Hectic couple of months -- and painful, as well. My friend, knife-designer Terry Trahan, died over the winter. As he wasn't much older than I am, his passing was difficult to take. Then, without warning, another of my friends, Kirby Sanders, died a few days ago.
Kirbs wasn't just a good friend, he also contributed pieces to both of our anthologies, Biohazard and First Love. His passing, naturally, has changed my priorities. I'm putting Irish Need Not Apply on a back-burner for a while, in order to complete our last project together, an anthology of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror intended as a tribute to Weird Tales and similar pulp magazines of the last century. We'll be dedicating the collection to Kirby, and publishing what I believe may be his last story alongside a piece written by his son, Tristan.
Maggie is finishing her first full-length novel, a (Gag! Retch! Heave!) horror/romance crossover, and I've just learned that "husband" is a euphemism for "unpaid editor." Yesterday, we met with a photographer/artist/graphic designer whose work impressed both of us, and discussed her fee for taking care of the cover. As this wasn't an '80s "power lunch," we met at our favorite watering hole, Mazzy's Sports Bar. Mazzy's occupies a spot in both our hearts, as it was the setting for the touching, kiss-and-make-up scene that postceded our first truly nasty fight.
It's also worth mentioning that we had our first truly nasty fight because of Mazzy's. Johnny-O and I called in at ten or eleven in the morning, having promised to meet the gals later. Bear in mind that this is South, and that in Southernese, "later" can mean anything from "in ten minutes" to "sometime next week." Six feckin' hours -- and God knows how many pints -- later, we were still there. And hell hath no fury like a woman stood-up. Maggie was pissed off, Mayna wasn't very happy, John and I were in the doghouse, and we both learned that irresponsible bogtrotters have no business getting mixed up with Indonesians and Mexicans -- unless they plan to mend their profligate ways.
Worst of all, there was no chance of weaseling my way out of it by pouring on the Rhett Butler bullshit. God's gift to women though I am, even I'm not very attractive when I'm red-eyed, shitfaced, and bellowing an a capella (and off-key) rendition of "Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms" or "Rednecks, White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer" at the top of my lungs.
Anyway, we liked the kid's work. All systems go.
She's a very nice girl, and I was also very favorably impressed by her boyfriend. Very intelligent, very well-read, and very well-traveled. Artistic and athletic at the same time, which is a rarity these days. It's very gratifying to know that some younger people still pursue the Classical ideal, mens sana in corpore sano.
And speaking of classics, the book in the photo below was a real find. It's a quarto-sized Heritage Club edition of the Argonautica, by Appolonius of Rhodes. It's hardback 1960 printing, with a slipcover. Not quite mint condition, but very, very good. Best of all (as you can see in the photo) the text is bilingual and parallel, with Greek and English on the facing pages. This makes it as much an exercise book as an epic. When I cover the right-hand pages, I can try my hand at translating the Greek, and then compare the results to the English text.
Grr. I could kick myself for screwing around and dabbling for so many years. I wish I'd gotten off my dead ass and studied Greek and Latin seriously when I was younger. I suppose I'm overcompensating now, by way of making up for lost time. I real all the "biggies" in high school and college: the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, and quite a few plays, as well -- "The Trojan Women," "Oedipus the King," "Antigone," "Agamemnon," and a forgettable, ho-hum piece of crap by Terence (Roman drama, in my opinion, was never more than a pale imitation of the Greek. I love Roman poetry - especially Juvenal and Catullus -- but as dramatists, they left much to be desired.) Reading them between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, because one has to in order to pass one course or another isn't the same thing as reading them voluntarily, as an adult, though.
I really do owe Prof. Ross, Prof. Schwenk, and Mrs. Moore a sincere (if belated) apology. I've spent the last couple of years giving myself a real, classical education -- when I could have done it ages ago. As a young man (alas and alack), I didn't see the point of having one in the modern age. This is to say that I was a fucking idiot. As is true of so many other endeavors, I didn't know what I'd been missing until I acquired it. As a younger man, I was more interested in Medieval literature, especially Irish, Norse, and Anglo-Saxon. The Greek and Roman classics were required reading, but that was it. And sadly, I lacked the maturity and the life-experience to recognize their value.
At seventeen, I tolerated them for the sake of making the grade. At forty-seven, I've had lines of Catullus, Euripides, and even Aeschylus leave me in tears. That isn't just a figure of speech, incidentally.
C.S. Lewis said it best when he wrote:
Have you not seen that in our days
Of any whose story, song, or art
Delights us, our sincerest praise
Means, when all's said, 'You break my heart.'?
Since I've mentioned Lewis, I might as well recommend another book, his Poems. (1964, Harvest/HBJ, ISBN 0-15-672248-8). In addition the epigram I quoted a few lines ago, the collection contains several other memorable pieces.
As a poet, Lewis wasn't in the same league as Lawrence or Auden, and he couldn't touch Yeats or Eliot. The collection is, admittedly, uneven. A few of the selections, I'm sorry to say, are outright doggerel. But damn it if the man doesn't turn right around and knock the reader's socks off a few pages later!
Before I continue, I'd like to make it perfectly clear that my taste in poetry his highly subjective. Generally, I despise rhyming couplets, A/B/A/B schemes, and anything breezy or sing-song. Emily Dickinson gives me the dry heaves. Ditto Whitman and the other acknowledged "luminaries" of the medium. Having said that, I'll admit that I have a diamond-cutting blue-veiner for Walter Scott's work -- even though I know it's garbage. I can best liken his poetry to that dorky film, 300. It's a guilty pleasure; a Big Mac for the soul.
Overall, I prefer "serious" poets, especially Eliot. I can quote most of "The Hollow Men" from memory, and my wife and I spent most of Saturday afternoon trying to interpret "Sweeney Among the Nightingales." (That one put the hook in me right away, for the record. Talk about "in your face"! What can you say about a poem that begins with Agamemnon's offstage death-rattle: "ὤμοι, πέπληγμαι καιρίαν πληγήν ἕσω!"?)
Sorry about that. I'm really becoming a pompous, sciolistic fuck in my old age, now ain't I?
Lewis isn't as "serious" as Eliot. But on the positive side, neither is he as recondite. Unpretentious and forthright, he disarms and enchants the reader with his directness. At his very best, he wrote from the heart, eschewing cryptic symbolism and overindulgence in metaphor alike. Odd and ironic, coming from a man so openly enamored of allegory -- but then again, most good writers are a bit touched in the head.
"Write what you know" is the first commandment of literature, and Lewis obeyed it scrupulously. Although seldom maudlin, Lewis, at his best, packed the emotional wallop of a .416 Rigby. I've admitted that my tastes are highly subjective, but I can't imagine any real man failing to respond to his work.
Lewis on cultural decay (from "Re-Adjustment):
Between the new Homindae and us who are dying, already
There rises a barrier across which no voice can ever carry,
For devils are unmaking language. We must let that alone forever.
Uproot your loves, one by one, with care, from the future,
And trusting to no future, receive the massive thrust
And surge of the many-dimensional timeless rays converging
On this small, significant dew-drop, the present that mirrors all.
On loss (from "Joys That Sting"):
Oh do not die, says Donne, for I shall hate
All women so. How false the sentence rings.
Women? But in a life made desolate
It is the joys once shared that leave the stings.
To take the old walks alone, or not at all,
To order one pint where I ordered two,
To think of, and then not to make, the small
Time-honoured joke (senseless to all but you);
The best poem (and the one that meant the most to me) is a long piece entitled "Infatuation."
If I reproduce it in its entirety, I'll rob you of incentive to buy the book (and risk copyright violation).
Here are few teasers, though:
The thing I seek for was not anywhere
At any time on earth. That huntress air
And morning freshness was not hers by right.
She spoke, she smiled; put out what seemed the flame,
Left me the cold charred sticks, the ashes white.
How could she learn, who never since her birth
Looked out of her desires and saw the earth
Unshadowed by herself...
Her holiest moods are gaudy desecrations
Of poor half-holy things; her exaltations
Are frothed from music, moonlight, wine, and dance;
Love is to her a dream of bridal dresses,
Friendship a tittering hour of girl's caresses,
Virtue a steady purpose to advance,
Honoured, and safe, by the old well-proven roads,
No loophole left to passion or to chance.
And I've gone on long enough for one session. Gotta go draw and then practice guitar for a while.