- What type of poem is it?
- What is its mode? Lyric, narrative, dramatic?
- What is the form?
- Does it have meter? Does it have rhyme? Is it in free verse?
- What is the diction or vocabulary of the poem?
- Who is the speaker of the poem?
- Is there a story line or action?
- What is the setting?
- What are the images?
- Are there figures of speech?
- Are there any allusions in the poem?
- What’s the tone?
- Does the poem have any symbols?
Venture into a Costco warehouse – a more diverse place than many a university or legislature – and you will see shoppers from all walks of life gathered together in the pursuit of consumer goods. Here, people of various faiths and backgrounds peruse the aisles, in search of the latest giant screen television sets, buckets of ice cream, and rotisserie chickens, treating one another with respect, regardless of their beliefs. The only judgement passed is reserved for those who bump carts or try to skip the line. Upon departing this peaceful and lively consumer’s paradise, some may venture to their respective places of worship, while others linger and indulge in a beverage and a $1.50 hot dog with friends. One family may commemorate a milestone with a baptism, another might celebrate a traditional rite of passage, while still others head to the ballpark in the comfort of their spacious SUVs. And as this diverse tapestry of personal journeys is woven, everyone finds contentment.Tabarrok, Alex, April 18, 2023, https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2023/04/costco.html
Few would ever join the words Poetic and Costco, but Alex Tabarrok’s Costco notes make it hard to resist. The leading economist kindly reminds us of the diversity of the marketplace.
The Kathrine Rundell cluster reading continues. This from her book Super-Infinite.
Here she gives a brilliant breakdown on the practice of common placing through the eyes of John Donne.
The practice of commonplacing – a way of seeking out and storing knowledge, so that you have multiple voices on a topic under a single heading – colours Donne’s work; one thought reaches out to another, across the barriers of tradition and ends up somewhere fresh and strange.
Hoarding can have negative connotations, but for commonplacing it’s required:
Because, simply, Donne wouldn’t be Donne if he hadn’t lived in a commonplacing era; it nurtured his collector’s sensibility, hoarding images and authorities. He had a magpie mind obsessed with gathering.
Commonplacing isn’t chewing up ideas and spitting them out. It’s combining disparate ideas into five course suppers.
Crucially for Donne, though, the commonplace book wasn’t designed to be used for the regurgitation of memorised gobbets: it was to offer the raw material for a combinatorial, plastic process.
From scraps to wholes. Also Dr. Johnson wasn’t a Donne fan.
For Donne, apparently unrelated scraps from the world were always forming new wholes. Commonplacing was a way to assess material for those new connections: bricks made ready for the unruly palaces he would build.
Donne’s heterogeneity, which so annoyed Johnson, wasn’t a game: it was a form of discipline. Commonplacing plucks ideas out of their context and allows you to put them down against other, startling ones.
Donne used the term “commonplacer” first?! Of course.
It’s telling that the first recorded use of the word ‘commonplacer’ in the Oxford English Dictionary is Donne’s.
The Dutch scholar Erasmus was also a commonplacing forefather. He codified the practice:
The commonplace book allowed readers to approach the world as a limitless resource; a kind of ever-ongoing harvesting. It was Erasmus, the Dutch scholar known as ‘the prince of the humanists’, who codified the practice. The compiler, he wrote, should ‘ make himself as full a list of place-headings as possible’ to put at the top of each page: for instance, beauty, friendship, decorum, faith, hope, the vices and virtues. It was both a form of scholarship and, too, a way of reminding yourself of what, as you moved through the world, you were to look out for: a list of priorities, of sparks and spurs and personal obsessions. Donne’s book must surely have had: angels, women, faith, stars, jealousy, gold, desire, dread, death. Then, Erasmus wrote
whatever you come across in any author, particularly if it is especially striking, you will be able to note it down in its appropriate place; be it a story or a fable or an example or a new occurrence or a pithy remark or a witty saying or any other clever form of words…Whenever occasion demands, you will have ready to hand a supply of material for spoken or written composition.
Who is the ideal commonplacer?
The ideal commonplacer is half lawyer, building up evidence in the case for and against the world, and half treasure hunter; and that’s what Donne’s mind was in those early days.
Rundell, Katherine. Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne. New York City: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022. ( see pages 36-39)
Elizabeth Bishop’s poem The Ballad of the Subway Train was so difficult to track down, I had to capture it here.
It’s a gem.
A rhyming, celestial, origin story of the subway.
Hard to top that.
Long , long ago when God was young,
Earth hadn’t found its place.
Great dragons lived among the moons
And crawled and crept through space.
Ten thousand thousand years they lived,
And climbed the hills of night.
Their eyes were as the whizzing suns;
Their tails, sharp flails of light.
They bunted meteors with their heads
While unseen worlds dropped by;
And scratched their bronzy backs upon
The ridges of the sky.
The aeons came and went and came
And still the dragons stayed;
Until one night they chanced to eat
A swarm of stars new-made.
And when God saw them fully gorged,
Their scaly bellies fed,
His anger made the planets shake
And this is what he said:
“You have been feeding, greedy beasts,
Upon the bright young stars.
For gluttony as deep as yours —
Be changed to subway cars!
“No more for you infinite space,
But in a narrow hole
You shall forever grope your way,
Blind-burrowing like the mole!
So in the earth the dragons crawl
In murky, human roads.
The glory of the heavens once –
They carry human loads.
Creatures that the gorgeous sun
Face to face had seen,
Now are lighted by thin darts
Of limpid red and green.
And when you’re grinding through the dark
Aboard those “devilish cars,”
They really are the dragons who
Licked up the swarm of stars.Bishop, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters (LOA #180) (Library of America). New York City: Library of America, 2008. ( see pages 183, 184)
He wrote of Brasília the way some write of Paris or New York. With reverence and adoration. Three exclamation points and an all caps shout-out? That’s love right there.
Up into the sky! To the broad heavens! High above the earth: the white city, the Venus city: BRASÍLIA!
Representative Marco opens every door to me. But Brasília has no doors: it is bright space, an extension of the mind, radiance become architecture. The public areas throb with children, the palaces lend implicit dignity to their institutions. The architect Italo, a friend of Niemayer’s, has been ten years in Brasília, and takes us on a tour of the new Itamaraty, the Congress, the still-unfinished theater, and the Cathedral, a rose of iron whose great petals open toward infinity.
Brasília, isolated in its human miracle, in the midst of Brazilian space, testimony to man’s supreme creative will. From this city one would feel worthy of flying to the stars. Niemayer is the terminus of a parabola that begins with Leonardo: the utility of constructive thought; creation as social obligation; spatial satisfaction of intelligence.Neruda, Pablo. Passions and Impressions. Trans. Margaret Sayers Peden. Ed. Matilde Neruda and Miguel Otero Silva. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983. (see pages 193,194)
But why Neruda’s adoration of Brasília? Over Sao Palo? Over Rio? Timing I suspect.
When Passions and Impressions was printed in 1978, Brasília was a bebê. An infant city of eighteen years. The Cathedral of Brasília had only been completed eight years previously. And the intent of Brasília’s creation was to be a global city of progress. The E.P.C.O.T. or World City of South America.
Brasília was an ambitious project. Not only in design and scope, but in time. A city built from scratch in only five years? It deserves a spot on Patrick Collision’s “Fast” list.
As its name implies, the Improvisations is not a meticulously planned book. It’s not a high concept type of thing where you literally move the Eleusinian Myth to New Jersey. William Carlos Williams simply went to work in the morning and when he returned home at night, no matter how late it was, before going to bed, he wrote something, anything, and at the end of the year he had a pile of texts in front of him which were now the rough precursor of a book. Those texts were loosely based on what had happened to him throughout that day, or on something he had seen or thought about.Astral Codex Ten, Your Book Review: Kora In Hell, August 26, 2022
William Carlos Williams’ work ethic was astounding. He wrote bits of Kora in Hell every night during a time as Astral Codex Ten points out, he must’ve been slammed with house calls and gynecology requests due to the WWI doctor shortage.
Kora in Hell must be one of William Carlos Williams less heralded works. It’s not his standard volume of poetry, but it’s not a novel either.
Read the full review here.
Poet and information billionaire Dana Gioa has a YouTube channel. He regularly posts videos about the art of poetry, poem recitations, and profiles of poets past.
This week Mr. Gioa introduced me to Edwin Arlington Robinson.
Robinson lived a tortured life. His parents died while he was still a young man. He battled alcoholism. He was in love with his brother’s (Herman) wife Emma. And worked probably the worst day job of all time – 10 hours a day walking the darkness as a New York Subway time-checker. He once went an 11 year stretch without publishing a poem. And when finally published, the critics ridiculed his poetry. But despite life’s beat-downs, he found the fortitude to keep writing.
Success did arrive. An unexpected friendship with Kermit Roosevelt. Eventually, consistent publication. Multiple Pulitzer Prize wins for his Collected Poems, The Man Who Died Twice, and Tristram. And even romance, with the painter and the brilliantly named Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones.
The theme of Robinson’s life was tragedy, but his perseverance inspires.
Worth watching all the way through.
Pete Doctor is Pixar’s chief creative officer. Recently he sat down for an interview with economist Steven Levitt. On his People I (Mostly) Admire podcast, Steve asked Pete one of my favorite, but ridiculous interview questions. What live advice would you give the 20 year old Pete Doctor, knowing what you know now?
An excellent interview for all you drawers out there. Listen in full here.
Every not-so-often, a person can distill a complex idea into one sentence.
It’s a rare event. But when it happens the idea snaps into your mind forever.
Today’s Econ Talk podcast episode was one such occasion.
Dana Gioia snapped my synapses when he shared this definition of the novel:
It’s hard to think of a novel that doesn’t follow this idea. I’m sure there’s some experimental four hundred pager out there, but the novels I truly know all exhibit this tension between the characters inner and outer life.
In Tolkien’s The Hobbit – Bilbo duels between his craving for comfortable Shire life and his Took instincts for adventure.
In Jeff Smith’s Bone – Fone Bone longs to return to Boneville, but harbors a secret love for Thorn who could never follow him there (Graphic novels count too right?).
Or in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake – Gogol’s divided between the need to honor his parents and his traditional Indian heritage, and the allure of American success.
Irony threads through all of them. And novels will no longer read the same to me.
Russ Roberts and Dana Gioia’s conversation was inspiring throughout.
Listen in full below:
Abandoned. Lost. Rot
on cobwebbed doorsteps. Their joy,
crumbles to sadness.