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Posts Tagged ‘poetry day’


Victoria Crowe (b. 1945), November Windows, Reflecting

“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world” — Virginia Woolf

Friends and readers

As many know who might be reading this blog, this third Thursday of November brings the annual US Thanksgiving day. Like Christmas is a Winter Solstice festival, so this is an autumnal day for memories. We are urged to get together with other people to remember what happened this year that was good, something that meant a lot to us. I can’t meet either demand tonight for myself. The bar is too high. Some good things happened, nothing spectacularly bad.


Laura at a press conference for a Downton Abbey exhibit in New York City, with Joanne Froggartf (Anna Bates)

I can say that my older daughter had become a paid freelance entertainer blogger last year here on the Net where she created and made a great success out of an entertainment blog, Fan-Sided, and is very pleased this year to be regular (in effect staff) writer for WETA, specialty British mini-series. You see her above with a central actress in the once stupendously popular Downton Abbey; Laura had told Froggartt that her mother especially bonded with the character of Anna, and Froggartt was generous enough to insist on sending a photograph of herself with my daughter. Izzy carried on being a successful librarian. They are now blogging together (Ani & Izzy). Those who read this blog regularly know how I spent the year.

I’m in contact with a friend I made at Road Scholar in the Highlands this summer; if I can get up the courage (I know how to do this one), I may go to NYC for three days during December through February (that’s the window of opportunity) to see said exhibit on Downton Abbey, go to a Trollope lecture, play on or off Broadway and then home. Two more photos Laura took:


Leslie Nicol (Mrs Patmore) and Sophia McShera (Daisy) with on-site actors as cooks


The set for the bedroom

Happily this week our local quasi-art movie-house has three (!) decent movies so tomorrow I’ll go with my friend, Vivian to see a film by a film-maker whose work I enjoy very much, Agnes Vara’s Faces Places, on Thursday Izzy and I will make a roast chicken (more than the two of us can eat) and go again to see the latest Jane Goodall documentary, Jane. I used to show these to my writing class in Natural science and tech, and Saturday night, weather permitting or not, Vivian and I bought tickets to go to our first ghost tour in Alexandria. Neither of us have ever done one before. The third is Abdul and Victoria, which I hope will be there next week as I shall go with another friend, Panorea, after which we’ll do lunch. I’ve bought the book.

I am somewhat relieved that teaching is coming to an end for this semester next week, and I’ve just about finished two Austen papers for publication, one (seasonally enough) “For there is nothing lost, that may be found, Charlotte Smith in Jane Austen’s [autumnal] Persuasion” (to be linked in when it appears), in which I quote from Smith’s

Sonnet 32: To Melancholy

Written on the banks of the Arun, October 1785
When latest Autumn spreads her evening veil,
And the grey mists from these dim waves arise,
I love to listen to the hollow sighs,
Thro’ the half-leafless wood that breathes the gale:
For at such hours the shadowy phantom pale,
Oft seems to fleet before the poet’s eye;
Strange sounds are heard, and mournful melodies,
As of night-wanderers, who their woes bewail!
Here, by his native stream, at such an hour,
Pity’s own Otway I methinks could meet,
And hear his deep sighs swell the sadden’d wind!
O Melancholy! — such thy magic power,
That to the soul these dreams are often sweet,
And soothe the pensive visionary mind!
— by Charlotte Smith


The beach at Lyme (1995 BBC Persuasion, Roger Michell)


Anne is “minded” to accept Wentworth — Sally Hawkins — how I loved her Maudie, near my favorite actress at this point (2007 ITV Persuasion Simon Burke)

Three reports from the recent AGM: Post-Austen matters (Gillian Dow, Whit Stillman); Fervency (Devoney Looser, Sanditon, Susan Allen Ford); Among Janeites (Sandy Lerner et aliae)

I can look forward now to throwing myself into my part of a paper on Virginia Woolf and Samuel Johnson as biographers, and at long last moving again on my book project on Winston Graham, author of the Poldark novels (in case you forgot). I like autumn; after all, autumn is the (as it were) continual season in Leeds, England, where Jim and I met, married and lived the first two very happy years of our lives together, a place and atmosphere idealized repeatedly by Alan Bennet’s favorite painter, John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-93)

A November afternoon in Leeds (1881?).

My cats will be more talkative than in the next couple of months than me (they talk a lot nowadays), at any rate make more sound — my talk being of the writing kind. And I thought I’d begin this time with a second poem, this anticipating the season to come, by Patricia Fargnoli (from her volume Harrowed, which I’ve been reading nightly)

Winter Grace

If you have seen the snow
under the lamppost
piled up like a white beaver hat on the picnic table
or somewhere slowly falling
into the brook
to be swallowed by water,
then you have seen beauty
and know it for its transience.
And if you have gone out in the snow
for only the pleasure
of walking barely protected
from the galaxies,
the flakes settling on your parka
like the dust from just-born stars,
the cold waking you
as if from long sleeping,
then you can understand
how, more often than not,
truth is found in silence,
how the natural world comes to you
if you go out to meet it,
its icy ditches filled with dead weeds,
its vacant birdhouses, and dens
full of the sleeping.
But this is the slowed down season
held fast by darkness
and if no one comes to keep you company
then keep watch over your own solitude.
In that stillness, you will learn
with your whole body
the significance of cold
and the night,
which is otherwise always eluding you.


Duncan Grant (1885-1978), Angelica Garnett (his daughter)

I’ve been reading a marvelous biography by Frances Spalding, Roger Fry: Art and Life, alongside Virginia Woolf’s equally (but differently) profound Roger Fry, a biography. I like his landscapes very much, but also his thoughts on art as explicated by both women. Orlando is (I think) more profound, as (dare I say it), Richard Holmes’s book on Samuel Johnson’s Life of Savage, Dr Johnson and Mr Savage, if not as passionately alive with a life, more profound with true insight. I will end on a few of these:

For once the disease of reading has laid hold upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing … Memory is her seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one …

Your only safety, your salvation is

Obscurity … dark, ample and free; obscurity lets the mind take its way unimpeded. Over the obscure man is poured the merciful suffussion of darkness. None knows where he goes or comes. He may seek the truth and speak it; he alone is free; he alone is truthful … being like a wave which returns to the deep body of the sea; thinking how obscurity rids the mind of the irk of envy and spite … allowing the giving and taking without thanks … (Orlando, Chapter 2, pp 56-77)

From Spalding’s Fry: “each of those things is accepted as a symbol of a particular social status. [Most people like art which bestows status on them, will go only to art and lectures where someone’s prestige is asserted.] I say their contemplation can give no one pleasure …” In contrast: “Here nothing is for effect, no heightening of emotion, no underlining .. an even, impartial, contemplation of what is essential — of the meaning which lies quite apart from the associated ideas and the use and wont of the things of life” (209, 175)


David Tutwiler, American Railroad Art

In Johnson’s hands, biography became a rival to the novel. It began to pose the largest, imaginative questions. How well can we learn from someone else’s struggles about the conditions of our own; what do the intimate circumstances of one particular life tell us about about human nature in general … the long journey of research and writing, somewhere behind them walk the companionable figures of these two eighteenth century presences, talking and arguing through a labyrinth of dark night streets, trying to find a recognisable human truth together … if my book’s title strikes some curious chord in the reader’s mind, it came to me on such a night in the small, deserted public garden that now stands behind St John’s Gate in the City, when a light winter rain was falling like a mist round the lamps. The echo you hear, of course, is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Richard Holmes, the final page).

Perhaps the problem with Woolf’s biography of Fry is he’s not an alter ego (why it feels so distant), while Vita Sackville-West, about whom and whose house Orlando swirls, could be, or is. Virginia is Orlando too. Latest book: Vita & Virginia: the work and friendship of V. Sackville West & Virginia Woolf. I have now joined the Virginia Woolf Listserv attached to the International Virginia Woolf Society. I’ve belonged since 2003, and when I went to MLA meetings, went to every one of their sessions, and once to one of their parties.


Tilda Swinton as Orlando in just one of many incarnations

One coming loss: my Women Writers through the Ages @ Yahoo keeps going awry so no messages may sent or received. There is no one and no where to ask for help. The sites offered take me round and round or offer only boilerplate explanations. I need to move or invite to move the few people still there elsewhere. If not, and this software equipment continues to function badly, I’ll lose some friendships. I hope it does not come to this. I know I’ll return to reading more book of Renaissance women as that is one area few people seem to want to join in on that I know. The very first adult books I ever read were dark brown tomes of the lives of Margaret of Navarre and Jeanne d’Albret. A book on one of TBR piles is Francoise Kermina’s life of her, La Mere passionee d’Henri IV — Kermina wrote the best life I ever read of Madame Roland. Another is Enzo Striano’s Il Resto de Niente, a life of Eleonora Pimental de Fonseca, hung during a revolution in Naples, 1798 (her death concludes Sontag’s Volcano Lover. And study my French and Italian. Nothing is more deeply engaging than going back and forth with women’s poetry. I try hard not to be isolated but if I find I am, I’ll turn back to where I began. I don’t want to kill myself.

My Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall lectures/discussions with my OLLI class at American University are going very well and they make me want to return to good biographies and literary studies of such women and the Renaissance too.

This comment by MacFarquhar on why Mantel is drawn to historical fiction might interest some

MacFarquhar on Hilary Mantel and historical fiction: What sort of person writes fiction about the past? It is helpful to be acquainted with violence, because the past is violent. It is necessary to know that the people who live there are not the same as people now. It is necessary to understand that the dead are real, and have power over the living. It is helpful to have encountered the dead firsthand, in the form of ghosts … The writer’s relationship with a historical character is in some ways less intimate than with a fictional one: the historical character is elusive and far away, so there is more distance between them. But there is also more equality between them, and more longing; when he dies, real mourning is possible.

I cannot bring Jim back, I cannot reach him. Perhaps through writing fiction, biography one does. A ghostliness; there is a real feeling of the author and heroine beating death in Outlander when she returns to Scotland; and, while there, when the novel switches to the present and characters go look at the graves of those the heroine is with in the 18th century; it has this eerie feel.. Other titles by Mantel are Beyond Black (“Black Book” a subtitle for one of Gabaldon’s chapters) and Giving up the Ghost and I’ve learned Mantel’s first popular books were macabre gothics. Winston Graham’s short stories are ghostly chilling gothics.


Dead Nettle Fairies of Winter by Ciceley Mary Barker — thanks to Camille-Sixtine who has again vanished from face-book

I need to read, to listen to Gaskell’s Life of Bronte. When I’m with aka reading Gaskell, I feel I’m with a friend.

Miss Drake

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How to be in the world?

Dear Friends and readers,

Today it came to me that my journey is reading books, reading and writing about them. That is my life. A journey, through time, using it, through gazing at and talking and writing about art, pictures, landscapes, and now films too. I experience much more when I feel others read and respond favorably to what I have said or written, when I can hear and read what others say and write. That’s the business of my life, my vocation, my occupation.

I interrupt this to be with friends: letters, conversation, congenial acquaintances; to go out into what’s outside; most often cultural events, but I like to wander about, walk, swim, drive and take a train too, even exercise. Teaching. At home eat, sleep, clean self, hair, house (hire someone for this last) dress, tidy up, do washes, put stuff in the drier, keep yard/garden in order (ditto on hiring). Reviewing books — following trails (Looser’s The making of Jane Austen takes me into Helen Jerome’s Pride and Prejudice: a Stage Play, Constance and Ellen Hill’s Jane Austen: Her Home and Friends, Woolf’s First Common Reader‘s “Obscure Lives,” as Mary Russell Mitford). Sometimes I have to shop. And then there are the occasional demands: maintenance (bills, doctors, car). Doing lunch with others. Dining out. Doing conferences, lectures. Museums.

I used to make a joke of this to myself when I would find myself in my chair again, in front of my desk, and my computer: here I am back again, to where I was before I was so rudely interrupted.

Right now beyond Mantel’s masterpiece Wolf Hall, Oliphant’s Kirsteen: The Story of a Scotch Family Seventy Years Ago, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (in PP&V translation), Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography: Richard Holmes’s very great Dr Johnson and Mr Savage, Francis Spalding’s Roger Fry: Art and Life, Winston Graham’s quiet Stranger from the Sea.

Cannot do without a woman’s book to be getting on with, companioning myself: going slowly through a memoir, Frances Borzello’s Seeing Ourselves (“Women’s Self Portraits”); Katherine Frank’s A Passage to Egypt: The Life of Lucie Duff Gordon; longing for Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands, Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn (as appropriate). Curious as a compare to Winston Graham and just awful male film noirs (which I force myself through for a course, as Orson Welles’s A Touch of Evil) I’ll say Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place.

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How to have an identity when I have lost mine?

Ye ken the greylag, yeah, it mates for life?
You kill a grown one, out hunting, you must wait
For its mate will come to mourn.
Then ye must kill that one too,
otherwise,
it will grieve itself to death
Calling through the skies for the lost one.
— Joy Blake’s First Wife, out of Diana Gabaldon

Haunted by an absence which is a presence because I am in his deathtime, because with Izzy I keep his deathtime alive, his memory. For people have a deathtime as long as others are alive who remember them, and who carry on; those who are left, become different people, trying to lead the same lives.

Much Afraid went over the river,
though none knew what she sang —
— William Empson’s “Courage Means Running,” from Collected Poems

So, keeping awareness of literal aloneness at bay: talking, talking by writing, listening to talk, reading talk, physical affection (as in hugs, lying close, body to body). What else are pussycats for? besides themselves — not alone when they sit and wait, reach out with paws, jump on lap, squat down, press bodies against my chest, head side against mine.

Listening to books on CDs (just now Davina Porter reading all of Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber), on desktop downloaded. Reading poetry (Patricia Fargnoli’s Hallowed, bouts of Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, edd. Grace Bauer and Julie Kane — it has a section, “Mothers, Daughters, Growing up A Girl”). Hearing Voices (title of book by Penelope Fitzgerald, based on her time with BBC radio).

Hearing music on the radio. Making supper together Izzy and I listen to celtic songs. Also watching movies, presences (just now, Fred Schepisi’s Last Orders, the two mini-series Wolf Hall, Outlander, Seasons 1 and 3)


End of Autumn Day

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Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot see her falconer.

A problem I never used to have: [the difficulty of enclosing oneself away for] writing books, long essays, slow communing and development of ideas. Almost there (one of the great memoirs, by Nuala O’Faolain).

Not far to go now, Jim.

Stay for me there, I will not fail
To meet thee in that hollow vale.
And think not much of my delay …
[I] follow thee with all [good] speed
Desire can make, or sorrows breed …
— Henry King’s Exequy for his Wife

The tragedy, my dear, is you are missing out, you could be here with me tonight and we happy in life’s chains.

So, Night-existence: I am become a blogger


Clarycat’s toy mouse

Most of the time I am telling here of the interruptions. Now the right emphasis.

Miss Drake

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My front yard this morning after a night and morning long rain of icy-snow — daffodils in snow!

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you — A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh [he speaks for me now when I think of Jim whose Latin copy of this book I have in my house]

Friends,

About a month ago I wrote about an Iranian film by Ashgar Farhadi, English title, Salesman (2016); I praised it highly and urged people who wanted to begin to learn something of Iranian and Muslim culture to see it. Last week I watched another earlier film by Farhadi, A Separation (2011). It won many awards, and is a better film because it’s not shaped by a “whodunit?” format (who assaulted the wife), and there is no climactic pathetic denouement. In this case I had rented a DVD which enabled me to change the language so I could listen to the actors speaking in French and as the film went on began to pick up a good deal (as I cannot from Farsi) partly using the subtitles. Reviews more or less uniformly credited the film with presenting a portrait of a modern nation during a troubled period attempting to live under Islamic or religious law


The opening shots: the two are facing the judge, she reasoning with him …

The story is quite complicated because so much nuanced reality is brought out: we have a couple whose marriage is shot; Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave Iran in order that her daughter, Termeh (Sarian Farhadi) be brought up in a culture with different norms; Nader (Payman Mooadi) sees his father’s needs as primary (the old man has advanged Alzheimer’s disease). When she files for divorce and it’s not granted (her complaints are said to be trivial), she goes to live with her parents as she does not want to leave without her daughter. Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a devout Muslim woman desperate for money to stay with his father and care for him all day; the work is arduous, she has a small daughter with her and it emerges is pregnant. He comes home in the middle of the day to find her gone, his father seeming near death tied to a bedpost to prevent him wandering out of the house, and a sum of money equivalent to her salary gone. He goes into a rage and when she returns and has no explanation, he shoves her out of the house. A little later Razieh’s sister informs Simin that Razieh has miscarried. So this is the core event about one quarter into the film. The rest is consequences.

Razieh’s husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), a violent man initiates a prosecution for murder. A long series of scenes brings a number of witnesses to a judge (a teacher, neighbors, the daughter) and among other suspicions, it may be Hodjat hit Razieh, she may have gone to a gynecologist on her own (regarded as very suspicious); we learn Hodjat is vitriolically angry at his lack of a job and incensed at his wife at every turn (she never asked permission to work), and he is pressured by his family into accepting “blood” money, only to lose it when Nader asks Razieh to swear on a Quaran that she believes he caused her miscarriage. Razieh cannot get herself to tell a lie lest God punish her. Continual bickerings go on, the judge’s attitudes towards the men (Nader begs the judge not to jail him), the inflexibility of the laws, all around these people the busy streets, cars and bikes everywhere, the run-down buildings, the expensive schools (with girls kept in), everyone else seeming to be on the edge of quarreling, male shouts, women in burkas following behind men in modern clothes; little girls with covered heads following the mother. As with Salesman, these people live in these tight-knit groups, almost never apart. As with Salesman we see how human nature works its way through and is exacerbated by Muslim norms. No one is seen as criminal (in the way the man who assaults the woman in Salesman is). The film ends with similar ambiguity: it seems the old father is dead, Simin is again asking for divorce and permission to take her daughter out of the country; this time divorce is granted and Tehmen is asked which parent she chooses. She won’t speak in front of them. We see them waiting on the opposite side of a corridor with a glass wall between them. The film has come to its end.


Razieh — characteristic shot


She also stands so silently and often from the side

The characters are granted a depth of psychological reality, the circumstances fully developed sociologically and culturally; it’s superior to the American trilogy I saw in January, The Gabriels, because there is no urge towards allegory; you cannot fit what is happening into a particular political point of view. For my part since the wife was not centrally part of the action much of the time, I didn’t bond with her as her intimate self was not seen; it was Razieh who occupies the center of many scenes of around whose conduct or presence everything swirls. One is driven to enter into the mindset of this Muslim woman who herself tells as little as she can get away with.

I mean to rent his The Past next. This also a critically-acclaimed film, and it too can be listened to as a French film with subtitles. The very least one can do now is to try to understand Muslim culture in the middle east. I have read the monster who is now the US president is hiring yet another 10,000 immigration agents to prosecute the military action of ejecting 11 million people from the US, and banning as many Muslims as the law allows him to from ever entering.

I’ll mention in passing that on Saturday night I managed to drive to see at an Arlington Theater a black spiritual music rendition of Sophocles’s third Oedipus play as The Gospel at Colonnus. I say manage because when I arrived, I discovered the wrong address, a different theater had been cited, and to go I had to rush out, using my Waze software on my cell phone (programmed by a young woman at the box office) following directions half-madly (it was dark and I kept not being able to read the street names so missing turns) to reach another theater where it was playing. For similar reasons to A Separation, everyone, especially everyone of white-European heritage should see it.

I got there late (really just on time with several others rushing over) and one of the ushers actually helped me to a much better seat as I could not see from the back, and then another patron exchanged seats with me so I could have a chair with a back (I do not look young or strong, gentle reader). It’s not great, but the depth of earnest emotion and intelligence, the strong reaching out in song, the beauty and well-meaningness of the anguished lines and powerful acting (they gave it their all) should be experienced. It’s not Hamilton but surely some of the feeling of a black ensemble was so analogous. They wore typical suits one sees young black men sometimes wear, church gowns for the choir, Ismene and Antigone exotic kinds of headgear with gorgeous gowns, the preacher well preacher-clothes and Oedipus clearly blind, a heavy man, with gravitas. I feel so profoundly ashamed to be a white person living in America today and stood to applaud as my way of endorsing all of us to live as equals, equally safe together.

So much harm is planned: to deprive 24 million slowly of health care. To cut off mental health services yet more. Many more people will now kill themselves: separated from their families and friends and lives with no recourse or help; snatched out of churches, streets, for paying their taxes; isolated. At least three Muslim and/or Indian people have been shot dead by white supremacists. Bomb threats and desecration of Jewish graves and institutions occur daily. The Ku Klux Klan wants a public rally in a major town center in Georgia. LGBT people and children in public schools now going to be subject to bullying and given less funds. This is what Trump and his regime (this is no longer called an administration) want: the Syrian president directly murders, bombs, tortures people who live in the land he wants to control; this new rump are more indirect but just as unfazed, unashamed and determined. Destroy as far as they can a whole way of life. I’ve known for a long time the Republican point of view is one which disdains compassion (why Bush fils called his brand compassionate conservativism); their scorn for protest is caught up in the word whine. Joy only for the super-rich. Beneath it all hatred for people like us.

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Emma (Kate Beckinsale) painting Harriet (Samantha Morton) (1995 Emma, scripted Andrew Davies)

This has been a very stressful week. My doctor suggested to me a 10 hour trip was dangerous; consider the 8th hour of driving, consider, he said, the 9th; how easy to tire, how easy to lose your way, and then tired and anxious, it’s a risk; even a 5 hour trip on two days was something I needed to think about and plan for by being sure to have a comfortable place to stay overnight half-way. Then when I finally looked again into taking a plane, I discovered that there was one flight to and from Burlington, Vermont, on Saturday it occurred half an hour after I was to give my paper; and I had to go through Expedia to buy the tickets. And someone from the conference drive there to pick me up and deliver me back. I worry about my cats again as a contractor and his workmen may be here while I’d be gone for 4 days. I might have to board them. Still, I almost bought that ticket but was advised by the conference head as “an older sister,” maybe not. So I finished my paper, “Ekphrastic Patterns in Jane Austen,” and think it is splendid and sent it to the organizer of the Jane Austen and the Arts conference at Plattsburgh, New York. She offered to read it aloud, sparing me a difficult arduous trip.


A watercolor by Turner of Lyme Regis seen from Charmouth (as in Persuasion)

I am turning my attention to my teaching, delving the Booker Prize phenomena in the context of modern book selling. I might set aside some of my on-going projects — though I will still write a full summary review blog of an important book, Julie Carlson and Elisabeth Weber’s Speaking of Torture and feature it in my central blog as something I can do against the present deeply harm-causing regime.

I am seriously thinking of trying a new book project, even begun work on it: a literary biography of Winston Graham, author of the Poldark books and by extension, the films; and am doing preliminary reading before writing his son to see if he would be agreeable to such a project and if he would help (for example, I would need to see Graham’s letters or private papers, the life-blood of biography). I would focus in the second half on his Poldark novels, so relationship to Cornwall, and finally the films.


The lizard, full sunlit — a paratext for season 2 of the new Poldark (2016)


One of the actresses’s cloaks …. for Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson)

The man I hired as a general contractor has begun work on my house, and already the porch is at long last enclosed by four walls, and has two windows which match the other windows in front. The whole process, all that needs to be done, will take about 2-3 weeks he says. (At most?) My beloved cats have to be put away once more in Izzy’s room while he and his workmen are about.


Kedi (2017, film about hundreds of thousands of Istanbul cats, genre: post-modern historical)

So I end on another film I saw with Izzy and my friend, Phyllis, this Sunday. I liked it so much I’m going again on Thursday with another friend, Vivian: Kedi. Kedi is ostensibly a film about the thousands of cats who live on the streets of Istanbul. We are told the story of at least 20 different individual cats and/or groups of cat (mother and kittens), usually (this is important) by the person who is providing food and care and often affection. The emphasis in some stories is the cat, in others the cat-lover and why his or her deep kindness and the good feeling and love he or she receives in return. I imagine much filming was necessary to capture the cat’s lives, and real social effort to get the caring people to talk to the director and film-makers .The film tells as much about these individuals and why they have taken it upon themselves (some of them go to vets for medicine or seemingly regular check-ups) to keep these cats alive and thriving — as far as one can thrive while living on a street: most of the adult cats look thin, and the babies are tiny, feeble. It’s really about Istanbul and its culture: vast areas of the city are impoverished, people living on the edge in a modern city. Erdogan’s name everywhere. A thriving garbage culture. The sea central to the feel of the place: I remembered reading Orphan Pamuk’s wonderful book about this world of Istanbul he grew up and lives in now.

It’s a movie made out of a deeply humanitarian spirit: real compassion for those who need the cats (the cats are therapy for some), identification and pity for some of the cats’ actions (one grey cat never goes into the restaurant, just bangs on the window in his or her need, stretched body reaching as high as possible). One of the sweetest moments (for a person like me who values language) was when one of the cat-caretakers in talking of the cat says in the middle of his Turkish a word sounding much like our English meow. So to Turkish ears cats make the same sounds. We watch cats doing all sorts of things, climbing high, fighting, eating, drinking, seeking affection, seeking prey, far too high up on a building, hiding out in cardboard boxes set up for them. By the end the cats are us; they stand for our own hard and at times fulfilling existential lives. I loved the one man on the ship who said he was so grateful for his cat’s love. Another who felt some divinity in the whole experience of life with cats in Istanbul. I, my friend, and Izzy were touched, vivified; for myself I knew some moments of shared joy as I watched so that tears came to my eyes. I just felt better about life after it concluded.

Of course I told Izzy about Christopher Smart, wrongly put into an insane asylum, treated cruelly, his only companion, a cat, Jeffrey, and read aloud to Izzy the famous lines:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.


One of Laura’s cats looking at her with loving eyes (very well taken care of)

Miss Drake

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darkredfloweringbush
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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Firebird-640
Firebird at Wolf Trap

Friends,

Mirable dictu is luckier than I, for she has photos of a thriving large bookstore in her area which has been going for decades, and has included as a customer Barack Obama. If you include the DC area as part of my home area, there are a couple of equally thriving, possibly larger bookstores: Poets and Busboys in central DC, and Politics and Prose in the Northwest are two I’ve gone to. They both survive by hosting lecture series, book clubs, poetry readings, and occasionally even a play or concert (on a small stage). My bookstore memories are of vanished bookstores in Virginia and New York City. Second story used to have a bookstore in Alexandria that filled a long block and was two stories high: now there is a modest exterior (unpretentious they call it) and book filled one in DC, in Maryland and on-line site.

second-story-books-interior
Interior of the couple of mortar-and-cement Second Story bookstores left (DC)

I remember spending hours in such places. Then they had no cafeterias, or most didn’t; they were places occasionally to find a treasure I didn’t know existed. I can’t say that I regret being able to locate precisely the book I want from across the world on-line; I do reach much better books, ones I know I want, no comparison with the book I hadn’t expected. But I do miss the older experience, and especially with Jim in another part of the store. After we had had our finds, we’d come together again. Part of the pleasure was that he was there. In a small way Izzy and I replicate that twice a year in the increasingly smaller Northern Virginia Booksale (potlatch) that takes place in the large George Mason Library (nothing to do with the university): we go together, and we sometimes take as long as half an hour apart, and then find one another with our small stack of books and buy and bring them home.

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

Lovelybush
This is the way this flowering bush looked a week and a half ago — no longer

It’s been brutally hot for days and days. Ferocious by 2 in the afternoon. Air unhealthy. 118F index (including humidity, pollution and whatever else goes into that number) this past Sunday. On the Saturday night it was 95F (not the index figure, just the plain fahrenheit number) at Wolf Trap park and most people were covered in sweat, some dripping. We had come to hear Prokofiev’s first symphony and the Maurice Ravel Mother Goose suite, as prologue to Stravinsky’s Firebird. re-allegorized as a history of apartheid in South Africa. The National Symphony played achingly beautifully, and the dance, ballet, and symbolic action for Firebird was done by stick puppets and dancers as conceived by Janni Younge and choreographed by Jay Pather. It was a cumulative experience that felt magnificent by the time they’d done. Izzy’s blog will give you a flavor of the music: she admits we both fell asleep near the very end, it was that hot and we had come to the lecture and had had a long day.

The-Kind-Words
The three siblings

During such times one moves from air-conditioned house to car to building (I go to the gym for Body Strengthening 4, swim as well or long as I can — half an hour) and out to movies. The Film Club at Cinema Art Theater (Va) still goes on and this Sunday I saw the best commercial movie-house film I’ve seen since 45 Years, and before that probably last year’s Film Club’s Kilo Two Bravo: Shemi Zarhin’s The Kind Words. I hope it is released to the general public and turns up at Cinema Art so I can see it again. The reviews I’ve found (Leslie Felperin, TIFF) don’t do it justice.

thefather
They want kind words from him

It is sentimental at moments (it idealizes the family to some extent) but its story of a Jewish girl coerced into leaving her French-Algerian-Arab lover, into marrying an Israeli man, and for years escaping to be with him and (improbably) getting pregnant (three times) to give birth back in Israel. She dies; her husband had left her for a younger woman and discovered he is unable to produce sperm, so we are treated to a half-comic, rueful yet at time deeply felt search by her three children for their biological father. A young woman who has left a loving husband because she’s tired of miscarriages; a young man who is gay but has a child living in another country; a young man who wants meaning and has married a Brooklyn girl and is allowing her and her family into making him into a religious Jew which he is not. He is intolerant towards his gay brother. They and the sister’s husband go in a semi-comic quest for this biological father, and while they do this, they find out more about themselves, learn some humility.

When they find him in a half-abandoned quarter of Marseilles, the biological father (played by the extraordinary Maurice Benichou who has been in Michael Haneke films) is an aging man lives alone with his memories, records and a few books, seemingly poverty-stricken, he will not open his soul (or their mother’s) to them. He will not admit he is their father because (like her sister), he promised not to tell. He asks them, what do they want of him now? It’s a fable against intolerance, nationalism, defining yourself by your religion, ethnicity, status, money. Its greatest line is uttered by Benichou when his biological daughter persists in asking him what is his religion, nationality, and keeps getting a “no” to this one or that (no, he is not Jewish, no he is not an Arab, no he is not French, nor Algerian), he says “why is this so important to you?”

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

Izzy and I have had some terrible troubles with our plane tickets for our coming trips: it appears either we did not see or the times for lay-overs were changed, so that when this week I went to double-check our plane reservations before seeing about getting money to pay for the Cornwall cottage, I discovered one includes a 10 hour lay-over in Reykjavit going to England and the other a 17 (!) hour lay-over coming home. I would travel 18 hours to get to London and we a day and three hours to return. That’s intolerable, especially considering the wretched (abusive) conditions one has to endure. I spent 5 hours on the phone a few days ago uselessly, ending up shaking. To change them I have to pay a penalty and change fee that is higher than the round-trip tickets. So I will probably have to swallow and pay for a second set as we cannot tolerate such a long siege in an airport. What we will do is whatever the cost have no lay-over (one stop) and make sure the time is no more than 6 hours going and 8 back. Maybe we’ll splurge altogether and go during the day.

Corporate1percent
Remind me never to buy a plane ticket when I don’t have to cross an ocean

This is not the first time I have been so cheated over travel in an airplane. When I went to Pittsburgh this past spring I preferred to drive a long drive than take a plane; the only train was 10 hours. I met people there who had preferred a bus to a plane. Again no train was truly available. Robert Louis Stevenson’s words came to mind

There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business is to continue to fail in good spirits.

And a friend sent me Rose Milligan’s

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
to paint a picture or write a letter,
Bake a cake or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to siwm and mountains to climb;
Music to hear and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there,
With the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go — and go you must —
You, yourself, will make more dust.

ClarycatbehindComputer
Clarycat stretched out in the sun behind my computer – she is reading about Tolstoy too

Pussycat stories help because their troubles seem so much less than ours. (It is a literal torment to think what would happen were Trump to win the presidency.) Why do cats not mew after hours of being stuck in say a closet? After many hours, both of mine will hurl their bodies against the door, and even make sounds, wails. But they will not for a mere two or so.

Earlier this week I noticed about 5 in the afternoon I hadn’t seen Clarycat in quite a while; this is not like her. She does not hide away for a long time. Then it came to me she was stuck somewhere. I finally found her in the back closet clinging to my slippers, looking very upset, and she came out slowly. She was shaking. I asked on face-book if anyone had read anything to explain why cats will not make noises within a reasonable when they are stuck somewhere? I realize at first they are usually not upset; they like to hide, but when they’ve had enough why do they stand or sit there silently waiting. Answers ranged from “Our cats are usually asleep for the first few hours. They only yowl when they wake up and decide they’re hungry,” to “Since cats are small they act like both prey and predator. When trapped, prey behavior is what they exhibit, being quiet so a large predator cannot find them. In this case, that is you.” I liked best: “I think they assume that we will eventually rescue them because they trust us.”

I read a review of a book arguing we are not smart enough to understand how smart animals are, and this made me firmer in my idea that in fact the cat is waiting as it sits there looking like it’s waiting for us, even if at length I was thinking this closet is so familiar to Clarycat and that she can hear us outside it, so she trusts all is well. But if it goes o for too long, with her at any rate, it gets too much for her. As reinforcement: once Izzy and I were out for quite a while; we come back and almost immediately hear this noise from her bedroom. Ian was literally stuck in a drawer. He waited until we came home and when he heard us, having been by himself and probably anxious, he began to make hoise and try to get out on his own. He needed help.

Cats are a great comfort. I’ve found their eyes and face lack the expressiveness of a dog’s and was told that their brains don’t have the same direct access to their face and eyes. Perhaps a myth. I do know their whole body expresses what they are feeling and am with Jane Goodall (and Darwin) in thinking the disimissal of close analogies in physical and emotional expression between people and non-people animals is there; it’s not anthropomorphic to recognize this. Maybe people want to ignore this level of the animal because then they are less convenient, more demanding to have around. But they give and mean it.

They’re funny too. When Ian was kitten like Snuffle-up-agus on the old Sesame Street he would hide the upper part of his body under things and thought because he couldn’t see us, we could see him. At some point he realized that wasn’t so and stopped hiding his head and upper body. Children have to learn this and do so very early, as well as where their ears are. But no one cheats them of thousands, no one abuses them on the edge of decency in a plane because thousands and thousands of dollars have not been extorted for a plane ticket.

waze

And I’m not all incompetence: I returned the 2016 garmin I had paid $180 for when I discovered it had become more complicated to program. I could do all sorts of things with it, including take picture, but I do not want to do these other things, only find my way. So instead (as the old garmin does not work right all the time), Izzy and I downloaded a free app called “Waze” onto our cell phones. I take it into the car with a USB cord and have discovered it gives better directions, apprises me if a cop, car standing in the waiting lane, or wrecked car is near. It has funny cartoons too. When Izzy and I finally figured out how to stop it from talking when we’d gotten where we wanted to go by putting it in sleep mode, here’s the picture that appeared ….

sleep-mode

Miss Drake

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NewYorker
Mid-February New Yorker cartoon

Friends and readers,

Above comic subversion, below otherwise:

SHerbertBriefEncounter
Susan Herbert does Brief Encounter (click away for Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard & the film)

On this snowy morning over breakfast I read in the Times Literary Supplement a series of modern sonnets “after Shakespeare.” None matched Shakespeare’s usual depth of feeling, apprehension, word play, but one called attention to a sonnet by Shakespeare which connected back to my wish I could be haunted: No 43:

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright are bright in dark directed;
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so?
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay?
    All days are nights to see till I see thee,
    And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

And to be candid, Gillian Clarke’s re-write of Shakespeare’s oft-quoted and apparently revered Sonnet 116 speaks home to me more than Shakespeare’s irony over clichéd assertions.

Pull between earth and moon, or chemistry ,
carries the swallow home from Africa
to perch again on his remembered tree,
the weeping birch by the pond. A star
will guide his mate home in a week, perhaps,
to the old nest in the barn, remade, mould
of spittle and pond-sludge snug in its cusp
as the new year in the mud-cup of the old.
Loss broke the swan on the river when winter
stole his mate while he wasn’t looking. Believing,
he waited, rebuilt the nest, all summer
holding their stretch of river, raging, grieving.
    So would I wait for you, were we put apart.
    Mind, magnetism, hunger of the heart.

My mate is lost, stolen from me, not believing, having no hope, I hold on to our stretch of shared consciousness, our nest. The last three lines (where Shakespeare is often weakest, though in the above 43rd not) are where Clarke is strongest.

klibanskating
February’s Kliban cat

Miss Drake

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Another exquisite performance:

Go over to her blog to make comments. There you will find three previous similar renditions of songs

Miss Drake

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