Saturday, May 28, 2011

Reading Hart

No one who read The Bridge with us a year ago will be surprised by the linguistic difficulty of Hart Crane's "Voyages". Crane was early and notoriously difficult. In a public letter to Harriet Monroe that was published in the October, 1926 issue of Poetry together with his poem "At Melville's Tomb", he answered some of her earlier editorial queries about his language.

You ask me how a portent can possibly be wound in a shell … I ask you how Blake could possibly say that "a sigh is a sword of an Angel King." You ask me how compass, quadrant and sextant "contrive" tides. I ask you how Eliot can possibly believe that "Every street lamp that I pass beats like a fatalistic drum!"

What distinguishes Crane's practice and make his reading so hard (and so poetic) is that he usually dispenses with the subject of the metaphor (the "tenor") and simply launches us off into the associated image or idea (the "vehicle"). So whether a street lamp is ever like a drum or a sigh like a sword we know what drums and swords are being compared to. In Crane we get portents "wound in corridors of shells" and and compasses, quadrants and sextants "contrive[ing] no farther tides." Good luck guessing what those portents and compasses are comparisons of!

In his "General Aims and Theories" (unpublished in his lifetime) Crane explicates the "dynamics of inferential mention" in his "logic of metaphors":

[W]hen, in "Voyages" (II), I speak of "adagios of islands," the reference is to the motion of a boat through islands clustered thickly, the rhythm of the motions, etc.

—something I doubt would have ever occurred to me unaided. And I'm still in some need to understand how this leisurely sailing-by can "complete the dark confessions [which ocean's] veins spell." So this post is a plea for everyone to put on his free-association caps. I'm not suggesting that any reading could be right but conceivably a large number of readings might not be wrong.

Fortunately what makes "Voyages" more accessible than The Bridge, aside from its length, is its clear and familiar theme, that of a love affair, with a beginning, a middle and an end. The homosexuality of that love affair is far from incidental and makes the sequence that much more interesting, even vital, to us. It is arguably the greatest poem on that theme. The middle, I must confess—the crisis and turning point of that affair—, remains something of a muddle to me and I look forward to the insights other readers may bring. I'm unsure even how to parse the first three lines of the fourth stanza. I'd hate to have to diagram them (much more discover their tenors or divine their meaning). I'll let them conclude this post:

Whose counted smile of hours and days, suppose
I know as spectrum of the sea and pledge
Vastly now parting gulf on gulf of wings

Monday, May 16, 2011


Soe: it means the place of man
in the line from earth to heaven;

—no idea where this comes from. You who do please enlighten us now or at Wednesday meeting.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


This novel has been on my bookshelf since it was first published in 1985. It's something of a roman à clef for Susan Sontag and her Mannahatta gang. City Boy writes about them directly and refers to its writing, publishing, and scandalous aftermath. Having enjoyed this portrayal of Sontag et al., I was impelled at last to take up the novel.

White himself earlier describes it in My Lives:

I'd written a difficult novel, Caracole, in which none of the characters happened to be gay. ... I thought it would be amusing to show a race of vain heterosexuals on the permanent make and to set the action in a place that blended eighteenth-century Venice, occupied Paris and contemporary New York.

Three years earlier White's breakthrough gay novel, A Boy's Own Story, was published. Part of the later book's scandalous aftermath was caused by the "race of vain heterosexuals" depicted, who disliked Caracole because White hadn't stayed in the ghetto and stuck to writing about gays. Homosexuals too disliked it because he hadn't stayed in the ghetto and stuck to writing about gays. Neil Bartlett, however, in an early defense argued that Caracole was the ultimate gay novel because it treated everyone as though they were gay!

With hindsight it can now be reread and seen as a landmark, reclaiming a whole prehistory of high camp narratives in which a gay voice rewrites straight lives and in so doing undoes the world.

I'm guessing it's White's best novel (having read many but not all). I'm eager to read it again with the group and hear what everyone else thinks.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Upgrading Bookmen DC Facebook Group -- Facebook will be archiving all groups created using the old groups format

This evening, I upgraded the Bookmen DC Facebook Group.


Over the next few months, Facebook will be archiving all groups created using the old groups format.  We must upgrade if we would like to continue using this group, which makes it easier for members to connect and share. 


Visit the link below for more information about the new Facebook Groups!/groups



Monday, May 2, 2011

World Doctors Orchestra for Whitman-Walker

My doctor plays for the World Doctors Orchestra.

Their next concert is Sunday, September 11th 2011, 7 p.m., at
The Music Center at Strathmore, Bethesda, MD.  Program:

Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major
Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 2 in C minor “Resurrection”

—under the baton of Stefan Willich with soloists: Tamaki Kawakubo, Violin; Jeanine De Bique, soprano; and Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano.

The proceeds of the concert will support the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington. The Clinic serves Washington’s diverse urban community, including individuals who face barriers to accessing care. It has special expertise in providing care for patients with HIV/AIDS.

"Book Buff" Paul Cadmus Painting

The "Book Buff" Paul Cadmus Painting that Tim posted on the BookMenDC Blog is now the logo on the Bookmen DC Group on Facebook.

"Book Buff "

Richard has suggested we might use this Paul Cadmus painting as our logo

—but modesty prevents me from using such an image of my glory days.