Thursday, April 19, 2012

100 Something I Can't be Bothered About.

Ah, here it is: 100 Quotes to Make You Think.

Well, half of the title was accurate, and I don't want to say which, but I'll give you a hint: he's decent at counting.

Some of the quotes were worth reading, and some were funny, but if you spend more than five minutes reading this book, you read way too slowly. To sum it up, I got it for free, and feel slightly ripped off.

Austenian Sarcasm

Probably not surprising to anyone who has read ten sentences of Austen together, but in Emma, Miss Harriet Smith asks Robert Martin to get and read The Romance of the Forest, a doubtlessly priceless little gem that just so happens to be written by none other than the inimitable and all too often imitated Ann Radcliffe. I'm sure that you, my faithful reader* are saying "Oh, but of course, Ann Radcliffe; I should have known" or some other such rot, but I'll just go ahead and spoil the surprise. She is the inventor of the Gothic novel, and the authoress of a book of no less fame than Udolfo. I suddenly like Robert Martin a good deal more.

*(or readers; let's be optimistic, shall we?)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I feel quite justified. I have a few favourite poets that few people have heard of, and chief among those that are recent is Henry Timrod. Well here's the justification: I've long loved Bob Dylan's album Modern Times, but thought that some of it seemed extremely familiar. Come to find out, Timrod is actually a huge source for the album. Uncredited, yes, but Dylan can get away with it. Half a century of culture-defining music covereth a multitude of forgotten / ignored footnotes, regardless of what Mr. Appel says to the contrary.

Monday, April 16, 2012

So Lovely a Desolation

Every Riven Thing: PoemsEvery Riven Thing: Poems by Christian Wiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Cautions first: some language. Basically, here's a litmus test: if you can spend ten minutes in a store decorated by Thomas Kinkade without wanting to put a chair or small person through a wall, you may not like this book. If you can have a sober, intelligent conversation with a man about his imminent death and remain unaffected by it, you will be unimpressed. If you use the English language to convey points the way the federal government uses money to fix the public school system (just use more until something gets better) then this book will downright annoy you. But if you don't fit these categories then this book may well level you like Hiroshima. It's hard to maintain cotton-candy illusions about the world in the face of a reality so stark as terminal cancer. It's hard to see any real beauty if you keep your eyes desperately shut for fear of catching a glimpse of something that may be harsh, for fear of seeing beauty born of blood. For not all loveliness is gentle, and mercy's scalpel cuts deep as any sword. This book, to steal from N. D. Wilson and Jeffers, is as beautiful as a forest in flame; the sky merciless blue, and the earth merciless black. And there's nowhere to hide.

But Christian Wiman's main topic is not death. It's rarely even mentioned. No, his topic is life, and its wonder; life, and its absurdities; life, and its approaching end. The book is full of lines such as the following:

I loved his ten demented chickens
and the hell-eyed dog, the mailbox
shaped like a huge green gun.
I loved the eyesore opulence
of his five partial cars...

(which is in my opinion one of the best opening lines ever written for a poem)

And the engine-eyed atheists screaming reason

It should, while evoking eternity, cry time,
like a priest at meat.

his antic frantic penny-ante-Ahab stabs of madness

two cloudminded miles over Iowa

and made of the air an unguent made of them

A shadow on the water soft as thought

rock's archaic ache

an inchoate incarnate thought

Welcome to the hell of having everything.

and so, so many others. And these are biopsies, snippets extracted to be studied, not the overarching bodies (how unmodern a poet, to write poems about things). This is a man who writes, not like Dumas, not like Chesterton, birthing brilliance and trusting it to raise itself, nor like Lewis, ever forgetful of the words he had written. This is a man that writes with the desperation born out of a dying desire to leave one lasting impression on this earth beyond his tomb, a man that writes as if far more than merely his life were resting on his words, a man who bestows upon every ink-splash on the page more tumultuous meaning than most poets could wrestingly extract from their own lives. Facing death. To illustrate, I'll leave you with two final quotes, one of them a complete poem.

2047 Grace Street

I do not know how to come closer to God
except by standing where a world is ending
for one man. It is still dark,
and for an hour I have listened
to the breathing of the woman I love
beyond my ability to love. Praise to the pain
scalding us toward each other, the grief
beyond which, please God, she will live
and thrive. And praise to the light that is not
yet, the dawn in which one bird believes,
crying not as if there had been no night,
but as if there were no night in which it had not been.

The Mind of Dying

God, let me give you now this mind of dying
fevering me back
into consciousness of all I lack
and of that consciousness becoming proud.

There are keener griefs than God.
They come quietly, and in plain daylight,
leaving us with nothing, and the means to feel it.

My God my grief forgive my grief tamed in language
to a fear that I can bear.
Make of my anguish
more than I can make. Lord, hear my prayer.

View all my reviews

Wodehousian Fun