The Conversation Continues
|Welcome to Page 33 of my ďforum.Ē The subject matter here is anything to do with literature, books, reading, and writing, with a little philosophy thrown in, as well as other tangents and revelations that spring naturally from ďintelligentĒ conversation. To participate, send an e-mail. Thatís all there is to it. When I receive your message, I will add it to the bottom of the newest page ó unless, of course, it is rude or crude, in which case I retain the right to not post your message. The same goes for blatant advertising. Pertinent recommendations of reading material and related websites, though, are welcome within the natural context of our conversation. We all have plenty to gain from each otherís knowledge and experience. So, whether you are just reading or actively participating, enjoy your visit. I will post new messages as soon as possible after they are received. Be sure to check in often for the latest responses.
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To return to my December 2002 Barbaric Yawp interview with John Berbrich, click here.
To read our original 2001 interview, click here.
William Michaelian: Nope ó not an elf in sight. Say, have you seen my new blog? I just started it a couple of days ago.
John Berbrich: Wow, pretty neat. And thanks for the link. I wonder where the word blog came from?
William Michaelian: I think itís just a shortened version of two words: web log. And I like your new website, by the way. Looks like they finally dragged us both into the twenty-first century.
John Berbrich: Yeah. I donít know about you but Iím a little out of breath w/ all these changes. Iíll tell you what though ó here in the 21st century, the old Earth is still a pretty cool place.
William Michaelian: That it is. And really, the whole concept of centuries, time, history, and all that ó itís just a bit of fluff in the wind. Give me a shovel, a little place to dig, and Iím happy.
John Berbrich: Just like a dog. Some shade, some sun. Food & water, a ball to chase now & then. What could be better, really?
William Michaelian: Hey, how about this for a title ó ďPortrait of the Dog as a Young Artist.Ē
John Berbrich: Not bad. Which reminds me ó have we ever discussed Dylan Thomasís collection of short stories, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog? Oh, itís a rollicking adventure through his post-adolescence. Hilarious, filled w/ energy & quick shots of pathos.
William Michaelian: Youíve mentioned it before, but I still havenít read it. I didnít know Thomas had a post-adolescence. I read something somewhere awhile back, about his inability to sleep at night after wild binges, and reading and eating mountains of candy in bed, which left him with a mouthful of rotten teeth.
John Berbrich: I didnít know about the candy. I thought he survived strictly on alcohol. Say, did you get those Yawps I mailed you last week?
William Michaelian: Aye, that I did. I caught them at the train station, trying to leave town. Iíve never seen three more guilty looking guys in my life.
John Berbrich: You possess amazing powers of discernment. Yes, theyíre guilty ó weíre all guilty! cry the Existentialists.
William Michaelian: And you should have heard what one of them said to me. Luckily I had my recorder. Listen ó and tell me if he doesnít sound exactly like Dylan Thomas.
John Berbrich: Interesting. We played that poem on the Howie & the Wolfman radio show about a month ago. And youíre right, it does sound exactly like Dylan Thomas.
William Michaelian: Itís the greatest impersonation Iíve ever heard. And in his pocket were three newsletters about the monthly doings of a group called the St. Lawrence Area Poets, or SLAP for short. Apparently this group of oddballs gets together at some weird place called the Partridge Cafť, in ďdowntown Canton.Ē Wherever that is. There are poems in the newsletters, and on the front pages there are these great quotes from famous poets. The poet is the priest of the invisible, for instance, by Wallace Stevens. And, I am overwhelmed by the beautiful disorder of poetry, the eternal virginity of words, by Theodore Roethke. And another by good old Henry Wadsworth Longfellow himself: As to the pure mind all things are pure, so to the poetic mind all things are poetical. Thought-provoking, all three of them.
John Berbrich: Iíve heard of that poetry group. I understand that some of the members are working on a real classy website. Should be up soon, so they say.
William Michaelian: Thatís good news. You might suggest, if no one has already, the inclusion of some audio files. A link to your reading and interview on North Country Public Radio in upstate New York would be quite appropriate, I think. Itís an excellent eight-minute session. Of course you can always link to Dylan Thomas. And then thereís this great link to James Joyce reading from Finnegans Wake. This is not the same one we talked about way back when, but another one I found when I discovered awhile back that the link had died, or temporarily gone offline, or whatever it is links do. I like the reading so much I included a link in Recently Banned Literature.
John Berbrich: Yeah, we were planning on audio files. Film clips too, from our readings. The next reading is at the St. Lawrence County Arts Council this Friday evening, April 18th, @ 6:00. The featured poet will be Dale Hobson, the fellow who interviewed me on the radio. Should be a swell time.
William Michaelian: Hey, that sounds like a dinner-show. I can see you now, gliding among the tables while people are sipping their wine, Do not go gentle into that good night ó oops. Wrong poem.
John Berbrich: Aw, you were thinking of Ferlinghettiís marvelous poem, ďUnderwear.Ē A very serious subject.
William Michaelian: Indeed. Do not go naked into that good night. Can you imagine Dylan Thomas reading that one?
John Berbrich: I can, actually. I expect he would crack up, I mean start laughing. If he were drunk he might start stripping.
William Michaelian: What do you mean if he were drunk? Rage, rage against the dying of the light ó ever since I played that recording in the house the other day, we all go around saying that in low, booming voices. Well, some of us, anyway. . . . Actually, Iím the only one, and everyoneís sick of it.
John Berbrich: Including you, I suppose.
William Michaelian: No, Iím not sick of it. Iím just getting started. Rage, rage ó but I am sick of myself. So, tell me about Dale Hobson.
John Berbrich: Dale Hobson is a fine, artistic, knowledgeable man. He works for North Country Radio, conducting interviews & pulling together all sorts of creative shows. Heís lived in northern New York for many years now. And he seems to know nearly everyone, & is aware of all north country issues. And whatís most important, heís a fine poet.
William Michaelian: Excellent. Judging by his voice, he sounds like heís roughly about our age. Has he had many books published? Rage, rage ó sorry. Just clearing my throat.
John Berbrich: Bless you. His second chapbook, The Water I Carry, was published by Benevolent Bird Press in Delmar, New York, earlier this year. Water appears in every poem, in the form of rain, ice, sweat, a river. Itís personal north country poetry w/ a strong attention to detail. We see swamps & forests & old trailers. Snow so deep people are trapped in their homes. The scenes are embellished by strands of philosophical musing. Itís a satisfying book to read.
William Michaelian: Wow. It sounds almost as if it would drip into your lap while youíre reading it. Or freeze suddenly and stick to your hands. I guess heíll be reading from The Water I Carry at your SLAP get-together. Tell you what ó could you grab a copy for me while youíre there? Let me know what it costs, and Iíll send you the dough, plus fifty dollars, of course, for postage and handling.
John Berbrich: $50.00 ó you cheapskate! Oh, okay. By the way, the reading was quite successful. I sold one copy of Balancing Act. Four SLAP members read, plus two poets from the audience availed themselves of the open-mike. Itís a nice venue, the St. Lawrence County Arts Council ó I suspect weíll be making a habit of reading there.
William Michaelian: Good ó theyíll never know what hit íem. Say, did Mr. Hobson make his entrance carrying a long flexible pole with a bucket of water hanging on each end?
John Berbrich: No, but itís not a bad idea. Actually, it is a bad idea. Where do you come up w/ this crazy stuff?
William Michaelian: I donít know, really. But it sounded more logical than arriving with a horse-drawn ice wagon. People might have thought it was a marketing ploy.
John Berbrich: We should have tossed water balloons around. Now thereís a good idea.
William Michaelian: Well, for a summer reading, maybe. Say, I got a big kick out of your Howie and the Wolfman radio show today. Thanks for almost playing ďPositively 4th Street.Ē What was that poetry reading again?
John Berbrich: That was ďZimmer Imagines HeavenĒ by Paul Zimmer. Sounds like a wonderful place, the way he describes it. I can see our Junk Poem Shop right down the road.
William Michaelian: Ah, yes. That was a lovely little list he constructed. Yeats, Whitman, Brahms with his cigars, Roberto Clemente. And at the end, pleasing God with the observation that heaven is ďbeing thankful for eternity,Ē and her subsequent smile being ďthe best part of the day.Ē
John Berbrich: Indeed, a lovely little piece. Yes, Willie, my good man ó if you have some recordings of yourself on CD, send them along. Iíd love to play them. We feature one poem each Saturday. Remember, itís college radio ó keep it clean.
William Michaelian: Oh, yes ó we certainly wouldnít want to upset those wide-eyed innocent college kids. But seriously, recording is something I can do now. Iíve been using a cheap little mic with fair success, but a good friend of mine whoís familiar with such things stepped in recently and ordered me a much better one. It should arrive some time next week. After I get used to it, Iíll see if I can put a little something together. How about you? Do you have any home recordings lying around?
John Berbrich: Actually, no. But if you go to the BoneWorld Publishing website & click on ďFlailing Skeletons,Ē youíll be able to see me in action last Friday night. Those were the first two poems I read.
William Michaelian: Hey, that turned out well. I remember the second poem. You did a great job, especially considering how short both are. Good delivery ó serious, elegant, almost Shakespearean. You ham.
John Berbrich: I am a ham, I admit it. I feel so much energy at a reading. I feel as though I have the crowd, you know? Itís a wonderful experience, so much good mojo bouncing & flowing. It affects everyone present.
William Michaelian: I suspect, if they were visible, weíd be amazed at the those currents flowing through the room. About how long did you read? I assume you got into some longer pieces ó something from Balancing Act, maybe?
John Berbrich: Letís see. I read those two, plus one longer poem, followed by three from Balancing Act, so maybe 10 minutes in all.
William Michaelian: What? No encore? Say, what do you know about Paul Zimmer?
John Berbrich: No more than you can find by googling his name. I think heís still alive & would now be in his 70ís. I like his voice.
William Michaelian: Pretty agreeable. And for answering that question correctly, you win this quote from Chapter 3 of Murphy, by Samuel Beckett:
ďShe felt, as she felt so often with Murphy, spattered with words that went dead as soon as they sounded; each word obliterated, before it had time to make sense, by the word that came next; so that in the end she did not know what had been said. It was like difficult music heard for the first time.Ē
Eh? Definitely not a description of the Zimmer reading.
John Berbrich: No. Zimmer has a gentle way about him. Beckett doesnít.
William Michaelian: Letís see. Spattered, went dead, obliterated, difficult. Yeah, I guess youíre right. But it does give me an idea. Why not write a whole series of poems based on Zimmerís? I could start with ďBeckett Imagines Heaven,Ē and then move on to Joyce and Twain and ó and good god that sounds like a lot of work.
John Berbrich: It sure as heck does. How about starting w/ ďMichaelian Imagines HeavenĒ?
William Michaelian: I just might do that. But first, how about a little warm-up:
When long ago
you imagined heaven,
was it anything
You have a heaven poem yourself, if I remember correctly.
John Berbrich: Yeah. Here it is, if you wanna see it again.
William Michaelian: I hate to say it, but you just sent me a blank document. So I did a quick search and found the poem online. This is the one I was thinking of. A lovely poem.
Heaven is filled with
little crooked streets
and neighbors who always return
what they borrow
The rivers dive deep
between the cloudbanks
filled with fish, sparkling under
the noon-day sun
Nights are cool
more stars than you can count
blacker than Satanís heart
sweeter than an apple
Thereís a little five and dime
with bargains twenty-four seven
on a quiet street corner
beneath a glowing lamp
Maybe weíll meet there, you
and I, when itís all finished and done
on that little corner
John Berbrich: Thank you. I meant to write a whole series of Heaven poems. Hasnít happened yet. Although I have written several poems relating to God, the gods, & things theological. Have written about the other side too, the place where it gets really hot even in the winter. Those latter works seem to come more easily for some reason.
William Michaelian: Hmm. I wonder why that would be. So. Letís see. God poems, eh? Iíve written a handful myself. Hereís one:
Let There Be Light
When God uttered
his absurd command,
he was standing here,
upon this stone.
And yet, so help me,
darkness was not dark
until light was born.
This is where
Adam first spied
the radiant Eve,
but a smile,
with the sunset
in her hair.
Feel their warm
in the ground,
of unnamed animals
Then Cain, then Abel
and from their
sweat and blood
While Adam dug
and Eve sewed,
what to do.
He stopped here,
looking for an answer,
and here, and here,
in the night.
John Berbrich: Whoa. I like that one. God, the giant bully, wondering what to do next. It is a lovely poem, in its way, Willie. Everything seems sort of clear & uncomplicated at that point, at least for the humans. It makes me uncomfortable to hear people talk about Godís plan. Like this is all some big show. I much prefer the idea that He/She created things, designed them too, & just sits back w/ a foamy ale to watch the fun.
William Michaelian: Or, being a precocious child, has since abandoned His/Her creation and gone on to breathe others into existence.
John Berbrich: That sure is a possibility. I hope Heís having fun, wherever He is. I know Iím having a good time. No radio show today, by the way.
William Michaelian: Oh, thatís right. I remember you guys talking about that toward the end of last weekís show. By the way: I did receive Dale Hobsonís book. Thanks for sending it. I didnít realize it was a limited edition. Sewn instead of stapled, too. Nice touch, especially with Alan Caslineís art on the cover. Good poems. A book youíd expect to find sitting on a rough-cut table in Thoreauís cabin.
John Berbrich: Thatís a good way to put it. Itís soaked in nature, that little poetry book. And thatís not an intentional pun. Water, you know. The places Hobson mentions ó Stone Valley, the Racquette River ó are all pure St. Lawrence County, especially that final one, ďWalking Home with Wet Feet.Ē Not that thereís any specific location mentioned, but there must be 100 scenes like that around here. Ah, ítis a beautiful place.
William Michaelian: Well, Iím fully satisfied. I like all eleven poems. I like the Whitman-like delivery in ďWater Prayer,Ē which begins with the phrase ďThe water I carry . . .Ē and I like the observation and detail it contains ó the praise of water, the celebration of it, the eternal present-tense all-pervasive timelessness of it.
John Berbrich: Itís a good attitude to cultivate. In person, Hobson is sort of quietly alert. Heís not a big talker but he follows everything. And like I said, he seems to know everything thatís going on politically, artistically, & environmentally in northern New York. And whatís more, heís looking for a publisher for a full-length poetry book.
William Michaelian: Is he? Because one idea that came to mind while I was reading his chap is that he should collaborate with a local photographer ó someone who can feel with a lens what Hobson understands in his poems ó and put together some sort of words-and-pictures book.
John Berbrich: Thatís a pretty good idea. In fact, thereís a fellow who attended our last SLAP meeting who is a photographer. He showed us a whole album of pictures he took during the Revolutionary War reenactment in Ogdensburg. Pretty good poet too.
William Michaelian: Well, it makes sense that a good poet would also take good pictures. And what is his name?
John Berbrich: Thomas Robarge, I believe. I donít know if heíll become a regular member of our group. He showed interest, but didnít make it to the last reading. Iíve only met the fellow once.
William Michaelian: Apparently you had a profound influence on him. Heíll probably turn up next in one of Hobsonís poems, a mysterious figure running through the woods. Speaking of strange figures, I keep forgetting to mention that thereís a guy who lives a couple of streets away from us who looks almost exactly like Kurt Vonnegut. Heís in his fifties, but he looks like heís about sixty-eight.
John Berbrich: Does he write ó what does he do for a living? And is he about 6-3, which I believe was Vonnegutís height? Tell me more.
William Michaelian: Well, Iíll tell you what I know. Heís about five-eight, five-nine at the most, wears tank-tops and has a fairly muscular build, and hangs around his mailbox a lot talking to some other guy who is several years older and much larger, smokes big cigars, and drives a big pickup. The big guy looks like a rough beer-drinking steel worker from Pittsburgh. Vonnegut, I donít know what he does, but itís apparent he spends quite a bit of time outside. Mostly at his mailbox. Waiting for rejections?
John Berbrich: Sounds like an exciting life. Too bad Vonnegutís dead. He was one of the great spirits. Of course we still have his many novels, short stories, & other works. This mailbox guy ó do you think heís hanging around to impress the girls? Like maybe heís some kind of famous author waiting for the good news from a big publisher?
William Michaelian: I think heís waiting for good news, period. Seems he hasnít had any for awhile. As if his ideas have fallen from favor, and heís no longer mentioned in the schools. Still, he retains a certain attraction for the young girls, a kind of animal magnetism that makes their dreary-desperate mothers simultaneously scorn and swoon. A complex man ó he holds his cell phone as if it were an object from outer space, listening, awkward, curious.
John Berbrich: Hmmmmm. I can picture him in the morning, leaning easily on the mailbox, waiting for the sun to rise over a rooftop & glint on his bald head ó you did say he was bald, didnít you? He doesnít look a bit like Vonnegut w/ that shining dome & no mustache. His t-shirtís soaked w/ sweat. I canít understand why the girls like him ó but they do. Hereís the dayís first carload driving by, slowly; all the heads turn, the blondes, the brunettes, the long hair hanging like curtains out the open windows. The driver lays on the horn, toots a little monochromatic tune. The mailbox guy smiles like he knows something they donít. And he probably does.
William Michaelian: Oh-ho, does he. But bald he ainít. In fact, his hair and eyebrows are pure Vonnegut. And his eyelids. The shape of his head as well. And he has the requisite mustache. By the way: I have never seen him out in the morning. Thatís when heís inside at his old Royal, working in a thick cloud of cigarette smoke, a glass of scotch within easy reach. Was Vonnegut a drinker and smoker, do you happen to know?
John Berbrich: According my own whimsy, Vonnegut did his smoking & drinking as a young man. He decided to lay off these good things as he grew older. But thatís complete fantasy on my part. I really donít know. Perhaps he kept the scotch within easy reach, but seldom reached for it. So our man isnít bald, eh? Maybe itís a different guy. And I just had a wicked deja vu.
William Michaelian: You mean like weíve had this exact conversation before?
John Berbrich: Yes. In fact itís so strong that it feels as though Iíve told you before that Iíve had a wicked deja vu. And in the deja vu I told you about the deja vu. Itís like weíre trapped on this endless loop. Help. Itís like being in a Kurt Vonnegut novel or something.
William Michaelian: Well, I do remember you saying you were having a wicked dťjŗ vu. I think it was about, oh, two or three years ago. It wasnít the first time then, either. Eerie. Does this happen to you very often? ó in real life, I mean.
John Berbrich: Maybe once every couple of months. Sometimes itís so strong that I know whatís going to happen next. I remember once listening to a baseball game on the radio when it hit me. I knew what the next couple of batters were going to do & I was right. It would be creepy if this was a talent that intensified & couldnít be turned off.
William Michaelian: That it would. Whatís your theory about all this? That indeed, these things have happened before? Or that specific events actually begin to unfold before most of us recognize them?
John Berbrich: One of my theories says that when you dream at night your mind can somehow slip into the future a little ways; so when you have a deja vu, you are really remembering a dream you may have had the previous night. And by the way, today I just happened to be reading an interview w/ Kurt Vonnegut. In his brief introduction, the interviewer says that Vonnegut smokes Pall Malls & goes on to say, ďHe laughs easily, starting with a chuckle that works its way into an explosive, wheezing, coughing sputter brought on from years of chain-smoking.Ē So that answers one question.
William Michaelian: And an important one at that. But how did it ďhappenĒ that you were reading a Vonnegut interview? Did you seek it out because of our discussion, and because you now know he lives around the corner from me? Or did it simply come about of its own accord? And/or, do you think we really might be characters in a Vonnegut novel?
John Berbrich: Ach, Willie, so many questions. Well. The way the world is going these days, it sometimes seems that weíre all living in a Vonnegut novel. Any crazy thing can happen. Of course, it always could. But something seems to be intensifying. And about the interview ó yes, it was pure serendipity that I came across it when I did. Right now Iím reading Legends of Literature, a collection of articles, essays, & interviews from the archives of Writerís Digest magazine, & the Vonnegut-interview was the next piece. The interview is from 1985. Other notables in the book include Stephen King, H.G. Wells, Jack Kerouac, & Carl Sandburg.
William Michaelian: Ah, yes. Real peas in a pod, that bunch. I wonder what Sandburg thought of On the Road. Or Kerouacís jazz poems, for that matter. Or what King thinks of Sandburg. If he ever does. Or what Basho thinks of King. Wait ó Basho probably isnít in there. Do you really think things are getting crazier? As you put it, are they intensifying in some way? Or are the results simply more visible, because of the media and the internet and so on?
John Berbrich: More questions! Well, Kerouac did mention Basho. He says, ďNo frog can jump in a pond like Bashoís frog.Ē Which is probably true. Basho would have some cool comments regarding On the Road, since he himself was something of a traveler & adventurer. Weíll find out the answer to all these many questions & more, once we finish building the Antique and Junk Poem Shop.
William Michaelian: Aye. Reading Bashoís travel sketches, itís easy to come away with the impression that heís an old man. But he died at the age of fifty. And yet I find this age factor present in so many great artists, some of whom already seem so wise, experienced, and world-weary, even when theyíre in their twenties. Childlike, too. God, I love frogs.
John Berbrich: It would be a sadder world without them. Have you ever eaten a frog? I mean like froglegs? I havenít. About the world. Part of it is the media, the constant bombardment of news from all over the globe. Sure speeds things up, in oneís mind at least. The illusion of intensifying insanity. Well, people go nuts due to illusions, or delusions; works out to the same thing. Digging down to really real reality. Thatís what so many artists want ó those people you mention who seem so wise in their 20ís. They want Truth, however one defines that. Some merely want a kick. Most people want to be comfortably numb. At least thatís the illusion. Frogs are just frogs, & they seem to love it.
William Michaelian: Speaking of cheerful frogs, Mr. Pink Floyd, I wrote a little frog poem a couple of years ago. Here ítis:
Like any frog,
at the end
of a hard day
I tie one on
at the nearest
I stay until
my wife croaks,
then I hop
I give her
Ribbit on, she says. Ribbit on.
Itís no match, of course, for Bashoís frog. And no, I havenít eaten a frog.
John Berbrich: I love your poem, Willie. Hereís my earliest frog poem (itís actually a limerick). My 10th grade teacher loved it.
There once was a frog named Dud
Who lived in a bog in the mud;
He turned into a toad
And the bog overflowed,
And he drowned in the ensuing flood.
William Michaelian: Alas, poor Dud! I love toads too, by the way. When I was a kid, my brother and I used to call them ďnon-hoppoís.Ē And frogs were ďhoppoís.Ē You said earliest frog poem. Do you have many more? Wouldnít it be great to publish a collection of frog poems?
John Berbrich: Good idea. I donít have enough for a collection, except maybe a very small one. Hereís another:
in the theater of the swamp
like gentle scattered applause
for the love-songs
of the frogs
William Michaelian: Excellent. A fine poem. If you had, say, five of those, and letterpress-printed them on some rugged paper handmade in someoneís basement, and sewed them into a similar but heavier cover with a drawing of a frog thatís poised to leap off the edge . . . well, then.
John Berbrich: Right. There you go again, Willie. Such a dreamer. Iím listening to the frogs right now. Wait, thatís a ringing in my ears.
William Michaelian: Well, arenít you going to answer it? On the other hand, thereís the little frog poem I just came up with:
On warm summer nights
the little ones climb the walls ó
they think they are frogs.
Then August comes
and the ditch runs wide.
Full of bugs,
across the lawn.
That old bearded one
looks like my grandfather,
but he jumps like
my son ó
into the shadows,
where someone is singing.
John Berbrich: A good reminder that a frogís world is filled w/ song. Your poem points out so many things that are important to a frog: water, shade, bugs, singing. Hopping. I can read it over & over.
William Michaelian: Thanks. Croak. And then thereís the play by Aristophanes. I think I have The Frogs here somewhere, but I havenít read it. Iíll bet you have.
John Berbrich: Actually I havenít. I own a lovely black hardcover of Aristophanes. I read the first play & didnít like it a bit. Perhaps it was the fault of the translation, Iím not sure. Anyway, I simply have not returned to that book. Sad to say. Of all the Greeks, Iíd say that Aristophanes is my weakest point.
William Michaelian: Thatís okay. Youíre forgiven. I did find The Frogs in my old copy of Fifteen Greek Plays ó I think I mentioned that book to you about a hundred years ago, Iím not sure in what context ó possibly we were talking about your lovely drama, The Shade Returneth. In any case, in my blog this morning, I quoted the Frogs themselves:
Ah, no! ah, no!
Loud and louder our chant must flow.
Sing if ever ye sang of yore,
When in sunny and glorious days
Through the rushes and marsh-flags springing
On we swept, in the joy of singing
Or when fleeing the storm, we went
Down to the depths, and our choral song
Wildly raised to a loud and long
The translation was done by one Benjamin Bickley Rogers, an English classical scholar born in 1828. After he left his legal practice due to increasing deafness, he translated all of the plays of Aristophanes.
John Berbrich: Wow. Quite a project. Iíve found those same lines in my book. The translator is unnamed. Here goes: ďNot we; we shall only cry the louder. On fine sunny days, it pleases us to hop through galingale and sedge and to sing while we swim; and when Zeus is pouring down his rain, we join our lively voices to the rustle of the drops. Brekekex, coax, coax.Ē
William Michaelian: Well Iíll be darned. The two translations are exactly the same. The note on Rogers also says he reproduced the original meter. So apparently Aristophanes won a prize for this play when it was performed at an annual festival called the Lenaia, way back in 405 BC. Galingale is an interesting word. When was your book published?
John Berbrich: The book was published by the Horace Liveright company of New York in June 1930. My copy is from the fourth printing, August 1932. A publisherís note indicates that the translation was originally published by The Athenian Society of London in 1912, for subscribers only. As I said the translatorís name is unknown.
William Michaelian: Too bad. But you know, I run across that in a lot of old books, and Iím sure you do too. Translators not mentioned, the names of illustators not given. I suppose the artists were working on some sort of contract. But itís a shame now, years later.
John Berbrich: I agree. Even some authors were anonymous. Iíve read that Edgar Allan Poeís first collection of poems, Tamerlane, published when he was 18, had By a Bostonian on it instead of the authorís name.
William Michaelian: Thatís right. And I see in that titleís Wikipedia entry that only fifty copies were printed, and as far as is known, twelve copies of the original printing survive. It also says the poems were largely inspired by Lord Byron, Shelley, and Coleridge. And some other mysterious poet, Sir Lord Winston Berbrich, who owned a printing press and specialized in works on frogs. Any relation?
John Berbrich: My son. Heís only seven years old now, so we mustnít expect too much of him. Named him after a cigarette brand, I did. In first grade the kids had to dissect a frog & little Winston refused. I was proud & defended him against the entire administration. What a fight that was!
William Michaelian: Iíll bet, with their unholy lust for frog-murder. Oh, the fiends. You did the right thing. But how is it that you have a seven-year-old son born in the eighteen century?
John Berbrich: Itís a little difficult to explain but letís not forget that time is relative. If you donít believe me ask Einstein.
William Michaelian: I would, but I find the man rather obtuse. For instance, once I tried asking him this simple question: If light travels 186,000 miles per second, then how fast does thought travel? And instead of answering, or scribbling out some sort of equation, he looked at me like I was some kind of nut.
John Berbrich: Perhaps he was on to something.
William Michaelian: Well, I prefer to look at it this way: I stumped Einstein.
John Berbrich: Well, I guess that was your 15 seconds of fame, or whatever it was that Warhol said. Good for you, Willie. So folks these days who look at you like youíre a nut have something in common w/ Einstein. They must find that relatively inspiring!
William Michaelian: Ha! Could be. Iíd like to conduct a poll, but I donít know how to go about it. And just think how far my light has traveled in those fifteen seconds! That is, if you except the notion that people do give off their own light.
John Berbrich: Do you mean except or accept? Or both?
William Michaelian: Hmm. A good question. Very good, in fact. If you accept the notion that I meant except, I think that ultimately you will be led astray, by which I mean, away from my intended meaning. So. Do you accept the notion or not? Or do you take exception to it?
John Berbrich: Your explanation is exceptional & acceptable. However, Iím not sure just what light you are referring to. Do you mean some sort of bioluminescence?
William Michaelian: Pretty much, but with a little mysticism thrown in. I know nothing about such matters scientifically, yet it seems to me that we must give off light in varying degrees ó according to our awareness, our work, our positive efforts. Is the light only figurative? I donít know.
John Berbrich: I donít either. But it could be some kind of invisible light, that wouldnít surprise me. Something like infra-red or ultraviolet, things you canít see. But these body rays are so invisible that the most advanced scientific gadgetry canít detect them either. They exist along an unknown portion of the spectrum. Think of it as a piano keyboard. Science has discovered all the white keys, but it doesnít yet even suspect the existence of the black ones.
William Michaelian: Good. And science has no idea of whatís holding it up ó four hairy old legs with varicose veins. But of course some things can only be seen with the naked mind.
John Berbrich: Careful of exposing your thoughts.
William Michaelian: Youíre right. In the bright light, theyíll probably wilt.
John Berbrich: That would depend on how fast the bright light was traveling.
William Michaelian: I wonder ó did Einstein allow for that? For instance, a romantic dinner by candlelight doesnít sound very romantic if the light from the candle is whizzing by at 186,000 miles per second.
John Berbrich: Thatís true. Certainly doesnít sound the least bit relaxing. Seems as though Einstein may have had issues the rest of us barely suspect.
William Michaelian: And then thereís the Moonlight Sonata. What about that? Did it make him angry? Jealous? I will annihilate Beethoven ó whispered under that mustache of his.
John Berbrich: When you mention mustaches, I always think of Nietzsche, another famous destroyer. I never connected him w/ Einstein before, but the way you put, it makes sense.
William Michaelian: Absolutely. But Nietzsche was probably a special case. He was his mustache ó to the extent that he had to do its bidding. I think Einstein had at least partial control over his mustache. And yet he was afraid to confront his hair.
John Berbrich: Oh yeah, Einstein had classic hair. Nietzsche just plastered his down rather flat, w/ a little wave or not, depending upon his mood. But Einsteinís mop, that was made for a poster.
William Michaelian: Millions of íem have been printed, I know that. Say ó I just found SLAPís new website. So I added a link to Recently Banned Literature. Pretty neat. You guys look like an amiable group. And I love Nancyís poem, ďBig Sisterís Confession.Ē
John Berbrich: An amiable bunch, thatís us. Iíll let Nancy know that you like her poem. Itís also one of my favorites. Says a lot, vividly, in few words. Oh, by the way, thanks for the link. Weíll return the favor, soon, when we get a minute.
William Michaelian: Thanks. For some reason, I picture your membership discussing the subject at your next meeting and reaching a unanimous decision, ďNO LINK!Ē followed by thunderous applause.
John Berbrich: Could happen. Hey, let me give you the rundown of the SLAP photo. At the extreme left is JeanMarie Martello. Next to her is Nancy Henry, from Maine. Then thereís my wife Nancy of the Magnificent Hummus. Then me. Then local girl Beth Konkoski, now living in Virginia. And Neal Zirn, originally from the Bronx. We do look amiable. That was a good night.
William Michaelian: Iím not at all surprised. Oh ó and I also played the video-readings. Iíd seen yours, of course, but it was nice to see and hear Dale Hobson in action, as well as JeanMarie Martello. By the way, I donít know if youíve seen my blog note on Daleís chap, but if you scroll down a ways itís there, along with a picture of the front cover.
John Berbrich: Hey, nice job. Some good words, accurate words about the text. Yeah, Hobsonís a fine poet, using his head & his heart to paint a picture & a feeling w/ words. I agree: Thoreau would like it.
William Michaelian: And Iím sure heíd like Hobsonís blog, Brain Clouds. In any case, I donít know if you saw my ďNote to Poets and Poetry PublishersĒ a couple of entries beneath the Hobson review, but I plan to list or otherwise mention all poetry books that are mailed my way, and to do short reviews when possible. Same goes for periodicals that publish poetry. So you might pass that along.
John Berbrich: Well, Iíll do that for ya, Willie. Whatíre pals for? Thatís a generous service youíll be providing, by the way. Thereís so much poetry facing a void. Thisíll help get the word out.
William Michaelian: Absolutely. And I hope to convey at least a portion of the wonderful spirit thatís behind so much of the stuff ó and the ďbeautiful disorderĒ of it, to echo the Theodore Roethke quote your SLAP group printed on your February newsletter.
John Berbrich: Thatís a marvelous phrase, isnít it? I came across that line somewhere deep in my arcane & voluminous reading. I need to start working on the June newsletter soon. But first ó the Yawp!
William Michaelian: Yes. One by one, now, time to hold the specimens up to the light ó and also to see which will glow in the dark, and maybe even inhabit your sleep.
John Berbrich: Are you trying to creep me out, dude?
William Michaelian: Oh, come on ó are you saying thatís never happened?
John Berbrich: Well, itís kinda personal.
William Michaelian: I see. Well, I wonít pry. Weíll file this away under Trade Secrets, in Cabinet Three, Drawer Five, Withheld Confessions.
John Berbrich: Jeepers! Thereís a lot of stuff in there. Are those all my files?
William Michaelian: This is only part of them ó those that are most recent, gathered within the last year or so.
John Berbrich: I had no idea. How long have I been doing this?
William Michaelian: You mean youíre unaware of it? Thatís interesting.
John Berbrich: Well, I mean, itís all sort of vague & fuzzy. It seemed like something had been going on for all these years, I guess I just didnít know what. Whereís your file, by the way?
William Michaelian: My file? Itís already enroute to the Antique and Junk Poem Shop. The truck left a year ago. The driver reports regularly. Right now, he doesnít know where he is.
John Berbrich: Sounds like heís in the middle of a country & western song. Driving a truck for a year now ó donít know where heís at. Women back home driviní him crazy (no pun intended).
William Michaelian: Could be. Could be. And just think of how many times he must have stopped by now to have that huge load weighed. Sometimes even the same scales, the same highways, over and over, back and forth. But heíll get there eventually. Of course if it is a country song, the trip will end badly. Probably in Bakersfield.
John Berbrich: I sure do hope so. Heíll meet some nice shotgun-totiní woman w/ wild hair at a truck stop. Ya see, sheís been workiní as a waitress &, well, thangs jist ainít workiní out. The tips are no good & the drivers are crude. Not like in the old days, when a trucker would plug a coin into the jukebox, play a danciní tune, & sweep that good-lookiní young gal offín her feet. They would dance, yessir, while everybody else hooted & clapped. Course, she donít remember them days none ó these were stories she heard from her mama, who used to work in all them old roadhouses down Route 17, before the mines gave out & the big highway was built, but thatís a nuther story...
William Michaelian: Yep, that big highway ó Highway 17Ĺ ó the road that hugs that dry lake bed where they tried filming The Grapes of Wrath until the grasshoppers drove íem out. The good old days ó back when hats were big enough to camp under and catch a monthís supply of drinking water. Too bad it never rained.
John Berbrich: Yup. Sometimes it jist seem like things donít work out. And today, well, you canít hardly fill a ballcap w/ a 12-ounce beer. But I know some college kids that tried.
William Michaelian: Thank goodness theyíre learning something in school. On the other hand, what if the truck driver is out there lost in some other type of music. Stravinsky, say. Or Verdiís Anvil Chorus.
John Berbrich: I hate to think. He could end up in another damn dimension.
William Michaelian: Like us, you mean?
John Berbrich: Well, yeah. Or someplace even cooler. E.E. Cummings ends one of his poems w/ something like, Thereís a hell of a cool universe next door ó letís go! Thatís a paraphrase.
William Michaelian: Intriguing. Because sometimes, just walking through the house, I suddenly get the feeling that Iíve left one dimension and entered another. And sometimes I can still look back into the one I left. Kind of hard to explain. But itís a pleasant thing.
John Berbrich: Did you ever feel as though you had left one universe & entered another, only to be unable to return to the original one? That happened to me as a kid. You had to be careful about little excursions like that.
William Michaelian: I guess you would, if you had any control over it, or if you developed a sense of when they were coming. But these things never happen to me when I expect them. There have been times, though, when I wondered if Iíd make it back, or if doing so was really necessary. Itís almost like trying on death to see if it fits. Or maybe itís the other way around. . . . Nope ó not yet.
John Berbrich: Reminds me of that old Orson Welles advertisement: ďWe will serve no wine....
before its time.Ē Sounded better when he said it.
William Michaelian: I guess it had to, reverberating from within that giant black-cloaked carcass of his. And then there was the tilt of the head, and the furrowed brow. A Shakespearean moment. Also quite comical. As I recall, it was ďWe will sell no wine . . . before its time.Ē Come to think of it, I havenít seen a bottle of Paul Masson in years. Old Paul was a California wine maker back in the early days, I believe.
John Berbrich: Probably one of your neighbors. And youíre right ó it was sell. I couldnít quite remember. At first I thought it was drink but knew that couldnít be right. Welles gave the impression that he had drunk half a barrel before filming the ad. How I envied him.
William Michaelian: He did seem to be speaking from experience. What happened to Welles, anyway? Letís see. Iím looking at his Wikipedia entry. Born 1915, died 1985. October 30, 1938, broadcast of The War of the Worlds. Let me quote a snippet here:
ďIn the mid-1930s, his New York theatre adaptations of an all-black voodoo Macbeth and a contemporary allegorical Julius Caesar became legendary. Welles was also an accomplished magician, starring in troop variety spectacles in the war years. During this period he became a serious political activist and commentator through journalism, radio and public appearances closely associated with Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1941, he co-wrote, directed, produced and starred in Citizen Kane, often chosen in polls of film critics as the greatest film ever made. The rest of his career was often obstructed by lack of funds, incompetent studio interference and other unfortunate occurrences, both during exile in Europe and brief returns to Hollywood.Ē
Interesting. And then after a few more sentences, this:
ďIn his later years he struggled against a Hollywood system that refused to finance his independent film projects, making a living largely through acting, commercials, and voice-over work.Ē
And there you have it. By the way, do you have any idea what the song ďMacArthur ParkĒ is about, if anything? Ah! Again from Wikipedia:
ďEnglish poet W. H. Auden said, ĎMy face looks like a wedding-cake left out in the rain.íĒ
John Berbrich: Good line from Auden. About the song, I havenít the foggiest. I do recall that it was the second long song played on AM radio at the time, following after the Beatlesí ďHey, Jude.Ē Most songs in those days ran for maybe two or two & a 1/2 minutes. Both of those were over seven.
William Michaelian: As is ďLight My Fire.Ē But they played a short version of that, doing away almost completely with the instrumental part in the middle. And so we were deprived of songs like ďDesolation Row,Ē by Dylan, which runs a good eleven minutes or so. How long is the longest piece youíve played on your Howie and the Wolfman show?
John Berbrich: Good question. We played a request a few weeks ago, a song by the Fiery Furnace that ran over eight minutes. Pretty good song, too. Very interesting. I try to stay away from longer pieces. Some day Iíll have to play ďIn-a-Gadda-Da-Vida.Ē 18 minutes of prime Iron Butterfly.
William Michaelian: Yeah, we have that lying around here somewhere. Havenít listened to it in years. In fact on the album itís on, the group sort of reminds me of a feeble version of The Doors. Now, what about the poetry readings you play? Where do you find those?
John Berbrich: We have a few CD collections of famous poets. Nancy uses them in her writing classes. And I receive poetry CDís from small press authors & play those too. Iíll play anything I like.
William Michaelian: I think thatís great. Which reminds me ó I did get that microphone I mentioned several weeks ago. I even have a little boom-stand for it. Looks mighty official, sitting there by my computer. So far, though, I havenít had a chance to use it. ďOne of these days.Ē I think I might even add occasional readings to the blog.
John Berbrich: That would be cool. Like I said, record a CD & send a copy. Iíll play them on lazy Saturday afternoons all summer. All of northern New York will be grooving to your funky words.
William Michaelian: Thatís an interesting thought. And congratulations ó youíre the very first person to call my writing funky. Certainly no one has ever called me that.
John Berbrich: Well, I didnít say that you were funky; I said your words were. Although Iím sure you have some funk in you. Funk is a cool old word, like groovy & mojo. You might experience some difficulty relating a precise definition of any of them, yet each transmits a feeling & at least an approximate meaning. We smile & nod; we understand enough of it. Satisfied w/ a partial communication. Better than nothing. Yes, when I introduce your poems, I may describe you as Dr. Funk. Thatíll generate interest.
William Michaelian: Well, I suppose that would sound better than Dr. Wagnalls. Yep ó Isaac Kaufman Funk and Adam Willis Wagnalls. Like clockwork back in the Fifties, my mother brought home a volume of their encyclopedia each week from the grocery store. We still have them. No wonder Iím in a funk.
John Berbrich: Hey, I did the same thing back in the late 70ís. Bought a new volume each week at the grocery store. Spent many fascinated hours reading the articles & checking out the maps. I always thought it was a fine starter encyclopaedia set. Lots of info, but not so much that you couldnít finish the articles.
William Michaelian: I confess, I do feel an odd affection for them ó they remind of an old stubble-faced uncle who wears the same color work shirt every day and smells a bit like sweat and tobacco. Or perhaps funkle would be a better term. Iíd like you to meet my Funkle Mike ó and hereís this wonderful frumpy guy whose glasses havenít been cleaned in six months.
John Berbrich: Funkle Mike, I like that. Well, just send the CD & Iíll think of something to call you. Make sure you insert a separation between each poem. One guy sent me an hour-long CD but thereís no separation so you can only start at the beginning & play it right through. This is useless if youíre trying to listen to a poem a 1/2 hour in. With a cassette tape or LP, you can start wherever you like.
William Michaelian: Well, Iím no expert, but my plan is to save the poems separately as MP3s. Or do you need them in some other format?
John Berbrich: Speak English. Is there more than one way to record & format a CD?
William Michaelian: I assume there are many, or at least a few. All I know ó and it isnít much ó is that the mic is plugged into my computer, and that I will be sitting here reading poems into it, and saving them one at a time as separate files. Then I will burn them onto a CD, which you can then put into your computer or CD player and then select individual tracks. Does that make sense? So far, the few poems Iíve recorded Iíve sent to others as e-mail attachments. Since they were destined for websites, I havenít put any on a CD. Maybe I should try that and see if it will play. Who knows ó I might even learn something. We both might.
John Berbrich: I certainly have plenty to learn. Okay, your plan sounds plausible. Please include a list of titles. Itís mildly annoying to receive a CD of poems without titles. I like my radio presentation to be complete. Saying ďAnd hereís a poem I-donít-know-the-name by Dr. Uncle Funk,Ē just doesnít feel right.
William Michaelian: Oh, so itís Dr. Uncle Funk now. Who knows what itíll be by the time I get a few poems together. Grandpa Funk, maybe?
John Berbrich: Well, if you get them all recorded on time youíll be known as the punctual Dr. Uncle Funk. Wonít that be fun to say!
William Michaelian: It will at that. But I also like Dr. Punctual Funk ó maybe just dispense with the Uncle. The poem was delivered by Dr. Punctual Funk. A truly blessťd event!
John Berbrich: Another infant poem, screaming into the world. Donít forget to give it a good slap, Doc.
William Michaelian: Donít worry. And soon it will be a functual punk, getting drunk and staying out all night. They grow up so fast these days.
John Berbrich: They do indeed. It took me over seven-thousand days to reach the age of 20, can you believe it? Say ó hereís a great name for a band: The Funk Monkeys.
William Michaelian: It is a good name ó also for a National Geographic special. Funk Mayonnaise. Hmm. I wonder why that popped into my mind.
John Berbrich: Youíre hungry?
William Michaelian: Nah. Although if I were, Iíd jump at the chance to use Funk mayo. Seems my mind is always serving up these ridiculous word associations ó funk mayonnaise leads to Malayasia, which leads to Transylvania Rail Lines, then failed mimes ó and so on. Come to think of it, The Failed Mimes is another good name for a band.
John Berbrich: Not bad. Hey, hereís a great idea for a poem. The title is, ďA Meeting of the Mimes,Ē & then thereís nothing below it, no poem. Silence.
William Michaelian: Ah, yes. And it would go over great at readings ó maybe even at one of your SLAP gatherings. Oh ó I just happened to look at the SLAP site again today, and saw that youíd made a few more changes and added a blog entry. But no link. I was crushed. I donít know what to say. I feel like a failed mime. Wait a minute. A failed mime would be able to talk.
John Berbrich: On the internet, no one knows if youíre a mime. There, there. Iíll add a link.
William Michaelian: Bless you, my son. For it is written, The meek shall inherit a link. Or is it, God links those who link themselves? Or, Many are called, but few are linked. In any case, maybe we should start a forum or chatroom for mimes: theanonymousmime.com.
John Berbrich: Be my guest. In the meantime, Iíll just crack open this here homebrew. Want one?
William Michaelian: Have I ever refused? And then, see, through a series of articulate, elegant movements, one mime tells the other, Quiet, please ó I have a splitting headache. This is followed by silent laughter. On the other hand, what if mimes were their own species ó an actual race of beings?
John Berbrich: You mean like they couldnít interbreed w/ us chatty folk?
William Michaelian: I donít know. Maybe they could, maybe they couldnít. Or maybe they wouldnít even want to. Hmm. Frantic Mime would be a good name for a magazine.
John Berbrich: Yeah. Sounds urgent. Like, what does a mime do when he answers the phone? Donít say, ďI give up.Ē
William Michaelian: Well, the question is, why would a mime have a telephone? But, letís say he does. He hears it ring, then goes to pick it up. If the person on the other end is also a mime, then thereís no problem. They have a regular conversation. But if it isnít ó well, no one who knows heís a mime would call. So that leaves sales calls and people taking polls. And the occasional wrong number. Or a prankster. None of those really matter. As a courtesy and a service, though, I think there should be a tiny M next to a mimeís number in the phone book. It would save a lot of trouble and embarrassment. Or maybe even a separate directory of mimes ó the M Pages.
John Berbrich: I dunno. Could be mistaken for the Mute Pages. Would work out roughly to the same thing. I mean, if you dialed a number & someone picked up, but then there was nothing but silence ó how would you know if youíd gotten a mime or a mute? Sounds like a sticky situation.
William Michaelian: Well, at least weíve accomplished that much. How about using a big M for mime and a little m for mute? Ah, wait. You know what would solve everything ó video phones. The mime answers, and right away the person on the other end can see him gesticulating. Although, it occurs to me that weíre making light of an ancient tradition and art form. By the way ó my son and I were out looking for used books yesterday and we found Volume II of Proustís Remembrance of Things Past. Eleven hundred-some-odd pages. Nice hardcover, very hard to find. Now all he needs is Volume I. Since those hardcovers are so scarce, I told him he should go ahead and read Volume II, and then if he still hasnít found Volume I, to go ahead and write it himself. He thought it was a great idea.
John Berbrich: Well, itís fine w/ me if heís game. I havenít read Proust at all. The books are too long, although thatís a lousy excuse. They move slowly too, from what I understand. Another crummy excuse. Have you read any of them?
William Michaelian: No, not more than a sentence here and there. But I guess it has its diehard following, sort of like Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. Wasnít it Twain who defined a classic as a book that people praise, but donít read?
John Berbrich: Yeah. Something like a classic is a book everyone wants to say theyíve read, but no one actually wants to read. I understand Proust takes like 50 pages to describe some guy answering the phone. I think it was a mute.
William Michaelian: So, then ó reading Proust is like examining snowflakes, which ultimately bury you, and then you fall asleep for two thousand years ó a year for every page ó and then you finally wake up one day, only to realize that youíre still on Page 3 and the tea kettle is whistling ó at the exact same moment the mail falls through the slot in your door, landing on the rug beside the cat as it slowly, patiently, thoroughly, cleans its paw ó and the whole scene, the sight, scent, and sound of it, reminds you of something. What, you donít know.
John Berbrich: Exactly. Although in my case the cat would be a dog, a couple of them, maybe more, & the tea kettle would be a perky pot of coffee almost ready, & the mail winds up in the mailbox across the road in the tall grass & the gritty sand. By now, civilizations have risen & been destroyed, & it appears weíre on page four. And I still canít quite identify the sight, sound, & smell of it.
William Michaelian: Yes, the sheer music of it ó the symphonies, marches, and jazz of the awakening senses, waves lapping against the side of an old wooden boat, a bird calling for its mate, accompanied and made all the more remarkable by the whisper of cedars, approaching footsteps, the amber voices of temple bells, a pilgrimís knees crossing the ancient stone floor ó oh, itís Page 4, all right.
John Berbrich: This is precisely where some sound, some unidentifiable transmission of sonic waves, could be from inside or outside the house I donít know, a pattern of musical notes or even unmusical notes for that matter ó the sounds, I say, add lush orchestration to my reverie until Iím startled by some grating scrape & realize that Iíve still got thousands of pages to go & thereís the book in my hand, fat, thick, swollen w/ white leaves, heavy. But wait ó Page 5 awaits w/ its many wonders....
William Michaelian: Ah, Page 5, in all its aimless, purposeless glory, like gray-blue smoke rising from a napping uncleís pipe ó or is he awake? with him itís always hard to tell. The path to the kitchen is now marked by moss and stones; the window has become a painting of your childhood days; the weight in your hands a box of secret treasures.
John Berbrich: Iím not sure I can take any more. This is the most intense book ever. You say your son wrote this?
William Michaelian: Thatís right. Well, actually, heís working on it now ó you know, first draft and all that. I expect the final version will be much longer, once he fleshes out the details. Then weíll release an audio version for truck drivers.
John Berbrich: So basically a trucker might be able to listen to half of the book on a coast-to-coast run. I hope they never make a film.
William Michaelian: If done properly, it would dwarf Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter combined. Action! No, no ó cut! ó youíre doing it all wrong. Do you have to be so obvious? Youíre supposed to imagine this scene. Good. Now try it again. There. Close your eyes. Now remember ó donít move. And, action!
John Berbrich: Oh, itís a perfect place for a scene w/ a mute answering the phone! Two mutes!! You could drag that out ó I mean, you could describe their frantic gesticulations for a whole lengthy chapter. Tears, sweat, even some blood. And tainted tomato juice. The villagers w/ their dark clothes & callused fingers ó they canít understand any of this apparently meaningless activity. Yet they remain intrigued. Stupefied. Speechless. Mute.
William Michaelian: At last, youíre getting into the spirit of the thing. Tell the truth now ó itís hard to leave alone, isnít it. Be it text, be it film. The trick is to make a scene or chapter out of every detail. All the while knowing full well there will be a sequel.
John Berbrich: Someone said, ďGod is in the details.Ē That could be true. Youíre already thinking about a sequel? Weíre only just turning to Page 6. Glow-worms. Paint peeling off a frieze-board, just the barest curl of white on pine. A worn fork in the drain-rack, reflecting mid-morning sunlight. How these details do mount up.
William Michaelian: So true. And itís just as you said: ďGod is in the sequels.Ē In fact, now that I think about it, each detail should have its own sequel ó should be its own sequel. Because details are infinite worlds unto themselves. They only seem like details when we stop observing them and move on to other details. Then again, a man could spend his entire life studying a single drop of water, exhalting in its glory. That fork you mention ó it reminds me of the first time it was used. Potato salad, a summer picnic.
John Berbrich: Ah, yes, that was a great day. A keg of dark frothy home brewed beer tucked in the shade of a maple tree. Green grass tickling bare feet. The light fitful breezes wafting the napkins off the table & down to the grass for a joke; everybody laughed. And the sun ó glorious, warm, dipping behind mountains of cumulus now & then, only to reappear in triumph. And that marvelous, marvelous, potato salad. Yes ó that fork did come in handy, its four tines working perfectly in unison.
William Michaelian: And look at it now, a utilitarian old maid whose remaining four teeth she applies to the removal of tightly sealed lids on jam jars ó pop! and a gasp of strawberry perfume.
John Berbrich: Still a noble function for an old cutlery warrior. These nouns donít last forever.
William Michaelian: And yet not once have I heard them weeping in their drawer. They have pride, dignity. Wait. Did you say nouns?
John Berbrich: Indeed. A person, place, or thing, as I was taught by the kindly nuns.
William Michaelian: Ah. And so we have, in effect, a drawerful of nouns, waiting stoically for some verb to come along and finish them off.
John Berbrich: Well, thatís what verbs do. They finish things off, exterminate them, liquidate them. Itís a cruel world, but God made verbs for a reason.
William Michaelian: Predatory parts of speech. A linguistic balance of nature. For me, this is a new way of thinking about words. And objects. I like it already.
John Berbrich: Consider each sentence in a Darwinian sense. We require both predators & prey. And a certain balance of them, a kind of ratio, you might say. You canít have sentences filled w/ nothing but verbs, thereís nothing for them to act on. Same goes for nouns ó theyíll just graze on articles & grow fat if no verbs live in the neighborhood. Too fat ó theyíll simply swell up, fall over, & die. But strong verbs, ahh, they keep the language lean & rich & hard. Thatís what you do when you revise a sentence ó youíre weeding out the weak & superfluous words, the words that donít belong in that particular sentence. Itís a jungle out there.
William Michaelian: Wow. So, to put it another way, at about the time the spoons are gaining the upper hand, the knives come along and thin the herd; but if the knives overdo it they end up sickly from a diet of nothing but forks, unless one or the other has already been smothered by the napkins. Does that sound about right? So it makes sense to have, say, an ice pick in the back of the drawer, or a can opener, to kind of keep things in line.
John Berbrich: Donít forget the old length of string & that broken pair of scissors, but yes, Iíd say youíve got it.
William Michaelian: Good. And while this is all going on, your grammar is in the kitchen baking cookies.
John Berbrich: Ah, itís w/ cookies & beer that weíll celebrate Bloomsday, which was yesterday. Cheers!
William Michaelian: Excellent idea. Let me grab said can opener . . . oops ó CRASH.