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Posts Tagged ‘poetry

“The soul never thinks without a mental picture”*…

 

While popularised by Guillaume Apollinaire’s wonderful Calligrammes from 1918, the art of making images through the novel arrangement of words upon the page can be traced back many centuries. Some of the earliest examples of these “calligrams” are to be found in a marvellous 9th-century manuscript known as the Aratea.

Each page of the Aratea has a poem on the bottom half — written by the 3rd-century BC Greek poet Aratus and translated into Latin by a young Cicero — describing an astronomical constellation. This constellation is then beautifully drawn above the poetry; the drawings however are themselves made up of words taken from HyginusAstronomica. The passages used to form the images describe the constellation which they create on the page, and in this way they become tied to one another: neither the words or images would make full sense without the other there to complete the scene. Also, note the red dots on each picture: these show where the stars appear in the sky.

This remarkable object brings together nearly 2000 years of cultural history. Making use of two Roman texts on astronomy written in the 1st century BC, the manuscript was created in Northern France in about 820. It then found its way into the library of the Harley family in England, before being sold to the nation in 1752 under the same Act of Parliament which created the British Museum.

More– and larger– examples of this extraordinary art at “Aratea: Making Pictures with Words in the 9th Century.”

* Aristotle

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As we “just doodle it,” we might send speculative birthday greetings to Roger Joseph Zelazny; he was born on this date in 1937.  While (justly) remembered as an important science fiction author— he won the Hugo Award six times; the Nebula, three– he was also an accomplished poet.

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Written by LW

May 13, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Utopia is the process of making a better world, the name for one path history can take”*…

 

“Robinson Crusoe and his Pets,” Currier and Ives, 1874 — Source

How do you get to utopia? You don’t, of course. It’s unreachably distant. Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) and Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627) are set in what were then uncharted waters, far enough away to have escaped both the attention and interference of the rest of the world. That’s what makes these islands, for a moment, plausible: no one can deny their existence with positive knowledge. And that’s how they stay perfect: no one’s colonized them, traded with them, influenced them in any way. Distance and difference were understood as directly relational: the greater the distance, the greater the difference. And utopias are radically different. Granted, in some cases, the distance is temporal; we call these “euchronias”. The point is we’ll never get there, never live long enough, never see fiction turned to fact.

Today’s readers demur. Too far-fetched, they complain, rejecting the distance. Others see utopias as prescriptive, rigidly so, even fascistic. People think of head-in-the-clouds dreamers or dogmatic philosopher kings, though Fredric Jameson argues, persuasively, that utopias give us not blueprints but open-ended possibilities. At any rate, we now prefer dystopias: The Road, The Hunger Games, and countless others, many adapted as films. Such scenarios seem not distant but close, potentially imminent, and fans of the cult movie Idiocracy have already noted, with horror, the accuracy of its predictions: our vulgar entertainment; the corporatization of everything; the dumbing down — and worse — of the highest office in the land. Dystopias speak to us because they’re practically adjacent…

Of course, we still have to try. Do nothing, and we get dystopias. Extrapolated from the present, they project a future that might seem inevitable, pulling us forward as if by tractor beam. For Margaret Atwood, this is literature that deals with “things that really could happen”.

The great power of utopias is to disrupt our surrender to orthodoxy, freeing us to understand the status quo as contingent, not predetermined, as changeable, not inevitable. And by smuggling utopia home, Defoe unsettles our notion of the totality of state power, the power to which his utopias are opposed…

The full and fascinating essay at “Defoe and the Distance to Utopia.”

C.F. also: “Every Society Invents the Failed Utopia it Deserves.”

* Kim Stanley Robinson, Pacific Edge

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As we hope– and work– for the best, we might spare a thought for William Butler Yeats; he died on this date in 1939.  A poet, essayist, politician, and mystic, he won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923.  His gravestone in Ireland bears the epitaph he composed: “Cast a cold eye / On life, on death. / Horseman, Pass by.” Larry McMurtry took the title of his first novel from these lines (filmed as Hud.)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

– “The Second Coming,” W.B. Yeats

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Written by LW

January 28, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Much of the conversation in the country consisted of lines from television shows, both present and past”*…

 

One of the videos that stream on end at Tyler Hellard‘s PopLoser.tv.  As he explains in his newsletter, the always-illuminating Pop Loser

A couple years ago, I briefly had a site at poploser.tv. I filled it with weird videos and movies from around the Internet, but never kept it up and eventually it lapsed (that’s the story of most of my web projects). Last week I was reminded that YouTube really is a treasure. There’s just so much… stuff. YouTube has a whole weird sub-culture (several, actually), but the site is most amazing as an archive and a look at what TV used to be, which seems less, but more, than what TV has become.

While re-watching old episodes of Twitch City (the greatest TV show ever made), I thought about PLTV and what I wanted to do with it and decided to try again. I’m working out some bugs and trying to get the perfect mix of videos, but the new site is mostly designed just to be left on. You can go there and let it play (auto-play isn’t working on mobile yet), enjoying the ephemera of what television was in all its wonderful weirdness.

In a [few days] I’m going to flip a switch so it’ll only show only Christmas content through the holidays…

Couch surf down memory lane at PopLoser.tv

* Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

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As we lean back, we might send elegantly composed birthday greetings to Emily Dickinson, who was better known during her life as a gardener and botanist than as a poet; only 7 of her 1775 poems were published in her lifetime– which began on this date in 1830.

The Maid of Amherst

Written by LW

December 10, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made”*…

 

Hoss Cartwright, a former editor of the International Journal of Agricultural Innovations and Research, had a good excuse for missing the 5th World Congress on Virology last year: He doesn’t exist…

As grant funding and career advancement depend ever more heavily on publishing metrics, scientists are inventing “co-authors” with prestigious-sounding affiliations to give their papers more credibility with the journals to which they submit:  “Why fake data when you can fake a scientist?

* Groucho Marx

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As we prune the pretenders, we might spare a thought for Persian polymath Omar Khayyam; the mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, epigrammatist, and poet died on this date in 1131.  While he’s probably best known to English-speakers as a poet, via Edward FitzGerald’s famous translation of the quatrains that comprise the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Omar was one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the medieval period.  He is the author of one of the most important works on algebra written before modern times, the Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra (which includes a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle).  His astronomical observations contributed to the reform of the Persian calendar.  And he made important contributions to mechanics, geography, mineralogy, music, climatology, and Islamic theology.

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Written by LW

December 4, 2016 at 1:01 am

“A man’s grammar, like Caesar’s wife, should not only be pure, but above suspicion of impurity”*…

 

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.
― Dorothy Parker

29 more at “31 Jokes Every Grammar Nerd Can’t Help But Love.”

* (an admittedly sexist) Edgar Allan Poe

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As we ruminate on the rules, we might send shocking birthday greetings to a man who broke most of them: the enfant terrible of French letters, Arthur Rimbaud; he was born on this date in 1854. With his buddy, Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud was a leader of the Decadent Movement; fueled by absinthe and hashish, he succeeded in shocking a literary establishment that was nonetheless awed by his visionary verse, which influenced modern literature and arts, inspired a number of important musicians, and prefigured Surrealism.

All known literature is written in the language of common sense—except Rimbaud’s

– Paul Valéry

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Written by LW

October 20, 2016 at 1:01 am

“All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry”*…

 

Jonathon Green’s unique edition of The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose, first published in 1785

“Slang dictionaries have always been done by mad people who sit in rooms and make books out of them,” explains Jonathon Green. For 35 years he’s been doing just that: collecting slang words and compiling them into dictionaries.

The biggest of these—Green’s Dictionary of Slang, published in 2010—launched online this week. The online version is made up of 132,000 terms (the original print edition had around 110,000). Users can search for a word and its etymology for free, and subscribers can pay to access a bigger range of citations and a timeline of their evolution…

More of the backstory at “This man has spent 35 years compiling entries for a 132,000-word online slang dictionary that you can search for free.”  Browse the dictionary here.

* G.K. Chesterton

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As we carefully choose our words, we might doff our hats to Elizabethan poet, courtier, and soldier Sir Philip Sidney, who died on this date in 1586 of an infected thigh wound received in combat with the Spanish at the Battle of Zutphen, after having given his leg armor to a soldier who had forgotten his own.  As he lay dying, he gave his water-bottle to another wounded soldier, saying, “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.”  Sidney’s Arcadia (or more fully, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia)– the inspiration for the Gloucester sub-plot in Shakespeare’s King Lear-– was published posthumously.

Sir Philip Sidney

“An aphorism ought to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world like a little work of art and complete in itself like a hedgehog”*…

 

Twitter

Digital media are often (fairly) derided for playing to short attention spans. But brevity need not be synonymous with simplicity. New technologies also offer a canvas for creativity—even if the palette is confined to 140 characters. Many an artist or author is adept at using online channels to promote their work, and projects like the Los Angeles Review of Books have embraced an internet-first ethos. But there are also writers producing work with a distinctively online mindset. Though the medium is not quite the message, the limitations imposed by Twitter make for particularly fertile ground, giving rise to what has been called “Twitterature”…

More on aphorisms in the internet age at “The charms of Twitterature

* Friedrich von Schlegel

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As we concentrate on concision, we might send bawdy birthday greetings to Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade; he was born on this date in 1740. The French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher, author, and libertine spent much of his adult life in prison.  In 1778, de Sade was imprisoned by order of the king; ostensibly his offense was licentious behavior, but historians note that his mother-in-law, at whose urging the king acted, believed that the young Marquis was spending her daughter’s money too quickly. (There were also accusations of an affair with his wife’s sister… and it may have further motivated the mother-in-law that her daughter was rumored to be complicit in de Sade’s sexual escapades.)  While in the Bastille, he battled boredom by writing– among other things, The 120 Days of Sodom.  He was freed from prison in 1790, and ingratiated himself with the new Republic (calling himself “Citizen Sade”).  de Sade began writing again, anonymously publishing works including Justine and Juliette… until, in 1801, Napoleon ordered his arrest (again for indecency and blasphemy).  de Sade spent two years in prison, until his family had him declared insane, and moved him to the asylum at Charenton (the scene of Peter Weiss’s remarkable play Marat/Sade), where he died in 1814.

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Written by LW

June 2, 2016 at 1:01 am

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