Bluebonnet Kool-aid: Funky Word Doodles

I’m all ears. Acrylic on cardboard.

Fly me to the moon
and let me play among the stars.
Let me see what life is like
on Jupiter and Mars.
In other words,
hold my hand,
in other words,
darling, kiss me.

Bart Howard’s old song makes no sense! There’s no oxygen to breathe in outer space; no one can walk around on other planets. What does “play among the stars” even mean? But I kind of get the point when it says, “In other words, hold my hand.” Aha, that lets the gas out of the waffle: The song is trying to get across in a flashy way that it would be thrilling to hold someone by the hand. (The rest of it is a street crime in Doha.) The Beatles nailed the thing without the folderol: “I wanna hold your hand.” And “Why don’t we do it in the road? (No one will be watching us.)”

The folderol is the metaphorical bit, of course. It’s the stuffing of poetry, except poems don’t get to the “In other words” part. That’s left to the reader.

A useful rhythm can be extracted from “Fly Me to the Moon.” It clots in triplets, doublets and singlets:

LA-dee / da-dee / DA
dee-da-dee / la-dee / da-dee / DUM
dee-dee / dee-dee / la-dee-da
dee-da-dee / da-dee / DUM
dee / da / dee / DA
dee / DA / dee / da
DUM-dee / DUM / DUM

Word doodles can be built using the rhythm as a template — but with subtle variations!

Bluebonnet kool-aid
molasses puddled on the roads
infrastructure bellyache
on bumper-sticker toads
jackknifed again
play called foul
sequestered turd
darling kiss me

(Can Chat-GPT do this? I wonder!) The doodles can window gaze real poems that aren’t other-wordable, such as this one:

In this unveiling: a rain-stabbed / blackbird’s obsidian sigh rises // from meat-fragrant slits / in our speech patterns, // where a way of seeing home,/ smeared on walls with elbow blood, // is also a way of nozzling / bird caw to thieved land, // or scissoring fog-lobed night / into crescent moons, // while a bell’s deoxygenated moan / weeping for its lost reflection, // is hauled away on a horse-drawn hearse.
(“Unveiling,” Sherwin Bitsui, Poetry, January 2023)*

I quote the poem in its entirety. I’m culpably ignorant of the detail of “fair use” and all that. I may risk one of Poetry’s lawyers pistol-whipping my ass with a copyright clause. My excuse is that when this poem starts there’s no stopping it until the hearse. In other words, actually, that’s true of life. Don’t sue me.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Constrained to Endure Despite?

For studying Arabic, Congruent (1) translations can be invaluable for working out particulars of the language’s behavior. Freewheeling translations are more pleasing to read, but can be “noisy” in a such a way as to create their own problems. Does an honorable man compel himself to endure suffering, as opposed to resigning himself to it?

The first verse of a well-known Arabic poem (2) says this:

“When a man’s honor was not (has not been) soiled by baseness, then every garment he puts on is beautiful.”

‘iḏā-l-mar’u lam yadnas mina-l-lu’mi ^irḏu-hu
When the man [‘iḏā-l-mar’u] was not soiled [lam yadnas] from baseness [mina-l-lu’mi] his honor [^irḏu-hu]…
fa-kullu ridā’in yartadī-hi jamīlu
… then every garment [fa-kullu ridā’in] he puts it on [yartadī-hi] beautiful [jamīlu].

Here’s Arberry’s translation of the poem’s second verse:

And if he has never constrained himself to endure despite, then there is no way (for him) to (attain) goodly praise.

wa-‘in huwa lam yaḥmil ^alaA-n-nafs(i) ḍaim(a)-ha
And if he [wa-‘in huwa] did not carry (has not carried) [lam yaḥmil] upon the (his) soul (self) [^alaA-n-nafs(i)] its injury [ḍaim(a)-hā]…
fa-laisa ‘ilA ḥusn(i)-ṯ-ṯanā’(i) sabīl(u)
… then there is not [fa-laisa] to the goodness of praise [‘ilA ḥusn(i)-ṯ-ṯanā’(i)] a way [sabīlu].

Arberry spends a footnote on the verse: “The usual meaning of ḍaim is ‘wrong, injustice’; here the intention is clearly ‘being unjust to oneself’ in the sense of compelling oneself to endure intolerable hardships.” One doesn’t normally take extra lengths to explain what he affirms to be clear. It’s not ḍaim that’s problematic (for me); it’s the verb phrase with ḥamal(a), “to carry.” An interpretation that leads to the forcing of oneself to suffer the “intolerable” doesn’t leap out from the Arabic.

In the Arabic, lam yaḥmil (“he did not carry”) is followed by preposition ^alaA, which can mean over, upon, above, against, to, on account of, and notwithstanding. Its object nafs doubles as “soul” and “self.” Noun ḍaim (“injury)” is the verb’s direct object, and its affixed possessive modifier -hā refers to nafs.

My breakdown of the line is this: “And if he did not carry (has not carried) upon the (his) soul (self) its injury, then there is not to the goodness of praise a way.”

I would have translated it like this: “And if he has not borne personal injury (patiently), then there’s no path (for him) to (merit) good praise.”

With guidance from Wehr (3) and Lane (4), and especially from Wright’s (5) discussion of ^alaA, I can see my way to a translation that approximates Arberry’s:

“And if he has not inured himself to personal injury, then there’s no path (for him) to (merit) good praise.”

(1) Congruent (matches the source text fairly closely, with minimal liberties taken for readability); Omissive (suppresses elements of the source text without obvious justification); Expansive (adds interpretive structure or content not discernible in the source text but plausibly deriving from it); Inventive (carries the “expansive” element to a level not obviously supported by the source text); Transgressive (departs from the source text in a way that seems to betray the poem’s letter or spirit).
(2) As-Samau’al, pp. 30-32 in A.J. Arberry, Arabic Poetry: A Primer for Students, Cambridge University Press, 1965.
(3) Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, Edited by J Milton Cowan, Cornell University Press, 1966.
(4) Edward William Lane, An Arabic–English Lexicon, vols 6–8 ed. by Stanley Lane-Poole, 8 vols (London: Williams and Norgate, 1863–93). The entry for root ḥ-m-l.
— fulān(un) lā yaḥmilu-ḍ-ḍaim(a)“such a one refuses to bear, or submit to, and repels from himself, injury.”
— ḥamala ^alaA nafs(i)-hi fīY-s-sair(i)“He… tasked himself beyond his power, in journeying, or marching.”
(5) W. Wright, A Grammar of the Arabic Language, reprint by Simon Wallenberg Press, 2007, ii, p. 168.
— yaḥmil(u)-l-‘insān(a) ^alaA-l-ẖair(i), “induces man to do well” means literally “carries him towards good,” Wright states.
— ‘al-fiqh(u) ma^rifaẗ(u)-n-nafs(i) mā la-hā wa-mā ^alai-hāLearning is the soul’s cognizance of what is for its good and for its hurt.
— hamm(u)-l-‘āẖiraẗ(i) yaḥmil(u)-l-‘insān(a) ^alaA-l-ẖair(i)Concern for the life to come induces man to do well (lit. carries him towards good).
— mā ḥamal(a)-ka ^alaA hāḏihi-d-da^waA-l-bāṭilaẗ(i)What induced you to set up this empty claim?

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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The Bro Mob: Meta, Not Beta

The “paypal mafia” photographed at Tosca in San Francisco, Oct, 2007. Back row from left: Jawed Karim, co-founder Youtube; Jeremy Stoppelman CEO Yelp; Andrew McCormack, managing partner Laiola Restaurant; Premal Shah, Pres of Kiva; 2nd row from left: Luke Nosek, managing partner The Founders Fund; Kenny Howery, managing partner The Founders Fund; David Sacks, CEO Geni and Room 9 Entertainment; Peter Thiel, CEO Clarium Capital and Founders Fund; Keith Rabois, VP BIz Dev at Slide and original Youtube Investor; Reid Hoffman, Founder Linkedin; Max Levchin, CEO Slide; Roelof Botha, partner Sequoia Capital; Russel Simmons, CTO and co-founder of Yelp. PHOTO BY ROBYN TWOMEY FOR FORTUNE (Jeffrey M. O’Brien, “The PayPal Mafia,” Fortune, 11-13-07)

“Last month, Mark Zuckerberg spent hours touting his love of jiujitsu, wrestling and UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] on Joe Rogan’s podcast, which is known for its hypermasculinity. Watching TV was not active enough, Mr. Zuckerberg said.

“Compared with social media, TV was ‘beta,’” [Mr. Zuckerberg said.]

(Erin Griffith, “Silicon Valley Slides Back Into ‘Bro’ Culture, New York Times, 9-24-22)

Postscript: This item is a carry-over from last year’s clogged blog log. I almost discarded it, as it gives me the uncomfortable feeling that in posting it I flirt with melting into the morass of vacuity and snark that already swamps the virtual airways. However, I carry the stubborn conviction that if we wee males don’t stop repressing and brutalizing the females of our species, the species will go down the toilet. On reflection, it seems worth the risk of seeming frivolous in order to document powerful pipsqueaks’ shallowness in support of a deadly earnest point.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Compensatory Autophilia Pathology Smackdown

Score: Thunberg 1, Tate 0. Game over!

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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‘Mystique of Belatedness’: Mything the Point

The Thomas Hardy Tree toppled over in a London cemetery. Acrylic on cardboard.

Thank you for your visits to this blog and for indulging its mischief in 2022. More joy and less loss be ahead for each and all!


“I’m convinced. Eliot finished poetry off.”

(Matthew Walther)

The problem is not that Eliot put poetry on the wrong track. It’s that he went as far down that track as anyone could, exhausting its possibilities and leaving little or no work for those who came after him. It is precisely this mystique of belatedness that is the source of Eliot’s considerable power. What he seems to be suggesting is that he is the final poet, the last in a long unbroken line of seers to whom the very last visions are being bequeathed, and that he has come to share them with his dying breaths.

(Matthew Walther, “Poetry Died 100 Years Ago This Month,” New York Times, 12-29-22)

I would say the visions are being “vouchsafed” rather than “bequeathed.” It’s more poetic! Of all the examples of poetry in its pomp to adduce, Walther picks Robert Southey. John Donne would sound more contemporary.

What’s all this death talk about poetry anyway? (Next they’ll claim figurative painting is dead. Or God is dead. Wait, they already did!)

Isn’t it poetry’s remit to induce ejaculatory befuddlement in its perennially scant coterie of adepts? There’s plenty of grist for that mill. This lurching old world of ours affords ample scope for misery as keen as T.S. Eliot’s to flourish for another thousand years.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Paint What You Fear

Vija Celmins, “Gun with Hand #1” (1964), oil on canvas. Credit… via Museum of Modern Art. Gift of Edward R. Broida in honor of John Elderfield.

When my dad died in 2013, his shed (now mine) was full of guns. I inherited his art supplies, so I took up painting again after a long hiatus. My subjects came to be things I was afraid of. The shed started filling up with paintings that had guns in them. Also, men wearing cowboy hats, a source of dread since childhood. In 2016, paintings of Trump joined the flow. I think the exorcistic daubing helped; I’m purged of those subjects now, if not of the fear.

I was intrigued to discover that Vija Celmins also painted guns. One of them appeared in an October exhibition of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles commemorating Joan Didion, dead at 87 in 2021. Hilton Als, a longtime friend of Didion’s, was co-curator of the show.

Als used a Vija Celmins painting depicting a disembodied hand firing off a gun into a vast expanse — “Gun With Hand #1” from 1964 — in a part of the exhibition that covers the ecstatic review in The New York Times of “The Executioner’s Song,” the book by Norman Mailer about the execution of Gary Gilmore. “She talks about the weird, inarticulate nature of the West and the sky,” Als said of the review. “And I immediately thought of Vija Celmins. And then when I was going through Vija’s work there was a gun — someone shooting a gun in the kind of space Didion was describing.”

(Adam Nagourney, “Joan Didion and the Western Spirit,” New York Times, 10-6-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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‘We Have to Make Forms That Celebrate the Possibilities’: Torkwase Dyson

Torkwase Dyson’s suite of paintings shown at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2020, inspired by the environmental crisis of the Gulf Coast. It was called “Black Compositional Thought: 15 Paintings for the Plantationocene.” Credit… Torkwase Dyson.

“The paintings introduced a range of blue colors — oceanic, but resisting a direct reading.”

This review bristles with strange energy, coercive structures, geographies of enclosure, and the verb catalyze. But of all the advanced art talk on display, my favorite specimen is “resists a direct reading.”

(Siddhartha Mitter, “An Artist’s Gateway to Freedom and Possibility,” New York Times, 11-10-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Angry Centrist?

Buccal droop. Acrylic on cardboard.

“When was the last time you encountered an angry, inflexible centrist who aggressively demanded that you see things from several points of view?”

(Brian L. Ott)

(Brian L. Ott, “I Studied [***’s] Twitter Use for Six Years. Prepare for the Worst,” New York Times, 11-20-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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A Dawning in December

From Larson’s “Daily Dose” — .

While washing up dishes on Christmas morning I happened to hear the King’s Christmas Message on British radio. It was Charles the Third’s first go at what his mother had done 69 times before him, a ritual address to the nation he “serves” by a hereditary, wealthy, “working” monarch. Stuck into my soapy chore, I let Windsor’s hallmark, posh drawl rinse my mind. As he spoke I echoed various phrases in booming, plummy voice, trying to ape his received pronunciation.

When the address ended, a choir boomed “God Save the King,” and I reflexively launched into “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” which is what we sing to the tune filched, I presume, from our colonial lordships. I had just heard a man cosseted in privilege express himself warmly, with tenderness and acknowledgment, even a certain humility, in celebration of his country and its citizens. Call it what you will, it was unifying, dignified, articulate, and convincing enough for its moment and purpose.

I realized I’d never ONCE heard anything approaching such an affirmation, convincing or otherwise, from a certain former elected U.S. head of state whose baneful legacy persistently distorts our past and encumbers our future. I saw at my kitchen sink, more clearly than I had before, why I hold in such low regard a man so failed at all but grift.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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A Flat-Out Wish for the Season

Acrylic on cardboard.

Christmas Eve, Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota. Two groups of young men argue in Nordstrom’s, shots are fired, 19–year-old lies dead, suspects being sought. The site of 500 retail stores and 19 full-service restaurants is closed for the evening.

“We had 16 cops in the mall, and they still decide to do this. I’m at a loss.”

(Police Chief Booker Hodges)

Chief Hodges continues:

“This is absolutely ridiculous. I mean, I can’t even think of another word. This is just flat-out stupid… I mean, this is before Christmas, and now [the victim’s family is] having to bury one of their loved ones… If someone’s going to have blatant disrespect for humanity, I don’t know what we can do to stop some of these people… Make no mistake, you are going to get arrested, and we are going to lock you up. It’s just a matter of when that’s going to happen.”

(Eduardo Medina, “Gunfire at Mall of America Leaves One Dead and Shoppers Fleeing,” New York Times, 12-24-22)

Chief Hodges and his 16 cops aren’t alone in feeling stymied. Hundreds of Texas law officers were unable to stop a lone teenager from killing 21 people in Uvalde. Let Christmas 2022 bring joy, justice, solace and less “stupid” death for all.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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