The Daily

The Poem Stuck in My Head

William Meredith’s “Parents”

November 26, 2014 | by

James Vaughan, via Flickr

INTERVIEWER

Some of the poems in The Cheer revolve around a single, central, and somewhat mysterious idea. I’m thinking of poems like “Parents”…

MEREDITH

I’d love to tell you the story about “Parents” because it occurred one time after I’d gone to a Thanksgiving dinner where a couple I’m very fond of had three surviving parents. The three parents seemed to me valid, charming, interesting people, about my own age, and to their children they seemed, as parents normally do, embarrassing, stupid, tedious, albeit lovable. I saw my friends suffering and I remembered such suffering. The poem says essentially, “It is in the nature of things that one’s own parents are tacky, and this should give you compassion because your children will find you tacky.” The poem came out of that particular experience.

—William Meredith, the Art of Poetry No. 34, 1985

What it must be like to be an angel
or a squirrel, we can imagine sooner.

The last time we go to bed good,
they are there, lying about darkness.

They dandle us once too often,
these friends who become our enemies.

Suddenly one day, their juniors
are as old as we yearn to be.

They get wrinkles where it is better
smooth, odd coughs, and smells.

It is grotesque how they go on
loving us, we go on loving them

The effrontery, barely imaginable,
of having caused us. And of how.

Their lives: surely
we can do better than that.

This goes on for a long time. Everything
they do is wrong, and the worst thing,

they all do it, is to die,
taking with them the last explanation,

how we came out of the wet sea
or wherever they got us from,

taking the last link
of that chain with them.

Father, mother, we cry, wrinkling,
to our uncomprehending children and grandchildren.

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Our Daily Correspondent

Dressing

November 26, 2014 | by

vintageturkey

“Boys, I feel I’m going to a change of climate.” A vintage Thanksgiving card.

As fans of holiday ephemera know, there are several primary genres of weird, old-timey Thanksgiving cards. There is the Greedy Child. There is the Doomed Turkey. There is the Turkey in Vehicle, which is sometimes a corncob car. There is the Anthropomorphic Root Vegetable. It hardly needs saying that Thanksgiving pinups are a thing unto themselves. Sexy Pilgrims, under-dressed squaws, and women cooking in lingerie and filmy cocktail aprons are all fairly ubiquitous. 

By far, my favorite subgenre is that of the Urbane Turkey. This foppish specimen is usually in evening dress, so as to indicate his couth. Needless to say, he sports a top hat. Sometimes a monocle or a cigarette. All in all, he has the trappings of a big-screen, rich nincompoop, which I suppose added a certain glee to his consumption. 

The Urbane Turkey is not always complacent. Sometimes he’s a sharp. He’s in the know. This Urbane Turkey is the turkey who knows where to find the best feed and the keenest peahens. As befits his man-of-the-world air, he smokes a cigar; and his citified duds are less Union Club than pool hall. This tom doesn’t take any wooden nickels; he sees the way the wind’s blowing and he’ll be out on the next train, before the axe is even sharpened. He doesn’t need pardoning; he makes his own luck

You don’t need me to point out how alienated we are from our food sources, to general detriment. Certainly, there couldn’t be anything less urbane than the case of shrink-wrapped butterballs (or even free-range heritage birds) that greets us come late November. I guess it would be easy to say that as a result, we have less respect for our food. But on the other hand, we also don’t dress it in outfits and mock it. 

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Look

Alec Soth’s Niagara, Annotated

November 26, 2014 | by

Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center

“Why do the falls simultaneously attract lovers and suicidals?” (Click to enlarge.)

As we mentioned on Monday, next week PEN American Center presents “First Editions, Second Thoughts,” an auction of seventy-five annotated first editions at Christie’s New York, including work by Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, and Jane Smiley, among others. The proceeds will benefit PEN, a writers’ association dedicated to protecting free expression.

PEN shared with us a few of the annotated pages from the photographer Alec Soth’s second monograph, Niagara (2006), which features pictures of the falls and the people who visit them: newlyweds and lovers in a milieu of motels, parking lots, and pawnshops, the unlikely venues for human desire. The prolific Soth has appeared on the Daily in many forms over the years; there are few photographers whose work is so consistently compelling, so intimate. (Art in America has a smarter take: “Perhaps more than any other contemporary photographer, Soth understands the tension between art and document inherent in the photographic medium. Situating his work between these two tendencies, he has created surprisingly personal metaphors for the collective hopes and anxieties governing post-9/11 America.”)

The annotated edition of Niagara finds Soth captioning his photos with canny asides, some contemplative and some rueful. (“I should’ve photographed her alone,” he writes below a picture of a newlywed couple at a motel.) He’s also supplied—and glued onto the book’s blank pages—several unseen photos from the same sessions, usually with notes as to why they were left out of the monograph; it adds up to an engaging look at his composition and selection process. Here are a few more photos of the edition: Read More »

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On the Shelf

“A Mosaic of Filth,” and Other News

November 26, 2014 | by

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Steven Hirsch, Rhode, 2014, color photograph. Image via Lilac Gallery

  • A new copy of Shakespeare’s first folio—only the 231st known to exist—has been discovered in France. “It probably crossed the English Channel in the hands of English refugees fleeing from Anglican persecution in France.”
  • The unlikely rise of the thrift store: the Goodwills and Salvation Armies of the world were not always looked upon so kindly in America. In “The Blue Silk,” an 1884 short story in the Saturday Evening Post, “the protagonist, Louisa, buys a pre-owned dress from the ‘Jewess behind the counter’ of a resale store. When she wears it to a party, not only is she is socially ostracized for wearing the old dress of another girl, but she comes down with smallpox because of contamination from the resale store.”
  • The photographer Steven Hirsch has a new series on the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site in Brooklyn: “The images are solely concerned with the surface of the water—the gonorrhea, coli, and putida bacteria that cling to one another there in a mosaic of filth. These microorganisms and pathogens create a kind of membrane on the surface of the canal, ‘like an acetate,’ says Hirsch. In the illusions of light and liquid they look like a solid substance, but when, out of curiosity, Hirsch tried to scoop them up they immediately dissolved.”
  • An entire cottage industry of malfeasance and predation has erected itself” around academic research journals, including a popular pay-to-play scam that asks scholars to pony up for inclusion in such bogus publications as the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology. Recently, a researcher sent that “journal” an abstract; it just said “Get me off your fucking mailing list” over and over again. “To his mild surprise, not only was this groundbreaking study accepted—with fraudulent peer reviews and everything!—it was put into layout, and a PDF was generated for his ‘perusal,’ along with, of course, a humble request for $150, to be submitted by wire transfer, as all legitimate scholarly transactions are.”
  • The writer Jörg Fauser was an essential part of the German counterculture, but English-language readers know almost nothing about him. A new translation of his novel Raw Material is coming: “To foist a genre on it, it’s a picaresque, but what a crazed, leaping, unmoored and hilarious voyage it is.” I particularly like its take on booze: “Drink is an immersive, highly social drug that can often lead to new friendships and interesting sexual adventures. It also leads to weight gain and bloat, which is not a good look for a revolutionary.”

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Our Daily Correspondent

Limbo

November 25, 2014 | by

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John Singer Sargent, Violet Paget (Vernon Lee), 1881.

Vernon Lee—the pen name of the English writer Violet Paget—was a travel writer, novelist, musician, and critic with a strong interest in aesthetics. One of the first to bring the concept of Einfühlung, or empathy, into English criticism, she was also an outspoken follower of Walter Pater’s aestheticism. “An engaged feminist, she always dressed à la garçonne,” someone has written, amazingly, on Wikipedia. 

Lee’s work is included in any collection of Victorian ghost stories. Her work is haunting in the true sense and not merely because it deals so frequently with possession. Her stories are graceful, engaging, surprisingly strange. There are often lesbian subtexts; the supernatural was a vehicle for a writer like Lee to indirectly explore such themes.

I first came to Lee through a novella called A Phantom Lover in a collection from the 1960s. As with many of Lee’s works, the narrator is male. This one also features a woman given to cross-dressing, specifically period Elizabethan cross-dressing. A nameless painter is invited to an isolated, beautifully preserved country house to do portraits of the young squire and his wife. The latter proves to be a mysterious and somewhat perverse creature, remote and self-absorbed, utterly obsessed with the story of a long-dead ancestor. The love triangle that arises is not what one might expect: it’s far creepier. Find it if you can, and then if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to seek out the 1890s collection Hauntings. Read More »

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Contests

The Windows on the World Finalists

November 25, 2014 | by

Earlier this month, we announced our Windows on the World contest, giving readers the chance to have the views from their windows sketched by Matteo Pericoli. We’re happy to share the views from our five finalists—their photographs and essays are below. We’ll announce the winner on Friday.

Zara Khadeeja Majoka, Lahore, Pakistan

WindowsOnTheWorldZara

Zara Khadeeja Majoka

My window looks out at the ugly, unpainted, pipe-decorated gray concrete side of the neighbors’ house. Parsimony has preached to many in Lahore that having only the front of your house painted is enough; if your neighbor’s soul shrinks at the sight of the frowning, naked gray concrete, well then they must deal with it. And so, of course, that is what I must do. Joohi is a flowering vine that produces small, fragrant pink and white flowers as lovely and delicate as its name. I had some of the tiled floor beneath my window removed to reveal the soil and planted joohi; within three months, laden with flowers, it had made its way up to my second-floor window. Some days the liveliness of joohi would seem absurdly lovely in contrast with the concrete peeking in from behind its spread. On other days, the unavoidable sight of the concrete still menaced. I am aggressively ugly, it said, and I will outlast your fragile, pretty vine. I needed a tree, I decided, and opted for a peepul, a tenacious tree that clings to whatever scarce particles of soil it finds and is often found sprouting out uncannily from walls and roofs and pipes. I had some more of the floor cleared and planted a sapling. My parents warned that in sixty or so years its unfurling roots could destroy the foundations of both our house and the neighbors’. I pointed out that we were all likely to under-live this problem, so they agreed. I think it will be a year before my peepul reaches my window with its beautiful heart-shaped leaves, the tips of which extend like sweet, elongated musical notes. A peepul tree grows and grows and lives for hundreds of years. Four-thousand-year-old clay seals from the Indus Valley Civilization depict deities standing inside the sacred peepul, Vishnu is said to have been born under a peepul and Gautama Buddha is said to have attained nirvana while meditating beneath one. I only wish to watch mine grow, and know that it will outlast the concrete.

Roderick Moody-Corbett, Calgary, Alberta

Windows on the World Rod Moody-Corbett Pic

Roderick Moody-Corbett

A pair of broken clocks, stilled at odd hours (impossible to say who gave first), rest on the window’s scabbed wooden sill. A garage, the key to which I seem to have lost, if I ever owned (I am house-sitting for friends on sabbatical in Germany), overwhelms my attention, invariably. In the summer, neighborhood cats laze on its mossy slopes. Today, the snow-capped roof is empty. My own cat, nose pressed to the window (she remains one paw too pudgy for the sill), regards this vacancy with an amount of nostalgia, amusement and regret.

Shadows twitch on the clapboards; magpies tinsel the eaves. Funny, I often forget about the short blue stool sitting below the windows whose shades are unevenly drawn.

Fixed to the garage is a slant metal trellis with small lantern feeders sprigged to its rails. The feeders appear empty. If I knew where they kept the birdseed (probably in the garage), I might fill them.

Heidi Lang, Innsbruck, Austria

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Heidi Lang

From my window, I see a building with scant, round windows, like portholes on a cruise ship. Hulking over the ship are the Alps. After having spent so many years on the Great Plains, in a sprawling river city with few dominant shapes, seeing the mountains every morning still surprises me.

My corner apartment is cramped, but from my wraparound balcony I can see in every direction. I can see the school across the street, which keeps its fluorescent lights on even after the neighborhood Lokal has stopped serving Zipfer. I can see hiking trails, but not their avalanche warning signs. I can see a moped shop, but more often I hear it. Hemmed in by the mountains, the city is small enough and the streets congested enough that the fastest way to get around is by bicycle. I walk.

My balcony keeps quiet company with the balconies of neighbors. There’s the elderly gardener, who lives with his wife in the stern of the retired ship. One afternoon he snipped grapes, bunch by bunch, from the single row of vines in his garden, collecting the harvest in a five-gallon bucket. There’s the woman who grew up in the guesthouse that once stood where my apartment does now. She lives with her middle-aged daughter, who shouts cheerfully to me from her balcony.

On a rare sweltering day, the neighbors and I spent the afternoon on our balconies in various stages of unapologetic undress, dutifully not noticing each other. The hot wind billowed in the bed sheets I’d hung up to dry. I sat in a deck chair. The woman who grew up where I live now sat on her terrace, her eyes closed and her short hair gathered up in what looked like a swimming cap.

Simon Rowe, Himeji City, Japan

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Simon Rowe

Time has gathered Japan’s villages into towns and cities, even turned some into metropolises, but the cho, or neighborhood, remains the heart and soul of the nation.

Mine resembles an overcrowded circuit board with its dense clusters of houses spanning a century in design and its winding pathways, which deliver children to school, businessmen to bus stops, and elderly to their kitchen gardens. This is Kamiono-cho, in Himeji city—where the westward sprawl that begins in Osaka finally runs out of steam.

Bamboo grows as thick as a man’s leg in the forests beyond the neighborhood, lofty and mesmerizing when the valley winds blow. In Autumn, the smell of burning rice chaff reaches through the window, signaling the end of the harvest season and the start of the festivals that celebrate its bounty. Taiko-drum volleys rattle my window, just as the earthquakes do.

Snow dusts the rooftops in winter. Through the opened window, knife-edged winds carry a whiff of Siberia—chilling, yet invigorating. Spring sees cherry blossoms garnish the neighborhood and family picnics mushroom beneath them. Then the blossoms fall, like the brief and beautiful life of a samurai, with the first spring rains. Summer arrives and the window is shut to the whining insects and the suffocating humidity, which descend on the city. The pane rattles once more with the typhoons of late summer; TV antennas waggle on tiled roofs, momentarily lost to the rain.

The old neighborhood, once famous for strawberry growers, is vanishing. Where fruit grew, model homes now stand. Outside them, housewives gather on dusk to chew over the day’s proceedings and await their children’s return from school. Long after dark, the buses will disgorge their tired husbands, who will drift heavy-hearted back to their homes and sleeping families.

Jessica Thummel, Denver, Colorado

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Jessica Thummel

The man who previously lived in my apartment had lived here since the early eighties. He was a hoarder and apparently died alone in my bedroom and wasn't found for weeks. I often think about him and how this view must have changed over the course of those thirty years. All around, buildings and houses and businesses have come and gone, and yet the distant horizon has stayed the same. It’s comforting to think of the writing life in this way. To see those mountains, far off in the distance, and know that they will always be there, ready to be climbed, no matter how many new obstacles or roads intersect in the foreground.

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