“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.” ~ Toni Morrison, from Song of Solomon

My favorite image of Toni Morrison (Bettmann/Getty Image)

“And I am all the things I have ever loved: scuppernong wine, cool baptisms in silent water, dream books and number playing. I am the sound of my own voice singing . . . I am not complete here; there is much more, but there is no more time and no more space . . . and I have journeys to take, ships to name, and crews.” ~ Toni Morrison, from the jacket cover of The Black Book

Sunday afternoon, sunny, warmer, 86 degrees.

We recently lost an icon in the literary sphere: Toni Morrison (born Chloe Anthony Wofford February 18, 1931-August 5, 2019). Novelist, essayist, editor and professor emirutus at Princeton University, Morrison (88), was the only African American writer and one of the few women to have received the Nobel prize for literature (1993). Among her other awards were the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988 and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon in 1977.

The Guardian‘s obituary offers a comprehensive look at her incredible oeuvre, and The Boston Herald ran an op ed by Joyce Ferriabough Bolling on August 11 that focuses more on Morrison’s incomparable literary abilities: “The quiet power of her prose was like a tsunami sweeping you to other dimensions — and sometimes you never saw it coming.”

Newsweek published an article that includes some of the renowned author’s best quotes. Here is a selection from her 1993 Nobel Prize lecture, powerful words that are incredibly significant still today:

The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

Barack Obama presents Toni Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012

. . . Stop thinking about saving your face. Think of our lives and tell us your particularized world. Make up a story. Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created. We will not blame you if your reach exceeds your grasp; if love so ignites your words they go down in flames and nothing is left but their scald. Or if, with the reticence of a surgeon’s hands, your words suture only the places where blood might flow. We know you can never do it properly – once and for all. Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul. You, old woman, blessed with blindness, can speak the language that tells us what only language can: how to see without pictures. Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation.

More later. Peace.


Remembering Toni Morrison (PBS NewsHour):

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“. . . life is always more complicated than the headlines allow; poetry comes in when the news is not enough.” ~ Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong aged two with his mother and aunt at Philippines refugee camp

“How I wanted to be that sky — to hold every flying & falling at once.” ~ Ocean Vuong, from “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”
Sunday afternoon, partly cloudy, 85 degrees.

It’s a lazy kind of day, but when isn’t it? I’m currently surrounded by sleeping dogs, and both horses are waiting by the front door for treats. Last night in one of my dreams the front porch was wondrously clean, something that isn’t going to happen until the pasture fence is finished. The night before I had couple of dreams in which I was hiding from a bear, same bear in both dreams, but hiding with different people in each. Weird.

Portrait of Ocean Vuong in the playground behind the house where he grew up in Glastonbury, Connecticut on April, 16, 2019 by Mengwen Cao

Today I’m featuring a SoundCloud from poet/writer Ocean Vuong. Vuong was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1988; two years later he immigrated to Hartford, CT with six relatives after spending a year in a Philippine refugee camp. Vuong, the first person in his family to read, currently teaches in the M.F.A. program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The Guardian ran a detailed article on Vuong and his work in 2017.

Vuong’s debut book of poetry, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, won the coveted T. S. Eliot prize in 2017; he is only the second debut poet to win the T. S. Eliot prize (Sarah Howe was the first in 2016). The poems in this book deal with the war and the fall of Saigon with a mixture of myth and harsh reality.

Vuong’s first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press 2019), was an instant New York Times bestseller, and has been hailed as, “a book of sustained beauty and lyricism, earnest and relentless, a series of high notes that trembles exquisitely almost without break” (Los Angeles Times). The book’s title comes from a poem included in Night Sky, a section of which I’m including here:

In the life before this one, you could tell
two people were in love
because when they drove the pickup
over the bridge, their wings
would grow back just in time.

Some days I am still inside the pickup.
Some days I keep waiting.

~ from “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”

I still remember the first time that I came across a snippet from one of Vuong’s poems—I was immediately mesmerized and spent hours searching for his poems on the web and then added his book to my wish list. His is the kind of writing to which people can only aspire. It is absolutely luminous.

(Today is the birthday of English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (August 4, 1792– July 8, 1822)

Telemachus

Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair

through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city

beyond the shore is no longer
where we left it. Because the bombed

cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to show how far

I might sink. Do you know who I am,
Ba? But the answer never comes. The answer

is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think

he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear

at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch

his ears. No use. I turn him
over. To face it. The cathedral

in his sea-black eyes. The face
not mine – but one I will wear

to kiss all my lovers good-night:
the way I seal my father’s lips

with my own & begin
the faithful work of drowning.

(Found on Foward Arts Foundation)


Music by Jasmine Thompson, “Mad World” (one of my favorite songs)

“Miraculously God has already done it. Don’t tell them She put it on Amazon instead.” ~ Cheryl Morgan*

El Paso Times, Texas, January 15, 1938

If it’s Friday, it must mean leftovers . . .

Friday afternoon, sunny (finally) and cooler, 69 degrees.

We’re trying to wean Roland from the bottle as he’ll be two months old tomorrow, but it’s hard as anytime he sees Zeke getting a bottle, he wants one. I just called Roland to try to get him away from Corey, who was feeding Zeke (a lot of names here, huh?), and Roland actually slid across the coffee table to get to me. I think that one of these goats is getting too big for the house . . .

Today’s collection is brought to you by Benadryl, what I’ve been slathering on my body for weeks now to try to calm the itch. Benadryl. It’s good for what ails you.

Seriously though, I may never venture outside again. Anyway, enjoy.


File under: Amazing but True—People have always been this way . . .

Pittsburgh Daily Post, Pennsylvania, April 5, 1850

I like to think that this was written just for me:

Celebrating the summer solstice:

I never knew this:

Didn’t know this either:

Cant tell if I’m more bothered by the pigeons or more in tune with the captions:

We take the freshness of our biscuits very seriously, indeed:

The Victoria Daily Times, British Columbia, February 21, 1931

My immediate first thought was how can he possibly afford this:

This is kind of arrogant. I mean, what if Mars already has a calendar system?

And finally . . . I shouldn’t be surprised by anything, any more:

The Miami News, Florida, March 8, 1938

*From an article in the Guardian about a Christian group petitioning the wrong company to cancel Good Omens . . .

“Of pain you could wish only one thing: that it should stop. Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain. In the face of pain there are no heroes.” ~ George Orwell, from 1984

One of the Mule Women of Melilla by David Ramos/Getty Images (The Guardian)
“Among the personal objects inside a 2100-year-old Chinese tomb,
archaeologists found nine acupuncture needles,
four gold and five silver.
Long before knowing why,
ancient doctors knew that pain
must be fought with pain” ~ Luljeta Lleshanaku, from “Acupuncture” (Trans. Ani Gjika)

Friday evening, absolutely beautiful day and evening, 60 degrees.

Got the spring cleaning  bug today. Deep cleaned for hours, and now I can’t move. Seriously. My back is spazzing, and I have shooting pains going down my right leg. The back/leg pain hasn’t been this bad in years . . . but my house is getting clean.

Hooray?

In my head, I can relate to those poor women called porteadoras, or mule women, the ones who are paid a pittance to carry heavy bales of goods across the border between the Spanish enclave of Melilla and Morocco for merchants. I cannot even imagine what that must be like.

Anyway, good thing I have an appointment with a pain management doctor in only seven . . . weeks. Yep—weeks. Nothing is ever easy around here. Absolutely  nothing.

More later when I can sit in this chair without cringing.

Peace.


Selections from “Mythologies”

XV.

If you were a painter, you’d paint the wind
Green. It would shake the boughs of the honey locust trees.

It would chase the leaves across the continent.
It would scatter their crumbs in a twist of swirling snow.

It would be colorless and green at the same time,
The wind that aligns the pond and the cloud,

The wind that is everywhere, in constant motion,
As buoyant as Ariel and as scornful of gross Caliban,

The wind that holds up the fly ball, drives it back
Into fair territory, causes it to drift within reach

Of the right-fielder, who waves off the second baseman,
Until a last gust lifts the ball over both their heads

And it lands safely for the double that ends the game
In extra innings, costing our team the pennant.

XIX.

If we were painters we’d favor vibrant stripes,
Primary colors, flat surfaces, a lot of white

Remaining on the canvas. If we were composers
We’d take the music of exotic jungles with us

When we visit the vast vacant tundra. “If I were
Rich enough,” vowed the philanthropist, “I’d move

To a magnolia mansion and spend my days
Translating modern literature into ancient Greek.”

Great plans, distant vistas, a rearguard action
To sabotage the present—and here we’ve all assembled,

At the antiseptic airport, with haunted looks on our faces.
Occasional eye contact between man with tan and woman in white.

“You look like your voice,” she says, breaking the silence.
The rest of us know where we’re going, but we don’t know when.

~ David Lehman


Music by The Corrs, “Everybody Hurts”

“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” ~ Joseph Heller, from Catch-22

Andrew Graystone outside his local mosque in Levenshulme. Photograph: @AndrewGraystone/Twitter

“This is the year of burning women in schoolyards
and raided homes, of tarped bodies on runways and in restaurants.” ~ Camille T. Dungy, from “Arthritis is one thing, the hurting another”

Monday evening, drizzle, 55 degrees.

Doctor’s appointment today, so sharing this story found on The Guardian in light of Sunday’s arson attack on a California mosque:

Choosing love over hate: In response to the March 15 mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, NZ, a Manchester, UK man stood outside a local mosque with a sign that read, “You are my friends. I will keep watch while you pray.” Andrew Graystone from Levenshulme, Manchester stood outside the Madina mosque holding the sign.

When I heard about this man’s gentle protest, it almost made me cry—one person’s unbelievable humanity in the face of yet another instance of man’s inhumanity to man. We—people, humans, sentient beings worldwide—need more of these small acts of kindness more than most of us even realize. They make us better bit by bit.


Music by Michael Kiwanuka, “Cold Little Heart”


Evidence

Helix of pain,

then dull haze,

a dozen or so soft black t-shirts

Distrust of the night, muscled voices,

dark SUVS, the unknown. Sheets

of paper work, faxes, phone numbers,

account statements, business cards,

to-do lists: feed yourself–

for a month of his last meal.

Break down when the bowl

empties. Break bowl, skin to get at

the hunger–an arterial pull that thrums

and thrums through the spine.

Bills–Write Deceased,

write it until you think

you are writing Diseased.

Start to imagine this your truth.

A few striped collard shirts,

Never, or

barely worn.

Size 13 shoes.

One pigtailed crying child,

one infant,

one boy

who wants to be a man,

and refuses to cry.

~ Casandra López (author of Brother Bullet, poem found on Literary Orphans)

“I will go down with my colours flying.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from a diary entry

Sunday evening. Sunny and autumnal, 63 degrees.

I’ve been saving this series of photographs for the perfect fall afternoon. It’s finally here. Enjoy the following beautiful images by Kacper Kowalski. For more of Kowalski’s incredible work, including his series Polish Autumn, click here.

By the way, I did not go through (since I am reblogging as published) and move the periods and commas to within the final quotation mark as they should be, even though this is one of my major grammatical pet peeves. I have to admit, I thought about it though . . .

                   

Reblogged from The Guardian:

He shoots, he soars: Kacper Kowalski’s forest photographs – in pictures

Travel writer Robert Macfarlane responds to photographer Kacper Kowalski’s giddily beautiful aerial shots of Poland’s forests in autumn

Henry James called it “the figure in the carpet”: a pattern that is imperceptible when seen from close up, but startlingly visible from above. For a century and a half, aerial photography has been revealing such patterns in the landscape: from prehistoric earthworks and trackways to the intricate designs of motorway flyovers and suburban street plans. The elevated perspective – once the view only of “the hawk” and “the ­helmeted airman”, in WH Auden’s phrase of 1930 – has become increasingly ubiquitous in everyday life. Satellite mapping has made gods and birds of us all, swooping over virtual surfaces of the Earth, while abstract patterns issue and vanish with a slide of the zoom-bar.

Kacper Kowalski’s astonishingly beautiful ­photographs of the autumnal Polish woodland disclose the figures in the forest carpet. Seen from above, tree species whose greens blend together for much of the year are vividly distinguished by their different fall colours, the change of season acting as a chromatograph. In one image, an area of forestry has been replanted and the younger trees assume a Mondrian-like geometry: Aztec red and gold rectangles and rhomboids of green and mauve, separated by logging tracks. In another, a band of heath, flanked by chalky ploughed fields, resembles a Rothko in its blocks and stripes of colour, and in the deep, ­eye-absorbing purple of its heather.

Several of Kowalski’s most striking photographs practise exquisite deceptions of scale. A diamond-shaped island, set in a lake whose surface itself looks like the sky, might be a micro-terrain of mosses and lichens on a boulder. Reed-marsh cupped in the curves of a river has the intricately crinkled texture of chamois leather. The ­spreading grey canopies of beech trees closely resemble nano-scale imagery of human nerve endings. Indeed, our neurons possess “dendrites” (from the Greek word dendron, meaning “tree”) – the branching projections that conduct electrochemical stimulation from synapse to nerve cell, and that overlap to form what neuroscience memorably calls a “dendritic arbor”. The outer landscape has christened the inner.

Autumn leaf-turn expresses a death that is also a renewal. Through spring and summer, green chlorophyll is the dominant leaf pigment. But as day-length decreases and temperatures fall, chlorophyll production in the leaves is reduced, eventually to the point of extinction. As the ­chlorophyll content declines, other pigments begin to shine through: carotenoids – that flame-orange, yellow and gold – brown tannins and the rarer redder anthocyanins. The anthocyanins are produced by the action of sustained strong light upon the sugars that get trapped in leaves as the tree’s vascular system prepares for leaf-drop. In these ways, deciduous trees scorch themselves spectacularly back to their bare branches, in order to survive the winter and prepare for the resurg­ence of spring. It’s a process that still speaks to us – unseasonal though most of our lives now are – as we start to batten down for the cold to come.

British woodlands lack in number the real fire-starters of the North American forests: the maples, aspens and sumacs that set whole mountain ranges ablaze each autumn. The pleasures here tend to be subtler, and certainly smaller in scale.

In Cambridgeshire, where I live, the first trees to turn are the acers – the sycamores and field maples – that glow doubloon-yellow and then burn ember-red. The beeches, oaks and hornbeams take their colour later and hold their leaves longer: entering a beech hanger on a bright, mid-autumn day is like stepping into a light box. The sunlight assumes the hues of the leaves through which it passes, and so falls inside the wood as gold, green and bronze. When a frost is followed by a gale, spectacular leaf falls occur and vast leaf drifts build up, big enough for children to burrow into. I particularly like the brimstone yellow of the sweet chestnut, and the acid yellow of the larch (a deciduous conifer). Up in the Hope Valley in Derbyshire one November, I cycled through larch plantations after a frost-gale combination had knocked millions of needles from the trees. They lay in glowing reefs that seemed to possess a lustre rather than a colour.

The forest, seen from the elevation of Kowalski’s camera, becomes more artefact than ecosystem. Details are encrypted by altitude: is the winged shadow that falls in the blue lake that of a boat on its surface, a raptor flying overhead, or the photographer’s own aircraft? Are the silver shards that cluster the shoreline of the diamond-shaped island waterfowl or boulders? It doesn’t really matter: the viewer makes his or her own sense of the sight.

I suppose this is why I slightly distrust aerial photography. The images it offers us are often arrestingly beautiful, but this beauty is born of abstraction, distance and detachment. Seen from above, landscape tends to reduce to pure form, and our relationship with it to the purely aesthetic. I would much rather be tramping through an autumnal forest than flying over one. It’s for this reason that my favourite of Kowalski’s images is that of the dendritic beech wood. The trees are bare of their leaves, so we can see down to the footpath that slants across the frame. And just visible upon the track are a couple of walkers, out for a wander, making their own pattern in the copper carpet of leaves.


Music by Carina Round, “For Everything a Reason”

 

“Unfortunately, I seem rather short of tears, so my sorrows have to stay inside me.” ~ Nadine Gordimer, Interview in The Guardian (9 March 2012)

Nadine Gordimer 1981 BBC
Nadine Gordimer (BBC, 1981)

Goodbye Nadine Gordimer
(November 12, 1923 – July 14, 2014)

I’m fairly certain that I learned of Gordimer through Mari. As usual, she was so right in her recommendations. Gordimer’s work was simply beautiful, her mastery of language enviable. In 1991, Gordimer wond the Nobel Prize for Literature. She was the first South African to win, and the first woman in 25 years to win. Gordimer was an outspoken opponent of apartheid, and as a result, three of her books were banned in her country. In 1991, Los Angeles Times correspondent Scott Kraft said of Gordimer that “this unassuming, strong-willed white woman has used her manual Hermes typewriter to give the world some of the most perceptive and uncompromising works of fiction ever written about her homeland, South Africa.” After his release from prison, Nelson Mandela asked to meet with Gordimer. Here is a link to Gordimer’s essay on Nelson Mandela, which appeared in the New Yorker in 2013.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the Nobel Laureate:

“I’m a candle flame that sways in currents of air you can’t see. You need to be the one who steadies me to burn.” (from The House Gun)

“At four in the afternoon the old moon bleeds radiance into the grey sky.” (from “My Father Leaves Home”)

“The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.” (from “A Bolter and the Invincible Summer”)

“Any writer of any worth at all hopes to play only a pocket-torch of light — and rarely, through genius, a sudden flambeau — into the bloody yet beautiful labyrinth of human experience, of being.” (from “Writing and Being,” Nobel Lecture, 1991)

“A desert is a place without expectation.” (from “Telling Times”)

“I never thought about the prize [Nobel] when I wrote. Writing is not a horse race.” (after learning that she had won in 1991)


Here are some links:

The Guardian’s obituary

The New York Times obituary

Obituary in The Telegraph

Online archive of short stories in The New Yorker

Art of Fiction No. 77, Paris Review (Fall 1979/Spring 1980)