Dropped into the Andersen Library on the University of Minnesota campus yesterday to find this exhibit of documents, posters, and photographs from the American Social Health Association. It explores how the Association used research, education, undercover investigation, and civic action in an effort to eradicate prostitution and human trafficking and promote the prevention and proper treatment of STDs.
Evidently their poster designer
had a soviet
Archive for December, 2012
Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on Boston Common, a bronze bas-relief funerary monument by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (located at 24 Beacon Street) - and part of Robert Lowell’s response:
Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city’s throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle
He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound’s gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.
He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man’s lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die-
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.
Robert Lowell (1917–1977), from For the Union Dead in Selected Poems (Rev. ed. 1993) Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Carved on back of the monument, are these words by Charles W. Norton:
“The White Officers taking life and honor in their hands cast in their lot with men of a despised race unproven in war and risked death as inciters of servile insurrection if taken prisoners besides encountering all the common perils of camp march and battle. The Black rank and file volunteered when disaster clouded the Union Cause. Served without pay for eighteen months till given that of white troops. Faced threatened enslavement if captured. Were brave in action. Patient under heavy and dangerous labors. And cheerful amid hardships and privations. Together they gave to the Nation and the World undying proof that Americans of African descent possess the pride, courage and devotion of the patriot soldier. One hundred and eighty thousand such Americans enlisted under the Union Flag in MDCCCLXIII-MDCCCLXV.
Snow in the Suburbs
by Thomas Hardy
Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again.
The palings are glued together like a wall,
And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.
A sparrow enters the tree,
A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
Descends on him and showers his head and eye
And overturns him,
And near inurns him,
And lights on a nether twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.
The steps are a blanched slope,
Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
And we take him in.
My fine brother is currently cycling around
are just some of the
many great photos
he’s taken. Hard to believe.
Talk about stirring.
Lupins also happen to loom large in another popular literary destination: Prince Edward Island, Canada
I am grateful to Steven Thorne for sending over links to a series of excellent posts he has written which both debunk the notion that cultural – and by extension literary – tourists are just a small band of slightly nutty enthusiasts who:
“do not generate sufficient travel volume or spending to justify more than the obligatory listing of arts, culture, and heritage attractions found in a destination’s visitor guide, a few dedicated pages on a destination’s website, or perhaps, help in marketing a heritage trail or an artists’ studio tour; ”
and, clearly and methodically state the case for why towns and cities around the world should wake up to the fact that their cultural assets possess enormous economic potential.
The argument is simple: the market for cultural tourism is huge. This is documented in a new Canadian publication called Cultural & Heritage Tourism: A Handbook for Community Champions, and in the 2009 Cultural & Heritage Traveler Study, which identifies 14 per cent of all domestic U.S. travelers as ‘Passionate Cultural Travelers’ who actively seek out cultural destinations. Total expenditures by these ‘passionates’ is pegged at $43 Billion a year in the U.S. and $8-12 Billion in Canada in The Economic Impacts of Cultural and Sport Tourism in Canada 2007 (the most recent study available).
Thorne argues that many cities in North America are missing out on this market because the ‘marketing planning paradigm’ that their DMOs (destination marketing organizations) work within is obsolete.
This is exactly the argument that we at Literary Tourist have been presenting for much of the past several years. As Thorne puts it: ” Effective tourism marketing is marketing by segment. To this end, destination marketing organizations cannot rely on generic leisure travel campaigns to reach cultural travelers. Cultural travelers must be targeted using purpose-built marketing platforms and targeted cultural campaigns.”
Thorne calls for a “much more sophisticated process of identifying a community’s cultural tourism asset base, uncovering its cultural identity, and crafting a visitor experience that will capitalize on any community’s most strategic asset: its sense of place.” Something perhaps a bit like this one.
I plan in coming posts to describe some of the specific experiences that have brought joy to me as a literary tourist; ones the type of which I think could be replicated, facilitated and nurtured by cities interested in attracting visitors with interests similar to my own.
Illustration by Anthony Tremmaglia
Be warned in time, James, and remain, as I do, incomprehensible: to be great is to be misunderstood.
— Oscar Wilde
In her poem “I dwell in Possibility,” Emily Dickinson compares poetry to a house, open to those with imagination, closed to those who can’t understand.
When a poet fails to hold the house door open, it’s a challenge; when she slams it in your face, it’s an obstacle; if he yells “fuck you” while slamming it and people applaud without knowing why, it’s time to complain.
The review that follows looks at poet Ken Babstock, and his 2012 Griffin Award-winning collection Methodist Hatchet, at tone, and at incomprehensibility. About half way through the review recruits respected American poet Wallace Stevens to assist with the heavy lifting.
Poetry by its nature yields meaning tangentially, “on the slant,” as Dickinson had it; from the room next door. Words in poems are stimuli, symbols used to convey and produce feelings, movement, change…unreality and reality. Poetry contains the kind of opacity that courts attention; a chemical burn that produces pain or tears, pleasure or solace, or, over time, insight, maybe even understanding. It communicates in ways slightly mysterious, often more effective, or less cruel, than blunt, direct prose.
Inside “difficult” poetry anyone can read anything into the lines. It’s as much about reader experience and response as it is about what’s on the page. Rorschach blots, as the late great art critic Robert Hughes once said of Andy Warhol’s work, onto which others can project their interpretations.
As I will illustrate below, there’s too much of a disconnect between context—the exploration, say, of art and culture and the splintering of grand, all-explaining philosophies and unifying narratives—and the poetry that’s made from it in Methodist Hatchet. The slant is too steep. Readers aren’t invited into this erudite little game, and there’s scant incentive for them to join in; to make them care. The conversation is too much within the poet himself.
Must poetry, in order to be new, of necessity also be incomprehensible?
If the poet’s objective is to head in different directions, make an original contribution to the world’s corpus of existing work, break language barriers, discover terra nova in the 21st Century—must the result be entirely unrecognizable?
Speaking from the perspective of a common reader who seeks out, appreciates, and cares for verse he can connect with, the answer is no. While poetic risk-taking is laudable and has resulted in big rewards, it’s seldom successful when the “consumer” isn’t offered anything recognizable to “buy”; when he’s sold monologue instead of dialogue.
T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” at least had footnotes.
Paul Muldoon once told me that a poem may be called a success when it achieves the objectives set out by its author. Fine, if the poet is the only member of the audience, but it’s very difficult to evaluate, or want to write intelligently about something that both lacks beauty and makes no sense. Memorability; authentic, original use of lapidary language; rhetorical power scored to important human themes; synoptic understanding of our complex human lives; staying power … all of this seems rather quaint, slightly naïve, ridiculous even, in the face of such cool incomprehensibility.
But it isn’t.
These are important judging criteria; their use is, however, precluded when you’re dealing with words that only their maker can understand or appreciate.
Perhaps some poetic genius or super-computer will reveal the intricate connections Babstock’s poems make with profound concepts and other works, thereby discovering clever echoings of wise and revered voices, hidden beauty, underlying structural brilliance. I, however, in my ignorance—my inability to read—just find them irritating. So much so that, as you may have noticed, I’ve yet to engage with them here. I need help. So, from these failing hands, I throw the torch on to another, better qualified …
Wallace Stevens (1879 –1955), one of America’s most respected poets, was a great collector and coiner of sayings and proverbs. Many of his best found their way into his poetry. Below you’ll find a selection of them (in bold, taken from a collection called Adagio), poetically twisted to help continue this critique. Here’s the first:
“All poetry is experimental poetry”
That he is experimenting is, as I’ve said, laudable, and desirable. But just what Babstock is experimenting with in Methodist Hatchet is unclear. The poems may, in their slick, impenetrable fashion, be an attempt to mirror the superficial décor that seems to colour our current world, defining its discourse. They may, in their cache-borrowing, high-brow celebrity name-dropping way, aim to expose a culture whose knowledge is fragmented, only wiki-deep, sounds and looks smart on the surface, but lacks truth, authenticity. Perhaps they lament the loss of past oracles now dumb in the face of secular, capitalist individualism—a desperate attempt to find lost or new answers. It’s possible they share Eliot’s frustration with mermaids singing not at him, but only to each other—his knowing that these voices might well teach life lessons, if only they could be understood. But this is all conjecture, the food that poets who write incomprehensible verse tend to live off.
Incomprehensibility in itself is neither new, nor….here’s the rest.
Hodge, named after Dr. Johnson’s great cat, hangs at Selected Works in Chicago:
Laurie Lewis began her publishing career in New York City with Doubleday in the early 60s acting as liaison between the book design and printing departments. In 1963 she moved to Toronto and joined the University of Toronto Press. When Allan Fleming came on board as Chief Designer in 1968 a new Design Unit was formed and Lewis became Fleming’s assistant. The department produced many important books, winning numerous awards both nationally and internationally.
For her outstanding service to the design community over the years, Lewis was made a Fellow of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada in 1975, proposed by Allan Fleming and Leslie Smart. She was vice-president of the Ontario Chapter from 1975 to 1977 and continued to support and contribute to the organization for many subsequent years. She also encouraged graphic design internationally through workshops in publication design in South East Asia and in South America, via volunteer assignments with the Canadian International Development Agency
Lewis introduced computers – the original Macintosh 512K – to the design office at University of Toronto in 1984. In 1991 she took early retirement in order to pursue interests in writing and small publishing. She is the founder and director of The Artful Codger Press, established to encourage the publication of memoirs and life writings.
After retirement from volunteer work Laurie began what she calls “another life.” She became editor of Vista, the publication of the Seniors Association in Kingston, and began a new career as a writer. In 2011, at the age of 80, her first memoir, Little Comrades, was published by Porcupine’s Quill, and was selected by The Globe and Mail as one of the Top 100 Books of the Year 2011. Her next book, Love, and all that jazz is scheduled for publication in 2013.
I caught up with Laurie Lewis recently at her home in Kingston, Ontario where we talked about her impressive career, her colleagues, and some of the more collectible books that she has had a hand in designing. Please listen here.
Boris Akunin – Sister Pelagia series, Russian Orthodox nun, czarist Russia
– Erast Fandorin series, suave, young policeman in Tsarist Russia
Sam Eastland – Inspector Pekkala, czarist-era cop in 1930′s Stalinist Russia
Brent Ghelfi – Alexei Volkovoy series, Russian undercover agent
Andrey Kurkov – aspiring writer Viktor Zolotaryov and his penguin Misha, Kiev
R. N. Morris – Porfiry Petrovich, Czarist-era policeman
William Ryan – Alexeii Korolev, policeman in Stalin-era Moscow
Martin Cruz Smith – Arkady Renko series, police detective, Moscow
Suzanne Arruda – Jade del Cameron, photojournalist 1920′s East Africa
Nick Brownlee – Jake and Jouma, retired Scotland Yard detective, Mombasa, Kenya
Nina Darnton – stand alone set in Nigeria
Adimchinma Ibe – Nigerian detective Peterside
Jassy Mackenzie – PI Jade DeJong, Johannesburg, South Africa
James McClure – Kramer and Zondi series, a white detective and Bantu sergeant in apartheid South Africa
Deon Meyer – several standalone crime novels set in South Africa
Tamar Myers – missionary Amanda Brown, 1950′s Belgian Congo
Malla Nunn – 1950′s South African policeman Emmanual Cooper
Kwei Quartey – Inspector Darko Dawson, Ghana
Alexander McCall Smith - No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Botswana
Roger Smith – stand alone crime novels set in Capetown, South Africa
Michael Stanley – David “Kubu” Bengu, assistant superintendent, Botswana
Robert Wilson – Robert Medway, fixer, East Africa