Thursday, December 10, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
I am saddened by the fact that many of my favorite literary journals probably won't survive the economic fallout of 2008. The future of the printed word is, if we are to believe all the articles and editorials, in jeopardy. I'm saddened when I think of all the cuts in arts education that have happened over the years (Hell, Venezuela has a better music education program than the U.S.--AND it's been shown to reduce violence). And insofar as high box office sales are a sign of the greater cultural wave that is killing the culture I love, yes, it's saddening. I wish I could replace all the Black Eyed Peas on every iPod in the world with Chopin's Preludes, but I would probably be executed without trial for doing so.
Looking down on people just because they enjoy some book or film series, no matter how trashy, doesn't do anything to change matters. And when you go around thumbing your nose at those people, what are they to do but assume that the things you like are only for snobs? I find that, instead of talking trash, it's better to just promote the things we like, and find good ways to articulate how we enjoy them. That way, we may win over a few converts. What you're doing is preaching to the choir.
The Dark Knight was trash, in my opinion, except for parts of Heath Ledger's performance and some elements of the cinematography. I thought Son of Rambow was a greater movie, and it was made with a much smaller budget, absolutely no celebrity actors, and it probably just broke even earnings-wise. As long as movies like that can find their audience, and as long as that audience doesn't die out, I'm not going to complain too much about what others find entertaining.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Here's the man whose iambic pentameter has beguiled the editors of The Hudson Review, Connecticut Review, Texas Review, and more!
Listen to his tales of braving the Boston public transportation system, rubbing elbows with literary giants, and tracking down an affordable, delicious breakfast in a city full of lavishly over-priced diners!
One day only! Let's get out there, folks, and spread the word! Let every seat fill up! Let's break the fire code, people! He's using up all his vacation time! What a guy!
WHEN: 12:30PM NOVEMBER 8 2007
WHERE: THE WRITING CENTER, D.VICKERS HALL
Monday, October 26, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Friday, August 7, 2009
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Cordel do Fogo Encantado, again, this time with their song "Chover" -- "Rain." There is a famous song in Pernambuco that begs for rain, and lists the miseries of drought, dwelling on starving animals unwilling to pull the cart or plow. I'm not sure if this Cordel song is a version of that, but I'm pretty sure it comes from the same folk tradition. I will try to find out more by asking around, searching online, etc. Will update this blog with any findings.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Cordel de Fogo Encantado began in the late nineties and is now one of the biggest indie acts in the country. (The link to Cordel will help you with a translation of that word, which really has no equivalent in English for the meaning used by the band.) I listened to an entire album a few weeks ago with my sister-in-law. The first comparison that came to mind was Neutral Milk Hotel, but only because I was getting a sense that the lyrics were legend-building the same way the Hotel's are. Well, see for yourself:
Here is a fan video of "The Kind of Carrot Flowers Part 1" by Neutral Milk Hotel. I think it's the guitar sound that sparked my comparison.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
Friday, April 17, 2009
This has been a strange week. On the one hand, I have had to put up with guests in the apartment, in-laws. But the past few days have been quiet, the in-laws staying with another relative, and we have enjoyed an empty, cool apartment with a big office, tons of space to pace around in. That is how I get a lot of thinking done, by pacing around like a lunatic. Been that way since I can remember. Gets the blood going.
This morning was especially idyllic. Woke up, made some toast for breakfast. Girl already had the coffee going. Laughed and talked through the meal, then took my coffee to the office. Stayed there going over drafts until it was lunch, making minor corrections and revisions.
Spent most of yesterday emersed in various critical essays, and Ciardi's translation of The Inferno, which I am rereading for the first time since college. I also have his translations of The Purgatorio and The Paradiso, which were not taught in my undergraduate survey course. It will be interesting to take the rest of the journey with Dante.
I used to be intimidated by this most welcoming and genial of poems. The subject matter, of course, is not welcoming, as is forces even the modern reader, I think, to come to terms with the worst of his sins. But to paraphrase Ciardi's comments on the task of translating it, Dante's language is the common language at its perfection. Thanks to the generous notes, I am able to catch a few levels of the allegory, but the poem would be enjoyable--and the importance of enjoyment mustn't be scoffed at--even on its basic level of denotion. There is pleasure, too, in revisiting the poem after a span of years.
I mentioned Boethius in an earlier post. I caught a reference to Boethius that the editors of this Dante did not mention, and I gave myself a pompous pat on the shoulder. Figuratively, of course. I don't want dear reader to get an image of the author alone in his room, patting his own back. Too late, I guess.
I have been teaching for a few weeks now, maybe a month. I am loving it. Last night I was especially on a roll. It was a conversation class. The conversation classes I teach are a lot less structured than the other classes, which rely on a series of drills and listening exercises that must be painstakingly broken apart, explained, and repeated. Those classes are very fun in their own way, and allow for moments of fruitful discussion. The students with the most English, of course, they have multitudinous questions. Conversation class is a great time for them to ask those questions, and I have ample time to turn those questions into conversations, getting them to pull up more words and phrases from their learning. The challenge of the class is that there is a mix of skill levels--some of the students are in the early stages of the course, others more advanced. But even then, I sometimes get the advanced students to help out the beginners.
I also spend a lot of time talking, myself, and I am trying to do less of that because the goal is to get them comfortable speaking themselves. But I can't help but list tons of phrases, informal and formal, for their use. Kind of like Homeric epithets, those little cliches that have so much cultural cache and provide a fast rhythm to our verbal conversations. "Bring it back in one piece," for instance. A student asked if the word "wicked" always carries negative connotations, and I got to briefly talk about the idiosyncracies of Bostonian English. Last night, I think, struck a fine balance between class participation and teacher running his mouth. The students left with tons and tons of phrases scribbled in their notebooks, and I think everyone was happy.
I felt very high after the class, and a fellow teacher (who is taking the class herself) told my girl that I was really energized and "on" this time. I just had to give myself a big pat on the back.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
While available on iTunes, I urge any interested buyers to pick up the CD for the bonus of liner notes, written by yours truly. This is a great way to support contemporary music of the highest quality from an independent classical music label based in Louisiana. The sound quality on this recording is simply astounding.
Full disclosure: I am a former student and longtime friend of the composer, and we have collaborated in the past. I am also a native of Louisiana and can't promote the good things of that State often enough.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
A meddlesome neighbor had one of the workers turn off our water when she saw that we were travelling this weekend. Luckily, a relative visited the house and turned it back on. So, we had running water for as long as we have been back in Garanhuns, but it has slowed to a trickle by now. On top of that, we have contracted a stomach virus that is going around. It takes a whole bucket of water to satisfactorily flush a toilet.
So that's a taste of the ugly side of life here, but it isn't so bad. I was talking with my family this weekend, and they brought up Katrina. I think we went ten days without electricity then, although at night we would run a generator to cool the house down with AC, to bathe, etc. In fact, I had running water during Katrina due to my pump's connection to the generator powering my family's business. There was a lot of belly-aching during Katrina, but mostly not by me. I read a lot, helped out with various tasks when asked, and pretty much did all I could to ignore the heat. We were lucky, being as far inland as we were. And everyone knew it. It is wholly possible to count your blessings and belly-ache at the same time.
I think the tone of this post may be a bit colored by my recent reading. I have been reading the The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. It's a wonderful little book, in case you don't know it.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
So I tried a glass of Pitu, a local brand of cachaça. To me, it tasted weaker than vodka, but, drink being rare to me, I can't say for sure. I didn't order a vodka to compare, which might have proved enlightening, because we were at a bar, not a laboratory, thank you very much. The catch phrase for Pitu is Mania do Brasileiro, the Brazilian's madness, I suppose.
One of the little hipsters that accompanied us told me to be careful with the Pitu. The strength of cachaça seems to be a point of pride in Brazil. Although I stopped at one, it wasn't because I was in over my head. Don't kill yourself in one night, that's my motto. Draw it out a bit, take your time, enjoy yourself.
Mostly just drank beers. A popular way to order beer for a table of friends is to order a chopp (draft beer) in a huge cylindrical tap plopped own in the middle of the table. It's self-service. You press your glass to the white plastic spigot, and there's your golden ambrosia. I am not sure, but I think they call the apparatus itself a chopp. I drank cerveja -- beer, yes, but distinguished from chopp because served in a bottle. I told you this is a precise language.
I have no idea why I have spent all this time talking about drinks when the real pleasure last night came from the people. I alluded to a hipster, there were a few. One of my worst moments in recent history involved being stuck in a car with a bunch of hipsters in the back seat prattling on about how to classify various indie and post-punk musical stylings. The low point of the evening was hearing a bespectacled, skinny guy in a Western shirt with pearl buttons declare, "Uhh, I prefer older Modest Mouse" as if they were talking wine vintages, and with a tone of voice that seemed to say, "I prefer older Modest Mouse, which is all the evidence you need that I am a wise and well cultivated gentleman with superior taste." As much as I hate pomposity in general (especially when I notice it in my own behavior, I hasten to add), I particularly loathe the transformation of pop culture into some graded course in connoisseurship. It's only rock n' roll.
The Brazilian hipsters, if they should be so-called, were the opposite. We spoke a combination of broken English and broken Portuguese. Guess whose Portuguese was broken. Anyway, the conversation mostly consisted of listing various bands and singers we enjoyed. I believe that, during the whole night, I only mentioned two artists they didn’t know: Elliott Smith and the aforementioned Modest Mouse. The conversation ranged over oldies but goodies like David Bowie, Pink Floyd, the Beatles (I was reminded of how much I used to enjoy the Fab 4) to Belle and Sebastian, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, etc.
Also, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, and Sidney Bechet also earned high praise in the form of Ah! Yes! and Eu gosto, eu gosto!
It was a good night.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
My Portuguese is improving. Or, I should say, my willingness to speak. My shyness is receding. I realized that no matter what I will go through a period of sounding like the village idiot, and so I must accept this as the worm stage presaging diaphanous wings of fluency. Or some flowery shit like that.
Speaking of higher diction, I finally read Anthony Hecht in Conversation with Philip Hoy. Previously, I had only read snippets here and there. It is inspiring me to revisit his poems, which thankfully I brought back with me. In some ways I think it would serve as an apt introduction to anyone not already familiar with his work, if only to dispel the notion that it is entirely, or even mostly, autobiographical. I wonder just how many readers automatically assume that all poetry is about the poet. I try never to make that assumption. There is always "the speaker."
Well, enough of that. A fellow English teacher invited us over for lunch today before we left for Arcoverde. Cous-cous, rice, vinagrette, and rack of lamb in a fine gravy. Followed by the best chocolate mousse I have ever had (considering I only recall trying this once or twice before, that's not saying much--but it would be obscene to describe exactly how orgasmic this dessert was). We are scheming to get invited to more such dinners. We are thinking of an exchange of English lessons for delicious meals every Saturday.
On the ride to Arcoverde today, a man overheard us speaking English, turned around and said, "Beautiful, yes?" Meaning the hills through which we were winding. "Sim, Beautiful," I said. "Students?" he asked. "Professores," we answered.
He spoke mostly with my girl, in Portuguese, asking her how to phrase certain questions, then had a simple conversation with me in English, and I was all too happy to oblige. Students of English here are not at all shy. Most of them, that is. I have encountered some actual English teachers who will not say a word of English to me, so frightened are they of embarrassing themselves. Life is an embarrassment. So, get over it.
The highway landscape ... it floors me with its majesty. "Majestic" -- sounds so hackneyed, but at the moment a better adjective or description is impossible. I'm travel weary and about to get bleary eyed (God willing!) ... will hopefully finally sample some Pitu, a local brand of some distilled spirit which is supposed to put more hair on my chest. I'll report my findings at the next available opportunity.
Friday, March 27, 2009
According to the NEA, poetry readership continues to decline.
I have begun teaching English. I have one class right now, but will start a conversation course next week. The director of the language school, my girl, and I were at the local radio station to promote the school. Plus, there is a sign over the school announcing a new professor with a degree in English, a native speaker. Within a month, not only have I secured a job but my employer was so happy to hire me she had a sign made announcing my employment to the world. And I have been on the radio. Talk about undue attention! But I am grateful. I am giving this job all of the energy and attention I have, and am loving it. The students are wonderful--I am very impressed with the immersion method used. Judging most students' knowledge of the language, it is very effective. The secret is to present as much information in English as possible, and only referring to the students' native language as a last ditch effort. In the advanced levels, which I teach, you are not to use the students' native language at all (no problem for me... even the one or two month students here have a better command of English than I have of Portuguese).
Which fact shames me. I keep telling myself that I am not the typical American unwilling to learn another language, but sometimes I definitely play that part. The problem is we dont speak Portuguese in the house. If we spend all day at home, that is a day in which I have probably not heard a single phrase in Portuguese.
But I am able to function a little. Just a few minutes ago, I asked for, received, and paid for a bottle of water at the Internet cafe where I am composing this post. No small feat. And don't you ever take such small things for granted.
In other news... well, I don't think there is any other news to report. The heat is sometimes overwhelming. We spent much of this morning scouring Garanhuns for adhesive envelopes. All of the envelopes we have found do not include a strip of adhesive. Common sense tells me this is because of the chronic humidity coupled with a dearth of air conditioning. I am preparing snail mail submissions to editors in the States, and I hope that a non-adhesive SASE won't terribly inconvenience them. Using that common sense mentioned above, it occurred to me that there is no way any student worker or other saintly worker stuffing envelopes for a literary rag would actually lick each SASE. Every office I have ever worked in has kept a supply of glue sticks for that purpose. It is safer and faster.
Unfortunately, these are the things that keep me up at night.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Saturday, March 21, 2009
There is a nice bookstore/cafe in the same neighborhood as the language school. They stock many classic Brazilian titles, as well as world literature in translation (of all books to have in stock, they had The Yage Letters by William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, most likely of local interest due to its South American setting... I am not sure, but I think that they procure the yage concoction in the Amazon. I picked up a copy of Pessoa's selected poems, and have translated (or transliterated) some stanzas with basic vocabulary. I think it's helping.
I made the mistake of leaving my iPod back in Arcoverde. I only brought one book (Ted Hughes's Essential Shakespeare) other than my Portuguese textbook. Brazilian TV isn't worth the time, at least not the original programming. So far, I've only noticed two different novelas: one set in India/Rio, and the other set in California/Rio. Other than that, it's BBB (Big Brother: Brazil). There are news broadcasts, of course, and kid's shows (some with racy material by the standards of American children's programming... but I guess a woman in a bikini does help one learn simple phrases like Bate as maos (clap hands)... I know I'll never forget it).
So I'm a little short on entertainment (not that I have had much time for lounging around the house reading ... we've been crawling through the streets of Garanhuns like rats in a maze, mostly buying stuff for the apartment, and meeting with our boss at the school). I've been writing a lot in my notebook, sketches for new works, observations, etc.
Interesting note about Portuguese. Aparently the noun saudade has no English equivalent. The closest is "longing," but that is really a gerund phrase. It reminds me of the French ennui which is often translated as "boredom" but has no true English equivalent.