Posts Tagged ‘Patrick Hunt’

A villanelle on self-pity and a few words hurled at heaven

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016
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heynA villanelle, for those of you who don’t know the lovely form with its remarkable incantatory power, is a 19-line poem with a rhyme-and-refrain scheme that runs as follows: A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2 where letters (“a” and “b”) indicate the two rhyme sounds, upper case indicates a refrain (“A”), and superscript numerals (1 and 2) indicate Refrain 1 and Refrain 2.

Got that? Think Elizabeth Bishop‘s “One Art” or Theodore Roethke‘s “The Waking.”

The history of the villanelle, from the Italian villanella, a rustic song, goes back to the 16th century. The French poet Théodore de Banville compared the interweaving refrain lines to “a braid of silver and gold threads, crossed with a third thread the color of a rose.” The complex form was fixed with Jean Passerat‘s “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle” in 1606.

Here’s one more to add to the repertoire: “Self-pity” by a poet from the calm shores of Lake Michigan, Marnie Heynwho has just published a collection of poems, Hades Lades, with The Writers’ Bloc Press. (She takes liberties, as many poets do – clearly Passerat didn’t have the last word. Though she keeps to 19 lines and interwoven refrains, she combines terza rima with the villanelle.)

And below that, a more recent poem Marnie has written, about five years ago, dedicated to Humble Moi. I ran another dedicated to myself, titled “Gravitas,” by Patrick Hunt last March. As I noted then, it’s one of the pleasant byproducts of having poets for friends.

What both Marnie’s poems have in common, oddly, are the inclusion of buses. I wonder why … though I expect Marnie is a longtime fan of public transit.

Self-pity

I’m rigid on the bus at all the halts.
I set my jaw against sincere persuasion,
And that is not the gravest of my faults.

I overdress at any provocation.
My smile will never soothe a single sting.
I set my jaw against sincere persuasion.

I can’t subtract. Above all things,
I dearly love to win an argument.
My smile will never soothe a single sting.

My correspondents don’t get what I’ve sent.
I’m validated by the times I pine.
I dearly love to win an argument.

I decline my rightful turn in line
And trample on some hapless stranger’s feet.
I’m validated by the times I pine.

I lead in polka dancing, miss the beat,
And trample on some hapless stranger’s feet.
I’m rigid on the bus at all the halts,
And that is not the gravest of my faults.

 

hurling words at heaven

for Cynthia

you know I feel the creator’s presence the way I feel
the lateral coziness of that odd woman’s thigh, there
on the Trailways bus between one city in a state where
I know no one, and a city in another state where I know
no one, but I will manage well enough, and I am in
no danger, and going somewhere I want to be, there
beyond loneliness,
…….and so I know you will understand
that this bright, windy day I will not mirror Moses or
echo Jeremiah, rather that I will toss easy catches,
underhand, with flourishes, telegraphing every move,
soft, slow lobs right at the sweet spot where the stroke
can’t miss,
…….and ask, please, shine a light on the monster,
toss a banana peel under the heel of that stalker, whisper
a homecoming recall into every throbbing ear, and just
let Sinai be, let it be, while you show your countenance
to the gentle, the patient, the weary, this year, even in
Jerusalem

 

Postscript on 8/20: We have some nice pick-up from our friends at one of our favorite blogs, 3QuarksDaily, here.

In search of gravitas and a sturdy pair of shoes

Thursday, March 17th, 2016
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Author and archaeologist – and poet, too.

One of the pleasing byproducts of having poets for friends is occasionally having a poem written in your honor. Here’s one that was written by Stanford archaeologist and author Patrick Hunt, way back in 2010.

The year is significant. I spent much of that period in a wheelchair and on crutches, having walked across Vienna, Warsaw, Prague, and Kraków over the previous summer, ignoring pain as I crushed the bone structure of one foot into powder (or so it seemed). It required four hours of very specialized surgery, two titanium pins, a titanium plate, a tendon transfer, and cadaver bone to set it right. Not to mention a good deal of percocet.

The subject of the poem brought to mind Italo Calvino‘s encomium celebrating lightness, which the Italian author defined as the subtraction of weight. However, he added, “the idea of the world as composed of weightless atoms is striking just because we know the weight of things so well. So, too, we would be unable to appreciate the lightness of language if we could not appreciate language that has some weight to it.”

Patrick wrote these lines to me in consolation for my miseries. I believe it’s included in one of his collections. I’m rather fond of it. Hope you are, too:

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Gravitas

for Cynthia

Gravity of truth weighs heavily on some
who hardly feel the pain until their feet break
from years of carrying bone crunching ennui.
Atlas had the shoulders for it but not the mind,
incapable of pondering paradox, to him it wasn’t
weight but tedium because he lacked gravitas.

Persephone too struggled with flowers,
whatever blossoms grew from her dreams
and just as quickly faded, futile hopes
like ripe pomegranates dropped by trees
where pale skin reveals red fruit underneath
and more than enough seeds to last eternity.

Thus weight is not weight but attraction
and some day earth steadily sucks us all in,
not that we find this irresistible, merely
inevitable like falling stars caught at night.
Surprised by darkness, we wait our turn
to fuel another sun blossoming elsewhere.

Patrick Hunt

A “damn fine aphorist” shares a few thoughts among hundreds

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014
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A pensive Patrick. Stanford Bookstore’s Doug Erickson helps a customer in the background (Photo par Humble Moi)

A small, but enthusiastic, audience gathered at the Stanford Bookstore last week to hear archaeologist-poet and art historian  Patrick Hunt’s presentation of his most recent book, A Few Hundred Thoughts (Corinthian Press). According to the leading authority, James Geary, on his blog, All Aphorisms, All the Time, Patrick’s got an additional title we didn’t know about: he’s also “a damn fine aphorist.” His new book some honed-down thoughts culled over decades (with a few fabulae at the end of the volume).

A few of my favorites:

Only leaves know the true color of sunlight.”

Humans have stomachs twice the size of their brains and three times the size of their hearts.”

A constellation is a village where stars live.”

Anguish is proof of the soul.”

Stars obey the same laws as snails.”

Unlike comets and more like candles, souls don’t burn up but down.”

hunt1Clearly, he roamed territory that was witty, observant, thoughtful, and profound … but what’s the difference between an aphorism and a saying, anyway? Here’s what he writes in his preface:

Greek property in ancient society was often marked out by a boundary pillar, a horos stone that set up a determined space. One word for the act of marking boundaries was ‘aphorízein (“to mark off by boundaries, to set bounds, to define”). Derived in part from this Greek verb, an aphorism is a pithy saying, conveying defined truth in a tightly determined construction of a few words whose boundaries were set by verbal economy and precision.

In his talk, Patrick attempted to distinguish between the apothegm, the maxim, the epigram, the proverb, and the aphorism. The epigram, he said, “is meant to have stingers,” a sharp bite at the end. Maxims illustrate principles or rules. The aphorism, he said, is “intellectual judo – much like poetry, every word counts.” He hailed Voltaire, Montesquieu, Wilde, Twain, as “aphoristic masters.”

From his book: “These aphorisms are often sourced from the end lines of my poems intended as summations. They also derive from my theses of various belles lettres, essays and book chapters,” he wrote, adding, “It is hoped there are no platitudes, tendentious saws, bromides or non sequiturs and fallacies here, but that cannot be guaranteed.”

I don’t claim to be wise,” he demurred humbly to the assembled fans. Far be it for us to quarrel with an aphoristic master, but if he’s right, he made a very credible facsimile. I expect I’ll be returning to his book again and again.

Postscript on 1/23: The inimitable Dave Lull, patron of bloggers, alerted my attention to the newest post from aphorist emperor James Geary, about Patrick and this post – it’s here. We referred to him, and now he refers to us, and we are referring back to him again. It’s one of those infinite regression thingummes. Or maybe tennis.

The art of Christmas: “the voice of the people rather than the voice of the powerful”

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011
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I remember reading about an university art student who, on a test, was asked to describe a painting of the Adoration of the Magi.  The painting, she replied, was of a mother and newborn child in an ancient era. The men are bringing gifts, because everyone is happy at the birth of a child.

Nothing to indicate that she recognized that this was a particular birth, and a particular child.

Archaeologist Patrick Hunt is out to change all that.  Last week at the Stanford Bookstore he gave a talk on his newly published Puer Natus Est: Art of Christmas, a book “deciphers the many layers of formula and accumulation of stories added to Christmas.”

“It doesn’t matter what one’s faith is – it’s a talk about art,” he told the group.  “It’s a religious story, but also a story about continuing life, great hope, and great expectations.  This story has something that we all need, regardless of our religion, something that is central to all human experience – hope.”

As he writes in his preface:

“Art is often the voice of the people rather than the voice of the powerful. Christmas art is no exception. Even if the subject of Christmas Art appears a sacred cow with a hands-off label, it is not above scrutiny. The life and death of Jesus continues to elicit deep and even explosive reaction—no matter how often it is reinterpreted by each generation, running the gamut from skeptical reflection and scorn to reverence and worship. What many call the greatest story ever told—always able to stir up emotions and controversy—has as much raw appeal in its beginning as in its ending. Dogma is not fond of real examination. But art can be looked at from almost an infinite variety of angles, and is in no way lessened by multiple reference points or interpretive approaches.”

Fra Angelico: "while magpies joke and peacocks preen"

According to Patrick, the texts of Luke and Matthew are merely starting points:

“Apocryphal texts added color and vigor, folklore, popular themes, puns, and sometimes magical details to the bare skeleton provided in the scriptures. Talking beasts; exotic and extravagant tapestries of costumes, crowns, and turbans; fragrant spices; and all the language of miracle and medieval allegories augment the text. Countless bright angels dressed in every silken damask and wing hue hang above frightened shepherds or rickety stable rafters to signal heaven and earth are momentarily one. Wicked, bloodthirsty tyrants like King Herod compete with Joseph’s peasant cunning. Bridled camels and pet leopards plod along in unusually mobile starlight while magpies joke and peacocks preen. Even humble plants like chamomile give off their allegorical fragrance, symbolic of Christ when trampled by all the retinue of this huge Christmas cast. … Yet, each participant in this Christmas pageant has at least one meaning to be fleshed out, and no symbol is too shadowy for the microscope and the zoom lens of this project.”

It all rather reminds me of the exchange between Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh‘s Brideshead Revisited:

“But, my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”
“Can’t I?”
“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”
“Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”
“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”
“But I do. That’s how I believe.”

“By Love Possessed”? René Girard and John Freccero on Francesca da Rimini

Sunday, March 20th, 2011
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By literature possessed?

Patrick Hunt is off on his usual wanderings — this time he’s in London till the end of the month, but he did take time to drop me a quick note when he was  “again reminded how profound René Girard‘s impact has been on literature – not to mention other disciplines – in this Dante essay by John Freccero on Francesca da Rimini“:

The phenomenon of mimetic desire is at the center of the work of René Girard, one of the most powerful theorists of culture of our time. Perhaps because his early work on the novel has been overshadowed by his profound influence in anthropology, social studies and comparative religion, few students of Dante seem to know his essay of fifty years ago, dedicated to the canto of Francesca. In the briefest of terms, his point was that the desiring subject imagines, as does Francesca, that desire springs spontaneously from within, while the truth that is revealed by Dante and the greatest of novelists, is that desire is always triangular, “mediated” by the desires of the other—in this case, as in the case of Don Quixote, by a book. In a few mordant pages, Girard debunked the romantic reading of Francesca’s story, showing that it was simply a repetition of her own initial mystification. When Girard wrote, the best-selling love story of the time was entitled By Love Possessed; Girard’s title was polemic, summing up the delusion propagated by all such “romance” stories: “By Literature Possessed.” His point was that desire is essentially imitative, searching for a model, and that literature provides it with an imaginary map. Dante’s text was not complicit in “romantic” deception. On the contrary, Francesca’s last words exposed the roman as a panderer and seducer, leading the lovers to their destruction. Her story anticipated those of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Cervantes in the genre of the “anti-roman.”

Patrick added,  “I’ve heard Freccero lecture on Dante at Stanford, and only wish I’d heard Girard as well on Francesca and Canto 5 of the Inferno. I’ve written poems on this story – seemingly like everyone else! – and the tale of Francesca is nigh well eternal, as you know, and not just from Robert Browning onward. One magister’s encomium to another: from Dante to Girard to Freccero and this forthcoming book also has an excellent new essay by Robert Harrison on this same never-ending story. The haunting Ingres painting on this Dante passage is one of my absolute favorite ekphrases.”  Not to mention Tchaikovsky‘s opera.

Patrick’s own edited volume on the subject, Critical Insights:  The Inferno, will be out in September.  It includes Freccero’s essay.

Actually, I studied Dante with the world-renowned expert Freccero years and years ago — he assigned the Charles Singleton prose translation, he said, because we should never give up on learning the Italian.  I remember him emphasizing that the Paolo Malatesta, far from being the George Clooney of an earlier era, has become the voiceless lunk by Francesca’s side, and her attitude towards him is almost contemptuous.   “Amor condusee noi ad una morte.”

Speaking of the Library of Alexandria … plus a new magazine, Big Read, and an ancient prophecy

Friday, February 4th, 2011
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Patrick Hunt brought Andrew Herkovic‘s article in Electrum to my attention (it’s here) and adds this comment about my recent Book Haven post: “Great idea about a librarian becoming president! Ismail Serageldin would be ideal.”  Ismail for president!

Electrum is a spanking new online magazine — launched in December — and Patrick is editor-in-chief.  I find its subtitle-cum-motto intriguing:  “Why the Past Matters.”

Serageldin for president. Please.

In the article, Andrew cites the vision statement of the library: “The Library of Alexandria seeks to recapture the spirit of the ancient Library of Alexandria and aspires to be: The world’s window on Egypt; Egypt’s window on the world; an instrument for rising to the challenges of the digital age; and, above all, a center for dialogue between peoples and civilizations.”

The library includes “a vast and complex suite of programs and facilities, including library-normal collections and services, four museums, exhibit spaces, information-technology R&D labs, the only external mirror site of the Internet Archive, cultural heritage programs and institutes, auditoria, a planetarium, publishing and grand open spaces.”

The stunning, multi-level main reading room of the library “plausibly claims it to be the largest reading room in the world.” Surprisingly, the library’s print collection has relied to a remarkable degree on donated books, in many languages and on many subjects.

The article is dated Dec. 15 — ancient history, given recent events in Egypt — and ends on an eerily prescient note, noting the problematic linkage between the library and the current political regime. He concludes:

“One wishes to believe that the brilliance of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina as a center of learning, knowledge, and education will assure its transcending of politics. But it is closely associated with the Mubaraks, and to the extent that its modernism, internationalism, and essentially secular vision may elicit antagonism from now-repressed anti-modern or anti-Western elements, one hesitates to assume it will always enjoy its current immunity from the hurly-burly of politics. The first Library of Alexandria famously perished (a process that took centuries and a series of catastrophic events, not a single holocaust as usually imagined), and it is not impossible that its successor might meet the same tragic fate.”

Let’s hope that this doesn’t illustrate another instance of “Après moi, le déluge.”

Postscript:   By the by, the post two days ago elicited an interesting response from Felicia Knight on my Facebook page.  She was on Dana Gioia‘s NEA team back in 2008 for Big Read/Egypt, which she called “the trip of a lifetime.”  The project focused on The Thief and the Dogs by Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz.  We didn’t know Big Read had sunned itself in Egypt. You can read about that here, or in The Guardian here.

Patrick Hunt: Virgil’s Aeneid – the Harry Potter of Pompeii

Thursday, November 18th, 2010
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A colleague saw Patrick Hunts new book,  Myth and Art in Ekphrasis, and asked curiously, “Ekphrasis?  Where’s that?”

What do you say after such a question?  A small city in Hellenic Turkey?  The latest flashpoint in Iraq?  Patrick gave an answer to an intimate, early evening gathering at the Stanford Bookstore on Tuesday: “It’s not a place, but a kind of a place.”  Or rather a long conversation between poets, painters, composers, lasting over the centuries.

“Ekphrasis,” of course, is the translation of one work of art into another medium – traditionally literature, but in others as well.  Think of Virgil’s Dido and Aeneas becoming a Henry Purcell opera more than 1,500 years later.  The moral of the story:  “Great art inspires great art.”

The archaeologist made some interesting connections from ekphrastic remnants.

For instance, he read the passage from Virgil‘s Aeneid (XII 391ff) “[They] brought Aeneas, gashed and bleeding, whose long lance sustained his limping step”  (I’m using A.S. Kline’s translation below):

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Hunt hunting the Alpine haunts of Hannibal

“He struggled furiously to pull out the head of the broken
shaft, and called for the quickest means of assistance:
to cut open the wound with a broadsword, lay open
the arrow-tip’s buried depths, and send him back to war.

Now Iapyx, Iasus’s son, approached, dearest of all to Apollo,
to whom the god himself, struck by deep love, long ago
offered with delight his own arts, his own gifts,
his powers of prophecy, his lyre, and swift arrows.
But Iapyx, in order to delay the fate of his dying father,
chose knowledge of the virtues of herbs, and the use
of medicine, and, without fame, to practise the silent arts.
Aeneas stood leaning on his great spear, complaining bitterly
amongst a vast crowd of soldiers, with Iulus sorrowing,
himself unmoved by the tears. The aged Iapyx, his robe rolled back
in Paeonian fashion, tried hard in vain with healing fingers
and Apollo’s powerful herbs: he worked at the arrow uselessly
with his hand, and tugged at the metal with tightened pincers.”

Venus heals the hero with the herb dittany, which even the goats roll in to heal their injuries. Hunt broke his foot in the Alps a few years back while looking for the lost Hannibal and had to climb downhill for a day with a broom as a crutch, so the Virgil’s image of fallen Aeneas is more than a little evocative for him.  And of course the doctor is using forceps – apparently a standard feature of an ancient Roman doctor’s toolkit.  Then Patrick pointed to an image from Pompeii (also the book’s cover, above) – the same scene, with the goddess hovering nearby as Aeneas is treated with herbs and the doctor’s painful, prodding forceps.  Exactly as written.

Virgil’s poem – which he once wished to burn, he was so dissatisfied with it – was painted on this Pompeii wall within a decade after the poem was written.  What does it all mean?

“Harry Potter status,” answered one student.  Voilà!