Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: "Pavane" (Regina Carter); The Singularity on a Sunday

[Regina Carter, "Pavane," from her album Paganini-After a Dream, 2003]

Across the Hudson, mist like the film attaching to the inside of eggshell...the river's surface (the first time in weeks) nearly as smooth as the shell's exterior...

What promises will the egg bring forth?

With the elegant phrasing of Regina Carter in our heads, the lobster (nutmeg and cloves in his hot chocolate) and the canary (brown sugar, one more spoonful please) contemplate the Singularity.

Someone-- John Scalzi? Cory Doctorow?--has noted that science fiction is not in the prediction business, but is a means to imagine how humans will react to various future scenarios.

So, Mr. Nutmeg and Mr. Turbinado are parsing current and potential reactions to recent news:

* Last Thursday, the J. Craig Venter Institute announced that it has created a synthetic cell, controlled by man-made genetic instructions. (The media is calling the cell "Synthia"; Venter sails in a yacht called "Sorcerer II.") Creating life? "Merely" mimicking life? Playing God (or the Devil)? "Simply" demonstrating the chemical composition of life, a technical trick akin to coding a new PC OS?

* Also last Thursday, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler, testifying to the U.S. Congress, said about the still-unexplained May 6th free fall in U.S. stocks: "On this day, however, high volume could have beena misleading indicator of liquidity to market particpants and their preprogrammed algorithms" (quoted in Sarah N. Lynch, "Gensler Puts Blame on Math,"May 21 Wall Street Journal, pg. C2). As WSJ journalist Lynch explains: "In algorithmic or 'algo' trading, market players use computers to establish the parameters of an order in advance. The orders are directed into an electronic trading venue, and computers can carry them out without human intervention." (We seem to recall that Skynet did not become self-aware until 2017...?)

* Last week came further concerns about use of private data by various digital social networks. Among other things, an international campaign is calling for May 31st to be "Quit Facebook Day." Tempest in an electronic teapot? Libertarian revolt against the nascent hive-mind?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sharon Dolin: Of Hours

[Ellen Wiener, "Moon & Lillies (Vespers)," painted 1999]

The lobster, with canary riding on his carapace, is delighted to present a coda to the Sharon Dolin interview (March 13th, "Composing for the Eye"). Sharon very wonderfully sent us more thoughts on ekphrasis, and a generous preview of her as-yet-unpublished work, Of Hours.

From Sharon:

"My Book of Hours

I have been working on another ekphrastic sequence that came to me by chance when the contemporary artist Ellen Wiener showed me her series of paintings that are a Book of Hours. She said she was looking for someone to write about them. So I began, in the summer of 2006, to work on my own Book of Hours and my 24 poem sequence, entitled Of Hours, has been the result. The best way to explain the project is by giving you the introductory note I wrote for the as-yet unpublished collection.


Of Hours is a contemporary book of hours for the twenty-first century and its reader could be someone from the Judaeo-Christian tradition or anyone with a devotional bent. The poems were initially inspired by a collection of paintings by Ellen Wiener entitled An Album of Hours. The paintings provided the framework for the sequence (each painting has its companion poem, though the poems and paintings can stand alone) as well as some images that served as a jumping-off point for my own reflections on a specific hour.

The canonical hours, upon which the paintings are based, were devised by the Catholic Church, and practiced as an official set of prayers by monks as well as lay people, since the sixth century of the Common Era. The hours or divine office are divided into eight daily prayers as well as several nightly divisions, the major ones being: Matins (at dawn); Lauds (praises, also at dawn); Prime (at 6 a.m., the first hour); Terce (9 a.m., the third hour); Sext (at noon, the sixth hour); Nones (at 3 p.m., the ninth hour); Vespers (at sunset); and Compline (at bedtime).

The devotional hours grew out of the Jewish practice of reciting prayers at certain times of the day, though not at a set hour. Observant Jews still recite prescribed morning (shacharit), afternoon (minchah), evening (ma’ariv), and bedtime prayers for weekdays and additional (mussaf) prayer for the sabbath (Shabbat) and holidays. All but the last correspond to the times when sacrificial offerings were brought to the Temple. In his Psalms David wrote: “Evening, morning and afternoon do I pray and cry, and He will hear my voice” (Psalm 55). Since the destruction of the Temple, all observant Jews recite devotional prayers, including specific psalms as well as a recitation of the sacrificial offerings, in lieu of the sacrifice.

In writing my book of hours, I sought to wrest back from Christian practice the book of hours which, during the medieval period was often a sumptuously illuminated manuscript owned by noble men and women as their private book of prayer. While Les très riches heures du Duc du Berry from the early 15th century is probably the most famous example of such an illuminated book of hours, women were often patrons or owners of such books. One of the earliest surviving examples of a book of hours was made in Oxford, England by William de Brailes in the mid-thirteenth century, who designed and illustrated it for a young woman who is depicted within the book.

As well as the paintings, I was inspired above all in personal tone, subject matter, and lyric intensity by the Psalms, the great Hebrew cycle of lyric poems (though not pinned to a specific hour), traditionally attributed to King David. The Hebrew psalms (Tehillim) provide a record of an individual’s experience of the Divine, passing through all the modes of individual prayer: praise, petition, doubt, despair, faith, exaltation, humility, defiance, and thanksgiving. Specific psalms are incorporated into Jewish liturgy, and are recited daily and on the Sabbath at set times as well as during Jewish holidays. Finally, this book of hours is inspired by the great devotional poets writing in English: George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Hart Crane, and any echoes you might hear are intentional homage to them.

It is my wish that Of Hours, in the tradition of the Psalms, can serve as a vehicle for personal devotion: to inspire, to exhort to pray, to provide a space for contemplating your life’s path as it evolves hour-by-hour.

"He put a new song into my mouth,
a praise to our God, so that many may see and fear,
and trust in the Lord."
—Psalm 40

May these “new songs” accompany and fortify you as you live through each day’s manifold hours. Selah!

Here’s the opening poem to Of Hours:

"Psalm of the Flying Shell (4:30 a.m.)"

"At what solstice hour do I arise
(at what daybreak dark do wingtips whir)

knowing I can never see Your face

knowing my life is spiraled in the conch
of consciousness (inside the solar plexus

of space) how can I see in
to the wings’ filigree I’m fused within—

what does the sea-rushing sound announce—
how decipher the architecture of cells alchemy

of stars as angels for Your will?
My heart is a volute inside a body-whorled

spire that obelisks
the air I am thrumming

Your praises as the only way to hear
with the soul’s inner ear.

Tell me what You require of me>"

(published in American Literary Review, Twentieth Anniversary, Issue Spring 2010)

Others may be found at the following links:

“Blue Ladder (9 a.m.)”
The Cortland Review

Electronic Poetry Review

“Psalm of Morning Mist,” “Duet of Tree House and Rain”
InPosse (online)

“With Roses (6:30 a.m.),” “Green Laddered Thanksgiving (11 a.m.),” “Blackberry City and Sun Dial Talk (4pm) Time”

“Window with Wild Garlic in Wellfleet (5 a.m.),” The 22nd Annual
Anna Davidson Rosenberg Awards for Poems on the Jewish Experience

Many of Ellen Wiener’s paintings from An Album of Hours may be found here ."

Canary sings her thanks, lobster thrums from his grotto.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: "Touch"; Mills (The Blue Hour); Ponge

[Eberhard Weber, "Touch," from Yellow Fields]

Deborah A. Mills, an artist walking along the promenade on the lower Hudson, captured l'heure bleue in all its cobalt beauty yesterday evening.

She sees the inner being of things, how they manifest themselves as fields of color, color we can almost (but not quite) touch.

See deeply, see the thing-in-itself, and then search for the words to be that thing.

Francis Ponge phrased it this way:

" will make marvelous strides if he returns to things (just as we must return to the level of words in order to express things properly) and applies himself to studying them and expressing them, trusting simultaneously his eye, his reason, and his intuition, with no encumbrance to keep him from pursuing the novelties they contain--and knowing how to consider them in their essence as in their details."

---Ponge, Mute Objects of Expression (orig. 1938, trans. Lee Fahnestock, 2008, Archipelago Books).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

From Beyond Raging Seas, Comes The King-Herring

[DJ Krush & Shinichi Kinoshita, "Beyond Raging Waves"}

Last week a Giant Oarfish, also known as the King of the Herrings, washed up on a Swedish beach near the Norwegian border. The beast-- the first found in Sweden in 130 years-- was nearly 11 feet long.

The Giant Oarfish is the largest living bony fish, reaching 35 feet. Ten specimens washed up in Japan this spring. The Oarfish is usually found 650-3,200 feet below the surface.

Traditionally in Japan, sightings of the Oarfish were considered ominous. Many in Europe and Asia think stories of the "sea serpent" may stem from pelagic sightings of the Oarfish.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: Mother's Day

[Heitor Villa-Lobos, Magnificat-Alleluia]

Happy Mother's Day from the lobster and the canary.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Picasso Record, and the Impact of the Volcano

[Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, sold via Christies last week for an all-time record $106.5 million for an individual art piece.]

[Last month's volcanic eruption in Iceland]

Lobster lifts a quill from the ledger-book, pondering the price paid by an anonymous bidder for Picasso's 1932 painting...

Canary is glad not to fly through volcanic ash...the Icelandic eruption caused last month's Art Cologne, Art Brussels and London Book Fair to suffer many no-shows and delayed shipments...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: "Jackals & Vipers in Envy of Man"; "Pyracantha & Plum."

[Sixtoo, Jackals and Vipers in Envy of Man, Parts 2 & 4, released 2007]
Spring, with muggy airs and green, sprang over us this week...from a hint of snow on Tuesday, to temperatures yesterday in the eighties (Fahrenheit)...

The vicissitudes, les ondes... lobster and canary this week celebrated their 101st birthday... a time for reflection on the season(s)...threads of winter woven into the verdant explosion...last fall's leaf mold wrapping the roots of the budding bush...

As Jane Hirshfield writes in "Pyracantha and Plum":

"Last autumn's chastened berries still on one tree,
spring blossoms tender, hopeful, on another.
The view from this window
much as it was ten years ago, fifteen.
Yet it seems this morning
a self-portrait both clearer and darker,
as if while I slept some Rembrandt or Brueghel
had walked through the garden, looking hard."

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day Celebration: The Queen of Roses

May Day is here at last...the Queen and her court rouse themselves from sleep...hear the drums, the deep-lute strumming...with roses in her hair...

"A rose, but one, none other rose had I.
A rose, one rose, and this was wondrous fair,
One rose a rose that gladden'd earth and sky,
One rose, my rose, that sweeten'd all mine air--
I cared not for the thorns; the thorns were there."

(Tennyson, from Pelleas and Ettarre).