Sunday, August 28, 2011

Walt Whitman said it well

Like many Canadians, I watched Jack Layton's funeral this past Saturday, and the words that were spoken and sung certainly resonated with me.

Yes, the funeral was a celebration of life, but in spite of the uplifting songs and brilliant eulogies I wept all through the telecast.

I kept thinking about two poems written by the American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892), whom I studies in American literature classes. Both are about the death of Abraham Lincoln. One is "Captain, my Captain." The other, longer one is called "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed." Whitman lived and worked in Washington D.C. during the American Civil War and frequently saw Lincoln coming and going in the course of his duties. He loved Lincoln, and although perhaps his poems are a bit over the top by present-day standards, I will quote a section from
"When Lilacs..." that reminds me of this past week:

"..... with the silent sea of faces and the unbard heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn...
"Here, coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Humid Day for a Poet

Humid Day for a Poet

(c) Ruth Latta, 2010, 2011

I picture Pablo Neruda in several settings.

First, in bed with a woman
in a room overlooking the sea.
Filmy curtains billow in the windows
as the waves crash
and the tides ebb and flow
and he says her skin is as pink
as dawn in Santiago.

I picture Pablo at a picnic,
perhaps at the Arboretum,
with embroidered cloths spread on the grass,
where pot-luck provides a loaves and fishes miracle
and people sprawl under the trees
and the notes of a guitar
inspire him to write another ode.

I see him at a podium in Sweden
accepting the noblest prize of all.
You can Google the photo.

No one wants to picture a poet
growing grey, with flesh like jello,
perspiring at her dining room table,
tuning out the twinges of conscience and arthritis.

Should she turn on the air-conditioner
or, for the sake of the environment,

Blue lines from the paper smear her hands,
paper sticks to her fingers
and a hot affectionate long-haired cat
tries to take her pen,
as she yearns to be the woman by the sea
or a poet like Pablo.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I Love "Paris"

I loved the new Woody Allen movie, "Midnight in Paris."

A California screenwriter gets the opportunity to go to Paris with his fiancee and his inlaws-to-be, who are Tea Party enthusiasts travelling on business. The screenwriter, played by Owen Wilson, is a would-be novelist with a work in progress, and is thrilled to see the city where great expatriate American writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and more, lived in the 1920s. Unfortunately, his visit starts out disappointingly. At a restaurant his girlfriend spots a couple she knows. The husband is an old boyfriend of hers, and also a tiresome know-it-all. The fiancee prefers spending time with this couple to being alone with her fiance/screenwriter/novelist.

Late one night she goes dancing with her friends. The screenwriter, who doesn't want to come along, gets lost walking back to their hotel. He sits on some steps to rest, bells ring twelve times, and a vintage car comes around the corner. The door opens, and... you really ought to see the movie.

"Midnight in Paris" deserves an Oscar but probably won't get one. There are several factors against it. Many of the jokes are subtle - but not the barb about generic, bland Hollywood romantic comedies. America's love-hate relationship with France may stand in the movie's way. As well, the nostalgic elements may not go over in a society where everyone prizes the new. Also, the references to literature, art and music may not appeal.

Owen Wilson is excellent in the type of role that Woody Allen used to play in his own movies when he was younger. Alison Pill looks like the photos of Zelda Fitzgerald from that era; Kathy Bates is a wonderful Gertrude Stein, and Corly Stoll is a funny caricature of Hemingway.

Fiction writers will be delighted with the way Woody Allen takes the elements involved in writing a work of the imagination and pushes them to an extreme. What are these elements? Well, authors enter the imaginary worlds that they are creating and are caught up in them. In some instances they seem as real as ordinary life. In the imaginary milieu, characters grapple with the author's concerns, reshaped, reframed and transformed. Often, within the world of the imagination, an author may become aware of buried issues in his own life and may figure out a new course of action, not only for the characters, but for himself. Serious writers of fiction admire great writers who have gone before, but, while the styles and themes of these "greats" may influence them, they strive to create something new.

In "Midnight in Paris," Woody Allen conveys a moral: that each historical epoch has its own problems, and that, in whatever time and place you are living, you should be true to yourself and pursue your dreams.