Saturday, July 16, 2022

Several Short Videos of the Sea from my iPhone

Back in the landlocked capital of Texas in Austin at the height of summer, I'm missing the ocean. Scanning through several videos of the sea taken recently from my phone. 

New York Harbor from the Staten Island Ferry with accompanying coastguard gunboat.

A Staten Island Beach in the wintertime.

In Dublin, Ireland looking out at the Irish Sea from atop the Martello Tower Joyce museum in Sandycove.

The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, western coast of Ireland.

The Burren in County Clare, western coast of Ireland.

View from Vico and Sorrento, Dalkey, county Dublin, Ireland.

The Giant's Causeway and the rough Atlantic Ocean in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.


The pristine sparkling blue Mediterranean outside of Marseille in Côte d'Azur, France. 

Me swimming in the Mediterranean at a beach in Cannes, Côte d'Azur, France. 

Off the coast of Massachusetts, Vineyard Ferry cruising along Atlantic Ocean.

The boat ride from Dalkey Island, Ireland.

"There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with nothing ruffled but the waves. The tranced ship indolently rolls; the drowsy trade winds blow; everything resolves you into languor" (Melville, Moby-Dick, p. 160)

"the blending cadence of waves with thoughts"  (Moby-Dick, p. 163)

"Melville thought the names of all fine authors were fictitious because they stood for the ubiquitous and magic spirit of all Beauty. Keats asked to have HERE LIES ONE WHOSE NAME WAS WRIT IN WATER carved on his gravestone." 
    (Susan Howe, The Quarry, p. 192)

"The beginning of man was salt sea, and the perpetual reverberation of that great ancient fact, constantly renewed in the unfolding of life in every human individual, is the important single fact about Melville. Pelagic." 

[Pelagic (adj.): relating to or living in open sea]
    (from Charles Olson, Call Me Ishmael, quoted in Susan Howe, The Quarry, p. 192) 

"Looking at the waves scudding outwards and getting lost on the horizon, [Heisenberg] could not help but recall the words of his mentor, the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who had once told him that a part of eternity lies in reach of those capable of staring, unblinking, at the sea's deranging expanses." 
(Benjamin Labatut, When We Cease to Understand the World, p. 96)

Saturday, July 2, 2022

ReBuilding and Re: Recent Roamings

"The Hut"
by Fanny Howe

Up the hill is a hut made of sound
where two windows rhyme
and the tiles stay on
because they are nailed to a dream.
The dreamer wonders: Can this be mine?

The floor is solid and straight
and is amber from sap.
The walls don't leak or let out heat
from gray embers in the grate.

This is the original home
at the heart of brutalist design.
No storm can slam its shape apart.
No thief can carry it off.
It dwells in ashen buildings where the present sleeps.

*   *   *

This blog has been dormant for a while. I'm going to try to bring some life back to it. In my last post here, more than six months ago, I talked about having gone on a self-driven path of deconstructing my life and embarking out into the unknown for a while. For seven months I lived a nomadic existence, traveling around many countries and cities, staying as a guest in various friends' houses, hotels, Airbnbs, and an extended stay with family in Staten Island and Brooklyn. The trip sprung from, among other things, a yearning to plunge into the unfamiliar, test my luck, and experience the world after so many months in lockdown during the pandemic. In the aftermath of that extended nomadic period, I tallied up these numbers: in the lockdown year 2020 I slept in three different beds all year (the bed at my house and a couple places I stayed at during a roadtrip to Colorado) whereas in the last calendar year now I slept in more than 40 different beds in at least fifteen different cities in six countries.

While bouncing across so many places and living out of a suitcase for so long, I got into thinking about the feeling of and the meaning of home. Found myself thinking often about Gaston Bachelard's book, The Poetics of Space. Bachelard wrote, "A house constitutes a body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability." (p. 38) Some houses grant illusions or proofs of stability better than others. I stayed in a few dumps and at least one badly insulated space during a couple weeks of frigid temps. I stayed in a sprawling mansion in Ireland where I didn't feel comfortable because of an unwelcoming host, I also stayed in a repurposed 19th-century military barracks in Ireland, a Martello Tower made of stone that felt extremely comfortable because of the generosity of the hosts. I stayed in a garage attic apartment in Texas where time stood still and I stayed in a barn in Texas where the metal-roof resonated from a heavy hail storm. The constant moving from one place to the next felt like a recapitulation of earlier departures from shells in my life---leaving my parents' house at age 21 to move to the other side of the country, years later leaving southern California to come to Austin where I'd never been before but have now resided for 11 years. Each time felt like a crab leaving its shell to seek out a better one (my sun sign is Cancer the crab). 

"The atmosphere is nailed together.

Limb marking threshold.

Each element struggles to 
make threat subservient
to shelter."

- from "Doorway" by Elizabeth Robinson

"I dreamed of a nest in which the trees repulsed death" 
- from Bachelard, Poetics of Space (p. 123)

During the height of winter I was living back at my parents' house in Staten Island by myself (they'd gone to Florida to escape the cold). With the recent memories of so many different homes and rooms in various places, I was centered back there at the home where I grew up and had first conceived of the concept of home. Bachelard in The Poetics of Space says, "In short, the house we were born in has engraved within us the hierarchy of the various functions of inhabiting." (p. 36) As much as I despise being in Staten Island, my old house still feels like home. The city is so crowded, the people are so angry, it seemed every time I went out someplace I had a hostile altercation with somebody, but the old house still feels like home and it feeds some inner craving for peace of mind when I'm there. 

Here's Bachelard again:
"The house we were born in is more than an embodiment of home, it is also an embodiment of dreams. Each one of its nooks and corners was a resting-place for daydreaming. And often the resting-place particularized the daydream. Our habits of a particular daydream were acquired there." (p. 37)

I've always been a homebody and my personal growth has involved breaking out of those habits to go far out into the unknown and find my way, find how I can build a new center of peace in the unfamiliar. As a kid I must have spent lots of time in the nooks and corners of my house daydreaming, but I could never have imagined the adventures that would ensue. Roadtrips spanning the width of the North American continent, piloting boats along the waters of the Mediterranean in the South of France, expeditions along the rocky coastline of Ireland, bike rides speeding through the alleyways of Barcelona, panoramic views from the hills of Lisbon, late nights partying in the village squares of Antwerp, connecting with the sky gods while perched atop the Pyramid of the Sun looking down the Avenue of the Dead in Teotihuacán far out in the desert outside Mexico City. 

When I was a kid I loathed having to go on family trips out to New Jersey to visit my grandma because the open spaces and relatively rural vibes of Jersey made me uneasy. I needed NYC's clusterfuck of intersections and delis and pizzerias on every block. That's what made me comfortable. Now I once again live in the middle of Texas where the city center is equidistant to me as farmlands with cows, my neighbor's yard has a friendly goat, and too much time spent in the crowded and cranky NYC boroughs drives me nuts. 

Rebecca Solnit in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost writes: "Some people inherit values and practices as a house they inhabit; some of us have to burn down that house, find our own ground, build from scratch, even as a psychological metamorphosis." (p. 80) This was the process I went through as a young adult. And again years later, after I'd established a home over several years living in Austin which no longer felt satisfying, I underwent the same process again. Burned it all down to start over from scratch. Ashes make great fertilizer. The past year has been full of big changes and very little stability, it has not been easy but it has definitely been enriching. Again quoting Solnit, "he ceased to be lost not by returning but by turning into something else." (p. 71)

Spending such extended time staying within the hospitality industry (hotels and Airbnbs etc) you start to gain a deeper appreciation for little things that make a place feel like home and how a place becomes a home over time. Living transiently also affords one a chance to cut things down to basics, carrying around only what you need. Most of my belongings including my entire library, all my art, my hockey equipment and baseball gear and most of my clothes were locked up in storage the whole time. I had a consolidated wardrobe, compact but versatile enough for different climates. I mainly carried around only the books with the highest ratio of insight and lexical originality-per-page, which I had decided are these two: Finnegans Wake by James Joyce and the epic poem ARK by Ronald Johnson. Those came with me everywhere. 

During my time in Europe I also read two nonfiction books by Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, The End of Civilization on the immediate developments that led to WW2 and also his most recent book Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act, about the secret history of US military involvement with biological and chemical warfare. Both were timely and highly informative reads, and Baker's prose style is so easily digestible. The newer book Baseless felt like a sequel to Human Smoke, though at least with Baseless Baker regularly breaks up the revelations of dark and deeply upsetting information with simple and grounding stories about his dogs and domestic life. On the other hand, the cold facts and details of mass killings of Jews by the Nazis in Human Smoke seared my brain to a degree that I am forever horrified by it. I had to hide Human Smoke when I wasn't reading it because just looking at that book put a bad feeling in my gut.

This material was fresh in my mind as I rode around on trains and planes across Europe, looking at the scenery and thinking about the purpose of life, how flimsy and fragile it seems, how long the land outlasts us, how we should soak it all in and enjoy life while we can. Ultimately I thought of how sick and fucked up so much of mankind has always been with twisted ideology and racist hate. The same struggles for power, wars against tyrants, recur in cycles over centuries. How the endurance of hope persists despite it all. How we are all just looking for a place to call home, a shell within which we can grow and feel at peace. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Sacrifice

"Had to sacrifice all to earn favor" 
            - Ka, "Eye of a Needle"

One night back in March of this year, I was struck by a vision about sacrifice. I was laying in a hammock in my backyard, looking up at the stars. Soaking in the pleasures and privileges of my existence, appreciating my comforts yet realizing that I was not at all satisfied with my life, I was aching for something new. 

At that point, I had accumulated everything I could have ever wanted in life---I owned a house on a nice big piece of property, with a canopy provided by a dozen oak trees, the property peppered with colorful flowers and paddle cactus plants, succulents, and a big vegetable garden. The property was surrounded by a tall privacy fence, the backyard was renovated, spacious, peaceful, comfortable. Inside the house I had a library full of books, walls covered with art, comfy couches to sit and read on, a fireplace to sit next to with my dog, and a desk to do my writing. I had a big, playful puppy, a pittie-German shepherd mix who always kept me feeling safe, whose energy always brought me joy. And I had a woman who I'd been with for many years, been to hell and back with, she a professional and accomplished nutritionist who also maintained our big vegetable garden and did much of the work to make our house feel homey and nice. I had all of that and yet I felt completely unsatisfied with this life, felt myself becoming obsessed with a new craving for adventure and exploring the unknown. I was feeling like the creative energies in my life had become dulled and dormant. Felt like my life and whatever youth I had left, was slipping away day by day. I'd been depressed for a while after three of my friends passed away unexpectedly during the pandemic lockdown. Then that night in March, I started thinking about Tarkovsky's 1986 movie The Sacrifice

I had seen The Sacrifice a couple years prior when a friend, who's a devoted scholar of Tarkovsky, brought me to a screening at the Austin Film Society. I remember being totally awed by the film's visionary qualities, impacted by the scenes of the house rattling from warplanes overhead, the scenes of stillness and nature and especially the famous scene of the burning house. But after seeing the film I didn't have much of any appreciation for what it meant, what it was conveying. That is, until that night back in March when I was overwhelmed with thoughts about the meaning and importance of sacrifice. I started replaying scenes from the film in my head and I read synopses online and I realized that the main character was stricken by a feeling that the world was out of joint, that he needed to sacrifice everything he loved in order to restore peace. I started dwelling on the meaning of sacrifice---as in, a sacrifice to God or to the gods or to the universe, in order to earn favor and fortune and restore creative energies. To bring balance to the universe. The more I dwelled on it, the more it made literal sense to me. The notion of sacrificing what you love, renouncing possessions, giving up what makes you feel secure and comfortable in order to, in some symbolic way, feed the creative fires of the universe---this mythical, primitive idea suddenly made sense to me on a deeply personal level. The meaning of sacrifice felt real. 

That night I realized the only way I could fix my aching depression and dissatisfaction with life was to dismantle and demolish the life I had built, to sacrifice it all and plunge into the unknown with the faith that things would all work out for the better, that the creative energies of my universe would be restored by my sacrifice and guide me to a new, more fulfilling life. This was a terrifying realization because it meant I would need to give up everything that made me feel secure and comfortable. I would have to endure the suffering of separation from what I had become attached to, which was a feeling of security. For ten years I'd been living in tiny apartments until finally I'd been able to buy a nice big house, then over several years we invested so much work and energy into the house to make it comfortable. Then we added the big puppy dog into the mix and the house became his home too. And now I had reached the realization with certainty that I needed to give all that up to go seek happiness in the unknown. I knew then that to restore balance in my life I needed to sacrifice everything that made me feel secure to instead go off alone, in Joyce's phrase "wandering among the snares of the world." I had to destroy the life I had built so I could eventually rebuild my life in a better way. 

*   *   *

"As soon as I emerged from a self-made prison
My own ambitions made way for the decision of a lifetime, of a lifetime
It ain't sit right with me that I might die
No, I can't go, I got work to do
The never-ending life cycle, how a circle do
This is personal
This is personal"
              - Navy Blue, "Light"

During the peak of the pandemic lockdown, some of my friends died unexpectedly. I wrote about this earlier this year. Adding to the pain of those sudden losses was being unable to process their deaths properly with any sort of wake or gathering to memorialize them. The shock of those deaths made an impact on me that eventually changed my life. I found it especially difficult to process the death of my old friend and coworker Scott who was the same age as me and had been in good health, only to be found dead in his apartment one night in late October 2020. After that I began to develop a craving to get out and see the world, to go try and fulfill my dreams and dream big, to no longer defer any of my ambitions into the future but to try and live life now since it had become abundantly clear to me that I could die at any moment. Scott was a deep philosophical thinker, a passionate mind with a love for literature. We often talked about life and death, he loved getting into heavy discussions. Feeling a bit of guilt over his sudden death, I also developed an ambition to live big and embark on exciting adventures in his honor. He (along with many other friends of mine) had insisted for years that I go visit Ireland because of my love of James Joyce's art and because Scott had been there once before and felt it was a special place. So, when I was at the beginning of my recent overseas adventure and found myself getting drunk on whiskey while hanging inside a stone tower built in 1804 on the coast of Dublin, I was toasting to Scott and communing with his spirit. 

A recent NYRB article about Dostoyevsky discusses how the Russian novelist was sentenced to a Siberian prison camp as a political prisoner and while he was there, was the victim of a "mock execution." He and the other prisoners were condemned to death, given their last rites, taken outside to face a firing squad, and at the very last possible moment the execution was called off. Some of his fellow prisoners went insane in reaction to this and never recovered while Dostoyevsky went on to compose some of the most profound novels ever written. One of his biographers posits that the experience of the mock execution left Dostoyevsky "with a completely different view of time and ethics, which Frank calls 'eschatological [apocalyptic] apprehension.' Dostoevsky concluded, he says, that 'every instant takes on a supreme value,' and 'each moment of the present is when a decisive choice has to be made.'" Although I did not experience anything nearly as harrowing as Dostoyevsky, the death of some people close to me left me with a similar feeling about the importance of each instant. I became increasingly uneasy about wasting time. I felt whatever youth I had left was being wasted in the exceedingly comfortable yet quiet existence I was living at my nice house with my ex-girlfriend and my dog. I was consumed by an urgent need to get out and experience the world. 

So I made the decision to give up everything I had, to downsize my existence, donate or sell off most of my things and place all my books into storage, pack up a couple suitcases and go off into the world. Originally I planned to drive around the United States visiting everyone I know in different states, but once I was out of the house and away from my dog I found it too painful to be anywhere near my old place, so I decided to go faraway and flew overseas to Ireland. There I was blessed to meet a Brazilian girl, a lawyer and a deep, passionate thinker who I connected with on a level that made it seem like she'd known me for a long time. Eventually she brought me to meet some of her extended family in the South of France and it became one of the most incredible adventures of my life. When I was dismantling my previous existence, moving out of the house and putting all my stuff into storage, I felt a strong sense all of that, even though it was painful and difficult, was just a preparation for a future more exciting than anything I'd previously conceived of. Months later, when I was zooming around the Mediterranean Sea in a boat with Brazilians, diving off the boat into pristine waters off the coast of a small town near Marseilles, floating in the sea, drinking lots of champagne, staying in a penthouse in Cannes, visiting the Picasso Museum in a 14th century castle in Antibes, driving through the mountains of southern France, drinking the best wine in the world and eating like a king at a restaurant in a small French town on some Anthony Bourdain shit, I knew then that my earlier visions and realizations about sacrifice were meaningful and important. I knew that my premonitions about taking a daring leap into the unknown had manifested, my determination had paid off. My new future was being constructed and it was indeed more incredible than anything I'd ever imagined. 

While the process has already been rewarding, none of this has been easy. I'm having to figure things out week to week. As I write this, my latest European adventure has recently concluded, I went to six countries in a span of eight weeks and had enough amazing experiences to write about and talk about for the rest of my life. But now I'm back in Staten Island, NY, staying at the house I grew up in, sleeping in the same bedroom I was in since I was an infant. Maybe in some way I'm connecting with my inner child and healing some old wounds. Above all I'm trying to recompose myself and plot a new future while continuing to heal from past loss. I know the pandemic era has been difficult for many people and that my deconstructing of my life to build something new is part of a larger pattern in which many people are quitting their jobs or getting divorced and going off into something new. For anyone who's suffering, I hope you can feel inspired to hold on and to be brave and to grasp at your dreams. 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Baseball in the Works of the Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021)

The American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti passed away in March 2021 just a few weeks shy of reaching his 102nd birthday. Last year I wrote about Ferlinghetti in a few places: the James Joyce Quarterly published my review of Ferlinghetti's final book, I also wrote about Ferlinghetti and Joyce at my other blog, then I wrote more about Ferlinghetti and his incredible final book on this blog.

April is both National Poetry Month and the opening month of the baseball season, so as April comes to a close I'm going to pay tribute to the late poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti by looking at how he wrote about baseball in his works. Ferlinghetti grew up in Yonkers, New York (located right above Manhattan Island) and after spanning the globe on manifold adventures he settled in San Francisco right around the time the Giants baseball team moved their home base from the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan out to the Bay Area of San Francisco. Reading through Ferlinghetti's books, one gets the impression that baseball was a ubiquitous aspect of his life. His writings on baseball also tend to intersect with his political diatribes, proving once again that you cannot separate baseball from politics in America.

Ferlinghetti's "Baseball Canto" (1972) is the most well-known of his writings on baseball. You can listen to him reciting the poem in the video below. American history and its manifestations in present day contexts often figures into the works of Ferlinghetti. His perspective was that of a fiercely dissident poet yet he was also a WW2 vet who commanded a ship at D-Day in 1944 and later turned into a staunch pacifist following his visit to Nagasaki in late 1945. His "Baseball Canto" foregrounds what truly makes America great, its diversity and inclusiveness, but for Ferlinghetti the gameplay on the field finds metaphorical resonance with the struggles of marginalized people for empowerment and freedom within what he calls "the Anglo-Saxon tradition." Themes of racism, colonialism, and exploitative capitalism are observable in the poem. The umpires become Irish cops overseeing the action. He envisions Willie Mays as "a footrunner from Thebes." Tito Fuentes becomes a bullfighter being cheered by the Latinos in the stands. Sort of ironically, the poet is reading Ezra Pound's Cantos while sitting in the stands. Ferlinghetti's "Baseball Canto" opens this way:

Watching baseball, sitting in the sun, eating popcorn,
reading Ezra Pound,
and wishing that Juan Marichal would hit a hole right through the
Anglo-Saxon tradition in the first Canto
and demolish the barbarian invaders.

Ferlinghetti once published a bizarre little book called Tyrannus Nix? (New Directions, 1969) where the text is presented in the poet's own handwriting with minimal punctuation. A satirical work, Tyrannus Nix? deploys baseball metaphors to mock and satirize then-president Richard M. Nixon. "Nixon Nixon I'm singing you this baseball Diamond Sutra from way out here in New Left Field in the International League." Nixon was from Whittier, California and Ferlinghetti writes:

This is one national sport we hope is on the way out The Whittier White Sox we hope are all washed up It's time for a new umpire and a new Hall of Fame Throw out a new ball and a new uniform and a new flag too while you're at it and make the flag green this time instead of bloody red and black-and-blue (p. 7-8)

Later in Tyrannus Nix? Ferlinghetti observes, "things are really tightening up out here And there's no relief in sight for you or us although it occurs to me that we are your relief if you'd only admit it." (p. 12) He determines Nixon to be a pitcher wearing a mask and throwing with a deceptive delivery: "But I never saw a pitcher with a mask before What've you got under it That's what I've been trying to fathom ever since they brought you up from the minors Did you learn that windup with the Whittier Quakers It's the most deceptive ever seen in a World Series a windup that gives away nothing and telegraphs nothing so that nobody still knows what's coming We hope not a fast change-up One wild pitch and you've blown it Your windup is so weird." (p. 13-14)

I would not consider Tyrannus Nix? among Ferlinghetti's best books, it feels dated and many of the jokes fall flat, but as a time capsule and example of the prominence of baseball in Ferlinghetti's work it's kinda cool. It's also an especially polemical display of Ferlinghetti's attitude about the poet's role in society, from the same guy who went on to publish the handbook Poetry as Insurgent Art (2007). Ferlinghetti also wrote a two-part epic poem on the history of America, the second part of which is surely one of his best books. In that book, called Time of Useful Consciousness (Americus, Book II) (New Directions, 2012), he quotes this line from the poet Philip Lamantia: "Baseballs lost among the Pleiades (quoth Lamantia)." (p. 7) Ferlinghetti made no bones about taking lines from other poets, many of his writings are loaded with literary allusions and borrowed phrases, he liked to celebrate that TS Eliot or Pound tradition of poetry, "summarizing the past by theft and allusion" he called it. Some of his books have helpful notes in the back with sources for these allusions. His last book, Little Boy: A Novel (2019), is filled with literary references but does not have any footnotes. I'm hoping there will eventually be an annotated edition of the book, but some lines are identifiable via Google, especially when he provided them in quotes. One that sticks out to me is this sequence from the poem "Truth" by John Masefield which he immediately follows with a baseball reference:

"Man with his burning soul has but an hour of breath to build a ship of Truth in which his soul may sail---sail on the sea of death for death takes toll of beauty, courage, youth, of all but Truth" and it's three strikes and you're out at the Old Ball Game 

(Little Boy, p. 122)

Little Boy: A Novel contains numerous baseball references, everything seems to return back to baseball. It was his final book and seemingly all the major themes of his previous works are gathered in Little Boy, a densely-packed word-hoard that goes into American history, his own life story, with lyrical escapes into mystical contemplation of the cosmos and the precariousness of life in our present existence on Earth. The latter half of the book often reads like Ferlinghetti's mind swings on a pendulum between despair over the dark state of affairs and ecstasies of blissful poetry about life. Somehow these oscillations often seem to involve baseball. For example, on p. 150 he wonders: 

And so why am I watching baseball to escape the pain or ecstasy of existence and the Reds are beating the Yankees and should I be happy It's all relative and life depends on the simplest things to yield a crop of happiness as if it were something you could harvest (p. 150)

Despair and happiness waver back and forth. One beautiful sequence on pgs 154-155 revels in "the jet streams of light in the upper air of the spirit of man in the outer space inside us Endless rubaiyats and endless beatitudes endless shangri-las endless nirvanas sutras and mantras satoris and sensaras Bodhiramas and Boddhisatvas karmas and karmapas! Endless singing Shivas dancing on the smoking wombs of ecstasy!" and so on and on until just a few lines later his perspective again shifts. It seems like he remembers who the president was at that moment (the same president who was booed at the World Series) and suddenly he's back to thinking about baseball:

and the Man without Shoulders who can't lift his weight in butterflies is now in charge of the world And is there any reason to watch the World Series on TV while this is going on as if the fate of the world were on the Men with Shoulders out there on the Field of Dreams as if a bases-loaded home run could change the fate of the spinning world spinning with a curveball or one-hundred-mile-an-hour fastball to wipe out our enemies and save the world from whatever Yeah play the 'Star-Spangled Banner" and sing about "bombs bursting in air" to show "our flag was still there" 
(p. 155-156)

Later towards the end of Little Boy, there's a dream sequence presented in italics where the poet drifts off into the depths of memory in search of his earliest moments of consciousness, seeking the roots of his existence, the exact place where he was born. The book is partly about Ferlinghetti's difficult childhood, he basically grew up as an orphan who bounced around different homes and never truly had a family. In this dream sequence he's simultaneously dreaming of going to and recalling when he physically went back to find the house where he was born, the address on his birth certificate, a house located just north of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. The tiny details recalled of life in that house at that time then summon up more vivid memories:

All at once, an incredible overflowing feeling of happiness surges up from nowhere. Born here!. . . some three hundred yards north of the northwest corner of Van Cortlandt Park. It must have been all country back then. The kids must have played ball in this green park with its worn diamond and its ancient rusted screen behind the batter's box. I can hear the bat hit the ball (perhaps pitched by Pop). And my brother running for first base ended up in Baltimore forty years later . . . Shouts and laughter tears and whispers fill the air. (p. 174)

Little Boy: A Novel is so many things at once, a perfect culmination for Ferlinghetti's prolific career as a poet. It's really more of an epic poem in prose than a novel, plus it's sort of an autobiography. In a flourish of wordplay on page 119, Ferlinghetti describes his project this way: "I unlock my word-hoard of ruminations meditations exhortations celebrations condemnations excitations lamentations liberations and ecstasies plotless as a life." The one precursor to the style of Little Boy (2019) was the novel Ferlinghetti published almost sixty years prior called Her (1960), a plotless word-stream of prose wherein the reader swims from one dream vision to the next, following Ferlinghetti in search of his soul or his muse or his anima. Just as in Little Boy, the visions of the poet veer into baseball themes:

Perhaps I was merely a dumb member of the audience strayed onto the stage by mistake, looking for some printed program he had dropped under a seat. I had somewhere dropped the key that explained the action, and one could not tell the players without a program, for the faces interchanged, fused together. There they moved on their dark illuminated field, playing their curious night-game, bounding after stray balls, winding their pitches on grassless mounds, or squatting behind a batter in their tools of ignorance. I was a world's catcher, I crouched there, wearing my tools, a fat receiver. I received signals, sent out signals to others, squatting with a signal fingers hanging down between my legs, crooking a penis finger now and then, calling someone in. They all moved too far out, other figures ran, white celluloid shadows, as in a strip of film held up to a light, and the film running away with them. I could not catch them, and they ran off through the streets of the world, until only one figure was left, a white clay figure I had started with, who might have been myself. It was not. It was a her. (Her, p. 10-11)

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The Hypnotic Mountainscapes of Nicholas Roerich

He Who Hastens (1924) Nicholas Roerich


Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) was a Russian symbolist painter, and a writer, archeologist, philosopher, spiritualist who was born in Saint Petersburg. He developed a deep interest in hypnosis and other spiritual practices and his paintings are known to sometimes induce a hypnotic effect. This past year, when needing to center my focus and un-distract myself, I've spent a lot of time staring at some of Roerich's landscape paintings. He definitely had a knack for capturing the essence of being up in the ethereal realms of high altitude mountains. Last September, we took a road-trip from Austin, TX up to Breckenridge, Colorado and stayed in a cabin situated way high up in the peaks. I'd been to Colorado before but never spent so much time at such high altitude (nearly 10,000 ft). There's a distinct vibe up there and every moment of the daytime it seems there's a unique shade and texture of light reflecting off the mountains that surround you. Staring at Roerich's paintings takes me back there to that quiet sense of tranquility and the mindfulness summoned by staring at the light hitting the mountainside.

At one point in his life, Nicholas Roerich was convinced he was receiving psychic messages from beings living in the Himalayas. So he gathered a crew and set out on multiple harrowing excursions into the Himalayan mountains, where he presumably did a lot of painting while also seeking out the Tibetan Buddhist monks. Read more about Roerich at his Wikipedia page. He's got a really interesting backstory, but besides that I've been enjoying spending time staring at his incredible mountainscapes. There's definitely a meditative effect about them. See more of Roerich's paintings here.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Hunt (1937)

Way to Tibet (1925)

Sword of the Gesar (1932)

Rocks of Ladakh (1933)

Lake of the Nagas (1932)

Message from Shambhala (1931)

She Who Leads (1943)

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Baseball 2021 Predictions

The whole world changed in 2020, and baseball changed more than it has in more than a century. 2020 was the shortest MLB season ever, the shortest season of major league baseball in America since the 1800s. Watching the short 60-game season last year, I felt grateful just to have any baseball on TV and the playoff rounds were often thrilling to watch, but it's hard to take the results of the 60-game regular season all that seriously. Now as the schedule goes back to 162 games in 2021, the big question across baseball is how much the load of this innings increase will wear down pitchers. MLB has implemented some new rules, some of which are unfortunate like adding a runner on second base in extra innings and 7-inning double-headers but at least these changes might actually mitigate the innings load on pitchers and lead to fewer injuries. I'll be watching the games regardless, but baseball needs to figure out how to tweak some aspects of its gameplay to make the basic flow of things slightly less boring without further disturbing the sport's core equilibriums. Most agree the problems boil down to one thing: the ball needs to be put into play more, give fielders more chances. That's always the most potently contingent instant of a game when a ball is hit into play and there's a mad scramble around the bases while fielders rush to react. 

Going from a 60-game season to a 162-game season for the first time ever ensures 2021 baseball will be full of surprises. Then you factor in the expected changes made to the baseball in attempt to make it less bouncy and the league potentially cracking down on Trevor Bauer types who covertly use substances to increase spin rate on pitches, plus the impact that could come from the new rule changes. There's so much we don't know about what's gonna happen in major league baseball this year. On the other hand, there are some things we can be sure of---the Dodgers will be really good, the Yankees will be really good, the Pirates will suck, the Orioles will suck. The league has become noticeably stratified with very obvious bottom-feeders, an upperclass of likely power-houses and a group of higher variance teams in the middle. But injuries and your typical baseball weirdness can throw everything askew, this is why we watch. I'll be rooting for the weird and unexpected stuff to happen because that makes it watchable, but some results to consider for six months from now do seem predictable. 

In this post I will share the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projection for each team and pick an over/under for each. (Note that the PECOTA projections include decimals in the win numbers, but I'm rounding those up.) More than ever I think nobody has any idea how this MLB season will turn out because of variance and all the new contributing factors but baseball fans always enjoy making their picks before the long season and the same goes for me, so here are my picks for how each division will stack up with my thoughts about the chances for each team in 2021. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Three Interviews with Master Craftsmen on the Art of Hip Hop

Producer Madlib recently appeared on BBC Radio 6 for a lengthy convo with Gilles Peterson, talking about his friendship with MF DOOM, his latest album Sound Ancestors, his crate-digging exploits, his love of Sun Ra and spiritual jazz music, and Madlib even played a bunch of records on the show. 

Producer/emcee Bronze Nazareth appeared on the podcast From the Desk of Lo for an in-depth interview detailing his whole background as a musician, how he linked up with the Wu-Tang Clan, stories of staying with RZA while working on Birth of a Prince, how he heard tons of unreleased Wu material from the early-2000s, growing up with his longtime friend Apollo Brown, and plenty of other interesting stuff here that I have never heard him discuss with this level of detail. They even get into the million-dollar Wu album which Bronze had some music on. Interviewer does a great job asking informed questions. (At the end of the interview Bronze mentions a book project I have been working on with him. It's progressing toward final stages now and I'm excited to get it out to the world soon.)

SkillastratorLO aka Sunez interviewed underground emcee Rome Streetz on the Power Write Show podcast. Sunez is perhaps the most in-depth, insightful, and knowledgeable journalist writing about hip hop these days and his interviews with artists are always intriguing. In this talk they get into a level of detail on the writing of rap lyrics that you rarely hear in artist interviews. I especially dug the discussion of writing in a "concentrated" style, embedding so much meaning and interconnectedness in rhymes that it takes the listener several listens to catch on. They talk about the new album Rome Streetz made with DJ Muggs, the intricacies of Rome's writing process, what it's like to work with a legend like DJ Muggs, how Rome's music fits into and outside of the underground rap genre, how his approach differs from other rap artists, etc. Real informative discussion here.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Album Reviews: Pandemic Era Rap Elixirs Curated

"Ghost Hammurabi" is a new track from Killah Priest, it also feels like the latest installment of the style heard throughout Priest's 2020 project Rocket to Nebula, with a drum-less beat and mesmerizing, evolving tempos overridden by rapid-fire lyricism evoking epic, cosmic scales. It's a track that might take some getting used to, or it might speak to you instantly. For me it was the latter. So it seems like a good way to start off this assemblage of reflections on my favorite rap albums from the past year. 

These are short reviews of some favorite albums from this pandemic era, last year and into 2021. Not exactly trying to provide objective criticism or a ranking of best albums, just giving my opinion on the albums that brought me excitement, enjoyment, or inspiration during the pandemic year. Not listed in any particular order, this is a curated list of rap elixirs I've been soaking in with thoughts on the merits of each. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Life and Death During the Pandemic Era

The last several years I've written annual recap blog posts sharing things from the past year that inspired me (places I traveled, books I read, pieces I wrote, music I loved, etc), but up until now I couldn't bring myself to do so about this past year because, well, fuck 2020. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Notes on Delmore Schwartz (Part 1)

The young Delmore Schwartz, probably sometime in the late 1930s. 

A couple years ago I became interested in the American poet Delmore Schwartz (December 8, 1913 - July 11, 1966) when I learned that two of his greatest passions in life were Finnegans Wake and major league baseball which struck me since those are probably my two favorite things in the universe. At the time I was working on my big compendium of notable figures who loved Finnegans Wake. The Brooklyn-born poet Delmore Schwartz was a Wake-head as devoted as anyone on that list---he was known to always keep a battered, heavily annotated copy of Finnegans Wake with him and he'd often pull it out and recite pages. His copies of the book would fall apart from overuse, he went through several. Peter Chrisp wrote a wonderful blog post going into detail about Delmore Schwartz's surviving copy of Finnegans Wake which is archived online by the Beinecke Library at Yale. There I discovered this historical nugget which blew my mind---biographer James Atlas notes that Delmore Schwartz would annotate his copy of Finnegans Wake while sitting in the stands at the Polo Grounds watching his beloved New York Giants play baseball.

    That one anecdote really captivates me. Envisioning Delmore Schwartz, the self-proclaimed poet laureate of the Atlantic, sitting in the Polo Grounds, that legendary old ballpark in upper Manhattan, watching the Giants of the 1940s and 50s while jotting notes in his tattered copy of Finnegans Wake, conjuring that image brings me immense joy. It's a potent conjunction of really interesting and important things in my universe. Part of why I am writing this series of posts about Delmore Schwartz is as a way to process why this is so meaningful to me. 

    Delmore Schwartz is most well-known for his short story "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" which was published in 1937 when he was 24 years old. Vladimir Nabokov considered it among his half dozen favorite stories. The story first appeared in the Partisan Review and then was published as part of a collection of Delmore's work (entitled In Dreams Begin Responsibilities) that included poems, short stories, and a verse drama. That first book made him famous at a young age and while he never quite matched those heights again, he had a productive career as a poet, short story writer, literary critic, film critic, poetry editor, and literature professor. In 1959 he became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Bollingen Prize for Poetry for his collection of poems Summer Knowledge (which included poems from his entire career, thus the award was a sort of lifetime achievement recognition). 

    While I had some fascination with Delmore and his work, it wasn't until I read his biography Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet by James Atlas that I got really drawn in. I found his story to be very inspiring, fascinating, and sad. I was really moved by that book. He had a shitty childhood, at a young age he was often dragged into the middle of ugly quarrels between his parents. His father was having affairs and then ditched the family and died young. Delmore (and you'll notice it's the habit of anyone who writes about him to refer to him by his first name) was brought up by his mother who had her own set of issues. Once you learn these stories from his life then his writing takes on new significance because so much of what he wrote was autobiographical. The story "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" is all about a dream where the main character watches a film of his parents' courtship in Coney Island and hollers at the screen trying to stop it. "New Year's Eve" was another story I enjoyed and it helps to know that the partygoers described were all real people in the Partisan Review crowd of NY intellectuals in the 1940s.  Another example, the verse drama "Shenandoah" is about a bris where a child was to be given the bizarre name Shenandoah and the child's uncle tries to intervene to protect the kid from a lifetime of abuse for his ridiculous name. Delmore wrote with a great sense of humor and this story plays out a little bit like the bris in Seinfeld---but it's based on his own life and the shock of family members when his mother bestowed on him the unusual name Delmore, which his uncle really did try to prevent. 

    Reading in the Atlas biography about how the older Delmore eventually descended into paranoid psychosis, lashed out at his friends, ended up in a straitjacket in Bellevue, and eventually suffered an untimely death in 1966 at age 52 alone in a seedy Times Square hotel, it was depressing and sad not least because it brought to mind a writer friend of mine who just recently died at a young age after lashing out at friends and spiraling downward. One thing that really struck me was how, even during the worst periods of his manic psychosis and alcoholism, Delmore still managed to hold down a job as a professor, was still surrounded by adoring young women competing for his affections, and he still made an enormous impact on those who met him. His friend Saul Bellow went on to write Humboldt's Gift in 1975 (which won him the Nobel Prize for literature) which was all about how much his beloved buddy Delmore had inspired him. Lou Reed, who studied under Delmore Schwartz at Syracuse University in the early 1960s, knew the man during his crazy years yet was so deeply inspired by him that he wrote a poem "O Delmore how I miss you" and wrote a song about Delmore's ghost visiting him on his 1981 album Blue Mask.

    Since finishing the James Atlas biography I have been reading all of Delmore's published writings, plus his letters, journals, and the aforementioned fictionalized account by Saul Bellow, Humboldt's Gift. Again, this research has all taken place in the aftermath of me losing a friend who died in late October. That friend of mine actually published several novels, and as I've been reading about and contemplating Delmore Schwartz I've been dwelling on the fact that, even though we can read things written by the dead and hear recollections from their friends, there's no way to really experience what that person was truly like to be around. So while I'm grateful that there's so much extant material I can dig through to learn more about Delmore Schwartz, what will always be lacking is the ability to hear the man in conversation, his specialty, the forum in which he was always such a huge inspiration to everyone who encountered him. 

To illustrate my point, here is how Saul Bellow described his old friend in Humboldt's Gift:

Orpheus, the son of Greenhorn, turned up in Greenwich Village with his ballads. He loved literature and intellectual conversation and argument, loved the history of thought. A big gentle handsome boy he put together his own combination of symbolism and street language. Into this mixture went Yeats, Apollinaire, Lenin, Freud, Morris R. Cohen, Gertrude Stein, baseball statistics, and Hollywood gossip. He brought Coney Island into the Aegean and united Buffalo Bill with Rasputin. He was going to join together the Art Sacrament and the Industrial USA as equal powers. Born (as he insisted) on a subway platform at Columbus Circle, his mother going into labor on the IRT, he intended to be a divine artist, a man of visionary states and enchantments, Platonic possession. He got a Rationalistic, Naturalistic education at CCNY. This was not easily reconciled with the Orphic. But all his desires were contradictory. He wanted to be magically and cosmically expressive and articulate, able to say anything; he wanted also to be wise, philosophical, to find the common ground of poetry and science, to prove that the imagination was just as potent as machinery, to free and bless humankind. (p. 120)

*   *   *

Reading about Delmore Schwartz and reading his journals, it quickly becomes apparent that no matter what was going on in his life, no matter how manically depressed he may have been at times, he would reliably return to two distinct lifelong passions to provide relief: major league baseball and Finnegans Wake. These two things are what I want to focus on in this series of posts because they serve the same role in my own life. 

    This passage from Delmore Schwartz: The Life of An American Poet by James Atlas perfectly encapsulates Delmore Schwartz the baseball nut:

Delmore's eager accumulation of knowledge was by no means confined to literature. He had a mania for baseball, that "drama in which the national life performed itself," and acquired over the years a compendious store of statistics on the New York Giants, who rewarded his attentions by winning the pennant every year from 1921 ("My first year as a fan," he once noted) through 1924. The memory of that triumphant era never faded from his mind, and toward the end of his life he was still capable of dazzling an audience by recalling the Giants' lineup and batting averages of some forty years before. In a late notebook, he remembered the excitement that had overwhelmed him in 1927, when "suddenly, in the depths of melancholy, electrifying news transformed my entire attitude toward existence. The Giants had acquired Rogers Hornsby, the greatest hitter by far in the National League, from the St. Louis Cardinals." As a child, he would race to the newsstand on 181st Street for a glance at the standings, and he used to spend hours loitering in a radio store on Broadway to listen to some crucial game. Twenty years later, when Delmore was living at Yaddo, the writers' colony in Saratoga Springs, he stood in a field admiring "the immense winter sky, crowded with the stars in constellations, but desiring all the while to get to the World-Telegram and read of the winter baseball news."  (p. 17)

That last line is especially relatable right now because I've spent many nights lately looking at the stars in the winter sky while also pining for some Hot Stove baseball news. 

    While reading through the book Portrait of Delmore: Journals and Notes of Delmore Schwartz: 1939-1959 (edited by Elizabeth Pollet) there was a passage that stood out to me for its beautiful and vivid description of him attending a baseball game in the spring of 1942. It's short and compact but there's so much to take from it so I want to try to unpack it here.

April 19, 1942:

The calculated disarray of the garage region, the railroad yards, and the used-car lots. The painted lines of the bridge, the murals of the fences. 

    "Our country is now at war..." said the announcer over the public-address system. Directions for going away, and hiding under the grandstand or bleachers.

    Much feeling against Stengel and Paul Waner. The Giants scored three in the first. Mize hit the wall twice with doubles, thinking the first time that he had hit a homer. Melton argued with the umpire in the first, Witek looked pathetic, Tobin disgusted. Werber had a rooting section loudly against him.

    A purple-black curtain of cloud, like a quilt or like a great Assyrian army with chariots, was over the sky. The crowd was pleased that the Red Sox had defeated the Yankees.

    A strong wind blowing, much smoke, much soot from the railroad yards, the fragrancy of Pittsburgh. I admired the strength of the locomotive, the instruments (what are the names?), pistons, which drew up and down, and moved the wheels. So, too, a child might be given a toy railroad train, Industrialismus. (p. 56)

Now, when I first read this I thought it must be a description of him attending a game at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan to see his beloved Giants. Delmore was born in Brooklyn but he grew up in Washington Heights very close to Coogan's Bluff and the Polo Grounds. He attended many games at the Polo Grounds and he used to invite his fellow writers to come watch games with him. He once told his publisher James Laughlin, "It has been observed that anyone who has not seen me at the Polo Grounds has not seen me." (from Letters of Delmore Schwartz, p. 272)

    But when I looked up this game on Baseball-reference it turns out this actually took place in Boston (at a different defunct historical ballpark, the home of the old Boston Braves), which makes sense because Delmore was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts and teaching at Harvard during this time. Here's the game he attended, the NY Giants visiting the Boston Braves:

 has the full play-by-play where you can see that Delmore indeed had the details correct. Let's go through it line by line:

The calculated disarray of the garage region, the railroad yards, and the used-car lots. The painted lines of the bridge, the murals of the fences. You can easily envision from this description what the surrounding area of the ballpark looked like. The murals on the fences were the big advertisements all over the outfield walls at Boston Braves Field as seen here

"Our country is now at war..." said the announcer over the public-address system. Directions for going away, and hiding under the grandstand or bleachers. This game took place just four months after the United States officially entered into World War II in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Pretty crazy to imagine they were already warning fans about being prepared for possible attacks and hiding under the grandstand. Big league baseball would soon be impacted when several players across the sport were drafted into military service, including the Giants' #4 and 5 hitters from this game, Johnny Mize and Willard Marshall.

Much feeling against Stengel and Paul Waner. I love this note. The kind of thing you don't see in a box score---the home crowd was really getting on Braves manager Casey Stengel and Paul Waner. Looking at the context it's easy to see why. Mind you, this was the early phase of Casey Stengel's career before he became an icon as manager of the championship dynasty Yankees in the 1950s. When Delmore was at Braves Field for this game, Stengel's stewardship of the Braves had led to three consecutive seasons of 7th-place finishes and they were on their way to a fourth consecutive 7th place finish. The hometown fans were also probably angry that the Braves had blown the previous day's game against the Giants when they gave up 3 runs in the 9th to lose 8-5. The other guy who the fans were apparently giving a hard time was future Hall of Fame outfielder Paul Waner, the team's best player who had taken an 0-for-4 in that previous day's loss and came into this game batting .188 (he fared no better in this game, going 0-for-4). 

The Giants scored three in the first. Mize hit the wall twice with doubles, thinking the first time that he had hit a homer.  Johnny Mize, another future Hall of Famer, had been traded to the Giants the previous December so this was one of his first games in a Giants uniform and he made a good impression. Mize mashed for the Giants in that 1942 season, finished fifth in MVP voting, and then got pulled into military service and went off to fight in World War II, missing the next three full seasons. 

Melton argued with the umpire in the first, Witek looked pathetic, Tobin disgusted. Werber had a rooting section loudly against him. Interesting that he notes Cliff Melton, the starting pitcher for the Giants that day, was arguing with the umpire in the first inning---maybe because he walked the first batter?---he didn't get into trouble in the 1st and ended up pitching a complete game for the win. The comment about Mickey Witek, the Giants second baseman, seems pretty harsh! Then you notice Witek went 0-for-4 and grounded into two double plays. The keen-eyed baseball evaluator Delmore was clearly picking up on something because Witek would go on to lead the major leagues in grounding into double plays that season. "Tobin disgusted"---that would be the Braves starting pitcher Jim Tobin who failed to make it out of the 1st inning. "Werber had a rooting section loudly against him"---this one is interesting to try to figure out. Werber was playing third base and leading off for the Giants, but he wasn't an impactful player and while he had a couple hits in the game he didn't do much else. My guess is these well-informed and cranky Boston fans remembered Werber when he played for the Boston Red Sox for four seasons during the 1930s.

A purple-black curtain of cloud, like a quilt or like a great Assyrian army with chariots, was over the sky. The crowd was pleased that the Red Sox had defeated the Yankees. This is the type of magnificent description you get when a gifted poet journals his experience at a baseball game. Also funny that he notes the crowd cheering when the out-of-town scoreboard showed the Boston Red Sox had defeated the Yankees in New York that day, 5-2. 

A strong wind blowing, much smoke, much soot from the railroad yards, the fragrancy of Pittsburgh. I admired the strength of the locomotive, the instruments (what are the names?), pistons, which drew up and down, and moved the wheels. So, too, a child might be given a toy railroad train, Industrialismus. Another set of fascinating first-person details. The Society of American Baseball Research website has a very informative article about the old Boston Braves Field (the Braves moved to Milwaukee before the 1953 season then bounced over to Atlanta in 1966) where they note the ballpark's close proximity to the Boston & Albany Railroad which eventually led to deterioration of the ballpark structure. You can see in the below picture (click to expand, see bottom right) how the rail yards were just beyond the left field fence. Delmore describes the experience of being there with such exactitude that you can smell the steel. Not bad for a brief entry in his journal.  

Boston Braves Field (from here)

Couple more notes about this game:

- This game featured no fewer than five future Hall of Famers: Mel Ott, Johnny Mize, Paul Waner, Ernie Lombardi, and Warren Spahn.

- Incredibly, this game actually featured the major league debut of the great lefty Warren Spahn. The 21-year-old entered the game in the 5th inning, retired both batters he faced, then was removed and only appeared in three more games the whole rest of the season (Casey Stengel got mad at him because he refused to throw at batters on purpose). Like Johnny Mize, Spahn enlisted in the military and spent the next three full seasons in military service. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded a Purple Heart. Upon his return in 1946 he went on to pitch for 20 full seasons in the major leagues, finishing his career as one of the greatest pitchers of all time. And the poet Delmore Schwartz just so happened to witness his big league debut at Boston Braves field on a random Sunday afternoon in April 1942. 

Read Part 2 here.