Monday, January 26, 2015

White stuff

Bread, milk, and snow: Why blizzards make us go crazy for milk and bread (The Washington Post).

It’s snowing in east-central Illinois, but it’s nothing like what the northeastern states will get. Stay safe, northeastern states. Get the bread and milk.

A related post
“The white stuff”

[Please notice that the white stuff in this post is not snow alone.]

Kenneth Koch on reading poetry

Much of the difficulty of reading poetry comes from unfamiliarity, from not being able to take the suggestions the poem gives as to how to read it. It’s possible, too, to be misdirected by teachers and critics, so that poems are read in an unprofitable way. Common mistaken ideas about how to read poetry include the Hidden Meaning assumption, which directs one to more or less ignore the surface of the poem in a quest for some elusive and momentous significance that the poet has buried amid the words and music. This idea probably comes from the fact that, being moved by a poem, one assumes an important religious, philosophical, or historical cause for being moved and tries to find it hidden someplace in the poem; whereas in fact a few words rightly placed can be moving if they catch a moment of life — almost any moment; if, amidst all the blather and babble of imprecise, uncertain language in which we live, there is something better, some undeniable little beautiful bit of light. This is given to us, of course, by the music and the words, not something that they conceal. Important, and at first unseeable, meanings may be in poems as they may be in other experiences, but there is no way to find them except by having the experiences. It's not the nature of poems to be clues, or collections of clues, so to read them as if they were is not to properly experience them, thus to be lost. Many people talking about poetry are lost, and even more people have given up reading poetry because they knew they were lost and didn’t like it. A poem may turn out to be a deep and complex experience, but the experience begins by responding to the language of poetry in front of you, not by detective work that puts that response aside.

Kenneth Koch, Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998).
I wish that teachers everywhere could take Koch’s words to heart.

More Kenneth Koch (Biography, bibliography, selections)
Koch reading his work (PennSound)

Related posts
Against “deep reading”
Seventeen ideas about interpretation

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Joe Franklin (1926–2015)

“‘My show was often like a zoo,’” he said in 2002. ‘I‘d mix Margaret Mead with the man who whistled through his nose, or Richard Nixon with the tap-dancing dentist’”: Joe Franklin, Local Talk Show Pioneer, Dies at 88 (The New York Times).

The best moments on The Joe Franklin Show came when Joe asked his guests to talk about one another. Awkward, crazy, and wonderful.

[Yes, the URL says 2014. I never make the last-year mistake when writing checks — only when I’m writing online.]

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, January 25, 2015. Click for a larger view.]

Here are the first two panels of today’s Hi and Lois, panels that will be missing from many newspapers. Not because of censorship: who can fault an infant for chortling about her neighbor’s alcoholism? Rather, because these panels form the “throwaway gag,” the unnecessary bit that can be removed to save space without damaging the logic of the Sunday storyline. No accident that it’s the risky joke in these panels.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)
The evolution of Thirsty Thurston (

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Newsday’s Saturday Stumper

Several months ago I cancelled my subscription to the New York Times crossword. It wasn’t the ludicrousness of 46-Down, “Cool jazz pioneer” that finally got to me: it was the increasingly forced cleverness of the puzzles. I know that the Times is the gold standard of crosswords. But Will Shortz’s sense of what’s amusing and fun is not exactly mine.

I now do the Times crossword in syndication for free, often though not daily. My new daily crossword, also free, is Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword. The Sunday through Friday puzzles are good ones, always with a theme, always with nice touches of wit in the clueing. Saturday’s puzzle, the Saturday Stumper, is a themeless killer, generally far more difficult than the Times Saturday puzzle. I’ve been able to complete just one Saturday Newsday without having to reveal one or more words. A sample clue, from today’s puzzle by Brad Wilber: 36-Down, eight letters, “What you might do for your own sake.” The answer, which I’m happy to have figured out: HOMEBREW. There’s a nice sense of proportion between clue and answer: the out-of-the-way answer justifies the clue’s wit. You’ll have to highlight to see the answer, which I won’t give away.

[Brad Wilber, the constructor of today’s Newsday puzzle, co-constructed the puzzle that made me a little crazy. I suspect though that “Cool jazz pioneer,” which seems to derive from a Times obit, was Shortz’s clue.]

µBlock for Safari

Raymond Hill’s ad-blocking extension µBlock is now available for Safari 8.

I much prefer µBlock to AdBlock Plus in Chrome. If µBlock works as well in Safari, it’ll be terrific.

Friday, January 23, 2015

National Handwriting Day

[“Hand with Pen Held Erect Opposite Eye of Beholder.” Illustration from Ward and Lock’s Self-Instruction; or, Every Man His Own Schoolmaster (London: 1883).]

With a little more than three hours to go, I realized that today is National Handwriting Day — truly a day marked not with a bang but a whimper. I wrote by hand today without even thinking about it, making some notes with a Pelikan pen, grading some stuff with a Ticonderoga pencil. How about you?

The image above is creepy, no? It’s the fingernails that make it so. With maybe a hint of Un Chien Andalou. And yet I cannot look away.

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Times, a-changin’

You know the times they are a-changin’ when the PBS NewsHour has a feature on Sleater-Kinney.

“What makes you so sure?”

Some questions:

What attracts you to one person, but not to another? Why do you have “down” days when there’s nothing really wrong? What mechanism enables you to change your mind? Is morality built into your psyche from birth — knowing right from wrong — or is it something you acquire? How do your feet tell your brain that they’re tired?

Has mental telepathy any basis in science? Astrology? Clairvoyance? How does your brain distinguish chocolate from vanilla? Where do your conscious thoughts go when you sleep? How does time work to heal grief? Are the colors you see the same colors that other people see? Yes? What makes you so sure?
[From a letter pitching the magazine Psychology Today, many years old. I clipped these two paragraphs and kept them in a folder. I found and still find them funny. They sound to me like a parody of God in the Book of Job.]

Booksmith bookmark

I like pulling down a book from a shelf and finding an old bookmark. How long had this one been keeping my place? Many years. Long enough for the top to have faded. The lower-right corner looks like a printing error.

As a student in Allston-Brighton-Brookline environs in the 1980s, I was a frequent visitor to Paperback Booksmith and Musicsmith. A bookstore and record store within easy walking distance and open late (look at those hours): it feels now like something from a dream life. My most vivid buying memories (and I don’t know why): LPs by The English Beat and The Specials.

Musicsmith is long gone, but Paperback Booksmith, now Brookline Booksmith, sails on. I’ve sung its praises in a previous post. Elaine and I have sometimes wondered whether, before we met, we were ever in the store at the same time. We are still customers whenever we visit Boston. And our son Ben now buys books at Booksmith. Who’da thunkit?

Here is an account of Booksmith and its founder Marshall Smith, with links providing more Booksmith history.

Now if I could only find one of the Gotham Book Mart’s Edward Gorey-designed bookmarks. Shelves, where are you hiding them?