Jorge Luis Borges’ Recoleta Cemetery

The full text of Borges’ poem “Recoleta Cemetery”

the coming together of marble and flowers

…the coming together of marble and flowers…

Convinced of decrepitude
by so many noble certainties of dust,
we linger and lower our voices
among the rows of mausoleums,
whose rhetoric of shadow and marble
promises or prefigures the desirable
dignity of having died.
The tombs are beautiful,
the naked Latin and the engraved fatal dates,
the coming together of marble and flowers
and the little plazas cool as courtyards
and the many yesterdays of history
today stilled and unique
We mistake that peace for death
and we believe we long for our end
when that we long for is sleep and indifference.
Vibrant in swords and in passion
and asleep in the ivy,
only life exists.
Its forms are space and time,
they are magic instruments of the soul,
and when it is extinguished,
space, time, and death will be extinguished with it,
as the mirrors’ images wither
when evening covers them over
and the light dims.
Benign shade of the trees,
wind full of birds and undulating limbs,
souls dispersed into other souls,
it might be a miracle that they once stopped being,
an incomprehensible miracle,
although its imaginary repetition
slanders our days with horror.
I thought these things in the Recoleta,
in the place of my ashes.

Chicago From the Ground Up

My goal when shooting any of my personal projects has been to do my best to see the world from new angles or viewpoints. Like any major city, Chicago has its fair share of photos in the world. It was my intent, then, to attempt to get some shots that might not otherwise be out there. Below are my efforts for you to judge for yourself.



Hustlin’ for Money: F. Scott Fitzgerald

f-scott-fitzgerald-an-american-icon-1I’ve already discussed the Modernists a bit, but was hoping to take a look a more in-depth look at some of famous, infamous, and relatively unknown figures of the movement. For the inaugural Special Edition *wink wink* I thought it would be fun to take a look at one of the more super famous Modernists: F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Perhaps best known for The Great Gatsby, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (and if that name sounds familiar, it’s because he was named for his famous, and far flung second cousin, Francis Scott Key), is largely remembered for his portrayal of the unreachably rich of the 1920s. Born in the St. Paul, Minnensota, Fitzgerald’s stories of the upper class are almost always tinged with a certain Midwestern reproach, though he and his wife Zelda were active participants in the rigorous social scene of both New York and Paris.
That the Fitzgerald’s were such a fixture of the high class social scene is, in large part, the main reason his work is considered great and not hyper-great. I realize that sounds odd, but hear me out; Fitzgerald is one of the greatest American writers, “lousy with talent” as his friend Hemingway put it, but he could have been even better had he given himself the time and space.

It’s no secret that his wife, Zelda, wanted and quickly grew accustomed to a certain style of life, a level of style that Fitzgerald was constantly in danger of being unable to provide. In a 1934 letter to Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway makes mention of Fitzgerald feeling as if he has to “publish crap to make money,” a bold statement when discussing the writer of one of the most famous American novels. But, I think Hemingway has a point.

In Flannery O’Connor’s essay “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” she makes mention of those potential authors that “are interested in publishing something, and if possible in making a ‘killing.’ They are interested in being a writer, not in writing.” She goes on to speak of the importance of honest writing, as “the basis of art is truth,” and anything else is going to be inherent disingenuous. There is something to the idea of art and truth, even if sometimes we find that truth can be subjective. I think the root is that when producing anything, one has to be honest with oneself.
Goddamn it you took liberties with peoples’ pasts and futures that produced not people but damned marvellously faked case histories. You, who can write better than anybody can, who are so lousy with talent that you have to—the hell with it. Scott for gods sake write and write truly no matter who or what it hurts but do not make these silly compromises. – Hemingway to Fitzgerald (all spelling is original to the letter)
Hemingway certainly makes no bones about the importance of truth no matter the cost. He feels that Fitzgerald is cheating himself in an effort to manufacture a masterpiece, when the masterpiece would come through an honest approach to the writing.
The amazing thing about Fitzgerald is that when looking at the list of books he’s written, just about everyone of them is not only well known, but amazingly written as well. It’s interesting to think how those books might have been changed had he been a different situation throughout his life.

h/t to Letters of Note for the Hemingway letter.

Taking a Step Back

Since the end of last October, I’ve managed to get a post out a day. Some have been great to good, and others not quite as quality. But, I’ve gotten them out there. One of the things I learned in doing so is that getting a post out a day is a lot of work. For that very reason I’ve decided to cut back to three posts a week. Hopefully, that will mean more quality over the long run. So, look for that to begin next week at some point. In the meantime, why not check out some of my more popular posts:

A look at In Other Worlds, Margaret Atwood’s excellent book on the history and future of Science Fiction

The Importance of Made Up Maps

A discussion of TS Eliot’s “Little Giddings”

The Rending Pain of Re-enactment: TS Eliot’s Little Giddings

The National Poetry Month entry from Maxine Kumin

Maxine Kumin: After Love

The great WH Auden on his travels through Iceland

And each port has a name for the sea: WH Auden and Iceland

And finally, some photos from Dad’s Garage’s BaconFest


Elizabeth Bishop: Filling Station

Well, we made it!

One of the more surprising side-effects of posting a poem a day was that I found a lot of new and great poets that I hadn’t explored before. Poets like Naomi Shihab Nye Patricia Lockwood, and Maxine Kumin. It also gave me a chance to revisit some of my all time favorite poets and poems, from Edwin Morgan to Gwendolyn Brooks to Walt Whitman. I certainly hope you have enjoyed finding some new poems and spending time with your favorites as well. If you’d like to see a full list of the poems and poets I shared during the month, check out the very first National Poetry Month post (and re-read the amazing Maurice Manning poem while you’re there!).

I think it’s fitting, then, to end the month the way we began; with a poem that takes an otherwise mundane scene and embodies it full of emotion and humanism. So, with that, thanks for joining me over the past 30 days!

Filling Station

Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!


Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it’s a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.


Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.


Some comic books provide
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.


Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)


Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

Valerie Gillies: To My Surgeon

While my love for a particular Scottish poet is (or should be) well known, Edwin Morgan is one of many amazing poets from Caledonia.

Valerie Gillies, Edinburgh’s second Makar (or poet laureate) certainly deserves mention. With a disarming simplicty, Gillies manages to hit on some amazingly deep topics. Some context for “To My Surgeon” (from The Scottish Poetry Library):

To celebrate the Quincentenary of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, twenty-one Scottish poets were commissioned by the Scottish Poetry Library to write poems inspired by the College’s collections and work. Like surgeons they have used ‘the hand that sees’, but in this case the writing hand that acts at the prompting of insight and imagination. The poems and their comments, alongside photographs of items that inspired them, were published in The Hand that Sees: Poems for the quincentenary of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, edited by Stewart Conn, and published by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in association with the Scottish Poetry Library in 2005.

Author’s note:

This poem was sparked by one exhibit: the jar containing a mounted specimen of invasive lobular carcinoma. I was reluctant to look at it, but curious at the same time. The poem says what it feels like to be the patient who realises that mammogram and biopsy have missed the cancer and that it has gone undetected for a long time. I owe my life to a surgeon who was sharp-eyed and persistent enough to diagnose this particular cancer.

To My Surgeon

No-one else sees me
drowning in the white wave
sprinkled with a terrible salt

invasive lobular carcinoma
is difficult to identify

but you take one look
and I am 

by your hand
saving my life

Curious about April’s other poems? Check out the first National Poetry Month post for a full list.

Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Wreck of the Deutschland

Gerard Manley Hopkins is an interesting fellow. In some ways, his journey through life and poetry mirrors that of John Donne; but where Donne’s religious life was never a source of torment, Hopkins struggled with his relationship with God for the vast majority of his life. In fact, after his conversion, Hopkins destroyed all of his previously written works and swore to never write again. Fortunately for us (and National Poetry Month), that didn’t last.

It’s that religious fervor that drove him to write the multi-part Wreck of the Deutschland, a sprawling epitaph “To the happy memory of five Franciscan Nuns, exiles by the Falk Laws, drowned between midnight and morning of Dec. 7th, 1875.”

Across 35 stanzas, Hopkins describes in his characteristically vivid way the wreck and the loss. The thing that stands out to me about Hopkins is that he packs so much description into so little space. I get the feeling that he carefully chose each and every word for the most vital of impacts. It’s a powerful poem when read as a whole, but on that manages to retain it’s power even when taken in sections.

from The Wreck of the Deutschland

Parts 13 – 17

  Into the snows she sweeps,
  Hurling the haven behind,
 The Deutschland, on Sunday; and so the sky keeps,
  For the infinite air is unkind,
And the sea flint-flake, black-backed in the regular blow,
Sitting Eastnortheast, in cursed quarter, the wind;
  Wiry and white-fiery and whirlwind-swivellèd snow
Spins to the widow-making unchilding unfathering deeps.
  She drove in the dark to leeward,
  She struck—not a reef or a rock
 But the combs of a smother of sand: night drew her
  Dead to the Kentish Knock;
And she beat the bank down with her bows and the ride of her keel:
The breakers rolled on her beam with ruinous shock;
  And canvass and compass, the whorl and the wheel
Idle for ever to waft her or wind her with, these she endured.
   Hope had grown grey hairs,
   Hope had mourning on,
 Trenched with tears, carved with cares,
   Hope was twelve hours gone;
And frightful a nightfall folded rueful a day
Nor rescue, only rocket and lightship, shone,
   And lives at last were washing away:
To the shrouds they took,—they shook in the hurling and horrible airs.
   One stirred from the rigging to save
   The wild woman-kind below,
 With a rope's end round the man, handy and brave—
   He was pitched to his death at a blow,
For all his dreadnought breast and braids of thew:
They could tell him for hours, dandled the to and fro
   Through the cobbled foam-fleece, what could he do
With the burl of the fountains of air, buck and the flood of the wave?
   They fought with God's cold—
   And they could not and fell to the deck
 (Crushed them) or water (and drowned them) or rolled
   With the sea-romp over the wreck.
Night roared, with the heart-break hearing a heart-broke rabble,
The woman's wailing, the crying of child without check—
   Till a lioness arose breasting the babble,
A prophetess towered in the tumult, a virginal tongue told.

Carol Ann Duffy: Whatever

In the world of achingly beautiful poetry, two poets come immediately to mind: Donald Hall (and his gut-punch of a collection Without) and Carol Ann Duffy. Such is the case in “Whatever,” a piece by piece breakdown of all the heartbreak of missing a loved one.


I’ll take your hand, the left,
and ask that it still have life
to hold my hand, the right,
as I walk alone where we walked,
or to lie all night to my breast,
at rest, or to stop all talk with a finger
pressed to my lips.

I’ll take your lips,
ask, when I close my eyes, as though
in prayer, that they ripen out of the air
to be there again on mine,
or to say my name, or to smile, or to kiss
the sleep from my eyes. I’ll take

your eyes,
nothing like, lovelier under, the sun,
and ask that they wake to see, to look
at me, even to cry, so long as I feel their tears
on your face, warm rain on a rose.

Your face I’ll take, asleep, ask that I learn,
by heart, the tilt of your nose, or awake, and ask
that I touch with my tongue the soft buds of the lobes
of your ears

and I’ll take them, too
ask that they feel my breath shape
into living words, that they hear.

I’ll take your breath
and ask that it comes and goes, comes and goes, forever,

like the blush under your cheek, and I’ll even settle for that. Whatever.

Want to catch up on the other National Poetry Month poems? Check out the original post for a full list.

Langston Hughes: Theme for English B

If you’re the type of person that enjoys poetry, that’s read poetry for some years, there is bound to be a poem that you got; that after reading it for the first or second or 100th time, you realized that you understood it on a deeper level than you previous realized was possible.

Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B” was one of those poems for me. In the simple scene he sets up for his readers, Hughes manages to pack so much into the poem. From the geographic position of the school and his house to the his slight dressing down of his professor, it all seemed to make sense to me in a way that other poems hadn’t to that point. It was like a key had unlocked something in my brain, and with each poem thereafter, bits and pieces of those works seemed to make more sense after having read Hughes’ work. So, what was that poem for you? Was it one that I’ve already mentioned during that past few weeks?

Theme for English B

The instructor said,
     Go home and write 
     a page tonight. 
     And let that page come out of you--- 
     Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple? 
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem. 
I went to school there, then Durham, then here 
to this college on the hill above Harlem. 
I am the only colored student in my class. 
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem 
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas, 
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y, 
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator 
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me 
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what 
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you: 
hear you, hear me---we two---you, me, talk on this page. 
(I hear New York too.) Me---who? 
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love. 
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life. 
I like a pipe for a Christmas present, 
or records---Bessie, bop, or Bach. 
I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like 
the same things other folks like who are other races. 
So will my page be colored that I write? 
Being me, it will not be white. 
But it will be 
a part of you, instructor. 
You are white--- 
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. 
That's American. 
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me. 
Nor do I often want to be a part of you. 
But we are, that's true! 
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me--- 
although you're older---and white--- 
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.