stealing sugar from the castle

•May 4, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I have some latent dubiety about Robert Bly as both a translator and a poet, but this poem — specifically this poem declaimed in his voice on the radio (turned up very very high so that he almost shouted) as I drove too fast down the 580 late to meeting a friend, nervous jittery chainsmoking, drinking a quadruple-shot coffee — made me very happy for a few minutes, was a glorious beginning to a tough day.

Stealing Sugar From the Castle – by Robert Bly

We are poor students who stay after school to study joy.
We are like those birds in the India mountains.
I am a widow whose child is her only joy.

The only thing I hold in my ant-like head
Is the builder’s plan of the castle of sugar.
just to steal one grain of sugar is a joy!

Like a bird, we fly out of darkness into the hall,
Which is lit with singing, then fly out again.
Being shut out of the warm hall is also a joy.

I am a laggard, a loafer, and an idiot. But I love
To read about those who caught one glimpse
Of the Face, and died twenty years later in joy.

I don’t mind your saying I will die soon.
Even in the sound of the word soon, I hear
The word you which begins every sentence of joy.

“You’re a thief!” the judge said. “Let’s see
Your hands!” I showed my callused hands in court.
My sentence was a thousand years of joy.

I don’t know, I can’t tell. Maybe it’s only good in his voice. If you want, you too can experience the poem in his voice, if you wish–not quite as good in terms of force and movement as the one I caught, as he digresses a lot, but his comments are really delightful–here. I’d love to see him read…


back to Virginia

•April 27, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I must keep up with the reading of her; she is so good for my soul. This is from October 11, 1929, Vol. 3 of the Diaries:

“Hence, perhaps, these October days are to me a little strained & surrounded with silence. What I mean by this last word I don’t quite know, since I have never stopped ‘seeing’ people … No; it is not physical silence; it is some inner loneliness–interesting to analyse if one could. To give an example–I was walking up Bedford Place is it–the straight street with all the boarding houses this afternoon, & I said to myself spontaneously, something like this. How I suffer, & no one knows how I suffer, walking up this street, engaged with my anguish, as I was after Thoby died–alone; fighting something alone. But then I had the devil to fight, & now nothing. And when I come indoors, it is all so silent–I am not carrying a great rush of wheels in my head–Yet I am writing–oh & we are very successful–& there is–what I most love–change ahead. … And it is autumn; & the lights are going up & Nessa is in Fitzroy Street–in a great misty room, with flaring gas & unsorted plates & glasses on the floor,–& the Press is booming–& this celebrity business is quite chronic–& I am richer than I have ever been–& bought a pair of earrings today–& for all this, there is vacancy & silence somewhere in the machine.

On the whole, I do not much mind; because, what I like is to flash & dash from side to side, goaded on by what I call reality. If I never felt these extraordinarily pervasive strains–of unrest, or rest, or happiness, or discomfort–I should float down into acquiescence. Here is something to fight: & when I wake early I say to myself, Fight, fight. If I could catch the feeling, I would: the feeling of the singing of the real world, as one is driven by loneliness & silence from the habitable world; the sense that comes to me of being bound on an adventure; of being strangely free now, with money & so on, to do anything. … I daresay I shan’t. But anything is possible. And this curious steed, life; is genuine–Does any of this convey what I want to say?–But I have not really laid hands on the emptiness after all.”

Laura, again

•April 26, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Saving Laura, Part 2; Or, Nabokov’s Walled Garden

A year before his death, Vladimir Nabokov responded to a Book Review survey which asked authors for comments on their three most enjoyed books of the year. The last book that he mentioned was his own, the controversial and never-published manuscript Laura. It seems as if the book will be published after all, a turn that has me torn between !!!! and regret. The scale has been tipped a bit towards !!!! by the last paragraph of the NYT blog linked to above, which quotes Nabokov’s comments on The Original of Laura:

“The third, as he wrote, is ‘The Original of Laura. The not quite finished manuscript of a novel which I had begun writing and reworking before my illness and which was completed in my mind: I must have gone through it some 50 times and in my diurnal delirium kept reading it aloud to a small dream audience in a walled garden. My audience consisted of peacocks, pigeons, my long dead parents, two cypresses, several young nurses crouching around, and a family doctor so old as to be almost invisible. Perhaps because of my stumblings and fits of coughing the story of my poor Laura had less success with my listeners than it will have, I hope, with intelligent reviewers when properly published.'”

Lovely, lovely Nabokov! I want that book despite myself.

adore the way this poem starts / not so sure about the end

•April 16, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Other Lives And Dimensions And Finally A Love Poem
Bob Hicok

My left hand will live longer than my right. The rivers
of my palms tell me so.
Never argue with rivers. Never expect your lives to finish
at the same time. I think

praying, I think clapping is how hands mourn. I think
staying up and waiting
for paintings to sigh is science. In another dimension this
is exactly what’s happening,

it’s what they write grants about: the chromodynamics
of mournful Whistlers,
the audible sorrow and beta decay of Old Battersea Bridge.
I like the idea of different

theres and elsewheres, an Idaho known for bluegrass,
a Bronx where people talk
like violets smell. Perhaps I am somewhere patient, somehow
kind, perhaps in the nook

of a cousin universe I’ve never defiled or betrayed
anyone. Here I have
two hands and they are vanishing, the hollow of your back
to rest my cheek against,

your voice and little else but my assiduous fear to cherish.
My hands are webbed
like the wind-torn work of a spider, like they squeezed
something in the womb

but couldn’t hang on. One of those other worlds
or a life I felt
passing through mine, or the ocean inside my mother’s belly
she had to scream out.

Here, when I say I never want to be without you,
somewhere else I am saying
I never want to be without you again. And when I touch you
in each of the places we meet,

in all of the lives we are, it’s with hands that are dying
and resurrected.
When I don’t touch you it’s a mistake in any life,
in each place and forever.

miss this view

•April 14, 2008 • Leave a Comment

miss this view

I used to smoke in the stairwell of my dorm, breaking all sorts of California laws and school rules. It was technically indoors, but was really more like an outdoor passageway with a roof. I sat directly in front of this window and watched it at every gradation of day and light imaginable. It reminded me of something from an ascetic nunnery or saint’s hovel with its stone and cracked, moldy plaster and barred windows with gorgeous sky and flowers beyond. This photo is probably almost exactly a year old now, and it has me awash with nostalgia. Miss those stairs, miss this view.

four for the price of one

•April 13, 2008 • Leave a Comment
  • How many reviews/pieces of lit crit/essays/books/&c. begin by quoting my darling Keats’ maxim about Beauty=Truth/Truth=Beauty? If I were at all statistically minded, this is exactly the sort of question I would set out to answer, but I don’t really need the numbers to reach my conclusion: too goddamn many. Despite this annoyance, I am intrigued by the NYT review of George Johnson’s The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, a book, as the title suggests, about particularly transcendent instances of beauty in the search for scientific truth. I do love a pop-science book every now and again, so long as it is well-written. I should go iron out my library fines and see if anyone’s got it. If the author is appealing, it’s possible that he could be a gem of amusement for weeks to come.
  • Robert Falcon Scott’s journals of the lost Scott Expedition are online and free at Gutenberg! I am very excited to have discovered this, can’t wait to read them, & must remember to look for Shackleton as well, as I have been flirting the edges of an obsession with polar exploration ever since January, when I began to have dreams of wandering through Antarctic landscapes. In my dream my fingers fell off every time I removed my mittens, but always seemed to regenerate. I refused to throw them away, and carried them with me in my pack. The dreams were pervaded by a great sense of looking for something, though I didn’t know what, and would spend days after I had one pondering, trying to remember, eventually resorting to playing unsuccessful divination with Freud in hopes of interpretation. I gave up after a bit, accepted them, and decided that rather than it being any very significant subconscious event it was probably just Annie Dillard saturating my mind. I was deeply affected by her essay “An Expedition to the Pole” in Teaching a Stone to Talk. Religion! the Absolute! Antarctica! history! poetry! all in one gorgeous essay! O, she is a sublime synthesis:

“I have a taste for solitude, and silence, and for what Plotinus called ‘the flight of the alone to the Alone.’ I have a taste for solitude. Sir John Franklin had, apparently, a taste for backgammon. Is either of these appropriate conditions?

You quit your house and country, quit your ship, and quit your companions in the tent, saying, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ The light on the far side of the blizzard lures you. You walk, and one day you enter the spread heart of silence, where lands dissolve and seas become vapor and ices sublime under unknown stars. This is the end of the Via Negativa, the lightless edge where the slopes of knowledge dwindle, and love for its own sake, lacking an object, begins.” –Annie Dillard, “An Expedition to the Pole”

  • Sometimes I like to perambulate the entire circumference of my school’s library with the posture of a monarch surveying her domain: head up, spine straight, arms crossed loosely behind the back. I often pause to kiss the books like babies — Nabokov, 100-year-old copies of Keats and Shelley, misshelved french philosophers. At other times, when I have been studying for hours and just want to weep, I lie on my back in the poetry section and cover my face with an open book, not even someone who I love, just a pretty book with a pungent comforting library smell.
  • I dream of living nearer to the lake so as to become well acquainted with the ducks and the geese. Observing them has been my central delight this week, though I have to be careful about my propensity to make meaningful eye contact with the geese, as it makes them react with aggression. It’s just that I want to approach the world from now on with a strict policy of meaningful eye contact in all interactions. But geese are not people even if their yoga poses might fool you into thinking they are!

yoga goose

justifiably proud

•April 10, 2008 • 1 Comment

It doesn’t matter anymore if the work I churn out in the next few weeks is shoddy; I have garnered an academic and personal achievement sweet enough to mediate it all:  the response to my philosophy midterm, particularly the Heidegger/Nietzsche question:

“C — This is outstanding writing on an enormously difficult subject. A+ (circled twice)”

I cannot emphasize enough how enormously proud of myself this makes me, and how significant this pride is. I tend to meet even the best grades with stubborn dissatisfaction and a sense that I could have done much better, but in this case I couldn’t have worked any harder to reach a level of understanding of this most difficult and fascinating of philosophers, and to articulate this understanding. I did everything right when I worked on Heidegger and the midterm — rereading, working with the OED and the oxford dictionary of philosophy at either elbow, taking voluminous notes, thinking long and deeply and critically on the question before I began writing — and it shows. Despite earnest intentions, I rarely work so well because I usually do it for the wrong reason:  to prove myself to the teacher or my father or my friends, to garner favor and affirmation. This time I worked honestly, because I was fascinated and truly wanted to understand as best I could, and not because I adore my professor and wanted to impress his enormous intellect, and it is reflected in the writing that I produced. And it tastes really incredible.