Friday, June 16, 2017

Wondering Woman

In this blog, I discuss the currently-in-theaters movie Wonder Woman, and while there are no real plot spoilers (unless you don't know which side won World War I), consider before you read this that I am alluding to plot points.

I know that one does not see superhero movies expecting 100% logical consistency. A movie based on real-life events rarely even achieves 100% logical consistency, given the narrative and temporal constraints inherent to the medium. And superhero movies have their own logic, as does any narrative in the speculative fiction category. Ironman was one of my all-time favorite movies, so I don't dislike the genre. I was really set on liking Wonder Woman. Grrl power, and all that.

But.

I didn't leave Ironman pondering the logical inconsistencies of the story. (And again, I'm certain there were hundreds, beginning with the whole let's-replace-his-heart-with-this-nuclear-magnetic-thingie —seriously, I'm fine with that; I get that it's central to the story and to the character and is perfectly in keeping with the trope. So I'm good.) But Wonder Woman...

...so if the dashing young man whose life she saved had been a German spy, and it was the British forces who stormed the beach of Paradise Island, then she'd go with him to fight on his side????

...so she speaks all these modern languages, but knows nothing of the existence (let alone the mores) of these 20th century nations????

...the Amazons invented bullet-proof armor without knowing about guns and bullets????

I could live with the little things, like numbers 2 and 3 above. But it's that first one—the sheer accident of it being a spy on "our" side whom she saves and then joins, that has me most troubled. And I know she isn't joining him to fight the Germans per se; she's looking for [I won't say whom, in case you haven't seen the movie yet—let's just say she's looking for someone who is above nationality]. But still, she'd be fighting with the Germans, and her character at that point doesn't even know about "sides" or who is fighting whom or why, so she'd be just as likely to take up with the Germans. Right?

And let's talk about killing. Diana is deeply troubled by the wounded soldiers and suffering civilians she sees as they near the front. She cannot understand the "big picture"; it is these victims of violence in front of her who capture her attention and whom she must help by...(wait for it)...killing dozens of German soldiers who of course are the equivalent of those British soldiers she was just looking at five minutes earlier. She's a warrior, yes; she's looking for [again, I won't say] who is the root of all evil [she thinks—but that's another thread that actually would be a good thread if not for the logical inconsistencies that tangle it all up]; but killing young men in order to save young men (neither of whose "sides" or cultures or countries or reasons for being in this war in the first place does she understand) just has my brain hurting.

Men wrote this screenplay. I won't blame all men for the logical inconsistencies. That would be...illogical.

But if we want a feminist superhero who can be kick-ass AND logical, I think we might need to start writing, sisters.

I'm sure we can include a part for Robert Downey, Jr.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Language and Song

I'm reading C.K. Williams's On Whitman, in preparation for a presentation on WW I'm scheduled to give this coming December, plus of course American Lit and future Modern Poetry and who knows what all else that will call for a little extra studying of this one-of-a-kind poet and seer. Williams writes, "Poetry is song and language at once," which will definitely find its way into Modern Poetry the next time I teach that course. I would have said "language and song," in that order, to make the point that language comes first, but I quibble.

This morning I sat for a few moments looking at an ad in the back of Smithsonian Magazine, an ad for dry-erase boards that can be custom fitted to line the walls of a room. I daydreamed about having a dry-erase-board-lined room, on which I could draw and color and of course write. How geeky is that, to daydream about being surrounded by one infinite dry erase board.

And then thinking of Ben Platt, who won the Tony Award last night for his performance in the play Dear Evan Hansen. He ended his acceptance speech by saying, "The things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful." I feel vindicated in my room-sized-dry-erase-board fantasy. Power!

Those strange poets, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. Power!

...to be continued...






Monday, June 5, 2017

Diminished Things, Part 2

What to make of a diminished thing—It is a terrifying question, at least to me, as I sit here pondering the state of the world, the receding of all that seemed promising, the sudden looming predominance of all that is absurd and unhinged and ugly.

Diminishment is a difficult concept to grasp because it is natural. Think entropy. Even in his poem in which he concludes with the phrase "what to make of a diminished thing," Robert Frost holds out the hope that everything is cyclical, like the seasons themselves. This is the problem with being a nature poet: There is always hope in the short-term. And that makes us uncertain of how to deal with the reality that something is always being lost. Yes, the return of spring is nice...as long as one doesn't go extinct over the winter. The rainy season is a relief...unless one drowns.

Hope vs. wishful thinking. That is our dilemma as human beings, as artists, as teachers. That is our on-going challenge. Something is needed in place of hope, as we ponder what to make of a diminished thing. Especially when the diminishment is our own fault.

Fate vs. choice was another of Frost's grand themes. How ironic that we have the choice here of what it is that will be diminished, what will be lost. And we keep choosing to diminish ourselves. What to make of this diminished thing, indeed.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

These Diminished Things

Robert Frost's poem "The Oven Bird" ends with the phrase, "what to make of a diminished thing." John Ciardi's luminous poem "The Catalpa" ends with the line, "What should I keep if averages were all?" These two questions (though in the Frost poem, it isn't actually posed as a question) keep playing in my mind as I walk in the late spring woods and as I watch the all-day news.

What to make of a diminished thing?
What should I keep if averages were all?

Frost, of course, is known as a nature poet; Ciardi, not so much, although many of his poems use images from the natural world to create modern metaphysical conceits like a 20th-century American John Donne. "The Oven Bird" and "The Catalpa" make one realize how even seemingly non-political poems are, in fact, political.

Think of our world today and all we see being destroyed: human lives; regard for truth and beauty; the noble experiment of democracy. Diminished, all. And yet, still we hope (and thus protest, argue, witness albeit in disbelief, write, teach, read...); still we ask, each in our own way, "What should I keep if averages were all?" and wait for some sign that this, too, shall pass, and that perhaps the diminishment is temporary and the golden age will return again. One thing I learned in my college statistics and probability course was that there is no such thing as average—average never describes the reality in one's hand, in front of one's eyes.

And if there is not to be another golden age in our lifetime, well, then, like good Stoics, we shall ponder what to make of this diminished thing, and write poems, and make music, and eat chocolate.

And still, we shall rage against the dying of the light.
Funny how all these lines of poetry describe our times, yes?

***

nest building—
don't they read the papers,
these birds?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Impermanence, Sort Of

I have made several collages that are made permanent only in photos, such as this one. I assemble the scraps but do not glue anything to anything. The paradox of assembling images in whole that remains unglued and can fall apart at any moment is thrilling, intoxicating. Controlled chaos at its finest, with the knowledge that chaos will win. And of course, I cheat by taking a photo, so in a sense it is permanent, as permanent as anything digital can be.

What do I discover as I go through this process? First, that it is the process itself that I love: the tearing of scraps; the finding of already-torn scraps in my box of scraps; the way-leads-on-to-way of it all. Then there's the freedom of it: I can arrange the pieces without having to worry about the logic of gluing something under one piece but atop another. So many of the collages I glue into permanence are not quite what I intended, because the logic of sequencing the pieces sometimes defies me.

What I haven't done yet, but may try soon, is using the exact same pieces to make a different collage, a series of collages all with the same elements...

Permanent impermanence, repeating itself again and again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Scraps

I belong to a Facebook group where collage artists post their work. I am always fascinated by the way these artists see and interpret their world, turning chaos into order and exposing the underlying chaos beneath what seems like order. And oh, the colors!

These artists turn scraps into works of art; they see the potential in those scraps.

Imagine if we had politicians who could see the world this way. See what's wrong, and create something to right that wrong. See what's right, and incorporate it more fully into people's everyday lives. See chaos and ask why; see the patterns of the past, and ask, why not break those destructive patterns.

Instead, we just get the chaos interspersed with the destructive patterns (because destruction is easier, after all, and has no intellectual prerequisite).

Instead, we have scraps of human beings who see only their own dark impulses. The rest of us might as well be swept up and discarded. The rest of us become the pieces we try to pick up.

Sorry; I have collage-on-the-brain these days.

*

lily-of-the-valley
from petal
to hand
to bird

Monday, May 15, 2017

How Does This World

In pieces; that's how this world does.

In a deceptively simple poem titled "In Vain," Jack Kerouac has a beautiful image:

"The windowshade string upon
            the hand bible
In vain—"

I discovered this poem while prepping for Modern Poetry; it is the voice of a somber, haunted, poet Kerouac rather than the road-delirious, live-for-the-moment novelist Kerouac that emerges in these lines, each image "in vain," whether highbrow or low, distant or at-hand. It is the voice of a poet trying to make meaning; the voice of a poet asking, "How does this world?"

It is a collage. It is in-the-making, imperfect, working its imperfections into the whole. It is tactile and immediate, present tense despite the absence (or rather, the implication) of the verb "is" throughout the poem. The implication of a motel room in those things—"windowshade string" and "hand bible"—evokes Kerouac on the road, but exhausted beyond sleep, wondering what it's all for. Wondering how does this world.

It feels almost absurd, but this isn't far from anything Emily Dickinson does in her poems, as well. "How does this world" could be her question, explored in nearly two thousand poems.

Over the next few blog entries, unless I go off on some interesting tangent, I hope to explore some of the pieces that comprise the endless answer to "how does this world."

See the complete Kerouac poem here:
https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/vain