Saturday, August 9, 2014

News of the happiest moment

The other day, looking at
James Merrill, the unbur-
dening making of art im-
pressed me as almost per-
fectly captured in his po-
em. This quality in the
happiest moment, as I think
of the conduct of art as be-
ing, cannot be portrayed to
us by punctilio, I admitted,
detached from taste as a hu-
man right. I share the glad
news of the arrival of the 
25th Anniversary edition of 
a volume of criticism, as a
gift preserving the happiest
moment from any imposition. 

    I reject categorically the
    assumption, widespread now
    among art historians, that
    visual styles almost inev-
    itably have some political
    or ideological import, fix-
    ed or otherwise. I believe
    that a work of art has a
    freestanding value. I insist
    on this as a matter of prin-


  Our evening's plans are
  reconciled. Our choice
  of Champagne, wafted up
  the slope of the flute,
  remains where it belongs.


Jed Perl
Paris Without End
  On French Art Since
  World War I
Arcade, 2014©

Saturday commute xciii: learning Summer backwards

Seems a year not to be
Summering in the wrong
direction. As if the u-
sual noise and debris
on the Euphrates were
not enough, if you be-
gin your jaunt on My-
konos and finish up in
Copenhagen, you would
think the gods had a-
venged your libations 
by gouging for amends.

   Innocent friend of mine
   just staggered back af-
   ter 7 dollar coffee in
   Sybille Bedford's sea-
   faring, predatory, and
   adventurous Socialist
   paradise. So much bet-
   ter, it would appear,
   to be cloistered in
   Gaza for the duration,
   where Arabians speak
   Arabian with the speed
   of summer lightning, 
   and the Hebrews learn
   it backwards, which is
   absolutely frightening.

Sybille Bedford
Portrait Sketch of a Country
  Denmark, 1962
Pleasures and Landscapes
  A Traveller's Tales
  from Europe
Jan Morris, introduction
Counterpoint, 2003©

Alan Jay Lerner
Frederick Loewe
My Fair Lady
  Why Can't the English

Friday, August 8, 2014

"No nestling place is left in bluebell bloom ..

   . and the wide arms of
   trees have lost their

   Cambridge University
   lately placed online
   the diaries of Sieg-
   fried Sassoon. There
   is shelter to be val-
   ued where a conscious-
   ness can live, if not
   be spared.

Wilfred Owen
  February, 1917
The Collected Poems
C. Day Lewis, editor
op. cit.

i    Photo Bruce Weber
iii  Dominik Sadoch

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Wittier than Homer?

Who among us can regard it as
practical, to ignore The New
York Times? Every now and a-
gain, mind, the Times has to
concede that it has come up
with a doozy of a malaprop,
such as salivating for inva-
sion of Iraq, yet portraying
no cumulative therapeutic 
effect of these serial self-
reprimands. How disappoint-
ing, even as a standard of

Did you know, that in all
of Homer there is no occur-
rence of the conception of
battlefield destruction in
which the English-speaking
peoples, particularly ours,
excel with such rote and
raptured relish? And he was
no ninny, either, no skin-
flint when it came to the
seductions of force and the
extracts of its application.

A poor liar, this merchan-
diser of myth, he did not
stoop to that ugliest obscen-
ity of which our christened
poets have been capable. You
will find it in all its shin-
ing treachery, ornamenting a
slapdash attempt at respon-
sibility, in the exactly last
word of the paper's editorial
of the day. What a Collect of
self-seduction this exposes,
in the language's debasement:

And, if nothing else, we owe it to our grandparents
 and great-grandparents and the millions of others 
who suffered and died on the battlefields of Europe 
not to forget their awesome sacrifice. 

We watch war. This admission
must be at fault, for leav-
ing us with no integrity re-
maining. As we shun thought
of how to justify this de-
praved and desperate dalli-
ance, it's expedient to a-
dorn its imagery with lies,
lest we come to know it. We
find our ease in sacrifice.

Serge Schmemann
  for the Editorial Board
The Guns of August
The New York Times
7 August 2014©

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Summer that runs through thread

An aspect of the palindrome, of
the vitality of things flowing
back or forth in two directions,
draws me (often subconsciously)
a considerable master of layers
of light as overlapping tissues,
between which a great dynamic,
too eloquent to be likened to
direct current, surges.

I saw this superb photograph of
his, taken overlooking Lake Ge-
neva and captioned to recall a
music recital; and the recital
it recalled for me had been set
the photographer granted per-
mission to suggest this view.
I did allude to it, in the an-
niversary posting of 29th ult.,
when it seemed more to the
point to be ridiculous, but
the entry defeated that pur-
pose by becoming charming,
which can never be wholly

Now with these 2 works, I only
juxtapose them, yet there are
other debts to acknowledge in
a genealogy of the impression.
There had to be Henry Miller's
trip down through the Dordogne
to Marseille, to sail to Athens
to meet Durrell and Katsimbalis;
there had to be Edmund Keeley, 
to reflect years later on their
journey; and there had to be my
college, to bring Keeley before
me, to engage and extend the 
journey of such figures, giving
no reason, and to reach into the
Alexandria of Cavafy and Durrell,
on into my generation's Cambodia. 

So many tissues overlap, the art
I admire in Lorenzo is to portray
how they are permeably, recipro-
cally activated, with light. This
hunger without hunger, then, ac-
quires expression in Merrill which
I believe also to be unburdened. I
would decline the punctilio of con-
noisseurship, always, for this.

Houses, an embassy, the hospital.

Our neighborhood sun-cured if trembling still

In pools of the night’s rain . . .
Across the street that led to the center of town
A steep hill kept one company part way
Or could be climbed in twenty minutes
For some literally breathtaking views,
Framed by umbrella pines, of city and sea.
Underfoot, cyclamen, autumn crocus grew
Spangled as with fine sweat among the relics
Of good times had by all. If not Olympus,
An out-of-earshot, year-round hillside revel.

I brought home flowers from my climbs.
Kyria Kleo who cleans for us
Put them in water, sighing Virgin, Virgin.
Her legs hurt. She wore brown, was fat, past fifty,
And looked like a Palmyra matron
Copied in lard and horsehair. How she loved
You, me, loved us all, the bird, the cat!
I think now she was love. She sighed and glistened
All day with it, or pain, or both.
(We did not notably communicate.)
She lived nearby with her pious mother
And wastrel son. She called me her real son.

I paid her generously, I dare say.
Love makes one generous. Look at us. We’d known
Each other so briefly that instead of sleeping
We lay whole nights, open, in the lamplight,
And gazed, or traded stories.
One hour comes back – you gasping in my arms
With love, or laughter, or both,
I having just remembered and told you
What I’d looked up to see on my way downtown at noon:
poor old Kleo, her aching legs,
Trudging into the pines. I called.
Called three times before she turned.
Above a tight, skyblue sweater, her face
Was painted. Yes. Her face was painted
Clown-white, white of the moon by daylight,
Lidded with pearl, mouth a poinsettia leaf.
Eat me, pay me – the erotic mask
Worn the world over by illusion
To weddings of itself and simple need.

Startled mute, we had stared – was love illusion? –
And gone our ways. Next, I was crossing a square
In which a moveable outdoor market’s
Vegetables, chickens, pottery kept materializing
Through a dream-press of hagglers each at heart
Leery lest he be taken, plucked,
The bird, the flower of that November mildness,
Self lost up soft clay paths, or found, foothold,
Where the bud throbs awake
The better to be nipped, self on its knees in mud -–
Here I stopped cold, for both our sakes;

And calmer on my way home bought us fruit.

Forgive me if you read this. (And may Kyria Kleo,
Should someone ever put it into Greek
And read it aloud to her, forgive me, too.)
I had gone so long without loving,
I hardly knew what I was thinking.
Where I hid my face, your touch, quick, merciful,
Blindfolded me. A god breathed from my lips.
If that was illusion I wanted it to last long;
To dwell, for its daily pittance, with us there,
Cleaning and watering, sighing with love or pain.
I hoped it would climb when it needed to the heights
Even of degradation as I for one
Seemed, those days, to be always climbing
Into a world of wild
Flowers, feasting, tears – or was I falling, legs
Buckling, heights, depths,
Into a pool of each night’s rain?
But you were everywhere beside me, masked,
As who was not, in laughter, pain, and love.

Valéry Lorenzo
Hôtel du Lac, Coppet
Photograph silver print

James Merrill
1926 - 1995
Days of 1964

Edmund Keeley
Inventing Paradise
  The Greek Journey 1937 - 47
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999©

James Merrill portrait
  photographer unidentified

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The thread that runs through Summer

An American boy is all an Amer-ican boy is ever going to be. Not that this can get us off the hook of reading James and Eliot on the futility of expatriation (in case they didn't know what they were saying), because, after all, they give us such delight with our language. Just not with the way we talk.

For this I keep coming back to Maxwell and Agee. They authen-ticate the distinguishing fea-ture of the American boy, diverted as it multifariously is, almost always, by a culture of something else distinguishing his life, just not his being: striving. His contribution to existence is that figure of his speech. Hunger, without hunger.

Most of us become clever enough with words to regulate exposure of this structure, and this can seem to be polite or hypocritical, but is unambiguously a striving. 

This feature has nothing to do with the appetites, so called, or anxiety in the ordinary sense. It has to do with an awareness of a prev-alence of choice - of a kind, much less a degree, resembled nowhere else. Neither noble nor savage, and not knowingly anarchic, the American of this gender is an expatriate of history, a radical, like it or not, who would connect.

Kind of.