Archive 6

Are polymaths extinct? In the ancient world polymaths shared expertise in various fields of knowledge. One example is Leonardo da Vinci — not merely a painter, but sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, cartographer, botanist and writer. More recently, Thomas Jefferson fits that definition as a horticulturist, political leader, architect, inventor, and founder of the University of Virginia. Is it possible to be a polymath in this modern world?

As it relates to blogging, can effective bloggers be polymaths? Copyblogger offers some habits of effective bloggers. The list includes:

  • prolific
  • concise
  • focused and consistent

(Link: 8 Habits of Highly Effective Bloggers)

One of the things stated as an attribute of an effective blogger is:

Successful bloggers choose a topic and stick to it.

They write consistently about their chosen subject… Even when they write about something that seems to be off-topic, they relate it back to the niche they know…

This makes practical sense as far as marketability. You don’t expect comic books sold at a doughnut shop. But what about a gas station? Of course, you purchase gas at a gas station, but most gas station owners don’t make profits from the sale of gasoline. Most of their revenue comes from products sold inside the gas station. In high school, I stopped by the gas station routinely to purchase comic books. Should blogs be doughnut shops or gas stations?

In the marketing world, as in the blogosphere, an individual who chooses a topic and sticks to it is a specialist or consultant. In Peter Rubie’s Telling the Story, he presents this definition of genres:

The development of genres came about as a marketing necessity. “Category” and “genre” are marketing terms… Their purpose is basically to help you more easily find what it is you’re looking for.

Telling the Story then goes on to list seven narrative nonfiction categories: adventure, travel books, biography, history, military, memoir and true crimes. The music industry follows the same protocol: country, pop, rock, hip-hop, and so on into the sub-genres of goth-metal, indie-folk-americana, afro-celt, etc. What Copyblogger proposes is to be marketable to your online audience. If you’re a tech blog, write about technology. If you’re an organic gardener, write about gardening. If you’re a mom, write about mommy stuff. That way your online readers are trained to expect only doughnuts at the doughnut shop.

The question is this: if blogs are specialized, will that make the community more or less knowledgable? I’ve noticed that art blogs often link to other art blogs. I understand that the reason for this is to create a strong community. The challenge with specializing content is that the specialists become islands of highly focused, topical knowledge surrounded by the waters of ignorance of other general knowledge. Jacques Barzun explores the idea of specialized knowledge and more in The House of Intellect. Let me go back to the opening paragraph where I stated “more recently, Thomas Jefferson…” Between Thomas Jefferson and our present information age, the society and culture has changed so dramatically that I wonder if our institutions of intellect suppress the nurture and nature of polymaths.

NOTE: https://coffeehousejunkie.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/is-it-possible-to-be-a-polymath-in-todays-culture/

A poem for the fifth Sunday in Lent (Passion Sunday), 2022

Saturday, the first weekend in April, snow fell thick all afternoon. A recording of Bach played from the living room stereo.

As I cleaned the kitchen, I remembered a conversation from earlier in the week. After a long thirteen-hour day, my co-worker asked what kind of books I’ve read recently. I shared a few titles. She replied, “Oh, wow, you read the classics. I only ready modern fiction.” It stung a bit. And I wanted to defend myself from being considered a fossil. The truth of the matter is that I do, in fact, read old books. And I enjoy reading them. But it does make conversations with people difficult.

I closed the dishwasher door and pressed the start button. I thought of another moment in the week. While troubleshooting a video looping file for a 42-inch display screen, I remembered how hungry I was that day. During lent, skipping one meal a day is manageable. Even if it was a long day. But it was more than “to keep/the larder lean. . . ” as Robert Herrick wrote in his poem “To Keep a True Lent.” [1] He concluded: “To starve thy sin,/Not bin;/And that’s to keep thy Lent.”

Another recollection while cleaning the kitchen. I read Geoffrey Hill’s translation of “Lachrimae Amantis.” [2] Hill’s poem was featured in an anthology. When I searched the public library system for his book Tenebrae I came up empty. (Not to be confused with his poem by the same name.)[3] Yet it seemed appropriate to consider “Lachrimae Amantis” on Passion Sunday.

At this dark solstice filled with frost and fire
your passion’s ancient wounds must bleed anew

“Lachrimae Amantis” by Geoffrey Hill

There was some leftover oatmeal at the bottom of a pot on the stove. As I cleaned the kitchen, I finished the rest of the steel cut oats with a sprinkle of brown sugar, almonds, a dozen raisins, and a tablespoon of yogurt. Is this breaking a lenten fast? Maybe I shouldn’t have added the yogurt. I washed it down with cup of black tea. Then proceeded to wipe down the stove top and counter. The oats and raisins reminded me of a poem by Dylan Thomas. The poem contains no Latin and no “thys.” Just the “oat and grape.”


This Bread I Break[4]
by Dylan Thomas

This bread I break was once the oat,
This wine upon a foreign tree
Plunged in its fruit;
Man in the day or wine at night
Laid the crops low, broke the grape’s joy.

Once in this time wine the summer blood
Knocked in the flesh that decked the vine,
Once in this bread
The oat was merry in the wind;
Man broke the sun, pulled the wind down.

This flesh you break, this blood you let
Make desolation in the vein,
Were oat and grape
Born of the sensual root and sap;
My wine you drink, my bread you snap.


NOTES:
[1] Robert Herrick’s poem “To Keep A True Lent. Accessed April 3, 2022. https://www.bartleby.com/360/4/180.html.

[2] Geoffrey Hill, Tenebrae (1979).

[3] Geoffrey Hill, “Tenebrae,” Accessed April 3, 2022 https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48463/tenebrae.

[4] Dylan Thomas, This Bread I Break, Accessed April 3, 2022 https://allpoetry.com/This-Bread-I-Break.

A poem for the fourth week of Lent (Laetare Sunday), 2022

Cloudy, wet, cold, and windy. Weather report? Or state of the soul? Friday, I left the office to catch the street car in order to take the last train out of the city. But the street car seemed off schedule. I picked up my two bags of work gear and hiked through the city streets to discover that the East St. Paul Avenue bridge was out of commission. Orange cones and barricades blocked both ends of the bridge. That explained the dilemma of the street car. No bridge. No street car. At that point, the bags carried felt twice as heavy as when I left the office. I headed north on foot to the next bridge and made it in time to board the train home.

For a moment, as I stood outside the Milwaukee Public Market, home seemed so far away, if not out of reach. The invitation of home a distant sound. Once on the train, I reread a poem by Bei Dao. I read it earlier in the day, but sought to pick up the thread and continue digesting the poem. But in my fatigue, I skipped ahead a few pages and read a poem by Gu Chen. In that poem the speaker reports that his dark eyes seek the light.

After a few attempts at reading, I closed the book and watched the landscape pass by the window. I thought of a Lenten reading from Soren Kierkegaard: Christ sought followers not admirers. And John Donne’s meditation on the Scripture passage: they took My Lord away. Donne proposed that often “you yourself cast him away.” He offered that his followers diligently “seek him, . . . and seek him with a heavy heart, . . .” My mind pondered these thoughts. Do you want a comfortable life? An easy life on your own terms? Christ invites followers to something more.


The Risk
by Marcella Marie Holloway

You take a risk when you invite the Lord
Whether to dine or talk the afternoon
Away, for always the unexpected soon
Turns up: a woman breaks her precious nard,
A sinner does the task you should assume,
A leper who is cleansed must show his proof:
Suddenly you see your very roof removed
And a cripple clutters up your living room.

There’s no telling what to expect when Christ
Walks in your door. The table set for four
Must often be enlarged and decorum
Thrown to the wind. It’s His voice that calls them
And it’s no use to bolt and bar the door:
His kingdom knows no bounds of roof, or wall, or floor.

A poem for the third Sunday of Lent, 2022

Unseasonably warm for this time of year and this part of the country, my oldest children and I had an opportunity to go for a walk after a noon meal last week. The sun’s warmth felt good in spite of the wind. We discussed school and work and lent. At one point in the conversation I stated that three practices of the Christian faith include prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

“What is almsgiving?” asked one child as we walked along a gravel path. I explained that almsgiving may be an antiquated term for giving to the poor and needy. Usually money and food. But may also include giving your time, energy and resources.

We walked a mile or so in the late-winter, Spring-like weather before returning to our tasks for that day.

My intention this lenten season was to share six poems — one for Ash Wednesday and five for the Sundays in Lent. But the search for good Lenten poems was quite challenging. Poems exploring prayer, repentance, self-denial, and generosity are difficult to find. At least poems that are crafted with integrity and sincerity.

Chris Davidson’s poem “Ash Wednesday” caught my attention. And the poem “The Risk” by Marcella Marie Holloway. Both of these poems I returned to and considered. This is the best way to understand a poem. Return to it and reread and meditate on it.

Malcolm Guite’s poetry, specifically his Stations of the Cross sonnets,[1] I recently discovered. In one sonnet, on the body of Christ removed from the cross, he ends with this couplet: “Yet in that prising loose and letting be/He has unfastened you and set you free.”

At this week’s worship gathering, after the Fraction and Eucharist the congregation sang “Holy Ground.”[2] Half way through the worship song is a bridge of double-word lines that punctuate the message. It was this song that reminded me of a Kathleen Norris poem.


Imperatives, Part 2 of Mysteries of the Incarnation
by Kathleen Norris

Look at the birds 
Consider the lilies 
Drink ye all of it 
Ask 
Seek
Knock
Enter by the narrow gate 
Do not be anxious 
Judge not; do not give dogs what is holy 
Go: be it done for you 
Do not be afraid 
Maiden, arise 
Young man, I say, arise 
Stretch out your hand 
Stand up, be still
Rise, let us be going . . .
Love
Forgive
Remember me


NOTES:
[1] Malcolm Guite’s Stations of the Cross sonnets. Accessed March 20, 2022. https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/tag/stations-of-the-cross/.

[2] Passion – Official Live Video for “Holy Ground (feat. Melodie Malone).” Accessed March 20. 2022 https://youtu.be/xU771D5AYWE.

Now it is winter

Now it is winter

The Repository of Neglected Things, published

Why was The Repository of Neglected Things written, illustrated and published?

The idea of this published project began grudgingly.

First, some background. Old sketchbooks, from decades ago, resurfaced when I cleaned the garage a year or so ago. 

“What am I going to do with these?” I asked my wife. 

“Save them,” she answered. 

The cleaning plan was to throw away or sell garage items. Throwing away these large sketchbooks was not an option. And neither was selling them. The black cloth cover hardback sketchbooks varied in sizes. Most of them were nine inches wide by 12 inches high with 96 to 110 pages. Some were smaller. The smallest was four inches wide by six inches high. The largest was 11 inches wide by 14 inches high. 

A navy blue cloth cover hardback sketchbook made its way from the garage to my desk. It measured six inches wide by nine inches high. The little blue book was half full of sketches. Or half empty. As many as 40 blank pages. My wife encouraged me to fill the blue cloth sketchbook with drawings. My children asked me to make more drawings. One of the children requested I storyboard a comic book. Or picture book. Reluctant, I began a few pencil drawings. My wife bought me some brush markers. I added more sketches. Once the blue sketchbook was filled with drawings, I reviewed it. Should I return it to the garage with the other black sketchbooks?

Summer faded to Autumn. A plan formed around the recently filled blue sketchbook. A mission to show my children that they can write and illustrate their own stories, their own books. The goal. Showcase their work in a print publication. A comic book. With creativity and energy they pulled their stories together. They learned about the process of creating a story, illustrating, organizing pages and layout, and basic pre-press tasks. The stories from the children featured one about cats baking muffins and another of a mouse warrior. My contribution to the anthology was selected drawings from the blue sketchbook. The art inside spanned twenty years. A single narrative titled “The Little Blue Sketchbook” tied the drawings together.

Finally, the publication The Repository of Neglected Things arrived. The children celebrated by flipping through the pages. They paused to examine their contributions. They read selections to each other. And then collected copies to send to friends and family. One child asked, “So, when do we publish the next edition?”

Shelter amid cold winter nights

“The first awareness of night was a world of darkness bounded by a streetlight’s glow, the barking of a distant dog, the stars, trees, dim houses. The sense of being enclosed by the night, of being protected, as it were, by the darkness, is ancient.” 

–August Derleth

January. The sun set half past four o’clock. Air temperature registered fifteen degrees Fahrenheit. As wind gusts rocked the automobile from side to side, the windchill felt more like five below zero. Pools of parking lot lights blurred from time to time with blowing snow.

I waited outside the grocery store for the oldest child’s shift to end. In better weather, the child walked to the grocery store. Or rode a scooter. But the long expected Wisconsin winter arrived with a fury. And walking, or riding, to work presented challenges.


The old auto’s engine idled as the heater worked to warm the vehicle’s interior. In spite of the effort, my feet were cold after twenty minutes of waiting in the south part of the parking lot. I wore insulated gloves as I read a library book from the glow of the parking lot lights.

As the heater fan moaned and engine grumbled, I thought of night and darkness and protection. From one of the books in the Sac Prairie Saga, these ideas rose before me like my breath in the winter air. The long nights of winter. The home brightened by Christmas tree lights. The contrast of the light and darkness. Protection and vulnerability. Is it vulnerability? Or destruction? Does not Epiphany land during the longest nights of the astronomical year?

A truck parked in front of my automobile. Head lamps blinded me. I looked away to the store exit until the driver turned off the headlamps and shuffled into the grocery store entrance. My eyes returned to the book and reread the passage. And the a half dozen more pages before a familiar stride passed below the parking lot light nearest me. I welcomed the child into the warm protection of the vehicle and drove home.

The young moon, a waxing crescent, appeared in the southwest like a cold smile. Jupiter, above the right tip of the crescent, glared down upon the frozen fields and village. I recalled not what we talked about on the way home, but the idea of shelter and safety persisted in my thoughts.

Later that night. After supper. After even prayers. I wrestled with an illustration. Measured, composed, and sketched. A world of darkness “bounded” by street lamps? The image of darkness leaping or jumping over glowing spheres of street lamps captivate my thoughts as I inked over the pencil marks on the illustration paper. Pen stroke after pen stroke filled the page until my eyes grew weary. And I surrendered to that ancient enclosure of night.

A poem for the second Sunday of Christmas, January 2, 2022

‘Tis the season of ennui. That American season between the week before Christmas and the week after New Year’s Day. The seasonal binge of activities, food and drink. How do the faithful resist this powerful cultural vortex? For my household, almost all plans were canceled due to health concerns. Whether in my house or in others’ homes, the concern that a scratchy throat, a sneeze, or a cough may be something worse than a seasonal head cold.

Christmas Day. My wife and I woke early and walked through the village at sunrise. The village was quiet. One pickup truck passed by us; heading south. But that was all.

Edmund Spenser’s sonnet Amoretti LXVIII includes the lines: “This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,/And grant that we for whom thou diddest die,/Being with thy dear blood clean wash’d from sin,/May live for ever in felicity.” Christmas Day was quiet and full of joy and gratitude.

I introduced the family to Gian-Carlo Menotti’s 1950 libretto “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” There was quiet resistance. It is not a Disney musical. There are no Marvel comics superheroes. The cast is spare: three kings, a disabled child, and his mother. Yet as the opera unfolded, like all good stories, the children were captivated by the narrative. They laughed. Asked questions, what is happening now? Why are they singing? Are they really kings? And at the tense, comedic, warm, pivotal moment of the libretto King Melchior sings of love alone. That may be the remedy to ennui. Quiet, persistent, patient love.


Excerpt from “Amahl and the Night Visitors”
by Gian-Carlo Menotti

The child we seek
doesn’t need our gold.
On love, on love alone he will build his kingdom.
His pierced hand will hold no scepter.
His haloed head will wear no crown.
His might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than lightning,

he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life,
and receive our death,
and the keys to his city belong to the poor.

A poem for the first Sunday of Christmas 2021

Christmas Day.[1] Last year. The Advent candles lit and allowed to burn all day. And into the evening hours. And until they extinguished themselves. With a death in the family, last year’s Christmas day was surreal and somber. Many activities that would have normally taken place did not due to pandemic restrictions.

This photo, from last year, captures many memories and thoughts. The white candle, sometimes called Christ’s candle in the Advent wreath, represents light, purity, and victory.

Light shines brightest in the dead of winter, in the confusion of depression and folly, and in the feeble snatching after victory from the gutter of defeat.

The poet, speaking in the voice of the magnus, asks “Birth or Death?” Whether King Baltazar, Kasper, or Melchior, the poet does not reveal. “I should be glad of another death.” This line echoes in my mind. Why not, I should be glad for another death? Or, I should be glad of death? Wrestle with this poem during the “worst time of the year.” Consider if the liotodes in the poem is “satisfactory.” Avoid googling what it means. Close the laptop. Turn off the mobile device. Watch the candle light and ruminate.


The Journey Of The Magi[2]

by T. S. Eliot

“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.


NOTES:
[1] Post updated December 30, 2021.

[2] The Poetry Archive, “Journey of the Magi” by T. S. Eliot read by the poet. Accessed December 30, 2021. https://poetryarchive.org/poem/journey-magi/

A poem for the fourth Sunday of Advent 2021

Early. An hour before sunrise. Coffee and poems at the kitchen counter. All the apartment was asleep. I read: “Fyre, erd, air, and watter cleir,/To Him gife loving, most and lest,/That come into so meik maneir;/Et nobis puer natus est.”

I love old things. Ancient verse among my favorite. These lines from William Dunbar’s poem “On the Nativity of Christ”[1] take a bit of reading and rereading to unpack the Scottish and Latin lines. And the poem “Veni, Creator Spiritus”[2] by John Dryden features the lines: “And peace, the fruit of love, bestow;/And, lest our feet should step astray,/Protect, and guide us in the way.”

What poem best fits the fourth Sunday of advent? The angels announced that the promised Messiah had come to bring peace.

Distracted. For many minutes I was distracted by a web site with images of famous paintings[3] of the adoration of the shepherds. Maybe it was an hour of distraction. I was frying eggs and toasting bread while looking at the paintings. William Blake’s illustration of Milton’s work[4] is omitted from the collection. His imagination of a brilliant ball of angels in the sky above shepherds[5] remained with me.

Then there was an explosion of household morning activities and responsibilities.

It was not until after the noon meal that my thoughts returned to this meditation. The fourth Sunday of Advent. Peace. The priest mentioned in the sermon that there is a liturgy of life we all participate in daily. He encouraged us to ditch the device and be present. Presence. That reminded me of the following poem by Denise Levertov.


Making Peace
by Denise Levertov

A voice from the dark called out,
             ‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
                                   But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
                                       A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
                                              A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
                        A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.


NOTES:
[1] This is a helpful blog post and video to help appreciate Dunbar’s poem. “On the Nativity of Christ. A poem by William Dunbar” by Celtic Cadences, June 7, 2009. Accessed December 19, 2021. https://celticcadences.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/on-the-nativity-of-christ-a-poem-by-william-dunbar-court-poet-james-4th-iv-scotland/
[2] “Veni Creator Spiritus” by John Dryden. Accessed December 19, 2021. https://www.bartleby.com/337/580.html
[3] “10 Most Famous Adoration of the Shepherds Paintings” by Zuzanna Stanska, December 25, 2017. Accessed December 19, 2021. https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/famous-adoration-of-the-shepherds-paintings/
[4] From John Milton’s poem: “At last surrounds their sight/A globe of circular light,/That with long beams the shame-fac’d Night array’d;/The helmed Cherubim/And sworded Seraphim/Are seen in glittering ranks with wings display’d,…” “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” by John Milton. Accessed December 19, 2021. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44735/on-the-morning-of-christs-nativity
[5] Illustration 2 to Milton’s “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”: The Annunciation to the Shepherds from the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Accessed December 19, 2021. https://emuseum.huntington.org/objects/64/illustration-2-to-miltons-on-the-morning-of-christs-nativ