Monday, June 10, 2024

Monday, Monday

 I will put an empty post up for next Monday so you can communicate while I am in NY.

Really liked THE GREAT LILLIAN HALL on Max. Jessica Lange was terrific and the story (based on Marion Seldes, who I bet Jeff has seen in plays) was sad but very well done.

Finished HACKS, which had a great last episode after a few middling ones. I would have written this season where she had already gotten the job hosting a Late Night show. Seems like they were treading water although Smart and the rest of the cast was great. Trying to watch WHITE COLLAR but boy, anything about finance, just shuts down my brain.

Saw a local production of SUNSET BOULEVARD. Is it me or does all of Andrew Lloyd Weber's music sound the same? Or else I saw this one before. This company did a great job with a not- so- hot screenplay. There is not very much plot in this tale. And I am not fond of singing the story. Write songs or write spoken dialogue. The actor who played Joe Gillis was an actor I saw last fall in THE MOUSETRAP at another theater. I spent the whole play trying to remember what I saw him in. Very cute guy and they had him parade around in a swim suit for a while.

Reading HORSE by Geraldine Brooks and PROVENCE, 1970 (Burr) Got TABLE FOR TWO (Towles) from library but it is too thick to take with me. 

Lots of rain here. Hoping it is not too hot in NY later this week. 

What about you?

Friday, June 07, 2024



Book by Ray Rasmussen
Landmarks is a collection of 64 of Ray Rasmussen's haibun that have appeared in a number of journals including Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Haibun Today, Contemporary Haibun Online, A Hundred Gourds, Bottle Rockets and Blithe Spirit. ... Google Books
Originally published: July 29, 2015
Rasmussen is especially good at being modest and honest about his life in this collection.
A haibun is a combination of poetry and prose. The poetry being a haiku, the prose, usually but not always, personal. Modern haiku are generally about 13 syllables, not the 17 we learned in fourth grade. They often have a nature reference. The haiku (there can be more than one), usually at the end of the prose section, is meant to comment on or deepen the prose. A title is also important. Thus far I have not written a haibun I am satisfied with but here is a try I did for my writing group. Haibun writers suggest 20 years to learn the art. Back at 96 then. 

Virtual Fences by Patricia Abbott

I grew up in a row house in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia. The tiny backyard was more mud than grass. Fences were few because barriers would’ve taken precious inches away from the lot. Clotheslines strung on metal poles were as close as we came to fences.

                                                                        thistle shudders

                                                                        when a bouncing ball

              kneecaps it

There was one exception. Mrs. Pershing, an elderly widow, kept her dog in a small fenced-in area. If you got too close to his pen, which was easy to do in those narrow alleys, Buster went wild. Although there were other dogs on our street, most were kept inside, a practice endorsed by my father who had a set piece he delivered on the city being no place for dogs. His “How to avoid getting bitten by a dog” still troubles me today.

                                                                        against steel fabric

                                                                        woven into mesh

               you press your nose

On summer nights, twenty or so of us played various games in the alley until dark. If left outside, Buster’s barking was incessant. If he barked too long or with a certain panic in his voice, Mrs. Pershing would appear with a baseball bat in hand and wave it at us. We were more afraid of her than the dog tied to the clothes pole. Over time, our cohort outgrew playing in the alley and turned it over to a new crop of ten-year olds. Buster would break the new crowd in but got hoarser and more lethargic as the years passed. He eventually outgrew his grit and lost most of his teeth. As did his master.

            the dog struggles 

            rope twisted tight on a pole

            the zing of metal

A few years later as I was passing Mrs. Pershing’s house, she tapped on her window. She was frail by then and not frightening to a sixteen-year-old. I went to her door, and she asked me if I could pick up a prescription at the drug store. We talked now and then after that small favor, and she confided how frightened she’d been living alone in the years after her husband died. With no children of her own, the kids in the alley scared her as much as she scared us.

Why didn’t I tell my parents about Mrs. Pershing and her dog? Why not alert them to the possibly explosive problem just down the street? It never occurred to me, nor to anyone else on Gilbert Street in the nineteen sixties. The alley was our province and we handled things in our own way. No matter what the issue, no one brought in a parent. Maybe children didn’t expect adult intervention in their lives. And maybe an elderly woman didn’t count on help from her neighbors either.

                                                                        A neighbor or two

                                                                        the priest fumbling for her name

                                                                        ground frozen till spring


The challenge was write something about fences.

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: collected stories of Carson McCullers

The link is to a Suzanne Vega performance based on the work of McCullers. Not sure when it took place.

I read two stories in this collection"Instant of the Hour After" and "A Domestic Dilemma." Written 20 years apart, they both concern alcoholism . McCullers husband suffered from this, eventually committing suicide. 

The early story, written when McCullers was 20, in many ways seemed more modern. It concerns a very young couple where it was already clear that drink is going to ruin their lives. Although they have both been drinking on this occasion, the man is in a real stupor. 

In the second story, it is the woman who drinks. There are two children now and the husband has walked in on two dangerous situations and is prepared to intervene although he blames himself to a degree for taking his wife away from her home town and family. 

I have read THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER and THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING but not in a while. Both were made into terrific movies too. 

George Kelley

Kevin Tipple   (Still not getting this link to work. Will try again later)


Jerry House

Monday, June 03, 2024

Monday, Monday


I had to think HIT MAN over for a while before coming to terms with the ending. Glen Powell is certainly the flavor of the month though. I guess I've come to think of certain kinds of movies as being Richard Linklater movies and this wasn't it. Although it is not so different from BERNIE the more I thought about it. It's on Netflix starting June 7.

I saw JUNIPER with Charlotte Rampling on KANOPY. It would have been a mediocre movie without her. Had a great last song by Marlon Williams.  A little like Elvis, right?

Because I have so much trouble finishing one book a month for my book group, I joined another one tentatively.  This is a bigger group so if I don't like the book or get busy, no one is depending on me. Books: HORSES and JAMES. Lots of Haiku. Still trying to get the hang of it.


What about you?

Friday, May 31, 2024

FFB: A SON OF THE MIDDLE BORDER, Hamlin Garland (reviewed by Ron Scheer in 2014)


(what a great reviewer Ron was)

Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border (1917)

First edition
Being a Nebraska farm boy, I grew up on a middle border between Midwest and West many decades after Garland. Yet I found much that was familiar in his memoir of rural life during the period of Western expansion, 1865 – 1900. By the 1940s, not that much had changed. 

Farm work was more mechanized, and gas-powered tractors had taken the place of horses. Improved roads and automobiles had shortened distances. But farm work was still hard, often grueling labor at the mercy of the elements. There was dust, manure, and mud, and whether bumper years or drought and crop failures, farm life was isolated and lonely.

Realism. Garland’s realistic portrayal of it—the beauty as well as the ugliness—collided with two different streams of thought about rural America in the early 20th century. One was a pastoral, bucolic, and picturesque vision of simple, wholesome living far from the corruptive influence of the city. Another was the go-west boosterism that coaxed settlers from the East and abroad to snap up free land and get rich as agricultural producers. Garland saw in his own family’s example the empty promise at the heart of both visions.

The Garland family
He came to understand that a nation’s culture thrived in its major cities, where books were published, talented artists gathered, and there was intellectual stimulation for freedom of thought. Those with heart and mind for such pursuits were deprived of them in rural backwaters. For Garland, there was only one such city, Boston, while Chicago was no more than a huge commercial center, and New York had yet to emerge as more than a crowded port of entry.

The lure of the West, as Garland came to see it, was even more devastating in its effect. His pioneering father moved west a total of five times, with time off to serve as a Union soldier during the Civil War. As a boy, Garland went with his family from their farm near La Crosse, Wisconsin, to a homestead community near Osage, in northeast Iowa. At the age of 10 he was plowing virgin sod there with horses.

The next move was to the James River Valley near Aberdeen in Dakota, where his father eventually acquired 1000 acres of prairie, converted to wheat. But after 2 – 3 years of crop failure he was ready to move once again, this time to Montana, where there was irrigation for farming. By now able to supplement his father’s income, and seeing his mother’s failing health, Garland persuaded his parents to return to Wisconsin, where they could spend their last years with the friends and family who never left.

Farewell gathering
The cost of pioneering. The lesson for Garland is that his father’s pioneering spirit grew from faith in false promises about the frontier. For all the energy he poured into making a living from the soil, he won little in return and would have been better off remaining in the Wisconsin settlement he had once fled from. Particularly ruinous was the effect on Garland’s mother, who labored unrewarded from before sun up to after sundown, seven days a week, years on end, giving birth to four children and losing two daughters to illness.

In Dakota, Garland observes that “nearly all, even the young men, looked worn and weather-beaten and some appeared both silent and sad.” He sees “the tragic futility of their existence,” their lives “dull and eventless.” Influenced by the social-economic theory of Henry George, he blames the system of land ownership, which has pushed settlers from the East and Europe/Russia onto western lands, where with “unremitting toil” they labor to feed and clothe families while remaining impoverished and fugitive.

Seminary graduation
Social history. There are other threads in Garland’s book that offer a modern-day reader (and especially writers) a deep experience of day-to-day life on the frontier in the latter third of the 19th century. I have already written here about how family life was enriched by song and music (see “Family musicale c1870”). A young person’s schooling, from the local country schoolhouse to “seminary” in town is also well described.

Interesting for book lovers is Garland’s recollection of his McGuffey Readers and how he supplemented his formal education with other reading material: 100 (by his count) dime novels, Hawthorne, Scott, Cooper, Paradise Lost, Twain’s Roughing It, western poet Joaquin Miller, The Life of P.T. Barnum, Franklin’s Autobiography, and Edward Eggleston’s Hoosier Schoolmaster, “a milestone in my literary progress,” he notes, “as it is in the development of distinctive western fiction.” Plus magazines and weekly newspapers: Hearth and Home, New York Saturday Night, New York Ledger, and New York Weekly.

Yet another thread of the book is Garland’s struggle as a starving writer and lecturer in Boston where he ekes out a living, while befriending the likes of novelist and editor William Dean Howells and eventually wins the praise of Walt Whitman. He is also deeply affected by the performances of Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, who taught “the dignity, the power and the music of the English tongue.”

Hamlin Garland, 1893, age 33
Wrapping up. As someone who grew up with “barn shoes,” went to a country school, learned of jazz concerts and Impressionist painters on trips to Chicago, and once worked in an office with a view of the Empire State Building, I found Garland’s story easy to identify with. I share his ambivalence about rural living, where the smell of new-cut hay and the song of meadow larks are among its pleasures, while shoveling cowshit from a milking parlor remains an indelible memory of my teen years.

Mostly I want to recommend this 467-page book as an excellent reference for any writer placing a story on the prairie frontier during the decades following the Civil War. It’s a valuable lesson in social history as it captures a period of rapid national transition, with a realism that is a corrective to the somewhat different view of Little House on the Prairie.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: "A Small Good Thing" Raymond Carver

This is one of Carver's most beloved short stories and probably his saddest. A mother picks out a birthday cake for her young son on Saturday, and on Monday he is the victim of a hit and run. He doesn't die immediately and Carver gets those hours of waiting across by putting the reader through them along with the parents. The doctor comes in, assuring them their boy will wake up. He doesn't. Meanwhile the baker keeps calling to ask when they will pick up the cake, each call getting angrier on his part. A gem of a story but hard to read if you have any experience with the death of a child. 

George Kelley


Jerry House 

Casual Debris