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Since I Never Get the Last Word

Friday, February 10, 2006
Ultimate Solutions

Reasons to kill my neighbor:

Mine’s bigger than his or vice versa

Mine’s better than his or vice versa

Mine’s truer than his or vice versa

If I don’t, he will

Hmmm, that is male reasoning; why would a woman kill her neighbor?

Mine’s taken, find your own

If I don’t, she will

Reason’s not to kill my neighbor:

Killing only proves thatthe otherperson is dead

Killing becomes the onlysolution - even for yourself

Jusdtifications for killing my neighbor:

To defend the defenseless.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-02-10 08:27:50

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Professor Willard Spiegelman teaches that instead of asking “what does this poem mean?” the questions you should think about all the time are these? (1) What do I notice about this poem? {2} What is odd, quirky, peculiar about it? (3) What new words do I see or what familiar words in new situations? Why is it the way it is, and not some other way?

Take Alison’s Nude with mirror.

What do I notice? The metaphor of reflection, from his eyes and hers. The opposition of nudity and nakedness. Her control yet lack of control of their relationship. His total inability to conceive of how she feels, his lack of empathy, his engineering approach to life: "he cannot touch his own horizon retreating over the cliffs of his reason."

What is odd, quirky, peculiar? Three line stanzas, each stanza a result of the preceding and a prescience to what must follow. The echo of the circumstances in the first stanza appearing in the last.

What familiar words in new situations? “scrying” crystal gazing in her mirror; “nuclear” the result of being catalyzed as well as the intensity of the feeling – she fosters the hatred while containing it; her reaction to his sin against her; ‘ladle” as a means of reducing the intensity, restoring a balance with which he can face his day and – most importantly - return to her.

Why is it this way and not some other? Progression: What he sees; what she sees; her vengeance; what he feels; what she feels. He sees no more of her than a mirror can reflect while she sees in the mirror’s reflection all that she is. He takes the surface pleasure from her while she goes deeper to affect the person he is.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-02-09 14:15:49

Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Losing Stuff

The villanelle is a poem of nineteen lines, five tercets and a quatrain, the first and third lines repeated throughout at prescribed places, the rhyme set aba aba aba aba abaa. Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night is a villanelle as is Elizabeth Bishop’s

One Art.

The art of losing isn't hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

---Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident

the art of losing's not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Lines that wake me up at night:

so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost like car keys, favorite books, socks, poems, and old versions of my stories.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster: as if, since losing is inevitable, you might as well get used to it.

It's evident the art of losing's not too hard to master - the ultimate loss, one held dear, the irony, bitterness, and inevitablility all rolled into the casual conclusion.

Thank you, Willard Spiegelman, for introducing me to this one.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-02-08 12:53:07

Monday, February 6, 2006
Of Mice and Men

On this day in 1937, John Steinbeck published Of Mice and Men. It was in the mid fifties, that I, a freshman in high school, met Steinbeck, first with this novel which occupied a proud place in our American Lit curriculum and, then, through everything else the man wrote. I was fifteen and learning about life from a great American writer. I learned for example that sometimes, great poetry can inspire great drama, as in the case of Steinbeck borrowing from Robert Burns for his title and for the major plot of the story.

Being me, the next favorite thing about Steinbeck that I remember is Tortilla Flats and his description of the effect of two gallons of wine on a conversation. Have never consumed two gallons of wine with three other friends but have downed a bottle or two and the accuracy of his description is incredible. Steinbeck took me to Cannery Row so that when I arrived in Seoul in 1960 I was not surprised by what I found.

And The Pearl. Whilst my teachers were singing the praises of The Old Man and the Sea I was mumbling “yeah, but..” Have always understood why folk love The Old Man but, oh, to me, Steinbeck’s novella was far superior in style and tone and execution.

Nice to be reminded of the stuff I loved in my youth and that the stuff I loved was good stuff, stuff that stood the test of time, stuff that I still consider as good as I’ve ever read.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-02-06 09:53:54

Sunday, January 29, 2006
Would You Let Your Daughter Read kater?

Today, I give pause for Thomas Bowdler, the man we may credit for the force of political correctness. He was neither the first nor the last to desire to expurgate someone else’s work but he is the most famous and his Family Shakespeare is the best known example of the genre. An example of the Bowdlers' work: in his version of Hamlet, the death of Ophelia is euphemistically referred to as an accidental drowning rather than the deliberate suicide implied by Shakespeare.

Tom said: “I acknowledge Shakespeare to be the world's greatest dramatic poet, but regret that no parent could place the uncorrected book in the hands of his daughter, and therefore I have prepared the Family Shakespeare” He also regretted that no parent could place the King James Version of the Bible in the hands oftheir daughters but never completed the task of expurgating that tome. Willard Espy wrote that there is a story that when Bowdler was mucking out Othello, he encountered a prurient stage direction: “Desdemona plays the strumpet in bed.” Bowdler quickly saw the solution to the problem and the stage direction became: “Desdemona plays the trumpet in bed.” A production from that kind of change could alter forever people’s understanding of the play. Why the hell would Othello put up with any woman who played the trumpet in bed?

I thought it might be instructive to take something from a locally famous person and see what we could do – in the tradition of the venerableTom - with that excerpt.

“I am not a people person nor am I particularly sociable, however I am never rude when typing - I save that for the phone . What I have noticed though is that I do not receive the level of civility I believe I'm due, even as a raging lunatic . Below then are some of the things that annoy the living hell out of me when on MSN:

So, we’d get:

“I am not a people person nor am I particularly sociable, however I am never offensive when typing - I save that for the phone . What I have noticed though is that I do not receive the level of civility I believe I'm due, even as a raging lover of the moon. Below then are some of the things that annoy the living Lower Dimensions out of me when on the notorious chat machine:”

Isn’t that better? Nicer? More gentile? Safer for your daughter to read?

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-01-29 09:04:01

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