On Marvelous Things Heard

August 31, 2008

On Marvelous Things Heard

Hello current and future Green Lantern readers. My name is A.E. Simns, and I wrote the twice-released book “Lust & Cashmere” on Green Lantern Press. Since that time, I have begun thinking about marvelous things, and have been invited to write a feature on the Green Lantern Blog under the rubric of “Marvelous Things Heard.”

So what is a marvelous thing? To answer that, I’ll quote the author that originally used the phrase. Here is his one of his “marvelous things.”:

The she-goats in Cephallenia do not drink, as it appears, like other quadrapeds; but daily turning their faces towards the sea, open their mouths, and take in the breezes.

This is marvelous.

–AES

Advertisements

There is a particular sentiment that is attached for me to streamers. For if one is witnessing streamers it is because they have not been nursed and tucked in by human touch. Streamers are intended to be invisible, to disappear within a crowd, to become amalgamated and mesh with the “fun”. But so there they are sometimes, anyway, alone, in between bodies, before the party has “really started”, hanging loose, tickled by a faint breeze. The ultimate wall flowers. I love streamers when they are like this. When that duskish, hollow party light brings their saddest features into relief. When they hang, paralyzed, terrified by a stillness and loneliness that is located in the eye of a crowd. That middle school dance where everyone is afraid to leave the fixtures to approach the perilous, unsupported center. And then one by one they are put into action by bodies. They start to dance, and in dancing they disappear. They get caught between arms, over heads, they rip and fall, they get spread this way and that. And their awakening is an allegory for those at the party who can forget the streamers, and get caught in that almost religious fluidity of image, sounds and movement. I stood on the fourth step of a ladder, next to a paper bag twice my height, and watched the streamer tops, and the sexy vixens: their admirable hair, their cute glasses, their tall cans, their list of parties… I am suddenly overwhelmed with the sensation of having unwittingly time traveled. I am 13 again, armed with braces, bad hair, a bad case of an awkwardly large vocabulary, and about 50 extra pounds. I look at the pretty girls, at the cool, sexy boys, the dancers, those people laughing. I sway ever so slightly, solitary, near the ceiling, my saddest features brought into relief by the duskish hollow party light that no one sees but me. I guess someone’s got to be the streamer.

On This Stone Sat…

August 31, 2008

TripAdvisor recently named London the “top literary destination.” The other cities on the list were London; Stratford-upon-Avon; Edinburgh; Dublin; New York; Concord, Massachusetts; Paris; San Francisco; Rome; and St Petersburg. The cities were selected by TripAdvisor’s editors, mostly on the strength of the (dead) writers who hail from each city. It begs the question, from me at least, which I asked out loud, “so what?” When I first saw the article, I thought it was a list of cities with the most literary events going on now—not a survey of birth certificates.

When I was still under the impression that I was looking at cities with active literary scenes, I expected to find Chicago on the list. See, Chicago has a lot going on, literary-wise. Enough, in fact, to fill a decent chunk of your calendar with a series of series, each with their own slot in the month, like little holidays: the first Tuesday of the month (The Parlor), the second Tuesday (Quickies!), the third Thursday (Powell’s), the fourth Thursday (The Fixx Reading Series), and on and on and on (&c., &c., &c.).

I had never been to the Fixx series before, because, well, I (and, I think, a lot of other people) tend to go to a reading for the first time because someone I (or the other people) know is reading there, and so far that had never happened with the Fixx (at least not that I know of (I’m parenthesis happy today)). But this past Thursday two of my favorite Chicago writers (and favorite Chicago people) were on the schedule: Caroline Picard (no, not the Cajun Queen, the other Caroline Picard) and Lindsay Hunter, along with Scott Stealy, whom I’d never come across before, but, after the story he read, is someone I’ll be on the lookout for in the future (audience quote: “I wasn’t expecting a —- —– at the end, that was really great (to find out what the —- —– was, you’ll have to read his story, “Letter from the Seaway”)).

The three authors were on hand because they all recently had mini-books published by Featherproof Books. The publishers at Featherproof brokered what I can only imagine was some kind of dirty, dangerous, back-alley deal with the Fixx’s Amy Guth, creating a joint-venture reading series, hosted by the Book Cellar (the Book Cellar is a lovely little bookstore in Lincoln Square, which, in addition to being a lovely little bookstore in Lincoln Square, sells wine (it is also close to my apartment, and I must say it was very refreshing to walk to a reading for a change (stupid West side, with all your stupid events, and no way to get to them))).

Where was I?

Oh right, Caroline Picard, Lindsay Hunter, and Scott Stealy, reading at the Book Cellar, as part of the Fixx Reading Series, in conjunction with Featherproof Books, and brought to you by the John D. and Catherine T…., no wait. Forget that last one.

And read they did.

And Caroline did a great job reading “Agee by the Bedpost,” despite having a cold, and Lindsay did a great job reading TWO stories despite having such a cold personality (just kidding Lindsay, love, love, love), and Scott Stealey had a —- —–. (I will eventually link to all of these mini-books so you can read them yourself, but as of this printing Featherproof is over their bandwidth limit, so I can’t. It’s also why I can’t get the title of Lindsay’s book (it’s called “My Brother“) at the moment. Featherproof is just that popular.)

The turnout was really good—standing room only—which was quite a testament to the three readers, given their competition. But of course, you can’t TiVo a reading, and that’s one of the things that makes these live events so fun. And certainly better than flying to England to look at a plaque that says “Byron may have once have tripped on this uneven sidewalk, and that is why we have never repaired it.” Yuck. Let’s enjoy the writers while they’re living.

–Toby

Green Lantern gallery in Chicago presents:

“The Hall of Natural and Despicable Wonders,” an American history museum of changing exhibits of natural history, historical history, and American dreams. From Sept. 6 to Oct. 4, temporary exhibits organized by Kari Percival and Greg Cook include a model of the path the sun takes through the sky throughout the year and woodcuts elucidating mammal ecology. Other displays explore colonial New England witchcraft scares and their little-known but important ties to the time’s Indian wars; FBI accounts of American interrogations at Guantanamo Bay; and the American victory in Iraq. An edifying reception will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6. (Get a sneak peak here: http://gregcookland.com/journal/2008/08/cook-percival-in-chicago.html)

Kari Percival (http://www.karipercival.com) makes woodcuts, puppetshows and lots of other art. She was born in Vermont, grew up in Maine, and earned her BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1994. She founded Earthworm Pie Puppet Theater. Her work has been seen at the Art Beat Festival and Magpie around Boston, and in the Horribles Parade and First Night in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She now lives in Boston where she has been discovering the convenience of nearby Savin Hill as a celestial observatory.

Greg Cook (http://www.gregcookland.com) is an artist, newspaperman and garbageman who grew up in Chicago and resides in Boston. His work has appeared in Nickelodeon Magazine, The Believer and The Boston Phoenix. He is the editor of The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research, commodore of The Society for the Preservation of Fitz Hugh Lane, and founder of The Invisible Museum. He is slowly constructing a miniature golf course.

“The Hall of Natural and Despicable Wonders” by Kari Percival and Greg Cook at Green Lantern gallery (http://thegreenlantern.org), 1511 N. Milwaukee Ave., second floor, Chicago, from Sept. 6 to Oct. 4, 2008. Opening reception is 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6.

You may or may not know about what’s up ahead at the Green Lantern this season, but for one, we’re going to be releasing a reprint of the North Georgia Gazette. A newspaper that was originally written and circulated in 1821, it’s a newspaper made by a fleet of icebound Englishman, stuck in the arctic circle for about a year. During that time, Captain Parry ordered that they participate in plays and submit articles for the ships paper. I can imagine the two hulls, only a quarter submerged, as I imagine the ice, while freezing pressed the wooden beams up, draped in canvas sheets, like tents, the dim orbs of gaslight casting silhouettes for all the rest of that dim and endless dark to see….

At any rate, it’s going to be a pretty epic publication, due for release in January of 2009; it will feature the Gazette itself, the Captain’s log, some annotations by Lily Robert-Foley, as well as art work by Jason Dunda, Deb Sokolow, Dan Anhorn, Rebecca Grady and a record by Nick Butcher; who will also be providing the covers…..We’re all very excited, I can tell you…

This piece was made by Carmen Price

This piece was made by Carmen Price

The North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle

Introduction

Sailing from England in May of the year 1819, about the time when Keats was writing his “Ode to a Nightingale,” the Royal Navy ships Hecla and Griper, commanded by Lieutenant William Edward Parry, made their way north to Baffin Bay. From there they soon found a western outlet into what was called the Polar Sea.1 Their voyage was “an Expedition, for the purpose of endeavouring to discover a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean,” according to Parry’s Official Instructions [J xix]; proceeding westward through the ice the explorers hoped to reach Bering Strait and emerge into the Pacific. But it had been anticipated that they might have to winter in the Arctic, and so it proved: by the end of summer the thickening ice made it necessary to find a safe anchorage. A suitable spot was located, and after cutting a channel to it—sawing ice and, at first, floating the pieces out of the channel, later sinking them beneath adjacent ice, to accomplish which task several officers were “standing up to their knees in water frequently during the day, with the thermometer generally at 12º [Fahrenheit], and never higher than 16º”—they reached their winter quarters on Sunday, the 26th of September. It had been an extraordinary effort: “The whole length of this canal was four thousand and eighty-two yards, or nearly two miles and one-third, and the average thickness of the ice was seven inches” [J 98]. That “very night … the thermometer fell to –1º; and on the following day, the sea was observed from the hills to be quite frozen over, as far as the eye could reach; nor was any open water seen after this period” [J 107]. The refuge so fortunately attained Parry named Winter Harbour.

The ships were then prepared for the long winter, roofed over like covered wagons with heavy cloth, defended as well as possible against cold and moisture—though “the temperature of the decks was frequently much below the freezing point during the nights” [J v], and condensation was to be a constant problem. They were well provisioned with fuel, warm clothing and blankets, and food, including “fresh meats and soups, preserved in tin cases, by Messrs. Donkin and Gamble” and anti-scorbutics such as lemon juice [J iv]. Regular walking or running, on deck or ashore, was a part of everyone’s routine. Thus physical well-being was provided for, as far as possible. As to the life of the mind, there was exploration and scientific observation to be carried out; indeed, scientific work was the second object of the expedition, “likely to prove of almost equal importance to the principal one” [J xxvi], so the ships were equipped with a variety of scientific instruments, and Captain Edward Sabine, Astronomer to the Expedition, had promptly set up an observatory; a building to house the instruments was also constructed near the beach. For the men, besides their regular shipboard duties, there was clothes-mending and “mere occupation,” such as “drawing and knotting yarns,” as well as evening “games of various kinds, as well as dancing and singing occasionally”; while “the evening occupations of the officers were of a more rational kind… . [R]eading and writing were the principal employments, to which were occasionally added a game at chess, or a tune on the flute or violin”; on Sundays there was divine service, with a sermon [J 125–126]. Yet the commander felt that more was needed to occupy the nineteen officers and seventy-five men who would be confined together through many trying months of darkness and cold.

Under circumstances of leisure and inactivity, such as we were now placed in, and with every prospect of its continuance for a very large portion of a year, I was desirous of finding some amusement for the men during this long and tedious interval. I proposed, therefore, to the officers to get up a Play occasionally on board the Hecla, as the readiest means of preserving among our crews that cheerfulness and good-humour which had hitherto subsisted. … In these amusements I gladly undertook a part myself, considering that an example of cheerfulness, by giving a direct countenance to every thing that could contribute to it, was not the least essential part of my duty, under the peculiar circumstances in which we were placed.

In order still further to promote good-humour among ourselves, as well as to furnish amusing occupation, during the hours of constant darkness, we set on foot a weekly newspaper, which was to be called the North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle,2 and of which Captain Sabine undertook to be the editor, under the promise that it was to be supported by original contributions from the officers of the two ships: and, though some objection may, perhaps, be raised against a paper of this kind being generally resorted to in ships of war, I was too well acquainted with the discretion, as well as the excellent dispositions of my officers, to apprehend any unpleasant consequences from a measure of this kind; instead of which I can safely say, that the weekly contributions had the happy effect of employing the leisure hours of those who furnished them, and of diverting the mind from the gloomy prospect which would sometimes obtrude itself on the stoutest heart [J 106–107].

Some half-dozen eighteenth-century plays, most of them farces, were presented in the “Theatre Royal.” “[W]e opened on the 5th of November, with the representation of [David Garrick’s] Miss in her Teens, which afforded to the men such a fund of amusement as fully to justify the expectations we had formed of the utility of theatrical entertainments… . [E]ven the occupation of fitting up the theatre, and taking it to pieces again, … was a matter of no little importance…; for I dreaded the want of employment as one of the worst evils that was likely to befal us” [J 113–115]. (Parry “undertook a part” in that first production, as he was to do in almost all the subsequent ones: he played the gay character Fribble, once Garrick’s own role.3) There was usually a show every two weeks; so having on board in the way of plays “six or seven pieces only, and some of these but badly adapted to our stage” [G 28], the troupe were obliged to repeat their successes later in the season; and Parry composed “an entire new Musical Entertainment,” the forward-looking The North-West Passage; or, The Voyage Finished, to help supply the want of material [G 51-52), M 64]. Looking back, he could say of the theater, “[N]one had ever done more real service to the community for whose benefit it was intended” [J 158].

The newspaper began publication a few days before the first theatrical presentation, on the first of November. It is much occupied with the theater, carrying announcements of the performances and “reports” of them, songs and poems from and about them, including one which offers “a Peep behind the Curtain” [G 53], and solicitations of assistance with production. But there is a great deal more in the paper, both prose and verse; much of it facetious, some solemn; in a variety of styles: mock-heroic, earnest, satirical, grave, hortatory, epistolary, legal, advertising; heroic couplets, blank verse, song and other stanzas, ballad, doggerel. Its pages treat of the weather, events ashore, animals tame and wild, shipboard life and behavior, present hardship and the task ahead, thoughts of home, and especially the journal itself—problems of content, composing, contributing, and editing. Twenty-one issues were produced, “to grace our breakfast-tables” on Mondays, as a correspondent put it [G 18]. Contributors were generally anonymous, concealed under pseudonyms, obscure initials, etc., but identifications (not now known to be quite certain) were later supplied for most;4 so we believe that all the writing was the work of ten or twelve of the officers, and the great part of it, of four or five, among them Parry and the editor Sabine. Cyrus Wakeham, Clerk of the Griper, contributed far more than anyone else, including songs for the theater. We may marvel at the literary sophistication of these military men—naval officers chiefly, no doubt, though Sabine came from the Royal Artillery; and all the more when we read Parry’s apology for “the stile of the Narrative” he is about to relate in the Journal:

It has been said, “Les marins écrivent mal, mais avec assez de candeur” [Sailors write badly, but with candor enough]. None can feel more deeply than myself the truth of the former part of this assertion; and none, I can with equal sincerity aver, have studied more to deserve the concluding part; but I build my chief hopes of disarming the severity of criticism, on a consideration of that early period of life at which the nature of our profession calls us from our studies, and which, in my own case, drew me away at the age of twelve, and has kept me constantly employed at sea ever since [J xv].

In prose, the Gazette tends to affect a sly loquacity. Oblique language, irony and mockery, a pleasure in saying things several ways, are characteristic. “Methought every fresh sentence added fresh goût [savor] to the tea I was sipping,” a correspondent (Parry himself) says of some writing in the issue preceding [G 95], whose author had evidently found the same relish in the act of composition. Prose and poetry alike look for their models to the eighteenth century and before: there are echoes of Addison and Johnson, Pope and Gray, as well as Shakespeare and Milton.5 Much of the varied verse, and most of the best of it, is by Wakeham, who also contributes fine comic prose, beginning with the piece by “Frosticus” in the first number. A few phrases will indicate the quality of poetic diction: “the long sunshine of an arctic day” (Wakeham [G 21]), “No more the wild bird carol through the sky” (Parry [G 49]), “sable night / Resigns her empire to the kindling light” (Wakeham [G 108]), “When, at thy nod, the doom-born flame / Shall burst the womb of ending time” (Wakeham [G 126]).

Among the subjects addressed is love, and the beautiful ladies back home who inspire it. Of course, it was a theme of those comic plays: the first play reporter advises that “our thanks are especially due to the gentlemen who took the female parts, which were performed with no inconsiderable share of animation, and feminine delicacy” [G 19]. The anticipation of “a fund of rational amusement” expressed (by Parry) in the first number [G 11] may be said to be answered in the third by a dream (Wakeham’s) of England, wherein is seen a “young lady” whose “eyes sparkled with unusual vivacity,” a “young and charming widow, reclining on a sofa, her eyes suffused with tears,” a crowd of “women, young and beautiful” with their “torrent of prattle,” and so forth; all of them longing for their absent men [G 27]. Woman’s “soft smile of beauty” is repeatedly celebrated [G 33–34, 47–48, 72] as the reward of man’s firmness in his duty. Reason and dream, duty and longing, strength and beauty—such human contrasts were summoned up by the terrible simplicity of light and darkness, heat and cold. Setting for the arctic winter, the sun “leaves us now to one long cheerless night” [G 48]—the loveless “nox perpetua” [perpetual night] of Catullus—and the dark will demand all one’s courage; but the sun will rise again to “flame in the forehead of the morning sky,” symbol of the resurrection that death cannot but promise.

Against the “cheerless night” stands the good behavior that Parry felt he could expect from his shipmates. “[C]heerfulness,” writes a theatrical reporter, “which is always amiable as a private virtue, becomes in our case, almost a public duty” [G 20]; in that duty they would not fail. Indeed, steady good humor is a leading feature of the Gazette. Once or twice in mid-season it seems to falter, apparently from some unwelcome raillery or other real or fancied maltreatment, perhaps even frank discontent with the prevailing line—though it is hard to tell what is serious and what is foolery; in any case, how could any contributor prevail against the several stalwarts, one of them the editor? In the end it can hardly be doubted that the useful functions of occupation and diversion Parry was to attribute to the paper were really carried through, and did their part to render the long imprisonment endurable.

The earliest literature of the West, Nietzsche once proposed, introduced the beautiful life of the Olympian gods as a screen to shield the Greeks from “the terror and horror of existence.” In a different but related image, the prisoners in Plato’s cave, fascinated by shadows, while pitiable for their ignorance are yet fortunate to be kept away from the light they are too weak to bear.6 In both accounts spectacle, together with its elaboration in speech, may present enough of truth to remind the participants of what is best in them. Perhaps (as Caroline Picard has suggested to me) Parry and his men, sheltered within their dark ships from the harshness of the elements, producing and watching their light comedies, writing and reading their wit and poetry, can be assimilated to such great models. Surely their commander was deep enough to know what would be needed in their unprecedented circumstances: his powerful New Year’s Day homily [G 70–73] shows him a feeling and reflective man, at once reasoning and devout, proud and humble, and possessed of the fullest consciousness of what duty requires. Then too, he delights in the beauty of the heavens [J 112, 166]. So like a poet in his garret up near the winter sky, the Englishman fixed in the north closes the shutters, draws the curtains, dreams of better things, and creates:

    • Car je serai plongé dans cette volupté

    • D’évoquer le Printemps avec ma volonté,

    • De tirer un soleil de mon cœur, et de faire

    • De mes pensers brûlants une tiède atmosphère.7

In the middle of February it was very cold. “We amused ourselves in freezing some mercury … and … beating it out on an anvil.” But the quicksilver of human desire did not cease to flow, and Parry—opened his windows! “The increased length of the day, and the cheering presence of the sun for several hours above the horizon, induced me, notwithstanding the severity of the weather, to open the dead-lights of my stern-windows, in order to admit the day-light, of which, in our occupations below, we had entirely been deprived for more than four months.” Alas, soon “intense cold [was] experienced on board the Hecla,” and he confessed that it “seem[ed] to have arisen principally from my having prematurely uncovered the stern windows” [J 145–146]. A melancholy brief theatrical report then tells that the suffering audience were unable to enjoy the next play [G 119]. The windows of the Hecla had opened, like the magic casements of Keats, on perilous seas in lands forlorn; where a week later, when the instrument house caught fire, eager frostbite was to attack the men who came to the rescue of science. Yet on March 16th a double bill on stage was well received; this was the last night of the Theatre Royal, “the season having now arrived when there would no longer be a want of occupation for the men, and when it became necessary also to remove a part of the roofing to admit light to the officers’ cabins” [J 158]. A few days later the Gazette too closes, printing Wakeham’s admirable address of farewell to the theater. “It will be generally allowed,” writes “Philo-Comus” (Parry), who had been the first correspondent in the first issue, “that the original purpose of the Winter Chronicle has been completely answered” [G 145]. Although they were to learn that in those lands “winter ling’ring chills the lap of May”—yes, and of months thereafter as well, so that the expedition would not depart Winter Harbour until the first of August—still with due action and speech they had finely beguiled the worst of their time.

Michael Comenetz

References

[G] The North Georgia Gazette, and Winter Chronicle (London: John Murray, 1821; reprint, Chicago: The Green Lantern Press, forthcoming, 2009).

[I] “General Index to the New Georgia Gazette or Winter Chronicle,” in “New Georgia Gazette,” 1 vol., 32.3 x 17.3 cm, MS 438/12, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England.

[J] William Edward Parry, Journal of a Voyage for the Discovery of a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific (London: John Murray, 1821; reprint, New York: Greenwood Press, 1968).

[M] I. S. MacLaren, “The Poetry of the ‘New Georgia Gazette’ or ‘Winter Chronicle’ 1819–1820,” Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews, no. 30 (Spring/Summer 1992), 41–73.

[S] S. M. Silverman, “The Authorship of the Newspaper on Parry’s First Arctic Expedition,” 1819–20, Arctic, Vol. 38, No. 1 (March 1985), 65–67.

 

The piece Everything is infinite, alternately subtitled Everything is finite, now appears on all available wall space in our gallery.  A series of undefined spaces, invisible to the naked eye unless you can see, together they form the most comprehensive exhibition about anything ever to exist since the dawn of time.  This masterpiece includes all previous masterpieces and also all masterpieces to come.  The artist that created this piece, who is all artists ever living, dead, and unborn, is the greatest artist who ever lived.  Its beauty, grandeur and profundity will never be surpassed.  Neither will the horror, disgust and contempt that it inspires.  It is truly the only complete thing ever to exist ever.  

 

Tonight @ The Bookcellar

August 28, 2008

As you know, we’re friends with featherproof press. And if you feel like checking out some live readings, well then….they sent along this email that I thought I’d send along to you…

Featherproof Mini-Book Reading
The Book Cellar
4736-38 N Lincoln Ave
7:30pm, free

Now that boring, boring and more borings has launched, f’proof is getting back to its roots, with a good ol’ fashioned mini-book reading. We’ve lined up Lindsay Hunter, Caroline Picard and Scott Stealey to read as part of Amy Guth’s Fixx Reading Series, in one of the all-time great bookstores, The Book Cellar. Zach Plague will join in the fun as well, and while we’re on the subject of plagues, boring boring is spreading like wildfire. Check out an audio excerpt at Poets & Writers, and some glowing reviews in the current issues of Print and Zin

So come out to the Book Cellar and listen to some great stories in miniature, and buy Zach a celebratory beer in extra-large.

And if Chicago isn’t your neck of the woods, Zach is headed south next weekend. He’ll be reading with Todd Dills, of Rapture fame, and Blake Butler, of the Lamination Colony. Check out the Birmingham and Atlanta events up on the site now!

Summer is not over until we stop having fun