Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Top Chef

Before I post a poem, here's some this-and-that:

The Lewin Group, which the GOPers and unctuous Charles Gibson (ABC) cite when discussing health-care "reform," is owned by United Health Care, a large insurance corporation, which also controls a database other health-insurance companies use to judge how much you get reimbursed and how much doctors get paid. . . . God willing and if the creek don't rise, as the saying goes, I might be in the High Sierra this time tomorrow, in a pesky canyon that used to resist radio- and TV-transmission and that still resists cell-phone transmission. . . . 'Tis the season when most Northwesterners give up on the pretense of maintaining a lawn and let the grass go blond and brown. Actually, the grass doesn't die; it just looks that way. I saw some poor sod (so to speak) spraying his brown lawn with water tonight, but his heart wasn't in it. Holding the hose was more of a gesture. . . . Meanwhile, I'm hatching Xeriscape plans that feature lots of gravel, boulders, hardy herbs, and drought-resistant plants. --But mostly boulders. One may water boulders, but one doesn't need to do so.


Top Chef

The celebrity tasters sample dishes cooked
competitively by erstwhile celebrity chefs
on a TV food-show. The tasters are
disappointed and get ready to reprimand
the chefs. They're about to opine when the
corpse of a starved person falls from
the ceiling of the TV studio onto their TV
table. Flies swarm out of the corpse's mouth
and seize the tasters' faces. The Food Judges'
hands turn to stone. The competing chefs use
this moment to flee from the show's decadent
premise. In this episode, there is no winner.


http://www.worldhunger.org/

Monday, July 27, 2009

Buddy's Cords of Wood

Buddy's Cords of Wood

Buddy was engaged to marry a woman who
lived in a white house on the hill. He
cut and stacked cords of wood for her.
Before Winter came, she broke off
the engagement and married another man,
who moved in with her. They burned
the wood Buddy had cut. Buddy lived
with his sister from then on. This

was in a town of 225 where few
can afford the luxury of embarrassment.
When Buddy cheated too obviously
at pinochle, the men banned him
from the games for a while. For
decades, an adage flourished in town:
"Don't cut wood for your beloved
until after you marry because some
bastard might end up burning it."


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sometimes A Cat

This summer, our household features not one but two cats, a cerebral Russian blue, female, who is 10 years old, and a tabby who may have some Norwegian Forest Cat in his background; he is one year old. Her name is Lisa Marie, after Elvis Presley's daughter, and his name is Jerry Garcia. Jerry is a native of California, very laid back but also impulsive. We sense that Lisa Marie desires him to be more thoughtful. Unless they are supervised, the cats must be kept separate. When I watch television, the tabby gets up in a nearby chair and watches it with me. --Just a couple guys watching the tube.


Sometimes A Cat

Sometimes a cat relaxes so much,
it forgets where it is. That is,
sometimes a cat, relaxed, remembers
nothing is any place and anywhere
is nowhere in particular. A cat's
among the most in-particular creatures,
a purely present artist of equilibrium,
a monarch of the moment, eyes like
twin comprehending moons.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Friday, July 24, 2009

Scott Bateman on Lou Dobbs

I'm so old I remember when CNN had some credibility as a journalistic enterprise. No, really, I'm not kidding! Then it decided to "jump the shark" for ratings, so it tolerates the increasingly bizarre, micro-minded, sour-spirited rants of Lou Dobbs, for example. In all fairness, I have to say (well, I don't have to) that observing Lou's hair over the years has been a source of fascination. I am not on firm ground here, as my own "hair style" is an oxymoron. But at one point, Lou's hair looked almost tangerine in color. I'm lucky my job doesn't involve sitting under blazing lights, wearing makeup, and reading from a tele-prompter. To this extent, I sympathize with Lou and other on-camera crooners.

In any event, one of the most talented animators in the land, Scott Bateman, has produced a nice piece on Lou. One great thing about Bateman's work is that it simply but creatively uses the exact words of its subjects. Lou speaks, Bateman animates, and Bateman inserts comments:

http://trueslant.com/scottbateman/2009/07/24/lou-dobbs-nutjob/

On the Road to the Contagious Health-Care Bill

I have to agree with Fran-from-Canada's comment on the previous post: namely, that America's competitive streak prevents the U.S. from simply looking at nations who have successfully implemented health-care (and if it's not "universal," it's not health-care, as "health" refers to "whole") and imitating them, even if we acknowledge that some aspects of our situation may be different.


We mustn't overlook the cynicism of politicians and corporations either. The GOPers have made it plain that their only strategy is to stall and that the strategy is in service of the 2010 election. I think it's refreshing that they admit as much. They rank doing well in a mid-term election higher than providing reliable health-care coverage to (at least) 45 million persons who now go without it and who, if they're "lucky," get some help at an emergency-room. Meanwhile, the DEMsters will wrestle themselves into submission, easy pickings for lobbyists.

But let us turn to a physician who wrote poetry, W.C. Williams, and his "Spring and All," with its genius first line:

Spring and All

by William Carlos Williams

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines-

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches-

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind-

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined-
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf


But now the stark dignity of
entrance-Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken


Let us hope that those in charge of delivering the health-care goods will "grip down and begin to awaken."

For more information about this poem and W.C.W., please visit . . .

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5953

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Corruption Even a Poet Can Understand

To the extent other industrialized nations pay attention to the U.S., they must wonder why establishing something as basic as adequate health-care for everyone is so hard for Americans to achieve. Availability to solid health-care for all citizens in a nation is about as basic as a good fire department is for a city. In this instance, "American exceptionalism" is not a compliment. Most reliable ratings of health-care systems worldwide put that of the U.S. around 35th (or so).

As you no doubt already know, one reason for our inability to get to this basic goal is that Congresspersons in effect answer to large health-"management" companies and insurance companies, who contribute a lot of money to campaigns and who employ people who previously worked in Congress as staffers. Thanks to a fellow blogger in Tacoma, I was able to look at a simple map of such corruption involving an important participant in the health-care legislation, Max Baucus, a U.S. Senator from Montana (and once you get to the chart, you may click on it to enlarge it):

http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/projects/2009/healthcare_lobbyist_complex/#baucus

Even a poet can grasp the corruption reflected in this chart!

Ancillary problems are that the alleged two-party system is, in effect, a one-party system wherein the two large parties suck up money from the same troughs, and that corporations may legally function as persons, so that trying to limit a corporation's monetary control of elections is depicted legally as an encroachment on "free speech," as if a corporation had vocal cords.

One piece of the current legislation delays the public option (which, among other things, would put pressure on insurance companies and also spread out the risk--you remember that simple insurance-concept) until 2013--after a) another presidential election, and b) a lot of people will have died, some of whom will die because of inadequate health-care. Demographically, it's in the insurance-companies' interest to have a lot of Baby-Boomers die; what a lovely bunch of coconuts. Meanwhile, when a citizen (or a visiting American, for that matter) in Canada or Sweden becomes ill, he or she (now, follow this complexity) goes to a doctor or a hospital to get treated without fear of being turned away for insurance-reasons or of going broke after being treated. Wow. It's almost like when a brush-fire occurs in a city and a crew from the fire department puts it out with water, quickly and professionally. If Baucus were in charge, the truck would show up late, charge the land-owner, and throw gasoline on the fire. Thanks for looking out for us, Max.

And yes, I know nothing is perfect in Canada or Sweden or elsewhere, but the American system suffers from more than imperfection. It just isn't functioning.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Moon Visits Altered History


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A headline in the Tacoma News Tribune two days ago read, "Moon Visits Altered History," and for an instant I misread "Visits" as being a verb and "Altered" as an adjective, so that the headline seemed to be about a journey the moon had taken.


Moon Visits Altered History


Orbit became a wearisome groove, a tedious
channel. Sun played the same old carom-shots
with rays, and just below, sad plants and creatures
marked the days. A bored moon unclipped itself
from gravity to visit an altered history.

It visited moon-museums in the gallaxy,
drank with disappointed asterioids who'd
aspired to be moons, interviewed multi-mooned
planets to ask how they kept their lunar
calendars straight. The moon was gone for a

month, exactly. No one but a few astronomers
and surfers noticed. The moon came back
to trudge its orbit like a mule, plowing
time, spinning space into legend.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Monday, July 20, 2009

Summer-Squash Soup

Hey, who recorded "(There Ain't No Cure For) The Summertime Blues," the Who? I imagine dozens of artists have recorded it in an attempt to cure the bank-account blues.

Anyway, it turns out there's a simple cure for the summertime blues, and as you might expect, it's soup. When in doubt, make soup!

Thanks to blogger, chef, and poet Minerva, we have ourselves a link to a recipe for Summer-Squash Soup (below). (Minverva reports that she added some previously cooked chicken to give the soup a little autumnal muscle, so if you're not rolling down the Vegan Highway at present, you may give that a try.)

http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/recipefinder.dyn?action=displayRecipe&recipe_id=1809036

And Minerva is over at . . .

http://minervadamama.blogspot.com/

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer Squash


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'Tis the season, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, for squash. I grew up calling yellow or crook-necked squash "summer squash," and I prefer it to zucchini, the hide of which is a tad bitter, and the meat of which can be watery. I used to like to pick yellow squash because in the garden, it often had some fuzz on it. One reason to plant a garden, I submit, is that it produces imperfection, such as the fuzz, which is rubbed off by the time squash makes it to a super-market super-slickly. For instance, the cucumbers I just harvested look pretty gnarly. They're fat and fine inside, but the hide looks like it's been in a scuffle, and one of the cucumbers has an odd twist to it. You just can't find that kind of imperfection in a produce-department, no matter how hard you look.

In case anyone asks, and I'm sure someone will do so, "squash" as a verb can mean not just to press down or in upon but also to join in a crowd of people--to squash about in the city, as it were--this according to the OED online. "Squash" as a noun may refer not just to zucchini, etc., but also to the unripe pod of a pea, and in this iteration, the word was often used insultingly. One would call someone a "squash," a mere unripe pod. "Hey, pal, as far as I'm concerned, you're an unripe pod." And here's news: "squash" as a noun used to refer as well to a muskrat--or "musksquash." Wow.

My desultory research did not go so far as to tell me how the racket-game, squash, got its name. Squash seems like the upper-class version of racquet-ball, but I could be incorrect in that impression.

When something feels as if it has been squashed, we sometimes say it appears squishy, don't we? What was squashed was squished, or squishified. ;-) I seem to remember that "squish" was also deployed as a verb, back in grammar (or lower) school: "Squish that spider, Irving, will you? Thanks."

I wish you a good summer of unsquished squash, eaten raw, steamed, or roasted, and may the squash you harvest be perfectly imperfect.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Moon Poems


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(image: Swiss cheese, the chief component of the moon, in spite of astronomers' and astronauts' protestations to the contrary)
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Not that you asked, but my favorite moon-poem is W.H. Auden's "This Lunar Beauty," chiefly because of the rhythm, which subtly echoes that of Jon Skelton's poetry.

Other good moon-poems include "Under the Harvest Moon," by Carl Sandburg, famous Swedish American; "Autumn Moonlight," by Matsuo Basho [how many haikus have a moon-image in the them, I wonder?] ; "Length of Moon," by Arna Bontemps; "The Moon Versus Us Ever Sleeping Together Again," by Richard Brautigan [I think we have a winner in the title-competition]; "The Moon Was But a Chin of Gold," by Emily Dickinson [I think we have a winner in the comparison-competition, and what a shock that's it's D: never mess with Ms. D.]; "Blood and the Moon," by W.B. Yeats; and "And the Moon and the Stars and the World," by Charles Bukowski.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Moon-Shot: The Missing Article


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(image: Jules Verne)
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Moon-Shot 1969: The Missing Article


Somewhere between the moon and the Sierra Nevada,
our TV-reception got fizzed. We leaned in toward
the Zenith set that labored to freight us images
of Armstrong. Outside, illusory sky still pretended
to be blue. " . . .one small step for man, one
giant leap for mankind," said the Zenith, and
I knew the first man on the moon had flubbed
prefabricated lines. The article "a" was missing,
and without it, "man" and "mankind" meant pretty
much the same thing in 1969. The article "a"

is still missing. It tumbles in the Milky Way,
silent in an unspoken vacuum. Yes, yes, I was
properly amazed like everyone else. And a little
sad. After a cumbersome astronaut stepped off a
ladder and set feet, the moon misplaced its
mythology and became dirt and a destination.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Man In A Hole


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Man In A Hole

In summer's citified humidity, one man
pierced a street's asphalt hide with a
jack-hammer. Then someone else in a yellow
back-hoe dug something like a grave. Soon
another man was standing in the hole. Orange
plastic cones stood sentry around him. He
wore a white hard-hat and an orange vest.
Cars passed thickly by on both sides, hauling
their noise, puffing exhaust-fumes, hardly
slowing down. The man's height had been cut
in half. His co-workers looked down at him
expectantly, as if he could fix anything--
sewer, water, electricity, earthquakes.
"People give me shit," he yelled, "and
I am tired of it."


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

W. H. Auden Site


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I recently ran across a site dedicated to W.H. Auden, master of lyric poems and long poems, genius at incorporating vocabulary and diction from a wide spectrum of sources into his poetry. His most anthologized poems include "Lullaby," "If I Could Tell You," "In Memoriam: W.B. Yeats," and "Musee des Beaux Arts." Collected Shorter Poems and Collected Longer Poems are both available from Random House/Vintage.

Here is a link to the site:

http://audensociety.org/

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Do You Like The Blues?


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(photo: Albert King, with smoke, perhaps from his guitar)
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Embarking on the great cleaning of the office, I exhumed The Best of Blues: The Essential CD Guide. Yes, I know, CDs belong on the scrap-heap of old technology, along with those massive 8-track contraptions. At least one may transfer the contents of a CD to one's Itunes (or whatever) "library," although a library is, by etymological definition, supposed to be composed of books.

At any rate, Roger St. Pierre put together this guide, which was published by Collins Publishers, San Francisco, in 1993. The nifty little book is postcard-size.

Not that you asked, but among my favorite blues artists, in no particular order, are Big Mama Thornton, Robert Johnson, Albert King, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bessie Smith, Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Ray Charles, Mac Rebennack (Dr. John), and Son House (I just love his "John the Revelator"). I know: it's a terribly traditional list. Studies have shown that Robert Cray (from Tacoma) and Eric Clapton apparently know something about playing blues-guitar, too.

A Great Baseball-Blog

...And speaking, that is to say writing, of baseball, I'll now pass on a link to a terrific baseball blog--with poetry; but baseball fans are not to worry: the blog is all baseball all the time (and from Chicago, where the Cubs will one day win it all again--in the same century when the S.F. Giants do, perhaps, and alas):


http://the-daily-something.blogspot.com/

Monday, July 13, 2009

Baseball Poetry


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Here comes (American) baseball's All-Star game, and here's a collection of baseball poetry:

Line Drives: 100 Contemporary Baseball Poems, edited by Brooke Howath, Tim Wales, and Elinor Nauen.

It would be interesting (to me) to see poems about soccer (a.k.a. football), cricket, hockey, fencing, etc., from other cultures.

I thought I'd posted "Sestina: The Game of Baseball" before, but I guess not. I embarked on writing the poem because I thought the repetition and figurative circularity of the sestina-form might go well with baseball, a highly ritualized sport. Anyway, here it is:

Sestina: The Game of Baseball

The circle is the center of the game:
The trip from home to home; mound; ball.
And Baseball’s creed is O-penness: fields;
Gloves like birds’ mouths; past fences lies forever.
The game plays out in formulae of three.
Combinations interlock like rings.

Grave umpires speak in prophecy that rings
Out in the voice of Moses. Out, Strike, Ball
Mean really Shame, Yes, No! The game
Is subtle, though, like its faintly sloping fields.
And indefinite: A game can last forever
In theory, infinitely tied at 3 to 3.

Though rules say nine may play, it’s often three
Who improvise a play within the game.
(Tinkers, Evers, Chance) . Pitcher lends ball
To air. Potentiality of bat rings
With power in that instance. All fields
Beckon to innocence and hope forever.

One chance at a time drops from forever.
Player with a caged face grabs for ball.
But batter knocks ball back into the ring
Of readiness, at which point one of three
Things happen that can happen in the game:
Safe or Out or Ball-Beyond-All-Fields:

Home run. Inspire the ball past finite fields,
And you voyage honored on the sea that rings
The inner island. Sail home, touch three
White islands, Hero. Gamers since forever
Have tried to sail past limits of the game,
Shed physics’ laws, hold Knowledge like a ball.

To know this game you have to know the ball,
An atom when contrasted with green fields—
Less than orange, white with pinched rings
Of stitches ridged for grip. With ball come three
Essential tasks: throw, catch, bat. These are forever
Of the Circle in the Center of the Game.

Dropped in the fluid game, the solid ball
Starts widening rings of chance, concentric threes
That open out into the Field. Baseball. Forever.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Memo From November 6th Street

"November 6th Street" in Memphis connects to Monroe Avenue (among other streets and avenues)about a block from Main Street. The name of the street commemorates a day (in 1934?) when an arrangement was reached between the city of Memphis and the federal government whereby the Tennessee Valley Authority got funded.
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Memo From November 6th Street

They make it work somehow in Memphis,
bluff buttressed against an oceanic
river. Vines overwhelm scruffy trees,
weariness overtakes work, and Downtown
pines for its heyday. You know the story:
Handy, Rufus, B.B., Elvis, Booker T.
& them fused grooves like welders
building barges bound for big water.
They made it work somehow.

Sir, ma'am, if you want to, you can
sit in a black iron chair next to where
Johnny & June Cash and Ella wrote their
names in cee-ment. Pigeons and a goat
will stare down at you as you stare up
at a plastic palm tree & you'll drop money
into a yellow bucket, sit back down,
and listen to covers of Albert King,
Robert Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughn,
Son House, and Otis Redding. Looks like
nothing's gonna change in Memphis.
Then it does. Then it doesn't. They
have to dredge the channel regularly.

Meanwhile I have to check out the Just
Like New consignment-store on November 6th
Street--Memphis, yes, sir: Memphis--caught
in a corner between Arkansas and Mississippi,
between St. Louis and New Orleans, mid-South.
They make it work somehow. Somehow they make it.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How To Be A Cat: Illustrated

A while back, I posted a poem called "How To Be A Cat," and now a fine photographer whom I don't know has paired one of her photos with the poem. Personally, I don't have anything against the poem; in fact, it still has my full support (as presidents say of cabinet-officers they've already asked to resign), but I really like the photo, and here's a link:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilarialuciani/2572078179/

I might add that the photo includes notes--in Italian. How fabulous is that? To read the notes, you just lightly drag the cursor across the photo, and the notes appear. It's the sort of thing that would fascinate a cat.

Thanks to the photographer.

Mosey v. Saunter


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(photo: trolley on Main Street, Memphis)
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There's an "orange" alert for smog and ozone in Memphis today, so it's a good day for moseying and sauntering, at best. Officials reduced the price of a trolley-ride on Main Street from one dollar to 25 cents; they're worried about older folks, as well as children with asthma, especially.

I sauntered up to a venerable lunch-room that was bustling with downtown business-folk, and I ate some turnip greens, tomatoes, and "corn sticks" (corn bread). Great basic food, eccentric servers: superb.

Two businessmen at the table next to mine had a long serious conversation about staffing. Then one of them said, "You ready to saunter back?" "Yes," the other one said, "let's mosey."

So of course I had to check the OED online with regard to these words. "Saunter" once meant "incantation" as a noun and, as a verb, "to muse," but that was long ago. By the 1780s, it referred to a "careless" walk or walking carelessly, so it appears as if sauntering may be a slower activity than moseying; that is, to saunter is to walk aimlessly, almost.

As a verb, "mosey" was (and remains?) an Americanism going back at least as far as 1829 in print. As a noun--for example, one may "take a saunter"--it goes back only to 1960, at least in the OED. I think I'm more accustomed to seeing nouns turned into verbs--as was famously done with "impact" in the 1980s, when it began to be used in place of "affect." "The report impacted city government," e.g. Before that, the only things I remember being "impacted" were wisdom-teeth.

On campus, I almost always leave for class very early and saunter there. At least one colleague I know is a bustler, and one day, as she bustled past, she asked, "Why do you walk so slowly?" I deflected the question by saying, "It's called sauntering."

I'm not sure what the real answer to her question is. I don't like to bustle because it usually symptomizes being late (speaking of turning a noun into a verb), and I like to look at creatures like bugs and birds when I walk. I also like to have time to nod to people I know and say hello. I always arrive in plenty of time.

I wish you good moseying and sauntering today.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Metaphorical Headline; Sonnet-Challenge

Before I forget, let me point out that "Minerva" has a sonnet-challenge going this week, in case you're in a 14-line mood:


http://minervadamama.blogspot.com/2009/07/poetry-challenge-5-sonnet.html


Now, on to a headline from The Commercial Appeal, a daily newspaper in Memphis:

"Mayoral Morass Sinks Deeper Into Confusion" (Wed. July 8, 2009, page one).

As with the governor of Alaska, the Mayor of Memphis, Willie Herenton, is a bit unsure not about resigning but about when he's resigning, and the confusion is causing all sorts of political and bureaucratic problems. --Also opportunities: The legendary wrestler (or "wrassler") Jerry Lawler (Andy Kaufman wrestled him--remember?) is going to run in the special election, when and if it takes place.

At any rate, the headline troubled me slightly, with regard to the metaphor. I suppose a morass--or "swampy tract," as the OED online defines it--can sink, insofar as all pieces of land, including soaked ones, have the potential to sink. But maybe the headline-writer (as opposed to the story's writers, Amos Maki and Alex Donlach) was thinking that the situation Herenton has created is sinking into a morass of confusion; or maybe that the mayor's office and the city council are sinking into a morass. But I don't think the morass is meant to be sinking.

Anyway, I enjoyed the story and the swamp of my thinking about this metaphor....I reckon "headline" itself is a metaphor--the top of a newspaper-story or -column (for example) being compared to the head, and thus the need for "capitalization." A capital idea!

Good luck with your sonnet.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Elvis Read Books, Had Excellent Taste in Movies


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(photo: Slim Pickens and Harvey Korman, in Blazing Saddles, with books in background)
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Well, if you're in Memphis, you pretty much have to visit Graceland. I'm in Memphis, so I visited Graceland.

A "modest mansion" is an oxymoron, but I think the phrase fits Elvis's home, which he decorated immodestly. Actually, the place is probably decorated just the way most young working-class men in the 1950s-through-early-1970s would have decorated a place if a) they suddenly obtained a great deal of cash, b) were under no one's guidance, and c) were egged on by a bunch of "pals"--or hangers-on.

My second impression concerns just how much cash the site generates. The scale of the operation is difficult to fathom. It is a massive cash-machine. I do wish a significant percentage of that money were dedicated to not-for-profit aims, particularly in Memphis, to address poverty, educational needs, and even basic infrastructure-problems. That would be a good thing, such channeling.

On the tour of the larger airplane, I learned that Elvis liked to read and traveled with boxes of books. What exactly he read is unclear, but one site on the web points to some of his spiritual reading: http://www.bodhitree.com/booklists/elvis.presley.html

However, in the mansion, at least on the ground floor, there appears to have been no space for books. The scholar and bibliographer in me would love to acquire lists of books Elvis read. What was in those boxes he toted to Las Vegas? As a reader, he probably had the same habits, if not the same classical education (Humes High School v. Pembroke College, Oxford, so it goes) as Samuel Johnson, including impatience. Johnson famously tossed books across the room when he became bored with them, and one imagines the nervous, pharmaceutically sped-up Elvis reading voraciously but getting bored fast. Cat on a hot tin roof, so to speak. Go, cat, go.

I also learned that among Elvis's favorite movies to watch on the plane were Blazing Saddles and the Monty Python films. This confirms that Elvis had great taste in cinema, at least in the comedy column. Of course, as with the home-decoration, the taste in comedies also betrays a bit of male adolescent bias. As clever as Brooks and the Monty Python team are, they're also mischievous in an adolescent way.

Most of Elvis's own movies are (as you know) bad, sometimes so bad they're campy and good, but that was Hollywood's and the Colonel's fault. Elvis was actually a good instinctive actor, as Walter Matthau once observed. He worked with Elvis in King Creole, and he said that after a scene, the director told him (Matthau) to stop trying so hard, and Matthau was aware of the extent to which Elvis wasn't trying hard but had a good sense of timing. One imagines all the good, surprising, interesting movies Elvis might have made. Too bad he didn't collaborate with the Monty Python troupe early on. Too bad Samuel Johnson never got to visit Graceland.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Skin's Stars


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Skin's Stars

Freckles and moles and other colorations
constellate skin’s sky. Imagine connective
lines, then conjure epidermal legends:
huntress of the thigh, magic beetles near
the feet, miraculous bird on the back of
a hand. Or not. Go with the logistical reading,
points on a dermatological map suggesting
deeper strata of DNA, a digital code of
ancient migratory patterns--ah, but also
of collusions with sunlight. Glory be to God

wrote Hopkins (G.), for dappled things,
and skin certainly qualifies: dot-commissioned
by blots and bits of pigment, uncoalesced
pointillist portrait painted on your body’s
parchment, a realistic abstract rendering.
Scars appear like halted asteroids on this
sky, or they try to get a message through
using ghostly notation—something about
the time you fell down on creek-slate or
tried to break up a dogfight with one hand.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Memphis Monologue




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photo: Peabody Hotel, Memphis
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Memphis Monologue

No, sir, I'm not from
Memphis. I'm from New
Orleans, but I came
to Memphis after the
Hurricane. There was
nothing left for me
down there. Been here
ever since, but it's
tough. I haven't been
able to find much work--
the economy; and all.
If you like barbecue,
you might try the
Rendezvous. You have
a good evening, sir.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4th in Memphis

Well, all right, I made it to Memphis on July 4th, and what a party they're having--down by the Mississippi (fireworks), on Beale Street (one big outdoor party), and on the roof of the Peabody Hotel (a radio-station-concert/party of some kind, audible from everywhere--perhaps you can hear it through this post, even).

Until I visit the South yet again, I always forget how much I like the pace of things down here. As long as you're not in a rush, everything's cool. Once you get past, oh, Kansas, and into Oklahoma, things start to slow down. I think the plane even slowed down mid-way through the flight. ;-)

In honor of Memphis and Elvis and Emily (not to mention Aretha), I'll post a link to Joe La Sac's short film, in case you haven't seen it yet:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naa3oK4zWxQ


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naa3oK4zWxQ
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Friday, July 3, 2009

True Patriot


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the photo is of Susan B. Anthony
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Here's a wee book appropriate, arguably, for July 4th festivities, conviviality, and reflection:

The True Patriot: A Pamphlet, edited by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer.

It starts with a couple chestnuts--the D of I and Mr. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Then it moves on to George Washinton's Farewell Address, Jefferson's first inaugural address, Webster's (Daniel) dedication of a monument at Bunker Hill, and (one of) FDR's state-of-the-union address. In addition to some other more or less familiar texts, the book includes an address by Judge Learned Hand, one by Susan B. Anthony, one by Jane Addams, and a poem, "Let American Be America Again," by Langston Hughes. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, speech at the March on Washington is also included, as is one by Robert Kennedy.

The slim, nifty little book was first published by Sasquatch Books [nice name, eh?] in Seattle (2007) and printed in Canada.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What Was That Thing?


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Song: What Was That Thing?


What was that thing
I tried to forget?
If I could recall,
I'd be glad to regret.

What was that thing
I always desired?
Seems I forgot
What I required.

What was that grudge
I used to hold?
Seems that slow smolder
went quickly cold.

Things move on down to
where flood meets sea,
a delta-land
of used-to-be.

A delta-land
of used-to-be
frees you from you
and me from me.

What was that hate
that drove me blind?
How did that love
turn me so kind?

What were those plans
I once held dear?
Hey, life came by,
changed There to Here.

Who was that I
Who once was me?
He tried too hard,
now lets it be.

Time flows through space
like silt to sea--
a delta-land,
believe you me:

a delta-land
of used-to-be
frees you from you
and me from me.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Potatoes, Thyme, and the Struggle


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Potatoes, Thyme, and the Struggle

What did I hope to gain by applying
my mental powers, such as they are, to
serious problems of the day--war, famine,
economic entropy, a planet turned to kindling?
Well, I'd hoped to make a show of doing
my part. In what? If not in the Struggle,
then at least in the struggle to pay attention.

Then I lost my keys and phone and had to
track them down. I watered the garden--thyme
and potatoes doing fine. I got a haircut,
purchased bread and other basics, fetched
the mail, sent a note of sympathy and three
birthday cards, excerised as a favor to
my heart, sent electronic messages, cooked
dinner. By then the day was done.

The smug oligarchs and financial thugs,
arms dealers, hacks, handlers, and somnambulent
press will prevail, or so run today's thoughts,
because an ordinary me or a you as you are has stuff
to do even on a day off from work. They and we keep
us busy, these magna cum sociopathic human
bacteria that eat systems, wreck lives, start
wars. Life keeps us busy, and so again I listen
to Tennessee Ernie Ford: "Saint Peter, don't you
call me, 'cause I can't go. I owe my soul
to the Company Store." Sixteen tons of busy.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In Defense of Mark Sanford and McDonald's


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To write almost the least, I don't make a habit of defending Republican governors (or any governors, for that matter) or large corporations, so this is new territory for me.

True, Governor Mark Sanford (South Carolina) has done just about everything wrong lately. At first I thought his interminable press-conferences were simply narcissistic and self-induldgent (and they may indeed be so); then I thought, well, maybe this much talking springs from evangelical Christian rhetoric, which has been known to be voluble; now I think the guy just needs therapy--from a therapist, not from talking into cameras.

A writer for the Kansas City Star has similar thoughts: ]

http://voices.kansascity.com/node/4990

Also, Keith Olbermann [MSNBC], among others relentlessly attacks Sanford, when not too long ago, Olbermann was most incensed that people (and Congress) were making so much of President Clinton's stupid behavior in the White House. Jonathan Alter gently pointed this out on Olbermann's show the other evening, but Olbermann didn't seem to absorb the information. He's becoming as insufferable and predictable as the man he pretends to loathe, Bill O'Reilly.

Moreover, given all the real and really important crises and issues there are out there, why spend time reporting on the personal misfortunes of Mark Sanford and his family? I know the answer: ratings. Nonetheless, knock it off. Of course Sanford seems completely hypocritical, having once attacked Clinton, but so what? What exactly is the percentage of humans who aren't hypocritical at some point?

As for McDonalds (photo of the original above), I simply want to say a word in favor of its "dollar" menu. If I were out of work (there but for the grace, etc.), I think I'd make use of that menu. Yes, I know such a menu functions as a "loss-leader," which gets people in the "store." No, I don't think the dollar-menu compensates for the problems McDonalds creates, as cited in Fast Food Nation and elsewhere. Nonetheless, a cheap hot meal in a pinch is a good thing for a lot of people.

There. My counterintuitive post concludes.