Friday, September 19, 2008

Stephen Crane, poet

Tonight, looking for a book I could not find on my crowded shelves, I came across one of my favorites, “The Collected Poems of Stephen Crane," yes, that Stephen Crane.

Not many know of Stephen Crane, the poet.
Those who don’t might consider this:

Many red devils ran from my heart
And out upon the page.
They were so tiny
The pen could mash them.
And many struggled in the ink,
It was strange
To write in this red muck
Of things from my heart.

or this:

Behold, the grave of a wicked man,
And near it, a stern spirit.

There came a drooping maid with violets,
But the spirit grasped her arm.
“No flowers for him,” he said.
The maid wept:
“Ah I loved him.”
But the spirit, grim and frowning:
“No flowers for him.”

Now, this is it —
If he spirit was just,
Why did the maid weep?

or this:

A learned man came to me once.
He said, “I know the way — come.”
And I was overjoyed at this.
Together we hastened.
Soon, too soon, were we
Where my eyes were useless,
And I knew not the ways of my feet.
I clung to the hand of my friend;
But at last he cried, “I am lost.”

or this:

"Tell brave deeds of war."

Then they recounted tales —
"There were stern stands
And bitter runs for glory."

Ah, I think there were braver deeds.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Misspelling snags "specs" visitors

Here’s the latest on the strange ways of search engines and Sarah Palin’s glasses.

Here and here, I’ve noted how hundreds of visitors came to the Red Electric after I wrote about Sarah’s specs.

I would have thought that, like Sarah herself, the novelty would have worn off by now.

Strangely I’m still getting a few dozen daily visitors seemingly fascinated by the governor’s rims.

Suspicious that something might be amiss in cyberspace, I checked my site meter’s source references. The listing tells me what’s bringing visitors to the Red Electric. In the past few days most of visits have resulted from a search of “Palen” (note the misspelling) and “glasses.”

That was curious so I searched “Palen” and "glasses” and found myself staring
at a Red Electric post’s headline “Palen (sic) glasses hunters swarm to web site" (see above).

I had inadvertently misspelled Palin’s name. Google searchers had too. One misspelling deserves another. If you search “Palen” and “glasses,” the Red Electric is at the top of the listing. For reader-hungry bloggers (I’m not one of them) that’s like being on top of the mountain.

I’ve fixed the headline now. My guess is that the visits will drop off significantly. But then with cyberspace you can never be sure. Besides, because this post is about “Palen,” I’ll tag it that way.

If you end up here by fluke, you might be interested in the post that started it all. It makes for interesting reading, if I do say so. Where else can you see the names "Dorothy Parker," "Marshall McLuhan" and "Sarah Palin" in the same paragraph?

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Orwell's "Blog"

"As the corpse went past the flies left the restaurant table in a cloud and rushed after it, but they came back a few minutes later."

So began George Orwell's essay "Marrakech." He wrote it in the spring of 1939, as Europe, and ultimately the world, slid into war.

I cite the essay because it sprang from remarkable writing by Orwell that can now be found on line as Orwell's "blog."

The Orwell Prize is posting "Orwell's Diary" entries day by day as he wrote them 70 years ago. "Visitors" to the blog find Orwell writing in mid-September about Morocco. Orwell and his wife, Eileen, stayed in the French colony for a year while he recovered from being shot in the throat during the Spanish Civil War.

He wrote "Marrakech" in the spring of 1939 so I anticipate that snippets of the essay will turn up in his journal entries before our own spring of 2009.

Like the diary entries of Thoreau, another avid journal writer, many Orwell entries are detailed botanical and biological observations. You could probably write about book titled "Orwell, the naturalist" based on his journal and many of his less well-known essays. You could certainly do that, if it hasn't been done, for Thoreau.

The publishers of the "Orwell's Diary" assure us in their comments and notes that politics become more prominent in journal as the war grows near.

As with other blogs, readers are invited to comment. Some are elated to feel the immediacy of Orwell's writing in blog form. Others are clearly frustrated that, so far at least, there is so little evidence of the kind of insightful writing, and thinking, found in "1984."

As I read these entries, I see Orwell at that restaurant table, writing in his journal, swatting away flies. They are the same flies that trail the corpse before buzzing back to the writer's table. We'll see whether he made note of them in his journal.

Noted or not, they were there and came to be the kind of telling detail that marked Orwell's masterful work.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Spirits for Spirits

The George Durant’s Listening Heart Book Store in Hillsdale was a mini-institution for those of us who tried to give George enough business to keep him and the little shop afloat.

I even volunteered behind the counter when George, a kind and earnest man, was called away to dentist or doctor. The foot traffic was thin but fervent, consisting of true believers of one kind or another.

The place, a little literary sanctuary, was packed with spiritual books from all religions, but the store itself was virtually unnoticeable from busy SW Capitol Highway. Its spiritual tomes went undiscovered by the commuters rushing by. George passed much of his time thumbing through book catalogs and waiting for customers who never walked through the door.

Nonetheless, those of us who did drop by found the conversation lively and even uplifting. George, a seeker himself, loved wrestling with questions of the spirit. But he had no business plan to speak of. He kept the place alive on a wish and a prayer until he had no choice but to shut the doors four or five years ago.

He now sells suits at the Washington Square Macy’s. He seems a happier and certainly a more financially secure man.

I thought of him and Listening Heart today as I dropped by the first day of business for Korkage, a spiffy little wine shop opened by Alissa Larrance. Something was oddly familiar about the place, and then it struck me that Alissa had George’s old space. She’d transformed Listening Heart by knocking out the interior walls and lining the shop with mounted bottle bins. In place of Aquinas, the Bhagavad Gita and Lao Tsu were chardonnays, Merlots and Chiantis.

Time had moved on, spirits replacing spirits, as they are wont to do.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Two views from abroad

One of the many joys in my life is hearing from former students. Some, like Stanislaus O’bul, go back more than 40 years to when I was a Peace Corps teacher in remote western Kenya.

Stanislaus lives in his native Sudan where he has managed to survive the country’s turmoil through a number of managerial jobs. He recently wrote to say that he is looking for work as an English teacher.

Lizi Zach, living and working in Berlin, was in my classes in the early ‘90s. My classroom stories about my Peace Corps experience contributed to her decision to become a PCV in Poland.

So without knowing each other, Stanislaus and Lizi have one thing in common — me, their former teacher.

They also turn out to have something else in common, and I believe it reflects how much of the world views our presidential campaign.

I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Here’s Lizi on Sarah Palin: “If this woman comes even close to the White House, if the Republicans win this year, I am so done. It will be time to go native: burn the passport and take up German citizenship.”

Here’s Stanislaus on Barack Obama: “As democrats, we all send Barack Obama our greetings and pray to God to guide him for the benefit of society and lasting peace in the world.”

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Quaking in Buenos Aries

I've been looking forward to posting the writing of Renee Chinquapin here.

I met Renee at our early morning Quaker meeting, and one day, after the hour's silence, we got to talking about writing. I asked to see some of hers and was immediately pulled into it.

She was kind enough to let me share it on The Red Electric. I'll publish another piece later.

No need to say more except fasten your seat belt and hang on!


By Renee Chinquapin

London, New York, Paris clubs may rock and rave all night, high on ecstasy and urban angst. On Moscow backstreets and Hollywood Boulevard, tarts may tout their tightly vinyled behinds. Rio may samba, Nairobi jujus.

And I can now say in my next day ragged bones and bleared-out eyeballs, Buenos Aires too shakes and shimmies, buzzes and tipples on through the sweet and river-breezed succulent darkling hours of summer.

Oh, yes, she does, along the broad and linden-lined boulevards, the squares of Dorrego and Recoleta, Soho and Florida, crammed with cooing couples. She lays her bets in the Palermo casino as crowded at 3 a.m. as a Costco warehouse on a sunny pre-Xmas Sunday afternoon. The mile-long Costanura riverside is jam-packed with strolling couples taking the good airs of Buenos Aires laden with the charcoal brazier smoke of all-night beef sausage churipan grilleries.

They call themselves Porteños, these denizens of Buenos Aires, for this is the port of Argentina, though the River Plata looks more like the Atlantic from Coney Island, the Mediterranean from Tel Aviv, the Amazon from Belem—wider than a prairie and grayer than a London pidgeon.

Porteños by the tens of thousands stream from their homes like the water of their wide mighty river itself, streaming out into the hyperdemocratic open air living room back yard and ice cream parlor streets 'til dawn, when Dallas and Capetown have long since rolled up their tepid sidewalks, long after Paris and Rome are snoring away, dreamwishing they were this humming, thrumming, chomping thick red steak, sipping red Mendoza wine Buenos Aires, where Porteños busily jabber with their hands, crack jokes, story, flirt, while baby Juanita's blissfully sleepytime nodded out in granny's arms at a poolside picnic table in some municipal worker's club with the glowing eye-smarting smoke pit embers of fifty parilla grills tenderizing various unnamable parts of beef and chickens cut that special Argie way into one big flat sizzling fat popping chunk of totally satisfying protein goodygoodgoodness, empty bowling pin beer bottles lined up on the table in mute testimony to yet another of ten thousand rollicking, frolicking all-nighter chowdowns cum champagne in this city that sneers at sleep, that makes do with haphazard disjointed catnapping fits and starts on subways and buses, in doctor waiting rooms, on lunchtime park benches.

Sleep at night? Not in this urban playground so eagerly making each night a night to remember, to savor on nights that never really end but rather melt into a dog-eared dawn like warp yields to woof, ebb to flood, each fly-by night as fully lived as if it be the final adios shovin'-off-to-heaven final night of all, Ms. in her low-cut high-hemmed scarlet slash-n'burn babycakes die-for dress, clacking 'long the runway sidewalk like a slow-mo sex rocket for Mr. Right beside her in his Homer Simpson smokes weed t-shirt and low-riding-see-my-ever-ready boxers and black-white All-stars padding along at her side to yet another next hipster wowser bar for more cool down backbeat rock-me-'til-my-back-don't-got-no-bone blues or ziggy zaggy jazz, oh, ain't we be down, struttin', high as that first swell timid night out on Calle Chile so many years back?

BA's a Bigtown that swirls, not just with traffic, not just with neon or gangs or druggy commerce, but with him/her couples brewed in the cauldron that was tango now a-spark with salsa, reggae, rock, grunge, whatever, 'cause if it's danced anywhere, it's danced right here in world wonderland city Buenos Aires. How many ways to highball rhythmroll stretch yesterday into tomorrow? As if the whole urban enterprise was some long, laid-out pumping creature by the ancient hoary flow-so-slow oceany riverside, each couple a cell of its living, breathing, dancing, drinking, whoopdedooing energy body, thump-thump-thumping, happy just to be alive in high-flying nighttime Buenos Aires, in that oh so sweet-tempered, we're-all-in-this-together Argie way of night life that is life at its finest, what the daily drudge is for, to kick up the hee-hee heels, clink the swilling wine glass, share that guffaw, replay that movie memory, drift like leaves on lazy pond from one cafe to bar to jukejoint, eatery to snackery, your patio my patio, mi casa tu casa todo bien todo esta nuestra casa nuestra ciudad Buenos Aires, this gotta-see-it-to-believe-it urbanation beast that nips and tucks and shouts its hallelujah tale, work into play into shopping into play into cleaning into play, big red buses dieseling down the argon-lit boulevards twenty-four/seven/twelve, this town of endless teeny ice cream empanada creampuff pastry pleasures beckoning, one vast haystack of a playground, humans at their best, clapping, snapping, giggling, yakking, punning, midnight sunning, sauntering up and down the unfenced parks and grassy squares, spilling out from cafes and restaurants like overstuffed cobbler pies, sweet and hunger-stilling, spilling out into this no-dog-barks happy-go-lucky ten-million strong funtown won't never quit, the milky way of its own atomic galaxy, southern antipode to Rome and Prague, Seville reborn but bigger, grander, softer…why ever would anyone even dream of partying is living anywhere else?

Bueno, si
. Buenos Aires.

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