(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘autobiography

“I shall have more to say when I am dead”*…

Brian Brodeur reassesses an unjustly-forgotten modernist…

On December 22, 2019, the sesquicentennial of a writer Donald Justice referred to as “the first modern American poet” passed without a whimper. Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935) would’ve found this critical neglect fitting; obscurity was one of his perennial subjects. Though he won three Pulitzers and was a favorite poet of Theodore Roosevelt, Robinson, whose own mother waited seven months to name him, was attracted to characters few people acknowledged, cared about, or understood.

Before Robinson, very little lived experience had crept into the lines of late Victorian American poetry, which included the likes of rightly forgotten Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909) and Robert Underwood Johnson (1853–1937): parlor versifiers Whitman famously dismissed as “tea-pot poets.” Rather than saturating his work with overblown symbols, hackneyed aphorisms, and hollow moralism, Robinson relied on the more sophisticated techniques of understatement, irony, and sparse detail. He also confronted such 19th-century taboos as alcoholism, homelessness, and assisted suicide.

So why has Robinson’s Collected Poems remained out of print since the 1970s? Like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), another virtual nonperson for most 21st-century readers, Robinson is often overlooked as being insufficiently modern, unfashionably didactic, and even culturally problematic. Though this latter description might be justly applied to Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha (1855), which perpetuates stereotypes of Native American life, none of these epithets accurately describes Robinson.

Understanding this collective lapse in critical judgment begins by acknowledging that Robinson continues to challenge dominant literary conventions. To begin with, his poems almost always tell a story, almost exclusively in meter and nearly always in rhyme; he also valued clarity of style and rationality of thought over the experimental fragmentation of many high modernists, and, unlike the Confessional poets who came later, hardly ever wrote about himself explicitly. Another reason for his neglect involves a commonly held misconception about literary history. Though Robinson was born nearly 20 years before Ezra Pound (1885), many consider him a peer of the much younger modernists who are often lumped together with him in anthologies of modern American poetry. Robinson broke new ground in his best books, which were published between 1897 and 1925, but his poems can sound antique when compared to The Waste Land (1922) and The Pisan Cantos (1948).

Yet it serves to remember that art has no present without its past. Acknowledging practices of earlier periods gives poets the knowledgeable freedom to experiment in their own time. Robinson’s best work offers contemporary practitioners options, ways of writing largely ignored by 21st-century American poets…

An appreciation: “‘The Flicker, Not the Flame’: E. A. Robinson’s Narrative Compression,” from @bbrodeurpoet in @LAReviewofBooks.

* Edwin Arlington Robinson

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As we give credit where credit is due, we might spare a thought for Maya Angelou; she died on this date in 2014. A poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, she published several books of poetry, seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows through a career that spanned over 50 years.

Her autobiographical work drew on her experiences as a fry cook, sex worker, nightclub performer, Porgy and Bess cast member, Southern Christian Leadership Conference coordinator, and correspondent in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa. She went on to work as an actress, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs. Then, in 1982, she was named the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” (1993) at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton (making her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961).

Angelou was nominated for the Pulitzer and the Tony, won three Grammys, and was awarded over 50 honorary degrees. She won the Spingarn Medal in 1994, the National Medal of Arts in 2000, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. And in 2022 she became the first Black woman to be depicted on a U.S. quarter.

Angelou at the Clinton inauguration [source]

“We are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed”*…

There’s a variety of “preservation” that can blind us to the lack of genetic diversity and the threat of extinction…

The small salamander known as the axolotl, whose cartoonish face resembles a smiling emoji, is among the most widespread amphibians on Earth. You can buy them as pets online, collect them in the game Minecraft, and watch them perform on Instagram and TikTok. Often pink in color with feathery external gills, axolotls are also popular in laboratories: Scientists love studying them because they can regrow limbs, spinal cords, and even portions of their brains. Roughly 1 million are under human care worldwide, according to some experts.

Yet in their home country of Mexico, where they’re celebrated as cultural icons, axolotls are critically endangered and on the verge of extinction. The only place you can find them in the wild is in a watery borough of Mexico City, the second-largest city in the Western Hemisphere. There are fewer than three dozen per square kilometer here, down from 6,000 in the 1990s.

This paradox — that axolotls seem to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time — raises a vexing question. If an animal is thriving in labs and aquariums, should we worry that it’s dying in its native waters? Or, asked another way: How important is the “wild” in wildlife?…

Axolotls are among the most widespread amphibians on Earth. In the wild, they’re almost extinct: “The animal that’s everywhere and nowhere,” from Benji Jones (@BenjiSJones) in @voxdotcom.

* Elizabeth Kolbert

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As we back biodiversity, we might spare a thought for Gerald “Gerry” Malcolm Durrell; he died on this date in 1995.  A British naturalist, zookeeper, conservationist, author, and television presenter, most of his work was rooted in his life as an animal collector and enthusiast… though he is probably most widely known for his autobiographical book My Family and Other Animals and its successors, Birds, Beasts, and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods... which have been made into television and radio mini-series many times, most recently as ITV’s/PBS’s The Durrells.

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“The things you used to own, now they own you”*…

 

things

 

Photographic artist Barbara Iweins practice has always dealt with the boundaries of intimacy and vulnerability, and how these can be pushed to their very limits. Her relationship with the medium began 11 years ago, when she was suddenly compelled to buy a camera and photograph strangers she met in the street.

“Ever since I was young, whenever I was in a public space, my eyes would be drawn to certain people and I wondered what they were thinking or doing at that exact moment, or even what their fears were, or their joys,” she explains. So, one day, she decided to act on that impulse, asking strangers if she could enter their personal lives. “Like a voyeur, I revisited them year after year with a new project. By the end of those five years, we were so close, that I could even make a picture of them at one of their most vulnerable moments: when they just opened their eyes in the morning. This project was called 7AM/7PM.”

Having spent so long focusing on the vulnerability of others, recently, Barbara decided to turn inwards, using her own private life as a case study for the first time. “It was time for me to lay myself bare a little as well,” she adds. The result is Katalog, a project she began in 2018 which she describes as “a radical confrontation with my possessions through my photographic lens. The exposure of oneself, pushed to its paroxysm.” In a mammoth project, for two years and 15 hours a week, Barbara isolated herself and photographed all 10,532 objects in her house. “In order to rigorously confront myself with everything I own, I then classified everything by material, colour, their frequency of use and their emotional value.”

You’d assume that this would be a somewhat performative gesture, that the majority but perhaps not all of Barbara’s possessions would make it into the series but, she tells us, “to be totally honest with myself, I needed to capture them all. No book, no piece of clothing, no kitchen utensil, no Lego was going to escape my lens.”…

The photographer undertook this mammoth task in an attempt assess the value she places on objects: “Artist Barbara Iweins on spending two years photographing all 10,532 objects in her house.”

* Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

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As we take on taxonomy, we might spare a thought for Jean-Jacques Rousseau; he died on this date in 1778.  A central figure in the European Enlightenment, he was a novelist (Emile, or On Education illustrated the importance of the education of the whole person for citizenship; Julie, or the New Heloise was seminal in the development of romanticism in fiction), a composer (perhaps most notably of several operas), and an autobiographer (his Confessions initiated the modern autobiography; his Reveries of a Solitary Walker exemplified the late 18th-century movement known as the Age of Sensibility, and featured an heightened subjectivity and introspection that later characterized modern writing).

But it is as a philosopher that Rousseau was best known in his time and is best remembered.  His Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract are cornerstones of modern political and social thought.  He was deeply controversial in his time: he was condemned from the pulpit by the Archbishop of Paris, his books were burned and warrants were issued for his arrest.  But during the period of the French Revolution, Rousseau was the most popular of the philosophes among members of the Jacobin Club. He was interred as a national hero in the Panthéon in Paris, in 1794, 16 years after his death.

42307923884_4bc291b918_o source

 

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 2, 2020 at 1:01 am

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