Friday, October 29, 2010

Charles Bukowski's House

I spent last weekend in the L.A. area attending the Charles Brockden Brown Society Conference and visiting friends. The conference was held at The Huntington Library in San Marino. Founded by railroad man Henry E. Huntington in 1919, the library is one of the country's most impressive private collections. Interestingly, they house the papers and works of L.A. poet, Charles Bukowski and while I was there, an exhibit highlighting his work was on display.
buk house sign
Not to get into an aesthetics debate, but the contrast of The Huntington's high-brow image and Bukowski's often crass, decidedly blue-collar writing struck me. A sign for the Bukowski exhibit stated that it contained material not suitable for all audiences. The irony was further driven home when my friend Katie took me to see the house Bukowski lived in from 1963-1972 and the liquor store he frequented when he lived there. The house is still occupied, so it's not really a tourist site. It's not in the best L.A. neighborhood - it's located at 5124 W. De Longpre Ave. Los Angeles. Bukowski's favorite liquor store, The Pink Elephant, had a surprisingly good selection of beer considering it's rough/gaudy exterior, but it still wasn't in the nicest area of town.
pink elephant
The whole experience stood as a strong reminder to me that, whether or not an author or his/her work is inducted into the canon, it's important to remember to read what he or she is trying to tell you. Read at The Huntington, it would be easy to romanticize the hard-scrabble life of dead-end jobs, drinking, prostitutes, and poverty Bukowski describes and to let yourself get caught up in his humor, but ultimately he described a hard life, an unhealthy life, and often a humiliating life. He described poverty and people still live it. So while I'm certainly glad that The Huntington has become the steward of Bukowski's work, I'm equally happy that the city of L.A. was able to preserve where he lived. I don't know if I can adequately describe the contrast, but Bukowski could, so I'll let him...

Bum on the Loose

I climbed off a park bench to engage the giant of
literature battle.
I lived with women madder than the gods
I consumed enough booze to get an army drunk.
I lived in shacks without windows, without electricity,
without plumbing, without heat.
I climbed off a park bench to engage the giant of
literature battle.
I was beaten in alleys, robbed.
I searched the cities for sanity.
I read great books and they made me sleepy.
I starved in rooms fat with rats.
my parents were in shame of me.
the beautiful ladies thought me ugly.
I climbed off a park bench to engage the giant of
literature battle.
the world considered me insane.
I slept in deserted graveyards.
I sat in bars through the mornings and into the night
and back into morning.
I engaged the giants of literature.
all my work came back.
one editor wrote, "what is this stuff?"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Homesick Yankee Ramblings Part 5 - Cape Cod

provincetown 2
I just checked Dr. Timothy Dwight's Travels in New England and New York out of the library and it's got me plenty homesick. Dwight was a Congregationalist minister and the president of Yale from 1795-1817. He was also the grandson of the famous Northampton minister, Jonathan Edwards of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God fame. Travels, which spans four volumes, reads like a journal. Dwight stitches together detailed notes of many, many towns, villages, cities, natural sites, and various short biographies of notable people. The book was published in 1822, a few years after Dwight's death in 1817. Needless to say, I'll be posting some more quotes from Dr. Dwight here in the near future.

From Travels in New England and New York, Vol. III, Letter X:
"It has been a frequent opinion that this beach, and not improbably the whole township of Provincetown, will one day, and that at no distant period of time, be swept away by the ocean. I was not able to obtain satisfactory information concerning this subject, particularly as judicious persons differed entirely both as to facts and probabilities. Some averred that the beach has been greatly diminished within a moderate period. Others, particularly one, a discreet man, insisted that what it lost on one side it regularly gained on the other. It is now more than one hundred yards wide, and appears to the eye of a stranger as if every vestige of it might be easily swept away within two or three years."
"This remarkable object is an enormous mass of sand, such as has been already described, fine, light, of a yellowish hue, and the sport of every wind. It is blown into plains, valleys, and hills. The hills are of every height from ten to two hundred feet. Frequently they are naked, round, and extremely elegant; and often rough, pointed, wild and fantastical, with all the varied forms which are seen at times in drifts of snow."

Provincetown 1
provincetown 2 reverse
Luckily for us, Dwight's fear that Provincetown would be washed away was never realized. Sitting out here in the desert, I'm sure the Cape's as beautiful now as it was when the Nauset lived there, or in 1620 when the Puritans arrived, or in 1800 when Timothy Dwight stood speculating on the beach, or when Thoreau called it a "wild, rank place", or when Norman Mailer, Tennessee Williams, and Jackson Pollack hung out there, or when Scott and Connie loved the water, boats, and stores in 1967, or when Erin and I and her family had a fire on the beach in 2007.
Triangles and Rhombuses

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hail Storm

Last week the West Valley (that is, the western part of the Phoenix metropolitan area) was hit with two hail storms in one day. Though perhaps part of the same storm system, the two hail storms hit a few hours apart. The first storm, pictured above, dropped stones the size of small marbles. The second storm dropped much, much bigger stones.
really big hail stones
These things were huge! The sounds of these hitting the house was deafening. The cats were very frightened. I saved a few in the freezer to show Erin when she got home.
crazy rain
lugnut cover
The hail did crazy stuff outside. In addition to trashing our patio and flooding the lawn, it turned on a faucet and knocked the lug-nut cover off my truck. My poor truck took a beating. The hood has dozens of little dents, individual impact craters from the hail stones. I'm going to get a dent popper. Hope it works...
bright rainbow ends
hummingbird hail
When the storm stopped a rainbow arched over the neighborhood. It turned into a modest double rainbow. One of the strangest things was how the hummingbirds continued to feed during the storm. Each hailstone must have outweighed the birds, but they would dart over to the feeder, drink, and dart off. Maybe they were playing chicken or nectar roulette.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Gary Snyder

On Thursday night I went with some friends to hear Gary Snyder read at the Poetry Center at the University of Arizona. There were tons of people there. He talked and read for about an hour. He read new poems and old poems and talked about his time in Japan and on Mt. St. Helen. If you're not familiar with Snyder, he's a naturalist, a Buddhist, an ecologist, an anthropologist, a linguist, and about anything else you can think of. He's a literal and literary factotum. But most of all, he's a wonderful poet and writer.

"Rip Rap" is probably Gary Snyder's most famous poem, so I'll add it here. You can find it in the collection Rip Rap and Cold Mountain Poems. My buddy likes "Axe Handles," so I'll add that one too.

"Rip Rap"

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
          placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
          in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
          riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way.
          straying planets,
These poems, people,
          lost ponies with
Dragging saddles --
          and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
Game of Go.
          ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
          a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
          with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
          all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.

"Axe Handles"

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own
A broken off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
"When making an axe handle
the pattern is not far off."
And I say this to Kai
"Look: We'll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with--"
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It's in Lu Ji's Wên Fu, fourth century
A.D. "Essay on Literature" -- in the
Preface: "In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand."
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see Pound was an axe
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Arizona Flag Effect

Arizona's state flag is really cool. The central star is copper colored in honor of the copper industry, long one of the most important industries in the state. The blue below the star is the same blue as the U.S. flag and represents liberty. There are 13 alternating red and yellow rays emanating from the star representing the 13 original counties of Arizona. The yellow and red are from the Spanish flag, a nod to the state's colonial Spanish heritage.
Arizona Flag
Taken overall, the flag depicts a sunset with crepuscular rays. Crepuscular rays, common at sunrise and sunset, are created when sunlight shines through spaces in clouds. The result is pretty damn spectacular. Here are some pictures of last night's sundown, crepuscular rays and all. These were taken west of Phoenix near Tonopah, AZ.
sundown road
 backlit cloud
blue skies
A big storm hovered to the north. This panoramic shot is best viewed large.