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Posts Tagged ‘poetry

“To pore upon a book, to seek the light of truth”*…

 

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Gertrude Stein. James Joyce. Ernest Hemingway. Aimé Césaire. Simone de Beauvoir. Jacques Lacan. Walter Benjamin.

What do these writers have in common? They were all members of the Shakespeare and Company lending library.

In 1919, an American woman named Sylvia Beach opened Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookshop and lending library in Paris. Almost immediately, it became the home away from home for a community of expatriate writers and artists now known as the Lost Generation. In 1922, she published James Joyce’s Ulysses under the Shakespeare and Company imprint, a feat that made her—and her bookshop and lending library—famous around the world. In the 1930s, she increasingly catered to French intellectuals, supplying English-language publications from the recently rediscovered Moby Dick to the latest issues of The New Yorker. In 1941, she preemptively closed Shakespeare and Company after refusing to sell her last copy of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake to a Nazi officer.

The Shakespeare and Company Project uses sources from the Beach Papers at Princeton University to reveal what the lending library members read and where they lived…

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The Project is a work-in-progress, but you can begin to explore now.  Search and browse the lending library members and books.  Read about joining the lending library. Download a preliminary export of Project data. (And in the coming months, check back for new features and essays.)

Recreating the world of the Lost Generation in interwar Paris: The Shakespeare and Company Project.

* Shakepeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

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As we know them by what they read, we might recall that it was on this date in 1830 that Sarah Josepha Hale published Poems for Our Children, which included “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (originally titled “Mary’s Lamb”); later in the decade Lowell Mason set the nursery rhyme to music.  While Hale is probably best remembered for this, she was also a successful novelist and magazine editor, a fierce and effective abolitionist and champion of women’s rights, the founder of several charities, and the leader of the successful campaigns to create Thanksgiving Day as a holiday and to complete the Bunker Hill Monument.

Hale retired in 1877 at the age of 89– the same year that Thomas Edison spoke the opening lines of “Mary’s Lamb” as the first speech ever recorded on his newly invented phonograph.

220px-Sarah_Hale_portrait source

 

“Thinking within strict limits is stifling”*…

 

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Affectionately nicknamed “Conan the Bacterium,” Deinococcus radiodurans, a so-called polyextremophile, has an uncanny ability to rapidly repair damage to its genome. As a result, it can resist the most hostile conditions, from drought to radiation to acid baths to a Martian atmosphere. And if Canadian conceptual poet Christian Bök has his way, it will compose verse that will outlive our Sun.

Bök has earned a reputation for conducting extremely difficult poetic experiments and executing them with technical wizardry. In his award-winning 2001 bestseller Eunoia , for example, he uses only a single vowel in each chapter, a constraint that produces a form known as a univocalic . The first section is composed of words that include no vowels other than a , the second includes no vowels other than e , and so on. To build an appropriate lexicon for this demanding work, Bök read through Webster’s Third International Unabridged Dictionary five times and spent six years writing. His latest poetic challenge takes him into trickier and more technically specialized territory. Taking on the very perishability of text, Bök has devised a novel solution: In composing his verse, he is employing the medium of life itself.

The Xenotext: Book 1 represents the first phase of Bök’s wildly ambitious project—nearly 15 years in the making and still ongoing—of encoding poetry into the genome of the bacterium D. radiodurans . Using a substitution cipher, Bök “translates” his poetry into what he calls a “chemical alphabet” representing a genetic sequence. After simulating the resulting protein’s folding pattern, which is essential for its functioning, Bök sends his specifications to a biotechnical lab that engineers the gene accordingly. Finally, Bök’s team of biologists transplants a plasmid carrying the gene into the bacterium.

But why introduce such complexity into the process of poetic composition? The Xenotext provocatively wagers that—in the face of global catastrophe, whether in the form of ecological collapse, drug-resistant pandemic, or nuclear war—D. radiodurans can preserve at least a bit of humanity’s poetic heritage after the apocalypse. DNA, with its remarkable storage capacity and stability, is perhaps the “natural element,” the worthy vessel for the mind’s substance that Wordsworth expresses longing for in the epigraph above…

Writing an eternal poem, one that will survive in the DNA of extremophile bacteria when all other life on the planet is extinguished: “Poetry of the Apocalypse.”

For more on exactly how Bök “writes,” see: “The Making of a Xenotext.”

* Christian Bök

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As we ponder posterity, we might send straight-forward birthday greetings to Joseph Addison; he was born on this date in 1672.  A poet, playwright, and politician, Addison is probably best remembered for The Spectator, a daily publication– a “paper” as it was then called, and as it successors have been known ever since– which he founded in London with his partner Richard Steele.

The Spectator was widely read in London; indeed Jürgen Habermas suggests that the paper was instrumental in the emergence of the public sphere in 18th century England.  It also had North American readers (including Benjamin Franklin and James Madison).

220px-Joseph_Addison_by_Sir_Godfrey_Kneller,_Bt source

 

Written by LW

May 1, 2020 at 1:01 am

“There are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe”*…

 

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Gustave Doré. From an illustration in the 1877 edition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

 

Roaring out of the radical 1790s, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a founding fable for our time. A fable must by definition revolve around an animal, and in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s nightmare the slain albatross hangs around the fated sailor’s neck like a broken cross, an emblem of his sin against nature. It is all too relevant today, as a statement of isolation and despair: “Alone, alone, all, all alone, / Alone on a wide, wide sea!” Yet in that forlorn expression is great power; the power of art to change us…

Slavery, ecocide, plague … the warnings of Coleridge’s poem resound down the ages.  Now 40 actors, musicians and authors are performing in a daily mass-reading: “Why Willem Dafoe, Iggy Pop, and more are reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to us.”

Then experience “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Big Read.”

[TotH to friend MK]

[image above: source]

* Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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As we dig for a drop to drink, we might recall that it was on this date in 1665 that Samuel Pepys made his first diary reference to the Great Plague in London.  “Great fears of the sicknesses here in the City, it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all.”  The entries in his diary continue throughout the year, documenting the horrifying conditions in the city, as many thousands died, until Winter’s freezing cold reduced the number of fleas that spread the disease.  (Pepys also wrote, the following year, about the Great Fire of London.)

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Written by LW

April 30, 2020 at 1:01 am

“It is necessary to keep one’s compass in one’s eyes”*…

 

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A “compass rose” is a graphic device found on maps and nautical charts (as well as on the faces of compasses and some monuments) that displays the orientation of the cardinal directions (north, east, south, and west) and their intermediate points.

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And as these examples from the collection of the The American Geographical Society Library demonstrate, they can also be fascinating– and beautiful– graphic elements in their own right.

See more at the AGSL’s Compass Rose Flickr page.  Browse the Library’s full digital collection here.

* Michelangelo

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As we find our way, we might spare a pining thought for Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca); it was on this date in 1327, after he’d given up his vocation as a priest, that he first set eyes on “Laura” in the church of Sainte-Claire d’Avignon– an encounter that awoke in him a passion that spawned the 366 poems in Il Canzoniere (“Song Book”).

Considered by many to have been “the Father of Humanism,” and reputed to have coined the term “Renaissance,” Petrarch was most famous in his time for his paeans to his idealized lover (who was, many scholars believe, Laura de Noves, the wife of Hugues de Sade).  But Petrarch’s more fundamental and lasting contribution to culture came via Pietro Bembo who created the model for the modern Italian language in the 16th century largely based on the works of Petrarch (and to a lesser degree, those of Dante and Boccaccio).

Laura de Noves died on this date in 1348.

Lura de Noves

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Petrarch

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“The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution”*…

 

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Crossword Puzzle with Lady in Black Coat, Paulina Olowska, 2014

 

When I began to research the history of crosswords for my recent book on the subject, I was sort of shocked to discover that they weren’t invented until 1913. The puzzle seemed so deeply ingrained in our lives that I figured it must have been around for centuries—I envisioned the empress Livia in the famous garden room in her villa, serenely filling in her cruciverborum each morning­­. But in reality, the crossword is a recent invention, born out of desperation. Editor Arthur Wynne at the New York World needed something to fill space in the Christmas edition of his paper’s FUN supplement, so he took advantage of new technology that could print blank grids cheaply and created a diamond-shaped set of boxes, with clues to fill in the blanks, smack in the center of FUN. Nearly overnight, the “Word-Cross Puzzle” went from a space-filling ploy to the most popular feature of the page.

Still, the crossword didn’t arise from nowhere. Ever since we’ve had language, we’ve played games with words. Crosswords are the Punnett square of two long-standing strands of word puzzles: word squares, which demand visual logic to understand the puzzle but aren’t necessarily using deliberate deception; and riddles, which use wordplay to misdirect the solver but don’t necessarily have any kind of graphic component to work through…

Adrienne Raphel (@AdrienneRaphel) offers “A Brief History of Word Games.”

[TotH to MK]

* Stephen Sondheim

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As we fill in the blanks, we might send epigrammatic birthday greetings to Alfred Edward (A.E.) Housman; he was born on this date in 1859.  A classicist and poet, he is probably best remembered for his lyrical poetry, perhaps most notably for his  cycle A Shropshire Lad.

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It is also the birthday (1874) of another poet, the combative Robert Frost.

 

Written by LW

March 26, 2020 at 7:02 am

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