Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Projectile Synchronicity

Day 49 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project.

Paulette is reading Break of Day by Colette, and it is just now, as I compose, the break of day. There was a full moon last night, and life is beautiful.

A young man on spring break, soon to graduate with a wildlife biologist degree and a poetry habit, is now reading Charles Olson, who believed that poetry was a "high energy construct," poets taking energy from various sources and projecting it onto the page via thought, breath, heart, words...."projective verse."

(My hidden stand-up self cannot help but imagine projectile versifying.)

(That's why it's a hidden self.)

But now I must confess to some 1) impulse buying based on 2) synchronicity. Susan commented here earlier on synchronicity, cool coincidences, Carl Jung.

I was reading Midwest Eclogue by David Baker (see earlier entry), the poem "Melancholy Man," and the note on it at the back of the book referring to Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton. Having written recently on melancholy, I was struck by that coincidence and then further stricken by the desire to read the Burton book. Fortunately 1) I was home and thus nowhere near a bookstore and 2) when I accessed the Babbitt's search page, we didn't have it.

But I came into work yesterday, to do my lovely how-the-heck-am-I-going-to-make-a-living-as-a-poet job of typing books into the store database, and there it was, newly discarded by a library, The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton, in the All-English translation (no more Latin) edited by Floyd Dell and Paul Jordan-Smith. You know what happened next.

One of my jobs during how-the-heck-am-I-going-to-make-a-living-as-an-actress stage of my life was to work in Special Collections at the Newberry Library in Chicago. They have a fabulous Floyd Dell collection, so I learned a lot about him there. That's when I realized Edna St. Vincent Millay had also worked as an actress in Chicago, before heading off to Greenwich Village. And, yes, behind me on the bookshelf is the huge biography of Millay, Savage Beauty, by Nancy Milford, Christmas gift from my mom and dad back in 2001, deeply enjoyed. My mother introduced me to "Renascence," Millay's long passionate poem about coming back to life, as a verse reader on the high school speech team, and I've been in love with her ever since. Likewise, Emily Dickinson. Their fat biographies sit side by side, in fact, a fine coincidence in my random organizational system based on love.


Anonymous said...

Having been madly writing, rewriting, traveling and then speaking this past ten days or so (not necessarily in that order, as I wrote before traveling, while traveling - up in the air - and then before and between and after speaking) I haven't had an enormous amount of time to read just for the fun of it. Only three full books: Robert Conroy's '1945' and 'Red Inferno: 1945,' and Larsson's 'Girl Who Played with Fire.' I had misplaced 'Girl' two weeks ago but was fortunate enough to find it in my bag on the plane, after finishing the other two books, so gladly re-read it, again.

But, now doing catch-up on “What are you reading, and why?” there's so much that can be said. Not so much about what I've just been reading, but about the works and people that appear in this blog - and the works and people that they remind me of, and prompt me to take up. I had not yet read 'The Lost Books of the Odyssey,' and when I first saw that title I thought of Robert Graves' 'Homer's Daughter' (in which Princess Nausicaa transforms her own story into the Odyssey). I turned to the link, and hadn’t read more than a couple pages before adding ‘The Lost Books of the Odyssey’ to my immediate “must read” list. (That means the history of FDR’s clash with the Supreme Court will have to take its place in the queue, after the ‘Lost Books’ – as soon as I get my hands on ‘Lost Books.’ Until then, I will squeeze as much as I can out of ‘Supreme Power.’ It’s only 656 pages long, so ‘Lost Books’ better hurry and get here.)

‘Lost Books’ reimagining of a classic story makes me think of ‘secret histories’ and counter-factuals from Robert Graves’ ‘King Jesus’ and Jack Dann’s ‘The Memory Cathedral’ to Kazantzakis’ “Last Temptation of Christ,’ and the essays collected in Robert Cowley’s ‘What If?’ (All tucked into the bookcase by the right side of the bed, along with books by Kenneth Roberts, Mary Stewart, and Arthur Schlesinger. The right side is mostly the ‘re-read list’ that I had been dipping into each night before going to Europe last month. The left side has more modern European fiction – mostly still on my ‘to read’ list.)

Now I've caught up on reading through the entries I had missed while traveling the past ten days, and they were full of provocative (or evocative) connections. I was prompted to remember M.F.K. Fisher’s ‘How to Cook a Wolf’ – which I first dipped into while waiting for the moon landing to come on TV. The references to melancholy (a very Waldorf term – meaningful to those of us connected at least tangentially with Rudolf Steiner) made me think of ‘Anatomy of Melancholy’ and, lo and behold, today’s blog raises ‘Anatomy of Melancholy.’ All food for thought, prepared by this blog. And that, in itself, is part of the answer to the question ‘what are you reading, and why’ – this blog, because it’s enjoyable and informative, and creates memorable connections between things that I have read, and things that I should read. In short, it makes me think.


Kathleen said...

Bob! Thanks for the update, and YOUR list of books.

You are a faithful reader, and a faithful reader of this blog. I love to imagine your crowded nightstand. Look closely at the stack because I'm pretty sure I got The Lost Books from a list of YOUR soon-to-be-read books! Or check that same travel bag.

Douglas Robillard said...

Glad you found Burton. That's a book I like to dip into, rather than read straight through. I enjoy all the obscure, abstruse learning Burton compiles in ANATOMY, not to mention the lovely early 17th C. prose! A good bedtime book, too.

Did you know that Keats' narrative poem "Lamia" was inspired by an incident recounted by Burton? He tells of a young Greek who was beguiled by a shape-changer, the serpentine "lamia" of the title. Poor Lamia is undone by a philosopher, since: "Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings/Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,/Empty the haunted air and gnomed mine--/Unweave a rainbow, as erewhile made/The tender-person'd Lamia melt into a shade."

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Doug! (And thanks, too, for the Flannery O'Connor article, safely received!!)

Yes, I keep reading references to Burton and realizing that I've encountered references to it in the past, as well. I dipped into the love melancholy section this morning!