Saturday, September 27, 2008

Queries and Mass Transit

In the bookstore, a parent calls repeatedly for her child, moving slowly through the maze of shelves. "Grace," she says: "Grace. Grace." The same deadpan way a backwards-walking flight attendant holding a bag says "Trash-- Trash-- Trash" in the dry, cold, foot- and peanut-scented air of the jet. A query, a deadpan demand, a weary need.

--Photo: Davo. Gasometer, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Where was Sarah?

I got home late, the Symphony running until after 10, but I was able to catch the last of the exchange between the candidates and the after-debate analyzo-patter on two of the main networks. For each (CBS and NBC), the commentators looked to other members of the parties to say their piece about how the debate went. Williams started by talking to Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden. For the Republican viewpoint, we cut to--Giuliani?? Where was Palin? Thinking perhaps she was chatting with another network for her bit, I changed channels. Couric interviews Joe Biden, and then cuts to some Republican surrogate. Where was Palin? The impression that Palin is being used as wild-card material and someone otherwise to be screened from the public continues to linger.

Oh, and, in case you didn't know it before. McCain was a POW. I'm glad he came out and made that bit clear in his closing comments. It helps many American citizens see his possible qualifications for the Presidency much more clearly.

Something Else Might be About to Crater, too...

At least he hasn't postponed the debate. We shall see how things go.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Palin and Kung Pao Chicken--Chinese Buffet Espionage

Today: An upper-60s couple in adjoining booth on a lovely afternoon a week after Hurricane Ike:
He, unlike his wife and I, has a view of the parking lot, says something about the sky clouding up.

She: Has Hurricane Ike come through yet? I heard we were supposed to get rain.

He: Yes, it was sometime earlier. There was another one, but it's not supposed to hit. [I assume he meant Hanna, which was gone before Ike hit Texas]

...I come back with more shrimp dumplings and Shao Mai; their talk draws me away from the muted televisions hanging from the ceiling.

She: You know, I have a lot of respect for how Sarah Palin dresses. You know that 80s look is my style, and seeing her on TV makes me think..well...that it's not gone. It's not like the fashions girls wear today... What those girls wear today is...

The tone implies a facial expression of certain disdain I can't see from my position hunched over my plate. Her husband says something related to Palin, but moves away from fashion, a subject that doesn't sound like his forte.

He: I just don't get why they hate her so much.

She: It's because of her faith.

He: They're all so full of hate. All these liberals--where does the hate come from?

She: It's because they don't have the Lord. Without the Lord, all those Liberals have is hate. Have you had the ice cream yet?

He: No.

She: It's firm, it's good. The Coke is good today too. They've got the mix just right. I'll take my Celebrex when we get home. I'll be sure to take it with water instead of Coke.

At least even Palin fans know not to combine their 'scrip drugs with Coke. It's bad news.

Photo: Davo--Weather Booth at State Fair, August 08

From Spiders to Bigger Beasties

Not wanting to dwell too terribly long on the possibility of other spiders roaming around the house (so far none has made its presence known), I got online and looked for other interesting things. I found another, far more dreadful beast, the Chronophage, the elaborated mechanism topping the new Corsum clock in Cambridge. Stephen Hawking will preside over its unveiling.

The creature at the top of the clock is meant to be an animal that eats time, creeping stealthily over a circular representation of time itself, with lights indicating hours, minutes, seconds, and smaller. Stephen Taylor, the clock's creator, said he meant the clock to be terrifying, which it is, but it's also cool as hell.

Take care, websurfers--I'm sure there are important things to do, and time is short...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's that Time of Year

They're moving indoors. This makes encounter number two with arachnoid life-forms. The first one was at E&E's apartment--a rather alarming first-thing-in-the-morning event where one bigger than this crawled up my neck. This one has literary aspirations, checking out the stack of Best American Essays volumes recently bought at Half Price. Here's hoping that this was only a one-spider reconnaissance party and therefore are no others crawling around the bedroom.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Palin's Relations, or, Traveling without Moving

I'd write more on Sarah Palin, but frankly, she pisses me off, and I don't write well--either an essay or on my project--when I'm pissed. The folks at Slate, however, have an article that could be similar to what I might have written if it weren't for the fact I keep getting pissed off. "Thanks but no thanks" on that bridge to nowhere, indeed. Oh, and regarding the recent talking point on Palin having foreign relations experience because Alaska is close to Russia (recited by Cindy McCain, among others, who really must think us all idiots) I read somewhere (I'll see if I can give credit to the original author later, but let it suffice for now that I didn't come up with it myself)a perfectly succinct rejoinder:

I can see the moon out of my window--that doesn't make me a fucking astronaut.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Books I'm Teaching this Fall

Following Laura's lead (her blog is in my list o' links), I'll include my list, too.

The overarching theme of the books is that of becoming, of characters gaining further insight and developing, which is a rather general thread, but I didn't want to be too specific on something that, given what I'm doing with my class, would end up being of tertiary importance anyway. The list:

Two Sherlock Holmes Adventures, leading into:
The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
Demian by Hermann Hesse
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The obvious odd one out is the Dostoevsky, in that the Underground Man doesn't develop, doesn't gain that additional knowledge of oneself, really, but the reader does this regarding his bad example. It'll be interesting to see what the students have to say about these. I aimed to include at least a few books not often seen on undergraduate class syllabi.

Having spent about 3 hours writing just now, I'm a bit fuzzed-out regarding brain activity and am hoping my late nap this afternoon won't keep me up much longer.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Musical notation, or, Difficult Listening Hour Part III

Oh, the many things I'm completely stupid in. I have a general knowledge of how standard musical notation works, but then I ran in to various performances of percussion works on YouTube and started wondering how on earth people notated that for replicable performances.

This brought me to percussion notation as well as archaic notations and notations of other cultures, who use various symbols over text to indicate musical intentions.

In looking at various examples of musical notations old and new, I was struck by the connection that can be drawn to poetic form. The limitations of Blogger make excerpts impossible for the most part, but innovations such as William Carlos Williams' stepped line and other poets' "words all over the page" which initially struck me as the result of someone's itchy Tab pinky are a way to indicate to the reader (as performer) of the poem (as score) how the piece should be executed. Musical notation has a variety of ways to control pitch, duration, and tempo. It also has brief written indications (con brio, or sehr schwer) of which Hart Crane's glosses could be seen as analogue. The piece can rely on these more than others. Bach occasionally doesn't even indicate the tempo in some movements. Morton Feldman's monumental pieces even allow the performer to determine the pitches, indicating only that some notes should be held longer. Xenakis has a "spectral" score showing the progression of the piece (watch in full screen to see what's going on).

Of those that relied more heavily, Scriabin began some of his pieces with poetry, giving ominous written instructions as the work progressed ( the darknesss enters, or the sweetness gradually becoming more and more caressing and poisonous...). Erik Satie did this far more lightheartedly, indicating that one piano work be played "like a nightingale with a toothache" or having a story printed above the staves for the performer to read (he expressly forbade the performers to read these aloud to the audience) so that the performer had something else to do in case boredom set in.

One thing I will attempt this semester is to introduce my students to the idea of musical notation in poetry, how it can be adapted and incorporated. Alice Notley gives a good indication of how this can be done in the following excerpt, one of the many striking moments in her wonderful long poem The Descent of Alette, in which she uses the quotation mark in almost the same manner a breath mark is used in vocal scores, changing the rather matter-of-fact words and syntax into something seen in a vision:

“A mother” “& child” “were both on fire, continuously”
“The fire” “was contained in them” “sealed them off
from others” “But you could see the flame” "halo
of short flame all about the” “conjoined bodies, who

sat” “they sat apart” “on a seat for two” “at end of car” “The
ghost” “of the father” “sat in flames” “beside them”
“paler flames” “sat straight ahead” “looking
straight ahead, not” “moving.” “A woman”

“another woman” “in a uniform” “from above the ground”
“entered” “the train” “She was fireproof” “She was gloves & she”
“took” “the baby” “took the baby” “away from the”
“mother” “Extracted” “the burning baby” “from the fire” “they

made together” “But the baby” “still burned”
(“But not yours” “It didn’t happen” “to you”)
“’We don’t know yet” “if it will” “stop burning,’”
“said the uniformed” “woman” “The burning woman” “was crying”

“she made a form” “in her mind” “an imaginary” “form” “to
settle” “in her arms where” “the baby” “had been” “We saw
her fiery arms” “cradle air” “She cradled air” (“They take your
children” “away” “if you’re on fire”)

“In the air that” “she cradled” “it seemed to us there” “floated”
“a flower-like” “a red flower” “its petals” “curling flames”
“She cradled” “seemed to cradle” “the burning flower of” “herself gone”
“her life” (“She saw” “whatever she saw, but what we saw” “was that flower”)