Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem-star may lead me
To the sight of Him Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway:
Now begin, on Christmas day.
Today is the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice. Religious holidays Hanukkah and Christmas are purported to be based on documented historical events and just coincidence that they fall so close to the pagan celebration of the return of the light. Funny then that’s it is just another coincidence that light plays such an important part of these Jewish and Christian celebrations. Regardless of our beliefs – we all need a candle this time of year and a little faith that spring is coming.
I have spent this fall editing a chap book of poetry, mostly sonnets, written over the past 4.5 years. It is largely finished and now I have to make several decisions about what to do with it. Those decisions are more complicated because of the personal nature of the poetry – centering prayers for a non-believer in the form of sonnets which I have titled, The Canticle of Divine Doubt. I have shared several of the poems contained in the chapbook on earlier posts; Simple Praise and In The Hand of Heaven.
In Latin, Nomen es omen means roughly a name is one’s destiny. In Aramaic Thomas means twin, so it’s possible my doubt comes to me from a name sake, doubting Thomas, a relatively minor character in the new testament and I have always felt a metaphor for the doubt of the apostles and less a real person. A play on words of this Latin phrase is Ars omnia vincent – art conquers all. The canticle is my attempt to put to words what cannot be explained and in that incompleteness that poetry allows, find invitations and a commitment to kindness and justice as life’s guiding principles.
The phrase art conquers all suggests that the highest art is the art of living beautifully – or feng shui. The art of living beautifully an expression of our gratitude for our good lives. The art of being in the moment a directive to use our talents towards kindness and love. Many artists have felt their genius, their personal illuminations and inspiration are directed by a hidden hand, which some call their muse and others call spiritual enlightenment from their God. Today, on the darkest of days, may art penetrate the darkness and be a candle for our souls.
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
To Christ our Lord
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
While I watch the Christmas blaze
Paint the room with ruddy rays,
Something makes my vision glide
To the frosty scene outside.
There, to reach a rotting berry,
Toils a thrush, – constrained to very
Dregs of food by sharp distress,
Taking such with thankfulness.
Why, O starving bird, when I
One day’s joy would justify,
And put misery out of view,
Do you make me notice you!
Thankfulness is my theme for Christmas every year. Fortunately I don’t have to find it in dregs of food, rather in indulgence with family and friends. Christmas for me has become about traditions. One of those traditions is the magic of making peanut brittle with my Dad. My Dad is a great cook and a chemical engineer, which comes in handy in the art and science of making the best peanut brittle in the world. Commercial peanut brittle that you buy in a store is a monstrous thing invented by dentists to suck filings out of teeth and break old molars in half. The peanut brittle tradition in my family is an aromatic caramel peanutty confection, wonderfully crunchy and filled with a million air bubbles to make it brittle but light.
There’s three keys to making the world’s best peanut brittle.
1). Buy a good heavy duty candy thermometer that can clip on the side of your sauce pan.
2). If at all possible, don’t make it alone – four hands come in handy at several key steps in the process and besides its more fun to share in this with someone else.
3). Don’t stop stirring, its how you stir in all the love that makes it taste good.
Here’s the ingredients to make one batch:
(You will make more than one batch when you realize how fantastic this stuff tastes so have extra of everything on hand. By the way Trader Joe’s peanuts come in 1 lb bags and are a good deal).
1 1/2 cups of white sugar
1 cup of corn syrup
3/4 cup of water
1 lb of roasted peanuts – salted or unsalted is your preference. I like salted. Don’t scrimp a little over a lb works even better.
3 – 4 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of baking soda
1 tablespoon of vanilla
1 teaspoon of water
1). Prepare a typical full size cookie sheet with edges by spraying it with PAM, covering it with confectionery paper or covering it in non-stick aluminum foil. (We actually have sheets of silicon rubber that we line the cookie sheet with for the pour, but not many of you probably have access to salvage rolls of silicon sheeting.)
2). Lay out all your ingredients and proportions or have your helper do it while you start the first step. Be sure to have a good hot pad glove to cover your stirring hand to prevent getting burned, particularly on the last step. Be safe – this is going to be 300 degrees of burning hot brittle at the end, be careful.
3). In a typical 4 quart sauce pan with a sturdy handle add the 1 1/2 cups of sugar, the 1 cup of corn syrup and the 3/4 cup of water. On high heat, stir a bit. Fix your candy thermometer on the side of your sauce pan. It will start out milky and turn clear as the water evaporates off. Stir slowly to stay engaged at this point, but don’t be trying to do two things at once while making brittle or you will screw it up.
4). Let this clear mixture rise to 240 degrees F. It will go slowly up to about 220 and then fairly quickly the last 20 degrees so pay attention. At 240 degrees add your butter, stirring for 30 seconds and then your peanuts. The temperature is going to go back down, that’s normal. Keep stirring slowly but mixing all the time so that peanuts don’t burn on the bottom or behind your thermometer. This is when the rich caramel flavors are going to form with the butter. Inhale deeply. Throw a party, fill up your kitchen, let your friends in on these smells, have them bring a bottle of wine, set out some crackers and cheese. Make it an event. This is what your kitchen is supposed to be like during the holidays, smelling great and filled with people.
5). Either measure out ahead of time or have your helper in a small dish or measuring cup measure out the vanilla, the baking soda and the teaspoon of water. Don’t skimp on the baking soda a heaping tablespoon. Stir this mixture together and have a little spoon or rubber spatula handy for your helper to mix it up again right at the end and be ready to add it to your sauce pan for you.
6). Now is when you are going to be glad you bought a good candy thermometer. You want one that is sturdy enough to stay engaged with this thick peanut sugar mess you are heating up to 300 degrees. Cooking it to only 290 is going to make the final result soft and gooey and not a pleasing texture. Cooking it to 305 degrees is going to begin to introduce off flavors and make the end result darker. Cook it to exactly 300 degrees. This is chemistry. It will go very slowly from about 220 to 270 and that’s where you can get a little tired of this, but then it goes pretty quick the last 30 degrees. Like real fast, so pay attention.
7). As soon as it hits 300 degrees, turn off your burner. Remove your thermometer using your hot pad. Wearing your gloved hot pad in the hand that is going to stir, have your helper quickly stir up the baking soda/vanilla concoction with a few whips of the spoon and spoon it all into your pan. Stir it into the brittle mixture vigorously. It is going to shoot up steam and if you aren’t wearing your hot pad glove you are going to burn your hand. Mix for about 20 seconds and then stop mixing or slow down mixing. The baking soda and water/vanilla is going to react in the heat to create millions of tiny air bubbles. Begin walking over to where your cookie sheet is waiting with your spoon. Let the mixture rise right up to the top of the sauce pan, it will only take a few seconds. Using your spoon to suspend the peanuts more evenly begin pouring it out on the cookie sheet. Start on one edge and poor back and forth moving down the sheet coaxing out peanuts uniformly. Spoon out all the peanuts that are at the bottom, going back to where you started with this last bit, because it is probably a little light on peanuts where you first poured.
8). This next step is the hardest. Over come your urge to take your spoon and spread the mixture out on the cookie sheet. LEAVE IT ALONE Spreading it pops the air bubbles that are the key to making this the world’s best peanut brittle. Let gravity do its thing. It will spread out all on its own to a relatively uniform level as it cools. Do not leave this cookie sheet on a surface that can be damaged by heat. Either have it on a wood cutting board or a cooling rack. Remember it’s still close to 300 degrees as you do the pour. We take ours outside after about 5 minutes and put it on our metal patio table to cool in the 20 degree December air.
9). It is going to need to cool for 30 to 40 minutes. It’s ready to break apart when its cool to the point that it will fracture easily in chunks by just breaking it apart with your hands. Take a bite and enjoy the magic. Be careful who you give this stuff to. They will be asking for more next year.
Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat;
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you.
Tom’s Best of 2018 Top 10 Songs
Here’s my favorite 10 new songs from 2018. These are the top 10 out of 36 songs that made my combined two CD set this year.
1). High Horse – Kacey Musgraves
2). Sensitive – Brother Ali
3). Army Of Clay – Belly
4). Singing to Me – Parker Millsap
5). Seventeen – Tomberlin
6). Wither with You – Rolling Blackouts
7). Summer’s End – John Prine
8). Best Years of My Life – Pistol Annies
9). Kindness of Strangers – Courtney Marie Anderson
10). Beyond – Leon Bridges
Tom’s Best of 2018 – Complete Albums – Top Five
These are my favorite albums this year that literally doesn’t have a bad song on the entire album even though in some cases no one song made my top 10 and in the case of Dessa didn’t even make my best of CDs. Dessa’s album is fantastic when taken all together, but a bit depressing and clashed when I tried to include in the mix. What are you favorite new songs of 2018? What was your favorite new CD or Album of this year?
1). Belly – Dove
2). Van William – Cosmic Sign
3). I’m With Her – See You Around
4). Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
5). Justin Courtney Pierre – In The Drink
6). Dessa – Chime
Mistletoe a Christmas by Walter de la Mare
Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.
Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.
This poem is concerned with language on a very plain level. Look at it talking to you. You look out a window Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don’t have it. You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other.
Excerpt from Paradoxes and Oxymorons by John Ashbery
a total stranger one black day
by e. e. cummings
a total stranger one black day
knocked living the hell out of me–
who found forgiveness hard because
my(as it happened)self he was
-but now that fiend and i are such
immortal friends the other’s each
This blog entry comes with a warning. It’s going to be a little long and seem fragmented. Forgive me. Forgiveness is the theme of today’s post. I get to the point eventually.
I have been screwing up the courage to write this post for 11 months. I needed some time to gain perspective. As a person who has always felt under the protection of the sisterhood, in the sense that my closest relationships for my entire life have always been with women, it is hard for me to admit that one year into the #metoo movement, I have really complicated feelings around whether we are caught in the normal backwater churn of positive change or whether I am just collateral damage in a really good wave of progress.
It started with this sense of shame coming out of the New Year around our state of politics in this country,. A shame of association in being a white man. It doesn’t matter that my politics and beliefs are in complete conflict with the Republican party, there is a stain that feels like it spreads across the divide for simply being a member of the club – white, for being middle class, educated and privileged, even if I acknowledge the privilege.
I at first applauded the successes that #me too movement was creating in bringing down one icon after another for bad behavior in their personal and professional lives. I was hopeful this powerful movement would bring about change. But as time went along and for the most part, other than the entertainment industry and a few industry icons losing their positions of power and status, the two sides seemed to settle into a stale mate of hate, the feminists telling all testicle-carrying members of the male sex that we’re fucked up, or at least it felt that way in what I internalized, and Fox news and the weirdness that is white men in America counteracted each other with their shallow misinformed perspectives. As time went along, I started feeling more and more like I was somehow guilty too, even though I honestly can’t recall a single event in my life that would fall under the guise of the #metoo movement. At some point though, rather than feeling like I was moving across the divide with women to a better future, I simply felt beaten down by it all from both sides.
Why roll this confession out now? Every year for the past 15 years I have made a CD mix of my favorite new music from the past 12 months. The process of making the compilation is a true enjoyment for me, which is why I do it. This isn’t really a gift for others, it’s a gift to myself, with about 12 other people getting a copy to have some insight into what made me tick this past year. I start Thanksgiving weekend by digging out all the CD’s and vinyl I bought over the course of the year that is spread out over my car and my condo. I then listen to it all one more time. Sometimes I know exactly what songs are my favorites. Other times this process brings new insights into my personal soundtrack of the past year and it brings new songs to the top. The songs also have to flow. Sometimes initial picks that I love don’t make the final cut because they clash with the rest.
I also sit down and do a little research of all the best of lists in the media and online. I see if there are gems I missed. I always try to start things off with a bang on each CD with a great new rock and roll song or dance song. This year’s glum rock movement made that hard. I don’t really relate to most rap and it felt like it was only the rappers like Cardi B that were having fun in 2018. So what can this possibly have to do with the #metoo movement?
In searching through 2018 and a song with a sense of humor or that certain vibe I came across Lil Dickey’s Freaky Friday. The song itself did not make the mix as without the benefit of the visuals of the video, it’s not nearly as funny, but the video is brilliant. After watching the video 8 to 10 times, I realized the humor of it all made me think differently about Chris Brown. Granted the video is a home run for Brown! Who wouldn’t want to collaborate on a project where someone wants to be you for a day, but the positive energy he brings to it and the sheer joy of it, made me realize that Chris Brown is more complex a person than I have given him credit. I had allowed myself to dehumanize him and had broad brushed my thoughts about him based on bad press. I had to admit I really don’t know anything about Chris Brown and maybe I needed to give him another look.
It made me wonder, does the #metoo movement offer offenders a second chance? When is the movement going to shift from finger wagging, nagging screaming and shouting to forgiveness? When are men going to step up and internalize that bad behavior is not acceptable and earn a second chance? Does the #metoo movement have room for second chances, even for the worst offenders?
The best concert I went to last year was my birthday gift to my daughter in January. We went and saw First Aid Kit, one of both of our favorite bands, at the newly renovated Palace Theater in St. Paul. Their new album, which did make my best of, is outstanding and their concert was a blast. Their new album is called Ruins. It’s all about falling out of love and being sick and tired of men and the music business. Half way through the concert the lead singer, Klara Söderberg, shouted out to the crowd between songs something to the effect, “this next song goes out to all my sisters in the audience because we just aren’t going to take it anymore. We are tired of being scared of men and its time we take back what’s ours.” The audience went nuts. But not all the audience. Only the women in the audience. In the mosh pit of standing in close proximity to one another that only a rock concert can create, the men in the audience quickly became silent, in part from the dirty looks from the female strangers standing next to us if we had joined the applause, whistles and shouts, the male voices quickly fading. This song wasn’t going out to us. We (men) weren’t welcome in the club. We were the problem that needed silencing. And they did, silence us.
There is nothing wrong with what she said or the reaction of the women in the crowd. I even agree with it, I am tired of being scared of men too. What was shocking was how for the first time, I felt like I didn’t belong. I wasn’t welcome with the sisterhood who had tolerated me in Blue Birds, because my Mom had to take me along with my sisters, who had shared with me the secrets of some of the finer arts of cooking, sewing and nurturing, who had welcomed me into their inner confessional circle in the past. I have always known that I circle the periphery of the clan of men. I do enough to get by and be accepted, but I have never been completely comfortable. It was an odd feeling to stand there alone, realizing I was no longer a castaway on girl island and was swimming in a new current, one in which there was no life boat that was going to come to the rescue.
What happens next? If a man like me who considered himself on the side of the liberal feminists is retreating not in his beliefs but in his willingness to engage, what does that say about the movement? When will #metoo transform to also include the #forgivenesstoo movement? Great questions to contemplate for 2019.
“I remember making designs in the dark with a fast moving lit cigarette.”
Joe Brainard – I Remember
The Sonnets LXV
by Ted Berrigan (1934 – 1983)
Dreams, aspirations of presence! Innocence gleaned,
annealed! The world in its mysteries are explained,
and the struggles of babies congeal. A hard core is formed.
Today I thought about all those radio waves
He eats of the fruits of the great Speckle bird,
Pissing on the grass!
I too am reading the technical journals,
Rivers of annoyance undermine the arrangements
Someone said “Blake-blues” and someone else “pill-head”
Washed by Joe’s throbbing hands
She is introspection.
It is a Chinese signal.
There is no such thing as a breakdown
Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett were part of the second wave of the New York School of poets during the 1960’s. Like their counterparts, poets Anne Waldman, Joe Brainard, John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara, the spirit of The New York School was heavily influenced by surrealism that mixed serious subjects with humor, wit and a playful collaborative spirit that stretched across the visual arts, art criticism and the theater.
What’s interesting about the New York School is for all the dissimilarity in poetic style among the poets, they had many things in common. Many of the poets associated with the New York School:
– Attended Harvard University
– Completed Military Service
– Were Homosexual or Bi-Sexual (Berrigan was married and had two children)
– Reviewed art
– And the obvious one, lived in New York City during the early stages of their writing career.
Both Ron Padgett and Ted Berrigan were heavily influenced by The Beat Poets, in particular Kerouac. My favorite poem by Ron Padgett, How To Be Perfect, doesn’t lend itself to Fourteenlines as its too long, but is worth the read. Here’s the link if you are so inclined for something longer today and aspire to be perfect.
Berrigan used the line – “There is no such thing as a breakdown”, in more than one of his sonnets. For a man who died of cirrhosis of the liver at age 49, you have to wonder if he felt his spiral of self destruction was pre-ordained or was it a plaintive plea for a change in direction before it was too late?
Do you have a favorite poet from this movement and a favorite poem? Share in the comments section, I would love to hear your opinion.
The Love Cook
by Ron Padgett
Let me cook you some dinner.
Sit down and take off your shoes
and socks and in fact the rest
of your clothes, have a daquiri,
turn on some music and dance
around the house, inside and out,
it’s night and the neighbors
are sleeping, those dolts, and
the stars are shining bright,
and I’ve got the burners lit
for you, you hungry thing.
“I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the Truth of the imagination.”
On The Sonnet
by John Keats
If by dull rhymes our English must be chain’d, .And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet
Fetter’d, in spite of pained loveliness;
Let us find out, if we must be constrain’d, .Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of posey;
Let us inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress
Of every chord, and see what may be gain’d .By ear industrious, and attention meet:
Misers of sound and syllable, no less .Than Midas of his coinage let us be .Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown;
So, if we may not let the Muse be free, .She will be bound with garlands of her own.
Keats commitment to poetry was metaphysical, religious. He famously rejected the Christian norms of the time, in particular the idea of salvation through a belief in Jesus Christ. The quote above comes form a letter to Benjamin Bailey dated November 22, 1817:
I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination. What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth, whether it existed before or not, for I have the same Idea of all our Passions as of Love they are all in their sublime, creative of essential Beauty. . . . I have never yet been able to perceive how any thing can be known for truth by consequitive reasoning. . . . O for a Life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts! It is a “Vision in the form of Youth” a Shadow of reality to come‹and this consideration has further convinced me . . . that we shall enjoy ourselves here after by having what we called happiness on Earth repeated in a finer tone and so repeated. And yet such a fate can only befall those who delight in Sensation rather than hunger as you do after Truth.
Isn’t that the point of poetry? Poetry provides a respite from the impossibility of truth and a chance to live for a moment in sensations. Poetry provides a brief silence in which our imaginations might be fulfilled with a glimpse of something bigger than ourselves, that ephemeral connection of our soul to the universe.
By John Keats
O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,—
Nature’s observatory—whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
’Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
Phillip Larkin made English Lit 101 much more interesting for a legion of young people by penning This Be The Verse. It opens with the single most identifiable first line for teenage angst of any poem every written. The holiday season has a way of raising anxiety for many people, it brings out their inner bah-hum-bug. I am the opposite. I pretty much enjoy everything about Christmas and New Years. I enjoy the fellowship with family. I like to bake. I like to cook. I like to have people over to my house. I like making and giving presents. I like the corny Christmas shows on TV. I even like Christmas music. I realize that many find this a character flaw, which is why I am bringing you a little Joni Mitchell -and Phillip Larkin to counter balance the good cheer with classic curmudgeonly poetry. If you have a bit of inner Grinch, may this no, no, no darken your day like winter solstice in Norway.
by Philip Larkin
You do not come dramatically, with dragons
That rear up with my life between their paws
And dash me butchered down beside the wagons,
The horses panicking; nor as a clause
Clearly set out to warn what can be lost,
What out-of-pocket charges must be borne
Expenses met; nor as a draughty ghost
That’s seen, some mornings, running down a lawn.
It is these sunless afternoons, I find
Install you at my elbow like a bore
The chestnut trees are caked with silence. I’m
Aware the days pass quicker than before,
Smell staler too. And once they fall behind
They look like ruin. You have been here some time.