First, stop waiting for someone else to do it. If, one day, someone does come with the power to heal this monstrous gash, you’ll be asked what you did while you waited. You’ll be asked what you think your purpose here is. You’ll be asked who the hell you think you are.
This seemingly endless summer, in the middle of this seemingly endless plague year of 2020, has given me at least one thing: It is the year I began to grow things in earnest. For years I’d annually buy a pot or two of herbs, or a sole tomato plant, and sometimes they’d grow and sometimes I’d forget and they’d just drown in dry dirt.
Like the printing press, the internet seems to have created an almost idolatrous relationship with the written word. There are, of course, exceptions, but the tenor of most online discourse today is literal-minded and judgmental, with more than a whiff of the Salem Witch trials about it.
I don’t know if you can call it a religious painting. Probably you can’t. That’s to say, there is no explicit religious intent in the painting as far as I’m aware, and certainly no one looking at the painting is going to suddenly pick out Moses or anything. It is a painting of a few blobs of black and green and a few other colors that sort of zingle through the canvas here and there.
I went on an Anthony Trollope binge last year. It still seems a guilty pleasure, an unexpected detour in my reading list. My literary tastes are more Elizabethan than Victorian, and Trollope’s novels are thick, juicy slices of Victorian sensibility.
Most of my novels center on a quest of some kind, though there’s not always a criminal element. With Coyote Fork I tried a number of different approaches—including science fiction—before finally settling on this form.
Have you ever wondered where we get the idea of “idea”? Or of “conscience” or “pity” or “create”? Or wondered when words like “terrorize” or “democrat” or “capital” entered English?
Entanglement is a wonderful mystery. My characters live in that wonderful mystery. I think we all feel like we’re entangled with many things, some of which we understand, some of which we don’t.
I’m looking back. I’m reading James Baldwin, his essay “Notes of a Native Son.” His father dies. On the same day, his father’s last child is born. A few days later, his father is buried. On the same day, Baldwin celebrates his 19th birthday. That night, a race riot breaks out in Harlem.
The desire that is typical of Blues—from which Bob Dylan draws so much of the spirit of his music as well as actual phrases—is the same we find in the prophets. The Lord God is a jealous and often a jilted lover.
I’ve been spending Covidtide cycling as much as possible. The mental rhythm of riding is calming, contemplative. Something gets in my head and I just keep turning it over. Since June 19th it’s been Bob Dylan’s new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, released on that date.
When the May issue of Poetry dropped through my mail slot, it landed so I got to read the back cover first, lines from classicist/poet A.E. Stallings’s “Daedal”: “To build a labyrinth it takes / some good intentions, some mistakes.” Perfect, with allowances for the imperfect.
The Internet hadn’t yet arrived, so the conversation was solely in letters at first, scrawled on notebook paper, sent three or four times a year at the most. It was not a witty crypto-romance, like the set of letters that make up Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road.
It had never occurred to me that close reading could be applied to the heaps of verbiage produced by dictators—not, at least, until I picked up Daniel Kalder’s recently published The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy.
Here’s a game: in the lines below, can you tell which are from the Bible and which from an English poem?
Ho, every one that thirsteth,
to the waters,
and he that hath no money;
buy, and eat;
Here in the landlocked Midwest, the sky is the body of water most visible to me. I watch it the way I imagine people who live on the coasts watch the sea.
I have a few rules that I try to follow as a literary citizen: 1) If I want to read a book by a living author, I buy it new. 2) If at all possible, I buy it local. 3) If I can’t buy local, I aim to secure it from a distributor who takes at least minimal care not to defraud authors by selling counterfeits of their work.
Sometimes I think that the late Romantics are the most Romantic of all, since to be a Romantic is to commit to a lost cause. And it was already a lost cause to be an early Romantic of the 18th/early 19th century. But to be a Romantic in the late 19th/early 20th century was to be doubly doomed. It was to begin in anachronism and end in total dissolution.
Reading the new poems by Hankins and Paino reminds me of Stanley Hauerwas’s claim that North American Christianity’s chief enemy isn’t atheism, but sentimentality. Christians, Hauerwas adds, can see just how sentimental they’ve become by their inability to produce interesting atheists.
Meet John William “Blind” Boone (1864-1927): “Sprung from a Yankee bugler and a newly freed mother, his sight was sacrificed to encephalitis at the age of six months. Possessed by a prodigious memory, perfect pitch, and a particular partiality to piano, from which he sees and he sees and he sees…”