Friday, February 14, 2014

On Walt Whitman and HIs Poetry

I will be frank, open, honest, and all those other good things which Horatio Algers characters are: I do not like Walt Whitman.
Yes, I know that his "Song of Myself" is wildly popular and critically acclaimed. So what? If anything, wide popularity is a strike against it, not in its favor.
It's terrible. His poetry is unartistic to a degree where I can write some similar stuff practically be accident, and I'm no poet. Look, see:

"The tree's grain flows 'round and 'round, it is life, the tree is life, I am the tree."

I just wrote that. And almost every single verse Whitman penned is just as bad. Did that make any sense? Of course it didn't! And neither does Whitman's.
The only poem I've read by him that I liked at all was  "O Captain! My Captain!". You know why? It used meter and rhyme, it was poignant and dramatic, and it was capable of being empathized with. A couple of those points are particularly important. I'll start with the first: "it uses meter and rhyme." Why is this important? Because most of Whitman's poetry was free verse.
 Free verse has gained fairly widespread acceptance these days. Personally I despise it. Traditional poetry takes a lot of skill to pull off correctly, and requires an enormous vocabulary, meticulous attention to detail, and a sense of symmetry and patterns. Free verse requires none of that. It is the symptom of a modern virus which has infected the minds of today's artist elite. See, today, anything goes. If I do something random and useless, like, say, downloading every picture Flickr and printing them all out, then dumping them on the floor, that counts as an artistic museum exhibit; provided, of course, if I can come up with a tidy description displaying the appropriate amounts of nonsensical, vague, Whitman-like New-Agey philosophy coupled with a disconnect from the laws of logic.
Obviously, I have little respect for free verse.
 Whitman's free verse was particularly loathsome, however. Perhaps it was the sheer audacity, pompousity, arrogance, and pride shown in writing however many pages of nonsense, dubbing them "Song of Myself", publishing them again and again, and finally succeeding in brainwashing a dazed and gaping public into thinking it was good poetry. Admittedly, if Whitman thought that it was an accurate representation of himself, perhaps he was correct.
Any one can write several sentences, compile them into non-standard paragraph form, and call it "free-verse poetry". I call it "ungrammatically formatted sentences."
Here, lets do some poetry:
"The sea
comes crashing to shore
in waves upon waves.
It is big and blue.
The sea is blue."

This is fun. Let's do some more. Look ma, I'm a poet!

Type this on
an IBM keyboard.
Clicky, clicky,
so go the keys. "

Right now you're screwing up your face at me and saying, "look, that's not poetry."
"Sure is," I reply. "It's free verse!"
 It rather reminds me of a story told me by an old friend of my grandfather's. We called him Uncle Denny, although he wasn't actually related. Anyway, Uncle Denny was a natural born prankster. At one time he was working at a college as a maintenance man or something of that nature. The college was hosting an art show.
Well, Uncle Denny noticed a blank spot on the wall, and nobody was looking, so he went over and hung his drop-cloth there. Then he just sort of waited around to see what people would say.
 A group of high-brow artsy folks walked over and started admiring Uncle Denny's drop-cloth. They began discussing its philosophical meaning and artistic merits, until they noticed the absence of a signature. Seeing Uncle Denny nearby, they asked him who had painted the lovely picture.
"Oh, just a moment." he said. Then he went over and wrote his name on it. Aghast, the people demanded an explanation.
"Well, it's my drop-cloth." he replied. They did not see the humor in the affair.
 But that's the sort of attitude the art elite seems to have.
 I mentioned that there was a second point about "O Captain! My Captain!" that was important. That is its understandability, or empathise-ability. It deals with down to earth emotions and feelings, things we can understand. "Song of Myself" is incoherent. What beauty is there in chaos? Some may feel that the restrictions of a traditional verse are confining. I find beauty in the order of a traditional verse, and in the skill necessary to write it well. Let me give an example.
 Say you looked at a lovely hand-carved statue. It was chiselled out with a lot of thought, care, and skill. Then look at a CNC routed carving. It doesn't make you feel the same way, does it? You may admire how far technology has come, but you aren't emotionally moved. the harder things are to obtain, the more we value them. A piece of traditional poetry took a lot of work to produce; done well, we treasure the results. The instant gratification version, free-verse, may thrill us for a short while("Look mom, I'm a poet!"), but the beauty doesn't really move us over and over.
 Whitman's work suffered from the malady of lazy writing compounded with the disease of a simultaneously vacant and chaotic philosophy. Truly, does he deserved to be remembered as a great poet?

 Absolutely not.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Around the World in 80 Days

And here I continue my reviews of Verne's novels with the classic Around the World in 80 Days.
It starts detailing the character and nature of one Phileas Fogg, an eminently respectable gentleman of the most exact and regular habits. He is wealthy, although no one knows where he gained his fortune, and he has no living family. He usually spends his day at the Reform Club, a society composed of other wealthy and respectable gentlemen like himself, although none are quite as machine-like. He spends his time at the Reform Club reading the daily papers, and playing whist, at which he is very proficient. He has just hired a French servant, to replace his old one(the other servant being discharged for preparing his shaving water several degrees Fahrenheit off). The new servant, named Passepartout, is very pleased with his new master, because he has always wanted to settle down quietly. That is, until Mr. Fogg returns home earlier than usual, bearing the news that he and his servant are going to travel around the world in 80 days, on a wager. They bring little luggage, Mr. Fogg bringing only a carpetbag full of bank notes, as they will buy what they need on the way.
 So they travel to India. They ride an elephant and rescue a young Indian girl who speaks English. She travels with them. It turns out she had relatives in China, and since they are headed in that direction already anyways, she goes with them.
In China, Passepartout is separated from Fogg and the girl, so he manages to work for food until he bumps into them again. The Indian girl continues with them, as her relative apparently moved, and is no longer in China.
 Throughout all this, they are pursued by a London detective, who is absolutely convinced that Phileas Fogg is the bank robber he was hired to catch.
They sail to America, where they get into a street fight. After that, their train is waylaid by Indians, but they manage to escape.
But all this had delayed them somewhat, and by the time they in England again, it remains to be seen if they'll make it in time or not.
And then the detective manages to procure a warrant, and Fogg is put in jail until he can be tried.
But it turns out that the real bank robber was captured weeks before, and that Fogg had been detained for naught.
Despite their best efforts, it seems that they are late. Fogg does not bother going back to the Reform Club that evening as it would be useless. The next morning, he proposes to the girl, and they resolve to be wed at once. But Passepartout, on going to procure a preacher, discovers that by some freak incident of time, they were actually one day early, but they have mere minutes to reach the Reform Club before they really do run out of time.
 Meanwhile, back at the Club, Fogg's friends are watching the clock slowly tick towards the time when the money is theirs. Just as the last seconds roll past, Fogg bursts in. And so he has, indeed, been around the world in eighty days.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The War of the Worlds

H.G. Wells' classic, The War of the Worlds, starts out promising great adventure and excitement, but the real danger is to the reader rather than the character. Losing a grip on reality is not what I had in mind for a good read. If you are easily depressed, then this book is not for you. I, happily, can sit hear and say "It was really depressing," without feeling anything of the sort, but it really is a rather gritty story. Besides, the story(told from first-person) usually gives things away, by alluding to things that haven't happened yet. If this is the best job that one of the Fathers of Science-Fiction can do, I am very disappointed. But I digress.
 So a couple of men see a bright light flashing across the sky, some sort of comet or meteor, which lands on earth.
The next day, people from around that part of England gather around the pit where the projectile has landed. The missile is smooth and metallic, very large, and not at all like previously documented meteors. Then, the lid on the the meteorite begins to turn slowly. When opens, horrible creatures from Mars emerge. They are at first very sluggish and slow, due to Earth's greater gravity and air pressure. The crowd runs, screaming, in all directions away from the pit.
The narrator, the main character, stays hiding in the brush nearby, transfixed by fear.
And the Martians are unleashed! 
They come out in horrible walking machines! And burn everything in sight! The English countryside is in ruins! They unleash a choking black smoke! Sickly red weeds grow everywhere, threatening to choke out every last bit of plant life!
Oh look, they're all dead. Well, that was easy.
Because apparently, Martian immune systems are underdeveloped, considering that they are, after all, merely brains. So they are all dead.
But, an odd mark has now appeared on Venus. Like a crater. Oops. So much for the Venusians.
So, yeah. The Martians invade, they destroy, they die. Then attack Venus.
I wouldn't really recommend reading it. I don't know about any of H.G.Wells' other books, because I haven't read any yet. But I hope to eventually.
Maybe those will be better.

Dyke Darrel the Railroad Detective

This is the heading of the newspaper column describing the railroad robbery. This is what immerses Dyke Darrel, the amazing and successful detective, into a great mystery.
When it turns out that the person murdered during the robbery was Dyke's friend, nothing can stop him from plunging headlong into the clues, unearthing every bit of evidence until the villains are brought to justice.
It is almost like Sherlock Holmes, only infinitely more amusing. Sherlock Holmes rarely goes through such perilous adventures as Dyke. Holmes never needed to rescue his kidnapped sister. Indeed, despite the villains being obvious from the start, the ending still manages to surprise.
Even when things are at their blackest, the intrepid detective manages to pull through. He escapes innumerable perils, all in his quest to hunt down every last one of the railroad robbers.
It is definitely worth the read. I can barely say anything about the book at all, for fear of ruining it, so all I can say is this: Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot might be the brightest Belgian egghead who ever adorned a mystery novel's pages, and Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes may be a pop culture icon, but they don't have anything on Dyke Darrel, Railroad Detective.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Punctured Poems

This book, Punctured Poems, by Richard Armour is a short little book full of "famous first lines and infamous second lines". Two-lined poems accompanied by a picture and some "footnotes" make up the contents. The first line of each poem is the first line of some poem written by another poet. The second line was added by the author of this book. I laughed so hard.
My favorite was this:
John Milton, "On His Blindness"
When I consider how my light is spent,
I'm glad utilities come with the rent.

Several of the poems are rather rude, but most are in good fun. So I was glad to spend four dollars on it at the used bookstore.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Longing

The Longing came early this year
thick heavy and sharp.

No relief is in sight
until I am old.

I want to be old quickly, quickly!
Give me patience with my passion.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Journey to the Center of the Earth

I must admit that I was originally drawn to this book by its most peculiar and fascinating title. A world at the center of the celestial sphere, reached only through some secret way, piqued my imagination. Also, I consider Jules Verne to be an excellent author, and I have been trying to read every book I could find by him, so it was a natural choice.
The book is presented in a first-person narrative form, from the perspective of a young man named Henry. He begins his tale by describing his uncle, who is very eccentric and has the queerest habits. He is extremely impatient and can come across as gruff at times, although he is, in reality, very kind and devoted to his nephew. This uncle is a great scientist and professor, and he loves old books.
The Uncle has just found a scrap of paper, engraved with Icelandic runes. The uncle immediately attempts to translate it. He enlists the help of his nephew in this task, who, after several hours spent on this task, finally cracks it. They find the name Arne Saknussemm on it, as well as these words: "Descend into the crater of Yocul of Sneffels, which the shade of Scartaris caresses, before the kalends of July, audacious traveler, and you will reach the center of the earth. I did it."
Because of his uncle's personality, Henry is at first afraid to show these words to his uncle, lest he decide to attempt such a voyage himself. Eventually, however, he does show them to him, and his fears are realized.
They start at once, leaving for Iceland the very next day. They spend several weeks traveling, and as these weeks are almost completely uneventful, I will skip ahead to when they reach Mt. Sneffels.
They have since hired a guide, to lead them to Mt. Sneffels, and this guide descends into the crater with them. His name is Hans, and the only peculiar or interesting thing about him is that he is extremely unemotional.
These three climb down the inner face of the crater, finally reaching the bottom. There they find several tunnels. The uncle chooses the tunnel he thinks best, but want of water drives them to choose another one. The break open an underground stream, which supplies their needs for some time.
Even just thinking about reading the chapters detailing their underground trip wearies me, as it was rather dry.                     
Finally they have reached a vast underground ocean, where they build a raft of semi- petrified wood, and begin a long sea voyage. They witness a fight between two vast sea monsters, and are caught in a gigantic storm which sends them back to where they started. Harry and his uncle are greatly discouraged at this, until they find the fossils and skeletons of many creatures, including, to their great surprise, the remains of a human.
The uncle finds the way by which Arne Saknussemm reached the center of the earth, but it is now blocked by a great boulder. They attempt to blow it up using the supply of gun-cotton that was brought with them, but the blast accidentally initiates an earthquake. The vast underwater sea is drained out through a hole caused by the earthquake, and they go down with it. Eventually, all three people(and their raft) are blown up a volcanic shaft on the island of Stromboli, where they return to civilization.
The professor and Henry are hailed as scientific heroes after they tell their fantastic story. Henry gets happily married. Hans goes home to Iceland. Everybody's happy.
I personally was slightly disappointed with the outcome of everything, especially the implausibility of being blown up a volcano and surviving, but it is faster paced than some of Verne's other books, and I would highly recommend it. It might not be up to the level of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it is definitely a classic.