Archive for the ‘Non-Music’ Category

As a former Classics minor and regular museum attendee of minor prestige, I have off-and-on read bits and pieces about how ancient sculpture was anything but monochromatic. If you go to museums these days you start to notice casts of color on ancient objects more than ever before, either because of the buzz about the topic and/or because these pieces are now being showcased.

It’s one of those times of year I wish I was visiting NYC. I spent a lovely summer there long ago and used to visit now and then when I knew people who lived there. Add to that an out-of-the-blue recent conversation I had on a cool New York Public Library exhibition of their collection’s treasures. And then there’s this article from yesterday’s New York Times on the Met’s “Chroma: Ancient Sculpture in Color” show, which features “colorized” versions of ancient sculptures, a public culmination of the studies of the Brinkmanns, a scholarly couple who have been at this for decades. Well, it makes me wish I could hop on planes and trains like I used to, or at least makes me think about studying something interesting like this in depth.

The article covers a lot of ground on ancient polychromy, including a new angle I’d not encountered, namely that by seeing only monochromatic (usually white/whitish marble) human figures in ancient art, our aesthetic and racial views of the world are significantly affected. Check this out for more on that.

Well, that’s plenty of links for you to peruse. But what really intrigued me about the Times article was this:

“However, some historians worry that the Met Museum has elevated the increasingly ubiquitous Brinkmann replicas to an iconic status that is becoming the default representation of ancient polychromy, when the couple’s research is just one among dozens of competing theories. The debate now encompasses more than a disagreement about pigments and scientific method; some academics see the reconstructions as a larger discussion on who gets to define the past.”

As much as I’d like to see the Chroma exhibit in person—and there’s a lot to it, including a fascinating glossary that includes ancient pigments—what I’d really love to see is an exhibit covering these dozens of competing theories, including replicas, succinct write-ups, lectures, evidence, etc. Maybe Chroma will feature some of this—I have not consulted its calendar. I can always resort to books and journals, but what a wonder such an exhibit would be. For that I would hop on the next plane and figure out somewhere and some way to stay in New York for a spell.

Ancient statue of a woman with blue and gilt garment, fan and sun hat, from Tanagra, Greece, 325–300 B.C. Exhibited in Berlin’s Altes Museum. Source: Wikipedia.

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Watching Black Swan the other day, I thought about how few movies I see. Thinking about it slightly more, how many great movies do we need to have per year anyway? One or two seems fine as the years go by and we keep busy at other pursuits.

So, here we have 50 56 films for my years, with a nod to some I might not feel like seeing these days, but had an impact at the time. Sometimes once or twice is enough anyway. Not every film I loved from way back when is here either, so no E.T. or Indiana Jones here. Consideration of wanting at least one film by certain actors factors in as well.

I used to keep meticulous track of all the movies I saw, but tossed it aside and now form this list from a list of a bout 140 movies that I whittled things down to. My film-viewing history is neither complicated or interesting. As a kid in the ’70s and ’80s, I saw plenty of those decade’s lesser offerings, onward into the ’90s to now, seeing only a few here and there. The only era into which I have delved deeply, as an aficiandao, was during the ’90s when I avidly recorded ’30s and ’40s films thanks to channels like AMC and TCM.

So, here we have the first 55, more difficult to narrow down than the follow-up TV post that actually was posted before this! Four that I wrote up have been deleted to make it 55; seems like the coming years will bring more than one induction each. We only live once, and two movies a year isn’t so bad anyway.

Orphans of the Storm (12/28/1921): If only for the necessity of gazing at Lilllian and Dorothy Gish through the camera lens.

Animal Crackers (8/23/1930): If I had my way, I’d splice the first three Marx Brothers films together and watch on repeat, but pick this one for the presence of Lillian Roth along with the usual players. The Cocoanuts was the first and had the amusing 1920s Florida real estate boom satire and Monkey Business the Chevalier stuff. And then there’s the next few movies they did…

Follow Thru (9/27/1930): A real journey into another era, with hit or miss humor and lots of labor to make a film with decent sound and in color, but it has Nancy Carroll and Thelma Todd and is very entertaining. The work of DeSylva, Brown, & Henderson deserves to be remembered and celebrated.

Palmy Days (10/3/1931): A stand-in for all of Eddie’s early work, some of which might show up on this list eventually. He’s paired well with Charlotte Greenwood and lots of great jokes. The blackface that shows up in his work is especially unfortunate as Eddie was Jewish with a lot of his humor based on being a decided outsider.

Movie Crazy (8/12/1932): Harold Lloyd with sound is even funnier and he made two top-notch talkie films that deserve to be watched and watched again. Constance Cummings comes along for this ride.

Love Me Tonight (8/18/1932): Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald (and Charles Ruggles and C. Aubrey Smith and even Myrna Loy) in one of the most charming and compelling films made. Maurice and Jeanette paired up again, but never better than here.

The Fatal Glass of Beer (3/3/1933): W.C. distilled into a nutshell. A film to howl to for all 21 minutes.

*New for 2023*

Made on Broadway (5/19/33): A shining, but nothing flashy, example of early 1930s drama. Short, sharp, and intriguing. No angel himself, the Robert Montgomery character winds up pronouncing judgment on the Sally Eilers character, making me cringe as her character has certainly been victimized by men in her past. Also introduced me to Madge Evans, in the role of the true confidant and lifelong love.

Alice Adams (8/15/1935): Touching. Earnest Katherine Hepburn, plus references to being liable to eat “broken glass” and “rusty tacks.”

The Milky Way (2/7/1936): Harold Lloyd strikes again, this time with the snappy Verree Teasdale, Adolph Menjou, and Helen Mack as worthy accomplices.

Any Andy Hardy film (3/12/1937-1946): From A Family Affair to Love Laughs, nothing better captures the times, albeit in simple, idealized fashion. Funny and fun to see Mickey Rooney use an old-time phone.

Easy Living (7/16/1937): Jean Arthur at her winsomest with great support. About as screwball as they come, although these next two top it. Too bad she lost her job at The Boy’s Constant Companion, though.

The Awful Truth (10/21/1937): Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, and Asta/Skippy. Mostly improvised on set, the brainchild of director Leo McCarey.

Bringing Up Baby (2/16/1938): Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Asta/Skippy. Plus Nissa the Leopard and Charles Ruggles. The screwiest of them all with non-stop laugh lines—ad-libbed and scripted. Both stars at their peak, with Grant no doubt getting a bump in technique from his previous film (see above).

The Wizard of Oz (8/25/1939): The stuff of legends, emblazoned on every kid’s mind. Glides along seeming like no time at all. What could be better?

My Favorite Wife (5/17/1940): More laughs, possibly, than the previous screwballs, as Dunne and Grant and McCarey team up again. One of the most welcome “sequels” in cinema history. Hard to believe this was released in May as it has the air of a holiday picture.

Rhythm on the River (9/6/1940): Der Bingle could have appeared before this, but now that he has, one of film’s greatest is commemorated. Mary Martin, Oscar Levant, Basil Rathbone. Real quality light musical comedy stuff. Kind of a precursor to Holiday Inn, below.

Kipps (6/28/1941): A film (and book) worth revisiting. Michael Redgrave and Phyllis Calvert are winning, and she gets one the best lines ever, “Artie, I wouldn’t do this for everyone, mind you.”

Holiday Inn (8/4/1942): Top to bottom one of the most well-made and entertaining films ever with possibly its best song. If not for the blackface/”Abraham!” elements, it would be cherished ’til kingdom come.

Meet Me in St. Louis (11/22/1944): Nostalgic Americana as only this era could do it. Margaret O’Brien and Harry Davenport particularly charming, along with a raft of songs and scenes.

It’s A Wonderful Life (12/20/1946): Must have been quite interesting to see a few days before Christmas so long ago. Has one of my favorite scenes and, actually, any scene with Donna Reed in it is a fabulous one in this story.

Life with Father (8/14/1947): Tour de force for William Powell, permeating the film when he’s not even on screen, leaving all other actors, except possibly Jimmy Lydon, as bit players—not that I’d want it any other way. Masterwork.

The Bachelor & The Bobby Soxer (7/24/1947): Hilarity combining Andy Hardy and screwball comedy. Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Shirley Temple, Rudy Vallee, and again amusing Harry Davenport.

The Heiress (10/6/1949): Brilliant story from a brilliant novelist, a brilliant script, a brilliant director, with a brilliant composer and theme song, plus brilliant acting all around. But there’s really only name needed to recommend this movie: Olivia de Havilland.

The Red Balloon (5/3/1956): One of the products of the 50s that endures in my mind. A tribute to the days of elementary school filmstrips.

Wild Strawberries (12/26/1957): The first meditation on life and time on this list. Extremely well done with many moving scenes, despite some of the usual 1950s clunkiness and heavy-handedness.

The Innocents (11/24/1961): My favorite “horror” movie. A movie of ghosts, mystery, the unseen, the unexplained, the whispered. Wonderful!

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (4/22/1962): My favorite western of the few I’ve seen. Great cast and story and message.

The Music Man (6/19/1962): Small town, Midwestern charm of old, coupling nicely with Meet Me in St. Louis above. Many infectious, heartfelt songs and wonderfully cast, top to bottom. Robert Preston and Shirley Jones outstanding, one nearly over the top, one understated. And the stylized, but historical, mise en scène and costumes pack a wallop.

Les dimanches de Ville d’Avray (11/12/1962): Bare, yet lush black and white, with the textures of Corot in a place he painted. A story of what can happen to the disturbed, damaged, dreamers.

Les parapluies de Cherbourg (2/19/1964): Lush everything, yet a simple story, entirely sung. A real achievement, drawing us in with those most beautiful of opening credits and mesmerizing throughout.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (4/29/1964): Mothra must be included in the film that represents Godzilladom. More entertaining in every aspect than most of its genre.

The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (9/4/1964): Striking and brave in its originality, despite an ancient “script”.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (12/16/1965): Two great acting leads. The spy movie to beat all spy movies.

The Family Way (12/18/1966): My favourite of the kitchen sinks, and a much-needed Hayley Mills entry to this list. Great job all-around. If it only had Herman’s Hermits, although there are ties to Paul McCartney and The Smiths.

Chinatown (6/20/1974): Modern day film noir, with great leads and just about everything else. My memory used to fixate on the bandaging Nicholson wears in his face after injury, but now it fixates on his generous helpings of Old Crow.

Rikki-Tikki Tavi (1/9/1975): Television special, but something we saw as a school filmstrip. A beautiful depiction of a short story; another reminder of how great animation used to be pre-computer.

Monty Python & The Holy Grail (4/3/1975): Funniest movie ever made. Memorized.

Star Wars (5/25/1977): What can be said? If this were the only Star Wars film it would still be an all-time classic and then some.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (11/16/1977): Spielberg without much corn. Completes the landmark sci-fi year that was 1977 from a very different perspective than the above.

Watership Down (10/14/1978): Favorite feature-length cartoon.

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (8/17/1979): Second flick, funny as the first. Almost.

Airplane! (6/27/1980): Best of its genre, silly-stupid joke after joke after joke, although the Naked Gun movies deserve a mention for more sustained achievement.

Blade Runner (6/25/1982): One of the best scene-setting, world-creating films out there. Some amazing lines too. Its sequel is one of the rare worthy ones and made earlier drafts of this list. See the Final Cut.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (8/9/1985): Upon re-watching this last year, I found I’d almost memorized the whole thing and still found it hilarious. Priceless, unique.

Eight Men Out (9/2/1988): The only baseball or sports movie that really sticks with me despite its oversimplifications for this former Deadball fanatic.

Flirting (3/21/1991): The two leads are excellent in this imaginative film. Absorbing, although it suffers from male gaze, and depicts a world I was thankfully never a part of that is thankfully almost gone.

Howards End (3/13/1992): By far the best of its Merchant-Ivory, drama-based-on-a-novel kind. If asked, I’d probably still say this is my favorite film. I saw it in a theater in the small town where I started graduate school. Little did I suspect…

Clueless (7/19/1995): Charming way of getting into the head of an “other” many would assume was a dummy, not many of us admire or would want to be. The camera absolutely loves Alicia Silverstone; I fell too. One of many 1990s movies I missed. This might be one I was most happy to finally see.

Saving Private Ryan (7/24/1998): Everyone should experience war, or this movie, so as to avoid supporting casual entry into it. The TV series, Band of Brothers would be another option, as would Born on the Fourth of July, although this movie is something else again.

Topsy-Turvy (9/3/1999): I guess this is the best back-stage drama out there, although the plot is incidental. The film is really just vignettes in how The Mikado was made, with the swirl of human drama the players underwent while preparing, focusing on their character and lives, not the show.

Donnie Darko (1/19/2001): You can learn the “real” story if you read up and watch the director’s cut, but the verve and mystery of the original is a more jarring, enriching experience. I enjoyed coming up with my own ideas in this very cool film with a killer opening credit song.

Elf (11/7/2003): I laughed a lot, out loud, in the theater the first time I saw this. And I didn’t feel stupid about it afterwards: the true test.

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (3/19/2004): Glad I overcame a certain prejudice to see it. Winslett is amazing, Carrey excellent, and the layered story endlessly engaging. A joy to “figure out” or, better yet, meditate upon.

Black Swan (9/1/2010): Beauty, focus, competition, art, physical strain, abuse, insanity, delusion, illusion.

The Day He Arrives (5/19/2011): Another one that plays with time. A much more cerebral take on repetition and variation than the phrase that has entered our language, Groundhog Day.

What will be next? Another from the pre-Hays Code era, something at least somewhat contemporary, some lingering nostalgia from my youth? Tune in later in the year to find out.

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Applying my movie list idea to TV shows before the movie list is even released! One show for each year of my life. Unlike movies, there have only been a few years of my life sans much television. Those busy times were great, and so were the dinners mixed with TV and bits of family conversation from the 70s to present. Here, a nod to different program genres so as not to overwhelm or monotonize the brain. Roughly, the first twenty-five were viewed in my younger years, the second group viewed in my older, more adult years.

I’ll add a new one every year and maybe tinker by adding links and other stuff as the weeks pass.

Newhart: My favorite show as a kid, especially the first few seasons before the characters descended into parody as happens to all shows when ideas don’t fly as thick as before. Besides Bob Newhart, one of many highlights was two seasons of Steven Kampmann as Kirk Devane.

Romper Room: An early memory with Do-Bee and a magic mirror and earnest regard by motherly figures of an era that was ending.

Captain Kangaroo: Another show from another era with great puppets and people.

Ray Rayner and His Friends / The Bozo Show: Chicago magic. I’ll never forget Ray and his writing (in chalk) weather reports on the wooden frame of the chalkboard and the many joys of Bozo and his friends and games.

Gigglesnort Hotel: More Chicago magic with a most memorable dragon. One of a handful of shows enjoyed on Sunday mornings when it is assumed many were in church, and the likes of The Magic Door and The New Zoo Revue took over.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: Celebrated for the man himself, his home, and his Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Endlessly wonderful.

Sesame Street: One of the great highlights of childhood. Countless great characters and memories that can never be driven from the brain even if I wanted to. And, if Elmo’s fraught relationship with Rocco is any indication, still going strong at least now and then.

Wild Kingdom: Specific memories are dim, but fondness for the adventures of Marlon Perkins, Mutual of Omaha, and put-upon man in the field “Jim” will never die. Landmark, along with Jacques Cousteau’s specials.

All in the Family: Limited and even slight in some ways now, but it and what it spawned was greatness and very funny.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Wears ever so well upon re-reviewing. This along with the above were the two staples of the ’70s and I’m happy I got to see many of their episodes in original broadcast!

Alice: Among a ton of other sitcoms of the era, this one stands out for surprisingly snappy jokes.

The Brady Bunch: For me all re-runs, but each episode seemingly stamped line-for-line in my brain. Thankfully one can live with this as it was a good show for all its silliness.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Speaking of silliness. Worshiped by me and many of my peers. Gold standard TV.

Saturday Night Live: Despite a lot, lot of awfulness, it’s accumulated an amazing amount of still-standing hilarity, not to mention launching many careers good for a follow-up or two.

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle & Rocky Show: Big brother to another great show, George of the Jungle/Super Chicken/etc. This and all its featured cartoons were excellent.

Gumby: Adorable weirdness from another era and dimension all its own. Catchy theme too.

Peanuts specials: The ’60s and ’70s was full of them. Christmas rules, with Halloween a close second (“I got a rock”), but many golden moments throughout them. And don’t forget their first couple of films.

Rankin-Bass specials: Just as emblazoned on the mind as anything else listed above. Rudolph is the best, but then there’s misters Snow and Heat Miser, Nestor the Donkey, The Little Drummer Boy, and on and on.

Star Trek: Captured the imagination way back when and still a model for thoughtful, less action-heavy adventure drama.

The PBS NewsHour: JIm Lehrer, Robin MacNeil, and the great big gang of excellent journalists. A staple throughout my life, although there are periods where one just gets sick of the news!

The McLaughlin Group: My relatives enjoyed this one too, and despite all the shouting there was humor and something to be learned from watching this one.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse: Madness.

The Simpsons: Streotypes, yes, but also an unmatched investigation of American culture of the 80s and 90s. Stopped watching after that.

Fawlty Towers: Short-lived but oh so sweet.

Law & Order: Beats all the other old dramas I used to watch, hands down. A formula that worked splendidly despite cast changes, plus a “fun” way to see NYC.

Al TV: Occasionally, “Weird Al” took over MTV, much to its improvement, commenting on videos (thank you, Madonna) and other frazzled, madcap stuff he did, per usual. Just Say Julie was good too, as were 120 Minutes and Yo! MTV Raps, of course.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: In the vein of the above, but full-blown and exceptionally funny. Ridiculous old movies commented upon, with sketches galore between. A study in allusion and parody.

Seinfeld: My family could all quote this one extensively. A true landmark in entertainment history, plus that NY feel of the time.

Friends: Fewer iconic moments than Seinfeld, but a bumper crop of them, thanks especially to Ross and Rachel. Phoebe grew on me too, the second time around. Actually, I watched most of this one in reruns before the show wrapped up. An activity: keep stats on which character makes you laugh the most—could be applied to Seinfeld and other great comedies as well.

Clarissa Explains It All: Inventive escapism for someone in their 20s remembering their teens.

Are You Being Served? + Are You Being Served? Again! (aka Grace & Favour): Ridiculous in oh so many ways, but endearing and a laugh riot. Once told by a British professor that I would likely not appreciate it. He was wrong.

The Thin Blue Line: Matches Fawlty for hilarity in a short-run comedy.

As Time Goes By: A comic drama I guess, with a lot of heart and laughs. Another one that my family all enjoyed, which adds some charm to it.

Keeping Up Appearances: Formulaic to the extreme, but always generating laughs.

Prime Minister’s Questions: See above entry. Highlight: the Tony Blair vs. John Major years, with credit to Blair and William Hague for carrying forth most of that energy when Labour took over.

Joan of Arcadia: One of two shows from the time that employed “One of Us” by Joan Osborne to good effect, this one quite literally. The other was the also notable Homicide: Life on the Street.

Ballykissangel: A little hand-wringing perhaps, but a good portrait of small town life with a nice dose of British Isles atmosphere and more than a smidgeon of institutional skepticism.

Zoboomafoo: The first of a trio of PBS kids’ shows that kept me company while making dinner after work. Zoboo—both live and filmed—is hard to resist, as is the Kratt enthusiasm. You won’t believe your mind.

Arthur: Kind of a Simpsons for little kids with a lot of parody, dredging up childhood conflicts, and not unacceptable lessons.

Odd Squad: Makes me snicker more than I should admit.

Parks & Recreation: A comedy that turned into a drama, you started to care about the characters that much. Another good look at civic life with a lot of interesting cast members, both regular and guest.

The Office: Lasted much too long, but many, many moments make it one of the century’s best and Steve Carell tolerable despite his character being the opposite.

Big Brother: Shallow, sophomoric, and prone to at least a couple of -ists, but also one of the purer, cynical mind/power politics games out there.

Pureheart 19 / Soonjung 19: Whatever you call it, the finest vehicle for learning some Korean culture and language while laughing and having the heartstrings tugged a bit. Also had an interesting Roomba-type character.

Arrested Development: The first three seasons bear repeated study, unfolding layers with each newly-deciphered mumble or background action. A show where one would like to see all of the cut scenes spliced in for the grandest of comedy spectacles.

The New Adventures of Old Christine: You feel the angst (or agony?) of the main character, painfully, almost every minute of the show. Quite an achievement for something so funny and clever.

Extras: Has some of the funniest TV moments committed to film. Doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Wallander: The atmosphere was palpable, and the character’s mental plight inspired me to find and upload a replica of his ringtone, which was specially composed for the series.

Broadchurch: Just compelling, with the two leads acting up a storm.

Death in Paradise: The funnest mystery show I know, with ups and downs depending on cast changes. The “importing a white male English detective inspector” element is awful, but everything else compensates for it.

*New for 2023*
Jonathan Creek: Recently re-watched the earlier seasons and it’s just as good if not better than it once was; thank you Alan Davies and Caroline Quentin. Although everyone involved is sent up over the course of an episode, the downside is a certain amorality and sexism that very occasionally creep into the plots and jokes, most of which I attribute to the “male gaze” and Creek’s “chaotic good” nature. The specials add to the heft. And adding Season Four stamps the show’s immortality for certain, thanks to the inimitable Carla Borrego, played by the splendid Julia Sawalha.

What will be next? One of a couple shows currently running, or something else dredged from the past.

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Snake Peep

Immortal, to me, Scarlet King Snake

The Ranger Rick trio comes to a close with this Squirrel of the Week post on the first magazine I ever received from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Jam-packed with nourishment for the budding conservationist, plus some fun vocab, like “nacre”! I hope you enjoy it.

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Another Peep from a Pack Rat

Willie the White-throated Wood Rat (aka, Pack Rat)

The Year of the Ox continues, this time with the uncelebrated creature pictured above and much much more in my new post on the Squirrel of the Week blog. At least here we have a rodent! I hope you enjoy it.

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A Peep from Squirrel of the Week!

Turns out it’s the Year of the Ox, and how happy a coincidence that an issue of Ranger Rick explored in a new post at my Squirrel of the Week blog features one—a Musk Ox in Canada—on its cover! I hope you enjoy it.

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Who remembers the National Wildlife Federation’s Ranger Rick?

Three of my Ranger Ricks!

Although I’m not ready to start filling it with squirrel and nonprofit ideas, I do plan on reading each of the above three issues and offering my reactions to them on my in embryo Squirrel of the Week blog.

So, keep your eyes open for that, and consider subscribing to both blogs, by using the sign up on the upper right of each page. I’ll get reading, and for now leave you with some images of other important books in my upbringing that are also likely to appear here again.

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I used to read Louis MacNeice in my birthday month, tracking his published poems with my age. I gave it up several years ago, but decided this year to catch up, starting with reviewing some poems MacNeice published in his late 30s and early 40s. In a couple of years, we’ll meet in age again as I catch up.

I’m not sure why I stopped with the annual reading of him. Maybe I got bored; more likely poetryboth writing and reading itwas lost in pain to me. But now maybe I have found the strength of sane return in my late 40s while MacNeice found it in his late 20s. 

Before I turned to catch up with my reading with the poem “Plurality,” I took up Louis MacNeice’s pinnacle, “Sunlight on the Garden” and “June Thunder,” poems I remember from the old Norton anthology, my Oxford anthology, and now my worn Faber Collected Poems.

Set amid some poems with a similar theme, this is MacNeice at age 29 or 30, ushering in a new era of his life, with looks to nostalgia, loneliness, and how youth experience the world, turning to experience the world in a new phase of maturity. “Taken for Granted” and “The Brandy Glass,” are two other excellent poems in his 1938 collection, The Earth Compels, capped off with “Bagpipe Music.” (I notice I pencilled in that 1939 was his annus mirabilis, but 1937 makes a good case at quick glance.)

“Sunlight on the Garden” has the hard coziness, sunlight on pavement, that characterize this time in MacNeice’s poetry. Read it on renowned poet W. S. Merwin’s (palm tree forest) conservancy page. It’s a poem of maturity, a reconciliation to death’s more tangible reality, a relishing of beauty through a new lens: “And not expecting pardon, Hardened in heart anew, But glad to have sat under / Thunder and rain with you.”

June Thunder” too, a return to a place not in thought alone. He returns to the old fields, his old room, a “cleansing downpour / Breaking the blossoms of our overdated fantasies.” But in this poem he is alone, not sharing the garden with someone: “If only now you would come I should be happy / Now if now only.”  

It’s wonderful to experience these poems again, reaching a deeper delight in them at an age much more advanced than MacNeice’s when he wrote them. And I have not experienced a good thunderstorm in some time, either, maybe because the seed took hold that being out in thunderstorms might get me struck dead by lightning, plus the fact there is no one to run around with in the weather with anymore. (More here.

Here’s a lesser-known poem of the same time, directly following “June Thunder” in my Faber book, a fading echo of the previous poem:


The heated minutes

The heated minutes climb

The anxious hill,

The tills fill up with cash,

The tiny hammers chime

The bells of good and ill,

And the world piles with ash

From fingers killing time.


If you were only here

Among these rocks,

I should not feel the dull

The taut and ticking fear

That hides in all the clocks

And creeps inside the skull

If you were here, my dear.


I usually don’t have anyone specific in mind anymore to think of as “my dear,” but the sentiment still exists. I wrote a short story based on “June Thunder”; I wonder if I have the daring to turn to look at it.


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My reading calendar has been consciously in place longer than my music one, which is still driven only by feeling until maybe my last post, where I codified my feelings, for better or for worse.

I’m not sure how it started, but it must have been feelings like my music ones, and then a decade or so ago I looked at all the books on my shelf and decided to enjoy the carousel that was my mind, for once. Some of these monthly selections arose very naturally, long before I was conscious of anything, some came when I saw I had a mess of worthy books that were not being read. 

You might wonder where the nature books are; well they have been declared an ongoing concern, with readings in that vein taken up throughout the seasons. 


Russian, or Continental, fiction. This clearly arose from my working world days, taking the train to work in bitter weather and enjoying soaking up every phantasmagoric page of bedraggled, disgruntled, gauche civil servant fiction.


Brit hist, Vicky, Boney, Scots, &c. This started in an era of a lot of reading of the eras and lives of Napoleon and Queen Victoria, branching into general British history, including and especially the more alienated nations, plus the rest of Europe. The 19th century doesn’t loom as large as it once did, although it is still immense.


Presidential bios/U.S. history. Having collected two sets of presidential biographies, this seemed requisite. One president a year in at least one short book, and history related to his era.


International history (non-U.S., non-European). Adventures in my smattering of history books set in Asia, Africa, South America, Caribbean, Central America, the Middle East, the Pacific, the Arctic, Siberia &c.


Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series. In order written, as series should be read. We’ll see if I live long enough. I have a couple of translations of some of the books and have enjoyed comparing them to the originals when selecting.


Children’s fiction, Very Short Introductions. Summer away from school, why not read the old favorites? I have pairs of Oxford’s “Very Short Introductions” books and this an opportune time for summer study fun!


Thick novel. Sometimes not so thick. Lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.


Music, art. A small group of classical music books (scores, lives), plus a lot of books about 19th-centure painters, mostly. 


Greek, Classical World, ancient, Louis MacNeice. A return to my heady first year of college where I delightedly delved into Classics. Greek Epics, plays, and poems, maybe history and art, what have you. Other ancients have been added to the mix. I began reading my collected Louis MacNeice (born on a date near mine) poems whose publication dates matched my age. I abandoned this habit several years ago, but am rectifying that this catch-up year.


Poetry, ghost stories, Irving-Chew. More loving return to schooldays, and what other month could be most poetic of the year, Keats’ birth month? On his birthday I read Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” annually for a decade or so. This gave way to Ruth Chew books about witches and magic. I also read a biography of A. C. Swinburne this month a while back. I never liked his poetry, but dug his life, and decided he’d make the ideal Hallowe’en persona if I ever put a lot of effort into ever wearing a costume again. 


Philosophy, religion. November weather must make me think, or want to. Paving the way for celebration and change?


Mystery, comics, roleplaying game rules/worlds. This started with reading a volume of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books per December along with Wodehouse or something akin. Now I have some comic book collections and roleplaying game guides lying around, so might add those. We’ll see.  

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As I look at my lists⁠—lists of favorite books, games, favorite movies and shows, movies and shows to see, careers, what to do today, what I want to do with my life in writing, nature studies, and learning the didgeridoo⁠—I sometimes think of what has been lost, how life was long before these lists really took hold and established what seems to be a permanence.

When I was young, I didn’t think about or try to plan which way my mind would go, and accomplished seemingly all sorts of things, including a few fun lists, of course, from the World Almanac, an Estes model rocket catalogue, or whatever else was in my hands; but they were never lists that pressured me into the future. You never know, and more importantly it never seems to matter, which way the mind will go when untutored, unstudied, left to its own devices, un-self-conscious. What projects, pursuits, and pitfalls it will fall into and just as easily slip out of. If there is an inherent energy, a lot will be done, possibly even accomplished.

A couple of writers come to mind who wrote in this way⁠—Lord Byron and H.G. Wells. Byron was an endless fount of poetry for a lot of his life, and was tired by his editors, but kept composing and wasn’t given to too much polishing. Wells pursued his writing objectives, completed them, and then moved on. He did not dwell upon his novels in the aesthetic revision sense. John Keats could sit under a plum tree, scribble up an ode and leave it thrust into some books, to be scooped up by Charles Armitage Brown and later published as a masterpiece.

There is something to working randomly that the burden of age, conscience, time pressures, or simple change has robbed me of. But, contrariwise, there is something to that final polishing and publishing that takes conscientiousness and follow thru. The fine art of acting in the moment and then taking the steps to preserve what is worthwhile out of it.


This tidbit came to mind amidst this crisis and all of this almost lecherous turning out of doors and socializing in larger and larger groups: “I am perfectly fine with many things being put on hold. When you’re on crutches you can’t play soccer for a while⁠—do something else. I don’t know why many in our society don’t draw that same conclusion.” My married, but otherwise bordering-on-hermit friend concurred, adding a few choice words about sheep, well here they are: “Maybe I’m full of myself but I think many in our society don’t have the capacity to draw the same conclusion. People work their jobs, watch television. They aren’t critical thinkers. They aren’t learners. They’re sheep. Sitting at home all day, they don’t know what to do with themselves. When you have a narrow identity and that identity is taken away, they don’t see anything other than getting that identity back. I don’t know. It’s a theory.”


And then this exercise from an old junior high friend who posted the idea online: favorite songs of yours as a kid, from tenderest babe up to early junior high. I copped out a bit on this, not digging into the deeper reaches of my memory. Maybe I was a little afraid to probe into the pre- and early elementary school daze, but what I came up with was something at least. Just way too many songs passing into my brain in the 70s. I fondly remember playing the song “I Can’t Stand It” from a neighbor’s Donny Osmond album at speed 78, ca. 1977, and I know that wasn’t because we liked the song. 

So, restricting myself to early ’45s I bought that I still have and sometimes play: “Come on Eileen” Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Rock of Ages” Def Leppard, “Cum on Feel the Noize” Quiet Riot, “Electric Avenue” Eddy Grant, “Abracadabra” Steve Miller Band, “Even the Nights Are Better” Air Supply, “One Thing Leads to Another” The Fixx, “The Safety Dance” Men Without Hats, “Keep Feelin’ Fascination” The Human League, “I Feel for You” Chaka Khan, “Stray Cat Strut” The Stray Cats, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” Taco, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” Bonnie Tyler. Not so bad, actually!

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