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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Frost’

Calm Down with Some Landscapes, and Other News

June 17, 2014 | by

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Li Shan, Wind and Snow in the Fir Pines, mid-twelfth to early-thirteenth century

  • Robert Frost: the least understood of the great modernists.
  • Marshall McLuhan: the most understanding of early teenagers.
  • I never dreamed of being a dominatrix, as a child might imagine driving a steam train, but when I became one I learned a trade as intricate, and as British, as that of the steam-engine driver.”
  • In twelfth-century China, the Confucian elite knew how to blow off steam: “In lieu of a literal return to nature, court figures would instead purchase landscape paintings and hang them on their walls. When they felt their souls growing jaded and heavy from quotidian concerns, they’d gaze at the lush scenes and transfer themselves into the place of their inhabitants—ink-brush silhouettes holding fishing rods, gathering plum blossoms and sipping a refreshing beverage in a rustic tavern.”
  • “You would think that a theme park attraction called the Palace of Unicorns would be a charming fantasy world. You’d be wrong. Located within Suoi Tien Cultural Theme Park in Ho Chi Minh City, the Palace of Unicorns is a graphic depiction of Buddhist hell.”

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La Vie Bohème

March 26, 2014 | by

Robert Frost was born on this day in 1874.

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Robert Frost, the poet and novice martial artist. Photo: Walter Albertin

FROST

Among other things, what [Ezra] Pound did was show me bohemia.

INTERVIEWER

Was there much bohemia to see at that time?

FROST

More than I had ever seen. I’d never had any. He’d take me to restaurants and things. Showed me jujitsu in a restaurant. Threw me over his head.

INTERVIEWER

Did he do that?

FROST

Wasn’t ready for him at all. I was just as strong as he was. He said, “I’ll show you, I’ll show you. Stand up.” So I stood up, gave him my hand. He grabbed my wrist, tipped over backwards and threw me over his head.

INTERVIEWER

How did you like that?

FROST

Oh, it was all right.

 

—Robert Frost, the Art of Poetry No. 2, 1960

 

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Frost Papers Recovered, and Other News

October 4, 2013 | by

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  • New York’s Center for Jewish History is opening the David Berg Rare Book Room, which will feature, amongst others, Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka, and Emma Lazarus.
  • A Vermont man has pleaded guilty to stealing (and selling) a number of Robert Frost’s personal papers, which he ran across when a desk containing the papers was donated to the nonprofit where he works. The fine is a whopping one hundred dollars.
  • The French government approved a law yesterday that will prevent Amazon from shipping discounted books for free. The measure is designed to protect embattled independent bookstores.
  • How to draw a hare.
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    I Found My Thrill

    October 3, 2013 | by

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    Down among the counties that help earn New Jersey its Garden State moniker, there lies the hamlet of New Egypt. Within it is the sixty-acre blueberry patch my grandparents used to own. Drive down I-95 through Newark toward the shore to see the world flash from soot gray to Granny Smith green as you are surrounded by towering cornstalks.

    Four years ago, my wife, Tiffan, and I  made the pilgrimage to Jersey from Manhattan in lieu of our usual fall foliage trip (long story short: I had seen a movie that dissed soi-disant leafers and felt suitably shamed). Plus, I had heard that from back-to-school time through Thanksgiving, Emery’s Farm offered seasonal activities—pumpkin picking, hay rides. Tiffan is from Oklahoma, and I seize any opportunity to conjure country trappings.

    But I did have some legitimate claim. This farm, after all, was whither the brand name “Ross da Boss Blueberries” sprang, emblazoned on the cellophane securing the fruit in its green cardboard cartons. When my grandfather, Danny Passoff, retired from running a successful tomato business, he bought the blueberry farm as a pet project with my grandmother, and during summers, my sister and I would work on the farm.

    Standing there on that fall day, I told Tiffan about those summers on the farm, about picking the choicest berries and dropping them into my pail—an old coffee canister—with tinny thuds. In the onomatopoeic language of Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book Blueberries for Sal, this is described as “ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk.” By July, the bushes are heavy with the luscious blue fatties, their puckered sepals folded back, mushy marbles that squish deliciously between the teeth. In my memory, that time in my life is, like Sal’s, rendered in the book’s distinctive navy-and-raincoat-yellow palette.

    In McCloskey’s book, a childhood favorite, little Sal goes with her mother to Blueberry Hill, only to get lost and temporarily switch mothers with a bear cub. Sal’s mother finds her wandering child by recognizing the cacophony of the berries—“ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk”—she throws into her bucket. Read More »

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    William Wordsworth’s “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways”

    September 10, 2013 | by

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    One recent evening, my father and I were sharing a bottle of wine when our conversation turned, as if often does, to his father. We like to call my paternal grandfather “the Judge,” and we use this moniker in a spirit of camaraderie. My grandfather, who died eighteen years ago, was a forceful sort of person. The discipline that he exercised on my father, his eldest son, bordered on tyranny, but in my life, this seasoned toughness was inspiring, fun, and a recognizable expression of love. My grandfather, Frank J. Murray, was a self-made man. Born in 1904, he grew up in the rough Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and played football at Commerce High, a school for clever, working-class kids. A field goal in the final game of his high-school career caught the attention of a Dartmouth College scout, but he was saved from the Protestants—at his mother’s insistence—by a priest, who secured a place for him at the Catholic Georgetown University. At Georgetown, he was quarterback, although he had no depth perception, due to a childhood accident that had left him blind in one eye. He went on to Georgetown Law, during which period he himself scouted for the Georgetown football team, and—in a series of successes—became a well-respected Boston lawyer, married my grandmother (who came from better circumstances), had three sons, bought a house in the solidly middle-class West Roxbury, sent his kids to the prestigious Roxbury Latin for high school, ascended to the Bench—Massachusetts Superior Court—and, some time in there, was appointed a federal district judge. When my father and I talk about this man, there certainly is a lot to cover, but on this particular evening, we were thinking of the Judge’s love of poetry.

    My grandfather did not have an innate sense of good taste, but he could recognize it, and, as one might assume from his career successes, he was a quick study. As an adult, he wore nothing but Brooks Brothers suits, playing it safe; his one fashion adventure, a salmon-colored sports coat, also came from Brooks Brothers. He had a learned poise, and even his accent, which was an acceptable Back Bay Boston, was an acquired thing—the Dorchester snarl packaged away, placed securely in the past. This need to acquire the accoutrements of privilege gave my grandfather the passion of a convert. He wanted you to appreciate the fine wine, the prime rib, the Royal Brougham—but more than all of that, he wanted you to appreciate the great gift of his education, which was not law, but poetry.

    As a law student at Georgetown, he had taught both poetry and math to the freshman. For the math, as is part of the legend, he cowrote his own textbook, but for the poetry, he used the standard reference of the time, The Golden English Treasury, edited by Francis T. Palgrave, commonly referred to as Palgrave’s. I remember the Judge—at this point reluctantly retired—bringing this book out on evenings, when I stayed at his house in Cohasset, on Boston’s south shore. Mostly, when I visited him, it was just two of us. We would go out for lobster, then return for tea, and if the Celtics, Red Sox, or Patriots weren’t playing, we’d continue to sit at the dining room table, each with a glass of Gewürztraminer, and he’d read me poems. Read More »

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    Small Island: An Interview with Nathaniel Philbrick

    July 24, 2013 | by

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    Nathaniel Philbrick has written six books on United States history, most of which take place on or by the sea. In 2000, his In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex—about the sunken whaleship that inspired a young Herman Melville—won the National Book Award for Nonfiction. He then wrote Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838–1842, followed by Mayflower: A Story of Community, Courage, and War, which was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History. Because of In the Heart of the Sea and his articles on the whaling industry, Philbrick and Melville have become something of a pair. Philbrick recently wrote the thin and ruminative Why Read Moby-Dick? and the introduction to the last Penguin Edition of Moby-Dick.

    I had read In the Heart of the Sea and Mayflower years ago, but it wasn’t until this past spring when a local bookseller handed me Philbrick’s first book, Away Off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People, that I decided to write him a letter. There’s a thrifty, poetic quality to the makeup of that book, a clear joy in the research alone. It’s rawer, not so carved by what reviewers have noted as Philbrick’s masterful use of narrative and perspective in his other books, and so shows his research instincts clearer. He includes a description of the spring day when early Nantucketers set a pit of snakes on fire, and the time in 1795 when robbers bent pewter spoons into keys to steal $20,000 in gold coins from Nantucket Bank. Farmers on the island used to fertilize fields by scaring sheep at night with burning coals, and whalers traded their pant cuffs for sex in the South Pacific Islands. I put my e-mail on the bottom of the letter and dropped it in the mail. He wrote back in June, offering lunch and a “ramble” around the island.

    We met for chowder and beer down at Nantucket’s South Wharf, near the old ships chandlery. Centuries ago, scallop shanties were on the South Wharf, where “openers” shucked for hours under lantern light and pipe smoke. Philbrick had arrived on his bike and exactly on time, wearing wayfarer sunglasses. It was a sunny day; while transcribing the interview, I listened to wind and gulls behind his voice. He speaks energetically, smiles constantly and in a way that evokes Steve Carell, and, mostly, is humble. Later that evening, walking through his house with him and his beloved golden retriever Stella, I saw just one sign of his success: a tiny framed clipping of the July 9, 2000, New York Times best-seller list, in which Harry Potter is on the fiction side, and In the Heart of the Sea is on the other, at number two. He’s proud of his family and talks about them often. He showed me the marks on the wooden floor where his son had practiced cello, and the room full of his grandmother’s paintings, one of which might be of her good friend, Claude Monet’s daughter.

    After lunch, we walked through downtown to visit the Nantucket Historical Association’s Research Library. On the way, he pointed in the direction of where Herman Melville visited and dined with Nathaniel Hawthorne the summer after the disastrous publication of Moby-Dick. As in his books, Philbrick resurrects the past with unexpected precision: “Hawthorne,” he said, “was handsome and shy.” When we arrived at the Research Library, an archivist greeted him by holding up a review of his newest book, Bunker Hill. “Did you see this?” she asked, pointing to a caricature of Philbrick dressed like a colonial. “Oh, jeez,” he said, and turned away bashfully. 

    Weeks later, sitting in his patio, Stella panting behind us, I asked him why he keeps retelling stories that people already know. The Mayflower story. Bunker Hill. Custer’s Last Stand. “Yeah, sure,” he said, smiling. “Everybody knows about the Little Bighorn. But what do they really know about the Little Bighorn? I knew nothing. What I knew was three sentences that had nothing to do with what happened.” He continued, “In each book, I don’t know what I’m getting into. And if I did know what I was getting into, the book would be stale. There would be no crackle. For me, it’s the act of discovery gives the prose life. Otherwise, it would be dead.”

    Why did you move to Nantucket?

    We came to Nantucket in 1986. It was my wife’s job that brought us here. She’s an attorney. She grew up on Cape Cod. I’m from Pittsburgh. I love to sail, but I’m not from a maritime area. I had grandparents in West Falmouth—that’s how Melissa and I ended up meeting. We were living in a suburb of Boston before we moved out. She was the breadwinner. I was at home, writing, taking care of the kids. We had kids, one and four.

    You were a young dad.

    We had Jenny when we were twenty-five. We had made sort of a pact. I said, You’re going to make a lot more money than I will—I was a journalist for what’s now Sailing World, out of Newport.

    Neither one of us had spent any time here. It sounded like a good concept—no commuting, everyone would be close. We arrived in September—probably the first people to move to Nantucket without ever having spent a summer here. It took me a while to connect with the community, because I was at home with the kids. But then I got interested in the history of the island, and began to hang out at the archives. Away Off Shore is a product of learning history on my own, of going alone to look around the archives. Read More »

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