Saturday, August 1, 2009

Behind the Seen


اینجا حالا پشت صحنه ی رندان


Born August 2, 1924, James Baldwin, American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist.

“His novels are notable for the personal way in which they explore questions of identity as well as the way in which they mine complex social and psychological pressures related to being black and homosexual well before the social, cultural or political equality of these groups was improved.” (Wiki)

Photo by Carl Mydans, 1962 - LIFE

“Everybody’s journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality.” - James Baldwin

James Baldwin, snapped in a lighter moment…

James Baldwin lived and wrote in Paris for much of his career and only occasionally visited the US. Still he played a role in the Civil Rights Movement, and of course much of his writing deals with issues of race.

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

“People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.”

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

(Photo of Baldwin by Mottke Weissman, 1958)


A good day to die? These fine writers thought so:

William S. Burroughs, Beat Gen writer, junky, queer, William Tell-wannabe - d. Aug. 2, 1997…

“In my writing I am acting as a map maker, an explorer of psychic areas, a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed.”

(Photo of Burroughs by Chris Felver)


A good day to die? These fine writers thought so:

Raymond Carver, one of the most chiseled short story craftsmen since Hemingway, died Aug 2, 1988…

“That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places…” from On Writing


A good day to die? These fine writers thought so:

Norman Mclean (d. August 2, 1990) was the writer of the sensitive stories filmed as A River Runs Through It by Robert Redford in 1992:

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.” (Source)

Photo: Norm during college, pre-1924


Russian dissident writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose two best-known works are The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, died on Aug. 3, 2008…

“For a country to have a great writer is like having a second government. That is why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.”


Polish-born novelist Joseph Conrad is now celebrated as one of the great masters of the English language novel. He died on Aug. 3, 1924…

“A word carries far, very far, deals destruction through time as the bullets go flying through space.”

Image of Conrad via The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale


American writer of the South, Flannery O’Connor, once said: “I am not afraid that the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial.”

O’Connor, the author of the novel Wise Blood and the posthumous short story collection Everything that Rises Must Converge, died on Aug. 3, 1964


August 3 is a bit short on interesting birthdays, but as always it’s a good day to die:

Colette, French novelist who was as famous for her free (and therefore scandalous) life style as for her writing, died on Aug. 3, 1954…

“To a poet, silence is an acceptable response, even a flattering one.”

Photo of Colette in a publicity still for the 1907 pantomime Rêve d’Égypte.


Percy Bysshe Shelley (Aug. 4, 1792 - 1822, death by drowning) has long been the somewhat effeminate poster boy for the radical wing of Romantic poetry…

Published posthumously by his wife Mary Shelley in 1824 - Percy addresses the moon:

Art thou pale for weariness?
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth, -
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?


Today is the 18th birthday of the World Wide Web!

The first Web site built was at CERN, and was first put on line on August 6, 1991. It provided an explanation of what the World Wide Web was, and how one could use a browser and set up a Web server… (Visit it!)


The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, August 6, 1945 - photographed from the Enola Gay…

The atomic bomb that ruined Hiroshima, horrifically nick-named “Little Boy”…

On a much more somber note:

The devastation created by the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945…


Birthday of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (August 6, 1809 - 1892)

St. Agnes’ Eve

Deep on the convent-roof the snows
Are sparkling to the moon:
My breath to heaven like vapour goes:
May my soul follow soon!
The shadows of the convent-towers
Slant down the snowy sward,
Still creeping with the creeping hours
That lead me to my Lord:
Make Thou my spirit pure and clear
As are the frosty skies,
Or this first snowdrop of the year
That in my bosom lies.

As these white robes are soil’d and dark,
To yonder shining ground;
As this pale taper’s earthly spark,
To yonder argent round;
So shows my soul before the Lamb,
My spirit before Thee;
So in my earthly house I am,
To that I hope to be.
Break up the heavens, O Lord! and far,
Thro’ all yon starlight keen,
Draw me, thy bride, a glittering star,
In raiment white and clean.

He lifts me to the golden doors;
The flashes come and go;
All heaven bursts her starry floors,
And strows her lights below,
And deepens on and up! the gates
Roll back, and far within
For me the Heavenly Bridegroom waits,
To make me pure of sin.
The sabbaths of Eternity,
One sabbath deep and wide–
A light upon the shining sea–
The Bridegroom with his bride!


A far better poet’s response to the music, life and untimely death of Coltrane:

Sidney Goldfarb, from his 1971 collection Messages (Farrar, Straus and Giroux):

Blue Trane

It was a warm

summer night in



The fog brought

the smell

of the sea into the streets.

I was

walking off my

woes, stopped to get

a cup

of coffee

when someone


that John


was dead.

I went home



into my bed,

had words of


parting with

my wife which

left us

sobbing face to

face. You don’t want

to live

with me she

said and fell


My daughters

were snoring

in one


I lay


John Coltrane

was dead, when


in a distant

room put Blue


on the record

player, stuck

with it

over and over

wafting me notes

of a dark


through the fog.

This song

is for grey boys,

this song,

if for

spades, this song’s

for John Coltrane

in his

bitter grave.

(This and several other Goldfarb poems are forthcoming in Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Philosophy and the Arts)


Philip Larkin, English poet of distinction, August 9, 1922 - 1985…

An Arundel Tomb

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd -
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would no guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the grass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-littered ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigures them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

- published in 1964 in the collection The Whitsun Weddings


Louise Bogan, American poet, b. August 11, 1897 (d. 1970)

Tears in Sleep

All night the cocks crew, under a moon like day,
And I, in the cage of sleep, on a stranger’s breast,
Shed tears, like a task not to be put away—-
In the false light, false grief in my happy bed,
A labor of tears, set against joy’s undoing.
I would not wake at your word, I had tears to say.
I clung to the bars of the dream and they were said,
And pain’s derisive hand had given me rest
From the night giving off flames, and the dark renewing.


Ernest Thayer (August 14, 1863 - 1940) was an American writer and poet who wrote “Casey at the Bat”.

This stanza goes out to my friend Howard Sklar, who is a big cheese in Finnish baseball, where the finals series is about to begin…

Oh! somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has “struck out!”


Jules Laforgue (Aug. 16, 1860 - 1887)...

Birthday of French symbolist poet, Jules Laforgue (1860 - 1887 (tuberculosis)(above: Handmade oil painting reproduction of Portrait of Jules Laforgue 1860-1887 1885, a painting by Franz Skarbina.)

For the Book of Love by Jules Laforgue (translated by Jethro Bithell)

I MAY be dead tomorrow, uncaressed.
My lips have never touched a woman’s, none
Has given me in a look her soul, not one
Has ever held me swooning at her breast.

I have but suffered, for all nature, trees
Whipped by the winds, wan flowers, the ashen sky,
Suffered with all my nerves, minutely, I
Have suffered for my soul’s impurities.

And I have spat on love, and, mad with pride,
Slaughtered my flesh, and life’s revenge I brave,
And, while the whole world else was Instinct’s slave,
With bitter laughter Instinct I defied.

In drawing-rooms, the theatre, the church,
Before cold men, the greatest, most refined,
And women with eyes jealous, proud, or kind,
Whose tender souls no lust would seem to smirch.

I thought: This is the end for which they work.
Beasts coupling with the groaning beasts they capture.
And all this dirt for just three minutes’ rapture!
Men, be correct! And women, purr and smirk!


One’s-Self I Sing:


Je chante le soi-même, une simple personne séparée,
Pourtant je prononce le mot démocratique, le mot En Masse,
C’est de la physiologie du haut en bas, que je chante,

La physionomie seule, le cerveau seul, ce n’est pas digne de la Muse ; je dis que l’Ëtre complet en est bien plus digne.

C’est le féminin à l’égal du mâle que je chante,
C’est la vie, incommensurable en passion, ressort et puissance,
Pleine de joie, mise en œuvre par des lois divines pour la plus libre action,
C’est l’Homme Moderne que je chante.


With cult poet and novelist Charles Bukowski (Aug. 16, 1920 - 1994), sex is never far away…

Three Oranges

first time my father overheard me listening to
this bit of music he asked me,
“what is it?”
“it’s called Love For Three Oranges,”
I informed him.
“boy,” he said, “that’s getting it
he meant sex.
listening to it
I always imagined three oranges
sitting there,
you know how orange they can
so mightily orange.
maybe Prokofiev had meant
what my father
if so, I preferred it the
other way
the most horrible thing
I could think of
was part of me being
what ejaculated out of the
end of his
stupid penis.
I will never forgive him
for that,
his trick that I am stuck
I find no nobility in
I say kill the Father
before he makes more
such as

from ONTHEBUS - 1992


I Made a Mistake

I reached up into the top of the closet
and took out a pair of blue panties
and showed them to her and
asked “are these yours?”
and she looked and said,
“no, those belong to a dog.”
she left after that and I haven’t seen
her since. she’s not at her place.
I keep going there, leaving notes stuck
into the door. I go back and the notes
are still there. I take the Maltese cross
cut it down from my car mirror, tie it
to her doorknob with a shoelace, leave
a book of poems.
when I go back the next night everything
is still there.
I keep searching the streets for that
blood-wine battleship she drives
with a weak battery, and the doors
hanging from broken hinges.
I drive around the streets
an inch away from weeping,
ashamed of my sentimentality and
possible love.
a confused old man driving in the rain
wondering where the good luck


English poet Ted Hughes (Aug. 17, 1930 - 1998)

Birthday of Ted Hughes, English poet of renown (1930 - 1998). Hughes’ poetic legacy was somewhat tainted by his role in Sylvia Plath’s suicide (they were married and had 2 children together). Hughes had left Plath for another woman, Assia Gutmann Wevill, who in fact also committed suicide, killing Hughes’ and her daughter in the process….

A poem:


We sit late, watching the dark slowly unfold:
No clock counts this.
When kisses are repeated and the arms hold
There is no telling where time is.

It is midsummer: the leaves hang big and still:
Behind the eye a star,
Under the silk of the wrist a sea, tell
Time is nowhere.

We stand; leaves have not timed the summer.
No clock now needs
Tell we have only what we remember:
Minutes uproaring with our heads

Like an unfortunate King’s and his Queen’s
When the senseless mob rules;
And quietly the trees casting their crowns
Into the pools.


Dorothy Parker, wit… (Aug. 22, 1893 - 1967)

“I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I’m under the table,
after four I’m under my host.”

–Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker - of the Algonquin Round Table - was born on Aug. 22, 1893. She died in 1967 after bouts with alcoholism and after surviving several suicide attempts. Despite her problems with low self esteem she was one of the most sparkling wits of the 20th C.

Photo ca. 1935, copyright Hulton Archive/Getty Images


A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.

Brevity is the soul of lingerie.

I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true.

If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.

Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: ‘Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.’

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.

Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses.

She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B (speaking of Katharine Hepburn).

You can drag a horticulture, but you can’t make her think…


American poet Edgar Lee Masters (Aug. 23, 1868 - 1950) on a bench somewhere in Egypt…

Masters is famous for his Spoon River Anthology which chronicles the banalities and tragedies of a small town through the epitaphs of its erstwhile inhabitants.


Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian master storyteller and metafictionalist, was born Aug. 24, 1899 (d. 1986)…

Borges was born in Buenos Aires. In 1914, his family moved to Switzerland where he attended school and traveled to Spain. On his return to Argentina in 1921, Borges began publishing his poems and essays in Surrealist literary journals. He also worked as a librarian and public lecturer. Borges was fluent in several languages. He was a target of political persecution during the Peron regime.

Due to a hereditary condition, Borges became blind in his late fifties. In 1955, he was appointed director of the National Public Library (Biblioteca Nacional) and professor of Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. In 1961, he came to international attention when he received the first International Publishers’ Prize Prix Formentor. His work was translated and published widely in the United States and in Europe.


“In the order of literature, as in others, there is no act that is not the coronation of an infinite series of causes and the source of an infinite series of effects.”

“Reading is an activity subsequent to writing: more resigned, more civil, more intellectual.”

“The fact is that all writers create their precursors. Their work modifies our conception of the past, just as it is bound to modify the future.”

“The original is unfaithful to the translation.”

“Life itself is a quotation.”


Ahmed Faraz (Urdu: احمد فراز January 14, 1931 - August 25, 2008) was considered one of the greatest modern Urdu poets of the last century. Faraz is his pseudonym 'takhallus', whereas his real name is Syed Ahmad Shah (سید احمد شاہ). Ahmed Faraz died in Islamabad on August 25, 2008


The wounded Apollinaire…

L’amour s’en va comme cette eau courante
L’amour s’en va
Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l’Espérance est violente

And love runs down like this
Water, love runs down.
How slow life is,
How violent hope is.

From Le Pont Mirabeau (“Mirabeau Bridge”); translation by William Meredith

Guillaume Apollinaire (France, Aug. 26, 1880 - 1918) was the author of a variety of different texts: prose fiction, drama, librettos etc., yet it could be argued that he published only two significant works during his lifetime: Alcools: Poèmes 1898-1913 (1913) and Calligrammes: Poèmes de la paix et de la guerre 1913- 1916 (1918).


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Aug. 28, 1749 - 1832):

“All intelligent thoughts have already been thought; what is necessary is only to try to think them again.”

img : Goethe in the Roman Campagna (1786) by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein.


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