Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Caricature

Clerihew for an Antique Irishman


Edmund Burke's
Collected Works
Show "the father of conservatism"
Would have loathed contemporary capitalism.

Daily Dose

From Letters from Earth, by Mark Twain, edited by Bernard DeVoto


"These several facts prove nothing, for one cannot deduce a principle from so few examples, but they do at least indicate that the ability to spell correctly is a gift; that it is born in a person, and is a sign of intellectual inferiority.."

From Interpolated Extracts from "Eve's Diary"

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Clerihew of Offensive Usage


Carl Van Vechten
Lost some respect in
The black community
When he claimed immunity.

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Collected Poems, by Frank O'Hara


Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
You really are beautiful! Pearls,
harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! all
the stuff they've always talked about

still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day
even on beachheads and biers. They
do have meaning. They're strong as rocks.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Caricature

Clerihew for Zora


Zora Neale Hurston
Frequently burst in-
To raucous laughter
Long remembered thereafter.

Daily Dose

From The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy


"For to this pair of bridges gravitated all the failures of the town; those who failed in business, in love, in sobriety, in crime.  Why the unhappy hereabout usually chose the bridges for their meditations in preference to a railing, a gate, or a stile, was not so clear."

From Chapter XXXII

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Caricature

Clerihew for the Rising Hillbilly


J. D. Vance
Wears tailored pants,
A style his Mamaw
Would think quite bourgeois.

Daily Dose

From West of Here, by Jonathan Evison


"He had a mind to talk out loud but resisted the temptation."

From betwixt green hills, August 2006

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Life Studies and For the Union Dead, by Robert Lowell


"The farm's my own!
Back there alone,
I keep indoors, and spoil another season."

From Grandparents

Friday, June 23, 2017


Daily Dose

From The Complete Poems Of John Keats, edited by John Barnard


The church bells toll a melancholy round,
Calling the people to some other prayers,
Some other gloominess, more dreadful cares,
More harkening to the sermon's horrid sound.
Surely the mind of man is closely bound
In some blind spell: seeing that each one tears
Himself from fireside joys and Lydian airs,
And converse high of those with glory crowned.
Still, still they toll, and I should feel a damp,
A chill as from a tomb, did I not know
That they are dying like an outburnt lamp, -
That 'tis their sighing, wailing, ere they go
Into oblivion -that fresh flowers will grow,
And many glories of immortal stamp.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Bookstore Bird

Daily Dose

From Imaginations, by William Carlos Williams


"If what I have said so far is clear and true and strange to unaccustomed ears, let me see if I can make it still more lucid."

From A Novelette and Other Prose, VIII. Anti-Allegory

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope


"There are moments when in which stupid people say clever things, obtuse people say sharp things, and good-natured people say ill-natured things."

From Chapter 21, Miss Boncassen's River-Party, No. 1

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard


"No, no, no... you've got it all wrong... you can't act death.  The fact of it is nothing to do with seeing it happen -- it's not gasps and blood and falling about -- that isn't what makes it death.  It's just a man failing to reappear, that's all -- now you see him, now you don't, that's the only thing that's real: here one minute and gone the next and never coming back -- an exit, unobtrusive and unannounced, a disappearance gathering weight as it goes on, until, finally, it is heavy with death."

From Act Two

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Bookstore Bird

Daily Dose

From The Infatuations, by Javier Marias, translated by Margaret Jull Costa


"And so, sooner or later, the grieving person is left alone when she still has not finished grieving or when she's no longer allowed to talk about what remains her only world, because other people find that world of grief unbearable, repellent."

From page 62

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Bookstore Bird

Daily Dose

From The Century's Daughter, by Pat Bsrker


"Later, in the grounds of the hospital, he endured an English spring: snowdrops, grape hyacinths, crocuses, daffodils, anemones.  He was alone in a world that hadn't died."

From Chapter Six

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Bookstore Bird

Daily Dose

From Approaching Eye Level, by Vivian Gornick


"The sentence structure of scorn grew even more resourceful as the writers reviled themselves, and each other, for spending their lives teaching the unteachable."

From At the University

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Bookstore Beast

Daily Dose

From Hotel Du Lac, by Anita Brookner


"'It is simply this.  Without a huge emotional investment, one can do whatever one pleases.  One can take decisions, change one's mind, alter one's plans.  There is none of the anxiety of waiting to see if that one other person has everything she desires, if she is discontented,n upset, restless, bored.  One can be as pleasant or as ruthless as one wants.'"

From Chapter Seven

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Bookstore Beast

Daily Dose

From Pitch Dark, by Renata Adler


"And then this matter of the commas.  And this matter of the paragraphs.  The true comma.  The pause comma.  The afterthought comma.  The hesitation comma.  The rhythm comma. The blues."

From page 78, this edition

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Clerihew of a Little God


Truman Capote,
Sporting a dhoti,
Said, "I coulda been Vishnu
If I'da wished to!"

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin


"It was a strange weight, a presence coming into me -- into a me I had not known was there."

From page 79

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Caricature

Clerihew for Big Little Critic


Truman Capote
Read Don Quixote,
Said "I'm happy to lend it,
Though I can't recommend it."

Daily Dose

From Byron: Complete Poetical Works, edited by Frederick Page


I watched thee when the foe was at our side,
    Ready to strike at him--or thee and me,
Were safety hopeless--rather than divide
    Aught with one loved, save love and liberty.
I watched thee on the breakers, when the rock
    Received our prow, and all was storm and fear,
And bade thee cling to me through every shock;
    This arm would be thy bark, or breast thy bier.
I watched thee when the fever glazed thine eyes,
    Yielding my couch, and stretched me on the ground
When overworn with watching, ne'er to rise
    From thence, if thou an early grave hadst found.
The earthquake came, and rocked the quivering
    And men and nature reeled as if with wine.
Whom did I seek around the tottering hall?
    For thee.  Whose safety first provide for?  Thine
And when convulsive throes denied my breath
    The faultest utterance to my fading thought,
To thee--to thee--e'en in the gasp of death
    My spirit turned, oh! oftener than it ought.
Thus much and more; and yet thou lov'st me not,
    And never wilt!  Love dwells not in our will.
Nor can I blame thee, though it be my lot
    To strongly, wrongly, vainly love thee still.

Monday, June 12, 2017


Daily Dose

From If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin


"Despair can make one monstrous, but it can also make one noble: and here these children are, in the arena, up for grabs."

From page 152

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Byron: Complete Poetical Works, edited by Frederick Page


Thou too art gone, thou loved and lovely one!
    Whom Youth and Youth’s affections bound to me;
    Who did for me what none beside have done,
    Nor shrank from one albeit unworthy thee,
    What is my Being! thou hast ceased to be!
    Nor staid to welcome here thy wanderer home,
    Who mourns o’er hours which we no more shall see--
    Would they had never been, or were to come!
Would he had ne’er returned to find fresh cause to roam!

Oh! ever loving, lovely, and beloved!
    How selfish Sorrow ponders on the past,
    And clings to thoughts now better far removed!
    But Time shall tear thy shadow from me last.
    All thou couldst have of mine, stern Death! thou hast;
    The Parent, Friend, and now the more than Friend:
    Ne’er yet for one thine arrows flew so fast,
    And grief with grief continuing still to blend,
Hath snatched the little joy that Life had yet to lend.

From Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, stanzas 95 - 96

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Caricature

Clerihew for an Irish Lady Writer


Elizabeth Bowen,
While considered high-brow in
A stylish way,
Was not above sex in The Heat of the Day.

Daily Dose

From Byron: Complete Poetical Works, edited by Frederick Page


No specious splendour of this stone
    Endears it to my memory ever;
With lustre only once it shone,
    And blushes modest as the giver.

Some, who can sneer at friendship’s ties,
    Have, for my weakness, oft reprov’d me;
Yet still the simple gift I prize,
    For I am sure, the giver lov’d me.

He offer’d it with downcast look,
    As fearful that I might refuse it;
I told him, when the gift I took,
    My only fear should be, to lose it.

This pledge attentively I view’d,
    And sparkling as I held it near,
Methought one drop the stone bedew’d,
    And, ever since, I’ve lov’d a tear.

Still, to adorn his humble youth,
    Nor wealth nor birth their treasures yield;
But he, who seeks the flowers of truth,
    Must quit the garden, for the field.

‘Tis not the plant uprear’d in sloth,
    Which beauty shews, and sheds perfume;
The flowers, which yield the most of both,
    In Nature’s wild luxuriance bloom.

Had Fortune aided Nature’s care,
    For once forgetting to be blind,
His would have been an ample share,
    If well proportioned to his mind.

But had the Goddess clearly seen,
    His form had fix’d her fickle breast;
Her countless hoards would his have been,
    And none remain’d to give the rest.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Old School

"Just because a book is old that doesn't make it interesting."  This is something we say nearly every day to people selling their used books. Not strictly true, that sentence.  It's an oversimplification offered to explain why we won't be buying most family Bibles, sets of James Whitcomb Riley, or library-bound issues of Popular Mechanics. The reader may think at least one of those sounds interesting, and indeed, I would not necessarily disagree, but who is going to buy any such thing and what are the odds that that buyer will happen into the bookstore where I work in search of same?  That's the point.  Still, unsaleable isn't always the same as uninteresting, at least for the fifteen minutes it may take to thumb through a book abandoned in our donations pile.

Witness: English Literature (Four Years), in the Oxford Review Series, by K. W. Wright, M. A., of De Witt Clinton High School. M. D. Ryan, M. A., of Bay Ridge High, et al., and "All of New York City", published by Oxford Book Company, Educational Publishers, New York, 1929.

Great libraries burn, rare books are lost, classics turn to dust, but someone kept... this.  Why?  There is a history here that we will never know.  No one wrote their name in it.  Nothing to say how it came to Seattle, presumably from New York, and across the Used Books buying desk.

I picked from the pile because the obvious age of the thing did indeed make it interesting, at least in passing.  When I opened it to the table of contents, I was intrigued by two things: the date of publication, and the list of the works thought necessary to review for a high school student in 1929.  It starts on page one with The Odyssey -- still unsurprising -- and then goes on to the following categories of literature: Novels, Dramas, Essays, Poetry, and Oratory, before ending with "Recent Examination Papers."  It was not the obvious subjects then that proved of interest, but rather the works listed in each as necessary for review.  Here are the novels:

Treasure Island
Silas Marner
A Tale of Two Cities
The House of Seven Gables

The last three were still on my high school syllabus roughly fifty years later.  No idea if any but the Dickens are still being studied in high school.

All of Drama turned out to be Shakespeare:

As You Like It
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Merchant of Venice
Julius Caesar

Again, much the list as I knew it in high school, but for As You Like It which was swapped out by then for Romeo and Juliet, on the assumption presumably that the kids would "identify" more with the doomed teenagers than with the witty lovers.

But really, it was the Essays that got me:

Sketch Book (which proved to be Washington Irving)
Frances Bacon
Charles Lamb
Thomas DeQuincey
William Hazlit
Sir Roger De Coverley Papers (Addison and Steele)
Carlyle's Essay on Burns
Macaulay's Life of Samuel Johnson

My kind of list, but I would bet not one of these has been mentioned in an American high school since my parents graduated in the '40s.

At first glance, I thought I might want this book for brief things to read aloud.  The format seemed to suggest excerpts from the essays etc., but no.  According to the preface, this is a book of "concise but comprehensive summaries" presented to "refresh the memory of books long since read."  So, not an anthology as I'd assumed.  No, this little volume was basically an early example of Cliffs Notes, a study guide or crib for high school students facing exams. 

Here, for example, from Poetry, subsection Keats, rather than To a Nightingale, this:

"... Man is destined to death; but not the nightingale -- she is ageless.  As she sang in the days of Ruth, and before the magic casements of faery land, she sings today.  In the midst of his revery, he is called back to the realities of life, finding that the illusions of fancy are not so permanent as the heart might wish."

Indeed.  Nice.  Still, one can almost hear the flies buzzing about the remains of the teacher's sack-lunch in the waste-paper-basket, no?

There is surprisingly little quoted, even in the Poetry section, even of Shakespeare in Drama.  All is brief summary; plot, theme, point, act and scene.  It is all seemingly in order and, read to no better purpose than idle curiosity, weird.  What was this meant to do for the examination student?  How did this help? 

This stuff is not sometimes without a sort of borrowed glory, as in, "Irving rejoices in the lingering holiday customs recalling ancient English life.  They hold together the traditions of their country as ivy supports the crumbling cathedral ruin..."  But more often it is just the straight-forward statement of the obvious, "Two poems, To the Cuckoo and To a Skylark, are among the many which are suggestive of Wordsworth's love of birds."  Why, sure.

 As it turns out, only three Americans included: Irving, on England, please note, and, in Oratory, Washington's Farewell Address and Webster's first Bunker Hill Oration -- the remaining selection for summary being Burke's Speech on Conciliation, so America if not by an American.  No Poe, no Dickinson, no Twain.

The only stumper for me was in Poetry where "Sohrab and Rustum" is described, seemingly without the need to so much as mention Matthew Arnold's name.  Had to look that one up.

Perhaps the most interesting bit in the book proved to be the actual exam questions at the end, few if any of which would seem to have a damned thing to do with what came before.  The exam, and the book, closes with the following:

6.  Write a composition of 250 to 300 words on one of the topics below:

My candidate for 1956
Flood control
Music for many moods
The importance of student government
Parents' Night
Sports coverage on TV (or the radio)
The manners of young peopkle
Near East trouble spot
Man-made satellites
Securing more teachers
Thev role of the vice president
The city in early dawn
Scholarship blues
The pleasures of convalescence

The surprising appearance of television and the 1956 election tells me that at least the sample examination is clearly of a later date than the title page leads one to believe.  Beyond that, how does "flood control" figure in, say, "The Poems of Milton" or The Merchant of Venice?!  Come to that, where in any of the above might one insert that fascinating business of Wordsworth and the birds?

Nevertheless, I remain impressed with the idea that all the literature described was assumed to be familiar to anyone in America, let alone a high school student, even in 1929.  And I am even a bit envious of the graduates of the prestigious De Witt Clinton High School, circa the day, who would seem to have had Hazlitt off by heart. 

Otherwise, this poor thing reminds me of two things:

First, how very fragile a thing is literacy,

And, nobody ever went broke reducing literature to pap.

And now to contemplate the pleasures of convalescence and the city in early dawn.

Daily Dose

From The Naked Civil Servant, by Quentin Crisp


"I found that I had become so spinsterish that I was made neurotic not only by my life of domesticity but by the slightest derangement of my room. I would burst into a fit of weeping if the kettle was not facing due east."

From Chapter 21

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Naked Civil Servant, by Quentin Crisp


"As someone remarked, when told the new atomic bombs would explode without a bang, 'they can’t leave anything alone.'"

From Chapter 13