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Sunday surprise, the wind bloweth

Monday, September 17th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — when inspiration is in the air — Sister Rosetta and Kathleen Raine ]
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Two very different artworks, each beginning with an attempt to express where inspiration comes from.

My friend and sometime mentor Kathleen Raine‘s great poem, Invocation:

Invocation:

There is a poem on the way,
There is a poem all round me,
The poem is in the near future,
The poem is in the upper air
Above the foggy atmosphere
It hovers, a spirit
That I would make incarnate.
Let my body sweat
Let snakes torment my breast
My eyes be blind, ears deaf, hands distraught
Mouth parched, uterus cut out,
Belly slashed, back lashed,
Tongue slivered into thongs of leather
Rain stones inserted in my breasts,
Head severed,

If only the lips may speak,
If only the god will come.

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Compare the early gospeller Sister Rosetta Tharpe‘s Music in the air:

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Sister Rosetta sings, Up above my head / music in the air, and Kathleen Raine elaborates, “There is a poem all round me, / The poem is in the near future, / The poem is in the upper air”.. I could go on to describe how Kathleen’s prayer then builds, in rhythm, rhyme, and agony, her description of what she would offer in sacrifice if the divine wind should answer her prayer with a poem — the poem we are in fact reading — and there’s surely no need for me to express further the joy that Sister Rosetta’s song itself invokes and embodies

But I would like to note that commonality between them — of the inspiration waiting, for Kathleen “in the upper air”, for Rosetta, “above my head” — and to say that “upper” and “above” here indicate a metaphorical rather than a physical dimension..

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And “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

In this verse, the word for wind and spirit, pneuma, is also the word for breath — wind outside as part of the weather, inner wind as breath, and inspiration (literally, in-breathing) as what the inner wind carries with it — while the verb form, blow, is also related.

Thus we may read the verse as meaning “wind blows where it wants, and nobody can tell where it comes from, or where it will go next” — or “breath breathes of its own accord, and no-one knows where it comes from or when it will cease” — or “inspiration cannot be forced, it touches down and takes off at its own pleasure, not at our command”..

Like grace, it floats in possibility space, alighting at will, ever spontaneous, unmerited, never to be predicted.. Fortunate Sister Rosetta, fortunate Kathleen to have been visited.

Storm special, surf’s up

Friday, September 14th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Jimmy Buffet, also complexity and ecstasy in words]
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Given the horrific storm now — and with effects lasting a week or so before the worst is really over, depending on where you live — I’d like to introduce the appropriate musical backdrop, Jimmy Buffet‘s Surfing in a Hurricane, and point you to a New Yorker article, a brilliant long read for those hunkered down by the fire with their laptops at the ready..

First, the Buffet:

In passing, let me note the authenticity of the lyric, which no landlocked poet could possibly capture. And yes, Buffet surfed the advance of Florence — Jimmy Buffett Goes Surfing in Hurricane-Fueled Waves: ‘I Ain’t Afraid of Dying’

What a life!

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Then, William Finnegan, Off Diamond Head.

I’ll just give you a couple of tastes, the whole thing is a marvel of fine writing. The first paragraph I’ve chosen because it culminates in a description of complexity, which the arts reach from a different angle than complexity theory in math, and the second para continues that evocation. Finnegan is describing the area known as Cliffs:

It was an unusually consistent spot, in the sense that there were nearly always waves to ride, even in what I came to understand was the off season for Oahu’s South Shore. The reefs off Diamond Head are at the southern extremity of the island, and thus pick up every scrap of passing swell. But they also catch a lot of wind, including local williwaws off the slopes of the crater, and the wind, along with the vast jigsaw expanse of the reef and the swells arriving from many different points of the compass, combined to produce constantly changing conditions that, in a paradox I didn’t appreciate at the time, amounted to a rowdy, hourly refutation of the notion of consistency. Cliffs possessed a moody complexity beyond anything I had known. [ .. ]

And yet the place had a growling durability that left it ridable even in those battered conditions. Almost no one else surfed it in the early morning, which made it a good time to explore the main takeoff area. I began to learn the tricky, fast, shallow sections, and the soft spots where a quick cutback was needed to keep a ride going. Even on a waist-high, blown-out day, it was possible to milk certain waves for long, improvised, thoroughly satisfying rides. The reef had a thousand quirks, which changed quickly with the tide. And when the inshore channel began to turn a milky turquoise—a color not unlike some of the Hawaiian fantasy waves in the mags—it meant, I came to know, that the sun had risen to the point where I should head in for breakfast.

Ah, and then as the coup de grace, this:

Leslie Wong caught and pulled into the wave of the day, his back slightly arched, his arms relaxed, making the extremely difficult—no, come on, the ecstatic—look easy.

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Over here in California, our concern this year was flame, not wave. Just how you surf a wildfire escapes me.

Two death tolls, 9/11 and Puerto Rico

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron ]
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Simply:

Extended chess and baseball metaphors

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — a light-hearted look at Trump Chess, and an umpire explains millisecond decision-making ]
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The first of two pieces I’ll explore here is from the New Yorke, Rules for Trump Chess by Andrew Paul. It’s a humor piece, but not without its satirical effect, as you can tell from Rule #1:.

Each turn is referred to as a “news cycle.”

At times, the hunmor gets a bit sour, as with Rule #4:

A handful of new pieces will be introduced during game play, scattered haphazardly across the board. They include: two overcooked macaroni noodles (Kushners), a shrivelled white raisin with lint on it (Sessions), and a washcloth soaked in warm Johnnie Walker (Bannon). Their permitted moves are unclear, but every news cycle, players must select one to put in their mouths until they gag.

Links to an earlier (and more balanced) form of chess are not entirely absent, as exemplified by Rule #11:

Knights still move in that ridiculous two-squares-up, one-square-over path. They think they are being very clever. Their creepy horse faces must always be turned to face the king.

You can read the rest at the New Yorker site

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Of deeper interest, though with less immediate application to politics, is Jim Evans‘ WaPo piece, Sorry, judges, we umpires do more than call balls and strikes. Here’s the setup:

I don’t remember when I first heard the popular analogy comparing judges to umpires calling balls and strikes, but recently it’s been everywhere. When Brett Kavanaugh was first nominated to the Supreme Court, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council called him “a constitutionalist — someone who will call balls and strikes.” This past week, as Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings began, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) described him as “somebody who calls balls and strikes and doesn’t come up with his own strike zone.” Supposedly a judge is, and should be, as mechanical as an ump.

Mechanical, eh?

It’s true that there are similarities. Umpires have always been considered authority figures, like judges. Both are subject to a lot of scrutiny, and we do what we think is right by rule and tradition. Umpiring is a special calling and a learned skill that requires extraordinary mental toughness. When you put on your uniform, you are supposed to leave all your subjective feelings in that dressing room. Personal integrity and respect for the game are at stake.

I’ve seen similar said about judges when they put on their robes.. But even the simple “calling balls and strikes” level of analogy lacks subtlety:

Seeing the televised rectangle that allegedly represents the strike zone, you might surmise that any 3-year-old should be able to tell whether that little white sphere is in or out of that box. Replay has reinforced the feeling that it’s simple and obvious.

Yet there are many intangibles when it comes to calling balls and strikes. What the umpire’s actually doing is gauging a baseball’s relative position as it travels 95 miles an hour into a three-dimensional area. You’re judging a pitch as it leaves the pitcher’s hand and goes to the catcher’s mitt in less than half a second.

Getting into greater finesse:

For example, the rule book states that a runner must avoid a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball. If you collided with a shortstop who was bent over in the act of fielding a ground ball, you would be guilty of interference. But if the shortstop had completed the act of fielding and was attempting to tag you when the collision occurred, there would be no penalty. Among elite athletes, this all happens in milliseconds, and to the untrained eye, the plays look the same — both violent collisions with the ball on the ground. This requires an interpretation of when one act ended and another began, and whose rights are in effect. This is a judgment call.

Interesting final sentence, that.

Okay, it would be neat if an appellate or superior court judge could write a similar piece on the niceties of judicial judgment..

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Umpires and referees..

I’ve always tended to think of umpires as the cricket equivalents of referees, and referees as the soccer equivalents of umpires, but what do I know?

Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos arguably interfered in the match, bringing both repeated champion Serena Williams and first-time winner Naomi Osaka to tears.

Match Referee Brian Earley holds his fists in, exemplifying both the passion and restraint in play in the US Open final

In the Serena Williams objection to penalties allotted her during the second set of her finals match with Japan’s young winner Naomi Osaka, I’ve learned today that in tennis, the umpire, usually seated in a high chair at center court makes unassailable rulings of fact, while the referee can overrule him in matters of tennis law — effectively making the umpire analogous to the jury, and the referee to the judge, in a trial by jury.

And thus the analogical web widens..

Sunday surprise 2, for Sally B, poetic afflatus

Monday, September 3rd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — a romantic attribute of poets, close to the holy spirit ]
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Poetic afflatus is the term for a private wind of inspiration which follows a poet around — on fortunate days. That photo of Donald Hall which Sally Benzon so much admired, I believe illustrates the afflatus — Hall has allowed his hair to stray wherever the whim of wind may take it, while the urbane Obama has curated his to stay close to the skull in all weathers — a remarkable juncture of opposites.

Here, then, for Sally B and all, is the only example I know of, presenting that private wind in a motion picture — here surrounding the person of Richard Burton, ruffling his hair and scarf while all else in the room is still — in an unforgettable clip from Christian Marquand‘s 1968 film Candy, itself a loose (not to say libertine) update of Candide:


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