Open Thread for LC-ers

I missed having dinner with some high school buddies, but promised to make an open thread for any kind enough to pass through and give me a wave.

Did you go to Princeton HS? Were you in the Learning Community in the 70s? This thread's for you.

October 25, 2004 in influences | Permalink | Comments (0)


Mass Experience

My ears are numb.

Springsteen concert last night. Seats on the floor at the brand new stadium at Rentschler Field.

On a calm night before an expected hurricane, an unexpected hurricane of sound. I am rendered subverbal, fragmentary, still undulating in the layers of raspy vocals, hot greasy saxophone, myriad guitars, hyperbolic violin.

More when I remember how to speak.

September 19, 2003 in influences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Anglo-Saxon carvingIt is a Kingly Thing

I first found this book while babysitting, so I was at most sixteen. The parents had a wonderful study where the wood was all oiled and the books marched up every wall to the ceiling. I don't know how I happened to notice The Earliest English Poems, a small, slender volume, but I read it straight through after my charge went to bed.

Other readers might have different favorites, but mine was and is the very first poem in the volume, a fragment suitably called "The Ruin":

This description of a deserted Roman city, written on two leaves badly scarred by fire, may well stand at the gate of a selection of Anglo-Saxon poems. The Romans had held this province for four centuries before the Angles came; and they had been gone three hundred years before this poem was written. It was to be another three hundred years before the Normans reintroduced the art of massive construction in stone to these islands. The Anglo-Saxons usually referred to Roman ruins as 'the work of the Giants'.

—from the introduction
by Michael Alexander


You really have to read it to appreciate it....


Well-wrought this wall: Wierds broke it.
The stronghold burst....

Snapped rooftrees, towers fallen,
the work of the Giants, the stonesmiths,

spacerRime scoureth gatetowers
spacerrime on mortar.

Shattered the showershields, roofs ruined,
age under-ate them.
spacerAnd the wielders and wrights?
Earthgrip holds them—gone, long gone,
fast in gravesgrasp while fifty fathers
and sons have passed.
spacerWall stood,
grey lichen, red stone, kings fell often,
stood under storms, high arch crashed —
stands yet the wallstone, hacked by spacerweapons,
by files grim-ground...
...shone the old skilled work
...sank to loam-crust.

Mood quickened mind, and a man of wit,
cunning in rings, bound bravely the wallbase
with iron, a wonder.

Bright were the buildings, halls where springs ran,
high, horngabled, much throng-noise;
these many meadhalls men filled
with loud cheerfulness: Wierd changed that.

Came days of pestilence, on all sides men fell dead,
death fetched off the flower of the people;
where they stood to fight, waste places
and on the acropolis, ruins.

spacerHosts who would build again
shrank to the earth. Therefore are these courts dreary
and that red arch twisteth tiles.
wryeth from roof-ridge, reacheth groundwards....
Broken blocks....

spacerThere once many a man
moon-glad, goldbright, of gleams garnished,
flushed with wine-pride, flashing war-gear,
gazed on wrought gemstones, on gold, on silver,
on wealth held and hoarded, on light-filled amber,
on this bright burg of broad dominion.

Stood stone houses; wide streams welled
hot from source, and a wall all caught
in its bright bosom, that the baths were
hot at hall's hearth; that was fitting...

Thence hot streams, loosed, ran over hoar stone
unto the ring-tank....

...It is a kingly thing


--trans. Michael Alexander


Can you hear that? Doesn't it just make your blood fizz? I already liked poetry, but never felt it was something I could write. The sound of this caught me before I'd acquired too many bad habits, and made me a gift of poetry that was informal, but still written by ear.

It is a kingly thing


July 1, 2003 in influences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Deeper Magic from the Dawn of Time

This was the book that made me a reader. Or, more precisely, Miss Smithy reading the book aloud to our class is what turned me from reluctant to insatiable.

Reading aloud always took place in the last half-hour of school, when the humiliation of multiplication, the savagery of recess, and the cattiness of the cloakroom were all done for the day. The words slipped over our heads like our old crib blankets.

We liked The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. American schoolchildren in the '60s, we weren't completely sure what a wardrobe was, of course, or if Turkish Delight was like saltwater taffy, or if a sledge was the same thing as a sleigh. No matter, we loved the story and followed Lucy through the wardrobe time after time, watched Edmund form his alliance with the White Witch, slogged through the snow to the Beavers' lodge.

Then, on a Friday, came the chapter where the Witch wins. Aslan the Lion keeps his sacrificial bargain with her and Lucy and Susan hide and watch as he is bound and tormented and finally killed:

They began to drag the bound and muzzled Lion to the Stone Table, some pulling, some pushing. He was so huge that even when they got him there it took all their efforts to hoist him on to the surface of it. Then there was more tying and tightening of cords.

"The cowards! The cowards!" sobbed Susan. "Are they still afraid of him, even now?"

...Four Hags, holding four torches, stood at the corners of the Table. The Witch bared her arms... Then she began to whet her knife.
The children did not see the actual moment of the killing. They couldn't bear to look and covered their eyes.

—p. 152

Miss Smithy stopped there. It was time to go home and the weekend stretched very long before us.

I couldn't stand it. Aslan couldn't really be dead. I made my mother take me to the public library and I found The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and I picked up the story where Miss Smithy had left off:

As soon as the wood was silent again Susan and Lucy crept out onto the open hill-top. The moon was getting low and thin clouds were passing across her, but still they could see the shape of the great Lion lying dead in his bonds.


They cry over him and work hard to take off his muzzle:

And when they saw his face without it they burst out crying again and kissed it and fondled it and wiped away the blood and the foam as well as they could.

—p. 155

And wiped away the blood and the foam as well as they could. Well, that made it quite real. Aslan was dead.

I kept reading. I didn't stop at the end of the chapter, joyful as that turned out to be, but finished the book and went back to the library and took out the next one in the series. On Monday I was the only one in our class who knew what was going to happen. I didn't tell, of course.

June 29, 2003 in good reads, influences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Windy Preamble

This is likely to be the first in a series that will lie alongside "Maybe She Takes After..." (which so far stands as a collection of one, but nevermind).

Just as I keep finding evidence of my forebears in everything I do: I blog experience like Grandpa Paul, I proofread like my mother, I find much to be curious about in the natural world, as does my sister and as did my Grandma Trudy, I like to take long walks and look at buildings, like my architect father, I liked Latin/I married a Latin teacher; it goes on and on and I'll probably write about every connection I can, eventually.

Anyway, just like this sort of influence, another exists. This sort are my written ancestors, rather than my cellular ones. There are certain books I find I must keep by me, even if I do not re-read them very often. These are the ones that made such a strong impression on me the first time around that I need to see their faces (or at least their raggedy spines). Each one made the top of my head fly off in some fashion or another, and, collectively, they've become twisted up in the DNA of my writing practice and obsessions.

The list (which only includes a scant half-dozen of what I stumbed upon before college) includes the following:

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

The Earliest English Poems

Much Ado About Nothing

Til We Have Faces

The Norman Conquests

The Golden Notebook

(I'll explain why in future posts about each of these.)

June 21, 2003 in good reads, influences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Thought Foxes

Somewhat like what is true with the names "Aurora D." and "Hit Those Keys", the notion of a "thought fox" is a layered one. In the plural, it's the title of one of my works-in-progress, a YA novel that is showing signs of wanting to also be a critical essay and perhaps an e-narrative, as well.

I also use "thought fox" more generically, to refer to a certain kind of writing which is difficult to find a name for. I mean by it a writing that summons something into being through words. There's an incantatory quality to this, and more than a bit of sleight of hand. It is the sort of writing that is unsearchable by conventional means: Shelley Powers' RDF poetry finder would be very handy for locating more examples.

The original "thought fox" is a construct in a Ted Hughes poem:

The Thought Fox

I imagine this midnight’s moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now,

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, and eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

—Ted Hughes,
from The Hawk in the Rain


Do you see what happens here? A piece of writing that does that is a thought fox. At least, I name it so.

May 22, 2003 in if in doubt, quote, influences, practical theories, work in progress | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Don's Playlist: May

'don riffling record racks' © 1983 lgfDo you remember the first music you bought for yourself? My first vinyl purchases included George Harrison's All Things Must Pass and the cast recording of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Don's made it his mission of the past several months to reassemble his first dozen or so vinyl albums on CDs. This strut down memory avenue includes:

May 2, 2003 in indices, influences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Maybe she takes after...?

Just when this writer was absolutely certain that she was a bit of a changeling — was becoming quite smug about this, even — she finds that genetics are relentless and humbling. Not to mention a heck of gift.

(First in a continuing series on the anxiety and ecstasy of influence.)

The older I get, the more I find I am exactly like everybody in my family.

As I've been updating my pages, I've been thinking that I could take after my Grandpa Paul, who well may have been the original blogger. A trained Classicist, who read Greek for fun and wrote assessment instruments for Educational Testing Service for his career, it seemed to me that he began almost every day of his adult life by rolling a piece of onionskin into his IBM Selectric. Out would roll some bit of commentary on the book he was reading, or an elucidation of some obscure lines of Homer; once in a while he couldn't resist putting down an off-color joke...

I remember one about some elegant personage named Margot who happened to be seated at dinner with the famously slutty actress Jean Harlow:

As the meal progressed this Margot got increasingly irritated at being called “MarGOT.” Finally, she interrupted the actress to say,

“MarGO, MarGO.”

When Jean looked a bit blank, Margot added, sweetly,

“The T is silent, as in HarLO'.”

Grandpa didn't publish these bloglets, but he made copies for friends and family members and tucked them into letters to his oldest and dearest friend, Siegmund.

I'm afraid I didn't appreciate these writings at all — to me they were, except maybe the Jean Harlot joke — crashingly boring. Now I think it's a shame Grandpa, who passed away five years ago this month, didn't become acquainted with the WWW. It may not have been me, but his audience is out there.

March 29, 2003 in influences | Permalink | Comments (0)