Now, before you read further you have got to endorse my self-deception that I am no critic. My reviews—theatre, movies, books—are always complimentary. If I’ve nothing good to say, I don’t say it and my readers are never the wiser. Being a supporter of the arts by inclination, I would rather help fill the seats, or attract the readers by noting the estimable achievements of the producers, writers, actors, and so on. The arts is not an easy place to make a living, and only the lucky few do. Publicity take all, talent has little to do with it. This disclaimer applies to any critiques you may find in this website.
Hemingway I have come to only lately. The first story of his that I read, I was absolutely captivated and astounded. The second, I only finished out of loyalty to myself, for having started it. In the course of reading The Art of Fact [see post "Literary Journalism: A few thoughts on how to proceed Part One” September 18] I came upon a piece describing, in excruciating detail, the author’s (Lillian Ross) few days with the famed author. The piece seemed to be more about Ross than Hemingway, more about the details of attire they wore than anything of any depth. Fortunately for me the time came to board my plane, I dogeared the page and did not return to it for a month.
Being the sort that likes to finish what he started, I un-dogeared and proceeded.
And here is where it gets interesting. Here is where you have to consume the whole piece overlooking its obvious (to you, the discerning reader) flaws, because that is just the place where the whole piece comes into focus, and had you abandoned the work earlier, or let you justifiably honest critiques get the better of you, the loss would have been yours.
The players in Ross’s interview piece go to the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art. “I learned to write by looking at paintings in the Luxembourg Museum in Paris,” said Hemingway. “I never went past high school. When you’re hungry and the museum is free, you to to the museum.. . . I don’t want to be an art critic. I just want to look at pictures and be happy with them and learn from them.” He paused before Cezanne’s ‘Rocks—Forest of Fountainbleau.’ “This is what we try to do in writing, this and this, and the woods, and the rocks we have to climb over. . . .Degas is another wonder painter. I’ve never seen a bad Degas. You know what he did with the bad Degas? He burned them.”
There are more words of wisdom from Hemingway in this piece. You’ll have to read it for yourself, the whole piece (“Portrait of Ernest Hemingway”, New Yorker 1950) or as excerpted in The Art of Fact. I close now with this quote, spoken before Manet’s Portrait of Mlle. Valtesse de la Bigne: “Manet could show the bloom people have when they’re still innocent and before they’ve been disillusioned.”
Now that is a matter of high art, one to which all writers should aspire.
THE POETRY OF THE LANGUAGE
–from A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein, with Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fikshdahl-King, Shlomo Angel (Oxford U Press, NY 1977)–
Social creatures that we are, we humans speak to each other in many languages, heard and unheard, with words spoken, written, implied yet understood. This concept of language can be applied to other realms of human interaction, expressed in repeated and interchangeable patterns. The book A Pattern Language applies it to architecture and urban planning, but there is much more to the book and its ideas, as seen below in a quote from its introduction.
“This language [that is, a pattern language" applied to architectural design], like English, can be a medium for prose, or a medium for poetry. The difference between prose and poetry is not that different languages are used, but that the same language is used, differently. In an ordinary English sentence, each word has one meaning, and the sentence too, has one simple meaning. In a poem, the meaning is far more dense. Each word carries several meanings and the sentence as a whole carries an enormous density of interlocking meanings, which together illuminate the whole.
“The same is true for pattern languages. It is possible to make buildings by stringing together patterns, in a rather loose way. A building made like this, is an assembly of patterns. It is not dense. It is not profound. But it is also possible to put patterns together in such a way that many many patterns overlap in the same physical space: the building is very dense; it has many meanings captured in a small space; and through this density, it becomes profound.
“In a poem, this kind of density, creates illumination, by making identities between words, and meanings, whose identity we have not understood before. In ‘O Rose thou art sick,’ the rose is identified with many greater, and more personal things than any rose — and the poem illuminates the person, and the rose, because of this connection. The connection not only illuminates the words, but also illuminates our actual lives.
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
“The same exactly, happens in a building.”
I’d like to take a course in the writing of Literary Journalism, a field to which I have been aspiring the whole time of the writing of my Tom Crean books. That is, since 1995. I’m not actually taking the course, but I have great respect for Ken McGoogan, the teacher of this course, and The Art of Fact: a Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism even more for the book that is the text for it, edited by Kevin Kerrand and Ben Yagoda.
I haven’t owned the book for an hour. I opened it to the first page that split (pg. 64) and commenced reading where my eyes fell. And could not stop reading. The piece is “An Experiment in Misery” (published 1893) by Stephen Crane, about a couple of seedy characters in search of a boarding house for the night, and later a bite to eat, in a rundown part of Brooklyn. Each sentence, each paragraph is a wonder of description to which I can aspire but never hope to attain. The key here, that we should all take not of is: “could not stop reading.” If you have accomplished that, your goal as a writer has been met.
I got as far as this passage on page 69, when I was moved to write this post:
“The young man saw the dark entrance of a basement restaurant. There was a sign which read, ‘No mystery about our hash,’ and there were other age stained and world battered legends which told him that the place was within his means. He stopped before it and spoke to the assassin. ‘I guest I’ll git somethin’ t’eat.”
The entire scene, the nature of the two characters, the neighborhood through which they pass—-that is, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that stands-in for the world they inhabit, and that inhabits them—-is painted so large and true, with such a few strokes of the writer’s brush. Now, for me, back to Crane’s story, to find out what happens next.
* * *
This, by the way, is not apropos of the launch at Florey’s in Pacifica CA of my new book Rough Weather All Day: An Account of the “Jeannette” Search Expedition by Patrick Cahill. Said launch happens Saturday September 20 at Florey’s, 3:00-5:00. Patrick Cahill’s words, here transcribed, speak for themselves, with the honesty of a daily account of exploration, shipwreck, and survival that needs no further embellishment.
–quoted from Alexander Werth’s “Russia at War 1941-1945″ (Carroll and Graf, NY 1964)–
“When I went to Leningrad in September 1943, the German lines were still two miles from the Kirov Works, on the southern outskirts of the city. The total population had now been reduced to some 600,000 and the city, though beautiful as ever despite considerable damage cause by shells, bombs and fires, had a strange and half-deserted look. There was practically no more bombing, but the shelling was frequent, and often deadly.
“Yet, in a strange way, life seemed almost to have returned to normal. Most of the city looked deserted, and yet, in the late afternoon, there were large crowds of people walking about the “safe” side of the Nevsky Prospect (the shells normally landed on the other side).
“And the ‘Writers’ Bookshop’ near the Anichov Bridge in the Nevsky was doing a roaring trade in second-hand books. Millions of books had been burned as fuel in Leningrad during the famine winter; and yet many people had died before having had time to burn their books, and—a cruel thought—some wonderful bargains were to be got.”
It’s the start of the 2014 Summer season at the Pierre Monteux Music School for Conductors and Orchestra Musician. If you’re anywhere near its campus in Hancock, Maine and you love classical music, now is the time to start making your plans to attend one of their amazing concerts. Don’t let the fact that the musicians and conductors are still students in their craft—I couldn’t tell any of them from seasoned professionals of many years’ experience.
Tonight’s concert was full of adventure and surprises, about the best I have seen, and Monteux’s grandson Gerard shared that opinion. The show started with the Overture from Carl Maria von Weber’s Euranthe. Apparently this 1823 opera’s failure to find a following can be blamed on its weak libretto. The score is lively, full of joy and plenty of surprises.
Next four Symphonic Sketches from George Whitefield Chadwick, composed between 1895 and 1904, combined to make a symphony. The aptly named Jubilee was much like its predecessor in the night’s offerings, full of excitement and surprises, followed by the beautifully lush and flowering Noel, and the witty Hobgoblin and A Vagrom. It’s no accident that I use words like “witty” and “surprising.” Many of these pieces jumped from one time to another, with quick-paced twists and turns that had to make one laugh.
After intermission, we were given Sibelius’s Symphony No.l in E minor. The introductory clarinet solo gave a haunting theme that built and evolved into a powerful and moving piece, moving into a familiar melody with its own repetition and power, that ended with a perfectly timed, perfectly executed single note.
Most of these pieces each had its own conductor. These young men and women were a delight to behold as they led their full orchestra with grace and power, animated as much by the music as the orchestra was by them.
The Monteux School is located in the woods just off Highway One in Hancock Maine. The concert hall a big barn-like building deep in the woods, seats about 225. You are never more than 13 rows from the stage, It’s too bad that tonight’s concert, one of the best, was played to about a 2/3 house. Really, the whole experience is unique. There’s a whole summer of fresh offerings ahead. If you’re nearby, take advantage of it.
The San Mateo County Fair is proud to host the only Literary Stage among all the county fairs in the United States, and I am proud to be one of the stage managers for this unique venue.
The Sixth Annual Literary Arts Stage at the San Mateo County Fair has a full lineup of literary arts and entertainment this year. This “event within the event” has been growing every year, and now offers nearly sixty hours of writers workshops, readings, book launches, and music all day almost every day at the Galleria Stage in the Fine Arts Department of the Fair.
Sunday June 8 features a full day of writers workshops—the “Writers Conference for the Peninsula” designed to appeal to those writers in an around the peninsula who want the benefits of a conference close to home, for a very low cost. All events at the Literary Stage are free with Fair admission. The “Conference” includes presentations by the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association, journalist Scott Thomas Anderson, first draft and publicity workshops, and free writing consultations.
Other events feature book launches, the Pacifica Poets and Writers Forum, special events for Kids’ Day Monday June 9, and plenty of original and acoustic music every evening from 7:00 on, including the local duo Chinese Melodrama on Saturday June 7. David Hirzel has a book launch (“Rough Weather All Day”) 6/10 @ 5:00 followed by an hour of original acoustic music, and other appearances during the week. Pacifica Poets and Writers Forum Thursday June 12.
All these and more are free at the Galleria Literary Stage, with Fair admission.
Literary Events All Day June 7 through. June 13.
San Mateo County Fairgrounds: 1346 Saratoga Dr. San Mateo, CA 94403
Come on down and join the fun!
Feel free to FORWARD THIS ALONG to all your friends who love good writing and good music.