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29 July 2014

poem after watching my daughter swim

She skims like a swan across the water
as fear evaporates into a dark cloud
and is blown away and scattered.

The white dresses of passing feminine time
loom in the distance, one possible
harbor on her adventures.

Yet, other paths open up and an archipelago
of unpredictable futures stretches out along
the horizon. Each stroke of the swim

Moves her closer to the bounty of her choices
but as she glides, the opposite edges of the island
chain become harder to steer toward.

Progress cuts off possibility, but still she swims,
the swan out on the sea, traversing her life
toward her awaiting destiny.

On which island will she land and how long
shall she tread upon the sea?
Swim, my swan, to destiny.

26 July 2014

Luis Fernando Verissimo

Luis Fernando Verissimo writes amazing books.  Here is a great interview with him from the CBC.

21 July 2014

poem 21 July 2014

A soft flow of sweet milk drips down
from the vault of the sky,
from the stars

Onto the dry crust of thirsty bread
that is the baked earth,
the land.

I have kissed her cheek and her hand
and with my own hand
carressed her face

And numbered and named the celestial
bodies just to see the corners
of her pouting lips

Raise up like unattended balloons
with strings cut by jesters
and without anchors.

Then the drip of milk becomes a trickle
and the bread of the earth
cracks and crumbles

But the stars in the sky persist,
the stars forever flowing
and her lips rising.

RR Shea

20 July 2014

A little Sunday Saraceni

Here are Four works to contemplate for a fine Sunday evening, all of them by Carlo Saraceni. The Getty has a good blurb on the artist:

Carlo Saraceni  
b. about 1579 Venice, Italy, d. 1620 Venice, Italy
Carlo Saraceni dressed in French clothes, spoke French fluently, and had French followers, but he never visited France and his jewel-like painting style was most influenced by German and Italian artists.

After training in his birthplace of Venice, Saraceni settled in Rome in 1598. He had joined the Accademia di San Luca by 1607. In the early 1600s, Saraceni painted small-scale biblical and mythological subjects on copper, then a relatively new support in Rome. German artist Adam Elsheimer's style inspired the vast landscape settings that Saraceni began using so frequently and so well; their paintings were regularly confused.

After Elsheimer and Caravaggio died in 1610, Saraceni seems to have inherited their market. Primarily occupied with public commissions, he painted numerous altarpieces in and around Rome. He grew increasingly interested in Caravaggio's art, painting larger figures, subtle light effects, and momentary actions. Elsheimer's influence remained equally strong: Saraceni continued creating Elsheimer-inspired poetic landscape backgrounds.

And the works:

Mary Magdalene Reading

St Cecilia and the Angel

The martyrdom of St Cecilia

Icarus Burial

16 July 2014

What will my daughter need to read?

I find list-making, especially as it applies to reading lists, to be simultaneously soothing and infuriating. I am happy that English departments at places like Oxford University often eschew a list and instead encourage applicants to read widely and much. That advice in hand, it is still true that the dons and tutors expect their incoming English students to have read Jane Ausen, a good amount of Shakespeare, and the Brontes. The canon remains, though it is in need of constant revision and update. I wonder: when my daughter gets ready for college in 11 short years, what will she be required to have read, and what will she have read to make her ready?

I'd like to provide two lists here of a dozen literature books I want her to have read, probably in her last few summers before going off to school. The first will be rather obvious, but it will exclude such items as “Hamlet,” for I would hope that between her excellent school , our private book collection, and parenting, she will have the basics down. “Pride and Predjuice,” Shakespeare, and some Chaucer are givens. Not all works are originally written in English, but most are.

The second list is mostly literature in translation, some of it is well-known, and I believe all of it is criminally under-read by both students and adults.

And so:

The obvious list:

  1. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  2. The Inferno by Dante
  3. Selected writings of John Ruskin
  4. Dubliners by James Joyce
  5. Don Quixote by Cervantes
  6. Candide by Voltaire
  7. Swann's Way by Proust
  8. The Bacchai by Euripides

And now the more ecclectic and, in my opinion, interesting list:

  1. The Maias by Eça de Queirós
  2. A Heart So White by Javier Marías
  3. The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
  4. A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr
  5. A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
  6. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  7. Songbook by Umberto Saba
  8. Canti by Leopardi
  9. Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis
  10. Labyrinths by Borges
  11. Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
  12. Stories of Anton Checkov

Lists aside, it is a pleasure every day to see her delve into books, to swim in the pages of some great story, or to be able to read aloud to her or to watch as my wife reads to her. Reading can be an act of love, one of the most pure.

15 July 2014

little yellow bird

You feast on seeds, little yellow bird,
as the sun melts into the ground
and the cool winds pick up

to stir in drops of moonlight
in tonight's black dance
of passing time.

Tomorow you will flit again
to the feeder standing sentry
in the midst of the yard,

unaware of the passage of comedies
and tragedies in the lives
of the people who put out the feed

and observe your carefree flights
with a mix of youthful joy and the sure
knowledge of lived age.

13 July 2014

Some Sunday Italian artists.

For fun, I thought I would list a trio of modern Italian painters of interest, provide wiki bios and links, and show a few examples of their work. Then, I'm going to spend the day with my precious little daughter, because as much as I love art and literature, it is the love of my wife and daughter that keeps me going every day. They are true treasures.

Here we go

Mario Mafai:
(from Wikipedia)

Mario Mafai (12 February 1902 – 31 March 1965) was an Italian painter. With his wife Antonietta Raphaël he founded the modern art movement called the Scuola Romana, or Roman school.

Mafai left school very early, preferring to attend, with Scipione, the Scuola Libera del Nudo, or free school of the nude, of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma. His influences in those years were Roman galleries and museums, and the Fine Arts Library at Palazzo Venezia.
He met painter and sculptor Antonietta Raphaël in 1925, and they married. In 1927 Mafai exhibited for the first time, with a show of studies and maquettes organised by the Associazione Artistica Nazionale in Via Margutta. In 1928 he had a second exhibition, at the XCIV Mostra degli Amatori e Cultori di Belle Arti, as well as a collective with Scipione and other painters, at the Young Painters Convention of Palazzo Doria in 1929.
In November 1927, Mafai and Raphaël moved to 325 via Cavour in Rome, and made a studio there. Within a short time, it became a meeting point for writers such as Enrico Falqui, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Libero de Libero and Leonardo Sinisgalli, as well as the young artists Scipione and Renato Marino Mazzacurati.

A few paintings:

Emanuele Cavalli
(Frrom Wikipedia)

(b. 1904-d. 1981) was an Italian painter belonging to the modern movement of the Scuola Romana (Roman School). He was also a renowned photographer, who experimented with new techniques since the 1930s.

Son of Apulian landowners, Cavalli moved to Rome in 1921 and there he became a student of Italian painter Felice Carena, also attending the local art college. In 1926 he exhibited some paintings at the Biennale di Venezia, where he would continue to exhibit regularly.
From 1927 to 1930, Cavalli attended some expositions together with painters Giuseppe Capogrossi and Francesco Di Cocco, also travelling to France (1928), where he was introduced by his friend Onofrio Martinelli to the circle of Italiens de Paris (i.e., De Pisis, De Chirico, Savinio and others). He exhibited at the Salon Bovy of Paris with Fausto Pirandello and Di Cocco, then in 1930 returned to Rome where he joined the Scuola Romana.
In a series of exhibitions Cavalli held from 1931 to 1933, the artist began elaborating Tonalism, a pictorial and aesthetic style that will find in him one of its best and most refined interpreters, even from the theoretical point of view. In these exhibitions he received the support from important art critics and collectors, as well as from renowned Italian author Massimo Bontempelli, the uncle of his friend Corrado Cagli and the promoter of "Magic realism", a literary and artistic movement which had many similarities with tonalistic painting.
In 1933 Cavalli, together with Capogrossi and Melli wrote the "Manifesto del Primordialismo plastico" (Manifesto of Plastic Primordialism) defining the Tonalist Creed, with special emphasis on the style's spiritual and abstract side. In 1935 and 1943, Cavalli exhibited a group of paintings at the Quadriennale di Roma, developing the theme of painting-music relationships: he displayed a series of feminine figures of different tonalities, and explained this work within the terms of "contrapuntal sensitivity", comparing it to a "collection of preludes and fugues in major and minor tones".[3]
Other important exhibitions were held by Cavalli at the Leonardo da Vinci Gallery of Florence in 1939 and at the Zodiaco of Rome in 1945, the latter crowned by the appointment as professor of Painting at Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze. He thus moved permanently to Florence with wife Vera Haberfeld.[4] In 1949 Cavalli was affected by a deep crisis, increased by his professorship not being renewed and his close friends' change of style towards abstract art.[5]
Cavalli continued to paint for the rest of his life, alternating it with photography and innovative imaging,[6] receiving important commissions from public and private organisations.[7]

A few paintings:

Carlo Carra
(From Wikipedia)
Carlo Carrà (February 11, 1881 – April 13, 1966) was an Italian painter, a leading figure of the Futurist movement that flourished in Italy during the beginning of the 20th century. In addition to his many paintings, he wrote a number of books concerning art. He taught for many years in the city of Milan.

Carrà was born in Quargnento, near Alessandria (Piedmont). At the age of 12 he left home in order to work as a mural decorator. n 1899-1900, Carrà was in Paris decorating pavilions at the Exposition Universelle, where he became acquainted with contemporary French art. He then spent a few months in London in contact with exiled Italian anarchists, and returned to Milan in 1901. In 1906, he enrolled at Brera Academy (Accademia di Brera) in the city, and studied under Cesare Tallone. In 1910 he signed, along with Umberto Boccioni, Luigi Russolo and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti the Manifesto of Futurist Painters, and began a phase of painting that became his most popular and influential.

Carrà's Futurist phase ended around the time World War I began. His work, while still using some Futurist concepts, began to deal more clearly with form and stillness, rather than motion and feeling. Carrà soon began creating still lifes in a style he, along with Giorgio de Chirico, called "metaphysical painting". Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the metaphysical phase gave way to a sombre style akin to Masaccio's. An example from this period is his 1928 Morning by the Sea.
He is best known for his 1911 futurist work, The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli. Carrà was indeed an anarchist as a young man but, along with many other Futurists, later held more reactionary political views, becoming ultra-nationalist and irredentist before and during the war, as well as by Fascism after 1918 (in the 1930s, Carrà signed a manifesto in which called for support of the state ideology through art).[1] The Strapaese group he joined, founded by Giorgio Morandi, was strongly influenced by fascism and responded to the neo-classical guidelines which had been set by the regime after 1937[2] (but was opposed to the ideological drive towards strong centralism).[3]
He died in Milan in 1966.

A few paintings:

To art, literature, and all those we love and cheerish in our lives.


08 July 2014

Inspector Montalbano vs. chemo

Nothing beats the cancer blues like my loving family and losing myself in a well-written mystery.  The chemo and radiation have been tough, and I have been very tired.  But, I keep going, and I will continue to keep going.  I'm going to fight and win, and I'm going to live every day.  Despite my current condition, I am a truly lucky man.  Now, on to the book.

My mystery of choice is the Inspector Montalbano series. The prose is light, the descriptions of food are glorious, the inspector is a flawed but thoughtful character, and I find the artwork mentioned to be intriguing. From Angelica's Smile by Andrea Camilleri, here is part of a dialog concerning a burglary of money, jewels and art.  Montalbano is asking an affluent young couple what has been stolen:

“What else did they take?”

“Well aside from the car,[...]and a seascape by Carrá,” the lady concluded, cool as a cucumber.

Montalbano gave a start.



“A Guttuso, a Morandi, a Donghi, a Mafai, and a Pirandello...”

In short, a whole gallery of art wortha fortune.


I know about Carrá and Pirandello, but I don't know the other artists.. So, I have looked them up and here offer what might be the paintings stolen.

A seascape by Carra:

A Guttuso:

A Morandi:

A Mafai:

A Pirandello:

Not bad at all.

And now, on I read, on I write, on I live, on I love, and on I fight.


04 July 2014

blues bar on the edge of town

Late at night in a blues bar on the edge
of town, a brick building crowded with emptiness,
I'm drinking whiskey from a cloudy glass,
and listening to a man sitting at the piano
in the corner as he pours out his anguish
and his vampire fingers plunge through the ivory keys,
through the floor and the crumbling foundations,
and down into the earth, the victimized earth,
stirring magma to trigger a Vesuvius eruption,
a flame quenched only by drinks from my cloudy glass.

R. R. Shea

01 July 2014

The voyage of my far-away friend

For TJ.  

My far-away friend sits in port,
the sails of his ship battered
from storms and sun,
listening to the stories
of the timid locals
and pompous magistrates,
drinking the house wine,
and eating the bean pie
of the melancholy fishwive
with a smile and a wink
of gratitude.

A merchant says that the ship is lost,
that the mast and riggings
will never again drag
my far-away friend's ship
onto the open waves,
that he is stuck in port
to lead a small life
among small lives.
Such news fills
the dock workers
with immense gratitude.

But my far-away friend
has sailed too far
and seen too much
to believe idle speculations,
In the morning,
he casts off,
light breezes teasing
his boat away from land.
His journey will be longer
with such tattered sails,
but his hand never leaves
the old iron rudder,
and the song of the sea
and of life full lived
never leaves his heart.

On he sails,
while timid souls
lament he left
and his far-away companions
rejoice at his voyage
out into tomorrow.

R. R. Shea