Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Merely very, very good

Life is too short for major minor poets, as it is for chess. (The latter, per Byron, Henry James [only one of him], in "Our Boys", a play holding the record for longest run in London for a long stretch.) A bit of a stretch here, I'll admit, for a double-headed post:

Poetry in short
Karl Shapiro, Selected Poems ('68 edition): A career that took many turnings; his best work, in the 40s and 50s, propelled him to the inner circle of the elite American poets, but the wheel turned again, neglecting him until recently (see Joseph Epstein on the occasion of LoA inclusion). He was able to satirize even his own standing (in "The Bourgeois Poet", for instance), but I found he took poetry itself as his subject too often. At his best, though, well worth remembering, as the following will attest:

Ballet Mécanique

The hand involves the wheel that weaves the hand
Without the kiss of kind; the digits flick,
The cranks obedient to no command
Raise on their iron shoulders the dead weight
For which no forges cheer. Nothing is late,
Nothing behind, excited, or too quick.
The arm involves the treadle and the wheel
Winds wakeless motion on a tireless reel.

The kiss of kind remembers wood and wool
To no cold purpose, anciently, afar;
The wheel forgets the hand that palpitates
The danceless power, and the power waits
Coiled in the tension tower for the pull
That freezes the burnt hand upon the bar.

The proximate referent is Fernand Léger (flick) and George Antheil (soundtrack, for percussion, 3 airplane props and 16 synchronized player-pianos [paging Wm.Gaddis]), unreconciled until quite recently. The apposite comment by fellow Baltimorean Pellicano on his conducting debut: "The difficulty is not getting lost [in the score], but being perfect in the hand."

Ah Cheng, The Chess Master (trans WJF Jenner): While Stefan Zweig's Schachnovelle remains the acme of gamewriting, this is a worthy contender (along with Kawabata's The Master of Go), and is of particular interest in merging modernity with tradition in both theme and composition (more thereon, not cited in a skewed intro). The Chinese form of the game, xiangqi (more), is probably played by more people than any other chess variant, including the Western version, but remains relatively unknown outside China; within this story it serves to transmit tradition, albeit in a debased form, across the Cultural Revolution, and to preserve Tao -- the author clearly gets the development of prodigy through early tactical wizardry to mature appreciation, which includes the proper appreciation for the modest place of chess in life. As per one of the taglines, how may melancholy be dispelled, save through chess?


Post a Comment

<< Home