Currently, I’m reading Andrzej Franaszek’s biography of Czesław Miłosz, which is utterly fascinating and which I will review at a later date. It reminded me of this video, a poetry reading that former Poet Laureate Robert Hass gave in 2011. Besides being one of Miłosz’s primary English translators, Hass was also a colleague of his at UC Berkeley and a close friend of the great poet. Hass is one of those few poets who actually gives good readings, and I especially love this one: his love both for these poems and for Miłosz himself permeates his entire performance.
(P. S. If you want to skip the introductions, go 6:12.)
Here in southern Louisiana, we’ve been experiencing blistering heat (85° on a good day), periodically interrupted by short but fierce thunderstorms. Naturally, I’ve been thinking of Dana Gioia’s poem “Summer Storm.” I only discovered Gioia recently, but I’m quickly falling in love with his work. Below is a video of Gioia reading the poem, which you can also read for yourself at this link.
As Christmas looms nearer still, I thought I’d dig up this old gem. This time last year, Neil Gaiman was asked to give a reading of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at the New York City Public Library, using the selfsame manuscript from which Dickens himself gave readings back when. Below is a recording of that performance, courtesy of Maria Popova of the delightful site Brain Pickings.
(P. S. If you aren’t interested in the introductions, the story starts at the 3:17 mark.)
All this talk of quotations puts me in mind of a very famous one, supposedly by G. K. Chesterton. No doubt you’ve seen it floating around Pinterest, Twitter, etc. by now:
It certain sounds like Chesterton, and it’s in line with things he did say, but it’s not Chesterton. It is in fact the work of another author of fantastical prose, Mr. Neil Gaiman.
To be fair, Gaiman was basically saying the same thing Chesterton had said, just in fewer words. In his essay “The Red Angel,” Chesterton wrote:
Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
Around seventy years later, Gaiman decided to use this quote as an epigram in his novel Coraline. The only problem was he couldn’t remember how it went. As he explained to a curious fan on Tumblr:
When I started writing Coraline, I wrote my version of the quote in Tremendous Trifles, meaning to go back later and find the actual quote, as I didn’t own the book, and this was before the Internet. And then ten years went by before I finished the book, and in the meantime I had completely forgotten that the Chesterton quote was mine and not his.
I had always wondered how quotes ended up being attributed to people who never said them. Apparently, that’s how.
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It’s the last day of the “Three Days, Three Quotes” challenge and I end it with a quote I’ve been wanting to post here for some time. It’s from Part One, Book Two, and Chapter Four of The Brothers Karamazov. I made an attempt to read it earlier this year, and while I did decide to set it aside for later, this quote stuck with me.
“If you do not attain happiness, always remember that you are on the right road, and try not to leave it. Above all, avoid falsehood, every kind of falsehood, especially falseness to yourself. Watch over your own deceitfulness and look into it every hour, every minute. Avoid being scornful, both to others and to yourself. What seems to you bad within you will grow purer from the very fact of your observing it in yourself. Avoid fear, too, though fear is only the consequence of every sort of falsehood. Never be frightened at your own faint-heartedness in attaining love. Don’t be frightened overmuch even at your evil actions. I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you, for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is labor and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps, a complete science. But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it—at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you. Forgive me for not being able to stay longer with you. They are waiting for me. Good-by.”
Last week, I read the news that author E. L. Doctorow had passed away at the age of 84. I then proceeded to find out who E. L. Doctorow was. He seems to be one of those authors whom everyone knows about and everyone has read except for me. While researching, I stumbled across this interview he gave to The Paris Review in 1986. It contains an interesting anecdote about his attempts to write a short note to which I think writers will relate well. 😉
INTERVIEWER: You once told me that the most difficult thing for a writer to write was a simple household note to someone coming to collect the laundry, or instructions to a cook.
DOCTOROW: What I was thinking of was a note I had to write to the teacher when one of my children missed a day of school. It was my daughter, Caroline, who was then in the second or third grade. I was having my breakfast one morning when she appeared with her lunch box, her rain slicker, and everything, and she said, “I need an absence note for the teacher and the bus is coming in a few minutes.” She gave me a pad and a pencil; even as a child she was very thoughtful. So I wrote down the date and I started, Dear Mrs. So-and-so, my daughter Caroline . . . and then I thought, “No, that’s not right. Obviously, it’s my daughter Caroline.” I tore that sheet off, and started again. “Yesterday, my child . . .” No, that wasn’t right either. Too much like a deposition. This went on until I heard a horn blowing outside. The child was in a state of panic. There was a pile of crumpled pages on the floor, and my wife was saying, “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this.” She took the pad and pencil and dashed something off. I had been trying to write the perfect absence note. It was a very illuminating experience. Writing is immensely difficult. The short forms especially.
Despite having yet to read his books, Charles Williams has become a sort of fascination for me recently. That’s why I was excited to find this video, in which Malcolm Guite, a poet and teacher, gives an excellent overview of this bizarre little man’s life and work.
Why do we write today? I do not write to entertain. I do not write to amuse. I come from a tradition which believes in the written word very much. I believe that words are dangerous and can be made into dangerous tools. I believe that words can become links too. It all depends [on] what you do with them. As another writer before my time, the King Solomon, would say, . . . “Life and death is really in what you say.” And we in our generation, more than all the others before, knew how true that was, that life and death are actually related to the word. To language.
I saw the name “Ray Bradbury” in the title, so naturally, I had to listen to it. 🙂
I’ve heard a couple of my favorite bloggers rave about Neil Gaiman, and I, having never read a word by him, couldn’t tell what all the fuss was about. Now I know. That ending very nearly made me cry (and I didn’t even cry when I read The Book Thief!)
I found this video a while back while I was meandering around Youtube. If the uploader is to be trusted, it is a recording made in 1889 of Robert Browning trying to recite his poem “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix.” I say “trying” because after the third line, he completely forgets the poem and starts saying random things. Kind of funny, actually.