Poet John Clare (1793-1864) was committed to asylums for the last 24 years of his life, diagnosed with insanity caused by an addiction to poetical prosing. So naturally, I’m quite fond of him.
He was definitely depressed, with no money, six or seven kids to feed, and a powerful thirst. He also claimed he was Shakespeare and Lord Byron, so the diagnosis perhaps wasn’t incorrect, but the suggested cause is ridiculous. He wasn’t thought to be much in his own time, but later (because of course it’s always later), when his original work was restored to him, he became considered an important poet of the 19th century.
He’s one of those nature-loving romantics and big on rhyme, though he gets extra points for using odd, archaic, dialectic words, like rhyming lost with tost. I don’t even know what context he’s using, because he “lives with shadows tost” could simply be tossed, or the Gaelic word for silent, or a sort of Latin-y, French-y mash-up meaning early or soon, or the Polish definition, toast. Tossed shadows, silent shadows, early shadows, shadows of toast. It’s probably not that last one, though I’d like to think so.
He reminds me of an ersatz Thomas Hardian Jude, a poor, moderately literate romantic who dared to reach for things considered outside his wheelhouse. In fact, his work was edited, dumbed down to appeal to the ladies who lunch crowd, who had adopted him as their pet. His “slang,” saucy expressions and political statements were considered more than could be accepted from a common poet. Was, in fact, what made him common. He was allowed to have humble origins, that’s partly why he was such a charming little bauble pass around. He wasn’t allowed to express his experiences, because that’s not charming, it’s untidy. This censorship could be what kept him from receiving the recognition he was due in his own time, and is perhaps what pushed him over the edge. Unable to publicly reveal himself in his writing, he began to babble out loud, and sealed his fate by spewing things such as, “Why, they have cut off my head and picked out all the letters in the alphabet. All the vowels and all the consonants, and brought them out through my ears!” Madness? Sounds like poetry to me.
Prose is communication, poetry is art.
I came across that opinion quite a while ago, and have been pondering it off and on ever since. I think it’s a load of tost. Once again, someone tries to banish prose to the realm of conventional transmission, negating any attempt to experiment with sentences as a means of something more than directing the way down a straightforward path from point A to point B. Circuitous routes – that’s something we’re not supposed to attempt. Remain staid, remain undemanding, remain obscure. “Why, they have cut off my head and picked out all the letters in the alphabet. All the vowels and all the consonants, and brought them out through my ears!” Poetical prosing. It’s dangerous stuff, it’ll drive you insane.
Personally, I enjoy a little insanity.
“a way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” What a fantastic playground that creates!
“imagination is not to avoid reality, nor is it a description nor an evocation of objects or situations, it is to say that poetry does not tamper with the world but moves it—It affirms reality most powerfully and therefore, since reality needs no personal support but exists free from human action, as proven by science in the indestructibility of matter and of force, it creates a new object, a play, a dance which is not a mirror up to nature but—.” But what? But what, but what, but what? Go ahead, finish that sentence in any way you choose—the author left it up to you.
“I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square Station, vault a turnstile and two flights down the iron stairs, catch an uptown A train…” Well that’s candidly evocative, yes?
“Morning. Frozen rime lusters the grass; the sun, round as an orange and orange as hot-weather moons, balances on the horizon, burnishes the silvered winter woods.” That’s lovely, that is.
If this demonstrates an addiction to poetical prosing, I willingly commit myself.
Quotation 1 from “Finnegans Wake” by James Joyce Quotation 2 from “Spring And All” by William Carlos Williams Quotation 3 from “Naked Lunch” by William S. Burroughs Quotation 4 from “Winter Woods” by Truman Capote
Since Saturday is Valentine’s Day, let’s talk romance, shall we?
Romance as in the period of Romanticism in philosophy and art that came about out of the French Revolution and Industrialization. Yes, the French Revolution and Industrialization. I didn’t know that.
I didn’t know much of anything about Romantic art and literature, only that it involved Keats and the Shelleys and Turner and, apparently, Goya? None of which appeal to me, so I had little reason to explore it. However. I came across a three-part documentary on the Romantic period (1800 – 1850), and found it completely fascinating. It’s called, funnily enough, The Romantics, and the three parts are Liberty, Nature, Eternity. It’s written and presented by Peter Ackroyd, a well-known critic of English history and culture. Oh, and includes some very good looking actors playing the roles of Keats and Shelley, and David Tennant is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who shows up first and was a big plus for me. He’s what kept me watching for those first few minutes, and by the time his role was finished, I was completely sucked in.
And now I come to the part in which I’m asking myself why the hell I’m writing about a documentary on the Romantics, apart from the flimsy excuse of Valentine’s Day? Well, because I love it when something unexpected shows up to pull at me and interest me in something I previously gave little thought to. True love, that is. Because everything is so much more complex than it may seem on the surface, and finding that out is fun. I found out The Romantics weren’t just some flopsy poets and painters fluttering by, leaving soppy poems and strange paintings in their wake. It’s an entire movement, which, for the time, was completely radical. Dangerously so, to the powers that be. Atheism, cynicism, protest and drug experimentation and free love – it’s all here, and it all stems from huge changes that were happening in Europe, Britain, and yes, the United States, too. It was a sort of domino effect brought on by the masses being fed up to the eyeballs by the gentry, and taking matters into their own hands, for good and ill, along with and followed up by advances in science and technology and a whole new aesthetic. The jail sentences for daring to think differently, and simultaneously for the inherent guilt of privileged birth; the slaughter of thousands by the very convenient and efficient new toy, the guillotine; the renewed appreciation for nature brought on by industrialization, the sorrows of child labour and people used as cogs in the machines – it’s all pretty intense, and it begets some intense responses from the thinkers and artists of the period.
I joked about the actors, but really, they play a helpful role in enhancing all of these things for the audience, not through tepidly role-played days in the life, which doesn’t happen, thank god (or rather thank Ackroyd) but by offering quotations from the words and thoughts of the time. Romantics are kind of tittered at today, foisted off as fodder for adolescents in the throes of hormone rages, but it just isn’t so. Wordsworth and Coleridge and Blake and Diderot pointed out some pretty egregious pitfalls in the roads mankind were taking, and thanks be to them for it. Who else but the thinkers and poets and painters do such a thorough and graphic job of reflecting back the failings of human nature? And the triumphs, too, because of course it wasn’t all blood in the streets and soot covered children. It was progression.
This is a most brilliantly done exploration of a time that abruptly and sometimes violently pushed society forward, right into the place we now find ourselves. It’s helpful to know how we got here, and perhaps gives us a glimpse of, or at least an inkling about, where we’re headed.
Okay, let’s try this again. Apparently I was experiencing brainfreeze yesterday – it reached a whole 3 degrees for a high, and there really isn’t any siding on my house, it’s quite draughty in here. But things are rallying, we’re expecting to make it to 17 today, a veritable heatwave.
We went from a record high to freezing cold, and several inches of snow on the ground. Not the gentle slide into winter I was hoping for. Don’t let this be a taste of what’s to come.
I haven’t updated since the height of summer, haven’t had the wherewithal to post one of my diatribes or talk about old movies. The empty space niggles a bit. I’ll see what I can do about that.
Viewers seem to have a love/hate relationship with Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane – loved for being “ground-breaking” and “masterful,” hated for being “low budget soft core porn.” And while it definitely wasn’t made on the budget of a blockbuster, part of the questionable quality may simply come from the 1976 aesthetics of independent film. The other part, I’m thinking, comes from the low expectations and classifications of films that offer a lot of flesh.
I’m not as familiar with Jarman’s films as I should be, having come across him because of my interest in Tilda Swinton’s work. But I wanted to see Sebastiane solely because of the subject.
I know the story of Saint Sebastiane – I’ll stick with that spelling – through the many works of art recreating his martyrdom. There have been sculptures and stories… My fellow writer and wurbling buddy Anna Reith wrote a beautiful story about Sebastiane called Chiaroscuro. Sebastiane was painted by El Greco, Rubens, de La Tour, Carracci, Raphael, Botticelli, Titian, Dali… you name it, they all loved him as a subject. One artist, Andrea Mantegna, painted Sebastiane three times.
Mantegna’s love for Sebastiane is said to have come about because of the saint’s purported ability to offer protection from the plague, which Mantegna managed to survive and so was duly grateful. But it’s the method of Sebastiane’s suffering that is the big fascination. Body riddled with arrows, he remained beatific and beautiful, even sensual.
He was one of the unlucky Christians persecuted by the Romans, but what made Sebastiane special was that he survived his trial by arrows. He was a sneaky undercover Christian, converting followers when he was supposed to be cleaning house. As a captain of the Praetorian Guard, this was a major betrayal. Diocletian was pissed off, and had him tied to a post and executed by a slew of arrows – or at least that was the plan. Sebastiane recovered and resumed his conversions, and apparently he was feeling rather invincible because he got cheeky with Diocletian by taunting him from a street corner. The emperor wasn’t having it. He said enough was enough, clubbed Sebastiane to death and tossed him into a privy. The story goes that he later appeared to some ladies, not to offer heavenly inspiration, but to ask if they might fish him out of the sewage and bury him properly. But despite that rather inelegant ending, he became the twice martyred saint of soldiers and protector from the plague, which came in handy during the medieval period. He is always portrayed as beautiful, always young, and always has a glow of serenity about him.
So it’s easy to see where the fascination comes from, and why the iconic portrayals are hugely influential. Then this little movie comes along and has its way with Sebastiane – it was bound to rouse admiration and ire. I admit I wasn’t quite prepared for Jarman’s portrayal. Right out of the gate we get a lurid Dance Of The Phalli, culminating in a cream off. And while watching this opening scene, one does have to wonder how this applies to Saint Sebastiane, and gamely theorize that perhaps in some avant guarde way the phalluses are arrows and the, uh, stuff that shoots out of them represents strikes to the body. But the opening seems quite disconnected from the rest of the movie. It gets better from there, or shall I say less anachronistic and more focused and historically faithful, if drawn with a free hand. It may have been made on a tight budget, but care was taken. I liked the authenticity of the props, the setting, the Latin dialogue, and the nudity is not gratuitous. Not in my opinion, not for the setting, as Roman soldiers were known to train starkers (or at least the Greeks did and that’s close enough), and frolic in the sea and rub their bodies down in the baths after their workouts. The camera lingers on their wet bodies, rippling muscles and perky arses, lovingly stroking all that divine golden flesh on our behalf, thank you very much. Perhaps this is disturbing to some in such close proximity to the story of a saint?
Oh, pish-tosh. Everyone’s had a go at Sebastiane, why shouldn’t Jarman have his say, too? He’s just as qualified to give us his rendition, and he portrays the saint faithfully and well. The most striking images are given to us at the end, as Sebastiane suffers his martyrdom with as much radiant tranquility as in any other artistic rendering. Are the naked bodies, the kisses and wrestling, necessary? In Jarmal’s portrayal, yes, they are, because he gets to decide how he will depict the story. I don’t think his depiction is at all far off, given Sebastiane’s consistently portrayed artful eroticism.
This is why I liked this movie, because this is what I’ve been yammering on and on about: sensuality and sex do not undermine storytelling, can in fact faithfully aid in it. Whether it’s the story of a saint or sinner, whether it’s identified as lit-rah-chah or a cheap and cheerful quickie, sex is an ever present and influential facet of all our characters. In philosophy, in religion, sex is frequently a front and center aspect of the concepts, the earthly pleasures that often throw a wrench in the progress toward enlightenment. That’s because it’s a powerful thing. Discussions and depictions of sensuality are incredibly enthralling, even saintly sensuality. Especially saintly sensuality. Symbolically, the sensual nature of rapture through pleasure or suffering looks the same, and maybe that’s frightening, too. Taboos are all about fear, and the refusal to acknowledge how close we are to losing ourselves every second of every day. We don’t want to look, and that’s exactly why we should.
I’m grateful to Jarman for his Sebastiane, for remaining true to the beauty of the saint’s yielding to the fervency of his flesh, and finding that, instead of compromising his devotion, it strengthens and restores his conviction.
If art can’t tell us about the world we live in, then I don’t believe there’s much point in having it—Robert Hughes
I just spent a depressing hour and fifteen minutes watching Robert Hughes’ documentary, The Mona Lisa Curse. This was made in 2008 – I’m always the last to discover nearly everything, and this is partially due to my avoidance of the media. That’s a choice, and I pay for it by remaining unconversant. But eventually I’ll come across things on a journey that is most likely motivated by a need for inspiration or a necessity of research, and that’s how I stumbled upon this documentary.
Hughes’ statement was made in the last few minutes of the program, which focused on the monetization of art, and art appreciation being usurped by monetary value driven up by clueless but rich investors rather than artistic merit.
I mostly avoid the media because nearly everything in it is scary and sad. The scene he painted for us is very scary, terribly sad, and that’s because it’s pretty accurate. It’s not a fantasy depiction of dystopian society, it’s fact. But this quotation, “If art can’t tell us about the world we live in, then I don’t believe there’s much point in having it,” which is meant to denounce contemporary art, is, I think, somewhat missing its own point. Contemporary art is telling us loads about the world we live in. It’s a chilling point, but a precise one.
Modern humanities scare the shit out of me. I suppose that looks to put me squarely in the camp of those who shake their fingers and say “when I was young,” even though a) when they were young is was fundamentally no different, and 2) it’s a little early for me to be setting up my tent. Aside from being untimely, I’m also outside of my demographic in my tastes and viewpoints. I know this, and yet I solidly agree with him in my existentialistic way: Everything’s shit, it’s all shit, and we walk around with this shit on the soles of our feet, oblivious to the fact that we’re the ones spreading the stench.
I’ve tried really, really hard to understand contemporary art. I’ve studied and observed, and I want to see the meaning, the beauty, the reflective messages, but more often than not, I can’t. Hughes stood up and pointed out the nakedness of our praise, and that’s a brave action to take. He was not afraid to be loud, clear, and direct—the way he laid into Jeff Koons was turn-your-head-away “ouch!” And the really painful thing of it was the integrity behind the observation. I think Hughes earned the right to make his declarations based on his nearly 50 years as a professional art advocate and critic. And before you think, “50 years? Yeah, but he was ow-uld!” consider that he started out in the 60s, right when pop culture had stepped into the forefront of expression. He was a young man in the thick of it, so I think his perspective has a generous dose of validity.
Art is subjective, I’ve echoed that sentiment a million times, and I believe it. But it’s also become subject to a popularity contest driven by mob rule. Artistic culture is being piloted by publicity and profit—the very things it’s meant to analyse and decry. Scary and sad, scary and sad.
Why am I so obsessed with this? Because we’re standing around letting it happen, and I really do think that we, the non-moneyed masses, are better than this, and much more powerful than we believe. Unfortunately we’re also apathetic, and more than willing to go with the flow if it means we don’t have to pick up an oar and paddle against the current. Politically, artistically, theologically, we’ve castrated ourselves. And you know what? That sucks.
Do you know what a sad peony looks like? Its little red heads, all swollen and ready to burst, lay huddled beneath a layer of prophylactic plastic, calling out to be set free.
This is what happens when it snows in May. Lilacs have frozen smiles on their wee little purple faces, roses look shocked and offended that they’ve been caught half dressed out in the cold, hollyhock leaves are sagging mopily on the ground, and columbine blooms are defiantly standing erect, shouting out “fuck you!” to the grey skies.
And me? I’m tromping around in the cold and wet, two layers of woollen winter socks shoved into rubber gardening clogs, t-shirt sopping and too-loose yoga pants sagging lower and lower as I beat the snow off of newly hatched leaves, stooping to peek underneath makeshift shelters for the smallest and most tender lodgers to make sure everyone is still with me. I never fully dried out yesterday, and this morning I was in past my ankles in last night’s freshly fallen snow – that’s a brisk waker-upper.
Tonight it’s supposed to freeze. And to that, I say FUCK.
I used to think gardening was such a leisurely and refined little hobby, effortlessly sinking perky plants into soft earth and plucking a stray weed here and there while I stroll around, admiring my lush and beautiful borders. Ha. It’s plunging a shovel down with gusto, and ricocheting off of a boulder one half inch beneath the soil. It’s scattering seeds and seeing nary a sign of life. Ever. It’s bending down to smell a rose and coming face-to-face with a wasp, or reaching out to pick a flower, to meet up beneath the stem with the ugliest damn spider on eight legs. It’s surrendering to the weeds, which have launched an overthrow in numbers so vast, it’s useless to fight back. It sucks.
And yet, I am compelled to begin again and again, a staunch pessimist turned eternal optimist every spring. It’s a joke on me, my masochistic nature forcing encounters with arachnophobia, fear of hard physical labour, and continual disappointment. Are the occasional blooms from struggling survivors worth all the pain and heartache? I don’t know—when I see the lilacs in full bloom and contemplate crawling in between the bushes to live there for the next two weeks, when the roses are budding out and the peony is showing off and I’m excitedly waiting to see what colours the hollyhocks will be this year, I feel like Gertrude Jekyll and Beverly Nichols all rolled into one. I’m a gardening fool, a horticultural stud.
So yeah, I’ll continue to tromp around, shivering and hoping for the best as I fight to save my budding buddies from snow in May, cursing and dripping and crying on the inside at the very likely possibility that not all these little beauties will make it through the storm. And when the sun comes out again, I’ll peel back the plastic and give everyone an encouraging little fluff, hoping the little beggars will perform for me.
So far I’m still on with season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I enjoyed the first two seasons, but three, four, and five left me tepid so I wasn’t counting on six to hold my interest. But I’m on board with this one, the queens are diverse enough to keep things interesting and I find redeeming qualities in most of them.
Last night was the Snatch Game episode, everyone’s favourite, although usually there’s really only one or two on the panel who have any chops at all, so I never got that. We made out better this time around, though there could’ve been a few little tweaks. Time for my unsolicited and too-late opinions.
Bianca as Judge Judy and Adore as Anna Nicole were wonderful. I was more impressed with Adore’s performance because Judge Judy was an obvious fit for Bianca. Courtney should’ve been Ukrainian Human Barbie, don’t you think? She could’ve switched out of her naturally bubbly spirit and taken things into plasticville, talked about her air and light diet, and pulled it off beautifully. Milk is the personality twin of Phyllis Diller – she could’ve even brought that pinocchi-nose of hers into play! And Laganja should’ve channelled personality twin Mariah Carey. I love Darienne, she has chops but I don’t think we’re seeing the best of her. If she would’ve gone a little more pop culture forward with someone like Rebel Wilson, she would’ve stood out more. She could’ve at least focused on a parody of current day Paula Deen, apologizing awkwardly over and over again for everything she said, and sticking her fingers up some cream filled Twinkie holes for a new ladyfinger dessert. Oh, Gia. I don’t know about her. She needed someone to whom she could apply her natural snark, but I can’t think of a celeb fit. Which I guess kind of sums things up. I liked Joslyn as Theresa Guidice, but she proved she could’ve been a better Fran Drescher than Courtney. And Ben was surprisingly the perfect Maggie Smith. I think Trinity could’ve pulled off Nicki Minaj if she had focused on her twitter personality.
So here’s where I think we’re headed with the top three: Ben and Bianca, of course. For contenders for the third spot, at this point it’s a four-way between Darienne, Adore, Milk, and Joslyn. Courtney will win Miss Congeniality, she’s such a package of sweet cheerfulness and girl power support.
I miss April.
I caught up with Looking last night, thanks to my free-for-three months gift of HBO due to a cable billing boo-boo. Damnit, I’m getting hooked on this program so when my time is up, I’ll be facing some serious withdrawal. Program pushers. They aren’t being generous, they’re being sneaky! But I can’t afford it, so although I was glad to hear that Looking has been renewed for a second season, I’m already grumbling about missing out.
I wasn’t completely sold for the first few episodes, and I was especially unhappy with Mister Patrick’s shady reaction to Richie, the charming guy he meets on a bus. Patrick is supposed to be from Colorado, and yet, he has an oddly ignorant reaction to Richie being Latino. What? Realistically, Patrick would have had a much greater chance of meeting and dating Latino men in Denver than he would in San Francisco. So why is he acting like he’s from Ohio? It’s inaccurate, and frankly, a very off-putting aspect of his character. He’s either completely oblivious, or a complete dick.
But overall, I found these men to have potential for developing into complex and complete characters. I like the quieter tone the show is taking, because we don’t need more riotous and goofy shows about gay people. I got my fill of that in the 90s. This is a fresher take on friendships and relationships, and doesn’t shy away from the many facets of these characters’ personalities, good and bad. Could Patrick be racist in spite of what we presume, having grown up in Colorado, would have been wide exposure to Latino culture and people? Yes. And I’m interested in seeing what he does with that, having met a perfectly sweet and adorable man who happens to be very attached to and proud of his culture.
I am pleasantly surprised to see Russell Tovey on the series, and find it kind of amusing that everyone is gushing over how hot, hot, hot he is, considering his previous roles in a number of British programs as the awkward one, sweet but definitely not gush-worthy. The boy had grown up nicely, though. Great guns!
I’m interested in all of their stories, and find the secondary characters as filled with potential for development as the core group is. Too bad I won’t be seeing series two as it happens. Damn you, evil enabling cable provider. Damn you.
Now how did David (Chas. Dickens) Copperfield lead me to the Low Spark of High Heeled Boys? Oh yes, there is a way through the labyrinth. Do come in.