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Posts Tagged ‘William Blake’

Distant Hammers

February 4, 2016 | by

Notes on art and apocalypse.

From Patrick Reed’s “Distant Hammers.”

How will the end come? Did it already come? Did we miss it? That we can ask this last question shows just how far our current mood of millenarianism has traveled from its antecedents in the distant and not-so-distant past. As late as Eliot, poets and prognosticators assured us that we would recognize “how the world ends.” Most visions of apocalypse were spectacular, sublime. The possibility that we have instead whimpered our way into some kind of boiling-frog scenario—marked by slow but irreversible global warming, mass human displacement, and a gradually perceptible slide toward famine, disease, war, and extinction—is a radical departure from the convulsive display we’d long been promised.

The first properly apocalyptic writings in the monotheistic tradition are the books of Joel and Zechariah, two of the twelve minor prophets in the Tanakh, or Jewish canon. Joel, whose account may date to the reign of King Josiah, around 800 B.C., and who may therefore be the oldest prophet, begins by describing a coming locust infestation, which he claims will be coincident with famine and widespread misery. The lament transforms into a hallucinogenic description of locusts as God’s army (“the increasing locust, the nibbling locust, the finishing locust, and the shearing locust”), of a fire that consumes the world, and of a day of thick darkness “like the dawn spread over the mountains.” The more famous book of Daniel follows approximately in this mold, albeit with new messianic trappings. Read More »

Short Stories Are the New Snickers Bars, and Other News

November 17, 2015 | by

This (apparently married) person is getting ready to read some complimentary short fiction.

  • Are you the proprietor or manager of a commuter-rail system, an office, a truck stop, or a faculty lounge? Have you found that your employees and/or customers are dissatisfied with your current vending-machine offerings? Would you like to be on the cutting edge of dispensation technology, allowing your workers to nourish not just their bodies but their minds at the touch of a button? If you said yes to any of the above, or even if you agreeably shrugged, consider investing in these short-story vending machines by Short Édition. They’re a hit in Grenoble. “The free stories are available at the touch of a button, printing out on rolls of paper like a till receipt. Readers are able to choose one minute, three minutes or five minutes of fiction … Users are not able to choose what type of story—romantic, fantastical or comic—they would like to read.”
  • By 1966, teen music magazines had phenomenal names—Disc and Music Echo, Record Mirror, Fabulous 208, Rave, Mirabelle, Boyfriend, Jackie—and, better still, they really had their fingers on the pulse: in their pages, teens could find frank, thoughtful discussions of culture and politics. “These magazines collectively sold over a million copies every week. They both reflected and shaped the messages broadcast by pop musicians to teens … Most of the writers were young—some of them even in their teens—and were, or had recently been part of the culture that they reported on … In general these magazines constituted a thorough investigation of the teenage mindset, its hopes, its obsessions, its fears and aspirations. Because, in 1966, pop was for youth: coverage in mainstream newspapers and monthlies was comparatively rare … It was the arena of the time, but not burdened with self-consciousness or filtered through an excess of opinion and ego.”
  • While we’re in the sixties: William Blake, though he’d died more than a century earlier, was a countercultural icon because of his sexual permissiveness. Leo Damrosch’s new biography, Eternity’s Sunrise, complicates that legacy: “Blake was frequently invoked as a representative of liberation and ‘positive’ sexuality. The great chorus was: ‘Everything that lives is holy.’ But in fact Blake ‘was always aware that sex can be a means of exerting control.’ He was increasingly ‘tormented’ by the subject and drew naked bodies that were ‘unerotic, and at times positively repellent,’ a term of revulsion Damrosch later repeats … Here he takes on board the new feminist criticism of Blake, citing the scholar Helen Bruder: Blake was ‘by turns a searching critic of patriarchy but also a hectoring misogynist.’ ”
  • On the long, tortured history between literature and the weather: “Our earliest stories about the weather concerned beginnings and endings. What emerged from the cold and darkness of the void will return to it; waters that receded at the origin of the world will rise at its end. It is easy, in grim climatological times, to be drawn to the far pole of these visions … But apocalyptic stories are ultimately escapist fantasies, even if no one escapes. End-times narratives offer the terrible resolution of ultimate destruction. Partial destruction, displacement, hunger, want, weakness, loss, need—these are more difficult stories.”
  • Moon Hoon, an architect based in Seoul, pours plenty of whimsy into his designs—he’s responsible for Wind House, a home boasting a large, golden tower shaped like a duck’s head—but in his doodles he really goes for broke. Hoon “creates fantastical, stunningly detailed images whose wild creativity bring to mind, among other things, 1960s Radical Futurism, Russian Constructivism, and Transformers … Just the other day, he says, his creativity was triggered by a tray of delivery food that looked like a hat. Other sources of inspiration have included cars, planes, warships, Japanese animation, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and watching movies backwards.”

The Lonely Art

October 5, 2015 | by

Robert Seydel’s visionary, genre-defying art and writing.

“The King” by Robert Seydel, n.d. © the Estate of Robert Seydel

Untitled by Robert Seydel, n.d. © the Estate of Robert Seydel

How are we to regard the artist who writes or the writer who makes art? There’s a venerable lineage of creative figures working both sides of the street: think of the poems of Marsden Hartley, the photographs of Eudora Welty, the collages of John Ashbery, among others. In almost all such cases, a hierarchy effortlessly falls into place; what’s primary and what’s ancillary are self-evident. Would we be much drawn to look at the watercolors of Elizabeth Bishop if we did not know her first as the poet who wrote “Roosters” and “One Art”? True aesthetic ambidexterity seems vanishingly rare, particularly among top-tier figures: a great artist’s side projects invariably seem secondary and marginal.

The work of the genuinely hybrid artist Robert Seydel (1960–2011) chips away at our biases about one art form always taking precedence over another. Read More »

What Happened to O?

August 27, 2015 | by

The death of an exclamation.

William Blake had me thinking about death.

I was lying on my couch, Norton Anthology in my lap, when I stumbled on Blake’s poem “The Sick Rose.” I’d read the poem before, and I remembered its famous opening lament: “O Rose, thou art sick!”

What follows is a compact poem built of stark imagery. An invisible, amorous worm is flying through a storm at night. It descends on a rose. A death is at hand. And the perpetrator of the rose’s death, Blake warns, is none other than the worm’s secret love.

I reread the poem, parsing its lines for meaning. Then I read it once again. The night was late, and I felt drowsy. As sleep approached, an inchoate thought began to surface.

I sat up. O Rose, I thought. O Muse. O death.

I stood from the couch and found a pen. I tore off a piece of scratch paper, and on it I wrote myself a note: “What killed O?” Read More »

A World Beyond the Glass: An Interview with Mary Szybist

April 8, 2014 | by

Image: Meilani Kirkwood, courtesy of Graywolf Press

Photo: Meilani Kirkwood, courtesy of Graywolf Press

Mary Szybist may not have been the best-known writer on the poetry shortlist for the 2013 National Book Award, but her book Incarnadine was ambitious and thoughtful enough to overcome this. Her second collection, after Granted (2003), Incarnadine comprises poems focused on the Annunciation. Szybist, who was raised Catholic, uses this intimate moment as an opportunity to explore the relationships between poetry and prayer and to explicate an encounter between the human and “the other”—something outside of human experience, be it nature or, in this case, God.

The National Book Award judges called Incarnadine “a religious book for nonbelievers.” It opens with an epigraph from Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace, which sums up Szybist’s approach to the project: “The mysteries of faith are degraded if they are made into an object of affirmation and negation, when in reality they should be an object of contemplation.” Receiving the award, she said, “There’s plenty that poetry cannot do, but the miracle, of course, is how much it can do, how much it does do.” I spoke with Szybist recently about religion, poetry, prayer, and the meaning of her name.

Incarnadine deals with the Annunciation—the visitation of Mary by the angel Gabriel, who tells her that she will have God’s son—and the implications and meaning of such an event. It’s an encounter between the human and something beyond human understanding. Your book is an attempt to describe the indescribable through poetry—which is something that prayer can do, also.

Prayer is one way to do this—and yes, I have thought about the connections between poetry and prayer for a long time, and sometimes I am even tempted to believe that they are similar engagements. When I was young, I reached a point where I found myself unable to pray. I was devastated by it. I missed being able to say words in my head that I believed could be heard by a being, a consciousness outside me. That is when I turned to poetry.

I have always been attracted to apostrophe, perhaps because of its resemblance to prayer. A voice reaches out to something beyond itself that cannot answer it. I find that moving in part because it enacts what is true of all address and communication on some level—it cannot fully be heard, understood, or answered. Still, some kinds of articulations can get us closer to such connections—connections between very different consciousnesses—and I think the linguistic ranges in poetry can enable that. Read More »

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Live Like William Blake, and Other News

July 16, 2013 | by

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  • The picturesque West Sussex cottage where William Blake lived, sometimes nude, from 1800–1803 (the period during which he wrote “Jerusalem”) is on the market for £650,000. The agent says, “The original part of the cottage has been altered little in its essential features. The rooms in which William Blake lived retain enormous character and the dining room was at this time the site of his printing press.”
  • Reading (along with writing and doing puzzles) improves cognitive function in old age, a study shows.
  • In which writers such as Emma Straub and Matthew Specktor discourse on their favorite literary streets.
  • Google’s Kafka doodle was not remotely Kafkaesque, Twitter feels.
  • July 17, obviously, is Take Your Poet to Work Day. Herewith, handy cutouts of several bards. Blake not included (but that’s probably a good thing).
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