Commentaries - May 2009

New audio. A brief informal introduction to cubist language by way of Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway (the 1920s Hem, to be sure).

Stein: “Any one doing something and standing is one doing something and standing. Some one was doing something and was standing. / Any one doing something and standing is one doing something and standing. Any one doing something and standing is one who is standing and doing something. Some one was doing something and was standing. That one was doing something standing.”

Hemingway, from “On the Quai at Smyrna”: “The strange thing was, he said, how they screamed every night at midnight. I do not know why they screamed at that time. We were in the harbor and they were all on the pier and at midnight they started screaming. We used to turn the searchlight on them to quiet them. That always did the trick. We’d run the searchlight up and down over them two or three times and they stopped it.”

Here is the audio (mp3).

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Joseph Hutchinson has blogged in response to this entry.

Dave Matthews at the Garden last night.

I and 15,000 others sang “Happy Birthday” to Pete Seeger last night at Madison Square Garden. Springsteeen sang “The Ghost of Tom Joad” with Tom Morello, after a longish introduction by Bruce which ended: “He’s gonna look a lot like your granddad that wears flannel shirts and funny hats. He gonna look like your granddad if your granddad can kick your ass.” We saw and heard Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp (“If I Had a Hammer”), Ani DiFranco (selflessly sang to accompany several others), Arlo Guthrie (“Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band), Billy Bragg (prefaced by a great story of Pete’s musical teachings), Bruce Cockburn (intense as always), Emmylou Harris (the most moving performance of “The Water Is Wide” I’ve ever heard), Joan Baez (two songs — the first not quite her usual, the second, “Jacob’s Ladder,” fantastic), Kris Kristofferson (“Got a Hole in My Bucket, Dear Liza”), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Richie Havens (sang “Freedom” — his Woodstock song), Roger McGuinn (did the Animals version of “Turn, Turn, Turn”), Steve Earle, Taj Mahal (a favorite of mine), Bernice Reagon, Dar Williams, Tom Chapin, Tom Paxton, Eric Weissberg, and others.

The opening of the four-hour performance: a lone light shone on Seeger (but we didn’t really know it was Pete) as he played a flute solo called “Menomonee Love Song.” the lights came up, they revealed the outline of a sloop, apt for an event titled the “Clearwater Concert” after the organization’s vessel, the gaff sloop Clearwater.


1) Dave Matthews, after telling us he should introduce himself as “David,” since that’s what his mother called him and she was the one who took him to his first concert, near Croton, NY — a Pete Seeger concert. Matthews sang an emotional but musically pure version of “Whiskey Rye Whiskey.”

2) Emmylou Harris, “The Water Is Wide,” noted above. Not a dry eye in the house.

3) Springsteen and Morello, trading verses of “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Earlier in the week (!) I’d seen Bruce with the E Street Band, a great concert. The whole band did its hauntingly good “Tom Joad,” but this, Bruce in the clear voice of a guy singing for just ten minutes in a whole evening, and two acoustic guitars, and a harmony with Morello, was even better.

4) Seeger, Baez, Billy Bragg, Emmy Lou Harris singing “We Shall Overcome.”

Regular readers of this blog will know that I tend to follow the contemporary uses of Wallace Stevens. Most of this is of course trivial and/or incidental. Yet some of it makes startling great sense. Laura, a watercolorist who seems to reside in or aesthetically dwell upon some tropical clime, reread “Nomad Exquisite” (presumably while painting one of her florid watercolors) and it suggested to her that it was time for another whiskey smash. She gives the recipe for the whiskey smash just below the poem, in similar format. So I read the poem and the drink recipe and realized that as parallel texts they make a great deal of sense. Especially after a few smashes. (Laura calls this drink her “summer Manhattan.”)

Nomad Exquisite

As the immense dew of Florida
Brings forth
The big-finned palm
And green vine angering for life,

As the immense dew of Florida
Brings forth hymn and hymn
From the beholder,
Beholding all these green sides
And gold sides of green sides,

And blessed mornings,
Meet for the eye of the young alligator,
And lightning colors
So, in me, comes flinging
Forms, flames, and the flakes of flames.

The blog, “Writing the Holocaust,” as of this morning has just two blog posts, one for March and one for April. But it’s of interest to me nevertheless. April’s is a longish entry giving “some cautions on writing Holocaust poetry.” It begins with Charles Reznikoff and makes reference to Holocaust verse by Snodgrass, Rich, C.K. Williams, et alia.

William Carlos Williams, “Danse Russe”

If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees, —
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
again the yellow drawn shades, —

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

[c. 1917]

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Shawn Walker and I discuss the poem — an audio mini-lesson recorded for an all-online version of my English 88 course around ten years ago. Williams recorded the poem a number of times, but here is a version made in 1950.