Thursday, June 11, 2009

Poetry Roundup

(cross-posted on Facebook)

glass three-quarters full

sunlight, oxygen,
water and earth.

without these things to nourish us

free gifts from the universe

where would we be?

therefore I don't believe that evil outweighs good.
if that were true, nothing could live.

my role models

some people aspire
to reach the top of the heap,
where everyone will recognize their merits
(of course, this requires keeping down the competition.)

but I say:

it is not the favored ones
who can teach me
how to survive

On Hypocrisy

The cruelties of Fate I can't deny,
but human cruelty still makes me angry.

Hafiz writes of hypocrisy and wine - almost too much;
but hypocrisy is nearly the root of all evil.

Heaven says, "Everything I am, I am."
Only humans say, "No, that's not me."

I don't seek love; I am not cruel.

Written in Red

Last night I dreamed I was writing our story
in red ink
on the inside of my blue shirt.

When I looked at the outside, the letters had soaked through,
and I kept asking myself:

"What am I doing? What if people can read this? Do I really want everybody to see my pain?
Am I ruining my favorite shirt?"

But I kept writing.

Speaking of unrealistic goals . . .

the difference is
that if you lie long enough on the Friend's doorstep,
trembling with sincerity,
someday He will take you in.

from the footnote to ghazal 93:

my heart was flung into the fire
like a counterfeit coin
it turned black.

one who reaches the Beloved loses everything else,
even love.

Introduction to Hafiz


Hafiz takes off all his clothes
and jumps up and down in the marketplace.

Everyone knows you're supposed to hide
your nakedness


The poet says, God is everything.

But still we are drawn to imperfections:
the broken half of the moon.

(written on Facebook, April 9, 2009. Thanks to Tahar.)

The Novels of Thomas Hardy

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite books was A Long Way from Verona, by Jane Gardam. There's a bit near the end where the protagonist is feeling rather depressed, so she decides to take her mind off it by reading all the Classic English Novels in the library. All goes well until she gets to H and discovers Jude the Obscure. According to her, the main point of this book is that nothing good ever happens to anyone, "BECAUSE IT NEVER DOES."

This convinced me that I ought to avoid Hardy, and I have kept that resolution until just lately. One of the things that slowly changed my mind was this comment in the memoirs of an Edwardian gentleman:
" . . . 'romantic love' is ceaselessly vaunted in novels, films, tooth-paste advertisements and in all other available media. Self-deception is widely encouraged and, when marriage intervenes before the rainbow colours fade, couples find themselves in chains. It has often struck me as ironical that Thomas Hardy, some of whose novels movingly illustrate this theme and give such clear-cut warning to romantic lovers, was in his day accused of corrupting young readers' minds! Our parents and grandparents would have done better if they had made him compulsory reading for everyone on the brink of marriage."
Finally, a friend kept telling me that Tess of the D'Urbervilles was a really good book. So I read it. He's right.* I have also read Jude the Obscure, and I highly recommend both of them.

Normally I prefer books with happy endings, but these didn't bother me as much, perhaps because society is different now and people who have sex outside of marriage are not ostracized (in fact, it seems to be accepted that everybody does it.) Of course, in Hardy's day lots of people did it too -- he was condemned only for putting facts in writing.

I admire his commitment to the truth (and the beautiful venom of his rants about his critics in the introduction to Tess, amounting to "only people with dirty minds see things like that in my book.") His style is definitely ponderous, but that makes it clear that he wasn't just writing to titillate. He took these problems seriously. In short, that girl in A Long Way from Verona didn't understand Hardy at all.

* Don't you hate it when people have been telling you all your life "You really should read such-and-such" and then they turn out to be right? The same thing happened to me with The Woman Warrior and The Country of the Pointed Firs. Stupid people knowing stuff.

Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell

Mrs. Gaskell was a contemporary of Charlotte Brontë. Although Brontë is better remembered now, Gaskell may have been more popular at the time. She was certainly more prolific (and, not coincidentally, longer-lived.)

I have only read a couple of her books. Wives and Daughters is very long and fairly interesting. It strongly resembles Mansfield Park, being the story of two young women, one meek and self-doubting, the other vivacious and almost too flirtatious for her own good, who are both involved with the same young man. He is, of course, very much taken with the temptress at first but in the end returns to his true love.

In this case, the two young women are stepsisters, which constitutes the other main thread of the novel. Molly's father decides that she needs a mother to assist and chaperone her through adolescence, so he marries a woman, who also has a daughter, without really getting to know her. This turns out to be a mistake.

One of the noteworthy things about the novel is that the "evil" stepmother is not evil at all. She is very frivolous, rather selfish, and not much inclined to honesty. But for the most part her faults are depicted as normal and understandable: she is only human. For example, there is a prolonged description of her struggle to make ends meet after her first husband's death (the only respectable occupation for an upper-middle-class woman at that time was teaching, and she's not very good at it) and her hopes that someone will marry her and relieve her of financial cares.

She also insists on treating Molly on fair and equal terms with her own daughter, unlike the evil stepmothers of fairy tale. There's a fair amount of selfishness in her decision -- she doesn't want people saying bad things about her, and as it turns out, she doesn't get along very well with her own daughter and often praises Molly at her expense.

Molly and Cynthia, her stepsister, become close friends. Cynthia, like her mother, is a very well-drawn and fascinating character -- fascinating in her flaws. She knows instinctively how to attract men . . . and very often doesn't know what to do with them when she's got them. She essentially grew up without any parenting . . . her father was dead and her mother packed her off to boarding school in France. In fact, her mother didn't even want her to come to her second wedding. Cynthia is more strong-willed than Molly but she lacks guidance and doesn't seem to have any plan for her life. She often says that she is not capable of love.

As if all this wasn't enough, the book also alludes to pre-Darwinian evolutionary theory, this being the young hero's field of study. His family is very interesting too, but I've gone on long enough already.

Wives and Daughters was Elizabeth Gaskell's last book. It was published in serial form from 1864 to 1866. Gaskell died at the end of 1865, before she could complete the final chapters.

Doctor Who, Season Three

For the most part, I disliked season 3. Compared to Torchwood it seems juvenile (which makes sense, because it's a "family" show), Daleks bore me*, and Martha's unrequited love just seemed gratuitous (and demeaning to the character.)

But I really liked the "Human Nature" two-parter. It was original, and it demonstrated to me that David Tennant can act, which I was starting to have doubts about. I want to see more of him now (don't we all?) Therefore, I have to admire the way it led up to the season finale . . . although I didn't like the finale as much.

  • The manic Doctor is slightly annoying at times (see above for my doubts about Tennant's acting abilities.) The manic Master is extremely annoying. What, are all Time Lords like this? Don't they have any other setting?
  • I dislike the use of popular music in TV shows. Russell T Davies seems to like it a lot. Actually, let me qualify that: a show like Scrubs uses music all the time, and I like it, because they've established it as part of the show. When it shows up in Who it surprises me. Also, I've always assumed that Who (and I suppose Torchwood) take place in an alternate universe, so how can they have the same music we do? Finally, although music has always been an important tool in establishing mood in film, there's something about using other people's songs (and especially other people's words) that just seems lazy to me. Do your own damn work, scriptwriters!
  • Yeah, okay, the Doctor. He's callous enough to abandon Jack when he's in trouble. He can't return the love that humans feel for him. But he begs his arch-enemy to stay with him, because he doesn't want to be the last of the Time Lords. That's a good one.
I've said it before: Davies' approach baffles me. Season 3 was often overly simplistic, playing the same cards over and over again. And yet . . . when it comes to the main character, he never fails to maintain an almost-perfect ambiguity. Just when you think he's made up his mind, he throws in something completely different. Very strange.

* My favorite Dalek episode is "Dalek," which suggests that one Dalek is more effective than one million, in dramatic terms. Actually the ideal number of Daleks is probably three. Maybe it wasn't just accidental that the BBC only ever built three working Dalek models.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

My Heart Is a Peach

my heart is a peach
sliced neatly into four quarters,
still clinging to the rock-like core.

and inside
inside the stone
is a hollow world
of eternal darkness
lit by the moon.

One More - Double Iris

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Walking Iris

Click on it for a larger view.