Archive for December, 2013


“Meeting as the tall ships do, passing in the channel…”

As 2013 limps to its grave, I’m tempted to regret how rarely I update this blog—but then I look back and find myself pleased with what I eked out time to post. Thanks for visiting! Here’s the “Quid Plura?” year that was: a modest medley of medievalism, books, poetry, and (of course) gargoyles.

Medievalism flourishes! A new book explored the link between Renaissance fairs and the American counterculture, while tapestry-born unicorns popped up in a 1959 brassiere advertisement. This blog also posed a question fit for Grant Wood: What’s so “Gothic” about American Gothic?

Medievalism wanders! In my home state of New Jersey, a glorious house begat a weird fantasy world and post-Sandy medievalism settled over the Jersey Shore. We discovered a towering reminder of medieval Italy in downtown Baltimore and heard medieval echoes at a cemetery in Staunton, Virginia, and I concluded that I live in Washington’s most medieval-ish neighborhood.

Behold the gargoyles! I looked up to find gargoyles in rural Maryland. A famous Notre Dame grotesque showed up at baggage claim in a Colorado airport, while one of his cousins loomed from the facade of a Delaware pharmacy.

It was also an atypically Tolkien-heavy year. We looked into the newly published poem The Fall of Arthur, asked “What hath Gandalf to do with Methodism?,” and appreciated George Stephens, a “pioneering, erratic, and irascible” minor scholar in Tolkien’s shadow.

Translations abound! I dug up medieval radishes in Latin verse, tried in vain to translate untranslatable Latin, and worked to discern the tone in a short poem praising Charlemagne’s son.

P-p-p-poetry! This blog paid tribute to the late John Hollander and defended the much-maligned poetry expert “Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D.” My favorite book of the year was Thaliad by Marly Youmans, a remarkable post-apocalyptic epic poem, and I kicked off what I hope will be a new tradition: writing an annual Christmas poem.

No matter whyever or whence-ever you visit this site, whether you leave comments or simply browse in bemused silence, I’m grateful for your inquisitive eyeballs! Please stick around for a (hopefully) more prolific new year; there’s always something left to say.

“It’s all a patchwork from above…”

CHRISTMAS SHOPPING, FELLS POINT
(1622 THAMES STREET)

The year is low; the yesterdays you spent
Fall numbly, like the numbers on your list.
The least is hope, the promise you invent
In fear.
            Not here. Let everything exist:
In shoes and lanterns, crosses, grout, and brass,
A coin-encrusted sink, a biding throne
Of sundered mirrors, bling, and spackled glass,
Your beaming brings a whirl of scrap and stone
To life in light: the weary walls rejoice.
A greater gift can scarcely be conceived
But one that mends our shards and gives them voice:
Be merry, yes, but better, be relieved,
And rise, and laugh, and listen, lest you miss
Tomorrows no unlikelier than this.

 

“…and eyes full of tinsel and fire.”

[When I wrote and posted drafts of more than 50 gargoyle-inspired poems between 2009 and 2012, this was one of the most popular. I offer it again in the spirit of the season. You can get a copy of Looking Up: Poems from the National Cathedral Gargoyles from Amazon, at the National Cathedral gift shop, or by emailing me. To read drafts of 51 of the 53 poems, click here. For more background on this project, go here.]

SOLSTICE SONG

Come and grace our gleeful number,
Come and shake off snows unknown.
Bells will ring while wood-woes slumber,
Bells will ring for you alone.

Rave with uncles reeked in holly,
Reel with aunts who saw you born.
Whirl away your grear-tide folly,
Hearth-life dwindles ere the morn.

Haul the ash-bin ’round the byre,
Feel the pinelight breathe your name.
From the tongue of colder fire
Cracks and calls a hotter flame.

Run and chase your sweet-lipped singer,
Run and race your hope anon.
Bells will ring where’er ye linger,
Bells will ring when you are gone.

“…and I’ll climb the hill in my own way…”

“If art teaches anything (to the artist, in the first place), it is the privateness of the human condition. Being the most ancient as well as the most literal form of private enterprise, it fosters in a man, knowingly or unwittingly, a sense of his uniqueness, of individuality, of separateness—thus turning him from a social animal into an autonomous ‘I.’ Lots of things can be shared: a bed, a piece of bread, convictions, a mistress, but not a poem by, say, Rainer Maria Rilke. A work of art, of literature especially, and a poem in particular, addresses a man tete-a-tete, entering with him into direct—free of any go-betweens—relations.

“It is for this reason that art in general, literature especially, and poetry in particular, is not exactly favored by the champions of the common good, masters of the masses, heralds of historical necessity. For there, where art has stepped, where a poem has been read, they discover, in place of the anticipated consent and unanimity, indifference and polyphony; in place of the resolve to act, inattention and fastidiousness. In other words, into the little zeros with which the champions of the common good and the rulers of the masses tend to operate, art introduces a ‘period, period, comma, and a minus,’ transforming each zero into a tiny human, albeit not always pretty, face.”

—Joseph Brodsky, Nobel lecture, December 8, 1987