Already Elsewhere

From whiskey river’s commonplace book:

Echoing Light

When I was beginning to read I imagined
that bridges had something to do with birds
and with what seemed to be cages but I knew
that they were not cages it must have been autumn
with the dusty light flashing from the streetcar wires
and those orange places on fire in the pictures
and now indeed it is autumn the clear
days not far from the sea with a small wind nosing
over dry grass that yesterday was green
the empty corn standing trembling and a down
of ghost flowers veiling the ignored fields
and everywhere the colors I cannot take
my eyes from all of them red even the wide streams
red it is the season of migrants
flying at night feeling the turning earth
beneath them and I woke in the city hearing
the call notes of the plover then again and
again before I slept and here far downriver
flocking together echoing close to the shore
the longest bridges have opened their slender wings

(W. S. Merwin [source])


After yesterday’s storm I had expected to find the landscape a desert of sodden heathery bogs and swollen reedy lochans; and so it mostly was, but over all its vast extent the light was so radiant that I felt I could see not just for great distances but into time itself. The ruins of crofts, a mile away, seemed so close in that enchanted air that I saw not only the nettles of ragwort round the doors, but the people coming out for the last time: I could even see the grief on their faces. No wonder, I thought, this was the land of second sight. If I stayed here I would be a seer as well as a poet.

((John) Robin Jenkins, Fergus Lamont)

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Not Quite Chinglish, Not Quite a Pun

From his vantage point of working with the English language behind the Bamboo Firewall, friend of RAMH Froog wages what must at times feel like a lonely battle against Chinglish. (For the uninitiated, this is the generally mangled result of applying Chinese grammatical rules, pronunciations, and mindset to ideas expressed in “English.”)

I have no wish to steal her punchline, so I will just point you to The Intern’s recent post. It’s an exquisite example (even if just a joke, or a PhotoShopped image*) of a related but different phenomenon: a phrase in “Chinese” which sounds as if it means something wildly (in)appropriate in English.


* Not a joke, apparently: Someone on a forum has tracked it down. It’s currently listed (about halfway down this page) as a retailer of books for Oxford University Press (China).

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Unfinished Business

From whiskey river:

A Way to Look at Things

We have not yet made shoes that fit like sand
Nor clothes that fit like water
Nor thoughts that fit like air.
There is much to be done —
Works of nature are abstract.
They do not lean on other things for meanings.
The sea-gull is not like the sea
Nor the sun like the moon.
The sun draws water from the sea.
The clouds are not like either one —
They do not keep one form forever.
That the mountainside looks like a face is accidental.

(Arthur Dove [source])

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“I Can’t Market My Art!”
Oh, Yes You Can

In a recent blog post, loyal friend of RAMH Froog dredged up a name I hadn’t seen or heard for years: “cartoonist” Hugh MacLeod.*

I no longer have any idea where I first encountered MacLeod and his interesting work. At the time, though, he was struggling to forge some sort of business from his creative output while still suffocating in a day job. He’d started up an e-newsletter, and in each issue he included — free of charge — a sample of one of his special projects. That special project was the creation of drawings (“cartoons”? eeehhhh… maybe) which he’d doodled on the backs of business cards. Some of the drawings were quite dark in tone; some were laugh-out-loud funny; some just made me uncomfortable with how much they made me think.

Ultimately, I unsubscribed from the Gaping Void newsletter, as MacLeod called it. Not because it had ceased to be interesting, even valuable or important. No, simply because I was saving every single issue, with all the others, in a separate GapingVoid email folder. The computer I had at the time had begun to wheeze with overload and I started to throw things overboard: MP3s, images, software… Gaping Void.

And then I forgot all about it. Until yesterday, when I read Froog’s post, and shortly learned that MacLeod is making  a living doing what he wants to do. Crazy, huh?

If you want, feel free (of course!) to explore what is now MacLeod’s Gaping Void blog. But by all means (as Froog suggested) do stop over at the Lateral Action site for a terrific brief interview with MacLeod, in part on the topic of getting your art — dare I say writing? — in front of people who will want it for themselves.


“Artists cannot market” is complete crap. Warhol was GREAT at marketing. As was Picasso and countless other “Blue Chips”. Of course, they’d often take the “anti-marketing” stance as a form of marketing themselves. And their patrons lapped it up.

The way artists market themselves is by having a great story, by having a “Myth”. Telling anecdotal stories about Warhol, Pollack, Basquiat, Van Gogh is both (A) fun and (B) has a mythical dimension… if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have had movies made about them. The art feeds the myth. The myth feeds the art.

The worst thing an artist can do is see marketing as “The Other”, i.e. something outside of themselves. It’s not.

So: what’s your myth — your “great story” about your story?

* The “cartoonist” is MacLeod’s preferred term, rather than “artist.”

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Uncomfortable Numbers

From whiskey river:

A Word on Statistics

Out of every hundred people,

those who always know better:

Unsure of every step:
almost all the rest.

Ready to help,
if it doesn’t take long:

Always good,
because they cannot be otherwise:
four — well, maybe five.

Able to admire without envy:

Led to error
by youth (which passes):
sixty, plus or minus.

Those not to be messed with:

Living in constant fear
of someone or something:

Capable of happiness:
twenty-some-odd at most.

Harmless alone,
turning savage in crowds:
more than half, for sure.

when forced by circumstances:
it’s better not to know,
not even approximately.

Wise in hindsight:
not many more
than wise in foresight.

Getting nothing out of life except things:
(though I would like to be wrong).

Balled up in pain
and without a flashlight in the dark:
eighty-three, sooner or later.

Those who are just:
quite a few, thirty-five.

But if it takes effort to understand:

Worthy of empathy:

one hundred out of one hundred —
a figure that has never varied yet.

(Wislawa Szymborska; translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak [source])


One Hundred and Eighty Degrees

Have you considered the possibility
that everything you believe is wrong,
not merely off a bit, but totally wrong,
nothing like things as they really are?

If you’ve done this, you know how durably fragile
those phantoms we hold in our heads are,
those wisps of thought that people die and kill for,
betray lovers for, give up lifelong friendships for.

If you’ve not done this, you probably don’t understand this poem,
or think it’s not even a poem, but a bit of opaque nonsense,
occupying too much of your day’s time,
so you probably should stop reading it here, now.

But if you’ve arrived at this line,
maybe, just maybe, you’re open to that possibility,
the possibility of being absolutely completely wrong,
about everything that matters.

How different the world seems then:
everyone who was your enemy is your friend,
everything you hated, you now love,
and everything you love slips through your fingers like sand.

(Federico Moramarco)

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Head Waters

From whiskey river:

Have you been to the source of a river? It’s a very mystic place. You get dizzy when you stay for a while. An especially big river has several sources, and the real source, the farthest point which turns to the major stream, is moist and misty, with some kind of ancient smell, and you feel cold.

You feel, “This isn’t the place to go in.” There is no springing water, so you don’t know where the source is. Actually, such a place exists in everyone; the center of us is like that. From such a place, the ancient call appears, “Why don’t you know me? Living so many years with me, why can’t you call my real name?”

The more your understanding of life becomes clearer and more exact and painfully joyful, the more you feel, “I’m so bad.” The one that appears and says, “No, you are not bad at all,” that is the way to go, that is your teacher.

Don’t misunderstand, this teacher is not always a person. It can embrace you like morning dew in a field, and you get a strange feeling, “Oh, this is it, my teacher is this field.”

(Kobun Chino)

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When Staying Put Just Won’t Do

[Photo above, “Standing Still,” is by Beth Dickman. Click to see the larger original.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):


In the Romanesque church round stones
that ground down so many prayers and generations
kept humble silence and shadows slept in the apse
like bats in winter furs.

We went out. The pale sun shone,
tinny music tinkled softly
from a car, two jays
studied us, humans,
threads of longing dangled in the air.

The present moment is shameless,
taking its foolish liberties
beside the wall of this tired old shrine,

awaiting the millions of years to come,
future wars, geologic eras,
cease-fires, treaties, changes in climate —
this moment — what is it — just

a mosquito, a fly, a speck, a scrap of breath,
and yet it’s taken over everywhere,
entering the timid grass,
inhabiting stems and genes,
the pupils of our eyes.

This moment, mortal as you or I,
was full of boundless, senseless,
silly joy, as if it knew
something we didn’t.

(Adam Zagajewski, from Mysticism for Beginners [source])

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Hoppin’ Kudos

Okay, I know I’m at risk of exhausting your patience with all the recent round of congratulations, thanks, trophy-giving, and so on. I just want to point you in the direction of one more nice little feather in the cap of an RAMH regular. It’s especially nice to be able to do so via a post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (a/k/a “7-Imp”) — whose innkeeper, Jules, also frequents the corridors here.

Sundays at 7-Imp are always special. Besides celebrating (as usual) the work of wonderful authors and illustrators of books for children, the blog also asks commenters to chime in with their own lists of seven impossibly great, hilarious, etc. things which happened to them in the previous week.

The first Sunday of each month focuses on an up-and-coming artist and illustrator (of kids’ books or otherwise) whose work has especially caught Jules’s eye, or outright dazzled her.

Which is why the 7-Imp post today is so cool, because it’s all about the artwork of Marta Pelrine-BaconRAMH‘s commenter with the longest tenure, having first shown up out of the blue a couple of months after I started the blog.

Very nice, Marta, to find yourself featured in the first post of the year at a blog which has also featured the work of the likes of Ed Young, Grace Lin, Daniel Pinkwater, et al…. what company!

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So Your Book Just Sits There, Inert?

(hat tip to Janet Reid)

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Finding the Life You Want in the Life You’ve Got

[“Crossroads,” by Hungarian artist István Orosz. For more about this image, see the Note at the bottom of this post.]

From whiskey river:

A Note

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it’s not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble upon a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;

and to keep on not knowing
something important.

(Wislawa Szymborska [source])


I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can’t believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality, and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.

(Marilynne Robinson, Gilead [source])

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