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Archive for March, 2010

Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) won the Pulitzer for his book "Now and Then"

The following excerpts are from the book Talking with Robert Penn Warren, published in 1990. Warren made these statements in conversation with John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Donald Davidson, William Y. Elliott, Louis D. Rubin, Cleanth Brooks, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Dorothy Bethurum, Randall Stewart at Vanderbilt University in 1959:

"The bad poem or the good poem could be equally interesting in terms of the way the mind works in creating it, or in the stuff that may call the attention of any of us to the poet himself . . . what his psychic history has been. . . . You’ve got to be willing to always shut your eyes and then deal the cards (when writing poems). Just don’t look yet."

“Warren: Greatness is not a criterion — a profitable criterion — of poetry; that what you are concerned with is a sense of a contact with reality. And it’s maybe a pinpoint touch or a whole palm of a hand laid, or something; but the important thing is the shock of this contact: a lot of current can come through a small wire. And there you are up against, well, big subjects and little subjects. It’s just so it’s a real subject, and, of course, you’ve got this word to deal with; you’ve got to have something that will actually create human heat in that contact. Well, language can in certain ways, because language drags the bottom of somebody into being, in one way or another, directly or indirectly. But if I had to say what I would try to hunt for in a poem — would hunt for in a poem — it would be some kind of vital image, a vital and evaluating image, of vitality. That’s a different thing from the vitality you observe or experience. It’s an image of it, but it has the vital quality — it’s a reflection of that vital quality, rather than a passing reflection, but it has its own kind of assurance, own kind of life, by the way it’s built. And when you get around to talking about the scale [the size of a poem], it’s not the most important topic. It is an important topic, but it’s something that comes in very late in the game. . . . But there’s no virtue or defect in the size one way or the other. The question is: where do you get that image, that speaking image, the walking statue, and how would we interpret that? . . .

Warren graduated from Vanderbilt and was a Rhodes Scholar

“Another thing: poetry is an exploration; the process of writing is an exploration. You may dimly envisage what a poem will be when you start it, but only as you wrangle through the process do you know your own meanings. In one way, it’s a way of knowing what kind of poem you can write. And in finding that you find out yourself — I mean a lot about yourself. I don’t mean in the way Merrill’s [Moore] talking about: I mean in the sense of what you can make available, poetically, is clearly something that refers to all your living in very indirect and complicated ways. But you know more about yourself, not in a psychoanalytic way, but in another way of having dealt with yourself in a process. The poem is a way of knowing what kind of person you can be, getting your reality shaped a little bit better. And it’s a way of living, and not a parlor trick even in its most modest reaches; I mean, the most modest kind of effort that we make is a way of living. And I think Bill [Elliott] has something important when he insists that there is such a thing as a poetic condition, which is the willingness to approach a poem in that spirit, rather than in the spirit of a performer, when you get down to a business of writing a poem, or even thinking about poetry.”

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Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)

“I would like to try to paint so nothing is at rest in my work. Nothing is frozen. I would like people to sense even in those paintings with brilliant passages of sunlight, that the sunlight is not really still but that you can really see the passage of the sun.”

Tempera on gessoed panel. Christina's World, 1948. The woman in the painting is Christina Olson (1893-1968), a neighbor of Wyeth’s. Crippled from polio, her lower body was paralyzed. She was 55 when Wyeth painted this. He was inspired to create the painting when he saw her crawling across a field.

“The way I feel about things is so much better than the way I’ve been able to paint them. The image I had in my head before I started is not quite — never quite — completely conveyed in paint.”

One of 247 works Wyeth completed of neighbor Helga Testorf between 1971-1985. Known as “The Helga Pictures,” the collection is a combination of tempera and dry brush paintings, watercolors and pencil studies.

“I have such a strong romantic fantasy about things — and that’s what I paint, but come to it through realism. If you don’t back up your dreams with truth, you have a very round-shouldered art.”

Tempera on panel. Pennsylvania landscape, 1942.

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape — the loneliness of it — the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it — the whole story doesn’t show.”

Watercolor, gouache and pencil mounted on textured card. The Pikes, 1965.

“There’s a quote from Hamlet that is my guide . . . . He tells the players to exaggerate but to hold a mirror up to nature. Don’t overdo it, don’t underdo it. Do it just on the line.”

Tempera on board. Albert's son, 1959.

“I honestly consider myself an abstractionist. Eakins’ figures actually breathe in the frame. My people, my objects, breathe in a different way; there’s another core — an excitement that’s definitely abstract.”

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Howard Nemerov (1920-1991 ) won the Pulitzer for his book of "Collected Poems"

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), "Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid" c. 1670. Oil on panel.

Vermeer

Taking what is, and seeing it as it is,
Pretending to no heroic stances or gestures,
Keeping it simple; being in love with light
And the marvelous things that light is able to do,
How beautiful! a modesty which is
Seductive extremely, the care for daily things.

At one for once with sunlight falling through
A leaded window, the holy mathematic
Plays out the cat’s cradle of relation
Endlessly; even the inexorable
Domesticates itself and becomes charm.

If I could say to you, and make it stick,
A girl in a red hat, a woman in blue
Reading a letter, a lady weighing gold . . .
If I could say this to you so you saw,
And knew, and agreed that this is how it was
In a lost city across the sea of years,
I think we should be for one moment happy
In the great reckoning of those little rooms
Where the weight of life has been lifted and made light,
Or standing invisible on the shore opposed,
Watching the water in the foreground dream
Reflectively, taking a view of Delft
As it was, under a wide and darkening sky.

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Antonin Dvořák’s opera Rusalka is a Czech opera based on a fairytale by a woman named Božena Němcová. It was first performed in Prague in 1901. Rusalka is a water nymph who falls in love with a prince. The name Rusalka means water. She asks the moon to find the man she loves, “Help him remember his dreams of me, tell him I’m waiting for him, make him remember me when he awakes.” She asks an evil witch to transform her into a human so she can be with him. The prince immediately falls in love with her but is seduced by another princess. He returns to Rusalka in the end, but they are both destroyed by the witch’s spell as they finally kiss. In this scene from the beginning of the opera, Rusalka is begging her friend the moon to tell the prince about her love:

Moon high above in the summer sky,
he too is watching your shining.
Speak to his heart from up on high
tell him I’m lonely and long for him.
Moon high above him shining
speak to him, tell him how I love him.
If by chance he dreams of me,
if the thought of me awakens him,
moonlight forsake me not,
moonlight, stay with me, stay with me.

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Viktor Schreckengost (1906-2008), designer and creator of the "Jazz Bowl"

The following is quoted from “Viktor Schreckengost: An American Design Giant,” The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles (January 2001), pp 27-29 by Mark Favermann:

“It was the bottom of the Depression and the Cowan Pottery Studio where I worked part time for Guy Cowan, my former teacher, received a number of letters requesting specific types of products from various galleries. I remember picking up one request from a gallery in New York City asking a large punch bowl with a New York theme. I thought about it awhile and felt that the City of New York reflected the excitement and energy of jazz music. I listened to a lot of it when I had visited the city. I also felt that the bowl should be blue to mirror the strange blue tinged light that rose over the city at night. I started with plaster, creating a bowl and then went to white porcelain and started to use a rather primitive method of scratching (etching) an image on the surface of the bowl. This was a black and white technique. I then put on the bowl translucent copper and cobalt blue glazes that were then baked on. A week after the bowl was shipped, the gallery called to say that the lady who ordered it was so pleased that she wanted to order two more. She said that her husband Franklin loved it, too. One was to be sent to her house in Hyde Park, New York, and the other was to the White House in Washington. The lady was, of course, Eleanor Roosevelt. So I knew, too, that FDR was running seriously for president.”


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Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) was an American painter best known for a series of 60 small paintings in tempera on hardboard panels called "The Migration Series," completed in 1941, about the shift of African-American people from the rural South to the urban North between the two World Wars.

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Nelly Sachs (Sweden, 1891-1970)

The following biographical excerpt and poem are from After Every War, Twentieth-Century Women Poets published in 2004:

“Nelly (Leonie) Sachs was born in 1891 into a comfortable Jewish home in the fashionable Tiergarten suburb of Berlin. . . . As a young girl of fifteen she began a correspondence with Selma Lagerlof, the Swedish writer, a connection that would prove crucial to her survival when the war years began in Germany.

Sachs continued to live in Berlin with her mother after the death of her father in 1930. But as the Nazi grip tightened in the city and Jews became more vulnerable to the new laws of exclusion and persecution, she and her mother determined to escape. Through the intervention of Selma Lagerlof, Sachs and her mother were granted asylum in Sweden in 1940. There they lived in a two-bedroom apartment while Nelly Sachs made a modest living translating Swedish poets into German.

During this time she also worked on new poems which were first seen in the volume In Den Wohnungen des Todes (In the Habitations of Death) which was published in Berlin in 1947. . . . [In her poems] elements of Hasidic mysticism were crafted together with German Romanticism and echoes of the Psalms into signature elegies. Describing her own project Nelly Sachs said it was ‘in this night of nights to give some idea of the holy darkness.’

After the war, and following the death of her mother in 1950, she remained in Stockholm. Although she had several breakdowns, she continued to write and publish.

If I Only Knew
(translated by Eavan Boland)

If I only knew
where you put that last look.
Was it on a stone,
a blind stone,
which had taken in so many last looks
that they fell blindly on its blindness?

Or was it on a shoeful of earth?
Already black
with so many partings,
so many killings?

Or was it on your last road
saying farewell to you from all the other roads
you once walked?

A puddle? A glitter of metal?
The buckle of your enemy?
Some other spirit-augury
of the world to come?

Or did this earth which lets
no one depart without its love
send you the sign
of a bird in the air,
reminding your soul
that it flinched just so
in it charred and tortured body?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shmuel Yosef Agnon (Israel, 1888-1970)

Here are the opening paragraphs from chapter two of Agnon’s book In The Heart of the Seas, published in 1948 and translated by I.M. Lask:

“The greater part of Adar had already passed. The clouds which had been obscuring the sun’s course began to shrink, while the sun grew gradually larger. What only yesterday had been the time for the Evening Prayer became the time for Afternoon Prayer today; while yesterday’s getting-up time became the time to start saying the Morning Prayer today.

The snow warmed up and began to melt, and the trees of the field grew black. One day they were black as earth; the next, they would be putting forth leaves and blossoming like the Lebanon. The pools and marshes were covered by a film, and the birds began to chirp. Every day a different kind of bird would come around and there began a cheeping on every roof. Our men of good heart started going out and asking when the road would be fit for travel; they meant the month, of course, when the road would be fit for wayfarers.

Never in all their lives had these good folks so feared death as at that particular period. How great is the sanctity of the Land of Israel though it be in ruins! And what is the body’s strength even at its height? For after all, suppose a man wishes to go up to the Land of Israel and does not go up, what if his soul should suddenly depart from his body and he be left lying like a dumb stone without having gone up. What would become of all his hopes?”

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