Friday, November 30, 2012


I was going to start blogging again, wasn't I? Well, that worked out well...

At any rate, the semester is almost over. I have taught my last undergraduate class (tho precious little "teaching" takes place that last week, I'm afraid), and the Ruskin seminar is largely wound up; we had our last official meeting Wednesday night. We'll meet again next week, but mostly for comestibles and potables, a free-wheeling discussion of Wilde's "Decay of Lying," and perhaps an episode of the sexed-up and hilariously inaccurate Desperate Romantics.

At the moment I'm in that wee breathing space between finishing teaching and having to dive into a sea of final grading. An odd place, where I want to get lots of things done – I've a big Black Mountain essay that needs major revision, for instance – but instead have been just nosing about among my books, happily learning things. I finished The Divine Comedy for the whateverth time the other day (Mandelbaum translation this time around), & feeling a little at sea without a "big" book on the burner, began The Cantos again: five cantos a day the current pace, tho that'll slow down when I hit the long ones.

One of the interesting aspects of the Ruskin seminar was the degree to which it ended up being an exercise in literary and intellectual biography. Looking back over my talking points (by the end, some 30,000 words, maybe 60 pages), I realize there's a pretty thorough short biography all written up in there. Mind you, I absurdly over-prepare for graduate seminars – probably only a third or so of that mass of mostly well-turned prose ever got talked thru. But something should be done with all that; I have a perverse hankering to start proposing a Ruskin life to some of the "brief lives" series out there.

But what about those hobbies, the piquant chutneys of life? Well, I've haven't laid a single brush to a single figurine over the past two weeks (tho I have gazed longingly on many a set reviewed in the Plastic Soldier Review site). But I have been thrashing away on the bouzouki or guitar for about half an hour every day, and even sat down the other day with the hurdy-gurdy, a pair of pliers, rosin, and cotton wool (it's complicated), and tried to coax some semi-musical sounds out of it. Better yet, Pippa and I spent an hour playing hell-for-leather versions of Irish dance tunes one afternoon last week, and started getting together a neat take on Richard Thompson's "The Angels Took My Racehorse Away." At 10, she's ten times the musician I'll ever be; but it's delightful being her accompanist.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

hobby time

The semester is winding down, & it's been a doozy. I've cooked up two conference proposals, done three tenure reviews, written a letter of support for a sabbatical, and given a reading in Ohio. I've lived thru the 2012 presidential campaign. The worst of course is yet to come: applications for our MA program are sitting in the file cabinet, waiting to be read and decided on; one more sabbatical letter remains to be written, and several letters of recommendation; and I'm part of the evaluation committee for one of the college's "eminent scholars." Not to mention the usual end-of-term grading and so forth. No wonder I haven't gotten my book orders for the spring in yet.

I've been thinking about "hobbies," those ancillary pursuits we put so much of our hearts into, lately. I'm lucky: if I were working at an insurance agency, I'd probably be trying to snatch waking moments to read and think about poetry; as it is, I get paid (sorta) to think and talk and write about literature (or at least that's part of my job description). When I read Adorno's essay "Free Time" some years ago – the one where he says I have no hobbies; I write and read and think and make music and think about music; hobbies are capital's way of colonizing the little free time left to workers – I felt all virtuous and Frankfurt-schooly.

But more recently I've come to feel that it's good, for me at least, to spend significant time doing thing with my hands and eyes and ears that have nothing to do with the "serious" work I'm committed to. I've made peace with my own trivial pursuits. I haven't bought a new guitar in a couple of years now, and have no plans to buy any more instruments anytime soon: but I do intend to spend a good deal more time making bad music. And yes, I've resurrected my teenaged hobby of collecting and painting toy soldiers ("military miniatures," that is). So look for lots of pictures of 30 Years' War battle formations, and a vast diorama of the Battle of the Teutonberg Wald, or the Battle of Maldon.

And maybe some poems along the way. That, after all, isn't a hobby.

Thursday, November 08, 2012


Yes, back to blogging, with no fanfare, no trumpets, no FB announcements (maybe). With a welcome cold front, and an even more welcome end to the endless election season, the time seems right to resume posting occasional reminders (perhaps only to myself) of my existence.

Reading, as always. Very near the end of another trundle thru JH Prynne's huge Poems; re-reading Red D Gypsum (1998), Pearls That Were (1999), and Triodes (1999), found myself shocked by how much they had shaped my own idiom in both Torture Garden and in Red Arcadia. Never too old to be influenced, I guess, or too weak-minded.

Much Ruskin. As for the Library Edition, it's all over but the letters, specifically the last half of the second volume of letters. Along the way, as I continue to accumulate ancillary JR materials, I read a book or two a week of criticism or ephemera. J. H. Whitehouse's edition of The Solitary Warrior: New Letters by Ruskin (Houghton Mifflin, 1930) is definitely among the latter. 179 small pages, large type, huge margins – numerous blank pages between sections; I'd guess there's a 50-page ordinary book lurking in here. Perhaps there are a half-dozen letters of real (but only mild) interest in the volume – discussions of JR's relationship with Rose La Touche, socio-political speculations, early intimations of the Guild of St. George. The rest are invitations to tea, apologies for not writing, "staying in touch" notes. One marvels, by the end, that a major publisher bothered to bring this out at all. An index, I suppose of how precious any scrap of Ruskin's writing seemed at one time.

Frans G. Bengtsson's The Long Ships (Röde Orm) is the bomb. My Swedish friend Göran gave me a British (HarperCollins) paperback a year or two ago, but I only started it the other day. Delicious, even guiltily delicious, reading. Flashman meets Dumas meets the Icelandic sagas.