December 2, 2010 | by Dan Chiasson
This is the second installment of Chiasson’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
7:00 A.M. I have an e-mail from a guy I met last summer in Paris, Thierry Corcelle, of the incomparable Librarie Thierry Corcelle, 29 rue de Conde, right near the Luxembourg Garden. Thierry has a new catalogue; I look through it on my computer, marveling at it. I could look at these things forever. What Thierry sells, essentially, are Joseph Cornell boxes that don’t know they are Joseph Cornell boxes: old magic sets, wooden puzzles, dioramas, circus sets, toy soldiers, tarot cards ... I went into serious debt this summer buying the following items:
12:00 P.M. I am actively scouting ideas for poems. I browse around in Robert Pogue Harrison’s great study of burial, The Dominion of the Dead. Harrison talks about a Jules Verne novel (From the Earth to the Moon) in which, one of the astronaut’s dogs dies on a space mission. They try to expel her into space, but she just bobs alongside them. I have to read that story.
8:00 P.M. My wife and I fire up the Dick Cavett. First we watch his interview with Orson Welles. Welles is playful, clearly adores Cavett, funny, totally of this planet in a way that I miss, later, when we watch the interview with Alfred Hitchcock, who is all “Hitchcock” persona. The Welles interview sets the agenda for the rest of the week. Tomorrow night I have to travel, but Thursday, it will be a double bill of The Lady from Shanghai and The Stranger.
December 1, 2010 | by Dan Chiasson
6:15 A.M. Our children wake us up. Nobody wants anything read to them this morning. They are involved in some kind of acrimonious negotiation involving Lego heads (“That’s my head!” “It’s MY head!” “No, mine!” et cetera) so I go into the next room and start thinking about a class I am guest teaching today at BU. I’ve been reading (and writing) father-son poems, and I think, Why not just tell the students what’s on my mind: Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem for his son, “Three Things There Be.” The poem comes in several variants; I print them out and look at a brief discussion of the variants as well as the provocative “spoiled riddle” poems (poems that act like riddles but give their solutions away) on Slate, by Robert Pinsky.
I go to the Times website, and there is (fortuitously) this article on metaphor and the brain. I skim it for something I can say to the class. Neuroscience is very keen on poets and poetry these days: It turns out that when you call someone a cockroach, you activate the same part of your brain that can recall the picture of an actual cockroach
8:30 A.M. I head into Boston. It’s an hour drive this time of day. I get a four-shot latte at Karma Coffee, Route 20 in Sudbury (do yourself a favor). I am listening a lot to the Byrds’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo these days, especially “One Hundred Years from Now.” I have a problem that technology has solved. When I like a song, I listen to it over and over for weeks at a time. You used to have to keep rewinding the tape, and the tape would snap or come unraveled. Now, with iPods, it’s no problem.