Rhetoric v. poetry. Rhetoric + poetry.

Not Bernie Sanders, but W.B. Yeats

"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry. Unlike the rhetoricians, who get a confident voice from remembering the crowd they have won or may win, we sing amid our uncertainty; and, smitten even in the presence of the most high beauty by the knowledge of our solitude, our rhythm shudders." - William Butler Yeats, "Anima Hominus"

Goddamn, I have got to get away from dunking my head in the politics bucket, and from the politics commentary bucket, then commenting on the politics commentary bucket, and put pen to paper on wrapping up the dirty book project.

Writing is progressing, but done in isolation. Commenting on political rhetoric is in the open and full of commiseration and wit and friends amusing each other. Maybe misanthropy would lead to more spans of time to tune things out and focus?

Ultron, the Emily Dickinson-quoting supervillain robot

Ultron would like you to look at his Dickinson-themed journal and let him know what you think.

The New York Times reports that Joss Whedon wrote a line in the upcoming Avengers Age of Ultron movie where Ultron quotes Emily Dickinson (Huzzah as the Venn diagram of comic nerds and lit nerds fizzes with glee...). James Spader, who voices Ultron, was later given a line from Pinocchio about not having strings for the final version (Bo-ring...)

I have tried to find out what the Dickinson quote was. However, after multiple minutes of Yahoo, Bing, and Google searches have yielded no answers, I am snatching the internet speculation license and claiming it mine.

Let's assume that Whedon would go broad and choose one of Dickinson's most recognizable poems. While her buzzing flies would work in many ways for an action film, let's go instead with a scene where Ultron, the fate of humanity seconds from ruination, decides to regale Hulk, Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Thor — and, hell, let's add Loki — with a recitation that causes each of them to close their eyes and imagine sitting in a Carriage with Death and Ultron, the giant robot.

Imagine yourself, dear reader, watching a montage of soft-dissolve film edits as each brightly colored muscle-bound oaf, blood trickling down the forehead just so, gasping final breaths, ponders the point of it all.

I grew up on DC comics and don't know what the deal is with Ultron from Marvel comics, but I am eager to pretend James Spader as the preppie from Pretty in Pink has converted to robot form and aspires to more destruction than making fellow preppie Andrew McCarthy feel bad for dating someone trashy like Molly Ringwald.

Fingers crossed Walt Whitman and Hulk are combined in the next movie. DOES HULK WHITMAN CONTRADICT MYSELF? THEN HULK WHITMAN CONTRADICTS MYSELF!

Because I Could Not Stop for Death (479)
By Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity –

The male gaze & Paul Blackburn: The Once-Over

"Persimmon" by Robert Rauschenberg (1964). Taken in the Art Institute of Chicago... by ME!

The "male gaze" is an important concept. However, the phrase often diminishes the sense of power held by the person being gazed at. Beauty and social hierarchy has its privileges, and its nuisances. "The Once-Over" by Paul Blackburn from the late 1950s holds that sense nicely.

"Stirring dull roots with spring rain" alludes to "The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot (which I wrote about here), putting Eliot in the role of Blackburn's "preacher". While attending a religious service with T.S. Eliot holds some novel appeal ("Hey, that's T.S. Eliot!" would be my recurring thought), I'm not sure Eliot would hold my heathen attention for more than a few minutes on the topic of religion. Maybe if he talked about his banking instead I'd be rapt for longer.

The Once-Over
By Paul Blackburn

The tanned blonde
                                    in the green print sack

in the center of the subway car
                                                          standing

tho there are seats
                                    has had it from
I           teen-age hood
I           lesbian
I           envious housewife
4          men over fifty
(& myself),     in short
                                    the contents of this half of the car

                                     Our notations are :
long legs, long waists, high breasts (no bra), long
neck, the model slump
                                    the handbag drape & how the skirt
cuts in under a very handsome

                                                      set of cheeks
“stirring dull roots with spring rain”, sayeth the preacher

            Only a stolid young man
with a blue business suit and the New York Times

does not know he is being assaulted.

So.
She has us and we have her
all the way to downtown Brooklyn
Over the tunnel and through the bridge
                                    to DeKalb Avenue we go
all very chummy

She stares at the number over the door
                                    and gives no sign
Yet the sign is on her

Fog

April is National Poetry Month, here's a short one to fire up the writing pistons:

Fog
By Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

There's a recording of Carl Sandburg reading the poem. I came across it during a long drive while listening to an anthology of poets reading their own work - part of an effort to make myself smarter by choosing literature over listening to podcasts of comedians talking to other comedians about that one time they did that one thing.

Anyway, the recording is on several videos people have posted on YouTube, but here's an adorable reading that appealingly has images of cats throughout. Including a photo of a cat in the fog!

Craft & memory: "Ithaca" by Louise Glück

Penelope at Her Loom, John William Waterhouse (1912)

A poem about memory, art, trickery, and devotion. Odysseus was away from his kingdom of Ithaka for twenty years. Ten years fighting the Trojan War, another ten struggling to come back after earning the ill-favor of Poseidon. His clever wife Penelope fended off suitors for her hand by weaving a tapestry, telling the suitors she would marry as soon as it was done, then undoing each day's work in the night.

Ithaca
By Louise Glück

The beloved doesn’t
need to live. The beloved
lives in the head. The loom
is for the suitors, strung up
like a harp with white shroud-thread.

He was two people.
He was the body and the voice, the easy
magnetism of a living man, and then
the unfolding dream or image
shaped by the woman working the loom,
sitting there in a hall filled
with literal-minded men.

As you pity
the deceived sea that tried
to take him away forever
and took only the first,
the actual husband, you must
pity these men: they don’t know
what they’re looking at;
they don’t know that when one loves this way
the shroud becomes a wedding dress.

Trojan War-time poem: "On the Walls"

Rhina Espaillat

Rhina Espaillat

It's the gossip-y parts of the Helen of Troy myth that often get lost. Though, in re-re-reading The Iliad there are plenty of moments of character sighing ruefully "I wish I weren't so into this" and "Player's gotta play" moments. Other than the Catalog of Ships (made easier when you imagine a cheering room when an ancestor is mentioned), The Iliad remains a good read. The poem below is prosaic but still struck my fancy. My fancy fancy. Can fancies be fancy? "Fancy" kind of loses meaning by the third time you say it in a row. Give it a try.

On the Walls
By Rhina Espaillat

From the first look I knew he was no good.
That perfumed hair, those teeth, those smiling lips
all said, "Come home with me." I knew I would.

Love? Who can say? Daylight withdrew in strips
along those vaulted archways waiting where
the slaves would hear us whisper on the stair.
Not smart, not interesting — no, not the best
as anything, all talk and fingertips.
The best I left behind; they're in those ships
nosing your harbor. You can guess the rest.
The heart does what it does, and done is done.

Regret? What for? The future finds its Troys
in every Sparta, and your fate was spun
not by old crones, but pretty girls and boys.