Monthly Archives: March 2018

why I like the game of baseball

 

‘why I like the game of baseball’

 

 

This essay of mime about baseball, which is slightly over 5,000 words long, has been posted above as a downloadable Word document.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   March 2018

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

See also:

 

Roger W. Smith, “On Baseball”

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2015/11/04/essay-on-baseball-by-roger-smith-may-2000/

how to clean one’s office/room

 

 

I am planning a trip, in advance of which I am trying to clean up the so called “office”/study of mine in my home.

Fulfills a psychological need to put things in order before leaving, nicht wahr?

To paraphrase (with all due apologies) Shelley, a heavy weight of clutter has been oppressing me, has ensnarled and chained me.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in one day cleaning wise if you put your mind to it.

I often think of what an admired former colleague of mine, Carol Boorstein, on the Communication Consulting team at The Wyatt Company once said to me: If you start cleaning, and you find something that needs to be thrown out or filed somewhere — dealt with — do not put it aside for later.

Deal it with it right then and there. No matter how trivial it seems to be. Decide what to do with it. Does it stay or go? and where should it go? No “deferred maintenance” allowed.

Has always worked for me. And, I am as dilatory, probably a lot more so, than the next person when it comes to “clutter management.”

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   March 2018

 

 

“After the Supper and Talk”

 

 

This poem made me think of my recently departed friend Bill Dalzell, and of our talks during his last months.

 

 

AFTER THE SUPPER AND TALK.

After the supper and talk—after the day is done,
As a friend from friends his final withdrawal prolonging,
Good-bye and Good-bye with emotional lips repeating,
(So hard for his hand to release those hands—no more will they
meet,
No more for communion of sorrow and joy, of old and young,
A far-stretching journey awaits him, to return no more,)
Shunning, postponing severance—seeking to ward off the last
word ever so little,
E’en at the exit-door turning—charges superfluous calling back—
e’en as he descends the steps,
Something to eke out a minute additional—shadows of nightfall
deepening,
Farewells, messages lessening—dimmer the forthgoer’s visage
and form,
Soon to be lost for aye in the darkness—loth, O so loth to depart!

 

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Having finalized the arrangement of Leaves of Grass, Whitman published a supplemental volume of prose and poetry with the autumnal title November Boughs. Many of its sixty-four lyrics and what Whitman labeled its “poemets” … were added as an “Annex” to the 1888 edition as “Sands at Seventy.” These verses reported his cheerful bearing as he faced physical deterioration—solemn-sweet announcements of his readiness for death, and cheerful expressions of farewell. … In the prose preface “A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads” (1888), Whitman wrote: “In the free evening of my day I give you reader the foregoing garrulous talk, thoughts, reminiscences,” and suggested that, alive or dead, he would ever aspire to talk to the living reader. That sentiment is beautifully developed in the bittersweet vers de société masterpiece ”After the Supper and Talk.” Against the onrush of the ultimate night the poem shows the Whitman figure striving to the very end to preserve his voice—the same “garrulous talk” he had referred to in the introduction to “A Backward Glance”—the “talk” that embodies his life force and his spiritual selfhood. He feels that his words alone will perpetuate him in the mortal sphere. Standing at the “exit-door” of life but loath to leave for the unknown, he clings compulsively to the warmth of human hands, to the music of human voices, and to the sound of his own voice. Although he hopes that his poetic voice will endure into the future, he wishes to prolong his mortal vocal powers as long as he can. In order to achieve dramatic distance, and perhaps to cushion the shock of his impending death, the poet employs a rhetorical device that is rarely found in his poems. He refers to himself in the third person and pictures himself observing from a distance the vanishing figure of the mortal Whitman. His reluctance to depart from the House of Life is expressed in a series of death-related metaphors. And as a master of participials, Whitman constructs a verse that (except for three lines contained within parentheses) forms an uncompleted statement, so that his departure, as he might have wished, seems to be postponed indefinitely.

 

— Harold Aspiz, So Long! Walt Whitman’s Poetry of Death

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith, March 2018

reflections on yesterday

 

 

I had a long day yesterday.

It began with an early morning appointment in Manhattan. It concluded (the Manhattan part of my day) with a concert at Carnegie Hall.

The concert program included a performance of a lengthy Schubert piano sonata which I have never heard before and two Shostakovich works for piano: his 24 Preludes, Op. 34 (1932-33) and his Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, Op. 87 (1950-51). The pianist, who is young and is apparently a rising star, was Michail Lifits, who lives in Germany.

Somehow, despite my lack of technical knowledge when it comes to musicianship, I knew that he is very good, has a mastery of technique. I liked that he played without histrionics (and affected a like stage manner). Yet his playing was the polar opposite of UNexpressive. It doesn’t overwhelm or dazzle you. It thoroughly engages you. Totally. Before you quite realize what is happening.

I couldn’t help making comparisons with two recent all-Schubert concerts featuring the pianist Mitsuko Uchida that I attended. Dame Mitsuko (as she is now known; she lives in the UK) has quite a following. She is known as a Schubert as well as Mozart interpreter/performer and is doing a series of concerts of all the Schubert sonatas. She plays elegantly and, as far as I can tell, flawlessly. But her performances bore me. Was it — is it — because they were or are too timid? Is that the right word? I had heard yet another pianist perform my favorite Schubert piano sonata, the Sonata in A major, D. 959, a month or so. His performance was anything but “timid,” but it didn’t satisfy me either.

What is it about my experience with Schubert lately? Mitsuko Uchida played several of his lesser known sonatas and they did nothing for me. Can I be thinking that about Schubert? I said to myself. And last night Mr. Lifits played Schubert’s piano sonata in G Major, D. 894. It was good in places, but it didn’t do much for me.

The Shostakovich, after the intermission, was something else. Along with his brilliance, there is such a variety of moods in his music, both within a given piece and from one work to another. Mr. Lifits was the performer to do the preludes justice!

 

 

*****************************************************

 

In between morning appointment and evening concert, I had a lot of time to kill in the City. I met my wife and a friend of hers for lunch. We had a great time.

After my wife left, I fell into a funk. I would have liked to go home with her, but I had the concert and had to kill time. I was tired and felt depressed. I spent the rest of the afternoon at the library and a Starbucks, plus walking uptown. Brooding. In a mood the opposite of sanguine.

I was so emotionally drained that by the time I got to the concert I didn’t want to be there.

But, what happened was that the concert focused my attention — outside of myself. I had to sit still and pay attention for about two hours the same way a student does in a class or a churchgoer at a Sunday service. This was good for me. If I had gone home, I would have continued brooding or have been trying to indulge myself in unsatisfactory ways, including (but not limited to) telling my wife about all the things bothering me.

I had been up practically all night the night before trying to finish an essay I had been working on for a long time. All week I had been feeling very energized and creative and was very busy.

At the concert last night, and on the way home, I thought about the week and all the little things that were annoying me, despite having gotten things accomplished. Little impediments that seemed like intrusions. People wasting my time. A therapist I was seeing once (himself a writer) made the observation to me that writing is by definition a very self-centered activity. Well (you may be wondering what this has to do with anything), all week last week I was very wrapped up in my own thoughts. When people interrupted me, or started rambling on about this or that, I felt inpatient. When they didn’t seem to be listening closely, I felt annoyed.

Guess what? I thought to myself at the concert, my thoughts and preoccupations are often not of that much interest either, certainly not to others. And, many of my petty annoyances are just that, trivial.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

You’re down. Feeling put upon. Misunderstood. Neglected. Needy or lonely.

You put on good clothes and go to church. Listen to a sermon. You go to class and listen to a lecture, take notes. You attend a cultural event such as a concert.

You have something in common with all the other people at the concert. They are all listening to Shostakovich, are hoping to like it, and thought it worth their while to attend.

No one in the audience cares about you or your grievances.

You realize that the focus should be elsewhere. That many of the trivial annoyances don’t matter. Balance and perspective are important.

To be energized, to think energetically, to be creative requires an immersion in one’s own self and thoughts, and intense mental effort.

To sort things out requires calmness and a focusing of attention elsewhere.

Shostakovich composed preludes in the early 1950’s. People find them worth listening to decades later. I am in love with what Walt Whitman, talking about himself, called “my great thoughts, as I supposed them.” Other things also require attention. Everything is important, and most things are inconsequential. One needs to both hold on and be able to let go.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   March 24, 2018

Roger W. Smith, review of “Dreiser’s ‘Other Self’: The Life of Arthur Henry”

 

 

 

roger-w-smith-review-of-dreisers-other-self-the-life-of-arthur-henry

 

 

 

Roger W. Smith

review of Dreiser’s ‘Other Self’: The Life of Arthur Henry

by Maggie Walker and Mark Walker

Dreiser Studies 36.2 (2005)

 

 

Attached as PDF file (above).

Roger W. Smith, review of “The Vast and Terrible Drama: American Literary Naturalism in the Late Nineteenth Century”

 

 

roger-w-smith-review-of-link-the-vast-and-terrible-drama-dreiser-studies-2004

 

 

Roger W. Smith

review of The Vast and Terrible Drama: American Literary Naturalism in the Late Nineteenth Century by Eric Carl Link

Dreiser Studies 35.2 (2004): 63-65

 

See attached PDF file (above).

Roger W. Smith, review of “A Family of His Own: A Life of Edwin O’Connor”

 

 

A Family of His Own: A Life of Edwin O’Connor

by Charles F. Duffy

Catholic University of America Press

376 pages, $49.95

By ROGER W. SMITH

 

New York Sun

January 8, 2004

 

 

Surprisingly for a writer who occupies a well-defined niche in American literary history — his The Last Hurrah was the most widely read Irish-American novel since James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan — Edwin O’Connor has never been the subject of a full-scale biography until now. Charles Duffy, a professor of English at Providence College, has taken it upon himself to remedy this defect.

The Last Hurrah has been justly termed by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. “the best American novel about urban politics.” It made a legend of Boston politician James Michael Curley (on whom the book’s main character, Frank Skeffington, is partly based) and its title added a new phrase to the American idiom which is now a cliché of political and sports writing.

O’Connor was quoted as having once said to an acquaintance that he “would like to do for the Irish in America what Faulkner did for the South.” He did not live long enough to be able to attempt this, having published five novels of varying importance and quality (only one of which is still in print) at his death in 1968 at the age of 49.

O’Connor died suddenly of a stroke, leaving behind fragments of two novels that he had worked on alternately in the last months of his life. One, tentatively titled “The Cardinal,” was to focus on the Church in the post-Vatican II era; the other, entitled “The Boy,” appears to be autobiographical. O’Connor had also planned to write a novel about Boston’s first Irish immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century.

It was Samuel Johnson who first claimed, in a famous essay on the writing of biography, that “the minute details of daily life” are of the greatest biographical interest. It was also Johnson who, in his Lives of the Poets, provides a model for literary biography in which a conscious effort is made to shed light on areas such as each writer’s moral character, work habits, and the particular concatenation of circumstances and influences (intellectual and cultural) that resulted in an oeuvre.

In true Johnsonian spirit, Duffy has mined every conceivable scrap of information about O’Connor, bringing him as it were back to life. He has made excellent and creative use of miscellaneous source materials and personal reminiscences (O’Connor was notoriously averse to letter writing) to unearth details about O’Connor’s student days at Notre Dame, his early career as a radio announcer and writer, his Boston years and haunts, his newspaper experience (which included a stint as a television critic for the Boston Herald), the circle of literary friends he made at The Atlantic Monthly and Wellfleet on Cape Cod (where he spent his summers), and the writing process as O’Connor practiced and experienced it. He uses O’Connor’s works to illuminate the life and makes interesting speculations, based on autobiographical readings of the novels and unpublished sketches, about O’Connor’s relationship with his father, but at the same time resists the temptation to make easy generalizations in this regard.

Duffy is even-handed and perceptive in assessing O’Connor’s strengths and weaknesses. Chief among the strengths: a gift for characterization (his minor characters, such as the political hangers-on in The Last Hurrah, were said by Clifton Fadiman to be worthy of Hogarth or Daumier), his humor, and his gift for dialogue. A sampling of the critical comments (which are many) regarding O’Connor’s works: his wordiness and frequent neglect of the dictum “show, don’t tell” (resulting in a propensity for making overly explicit what is clearly implied by the narrative), a penchant for nostalgia that can at times seem cloying, and a tendency to enjoy his favorite characters so much that they never leave center stage and the reader begins to tire of them.

One thing I would have liked to learn more about are writers who influenced O’Connor. Duffy mentions the influence of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene, but more information on O’Connor’s literary influences and reading would have been welcome. I would also take issue with an occasional glibness that creeps into Duffy’s prose, as, for example, in an aside in which he dismisses “the half-baked theories of the Doctor from Vienna, most of which are now in the dustbin”; his figure of speech for Kristallnacht, “that vandalic shattering”; and his characterization of mid-twentieth century Boston Brahmins, “Backsliding in finances, resting on imaginary laurels, and underperforming in sex, that class had had its noontime in Boston’s weak sun.”

Duffy thinks (as do other critics) that The Edge of Sadness (1961), a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a priest whose career and inner conflicts are portrayed with unsparing realism, is O’Connor’s best and most finely crafted novel. The book’s understated tone (avoiding what Duffy calls “spiritual histrionics” and a Hollywood-style treatment of the priestly vocation) and narrative style play to O’Connor’s strengths. “At his best,” Duffy observes, “[O’Connor] wrote with great ethical integrity, with an unusual warmth towards his characters, with elegant wit.” Similar qualities are evident in this biography, especially a sincere affection for its subject which it is hard for the reader not to share.

Mr. Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Maspeth, Queens.