Straight Outta Wilmington

It’s been a while since I’ve donned the ol’ pith helmet to engage in some good ol’ fashioned anthropology.  However, this weekend my erstwhile grief counselor and now lawfully wedded wife Caroline (pictured below) and I travelled up Highway 17 to Wilmington, North Carolina to catch her friend Edie Senter in an all-female DJ contest held before an Ice Cube concert.[1]

The only other rap performance I’d attended was a Ludacris show at a multi-stage street festival, so I was curious if Ice Cube might offer a more diverse subject matter than Ludacris’s narrow obsession with “bitches” and “hos.”

We had VIP tickets, which allowed us a perch above the groundlings and provided us with easy access to refreshments in a semi-enclosed area. Edie’s husband Dustin, a club owner and impresario, hosted us as we took in the sights and sounds of the celebration, part of Wilmington’s Azalea Festival. After the event, he took us to one of the clubs for some further late empire partying.

Dustin and I-and-I

The MC in charge, a fellow whose name I didn’t catch, provided some fairly entertaining tunes but suffered from that common malady of radio personalities, an unassailable love of the sound of his own voice.  In addition, he had the tedious habit of extolling the audience to raise the decibel level of their responses.

“I can’t hear you?” etc.

Anyway, I especially enjoyed Edie’s performance. Beaming 100-watt smiles while bopping to the beat, she clearly loves spinning,

Here’s a way too short snippet.

 

 

If there were a God, Edie would have won instead of coming in second, but the flawed Queen-for-a-Day applause meter reckoning had her ending up in second.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Cube and wish I had been familiar with his work.  When I mentioned to my 40-something pals at school I had been seeing the former founding member of NWA, they started gnawing their arms with envy.  Once again, this snippet in short and at a distance.

 

 

One last peek into the dangerous life of an ethnologist from the one of Dustin’s clubs.

 


[1]Even though I perform hip-hop under the stage name, Nilla Puddin’, I know about as much about rap as I do the regional cuisine of Lombardy.

The Alms of Palsied Eld

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is

WB Yeats

 

Gustav Klimt

Gustave Klimt: Old Man on His Deathbed 

One of the coolest speeches concerning the decrepitude of old age is the Duke’s contempto mundi screed in Measure for Measure, delivered to poor Claudio who has (to use guidance counsellors’ dearest cliché´) made a bad choice.

He’s impregnated his fiancée.

Not a capital crime, you muse.  Well, fornication hadn’t been until the Duke’s successor Angelo took over the government and started enforcing every law on the books, no matter how ancient or unjust.  Addressing Claudio on the eve of his supposed execution, the Duke offers some words of recompense for a life cut short (and a rather lurid peek into a future none of us wants to consider):

If thou [old person] art rich, thou’rt poor;

For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,

Thou bear’st thy heavy riches but a journey,

And death unloads thee. Friend hast thou none;

For thine own bowels,[1] which do call thee sire,

The mere effusion of thy proper loins,

Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum,

For ending thee no sooner. Thou hast nor youth nor age;

But, as it were, an after-dinner’s sleep,

Dreaming on both; for all thy blessed youth

Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms

Of palsied eld; and when thou art old and rich,

Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,

To make thy riches pleasant [. . .]

Yeah, but!  There’re still crossword puzzles, unread novels, Fletcher Henderson recordings, sunsets, that majestic roof fretted with golden fire, Shakespeare himself . . .

***

Nevertheless, I, too, admit I’d rather die than get shipped off to a nursing home.  Luckily, my late wife Judy’s parents avoided that fate as did my daddy and my mama (and both sets of grandparents). My wife Caroline’s father is still going strong alone at eighty.

Unfortunately, Judy’s grandmothers ended up in a “home,” and each trip down to St. Simons when Birdie and Gramma were among the quick included the resiquite visit to the motel-like care facilities where they languished.

Although the two women had been nothing alike before their relocation – Birdie a gardener and world traveler, Gramma sedentary, a knitter –  afterwards, their conversation consisted of the same broken record, a litany of complaints: stolen jewelry, bad food, bodily decay, a life not worth living.

Still, they appeared to be in much better shape that the wheel-chair bound specimens parked on the front terrace as you walked in. It was like something out of Brueghel or Bosch: skeletons, twisted into fetal position, oblivious, with open maws, or others, non-comatose, but wild-eyed and confabulating, living a hallucination.

08crippl

Breughel: The Beggars

 

Terrible to witness, but a brave soul must stare down horror if he or she wants to go wide-eyed and laughing to the grave.

* * *

No one –  no matter how successful or accomplished – can be assured that he or she won’t end up warehoused in some facility.

Among the famous names to have been shunted [at Motion Picture Country House] are Johnny Weissmuller, best known for playing Tarzan, and Oscar-winning actress Mary Astor who was remembered for sitting aloofly at her own dinner table.

The actor DeForest Kelley – Dr McCoy from Star Trek – spent his last days enjoying the picturesque palm trees and topiary. Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to win an Oscar, for her portrayal of “Mammy” in Gone with The Wind, and director Stanley Kramer, who was nominated for nine Oscars, were also residents.

To think that Tarzan spent his last days cooped up in a Hollywood nursing home!  Gazing at picturesque palm trees and topiary ain’t gonna cut it for someone who swung through the jungle on vines.

Then there’s Samuel Beckett, who ended up in a Paris maison de repos.

About a year ago, after falling in his apartment, he moved to a nearby nursing home, where he continued to receive visitors. He lived his last year in a small, barely furnished room. He had a television set on which he continued to watch major tennis and soccer events, and several books, including his boyhood copy of Dante’s ”Divine Comedy” in Italian.

On July 17 this year, his wife died and he left the nursing home to attend the funeral. Late this year, after he became ill, he was moved to a hospital. There are no immediate survivors.

 

samuel_beckett

Damn, Beckett dies in a Beckett play.

***

Who better to have the last word than Philip Larkin?

Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms

Inside you head, and people in them, acting

People you know, yet can’t quite name; each looms

Like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning,

Setting down a lamp, smiling from a stair, extracting

A known book from the shelves; or sometimes only

The rooms themselves, chairs and a fire burning,

The blown bush at the window, or the sun’s

Faint friendliness on the wall some lonely

Rain-ceased midsummer evening. That is where they live:

Not here and now, but where all happened once.

 


[1]In my case, Harrison and Ned

Visiting What?

Last week Porter-Gaud honored my colleague Bill Slayton and me by naming us Visiting Writers for 2019, joining such luminaries as Billy Collins, Dori Sanders, and Pat Conroy, to name only three.  Of course, the head of the program chose us not on the merit of our canons but to honor us in the year of our retirement.  To be honest, my publishing history is as thin as Donald Trump’s skin, though I do have both a poem and a short story in anthologies catering to South Carolina writers.

Although Bill and I both felt a bit odd about reading unpublished works to a packed auditorium, the students were quietly attentive and asked good questions when we visited English classes.  One of the highlights for me was having my poem ‘The Grill” projected on a screen and analyzed by the teacher, Dr. Lehman, and his students.

I wrote the poem in the wee hours after having almost burned my house down.  I had placed a charcoal chimney on a log on my deck as I had dozens of times before; however, on this night — perhaps the log had dried out over time– in the course of two or three hours, the log caught fire, igniting the deck.  Luckily, Judy Birdsong and I were sleeping with the windows open, smelled the smoke, called the Folly Beach Fire Department, and they put it out before it could spread to the house.

After they left, knowing that sleep was out of the question, I got on line only to discover that one of my sweetest friends from childhood had succumbed to cancer, so I sat down and wrote the poem, a bitter comment on the transitory nature of life.[1]

Here’s the first stanza:

I’m tearing apart paper,

newsprint, the obituary page,

shredding descriptions of lives:

of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers,

bachelors, partners, husbands, wives,

shredding their black-and-white

faces, their smiles, their stares,

ripping also the memorial verses

loved ones have left,

wadding it up

to fuel my charcoal chimney.

Dr. Lehman and students asked about diction and line breaks.  For example, did I break the first line after “paper” and the second after “page” to create an alliterative and assonant pairing at the end of the line? Why repeat the word “shredding?”

The sad fact of the matter is that what I do I do by instinct.  My ear, not my brain, told me to break the lines there, and “shredding,” like so many words of Anglo-Saxon origin, sounds like what its conveying, the sibilant sound of paper being ripped.  I did, however, consciously add “partners” to my catalogue of decedents to include gays.

Then comes a one-line stanza, quadrupled spaced.

Yet not enough.

Dr. Lehman cut the line and moved it to join the preceding stanza, changing it from this:

wadding it up

to fuel my charcoal chimney.

 

Yet not enough.

 

So here comes the sports page,

the World Cup, accounts of pop flies

 

to this:

wadding it up

to fuel my charcoal chimney.

Yet not enough.

 

So here comes the sports page,

the World Cup, accounts of pop flies

The change actually bothered me, and I asked him to put it back in its proper place.  He told the students that we poets are very meticulous about matters such as these, and I guess I proved him correct.

He then highlighted the following stanza, which he admires most about the poem.

So here comes the sports page,

the World Cup, accounts of pop flies

dropped, paper ripe for ripping,

ripped, balled, stuffed, ready

for the match’s fiery effacement.

“Lots of plosives there Mr. Moore,” he said, and I said, “Yeah, it’s an angry poem. “  I mentioned that I did consciously end the second line with “flies” to sort of simulate dropping a baseball.

Anyway, what I learned about myself is that I’m not very analytical when I write a poem; nevertheless, it might seem as if I am, which suits me.

So let this self-indulgent post end a week of self-indulgence, so I can go back to my little life as an English instructor.  I will leave you, however, with the complete poem:

 

The Grill

In memory of Paul Yost 1955-2014

I’m tearing apart paper,

newsprint, the obituary page,

shredding descriptions of lives:

of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers,

bachelors, partners, husbands, wives,

shredding their black-and-white

faces, their smiles, their stares,

ripping also the memorial verses

loved ones have left,

wadding it up

to fuel my charcoal chimney.

 

Yet not enough.

 

So here comes the sports page,

the World Cup, accounts of pop flies

dropped, paper ripe for ripping,

ripped, balled, stuffed, ready

for the match’s fiery effacement.

 

And that poor chicken! Hatched, harried,

pecking its food among hordes,

pulled from transport crates,

shocked for the throat cutter’s convenience,

plucked, eviscerated.

 

This one’s also been

deboned, yet not sold soon enough,

skewered by butchers along with

aging onions and overly ripe peppers.

 

* * *

 

After its scraping, red and black,

slightly rusted, the grill stands ready,

top open, at attention.

 

I place the chimney

upon the barred metal, pour in

the briquettes, and torch the

shredded lives of others,

their wins and losses,

and watch the smoke

rising into the dissipation

of the silent, cloud-shifting sky.


[1]What we didn’t know at the time was that Judy, too, had cancer that would be diagnosed at the end of the month.

The Shelf Life of Euphemisms

Breughel The Beggars

It’s just a matter of time before officially mandated euphemisms, words like handicapped, for instance, acquire the connotative stench of the word they were chosen to replace, in this case crippled.  The linguist Steven Pinker calls the phenomenon “Euphemism Treadmill.”

Back to ambulatory disabilities. In the Seventies, well-meaning advocates declared the word crippled cruel and decided the word handicapped was more humane. They insisted that handicapped replace crippled, airbrushing, as it were, an unpleasant sound associated with a sad state – withered limbs, club feet, braced legs, thick-souled shoes.1

When you picture a cripple, what do you see?

I see a ratty Victorian coat draped across the shoulders of a stooped Dickensian character with a cane.

Now close your eyes and picture a handicapped person.

For me, he or she is wheelchair bound.  However, unlike crippled, the word handicapped covers a much wider range of maladies; it’s not limited to problematic arms legs or or spines.  Elmer Fudd and Sylvester the Cat have speech handicaps, for example.

The word crippled is crisp, a trochee, the double p-sounds limping. It comes to us from two words of German origin, crypel and crēopel related to the word creep.

Handicapped is less specific, more metamorphic, having originated, not in the distant mists of Anglo-Saxon barbarity but in the 17th Century describing strange pastime called “hand in cap.”

Here’s the OED’s account:

Mid 17th century: from the phrase hand in cap; originally a pastime in which one person claimed an article belonging to another and offered something in exchange, any difference in value being decided by an umpire. All three deposited forfeit money in a cap; the two opponents showed their agreement or disagreement with the valuation by bringing out their hands either full or empty. If both were the same, the umpire took the forfeit money; if not it went to the person who accepted the valuation. The term handicap race was applied (late 18th century) to a horse race in which an umpire decided the weight to be carried by each horse, the owners showing acceptance or dissent in a similar way: hence in the late 19th century handicap came to mean the extra weight given to the superior horse.

Handicapped spread from racetracks to golf courses and enjoys in the arena of sport non-pejorative connotations. It suggests the possibility of success despite a disadvantage, yet it, too, has fallen out of favor. Disabled person is now preferred over handicapped.

Would you rather be crippled or handicapped or disabled? No doubt one day disabled too will fall out of favor for some new attempt to soften the sense of the situation.

This phenomenon of euphemisms falling out of favor has a long history.

Take these deposed onetime legitimate descriptors of levels mental incapability.

Idiot, imbecile, moron.

For example, the blog Medium provides this succinct explanation of what these no longer clinical terms once meant.

1910, the Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Persons adopted three classifications of people we know today as intellectually disabled, as defined by a newly invented way to measure intelligence we now call the IQ test. “Morons” were the most intelligent — they had IQs between 50 and 70. “Imbeciles” with IQs between 25 and 50 were the second level. Those below 25 would remain “idiots.”

Of course, the problem with these terms is that people started insultingly applying them to non-imbeciles, non-idiots, non-morons, so I can see why changing them made some sense. For example, HR McMaster, Trump’s former national security advisor, called his boss “an idiot,” as had White House chief of staff John Kelly, according to the Washington Post. Ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron.” Although others have called Trump an imbecile – actress Sonam Kapoor, e.g., – I can’t find an example of one of his staff members employing the term. In addition, no one, to my knowledge, has called Trump “retarded,” (though Trump himself used that term to describe his former attorney general Jeff Sessions).

Maybe “mentally incapacitated” will survive. What an ineffective insult that term would make, a nerf insult, not suitable for a staccato attack during a road rage incident. “What the fuck you think you were doing, you fucking mentally incapacitated person, you?”
Although I would rather be handicapped than disabled, I’d prefer to be mentally incapacitated rather than imbecilic. I told my mother once after she chided me for using the word piss, that I’d bring in a jar of urine and a jar of piss, and if she could correctly label which was which, I’d never use the word piss ever again until the day I passed away or croaked.


[1]Yes, “air-brushing sounds” is indeed a mixed-metaphor. Cluck your tongues, you stepchildren of Freud!

The Considerable Talents of Danielle Howle

photo credit: Fleming Moore

 

In November of 2014, I published a post entitled South Carolina’s Musical Heritage where I imagined The Oxford American had chosen me to curate a cd of songs produced by natives of the Palmetto State.  I complained that a few of the songs in the Oxford Southern Music series were “a bit too archive-y” and that my cd would not suffer from that preciousness.  You could listen to my compilation without reaching for the fast forward button to skip some pocket-comb-and-tissue band from the 1930s inserted into the mix to establish the curator’s erudition.

Here’s what I came up with:

Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs’  “Stay”

The Swinging Medallions’ “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love”

The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See”

Eartha Kitt’s “C’est Bon”

Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts “

James Brown’s “Doing It to Death”

The Drifters’ “There Goes My Baby”

Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again”

The Brotherhood Gospel Singers’ “Mary, Don’t Cry”

The Reverend Gary Davis’s “Prodigal Sun”

Hootie and the Blowfish[1]“Only Want to Be with You”

Julius Cobb’s “Great Big Change in Me”

Uncle Walt’s Band’s “Gimme Some Skin”

Alphonse Mouzon’s “Funky Snakefoot”

Blue Dogs’ “Walter”

Danielle Howle’s “Oh Swear”

Well, last night, I finally got to meet the last name on that list – not last because least but last because youngest.  Danielle Howle is truly a treasure.  She’s blessed with incredible chops; a gift for melody; a soul capable of alchemizing suffering into poignant but not sentimental art; a sharp, dry wit that makes her stage banter funnier than most of the stand-up acts I’ve seen recently.  Oh, yeah, and charisma.  Obviously, you can’t learn charisma, you can’t will charisma, you can’t ask the Lord Almighty to grant thee charisma.  You either got it or you don’t.  And she gots it in containership loads.

See for yourself as she and keyboardist Alex Goyette playing at the Listening Room at Summerville’s Homegrown Brewhouse:

 

 

To say I’m a fan is obviously an understatement.  Check her out whenever you can,  Also, her opening act George Alan Fox and Jesse Pritchard were also  killer.

 

I-and-I backstage with Danielle Photo Credit: Fleming Moore

[1]Not a big fan, but it would be churlish not to include them.

Deepening Shades

 

The death of friends, or death

Of every brilliant eye

That made a catch in the breath –

Seem but the clouds of the sky

When the horizon fades;

Or a bird’s sleepy cry

Among the deepening shades.

Yeats, “The Tower”

 

Cast a cold eye,

On Life, on Death.

Horseman, pass by!

Yeats’s Epitaph

 

Because I’m retiring at the end of this year, I’m often asked if I’m “counting down the days.”

Actually, I’m not.  When this semester ends, I’ll be not teaching at Porter-Gaud for the rest of my life.  Why rush that?

Instead, I’m relishing – or at least trying to relish – the last opportunity of teaching specific content: poems I love, vocabulary lessons I know by heart, characters who are more real to me than many of my acquaintances. For example, my main man from Heart of Darkness Charlie Marlow and I will part company in May. Every spring for thirty years he and I have hung out for two weeks or so. I’ll miss the sound of his voice, what he has to say about truth and lies, of savagery and civilization. Of course, I could look him up next year or the year after, but I know I never will. There’s no need for me to accompany him up the Congo River ever again.

Yesterday I taught Blake for the last time.  We read and discussed the Chimney Sweeper poems, “London,” and “The Poison Tree.” It suits me to be done with those poems; nevertheless, I savored intoning each syllable to the class and afterwards enjoyed exploring the poems’ meanings.

I was angry with my friend;

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

 

And I watered it in fears,

Night & morning with my tears:

And I sunned it with smiles,

And with soft deceitful wiles.

 

And it grew both day and night.

Till it bore an apple bright.

And my foe beheld it shine,

And he knew that it was mine.

 

And into my garden stole,

When the night had veiled the pole;

In the morning glad I see;

My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

 

I tried as best I could to convey how these rhythmic, rhyming words capture the toxicity of repression and deceit and how the consciousness of the speaker of the poem is not universal, i.e., that his consciousness is not ours nor ours his.  We talked about existentialism and how the theory of existentialism ties into Wordsworth’s perception that reality arises — is concocted — from “eye, and ear, — both what they half create, /And what perceive.”  I cited Hamlet’s observation that “Nothing is neither good or bad but thinking makes it so” and his claim that he “could be bound in a nutshell” yet think himself “king of infinite space,” that is, if he didn’t have “bad dreams.”

The speaker of “The Poison Tree” is pleased that his foe is dead, so, according to his reckoning, “God’s in His heaven, and all’s right with the world.” After all, the speaker has invested a lot of energy cultivating the poison apple.  His joy in his neighbor’s demise contradicts traditional religious and secular moral teaching and perhaps is off-putting to many readers; nevertheless, it makes sense that he expresses his thoughts in jaunty, happy rhythms.

After all, as Pope says, “The sound must seem an echo of the sense.”

In these dwindling last weeks, I’ll also bid adieu to Blake, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Conrad, Yeats, Joyce, Eliot, and Auden as they sing their swan songs. After that, I’ll be free to “embrace the trivial days and ram them with the sun,” to paddle out in glassy surf while my colleagues are taking roll or telling some boy to tuck in his shirt.   I’ll be free to read what I choose, to make some new literary friends.  It’s about time I got acquainted with Swann and his daddy Marcel Proust.

Until then, I hope to savor each and every class period rather than looking ahead and counting them down like Advent calendar squares, or a prison sentence, or the way I count down the essays left to be graded or the report card comments left to be composed.

Yes, I am looking forward to not grading essays and writing report card comments. I have three sets left to finish before 8:00 a.m. Wednesday.

Protestant Carnival

 

Alas, even though Folly Beach is the Edge of America, even though it’s the mostest bohemianest spot in South Carolina, it is, nevertheless, Protestant.  You gotta have Lent to have a good carnival.  At a Protestant Mardi Gras parade, like on Folly Beach, they ain’t no nudity, so the closest thang we got what I’d call Dionysian is the purple headed chick on stilts on this here video.

All the same Bontemps, y’all.