Chronicles, November 2008

Scott Richert expresses consternation that many who identify themselves as conservative Catholics support the vice presidential candidacy of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.  Aren’t Catholics supposed to embrace what Pope John Paul II called “the theology of the body,” and with it the idea that women should not be in public life?  “I will offer a prayer on Election Day that Mrs. Palin’s presence on the ticket does not signal the final triumph of feminism over the traditional Christian understanding of the proper relationship between the sexes.” 

Thomas Fleming reviews Peter Green’s The Hellenistic Age, endorsing it overall but showing a bit of irritation that Green uses the word “racism” to describe bigoted attitudes the ancients exhibited.  Fleming claims that “racism as an ideology is a 19th century development that can only be applied by analogy to the ancient world.  To describe [theancient Greeks’] natural prejudices as ‘racism’ would be like describing infant exposure as ‘pro-choice’ or homosexuality as an expression of ‘gay rights.'”  Fleming has a point here, but I think he overstates it.  Certainly a word like “racism” carries powerful associations, bringing in not only the theoretical structures to which Fleming refers but also centuries of history and whole worlds of trauma that are quite distant from anything the ancients would have known.  Nonetheless, their attitudes can hardly be dismissed as “natural prejudices.”  While the ancients may not been shaped by the ideas of Gobineau or Francis Galton, they were indeed swaddled in myths promoting the superiority of their own groups and were taught to see natural slaves when they looked at people who did not resemble themselves.  

Most of the poems Chronicles runs are pretty bad, and I can’t really make much of a literary-critical case for this one.  But I’m such a pushover for dogs I’ll include it anyway.

Four Firsts and a Last, by Timothy Murphy

Her first retrieve shell: a shotgun shell

Fired and ejected with no warning.

How she adored that smell,

Charcoal, sulfur, and niter in the morning.

Her first bird was a crippled morning dove.

She somersaulted down a ditch

Head over heels in love,

Buttoned her bird and bounded up to the pitch.

Her first drake dropped beyond a refuge sign.

Wriggling under the lowest wire,

She swam a perfect line

As though posting proof of her desire.

Her first loss was her superhuman ear.

Hand signalled on an unmarked run,

She could no longer hear

Whistling wingtips; even, at last, the gun.

At fourteen she was walking into walls,

Fouling the carpet, losing teeth.

Farewell to mallard calls

And decoy spreads, wild roosters on the heath.

To St Francis of Fargo fell the chore,

The barbital a gentle thrust

To launch her from our shore.

The last look in her fearless eye was trust.

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  1. believer1

     /  November 2, 2008

    that was beautifully done and very sad. I am greatfull that i have never had to make that dessision.

  2. acilius

     /  November 3, 2008

    I’m grateful, too.

  3. cymast

     /  November 3, 2008

    Richert cowers and trembles at the feet of women; and that poem, er . . sucks.

  4. acilius

     /  November 3, 2008

    “Richert cowers and trembles at the feet of women; and that poem, er . . sucks.”

    Richert certainly fits the profile of the sort of man who would enjoy cowering and trembling at the feet of women. He makes an interesting point, though. The conservatives who praise Palin do so because she speaks in favor of views that would have made her own candidacy impossible.

    At first Murphy’s poem seemed very bad to me too, but it’s grown on me. I’d be prepared to claim that it almost rises to the ranks of the mediocre. Cliches like “the smell of… in the morning,” “head over heels,” “a perfect line,” “superhuman,” “St Francis of Fargo,” weigh it down heavily, and the rhymes alternate between so clunky as to be distracting (shell/ smell, run/ gun, teeth/ heath) and so slight as to be useless, but it reads aloud well enough and evokes enough of the atmosphere of hunting and the of the life of a retriever to merit the 30 seconds it takes to read. Murphy has another poem in the same issue that is really stupefyingly lousy- it sounds good out loud too, but barely makes sense.

  5. cymast

     /  November 3, 2008

    “The conservatives who praise Palin do so because she speaks in favor of views that would have made her own candidacy impossible.”

    This is what happens when people try to live within a static religion within an astatic world.

    I don’t dislike bad poetry. I just dislike bad poetry that pretends to be good poetry.

  6. acilius

     /  November 3, 2008

    Do you think this poem pretends to be good? I thought it was like the verbal equivalent of a black velvet painting. The dying dog and the hunting scenes fit right in to the black velvet world.

  7. cymast

     /  November 3, 2008

    Some people take black velvet paintings seriously. I’m not one of them.

    Ugh, now I’ve read that poem more times than I intended to . . thanks, acilius. I think it’s a bad poem that pretends to be good because it tries to- with a straight face- cloak killing and death in a royal cape. It’s a poem about hunting, and then killing the hunter, and the hunter is innocent. But the poem itself doesn’t recognize the implications of this.

  8. acilius

     /  November 4, 2008

    I’m really not interested in defending the poem, as my original posting makes clear (“I can’t really make much of a literary-critical case for this one.”) But it does seem like a stretch to condemn a poem about a dog for evoking the pleasures of the hunt.

  9. cymast

     /  November 4, 2008

    Yes. But my criticism goes beyond that.

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