From the category archives:

Poetry

“…so that might suit, say, a young couple just starting out in the catering business in the North Wales area?”  — Fry & Laurie

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Where's the focus on this thing?

The focus needs some work...

No, that’s not a pinhole-camera photo of someone with a plutonium throat lozenge in their mouth.

Researchers at IBM have created the first image of a single molecule using a “crazy powerful microscope” — with an exposure time of 20 hours.

And for those of you wincing at my second science post in one week, here’s a little excerpt of Lucretius, translated by Rolfe Humphries:

Never suppose the atoms had a plan,
Nor with a wise intelligence imposed
An order on themselves, nor in some pact
Agreed what movements each should generate.
No, it was all fortuitous; for years,
For centuries, for eons, all those motes
In infinite varieties of ways
Have always moved, since infinite time began,
Are driven by collisions, are borne on
By their own weight, in every kind of way
Meet and combine, try every possible,
Every conceivable pattern, till at length
Experiment culminates in that array
Which makes great things begin: the earth, the sky,
The ocean, and the race of living creatures.

Living creatures that can now capture images of those motes. Even if they are fuzzy.

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Perhaps
  - Reply to the Loneliness of a Poet

	Perhaps our hearts
		will have no reader
	Perhaps we took the wrong road
		and so we end up lost

	Perhaps we light one lantern after another
		storms blow them out one by one
	Perhaps we burn our life candle against the dark
		but no fire warms the body

	Perhaps once we're out of tears
		the land will be fertilized
	Perhaps while we praise the sun
		we are also sung by the sun

	Perhaps the heavier the monkey on our shoulders
		the more we believe
	Perhaps we can only protest others' suffering
		silent to our own misfortune
	Perhaps
		because this call is irresistible
			we have no other choice

– Shu Ting (Translated by Tony Barnstone and Newton Liu)

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Writing about music is difficult. How many times have you read a well-written review of a concert or recording, and then still had no idea at all what to expect when hearing the music?

That’s why I find this excerpt from a Tang Dynasty poem so remarkable:

“The thick strings splattered like a rain shower,
the thin strings whispered privately like lovers,
splattering and whispering back and forth,
big pearls and small pearls dropping into a jade plate.
Smooth, the notes were skylarks chirping under flowers.
Uneven, the sound flowed like a spring under ice,
the spring water cold and strained, the strings congealing silence,
freezing to silence, till the sounds couldn’t pass, and were momentarily at rest.
Now some other hidden sorrow and dark regret arose
and at this moment silence was better than sound.
Suddenly a silver vase exploded and the water splashed out,
iron horse galloped through and swords and spears clashed.
When the tune stopped, she struck the heart of the instrument,
all four strings together, like a piece of silk tearing.
Silence then in the east boat and the west.
All I could see in the river’s heart was the autumn moon, so pale.”

From “Song of the Lute” by Bai Juyi (772-846)
Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping

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W.H. Auden, in the essay “Reading” from the collection The Dyer’s Hand:

What is the function of a critic? So far as I am concerned, he can do me one or more of the following services:

  1. Introduce me to authors or works of which I was hitherto unaware.
  2. Convince me that I have undervalued an author or a work because I had not read them carefully enough.
  3. Show me relations between works of different ages and cultures which I could never have seen for myself because I do not know enough and never shall.
  4. Give a “reading” of a work which increases my understanding of it.
  5. Throw light upon the process of artistic “Making.”
  6. Throw light upon the relation of art to life, to science, economics, ethics, religion, etc.

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Irrepressible

Irrepressible

By fascists — with batons — this mark was made.
Her smile says: “Our resistance will not fade.”

Wishing the people of Iran all the best in your struggle for your human rights to freely express yourselves and be treated with dignity.

The world admires your courage.

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“For a poem to coalesce, for a character or an action to take shape, there has to be an imaginative transformation of reality which is in no way passive. And a certain freedom of the mind is needed — freedom to press on, to enter the currents of your thought like a glider pilot, knowing that your motion can be sustained, that the buoyancy of your attention will not be suddenly snatched away. Moreover, if the imagination is to transcend and transform experience it has to question, to challenge, to conceive of alternatives, perhaps to the very life you are living at that moment. You have to be free to play around with the notion that day might be night, love might be hate; nothing can be too sacred for the imagination to turn into its opposite or to call experimentally by another name. For writing is re-naming.”

– Adrienne Rich, from “When We Dead Awaken”, 1971

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From J.D. McClatchy’s A View of the Sea:

At the far end of the room, the two cups of water
On the floor, the master explained, were for them
To purify their mouths with before the tea was served.
They were next told to lie on their bellies and inch
Towards the cups, ensuring a proper humiliation.
The monks protested—they had come to see their friend
Through to the end, to see his soul released,
Poured like water into water—and where, after all,
Was the unmatched view he had promised them?

(Quoting my favorite lines would have given it all away, so I encourage you to read the whole thing.)

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“For it is one thing for people to tell their stories in their own spaces, and quite another for those stories to be welcomed in this space.”

– Michelle Obama, at poetry night in the East Room of the White House

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In the “How to Read This Book” section of The Ode Less Travelled, Stephen Fry states three rules as ‘terms and conditions’ that readers must pledge to follow before proceeding:

  1. Take your time
  2. Don’t be afraid
  3. Always have a notebook with you

Not a bad way to go about your day in general…

Bonus treat: Stephen Fry, in character with his comedic partner Hugh Laurie, expounds on language, beauty and ideas:

“…wheel within a wheel, like the circles that we find in the windmills of our mind…”

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Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko:

“When I was
a younger man,
art was
a lonely thing.

No galleries,
no collectors,
no critics.

No money.

Yet it was a golden age,
for we all had
nothing to lose,
and a vision to gain.

Today,
it is not quite the same.

It is a time
of tons
of verbiage,
activity,
consumption.

Which condition is better
for the world at large,
I will not venture
to discuss.

But I do know
that many of those
who are driven
to this life

are desperately searching
for those pockets of silence
where we can root and grow.

We must all hope we find them.”

Transcribed from Simon Schama’s The Power of Art. The line breaks are my own.

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Mocking Myself for Planting Trees

At seventy I still plant trees,
but don’t take me for an idiot.
Though death has always been inevitable,
I don’t know the date!

– Qing dynasty poet Yuan Mei (1716-1798)

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Pressing Words (photo by Chris Roberts)

Pressing Words (photo by Chris Roberts)

From a Weekend America story about Marcus Young’s Everyday Sidewalk Poetry:

The project is being funded by a local public art group, with the city’s blessing. Marcus Young is St. Paul’s Artist-in Residence. Young too was walking down the sidewalk, head-down in Minnesota fashion, when he began to notice how construction companies stamp their work. “It’ll say Knutson Construction, or Standard Sidewalk, and one day I just thought ‘Hey, that’s an opportunity for art,’” he says.

The article has a gallery with photos of the process and final results.

The project site has a map and the poems.

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From a Paris Review interview with Kay Ryan:

INTERVIEWER
Did you always believe in your work, even at an early stage?

RYAN
Especially at an early stage. I just didn’t know how badly I was doing. That was a blessing. I don’t know how I would have survived if I hadn’t thought that everybody was stupid not to think that it was as good as I thought it was. Still I had to defend it, because there is nothing legitimate about being a beginning writer. I had to treat it with respect and learn my craft.

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It’s no surprise that in five lines, Miss Dickinson succinctly says what I spent more than a thousand words trying to convey:

#1640

Take all away from me, but leave me Ecstasy,
And I am richer then than all my Fellow Men –
Ill it becometh me to dwell so wealthily
When at my very Door are those possessing more,
In abject poverty –

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