R  A  L  P  H
  The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities 
Late Summer, 2001

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The Ice Palace
That Melted Away

How Good Design
Enhances Our Lives

Bill Stumpf
(Minnesota)
Bill Stumpf likes London taxis because they are big and non-aerodynamic and comfortable --- and when you take them, you know you are going for a ride. He has even designed a taxi that could serve as more people-friendly transportation in the United States, rather than

    a lurching, rattletrap affair painted school bus yellow, with dirty upholstery, road-grime-splattered windows, permeated with noxious odors from assorted air fresheners, and driven by indifferent driver-rogues, blissfully ignorant of destinations beyond convention centers, airports, and hotels.

He dislikes being shoved into a jet and sitting with too many people and too little to look at except stupid movies or the head of the guy in front of you. He suggests that the Boeings Corporation, when they put together the next edition of their 747, offer pods out there on the wings --- or up in the nose of the plane, or on top, or back at the back --- so that when we are flying we can look at the stars or the ground or where we are going or where we've been.

He also likes lace curtains. He said he found some in the police stations in Switzerland, along with a fine carved doors. He says that he waved at a prisoner looking out the window at the street life, and wondered why, in the United States, we stuff people away in prisons set out in the desert or on some bare hunk of nowhere land. Let the prisoners see what they are missing, he says, and for God's sakes let them have some contact with the world they've left behind, so that when they come out they don't go into shock and (as usual) back into crime. He even, wild man that he is, says that arrested juveniles should be incarcerated in a wing of nearby schools --- preferably their own --- so they can keep in touch with their friends, and be acutely aware of the freedom they are missing.

When he is not designing furniture (or redesigning jets and jails), Stumpf tries to get people to give their neighborhoods something in the way of humanity. He admits to his own personal weaknesses:

    I am disposed to reëxplore our relationship with fresh sweet corn, down pillows, open convertibles, real grass ball-parks, trains, and the idea of making the environment a child's garden to play and work within.

He describes growing up in the St. Louis of more than a half-a-century ago, a world where kids could go all over the city, alone, on their bicycles, where the soul and heart of it could be found in the farmers' market called Soulard:

    I can't believe that the great presence and personality of these markets aren't worth reviving. Gone in most of America and in these European cities is another facet of civil life --- a vibrant celebration of quantity, freshness, and variety housed in significant architecture; a design theatre for food and its essential connection to everyday folks and the fecundity of nature... What we have are thrice-removed, efficient, clean, modularized, systematic, overly decorated, smell- and taste-free supermarkets.

Stumpf wants, most of all, that we return to the days of civility. He says that he visits Scotland so he can learn to converse, to be civil again. He remembers a visit to an older couple on the Isle of Skye who knitted and sold wool socks. They invited him in --- he, a total stranger --- and gave him tea and talked with him for two hours. And he left with socks which, after three years, he still wears. He also wears the warm memory of their generosity, the welcoming they gave him and, most of all, the fact that they were retired but very very lively. He points out the vast difference between their active world and our own colonies for the aged:

    America now has its ghettos of silver hairs and worse, its ghettos of the elderly devoid of any mixed-age daily activity. Living in what amounts to planned stages of death hardly supports the idea of sustainability. It smacks of planned obsolescence.

§     §     §

Stumpf is a gracious writer. He is also an optimist. He includes a chapter on how the McDonald's corporation could have restaurants where rolls are baked on the premises, where we could see the beef being ground, where the preparation "machines making ketchup, mashing tomatoes, and spouting steam" all would be a feast for the eyes. Our appetites would be whetted by the smell of baking bread, our eyes fed on the activities all around us.

This convinces us that this guy is not only a designer, he's a lunatic optimist. You and I know that McDonald's would not, for one instant, do anything that would screw up their bottom line --- especially something as original and interesting as this. The word for Stumpf is "eccentric," which he readily admits to.

    Just before midnight while delayed in Denver, Colorado, on a cross-country Amtrak train a few years ago, she [his wife] was shocked to see me in my pajamas in the dead of winter washing our compartment's filthy window from the station platform. I was determined to see the glory of the Rocky Mountains the next morning through clean windows.

And that wasn't all:

    Even worse, I proceeded to clean the entire compartment with bar soap and tissue, for it was equally dirty.

This is a man, God love him, who believes not only in civility, but in direct action. He reminds us of Johnson's definition of the "genteel man:"

    A man, indeed, is not genteel when he gets drunk; but most vices may be committed very genteelly: a man may debauch his friend's wife genteelly: he may cheat at cards genteelly.

Stumpf is no cheater, nor drunk; he believes only in the stark truth. Lord knows, we need more --- thousands more --- Stumpfs in the world. The Ice Palace that Melted is a genteel and generous piece of writing --- and it deserves your attention and your affection.

--- Richard D. Friese


[Letter]

RALPH:

To Whom it May Concern:

I am writing to respond, albeit belatedly, to Lolita Lark's contemptuous review of Jorie Graham's latest book, Swarm.

After reading Lark's puerile, off-the-cuff responses to other (better?) reviewers' opinions of the book (which she calls, unaccountably, a "booklet") it became clear to me that the reviewer was far more interested in her own cleverness and ability to dash off a few zingers than in forming a thoughtful, careful, and mature opinion of the poetry.

If she had taken the time to do this --- and to consider the book on its own terms, rather than those of Graham's previous reviewers --- I suspect she may have found that this book was worth her consideration, and then some.

As it is, Lark engages in the worst form of literary sycophancy: paying more attention to what's said about a work than to what the work itself says.

Jorie Graham is one of the most interesting --- and innovative --- poets writing today, and while those who are unprepared to find value beyond the familiar and canonical might encounter her with the same fear and loathing that Lark does, those of us who are truly invested in the growth and vitality of poetry encounter her with gratitude and respect.

And finally, I recommend acquiring the good sense not to judge a writer's --- or anyone's --- pedagogical skill while still possessed of an abysmal lack of information about it.  Graham is an even better professor of poetry than she is a poet.  But perhaps I'm one of those new American writers for whom Lark has, quite unnecessarily, invoked divine aid.

--- Sharon Cournoyer
Department of English and American
Literature and Language
Harvard University
cournoy@fas.harvard.edu

A Prize-Winning
Garbage Dump
There is a garbage truck in my winter town of Puerto Perdido which is your standard 1960s trash truck except painted across the front bumper are the words "Viejo Amigo" (Old Friend).

It is an old and smelly friend, and for some reason they've wired a doll up to the grill. It's only half-a-doll: head, torso, arms, no legs --- one of those dolls with eyes that close when you lay it down.

I believe it's an appropriate symbol of our city-sponsored garbage collection effort, because the garbage men are only half there. They've apparently been on strike since last winter, but like most things Mexican, it's a half-assed strike because if you pay them 50 pesos or so, they'll come over and haul away your leavings. Otherwise, they are nowhere to be found.

For that reason, we've gone into the garbage business ourselves. Every week or so we bag up our banana peels and coffee grounds and egg-shells and dead dogs and other unmentionables and haul them over to the Puerto Perdido garbage dump just north of town.

There are many beesties there: a dozen fat goats, a multitude of frazzled hounds, a million or so flies who try to fly in your mouth and nose and make you want to hurry and get the hell out of there.

There are gulls picking at the rotten oranges and potatoes, hopping about over the yanked-out strands of cassette tape which decorate everything like ticker tape. There are even lovely white egrets, the upper class matrons of the dumpster set, with their thin, delicate necks --- stepping about hither and yon, sneering at the goats and the hounds.

There are also forty or fifty buzzards over there with their funny little leathery heads picking at something dumped atop the construction dust, going after something red and stringy and so fly-infested that you and I don't want to think about nor even guess what it may be.

There's always the smoke --- that vague burning mistral that is hanging about, day and night. If you arrive in the dump when the westerlies are working, the smoke folds around your nostrils, gets in your eyes, makes the head swim. It's a a profound smell --- a heady aroma that melts the linings of the olfactory nerves, takes over your vision, creates rumblings in the lungs, starts etching its way into your very soul, bringing you to a near-fatal swoon.

It's a smell that brings to mind instantly that graffiti in the Shell Station Men's Room in Tucumcari, New Mexico --- the one that said, It's all right to breathe through your nose (it wasn't). Or maybe it reminds one of that song my sister used to sing when we were kids,

    My man's a garbage man
    He drives a garbage truck
    He smells like garbage all the T-I-M-E time.
    Some day in future life
    I'll be his garbage wife
    I'll smell like garbage all the T-I-M-E time.

With the smoke and the air rich with dead pig --- there always seem to be a few of these lying about, and their rank scent has a special piquancy --- our local trash-heap probably has what the wine aficionados would call a "distinctive nose," one unlike any to be found in the more fashionable parts of the world. I mean, I've done dumps in Paris and Rome and San Francisco and London, and I have to say that this one takes the cake.

If one day they decide to have a Competition for The World's Most Odoriferous Dumps, I am going to be first to nominate the Puerto Perdido Basurero Municipal for the

Whopper
Nose-Stopper
Garbage Pile of the Year
Award.
--- Carlos Amantea


White Waters
And Black

Gordon MacCreagh
(Chicago)
In 1923, several scientists departed from La Paz, Bolivia to explore the headwaters of the Amazon. They crossed the high Cordillera, and descended by the Rio Negro and the Rio Madeira to Manáus. The purpose of their trip was to map the area, collect specimens, and to discover, if possible, previously unknown tribes of Indians.

If you ever plan a trip to the headwaters of the Amazon --- forget it. And if you plan to ignore this advice, try to do it by yourself. Never go with a pack of scientists. You might call it, "Seven Scientists in Search of a Coup" --- but it is also Seven Scientists learning to detest each other. Going on a two-year expedition with various entomologists and statisticians and botanists may sound like an educational venture but, according to MacCreagh, it is mostly an education into how silly and petty eminent mavens can be.

The most incompetent of the group, apparently, is the Director --- an M. D. --- who issues proclamations from his tent, doesn't know how to manage the feelings and fears of his companions, and tries to transport six tons of materials, stuff which has to be carried by burro and canoe over a very unforgiving landscape.

Not only does he bring everything packed in 40-pound wooden boxes, he forgets things as important as tools, medicines, and lamps. Worse, he includes generally unusable tents, strange canned foods, and folding boats. There is an outboard motor, but, as the author points out, in the upper reaches of the Amazon in the 1920s there is no fuel whatsoever.

MacCreagh ends up surviving not only the jungles but the boorish fights of his companions. On this two year journey, they meet frigid mountain passes, impossible rapids, dangerous poison-dart Indians, malaria, dysentery, leeches, electric eels, caymans, piume flies, mosquitoes, aniguas, piranhas, and bees which "get into one's ears and nose and hair, where they become hopelessly entangled; and if there is anything more terrifyingly uncomfortable than an insect lodged in one's ear, it is not known to science."

    They hover for minutes at a stretch within an inch of one's eyes as one walks, and so damnably persistent are they that waving them away is of no avail. They return to their attack, and, if not caught and killed, presently find their opportunity to dart into the eye. They don't sting, but the exasperation of them is maddening.

He concludes,

    Wild beasts are nothing to worry about. Wild Indians are largely mythical, and even when met with can either be placated or guarded against. Snakes are few and far between. Insects are the only creatures known that will consistently attack without provocation and all the time.

§     §     §

Gradually, under the heat and the bugs and the lack of medical help, the members of the scientific brigade melt away, and it is finally only MacCreagh, the "Respectable Member," and the "Young American." They make it upriver to meet with a deadly Indian tribe, the Tiquiés. MacCreagh, who had studied the formalities of the jungle (mostly ignored by other whites) manages to get the "savages" to accept the three of them, and finally, to treat them as family. They are even allowed to participate in a once-secret ceremony of the tribe to ward off the "Jurupary" --- the dark spirit of the jungles. This is accomplished by use of a narcotic called "caapi."

The three-day ceremony is described in detail, maddening because to read of it is to wish we were back there with this charming and eccentric man, to witness with him something that we know is now gone forever.

MacCreagh's style grows on you. At first, it seems a bit juvenile --- but by some magic, he steals our hearts, involves us with him, through the rapids, or while being eaten by piume flies, or negotiating with the various caciques, and at all times, being droll and (one realizes) exceptionally courageous. He finds at one point that a worm has "burrowed into my thigh and set up housekeeping there," something that might drive you and me looney, but which he is willing to put up with and, finally, finding a doctor who knows dermatobia and can pluck it out.

Or, when stranded near the headhunters of the Tiquié, he contrives to convince the Indians that he is different than the thousands of other whites who merely see them as savages to be robbed. The three whites have no possible way out (another tribe has run off with their large canoe) so MacCreagh, being the entrepreneur that he is, conceives of and builds a super-canoe, which ends up saving his life.

I can think of few travel/adventure books which excite and please as much as this one. In that list, I include the four greats: Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum, The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Annapurna: First Conquest of an 8,000-Meter Peak, by Maurice Herzog --- and Into the Heart of Borneo, by Redmond O'Hanlon. Now we have a fifth member of this august group.

--- F. W. J. Wrangel


America's Famous and
Historic Trees

From George Washington's Tulip Poplar to
Elvis Presley's Pin Oak

Jeffrey G. Meyer
(Houghton Mifflin)
My theory of trees is you plant them and if they don't up and die, then you have a friend for life. My batting average runs about 20-80 --- eg, one out of five that I stick in the ground manages to survive.

I also have this thing about cutting them down, no matter how obnoxious and pushy they become. There's a ficus I planted in my back yard some time ago but in the last few years that son-of-a-bitch has developed huge hairy tap-roots, even though it's a scrawny little runt. If it smells water or sewage within a hundred yards, the mother starts making its way underground stealthily, and soon enough it's hugging your pipes with King Kong arms so that one day you flush the toilet and all comes back to you again.

So I call in Henry the Plumber and he says "The camphor tree again?" and I say "Yes," and he comes out in his 1978 black Suburban packed with wrenches and pipes and anvils and things and he gets down the pick and shovel and digs a trench that would be a credit to the Somme and starts unthreading those King Kong root-hairs from the pipes. He covers it all up again which works fine for a year or so until the toilet backs up again then it's the kiss of the spiderwoman all over again.

Jeffrey G. Meyer, author of America's Famous and Historic Trees likes trees too, but he does something about it, rather than just bitching at his plumber. He takes his time, wandering around to discover the history of America's older and more gnarly specimens, then he snaps pictures (seventeen here in color) and tells you and me why they are important and how we can plant one just like it or, if we are hungry, how we can use it for our next meal.

Husk black walnuts off your walnut tree, he says, then roast them in the oven for fifteen minutes to make the shells easier to crack. (Put on your gloves to do it; they are black.) Cook them up with wild rice, butter, mushrooms, onion, green pepper and garlic. And while you are about it, put a fence around your walnut tree and hire a Doberman to protect it, because "sawlogs" of black walnut go for $5,000 each and there are people out there who actually go out and kidnap trees while no one is looking.

Meyer, who hales from Jacksonville, has something to say about many historic and lofty trees, including Patrick Henry's Osage Orange (1791), Frederick Douglass' White Oak (1877), Amelia Earhart's Sugar Maple (1897), and Elvis Presley's Pin Oak (1967).

When Meyer went to Graceland, he looked for different things than the rest of us. I'd be checking out the Jungle Room, the Monkey Chair, the Hall of Gold, and Hound Dog II, but Meyer is eyeballing the magnolia, elm, beech and oak along the driveway --- most of all, the Pin Oak (also known as water oak, or Spanish oak).

It is said that as the Presley funeral party passed the tree, one of its branches broke, and fell thrashing, weeping to the ground. (I just stuck in that weeping business.) Meyer explains that it is highly unusual for this to happen because:

    it's a poor self-pruner; the lower branches don't fall off when they die but slowly droop until they wrap around the tree, forming somewhat of a net protecting the trunk below. So the little surprise the pin oak dropped on Elvis' funeral was decided uncharacteristic of this species, and certainly a bit of natural punctuation to the event.

If you want a bit of Graceland in your own backyard, Meyer tells you how exactly how to do it, which includes gathering the pin oak acorns, drying them, moistening them from time to time, and then planting them in potting soil.

There are seventeen tall stories not unlike this one in America's Famous and Historic Trees, with some bodacious and worthy ancient trees pictured --- such as the Treaty Live Oak in Jacksonville. That was where the Timucuan Indians sat to do their treaties, which didn't help much, since all the Indians were able to salvage from their agreements with the whites were the loss of all their land (and trees) and ultimate extinction. The Treaty Oak itself is a beauty: its limbs extended out, resting on the ground, as if it were all tuckered out, weary and sad, from all those broken treaties.

Many years ago, Jacksonville was named "Cow Ford" because at a narrow point in the St. John's River you could take your cows across and not drown their fool heads in the dark waters of the only north-flowing river in the United States. I once wrote the local newspaper, the Florida Times-Union, and pointed out that since Andrew Jackson was such a disreputable boozer, a representative of the new republic who murdered Timucuans and other Indians willy-nilly, that we would be doing a service to the image of Florida and the nation (not to say Native American history) if we could somehow get the city's name changed back to Cow Ford. Which, when you think about it, isn't such a bad name for a place where the bovines once crossed so peacefully.

The Florida Times Union, a notoriously stuffy rag, never even replied to my very funny suggestion.


--- L. W. Milam


[The Original Dada
Manifesto]
(The signatories of this
manifesto live in France,
America, Spain, Germany,
Italy, Switzerland,
Belgium, etc. but have
no nationality.)         

DADA     EXCITES     EVERYTHING

DADA knows everything. DADA spits everything out.

BUT . . . . . . . . .

HAS DADA EVER SPOKEN TO YOU:
      about Italy
      about accordions
      about women's pants
      about the fatherland
      about sardines
      about Fiume
      about Art (you exaggerate my friend)
      about gentleness
      about D'Annunzio
      what a horror
      about heroism
      about mustaches
      about lewdness
      about sleeping with Verlaine
      about the ideal (it's nice)
      about Massachusetts
      about the past
      about odors
      about salads
      about genius, about genius, about genius
      about the eight-hour day
      about the Parma violets

   NEVER    NEVER    NEVER

DADA doesn't speak. DADA has no fixed idea. DADA doesn't catch flies.

THE MINISTRY IS OVERTURNED.   BY WHOM?

                       BY DADA

The Futurist is dead. Of What? Of DADA

      A Young girl commits suicide. Because of What? DADA
      The spirits are telephoned. Who invented it? DADA
      Someone walks on your feet. It's DADA
      If you have serious ideas about life,
      If you make artistic discoveries
      and if all of a sudden your head begins to crackle with laughter,
      If you find all your ideas useless and ridiculous, know that

         IT IS DADA BEGINNING TO SPEAK TO YOU

cubism constructs a cathedral of artistic liver paste
WHAT DOES DADA DO?
expressionism poisons artistic sardines
WHAT DOES DADA DO?
simultaneism is still at its first artistic communion
WHAT DOES DADA DO?
futurism wants to mount in an artistic lyricism-elevator
WHAT DOES DADA DO?
unanism embraces allism and fishes with an artistic line
WHAT DOES DADA DO?
neo-classicism discovers the good deeds of artistic art
WHAT DOES DADA DO?
paroxysm makes a trust of all artistic cheeses
WHAT DOES DADA DO?
ultraism recommends the mixture of these seven artistic things
WHAT DOES DADA DO?
creationism vorticism imagism also propose some artistic recipes
WHAT DOES DADA DO?

WHAT DOES DADA DO?

50 francs reward to the person who finds the best
way to explain DADA to us

Dada passes everything through a new net.
Dada is the bitterness which opens its laugh on all that which has been made consecrated forgotten in our language in our brain in our habits.
It says to you: There is Humanity and the lovely idiocies which have made it happy to this advanced age

DADA HAS ALWAYS EXISTED
THE HOLY VIRGIN WAS ALREADY A DADAIST

DADA IS NEVER RIGHT

Citizens, comrades, ladies, gentlemen

                        Beware of forgeries!

Imitators of DADA want to present DADA in an artistic form which it has never had

CITIZENS,

You are presented today in a pornographic form, a vulgar and baroque spirit which is not the PURE IDIOCY claimed by DADA

BUT DOGMATISM AND PRETENTIOUS IMBECILITY


Paris January 12, 1921
E. Varèse, Tr. Tzara, Ph. Soupault,
Soubeyran, J. Rigaut, G. Ribe-
mont-Dessaignes, M. Ray, F. Pi-
cabia, B. Péret, C. Pausaers
R.Hülsenbeeks, J. Evola, M. Ernst,
P. Eluard, Suz. Duchamp, M. Du-
champ, Crotti, G. Cantarelli, Marg.
Buffet, Gab. Buffet, a. Breton
Baargeld, Arp., W. C. Arensberg,
L. Aragon

For all information
write "AU SANS PAREIL"
37, Avenue Kléber.
Tel. PASSY 25-22

--- From Approximate Man and Other Writings,
Translated and Edited by Mary Ann Caws
(Wayne State University Press)
Reprinted in
"Teachers & Writers Collaborative"
5 Union Square W.
New York City 10003


Lie, Lie, Lie
How I Wrote
The School of
Beauty and Charm

Melanie Summer
(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)
For one year, I sat at a great polished sea of a desk and wrote one sentence, over and over and over again. I had published my first book, Polite Society, and this next sentence had to be perfect. Sometimes I wrote it one way, sometimes another, and often I read it to people and was hurt when they didn't clap. While this was going on, my mother read every Oprah pick, looking for pointers.

Then we headed out west, and I lost the sentence, or sold it, or gave it to the Salvation Army. While we were staying in a shotgun apartment in Butte, Montana, I began to write again. In our neighborhood, guns went off with such regularity that the Fourth of July was anticlimactic. Our upstairs neighbors, a chubby rent-a-cop and his little brother, kept dropping something that sounded like a bowling ball on the floor. When I complained, they confessed that it was a bowling ball. My pink underwear was stolen off the line in the backyard, the chimes were snitched from the front porch, and our dog was raped.

I wrote in Magic Marker, on a roll of wallpaper. I had a good time. I wasn't writing about the famous Copper King or the intricate maze of mines connecting the Chinese restaurant to the whorehouse to the fire station. I didn't even sketch a tall Cheyenne named Frank who walked soundlessly and had a tear-shaped scar on his cheek. "A friend of mine shot me in the head," he told me. Later, when he was sitting on our front porch, where the chairs used to be, he confessed that he had shot himself, behind our house, because he was an Indian.

In that hot noisy shotgun apartment, with a fistful of Magic Markers, I wrote about my own childhood in Rome, Georgia. I didn't know if I was writing a short story or a novel, but I knew I was happier than I had been writing that one perfect sentence in my quiet condo back east. It took three years to write The School of Beauty and Charm. Several times I thought I was finished, and several times I rewrote the whole thing. Our baby became a talking, tottering person, our money ran out, and my thirty-seven-year-old husband was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. People began asking if I was writing the same book. With relief, I sold the thing to Shannon and Algonquin.

So then, of course, I had to let my parents see what I'd written. When my mother read chapter 6, about my heroine's makeover in Atlanta, she cried. She always cries the first time she reads a new piece, and not from joy. She thinks I'm mean. My father knows I'm mean, so he doesn't read anything I write except my name in print --- which he praises up and down.

"What's wrong with it?" I asked Mom.

"Nothing" she said, sniffling. "I didn't know you felt that way about your makeover."

"It's fiction," I said lamely.

"Humph," she said and cried some more.

I felt mean. Writers are jackals, hyenas, asses even. We steal everything but TVs. Then we lie about it. Lie, lie, lie, just to make ourselves look good and make everybody else look horrible. No wonder most of us are so poor. Who wants to pay a snake in the grass? Someone should have shot me the first day I picked up a pen.

"I thought I showed how much I love you," I said. "I was trying to."

"Humph!" she said.

I told her I was sorry. She turned her head so as not to have to look at me.

"Well," I said, "most people don't like to see themselves in stories, but they get really mad if they're left out."

When she didn't ask to be left out, I took heart. After the initial cry, my mother loves my books. She makes sure that they are stocked in every bookstore and library in my hometown, and she's not too shy to call the publisher and see what the holdup is all about.

Since my father doesn't read my work, she tells him the latest fictional name I've given him and then calls him that for a year. My father would be satisfied if I could pay my own rent, but my mother wants me to be famous.

She wanted me to be famous when she took me to that fancy salon in Atlanta in 1984. She wanted me to look good so people would look at me, and maybe even love me. She wanted me to hold my head up, hold it up high and proud, and maybe even love myself. But after the makeover, looking in the mirror and not recognizing myself was terrifying.

Some people who read the title of the book may think it's about hairdressing school. It's not. It's about beauty --- or conforming to a pattern for recognition --- and charm --- or breaking that pattern. Ultimately, this question of visibility twines around until it becomes Who do you want to recognize you? In romantic literature, it's Prince Charming. In my stories, it's God. And my mother. And, okay, Oprah.


--- Reprinted from
The Algonkian
#14, Fall 2001


An epitaph from 1641 on a monument erected at Colmworth Church, Bedfordshire, by Lady Catherine Dyer, addressed to her now departed husband Sir William Dyer

My dearest dust, could not thy hasty day
Afford they drowzy patience leave to stay
One bower longer: so that we might either
Sate up, or gone to bedd together?
But since thy finisht labor hath possest
Thy weary limbs with early rest,
Enjoy it sweetly: and thy widdowe bride
Shall soone repose her by thy slumbering side.
Whose business, now, is only to prepare
My nightly dress, and call to prayre:
Mine eyes wax heavy and ye day growes old.
The dew falls thick, my beloved growes cold.
Draw, draw ye closed curtaynes: and make room:
My dear, my dearest dust; I come, I come.
--- From Inventions of Farewell: A Book of Elegies
Edited by Sandra M. Gilbert (Norton)


[Great Reviews of the Past]

The Life andWorks of
Frank Lloyd Wright
Maria Constantino
(Courage)
If you wanted a Frank Lloyd Wright house, all you had to do was to write to the master, there in Taliesen, or Taliesen West, and ask him if he would do one for you. If he was broke, which he usually was, he'd probably take it on spec, or even get a contract from you saying that if you ever sold the house, you'd split the profit with him.

Then he would begin, and by the time he was half way through with it, you'd find out that the price had doubled, or quadrupled, and that the local rocks or sand or gravel or whatever he was using to blend in with the surroundings was totally unsuitable for building a house, so one side was crumbling down as the other side was going up. Sooner or later you'd get in a fight with him (everybody did) unless you were a saint, with unlimited resources. Sometimes his projects would hang for years and years (it took him and the Guggenheims thirteen years to find a place for the museum in Manhattan).

He was good at fantasy, making up much of his life as he went along --- like he did his buildings --- and as we page through this scrumptious volume, with its more than 250 color photographs, you have to reflect that he may have been a testy old bastard, but he certainly could stir the pot. Exquisite concrete block, with exquisite design --- not unlike the blocks at Mitla; roofs that did something, rather than just sit there to keep out the sun and the rain and snow off your head; angled lines that could take your breath away; interiors that were elegant with formal primitive designs.

In truth, one gets the feeling that he was at his best when he was working indoors. Maybe he should have been an interior decorator. For example, in the photographs of the interiors, one will find many diverse and diverting chairs (impossible to sit in, with outrageous shapes); windows (impossible to see through, but enticingly decorative); artful but sometimes rough-shod rocks and pebbles and sand, designed to force his structures to be at one with the land. At all times, he wanted his projects to draw on the natural resources at hand. Once, needing uric acid for the roofs at Florida Southern College, he requisitioned a month's worth of urine from the students.

The structures that people say are his "best" often --- in light of the world we inhabit now --- seem not as impressive as they might have been fifty or seventy-five years ago. "Fallingwater" in Pennsylvania is too much of a good thing. A river runs through it, so it must be a son-of-a-bitch to live in during the winter, akin to living inside your refrigerator. The Marin County Civic Center (which took nine years to put together) seems to run on and on, with decorations that are just plain silly; and the Guggenheim: really! It's nothing more than a jolly green giant...snail.

Still, there are ones that unexpectedly win your heart: the Johnson Research Tower in Racine, which is so pure to look at (but which must be a nightmare to work in: he didn't want to screw up his lines by putting in windows); the Unitarian Meeting House in Madison, a great ship hoving into view over the meadow; the Romeo and Juliet Windmill in Spring Green, Wisconsin, built for his aunts' school; and --- of all things, one of his earliest --- a house from 1893 in Oak Park, Illinois, with a fine two story rotunda, and a surprising tall, narrow window peering out at us through the second story roof. These, and his lamps, stools, carpets, chairs, and tables, and the rich decorations, including statues of sprites. These may well be the best of his legacies.

I asked one of my friends who actually worked with Wright what she remembered the most, and she said that most people didn't realize that he was so short. "He probably wasn't more than five-two or -three," she told me. "That's why so many of his doors were so tiny." She also said that he was at his best when it came to use of materials, and that "The Meanings of Materials" was one of his most useful writings for her.

The Life and Works of Frank Lloyd Wright is great to look through, nicely designed, and sometimes, makes you long for a time when there were a few people around to kick architecture into doing something different. Just for show. Which, after all, is exactly what it's all about, isn't it?

---Susan Webber, PhD


[Reading]

You and I have known all sorts of sappy dog-and-boy conversation stories, but Elsa Morante --- in History: A Novel --- is too good a writer to hand out mere sentimental animal mush. Rather, she builds a worthy antidote to such soft romanticism. Here, the dog Bella is speaking to the boy Useppe:

Seeing he needed solace and distraction, Bella, seated beside him, decided to tell him a story. And, blinking slightly, in a fabulous tone, filled with melancholy, she began by saying:

"Once I had some puppies..."

She had never spoken of them to him before. "I don't know how many there were," she went on, "because I can't count. But when it was feeding time, all my tits were occupied, that's sure, every one!!! So there were lots of them, and each more beautiful than the other. One was black and white. One was all black with one white ear and one black, and one was also all black with a little goatee... When I looked at one, he was the most beautiful; but I would look at another, and this one was the most beautiful; then I would lick another, and meanwhile another would stick his nose up, and he was beyond doubt the most beautiful. Their beauty was infinite, that's the truth of it. Infinite beauties can't be compared."

"What were they called?"

"They didn't have names."

"They didn't have names?"

"No."

"And where've they gone?"

"Where...I don't know what to think about that. From one moment to the next, I looked for them, and they weren't there anymore. Usually, when they go off, they come back later, at least that's what happened with other friends of mine, who also had puppies..." (Bella, like her friends, was convinced that each successive litter was another return of the same puppies) "...but mine never came back again. I hunted for them, I waited for them a long time, but they never came home."

--- From History: A Novel, Elsa Morante
William Weaver, Translator
(Steerforth Italia)


The Uses of
Rubber Bands, or
"Var Är Min Paraply"
I was thinking the other day, when I was briefly away from my computer, that being without E-mail must feel like Napoleon felt on Elba. Actually in his first exile, on St. Helena, they left him his PC and modem, which is how he managed to start all that trouble. So they learned, and after Waterloo they locked him away on Elba without even a cellphone or a GameBoy.

Speaking of memory, I have begun to notice a problem with the ultra-short term memory used in making telephone calls. I look up a telephone number, immediately turn to the telephone and begin dialing; by the third digit, I've forgotten the next digit; I turn back to the telephone book, in which I have by now lost my place; I fumble through it, and finally find the number; by the time I get back to the telephone to continue dialling, it has disconnected me, and the female robot voice is chirping please hang up and dial again. Have you noticed this problem too?

Even my computer seems to have this same problem, doubtless picked up by contagion from me. One time, the modem repeatedly failed to get through to my server at the University. After the usual series of clicks and hisses, it just failed to connect and each time I heard a faint voice issuing from inside the microprocessor. I was not entirely surprised, as I had long suspected that a tiny, animate being lived inside the computer and made it work. So the third time it happened, I put my ear to the microprocessor to hear what the tiny being had to say. What I was able to make out was that little telephone robot voice chirping from somewhere inside the computer, saying please hang up and dial again.

As for E-addresses or website URLs, forget it (as the phrase goes), which is just what I do. The longer URLs, which go on for three lines, are simply beyond my ability to keep in mind long enough to enter in a keyboard, even if I have them before my eyes. I forget where I am in the entering process in the eyeblink between looking up at the URL and looking down at the keyboard to continue entering it. I think experienced techies can have their mice do all these things for them. (If, mice, indeed, is the right plural form of the computer mouse.) It's a brave new world, all right, but not mine. I have to settle for The Senility Prayer: God, grant me the senility to forget all the things that I used to think just had to be changed--and, come to think of it, what were they?

These days, I'm struggling to learn a smattering of Swedish, in anticipation of a mini-sabbatical in the land of social democracy and the world's best herring. Alas, during the past 30 years a large contingent of my little grey cells have gone off-line. (I can tell when each one goes: it announces "this is grey cell # 6,956,590,483, signing off," then it plays the national anthem, followed by dead air.) The few remaining grey cells are badly overloaded by the project of learning even a little of a new language. So far, all I can remember is: var är min paraply where is my umbrella? jag will inte ha någonting fett I don't want anything greasy; någon håller på att drunkna someone is drowning; and är det bra utsikt is there a good view? A little more of this, and my Svensk conversational skills will surely knock their sockor off.

Perhaps I shall admit defeat and give up learning the meaning of anything in Swedish, to concentrate instead on simple mimicry. I call this system of language acquisition the Phonetic Phakery Method, or PPM, and I have used it with some success in other languages. I just listen to the sound of Swedish carefully, and learn to imitate it. For example, I would say things like: hewr deh fiskberller ingenting po vegen stawr ee skol! It doesn't mean anything at all, but it sounds pretty much like Swedish, no?

Speaking of which, here is a real computer curiousity. The system my University server uses for Email is called PINE, and it has never been known to handle European symbols correctly. For example, when you send me a phrase in Spanish, PINE replaces the ñ by a k, and an accented é with a q, and so on. Nobody here, not even the most expert computer mavens, knows how to send European symbols in PINE messages.

Now, I am in E-correspondence with a couple of people who know Sweden, and a few days ago, I received an E-mail from one correspondent containing a phrase in perfect Swedish, with the umlauts and the little circles over all the right vowels. I was amazed to see this breakthrough for PINE, and redoubled my efforts to discover how to do it myself. I never found out, although I did learn how to turn everything I typed into an incomprehensible set of symbols called wingdings. That took quite a while to cure.

After a couple of hours of these experiments, I looked at my correspondent's message again, and the Swedish vowels had disappeared. They had all been converted into k's and q's. I rubbed my eyes. Could it be that I had simply imagined that the umlauts and little circles were there the first time I read the message? Is my mind going that rapidly? No, I have a better explanation. The little animate being inside my computer, realizing that I was trying to learn its secret, deliberately erased the Swedish vowels from the message while it sat in my In-box, so that I would begin to doubt my own sanity. And I do, I do.

Continuing to gear up for my Autumn visit to Sweden, I am reading up on the History. It turns out that they never had the Renaissance up there, but instead enjoyed an endless series of wars between Sweden and Denmark. (This didn't leave any great works of art, but the North wasn't run by the Medicis. The nobility up there were generally louts, and the worst of them were umlouts.)

In one of the many wars, King Gustavus the Lutefisk conducted a Winter campaign and marched his whole army, horses and cannon and all, across the frozen Öresund to Denmark and laid siege to Copenhagen. When his forces ran low on herring, they gave up the siege and marched back. It went on like that for hundreds of years, until finally King Karl the Potato founded the University of Lund in what is now Southern Sweden (but was then a province of Denmark), and they replaced the wars with faculty meetings.

--- Dr Phage

[Two Poems]

I. Ginko Tree

The knee-high juvenile smile
in the slender trunk of the little ginkgo tree planted
between the curb and the sidewalk
won't tell you anything
about what happened here
in Kwangju at this intersection a year ago
when our bus smashed into the blue pickup.
It raised up on its right side
the little truck did
almost turning over
then settled back down
in an animal gentleness
in a shower of tempered glass
driverless, the door flung open
going now in a whole new direction
coasting, as it were, toward the little ginkgo tree
rolling ever so slowly
dragging its chrome trim along the street
while one of its silver hubcaps rolled
in the opposite direction,
toward us, pointing an accusing finger, I thought.
But if one discounts the dead driver
lying next to the curb
then the little truck, its black tires
carrying it away down the block
took on a certain charm,
the blue door waving back as it rolled
ever so slowly toward the curb
where it bounced softly like a beach ball
then struck the young tree, not such a hard blow,
but enough to ring all of its bell-shaped, green leaves
causing two or three to fall
one landing on the hood
the other two on the blue cab.

§     §     §

II. Bowl

My American pants are hanging over the chair
in the corner with your Korean dress.
Over there they can decide foreign policy.
But here we are like two spoons
you and I
in the same warm bowl,
Buddhas bowl, where we, too
can barely open our eyes
having discovered the sweetness of one tongue,
the curves and folds of the inner walls
we breathe hardly at all.
We're held there in a stillness
like porcelain.
We gaze out the window
and then smile in the dark
at discovering a pair of my shorts
hanging on the line
stirred now and then by a little breeze.

--- From The Temple on Monday
Tom Crawford
©2001 Eastern Washington
University Press


War and
Our World

John Keegan
(Vintage)
John Keegan lectures at the Royal Military Academy in England, and is an expert in military history. War and Our World is a meditation (if I can use that phrase) on the nature of war, how it has changed over the centuries, and what it has meant in the way of honor, and the consolidation of states, as well as destruction and pain. He tells of what he believes to be the earliest military system, in Mesopotamia (3000 BC,) and in Assyria in (1300 BC).

Chivalry began, he believes, with Christianity, which demanded decent treatment of all prisoners, avoiding atrocities against civilian populations, strictures against rape, looting, and the extending of medical care to the enemy wounded. In the 19th Century,

    European armies enforced elaborate codes of correct behaviour, which were accepted as a matter of course by the rank and file.

Looking at the present, Keegan claims that war between large nations is no longer possible, since nuclear capabilities have made it improbable that China, the United States, Russia, and the European Community will be fighting one another. It is now, rather, a matter of very poor countries involved in civil wars, and wars against their neighbors. These countries continue to battle not with high-powered technology but with cheap arms:

    The mass-produced assault rifle, costing one-millionth of a jet fighter's price, is...an almost universal scourge. Many of the fifty million dead of the wars of this century's second half have been killed by the cheap assault rifle. Its high rate of fire makes it deadly against the many in the hands of an individual, while its lightness and simplicity allow even untrained children --- who figure increasingly frequently in the ranks of unofficial armies --- to kill with a profligacy the veteran of the past could not achieve.

War and Our World was originally commissioned as a series of the Reith Lectures by the BBC. Some of the facts given are interesting: that the most brutal war in terms of percentage loss of adult males occurred in Paraguay --- the War of the Triple Alliance --- between 1864 and 1870; that for the Greeks, the idea of war was less than a day in battle: "An hour of killing in which one side or the other was broken, the losers fled home and the victors buried the dead." Verdun, on the other hand, went on from February to November, 1916, which

    undermined the individual's essential belief in the statistical probability of his own survival...At the same time, the experience of the individual as long as he survived was nastier than ever before --- measured in terms of noise, general insecurity and the spectacle of the wounds inflicted by modern weapons.

He concludes, "War had got longer. It had also got worse."

§     §     §

Considering the august history and scholarship of the Reith lectures, Keegan's book is a puzzle. It is jam-packed with false assumptions, false conclusions, and astounding misstatements of facts. That business about the Christians introducing chivalry would and does make no sense whatever to the citizens of the Middle East. Muslim histories still relate tales of brutal Crusades, take-no-prisoner pogroms fought in the name of the Prince of Peace.

There are also some historical boo-boos. Keegan claims that the first wars on record were in Mesopotamia, but the highly regarded Encylopædia of Military History lists Menes of Egypt with his provincial militia beginning possibly as early as 3400 BC. Even more out-of-whack are Keegan's basic assumptions which one might characterize as neo-colonialist. After stating unequivocally that "no one in Britain today...fears death by starvation," he goes on to tell us that it is safe to predict

    that a relatively small proportion of the people of the world will die for lack of food in what remains of this century.

Tell that to the people of Africa --- Sierra Leone, Guinea Bisseau, Guinea, Angola and Uganda --- where, according to WHO, lack of proper diet leads to weakened immune systems in children resulting in catastrophic diseases --- such as cholera, diarrhea, and dysentery. In the year 1999, these claimed 5,000,000 lives.

Another doubtful claim is that the great powers no longer make arbitrary wars:

    States are subordinate to a power greater than themselves. They cannot make war at wish, certainly cannot claim state interest or political necessity to make war as they choose...

We wonder if Keegan has had the chance to look into the recent history of Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Guatemala, destabilizing wars brought to you courtesy of America's bounteous assist to imported and indigeneous terrorists (which, by-the-bye, has helped to make the Taliban the powerful force for international terrorism that it is today).

England's only "unilateral war, he reports, occurred in the Falklands, and it was "both legal and victorious." Right --- unless you happen to live in Buenos Aires.

    There may have been conflicts following withdrawal from empire, but we managed the transition without provoking any war on a scale comparable to that fought by France in Algeria or Portugal in Africa.

When I came out with a whopper like this, my mother would wash out my mouth with that awful tasting lye soap. If she were still alive, I would certainly direct her attention to Mr. Keegan's choppers. Presumably, after the clean-up, she would cite page 1287 of the Encyclopædia:

    1947, August 14. Independence of India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan both received their independence simultaneously, and both became dominions within the British Commonwealth of Nations. Rioting, violence, and death increased throughout both nations, and particularly in Punjab. Mobs of religious majorities in both nations began to terrorize, rob, and murder the minority groups, most of whom took refuge beyond the partition frontier. After about 6 weeks of slaughter, relative peace returned, mostly because the persecuted minorities had been wiped out or chased away. No reliable statistics exist, but it is probable that close to a million people were massacred, while 10-15 million people were forced to flee from their homes.[Our emphasis.]

--- Ignacio Schwartz


Queen for a Day
Denise Duhamel
(University of Pittsburgh)
Duhamel writes about Garcia-Lorca's Deli, Georgia O'Keefe's pelvis, a Barbie Doll in a Twelve-Step Program, Barbie as a Bisexual, Barbie's GYN Appointment, and the difference between Pepsi and the Pope.

One might describe her poetry as run-on, or maybe stream-of-consciousness, or --- best --- poetic shaggy dog stories. You remember shaggy dog stories? Duhamel's start out talking about Mojácar, Spain, and then somehow move onto the moon, how houses in Spain are built, gypsies, the Catholic Church, how Spanish women carry jugs of water on their heads, the O. J. Simpson trial, and, finally, about finding a 5,000 year-old skull in the back yard,

    where an archaeologist will cradle that girl-child's skull
    in his arms for a minute before he dusts her off
    and measures her eye sockets, as if he's truly sorry about what happened
    all those decades and centuries and cruelties ago...

She runs through this list and somehow it somehow all hangs together --- O. J., and the moon, and the wrinkled old women, and Poor Nicole, we have that too you know/the battering of wives, in our country. But Duhamel never gets so lost in her meanderings that she disappears entirely. She's like one of those people who you'll be sitting and talking and suddenly she's off there in hyperspace with ideas that after awhile, in their own strange sequence, start to connect, taking us, more or less, back to where we think we might have begun with her.

For example, "The Difference between Pepsi and Pope" tells about a flaw that Duhamel has in the right side of her vision,

    so that often I get whole words at the end of sentences wrong
    like when I first saw the title of David Lehman's poem
    "The Difference Between Pepsi and Coke" and I misread
    "Coke" for "Pope." This blind spot makes me a terrible driver.

She then goes on to reflect on a poet who "dressed up as a cookie," then she admits that she prefers Coke, mostly because of the "wavy hyphen" that separates "Coca" from "Cola," and then she tells how she had trouble finding the ~ on the computer keyboard,

    I only noticed it today in the upper left hand corner, above the tab,
    the alternate of ', if you hit the shift key. I wonder if I also have a blind spot in my left eye. I wonder if the poet who dressed as a cookie
    is happy in his new marriage. I wonder if you can still get a bottle of Tab...

In four lines Duhamel has led us from the tilde on the keyboard (above the tab) back to her original blind spot (and that poet dressed as a cookie), then, full circle, around ultimately to the drink called Tab.

What makes it so beguiling is that along with this rambling off-the-wall poetry, you get a narrative on her mental process --- delivered with a singular talk-to-your-shrink honesty, set down complete with all the peculiar loops in her thinking --- not unlike the loops in the thinking of all of us, the ones that most of us may choose to keep hidden. Her ideas are presented in such a way that we come to participate in her allusions (and illusions) --- those interior links that meander around like crazy, but contains a certain kind of connective craft, a unifying system that lies deep inside of all of us. It is a nuttiness that we temporarily hide when we are around most other people, hide so they won't stick us in the looney bin everytime we open our mouths.

§     §     §

Finally the poem branches off to a near-accident on the road, then to Bette Midler saying Enough about me, what do you think of me? --- then back to the difference between a Pepsi and the Pope:

    Pepsi is bubbly and brown while the Pope
    is flat and white. Pepsi doesn't have a big white hat. The Pope
    can't get rid of fender rust. Pepsi is all for premarital sex.
    The Pope won't stain your teeth.

If you like knee-slapping, quasi-existential poetry, go out and pick up a Queen for a Day. They tell us that Ms. Duhamel teaches at Florida International University. I grew up in Florida. My god, how things have changed. Now they have teachers who write for public consumption about "The Woman with Two Vaginas" and "Barbie's GYN Appointment" ("There's nowhere for him to take a pap smear...") and I'm guessing from the notes that for some reason, she hasn't gotten canned for this sly but somewhat on-the-edge wit. My god how things have changed.

--- L. W. Milam


[Koans of the Month]

I. The Pitcher

Hyakujo wanted to choose an abbot for the Daii Monastery. He told the head monk and all the rest of his disciples to make their Zen presentations, and the ablest one would be sent to found the monastery.

Then Hyakujo took a pitcher, placed it on the floor, and asked the question: "This must not be called a pitcher. What do you call it?" The head monk said, "It cannot be called a wooden sandal."

Hyakujo then asked Isan. Isan walked up, kicked over the pitcher, and left.

Hyakujo said, "The head monk has been defeated by Isan." So Isan was ordered to start the monastery.


--- From The Gateless Barrier:
Zen Comments on the Mumonkan

©2000 Shambhala

II. Virtue

The true Puritan loves virtue not so much for its own sake as for its being an instrument of terror.

--- Randolph Bourne


The Folio is published by The Reginald A Fessenden Educational Fund, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Monies in excess of subscription rates are contributed to various good works, such as the Prison-Ashram Project, the Prison Library Project, and a rehabilitation center for the disabled in Southern Mexico. All contributions are tax-deductible by determination of the IRS and the State of California.

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