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Archive for the ‘women’s poetry’ Category


This is the maple tree you see through the window in my new room of my own ….


Perennials in my front garden

Dear friends and readers,

Izzy and I passed a pleasant the spring Sunday holiday (call it Easter, say it’s still Passover, its beauty is the spring renewal) together and apart today. We went together to see a remarkable post-modern political film, Pablo Lorrain’s Neruda, one of whose main actors is a favorite with both of us. Naturalemente, a blog soon: every film I’ve seen with Gael Garnia Bernal I’ve blogged about. In the later afternoon I alternated from rereading Michael Ondaatje’s extraordinary The English Patient to Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage, and she watches ice-skating and/or tennis, and blogs on Anibundel’s I should have been a blogger. She is now in a sense an equal blogger there. Two sisters together. Our garden is blooming with flowers. We had a good meal last night and this evening left-overs. She cooks, I wash up. Then I walk in the neighborhood, different blocks different nights.

My porch is now a small livable space, a very pretty room, light green walls, white trim, soft carpet (wall-to-wall, first time for me on this kind of thing, a sort of rusty color), and I’m beginning to move furniture into it. Its first small bookcase filled with CDs of books read aloud and DVDs of film adaptations, a cat bed (necessity) a fan on the floor, a ladder to reach high bookcase going to be put against one of the walls … I am not going to try to make it a conventional room for visitors to come, to please other people, but an extension of my study. It’s more living space, more breathing room, more light and air and access to the outside of the house. I’ll take down the shutters from two of the windows in the kitchen and on all four windows facing east have light weight pretty shades easy to pull up and down.

I am happy to be able to hope you have had a good day by sending along her latest song:

Here are the lyrics:

She says “wake up, it’s no use pretending”
I’ll keep stealing, breathing her.
Birds are leaving over autumn’s ending
One of us will die inside these arms
Eyes wide open, naked as we came
One will spread our ashes ’round the yard

She says “If I leave before you, darling
Don’t you waste me in the ground”
I lay smiling like our sleeping children
One of us will die inside these arms
Eyes wide open, naked as we came
One will spread our ashes round the yard

She is playing on her Yamaha PSR-185, Voice Setting #51.

I’m still reading a book which upsets me some: Abigail Tucker’s The Lion in the Living Room. I believe it’s a stealth attack on cats as ruining our environment. Rather like Kate Chisholm’s Hunger Games was a ferocious attack on anorexics; except Tucker pretends to be a cat lover. It insists my sense of my cats as loving me and part of a relationship is a delusion. I know how Jane Goodall would reply, and have to find another book to refute Tucker. It hurts me to be told my cat is not attached to me, not happy, but just wants sex and hunting. Not so. Clarycat grieved over Jim’s death, truly grieved. I saw it. And nowadays Ian Pussycat is my friend-cat-companion too.

Miss Drake

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herbertanne
Susan Herbert for Anne Boleyn (her Shakespeare’s Cat)

Friends, readers,

It’s common to list the ten best new-to-me books one read this year as the year ends; my problems with this are

I often cannot remember what I read specifically this year, so at first I included Jenny Diski’s Apology for the Woman Writing (a historical novel centering on Marie le Jars de Gournay, her maid and Montaigne); Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (a revelation of sorts);and Linda Porter’s Katherine the Queen [Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife], but they were what I remembered best from last year. Paula Byrne’s A Life in Small Things [Jane Austen] was the book I most remembered from the year before (no new good books on Austen, though some superb individual essays on Austen films): I so love Austen and she shed genuine new insight into Austen and her texts, taught me new relevant contexts, evidentially sound facts about Austen (though she’s wrong on her new portrait, it’s the only book on Austen’s texts to do this written in the last couple of years).

I reread a lot and in rereading I find new things, re-discover old in a new way — as I just did in Oliphant’s ghost story, “The Library Window;” and

It’s hard to choose and impossible to list in any meaningful order

Books are so different; genres, functions matter.

Nonetheless, to join in and look back on what I took real pleasure in: which books taught me, absorbed me deeply, I felt sorry when I came to the end, enjoyed so much. That’s a lot to ask, so let’s say did some of the above. In the order I remember them (which must say something)

herbertrussian
Herbert’s Russian Blues (Movie Cats)

My very favorites:

1) Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (mostly Maude’s translation; spent best part of year if I include listening to David Case’s reading of Constance Garnett’s text, deeply satisfying text)
2) Susan Sontag’s Volcano Lover (most brilliant and relevant for politics today book of the year for me)
3) Anne Boyd Rioux’s Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist (you are missing out on a great American later 19th century writer if you’ve not read any of her books)
4) Judith Cook, Melissa Hardie, and Christiana Payne’s Singing from the Walls: The Life and Art of Elizabeth [Armstrong] Forbes (moving, beautiful pictures)
5) Daphne DuMaurier’s Vanishing Cornwall: The Spirit and History of Cornwall (uplifted and told truths)
6) Charlotte Smith’s Collected Letters (about courageous abused woman alone)
7) Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf (for the first time, close to Woolf)
8) Angela Rosenthal’s Angelica Kauffmann: Art and Sensibility (on women’s art)
9) Jane Jill’s The Art of Carrington (revelation)
10) Miranda Seymour’s Mary Shelley (about 3/4s of Shelley’s life I hadn’t known and her other great writings)

herbertafteradelaidelabilleguiardselfportraitwpupils
Herbert’s Adelaide Labille-Guiard with her pupils (a painting cat, imitating Labille-Guiard’s picture)

Runners-up or a not-quite my very favorites:

1) Diane Reynolds’s The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (I won’t forget her portrait of Nazi Germany)
2) Carla Sassi’s Why Scottish Literature Matters (insights into how literature works, into an unusual colonialized people)
3) Virginia Woolf’s Memoirs of a Novelist (three brilliant novellas, historical fiction one of them: “The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn;” the extraordinary feminist “Mysterious Case of of Miss V” (a woman alone, how thwarted, how silenced)
4) Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop (unforgettable, a middle class kind of Cathy Come Home)
5) Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge (taught me the mini-series distorted this deeply compassionate book about a wise woman not well understood)
6) Adhaf Soueif’s Map of Love (deeply Middle Eastern historical novel as Neo-Victorian epistolary narrative)
7) Charlotte Smith’s Marchmont (for its depictions of life in a debtor’s prison)
8) Carol A Martin’s George Eliot’s Serial Fiction (for reading Eliot)
9) Margaret Oliphant’s The Ladies Lindores, together with Lady Car (a continuation) (so rich and painfully insightful)
10) Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter (I’m just now reading Frantumaglia: mothers-and-daughters her true theme)

Best new-to-me greats plays I read (and saw) — texts becoming plays and/or movies:

John McGrath’s The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black Black Oil (Scotland’s history, a masterpiece of song and words)
1979 Danger UXB (everyone should watch this profound anti-war mini-series once a year)
Debbie Horsfield’s Poldark Scripts for Seasons 1 and 2 (bit of a disappointment because no indications of camera work or thinking behind choices & themselves could have been better but drew enormous strength from where faithful to Graham’s historical fiction)

My favorite long poem reread this year: Charlotte Smith’s Beachy Head
My favorite (new) movie (not a mini-series): 45 Years
My favorite mini-series: 1972 Jack Pulman’s War and Peace (one of the best of the 1970s BBC and that’s saying something)
Undefinable: both series of the BBC The Hollow Crown (Shakespeare’s history plays, Wars of Roses and Henriade)

herbert
Susan Herbert’s drawing for Duchess of York (Shakespeare’s Cats)

Old books made new, seen in some new way:

1) Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones
2) Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

I did not like yet read to the end (worth citing because they are strong, possibly widely-read and/or reviewed texts as what is bad in them is importantly bad):

1) Henry James’s Aspern Papers and The Other House (I detested the cruel spiteful Greville Fane) (perverse in who he critizes and accepting evil)
2) Patti Smith’s M Train (she’s posing as a man, seems hardly to have heard of any woman writers or musicians)
3) Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (pernicious in several crucial ways, pro-violence, and against women, seriously anti-LBGT, yet as women’s historical romance and about Scotland in others it sent my spirit soaring; the mini-series, especially from its adapted scripts & acting much better)

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Jacobite cats (Herbert, from Millais’s “Proscribed Royalists”)

I asked Izzy if she could name some new great best books for her this year, and she cited two I know she read and re-read slowly:

1) Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy Caste: Hamilton: The Revolution [stageplay, music book)
2) Mary Beard’s SPQR: The Senate and People of Rome

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Herbert’s “Ice-Skating” (from Victorian Cats) — Izzy read and wrote a lot (professionally too now) about ice-skating

I promise you I omitted some: many good ones were rereads e.g., first five Barsetshire books by Trollope, read and taught; Rachel Ray; Shelley’s Frankenstein, read astonishingly eye-openly aloud by Gildert Jackson (and taught); several I didn’t finish but recognize I should have e.g., Adhaf Soueif’s very great In the Eye of the Sun; Norma Clarke’s Ambitious Heights on 19th century women of letters, especially on Jewsbury Sisters, Jane Carlyle; some I reviewed and wrote about for conventional journals and/or blogs (Martha Bowden’s Descendants of Waverley), a few more novels, literary critical books, film studies, biography, autobiography …

victoriancats
Susan Herbert’s “Train Riding” (Victorian Cats)

Miss Drake

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leonardcohen
Leonard Cohen, his most recent album, You Want It Darker

I did my best, it wasn’t much — Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah

She has accordingly had three teeth drawn, and is decidedly better, but her nerves a good deal deranged — Jane Austen, Sanditon

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been writing political blogs for three days: Two nights from now it won’t be over; The morning after; tonight Post-Mortem. As eleven o’clock on November 8th approached, and I realized Trump was headed to win by the electoral college voting system, my stomach began to twist and turn. I felt so bleak the next day; and I’ve not yet begun to be able to sleep a full 6 hours in a row. Indeed it will not be over many many nights from now. It will take some time before we begin to feel whatever pain Trump manages to have in store for us, the 99%, and perhaps longer to suffer from his incompetence, human ignorance, bad temper and ruthless use of power. The new lies have started already: the protest marches are “incited by the media.”

My daughter, Laura, picked herself up, dusted herself off, and carried on much more briskly and earlier than I did: We get up, we move on. Izzy had a period of deep upset; I was overpowered by even the start of the coming underbelly of fascism masked as democracy as outlined in Trump’s plans for the first 100 days. But this morning, the third day in, I took heart, and said “We must hold firm, carry on staying together and doing what we know is valuable as long as we can: people are stronger when they stay with those they care about, and work at what they value.”

So Izzy changed her sheets, we took her quilt to the cleaners. There was a flood on the new kitchen yesterday morning and by afternoon I had been told the water heater had burst. That night I had a hose out the back down pouring the water into the yard or we’d have had a big flood in the kitchen. Had to leave said door ajar all night. Then today a man from First Class Plumber was at various tasks in my kitchen all day, and we now have a brand-new water heater, computerized, spiffy, works beautifully. It’s “only money,” as my father would say ironically: First Class Plumber sent another hard-working super-courteous black man who did a very good job. I then cleaned out the storage closet, throwing out all the filthy things I didn’t understand and now it is clean, with only a few implements whose use I understand neatly set out.

Some other losses this week: I have lost two more teeth (it’s almost miraculous I have any left) and also my irreplaceable library card to take books out of George Mason Library. The teeth are serious; had I not questioned this dentist I would have lost three. I now have but three teeth left and will have a new bottom denture on Monday afternoon. In the meantime it’s not easy to eat (yoghurt and soup for lunch, eggs and pasta for dinner)

I wish there were no such things as Teeth in the World; they are nothing but plagues to one, and I dare say that People might easily invent something to eat with instead of them. –Jane Austen, Catherine, or the Bower

and I feel my age.

meatsmithluncheonsireldredsmithgordondescendentfromlionelsmith
Here is what I looked like at one of the luncheons at the Charlotte Smith conference: next to me Sir Eldred Smith-Gordon, a many time great-grand son of Benjamin Smith (who he whispers we are not to mention), a witty companion, publisher of medical books

As to my card, I don’t need it to use the vast database, which is what I avail myself of for serious literary work, and the library itself is hard to park near, itself the most demoralizing place, with the English department having less books in the areas I’m interested than me. Inside it looks soulless, with few books to be seen, like some vacant department store, with plastic chairs and tables for the customers to sit at with their laptops; the books are in these rolling shelves hidden away in corners on higher floors, lest they get in the way. The last time I took a book out, the librarians were just delighted at such a rare event. I can’t deny that this is a blow of sorts; the ID had a picture (so a second form of identification) too.

Today Izzy was working on two songs (not just one). And my two proposals for next spring are accepted and I look forward to the courses: short versions:

OLLI at AU: Pivotal City and County Victorian Novels

We’ll read 2 best-sellers, never out of print: Gaskell’s North and South (1855), and Trollope’s Framley Parsonage (1860). Gaskell’s tale of Manchester, from Dickens’s Household Words, is a radical graphic tale of the life of factory workers, based on a strike and time of near starvation (depression), by a woman . Trollope’s made the Cornhill, the New Yorker of its day, a 4th Barsetshire concoction; followed as intensely as Downton Abbey (Gaskell wrote she wished it would go on forever and didn’t see why it couldn’t), seen today also as a complacent pro-establishment book is a Thackerayan ironic pleasure. We’ll explore how the books intersect and connect to our era.

OLLI at Mason: Booker Prize books: a marketplace niche or sub-species

We will discuss 4 gems of Booker Prize fiction. Some have said the prize functions as a brilliantly exploited marketplace tool aimed at a specific readership niche, just perfect for quality film adaptations and literary criticism. The books are characteristically historical fiction, self-reflexive, witty and passionate, post-colonialist, and three filmed: of Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop, Ondaatje’s The English Patient (with Minghella’s screenplay); J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country (screenplay Patrick Grey) and Graham Swift’s Last Orders (screenplay Fred Schepisi)

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J.W. Turner’s Fall of the Rhine at Schaffhausen (1806)

I am reading at least seven books at once (tonight I was reading Carrington’s letters for a coming woman artist blog), and having an especially splendid time with one on historical fiction and romance (about which I mean to blog separately). My Daphne DuMaurier Companion is enthusing me to give a “The World of Daphne DuMaurier” course at OLLI Mason this summer (historical romance, The King’s General, to be included), and maybe I will return to my beloved Poldark books in the AU OLLI this fall, to wit, the 1970s great trilogy (Black Moon, Four Swans, Angry Tide). Karen Solie’s “An Enthusiast” (for geology, archealogy) captures what I am implying in about cultivating one’s garden (as Voltaire’s Candide advises):

Endless heritage beneath the heavenly soundshed.
Jet-black amphiboles. Ten varieties of scones
in Elie. Giant centipedes and petrified tree stumps ofthe Devonian
fossil record. Pyrope garnets at the foot

of the Lady’s Tower aren’t quite rare enough
to acquire significant market value, much like the self-taught experts
in autobrecciation and exfoliation weathering
who work their way to the surface of the Coastal Path

at the close of a hard winter. Amateur
geologists, rockhounds, and collectors may be distinguished
by commitments to task-specific outerwear,
but a bin bag rain poncho is not the measure of a person.

Ideas gather around phenomena as though for warmth …

I end on a YouTube of the great song, Hallelujah by the great poet-musician Leonard Cohen. We lost him yesterday. Jim just loved his music, lyrics, the performances, I have several CDs.

Sylvia

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My hardy bush turns fall colors, next to it the silver ferns have morphed into three plants

Friends,

As of yesterday morning, we are waking to sunlight on the east coast of the US. On Saturday night I stayed up an extra hour to finish a blog, watch a movie, read a poem. Then when I woke I was sure I would feel the light and more warmth too.

How it gladdened my eyes. And again this morning — after I went to sleep at my usual midnight hour and woke somewhat earlier. I so hate the black mornings forced on me in October into November. I cannot forget that when I was young, mornings were not dark in October. What a relief. More living time is the way I feel it, to rise to cheer.

Do you know the poetry of Ann Stanford? I once wrote a blog on her poetry — see my “I’ve discovered another great poet!”; this from the Poetry Foundation.

A modern Georgic:

Dreaming the Garden

It is so comfortable there in the garden
You can wear an old toga — Pliny the younger

It must first of all be fun.
There must be an air of insouciance,
of je ne sais quai about it.
Someone else has already moved the stones,
limed the soil. You have only to turn
the shovel lightly. The rains have left
moisture, but not too much.
You plan the lawn, sloping to the terrace,
the marble balustrades, cracks hidden
under the wash of plumbago.
You are half down the slope. Beyond
are oaks and beech trees surrounding the view
of the lake. Beyond it – the lake –
are mountains – green overlaying the hidden villas.
A single boat loiters among lily pads.

But there is work to do.
You put the shovel deep in and turn
up humus, earthworms, a bulb or two
beginning to send a green shaft skyward.
By the lake, back from the point where the
trees obscure the boat now
a cluster of statues watches the view
from atop the columned wall
above the anchorage.
The boat will be heading this way.

To your left past the maze
the lawn edged by nymphs hip-deep in azaleas,
moves toward the folly.
Beside the stairs to the terrace
geraniums flow out of their vases, pink and lavender.
Off toward the south, aisles of lantana
and cannas, the air harsh where the sun
drags the strong scent from the strident blooms.
But on the right, the cascade
plunges through pools, descends in shallow falls
noisy as a brook. Grottoes and archways span and interrupt.
Dolphins rise from the pool
and a great shell collects
the last outflow, from which it vanishes.

You have done so much this morning —
­two shovelfuls of earth. The third
leads to the clipped ilex on the terrace.
Diamonds, circles of low hedge
hold bouquets. The square pool marks
the heart. Beyond,
water and light make the statues move,
the sky a lake of clouds under the arches by
the shell. You walk under the falling tide
with the nymphs who hold spirals of shells
wreathed in ivy.
You go up the water stairs. Cascades rush by
on either hand. Shade dapples the path.
You reach the main pool:
against the hillside a grove,
in the grove the goddess
white, serious, stone, follows the deer
at the edge of the glade. You have come just in time.

2

Start with the bounds. What’s to go out or stay.
The view you’ll keep, the lake, the fading ranges.
Columns of cypress shield the western slope,
as for the south, arrange a grove of olives.
On the north, white oleander
can form a wall beside the avenue.
Over the walk you put an arch of vines.
You must be firm with space. Even the sky
becomes your own.

Divide the sky, let it be lanes or views,
parterres, or rounds of blue above the pool.
Cut it with branches, winter-white, in shapes
of leaded glass, break it with scattered leaves
into shimmering drops, or panes
between the arches of the hedge, or dark with lines
or circles from your vista under the trees.
You’ve set the bounds, laid out the earth and sky.
Whatever you do, things will not stay this way.

3

It helps if you have something old
to set among the hedges:
say a column topped by a statue of Ceres,
behind her a rondure of privet,
or a sundial on a post of white marble
in the circle of lawn.
Where that pile of native stone backs the fountain
a group of nymphs, sporting jets of spray
from the cascade hidden behind the potting shed.
Some urns of terra cotta
can hold salvia, the yellow anthers bright in sun.
Not too much color though.
Let the subtle glow of marble hold your attention.

If you are fortunate, you will find fragments ­–
a broken head of an emperor
the pediment of an altar
or, truly blessed, a faun
tangled in grape leaves.
Set him among boxes of orange
against the ilex hedge,
the gravel path widening before him.
Even a few broken shards
will enhance the wall behind the fountain.

The past must be used –
the sarcophagi flaunting geraniums ­–
and where the wood overtakes you, a path
through the overgrown laurel
the tangle of oak and acacia
always at war with one another.

4

It rains. The lake drowns in haze.
The grove beside it is a distant country.
Fog moves in billows like nymphs escaped from the fountains,
their white drapes drawn about them.
Rain shoots from the downspouts, jets from the mouths
of gargoyles,
or rolls off the roof, splashing and rebounding.
The terrace is a pool catching the gush of waters
from the mouths of eagles, the vases of naiads,
the horse-maned dolphins of the seagod.
The villa is a fountain, where you swim like a minnow
in the green light of leaves dripping their cascades.

The sky darkens. It is a grotto
filled with swaying moss, the dark niches holding satyrs
grinning as they wave obscene fingers
or sneer at you from the green solace of vines.
The terrace where you dug is mud; it melts
sliding down the water stairs
between the troughs where freshets leap
from banks of honeysuckle.
Water runs between the balustrades
in waterfalls that merge
like the outflow of a thousand breasts
into the great pool on the lower terrace
where the hedge floats like a carved isthmus
among islands of clipped lavender.
Water flows from the boughs of the pine trees
pours from the laurels, circles the oranges, dangles in
narrow streams from the walnuts.
The lake must be rising among the oak trees
making a water temple of the columns by the landing.
The statues gaze at their reflections
pocked by descending drops.
You hear the counterpoint of the shattering cascade
off the edge of the roof, the tattoos of rain,
a slow drip, drop, somewhere it shouldn’t be.
The birds have taken to cover.
You hear no sound
but the steady water music of the garden.

5

But it must make sense. The mad cascade
the storm dropped yesterday has destroyed the parterres.
They are sunk in mud. The stairways slipping with dirt
and leaves.
Everything drips – the eaves, the edges of trees, the hedges.
It was more than a water garden, a meeting of too many streams.
After a day of sun, you can clean out the path
wash off the terraces, put drains where streams carried away

the soil.
But today while the clouds decide whether to go or stay
get to details. What is the garden made of?
Planes, levels, paving, paths, trees and hedges,
low plantings and high, sun and shade, color and light.

Down by the lake already there are beeches and oaks,
a drift of wild cyclamen. Farther up for sun
plant a spread of lantana, a border of lilies,
on the terrace end, magnolias; around the reflecting pool
urns of geraniums, plumbago, purple
bougainvillea, vases of lemon set on balustrades
and hedges of laurel, cypress, holly.
For the old walls, jasmine, clematis, honeysuckle, roses
beside iris and loquat, oleanders, mandarins.
For autumn color liquidambars, persimmons, against the
pine trees.
Pomegranate and flowering thyme,
lavender, shrub roses, fuchsias
and wisteria on the steeper banks.
You will want mimosa and orange trees
the acrid scent of alders by the stream.

But your list is already too long
and you’ve left no room for the kitchen garden.
You have forgotten the plan, the cool laying out of the ground.
You have overwhelmed the garden, unthinking as any god.

Stanford’s is a dream garden out of classical tradition by way of Miltonic-Cowperesque traditions as felt by a modern woman poet. So notice how like in Mary Poppins, our gardener can impose order and peace on the sky. How out the waters of the world everything comes alive — as in Burnett’s Secret Garden. it puts me in mind of Vita Sackville-West’s book-long Georgic, The Land and the Garden (for which I wrote a foremother poetry entry in an on-line festival site — so it was called). And for a picture I think of Emily Carr’s bejewelled Canadian landscapes:

emily_carr_tree_in_autumn_
A Tree in Autumn

******************************

Mine is nothing like this; realistically, one of the sides of my body, the right, is too weak to do any effective digging. Still, my small maple tree carries on thriving and come Christmas I’ll be winding colored lights around its branches. A small sign of continued hope.

midafternoonsmallmapleautumn2016
Yes, that’s a Clinton/Kaine sign you see peeping out from in front of my fence, facing the road.

Miss Drake

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While I was gone, Izzy added another performance on video to her repertoire:

Sylvia

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brickdale
This (“Ugly Princess”) is the image wanted for George Eliot’s Romola (by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, 1902)

The face of all the world is changed, I think
since I first heard the footsteps of your soul.
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Dear friends and readers,

This past week I returned to my project of writing blogs on women artists: their lives and work (Joanna Boyce Wells to be specific), and came across this line of poetry, which made me remember Jim in the later phases of our marriage, when we ended up in Virginia and were thrown back on one another; and a picture new to me from one of two new books, Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn’s Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists, both filled with strangely beautiful images and women artist’s names and something of their lives and art. I will be writing from these two books on Austen Reveries for a long time to come. One image from them lit up my mind, of Spillman’s of Dante looking to Virgil to lead him through hell, made me remember how Jim and I used to read Allen Mandelbaum’s translation of the Commedia together now and again: I began to read Dante because Jim loved the Commedia and eventually I taught myself to read Italian so I could read, study and translate women poets of the Italian Renaissance.

DanteVirgilSpillman
Marie Spartalli Spillman (1844-1927, Dante and Virgil in the Dark Wood — Dante to my eyes last night looking like a young woman

I am almost to the end of listening to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as read aloud magnficently mesmerizingly by Gildart Jackson: Shelley’s is an astonishingly original book, with extraordinary for its time new ways of thinking, talking, writing, feeling about death. She was someone deeply griefstruck by loss and life. While indirect (made explicit in Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein film) Frankenstein’s urge to create life comes out of his creator’s urge to bring back those death has destroyed:in the film, his mother, in Mary’s life her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, her babies all but one by Shelley and probably others I don’t know of. Passages like this:

I need not describe the feelings of those whose dearest ties are rent by that most irreparable evil, the void that presents itself to the soul, and the despair that is exhibited on the countenance. It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she whom we saw every day and whose very existence appeared a part of our own can have departed forever—that the brightness of a beloved eye can have been extinguished and the sound of a voice so familiar and dear to the ear can be hushed, never more to be heard. These are the reflections of the first days; but when the lapse of time proves the reality of the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences. Yet from whom has not that rude hand rent away some dear connection? And why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished. My mother was dead, but we had still duties which we ought to perform; we must continue our course with the rest and learn to think ourselves fortunate whilst one remains whom the spoiler has not seized (Chapter 3, 2nd paragraph).

lucymadoxbrownnargaretroper
Lucy Madox Brown, Margaret Roper rescuing the head of her father, Thomas More (1873) — only a mad picture can capture the truth of women’s experience as told to us by Mary Shelley

The monster grieves because he can’t share the burden of his existence with another, he can neither lean on someone or be leant on.

For the course in 19th Century Women of Letters I hope to teach this fall at the OLLI at AU (if they can find parking for participants) I’ll be “doing” Frankenstein with a class, and hope this week to try and then read through Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws on the mother and daughter. I daren’t do Romola as it’s too long and erudite: I conquered it, by listening to Nadia May read it ever so dramatically, touchingly on books-on-tape one summer so I’ve chosen a short story, “Janet’s Repentance” and we’ll read on-line if I can find it, and Eliot’s review of Madame de Sable, a 17th century woman of letters on how “the mind of woman has passed like an electric current through the language of French at the time, and began feminism in books.

When did I begin my feminism? what led to my seeing the world anew and comfortingly, strengtheningly, in which I could see a meaningful purpose for me to work through out of which I started to work on women novelists, women poets, and now women artists.

I was talking with two friends, one in her sixties and the other 72 (I am 69) yesterday over lunch about our “feminism” and I said I did not “convert” until the early 1990s because locally the only feminists I ever saw or knew were to me snobbish, exclusive upper middle girls/women. all white, who I saw as ambitious careerists (a no no for me, especially as seen in these girls) who cared nothing for anyone but wanted power and to show off, girls part of exclusive coteries (meaning from which I was excluded), the AP types who went to name colleges. It was not until I came onto the Net (1992) and met other women and came into contact with books that could speak to me that I began to see the good purpose of the movement. Woolf and highly literary women did not speak frankly and directly enough in ways I could recognize my experiences: A Room of One’s Own mattered but only theoretically and about older literary studies. An unearned income of £500 could mean nothing to me.

Then it happened: crucially for me I saw that for the first time I was given a language in which I could talk about what I had experienced sexually starting around age 12; I found other girls had had the same experiences as I (once I tried to tell a girl and after another girl came over the told me, why did you tell her that, now she is telling everyone, and I was shamed, and never told anyone again for years and years); for the first time I didn’t blame or berate myself but saw a system set up to crush me. The book that made the difference was Mary Pipher Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls; also important were Promiscuities by Naomi Wolf and (covering other areas of de-construction written in a language that I could understand) Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today: A User-friendly Guide. I used the last again and again in teaching after that (not assigning it as I never taught any upper level feminist or theoretical courses), as a help with my own lectures about books. See Signs, Short takes.

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Lucy Madox Brown, Duet (1870)

This is the hardest summer yet. My third without my beloved, the admiral as I used to call him. Summer is hard in ways the other seasons aren’t except at ritual holidays marking passing of time and evoking memory. It seems everyone is having a good time. They go to the beach, take lovely trips, and these sorts of things are not done to see historical or other sites but to be together and happy. I felt left out as do I find many widows. The beach too: I had a strong fit of deep grief when I went to the beach with my friend last January in Florida. I just went to pieces because it is such an emblem of life too. There’s even a term for it: STUG (sudden tremendous upsurge of grief). I watched The City of Your Final Destination this week again for the sake of one line: uttered Laura Linney as the dead man’s widow, though it could have been Anthony Hopkins as the dead man’s gay brother.

How could any outsider
understand this place
or what it was like
to all live here together
or what it’s like now
without him?
— Ruth Jhabvala Prawer, the script outof Peter Cameron’s novel

So for the sake of my heart (literally) I am only going to those few Fringe Festival events that are close by, easy to get to, and classical and good plays I recognize.

Shall I end on an absurd or comic note: I’ve said I stubbed my big toe badly trying to reach Clarycat who appeared to be munching away on one of the computer wires: was in a stinging agony that night, had to take extra strength sleeping pill, lots of spurted blood and what I thought was dry blood sticking out. It wasn’t: it was a broken off big of a piece of wood under my toenail. I had not realized that I’ve been in a dull pain since that Sunday night. The white at the top of the nail was spreading, it was white around the nail (like pus) and it was going a dark dark and shiny red. I thought, maybe I have made it worse by bandaging it to protect it. Made the pressure worse. So I cut a slipper and tried to walk with that. No go.

So I phoned Kaiser for the second time, and it emerged from talk with an advice nurse, I may have an infection. I needed to come in that day. So after teaching, after the above, lunch, garmin plugged in, I drive from lunch place to the offices in less than 20 minutes. Dr Wiltz had actually phoned me and suggested I got to a podiatrist. When I arrive, she takes a look at it and pronounces “you have a piece of wood, a splinter there, no wonder the pressure hurt.” It took only years of study and a specialist to understand what we were looking at. She numbs the big toe thoroughly (more needles) and then clips half the nail off. Blessed relief: pain, pressure gone. For my bleeding disorder she had a new thing: a local coagulant. So now I should get better.

Who would have cats? it’s not their fault. They were being cats. My desk is old – Jim bought it as a present for me in 1970 when I started graduate school and I have lived sitting by and writing on it and now on this computer for half a century. When I stubbed the toe I drove a splinter from one of its drawers into it.

IngLook
Ing Look (supplied by my kind Net-friend, Sixtine)

My friend, Phyllis, said I had accepted all this pain because I expect to be miserable. That’s funny too. That’s what Austen’s Mrs Dashwood says about Elinor, my favorite character in all literature.

Miss Drake

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Whitetulips
Now the tulips are coming up white

Friends,

I find some verses for today, a possible source for future Caturday (on this blog Sunday) poetry, and return to Mary Poppins yet again.

I first wrote about these books and the 1960s movies in my earliest blog (2005 Two Wildly Disparate MPs) and the first Christmas Izzy and I got through after Jim died (“Saving Mr Banks”), and stirred read a very good biography (Pamela Lyndon Travers). It was an important book for me when I was 8 or 9 living in a Bronx slum: I loved best of the books, Mary Poppins in the Park. So for a fourth time:

One of my favorite weekly columns is NB, still the last page of TLS (aka Times Literary Supplement). When Murdock first bought TLS, and cut it down savagely, long pages turned into tabloid size, one quarter as many pages as it once had.

Book Notes or NB by J.C. was one of the first columns headed for the cutter. Murdock just couldn’t see the point of it. But more howls from readers, brought NB back, and I for one read J.C.’s three-quarter page NB each week. It’s all sorts of things: mostly he visits bookshops; he muses over what he read this week in other publications, he goes on about what was a fashionable topic last week.

19thcenturyfauxbookshop (Medium)

Whatever catches an eye alert for cant and genuineness.

Last week (April 1, 2016, p 32) J.C. opened with the not-so-subtle hypocrisies underlying the sudden appearance of reviews of the (godawful) poetry of Eileen Myles (its her transvestite, outrageously colored clothes and connection to Mapplethorpe). Sometimes J.C. reviews reviews; or as this week makes gentle humor (one of his gifts) out of the latest idiocy (gimmick?) allowing for yet another book “about” Shakespeare or his plays. J.C. has a gift for making the dullest writing reveal sub-treasures of unconscious transparent give-aways of assumptions. And NB is informative.

The last paragraph of this week’s NB is about the popularity of cats: “Literary cats are climbing the curtains and tearing the stuffing out of the sofa.” Individuals whose names have recognition + “on cats.” And anthologies of cat poetry. One is Fe-lines: French cat poems through the ages, chosen and translated by Norman Shapiro. I have his very fat anthology of French poetry by women (translated by different poet-translators) through the ages. Fe-lines is said to include 200 poems, among them “Black Cat” by Rilke, Louis Codet’s “Grey Cat” and “White Cat” by Claude Roy. Songs include Brassens’s “Margot” and “Le Java de Pussy-cats” by Boris Vian” which “turns the familiar ‘god-awful racket’ of nocturnal cats into a grand party:

And long and loud, mid meows and mews
Echoed the racucous birthday spree
Wearing out lots of dancing shoes
In rowdy puzzy revelry.

Vian’s French:

Toute la nuit il danserent
En usant des kilos d’savates
Pour leur anniversaire
La java des pussy-cats”

J.C.”

And after finding a used copy of the book on Textbooks.com and purchasing it I came to Mary Poppins by way of Susan Herbert: Ayez la patience, gentle reader.

HerbertMusicalCats
Susan Herbert’s “Mary Poppins,” from The Musicals (I know this is Eliza Doolittle but the two represent the same typology)

I wrote last week about living in or at least visiting each day peopled worlds; a friend used the perceptive phrase, “an outwardly involved life.” Yes. I don’t fashion it the way I fashion blogs; I wish I could follow Pascal’s wise prescription more — I’d read whole good books more, follow though on long-time projects. I’ve a new idea for a book, how to turn the five chapters (put together quite fat and detailed) that I’ve written as “A Place of Refuge: the Sense and Sensibility Films” into a slender book. Besides this I sometimes wish that Jim, my captain, my admiral, would have been more social with me and I blame myself in the last years of his retirement for not trying to bring him out of himself: would he have been happier, more fulfilled? He was in a way retreating ever more into himself — and opera. But perhaps I would not have succeeded. He could be stubborn (adamantine, gentle reader), and he would be so alive to the flaws I too see in the satisfactions of peopled worlds. I regret much as I look back on my whole life, and now in those last few years of his complete retirement (when he stopped working for money completely), but I am not sure he was wrong.

My image was that of a roundabout or merry-go-round. The image of a cabaret also resonates with many people. What’s the use of sitting alone in your room, come hear the music play, come to the cabaret … As gussied up for fantasias the roundabout becomes a carousel. There’s the remarkable prelude to the 1950s musical Carousel: it’s even been performed at the Proms (which Jim and I went to twice) and when he was younger, he’d listen to each year on the radio

Life as like being on a carousel: you pay a price to get on, and then you go round and round for a while, get off and on, and sometimes the world of the stop is the same, and sometimes utterly changed. There are the “regulars” there each time, and those who change, but all eager to assert no obligation to be there again next time. And then there are those who vanish altogether. Like the “daffodils which catch the winds of March with beauty before the swallow dares … ”

And I suddenly remembered episodes from one of my favorite books from childhood: P. L. Travers’s Mary Poppins. I’ve written about Pamela Lyndon Travers, her books, the Disney movies, her life on Austen Reveries. My first image was of her on a carousel, now with the children and they get on and off and visit some marvelous land, but maybe that never happened and it’s a product of vague memories of the 1968 movie which takes off from the episode in the book where Mary Poppins and the children with Bert through his chalk drawing (on the sidewalk, their entry) find themselves in a park, drink tea, eat sweet deserts, and the carousel is in the distance.

mary-poppins_1934.jg

Then then it did come to me finally that she vanished at the close of Mary Poppins Comes Back through a carousel that became cosmic:

merrygoround

She vanished as the carousel lifted ever higher and higher into the pitiless silent sky.

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A carousel horse from the original 1960s Mary Poppins movie

Posted by Miss Drake

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