- Edna Ferber: American Beauty
- Anne Perry: A Dangerous Mourning
- Toni Morrison: Jazz
- Pym: The Sweet Dove Died
- Mann: Death in Venice
- R.C. Hutchinson: March the Ninth
- Yates: Cold Spring Harbor
- Yates: Young Hearts Crying
- Ibsen: An Enemy of the People
- Ibsen: The Wild Duck
- DuMaurier: The Scapegoat
- Marquand: H.M. Pulham, Esquire
- Plumly: Against Sunset
- Logan; Night Battles
- Hardy: A Pair of Blue Eyes
- Wharton: Bunner Sisters
- Butler: The Way of All Flesh
- James: What Maisie Knew
- James: The Beast in the Jungle
- Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter
I was lucky that I found a job that (mostly) involved few routines. Yes, there was a calendar and things went along in a steady sort of way but a few times a year they picked themselves up, put themselves away, and started differently–different people, different books, (even if Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 appeared where some might say it did not belong–I could fit it into a class on the 19th or 20th century novel). I don’t like routine; I recoil from the tyranny of a list. I am not precisely a free spirit: I must begin my day by feeding and cats and steeping strong tea. But I am a dud when it comes to challenges, patterns, commitments, steadiness, sturdiness, and repeating on Tuesday what I did on Monday. If I were an Olympian (ridiculous thought), I would be a quick sprinter rather than a marathoner. And thus we arrive at one of the reasons why I like to read poetry so much. I can sprint into the world and dash out with celerity. While I don’t think I have ADHD (I’ve read The Tales, The Faerie Queen, PL, The Prelude, The Ring and the Book) I do think a little dab of reading will do me for many purposes. Just as some people need oatmeal or The Today Show to set them up for the day, I need to get out of my own little geriatric mind. Of course, as a professed enemy of habit, I don’t do it the same way every day.
More and more I come to appreciate the value of quotations from those other than poets. I have a little book of quotes by Henry James. And there’s no way I will ever read it methodically, but turning to some of its pages, I find much of delight. The editor, a well-known James scholar, Michael Gorra, has made some superb selections:
“He saw more in his face, and he liked it the better for its not telling its whole story in the first three minutes. That story came out as one read, in short instalments.” From “The Lesson of the Master,” 1892.
“Will she understand? She has everything in the world but one,” he added. “But that’s half.”…”What is it?”…”A sense of humor.” The Awkward Age, 1899.
“When Milly smiled it was a public event–when she didn’t it was a chapter of history.” The Wings of the Dove, 1903
“She was as undomestic as a shop-front and as out of tune as a parrot.” “The Marriages,” 1892.
What delightful ideas, figures of speech, and wit these quotations provide. Gorra wrote a superb book called Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece. If I could recommend a quatrain of books to you right now, it would be Gorra’s two books, The Portrait of a Lady, and John Banville’s Mrs. Osmond.
While I cannot hew to routine, I admire those who follow a schedule such as Henry James and Anthony Trollope.
SING FOR ME
For several years in middle age I fell in love
With celebrated women, Maria Callas and
Miss Monkey Business (from a local band),
Then Dolly Parton. O Dolly, in the spirit of the flesh,
Dolly any woman met any place I’d ever been.
And later in the evening of that night
I asked if she would shed
That blond Aldebaran wig and the make-up, please,
Spike heels and that tightest
Cowgirl sequined dress she wore,
Then the reins that held her breasts.
There in the mirror we beheld
The girl she’d lost along the way –
She was so tiny I was taller
Than I’d ever been.
Sing for me, I begged.
I’m any man met anywhere
Who does not matter, and will not, ever.
She sang that song about lost love and bad men,
And there was me, a bad, lost loveable man again,
Full of too much whiskey, tired
Of ogling the ladies in the mirrors
Of the roadhouse bars. I’d lost my job,
I’d lost our tickets out of here, become that man
Who stuttered, howled, wept,
Fell down in the gravel parking lot, cursed,
Swallowed my tobacco, and said I’m sorry, Ma’am,
And she said, to the bunch grass,
To the cows, He’s just a bad man
Gone good. Or maybe he’s just mine.
She took my arm and off we walked
To charm the hollows of the glens
Where every rock and tree could be
A member of the wedding of the rocks and trees.
I love this poem! It opens up the deep-held, sometimes mortifying, obsessive feelings that some may dismiss as “crushes”. Do you have crushes? I am a specialist on the post-humous crush (safer than focusing on the living human!). I’ve done it with John Keats (could I have shown him long lingering pleasures of love?) and Wallace Stevens (might I have been a perfect dinner and concert companion, admiring his wines and his chocolate covered prunes). And Jane Austen was a huge crush, although I was a little bit afraid of the acidulous judgements she would deliver about me.
Orlen’s “Sing for Me” celebrates falling in love with voices first The poem reads quickly at first, with the breathlessness of love. We don’t have a full stop until the end of line 10. Notice the repeated words and the focus on “M”, “D”, and “L” sounds which add music to the poem. Both lust and love have deep transformative powers here and the “bad, lost, loveable man” will go “good” because of the powerful charms of love and song.
I also like Orlen’s use of nature here. The final lines personify the “rocks” and “trees” as being charmed by Dolly and the speaker, as members of the wedding. Orlen is probably alluding to Wordsworth’s famous “rocks and stones and trees”. Does Dolly have the mythic, unscrutable power of Wordsworth’s Lucy? I think so. She is both tiny and enormous at the same time. We don’t know if Wordsworth’s Lucy is compost, a heavenly being, a subterranean figure, as enduring as a rock, stone, or tree, or as eternal as rock, stone, tree. The same is true with Dolly in this wonderful poem.
I am printing this poem by special permission of the author, Steve Orlen, who has written several books. He has published six poetry books (available at amazon.com among other places) including “The Elephant’s Child: New & Selected Poems 1978-2005” “A Thousand Threads,” , “Kisses”, and “This Particular Eternity.”
It snowed and snowed ,the whole world over,
Snow swept the world from end to end.
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.
As during summer midges swarm
To beat their wings against a flame
Out in the yard the snowflakes swarmed
To beat against the window pane
The blizzard sculptured on the glass
Designs of arrows and of whorls.
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.
Distorted shadows fell
Upon the lighted ceiling:
Shadows of crossed arms,of crossed legs-
Of crossed destiny.
Two tiny shoes fell to the floor
A candle on a nightstand shed wax tears
Upon a dress.
All things vanished within
The snowy murk-white,hoary.
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.
A corner draft fluttered the flame
And the white fever of temptation
Upswept its angel wings that cast
A cruciform shadow
It snowed hard throughout the month
Of February, and almost constantly
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.
This poem is written by Yuri Zhivago, Pasternak’s title character. Aside from the penultimate stanza which, I think, adds nothing to the poem but an overlay of murkiness where everything else is factual observation, this poem is excellent. I like the incessant, tedious candle burning. It makes the seemingly endlessness of winter and is the focal point of the poem. The candle burns “almost constantly” throughout the sweeping snow storm. The repeated words, “A candle burned on the table; / A candle burned” become an incantation for the sameness of winter and provides a sense of statis–even entrapment.
My #MeToo moment came decades too early
My 14 year old sister, Andrea, used to make a small amount of pocket money babysitting. I did the same thing. But the men I babysat for drove me home asking me innocent questions about what I was doing in school. Andrea was driven home by Professor Donald Preziosi, then of Yale University, and he parked and raped her. He and his wife believe that she seduced him. She was 14. He was much older. Apparently he suffered from “blue balls” because his wife, Patricia Getz Preziosi, was pregnant with their daughter, Alexandra. My sister, Andrea, had been baby-sitting for their toddler son, Tarquin Preziosi.
Andrea told her story and was reviled by the people of the Wooster Square neighborhood in New Haven for making moves on the husband of a pregnant woman. He, evidently, could not help himself. These 14 year old girls are always in charge of the situation. My father and mother were going to call the police but Andrea coldly said that she would kill herself if they did. Furthermore, my parents held out hope that Donald Preziosi would marry Andrea—based on their own feudal fantasy, no doubt. My father, the chauvinist, believed that Andrea was now a “fallen woman”. In any event, she did end up killing herself when Preziosi broke up with her. My father almost immediately died of a fatal stroke (he was 54 years old) and my mother began a painful downward trajectory. That’s the kind of thing that happens when your 14 year old daughter has been so unwise as to seduce a much older professor.
Professor Donald Preziosi went on to have a successful career. He has taught at Yale, MIT, Cornell, SUNY/Binghamton, University of York in the UK, and UCLA, where he is a retired emeritus. He’s received accolades for his pioneering feminist approaches to the history of art.
I knew that my sister, Andrea, now dead, was unlikely to be the only teenager he would rape. So decades ago I called the police in New Haven, Ithaca, and Los Angeles. I was brushed off. Because the girl was dead, they believed that no real crime existed. The police in New Haven said that since he had moved, they could not do anything. The police in Ithaca and LA said that since the crime had taken place in New Haven, they could no nothing. This was a long time ago.
And those liberal professors? I wrote to every member of the Art History professoriate at UCLA including the Dean and the Chair via email when that became viable. Only one person bothered to respond, saying simply that “your email has shed light on a mysterious colleague”.
Do you know Donald Preziosi? Has he been near your daughter? Right now he lives in Marina Del Rey at the so called “Marina City Club” along with his most recent enabler, Claire Joan Farago, who is actually only 7 years younger than he is.
This is paydirt for a paedophile! Having a victim who obligingly kills herself.
I am disgusted by all of those people who aided and abetted that sham doctor, Nasser. Please remember that pedophiles are not those dirty little guys slinking around alleys. They often present as people with a Ph.D. from Harvard or an M.D. They can be parents themselves (waving to Tarquin and Alexandra here). They can be married (yes, thinking of you, Patricia Getz Preziosi—how much easier to blame the 14 year old babysitter than your husband). And an entire Department of History of Art Professors—that would be you, Yale, and you, UCLA, can neglect this information.
And Donald Preziosi once whined to me that he did not get tenure at Yale because he had a 14 year old mistress!
See the picture? Andrea is the one holding the book on the left. I am the oldest. And there was another, yet to be born. It was taken only about 11 years before Donald Preziosi raped her. Her hair was long and blonde by that point.
And if you doubt me: It would be an illegal calumny, a slander, for me to post this with so much specific information, wouldn’t it? The painful deaths in my family have led me to be as scrupulous as possible about the truth.
In spite of all the edifying poetry I read and the orts of philosophy, I find that I’ve inherited my mother’s proclivity for “self-help”. Now my mother was quite insane about it. She paid a “Perfect Master” $250.00 for a weekend in which she had to wander in a large wooded farm in Connecticut and only had half a tangerine to eat the entire time. She parted with small fortunes to have her auras read and to have her horoscope charted. She had a psychic named Ella who was paid good money to assure my mother that she was the very most special victim in the world. My two year old son observed that my mother did not walk–she “ice-skated”. And indeed, without real skates, she skated off to places that would make her happy and was profligate with her money. Berkeley, California? She was there. In Prince Andrew’s village? There she was. Sedona, Arizona. Australia. She globe-trotted in search of perfect enlightenment.
And I do the same via library books although I am more in touch with economic reality than my mother was.
You have probably seen the books. You probably started with Mario Kondo and her “Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”. You threw out a lot of things. You became so anxiously authoritarian that you did not realize that it was Marie Kondo, herself, who failed to “spark joy” in you and not your fountain pens, your warm nightgowns, and your old books.
Then it’s likely you discovered “Hygge” – The Danish Secret to Happy Living, which seems to be that you make your loved ones tea and cupcakes and put on a pair of warm sloppy socks. Your Hygge felt so good that you castigated yourself for succumbing to the Japanese art and the Danish way of happiness encouraged you to live in comfortable clutter. So you repurchased some of those things that Marie Kondo had suggested you get rid of. When Hygge was getting a bit—well, stuffy and too hot, you turned to “Lykke”, the Danish art of happiness.
When you are not bundled up in Hygge, you practice Lykke, which means that you are not merely comfy cosy, you are so happy that you leave the hygge of your home and travel the world pursuing that happiness. Because Happiness is like a massive treasure hunt. Say goodbye to your job; max out your credit cards, and then look for buried treasure in all the corners of the world. Lykke will come to you when you go to Uganda and cook a dinner for an alarmed family whose home you’ve decided to sprinkle and sparkle with your Lykke. Soon you will transform them into a Hygge family. Then it’s off to do more Lykke in the Andes and run off to China to play a tennis game with a random stranger. Who cares if you lose? You’ve got Lykke! Once you’ve gone bankrupt pursuing your Lykke a sobering choice awaits you: you can’t buy that airplane ticket to Galway to dance with the Lord of the Dance and his acolytes. Lykke has left you penniless.
Now it’s time for returning home and thinking of how to recover from your Lykke madness. It’s time to turn to Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living. There’s the ticket. Those common sense Swedes know when enough is enough. They have a King and Queen, but they ride bicycles and not state carriage. That is Lagom for you. “Not too little; not too much.” Moderation is key! The Swedes have a genetic proclivity for minimalism and they abhor clutter. But they don’t look for joy; they seek simplicity. And they find it in the six hour work day. The nice thing about Lagom is that you can have a couple of things in your house that are useful but that don’t necessarily spark joy.
After having entered into a state of Lagom you became more aware of your need to be frugal and minimalist, because your debts had mounted dangerously high from all your Kon-Maried possessions and your fling at Lykke.
Death Cleaning! It’s a Swedish “art”! You are encouraged to start death-cleaning in early middle age. Nowhere is it explained how “death cleaning” differs from other cleaning, although there’s a lot of reinforcement in the idea that we don’t want to stick other people with our death cleaning. It’s Marie Kondo, all over again, only this time you are not looking for joy—you are waiting to die.
I’ve got an exciting new initiative: The Finnish Bunker. The concept is that you hunker down into your own bunker, which never needs cleaning, and spend no money, throw out everything you can, and wait for death. In the Finnish Bunker there are no diets; there is no spending; there is no cleaning because there’s nothing to clean; news and newspapers cannot enter. And it pays tribute to one of the lesser known Scandanavian countries.