Monthly Archives: January 2012

Spectator No. 565. Contemplation of the divine perfections suggested by the sky at night.

I was yesterday about sun-set walking in the open fields, till the night insensibly fell upon me. I at first amused myself with all the richness and variety of colors, which appeared in the western parts of heaven: in proportion … Continue reading

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Spectator No. 26. Thoughts in Westminster Abbey

When I am in a serious humor, I very often walk by myself in Westminster Abbey; where the gloominess of the place, and the use to which it is applied, with the solemnity of the building, and the condition of the people who lie in it, are apt to fill the mind with a kind of melancholy, or rather thoughtfulness, that is not disagreeable. I yesterday passed a whole afternoon in the churchyard, the cloisters, and the church, amusing myself with the tombstones and inscriptions which I met with in those several regions of the dead. Most of them recorded nothing else of the buried person, but that he was born upon one day, and died upon another: the whole history of his life being comprehended in those two circumstances, that are common to all mankind. I could not but look upon these registers of existence, whether of brass or marble, as a kind of satire upon the departed persons; who had left no other memorial of them but that they were born and that they died. They put me in mind of several persons mentioned in the battles of heroic poems, who have sounding names given them, for no other reason but that they may be killed, and are celebrated for nothing but being knocked on the head. The life of these men is finely described in holy writ by “the path of an arrow,” which is immediately closed up and lost.

Upon my going into the church, I entertained myself with the digging of a grave; and saw in every shovelful of it that was thrown up, the fragment of a bone or skull intermixed with a kind of fresh mouldering earth, that some time or other had a place in the composition of a human body. Upon this I began to consider with myself what innumerable multitudes of people lay confused together under the pavement of that ancient cathedral; how men and women, friends and enemies, priests and soldiers, monks and prebendaries, were crumbled amongst one another, and blended together in the same common mass; how beauty, strength, and youth, with old age, weakness, and deformity, lay undistinguished in the same promiscuous heap of matter.

After having thus surveyed this great magazine of mortality, as it were, in the lump, I examined it more particularly by the accounts which I found on several of the monuments which are raised in every quarter of that ancient fabric. Some of them were covered with such extravagant epitaphs, that, if it were possible for the dead person to be acquainted with them, he would blush at the praises which his friends have bestowed upon him. There are others so excessively modest, that they deliver the character of the person departed in Greek or Hebrew, and by that means are not understood once in a twelvemonth. In the poetical quarter, I found there were poets who had no monuments, and monuments which had no poets. I observed, indeed, that the present war had filled the church with many of these uninhabited monuments, which had been erected to the memory of persons whose bodies were perhaps buried in the plains of Blenheim, or in the bosom of the ocean.

I could not but be very much delighted with several modern epitaphs, which are written with great elegance of expression and justness of thought, and therefore do honor to the living as well as to the dead. As a foreigner is very apt to conceive an idea of the ignorance or politeness of a nation, from the turn of their public monuments and inscriptions, they should be submitted to the perusal of men of learning and genius, before they are put in execution. Sir Cloudesly Shovel’s monument has very often given me great offence: instead of the brave rough English Admiral, which was the distinguishing character of that plain gallant man, he is represented on his tomb by the figure of a beau, dressed in a long periwig, and reposing himself upon velvet cushions under a canopy of state. The inscription is answerable to the monument; for instead of celebrating the many remarkable actions he had performed in the service of his country, it acquaints us only with the manner of his death, in which it was impossible for him to reap any honor. The Dutch, whom we are apt to despise for want of genius, show an infinitely greater taste of antiquity and politeness in their buildings and works of this nature, than what we meet with in those of our own country. The monuments of their admirals, which have been erected at the public expense, represent them like themselves; and are adorned with rostral crowns and naval ornaments, with beautiful festoons of seaweed, shells, and coral.

But to return to our subject. I have left the repository of our English kings for the contemplation of another day, when I shall find my mind disposed for so serious an amusement. I know that entertainments of this nature are apt to raise dark and dismal thoughts in timorous minds and gloomy imaginations; but for my own part, though I am always serious, I do not know what it is to be melancholy; and can therefore take a view of nature in her deep and solemn scenes, with the same pleasure as in her most gay and delightful ones. By this means I can improve myself with those objects which others consider with terror. When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tomb-stone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow; when I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great day when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance together. Continue reading

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scroll up to read about death

in which the Hero sleeps, stares, loves, and digresses. Continue reading

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That same music that terrifies the mind, calms the blood

Truth be told, I spent much of my career at Pomona College studying poets who wrote long before anyone rushed for California’s gold, let alone its literature. Milton, Shakespeare, Pope–these names intrigued me far more than any laureates from the 20th or (Jupiter forbid!) 21st centuries, and this preference would have perfectly reflected itself in my English major course plan were it not for my one weakness: state pride.

My final semester at Pomona College, I enrolled in the above listed course. Not because I knew the professor or because I threw a lucky dart at the course catalog, but because if I loved any two things in this world, those things were “California” and “poetry.”

By the end of the semester, it was clear that nobody could have better nurtured that love than Professor Hillary Gravendyk.

Every bit of writing she assigned to us, from the early settlers’ raunchy rants to John Muir’s musings to the Beats’ bullshit to Brenda Hillman and beyond, I read voraciously. Like an insatiable grizzly bear, I paced the den of my dorm room poring over every word, underlining, circling, and starring all the best bits. Often, I’d run to Amazon or the nearest bookstore to buy what we were only given as brief selections in PDFs (bless Professor’s heart for trying to save us money). To this day, I will answer “who is your favorite poet?” with “Kenneth Rexroth” and I will reply to “who the hell is that?” with “the guy who taught Ginsberg and Kerouac everything they knew.”

In class, I spoke up more than I had in any other class prior. Maybe it was partly my being comfortable as a soon-to-be-leaving senior, but I am confident much of it had to do with Gravendyk’s way of carrying the class. Serious while smiling, loving but not sentimental, passionate but not to a fault, our professor consistently steered the class from deadly muted alleys or waterfalls of aimless laughter back to engaging discussion. It was incredible, and I always admired her for it.

Often, Professor Gravendyk would think far in advance to ensure we would not duck down those paths in the first place. Sometimes she would have us free write in the style of the poet we had read. Other days, she would project visuals or photos on the wall to help us understand the literary movement of the week. Once, near the end of the semester, she set up a lunch date for me, another senior, Brenda Hillman (a Pomona-taught American poet), and herself. Truth be told, I wasn’t Hillman’s greatest fan, but I still took advantage of the experience and, as a wee aspiring California poet, I learned as much from her as I could.

One of my most cherished moments of the semester and probably my entire collegiate experience took place on the south-side lawn of Crookshank Hall. Imagine one of those warm, sunny Claremont days (they’ll soon be upon you) and imagine sitting in the basement of an academic building. Who could stomach it? Nobody.

So the class decided it best to bring our books outside on the very day, naturally, that I was to act Professor. We had been studying Lyn Hejinian, one of the language poets, and my seminar was all about taking her essays from The Language of Inquiry and applying it to her canonical prose poetry in My Life. What a ridiculous task! Here was a guy who thought tragedies, blank verse, and heroic couplets the height of literary consciousness… leading a discussion on words written in the decade he was born. Nevertheless, with the near-silent but profound support of Professor Gravendyk, I led what felt like an incredible class. Through tough concepts and passages, I left feeling more energized than ever before.

“As for we who ‘love to be astonished,’” indeed. Every time I get the bug and dream of going for an MFA in Poetry and maybe someday becoming a professor myself, I think to that day on the Crookshank lawn, where I magically mustered energy and excitement from my fellow classmates to talk L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. Always, I have known: I could not have done so well without my professor’s unyielding confidence in me.

Those who have had the chance to read Hillary’s 2012 book of poems, Harm, may recognize the opening line to this letter of evaluation. It’s from the fifth part of “The Seven Sins of Memory,” and it’s one of my favorite lines ever penned by a California poet. I only confess this fact to express how strong my relationship with Hillary continues to this day. I’ve been lucky enough to see her read at local bookstores, and I always look forward to a message from her saying she’ll be in town, no matter how rare.

We are by no means best buds; rather, she’s one of those “weak ties” you find so often amongst your Facebook friends. Weak because we don’t talk often. Weak, in this special case, because her fragile place in this world. But strong, so strong, because she introduced me to the glittering, bold, and golden world of California poetry. Continue reading

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today is saturday

in which the Hero imagines a most unfortunate suicide and soundtrack. Continue reading

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Hit It and Quit It

i probably shouldn’t attempt this now since i’m high, but i’m going to try because i’m high. today is a new day. yesterday, i felt alone in the society of others, for i was at work and i did not … Continue reading

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ehm ehm ehx eye eye

in 2011, i picked up a guitar, i got serious about mixing sounds, i got a promotion, and i fell in love with a girl who also fell in love with me. if that’s not a big year, i don’t know what is. Continue reading

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