Sunday, March 30, 2008

A stroke of good fortune?

A few weeks ago my roommate bought four rolls of Seventh Generation paper towels in an effort to be a better citizen of the earth or whatever. Sounds great and all, and I generally like their products. But their paper towels are awful. They're basically not absorbent at all. I might as well just use regular paper. It's all well and good to be using recycled paper products but what's the point if they don't work? Is the object to frustrate people into using cloth instead?

Anyway, today a bottle of laundry detergent fell out of our utilities closet and the cap broke, spilling over half a bottle of ultra-concentrated on the floor of our hall. Using regular cloth towels would have been the fastest way to clean that up but we figured that the towels would take forever to get clean and the washing machine in our laundry room might end up sudsing so much that it would end up being like a scene in a sitcom. Much to our delight, we ended up using an entire roll of paper towels mopping up the spill. I then mopped that area of the floor three times, wiping it dry between each mopping in an attempt to get rid of extra detergent. So I now have one less roll of crappy paper towels and a (mostly) clean floor.

Except for this lovely place where the tile has broken away. That's basically a lost cause. Fortunately its mostly in the closet so in all likelihood no one (human or feline) will step there and be left with sticky paws.

It did lead us to much muttering about how much we hate our floor though. And yes, those are nails sticking out. Fortunately they're hidden when the close door is closed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Richard Wilbur

In a 1988 New York Times review, Robert Richman wrote of Richard Wilbur:
There is much to be said for a poet who refuses against all odds to allow his vision of hope (as manifested in the elegance and attractiveness of the verse) to die. If it were not for writers like him, future students might wonder if there were no poets in the late 20th century who championed beauty (as unlikely a cause as it may have been) or who were capable of rising above all the despair and doubt. Fortunately, we do have Richard Wilbur, and I am confident our age will be deemed the better for it.
Wilbur isn't the most fashionable of poets, though not nearly as unfashionable now as he has been in the past. What his poems are, as Richman writes, is filled with beauty, both in the imagery and the language. No one, reading Wilbur's poetry, would question what separates it from prose. The most direct antecedent to his poetry is Robert Frost and his poems are not in free verse--which Frost famously referred to as being like, "playing tennis without a net"--and this is too often associated with lack of originality, and disconnection with every day life. Although, as Wilbur explains in a Poetry Foundation interview, he always strives to do something different with his poetry:
DHT: As a poet who works in received forms, how do you think about originality? Do you feel a responsibility to use form in original ways? Or do you think of originality as overvalued? Is it even a virtue? What does originality consist of, for you?

RW: I don’t have any interest in the repetition of the past. I regard what you just called “received forms” as so much equipment, really—that’s all that they are. I find that the use of meters, rhymes, and stanzas is a way of saying what I want to say with greater power and pleasure. I would be very troubled if people thought my book of poems had too fearfully traditional an air. I try to make every poem different from the last, and I simply use the meters and the other received, inherited formal elements to enforce what it is that I’m saying.
When I was in high school and, as is usual for high schoolers who think they don't quite fit in, worshipped Allen Ginsberg, I probably wouldn't have liked Wilbur very much, or at least wouldn't have admitted to it. Now though, he's one of my very favorite poets.

Anyway, here are a few of his poems.


who offered a prize at Blois, circa 1457, for the best ballade
employing the line "Je meurs de soif aupres de la fontaine."

Flailed from the heart of water in a bow
He took the falling fly; my line went taut
Foam was in uproar where he drove below;
In spangling air I fought him and was fought.
Then, wearied to the shallows, he was caught,
Gasped in the net, lay still and stony-eyed.
It was no fading iris I had sought.
I die of thirst, here at the fountain-side.

Down in the harbor’s flow and counter-flow
I left my ships with hopes and heroes fraught.
Ten times more golden than the sun could show,
Calypso gave the darkness I besought.
Oh, but her fleecy touch was dearly bought;
All spent, I wakened by my only bride,
Beside whom every vision is but nought,
And die of thirst, here at the fountain-side

Where does that Plenty dwell, I’d n like to know,
Which fathered poor desire, as Plato taught?
Out on the real and endless waters go
Conquistador and stubborn Argonaut.
Where Buddha bathed, the golden bowl he brought
Gilded the stream, but stalled its living tide.
The sunlight withers as the verse is wrought.
I die of thirst, here at the fountain-side.

Duke, keep your coin. All men are born distraught,
And will not for the world be satisfied.
Whether we live in fact, or but in thought,
We die of thirst, here by the fountain-side.


Nashe's old queens who bartered young and fair
Their light tiaras for such ponderous stones:
Of them I'd think, how sunlit still their hair,
And fine as airship frames their balanced bones.

It is, I say, a most material loss.
Kept spirit is corporate; doubly the thought of you,
As air fills air, or wa ether toss,
Out of my wishes and your being grew.

Water and air: such unclenched stuff can last,
But rarest things are visible and firm;
Grace falls the fastest from our failing past,
And I lament for grace's early term,

For casual dances that you body knows,
Whose spirit only sense can understand,
For times when spirit, doomed and single, flows
Into the speeches of your eye and hand.

I also posted his "Love Calls Us to the Things of this World" in one of my first blog posts.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sunday in the Park with George

The first time I saw a musical that used projections to create a backdrop it was absolutely dreadful. I mean the musical itself was dreadful--The Woman in White in London--but the projections were as well. Anyway, I left that show thinking, "Projections are a terrible idea. Stupid new fangled technology." So after seeing Sunday in the Park with George I take it all back. Projections aren't stupid; doing projections badly is stupid. I do think it helps also to be using projections in a musical that centers around the creation of a two-dimensional work. Rather than a gimmick it comes off as an illumination of the subject. It's like the projections allow you to see the world the way the artist is seeing it--as something beautiful and malleable.

The central characters--George of the 19th century and George of the 20th--are men trying to make a connection with the world through the act of looking and creating art from the things they are looking at broken down into the basic components of color and light. As an exploration of an artist and his world the first half is brilliant. The second half, set in the eighties art world seems to me to be rather less interesting, although still well done.

What consistently amazes me about Sondheim is his ability to express complex concepts in song. While I'm admittedly far from an expert on musical theater, I just can't think of anybody who does it better. In response to his mother lamenting the changes she has seen, George sings:
All things are beautiful
All trees, all towers
That tower-
Beautiful, Mother
A perfect tree

Pretty isn't beautiful, Mother
Pretty is what changes
What the eye arranges
Is what is beautiful
It's the expression of an artistic philosophy in two stanzas. It feels natural and easy when Sondheim does it but it's incredible in it's simplicity. Likewise, Sunday, which closes both acts, has a feeling of completeness and--I don't quite know how to describe it. Regardless, it's wonderfully satisfying. As is the production as a whole.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

It Figures

I was at Sunday in the Park with George tonight, so of course the Sabres went and did this. Without fail I go out on a night when they're playing and they go and have a totally exciting game. Sunday in the Park with George was great by the way. More on that tomorrow.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Weird News

Ok, so I might be the last person to read about this but honestly, that poor, poor crazy woman. I think that we should all take a moment to be grateful for the fact that we have someone in our life who would get us help before we lived in the bathroom for two years and/or sat on a toilet for so long that our body fused to it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Verizon Hates Me, My Roommate, and the Environment

Some time ago Verizon installed fiber-optic cable whatever in our building and ever since they have been nagging us to upgrade to the newly available higher-speed internet. While we do think our internet is slow we have no interest in doing this because it costs more money and we're cheap.

Anyway, they've probably called us 10 times at this point. When that didn't work they showed up at our door on a Saturday morning to try and give us their sales pitch. But today they reached new depths of absurdity. We got this lovely package from them:
It's . . . shiny. And is made of that bubble wrap stuff. Lots of lovely, not-at-all recyclable plastic. So what could be in it? This:
So, we've got a plastic sleeve holding a brochure?
Which encourages us to sign up for a service which we've already turned down time and time again. Do they think we're just going to give in and decide we've been wrong all this time? Do they think they can harass us into signing up for it? Do they enjoy wasting time and money while filling up landfills? At this point if we did decide to upgrade our internet service we'd do it with another company anyway because we now loathe Verizon. Nice job, guys.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Louise Glück

I've had a general thing for poetry based on mythology for years. Which sounds a little silly but we've all got our biases. I've only just gotten around to reading Louise Glück's Averno, which was given to me as a gift a couple years ago so I'm thinking about them at the moment. I don't have the energy at present to put forward anything particularly cohesive or well thought out, but I thought I'd throw out some of what I'm thinking about. In high school I was crazy about Glück's Meadowlands. Her language is very straightforward. Colloquial. Sometimes it has an image-less spareness to it.

When I was a child looking
at my parents' lives, you know
what I thought? I thought
heartbreaking. Now I think
heartbreaking, but also
insane. Also
very funny.
Some of the poems, like this one, are well-structured but don't stand on their own. It's only through the accumulation of detail that takes place over the course of the book--the poems are all connected and this is the first of seven Telemachus poems--that the poems come together. At the time, I was in the habit of scribbling the page numbers of my favorite poems at the front of the book. This was the collection that broke me of that habit. Looking back though, I find that I don't love it as much as I once did.


There was an apple tree in the yard--
this would have been
forty years ago--behind,
only meadows. Drifts
off crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor's yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from the tennis courts--
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.

There's a conclusiveness to many of the poems, a finality of sorts, that I once found appealing and now find discomfiting. It seems false and easy somehow that they tie up so neatly at the end.

This isn't unique to Meadowlands by any means but it does seem less frequent in Averno. There's a more open ended feeling to the collection. The poems seem to contain no artifice--which, of course, isn't really true.

When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.

Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness

Gradually, he thought, he'd introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she'd find it comforting.

A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn't everyone want love?

He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.

Doesn't everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns—

That's what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there'd be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.

Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn't imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.

He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
Persephone's Girlhood.

A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you

but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you're dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.
It's edifying, though not always particularly satisfying. One of the quotes on the back of the book is from Wayne Koestenbaum who writes, "For twenty years I have been listening to Louise Glück's poems for lessons in some of the cardinal literary virtues, which include, foremost, the shunning of virtuosity." He's not wrong, but sometimes you want a touch of that virtuosity. In denying her readers that, Glück creates a work that's difficult to read in its surface simplicity and honesty. Quite brilliant really on an intellectual level but I find that it doesn't engage me on an emotional level. Which is fine; poetry doesn't need to do that. At the same time though I feel like it's a book I can appreciate but not love.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

More Miscellany

Just a few thoughts from your resident absentee blogger:

1. Finally replaced the old, falling apart whale stickies on the bottom of the tub.
Quite an improvement, I think. My roommate and I agree that they make it look a bit like we have a 5 year old living in the apartment but we love them anyway. Besides, look at the color of our tub (also the sink and toilet). Our bathroom needs all the cheering up it can get.

2. Dmitri Kalinin makes my heart hurt. I want so much for him not to struggle and he's just playing really bad hockey right now.

3. I'm so glad that Christian won Project Runway. I liked Jillian's work as well, but I thought Christian put together a wonderful show. And this dress was fucking amazing (although not the most amazing picture of it):
I loved this as well, particularly the hat:

4. Over the weekend I baked Italian olive bread. My sister gave me the recipe but told me she found it a bit bland and would probably substitute whole wheat flour for about half the recipe. I didn't really feel like doing that but in the end I agreed that it was slightly boring although it had a nice texture. I think next time I'll either try adding in some whole wheat flour or I'll use more olives to make a really olive-stuffed loaf. I'm also thinking that sourdough bread with black olives would be delicious.

5. I also made a maple-pecan cake, which has the advantage of looking quite pretty.
I like the cake a lot but hate the frosting. It's maple and vanilla flavored and has a kind of sticky, marshmallow-y texture which I don't enjoy. If anyone has any suggestions on a frosting that would go well with a maple-flavored cake feel free to leave them in the comments.