A Good Outing: Roger Angell (1920-2022)

Roger Angell at his Manhattan home. He was sometimes referred to as baseball’s poet laureate, a title he rejected; he called himself a reporter. Credit… Patrick Andrade for The New York Times.

“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team,” he wrote in his book “Five Seasons” (1977). “What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring — caring deeply and passionately, really caring — which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives.”

The bit about “caring” serves a large dollop of sentiment. The seriousness which the spectatorship invests in professional sport looks deucedly perfervid from outside the circle of fandom.

I warm more to the Angell who said, “The stuff about the connection between baseball and American life, the ‘Field of Dreams’ thing, gives me a pain… I hated that movie.”

And the one who “once referred to Ron Darling as ‘the best right-handed part-Chinese Yale history major among the Mets starters,’” and wrote that Carl Yastrzemski, “like so many great hitters, has oddly protuberant eyes.”

(Dwight Garner, “Roger Angell, Who Wrote About Baseball With Passion, Dies at 101,” NYTimes, 5-20-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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To Her

One’s home is her castle,
a refuge from hustle
and bustle of office,
the jostle of mobs;
nest in which refuge to seek
from apostles of doom
by the wherry that’s painted on wood
on a wall of the room.

Kitchen to mortar and pestle
the herbs for the grub
that she rustles;
nook where to nestle
in comfort and wrestle with issues,
indite her epistles,
ensconced at the trestle desk
cunningly made from a door,
delight in the whistle
of blackbirds, bristle of brushes,
the thistle-and-mistletoe theme
of the rug on the floor.


(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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‘Drawings Are the Great Teachers’

Henri Michaux, “Untitled,” a 1954 watercolor in “Take Three” of “Ways of Seeing” at the Drawing Center. Credit… Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris.

… The mark-making basic to drawing is the starting point of so much else: the development of written language, numbers, musical scores.

Robert Rauschenberg, “Untitled,” 1965, in “Take One” and “Take Three” at the Drawing Center. Credit… Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Drawings are the great teachers; they educate the eye and make us more conscious of seeing. They present visual power, relatively unbuffered by materials or size.

Stanley Whitney, “Untitled,” 2020, exuberant grids of scribbled color in crayon and graphite, at the Drawing Center. Credit… Stanley Whitney.

(Roberta Smith, “Drawing, a Cure for the January Blahs,” NYTimes, 1-20-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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They Put the ‘Art’ in Partnering

Milton Avery’s “Blue Trees” (1945) at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn., the first retrospective exhibition of this American modernist painter in the United States in 40 years. Credit… Milton Avery Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Sally Michel (1902-2003) was 17 years his junior when she married Milton Avery (1885-1965) in 1926. A painter herself, she provided income as a freelance illustrator for 30 years while he painted full time. He never had a studio, and worked in their living room.

In Milton Avery’s “Bus Ride” (1941), on view at Yares Art, the Avery family is pictured on an Amsterdam Avenue bus. Credit… Milton Avery Trust and Yares Art/Artist Rights Society (ARS), NY.

The view that Avery worked for decades to achieve a final blast of brilliance seems as antediluvian as the idea that he worked alone in a style that overpowered his wife’s work. First of all, they were more or less joined at the hip, working side by side, looking at and talking about art, for 40 years. As other art historians have suggested, it may be impossible to think of their style as anything but collaborative, especially since Michel was an illustrator, adept at abbreviating forms.

Sally Michel’s “Mother and Son” (1975) at D. Wigmore Fine Art. Her paintings, our critic says, “have a sharpness of composition and a boldness of color that gives them their own sense of weight, tension and emotional force.” Credit… Milton Avery Trust/Artist Rights Society (ARS), NY.

(Roberta Smith, “A Singular American Painter and His Perennially Disregarded Wife,” NYTimes, 5-12-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Cry the Belovèd Reader

“Mandible Wishbone Solvent” by Asiya Wadud (Poetry, March 2022). Pass 3 of 3.

Previous comment:


You. Be. Here. It’s an affirming imperative to exist, or be situate, in the speaker’s space-time. It’s addressed to “tilt” — twice “tender” now — and angled vertically to a plane christened “unearth,” or else one required to perform an act of unearth-ing, understood venturesomely as slipping Earth’s bond. The text pivots here as elsewhere on function-fluid diction in blurred contexts.

The reader has a blue-sky moment: A rocket breaking free of terrestrial gravity blazes its way towards a far trajectory. Gain of height thins blue atmosphere to a vanishing wake. Land and sea resolve into map-like features. It’s all a function of the “scant excess” of mad tilt, wrapped in whatever that “film” is. Such a sweet, severe angle would be “remiss in skies,” aeronautically delinquent for earthbound flight.

And to what end? “To wrest time.” Wresting is an act of forceful seizure. All life yanks itself from the jaws of death from one moment to the next, grabbing bits of time. Those “brimmed solvents,” the carbon syrups milked from ancient sediments on which futures for too long have been staked and stoked, are bested in promise by what “gives more” for snatching increments of futurity, which is …

And the reader’s meditation collapses. In the final analysis the text stands its ground, enclosed in its film, true only to its own designs. The reader has shaken his mind’s fist at it saying, You. Be. Clear. It has stayed frosty. It doesn’t give a shit for his demands. But when he averted his gaze in disgust, his eye had caught movement peripherally; the text made him look back. A loop was entered: attraction and repulsion went to war.

At length the reader exited the loop by ceding something — maybe a bit of complacency. Surrender feels not all good and not all bad. The reader makes a thing of his squabbles with the text. What you think isn’t what I wrote, says the poet. The reader responds, But you triggered a striving. You induced in me a commitment to be baffled for a time. And the reader is grateful for her text. He keeps whatever it wrested from him. It’s personal now.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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In Praise of Walls

Outside Authority

I’ve admired artist Outside Authority’s (www.outsideauthor.wordpress.com) lyrical renderings of UK churches and churchyards for some time. It’s stimulating to see a similar devotion to these spaces reflected in this Guardian article.

Wildflowers among the graves at St Pancras church, Plymouth. Less frequent mowing of grass in churchyards improves biodiversity enormously.

“Eight hundred years ago, pagan sites – springs, wells or woodland glades – had Christian churches built on top of them… Around the church is an area – the litten – where people are buried. A couple of hundred years later, somebody decided that all churches should have a wall placed around them. Since then, they’ve never been ploughed, treated with chemicals or anything like that. So you have this amazing genetic bank, which originated in whatever that habitat was 800 years ago, just sat there – and it’s still there.”

David Curry of the “Living Churchyards” project
An old yew at the entrance to St Pancras church, Plymouth.

(Alexander Turner, “God’s own gardens: why churchyards are some of our wildest nature sites,” theguardian.com, 5-6-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Backlight and Hazy Music

Leopold Czihaczek at the Piano (1907) was painted shortly before Schiele’s 17th birthday. Photograph: Leopold Museum.

I’m a fan of Schiele as well as of interiors. What’s interesting to me in this precocious painting is the backlighting of the subject and the skillful rendering of hazy, natural light suffusing the room. The uniform NW-to-SE directionality of the brushstrokes suggests the travel of the rays. Also noted: how the piano has clarity of detail at its far end and blurs as it approaches the viewer, somewhat the reverse of conventional perspective.  

(Nadia Khomami, “Egon Schiele painting of his uncle rediscovered after over 90 years,” theguardian.com, 5-5-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. 

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‘He Didn’t Get Out Much’

Henri Matisse, “The Red Studio” (1911), the star of the show. Credit… Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

For Matisse, the studio was the place where the real world receded, where magic could be made and art ruled. Once he absorbed what Fauvism had to teach him about natural light and pure color, Matisse didn’t get out much. He was essentially an artist of interiors and especially of the studio: the spaces where he lived and worked, where he painted portraits, worked from live models, sometimes including views out windows, sometimes simply portraying the rooms themselves.

Matisse, “Corsica, The Old Mill” (1898), an early work that shows the influence of pointillism and the artist’s genius for color, from the exhibition at MoMA. Credit… Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

In “The Red Studio,” where this painting sits on the floor, the shadow is boiled down to a brushy purple shape.

(Roberta Smith, “‘The Red Studio,’ Matisse’s Masterpiece, Gets a Life All Its Own,” NYTimes, 4-29-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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‘Mandible Wishbone Solvent’ — Pass 2 of 3

Mandible Wishbone Solvent” by Asiya Wadud (Poetry, March 2022).

[Previously commented text: https://ethicaldative.com/2022/04/25/mandible-wishbone-solvent-pass-1-of-3/ ]

what vaunted green excess enclosed in each skimmed year then the years / vanquished any fuchsia sky / the excess leaking forward filmed aqua / filled aqua // fastened by ulna by increments of ten / fortunes sidled with / what have we when we give the mandible fragments by tens? / …

Here’s the text with one possible marking:

What vaunted green excess enclosed in each skimmed year! Then the years vanquished any fuchsia sky, the excess leaking forward filmed aqua, filled aqua, fastened by ulna by increments of ten. Fortunes sidled with what have we when we give the mandible fragments by tens?

The subject of the exclamation is “excess.” An over-abundant object of perception or state of matter has an annual cycle of occurrence. A “skimmed” year may be one traversed over time like a bird skims an expanse of water. The excessive entity is “green,” suggestive of verdant growth. It’s magnified by praise that has the hint of aggrandizement attaching to “vaunted.”

“Then,” an ordering and transitioning word, advances the narrative along a sequence. “Years,” agent of the independent clause, have overcome and defeated “any” sky tinted purple-pink, a cast of dawns and sunsets. The emphatic determiner “any” conveys finality, perhaps loss. Indeed, the excess is leaking “aqua,” which is green going blue, the hue of tropical seas. The leak is “forward,” with implications for the future. “Filmed” is unsettling. Is the leaked aqua enveloped in membrane? Captured on camera? “Filled” is even more daunting. The object of leakage is in a filled state? The poem shrugs off this line of query.

The “ulna” is a long thin bone in a bird’s wing, and in the human forearm. Absent a determiner, “ulna” could be something like the Roman name for Terpsichore. Proximity favors “aqua” as the thing “fastened” by ulna, though syntax allows “excess,” “sky” or “years.” The decimal unit that haunts the poem measures the progressive securing of something by a bone. In a bird’s wing, that bone would be a key enabler of flight.

A question mark, sole punctuation of the text, terminates this verse. “To sidle” is to walk sneakily sideways like Uriah Heep. Since it’s intransitive, it’s not fit in conventional parlance to be a verbal adjective as in “fortunes sidled (with).” Its semantics are stretched here beyond recognition and I want guiltily to read it as “saddled.” A “mandible” is a jawbone and either part of a bird’s beak. Giving vocal prominence to the question word causes this part of the text to coalesce around the phrase “what have we,” which draws me into the spirit, if not letter, of the verse.

To eye the text through a grammatical lens involves an act of assertion which may not be received with grace. Spare proper lyric your specious exegesis, murmurs my imaginary connoisseur. Note taken; I’m not equipped to disagree, only to flout. An element of je-m’en-foutisme must win through for one who improvises commentary. Does esthetic pleasure or spiritual gain compensate the expenditure of bandwidth? The answer to that belongs to the reader and not the poet.

(To be continued…)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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‘I Would Be a Really Good Artist If I Just Stopped Painting’

“The Ordinary Song,” 2017. Credit…via Chiem & Read.

Artist Donald Baechler (1956-2022) is remembered in the New York Times by Roberta Smith.

Among [Baechler’s] holdings of New York artists was a neon-light wall piece by Joseph Kosuth, a leading Conceptual artist and one of Mr. Baechler’s art school heroes. Mr. Baechler [said]… that he admired Mr. Kosuth for “his wonderful pictorial sense,” adding that his wall pieces “provoke a visceral sense that is undeniable.”

“He always used to tell me that I would be a really good artist if I just stopped painting,” Mr. Baechler said. “I never knew what to do with that statement.”

(Roberta Smith, “Donald Baechler, Painter of Cartoonish Collages, Is Dead at 65,” NYTimes, 4-26-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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