Thursday, March 31, 2005

Robert Creeley (1926-2005)

Robert Creeley died yesterday in Odessa, Texas.

Sparks Street Echo

Flakes falling
out window make
no place, no place--

no faces, traces,
wastes of whatever
wanted to be--

was here
momently, mother,
was here.

From Selected Poems (1991)


Why poetry? Its materials are so constant, simple, elusive, specific. It costs so little and so much. It preoccupies a life, yet can only find one in living. It is a music, a playful construct of feeling, a last word and communion. I love it that these words, "made solely of air," as Williams said, have no owner finally to determine them. The English teacher all that time ago who said, "You must learn to speak correctly," was only wrong in forgetting to say why--for these words which depend upon us for their very existence fail as our usage derides or excludes them. They are no more right or wrong than we are, yet suffer our presumption forever.

From the Preface to Selected Poems (1991)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Joe LeSueur's Digressions

I just learned that the following review (which I wrote in December 2003 and lost sight of) will not be printed in World Literature Today. No room. So here's a new home for it.

Joe LeSueur. Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara. New York. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2003. xxvii + 302 pages, ill. $25. ISBN 0-374-13980-6.

"I just met the most terrific person!": That is what Joe LeSueur remembers saying after meeting Frank O'Hara. LeSueur and O'Hara met in 1951; from 1955 to 1965 they shared a series of Manhattan apartments in what LeSueur calls an "ambiguous" relationship as roommates, friends, and occasional lovers. (It was the ambiguity that brought their life together to an end.) With Bill Berkson, LeSueur edited the invaluable assemblage of memoirs and essays Homage to Frank O'Hara (1988). In this book LeSueur (who died in 2001) assembles his memories and speculations concerning 40-odd Frank O'Hara poems.

LeSueur writes in response to poems that prompt memories; while a number of O'Hara's best-known poems are here, others ("Meditations in an Emergency" and "Why I Am Not a Painter," for two) are conspicuously absent. LeSueur does indeed digress, freely, wittily, and generously. He resists at almost every turn the impulse to provide critical commentary on poems: "I am not … so audacious as to delve into the singular depths of this poem" he writes of "Joe's Jacket" (named for his jacket, a seersucker from Brooks Brothers). Instead, he focuses on what Allen Ginsberg in his elegy for Frank O'Hara, "City Midnight Junk Strains," calls "deep gossip." A chapter on "Personal Poem" collects affectionate memories of artist Mike Kanemitsu before turning to less-friendly recollections of Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones). A chapter on O'Hara's Jackson Pollock poem, "Digression on Number 1, 1948," turns into an unflattering portrait of Pollock's wife Lee Krasner. At times deep gossip threatens to make O'Hara's poetry peripheral, most dismayingly when LeSueur tries to find a "personal response" to the dense, dazzling "In Memory of My Feelings." He finds that the poem triggers "nothing" and proceeds to recount painter Grace Hartigan's gaucheries. (The poem is dedicated to Hartigan.) Here and elsewhere LeSueur seems to be settling scores, and the relation between commentary and poem becomes reminiscent of Nabokov's Pale Fire (a resemblance LeSueur no doubt consciously makes use of).

A claim that one is unable to "analyze" ("Make of it what you will" is one recurring phrase; "What can I say?" is another) might seem merely a pose--LeSueur did, after all, major in English. But I think that LeSueur's claim is genuine: he is without the luxury of critical distance. And unlike Nabokov's Charles Kinbote, LeSueur shared a world with the poet of whom he writes, making Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara a uniquely valuable adjunct to O'Hara's poems. LeSueur offers countless details of New York at mid-century: the jobs available to a young man with a "worthless" liberal arts degree, the pieces one would hear on classical radio stations, the various subcultures of gay Manhattan. LeSueur offers a fascinating commentary on O'Hara's use of blond and blonde and identifies numerous film references in the poems. His digressions bring relatively neglected poems--"John Button Birthday," for instance--into view. And he recounts events for which there are few if any other surviving witnesses, including the aftermath of the famous "4:19 to East Hampton" train that O'Hara has on his mind in "The Day Lady Died." As the details of Frank O'Hara's world--rotary phones, unfiltered cigarettes, old movies on late-night television--recede further from view, Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara honors O'Hara's poems by providing contexts for their further appreciation.

Monday, March 28, 2005


From the University of Texas at Austin, Design Your Own Anti-Procrastination Plan, a page of useful strategies.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

That (In)famous Line

My essay on a line from Van Dyke Parks' lyrics for the song "Cabin Essence" is now up at Jan Jansen's website, Van Dyke Parks. "Cabin Essence" is a song from SMiLE (words by VDP, music by Brian Wilson).

The line in question,

Over and over the crow cries uncover the cornfield
has become a touchstone for thinking about SMiLE. "Over and over . . ." piqued the antagonism of Beach Boy Mike Love, who insisted that VDP explain what it meant. VDP preferred to let his work speak for itself. Conflict over the lyric content of SMiLE--a far cry from, say,
I'm gettin' bugged drivin' up and down the same old strip
--was one of many factors in the breakdown of the original SMiLE project. This line from "I Get Around" is of course wonderful in its own right, but by 1966 Brian Wilson was gettin' bugged drivin' up and down the same old strip and was interested in pursuing new directions in his music.

You can read the essay by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

From the Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl
This site has photographs from the files of the Farm Security Administration and interviews with men and women who experienced the Dust Bowl.

Voices from the Dust Bowl
This site documents life in the Farm Security Administration's migrant work camps.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Jim Jarmusch: favorite books

From an audio clip included with the Criterion Collection dvd of Down by Law:

I love the book Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. I like Flaubert's novels, especially Madame Bovary and A Sentimental Education. I like pretty much anything by Balzac. I like Proust. I love Orlando Furioso by Arisoto. I love the Divine Comedy, especially the Inferno. How about Hamlet? Anything by William Blake. Rimbaud, Illuminations and The Drunken Boat. I love the New York school of poets, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, David Shapiro, Ron Padgett, Frank Lima, et cetera. I love Impressions of Africa by Raymond Roussel. I love Rilke, Neruda, Pierre Reverdy, Mallarmé, Georges Bataille, Blaise Cendrars, his poems and his novel Moravagine also. I love books like The Woman Chaser by Charles Williford, Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest, James M. Cain's Serenade. I love the book The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain, one of my favorite books ever written. Luc Sante, one of my favorite writers, The Factory of Facts and of course Low Life. Herbert Asbury's The Gangs of New York, soon to be a major motion picture. I love Michael Ondaatje's writing, especially the book Coming Through Slaughter. I love the novels of Samuel Beckett, far more than his plays. That's just a start anyway. They're some of my favorite books.
Jim Jarmusch's films include Coffee and Cigarettes, Night on Earth, and Mystery Train.

Bobby Short

From the New York Times:

Bobby Short, the cherubic singer and pianist whose high-spirited but probing renditions of popular standards evoked the glamour and sophistication of Manhattan nightlife, died today at New York Presbyterian Hospital. He was 80, and had homes in Manhattan and southern France. . . .

Mr. Short liked to call himself a saloon singer, and his "saloon," since 1968, was one of the most elegant in the country, the intimate Cafe Carlyle tucked in the Hotel Carlyle on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. There for six months each year, in a room where he was only a few feet away from his audience, he sang and accompanied himself on the piano. Although he had said that last year's engagement would be his final one, he reversed himself in June and extended for 2005, the 50th anniversary of the club.

Over the years, Mr. Short transcended the role of cabaret entertainer to become a New York institution and a symbol of civilized Manhattan culture. In Woody Allen's films, a visit to the Carlyle became an essential stop on his characters' cultural tour. He attracted a chic international clientele that included royalty, movie stars, sports figures, captains of industry, socialites and jazz aficionados . . . .

His social status sometimes overshadowed his significance as a jazz pianist, singer and scholar. Mr. Short dedicated himself to spreading an awareness of the African-American contribution to New York's musical theater. In his pantheon of great American songwriters, Cole Porter stood side by side with Duke Ellington, Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, and Waller's sometime lyricist Andy Razaf, who wrote the words for "Guess Who's in Town?", his unofficial musical greeting.
You can read the Times obituary by clicking here. (Use mediajunkie as your name and password.)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Apocalypse Then

For anyone in the "downstate Illinois" area, there's a terrific exhibit at the Krannert Art Museum, "Apocalypse Then: Images of Destruction, Prophecy, and Judgment from Dürer to the Twentieth Century." From the museum website:

Presenting five centuries of art inspired by apocalyptic writing and thought, this exhibition includes woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer and interpretations of the Book of Revelation by Dürer, Gustave Doré, and Odilon Redon. Other works in the exhibition reveal how apocalyptic imagery was used by artists as diverse as Georges Rouault, Rockwell Kent and Philip Guston to illustrate their political, social, and personal reactions to war and revolution, and William Hogarth, William Blake, Pablo Picasso, and Jasper Johns reacting to the inevitability of evil and death.

Organized by Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
For me the most exciting thing was unexpected--Jasper Johns' Skin with O'Hara Poem (1963-65), a print that I've known only from relatively tiny reproductions.

The Krannert Art Museum is located at 500 E. Peabody Drive in Champaign, Illinois (phone 217-333-1860). The museum is open on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 9 to 5; Wednesday from 9 to 8, and Sunday from 2 to 5. Admission is free, with a suggested $3 donation. The exhibit closes on April 3, 2005.

Speak, Memory

Some memorizers arbitrarily associate each playing card with a familiar person or object, so that the king of clubs is represented by, say, Tony Danza. The grand masters associate each card with a person, an action, or an object so that every group of three cards can be converted into a sentence. The first card of the triplet is encoded as a person, the second as a verb, and the third as an object. For example, when Cooke sees a three of clubs, a nine of hearts, and a nine of spades, he immediately conjures up an image of Brazilian lingerie model Adriana Lima in a Biggles biplane shooting at his old public-school headmaster in a suit of armor. The more vivid the image, the more likely it is not to be forgotten.
From an article on the U.S. Memory Championship. You can read the entire article by clicking here. (Via Arts & Letters Daily.)

Friday, March 18, 2005

Near South

The Chicago-based magazine Near South just published its fifth issue (Winter 2005), a mixture of poetry and prose, including eight poets and one dramatist responding to "Blue in Green," one of the five pieces on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. My contribution, a poem called "Early Music," is dedicated to my dad, who had me listening to Kind of Blue when I was a three-year-old kid in 1959.

In this issue I especially like Evie Shockley's blue and green lines:

                 blue spring grew green a cash crop ::
ballads fuel a blown fuse future--
There's no website for Near South, but a copy of the magazine ($5) can be had from
Near South
c/o Garin Cycholl
3617 W. Belle Plaine
Chicago, IL 60618

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

"Some Enchanted Evening"

Teaching Marianne Moore's "The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing" and Wallace Stevens' "The Idea of Order at Key West" ("Arranging, deepening, enchanting night") made me remember this more modest prose-poem (of mine):

Some Enchanted Evening

                                 for Ron Padgett




I am making a list of words never to use in a poem. Now I am taking a mental picture of it to send to my folks. The next thing to do is develop. The outcome is clear, with a good background (the family tree). And now for the envelope. Its mental flap unfolds with surprising volume. "Silence!" says the librarian. "More light," whispers Goethe.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

"21 for 21"

From today's New York Times:

The homemade video captures the first hour after the stroke of midnight when the birthday boy turned 21 and could legally drink.

His friends thrust shots at him in a booth at the Bison Turf bar and taunt him to drink, shouting obscenities and chanting his name as he tosses back one after the other with beer chasers. After 30 minutes and the 13th shot--a Prairie Fire, or tequila with Tabasco--he vomits into a metal bucket, provided by the bar, the birthday souvenir taken home by so many 21-year-olds before him. Then he resumes his drinking.

"It's the best time of his life," a friend slurs to the camera. "We've all done it. It's a tradition."

The tradition is "power hour," or "21 for 21," as it is known in some other places across the country: 21-year-olds go to a bar at midnight on their birthdays, flash newly legal identification and then try to down 21 shots in the hour or so before the bar closes, or as fast as possible.

It can be a deadly rite of passage.
You can read the rest of this article by clicking here.

[To read New York Times articles, use mediajunkie as your name and password. Or visit bugmenot for a working name and password.]

Friday, March 11, 2005

John Steinbeck on the Blackwing pencil

"I have found a new kind of pencil--the best I have ever had. Of course it costs three times as much but it is black and soft and doesn't break off. I think I will always use these. They are called Blackwings and they really glide over the paper."

John Steinbeck, "The Art of Fiction," Paris Review (1969)

Other Blackwing posts
Blackwing 2: The Return
The new Blackwing pencil
Nelson Riddle on the Blackwing pencil
Stephen Sondheim on pencils, paper

New links

Under "fiction," I've added a link for John Steinbeck, to a Paris Review compilation of his thoughts on writing (a free download).

Under "poetry," the Marianne Moore link now goes to her Paris Review interview (another free download).

Under "writing and tools," I've added links to the Cool Tools site and to a page that explains what became of the Blackwing pencil, Steinbeck's favorite pencil.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

More on Teresa Wright

From a piece in the Guardian:

The New York-born Wright's arrival in Hollywood caused a stir, not because of her star power but because of an unprecedented clause Samuel Goldwyn agreed to write into her contract.

It said that she "shall not be required to pose for photographs in a bathing suit unless she is in water. Neither may she be photographed running on the beach with her hair flying in the wind. Nor may she pose in any of the following situations: in shorts; playing with a cocker spaniel; digging in a garden; whipping up a meal; attired in firecrackers and holding skyrockets for the fourth of July; looking insinuatingly at the turkey for Thanksgiving; wearing a bunny cap with long ears for Easter; twinkling on prop snow in a skiing outfit while a fan blows her scarf."
You can read the whole piece, by Ronald Bergan, by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Huck's Raft

From Joyce Carol Oates' review of Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood, by Steven Mintz:

Huck's Raft is an inspired title for a book that deconstructs images, prejudices, "wisdom." On the jacket is what appears to be an illustration of Huckleberry Finn alone and blissfully carefree on his raft on the fabled Mississippi, some time in the mid-nineteenth century; in fact, the photograph is of Charles Lindbergh as a boy rafting on the Mississippi c1912. It is Professor Mintz's argument that American fantasies about childhood are most succinctly (and erroneously) bound up with such idyllic images: the romance of a neverland in which children and young adolescents enjoyed unlimited freedom and were not exploited and abused by their elders. It may have been that Mark Twain shared something of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's idealization of childhood, as he valued nature over the hypocrisy of society, yet the painful evidence of Huckleberry Finn is that its boy-hero is "an abused child, whose father, the town drunk, beat him for going to school and learning to read." In Hannibal, Missouri, in Huck's time, before the Civil War destroyed Southern slavery, life for many Americans was likely to be nasty, brutish and short: even among the middle class, approximately one child in four died in infancy, and one individual in two before his or her twenty-first birthday. The notion of a lengthy childhood, "devoted to education and free from adult responsibilities, is a very recent invention, and one that became a reality for a majority of children only after World War II."
You can read the entire review by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Teresa Wright

Sad news this morning:

Teresa Wright, the high-minded ingénue who marshaled intelligence and spunk to avoid being typecast as another 1940's "sweater girl" and became the only actor to be nominated for Academy Awards for her first three films, died on Sunday at Yale-New Haven Hospital. She was 86.

The cause was a heart attack, her daughter, Mary-Kelly Busch, said.

Miss Wright had many parts on Broadway and once performed at a White House dinner for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but her meteoric landing in Hollywood in 1941 is the stuff of legend.

After seeing her on Broadway, Samuel Goldwyn, the legendary producer, asked her to play the role of Bette Davis's daughter in "The Little Foxes" in 1941. Her performance in the film moved its director, William Wyler, to tell The New York Times that she was the most promising young actress he had ever directed.

She proved his point by being nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress for the picture. The next year, she was nominated for best actress for her next role, opposite Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig's wife in "The Pride of the Yankees," and won the Oscar for best supporting actress as the love interest of Greer Garson's war-bound son in "Mrs. Miniver."

Her work included a starring role in Wyler's "Best Years of Our Lives," winner of the best-picture Oscar in 1946; playing opposite Marlon Brando in his first movie, "The Men," in 1950; and creating the character of Charlie, the innocent but suspicious niece of a serial killer, in Alfred Hitchcock's harrowing "Shadow of a Doubt" in 1943.
You can read the complete New York Times obituary by clicking here. (Use mediajunkie as your name and password.)

Monday, March 7, 2005

Gregory Corso and words

Here's the poet Gregory Corso (1930-2001) on his love of words:

See, I know words--beautiful words from the past that people don't know, and it really saves the words. For instance, "scry" we got before, we understand what "scry" is. A pentacle maker--you know who he is? Karcist. K-A-R-C-I-S-T. O.K., that's one for you. Now, the wind that goes through the trees. You know what that is? It's an onomatopoeic shot. You know what it really is? B-R-O-O-L.

RK: In Old English?

GC: Yeah. Thomas Carlyle, really.
From a 1974 interview with Robert King, in The Beat Vision, ed. Arthur Knight and Kit Knight (Paragon House, 1987).

Karcist isn't in the online OED, but Google turns up several sites that confirm Corso's definition. Brool is in the OED, defined as "A low deep humming sound; a murmur." Among the several sample sentences is one from Thomas Carlyle: "List to the brool of that royal forest-voice."


And now, a word from Charles Eliot Norton (1827-1908):

Whatever your occupation may be and however crowded your hours with affairs, do not fail to secure at least a few minutes every day for refreshment of your inner life with a bit of poetry.

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Writing and index cards

Elaine Fine (my wife), who like me has been carrying around a Hipster PDA, showed me this passage yesterday:

I have index cards and pens all over the house--by the bed, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, by the phones, and I have them in the glove compartment of my car. I carry one with me in my back pocket when I take my dog for a walk. In fact, I carry it folded lengthwise, if you need to know, so that, God forbid, I won't look bulky. You may want to consider doing the same. I don't even know you, but I bet you have enough on your mind without having to worry about whether or not you look bulky. So whenever I am leaving the house without my purse--in which there are actual notepads, let alone index cards--I fold an index card lengthwise in half, stick it in my back pocket along with a pen, and head out, knowing that if I have an idea, or see something lovely or strange or for any reason worth remembering, I will be able to jot down a couple of words to remind me of it. Sometimes, if I overhear or think of an exact line of dialogue or a transition, I write it down verbatim. I stick the card back in my pocket. I might be walking along the salt marsh, or out at Phoenix Lake, or in the express line at Safeway, and suddenly I hear something wonderful that makes me want to smile or snap my fingers--as if it has just come back to me--and I take out my index card and scribble it down.
From Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anchor, 1995).

I've been jotting things down on index cards in my own fashion and pulled things from them to write two poems tonight. (I added Richard Goode's recording of Beethoven piano sonatas for inspiration.) Here are some of the odds and ends that made it into my poems (many others didn't):

luminous faces

waiting for the other sock to drop

a bunch of motels

a shell of a shell

cheap seats
Yes, I jotted down "avoidance" with quotation marks. When I heard the phrase "cheap seats" today, I knew that I wanted to have it as a title.

[Update: Elaine describes her musical uses for index cards.]


I have three poems in the most recent Malleable Jangle. You can read them by clicking here.

Martin Denny, r.i.p.

From the New York Times:

Martin Denny, the bandleader who mingled easygoing jazz with Polynesian instrumentation and jungle noises to exemplify the "exotica" sound that swept suburban America in the 1950's and 60's, died on Wednesday at his home in Hawaii Kai, near Honolulu. He was 93.
You can read the obituary by clicking here.

Friday, March 4, 2005

E-mail from Stefan Hagemann

My friend Stefan Hagemann writes:

I wanted to comment on your remarks concerning Nellie McKay (and I didn't know, by the way, that her quirkiness extends even to the pronunciation of her surname). I agree that comparing her to Doris Day and Eminem is silly (I think the comment came from a Village Voice writer?), and that made me think of comparisons that occur more naturally by, um, listening to her stuff. I've had fun trying to figure who she listens to, and while I have a number of suspicions, I can think of at least three interesting allusions to other musicians--the Rolling Stones on "Respectable" (which also has a nice little nod to "America" from West Side Story), the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian" on "Toto Dies," and, I'm convinced, the Sex Pistols on "Sari." You may remember that "Sari" ends with the vocals trailing off, with McKay saying "shit" and then, well, there's no nice way to say it, a fart or belching sound. (I just listened again--definitely a fart sound). I contend that it's an allusion to one of the Pistols' angriest kiss-offs, "EMI." It's about being dropped by that label and ends on a similarly flatulent note.
That's astute listening. One of the first things that delighted me on McKay's album was the way her piano intro to "Manhattan Avenue"--a song about her childhood amid junkies and muggers--echoed the opening music from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

How to improve writing (no 8. in a series)

This item also from Stefan Hagemann:

Here, perhaps, is number 8, more egregious because it's from the Chicago Tribune. In a story published today (March 4th) about spring training baseball, writer Mark Gonzales focuses on a gutsy performance by White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle. Evidently, Buehrle (pronounced "burly," in case you're interested) didn't have his best stuff but got by on a combination of craft and guile. This is the sub-headline:

"Starter makes due without his 'A' game."
Link » Other How to improve writing posts, via Pinboard

NYPL Digital Gallery

From the New York Times:

Say you start your exploration with one of the two images that open the library's Digital Gallery, a detail from a color woodcut from Kitagawa Utamaro's ukiyo-e prints (pictures of the floating world) depicting the lives of ordinary Japanese women and courtesans. There are 35 images from that series, and you can magnify each one enough to see how the women are doing with their lipstick and mirrors. . . .

Want to know what cigarette cards are? Look and you'll learn that in the late 19th and early 20th century, these small picture cards were tucked into cigarette packets as a promotional device, the cigarette equivalent of bubblegum cards. Exactly 21,206 of them are online now. What? That's right. Cigarette cards now represent nearly one-tenth of the whole digital collection.

Maybe, rather than entering the New York Public Library's digital gallery through the ukiyo-e, you go by way of the Web site's other opening image, a 1935 photo of a grouchy-looking man emerging from a basement barbershop on the Bowery. On that path you will find 343 photographs from Berenice Abbott's great work from the 1930's, "Changing New York." You can flip through the pictures and read all about Abbott, her project and how it got to the public library.

That's just the tip of the photographic berg.
The New York Public Library Digital Gallery is a new online resource. It's down right now for improvements, having been overwhelmed by the traffic. I saw it earlier this morning, long enough to feel overwhelmed too, with gratitude.

Meanwhile you can read about it in the Times by clicking here.


From the New York Times:

In the three years since the makers of the SAT announced plans to overhaul the test and add a mandatory essay, the frenzied universe of college admission testing has been changing.

The new four-hour SAT makes its debut March 12, but already, the hypercompetitive have begun taking two admission tests, breaking the kind of red-state, blue-state divide that has existed for decades, with the SAT dominant on the East and West coasts, and the Iowa-based ACT the choice throughout the Midwest.
You can read the entire article by clicking here.

[To read Times articles, use mediajunkie as both name and password.]

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

25 questions

Tell me about yourself. What do you know about our organization? Why do you want to work for us? What can you do for us that someone else can't?
From "The 25 most difficult questions you'll be asked on a job interview." You can find the other 21 and commentary on all 25 by clicking here.

How to improve writing (no. 7 in a series)

From a newspaper article on "active learning":

an example of active learning may be through song or other pneumonic devices
That should be mnemonic, "assisting or intended to assist memory." Mnemosyne, Greek goddess of memory and mother of the muses, would not be pleased by this mistake. I hope she doesn't see it.

The problem for the writer is that pneumonic is indeed a word, meaning "of, relating to, or affecting the lungs; of, relating to, or affected with pneumonia." Thus it doesn't get flagged by a spellchecker.

The moral of the story: when using an unfamiliar word, don't rely on its sound or a spellchecker. Use a dictionary. It's necessary to have not only the right spelling, but the right word.

[Definitions courtesy of Merriam Webster's Collegiate, 10th ed.]

Link » Other How to improve writing posts, via Pinboard

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

It's Ralph Ellison's birthday

He was born March 1, 1914; died April 16, 1994. The author of Invisible Man (1952), one of the permanent American novels.

Here is Ellison on the blues, the most profound statement about blues that I know, from the essay "Richard Wright's Blues" (1945):

The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one's aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.
And from Invisible Man:
America is woven of many strands. I would recognize them and let it so remain. Our fate is to become one, and yet many--This is not prophecy, but description.


In the news:

Instant messaging (IM) is a relatively new form of communication, in which two people exchange typed messages instantaneously over the Internet. Although written, the fact that IM is more immediate and direct than email makes it seem more like speech than writing.

But a recent study of IM-ing by college students found that the communication was more formal--in use of vocabulary and abbreviations--than might be expected in a speech-like medium. The research also uncovered significant differences in how men and women use the medium.
You can read the news article by clicking here.


In the news:

A linguist from the University of Pittsburgh has published a scholarly paper deconstructing and deciphering the word "dude," contending it is much more than a catchall for lazy, inarticulate surfers, skaters, slackers and teenagers.

An admitted dude-user during his college years, Scott Kiesling said the four-letter word has many uses: in greetings ("What's up, dude?"); as an exclamation ("Whoa, Dude!"); commiseration ("Dude, I'm so sorry."); to one-up someone ("That's so lame, dude."); as well as agreement, surprise and disgust ("Dude.").

Kiesling says in the fall edition of American Speech that the word derives its power from something he calls cool solidarity--an effortless kinship that's not too intimate.
You can read the rest of this news article by clicking here.

[The second sentence in this excerpt needs rewriting. Make those elements parallel, dude: in greetings, as an exclamation, as a sign of commiseration, as a way to one-up someone, and as a way to show agreement, surprise or disgust.]

Sideways closeup

A wonderful comment from the blog "2 Blowhards" on the porch scene between Paul Giamatti (there's only one m) and Virginia Madsen in Sideways. The other people mentioned are actress Sandra Oh and director and co-writer Alexander Payne:

I was grateful to be reminded by the film of how powerful movie closeups can be. . . .

The film's most beautiful closeup is of Madsen. She and Giammatti are on Oh's porch, getting used to each other’s company. Payne gives Madsen a short monologue about what wine has meant to her, and he discreetly moves the camera in as she speaks with feeling and reverence. Everything is quiet. It's evening in wine country. Your senses are awakened; the fragrances in the air are gentle, the night's sounds are distant, the evening's food, wine and conviviality are having their effect. And a luscious, generous woman is--with warmth, fervor, and grace--opening herself up. I don't know how the audiences you saw the movie with reacted to this brief passage, but some of the people around me were sniffling. Wait a minute, I was sniffling.

I think we weren't moved because the scene was sad, except in its awareness that life itself is finally sad. (Payne is of Greek descent, and he seems to me to have a Mediterranean's deep and inborn acceptance of life's tragic side.) I think that people were moved instead by the moment's combo of beauty and gentle appreciation. Without utilizing any advanced-technology whoopdedo, Payne and Madsen were working magic. Something transfiguring was happening; radiance was pouring through the screen. (The Wife whispered to me after the scene was over, "That's my kind of special effect.") When Giammatti bolts--he can't handle what's being unwrapped and offered to him--we know for damn sure how deep his sad-sackness and depression go. We're left alone for a second on the porch with Madsen, feeling the moment fade away.
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