The Abyss: November 9, 2016

Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord;

Lord, hear my voice.

O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint.

Ps. 130


Noah and the Floods

Thomas Friedman has written a timely op-ed in the New York Times, but the headline is even more pertinent to south Louisiana: “We Are All Noah Now.” Pet owners, be sure you have enough carriers for your animals, because you may need to evacuate with them.


A younger Thunder.

Last month my house almost flooded. I say “almost” because water rose fourteen inches up to the sill; another half-inch and it would have been inside. But the yard was underwater, the carport submerged, and the bird feeder soaked. Not having faced this particular emergency before, my panic was rising almost as quickly as the water at 11 am that Saturday morning. I grabbed my standby bag and put Bianca in a carrier. When I looked around for Thunder, he had vanished. Forty minutes of manic-depressive searching later, he still hadn’t appeared. I put a big plate of dry food on the kitchen counter, set a small dish of canned food on the floor, and prayed that the water would go down soon.

And it did, probably within four hours of my departure. My parents welcomed me, but I went back to check on Thunder the next day when the water had receded and the roads were open.


Flood water.

Well, you may be thinking, that’s nothing compared to the people who couldn’t get out in time (like my brother and two nephews, who were rescued by a state police boat) or to those whose houses were totally ruined and who may still be living in shelters. And you would be right.  Eleven years ago the experience of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was more traumatic, when evacuees were forcibly separated from their pets and sometimes from other family members. And the people who worked tirelessly to help, from the National Guard to neighbors who had a boat or sheet-rock skills or extra supplies to donate.

Friedman’s well-supported essay argues that humans must take more care of the earth and all its residents, or we will lose it soon. I add that each of us must be prepared with an ark for the next disaster. Meanwhile, read Friedman, support Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Federation and your favorite save-the-earth organization, and get some more pet carriers.

Notes and Quotations

I get started on a thing and follow it like an angler reaching for an earthworm, only to grab onto another thing and then another, related maybe but not identical. From information literacy to educational technology to critical pedagogy, from political depression to poetry and theology, my semester has been interesting.

In terms of the number of readers, poetry is marginal to cultural concerns. But what are the central concerns of the culture? They are making money, getting a talking car, and imposing Pax Americana upon the world. (6)

Michael Palmer, interviewed by Keith Tuma. Contemporary Literature 30.1(1989): 1-12.
When he won the 2006 Wallace Stevens Prize, Palmer quoted these lines at the end of his acceptance speech?essay:

The poem is the cry of its occasion.
Part of the res itself and not about it.

—Wallace Stevens, “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven”

Tomorrow in the Louisiana House of Representatives is the first real test of whether the legislature will support state higher education or finish it off.
jorie graham by annie leibovitz contact press images via new yorker march 2015[Photo by Annie Leibovitz]

I’m reading some of Jorie Graham now, From the New World, whom I first heard of in Vogue, of all places, saying that if it weren’t for art, we’d only have shopping and Prozac. Here’s a bit about difficult modern poetry:

Graham, who is sixty-four, is the Boylston Professor of Oratory and Rhetoric at Harvard. She was raised by American parents in Rome, and studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, film at N.Y.U., and writing at Iowa, where she received an M.F.A. in poetry. She has won almost every major literary award, including a MacArthur and a Pulitzer. She would be on anyone’s list of the most influential American poets of the past fifty years, but many readers, even those with the best intentions, find her work “unintelligible” and “deliberately intended to frustrate the reader,” to quote the critic Adam Kirsch. Graham, however, insists on, and has defended in print, her use of “associational logic,” a muscle rarely worked by prose: its “occlusion, or difficulty,” she wrote, “healing me, forcing me to privilege my heart, my intuition.”

And so we have a standoff of the kind that has cropped up again and again in poetry at least since the nineteen-twenties. The idea that calculated literary difficulty is a positive feature that writers intend seems odd, but it comes with a distinguished provenance: it is associated primarily with T. S. Eliot, whom Graham counts among her first influences…

“Beautiful Lies.” New Yorker 91.6 (2015):77.

And finally for today, my previous e-mail signature quote:

“The power of thought to seek the truth must be accepted as our guide, rather than be curbed to the service of material interests.” Michael Polanyi, 1964 preface to Personal Knowledge.

Mission: to be adequate to destructive reality

“A. Alvarez, responding to the almost dementedly black poetry of Ted Hughes’s Crow in 1970, wrote this: ‘Hughes now joins the select band of survivor-poets whose work is adequate to the destructive reality we inhabit.’    … a kind of manifesto.


“To be adequate to the destructive reality we inhabit — not superior, not necessarily therapeutic, but adequate. Capable. Durable. There.” James Parker, Bookends, Sept. 16, 2014. New York Times Sunday Book Review. [I can’t find a credit for the photo, but it’s posted in several blogs and in an article in the Galway (Ireland) Advertiser.]

The Old Canvas is Almost Gone

A state university (attended by my niece and nephew) has just announced its decision to convert its library holdings from books to digital files and databases. This has brought home to me the current future of education, the creation of knowledge, and its preservation. Librarians are raising their cool-factor, even appearing at the ultracool SXSW, the South by Southwest culture and computer festival in Austin, Texas. (But I wonder  how public librarians afford the $825 entry pass for SXSW Interactive). Their slogan is “not the same old shhh.” Clever, no? From storytellers and instant reference on the streets to the now fashionable maker-spaces, librarians in the twenty-first century are actively embracing electronic multimedia as well as the old-fashioned personal interactions at information desks.

In 1890 William John Gordon wrote that “Now all the old canvas has gone, with its snowy wings from the watersails to the moonrakers” (Foundry, Forge, and Factory, p. 37). The Industrial Revolution and the progress of material technology used steam, then oil, and now atoms as fuel. Wind and horsepower were left to historical fiction, ecological dreamers, and the poetry of the past. Walter de la Mare might need to “go down to the sea again,” but finding a “tall ship” is increasingly difficult. Writers from Nicholson Baker to Neil Gaiman to myself are lamenting the passing of the book in its paper form, as the codex of recorded knowledge is being replaced by glowing electronic screens of hypermedia. Yet it’s too early for an obituary for print. Some educators are warning the enthusiastic early-adopters about their effects on learning. And the dire state of education in the United States is well-publicized.

So. I don’t know, but we live in interesting times. I’ve been on a wooden ship, even hauled on a sheet. Now I’m dusting my bookshelves again and reorganizing the proud paper books, just as though they were a library.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

–from Edna  St. Vincent Millay, “Dirge Without Music.” Collected Poems (HarperCollins, 1958), via

Irresistible for a Leo

This post is a jumble (a new genre, looser than an essai).

I wanted to share a word new to me, “merlion” from the Oxford English Dictionary, but after typing and pasting below, I saw this warning:

“Oxford University Press (UK) Disclaimer

This message is confidential. You should not copy it or disclose its contents to anyone. You may use and apply the information for the intended purpose only. OUP does not accept legal responsibility for the contents of this message. Any views or opinions presented are those of the author only and not of OUP. If this email has come to you in error, please delete it, along with any attachments. Please note that OUP may intercept incoming and outgoing email communications.”

      Why is the venerable Oxford University so paranoid? The dictionary is in print, online, in most libraries, and therefore even more public than the university itself. Yet this free, anonymous WOTD e-mail is anchored with a warning of confidentiality, legal irresponsibility, surveillance potential, and caution excessive even for Brits. Hmmm… Well,here goes. Below is an excerpt, in quotation marks, properly documented. I post this not to breach confidentiality, steal intellectual property, nor to bring legal charges, but to spread the literal word, to celebrate the OED, and to encourage its proper use. I trust this does not violate any of the Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics (CEI).10 commandments of computer_Ethics1 For a more restrictive viewpoint, see the Government of Guam’s Internet Code of Ethics. [Guam is a Pacific island outpost of the United States, where my father was stationed while I was in elementary school.]

[You wouldn’t know that my zodiac sign is Leo, since I’m neither golden, resplendent, nor outgoing. But the king of beasts is also regal and reserved, and the version below loves the sea. Hence, he’s me.]

“OED Online Word of the Day [for August 11, 2014]

 merlion, n.3

Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈməːˌlʌɪən/,  U.S. /ˈmərˌlaɪən/

Etymology: <  mer- comb. form1 + lion n.

A mythical creature with the head and trunk of a lion and the tail of a fish, regarded as the protector of Singapore.

The merlion is represented on a celebrated monument installed in Merlion Park, Singapore, on 15 Sept. 1972.”

Via the  © Oxford University Press 2014.

Save the Rembrandt, save the cat, save the fire

I spent the merrie merrie months of May and June writing (but not in this blog), revising, and reading. What bliss. The garden misses me, though.

The literary frenzy over My Struggle is not what I would normally be interested in, but since I first came across the name of Karl Ove Knausgaard in the article below, I’ve read reviews and excerpts and and am part-way through his novel A Time for Everything. 

“In a Paris Review interview, [Norwegian author Karl Ove] Knausgaard says the question of whether a writer ought to use his family as material is akin to asking the question: Would you save the cat or the Rembrandt from the burning house? He says we must save the cat, choose life over art — a somewhat surprising answer from a writer who portrays his own family in such intimate detail.

“Asked a similar question about a hypothetical house on fire, Jean Cocteau said that he would save the fire.”*

There is a poem in those lines, even though NaPoWriMo is over.

What bliss?
Save the Rembrandt, for art gives meaning
Save the cat, for life is all
Save the fire, for who would rather rust than burn
What, bliss?


*Francine Prose and Leslie Jamison, “Is It O.K. to Mine Real Relationships for Literary Material?”  New York Times Sunday Book Review April 22, 2014.