Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lyrical vs. Ballad

Lyric poetry - Shakespeare's sonnets - is poetry that resembles songs, often devoted to expressing a feeling. Narrative poetry - Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis - is poetry that is focused on telling a story.

The distinction showed up in my continued reading of Megashift from Plot to Character In American Short Fiction, although the terminology is slightly different. Here the author is talking about Washington Irving, the guy who wrote Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

"Irving was fully conscious of the tension in the short story between the lyric impulse, with its stress on unity of emotion, and the ballad impulse, with its emphasis on a controlled unity of action." [p. 27]

So "ballad" here stands in for what I would call narrative. It's funny how slippery literary terms are. Different groups of writers just have different terms for talking about things. It makes discussions harder!

I mean, why talk about prose short stories in terms that refer more properly to poetry?

A dictionary of literary terms,
I'm sad to say, is like a bucket of worms:
You pick one out, and sure enough, it squirms.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Megashift from Plot to Character

I'm reading an interesting book, Megashift from Plot to Character In American Short Fiction : A Critical Study, 1900-1941

That's a mouthful of a title. Yes, it was a doctoral dissertation. The author is Qi Ye, and I don't know much about him, although he did earn his PhD here in Illinois.

Anyway, plot and character have both, always, been contributors to a good story, and the debate over which is more important goes back at least to Aristotle. But as Qi Ye sets out to document, there was a critical push against plot among the literary elite early in the 20th century.

Plot became a dirty word in such circles, and O. Henry, who had been so honored for his surprise endings, met with a surprise ending of his own: after his death, his surprise endings were held as a mark against him.

Of course, you should bear in mind
The reading public continued to find
His surprises delightful
And far from frightful.

Indeed, here he describes the inciting incident that led to the writing of this book:

'One surprising fact that caught my attention during my teaching of an introductory course in prose fiction at Illinois State University (Spring 1992) was that almost all the students reacted enthusiastically to O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," especially to the ending where it is revealed that Della and Jim have each sacrificed their most valuable possession to buy the other the best Christmas gift possible within their meager financial power, while the same students did not react so warmly to the surprise endings of William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Ernest Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," stories which are favored by critics.'

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Writing by Hand

I was looking at a site about learning Japanese. And came across the advice that there was no need to practice writing it.

"When's the last time you actually wrote something by hand? Probably the last time you had to sign your name on a receipt at a restaurant."

And... a few weeks ago, I was writing a ten-minute play in a notebook, and a young person asked me, with curiosity and surprise, if I was actually writing in cursive. Which I was. It's not how I usually write plays. But I didn't have a computer handy.

I have become a beast of yore,
A cursive-writing dinosaur!


I was translating... well, I had used an automated translation of an article by Maria Marty from Spanish to English... but I was going back through the result and fixing it up. And I came across the Spanish word: victimismo. And I knew that the parallel English word would be victimism. But is that a word? It turns out that it is, but it's rare.It seems to be less rare in Spanish.

Anyway, what does the Spanish word mean?

tendency to see oneself as being victimized

So, it's not victimhood, or victimization, as such. It's more what we mean when we say "victim mentality". And if you google the rare English word "victimism", the first hit is to the Wikipedia article on "Victim mentality", which has this sentence:

"The term is also used in reference to the tendency for blaming one's misfortunes on somebody else's misdeeds, which is also referred to as victimism."

If we think of victimism as an ideological "ism", it might translate into normal English discourse as "the cult of victimhood", which is rather derogatory, of course, and is often a term used on the right, not the left. Partly because there is a left/right split on the "free will" issue, the left leans toward seeing people as tossed about by circumstance, and the right leans toward seeing people as responsible for their own circumstances.

Both your choices
And your chances
Help determine
Your circumstances.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Passing on the Gift of Prometheus

The NY Times had an article about a German program which teaches children how to safely start fires.

"Mr. Karawahn’s workshops aim to prevent tragedies caused by children playing with fire in secret. Young children who make a fire alone often won’t tell adults for fear of punishment. Even worse, they sometimes hide after setting a fire and end up dying from smoke inhalation."

I suspect teaching about it
Has to be sound.
No culture living without it
Has ever been found.

One Lonely Night

I reread the first chapter of Mickey Spillane's One Lonely Night the other day. I hadn't read it in decades. It's a very striking chapter in which the tough guy detective hero, Mike Hammer, struggles with a disturbance in his soul, a doubt as to whether he is actually a good guy or a bad guy. In the book, this has been brought on by a judge who has let him walk free, but who has righteously condemned him as a monster who lives just inside of the law.

This time, when I was reading, I thought - oh my, the detective's self-doubt is a stand-in for the writer's self doubt after being shredded by a chorus of self-righteous critics.

So, today I was at the library, and was looking at what somebody else wrote about Spillane in an introduction, and this guy, who knew Spillane personally, specifically put forth the same theory.

Spillane, back in the fifties, sold tons of books but was a lightning rod for criticism.

He rubbed the elite the wrong way
In the culture wars of his day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Theater Company's Sudden Demise

It's funny, I just got a postcard advertising their upcoming production:

"Dead Writers Theater to Close in Wake of Harassment Allegations"

It all happened this week, very quickly. It started when the theater's artistic director threatened to derail the career of an actress, Megan Delay. In a public Facebook thread, he told her he could "easily smear" her.

"It was the tipping point that unleashed the Chicago theater community on social media in what some might well consider a mob-mentality takedown Tuesday afternoon."

I saw her last summer in their production of The Importance Of Being Earnest. I thought she was quite strong and funny. Here she is in a publicity shot from that production, with Jack Dryden:

What started the immediate ruckus? The actress bowed out of a role, 10 days before rehearsals were set to start. It is, of course, annoying to the producer and director when something like this happens. They have to scramble to refill the role. I know. I've been there. Last time it happened to me, it was 10 days before opening. I could hear the blood pounding in my ear when I got the news. But, you know, stuff happens, and sometimes you have to roll with it.

Someone bailing out of your production,
Is not a reason to threaten career destruction.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Results Oriented

I'm here to review
My lab work with you.

Please be patient while I retrieve it.
It's so good you won't believe it.

Monday, February 20, 2017


A pangolin
Has scaly skin
But can't play scales
On a mandolin.
Nor can he tango
In trade for a mango
No matter how jolly
A mood he's in.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Self Surveillance

If you want to brag about criminal acts,
Film them all to prove they are facts. 
Viewers will know they aren't being deceived, 
And you will be glad your behavior's believed. 
But should the police obtain the recording, 
You may find that crime is no longer rewarding.

Hunger in America

I remain puzzled about hunger in America. It's evidently a sort of shorthand phrase for insufficient food. I mean, I get hungry every day, which is why I eat, but that's not what they're talking about. So, who has insufficient food? We're not talking about eating-disorder people, or people on hunger strikes, so we must be talking about people who are low on money to buy food. These are the people for whom there are private and governmental food programs. But we also hear a lot about obesity among the poor, so these programs must be working pretty well overall, except that maybe they need to deliver more Lean Cuisine to the heavier recipients. And speaking of the heavy, that's a group of people who are hungry a lot, from what I've seen.

It's a verity
Then and now
Needs to chow.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Dancing at Lughnasa

I finally saw my first Brian Friel play tonight, namely Dancing at Lughnasa. It's a charming play, with a very loosely structured plot, if plot is what you wish to call it, and an adult narrator who is remembering things that happened when he was seven. The core of the play is the household of 5 unmarried sisters, who are lovingly sketched.

I did not know what the title meant. I had assumed that Lughnasa was a place. But no, it is a time, a harvest festival.

"The festival itself is named after the god Lugh. It involved great gatherings that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), feasting, matchmaking and trading. There were also visits to holy wells... Lughnasadh customs persisted widely until the 20th century, with the event being variously named 'Garland Sunday', 'Bilberry Sunday', 'Mountain Sunday' and 'Crom Dubh Sunday'."

How do you say
The name of Lugh?
Simply enough:
It rhymes with Hugh.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Romantic Realism and Joseph Conrad

"Joseph Conrad also called himself a Romantic Realist." That's something Ayn Rand remarked in a Q&A. Was she right?

There's a 1922 book, Joseph Conrad: His Romantic-Realism, by Ruth Stauffer, which I have a copy of and the text of which is available online. The author argues that Conrad should be viewed, indeed, as a Romantic Realist. You might think that if Conrad had identified himself as such, that Stauffer would make a point of citing this self-identification. But, no.

Today I did a little more digging on this, looking into Conrad's preface to his novel, The Nigger of the Narcissus. Wikipedia says: "The author's preface to the novel, regarded as a manifesto of literary impressionism, is considered one of Conrad's most significant pieces of non-fiction writing." Anyway, in this preface, Conrad seems reluctant to accept literary labels:

"The enduring part of them - the truth which each only imperfectly veils - should abide with him as the most precious of his possessions, but they all: Realism, Romanticism, Naturalism, even the unofficial sentimentalism (which like the poor, is exceedingly difficult to get rid of), all these gods must, after a short period of fellowship, abandon him..."

Anyway, if I have to guess, Rand may have been misled about Conrad's exact views, perhaps because she ran into this book or its title somewhere, like on a public library shelf.

Literary schools
supply great bags of tools,
but the struggling writer, still,
is left with lots of pages to fill.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Relative Positions

I noticed recently, while walking home from the train, that Venus and Mars were very close to each other in the Western evening sky, but that Venus was rather bright and Mars was rather dim. I figured this meant that Venus was close and Mars was far, and that their "closeness" was just a matter of line-of-sight.

So, I found this nice snapshot of where all the planets are right now. Here's a cropped version:

As expected, Venus is near, and Mars is far, but if you are sitting on Earth they are in the same little piece of the sky.

I left Jupiter in, because when walking my dogs, I had noticed that Jupiter was visible, and quite bright, on the Eastern horizon, before midnight. And, somewhat logically, Jupiter is on the "opposite" side of Earth, and fairly close.

I'm not sure about the scaling in the snapshot diagram. But the relative positioning at least makes sense.

Where I live, the city's light
Is so darned bright
That it's hard to see stars at night.

Painting the Sky

Sun does a fine job of setting
Despite inadequate vetting.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Gimme Shelter

They were set up to film stuff downtown today on Van Buren street - with the shiny white trailers beloved by the film crews, at least around here. I don't know what show they were filming - I don't pay attention. But one of the white trailers had a sign on it that caught my eye:

We don't usually get tornadoes downtown. But if we did, you would not be heading for this trailer. You would be heading for an actual concrete and steel building, preferably toward the basement thereof.

So, maybe it's some kind of inside joke, some union humor about getting away from the director's mad orders.

So while the sign appears legit,
Maybe that's the joke of it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

V Day

I hear it's a day for heart to heart,
A trying day to be apart,
And often a day that's hard as stone
For those who find themselves alone

Monday, February 13, 2017

Snow Day

I think the weather is rather pleasant, for winter, back in Chicago. But here in the Beantown area it has been snowing a lot, so our flight out, scheduled for today, was cancelled, and now we are here an extra day, enjoying the company of my son, his wife, and their child, in their roomy new house.

The company's good.
The house is warm.
Bemoaning the snow
Would be poor form.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Snow in New England. 
Not exactly news. 
Sort of an incentive 
To stay inside and snooze.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Chromatic Chaos

"HANAHAN, S.C. (AP) — No one seems to know why there's an orange alligator in a pond near Charleston."

"In a photo provided by Stephen Tatum, an orange alligator is seen near a pond in Hanahan, S.C. Photos show the 4- to 5-foot-long alligator on the banks of a retention pond at the Tanner Plantation neighborhood."

It's a sign of the times -
A gator that's orange!
But nothing quite rhymes
With that color.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Prez Name Coincidence

Trump and Truman both
Begin "T. R. U. M."
Maybe that's all that's common
Between the two of THEM!

Tuesday, February 07, 2017


Watched the first episode of APB, a science fictionish cop show set in Chicago, where a tech billionaire outfits one district with a lot of cool high tech gizmos that mostly don't really exist yet, in neighborhoods that aren't quite realistic either.

If the series continues, I predict that eventually, to keep it from being too easy for our hero, a criminal mastermind will appear on an ongoing basis, who fights our good police tech with nasty criminal tech.

To maintain dramatic traction
Get an opposite reaction.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Superb Owl LI

Finally score a touch down
And they blow the extra point.
The Patriots can't catch a break
In this bad luck joint.

Actually, the Patriots got very lucky right after that.

The birdwatchers who anticipated
A superb owl,
Felt their hopes deflated
And began to howl.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Feb 2

I'm gonna catch that groundhog
Put him in some groundhog stew.
Yeah I will catch that groundhog
Groundhog stew is what I'll do.
Cause I'm so sick of winter
Leaving me so cold and blue.

Putting Jurisprudence Aside

How could he pick a dude
With a hard-to-rhyme name like Gorsuch?
Really it's rather rude.
Don't nominate any more such!