwin: Past and Present
The Washed Colors of the Afterlife
Walking at Night Between the Two Deserts
Dorothea Tanning: With Our Souls in Our Laps
Here are the extinct feathers, here is the rain we saw

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A few notes and comments:

From the web

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Norkae 1, mixed media on wood panel

My work is being featured on Design Squared, a visually stunning blog written by Barbara Ashfield and David Hansen. Located in San Francisco, Ashfield and Hansen are both designers who possess fine sensibilities, and I am honored to be covered by them.

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John the Baptist Preaching to a Levite and a Pharisee, 1506-11

My daughter Kellin, art historian by training, has guest posted on a smart and well crafted art history blog, The Art Daily with Lydia. She has written about Renaissance artist Rustici (in two parts), titled John the Baptist Preaching to a Levite and a Pharisee.

Part I and Part 2.

From print

From Karl Kirchwey’s New York Times review of Derek Walcott’s latest publication, White Egrets:

But the kinship with Eliot, for Walcott, extends beyond genre. In his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919), Eliot opined that “the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates.” Walcott has deliberately avoided the confessional path pioneered by his early friend and supporter Robert Lowell, choosing instead a post-Romantic voice, closely allied with landscape, in which the particulars of a life are incidental to a larger poetic vision, one in which the self is not the overt subject.

Refreshing thought, especially in our current era of overdone memoirs and unchecked confessional forays.

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From Peter Kramer’s review of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee:

Hoarding has been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder and its variants, and Irene, who displays contamination fears, probably meets criteria for O.C.D. But studies show that the genetics of hoarding differ from the genetics of obsessing. And while obsessionality is painful, Irene [a hoarder] finds enjoyment in acquiring and revisiting her holdings. It is this pleasure in objects…that distinguishes hoarding, in Frost and Steketee’s view. They suggest that hoarders may “inherit an intense perceptual sensitivity to visual details,” and speculate about “a special form of creativity and an appreciation for the aesthetics of everyday things.”

This upbeat account of hoarding’s basis has a humane ring: hoarders are discerning. But then, Irene can be indiscriminate, according every possession equal worth, whether it’s a newspaper clipping or a photograph of her daughter. Frost and Steketee are too thoughtful to give a simple account of what drives Irene. Possessions help her preserve her identity and relive past events. The objects make her feel safe and allow her to express caring. Newspaper clippings point outward, speaking to Irene of opportunities in the wider world. Irene is depressed; collecting promises relief. Irene displays perfectionism and indecisiveness, character traits that have been linked to hoarding. When there are so many motivations, no single one seems central.

I read this and had to wonder: So many artists, like me, have an “intense perceptual sensitivity to visual details”, with a “special form of creativity and an appreciation for the aesthetics of everyday things.” Is something keeping us tethered from crossing over into the zone of reality shows and shock value? I can only hope so.

stoppard

Tom Stoppard in Manhattan! Here, there, everywhere. This update on several of his sightings was filed by Terry Teachout on behalf of Gwen Orel. For readers of this blog, it would be the ultimate in redundancy to say that Stoppard is my favorite playwright, bar none. So redundancy be damned. What a guy.

Worth the quick read, here’s the posting from About Last Night:

Tom Stoppard, who might just be the greatest living English-language playwright, is in Manhattan on business, and made a couple of public appearances last week. Alas, I was unavoidably elsewhere, but my friend Gwen Orel, who writes about theater and Celtic music for all sorts of publications on and off line, was present on both occasions, and filed this report.

Back in the twentieth century, around 1989 or so, some Serious Theatre People averred that “Tom Stoppard is over.” The Real Thing was his Tempest, they said, his farewell to the stage. Fast forward to Rough Crossing, Arcadia, The Invention of Love, The Coast of Utopia, and Rock and Roll. Some farewell! By now Stoppard, who’s in town to rehearse his new adaptation of The Cherry Orchard at BAM, has morphed into a sort of playwright-rock idol. Accordingly, he appeared in pale (though not blue) suede shoes at two public talks last week, both of them quickly overbooked. Though he was funny and charming as usual, it was fascinating to observe what a difference a moderator made.

At CUNY, Stoppard was joined by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Derek Walcott for a Great Issues Forum moderated by David Nasaw, the university’s Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of American History. The topic was “Cultural Power,” and the press release said that Stoppard & Co. would be exploring “the power of culture and art in a globalizing world.” Instead, they considered the Impact and Influence of Art. Yep, said Walcott, art’s impact cannot be easily counted and measured. Yep, said Stoppard, culture is what distinguishes us as human. All interesting, but…power?

The professor was smart but all too clearly awed by his celebrated guests, who seemed in turn to adore one another. He began, promisingly, by considering the way “the world changed last Tuesday,” showing a slide of Barack Obama with a book in his hand, which turned out to be Walcott’s Collected Poems, 1948-1984. Then the poet read us Forty Acres, his new poem about Obama, commissioned by the Times of London: Out of the turmoil emerges one emblem, an engraving –/a young Negro at dawn in straw hat and overalls,/an emblem of impossible prophecy…

Asked for his reaction, Stoppard said that the poem “silenced” him–but, of course, it hadn’t, and he self-deprecatingly remarked that he could go on “speaking like a wind-up toy.” At one point he mentioned a recent New York Times article about the New York City Opera which pointed out that the Paris Opera’s budget is larger than that of the entire National Endowment for the Arts. Provocatively, he then suggested that the patronage of the rich American may “get the government off the hook.” This was power! This was culture! This was another ball dropped.

The next day, Stoppard was interiewed at BAM by David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker and author of Lenin’s Tomb, who may be the only editor in New York who hadn’t rushed out to read Isaiah Berlin just to prepare for The Coast of Utopia. Remnick actually out-Stopparded Stoppard with his wit and erudition, and the result was a chat that unlike its predecessor was fascinating, insightful, and over too soon. When Remnick said “For our last question…” Stoppard looked at his watch and looked truly disappointed.

The topic was Chekhov, but the conversation managed to get somewhere near…well, cultural power. Asked what niche his new version of The Cherry Orchard would fill, Stoppard said that directors like to have a new text in rehearsal: “Theatre is a storytelling art form–plays are palimpsests of maps on different scales.” He was “constantly looking for that elusive place where the natural utterance functions as a narrative utterance.”

Gracefully segueing from a consideration of Solzhenitsyn and Stalin to literary influence, Stoppard described his aesthetic response to newsprint and his early ambition to be a foreign correspondent and live a glamorous life. “It can be arranged,” Remnick murmured. For once Stoppard was speechless–briefly. Remnick added, “There’s a 10 p.m. to Kabul.” Then Stoppard recovered. “The St. Tropez kind of correspondent,” he replied.

Asked how working in America was different than at home, Stoppard admitted that he was less comfortable here, explaing that there was “more a sense of heavy pressure to succeed–perhaps there’s more shame in failing than there ought to be.” (Maybe that’s because they don’t publish the West End grosses every week.)

What next? Stoppard said that he’d had just about decided to start working on a screenplay for Arcadia that he would then direct when the BBC came up with the idea of adapting some novels from the nineteenth century and the Twenties–something he says that he really wants to do. Me, I hope it’s Waugh. I can’t imagine anybody channeling the glamorous war-correspondent author of A Handful of Dust better than Tom Stoppard.

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