C harles Simic is the second poet laureate from New Hampshire, loves New York and writes like a dream. The writer Richard Kreitner has mapped out some
cool interesting American road trips for your summer. The scene was Cambridge University – the year – 1965 – the characters – two leading intellectuals – the debate – who pays for the American Dream? Plus, a live performance to make your day. And Baltimore (West Baltimore to be exact) — as literary as any city in America — has given us another great one. “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” – James Baldwin
Essays & Poems by Charles Simic
author photo by Beowulf Sheehan
The One Who Disappeared
by Charles Simic
Now that it’s warm to sit on the porch at night
Someone happened to remember a neighbor,
Though it had been more than thirty years
Since she went for a little walk after dinner
And never came back to her husband and children.
No one present could recall much about her,
Except how she’d smile and grow thoughtful
All of a sudden and would not say what about,
When asked, as if she already carried a secret,
Or was heartbroken that she didn’t have one.
In a recent excursion through Flipboard, 5CT landed on Charles Simic. What an absolute delight. Poet, essayist, writer on photography, food and music and war. Listen.
“In that dive, in that all-night blues and soul club, we feel the full weight of our fate, we taste the nothingness at the heart of our being, we are simultaneously wretched and happy, we spit on it all, we want to weep and raise hell, because the blues, in the end, is about a sadness older than the world, and there’s no cure for that.”
About Serbia, he wrote in the late 2000s, with typical vividness: “It’s like a family that sits around the dinner table each evening pretending that granny had not stabbed the mailman with scissors and Dad had not tried to rape one of his little girls in the bathroom just this afternoon.”
“A paella, a choucroute garnie, a pot of tripes à la mode de Caen, and so many other dishes of peasant origin guarantee merriment. The best talk is around that table. Poetry and wisdom are its company. The true Muses are cooks.”
Above passages are from a great piece on Simic at the NY Times>>
It’s summer and summer means road trips. Look at what Atlas Obscura and writer Richard Kreitner, have done. Literary road trips! Cheryl Strayed, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bill Bryson, William Least Heat Moon, Mark Twain — and many more. Click on Red River Valley, Minnesota and up pops this:”I suddenly notice the land here has flattened into a Euclidian plane. Not a hill, not a bump anywhere. This means we have entered the Red River Valley. We will soon be into the Dakotas,” from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. Full story here >>
Baldwin & Buckley at Cambridge
Absolutely riveting. James Baldwin and Willam F. Buckley debate at Cambridge University in 1965. Topic: Is the American Dream at the expense of the American negro? James Baldwin is electrifying… in his thinking, piercing clarity, use of language, in his controlled outrage. In his logic. Especially striking — his empathy for racists as unwitting victims of a plague called color.
What is happening in the poor woman, the poor man’s mind is this. They’ve been raised to believe and now they helplessly believe, that no matter how terrible their lives may be, and their lives have been quite terrible, and no matter how far they fall, no matter what disaster overtakes them, they have one enormous knowledge and consolation — it’s like a heavenly revelation — at least they are not black.
Buckley is even more amazing. All throat clearing waffle and overwrought rhetoric. And not even a clue. Watch.
One more thing: In an inspired bit of timing, here comes a documentary — Best of Enemies — that covers a series of 10 fierce debates (at both 1968 conventions) between Buckley and Gore Vidal, that ended with Buckley calling Vidal a, ‘queer’ and Vidal returning the favor with, ‘crypto-Nazi.’ Fantastic NY Magazine piece here >>
Night And the City | Barron, Haden
For these hot nights, this sumptuous and velvety set from Kenny Barron and Charlie Haden.
American Sons | Baldwin & Coates
James Baldwin (Allan Warren, Creative Commons)
Ta-Nehisi Coates (Gabriella Demczuk for the NY Times)
Speaking of Baldwin. His intellectual heir — anointed by Toni Morrison — is Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the searing, Between the World and Me. (No.1 on the New York Times bestseller list.) Framed as a letter to his son Samori, Between the World and Me takes up the debate. And Ta-Nehisi Coates’ argument, is yes. Yes, the American Dream is at the expense of the American Negro. Coates is now living in France, a journey Baldwin also made. From the book:
The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant “government of the people” but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term people to actually mean. In 1863 it did not mean your mother or your grandmother, and it did not mean you and me. As for now, it must be said that the elevation of the belief in being white was not achieved through wine tastings and ice-cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land.