July  31,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

To a Critic


Fellow Poet


Because I write these poems

that please by brevity,

that is proof, you say,

my genius is petty.

I admit it.  But you,

are you great because you write

in twelve weighty books of Troy's strife?

Whereas I give life to little people,

are you great because you make

mountains out of mud?

--Select Epigrams of Martial (tr. Donald C. Goertz)

July  30,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

What Price Fame?


Vacerra only admires the classics.

Vacerra only praises dead poets.

Vacerra surely will forgive me, if

I don't die just to rate his praise.

--Select Epigrams of Martial (tr. Donald C. Goertz)

July  29,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Matho's mad,


says my book

is unfair.


That's good,

I'm glad:

fair books

are dull books.

--Select Epigrams of Martial (tr. Donald C. Goertz)

July  28,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The poor will always be poor;

only the rich get richer.

--Select Epigrams of Martial (tr. Donald C. Goertz)

July  27,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

I never send you,


copies of my books

out of fear

you might send me

copies of yours.

--Select Epigrams of Martial (tr. Donald C. Goertz)

July  26,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Boorish Cinna,

you say it's only a trifle

you are asking;

if true it's only a trifle

you are asking,

then its is only a trifle

I am refusing.

--Select Epigrams of Martial (tr. Donald C. Goertz)

July  25,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mamercus claims to be a poet

but never recites his poetry.

Mamercus may claim

       any profession he wants,

provided only

he never recites his poetry.

--Select Epigrams of Martial (tr. Donald C. Goertz)

July  24,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

I hate the kind of person

with whom you drink

maybe twenty beers

and in your drunken stupor

invite the guy to dinner

tomorrow evening,

and damn--

he comes!

--Select Epigrams of Martial (tr. Donald C. Goertz)

July  23,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Martial's epigrams are as pertinent, as up to date, today as they were the day he wrote them.  They illustrate, sometimes rather sadly, occasionally somewhat gratifyingly, that though man has changed the world around him, he hasn't changed himself.  Martial's capsule-like characterizations, his brief, brilliant insights could just as well be social snapshots of modern Rome, or just about any modern city.  When we look at the nature of man, strip man down to his bare self, today's man versus yesterday's, we find that progress amounts to little more than toilet paper, tin cans, and atom bombs.  Martial's work has about it an almost eerie déjà vu quality, a feeling that we have seen all of this before, even though the time is 1900 years ago.

--Introduction from Select Epigrams of Martial (tr. Donald C. Goertz)

July  22,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The problem with taste is, yours is right and everyone else's is ridiculous.  (I once knew a poet who, no matter how kind the reviews of his work, said that every specific complaint was "wrong.")  Criticism is the exercise of taste under the guise of objectivity--the psychology of taste is such that few readers are perturbed when some mediocrity is praised, but mobs begin lighting torches when their favorites are ignored or damned.  Yet criticism is surely most valuable when it argues against the grain--at least, the reader is likely to learn more from it, even if he disagrees down to his horny soles.  We are forever grateful to a critic able to put into words something we have only vaguely felt.  Barring that, a critic makes himself necessary to the extent that when reading him we whisper, "No! No! No!"

--On Reviewing Hart Crane by William Logan (Poetry, October 2008)

July  21,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The aggrieved reader's fondest delusion is that a critic's sidelong errors undermine a disagreement about taste; yet don't we prefer Eliot's opinions, despite his habitual misquotation, to the arguments of some bozo supported by quotes correct to the last nicety?

--On Reviewing Hart Crane by William Logan (Poetry, October 2008)

July  20,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Written on the eve of my 20th high school reunion,

which I was not able to attend


For the Briarcliff High School class of 1986


Why should we track back, who've come so far--

We know who we are.


How can we be the same

As those quaint ancestors we have left behind, who share our name--


Why have we inherited their shame?

--A.E. Stallings (Poetry, June 2008)

[N.B.:  These are the last lines of a much longer poem, but, like the author, I acknowledge that there are some things to which I was not able to attend.]

July  19,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The tilt is towards the poet who can navigate the worlds of the university, the institution, the community, the reading series, the community workshop, the literary festival.  There has been a gradual, perhaps calcifying professionalism which requires of a poet a standard of behavior and communality which poets were once exempted from.  I was never uncritical of the exemption.  But now, somehow, I wish I saw more of it.

--Islands Apart: A Notebook by Eavan Boland (Poetry, May 2008)

[N.B.:  Needless to say, Eavan Boland is a tenured professor of English at Stanford University.  It's hard to yalp at a faculty conference.  I don't know if the greater sin is committed by the prison guard who wistfully remembers the care-free days before the pogroms or the prison warden who insincerely informs the interrogated prisoner that this next piece of wet work will surely hurt him more.  In any event, when we are reduced to muttering such muted protests ("I was never uncritical") then truly we live in an age of poetic lead.]

July  18,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Seawater Stiffens Cloth

Seawater stiffens cloth long after it's dried.

As pain after it's ended stays in the body:

A woman moves her hands oddly

because her grandfather passed through

a place he never spoke of.  Making

instead the old jokes with angled fingers.

Call one thing another's name long enough,

it will answer.  Call pain seawater, tree, it will answer.

Call it a tree whose shape of branches happened.

Call what branching happened a man

whose job it was to break fingers or lose his own.

Call fingers angled like branches what peel and cut apples,

to give to a girl who eats them in silence, looking.

Call her afterward tree, call her seawater angled by silence.

--Jane Hirshfield (Poetry, May 2008)

July  17,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Discomfort can be delicious," she agreed.  "It's a luxury the wealthy and the unyoung needlessly forego."

--The Birthday King by Gabriel Fielding

July  16,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

He's merely the cross on which she likes to think she's pinned.  People always provide their own.

--The Birthday King by Gabriel Fielding

July  15,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

He was thinking that occasionally, very occasionally, it paid to be young.  He had lost hope some years before; but the young were never without it.  They did not hope, they expected!

--The Birthday King by Gabriel Fielding

July  14,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The wise prisoner distrusts friendship more than enmity.

--The Birthday King by Gabriel Fielding

July  13,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Kommandant took his supper through to the dining room and ate it in the midst of his many possessions.  Some, like his few pieces of old silver, he had inherited; some he had been given by wealthy prisoners or their friends or parents; others he had collected in street markets and antique shops.  All of them he loved.  They were the furniture of his achievement and of a kind of safety.  Surrounded by them, it was possible for him to believe that at some time he had been loved, that his father and mother must have cherished him in their bequests; even, that in their death, that "must" was "now."  He was happy to eat in such comfort; his things gave splendour to his loneliness.

--The Birthday King by Gabriel Fielding

July  12,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Ever since she had realized that Ruprecht might be in love with Alexandra, Carin had thought her ridiculous to resist such attention and to be so young that she did not resent Carin's own infatuation.  It should have been clear, she thought, to any sensible girl, that she herself intended only to swallow Ruprecht whole as soon as possible.  This should have put such a girl on her mettle.  It should have been equally obvious that once she had done this, a woman of Carin's sophistication would have been content to disgorge him undamaged, and leave him to his contemporaries.

--The Birthday King by Gabriel Fielding

July  11,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

He greeted him and then went on talking about his neighbour Prince Hohenheim's potato crop, not troubling to lead Ruprecht anywhere, nor yet, by his manner, suggesting that he was welcome to overhear the discussion.  This breeding, Ruprecht told himself, standing blackly between them.  This fellow behaves as though it were not a year since we last met, but five minutes.  He gives nothing of himself away, not even his hostility.

--The Birthday King by Gabriel Fielding

July  10,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Ruprecht smiled at him.  "I don't want to have to be unpleasant; but you're a little too persistent--and indiscreet.  If you ask many more questions I might decide to answer them, and then you could be in trouble."

"How in trouble?"  Peter looked a little doubtful of himself.  Ruprecht withdrew a pace and smiled again.

"For persistence in face of discretion.  I might find it necessary to have your motives checked.  You don't sound to me an altogether ideal recruit of the S.S.  One of the first lessons you should learn is that Security doesn't like people who mix business with pleasure."

This had the calculated effect.  Peter stood back from him and Ruprecht turned and left him.

--The Birthday King by Gabriel Fielding

July  9,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

All Germany lay under this fiery spell; faces glowing at dusk; the old, resigned at first, but now, like the Baron, stirring to the memories of plumes and cannon.  The young, like Technician Schmidt and himself, like the youth of a hundred towns, tasting this spell as if it had been promise of death at some moment of most intense desire.

--The Birthday King by Gabriel Fielding

July  8,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Persecution's always subtle to start with and that's where most of us went wrong.  It's like a flooding river.  A few inches and you get wet feet, a few more inches and your goods are ruined.  An inch or two beyond that and you're fighting for your life."

--The Birthday King by Gabriel Fielding

[N.B.:  What?  You haven't heard of The Birthday King or of Gabriel Fielding?  That's probably because it is out of print and Fielding is forgotten.  But, if you're interested in a great work of fiction about the temptations and tribulations of a German-Jewish family of armament manufacturers during the rise and fall of Nazism, well, you can buy a used copy of Fiedling's wonderful book here.]

July  7,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Thomas Mann was an important figure for him; Musil felt a kind of love-hate for him, Hassliebe, as the Germans say.  Mann knew nothing but success; even his emigration wasn't a disaster.  In conversation, Musil would tremble nervously at the mere mention of Mann's name.  Musil's splendid definition of Magic Mountain: the work is a "shark's stomach."  He meant that Mann's great novel holds all sorts of undigested fragments of actual existing European systems of thought, viewpoints, and so on.  The Man Without Qualities follows completely different principles: here all references to political and philosophical realities take on an oblique, allusive, mystical quality.  Musil was drawn to der Moglichkeitssinn, the sense of possibility, to whatever happens only in the conditional mood.  The question remains open, though--perhaps Mann was right to toss large chunks of actual ideas into Magic Mountain.

--Dangerous Considerations: A Notebook by Adam Zagajewski (tr. Clare Cavanagh), published in Poetry (Oct. 2007)

[N.B.:  It seems to me that der Moglichkeitssinn is a concept similar to Keats's notion of "negative capability" from his famous letter of December 21, 1817.  I wonder if anyone has done a study of the similarities and differences between the two notions as they have evolved in the two literary cultures.]

July  6,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

When I last met with Dom Columba, he explained that when he rereads Theresa of Avila's Interior Castle, he stops to pray: "Because she makes you see that God loves you--the whole point of Carthusian life."  Then, from memory, he quoted St. John of the Cross: "What will take place on the other side when all for me will be overturned into eternity; I don't know.  I believe, I believe only that a great love awaits me."  As most old people would say, he commented, "It's not hard to die when everyone you know is dead."  In his words, he is "so old and coming to an end."  I walked with him from the extern Great House to the Gatehouse door, where forty years earlier five young men had rung the bell.  When we parted, he shook my hand and said very factually and unemotionally, "See you in another place."

--An Infinity of Little Hours by Nancy Klein Maguire

July  5,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Dom Leo prostrated before the novices and confessed his faults in order to beg their forgiveness and prayers.  He had written his faults on the back of a 1964 Carthusian calendar.  He read:

I accuse myself of all my faults committed against monastic poverty, charity, and obedience during the past year.

Poverty:  keeping clothes in poor repair, neglecting the pear trees in my garden, leaving an ax in the snow, leaving a hoe outside for the entire year, leaving a roller outside for 4 months, not returning a pen knife borrowed from Father Master, breaking a lamp glass in choir, tearing my habit through carelessness, not cleaning walk boots, forgetting my diurnal in the Guest House, breaking a walking stick, causing soot in chimney to smolder, leaving Charterhouse in shabby habit, pouring cider which was left over out the window so that it ruined a patch of grass.

Charity:  forgetting schedule changes frequently, forgetting bath time 3x, went to wrong chapel to serve Mass 5 times, forgot choir practice twice, passing in front of Fr. Prior at lectern, showing disgust for other's errors, ringing another monk's bell too loudly, being impatient when instructing a postulant, allowing someone to ring a sick person's cell, climbing over a neighbor in choir, being late passing things on, making patronizing comments, making remarks about laggers.

Obedience:  Being out of cell frequently, insufficient knowledge of statutes, leaving a gate which is always shut open, showing ambition, doing things to compete, stating views too strongly, speaking to brothers unnecessarily once, failing to observe custody of the eyes frequently, infidelities to time schedule, altering my time schedule 2 times, not weeding garden, not preparing adequately for Office and classes, late for bed habitually, sending notes without permission 5x, slow in delivering a message.

Besides these faults, I have failed to show monastic spirit: not admitting wrong, arguing to assert myself, having a superior attitude in class, criticizing someone's outlook, asking for special types of reading, questioning acts of superiors, making disrespectful remarks to a superior.

I accuse myself of these and all the many other faults that I left our.  I ask pardon for anything with which I might have hurt Father Master or my companions and ask for your prayers for my correction in the future.

--An Infinity of Little Hours by Nancy Klein Maguire

July  4,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Then, during this time, suddenly, unexpectedly, the dark force took a more subtle form than it had before.  Every day was still the same, but every day began to feel as dry as the dry bread on Friday.  Everything was arid.  Dom Philip felt that he was wasting his time.  Sitting at his prie-dieu, he squirmed, nothing was going on.  He struggled with a demon that a fourth-century Eastern monk, Evagrius Ponticus, called the "noonday demon."

The demon of acedia--also called the noonday demon--is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all.  He presses his attack upon the monk about the fourth hour and besieges the soul until the eighth hour.  First of all he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long.  Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour, to llk now this way and now that to see if perhaps . . .

The noonday demon tormented Dom Philip with the unchanging routine to which he was committed--today, tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow: to bed at 7:00 PM, up at 11:00 PM to pray, then church for Night Office, back to pray, to bed again around 2:30 AM, up again at 6:00 AM for Prime, then to church for the conventual and private Masses, then back to the cell for Sext and reading, dinner at 11:00 AM, manual labor and reading, back to church at 2:45 PM for Vespers, back to the cell for Compline, and then to bed at 7:00 PM.  The noonday demon made Dom Philip feel acutely that the life offered little in return.  The noonday demon came and went, but when he was present, Dom Philip felt as if he would never leave.  Dom Philip kept conversing with God, but was anyone listening?  He wasn't sure; he felt parched.  But he took comfort, as did the other monks, in the belief that the harder the life got, the more you were progressing to God.

--An Infinity of Little Hours by Nancy Klein Maguire

July  2,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The monks' major work is Night Office, the most intense time of Carthusian life.  Night Office gives meaning to the order.  Anyone wanting to be a Carthusian would savor the quiet time, the special responsibility of being awake when everyone else is asleep.  The tradition, started in the fifteenth century, of getting up in the middle of the night, of being on duty, on call, keeping watch, harmonized with the life.  The monks keep vigil like the shepherds in Bethlehem.  Night Office is usually said between 11:00 PM and 2:00 AM.  The Carthusians prize this time as their signature contribution to other men.  All the monks agree on the primacy of Night Office--the biggest and most difficult task of the day and the toughest penance.  Some monks never get used to interrupted sleep--or the resulting short days.

--An Infinity of Little Hours by Nancy Klein Maguire

July  1,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Maybe instead of strings it's stories things are made of, an infinite number of tiny vibrating stories; once upon a time they all were part of one big giant superstory, except it got broken up into a jillion different pieces, that's why no story on its own makes any sense, and so what you have to do in a life is try and weave it back together, my story into your story, our stories into all the other people's we know, until you've got something that to God or whoever might look like a letter or even a whole word . . .

--Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

[N.B.:  Here's a good example of what I think of as the Profound Hollywood Ending--that is, on first viewing (or reading), it seems wise and profound (of course, such views may change on future viewings (or readings)).]