May 25

In London recently we were made particularly aware of the current campaign for Oxford Professor of Poetry.  It has always seemed to us an odd tradition to choose a poetic representative by actual ballot, but perhaps we’ve been hopelessly naive.  Slowly we’ve come to realize that the publishing industry, and now social networks, have transformed contemporary poets into perpetual candidates.  We’ve begun to notice (in fact, can’t avoid observing) what are clearly group efforts to promote a person or book through what passes on electronic venues as popular acclaim.  Whether actual publicists have been hired, or whether various promotional tactics have been acquired through online publishing advisors (itself a burgeoning career offsprung from the writing programs), patterns of self-branding and hash-tagging provide search-engine-accessible evidence for colleague-puffing efforts.  It doesn’t make the work good, of course, but it does indeed create a shifty illusion of readableness through sheer buzz.  Oxford’s occasionally rough-and-tumble election system, by contrast, seems quaintly and transparently brutal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 18

Just so our readers don’t think we’re incapable of enjoying middle-brow pleasures, in honor of her recent passing we found ourselves watching a three-DVD set of Doris Day’s “Romance Collection,”  a trio of Universal Studio’s collaborations with longtime co-star Rock Hudson.  We began with Pillow Talk (1959), then moved on to Lover Come Back (1961) and closed our three-night wallow with Send Me No Flowers (1964). There were a number of elements that never gave us pre-teen pause but which we are now unable to ignore.  First: When we were young it seemed perfectly reasonable that a female interior decorator or advertising exec would have a full wardrobe of diamond jewelry (as well as rubies, emeralds and sapphires) that she could wear to professional functions. Second:  We’re amazed that we never found the shapes of hats worn by Doris genuinely bizarre.  We detect some subtext about independent women’s shopping habits but we can’t quite put our finger on the joke. But third: It’s jaw-dropping to realize that it was once perfectly okay to make jokes about “Mama’s boys” (even by Hudson himself!).  Anxiety about the leading man’s orientation is everywhere: In the effeminate male characters surrounding the hetero pair (played by poor Marcel Dalio, Paul Lynde or the ever-present Tony Randall); in Hudson’s gelded sweetness; and in Day’s hysterical screech and sputter when faced with sexually aggressive men.  And yet, the movies are really funny and and perversely current. Really.

May 11

Though it’s not common knowledge, Malden W.V’s most famous resident is Booker T. Washington. His step-father Washington Ferguson worked in the salt mines as a leased slave and arranged for Booker to move from eastern Virginia at the age of nine;  Booker walked the 225 miles from Roanoke in 1865.  He was baptized in Malden’s African Zion Baptist Church by the legendary Reverend Lewis Rice, who also provided the boy’s early education. The owner of the church’s land was Lewis Ruffner, advocate of emancipation and delegate to the convention that led to WV becoming a separate state from slaveholding Virginia. As a boy Booker worked in the Ruffner household where he had access to the family library. After graduation from Hampton Institute (where he worked as a janitor to pay his fees), he lived and taught in Malden until his departure for Tuskegee in 1881.

May 4

When we were first told about the 400 million-year-old Iapetus Ocean deep below the mountains surrounding Charleston, W.V., we were dubious. We suspected this was merely a sales pitch for the J.Q. Dickinson Salt Works in Malden, as part of an argument for the uniquely pristine quality of their excellent products.  But it turns out that not only was the area America’s “salt-making capital” in the early nineteenth century, the fascinating tale of the ancient Appalachian sea is also true.  That body of water extended all the way to the present western coast of Scotland, from whence, in some odd twist of historical fate, many of Appalachia’s first white settlers also came.

April 27

As we had such high hopes for “Lincoln Kirstein’s Modern” at MOMA, we were primed for a let-down. Despite some of the wonderful particulars displayed, our museum-going experience felt pretty colorless. Certainly it would be hard to argue that the arrangements do justice to Kirstein’s lauded “eye.” Even the hanging films of dances were hard to get a real grip on, as they seemed to float float, literally and figuratively, contextless. In writing up these notes, we thought perhaps we were just tired and peckish that afternoon. But the installation images on the website are nearly as dull as our fatigued recollection of the originals. Of course, Kirstein is more than somewhat mysterious as a person, and damn difficult to categorize. The term “impresario,” which pops up a lot, suggests he herded artists rather than being one himself.  The show presents numerous portraits, strong jaw jutted to the viewer, eyes looking downward or off into the distance, pondering and planning.  Jed Perl, who does an effective job in his review in The New York Review of Books, goes easy on the show’s shortcomings. But even he softly proposes that Kirstein’s vision and that of the new MOMA may be at considerable odds. We ourselves could imagine Lincoln shaking his impressive head about quite a few curatorial missteps.  But perhaps the greatest omission was any real indication of just how good a poet Kirstein was. There’s an article by Elizabeth Welch at the MOMA website on Kirstein as editor and writer, with a link to Poetry magazine. But so far the poetry community continues to overlook Kirstein’s important wartime poems, as well as his interactions with the likes of Crane and O’Hara.  MOMA could have made a real contribution to the Kirstein legacy if only they’d arranged a reading from The Poems of Lincoln Kirstein.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 20

The David Zwirner Gallery has created a terrific webpage “viewing room” for the complete Paris Review Prints (iconic images include works of Frankenthaler, Katz, Rivers, et al.). Coming across this perfect collaboration felt to us very much like that happy moment when you introduce two friends, only to find out they’ve known each other for decades. We also much appreciated the Zwirner website’s acknowledgement of editor Maxine Groffsky’s eye for the look of the Review’s iconic 1960s  covers.

 

April 13

Those familiar with our Longnook Overlook know of our enthusiasm for Alberto Calvacanti. (A nearly comprehensive 28-page catalogue raisonné of the film director may found within its pages.) At long last we have been able to view his 1959 Les noces vénitiennes (Venetian Honeymoon), newly available on Gaumont DVD.  A farce full of madcap crooks and identity confusions, it stars Martine Carol and Vittorio de Sica (playing the barman at the so-called “Harold’s Bar.”) The cast also includes a very young Claudia Cardinale. We have a slight suspicion that the project was originally meant for Max Ophuls (with the handsome French forger to be played by Gerard Phillipe?)  It’s not a great movie, and much of its interest comes from colorful visuals, that is, time-traveling interior and exterior views of Venice. Besides the Ophuls suspicion, our other intuitive takeaway is that this production (which must have been a crazy shoot) may have formed a personal reference for de Sica’s 1966 After the Fox. Might we also propose the film as a precursor to a decade of British-inspired silliness such as Casino RoyaleThe Party and What’s New Pussycat?

April 6

Given that her book’s subject overlaps with those of some of our own titles, it’s not surprising that we were drawn to Akiko Busch’s Notes on invisibility in a Time of Transparency:It is time to reevaluate the merits of the inconspicuous life … and to reconsider the value of going unseen undetected, or overlooked in this new world.” (Though nothing is more labored than an explained joke, we’d nevertheless observe here that not everyone caught the serious pun embedded in The Longnook Overlook’s title.) As with Busch’s prose meditations, Mary Maxwell’s concerns in Nine Over Sixes, such as “contemporary issues of near-universal surveillance,” find agreement with Busch;  “True solitude, in all its painful yet pungent delicacy, is in terrible peril.”

 

 

March 30

One of the volumes we brought home from Scotland this past fall is the enchanting A Scots Dictionary of Nature, compiled by Amanda Thomson. The book is divided into six categories: Land, Wood, Weather, Birds, Water, and Walking. Among our discoveries are splorroch, the Scots word for the sound made by walking in wet mud; huam, the moan of an owl in the warm days of summer; linky, the adjective for flat and grassy;  skelp, to move quickly on foot; and blibbans, strips of soft, slimy matter such as seaweed or cooked cabbage. LongNookBooks will be attending the Edinburgh Book Festival this August.

 

 

 

 

 

March 23

What a pleasure it is to find a favorite book back in print! Salka Viertel’s The Kindness of Strangers, with introduction by Lawrence Wechsler, has been brought out by NYRB books. A postscript by Donna Rifkind promises her to be the subject of a forthcoming biography.  Salka’s Santa Monica salon is of special interest to us; we know there’s more to the story than Salka has told (she’s especially discreet about her affairs with Greta Garbo and Gottfried Reinhardt, as two examples), but what’s here is nevertheless quite wonderful. Though she’s been referred to (somewhat dismissively) as (merely) a “salonnière,” as with so many women writers, she was, in fact, the crucial cultural lynchpin for a time and place that forms an essential reference for much of American contemporary cultural life — and we’re not just talking about the movies.

March 16 

“The Bauhaus and Harvard,” at the Harvard Art Museums celebrates the centenary of the Bauhaus’s founding in Weimar Germany.  The Outer Cape (often via Harvard, not coincidentally) has its own Bauhaus connections; Gropius, obviously, had his presence here,  but also the weavings of Anni Albers reminded us of various Wellfleet connections.  In short, we felt perfectly “at home” viewing some of the remarkable holdings of the former Busch-Reisinger. One installation in particular made an impression that has remained: We were immediately taken by the Hans Arp “mural” created for one of Harvard’s Graduate School dining halls. Canopies of thought bubbles derived from trees, a series of wooden shapes floated along the gallery wall like clouds of intentionality, as though cognitions or feelings had been given intuitively biomorphic shape.

March 9

The first titles we purchased from David Zwirner Books’ ekphrasis series were already known to us (Ruskin’s Giotto and His Works in Padua; Rilke’s Letters to a Young Painter and Proust’s Chardin and Rembrandt). Not only were we grateful for these “overlooked” books’ new availability and translation, we immediately loved their size and simplicity of design. We are equally enthusiastic about our more recent purchases: Vernon Lee’s The Psychology of an Art Writer; César Aira’s On Contemporary Art; Gauguin’s Ramblings of a Wannabe Painter; Alice Michel’s Degas and His Model; Alexander Nemerov’s Summoning Pearl Harbor; and Jean-Claude Lebensztejn’s Pissing Figures: 1280-2014.  Most of these works, of course, we only knew by reputation, but what a pleasure to have them in our hands.  And we particularly admire the choice of quotes (not blurbs!) on the series’ back covers.  Here’s Paul Gauguin:  “People tell me I’m not Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Puvis de Chavannes — but I already know that!  Why tell me?” Or César Aira:  “The painted picture at the end is merely the visible testament to the mad solitary machine that moves around inside artistic activity.”

March 2 

We recently happened to find ourselves in Providence one Thursday, staying overnight at the gracious Hope Club.  The date was one whose cultural benefits we hadn’t taken into account, as we discovered only after wandering down the hill to late-opening galleries at RISD. There, the museum’s THIRDTHURSDAYS was a delightful surprise, with special interactive installations, musical offerings, artist talks, workshops and various other modes of performance staged and staggered throughout the evening. (There was even a cash bar and DJ set at the Café Pearl.) The event was worth planning to attend, but for us there was added a special delight of serendipitous encounter; it made that particular (otherwise rather dreary) winter evening warmly memorable.

 

 

 

 

February 23

Sometimes wonderful writing appears where it’s least expected. For example, the “Purveyors” guide provided to diners at Thomas Keller’s Per Se restaurant is full of excellent sentences.  No author is given, though the entire booklet’s style is consistent with the introduction penned by Chef Keller, who describes the offering as a series of “stories.”  Each entry describes the individuals who provide the restauranteur with his ingredients, the various “fishermen, farmers, gardeners and foragers”, as well as certain individual animals, who supply the raw materials for Keller and his staff’s culinary creations.  The narrative matter is good to begin with (these are not merely producers but evangelists for their offerings), but the way the individual narratives are presented is equally compelling. The poetry comes forth naturally through both description and honest syntax: “To farm, live and work in accordance with nature is to open oneself to a multitude of challenges and setbacks.” We are reminded of the prose of E.B. White: “The truffle makes its magical appearance in the ground, and after discovery passes into the care of many hands as it travels halfway around the world to grace American tables.  The product is fresh, the sums exchanged for it are vast, and the opportunities for the less knowledgeable to be deceived are great.”

February 16

Last week we attended Robert Wilson’s performance  “Forward Moving Memory,” at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum’s Calderwood Hall. We didn’t really know what we were getting into, but it turned out to be a white-faced solo performance of John Cage’s 1950  “Lecture on Nothing.” The experience was alternately tedious and revelatory.  The hour or so in our seats was quite a bit like meditation, headache-inducing patience leading to a reward of earned insights.  It was also often quite funny.  The comedy derived from Cage’s exposition of the paradox of structure and the ludicrousness of any attempt to organize nothingness (as, for example, in a timed piece of silence).  The conceptual “jokes” were both thought-provoking and meaningless, profundity and nonsense superimposed.

February 9

Do songs and poems function in the same way?  Are they equivalent art forms? This is a question on which the American literary critical community is divided, though popular opinion certainly leans toward the affirmative. Our own feeling is that the two are artistic cousins of commensurate value.  Yet how songs achieve their effects is distinct from published poems, as seems to us self-evident. The musical interlude that opens and closes the Danish television series The Bridge provides an excellent example of song’s immediate power.  The emotional effectiveness of the haunting “Hollow Talk,” performed by the band The Choir of Unbelievers, bears little relation to its illogical lyrics.  In fact, as many enthusiastic viewers have noted, even though the words are English (“echoes start as a cross in you”), sung as they are with a strong Scandinavian accent (“spatial movements are butterflies”), they’re virtually unintelligible to either American or northern European listeners. (For the first two seasons, we really believed the lyrics were in Danish! ) Frankly, the titled introduction and closing does work best when only a few words can be made out;  their apparent “meaninglessness” beautifully suggests the oddly displaced intelligence of the autistic lead character.  Not the verbal lines, but how they’re sung to the composed music, is what expresses the drama’s psychic context.  We’ve been reading several recent volumes of great song lyrics, and as much as we admire them, as with “Hollow Talk,” even though we know by heart the tunes to which they belonged, on the page most of them now strike us as, well, a bit stupid. In fact, it’s somewhat embarassing how profound so many of these songs seemed when we worshipfully listened to them (Neil Young, we’re talking about you) over and over again on LP forty or more years ago.

February 2

Since we’ve been unable to keep up with the more recent translations of Cees Nooteboom’s books, let alone write about them with the analysis and praise they deserve, we are simply going to list here the impressive stack set upon our bookshelf — some read, some still unread — in no particular order:  The Knight Has Died; Rituals; A Song of Truth and Semblance; In the Dutch Mountains; The Following Story; Philip and the Others; All Souls Day; Unbuilt Netherland; Nomad’s Hotel; Lost Paradise; Roads to Berlin; The Foxes Come at Night; 25 Buildings You Should Have Seen (Amsterdam); Monk’s Eye; Mokusei!; Letters to Poseidon; A Dark Premonition: Journeys to Hieronymus Bosch; Zurbarán; Light Everywhere; Self-Portrait of an Other. How could such an oeuvre continue to go virtually unnoticed here in America?  No longer might it be argued that his extraordinary range (travel, art, fiction, poetry) remains to be brought over into English; now the challenge is simply to catch up with the great Dutch writer.  Shame, shame, shame on us.

January 26

We’ve written admiringly before about the works of composer Kaija Saariaho (see our LNB Archives post for 12/19/16), and so we very curious to hear her  “Ciel d’Hiver” performed by the BSO.  A re-orchestration of the center movement of her Orion (commissioned in 2003 by the Cleveland Orchestra), the piece only ran ten minutes.  Yet it was a wonderfully otherworldly interval, less an observation of a New England winter sky than an intergalactic exploration, as chilly and crystalline as one expects the experience of outer space would be. The composer herself was in the audience and was welcomed to the stage by her fellow countryman, the conductor John Storgårds.  The Finn-centric program concluded with the last two symphonies of Sibelius.

 

 

 

January 19

Harry Mathews’s The Solitary Twin was published posthumously by New Directions at the end of last year.  In some sense, the book is an energetic nod to traditional storytelling, with a series of stories told Canterbury Tales-like by characters within the novel’s narrative.  But is it possible for a work to be so conventional as to come full circle and become experimental?  Mathews’s Twin makes such a case. The line between true tale and a conceived fiction (nearly as razor-thinly drawn as in his My Life in CIA) becomes at times hilariously undetectable (“real-life” appearances are made by the likes of Bloomberg and Malraux) with the result that that created characters are so convincingly described as to demand a Googling. Was there ever a Utopian-Capitalist community begun in New England by Samuel Butler? Did Raymond Norwood Bell of North Carolina shoot and kill Anton Webern? Did there ever exist a Lehman Brothers philanthropist-gambler named Alistair Ross? Like the imaginary books the Twin’s publisher-character has seen into print, factuality seems irrelevant in the face of delightful possibility. Or put another way, as the author himself makes note: “Nothing can approximate the truly colossal stink that expert writing is capable of.”

January 12

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, NC, came as a happy surprise. We were literally hailed to the collection (like a taxi) by a sparkling Niki de Saint Phalle just outside the main entrance. The core of the collection is formed by works acquired by a family from Zurich and so, by no surprise, postwar Swiss artists figure largely in what is displayed in the splendid building designed by Mario Botta. The series of stacked rooms contain some wonderful Giacomettis, Arps and Miros, but we found ourselves particularly smitten by a scale model of Jean Tinguely’s idiosyncratic Cascade in the windowed lobby. A few days later, we made our way to the 40-foot original in the Carillon office tower, just four blocks north of the museum. Entranced by the whirring mobile floating above a reflecting fountain, we became two small children in the presence of a kindly robotic giant.

January 5

Specific reasons for the impossibility of literary translation are outlined so regularly in critical discourse (issues of shape on the page, rhythmic idiosyncrasies, specialized dictions, etc., etc.) the lost list of excuses for noble failures hardly needs restating here  But for us more fundamental to any translation’s success is something we can only lamely identify as “personality,” something falling within received categories of  temperament but much more unique and specific.  Take the translation challenge accepted by Richard Siebuth in A Certain Plume, his superb American take on the marvelous Henri Michaux, polymath and proto-Beat “character,” who refused to be shown in photographic portrait.  Michaux’s lyric persona, a sort of alter-ego figure named “Pen” (or, alternately, “Feather” or “Quill”), could only be pinned down in paint (like an errant demon) by Jean Dubuffet.  The Belgian ventriloquist has also found himself inadequately, albeit evocatively, described by the words of Lawrence Durrell:  His is “a stone-age voice full of veridic information about the state of mind in which poetry declares itself as an absolute value.”  Add to this a complex and self-contradictory sensibility, a Surrealist Chaplin playing/being the DadaTramp, and the reader begins to approach some idea of the shape-shifting “Plume.”  And yet Sieburth nails this character’s pratfalls; the facing-page original French texts only confirm his hilariously daemonic capture of the ultimate submissive with whom, we suspect, all honest souls would confess to identify.  For ourselves, we’d never have believed that the distinctive superciliousness of French authority, before whom the bruised self collapses, could make its way so unforgettably into a dreamworld-asylum English — a language through which, it turns out, the humiliated also walk on ceilings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018

December 29

Looking ahead to the New Year, the editors at LNB have a couple of exciting projects in the works.  Perhaps most ambitious is a second volume of The Longnook Overlook which, at least for working purposes, we are referring to as Overlook 2.  While the content will be compiled over the course of 2019, the actual publication date is likely to be early 2020. Like the first Overlook, our latest “review of the arts” will not be for retail sale but will be available (upon request) with the purchase of any other LNB volume. For curious readers who aren’t poetry enthusiasts, may we suggest our art monograph on Serena Rothstein, Discourse in Paint, whose splendid four-color “Personages” also grace Overlook 1’s elegantly elongated centerfold?

December 22

We admit we haven’t really followed the plot lines of the last season of Westworld.  To our thickish non-millennial minds the flashbacks and flash-forwards won’t add up to anything like a chronological narrative, but we don’t really mind. From our binged confusion we’ve taken something away more interesting than a reasonable story.  Instead we are deeply disturbed to recognize the imaginary reflection of our selves —  whether as gunslingers, saloon madams, or the farmer’s daughter turned avenger —  as largely the product of someone else’s marketing concept. It’s just an entertainment, right? What is real is what cannot be replaced. For as the end-date of actual human death is pushed further and further away through various technologies, mortality itself does become increasingly conceptual. Yet we will always find ourselves limited by what we know, parameters we must question and against which we must battle, forging, episode by episode, the terms of our individual liberations. How do you want to die? You only live as long as the last person who remembers you.

December 15

Several non-academic books this year have treated the matter of women in Homer.  First came Emily Wilson’s poetry-free translation of the Odyssey; then Madeline Miller’s witch-friendly Circe; now with Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls we have The Iliad from the point of view of the enslaved Briseis.  All three books have been so heavily marketed and commented upon, it is as though a whole new genre of contemporary fiction has come into being: Chick-lit Achaea.  We know we should be supportive of this, but to be frank, it all seems to us a bit silly, treating Homer as though his narrative were not an act of the imagination but a work of cultural history. It’s true that feminist academics have had to turn to literary texts in response to the rarity of actual women’s voices in the classical world.  But for us, as we read these leaden productions, instead of hearing something refreshingly resonant and newly meaningful, we are made even more aware of an echoing absence.

December 8

Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer (“An Obama-Biden Mystery”)  may provide the best airport reading ever. It’s an almost completely mindless book,  yet we found it thoroughly entertaining. It’s a Hardy Boys for Democrats, whose pair of post-middle-aged heroes are credibly determined, brave, and true. The author’s perfectly tuned and impeccably timed delivery nicely alternates with mild mockery and genuine action-hero admiration. As with the aw-shucks sensibility of Biden, everything in the book is G-rated — G also standing for the ex-vice-President’s fundamental Goodness, despite his nagging envy of his cigarette-smoking, ex-President hipster pal.  The more glamorous half-Black Obama makes appearances as needed with his own surprising moves, yet it’s black-Irish Biden who provides the narrative ballast of this amusingly imaginary investigative team. If there were a follow-up volume — or maybe even a series — available in paperback, we’d surely keep a look-out at the newspaper kiosk.

December 1

We found the last seasons of Downton Abbey pretty tedious, but they were nothing compared to the second season of The Crown.  As with Downton, the show’s production values are great — British bachelor pads and palaces, location shots, period costumes and makeup. We especially enjoyed the African sequences and the ocean scenes of Philip’s cruise “down under” (all the while hypnotized by the uniformed Phillip’s white knee-highs).  And even though the revelation that the Duke of Edinburgh was quite a bounder came to us as a surprise, the dramatic truth is that the royal narrative is inarguably dull beyond description. And yet we watched, obsessively, like someone under the influence of a narcotic that renders the couch-bound patient unable to move yet still be aware of every little thing (the hair-sprayed shape of Queen Anne’s head, a reception hall’s fringed window treatment, the width of a label) appearing upon the tastefully framed screen.

November 24

In Nashville we became newly enamored of the late, great Johnny Cash.  We highly recommend his posthumous collection of poems, Forever Words, published in 2016.  We’ve opined before about our objections to the awarding of the Nobel for Literature to Bob Dylan (in sum: he didn’t need either the attention or the money), but we’d never argue against Dylan’s stature as a musical and verbal artist.  And though, as Paul Muldoon points out in the collection’s introduction, both Dylan and Cash are folk descendants of a Scotch-Irish ballad tradition, we prefer (will all due respect to Christopher Ricks) Johnny Cash’s words as they land on the page. His “California Poem” strikes us as nearly Brechtian in its terse beauty: “The lights are on past midnite / The curtains closed all day.”  The human soul summarized in a couplet — that’s pure Cash. Maybe our enthusiasm is a matter of timing, as certain of the poem’s other lines feel especially resonant in the wake of recent fires: “There’s trouble on the mountain / And the valley’s full of smoke / There’s crying on the mountain /And again the same heart broke.”  In any case, we know all too well that his kind of spare lyric only looks easy to write.

November 17

Certain Facebook groups we belong to have been not only extremely useful; they continue to be much appreciated as a resource for shared enthusiasms.  But we note a tendency of such groups to descend into passive bullying. We have one particular closed poetry group in mind.  Though it purports to be a venue for the open expression of its varied members, its posted content is tightly controlled by the administrator’s aesthetic preferences, particularly his own definition of what defines a good poem or successful poetic performance.  He is especially self-righteous in his ideas as to what constitutes right behavior in the “poetic community.” On occasion he has even bragged about his removal or refusal of dissenting voices, acts which are inevitably supported by a claque of posted thumbs-ups and smiley faces. But for us most problematic is this administrator’s tendency to delete the expression of political opinions that differ from his own. In the matter of politics, we wish to remind him, lots of “well-meaning” poets have found themselves on the wrong side of history. That our politics and his basically overlap is besides the point.  A despot is a despot, enlightened or not. And while it’s quite true that, shifting to matters of aesthetics, we loathe many of the mediocre poems and events he posts — well, to each his taste.  For if it were truly a matter of “each,” that is, if the postings were those on his own personal page, we’d not have a problem with it. Individual hosts have every right to serve whatever they like to their friends— and even to throw a troublesome guest out of the house. But the group purports to be a public space and to provide a public service; the administrator’s job is to moderate not to log roll.  Instead, as with so many bureaucratic positions, control of page content has evidently become for him a source of professional power.  And so we post these observations as a general caution, noting one specific example of an increasingly widespread form of autocracy found among social networks.

November 10

We attended the late-night Saturday show at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman the weekend just before Tuesday’s blue-wave election.  We’d not realized that this would be broadcast live on the radio, and so were much bemused by the live commercials announced by the evening’s bass-voiced emcee.  It was a fascinatingly retro experience, with a wide range of entertainers of various styles and generations.  But most striking to us was the evident disconnect between “country” audience and artists; by some of their patter, the performers were making a discreet pitch for a more inclusive politics than it appeared the ticket-buying public might be leaning towards. This slight lean left (an observation of the international makeup of several of the sidemen; the self-parodic nature of a Native American’s politically incorrect comedy routine; unapologetic jokes about taking advantage of marijuana legalization) all felt vaguely hopeful and possibly prophetic.  Even the Hee-Haw gang is getting worn out by our president and his relentless viciousness.

November 3

Unexpected treasure is one of travel’s greatest pleasure, and we came across a giant jewel box of one this past week in Nashville, Tennessee.  The building of The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is a “repurposed” art deco post office dating from the Hoover Administration.  An architectural gem in and of itself, its gorgeous main hallway glistens with black, silver and gold grillwork, light fixtures and marble floors. The main foyer, lit by original skylight, and flanked on either side by a pair of grand staircases, is literally breathtaking. The high-ceilinged sorting rooms have now become exhibition spaces, perfectly suited for the spectacular, Paris 1900: City of Entertainment, now “on tour” from its original 2014 venue at Paris’s Petit Palais. It’s astonishing that we came across this show quite by chance.  There’s some wonderful “high” art in the show (Rodin, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, et al.), but it’s what falls in the category of artifact that makes the time spent in the Ingram Gallery as fun as a carnival ride.There’s the Paris of the International Exposition (caught by the brothers Lumière on early film); there’s the city’s late-night cabaret scene with “bohemian aristocrats in search of forbidden pleasures”; there’s the proto-feminist theater of Sarah Bernhardt; there’s art nouveau design and couture of Paquin.  The exhibit is truly an “immersive” experience, offering to imaginative visitors a form of time travel back to the City of Light at the delightful height of its Belle Époque.

October 27

We have a tendency to dismiss postcard-ready painting that’s too “perfect” to be real.  But we had to admit that the hills surrounding Edinburgh really do look like the framed versions hung in the Scottish National Gallery.  So, too, even the imagined capriccios in “Canaletto and the Art of Venice” in the Queen’s Gallery at Holyroodhouse have an intensity truly matched by the actual intensity of light-reflecting waters along the Grand Canal. Leaving the exhibit to tour the palace itself, after paying a visit to the various Royal chambers we wandered among sunlit gardens arrived at through the abandoned abbey.  Looking up to Arthur’s Seat from a bench we’re sure Her Majesty herself must often enjoy, the landscape’s golds and greens defied recording by cellphone camera. We could hardly believe that we’d not found ourselves inside an artwork.

October 20

While we were in Edinburgh this past week, we were made aware that the Scottish poet Robin Robertson’s The Long Take had been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  Even though it didn’t win, the book’s achievement seemed to us a very big deal. That a long narrative poem had been determined strong enough to compete with prose novels is something worth talking about. Though his book won’t be available via a US publisher until well into November, it’s surprising Robertson hasn’t come up in stateside poetry-world discussions. especially as the story’s setting in a very noir, mid-century California is so redolent of native masters such as Chandler and Hammett. Our impression of Robertson’s achievement (confirmed by the prize nomination) is that it’s a volume aimed at those readers who don’t usually pick up a volume of poetry (i.e. straight men). To our ears and eyes, Robertson’s poem owes much to Christopher Logue’s War Music, both in its cinematic/typographic approaches and its impatient prosodies. But with a map of downtown LA and period photos, it also makes a meaningful visual nod to the un-categorizable Sebald. Robert Louis Stevenson was another Scot who spent time in California; some say if he’d lived another twenty years, he would have likely ended up in the burgeoning film industry.  Instead, a hundred years later, we have Robertson’s distinctly unromantic view of Hollywood in its postwar noir heydaythe underside of McCarthy-era America seen from the perspective of a traumatized soldier.

October 13

So many of the rain-soaked vendors at the Boston Book Festival are underwritten by the city’s universities, either as an extension of academic publishing (Harvard University Press, MIT books, etc.) or of the various writing programs (almost all the literary journals have institutional associations).  There are a few noteworthy exceptions, (Other Books and Wakefield Press, to name but two), somewhat eccentric enterprises run by strong-minded individuals.  Similarly, one of our favorite places in town, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, is an institution that doesn’t feel like an institution, largely as a result of its origins as the ambitious whim of a particularly determined personality.  The current director appears to be cut of the same cloth.  Among the adventurous offerings to be seen and heard in “Common Threads: Weaving Stories Across Time” was the compelling“in-ear opera,” True Pearl, created to accompany the Tapestry Room’s wall hangings (part of the Gardner’s permanent collection) depicting the narrative of Cyrus the Great.  Here was an offer of free acoustiguide we were happy to accept, finding ourselves fascinated by David Lang and Sibyl Kempson’s groundbreaking translation of “textile art” into sound.

October 6

With our recent travels we’ve finally come to accept the “new normal” of contemporary life, those electronic mundanities attending us when we’re away from home. We pre-register online; when confused by signage, we google for explanation or directions; when we arrive, we empty our pockets in order to pass through metal detectors; and more often than not, we find ourselves proceeding on moving walkways or narrow passageways, scannable ticket in hand, as disembodied voices (and sometimes recorded images) are directed at us. We’re not just speaking of airports — essentially  the same protocols now greet us at most music events and art museums.  And, of course, almost all encounters present the option of preliminary mediation through smart phone app, so that in advance we receive buzzing invitations to pre-digested forms of whatever “experience” is to come.  By the time we’ve arrived at the thing itself — the flight, the performance, the art exhibition — we’ve already experienced diminution of any “actuality” (save for, of course, the inevitable physical discomfort of waiting on line). We know about human “sound pollution,” which has made attending nature increasingly difficult. (Even within the National Seashore, the Dolby surround-sound of birds and wind remains only available deep in the quiet of the diminishing off-seasons.) But as we’ve wandered off-Cape in recent weeks, we find that even the human environment has grown increasingly polluted by the virtual.

September 29

Trump’s tariffs on paper are both actual and symbolic, as the president’s most powerful enemies continue to rely upon the weaponry of newspapers and books. At LNB we have been longtime advocates of paper and ink; while our choice was initially aesthetic, we now view our use of the medium as form of resistance to digital tyrannies.  Despite our LOOKOVER postings, we remain deeply suspicious of online expression and its quicksilver ability to be manipulated or appropriated.  We agree to press our fingertips on the touch-screen as directed at US customs, but we know perfectly well how such efficient machines are the doorway to irreversible invasions of privacy.  We are strong advocates of paper ballots. And we continue to believe that an individual’s deepest thoughts, what will remain ours alone, still finds its most exact expression in poetry encountered on the tree-derived page.

September 22

We’ve lately found ourselves traversing mid-Atlantic Trump country.  And while it is painful to get outside the three-fold bubble of New England> Massachusetts> the Outer Cape, in principle a reality check is a good thing.  We liked to think that first-hand observation and interaction might make the President’s supporters more understandable or even explicable.  Trump is right to call them “good people,” but they’ve been snookered and made dangerous.  Not to sound overly dramatic, but listening to the Kavanaugh hearings on the radio while driving through Pennsylvania and West Virginia produced certain physiological effects of an actual assault.  On the drive back North for the dreadful upshot of a new Supreme Court Justice, a woman experienced real anxiety and traumatic symptoms when she found herself alone among a group of young white men whose worst instincts had recently been validated.  We return to safety and security, but what lingers is the unshakable sense of what the political abstractions cannot express.

 

September 15

Indian summer this year brought some glorious days to the Cape.  One recently saw the Provincetown Book Festival’s  “Authors al Fresco” event set up on the lawn of the town’s wonderful library. LongNookBooks was delighted to participate, our table facing the historic building. Originally a Protestant church, for a time in the late fifties it housed the Chrysler Museum of Art.  Until 2000, it served as Provincetown’s Heritage Museum; during that period a half-scale mode of the Rose Dorothea Schooner was recreated, with the result that entering the structure’s upstairs feels a bit like entering one of those “ship in a bottle” craft projects.  In 2002 renovations began to convert the building into the present library. We remember vividly when the steeple was removed for restoration.  It’s back now, along with custom-built bookcases that reuse mahogany armrests from the original church’s pews, a detail that evokes both sacred spaces and nautical impulses. This seems exactly right to us. Libraries are sanctuaries for quiet thought and interaction with writers’ words — sturdy vessels for intellectual and cultural adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 8

In our 6/12/17 posting (availabe for reading in the LNB Archives via the “Journal” dropdown above),  we drew attention to Robert Mueller’s hiring of Michael Debreen.  Now that the noose around a certain Tang-colored neck is tightening, the President, as well as the country, will become increasingly familiar with the brilliant Debreen.  Having argued over 100 cases before the Supreme Court, not for nothing is he being seen by experts as Mueller’s “closer.”  Even with all the evidence and cooperating witnesees, prosecution and/or impeachment of the high-criminal in the Oval Office could still slip away — that is, should certain tactical mistakes or legal errors be made by DOJ team.  But with Debreen advising, that’s not going to happen: There’s no one on the planet with more knowledge about federal criminal law than Michael Debreen.  In fact, it was Debreen who successfully argued in federal court back in April that Manafort’s criminal case shouldn’t be dismissed and that certain seized evidence should be made admissible in his trial. Especially on political matters, it’s awfully satisfying to be able to say, “We told you so.”

 

September 1

As Maurice Ravel’s Quartet in F Major is one of our absolute favorite pieces of music, we should have been unreservedly looking forward to hearing it performed in Wellfleet as part of the closing program of the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival. But lately, whether live or on the radio, we hear too much of one kind of classical music.  We’re tired of exact but heartless conservatory musicianship; ancient coughing audiences; tepidly accessible programming. After a couple of musical evenings this past winter, we found ourselves thinking, “Enough already! We’re too young to be made to feel so old!” But last night’s performance of the Ravel took us back to our first enthusiasms, back to when music could be as thrilling as a schuss down the side of the Matterhorn.  Not just technical aptitude but real verve and emotional engagement, that’s what we’re still looking for —  and it was just that kind of concert experience which the youthful Parker Quartet (Daniel Chong, Ken Hamao, Jessica Bodner and Kee-Hyun Kim) so sublimely delivered.

August 25

Our first “LongNookBooks Presents” program, the cellist Guy Fishman at the Truro Meeting House, was an enormous success last Sunday.  The “house” was literally packed and Fishman rightly received a standing ovation for his impressive performance of the first three of Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello.  Given the summer heat in the  unairconditioned 1827 church, it was an act of physical endurance as well as one of technique and memory.  At the recital’s interval, Fishman spoke of the work’s interesting history, a narrative of the solo music being overlooked for a century or more until “rediscovered” by Pablo Casals.   But Fishman’s own cello “genealogy,” as was pointed out when he was introduced to the rapt audience, has its own relevance and significance; one of his teachers was the Guarneri Quartet’s David Soyer, who himself was a student of Casals. The admirable YoYo Ma recently released a third recording of his “take” on the Cello Suites, interpreting the music on a modern standard cello in what will undoubtedly be a worthy version of the familiar music.  Yet we ourselves do feel hearing the Suites on Baroque cello, as Fishman played it, not only takes us closer to how the composer himself would have heard it, the distinctly animal-like qualities of gut strings better captures the profoundly human and vocal-chord-like quality of Bach’s singing, and thinking, to himself.

August 18

Long Nook became internationally famous this week. As emergency vehicles zipped down the road in quick succession, we knew something was up, and among the immediate possibilities was the inevitable encounter between man and ocean beast.  Given the proliferation of seals at “our” beach, a shark attack was not a matter of if but of when. And so our sunny days were filled with the sound of low-flying helicopters and the appearance of satellite-topped vans. As anyone who’s found themselves in a similar position, it is both ludicrous and rather exciting to see one’s neighborhood as backdrop to the news. But now that the media has moved onto other topics, we observe that none of the coverage seems to have reduced the number of Long Nook’s beachgoers.  On the contrary, we have the distinct impression that some visitors are actually hoping to be present for the next attack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 11

One of the best things we’ve read lately was David Thomson’s “On the Sofa,” in the August 2 London Review of Books. A “review” of sorts of the German series Babylon Berlin, we were both amused and troubled how Thomson and his wife’s binge viewing paralleled our own. (“Face it,” he writes, “marriage is a kind of binge.”)  We’ve not yet gotten to Babylon Berlin, as these past weeks we’ve instead been going through both seasons of the Norwegian series, Occupied.  But the nightly alternation between MSNBC and too-close-to-current-events fictional dramas rang exactly true to our own experience:  “As [Rachel] Maddow preached an hour a night, brimming with verve and need, she slipped from glee to bravery and even to tears.”  In the face of such oh-too-true tales, the feverish serial binge, especially the concomitant impossibility of following all narrative details and secondary characters, comes as a perversely welcome relief.  Thomson nails the irony of the historical moment: “The nature of bingeing is to commit to the frenzy without any hope of rational control or order.  That is why Donald Trump is the exact leader for our time:  he is so blind to order and meaning because he is inextricably caught up in the binge of himself.”

 

 

 

August 4

We were a bit concerned that attending the Boston concert of David Byrne’s “American Utopia” tour was going to make us feel old. After all, our first Talking Heads concert dates back to the spring of Freshman year in college, with Byrne himself then a recent graduate of RISD. So here we all are, hovering on either side of sixty, still wondering “How did i get here?” It was a transcendent evening, some of the evening’s pleasure a kind of recalled nostalgia but another part coming very close to newly revealed truth.  We’d not realized before how much we love the dance element of Byrne’s performances, his distinctive jerkiness now become mainstream. How we delighted in his Twyla-Tharpe-like body being blown across the stage in imagined winds of cultural fate, his mysteriously coded gestures suggesting something between an airport worker on the tarmac (waving an invisible plane to the gate) and a speaker of ASL. Of course, what was once “experimental” (the incorporation of “world music” into pop forms), approaches that have radically enriched our ways of listening, have now been thoroughly assimilated.  Byrne’s distinctive sensibility has remained a sharp-eyed but affectionate take on things American, the easy sweetness of his bouncy dance rhythms made intellectually acerbic by dystopic lyrics.  All in all, it was a great show, an impressively choreographed  and designed “production” with an amazing cast of musicians and dancers.  The artists’ call to movement was completely irresistible to the entire summer evening audience, with dance and song offering itself as a form of political resistance.  After several encores, it became clear that although the tenor (current politics) may be terrible, the proposed vehicle is a powerful mode of activist hope.

July 28

Many of the Outer Cape’s cultural community turned out to honor artist and activist Ai Weiwei at this year’s Fine Arts Work Center Gala and to view the show “Rebar and Case” at FAWC’s Hudson Walker Gallery. The tension between the installation’s style and content created a real one-two punch of cognition and emotion. The shapes of twisted rebar (formally alluding both to a tragic building collapse in Sichuan as well to the disaster’s effects on the spines of its victims) were rendered in the museum-quality permanence of marble. So, too, his polished wood display cases evoked both high-end furniture and coffins.  Here at LNB, we don’t take Ai’s physical presence for granted.  For even as we speak our minds on digital media, we are highly conscious of the paradox of free expression and constant surveillance. And while contemporary life, not only for artists, has become a constant matter of negotiation between ideals and realities, the priority of any artist is as advocate for the imaginary. And yet, to focus on the actual, it was an amazing moment to shake Ai Weiwei’s hand and exchange sentences with him.  The solidity of the physical person (a body that’s endured both prison and beatings) as residence for his still-resisting spirit was, to use an overused word, inspirational.  Ai Weiwei remains determined to remain on his course of creative dissidence, a role, it seems to us, he was born to inhabit as the son of the poet Ai Qing.  We strongly believe artistic awards should not be determined due to any artist’s well-meaning political or rhetorical activity, but in this case we urge the Swedish Academy to take into account the immediate effect of Ai Weiwei’s creative contributions. His films as well as his installations continue to influence real individuals’ freedom of expression, immigration situations or other forms of lack of due process, all international circumstances very much still calling for attention — and still pending resolution.

July 21

We were happy to see the republication of Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead receiving notice on Ron Slate’s online magazine, “On the Seawall.”  Slate points out that the poem not only predates The Maximus Poems and Paterson but also “anticipates techniques that are now familiar in politically charged poetry and cross-genre writing.”  But neither Slate nor the book’s editor, Cathereine Venable Moore, notice that Rukeyser’s work strongly overlaps with that of James Agee in ways that couldn’t possibly be coincidental.  Agee’s first book of poems won the Yale Younger Poets Prize and was published in 1934.  Only two years later, Rukeyser’s Theory of Flight was selected.  And it was in June 1936 that Agee, on assignment from Fortune, set off with photographer Walker Evans to compile the materials that would eventually become Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. That very spring Rukeyser and her photographer friend Nancy Naumberg drove down to Gauley Bridge, West Virginia to investigate the 1930 Hawk’s Nest Tunnel industrial disaster, a classic example of business malfeasance on the part of Union Carbide which resulted in death by silicosis of 764 (mostly African-American) workers. The text-image collaboration (as well as a proposed film) never came to be, but the poem remains as one of the most remarkable examples of poetic political witness.  For us, the book as published by West Virginia University Press contains too much of the editor’s presence (her introduction forms half of the small volume), so that historical content far overshadows the poetry.  For the true subject of the poem is not the information it presents, but as in Agee, an exploration of the moral obligations of a recording sensibility — in both cases, the privileged “outsider” poet who serves as stand-in for the reader. Once again, descriptions becomes judgment, a simple image expressing the hydroelectric power for which so many tragically died: The old plantation-house (burned to the mud) / is a hill-acre of ground.  The Negro woman throws / gay arches of water out the front door. / It runs down, wild as grass, falls and flows.

 

 

 

July 14

We’ve now had two opportunities to see “Abstract Climates,” PAAM’s summer show of Helen Frankenthaler paintings. Our first look was at the exhibition’s opening; and then we viewed these astonishing canvases again among meandering crowds at this year’s Provincetown Arts launch party. The magazine’s issue contains a number of articles about Frankenthaler and her time in Provincetown, but the perspective we found ourselves acutely missing was that of longtime Provincetown Arts contributor Eleanor Munro. Munro’s piece on Frankenthaler (originally appearing in 1979, but reprised twenty years later in her revised Originals: American Women Artists),presents this astonishing (and relevant to the PAAM installation) quote about the size of such works: “You need that many feet of flat surface for the illusion, for the light.”  Munro’s Frankenthaler profile is part of a section on American women artists who emerged from the world of 50’s Abstract Expressionism, many of them students of Hans Hofmann.  Munro’s understanding of who such women were (Hartigan, Frelicher, Lansner, among others) places them in a specific cultural context, a generation largely “bred on the principles of the prewar progressive-education movement.” Viewers (and critics, too) project themselves onto what they see, of course; and we admit that in these enormous paintings, brought back “home” to the Machado-Silvetti spaces, we ourselves recognize a version of the small Provence-inspired watercolors and gouaches of Serena Rothstein, also a Hofmann student — both sets of work being the expression of a New Yorker’s sensibility when she finds herself near the sun-reflecting ocean. Unfortunately, nothing in the current discussion of Frankenthaler’s show approaches the sublime summary achieved by these forty-year-old clauses of Munro:  The feeling-tone her paintings have projected has been the serene and beautiful, achieved by insightful control over the elements of form:  floating areas of color; occasional fountains, spurts, jets of color thrown against bare canvas; hard-edge panels or curtains of bright flat non-naturalistic color; and … fields of warm earth color pulsating on a languid cycle like red stars or stains of strange phosphorescent hue hovering like mirages at the edge of a world.

July 7

We’ll try to rein in our rage and frustration at the lack of critical reception received by Carcanet’s 2017 collection of Yves Bonnefoy poems, trying instead for something of the late French poet’s equilibrium, “all softness and irony assembled.”   But first, sardonic bitterness:  When a proposed subject is the work of the recent dead, a book review offers few opportunities for earthly logrolling.  And yet the simply titled I: Poems is an important book, gesturing as it does toward the forthcoming II: Prose (both in anticipation of a complete Pleiade edition). It’s as though a granite mountain were so prominent, its actual presence remains ignored by valley inhabitants, “mysterious meaning in what is merely simple” all but ignored. Of course, given that recent online discussions tend toward a growing consensus that in this day and age there can be no more “major” poets, it’s not surprising that the French poet — who soundly contradicts such a thesis — might, for the sake of convenience, be set aside. Perhaps the second (prose) shoe has to fall. For as Anthony Rudolf observes in his preface to Bonnefoy’s verse, few poets (at least not since Baudelaire and Leopardi) “have had a ‘second’ oeuvre in prose so intertwined with their poetry, so rich in signs and wonders, so complex and yet so trustful of readers.”  Despite the presence of the French, here at LNB we still have difficulty thinking of the great Bonnefoy as a “foreign” writer. Whether this is a result of the decades he spent here living and teaching, particularly in New England, or it’s because of his extraordinarily living translations of Shakespeare, we ourselves sometimes think of him as one of the most remarkable Anglo poets writing in French. Though we would hardly argue that nothing is lost in the transition, it seems to us — especially in his later lyrics — that his work slides easily into a contemporary yet somehow timeless English.  Even though the excellent facing-page translations have been made by multiple, mostly British, hands (Rudolf, John Naughton, Stephen Romer, among others), the lines remain eternally Bonnefoy.

June 30

We were honored to be present a few weeks ago at the awarding of the Radcliffe Medal to Hillary Rodham Clinton.  The handing-over of the medal was preceded by a panel on America’s current position in international affairs, and discussions of the Obama-Clinton era felt like the semi-mythical recollections of an age of Bronze.  In truth, the world back then was anything but Golden, yet only five years ago there was, as testified by the distinguished academics, journalists and diplomats engaged in the discussion, still a belief in the effects of intelligent and humane public policy. As Madeleine Albright delivered her personal testimonial for her friend and colleague at the State Department, we were all taken back to a time of possibilities.  The afternoon was not merely poignant; it was heartbreaking. In her interview with Maura Healey, Secretary Clinton showed once again personal and political qualities of persistence and perseverance. We ourselves felt momentarily released from despair. Like bearberry or the summer’s beach roses after a brutal winter, certain low-growing, thorny things do come back.

June 23

This month we found ourselves returning home to West Virginia just as the summer had begun. LongNookBook’s Oral Lake, expresses the child’s view of fifty years ago, an era when “freedom was associated with walking / on fresh-cut grass in bare feet.” and bravery was a matter of crossing the “softened tar” of country roads without the assistance of an adult.  Comprised of poetic recollections of her mountaineer upbringing, of “listening for the coal truck’s rumble,” Mary Maxwell’s redolent lines make their way towards the adult poet’s consideration what such  sounds might prophesy — a warning not just for the nation but for the planet. Both culturally and politically, the state is a more complex place than our New England friends seem to realize. The state is hardly the stronghold of white supremacists; most of the Confederate flags we saw on our drives from and back to the Cape were, in fact, in neighboring Maryland. On the contrary, West Virginia has exhibited an independent streak dating from 1861 when it separated from Confederate Virginia.  Considering the fact that it was adopted on June 20, 1863, the state motto (Montani Semper Liberi) could hardly have been exempt from association with other forms of human emancipation being enacted at the time:  Mountain people will always be free.

June 16

The third Saturday in June brings with it the official beginning of summer on Longnook.  First come the signs warning of sharks and collapsing dunes; then come the trash cans and flip-flops lined up at the parking lot’s edge; last appear the bike racks and the port-o-sans. But all this is  prelude to the required beach sticker and the arrival of someone at the stop sign and check-in to the town-owned parking lot.  New this year is a small shack for the young employees to find shade, a charming and useful addition, we think. The surfboard-topped cars have begun to arrive in their own unending waves, whoosh-whoosh-whoosh picking up tempo as weekends approach. The voices of paired walkers float up to our bedroom now soon after dawn. The last of beachgoers head toward Route 6 just before dark. We have mixed feelings about all this.  It’s wonderful to live in a place so worth visiting, but a sense of intrusion is surely natural. When the beach’s parking lot fills up and the turned-away tear past our driveway at breakneck speed, we can’t help but feel a certain satisfaction at their evident fury and frustration.

June 9

We stopped off in New York City on one of our drives southward for a fix of urban culture, and more specifically, cafe culture.  One evening we finally heard Theo Bleckmann perform in person at the Neue Galerie’s Cafe Sabarsky.  (See our 1/23/17 entry in the LNB Archives to understand better our longstanding enthusiasm.) The  astonishing musician and composer Uri Caine made a surprise appearance as piano accompanist.  It was a truly Weimar experience, with Bleckmann singing merry-bitter songs by Brecht and Eisler,  all being presented with schnitzel and strudel to what were evidently among the very wealthiest, and most jaded, of New Yorkers. History was echoing, with sickening effect. Urbanity, and cultural repetitions, were also bleakly evident at the Broadway revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties. The play’s absurdist dialogues and DaDa defenses also seemed astonishingly contemporary, what with current ideas about “found texts” running amok once again. We were troubled that in the play the rousing defense of great poetry was being made by a third-rate sensibility like Henry Carr (played by the expert Tom Hollander), but we understood that’s rather Stoppard’s point:  Art makes strange bedfellows.

June 2

Winter erosion along the shores of the Outer Cape can be quite dramatic.  One of the familiar camel-hump dunes above the parking lot at Longnook Beach, for example, has completely disappeared.  When our website got “lost” in the course of our host’s migration in January, we were similarly dumbfounded. One day we were online;  the next we were gone. In the interim months, a new LongNookBooks site has been created. So, too, new  paths have been made down to ever-cresting waves, despite the ongoing falling of scrub pine and old tarmac. The descent of that old road, as well as the cottage foundations still being uncovered, remind us that change is inevitable, whether we’re ready for it or not. And so we present here our newly created online journal, “The Longnook Lookover” (along with pull-down access to our archived newsletter), which we think of as a figurative perch above the various activities in our view. Soon enough the shoreline will be filled with living figures, individuals who bring with them the quickened pace of human culture, an aspect of Outer Cape life we embrace with as much enthusiasm as we revel in the dynamic magnificence of the National Seashore.

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