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Jul. 19th, 2011

Angry Scrooge

Comment by Gary Synder

In April, poet Gary Snyder visited the Twin Cities for a reading and was interviewed by local critic Chris Welsch. During the interview, Welsch said, "Poet Charles Simic recently wrote about what he called the ‘New American Pessimism," a sense that our big problems can’t be solved and that we’re unable to act together to address them. What’s your take on the current political situation?" Synder replied:

It’s a strange time we’re in, in a way. A segment of the American population that didn’t have a voice — because it wasn’t smart enough — now does have a voice; it’s a self-destructive and ignorant way of thinking that doesn’t grasp how much the American mode of infrastructure that supports business, transportation and education is an indispensable part of the government and that makes the country as great as it has been. It’s the Grover Norquist school of thought that somehow we’ll be better off not paying for these things. There’s not much we can do but watch it play itself out."

Yet another old man (Synder is in his 80's) who has little or no hope for the future.

Jun. 10th, 2011

Angry Scrooge

Poem: "The Things"

I found this last night on Garrison Keillor’s "Writer’s Almanac."

The Things

When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
— de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore —
that I've cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters
of the trivial — a white stone perfectly round,
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,
a broken great-grandmother's rocker,
a dead dog's toy — valueless, unforgettable
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother's souvenirs of trips
with my dead father. Kodaks of kittens,
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.

— Donald Hall

This is exactly what I see and feel when I look around my "study."

Angry Scrooge

Dakota Names for Months

My youngest son and his bride (Scott and Rachael) were married last Saturday at the Gibbs Farm Museum, located near the Saint Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. On the grounds of the museum were a series of plaques giving the Dakota names of the various months of the year. I am reproducing them here.

January: "The Hard Moon"
February:  "The Raccoon Moon"
March: "The Moon of Sore Eyes"
April:  "The Moon When Geese Lay Eggs"
May:  "The Planting Moon"
June:  "The Moon When Strawberries are Ripe"
July:  "The Moon When Chokeberries are Ripe"
August:  "The Harvest Moon"
September:  "The Moon When Rice is Laid up to Dry"
October:  "The Moon When the Wind Shakes Leaves Off Trees"
November:  "The Moon When Deer Shed Antlers"
December:  "The Moon When Trees Pop"

According to another plaque, "The hunting and garden farming of the Dakota was so efficient they had large amounts of leisure time. The Dakota did not wish to work to accumulate property for profit by intensive crop and livestock farming." A good way of living, it seems to me.

May. 31st, 2011

Angry Scrooge

(no subject)

I find that I cannot get into the spirit of holidays that seem to celebrate war, violence and death. It is not that I doubt the sincerity of celebrants, or that I feel my sentiments are on a higher plain. There is just something that strikes me as perverse about it. The beer and truck ads on TV trumpeting "guts and glory" are particularly repulsive. Here is a poem by A. E. Housman.

Epitaph on Army of Mercenaries

These, in the days when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and the earth's foundations stay;
When God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

—A. E. Housman

Housman was not (to my knowledge) a soldier, so he is not considered one of the English "World War I poets." The poem above was written 1914 shortly after the battle of Ypres. Like Thomas Hardy, Houseman had a way of seeing through cant.

Mar. 18th, 2011

Angry Scrooge

Melissa --- Greek dog

I am reading Alan Furst’s latest novel: Spies of the Balkans. It is set in a small fishing town in Greece in the 1940's, just before and then during the invasion by Nazi Germany. The main protagonist is a Greek police official. Part of the story concerns his dog, Melissa --- honeybee --- "...a big girl, eighty pounds, with a thick soft black-and-white coat and a smooth face, long muzzle, and beautiful eyes — not unlike the Great Pyrenees." Melissa’s daily routine is described this way.

[She] started by walking him, a few blocks toward the office, to a point where instinct told her, he was not longer in danger of being attacked by wolves. Next, she returned home to protect the local kids on their way to school, then accompanied the postman on his rounds. That done, she would guard the chicken coop in a neighbor’s courtyard, head resting on massive paws. If a marauding fox didn’t show up, she’s wait until it was time to trot off to the school and see the kids safely home.

Nobody taught her any of this, it was all in her bloodline,.coming from the mountains, where her ancestors — perhaps descendants of Turkish Akbash dogs — guarded flocks but didn’t herd them. Thus she would never trot in front or behind her charges, but stayed always to one side. Watchful. And independent; when [the protagonist] had tried to put her on a lease she’d responded by lying down and refusing to move.

Sounds exactly like my kind of "girl".

Mar. 14th, 2011

Angry Scrooge

Poem for month: Death be not proud

I have set a goal for myself of memorizing a poem, fragment of a poem or speech each month. At first I thought of one a week, but I am old and retired and try to avoid anything that looks seriously like work. The verse below is a kind of softball, since I have known it for over forty years. I first heard it in 1968 during a memorial service for Robert Kennedy — I remember the woman who recited it looked up significantly at the line "and soonest our best men with thee do go."

Death be not proud

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And better than thy stroake; why swell'st thou then; 
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

--- John Donne

John Donne is to me an interesting guy. In his youth he was successful both as a lyric poet and with the ladies ("If ever true beauty I did see, which I had sought and got --- twas but a dream of thee..." etc, etc). Apparently many an Elizabethan lass, recipients of such verse, ended up in his bed. Later in life, when the fire had gone out, he became pious, joined the clergy and wrote some fine religious poetry. He reminds me a bit of Saint Augustine: "Grant me chastity and temperance, oh Lord --- but not yet."

Mar. 13th, 2011

Angry Scrooge

Anne Dillard, Spinoza and freedom

The following excerpts are from an essay by Anne Dillard entitled "Living Like Weasels."

The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at last ignobly in its talons. I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel’s: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.

People take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience — even silence — by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into the pulse. This is yielding, not fighting. A weasel doesn’t "attack" anything; a weasel lives as he is meant to, yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of simple necessity.

I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it, limp wherever it takes you.

To me this is this an explication of Spinoza’s notion that freedom is understanding and embracing your own essential nature. This sounds simple, but in my experience is not. I am over sixty-five and success in this continues to elude me — though I sometimes feel I am coming closer.

Feb. 27th, 2011

Angry Scrooge

Poem "A Day at theBeach"

I found the following poem at Garrison Keilor’s "Writer’s Almanac."  I just like and want to keep it.

                             A Day at the Beach

           If he had been paying more attention
           to whatever my mother was saying
           from her hat beneath the umbrella

           or watching more closely over my brother,
           off playing somewhere with his shovel and pail,
           or me, idly tracing my name in the sand

           if he hadn’t had that faraway look,
           gazing out to where the freighters crawled along
           the horizon — so that when he suddenly

           pushed up and off, sand in his wake, visor
           taking wing behind, you could believe,
           as he churned toward the glassy water,

           that it had just come to him to chuck it all,
           this whole idea of family, and make
           for those southeast bound freighters and the islands —

           then he might have never seen the arm heaved up,
           the lifeguards running just as my father
           was lifting the old man out of the surf

           and bearing him ashore, the blue receding
           from his cramped limbs.. And as a crowd closed around
           the gasping figure struggling to his knees

           my father turned back to us — sheepishly,
           almost, back to the endless vigilance
           of husband and father, which was all

           he had ever asked for in the first place.

          — Peter Schmidt (from Hazard Duty,
               Copper Beach Press, 1995)

I really like the line "the endless vigilance of husband and father."  Francis Bacon once said, "Any man with a family is a hostage to fate."


Feb. 21st, 2011


Viking Names

I am reading a book about the Old Norse (a.k.a. "Vikings). Particularly interesting is their manner of naming themselves and each other. Most commonly boys took the name of their father ("Eric Son of John"). Sometimes it was a matter of appearance ("Leif the Red") or achievement ("Hakon the Bold.") Some names were descriptive ("Eric the Silent" and even "Harald the Sarcastic.") One warrior was named "Haldar the Walker" because no horse could carry him. I will merely mention "Ivor the Horsedick" without further comment.

The names of women were also often evocative, for example "Aud the Deep Minded," "Gunnhild Kingsmother" and "Thorbjorg Shipbreast’. The source of this last lady’s name probably has to do with the tendency for Viking vessels (typically called knorr) to be very large in the front. In fact a common Norse endearment was knerra-bringa — "a woman with a chest like a knorr." Other feminine names were less endearing – "Hilda the Bossy," "Inga the Scold" and "Thora the Gossip." I rather hope "Guthroth Tranquil Snow" was as charming as her name.

Feb. 9th, 2011

Angry Scrooge

Poem --- Different Dogs

Some poems are not triumphant or ennobling and still manage to strike the heart. This is one such. It is from the New Yorker (Jan 17, 2011).

                       Different Dogs

I’m sitting here with this bony Doberman
atop a stinky knoll back of the Oklahoma
City Animal Shelter. I make sure to walk
the wretched ones. The others barked
raucously as she ambled out of her cage
into the noose of my leash, which hung slack
as we shuffled past the monsters in the segregated pen —
some, the workers say, are just born bad.
The dog trembles in the fall chill as we watch
a mist drift over the downtown skyline.
Somewhere in that fog is Krystal, the woman
I met Saturday night, who seemed to know
everyone in the bar but kept circling back
to me, even after she let some crazy asshole
lick her eyeball. At closing she gave me
her number, and I figured, doing the math,
her younger age and good breasts plus nice face
minus the acne scars, which didn’t matter
to me, but probably did to her, equaled
my first Oklahoma girl. But when I called
she only talked about herself, her careers,
her degrees, her deep spirituality, her power
to literally make the sun come out whenever
she felt like it. I thought she was just
misusing the word "literally," as often happens,
but no, she meant it, and if I were younger
I’d have challenged her, but instead I just
got depressed, more depressed after the sex.
Better to be here with this miserable bitch
watching the clouds roll in. She’s leaning
against me now, and I can rest my chin on her head.
When dogs gaze out in the same direction
as you, sniffing the wind, they seem to know
the future. They don’t tell you when you’re
a volunteer, which got destroyed,
which got adopted. You just show up
and find different dogs in the cages.

— Douglas Goetsch

Reminds me of a skinny stray I saw at a gas station in Kansas City, on our way back from Vicksburg.

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