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I see this light. It’s a cold, rainy, miserable, crummy night. I slow up, and I see ahead of me a great, dark mass on the road, stretching endlessly. In the middle of this great dark mass is a man carrying a lantern. One of these Coleman lanterns. You can see a circle of light about ten or fifteen feet around him. This apparition all around him is a writhing, moiling crowd of turkeys. It’s insane, weird-looking, like a monster movie—and the man is walking along the road with this herd of turkeys, and he’s taking them somewhere.
The bright light from the Coleman lamp is playing on these turkey heads. Now, a turkey is not a beautiful bird. From the head up it looks bad. He’s got these red wattles, the comb, and the eyes! There’s a certain strange, maniacal quality to a turkey’s eyes. With the light hitting the turkey eyes you can see them glowing. If you’ve ever looked a turkey in the eye in the dark, it’s enough to have you swear off anything.
I pull up. Here’s these turkeys. They’re all sort of moving like a great mob of ants or something and they all stay together, very close, tight-knit. They go gwaglewaglewagle gwaglewaglewagle, calling back and forth in the darkness. I stop. Here’s this farmer walking along with these turkeys. He must have had seven trillion of these babies. The turkeys are spread out on the shoulders of the road. I can’t get around them. I’m not driving over the fields with the Ford, busting axels. It is just like getting behind some herd of warthogs or something. I decide, holy smokes, I’ll never get through here. What I’m going to do is back up.
I look in my rearview mirror and I see another light! I start backing up and I hear somebody hollering, “Hey! Hey!” I open the door and look out, and behind me is the avant garde of another herd of turkeys! The guy back there is yelling, “Don’t back up, mac! What do you think you’re doin?” The two guys are driving them all down in two big herds. I am stuck. I am stuck between two merging herds of turkeys.
Ron Offen, the publisher/editor of Free Lunch, had the policy of, when rejecting poems, including some useful literary comment on one’s work when returning it. After submitting poems over a period of many months, Offen, gifted me with a free subscription to Free Lunch—and they say there is no free lunch!
For years, the New York Transit Authority placed car-cards on their trains in a series titled “Poetry in Motion.” These consist of a short poem surrounded by a decorated boarder. As a daily rider, I appreciated this and used the card’s title and decoration for promoting my own little ditties by making small versions of the cards with my poems and distributing them scattered on empty seats. I got no fame or fortune, but it was fun:
I gather my poems into chronological groupings and hold each group together with an inexpensive binding: First Poems. More First Poems, Even More First Poems, Second Poems. Third Poems, Fourth Poems.
My poems vary in style, from the loose (free-form) to attempts at two of the more traditional, organized forms: the sonnet and the villanelle. For a couple of my favorite sonnets, I recommend Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur” and “Pied Beauty,” which use such strange word and organizational combinations (Hopkins called the use “sprung rhythm.”) that they sound as though they must be modern. For a villanelle, I like Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”
In my Fourth Poems, I encounter a villanelle of mine I still like. The villanelle’s organized form takes a line and repeats it in a specific way. The effect is a kind of obsessiveness that has a strong, emotional effect for me. I’ve written poems on a variety of themes. Here’s one of mine—as one might guess, its a meditation on artsy-ness, based on topiary and associated crafts. The other is also on art, in a loose form:
Devoted to Art and Ice
We seek transcendent craft with mind and heart,
though choosing nature’s text exacts a price:
the nature of the natural—or the artifice of art.
(But a bush that’s shorn like sheep will stand apart
as should a swan contrived and carved in ice.
See: weakened craft devoid of mind and heart;
their makers rake in bucks, but without Art.)
We have our purity, our pride, our mundane sacrifice.
It’s the nature of the natural and the artifice of art.
Could we then, concoct and cast some chart
and condemn those dolts to hell for all their vice,
while we seek transcendent craft with mind and heart?
Where would we live, uplifted, while the crass depart
when purged? We’d weekend in our artful paradise
if we nurtured all the natural and the artifice of art.
It’s we, with our damned sensibilities, who pray apart;
convinced, in faith, that “beauty” does suffice
when we seek transcendent craft with mind and heart
and the nature of the natural and the artifice of art.
Walt Whitman, John Marin
Universe in a leaf of grass and mountain in a wet-brush swath.
We live, say Walt and John, between sensation and act,
or should, but our minds intrude, denying life’s immediacy:
Power bound in the brain, constrained from free release,
Confounded by inflexible alphabets in books, broken on the rigid rack of prose.
What we feel must thrust through muscle surge
As pigment strokes unmindful of the mind’s devices—
Urge, urge, long lines must burn the page
From here below where every body knows: barbaric yawps of words and paint.
Yes. Yet what thin and thoughtful lines: with each page and new edition
Pentimento commas, brushed word shifts,
Palimsests of crafted washes, charcoal indirections—
Careful (not random) inflections go and come, settle down and glow,
Underlie the flush and sweep preceding sweet, controlled abandon.
I love turkeys—as a food. It’s one of the great foods. I’m literally a turkey-nut. And anyone who’s ever been in the great Midwest—outside the New York area—knows a lot about turkeys. You know, the turkey is one of the world’s dumbest birds. The turkey has a brain about the size of a pinhead. A real dumb bird. If you have a flock of turkeys and one turkey panics for one reason or another, all the turkeys go totally ape and go over a cliff or something worse than lemmings, and kill about five-thousand of them in about five minutes.
One time I really got bugged with turkeys. They grow a lot of them in Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan, where turkeys are particularly suited to that climate. Now turkey is not grown the way you grow chickens. Most people think of a turkey as a kind of a big chicken. Oh no. A very different breed, I’ll tell you! This is a side of turkeys you never see.
I remember one cold, dark night, I’m in a hurry. I’m driving. I say to myself, “I know this road, I’m going to take a shortcut and go over there, and go down that road. I’ll cut out a half an hour. So I’m driving like mad. I’ve really got to get to this place. To be honest, it involved a girl. When you get mad over a chick, that’s bad mad!
So I’m hurrying and it’s dark and cold and I’m in my Ford and I’m about eighteen years old and really got to see this girl and I’m driving through this road, when all of a sudden, I see a light ahead of me. Right in the middle of the road. So I start slowing up. I figure there’s a car stopped there. It’s a narrow road, about a lane-and-a-half. One of these asphalt roads you see in the country.
POETS—Manque and Pro. 1 of 2
What’s it like to be a poet manqué or even a real pro-poet, in a country that doesn’t read poetry? Well, decades ago I wrote over 150 poems, tried a few times to get some published. Ogden Nash, probably our most funny and Beloved American Poet, once complained on a TV show on which he was a panelist, that poets such as himself had to be on such panel shows just to make a living.
A bit of Ogden Nashery:
Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.
Billy Collins is a former U. S. Poet Laureate. He tends to write amusing stuff. I read a profile of him in a major magazine which noted that he had a photo of Jean Shepherd pinned over his desk. I contacted him and interviewed him for my book on Shepherd and he expressed how important he’d been to his growing up: “I had to get my Shepherd fix. He actually made you feel that you weren’t alone….I think he had the best influence on my sensibility. And I think it helped me kind of pursue that sense of being different, being an individual.”
A poem by Billy Collins:
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
Bill Knott was a funny, quirky kind of poet, hard to determine if he was for real or not—but poems of his appeared in the New Yorker–WOW! He also achieved a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was highly regarded by some (a comment that he might well have found funny—or annoying). Jeff Alessandrelli, in the LIT HUB website wrote: “He was an odd person, determinedly so. Attentively discombobulated; idiosyncratically calibrated. Most poets are sheep. He wasn’t most.” A New York Times book reviewer described him as “…the brilliant poet and morbid eccentric…” He died in 2014.
I can’t remember the circumstance under which I’d contacted him, but in response he sent me, five autographed batches (books) of his self-published poems. I responded by sending him a copy of my Excelsior, You Fathead! Here’s some Knott:
New Yorker poem, Plaza de Loco poems
Charles Wright is, indeed, highly regarded, and his Black Zodiac poetry book won the Pulitzer Prize. I bought it and several of his subsequent books, but find Black Zodiac by far the best for my taste and understanding. A sample from it and, when I went to a reading of his, his autograph for me:
Eugene B. Bergmann
I only occasionally submitted my poems for possible publication, and only twice was accepted. A Canadian poetry journal, Undertow published two of my poems! (“Arcadian Commute,” and “Nature Morte.”)
When I encountered a contest using magnetic words that one adheres to one’s refrigerator to create poems, I submitted and am now the proudly (?) published author of two poems in The Magnetic Poetry Book of Poetry. In bookstores I still encounter that book, amused to think that my two poems are probably read more than those of Robert Frost or any other American poet! (That little piece of irony is maybe not funny, but just true.)
End Part one of two.
From that night on, when Pearl and I stood next to each other in biology class, it was an entirely different thing. She always said, “Please,” now. She didn’t have the little spangles, the tassels on her “Yes.” She’d say, “Would you pass the green dye, please.” Her nostrils would flair a bit. “Pass the dye, please.” I’d say “Yes,” and I’d give her the dye. She’d say, “Excuse me. Do you have yesterday’s assignment in your notebook?” That cool, beautiful, rich smile. I’d say, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.”
From that time on I had trouble eating red cabbage, I could no longer mix it with the mashed potatoes, and ketchup was dead. My father’s hair was a kind of dirty gray and I wanted to say, “Dad, why isn’t your hair white?” My mother was always there in that big old bathrobe saying, “How about some red cabbage, gang?” I’d say, “I’ll have another helping, please.” And that was the day that changed my life.
That’s all Shep says about Pearl.
Her story’s over. We can understand how his date
with her changed his way of thinking about his family and the differences money
makes to status. Is it what made him a liberal in some aspects of his thinking?
We don’t quite know in what ways it changed how he differed in his life.
Next story we go from Pearl to turkeys.
Degas Pastel–Getting My Hackles Up
The recently encountered Degas picture found in a bus is not a “painting” as widely described. When I first saw it shown for a moment on TV, I said to my wife, “Oh, look, a Degas pastel.” Then I saw it reproduced in the New York Times (2/24/2018) described as a “painting,” and I thought I’d mis-interpreted it on the TV screen. After all, the Times title to the news story used the word “painting,” and the article referred to it as a “painting” nine times, but once as: “The painting, a colorful pastel.” That phrase is a self-contradiction. Googling the picture, all the first page hits (NYT, AP, Reuters, The Guardian, etc.) refer to it as a “painting.”
I opened a large photo of the piece on my computer screen and confirmed that the technique and nature of the work shows it to be, without doubt, not a painting, but a pastel. (I’m also aware that Degas did many pastel works.) Pastel is an art medium in the form of sticks consisting of pure powdered pigments and a binder–similar to chalks used on a blackboard. The picture is not a “painting” any more than a pencil drawing, etching, lithograph, wood-block print, or a tapestry, is a “painting.” The mass media, following “painting,” blindly galloped lemming-like over the cliff of ignorance.
My large catalog of the 1988 Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Degas exhibit shows it in color with a detailed description of the work, starting with: “The Chorus. Pastel over monotype on laid paper.” Looking up “monotype” in my Art Terms book, I found that it’s a form of printing in which wet paint on glass is pressed onto paper in a technique similar to etchings and lithographs—thus, over that basic, printed, under-layer, Degas created his predominately pastel picture.
My Random House Dictionary of the English Language Second Edition, copyright 1987, defines painting as “A picture or design executed in paint.” I had to confirm this because dictionaries can be outrageously confusing and downright wrong, as was Webster’s Unabridged, 3rd Edition (1961) in its defining “hoi polli” as both the lower class and the upper class. (Sure to confuse unknowing readers for generations to come, as will Webster’s 3rd defining “uninterested” and “disinterred” as the same—would you want to come before a judge who is uninterested in judging your case, or who is disinterested while judging it?) Wrong word-usage matters—it pollutes and confuses accurate understanding of our major means of communicating.
In this close-up, note overall pastel work,
especially in the oranges and the gray hair.
will the media give you no rest?
This is an extra special Artsy inspired by the 2/22/2018 New York Times article in–not the sports section—but the ARTS SECTION.
The feature article, by dance critic Gia Kourlas, describes the ice dance competition in the 2018 Olympics. It is a powerful and elegant description and promotion of figure skating—especially ice dancing—as a fine art. It is a wonderful argument for skating as an art—saying more knowledgably than I could in my two ARTSY FARTSY essays of Jan. 2 and Jan. 5, 2018, which described ice dancers Torvill and Dean, and figure skating soloist John Curry.
Short quotes from the Gia Kourlas article:
.. as a dance critic, I judge skating by different rules, and to me, no team, gold medal or not, matches the artistry of Ms. Papadakis and Mr. Cizeron.
When a free dance program shows two bodies moving as one, as Ms. Papadakis and Mr. Cizeron’s did, it is just as ethereal as ballet.
… for me the real hero of the Olympic Games has been ice dancing.
Yes, it’s skating and yes, it’s dance, but it’s the combination of the two that captures the freedom of what skating can be.
… ice dance pushes skating to a more poetic place.
I am thrilled and it brings tears to my eyes to read Ms Kourlas’ essay, and to watch Papadakis and Cizeron skate their art via YouTube. at:
papadakis cizeron 2018 olympics
Bravo Papadakis, Cizeron, and Ms Kourlas!
I’d never seen this Stanley but already I’m working under his legend. It’s terrible to replace a great performer. Can you imagine a poor guy who had come along to fill in for Mickey Mantle? He sits down at the end of the dugout and the crowds are hollering, “We want Mickey! We want Mantle!” They ain’t hollering for George or Fred, who’s just come up from Rochester to replace him. Here I am, I’m not the great, legendary Stanley, so I say, “What do I do?”
Chester says, “What do you mean, ‘what do you do.’ You catch rats. That’s what you do.”
I say, “Where are the rats?”
“They’re out there by the tracks, down there by the shipping dock.” He says, “There’s rats around the back. You know what these damn girls do? They eat their lunch and they throw all the bread crumbs and junk around. These rats come in here. The place is full of ‘em now. It’s your job to catch rats. Go find Stanley and ask him where he caught ‘em. Stanley knew how to catch rats.”
There I am. I’m on my own now. I say, “Alright, where do I get the bait?”
“Go down to the commissary and ask ‘em for bait. Stanley didn’t bother me with this stuff!”
We have a commissary down at the end of the mill, so I go there and there are all these guys eating. I walk in and I’m looking around for Mr. Roberts who I used to deliver mail to. I tell him I want some rat bait.
“You want what?”
“I want rat bait.”
“Rat bait? What are you going to do with rat bait on a mail route?”
“I’m working for Mr. Gotch down here at the tin mill assorting office and I need some rat bait.”
“You’re replacing Stanley!”
I say “Yea.”
“That kid was fantastic!”
For decades I’ve kept a 3” X 5” white pad and a pen with me wherever I go. I often write a note regarding such things as grocery lists and other superficial stuff. Most importantly, I make notes about important (to me) ARTSY stuff, sometimes in the middle of the night–when I grab pen and pad from my nightstand and, to avoid disturbing my wife, I write my note in the dark—in hopes that I’ll be able to read it in the morning:
Allison once asked me what I write in the night and I explained it to her.
In October of 1997 I’d encountered a New Yorker cartoon
that perfectly described the situation:
Occasionally, waking up in the dark, I’ll want to write a more extended note as I recently did. So I have to get up, get a big pad, turn on the dining room light, and write at the table. Most recently a dream had concerned theater, comedy, and book collecting—things connected to my ARTSY life. One of the most absorbing and enjoyable dreams I can ever remember having. I’m not sure how ARTSY it is, but here’s what I wrote:
Not such a great dream—
but, being about an Off-Off-Broadway play,
a comedy, and a used book store
(such as the dozen on lower Fourth Avenue
I used to haunt many Saturday mornings
as a youngster),
gee whiz, it is a bit Artsyish.
I say, “Okay, you want me to clean out the file cabinet, huh?”
He says, “No, just bring out the stuff. That’s your stuff.”
“This is my stuff?”
He says, “Yeah, bring them rat traps over here. I want to show you something.”
And so I take the rat traps with the big rubber band around them and some big cans of stuff. I put the rat traps on Gotch’s desk.
He’s chewing away on his first salami sandwich of the day. He says, “Alright now. You ever work a rat trap?”
“No. I’ve messed around with mouse traps once in a while.”
“Works the same way. Here, give me one of them.” He puts the sandwich down. He takes that trap and bends a piece back. “Now here, you take this little metal tongue here and hold it down, it’s stronger than hell. Be sure to hold it tight or it’ll get your finger. Put it in the little ring there. Now that trap is set. Now watch.” He takes his pencil and puts it on the trap. Bam! It busts that pencil in half.
I jump back.
“If the rat comes over and touches the little tongue here, he’s gonna get trapped. What you do is put the bait on that tongue. That’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna catch the rats around here.”
“I’m catching rats?”
“Yep. And I’ll tell you this. If you’re good as Stanley was, you’re gonna be damn good.”
I say, “Stanley?”
He says, “Stanley was here this spring catching rats. Best rat catcher we ever had. Fantastic. Got promoted to the main office.
“Stanley got promoted to the main office?”
Herman in the back chimes in, “Listen, kid, if you catch rats half as good as Stanley, you’re gonna be damn good.”
Best known of Gaudi’s works is the Sagrada Familia, a short walk from the Casa Mila. (The church is still in-process after being started over a hundred years ago.) Of course I’d visited it on my first stay in Barcelona. (The more traditional looking portion on the right front, was designed and built before Gaudi was put in charge.) I even climbed the narrow, winding stairs in one of the steeples to the point where one can see, far below, the entire city, and close up, another of the steeples.
When I was there, the exterior walls and the four main steeples were built, but the interior was still without a roof, so that it looked like a bombed-out building. Now it’s enclosed.
While in Barcelona I also visited the downtown older section with its gothic cathedral, Picasso Museum, and nearby elegant promenade with its stores, restaurants and vendors down the middle selling everything including small, colorful caged birds. This is the pedestrian street, Las Ramblas.
August 25, 2017 News Report:
Chilling moment tourists flee as van that killed 13 innocents,
speeds through bustling Las Ramblas on deadly terror mission.
I read the other day (early December, 2017) that the terrorists had been making explosives to strike the Sagrada Familia! However, the explosives accidentally detonated in the house where they were being prepared. I mentioned it to my wife, who wondered how many people would have been inside the church–and injured and killed. I had no idea. And realized, shocked at my mental glitch, that I hadn’t thought of the human injured but of how the explosion would have damaged Gaudi’s architecture.
I’ve been posting my transcriptions of Shepherd’s kid stories for quite a while. I wonder how many realize (so long after I posted my manuscript’s introduction to this effect) that the stories are arranged in a chronology of his fictional life, including, in order, kindergarten, early grammar school, kid jobs, ham radio, high school, summer in steel mill, to come on dating (and will end with two stories of his college days). Thus, these stories are a logical sequence that will end with his understanding of the wider world beyond the Hammond of his childhood.
The Soaking Pit
The steel mill was like some giant mountain range and I was a kid and lived in a steel mill town. The steel mill surrounded the town. You could see it on the horizon. And, you know, on a night like this, in the fall especially, when the air was clear, especially up in the north, the whole sky would be lit with a glow of purple, red, orange—the steel mill.
The underbody of the clouds would just flicker all the time, so it was never really dark there. It was like the northern lights. At this time of year, above the steel mill’s dark orange glow, you could see the occasional flicker of the real northern lights. They moved and were kind of a ghost-like white, a strange bluish-purple. At first you didn’t think you were seeing it. It just moved. And particularly at two or three o’clock in the morning you could see the northern lights, and anywhere from August through the middle of November was shooting star time. So, with the glow of the steel mill, that dark orange purple glow and above it the flicker of the northern lights and then an occasional pshoooooo—there would be a shooting star. And the eternal airplanes moving over the sky on their way into O’Hare Airport. And the trains roaring past all night. They’re carrying coke, carrying pig iron—and carrying all types of pigs out of Chicago. Constantly.
That was the way it was and no other way. You didn’t think in terms of waving fields of grain, you never thought in terms of moon over the Wabash. This was Indiana, but not the Indiana they sing songs about.
The big ol’ steel mill. And nobody who’s ever been inside the steel mill was ever the same once he’d been inside of it. Almost anything you do, once you’ve actually done it, you can never think of it the way you used to think of it before you did it. Everything changes.
One day, as a kid, I got this call. I had applied at the mill for a job. Like every other kid. Best thing to do. You applied. And one day I came home from school and there was a note: “Call this number.” My mother said, “Somebody called and I think it was the steel mill.”
“The steel mill!” It was fantastic luck, so I gave them a call and the next day I was down taking an examination, one of those long, involved aptitude-type things. I took about fifty of them.
Weeks went by. And then, one historic afternoon, I was given my clock pin, a pin you put on that says, from here on in you’ve got a clock number and you sign in. I was officially hired as a laborer in the steel mill. I had proven that I could carry stuff. And I had a fantastic aptitude for scut and I showed great talent for moving large chunks of metal from one place to the other. And my lungs were made of pure leather so I could breathe in the stygian atmosphere. I got on the bus that day and I went out to the forty-inch soaking pits.
So I put it in first and I drive it forward. Uh huh. Now I’m going back and forth. Then I decide, well, you know what I think I’ll do, the back end is facing the street, so I’ll help the old man. I’ll turn the car around so when he comes out he just gets in the car and it’s facing down the driveway, so he won’t have to back out and turn around. I’ll do that for him. So I back it up, she eases around, I slip it into first and I spin the wheel with the skull-and-crossbones spinner with the eyes that are two fake emeralds that glow. I love to grab that spinner. I finally get the car turned around. I back it almost all the way into the yard and now it‘s facing the street. Just sitting there. This big, glowing, machine-monster.
I’m sitting in the front seat of the old man’s car and I can smell the gas, and that’s exciting to a male. I don’t know whether girls ever have that kind of feeling about cars, but men do. No two ways about it. After a bit, the car’s warmed up now. You can see the temperature gauge is up to normal. Gee, she is running great. So I turn it off, get out of the car, and I go into the house.
I can’t get that damned car out of my mind. The sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day and the yeast is rising deep inside my veins. I can feel it. The life, the sap flowing through.
Well, along comes Bruner, my buddy. Bruner comes wandering along and he hollers. Remember when guys used to come to your house and holler for you? “Hey, George!” I don’t know whether kids still do holler for each other like that. Holler out the back—“Hey, George!” “Hey, Shepherd!” And it’s Bruner. You don’t go out to talk to him, you holler from inside the house.
“Whata you want?”
“We’ll go down and play ball!”
“Okay, after I finish my samich!”
So he just waits out there. I’m eating this salami samich and knocking down the soup and the old man’s still asleep.
I walk out onto the back porch finally. Bruner’s sitting on the back steps and he’s got his baseball glove. So it hits me—I don’t feel like playing ball today. Because—that car! Bruner is outlined against the car. That car is drawing me on like some kind of fantastic mechanical magnet. I can’t get away from it!
Bruner picks up his glove and says, “Come on, let’s go.”
I say, “Wait a minute, Bruner, I think I left the rag in the front seat of the car.”
He says, “Oh, you’ve been drivin’ the car?”
“Yeah, you know.” I’ve driven the car back and forth three feet. I tell Bruner this because he is one year younger than I am and doesn’t have a license. “Yeah, driving the car. I’ve been driving the car all weekend, ha ha. Just come back.”
So I say, “I’m going to get the rag,” and I get in and sit in the front seat. I’m not looking for any rag, I just want to sit in the seat. Finally it hits me—I don’t want to go.
I get out and say, “Look, Bruner, I don’t want to play. I gotta work on the car.”
“What are you doin’?”
“I’ve got some work to do on the car.”
More car story to come.