Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween + HUMAN MICROPOEM @ #OccupyChicago


Be safe and have fun if you trick & treat tonight!


(Since Shakespeare didn't create the word and apparently no one else has either*, I am going to: embogment. That is my state these days. In a bog of competing deadlines, responsibilities, layers of materials to read--and thus, the paucity of new blog posts. It's always hard to convey how the quarter system's pace creates ever new layers of tasks more quickly than some of us can tackle them, but so it is. Nevertheless before another week passes, I wanted to post some entries, so here is one, and as I complete the stubs for the prior ones, I'll post those too. - *Of course this word already exists in English, as quick Google search suggests. P. J. O'Rourke of all people has already employed it.)

Yesterday I temporarily broke my weeks-long engagement with (reading and marking up) fiction and joined some local poets who were reading at the Occupy Chicago main site, on the corner of Jackson and LaSalle Streets, across from the Federal Reserve Branch of Chicago. Dubbed The Human Micropoem, after the Human Microphone approach that Occupy Together protesters have adopted across the country, the gathering, organized by Jen Karmin and Laura Goldstein, drew a decent number of participants, among them the longstanding Occupy Chicago resisters, who for over a month now have been standing their ground, leading rallies and marches, and calling attention to the many gross economic and social disparities that the current Global Economic Depression has only magnified.

The organizers invited readers to bring poems to read--and be human miked aloud--of no longer than 5 minutes.  As with any human microphone, the speaker says a line and everyone who can hear it repeats it, roughly in unison. The call and response choral form has the effect of making the words of any statement linger in the mind, and the effect of hearing so many different types of voices speaking- the musical and rhythmic lines of the poems together, sometimes altering based on what was heard and misheard, was multiply resonant for me, not just aurally but at times emotionally. The repetition gave each line weight, but also made the pieces, no matter whether they were prosy or more conventional in their poetic form, comprehensible, and, as I noted, the amplification and harmonization increased their power.

I arrived a little late. Other local writers, artists and activists present, some of whom may or may not have read, included Jen, Laura, Andrew Cantrell, Lina ramona Vitkauskas, John Wilkinson, Kurt Heintz, Braden Coucher, Eric Elshtain, Barbara Barg, Daniel Borzutzky, Larry Sawyer, Chris Gallinari, and Jen Besemer. I was, I believe, the last to read and did not present one of my poems but instead chose Carl Sandburg's "I Am the People, the Mob," because of its appropriateness on many levels. Interestingly even though I mentioned Sandburg before I began, several people afterwards wanted to know about "my poem," so I directed them to the behemoth Google so that they could find it online. I think it, Sandburg, and all the late, past great poets of labor should be invoked as often as contemporary ones are, as often as possible, particularly during rallies and marches. Their words are important and vital today as when they wrote them, and when channeled through human microphones as Human Micropoems, they recapture, even if for a second, the worldly and otherworldly power that words had for our oral ancestors and still have for our mostly oral peers.

Jen Karmin (in the plum cap and coat) beginning to read, as a participant walks to the poem's music
One of the poets reading
Another poet reading
Some of those present
After the reading, the Occupy Chicago announcements photo
An important message (even though these days it often seems to be a foregone conclusion, to quote Shakespeare)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cardinals Win World Series!

World Series MVP David Freese
The Saint Louis Cardinals, Major League Baseball's most improbable post-season team, has won the 2011 World Series! This is the Cardinals' 11th Series win, second only to the New York Yankees' 22, and their second in the last 5 years, when they defeated Detroit in 4 games in 2006. As I previously wrote, the Cardinals listed through most of the regular season, until righting themselves in the final two months to come back from a 10 1/2 deficit and pass Atlanta's collapsing squad to slip into the playoffs with 90-72 record. The Cardinals then defeated the National League's most successful regular-season team, the 102-60 Philadelphia Phillies, winning 3 games to 2, before vanquishing their division rivals, the Milwaukee Brewers (96-66), in 6 games (4-2), to win the National League Championship and face the American League champions, the Texas Rangers.
While the Cardinals were still battling the Brewers, a good friend and far more knowledgeable sports commentator suggested that the Rangers were the team to beat, as they'd rolled over their first-round opponents, Cardinalian Tampa Bay Rays, also last-day-of-the season entry after the media favorite Boston Red Sox suffered their own disintegration, and then the very talented Detroit Tigers team, which had gone 95-67 and featured the likely American League Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA). Texas walloped Tampa Bay 3-1, following this with a 4-2 victory over the Tigers. I suggested to my friend that no one should count either the Cardinals or the Brewers, had they made it to the Series, out; not only did the National League teams have home-field advantage because their all stars won the All Star Game (a great shift that gives that contest a new layer of seriousness), but each team had a true ace (for the Cardinals the aging but still sharp Chris Carpenter, whose shutout on the regular season's final day sealed their victory), but also several weapons, including the Cardinals' certain Hall of Famer, Albert Pujols, and for a the Brewers, a rising star, the keg-barrel of a slugger, Prince Fielder.
Future Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa
Still it did not look like a good matchup on paper. I don't know what the now dominant Sabremetric crowd had to say about it, either, but I felt from the beginning that whichever National League team made it would win it all. The Cardinals also had a solid lineup, which included talented veterans like Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal, their excellent catcher, Yadier Molina, and a number of skilled younger players, including Saint Louisan David Freese, who ended up being the Series hero. They also had that very gifted relief corps to fill in for the shaky non-Carpenter starters, and, perhaps as importantly, their manager, Tony LaRussa, who, as any Cardinals fan knows, can swing between the most appallingly dismal strategizing and Gary Kasparovesque moves that would leave the opposing team in a daze.
Freese after his Game 6-winning home run
LaRussa did not disappoint. In a debacle that will surely be forgotten because of the Cardinals' final victory, LaRussa twice in Game 5 called the bullpen to order up the regular closer, Jason Motte, only to have his bullpen coach mishear him twice, instead sending Lance Lynn, the game 3 winner, into the game; Texas scored two runs at home in Arlington Stadium and won 4-2. Yet the next night, in what will certainly go down as one of the most thrilling and sloppily played World Series games in decades, the 6th game featured LaRussa at his best, and the Cardinals embodying what they had shown all throughout September. Two times, in the 9th and 10th innings the Rangers were one strike away from the World Series crown, and both times, the Cardinals came back to tie up the game, with LaRussa using starter Jason Lohse to bunt to advance runners and starter Kyle Westbrook to pitch a scoreless 1lth, until Freese came to the plate and hit a walk-off home run to give the Cardinals the 10-9 victory.  It was an astonishing comeback and win.

At Busch III Stadium
That was all the Cardinals needed. Ace Chris Carpenter returned to pitch his third game of the series, on 3 days rest (because of the initial rain-out of Game 6 in St. Louis), and after surrendering 2 runs in the first inning, he and the relief pitchers Arthur Rhodes, Octavio Dotel, Lynn, and Motte, pitched beautifully, allowing no more runs, and giving Saint Louis the victory. It was a fitting tribute to determination and using every shred of talent and luck the comes your way.  Sometimes the underdog, even in a sport heavily overdetermined by teams' wealth and skill at using statistics these days, does triumph. It also was a fitting valediction for Albert Pujols, who became only the third player ever to hit 3 home runs in a World Series game, and Chris Carpenter in case the Cardinals do not resign them, and for manager Tony LaRussa if he doesn't resign with them either. He has now moved into third place on the all-time win list with 2728 wins vs. 2365 losses, and in 33 years of managing, he won 6 pennants, 3 in the American League and 3 in the National League, and led his team to 3 World Series victories, 1 in the AL with Oakland A's in 1989, and 2 with the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011.

Future Hall of Famer (& ex-Cardinal?) Albert Pujols

Texas will return next year with almost the entire core of its team intact, including its masterful manager Ron Washington. Last year the Rangers went to Series and lost to the San Francisco Giants, and this year they went down against the Cardinals. Although the Yankees, the Tigers, Tampa Bay, the California Angels, and the Red Sox will all be in the hunt next year, Washington has the personnel to make three times a charm. I don't think he'll be facing the Cardinals next year, or the Brewers if they lose Fielder. Could it be Philadelphia? Pittsburgh? Arizona? The Mets? Come back next spring and we'll resume the conversation!

The Saint Louis Rally Squirrel!


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Murakami's 1Q84 + New Lispector Translations for ND

Once upon a time, when I was younger, and certain writers published new books, if I could afford to, I would rush to the nearest bookstore to purchase the books as soon as they hit the shelves. I grew out of that around the time I went to graduate school and found myself with little money for anything beyond rent, food, basic clothes, and so on, and in the years since that kind of attentiveness to favorite writers' new works has never returned, but occasionally the announcement of particular books will spur me, if not the day they're released, then shortly after, to buy them. If, of course, I can afford to. I had heard murmurs about Haruki Murakami's extraordinary new novel(s), 1Q84, published in multiple volumes in Japan and in one giant volume this month by Alfred A. Knopf, but in the hurlyburly of preparing for and then beginning classes this fall, I'd forgotten about it, until a university colleague and fellow Murakami-phile, Nathan M., reminded me of it.  Our discussion of Murakami's new book jogged my memory of having seen it a few times when I was at Kinokuniya in New York this past summer. A branch of that store, which features in Murakami's works, including this one, sits right across 6th Avenue from Bryant Park and has a perfect little cafe for taking a library break, but I wasn't thinking at all about when the English translation would appear. And then, shortly after talking about the book and invoking Murakami in my undergraduate class (though we're not reading him this year), I was in Unabridged Books in Boystown and saw the book, and said, budget buster or not, I ought to get it. Only the hardcover (and perhaps the e-book, I haven't checked) version is out, and at 932 pages it's as big as a paving stone and as heavy. And it costs a cool $30.50. Perhaps I should have waited until the paperback(s) spring? Two translators, the acclaimed Jay Rubin (Books 1 and 2) and Philip Gabriel (Book 3), have brought it into English, and I don't read any Japanese, but my cursory glance suggests the prose flows as fluently, with Murakami's signature quirks, as ever. I don't know when I'll get to it; though I blogged about Roberto Bolaño's 2666 even before it was published it took my another year to purchase the English translation (the three-volume boxed paperback set) and several more years to read it the first time, after which I reread it again this summer. I hope to get to this Murakami volume this spring, but I have a very heavy required reading load right up through April, and a K-2 of books backing up before this so perhaps I will complete my rendez-vous during the summer. Every peep has revealed something strange and interesting, so I might not be able to wait that long. If you're curious about the novel, you can get a précis here.

A day or so after I bought 1Q84 I read Sam Anderson's somewhat problematic but still intriguing New York Times Magazine article "The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami," his account of his encounter with Murakami and (Murakami's) Japan. I say "problematic" because the article opens with the sort of annoying orientalism that should have gone the way of the Mikado. It's like Lost In Translation but without the interesting actors or acting or mood. Had he really never seen any films about Japan, read any other Japanese authors, never read a single history or sociological or anthropological or travel book about the country? At any rate, once you get past that bit, it really is an interesting, relatively brief record of an encounter--a portrait, though not really a profile, unless that terms suggests not getting beneath the surface or seeing other angles--of Murakami's life and work, and of Anderson's recognition of how distinctive he is in relation to Japan, yet how deeply rooted in aspects of Tokyo, at least, Murakami also is. Most of what even semi-regular Murakami fans already know about him receives a bit of treatment here, but I did find his account of how a trip on one of Japan's main highways led to the opening scene of the new book. In that scene, playing in the taxi is Leos Janacek's 1926 tribute to his country, his Sinfonietta, a piece of music that Murakami describes as "'probably not the ideal music'" for the experience. He goes on to say that its "weirdness" was the reason he chose it, and that "that is not a popular music at all." In Japan, I suppose, though it's nationalistic and militaristic Czech music--Janacek removed the "military" from the original title, brass fanfares tend not to be unpopular, and there are folkloric elements woven in, so I would imagine it's probably a bit more popular, at least in the Czech Republic and elsewhere, than Murakami credits it. Anderson, who I gather has never heard it before either (ugh!), describes it as: "busy, upbeat, dramatic--like five normal songs fighting for supremacy inside an empty paint can. This makes it the perfect theme for the frantic, lumpy, violent adventure of 1Q84." What? I rather like the Sinfonietta myself, and once even played a CD featuring the rousing opening for C (who wasn't impressed), but I was thinking of all the dreary cab rides I've been in over the years, some with awful pop music, some with chatty cab drives, one (and C will attest to this) with a religious fanatic who kept taking his hands off the wheel and assuring us that God would take care things, etc., and in any of those cases, I would much rather hear a lively brass fanfare than what I experienced. At any rate, one fascinating aspect of Janacek's piece is that he derives all of the subsequent movements from the cheerful opening motif, which is scored for brass and percussion, and never sounds like, well, John Philip Sousa (not without his charms either). I also have now heard several radio discussions of Murakami's new book, which hav included bemusement about Janacek's music (as well as the mangling of his last name--yah-NAH-chick!), so I include a Youtube video below of the opening two movements, with Rafael Kubelik conducting the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. Does this sound like music in a paint can? Really?

‡ ‡ ‡

While at the bookstore I noticed what looked like a new New Directions edition of Clarice Lispector's penultimate, and best known novel, The Hour of the Star, which appeared just before she passed away, in 1977.  What I spotted turns out not only to be a new edition, but a new translation of this remarkable work, by Benjamin Moser, who wrote the authoritative English language biography of Lispector, Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector (Oxford University Press, 2009). In it he traces not only Lispector's life and work, but the development of her thought, showing how her early engagement with Baruch Spinoza deeply marked not just the content of her works, but also its forms and its language. Moser, who also writes for Harpers and The New York Review of Books, has now brought into English what appears, at least from my reading of it, a version of Lispector's novel that is much closer to the original Portuguese. One thing that most readers do not know, but as I believe I've mentioned on this blog before, is that the longstanding English translation, by Giovanni Pontiero, I believe, not only changed key bits of text, but left out portions. A scholar of Brazilian literature and a scholar of Hispanophone literature who was reading the text for a paper both confirmed that this editing and bowdlerization had occurred, though most readers, including I, have fallen in love with the earlier English version of the text. Moser's Lispector is a bit wilder, and he discusses this in a thoughtful afterword that helps to orient the reader to the text. I almost wish it could have been exchanged with the foreword, by Colm Tóibín, which doesn't really add that much in a prefatory sense, though it would be fine after one read the book. 

The next 4 newly translated volumes
to be published, which
will form a portrait of
Lispector when placed together
From Moser's postscript and from the front matter it appears that New Directions will be publishing new translations of several more of the books, which Craig Morgan Teicher's September 27, 2011 article in Publishers Weekly confirms. New Directions will issue new translations of Lispector's highly praised début, Near to the Wild HeartThe Passion According to G. H., Lispector's greatest existential and spiritual exploration; A Breath of Life (Um sopra de vida: pulsações, her last, posthumous, highly abstract, metafictional book, which has not been translated into English); and Água Viva, which Elizabeth Lowe and Earl Fitz translated as The Stream of Life, and published with University of Minnesota Press in 1989. Hélène Cixous, who brought worldwide attention to Lispector, wrote the introduction this earlier version; I wonder who New Directions will get to introduce it. Thank you, New Directions, and, as with Murakami's tome, when these appear, if I have the scratch, I will be getting them, and urging the university and other local libraries to do so as well. Fellow readers and teachers, take note!

From Moser's "Translator's Afterword" (p. 80):

Clarice Lispector's weird word choices, strange syntax, and lack of interest in conventional grammar produces [sic] sentences--often fragments of sentences--that veer towards abstraction without ever quite reaching it. her goal, mystical as well as artistic, was to rearrange conventional language to find meaning, but never to discard it completely. 
Paradoxically, the better one's Portuguese, the more difficult it is to read Clarice Lispector. The foreigner with a basic knowledge of Romance grammar and vocabulary can read The Hour of the Star with ease. The Brazilian, however, often finds her extremely difficult. This is because her subtle rearrangements of everyday language are so surprising that they often baffle the reader, particularly the reader with little experience of her work. 

And from his new translation, here is the narrator, the often strange, sometimes repellent, always beguiling Rodrigo S. M., describing the novel's protagonist, heartbreaking, hapless Macabéa (p. 29):

She had what's known as inner life and didn't know it. She lived off herself as if eating her own entrails. When she went to work she looked like a gentle lunatic because as the bus went along she daydreamed in loud and dazzling dreams. These dreams, because of all that interiority, were empty because they lacked the essential nucleus of--of ecstasy, let's say. Most of the time she had without realizing it the void that fills the souls of the saints. Was she a saint? So it seems. She didn't know that she was meditating because she didn't know what the word meant. But it seems to me that her life was a long meditation on the nothing. Except she needed others in order to believe in herself, otherwise shed'd get lost in the successive and round emptinesses inside her. She meditated while she was typing and that's why she made even more mistakes.

There's so much more. From Copyright © Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star translated from the Portuguese by Benjamin Moser, New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1977, 2011. Translation Copyright © Benjamin Moser, 2011.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fiction's Psychocognitive Effects, Part II + Toibín & Eugenides in Conversation

Last month I posted a little musing entitled "Can Fiction Improve Empathy and Provoke Aggression," which focused on some of the more recent findings by psychological researchers, cognitive scientists, and communications scholars on the neurocognitive effects of fictional works of art and entertainment, which, as I was mentioning to a colleague recently, suggest that at least on these and similar accounts, and despite lacking our extensive contemporary knowledge of how the brain functions, Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, and a few other past thinkers were in fact right, and some of the major 20th century literary theorists and philosophers who wrote about how language works were perhaps off track. The other day I came across a link to another such study, "Misinformation on TV Drama Can Gain Credibility," which reporter Tom Jacobs wrote up on Miller-McCune's newssite. Yet again, it seems, poetic and philosophical wisdom accrued over centuries is more correct than we might think.

Jacob focuses on a study, "The Delay Hypothesis: The Manifestation of Media Effects over Time," by University of Utah communications researcher Jakob Jensen, who looked at the effects of misinformation embedded in a fictional TV show.  Jensen and a research team had 147 students watch an episode of Boston Legal that contained misinformation about EpiPens, which are used to deliver safe doses of epinephrine to people suffering from various kinds of anaphylactic or similar allergic reactions or shocks. In the episode, however, the delivery went awry, a narrative twist that upset EpiPen advocacy groups.  Immediately after the episode, Jensen gave all the students a questionnaire exploring how they related to the characters, how real the show seemed, and how deeply it drew them into its world. He then gave half of the students a questionnaire on the efficacy and safety of EpiPens.

Two weeks later, Jensen and his team mailed all the students a survey on the show, but only asked those who had not previously received the second part of the questionnaire their thoughts on the efficacy of the EpiPens. As it turned out, "individuals queried two weeks after exposure to the television program were more likely to endorse the false belief than those queried immediately after exposure."  This mirrored the results of a 2007 study by University of Cologne researchers Markus Appel and Tobias Richter. As Jensen and his colleagues note, "Two studies have now shown that fiction (written and televised) can produce a delayed message effect," a potentially problematic outcome given that "people are bombarded by mass media every day all over the world, and a sizeable (and growing) body of mass communication research has demonstrated that much of this content is distorted in a multitude of ways."

In essence Jensen was observing a "sleeper effect," in which a piece information in sediments in our minds and we forget it came from an unreliable source, or misinformation sediments and we forget not just the source but that it's misinformation.  Jacobs points out that the "sleeper effect" was first proposed in the 1940s, and confirmed in a 2004 meta-analysis. Yet Plato feared this effect, among others--the "empathy" and the "aggression," as well as other possible modeled and reflective responses--in persuasive, imaginative fictional works, while Aristotle argued that in fact they could have positive, "cathartic" effects.  Many centuries later Nietzsche, among his many other insights, suggested that we engage in such truth-making, sometimes out of lies, half-truths and self-rationalizations, on a societal basis, thus creating truths and sometimes embedding them in various forms of narrative (including religion), however contrary they may be to the material facts around us. One response might be to reject such truths and facts altogether and create one's own, as more than one political operative, party and entire nation has done over the years.

In their 2007 paper, "Persuasive Effects of Fictional Narratives Increase of Over Time," Appel and Richter concluded:

The present study suggests that fictional narratives can have a persistent implicit influence on the way we view the world, and that these effects may last longer than the effects of typical explicit attempts to change beliefs by presenting claims and arguments. Apart from the unintended consequences this instance might have, fictional narratives are a powerful educational tool which on the one hand may be used in a planned and reasonable way to change beliefs and behavior concerning existential topics such as HIV or school education (Singhal et al., 2004). On the other hand, applied fictional persuasion also includes the marketing of political ideas and products in television soap operas without viewers’ awareness (e.g., Lilienthal, 2005) and similar phenomena.

When I discussed this with my graduate fiction class the other night, one student noted that one way to think about this was that fiction and fictional works were essentially propaganda, or could have propagandistic effects. I agreed and thought to myself that many an author, going back many centuries, had intuitively grasped this concept, and instantly thought, in terms of the Anglophone novel, of Samuel Richardson's thoughts about the possible salutary moral effects of works such as Clarissa and Pamela, to give an early example. But, so had many a philosopher, pope and tyrant understood this, which was perhaps one explanation why so many rulers and their censors had taken such extreme steps over the years, from proscribing works of fiction to burning them to proscribing and burning the authors behind them.  I also thought of the long history of important critical work by authors and scholars that raised questions about the effects of various kinds of representations, especially sexist, racist, homophobic, classist, and other discriminatory ones, and the not-infrequent dismissal of such questions based on flawed understandings, particularly of subtle, delayed and influential psychocognitive effects of fiction narratives and the representations embedded in them. To give one example, I was thinking of all of the deleterious representations, stretching throughout the history of Hollywood cinema, from its inauguration up through today, of African Americans, and how even in the face of rational challenges, the "sleeper effect" still plays a role. (This came up a few years ago when I assigned the Joan Crawford vehicle Mildred Pierce in my aesthetics class for the unit on "sentimentality," and we spent a portion of the class talking not about that concept but about the minstrelsy imposed, extraneously to the plot, on Butterfly McQueen's character, which was the sort of eruption that Tisa Bryant explored in her wonderful first book, Unexplained Presence.) One could make similar arguments for other groups. The same is true, I realized, for a good deal of American literature, which also got me thinking in a converse sense about the appeal to respectability among New Negro and early 20th black bourgeois leaders.

So, whether in the absence of intentional, conscious propagandizing, as with a J.W. von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, which precipitated a spate of suicides much as its young protagonist had subected himself to, or when it is overt, as with Ayn Rand, whose dreadful novels' spellbinding effects on so many often quite intelligent, sometimes extraordinarily smart minds, might perhaps now be clearer to the rest of us, the psychocognitive effects of fictional narratives, whatever the media or genre--stories and novels; films and videos; TV shows--still, it seems, tend to be understimated.  Fiction and fictions, then, and as I explored in the discussion this summer, of metaphor, which is to say LANGUAGE in its various imaginative forms, modes and genres, is more important and powerful than we tend to credit it, thus raising some important ethical questions that I don't think writers discuss enough, on an individual basis, with each other, or with readers. (J. M. Coetzee directly poses and dramatizes some of these ethical questions around writing in his strange and powerful novel Elizabeth Costello.) Perhaps I'll pursue some of these questions on here at some point soon.


This piece reminded me of something I had been wanting to post, a brief conversation in the New York Times at the very beginning of this month, featuring two highly lauded contemporary fiction writers, Colm Toibín and Jeffrey Eugenides. In it they discuss their work and fiction as an art form, focusing especially on their choices of realism as a mode and genre. I wish the piece were longer. I also wish the NY Times would post more such conversations and less of its own reporters' narratives masquerading as news, but that is unlikely to happen, so at least I've gotten that out.

Says Eugenides:

The predicament of the contemporary novelist isn’t that different from the one in which my heroine finds herself in “The Marriage Plot.” You told me earlier that when Madeleine tells Leonard that she loves him, her avowal is open to being “read” or mocked. That is, she knows from structuralist theory that the words “I love you” are a trope and that romantic love is a social construct. And yet that doesn’t keep her from being desperately in love with Leonard. Isn’t this how a lot of novelists feel right now? We know from our Derrida that narrative is exhausted and character a fraud. We know that we might be “mocked” for persisting in writing realist fiction. But we keep on doing it! Because we think there is something about reality, and especially about human consciousness, that can be accurately described and that the novel is the best way to do it.

Ah yes, there is something about reality, and especially about human consciousness, that can be accurately described--but, Mr. Eugenides, as many a predecessor has shown and as the mind scientists above demonstrate, there are quite a few things about human consciousness than can be shaped and molded as well. And the novel is one way to do.

Claudia Rankine @ Chicago Humanities Festival

Claudia Rankine speaking to a fan
Rankine (l) & attendee
It's been a tough few weeks--such are our quarters!--but I have a little breather today, so I thought I'd post on the Chicago Humanities Festival presentation, this past Sunday, of Claudia Rankine, one of the more original and to me, compelling, creative minds working today.  Rankine, a native of Jamaica, longtime resident of New York, and now the Henry G. Lee Professor of English at Pomona College, originally gained notice for a series of award-winning books of poetry, including The End of the Alphabet (1998) and PLOT (2001), which are highly innovative in terms of form and content, but it was her last book, Don't Let Me Be Lonely (Graywolf, 2004), which has perhaps garnered the most praise, not least because it manages to achieve so many things and in ways that, as with her earlier books, feel new and utterly particular to her vision.  Blending poetry, meditative essay, fictional narration, and visual images, Don't Let Me Be Lonely beguiles and provokes the reader into believing it is true, that it is autobiographical and memoristic, yet it creates and resounds with affective and social truths that anyone living and thinking about life in contemporary America, and particularly after 9/11, realizes sooner or later.
Claudia Rankine at the Chicago Humanities Festival
Rankine speaking at the Chicago Humanities Festival
The Festival had billed Rankine's presentation as a discussion of Don't Let Me Be Lonely, but in the years since that book appeared she has produced a range of other work, including short video films, a play, and essays, and she shared some of these with those present. First she showed three videos she had created with her husband, filmmaker John Lucas, entitled Situation 1, Situation 2, and Situation 5. In the first, they utilized a video clip from the 2006 Soccer World Cup final, in which French star Zinedine Zidane infamously headbutted Italian player Marco Materazzi, and removed all of the other French players "to isolate" Zidane. They then slowed the clip down, and paired it with a cento-style text, read by Rankine, comprising snippets of prose by authors such as James Baldwin, Frederick Douglass, Homi Bhabha, Frantz Fanon, William Shakespeare, and others. The effect of the slowed but still-moving images and Rankine's incantatory verbal performance was hypnotic, and the moment in which Zidane responds to Materazzi's provocations packed far more power than when I'd seen it before. Some of the lines I noted included: "Who is forced to snatch his humanity....out of the fire of human cruelty"; "he state of emergency is also always a state of emergence"; "I resolved to fight"; and "It is the white man who creates the black man, but it is the black man who creates."
"Situation 1," by Claudia Rankine & John Lucas
A still from Situation 1, by Rankine & Lucas
In Situation 2, a meditation on 9/11, Rankine and Lucas snapped still photos of people asleep on planes, with moving imagery of the clouds just beyond the frames, and paired this with a text Rankine wrote that managed both to feel ethereal and quite profound.  The video captures the physical and psychological vulnerability and innocence of human beings while sleeping, "the body at rest, inaugurating its form," especially while traveling by airplane or any other means of mass conveyance, which also entails trust, rationalization and faith in the pilot carrying them. For the passengers on the four airplanes that were transformed into missiles and weapons of destruction, however, this basic ontological understanding was upended. The oneiric style of Rankine's poetry here camouflages several parallel tracks, which included some of the horrifying calls people placed on 9/11 and a low human heartbeat, and thus, as anyone who travels must, the potential terror underlying this experience, but slowly it emerges, leading us to acknowledge that even on a perfectly safe flight, we surrender all control and, at a certain point if and when we close our eyes, "there is no self, just this falling off."
A still from "Situation 5," by Claudia Rankine & John Lucas
A still from Situation 5, by Rankine & Lucas
The third video, Situation 5, was also quite powerful. At first observation it appears to be a narrator's evocation of family ties, of "brothers" to and with whom the narrator is seeking to deepen understanding and affection. Yet the video is actually about two men who were imprisoned for years, and about whom Lucas is making a documentary, The Cooler Bandits (title?). In fact, the images showed them departing prison for the first time. Knowing this, Rankine's soundtrack text--"My brothers...have not been to prison, but they have been imprisoned"; "On my birthday...they say my name"; "We open our mouths to speak, and out come blossoms"; "I say goodbye before anyone can hang up. Don't hang up." etc.--assumes an importance, a weight, an ominousness, that continues to deepen in retrospect.
A still from "Situation 5," by Claudia Rankine & John Lucas
A still from Situation 5, by Rankine & Lucas
A still from "Situation 5," by Claudia Rankine & John Lucas
A still from Situation 5, by Rankine & Lucas

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Quote: Charles Yu

"I am editing this book even as I write it, writing it as I read it, now I am repeating myself, even as I create it, I know it is flawed and possibly even inconsistent, and yet all I can do is to go forward and see where it takes me, all I can do is go backward and see where it takes me, all I can do is read it to see what happens to my father, what happened to him, to us, to see if it is true, to learn what I am apparently thinking right now, to learn what I will think, to see if can make any sense out of his life. Which is what sons do for their time-traveling fathers, act as biographers for them, as science fictional biographers, as literary executors, taking the inheritance of the contents of their fathers' lives, given to them in an unprocessed jumble, out of order and nonsensical. Sons do this for their fathers, they use their time machines and all of the technology inside, and they see if it is possible to put those contents into a story, into a life, into a life story. There is a sense in which I am pretty sure this makes no sense. I don't know where this is going. I don't know how this ends."
--Copyright © Charles Yu, from How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, New York: Vintage, 2010, p. 112.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Remembering Piri Thomas

Piri Thomas
When I was growing up, the division of reading in my home went like this: my father read newspapers, and my mother read books. (Both read magazines.) My mother read all kinds of books, but especially novels, most of them romances after a certain point, but among her non-romance stash my favorites were novels by Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Sidney Sheldon, William Styron, and Kyle Onstott. Roots, by Alex Haley, whom my mother says is a paternal relative of mine, made its appearance around the time of the famous miniseries, but I don't recall my father picking it up, and I didn't touch it until several years later, so initially annoyed was I by (mostly white) classmates who took glee in calling me "racines" (roots, in French, one of the two foreign languages I had to study in 7th grade), which rhymed with my last name, and then was truncated to "Rasss." (Eventually I took it in stride, as I did other witty permutations on my name.) Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which I did occasionally peek at based on my fascination with its eponymous subject, also sat on the living room bookshelf. There were, however, a few books other than the Bible that I knew my father periodically read at some point read, and of them, three gravitated from living room to the top of his bureau and back. Those were Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice; Claude Brown's Manchild in the Promised Land; and Piri Thomas's Down These Mean Streets.

The former always stands out for me because of Eldridge Cleaver's handsome, striking face on the cover, and its poetic title. I would sometimes pick the book up and stare it, and then read the back flap and say to myself, this is one of those men's books, black men's books, a book about the 1960s and early 1970s and all the things that had gone down then, that this survivor had bravely written about.  The cover image and title together exuded a ferocity and frustration that I recognized in my father, in older male relatives and other black men near my father's age. I didn't read the book, though, because I thought of it as one of my father's books, something I shouldn't be reading--though I had no hesitation in reading Walker, or Baldwin, or Onstott--and didn't. I felt similarly about Brown's. The same was true of Thomas's book, which though also there in the house I didn't crack; its title alone was a warning: I may have originally assumed those "mean streets" were somewhere in St. Louis, or if not there, Chicago or some similar Midwestern city, until I read the book's back cover and saw that Thomas was writing about "Spanish Harlem," which I knew, because of the "Harlem," meant New York City and black people, though I had no concept of where in New York Harlem or Spanish Harlem for that matter was. But the back cover write-up suggested that the story the novel's pages contained was a harsh one, a man's story, and since this was one of my father's books and actually did appear to be read from time to time, I did no more than glance at it and try, when I had picked it up, to make sure it lay exactly where I had found it lest he notice that it had been disturbed even an inch.

I finally read Down These Mean Streets when I was in college, not as part of the curriculum of any course but because I was trying to read all kinds of things I felt I should be reading or have read (like Roots, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X), as opposed to things I'd been assigned to read in junior high and high school (Macbeth, Lord of the Flies, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Lysistrata, Le noeud de vipères) or out of my own unclassifiable interests (Teach Yourself Sanskrit, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Ulysses, Annie Allen) or as part of my college syllabi (Harmonium, Tender Buttons, The Conquest of New Spain, Ariel). As I proceeded through Thomas's account of his early life and youth as a Puerto Rican-Cuban (born Juan Pedro Tomás, in 1928) in Depression era and post-war America, I glimpsed what my father might have seen in the book, the common points despite their different heritages, backgrounds and experiences. My father was not from El Barrio; my father, as far as I knew, could not speak more than a few words of Spanish; my father never went to jail on drug charges. But Thomas's story of struggling to find his place in a city, a society and a world that had little interest in or place for him; his journey, as a latino man of African descent (among other ancestries), from the ghetto, to finding and asserting his presence and voice, against and through multiple invisibilities; his narrative of becoming a man, which was also at its core a narrative of becoming and being, I could see spoke directly to my father, as Haley/Malcolm X's, Brown's and Eldridge Cleaver's books did, and it spoke immediately to me. Thomas's love of books, of libraries, of the power of being able to travel to other places through literary texts, spoke even more directly to my mind and soul.

Thomas at University
of Chicago, delivering
a flow, 1969

Down These Mean Streets, originally published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1967, is now a classic. Raw, poetic, sometimes infuriating, sometimes shocking, but always enthralling, Thomas's autobiographical novel tackled, among its many themes, the racial and ethnic diversity and attendant tensions both within and outside latino communities, a focus that many subsequent writers and scholars have picked up, but which the contemporary mainstream US media still cannot fully grasp or comprehend.  Its portrait of Spanish Harlem was also different from some of the idealized depictions that had preceded it (cf. West Side Story), and inspired many subsequent writers, latino and non-latino, to write their own stories. Thomas became quite famous for this book, to which he published a sequel, 7 Long Times (Arte Público, 1994). He also released other works, such as Savior, Savior, Hold My Hand (Doubleday, 1972) and Stories From El Barrio (Freedom Voices, 2005)  He was also a poet, and recorded and issued CDs of his poetry, performed in a style he called flow, akin to rap's precursors such as the spoken-word poetry and songs of Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets, Felipe Luciano, Lou Rawls, and Oscar Brown, Jr.  His CDs were Sounds of the Streets and No Mo' Barrio Blues. He wrote and talked with young people all over the country about his own experiences, about being a Puerto Rican and latino in this country, about the history of Puerto Rico/Borinquen, about being a convict and an ex-con and the role that race and ethnicity play in the US penal system, about challenging the social logic and law of racism, whose effects he and many millions of others have suffered since this country's earliest days, and above all, about the necessity of "unity," a word he used when he spoke to young people, which is to say about finding commonalities and connections amid, across and despite differences.

Piri Thomas's vital voice left us yesterday, October 17, 2011, but it is unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon. We still have his words, in text and CD form, online and on libraries shelves, and, as I remember growing up, on bookshelves and bureaus. His vision and wisdom, captured in his novel, lives on and endures--vivirán y durarán--in heads, in hearts, in souls.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Claudia Roquette-Pinto & Goldie Goldbloom Readings @ NU

Claudia Roquette-Pinto (center) reading her lecture
Claudia Roquette-Pinto, at the P&PCW workshop
Back in July I posted an entry on the contemporary Brazilian poet Claudia Roquette-Pinto (1963-), a Rio native, author of five books and one of the most acclaimed writers of her generation in Brazil.  I also translated one of her poems, "Space-Writing," which I'd found in a different translation by Charles Perrone in the collection Outras Praias*/13 Poetas Brasileiras Emergentes - Other Shores/13 Emerging Brazilian Poets, and wrote a few thoughts about that poem.  Originally she was slated to visit the university last spring, but the visit had to be postponed till this fall, but that turned out to be fortuitous as it gave me an opportunity, working with her via email, to translate a few more of her poems.  I can say without hesitation that she was a pleasure to work with, gracious and gentle in her corrections and suggestions, and highly informative in how she helped me to dive--as I still am--beneath the surface and upper layers of her poems.  As part of her visit, which the university's Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the cross-departmental Poetric and Poetics Colloquium and Workshop organized, she read for and spoke to a class taught by one of my colleagues, César Braga-Pinto; gave a public reading last night, during which she guided the audience through her career, with accompanying poems; and participated in a conversation and workshop this afternoon.  At her reading, I joined her and read the English translations, most by Guy Bennett and Michael Palmer, but with a few of my own, of her poems, and it was almost otherworldly to hear the poems aloud in Portuguese, read by their author, since I'd been living for several months with them almost on mute, or in their (my) imperfect English versions.  (This was the second time I've ever done this; the other time was in Italy, when I read Elizabeth Bishop's poems in their original English to accompany the beautiful translations by poet Ottavio Fattica; but I had never done this before a room full of university colleagues, so I was unspeakably terrified, but I think it went well.)

The workshop today helped me solve one piece of the puzzle of "Space-Writing": what I'd translated as "sealer" in the penultimate line could also be "shutter," which is probably more apt and, interestingly, has more assonance with "rapture," which could also, I realized, be rendered as "capture," though the former word in English carries, though they're usually lost on most of us, the sense of being captured, kidnapped, taken; in fact, "rapture"'s metaphorical sense is now its dominant one.  But the other deeper meanings nevertheless remain.  Claudia resolved another riddle when, in describing her intent, she clarified for me that the English wordI'd chosen in another translation was perhaps too mild; in American English (as opposed to British English, say), "quarrel" connotes an argument that doesn't reach the level of a battle, or all out war, though that might be the result of an ongoing quarrel.  So a strong word, like "struggle," or even "battle," with a similar metrical length (a trochee) and end-word consonance (that final "uhl") is probably a better option. I have now made changes in both cases.

Roquette-Pinto in both her public reading and the workshop talked about her poetics, how she fit or didn't within various Brazilian literary schools and approaches, and her formal evolution. One thing a reader of her books notices is how the poems formally change--from the more formally conservative poetry in her first book, to poems with considerable linguistic and aural leaps and gaps, poems informed by the tradition of Concretion, poems in which she overtly foregrounds the polysemous possibilities of words, to poems that become more discursive and, as is the case with several of the poems of hers I translated, more prosy in their rhythms and concerns. She also spoke about how her personal challenges--including the horror of her sister being kidnapped--surfaced in oblique ways in her poems. In one of my favorites of her poems, "Alma corsária" ("Pirate Soul"), she engages in an intertextual dialogue with a number of writers who have inspired and informed her work, including Manuel Bandeira, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Isaac Babel, Walt Whitman, and Clarice Lispector, even directly quoting the last, while also referencing her sister's plight.  Another challenge she discussed was having completed a novel she was compelled to write; she had felt herself at a distance from poetry, but saw that her later poems were, in their own way, a journey to and preparation for the prose work she needed to write. (I hope she does publish the novel some day soon.)

She now heads to several other campuses (Smith College, I believe, and Yale University), as well as other parts of the country (out west, New York), before heading back to Brazil, but I am incredibly delighted that she was able to spend several days on campus, and look forward to continuing a dialogue, in and through poetry, with her.  Now, if only I can afford to get to Brazil!


Goldie Goldbloom reading @ Blattner Visiting Prof talk
Goldie Goldbloom delivering her talk
Every year the university's undergraduate Creative Writing program hosts a fiction writer who holds the rank of visiting assistant professor and teaches two classes, one an advanced fiction workshop, the other a literature course, as a result of a gift by a distinguished alumnus, businessman, bibliophile and book artist, Simon Blattner.  Prior Simon Blattner Visiting Assistant Professors have included Tara Ison, Sasha Hemon, Patrick Somerville, Suki Kim, and Cristina Henriquez; this year's visitor is Goldie Goldbloom. I was unaware of Goldbloom's work until I learned last spring that she would spending a quarter at the university, and I've enjoyed familiarizing myself with it. A native of Western Australia, Goldbloom, a Hassidic Jew, has taught both elementary and high school, and served as a librarian. She now lives in Chicago with her 8 children, and has published two books, a collection of stories entitled You Lose These (Fremantle Press) and a novel, entitled The Paperbark Shoe (Picador, 2008), which won the AWP Novel Award in 2008 and the Great Lakes College Association’s New Writer’s Award in 2011.  Her work explores a range of topics, but certain ones, including childhood, difference, queerness, community and its absence, and self-creation come repeatedly come to the fore.

Goldie Goldbloom (iPhone drawing)
Goldbloom's Blattner lecture, "Literary Spelunking: A map to explore what lies beneath the surface," examined the place and function of subtext in a story, "We Didn't," by our colleague Stuart Dybek. Goldbloom, however, didn't just map out how the story worked or how  to discern the subtext(s) in it, but also drew an actual map--along with a literary diagram--of the subterranean caves beneath the desert of her native western Australia. (I love when writers display any sort of talent for visual art and drafting.) As she was delivering her talk, I decided to draw her, and my quick iPhone sketch is at left. Concluding her talk, she then read from her novel, and her performance of its account of a child burn victim was as evocative as the her, often poetic prose.  I'm looking forward to reading more of Goldbloom's work in the future, and trust her students feel as lucky as we do having her on campus for the quarter.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reggie H.'s "Visionaries" + Kameny & Ettlebrick, LGBTQ Pioneers

Over at the Noctuary, Reggie H. posts a very thoughtful entry on "Visionaries" that includes tributes to civil rights pioneers Derrick Bell and Fred Shuttlesworth, whom I did not get an opportunity to memorialize, as well as to Steve Jobs. The post also includes an encomium to our dear now deceased fellow poet James Richardson, with one of his sharp, powerful poems, a sonnet to our ancestor Phillis Wheatley. I recommend it.

It feels like a season of memorials. I noted this week the passing of Frank Kameny (1925-2011), who spent nearly the last 50 years fighting for full legal and social equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, and Paula Ettelbrick (1955-2011), whose held leadership roles with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, as legal director, (1986 –1993); the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) as policy director, (1993 –1994); Empire State Pride Agenda as legislative counsel, (1994 – 1999); the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force as director of family policy, (1999 –2001); and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission as executive director (2003 – 2009). I was fortunate to serve with Paula on the board of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the City University of New York, Graduate Center, back in the late 1990s. 

Kameny lived long enough to see some of his hardest work come to fruition; a veteran who was later drummed out of a federal job because he was gay and one of the activists behind the American Psychological Association's decision in 1974 to cease labeling homosexuality as a disorder, Kameny was present as President Barack Obama signed the law repealing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell bill, and had also witnessed the legalization fo same-sex marriage in Washington, DC; legal protections for LGBTQ people enacted in the Federal District and in many states across the country; and the public mood on LGBTQ people and equality shifted, gradually but steadily, to where it is today.

Paula was on the front lines for the battle for LGBTQ equality in New York and across the country, and played a key role in Rudy Giuliani's decision to grant domestic partnership rights and benefits in 1999. That tectonic shift, in the city that 30 years before had witnessed the Stonewall Riots and decades of LGBTQ activism of varoius kinds, laid the groundwork for the momentous legislation this year enacting same-sex marriage across New York State.  Her most recent position has been Executive Director of the Stonewall Community Foundation in New York. I remember her as one of many towering figures--but also down-to-earth, funny, progressive in her vision, and a joy to work with--on that CLAGS board, people I learned from then and continue to learn from. She leaves her partner, two children, an ex-partner, and other family members.

To learn more about the Paula Ettelbrick Internship Fund, please go here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy Chicago + Poem: Carl Sandburg

One of the signs @ Occupy Chicago
One of the signs from yesterday #occupychicago
I've posted a few times about the Occupy Wall Street (#OWS) and other Occupy Financial Districts protests, but I had not been able to get down to the Occupy Chicago gathering until yesterday. (Today participants will join the Mass Mobilization to Take Back Chicago by marching from their main site at Jackson and LaSalle across the street from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and the Chicago Board of Trade to the Art Institute of Chicago at 4:45 pm, where a reception for the Futures Industry Association and the Mortgage Bankers Association will be held.)

For those in Chicago, this is Take Back Chicago week, which will include several events each of the next few days. Today's mobilization:

@4PM: Jobs March
Federal Plaza @ Adams/Dearborn
Daley Plaza @ Washington/Dearborn

On Tuesday, October 11, 2011
@4PM: Homes March
Hyatt Regency @ Wacker/Stetson

On Wednesday, October 12, 2011
@4PM: Schools March
Hilton Chicago @ Balbo/Michigan
Chicago Board of Trade @ Jackson/LaSalle

As I wrote to friends today, when I heard Congressperson Eric Cantor's (R-VA) comments the other day referring to Occupy Wall Street and similar protesters as "mobs," I immediately thought of several poems by Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), the great poet of the Midwest, industrial America and labor.  Perhaps the best of these Sandburg poems specifically mentioning "the mob" is "I am the People, the Mob," of one poems I read earlier this year at the Poetry for Labor event I organized down at the Haymarket Memorial Sculpture on May Day.  "I am the People, the Mob" grounds the meaning of the latter term in the historical and material conditions of working people, suggesting that without the labor, the intellects, the bodies of workers, the vaunted corporations-persons would have been and would be nothing. Here is Sandburg's poem (I must remember to bring a copy with me in case I want to read it at an event) in case you don't have it handy:


I AM the people--the mob--the crowd--the mass.
    Do you know that all the great work of the world is
         done through me?
    I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the
         world's food and clothes.
    I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons
         come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And
         then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
    I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand
         for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.
         I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.
         I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and
         makes me work and give up what I have. And I
    Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red
         drops for history to remember. Then--I forget.
    When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the
         People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer
         forget who robbed me last year, who played me for
         a fool--then there will be no speaker in all the world
         say the name: "The People," with any fleck of a
         sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
    The mob--the crowd--the mass--will arrive then.

Copyright © Carl Sandburg. All rights reserved.

Below are a few photos from yesterday's gathering.  What impressed me was not only the enthusiasm of those present, but of so many people driving, walking and riding--in Chicago's double-decker tour buses--by. Perhaps because the rally was smaller than some prior ones have been, the day of the week and the hour determining attendance, everyone who wanted to could command the microphone for as long as she or he saw fit and speak, and many of those who stepped up did have thoughtful things to offer the crowd. (There was one person who shrieked out a call for violence then fled--agent provocateur, no doubt, for a true anarchist would have been willing to defend his views, no?) I did not attend the General Assembly, which began at 7 pm, but the notes from previous ones are available at the Occupy Chicago website.  I will heading back this upcoming weekend and at any other times that I can.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, across from the Occupy Chicago event
The Fed Bank of Chicago across from the protest site
Occupy Chicago participants beneath Bank of America banners
Occupy Chicago, beneath Bank of America banners
A picture worth a thousand bad policies
A photo worth 30 years of bad policies
One the Occupy Chicago rally's speakers
A speaker (he spoke about corporations' pushing "plastic sh*t" on us)
One of the musicians @ Occupy Chicago
One of the participants, a musician
People @ Occupy Chicago
Making music as someone else sang-rapped political aims
People @ Occupy Chicago
Participants across from the Chicago Board of Trade & Library
The crowd @ Occupy Chicago
Occupy Chicago particants ("End Corporate Welfare")

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Cardinals Advance + Rugby World Cup Update

 Chris Carpenter #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals
after final out (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
They did it again! The St. Louis Cardinals, behind last night's extraordinary 3-hit, 9-inning shutout by ace Chris Carpenter, defeated the Major League Baseball best-record holding Philadelphia Phillies, who'd won 102 games, to advance to the National League Championship Series! The Cardinals managed just six total hits and one run, in the first inning, on center-fielder Skip Schumaker's double that scored shortstop Rafael Furcal, who had tripled off the Phillies' leading pitcher, Roy Halladay, but that was enough. As he had on the regular season's final day, Carpenter returned to the form that won him a Cy Young Award back in 2005, striking out 3 and walking none. His final line was 9.0 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 0 runs batted in, 3 strikeouts, and 0 home runs. Halladay was nearly as good, allowing 6 hits in 8 innings while striking out 7. He finished the series at 1 win and 1 loss. Reliever Ross Madson did not allow a hit or run, and struck out 2.

One bizarre twist in the game came after the final at bat, when the Phillies lost slugger (and native St. Louisan) Ryan Howard to what appears to be an achilles heel injury. After hiting a weak grounder, he pulled up just feet from home plate, and had to be helped off the field.  The Cardinals will now face the Milwaukee Brewers, their midwestern rivals, whom they defeated in the 1982 World Series when the Brewers still were in the American League.  Matching up in that league's championship series are the Detroit Tigers, who have the best starter in either league, Justin Verlander, and whom the Cardinals faced and vanquished in the 2006 World Series (after having lost to them in the 1968 matchup), and the Texas Rangers, who have never won a World Series. I am hoping it will be the Cardinals vs. Detroit. (And please, DeWitt family, re-sign Albert Pujols!)


The 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand is drawing to a close.  In the first round of match play, the top teams emerging were host New Zealand (4-0-0, W-T-L) and France (2-0-2), which edged Tonga (2-0-2) in Pool A; England (4-0-0) and Argentina (3-0-1) in Pool B; Ireland (4-0-0) and Australia (3-0-1) in Pool C; and South Africa (4-0-0) and Wales (3-0-1) in Pool D. The United States did not finish last in its pool, C, but in the penultimate position, winning 1 match and losing 3.  Some of the play has  resulted in players being banned for a game or two: England's Delon Armitage suffered this penalty because of his tackle in the match against France.

Now at the quarterfinal stage, Wales today defeated Ireland 22-10, and France topped England 22-19, with two more pairings set for tomorrow, South Africa against Australia, and New Zealand against Argentina. The semifinals will pit Wales against France on October 15, and the winner of the second two matches on October 16, with the 3rd place match to occur on October 21, and the championship on October 23.  I tip New Zealand's All Blacks to win it all, but South Africa and Australia are also very strong contenders. Here a few more photos from more recent matches. Enjoy!

France's Dmitri Yachvili tackles England's Manu Tuilagi
Wales' Dan Lydiate attempts to lay out Ireland's Stephen Ferris
Ireland's squad huddle before their match with Wales
South Africa's coach Peter de Villiers at practice
Wallabies stretching during practice
Ma'a Nonu meeting with schoolchildren
Prop Juan Figalio and Argentinian teammates in scrum
Wales' Bradley Davies latches onto Fiji
fullback Iliesa Lomani Rakuka Keresoni
Fiji's team performs the Cibi in front of Wales before their match
New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams slips past Canadians
Georgia's Georgi Chkaidze grapples with Argentina's Felipe Contepomi
Siaule Piutau passes the ball as France's Morgan Parra tackles him