January 30, 2007

Not Good Enough For My Home - reviewing "Two Sisters (On the Terrace)" by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The days I sat in longing on a bench in Chicago's Art Institute with my mother, staring with fascination at this portrait are behind me. Time and age and death have stolen this pleasure. My appreciation of "Two Sisters (On the Terrace)" by Pierre-Auguste Renoir is still there. My visits to the two sisters continue with every passing through the esteemed art museum, but I never sit as long.

I was eight, and Renoir was 55 years gone. His message of romance: naive, pure and welcoming still spoke and still speaks to me now, 30 years later. Whether is was the beautiful young girl in the front, or her equally delicate sister, I cannot say, but asphyxiated with their demure smiles far outshone any subtle smirk portrayed on Mona Lisa. Smothered by their grace and gentle, innocent sophistication, I yearned to be where they were, and to find what emotive elixer put them at such ease.

The original painting is by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, painted in 1881. It is an oil on canvas, and in French is called "Deux soeurs (sur la terasse)." Although 100 x 80 cm from Renoir's brush, this one is 71.12 x 55.88 cm. Almost proportionately correct, the astute artisan may still find himself bothered by the green frame with the title and artist. In creating a pop-art variation of a classic work, the publisher removes a portion of the artist's intention.

Purchasing the original is out of reach, but owning a better quality print is quite possible. Fall in love, as I have, with two sisters waiting in peace on a cool spring day, but do not compromise by buying a print not worthy of their charm.

January 24, 2007

Suitable For Recording Every Adventure - Wire-O Basics Chile Pepper Red Ribbed Lined 5x7 reviewed

How notable is a blank notebook? How much can be said, other than the paper is taut, the spine is sure, and the cover is attractive?

It is not the purchase of a blank notebook that clamors for a review. It is the use.

Mine, now tattered and shorn of its original color, and its spine, now feeble and loose, has known value. The years will take their toll on any notebook. This one will do just fine.

The pages held well the ink of many years, chronicling the names and stories of loves lost, found and lost again. It did not buckle under tears, or tear under the angry scraping of my pen after the ending of what should've been. The spine did not bend or break when she left, and I threw the notebook across the room. The pages did not leave their shelter when I slipped the book quickly into my bag when I met her best friend, whose name was later written with a punctuated smile.

The spiral binding will suit most needs.

Regarding Poetry Groups

I'm looking for a serious poetry group.

Poetry groups, with a critical edge, are hard to do, hard to organize, hard to lead. A fiction group is easier, as fiction is easier to consume. Everyone, on some level, gets fiction. Poetry, not so much.

Sometimes, even short pieces require a lot of explaining, and making group discussion hard. The best ones I was in, during college, passed out the next week's work the previous week. Then, readers read, think, make notes -- but this requires smart poets who are diligent, and not just whipping off easy thoughts, if it is to be beneficial. The disciplined poet takes his craft akin to diamond cutting, and works accordingly.

What I do not want/need are a bunch of poets who never submit their work, are doing it to 'express' themselves, and will pat me on the back and tell me I'm a good boy. I've been through those.

I don't want to talk about poetry. I want to do poetry.

Some are glorified support groups for wannabe poets, but some are serious about literary theory, and will be confident to look at another member's poetry critically, able to say (and receive) comments that might say "Line one, beginning, "Hickory dickory dock" misses the meter found in the last line..." or "The symbols are fuzzy, and contradict each other.." etc., as well as compliments.

Although poetry can be as serious as can be, even humorous poetry uses sensible structures, forms and styles to get the point across.

I don't want a college-age group, of a bunch of smart, but "look at me, I'm a poet" types... I want some seasoned people who are publishing, not newbies, even newbies with potential. The college kids will come around, and many may already be better at this than myself. However, a bit older crowd would make me more comfortable.

Finding a good fit personality-wise as well is important. After all, not everyone can handle Brockeim in his fullest.

January 19, 2007

Envelopes Bear the Weightiest of Messages - Heartbreak and Envelopes Reviewed

envelopesEnvelopes are the holders of love letters, notices of inheritance, birthday cards and beautiful pictures of families at Christmas time.

Too usual, I thought, when one was delivered into my life. Insipidly white, without so much as the adorning blue speckled lining used when mailing things of discretion, these pretended to portend nothing more than a letter. All my uncles were either poor or healthy, and none were with the kind of fondness required to entreat me to riches upon their earthly demise.

These simple #10 envelopes carry the most ordinary contents. Mine, the one sent to me, carried one piece of paper, a news clipping. A friend from years back sent it to me. His address was written in a sharp India ink in the top left corner, with his initials, PS. My name and address was written in blue, slightly to the right of center. There was no note. None was needed. The clipping was curse enough.

The clipping was short. She was married, it said, to an otherwise good man, in early October amidst the autumn colors in a church just south of where I used to live. I don't remember his name. Hers is emblazoned on my soul.

Why I left that town I cannot say. Why she stayed I never knew. What remains is space between us and in my heart, neither of which can be reduced by returning there. The church I knew well, finding there once the solace of quiet and of God. I have not found such peace since.

Offered here are 500 envelopes. Suitable for office needs, and better used as such than for mailing newspaper clippings of lost loves to old friends who will sit and mumble and muse about how empty the envelope now feels.

January 16, 2007

How Do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

A previous post included a parody I wrote of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's most celebrated poem. Here is the original.

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men might strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,–I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!–and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

January 15, 2007

Originality and Creativity Considered, Briefly

Originality, as we humans know it, is a myth. Correlated with originality is creativity. To be original, someone must create. To be creative, someone must be original.

Short of being the deities of deities, creator of all things created, I am created. Created things cannot be creative.

We use the terms differently than they really mean. Let's explore the question.

To say I want to be original is practically blasphemous. Do I want that awesome power over all things created? In my most heinous hour, I skirt close to this passion, but, luckily, at that same hour, I am as far from creativity as could be.

What is creativity, in the artistic, less blasphemic sense? Logic mixed with observation.

A chess player cannot be creative. He or she has everything, ever possibility already available and evident. Determining the best move is not about creativity, but about recognizing the course of action that is likely to follow with a given move. The best player, say, Bobby Fischer in his prime, was never creative. He merely did what he was supposed to do more effectively than his opponent.

A problem exists. What solution is the best? First, the solver recognizes the options. The best solvers do so quickly and comprehensively, while simultaneously screening out less effective solutions.

A writer faces problems with each syllable. A blank page is his first problem. The story, the article, the poem all presume a similar question. The English language writer starts with 26 letters and roughly the same vocabulary as his contemporaries in his genre. Somehow, one writer will combine those letters in such a way that solves the problem better than another.

A writer of a poem asks, "What mood do I want to leave the reader in?" or "What do I want the reader to be inspired to do?" and related questions. Issues regarding line break, punctuation, stanza, meter, and length all become important.

The writer is a combiner, not a creator. He combines what already exists. The combination may not have existed before, but it was logically a possibility. The writer drew from experience and observation, logically anticipating the impact a certain combination of letters might have on the reader. The writer will not anticipate ever reaction, and this becomes the subject of great debate by literary critics. Great writers are not accidental, however, and control much of what the reader comes to understand.

The most 'creative' is the most observant. The great chess player sees each piece, each place on the board. Poor players see all of this as well, but what the great player observes are combinations. If he does this, then his opponent will do that, and so on, until the great player feels satisfied the best option is just that, the best option. He will have many options. Some will be bad, good, even very good. Only one is best.

In chess, success is plain. The player either wins or loses. He might find a moral victory in drawing against an opponent deemed better, but the fact is, he did not win. Whatever encouragement he finds in a loss or draw is fine, but he did not win. The player knows whether or not his moves were great (or good enough) when the game concludes.

The writer has no pleasure of victory the way a chess player does. A wise writer knows there is more to a book's success than good writing, and many of those things he has no control over. Marketing, PR, a snazzy website. It can make a difference if the writer is handsome or beautiful, or has a good presence when speaking publicly. Ugly women who speak with an annoying nasal inflection will have a harder time talking about their book on Oprah than a beauty queen with the speaking skills of a practiced lawyer. It might not be 'right' but that reality all writers must contend with if they hope to become rich on a book's sales.

When the chess player plays, he is re-combining, moving pieces under prescribed rules. The pawn moves up one or two places, depending on of it has moved previously, or straight forward or diagonally, depending on whether or not it is attacking the opponent’s piece. The rules of the game are absolute, and the chess player is forced to play within that context.

The writer has no rules at first glance. Still, if he intends to cause the reader to react a certain way, he is subservient to his reader. Readers expect a sonnet not to start like a sonnet but end like a haiku. The writer might choose that path, but the conventions for poetic forms are strong. E. E. Cummings appeared to refuse to follow conventions regarding punctuation, but the reality is far different. He abided by them completely. If he had not, his poetry would be reduced to anarchic scribbling. Readers who understand the depth of possibilities within punctuation appreciative his deft use of it.

Was Cummings' creative? No. He recombined. He combined. He moved the pieces around within the meta-conventions of the English language, just as Shakespeare did. His style was previously not known to readers, and can be difficult to deduce into meaning, but Cummings did not create anything. He observed the possibilities, and chose what he considered the best solution.

What is the best solution in writing? One that does the intended job. Anything less is failure, as far as that goal is concerned. Sloppy shots, like in pool, happen, but, like in pool, they most often do not count. A writer can discover some great turn of phrase by accident, but great writers find the phrases through purposed searches into options. The great writer might find that great phrase by accident, like a guitarist picking on his guitar late at night, but, like that guitarist, knows something good when he hears it.

After all, there's nothing new under the sun.

January 11, 2007

Carl Sandburg is Underrated

While visiting a blog by Becky Zoole (someone I do not know, but equally appreciate a great poem with), I started thinking about Carl Sandburg.

Sandburg, I think, is underrated. While he is iconic in the realm of American poetry, I think he is not always seen as a serious poet like T. S. Eliot. It seems to me we present him as something just above a writer of great doggerel. "Fog" is as packed as Williams' "Red Wheelbarrow." Short, beguilingly simple, and crammed with depth.

You can read two poems below. They are more than haiku, accomplishing real meaning as well as transcendent meaning, but use a similar economy of verbiage.

The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends
a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

by Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
little cat

It sits looking
over harbor and city
silent haunches
and then moves on.

My parody
The Lunchbreak Reader - Singalong With Brockeim

Poetry of Carl Sandburg
Poetry of Wiliam Carlos Williams

Morning Has Broken, But It Can Be Stirred Into Gladness - Wood Coffee Stirrers reviewed

Wood Coffee Stirrers - 1000 Count

Stirring cream into coffee, watching the smoky cloud brighten the dusky drink, is the beginning of good days. Spoons work well-enough, but their inadequacy lay in their efficiency. Wide and concave, a spoon swirls creamed coffee swiftly, and the morning starts too fast. Pace those first moments with Wooden Coffee Stirrers, and every moment after will be more welcome than the last.

With the Wooden Coffee Stirrers, the lingering night escapes more slowly, more gently. Mornings are better begun not bounding, but with a kind crawl. The thin, flat surface slips the cream into the coffee, blending like candlelight in a dim room in May.

The wooden stirrer is closer to nature than the chemical of plastic, or the harshness of steel. Friendly to the fingertips, the action of the stirrer is comfortable, an ally for meeting your hopes for good coffee and a nice day.

Increase the welcome of each morning by using the Wooden Coffee Stirrers. 1,000 should last a year. Make sure it is a good year.

What's in a Thing? A look into what makes an ordinary item sublime.

Things. Stuff. Goods. What are they? They are what they are, but what are they?

They are more than they are, always. A thing has a use. Its use might be as quiet as stirring coffee, a small stick of whittled wood meant only for that. A creative person could see other uses for a coffee stirrer, like building one of those bridges high school students sometimes make.

(see post examining wooden coffee stirrers: Morning Has Broken, But It Can Be Stirred Into Gladness - Wood Coffee Stirrers reviewed)

Other uses could be ranging from the obvious, like as a piece of little lumber for a very small house, to the less obvious, like as a toothpick for a very large man. The next level is where the challenge lay... the sublime. In regarding this level, there is the presence of reality. Just as a poem can draw a reader into a new place, in which the poet must depend on words that are both finite and vague simultaneously, so must be the same with a coffee stirrer.

I choose a coffee stirrer in this case because of its blatant ordinariness. Coffee drinkers, especially those on the go picking up java at the local 7-11, use these tiny, thin sticks to marry the coffee with the sugar and cream. We grab one, use it, and toss it. If we touch it more than 30 seconds, what have we done?

Within the very ordinary is the very sublime. Poets often write about flowers and mountains, both pastoral in the intimate sense, as well as, like the mountain, distant sense. The very intimate is more flowers. In fact, I would argue, because of how we might daily encounter a coffee stirrer, the stirrer is more intimate than the flower. Our relationship to it is more regular. As much as we ignore it, we know it better than a rose we see only when wanderung through a garden, or receiving them as a gift.

What is the sublime? It is something beyond the obvious, at the very least. It stops short of a spiritual or supernatural characteristic or experience. To find the sublime takes a close look at what the thing is, and being open to the vagaries surrounding it. Nothing, in this sense, then is ever benign. It is, at its core, romantic.

I examine some of the more unusual uses of two things, of string and tin cans, and invite you to suggest others.

Get your stuff, your things, your goods together and think about the romantic, beautiful, fantastic, amazing, incredulous and sublime within the every day world around you. It will not make a rainy day sunny, but it may help you see how wonderful a rainy really is.

January 09, 2007

Sing Along With Brockeim: "Strangers in the Night" parody

Newbie Newbie New
(severe apologies to Frank Sinatra)

Strangers here online exchanging votes
Wondering here online
What were the chances we'd be reviewing
Before the night was through.

Something in the book was so inviting,
Something on Amazon so exciting,
Something in the book,
Told me I must review it.

Strangers here online, two reviewers
We were readers in the night
Up to page forty
When keying our password.
Little did we know
A rank was just a glance away,
A warm embracing vote or two away and -

Ever since that night we've been reviewing.
Readers at first sight, in books forever.
It turned out so right,
For reviewers in the night.

Frank Sinatra?

Frank Sinatra owned one of the smoothest, coolest voices in pop-jazz. Bing Crosby certainly could hold his own, but Sinatra brought in something powerful. Modern music knows no equal.

He had the voice, the songs, the band (I love his work with Nelson Riddle)... but he also had the hat, the look, the pose. I don't need to tell you about cool. Sinatra isn't great only because he had the image, or even that he had a few songs we all know. He is great because, like Muhammed Ali, he kept returning straight for the top. His career spanned decades, and it was never mediocre.

The song below is based on the very famous "Strangers in the Night," but was inspired by joining the amazon.com Book Reviewer discussion board (join us: Amazon Reviewer Discussion Board)I was a new to the board, hence 'newbie.' I started thinking about the 'Chairman of the Board,' and the tune and words came together. Depending on time zones and sleeping patterns, reviewers seem to write at all hours, and so we were like strangers in the night. Completely anonymous, sharing ideas, commentary and reviews passing notes on a discussion... never meeting, never speaking, never even being properly introduced, while all the while exchanging so much.

I invite you to sing along. You know the tune. Check out a few Sinatra favorites while you do.

I hope you enjoy my parody.

check out the cool Rat Pack bowling shirt below

Holden Caulfield, Tom Sawyer or Peter Pan

Would you rather be Holden Caulfield, Tom Sawyer or Peter Pan?

  • Caulfield blamed society for his troubles.
  • Sawyer rebelled against society because he could.
  • Pan blamed adulthood on the loss of childhood.

January 07, 2007

Absorbs Wine and Protects Your Heart - Quickie® 530 Natural Cellulose Sponges reviewed

sponges and romance When I spilled my wine on her old oak table, I thought it was over. It should've been. That table was her great-grandfather's, hewn from the woods where his log cabin would soon stand. Handed down from father to son, and then again from father to son, until, now, it was given to her, from father to daughter. When she handed me my glass, I too quickly sipped and set it as I became distracted by her light-green eyes.

With the fear like watching lava approaching a farm home, I trembled. I wretched across the table to grab a napkin. The table was too big. The wine rolled forward.

But she was swift with her sponge. Slipped from off the sink top, her fingers pressed into the cellulosed crevices, and she wiped. The rich, blood-red burgundy glazing the furrowed wood climbed into the sponge until it grew dark with liquid.

My tulip-shaped Bordeaux glass into which she had so delicately poured lay unbroken, despite the fine crystal she claimed it to be. She smiled and lifted my glass, and poured me more.

Relieved, now, as I consider what sponge to buy, I see these. I know many sponges may be the same, but these will work. Accidentally buying the wrong sponge when, you, like I, may accidentally spill your wine is a risk meant only for the foolish and the lonely. Your heart will still see her eyes, but do not depend a second look on a sponge which may not soak. Buy the ones you can trust.

January 04, 2007

Easily Stains with Lost Love - Hand-Embroidered Handkerchiefs reviewed

Hand-Embroidered HandkerchiefsHand-Embroidered Handkerchiefs

When I touched the fabric, I felt it close and kind, wrapping around my fingers as do clouds around summer rain. Knowing she, too, touched these thin but supple threads has caused not less than a few moments of happiness.

The handkerchief I have is colored in one corner, slightly off-pink, almost salmon, but still red in it essence. It will not be on the one you purchase. On mine, it is the shape of soft lips with the scent of sweet wine. May you not be so lucky as I as to be haunted by owning one as beautiful as this. The opposite corner is delicately embroidered, and only half as angelic as the other.

We met quickly on the train, commuting one Friday night, later than either of us should have worked. "Dinner?" said she, after a shared discussion of truffles and morels, and which champagne suited each. "Yes, dinner," said I, hoping to talk of chocolate and caviar, and to learn her name.

The train stopped. We stepped off the platform and into a bistro, and ordered a bottle of recent vintage Zinfandel. The sommelier said our choice was perfectly matched to conversation between two entranced lovers. I smiled, she smiled, realizing we needed no wine. We sipped just the same.

The sommelier moved on, and her cell phone rang. She stood up, "I'm sorry," dabbing the wine on her lips with a handkerchief, and left. The handkerchief fell from her purse. I leant to lift it from her chair, but she was gone, nameless and reachless.

Never had I realized a handkerchief could be so heavy. I carry it now, exhausting my heart as I bear its cotton fabric daily. It is washable, but I will leave it as it is.

If you buy this selection of handkerchiefs, be careful not to drop them when your cell phone rings. The mark it may make where it lands could be indelible.


January 03, 2007

A Lovely Cookie Worth Sharing -- Betty Crocker Cookie Mix

These cookies are nothing like the ones I ate when I was 11, at the lunch table while sitting next to Nancy. These Double Chocolate Chunk cookies are exquisitely kind to the senses, but bring no memory of my fifth grade dream girl. Her pleasant eyes would assuage a long morning's pain in Miss Charminker's class, but it was the meting of her chocolate chip cookies that met my heart.

Betty Crocker's cookies are worth sharing too, all of these years later. Made in the oven, they are almost like homemade, almost like the ones Nancy's mom made. Twelve come in the bag if you bake them right. The subtle, bright sweet aroma tinctured with the bold, yet faint milk chocolate scent, captured in a classic cookie enraptured my senses, as they will yours. But, still, the crusty stale, brown-white cookies Nancy shared with me in my youth caused me to smile far more, with a deeper gladdening. She'd lift them gingerly from her brown bag, place one precisely in front of me, on the table, and one in from of her, on the table. She would then proceed to excavate the treasures within, and side-by-side we would eat our lunches until the bell rang.

If you don't know Nancy or her equal, then I suggest you buy the Betty Crocker cookies. They'll taste better than most of the cookies you'll've eaten, and maybe you'll sit next to someone nice at lunch to share them with. Be sure to share. If you do, she might sit next to you tomorrow.

January 02, 2007

Sing Along With Brockeim: "It Was A Very Good Year" parody

It Was a Very Good Book
severe apologies to Frank Sinatra

As I read page seventy--
Begun a very good book
That ought to be read
with gals who are plain,
who through glasses they’d strain:

I’d turn on the lights
and improve our eyesight
As we’d read page seventy.

As I read page one-O-one
Working through a very good book
That ought to be read with gals commuting on trains
At whom I would stare
at how they read with such care
But that chapter was done
As I read page one-O-one

As I read page two-thirty-five
Entranced in a very good book
That ought to be read with gals jetting on planes
who author those scenes
that made us reading machines.
The characters were alive
As we read page two-thirty-five

But now the pages grow few
I think the book’s almost soon through
And now my life is as a thin margin line
from the ISBN
to the final "the end"
It read with a mellowing hook
It was a very good book

I read a mess of good books.
A few songs tug heartward more than others. Beatle's "Yesterday," Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven," Judy Collin's "Send In the Clowns," Harry Chapin's "Cat's In The Cradle," Terry Jack's "Season's in the Sun," Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," and Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" are a few that always get me.

Frank Sinatra sang a few of the others.

Frank's cover of "Stardust," is a classic. Any version of "Stardust," really, is on my list. Kudos to songwriter Hoagy Carmichael. "One for My Baby One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)" never stops short of causing reflection of all the good times which have gone by, and the people I used to know.

Among Frank's great tuggers-of-heart is "It Was a Very Good Year." It is a simple song, looking at the loves of his life, and how it all worked out as representing stages of his life. Now, as he is no longer with us to sing it, as he has reached that very last year, the song is a bit more poignant.

To transition and explain what's above, I like books. Books are a good portion of many good memories in my life, and, in some ways, take part in my relationships. There are times I remember sitting in a coffeeshop in college, flipping through my studies with a friend, or touring a dusty old bookstore with a fellow book junkie. And there are those sweeter times, just reading a book with someone I love... she has her book, I have mine, but we are together. The book itself becomes the connector, the fuse and fire. A good book, then, can even add to it all.

As a fan of Frank, a fan of melodrama, and of books, I thought it would be fun to match it all up in a rewording of a Sinatra song.

I hope you enjoy my parody.