* An alum wrote me back and claimed that Eliot’s body of work has fallen out of fashion.
The alum was right, of course. Eliot’s impersonal style doesn't resonate with readers and poets now the way it once did. Though I'm a huge fan, that aspect of his work doesn't appeal to me much either. When I was learning the craft of poetry, Eliot was, at one point, a major influence (he still is). Even then, I cherry-picked his "bag of tricks," scrutinizing his line breaks, use of meter and musicality and leaving behind his impersonality.
I think Eliot would have approved of the way in which I stole from him. As he put it, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest. Chapman borrowed from Seneca; Shakespeare and Webster from Montaigne. The two great followers of Shakespeare, Webster and Tourneur, in their mature work do not borrow from him; he is too close to them to be of use to them in this way."
To return to Eliot's loss of vogue, he is not alone. What happened to him has happened to many a poet and writer. Those talented and lucky enough to be canonized still suffer the vicissitudes of literary taste. Usually, anyway. But I'm sure interest in Eliot will resurge one of these days. Even if his impersonal style never catches on again, readers and poets will again, in droves, find something in his work worth contemplating.
His talent and achievements are too large for it to be otherwise.
*Below are the lines in which Eliot describes the events that preceded and followed the Crucifixion. This passage is from The Waste Land:
After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
This Easter I posted, on an alumni discussion group for writers, T.S. Eliot’s lines about the events that preceded and followed the Crucifixion.
Thought-provoking op-ed. Maureen Dowd argues that the Republican 2012 bid for the White House is destined for failure. While dissecting Romney's and Santorum's campaigns, she alludes to Freud and ancient Greek tragedy. And her sentence "The horse has thrown the rider; the dark forces are bubbling" seems to echo these lines from Yeats' "The Second Coming" (especially the first line I'm quoting): “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed.”
Happy Birthday, W.E.B. Du Bois. And may your soul be at rest. America and the world as a whole gave you little rest when you were alive. Thank you for your efforts to make sense of it all and for all you did to change the country and the world for the better. You were like Proteus, often changing form, often changing your approach. But your commitment never wavered. Thank you.
provocative, erudite article by critic Guy Patrick Cunningham
. With digital media in many ways eclipsing printed text, we now read in fragments, a radical shift. Written works that are broken into fragments, that flout what Cunningham calls “traditional narrative structure” and “single linear” wholeness, capture the tension between how we now read and how we once did. Cunningham breaks it down in his article, "Fragmentary: Writing in a Digital Age."
Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100
by Martín Espada
for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100, working at the Windows on the World restaurant, who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center
Alabanza. Praise the cook with the shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago.
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.
Alabanza. Praise the cook's yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.
Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium.
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana,
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen in the morning,
where the gas burned blue on every stove
and exhaust fans fired their diminutive propellers,
hands cracked eggs with quick thumbs
or sliced open cartons to build an altar of cans.
Alabanza. Praise the busboy's music, the chime-chime
of his dishes and silverware in the tub.
Alabanza. Praise the dish-dog, the dishwasher
who worked that morning because another dishwasher
could not stop coughing, or because he needed overtime
to pile the sacks of rice and beans for a family
floating away on some Caribbean island plagued by frogs.
Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in the kitchen
and sang to herself about a man gone. Alabanza.
After the thunder wilder than thunder,
after the booming ice storm of glass from the great windows,
after the radio stopped singing like a tree full of terrified frogs,
after night burst the dam of day and flooded the kitchen,
for a time the stoves glowed in darkness like the lighthouse in Fajardo,
like a cook's soul. Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God's beard because God has no face,
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.
Alabanza. When the war began, from Manhattan to Kabul
two constellations of smoke rose and drifted to each other,
mingling in icy air, and one said with an Afghan tongue:
Teach me to dance. We have no music here.
And the other said with a Spanish tongue:
I will teach you. Music is all we have.
When Romantic poet John Keats wrote the below sonnet, he captured something virtually every poet and writer has felt at some point, especially during times when life is particularly intrusive and leaves one with little or no time to write. As little writing time as I have these days, I know exactly how Keats felt when he penned these lines:
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
Recently, I had to read Hamlet to help a student I tutor. It was great reading it again after all these years. It’s my favorite Shakespeare play and one of my favorite literary works of all time. There are so many beautiful passages. Here is just one…
But first, let me set it up for you. Hamlet has just been visited by a spirit claiming to be the ghost of his murdered father. Before leaving, the ghost commands Hamlet to remember him. Alone now, Hamlet proclaims:
Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee!
Yea, from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
That youth and observation copied there;
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmix’d with baser matter.
Without a blog post to read through.
Think of how many bland blogs you clicked to.
Time's up. I'm sorry I left you…
I haven’t blogged in a while. For that I apologize. Now I can’t stop rhyming (but that was a slant rhyme).
Anyway... I’ve been swamped lately. But going forward, I should have time to blog regularly. Lately, like most of us, I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s happening in the Middle East and North Africa. We are at a crucial moment in global history.
More on this later...
My friend Rania Khalil, who lives in Cairo, posted this note on Facebook on Wednesday, February 2, 2011, at 12:12 pm.
hello everyone! thank you so much for your love and concern, i feel it. I am not at home and just writing quickly. have not read my email as net has just returned. me and my family are fine, but friends of friends have died protesting and this will continue. please help spread the word that hosni mubarak is a dictator and nothing less. he has released undercover men to incite fighting in the peaceful protests i've seen with my own eyes. now he is creating a propaganda war, paying people to support him with signs that have been absent the entire time. he may curb protests but he will not quell what has begun! love to you all. more soon xoxo ps. will send photos! pps. please write american govt to end this regime.
Since the Martin Luther King holiday last week, I’ve been musing over something Socrates said during his trial: “He who would really fight for justice, must do so as a private man, not in public, if he means to preserve his life, even for a short time.” If true, Socrates’ words mean Martin Luther King would have been assassinated even sooner had he been a public man, a politician, espousing the same views. In every age, men and women, public and private, have been rewarded with premature death for fighting for justice: Guevara, Lumumba, Gandhi, Nat Turner, Joan of Arc and, of course, Socrates himself.