Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli (Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France) perform “Sweet Georgia Brown” in 1938. The song was written in 1925 by Ben Bernie and Maceo Pinkard and the lyrics were penned by Kenneth Casey.
Archives for March 2012
Jhumpa Lahiri, author of “Unaccustomed Earth,” “The Namesake” and “Interpreter of Maladies,” had a wonderful Opinion piece in Sunday’s New York times, My Life’s Sentences, which got me thinking about the role of sentences in writing, and how this applies to naming. Lahiri begins,
In college, I used to underline sentences that struck me, that made me look up from the page. They were not necessarily the same sentences the professors pointed out, which would turn up for further explication on an exam. I noted them for their clarity, their rhythm, their beauty and their enchantment. For surely it is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do.
I love this concept of enchantment, of what a magical thing it is for a mere “handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time.” Lahiri continues with a great example of such conjuring:
I remember reading a sentence by Joyce, in the short story “Araby.” It appears toward the beginning. “The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.” I have never forgotten it. This seems to me as perfect as a sentence can be. It is measured, unguarded, direct and transcendent, all at once. It is full of movement, of imagery. It distills a precise mood. It radiates with meaning and yet its sensibility is discreet.
The concept of the sentence as a stopper of time and a conjurer of places, people and situations is beautifully put. This is what we strive for in our naming work here at Zinzin, to go beyond mere identification and representation, and to evoke other worlds, imagery, movement, meaning and mood. When it works, it is magic, whether in a name, a sentence, or a poem. Speaking of poetry, the poet Robert Creeley has a rather different take on the idea of a sentence: “Oh yes, the sentence,” Creeley once told the critic Burton Hatlen, “that’s what we call it when we put someone in jail.” One writer’s “conjurer of worlds” is another writer’s jail cell.
From a poet’s perspective, the conjuring takes place on the lips of the speaker and in the mind of the listener/reader, independent of the structural norms of narrative prose, or any “norms” for that matter (see Kurt Schwitters, Die Sonate in Urlauten). For the writer of narrative prose, however, the sentence is a cellular organism–blood of the writer blood of the book–bringing stories to life. I’ve referred before to Don DeLillo’s 1993 Paris Review interview, but this bears repeating here:
…the basic work is built around the sentence. This is what I mean when I call myself a writer. I construct sentences. There’s a rhythm I hear that drives me through a sentence. And the words typed on the white page have a sculptural quality. They form odd correspondences. They match up not just through meaning but through sound and look…. I’m completely willing to let language press meaning upon me. Watching the way in which words match up, keeping the balance in a sentence—these are sensuous pleasures.
For DeLillo, the sentence is the existential force that that wills his narratives–and thus himself as a writer–into being. Bill Gray, the reclusive novelist protagonist of DeLillo’s novel “Mao II,” says at one point: “I’m a sentence maker. Like a donut maker, only slower.” Elsewhere, Gray–speaking from a gray zone between character and author–illuminates what appears to be DeLillo’s core concept of the sentence:
Every sentence has a truth waiting at the end of it and the writer learns how to know it when he finally gets there. On one level this truth is the swing of the sentence, the beat and poise, but down deeper it’s the integrity of the writer as he matches with the language. I’ve always seen myself in sentences. I begin to recognize myself, word by word, as I work through a sentence. The language of my books has shaped me as a man. There’s a moral force in a sentence when it comes out right. It speaks the writer’s will to live.
The language of my books has shaped me as a man. For DeLillo, there is no “I: The Writer” who writes sentences; it is only through writing that the writer is born. The sentence begets the writer, and to live, the writer must write the right sentences, which in turn create the writer, until they become interchangeable. Lahari:
As a book or story nears completion, I grow acutely, obsessively conscious of each sentence in the text. They enter into the blood. They seem to replace it, for a while.
Sentences enter the blood, for they are the red blood cells of prose; the author and her works have become one. Lahari goes on to elucidate the special something that great sentences must possess if they are to ignite the reader’s imagination:
The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold. In fiction, plenty do the job of conveying information, rousing suspense, painting characters, enabling them to speak. But only certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates.
Again, this beautifully describes our approach to naming, to go beyond names that merely “convey information” in favor of names that “breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil.” Replacing Lahari’s first “they” with “names,” and we get right to the core of great naming: [Names] can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates.
To paraphrase Don DeLillo: Every [name] has a truth waiting at the end of it and the [namer] learns how to know it when he finally gets there. For sentences, poetic fragments and names alike, there is a unique, individual truth waiting to be uncovered, and uncovering it is the journey.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
~Thomas A. Edison
Every telling has a taling and that’s the he and the she of it. Here is a 1929 recording of James Joyce reading the Anna Livia Plurabelle episode of Finnegans Wake, where he speaks in the brogue of an Irish washerwoman. Below is the full text of this episode. Can’t hear with the waters of. The chittering waters of. The last paragraph is one of my favorite passages in the whole book, and hauntingly beautiful in Joyce’s reading. Beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters of. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Anna Livia Plurabelle, Finnegans Wake (pp. 213-216):
Well, you know or don’t you kennet or haven’t I told you
every telling has a taling and that’s the he and the she of it. Look,
look, the dusk is growing! My branches lofty are taking root.
And my cold cher’s gone ashley. Fieluhr? Filou! What age is at?
It saon is late. ‘Tis endless now senne eye or erewone last saw
Waterhouse’s clogh. They took it asunder, I hurd thum sigh.
When will they reassemble it? O, my back, my back, my bach!
I’d want to go to Aches-les-Pains. Pingpong! There’s the Belle
for Sexaloitez! And Concepta de Send-us-pray! Pang! Wring out
the clothes! Wring in the dew! Godavari, vert the showers! And
grant thaya grace! Aman. Will we spread them here now? Ay,
we will. Flip ! Spread on your bank and I’ll spread mine on mine.
Flep! It’s what I’m doing. Spread ! It’s churning chill. Der went is
rising. I’ll lay a few stones on the hostel sheets. A man and his bride
embraced between them. Else I’d have sprinkled and folded them
only. And I’ll tie my butcher’s apron here. It’s suety yet. The
strollers will pass it by. Six shifts, ten kerchiefs, nine to hold to
the fire and this for the code, the convent napkins, twelve, one
baby’s shawl. Good mother Jossiph knows, she said. Whose
head? Mutter snores? Deataceas! Wharnow are alle her childer,
say? In kingdome gone or power to come or gloria be to them
farther? Allalivial, allalluvial! Some here, more no more, more
again lost alla stranger. I’ve heard tell that same brooch of the
Shannons was married into a family in Spain. And all the Dun-
ders de Dunnes in Markland’s Vineland beyond Brendan’s herring
pool takes number nine in yangsee’s hats. And one of Biddy’s
beads went bobbing till she rounded up lost histereve with a
marigold and a cobbler’s candle in a side strain of a main drain
of a manzinahurries off Bachelor’s Walk. But all that’s left to the
last of the Meaghers in the loup of the years prefixed and between
is one kneebuckle and two hooks in the front. Do you tell me.
that now? I do in troth. Orara por Orbe and poor Las Animas!
Ussa, Ulla, we’re umbas all! Mezha, didn’t you hear it a deluge of
times, ufer and ufer, respund to spond? You deed, you deed! I
need, I need! It’s that irrawaddyng I’ve stoke in my aars. It all
but husheth the lethest zswound. Oronoko ! What’s your trouble?
Is that the great Finnleader himself in his joakimono on his statue
riding the high horse there forehengist? Father of Otters, it is
himself! Yonne there! Isset that? On Fallareen Common? You’re
thinking of Astley’s Amphitheayter where the bobby restrained
you making sugarstuck pouts to the ghostwhite horse of the
Peppers. Throw the cobwebs from your eyes, woman, and spread
your washing proper! It’s well I know your sort of slop. Flap!
Ireland sober is Ireland stiff Lord help you, Maria, full of grease,
the load is with me! Your prayers. I sonht zo! Madammangut!
Were you lifting your elbow, tell us, glazy cheeks, in Conway’s
Carrigacurra canteen? Was I what, hobbledyhips? Flop! Your
rere gait’s creakorheuman bitts your butts disagrees. Amn’t I
up since the damp dawn, marthared mary allacook, with Corri-
gan’s pulse and varicoarse veins, my pramaxle smashed, Alice
Jane in decline and my oneeyed mongrel twice run over, soaking
and bleaching boiler rags, and sweating cold, a widow like me,
for to deck my tennis champion son, the laundryman with the
lavandier flannels? You won your limpopo limp fron the husky
hussars when Collars and Cuffs was heir to the town and your
slur gave the stink to Carlow. Holy Scamander, I sar it again!
Near the golden falls. Icis on us! Seints of light! Zezere! Subdue
your noise, you hamble creature! What is it but a blackburry
growth or the dwyergray ass them four old codgers owns. Are
you meanam Tarpey and Lyons and Gregory? I meyne now,
thank all, the four of them, and the roar of them, that draves
that stray in the mist and old Johnny MacDougal along with
them. Is that the Poolbeg flasher beyant, pharphar, or a fireboat
coasting nyar the Kishtna or a glow I behold within a hedge or
my Garry come back from the Indes? Wait till the honeying of
the lune, love! Die eve, little eve, die! We see that wonder in
your eye. We’ll meet again, we’ll part once more. The spot I’ll
seek if the hour you’ll find. My chart shines high where the blue
milk’s upset. Forgivemequick, I’m going! Bubye! And you,
pluck your watch, forgetmenot. Your evenlode. So save to
jurna’s end! My sights are swimming thicker on me by the sha-
dows to this place. I sow home slowly now by own way, moy-
valley way. Towy I too, rathmine.
Ah, but she was the queer old skeowsha anyhow, Anna Livia,
trinkettoes! And sure he was the quare old buntz too, Dear Dirty
Dumpling, foostherfather of fingalls and dotthergills. Gammer
and gaffer we’re all their gangsters. Hadn’t he seven dams to wive
him? And every dam had her seven crutches. And every crutch
had its seven hues. And each hue had a differing cry. Sudds for
me and supper for you and the doctor’s bill for Joe John. Befor!
Bifur! He married his markets, cheap by foul, I know, like any
Etrurian Catholic Heathen, in their pinky limony creamy birnies
and their turkiss indienne mauves. But at milkidmass who was
the spouse? Then all that was was fair. Tys Elvenland ! Teems of
times and happy returns. The seim anew. Ordovico or viricordo.
Anna was, Livia is, Plurabelle’s to be. Northmen’s thing made
southfolk’s place but howmulty plurators made eachone in per-
son? Latin me that, my trinity scholard, out of eure sanscreed into
oure eryan! Hircus Civis Eblanensis! He had buckgoat paps on
him, soft ones for orphans. Ho, Lord ! Twins of his bosom. Lord
save us! And ho! Hey? What all men. Hot? His tittering daugh-
ters of. Whawk?
Can’t hear with the waters of. The chittering waters of. Flitter-
ing bats, fieldmice bawk talk. Ho! Are you not gone ahome?
What Thom Malone? Can’t hear with bawk of bats, all thim liffey-
ing waters of. Ho, talk save us ! My foos won’t moos. I feel as old
as yonder elm. A tale told of Shaun or Shem? All Livia’s daughter-
sons. Dark hawks hear us. Night! Night! My ho head halls. I feel
as heavy as yonder stone. Tell me of John or Shaun? Who were
Shem and Shaun the living sons or daughters of? Night now!
Tell me, tell me, tell me, elm! Night night! Telmetale of stem or
stone. Beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters
Telmetale of stem or stone. The recording above of James Joyce reading from Finnegans Wake was made in 1929, and is one of only two recordings of Joyce reading ever made. The other, from a passage in Ulysses, was made in 1924, is hard to find online and apparently is of poor quality.
UbuWeb has a Joyce page where you can download the mp3 of this recording, accompanied by Sylvia Beach’s story about the making of the two recordings — she made all the arrangements and took Joyce to the sessions.
See also: A blessing paper freed the flood.
Source: Douglas Wilson’s Flickr set, Hand dryers from around the world.
“What is the purpose of writing music? One is, of course, not dealing with purposes but dealing with sounds. Or the answer must take the form of a paradox: a purposeful purposeless or a purposeless play. This play, however, is an affirmation of life–not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.”
The Secret to a Good Business Name: “A good name demonstrates your brand and your values. A bad name forces you to resort to explaining and advertising…. Names are about human language and human conversation. It doesn’t matter how many linguists you can get to justify a particular name. Everybody is saturated with messages and people can only remember so many, and they’re only going to notice a name that is memorable. When it goes out into the marketplace, it’s going to live or die based on how well it succeeds as a piece of tangible poetry.”
“‘Round Midnight” is a 1944 jazz standard by pianist Thelonious Monk. Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-1982) was one of the giants of jazz, and one of the most unusual. As Monk’s Wikipedia entry notes, “His compositions and improvisations are full of dissonant harmonies and angular melodic twists, and are consistent with Monk’s unorthodox approach to the piano, which combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of silences and hesitations. This was not a style universally appreciated; poet and jazz critic Philip Larkin dismissed Monk as ‘the elephant on the keyboard.'” But this elephant, and his music, could dance — “at times, while the other musicians in the band continued playing, he would stop, stand up from the keyboard and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano” — and Larkin, a famous curmudgeon who disliked all jazz once bebop sprang on the scene around 1940, apparently just couldn’t appreciate the intricate strangeness of Monk’s elephantine beauty. Oh well, to each his own.
Monk was famously smart and idiosyncratic. The saxophonist Steve Lacy, who worked with Monk in 1960, was given some handwritten advice by Monk (click through for image), which really captures the flavor of Monk’s mind at work.
Monk’s Mini-Manifesto to Young Musicians
Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.
Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head, when you play.
Stop playing all those weird notes (that bullshit), play the melody!
Make the drummer sound good.
Discrimination is important.
You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need the lights.
Let’s lift the band stand!!
I want to avoid the hecklers.
Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!
The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.
Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important that what you do.
A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.
Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, and when it comes, he’s out of shape and can’t make it.
When you’re swinging, swing some more.
(What should we wear tonight? Sharp as possible!)
Always leave them wanting more.
Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene. These pieces were written so as to have something to play and get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.
You’ve got it! If you don’t want to play, tell a joke or dance, but in any case, you got it! (To a drummer who didn’t want to solo)
Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.
They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along and spoil it.
Monk’s trademark syncopated, percussive piano style was dubbed “Melodious Thunk” by his wife Nellie. Legend also has it that Nellie usually referred to her husband in public as “Melodious Funk.” Quite a namer, that Nellie.
You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
“We stripped in the first warm spring night, and ran down into the Detroit River to baptize ourselves in the brine of car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles, melted snow….” so begins Belle Isle by Pulitzer Prize-winning, Poet Laureate(ing), Chevrolet Gear and Axle grinding Philip Levine. This poem, written in 1949, looks, smells and sounds a lot like the island park situated smack in the middle of the Detroit River that my family would visit on weekends back in the late ’60s.
“Back panting, to the gray coarse beach we didn’t dare fall on, the damp piles of clothes, and dressing side by side in silence to go back where we came from” sounds more like the park me and my college friends frequented in the late ’80s. On Friday we would head over the bridge to drink, smoke and chase fallow deer through the woods late, late at night. We sang along with Van, well it’s a marvelous night for a moondance with the stars up above in your eyes, such a fantabulous…. I think we stuck to the wooded areas because at that point in time the river was not the most ideal place to take a dip unless you had to. Anyway, the 982-acre jewel of Detroit (car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles and all) was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted around 1880, and is larger than New York City’s Central Park, Olmsed’s most famous creation.
The park was/is home to the Miss Pepsi Unlimited Hydroplane, on display at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, along with the Detroit Boat Club, Detroit Yacht Club, an aquarium, a conservatory, a golf course, a Coast Guard station, trails, wildlife, beaches and a majestic fountain. It’s been a few years since I last visited, so I am not sure if any of these features either remain or are in proper working order. But what I can say is that it was a wonderful place to watch the annual J.L Hudson’s Fourth of July fireworks display and in my mind the fountain is just as majestic as it ever was.
Poetry Everywhere: Produced by David Grubin Productions and WGBH Boston, in association with the Poetry Foundation. This video is part of the WGBH Poetry Breaks series created by Leita Luchetti. For more information, visit Poetry Everywhere.