29 June 2006

Reconsidering an 'abandoned' author

A few weeks ago, I was reading comments on a post of Susan Hill's regarding books one can't finish. Like Susan, I have such a list; sometimes it seems longer than the list of books I've read. And despite making silly New Years' Resolutions like 'I'll read everything I start this year', usually there is still snow on the ground before I start appending 'except this one...or this one' to my resolution. Before the first daffodils bloom, my unkeepable promise is long forgotten.

The problem with abandoned books, at least for me, is that I typically abandon the author as well. So, when I read The Magic Mountain on Susan's list I thought, 'Me too!' Mann makes me shudder. But, wait, she liked Death in Venice? In fact, she followed up to my comment telling me to not to be kept away from a 'clean and clear' masterpiece.

So, in one of those book serendipity moments, while trying to avoid an unruly, whinny child dripping cola from a sippy cup, I detoured through the bargin bin tables at B&N recently. My intent to only buy the book I had come for quickly faded as I spied a lone copy of Death in Venice. Short. Novella. $4.95. Why not? A few minutes later, it was mine!

And I couldn't stay away from it. If I had 5 minutes, I read a page or two, lingering over each page, savoring every word. For a week or so, I would grab it out of my bag at traffic lights to re-read passages. I can't remember reading anything that captures so perfectly the elation and foolishness of an infatuation than Mann does in this slim book. And that is not all: the descriptions of Venice and the sea, the spell of wanderlust Aschenbach falls under in the first few pages, the portrayal of the bureaucratic officials denying the presence of disease, the suspicions of the Aschenbach, his inability to leave even as he fears the epidemic because it will remove him from the presence of the unattainable object of his affection, the lingering doom of death and disease ... and unrequited love. It's all in this thin book. A clean & clear masterpiece, indeed!

How sad it would have been if I had always left Mann on my untouchables list. I may never reconsider The Magic Mountain again, but I may read Buddenbrooks.

The edition I read, published in 2004, is a new translation by Michael Henry Heim, with an introduction by Michael Cunningham. Cunningham has some interesting things to say about translations. I'll post at another time on his comments.

19 June 2006

Some preliminary thoughts on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Slaves of Golconda's next read is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and discussion starts June 30th. See here and here for those participating and more info. (Yes, there. Scroll down past the World Cup posts for Slaves info, then scroll back up & read 'em!). I'll post more at the end of the month and after I finish reading 'The Only Problem' for extra credit. But here are some preliminary thoughts:

I love this description at the beginning of Chapter 3:

The days passed and the wind blew from the Forth.

It is not to be supposed that Miss Brodie was unique at this point of her prime; or that (since such things are relative) she was in any way off her head. She was alone, merely, in that she taught in a school like Marcia Blaine's. There were legions of her kind during the nineteen-thirties, women from the age of thirty and upward, who crowded their war-bereaved spinsterhood with voyages of discovery into new ideas and energetic practices in art of social welfare, education or religion. The progressive spinsters of Edinburgh did not teach in schools, especially in schools of traditional character like Marcia Blaine's School for Girls. It was in this that Miss Brodie was, as the rest of the staff spinsterhood put it, a trifle out of place. But she was not out of place amongst her own kind, the vigorous daughters of dead or enfeeble merchants, of misisters of religion, University professors, doctors, big warehouse owners of the past, or the owners of fisheries who had endowed these daughters with shrewd wits, high-coloured cheeks, constitutions like horses, logical educations, hearty spirits and private means. They could be seen leaning over the democratic counters of Edinburgh grocers' shops arguing with the Manager at three in the afternoon on every subject from the authenticity of the Scriptures to the question what the word 'guaranteed' on a jam-jar really meant. They went to lectures, tried living on honey and nuts, took lessons in German and then went walking in Germany; they bought caravans and went off with them into the hills among the lochs; they played the guitar, they supported all the new little, theatre companies; they took lodgings in the slums and, distributing pots of paint, taught their neighbours the arts of simple interior decoration; they preached the inventions of Marie Stopes; they attended the meetings of the Oxford Group and put Spiritualism to their hawk-eyed test. Some assisted in the Scottish Nationalist Movement; others, like Miss Brodie, called themselves Europeans and Edinburgh a European capital, the city of Hume and Boswell.

They were not, however, committee women. They were not school-teachers. The committee spinsters were less enterprising and not at all rebellious, they were sober church-goers and quiet workers. The school-mistresses were of a still more orderly type, earning their keep, living with aged parents and taking walks on the hills and holidays at North Berwick.

But those of Miss Brodie's kind were great talkers and feminists and, like most feminists, talked to men as man-to-man. (pages 40-41)

That this is the start of the third chapter must have been a deliberate decision by Spark. Not only does this give a wonderful description of Miss Brodie, it also puts into context the school and the other spinster school teachers. Although the preceding chapters also start with a descriptive narration, this is more detailed, longer. It sets the a different tone, in a way, and is a pivotal chapter in the book.

Interesting how the main qualities of each girl is repeatedly told in the first few chapters. Also what became of them. This isn't true with Sandy, the main character and Brodie's betrayer, although the reader does learn that she became a nun. By the time you know that Sandy is her betrayer, it isn't news. Interesting -- is this meant to be a mystery of sorts? I think more likely that the author is just being very judicious about revealing too much about Sandy before she is ready to reveal her as the betrayer.

The narrative makes many jumps in time. Although the main portion of the story takes place in about 7 years, it makes reference to events over a 30 year period. Spark does this skillfully, jumping back and forth from a few years earlier, to many years later.

Spark converted to Catholicism mid-life, but before this book was written. Sandy becomes a Catholic in the book and the conversion is portrayed as a larger betrayal, or repudiation, of Miss Brodie. Yet, the actual conversion is not covered in any detail. This reminded me of the conversion of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, which I also read recently. Not that the conversion is the same, but that it is matter-of-factly revealed to the reader. A less careful reading of the book would suggest that Sandy credits, in a positive way, Miss Brodie with her conversion and subsequent inspiration for her book on psychology and faith, but I think a careful reading is that Miss Brodie's lessons showed the way not to be. But how much like Jean Brodie is Sandy?

"Sandy felt warmly towards Miss Brodie at those times when she saw how she was mislead in her idea of Rose. It was then that Miss Brodie loked beautiful and fragile, just as dark heavy Edinburgh itself could suddenly be changed into a floating city when the light was a special pearly white and fell upon one of the gracefully fashioned streets. In the same way Miss Brodie's masterful features became clear and sweet to Sandy when viewed in the curious light of the woman's folly, and she never felt more affection for her in her later years than when she thought upon Miss Brodie as silly." (page 109)

"Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life." (p 110).

Was Sandy just like Jean Brodie? Did she become the antithesis of her? Or merely her in just another form. Regardless, she was influenced by her, and in a way very different from the other girls in the Brodie circle.

I will need to think more regarding these quotes and how Miss Brodie folded the story of her love for Mr. Lloyd and Mr. Lowther into her tale of her dead lover from WWI. And how this parallels Teddy Lloyd's paintings of the Brodie girls so that they all looked similar to Jean Brodie.

I saw the movie on television when I was in my early teens. I recall Maggie Smith's elegant portrayal of Jean Brodie. I also recall distinctly my mother telling me to turn off the tv, admonishing me to not watch 'such crap'. It's been over 30 years since I saw the movie, but I think the religious aspect is downplayed, if it is even there at all. I can't imagine what my mother's objection was. Perhaps that Miss Brodie liked the Fascists? I was too young I think to understand the movie; I remember thinking that Miss Brodie was admirable because she was an intellectual, interested in her 'girls' learning about love, art, and politics. I was too young to realize that she was a control freak and how misguided her views on politics and art were.

18 June 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

I was prepared for smugness. In fact, I thought I could be clever and possibly play off of the idea of a giant cloud causing a cataclysmic "SMUGSTORM" in a recent South Park episode (the first SouthPark episode I've watched in its entirety, I swear). But, about the only thing smug about An Inconvenient Truth were some jerks sitting near me who didn't want to stop talking during the movie.

I found Al Gore's documentary about global warming to be articulate, well-researched, captivating and -- even if only 1/2 the predictions would come true -- damn scary! But, as stunning as the slides of the disappearing snowcaps of Kilimanjaro, or the animation of drowning polar bears, or footage of collapsing ice shelves are, what I find most frightful, is not the dire predictions of global warming if we don't get our act together, but that there doesn't seem to be much public debate in the US on this topic. About halfway into the movie, I thought, 'Where's the balance? What's the counterargument? Give us something, even if you shoot it all down!'. As if on cue, what did Mr. Gore present? Grim statistics that in a sampling of recent scientific journals, not one peer-evaluated article refuted the fact that our carbon-based emissions are causing global warming which is impacting life on this planet; yet, over half of the mainstream media publications surveyed questioned the validity of global warming and climate impact. How can that be? Is the state of science -- and science reporting -- such that we cannot have intellectual debate on a subject as important as the future environmental conditions on the planet?

There were parts of the movie that I thought could have been left out. The director's attempt to show the softer side of Gore (e.g., committed liberal out to save the planet) didn't do much for me. Certainly a lecture on global warming would rank near the top of any list of subjects suited to stiff, boring, cardboard-like commentators. But that isn't this film. The folksy Al portrayed throughout, while maybe a nice personality piece, wasn't needed. Gore's lecture was strong enough to stand on it's own. Gore is affable in the film; his passion for this topic -- one that he says started when he was an undergraduate -- is clearly personal, heartfelt. I heard or read recently (sorry, can't find the reference) that if Gore was this likeable during the campaign, he would have won the 2000 election (Oh, didn't he win? Had to get a little smugness in somewhere, didn't I?) While the film doesn't miss taking a few potshots at the Bush administration, it does seem, for the most part, to transcend red state/blue state politics to present a global crisis and doesn't seem to reek of eau-d'-future-campaign.

I was disappointed that the film did not give more attention to what individuals can do about this situation. There are suggestions at the ending credits, and a reference to website, but I expected more. Don't rile the masses with eco-horror stories, then say 'but it's not to late' without some sort of specific call to individual action. For those interested, here are a few links from the movie's website: Reducing emissions impact at home, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, The Stop Global Warming Virtual March. And here is a link not from the movie, but from Clare Light's wonderful blog about mapping and taxonomies, atlas(t): showing ideal spots globally for developing alternative energy sources. If you have other links on this topic -- either siding with Mr. Gore or opposing -- please pass them along. I'll publish any legitimate link by anyone interested in honest, open debate on this topic. (My blog, my rules: PLAY NICE! BE HONEST; BE FAIR. NO ATTACKS!)

I do agree with one comment made in the closing credits: tell others about this movie. Whether you are Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, Gore fan or critic, you should see this movie. See it with an open mind -- and then join in a discussion about global warming, our use of fossil fuels, and what our moral obligations to future generations are as individuals and as a country. Start that discussion in your area if you need to. Roger Ebert said: "You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to."

We owe it to ourselves, our kids, and our grandkids to at least have a discussion on this!

15 June 2006

Poetry Thursday: Box of Poems

Last week my Poetry Thursday post was a poem I had found in a box tucked away in the basement. It's not that I didn't know I had the box; I just hadn't looked in it in several years and had forgotten what was in it: a few short story drafts, lots of clippings and notes, some old letters that I don't remember keeping, and some poems. Some were good, some have potential to be if I do some smithing, some were just in the 'ugh! What an embarrassment that I wrote that!' category.

I was planning to post a different poem than the ones below, but I haven't finished revising it yet so it will have to wait. I've started, but it was originally written in a very chaotic, confusing and depressing time in my life, and I haven't been able to work on it with any clarity of mind, except in very short stretches. It might be a gem, if can get past the mawkishness of it.

This is my 4th Poetry Thursday post and this has been so much fun! Each week's 'completely and totally optional idea' has prompted me to write something, although I haven't finished the 'overheard line' poem. I have a great line, but I'm still chiseling away at the stone to find the statue inside. The best thing about Poetry Thursday is that I've started writing again -- something I haven't done in over a decade. Or maybe the best thing is that I have had people read these poems. Wow! And comment on them. The feedback has been both constructive and encouraging.

Below are two poems from the box that I wrote many years ago; the first over 20 years ago, revised just this week. The second I wrote about 16 or 17 years ago.

Living Alone
I don't miss you
except sometimes at night
when 3am chair-to-chair
cat jumps wake me.
And then in the morning,
when no one is there
to pick white cat hairs off
the back of my blue, wool coat.

Soliloquy: Sunday Solitude
white roof tops
winter-dead branches
Sunday afternoon

baby sleeping
husband gone
alone in my room

the furnace buzzes
the computer hums
noise in tune

papers to be graded
supper to be made
activity too soon

14 June 2006

Post-modernism -- and a funny....

There is an interesting discussion going on at Of Books and Bicycles regarding how to describe post-modernism and experimental fiction. Be sure to check out the comments section.

Reading through the comments -- which contain a interesting thread on Tristram Shandy -- I thought about an incident from many years ago when I was teaching an Intro to Lit class. Most of the students were considered 'non-traditional', that is working adults aged mid-20s to mid-30s. But, because it was a summer class, there were several recent high school grads, most with a horrifying lack of exposure to reading of any kind. As an adjunct, I had to teach the assigned syllabus, including Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. Now, I'd read Cat's Cradle before, and for awhile enjoyed Vonnegut's works, and I had no problems teaching it; it just wasn't the choice I would have made for a novel for inexperienced readers (or an inexperienced adjunct instructor). The younger students really struggled with the work. "Just enjoy it" was what I wanted to say to them, fearing that they would be turned off reading forever.

One day, a young student approached me after class. "I'm really trying to understand this. It isn't the first book I've ever read, but it is so different." "But", she continued, "my boyfriend suggested I asked you if this was right. He just didn't think that anyone would publish a book like this". When I asked her what she meant, she showed me her copy of the book. About 50 pages in the middle of the book had been bound incorrectly -- upside down and backwards! That's great! I thought; what a perfect way to have fun with that book. I wished I had been able to supply the entire class with the incorrectly printed books.

My 17-year old son read Cat's Cradle over the holiday break last December. He loved this story about the book and said he was surprised that Vonnegut hadn't thought of it himself. And then he continued to tell me about Ice-9 and the different types of ice he had studied in Physics. (I was thinking 3 -- the kind from the freezer, the bagged kind from the store, dry ice.) But...that's a different post, I think.

13 June 2006


Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Television is about as mesmerizing as a book about nothing can be. Mesmerizing yet a little numbing, like a television, set to a constant low hum. There were several times that I wanted to abandon the book, thinking "Alright, I get it!", but I kept being drawn back to it the way the flickering images on a TV in a bar or restaurant can draw my attention even when I know I can't hear the audio. (For some reason, I'm reminded of a time I watched Hitchcock's The Birds play on a TV in a repair shop window late one night many years ago. In German, which I do not speak....but that's probably a completely different post.)

At first, as I read this book, I couldn't help but recall reading an article a few years ago attributing the success of HGTV to how innocuous it is. Having no content that can offend, it is the perfect TV programming, the visual equivalent of background music. The narrator of Television thinks that TV is stupid, yet he contemplates its importance constantly, as if pondering the absence of TV can make up for the background music he has turned off.

The unnamed narrator is an art historian, on sabbatical, attempting to write a book about Titian. The only problem is, he doesn't want to write. On a whim, he vows to not watch television any more. Except when he can't avoid it: looking out the window into other apartments, while waiting for someone in her apartment, at the neighbor's. He gives no reason for his decision and is relieved when those to whom he brags about his TV abstinence do not inquire as to why he went cold-turkey.

Television is not so much about television as it is about the narrator and his ability to put off writing. Throughout the course of the book, all he manages to write is two words. Yet, the narrator claims he is working: if he is swimming, dining, walking and thinking about his book, or preparing to think about his book, he is 'working'. The narrator describes how he postpones any actual writing in a series of humorous events over the course of a summer. Each of these scenarios -- a chance encounter with his benefactor in the park, dinner with a colleague, watering his neighbor's plants, floating casually in the pool -- is, like the book as a whole, without much of a plot. Yet, the recounting of his day-to-day activities creates an effect on the reader similar to one a rabid channel-surfer in control of the remote would have on another viewer: the blurring of story lines, different faces and times, scattered observations in one continuous loop. Sitcom, melodrama, documentary, arts: on TV it all blurs, and little of it is memorable. Like the banality of television programming, it the mundane that occupies the narrator's life. And he is okay with that. Success, the narrator says
"...couldn't be judged quantitatively by the number of pages one might have written, nor, it seemed to me, by the quality and scope of the more basic groundwork one might have laid. No, the best criterion for evaluating the success of a day's work, it seemed to me, was surely the way we have seen the time pass as we worked, the singular capacity the hours have demonstrated to take on the weight of our work, associated with the apparently contradictory impression that the time has flown by at great speed, heavy with the work we've accomplished, laden with that work's meaning, charged with all the experiences we've gone through, and yet, so incomparably light that we never so much as noticed it passing. That's what grace is, it seemed to me, that mix of fullness and lightness, which you can only experience in certain privileged moments of your existence, moments of writing or love." (p. 91)

The narrator also says:
"Television is formal beyond all seems to flow along hand in hand with time itself, aping its passage in a crude parody where no moment lasts and everything soon disappears, to the point where you might sometimes wonder where all those images go once they've been broadcast, with no one watching them or remembering them or retaining them, scarcely seen at all, only momentarily skimmed by the viewer's gaze. For where books, for instance, always offer a thousand times more than they are, television offers exactly what it is, its essential immediacy, its ever-evolving, always-in-progress superficiality." (p. 95)

It is the mundaneness of life that skims his existence in an 'always in progress superficiality' that allows his life to speed by with lightness and grace, like the flicker and hum of the TV. The best way to watch television actively, the narrator explains, "is with your eyes closed." (p. 97) And that is how he chooses to live.

There's more to read about Toussaint's Television at The LitBlog Co-op where Television was the Spring Read This! selection. (As usual, I'm a few weeks behind...."Television Week" was a few weeks ago, but you can still read the all of the interesting posts and comments.) Max Magee, of The Millions, wrote here and Anne Fernald of Fernham wrote here about the narrator as a slacker, and whether this makes him a hero or anti-hero. Max argues convincingly for hero. But, like Anne, I can't help but project my workaholic tendencies on the narrator. Yet, I understand him. The thing is, though, I think that if I didn't have that overachiever's work ethic, I would be just like the narrator, drifting aimlessly in the swimming pool, except I might just drift away permanently like those broadcast messages that disappear.

Television, Jean-Philippe Toussaint. 1997. Translation by Jordan Stump, 2004. Dalkey Archive Press. 164 pp.

11 June 2006

Summer Reading Challenge: Why Am I Not Reading?

So here it is late on June 11th, the weekend's over, and I still haven't managed to finish a book yet this month.

A few weeks ago, I decided to participate in The Summer Reading Challenge and while I only committed to reading 2 books a month, I then created a list of 25 books to read! Math isn't my strongest skill, but I realize that's a more than a year's worth at 2/month. Yesterday, because a gift card to The Big Book Store That Sells Overpriced Coffee and Crap was burning a hole in my pocket, I ventured out to browse the mega-shelves at the mega-store. Here is what I returned home with:

* My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme. Besides the lure of a couple interesting reviews, I couldn't resist this book after looking at the front & back cover. Back cover blurb from the intro: "This is a book about some of the things I have loved most in life: my husband; la belle France; and the many pleasure of cooking and eating...." The front cover: a charming picture of Julia and Paul Child wearing large red construction paper hearts on their chests, gazing into each others' eyes. The picture just seems so typical of Julia Child.

* Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson. Was unaware of this book until publication of Gilead and the recent squawking over the NYT's 25 list.

* Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott. After reading Operating Instructions several years ago, I went on an Anne Lamott binge, checking out from the library everything by her, but I don't think I ever finished this one. In any case, hope to read it all now that it has a home on my bookshelf.

* In what was probably my most misguided purchase of the day (No wait! That would have been the Thomas the Tank Engine book for my nephew's birthday present, but hopefully it was balanced by the 2 Dr Suess books, one a pretty cool pop-up.) My most misguided: I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe. I haven't finished a Wolfe book in 2 decades. What was I thinking? 700+ pages. Physically, I already detest the book -- the paper both feels and smells odd, and with the ridiculous cutout on the front cover, I think I'll tear it off before I make it through the first chapter. I may need to give this to my husband; he claims to like Wolfe, but I don't think he made it very far into Man In Full before abandoning it. Still, I'm curious how a 75-year-old man can write convincingly a 18-year-old female protagonist. Maybe I'll at least give this the old college try.....

* The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini. This is my Reading Group's selection this month. I read the first 3 chapters while sipping one of those over-priced coffees and only stopped when I realized I had to be somewhere in a 1/2 hour. Otherwise, I think I may have remained reading until they closed the store.

So, I certainly have plenty of choices for reading. Now to just find the time....

08 June 2006

It's Poetry Thursday Again!

I'm choosing to ignore this week's writing prompt. Here is a poem I wrote many years ago, but just now found:

God! I Hate Gertrude Stein

The land
is a poem
is the land.

Your face
is a poem
is your face.

My soul
is a poem
is my soul.

Is a poem
is my soul
is the land
is your face

Is a poem?

04 June 2006

Reading Sunday paper on line

Although I subscribe weekly to the Sunday NY Times, I think it's only delivered every other week. Yep! It didn't arrive again today. Disappointing, as I usually look forward to enjoying the Books, Arts and Travel sections. (It was somewhat dismaying to open yesterday's NYT and see the two saddest local Indiana stories were on the front page of the New York paper, as I had already had my fill of sadness from the local coverage.)

Regarding today's paper, I guess I'll have to make do with sitting inside, at the computer, drinking my coffee and reading the Book Review on-line. Not quite the same weekly indulgence and I'll wonder what links I've overlooked.

Here is one that I noticed as soon as I logged in: a listing of comments from blogs regarding the recent Best Fiction discussion. I guess there is some advantage to reading on-line in that I can click to the actual blogs. Interesting which blogs the Times chose, considering that I think just about everyone blogging about books commented on the list. There are a few listed that I haven't read before. One of them Baby Got Books has asked for input from readers for their own Best 25 list. Will have to check back when the list is compiled. And if you haven't yet read Silliman's comment on Philip Roth, go read it. (You have to laugh at it, even if you disagree. I happen to agree.)

03 June 2006

On Reading 'The Complete Stories of Truman Capote'

The Complete Stories of Truman Capote was this month's selection of my reading group. I've been mildly interested in reading In Cold Blood since seeing Capote last winter, but never thought about reading his short stories, although I had read some in the past. So, I was looking forward to this book. I was disappointed.

It's not that any of the stories were bad; I just had little interest in any of them. Capote was skillful at crafting sentences, and some of the stories begin with such intriguing leads that you can't help but continue to read. Yet, I can't say that there was any particular story that stands out, only a few that I can remember two weeks later. And, that seems odd to me. Just because a story is short doesn't mean your memory of it should be.

Interestingly, we had a lively discussion regarding the book, although nobody thought there was a particular story which stood out among the collection. One of the topics of discussion was what a short story should be. One member of the group said the stories in this book were about 'nothing' because there was neither plot nor character development. I found this an interesting comment because I think that sometimes the short story form is most effective when it is only descriptive of a character. It is like looking through a peephole at a snippet of a life. When it works well, that snippet tells you all you need to know about the character, whether it is through dialogue or description, and leaves you thinking both 'What happens next?' and that you know how that character will respond.

In some ways, the brief focus that is given in a short story can be the ultimate manipulation of the reader: the author provides exactly what he wants the reader to know -- and the reader buys into it, thinking that they do know all there is. Given that, it's interesting to wonder about what is given and what is omitted in a particular story.

Another thing that we discussed in the group was whether Capote would have wanted a 'complete' collection of his works. Maybe he too would have felt that despite some cleverly crafted phrases, some of the stories just didn't hold up. Had he still been alive, would he have chosen to publish 'The Best of...' rather than 'The Complete Works'? Maybe he would have done both because of the publicity implications. He was, after all, one who could continue to work the talk-show circuit for years after he had published anything.

In the introduction to the book, Reynolds Price writes "America has never been a land of readers, not of what's called literary fiction in any case. And in the twentieth century, only two writers of distinguished fiction managed to become American household names -- Ernest Hemingway and Truman Capote." Price writes further that their notoriety was due more to their larger-than-life personalities than for their writing. Capote certainly was a celebrity in a time when celebrities were different than they are today, or at least there were fewer of them, and they remained in our collective consciousness for longer than a weekly newsmagazine stays on the coffee table. But, does Capote merit being placed beside Hemingway as a writer? I don't think so; at least I don't think that from reading his short stories. Maybe it's because I can remember how I first reacted to reading Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River", or "Indian Camp" or "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" in high school, and how I reacted reading them again college. Or 10 years later. Or 20 years. I can remember how I didn't understand 'Hills Like White Elephants' at first; I would have said it was 'about nothing'. But, then I read it again, and while maybe nothing happens action-wise, I realized that story is about so much. I didn't get that kind of a feeling from reading any of Capote's stories. Not only do I doubt that I will remember how I felt when I first read them, I doubt that I will remember that I ever read them at all.

I haven't read enough of Capote to make comments regarding his entire body of work. But, there is little in his short stories to persuade me to read his other works. Perhaps Capote was only a celebrity, more famous for being a writer, than for his writing.

01 June 2006

Poetry Thursday: Origins Unknown and Forgotten

Origins Unknown and Forgotten

I looked in the box and picked up a small, smooth stone,
out of place with the polished gems,
the forgotten suddenly in view,
as if a bloodhound picking up a long cold trail,
had revealed an old hiding place.

I knew where I found this once.
It had meant something –
a feeling, a place, a sense:
flat, thin, cool sandstone,
worn down by water dancing over rock;
reddish-brown colored like southern clay hills,
or the windy desert at dusk as the sun widens her arms
in a desperate attempt to block out the night
and provide enough warmth for the stars until dawn.

Did you first smell the earth's musk in some gravelly hillside vineyard?
On what forest trail did you first see the trees?
Where was that sea where you heard a tidal song
and were surprised it tasted of salt?
How does it feel to have arrived here, in this box,
so far from roots of sedimentary rock,
origins unknown and forgotten?

Resting for awhile on my desk,
below the monitor where I could see it every day,
I used to pick it up when on the phone,
intertwining it with my fingers,
passing from one digit to the next
the way some old cigar-smelly uncle
would do with a quarter
when trying to pretend a magic trick,
enthralling the small children at the party.
He’d laugh and we'd laugh, but it wasn’t the same;
we've learned to stifle that kind of smoky laugh
now that our hearts are more steely,
steadied by pacemakers for our emotions.

I’d gently raise the small stone
to my check, caressing softly;
a bittersweet kiss, an earthy scent,
the sound of the sea muffled by years.
I used to think of you when I saw this,
held this, absorbed the terroir through my skin,
drank in its perfume, almost unconsciously,
like your touch on moonless nights.

But I don’t remember the origins,
and I no longer can remember you.

This week's poetry prompt at PoetryThursday was to read a poem aloud. I had already started this poem when Liz Elayne and Lynn had posted the prompt, but I made an effort to read ALOUD when I revised, not just 'in my head'. While I think this is still draft mode (there are some parts that don't work the way I'd like), I think the reading aloud exercise forced me to make changes I might not have thought about if I hadn't stumbled over the words when speaking them.