When writers read -- 2: poets, artists, musicians
Eric Pankey reads Czeslaw Milosz ``Czeslaw Milosz's most recent book of poetry, `Separate Notebooks,' translated by the outstanding American poets Robert Hass and Robert Pinsky with Milosz and Renata Gorczynski, possesses a rare and rich lyrical wisdom that I cannot help but be moved by,'' says Eric Pankey (``Without faith,'' June 25). `` `Seasons flare and fade, but as in a garden we do not enter anymore,' Milosz writes, and through the collection we too look into that lost garden, into a past that is at once both pe rsonal and historic, full of beauty, destruction, torment, tenderness, and praise. Milosz gives us a world of hope: Hope means that someone believes the earth Is not a dream, that it is living flesh; That sight, touch, hearing tell the truth; And that all things we have known here Are like a garden, looked at from the gate. You can't go in; but you see it's there. And if we could see clearly and more wisely We know we'd find in the world's garden Some new flower or undiscovered star . . . '' William Stafford reads Ray Hunt on horses
``An appetite for discovering something good that others don't yet know about has drawn me back recently to an American original by Ray Hunt called `Think Harmony with Horses,' '' writes William Stafford (``Figuring out how it is,'' Jan. 9). ``This quiet package of wisdom, disguised as just an account of one person's way with animals, is really a revelation about how to teach, and about how one's manner of life can converge helpfully with existent power in a world not always intending to be helpful. My eyes waver at marvelous -- and authenticated -- accomplishments, and my imagination roves to adapt horse-training techniques to the kind of encounter we all have with apparently intractable materials.'' Demi reads the pictures of Shih-T'ao
``I'm reading the pictures of a book written in Chinese, which I don't read, on Shih-T'ao or Tao Chi, by Jem-Jui-Yao, Hong Kong Art Publishing house, 1980, first edition,'' writes Demi, whose ``How I grew up to draw what I knew at two'' (Sept. 19) was accompanied by her own pictures: one from her book ``Ma Liang and the Magic Paintbrush'' and one based on a work by her great-grandfather, William Morris Hunt.
``I know in China Shih-T'ao is considered the first true genius of Impressionism and modern art and that he was doing it in 1641. As a royal Ming descendant turned monk, he lived in the Chiangnan Mountains, but more in heaven than on earth. The ceaseless movement of his universe, the heavenly harmonies, and vertical forces of life from heaven to earth dance and sing through his brush.
``My Chinese friend Tze-si Huang translated a few lines that say: `There is music in this landscape, and those who grasp it feel it in their hearts. The meaning of heaven is profound and vast like the ocean. When I reveal it in my brushwork its merits are limitless. Should I explain this secret teaching to you, the solid mountain, I'm afraid, would blow away.'
``Even without words this book will blow you away.'' Philip Booth reads Rockwell Kent
Writes Philip Booth (``We may choose something like a star,'' Dec. 24): ``As I often have in weather too raw to work outdoors on a boat, I reread this spring the handsomest book I know: `N by E,' which sets that course for Greenland with words as sharply edged as the dark and light of its author's famous woodcuts. Like all classics of voyaging under sail, Rockwell Kent's narrative tacks toward landfall by way of belowdecks psychology and such philosophizing as any nightwatch invites. Befogged and galeswept as his voyage proves to be, Kent's short chapters and stark woodcuts become even more luminous after he survives shipwreck. His trek for help on a bleak coast, and his awakening to Greenland's translatable virtues, are themselves rites of passage. Both verbally and visually, the book celebrates a voyaging each of us knows or still yearns for.'' ]Paul Z. Rotterdam reads Goethe on a plane
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's ``The Sorrows of Young Werther'' was read on a plane this summer by Paul Z. Rotterdam (``Swordsman in the landscape of imagination,'' June 19): ``Rereading it is reflecting the present state in our continuously changing perception of love. How come that ultimate love is unattainable and that it exists only in imagination? So great is Werther's love for married Lotte that her presence in the same room suffices to create such happiness that all desire is silenced and her soul is felt spinning through every nerve. But the will for possession, the picking of the apple, the realization of love through confession, destroys the possibility for a paradise. Ideal love would demand living for the purpose of love alone. No romantic love can survive the stress of reality. There is no triangular love but the conflict between two separate states of it. In order to keep morality intact Werther needed to leave the scene. Prohibited from living for his ideal love, his choice was to die for it.'' Adelheid Fischer reads Ondaatje
``The genesis of all compelling memoirs is an urgent question,'' writes Adelheid Fischer (``From my window overlooking the freeway,'' Dec. 6). ``At 36 the Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje returned to his native Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to reacquaint himself with a childhood he `had ignored and not understood.' In `Running in the Family' Ondaatje reconstructs the forces that shaped the lives of people he longs to understand belatedly as an adult. There are few more outlandish or more ende aring characters in literature or life.
His lovable but overbearing grandmother Lalla was known for presenting her hosts with armfuls of flowers shamelessly ravaged from their own gardens. (Similar behavior warranted her restriction from the Hakgalle Public Gardens.) Ondaatje's theatrical mother, Doris, grew up in a Ceylonese circle as passionate and self-indulgent as Lalla.
``But the book is primarily about Ondaatje's missed connections with his father. Bouts of dipsomania would change this gentle man, an accomplished amateur horticulturist, into a notorious hijacker of trains. Because of these bouts, his parents were divorced when Ondaatje was a child and he never knew his father as an adult. In the end, the book is really about a yearning so beautiful it is almost unbearable.'' Veronica Jochum reads `Clara Schumann'
From Veronica Jochum (``Theme and variations,'' Dec. 26). ``Imagine a girl for whom the name Clara -- `the famous one' -- was chosen by her father even before she was born, as he wanted to make her into a famous concert pianist, which indeed she became, admired already in her teens for her playing and her compositions. Imagine a woman who, at age 36, had given birth to eight children and had gone through an intensely creative artistic partnership with her husband, Robert Schumann, one of Germany's foremost composers, before he died in an asylum -- but who was also emancipated enough to regret that she never learned how to cook and manage a household.
``This fascinating story of Clara Schumann is told in a fascinating way by Nancy B. Reich in her biography `Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman,' a book I simply couldn't put down. Aside from interesting new perspectives on the artist and her times, it includes a much-needed survey on Clara Schumann's hitherto unduly neglected compositions.'' Carol Chapin Lindsey reads critic Calas
``I enjoy art criticism I can really chew on,'' says Carol Chapin Lindsey (``Extinct species* tongue twisters,'' July 1). `` `Art in the Age of Risk,' by Nicolas Calas, encourages considerable jaw work. In analyzing Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and a few individual artists, the author probes the nature of art and its function in society. He touches brilliantly on the philosophical, psychological, and cultural aspects of the arts in general. The book is cramm ed with provocative gems, such as:
`` `Painting is structure of images or structure of signs.'
`` `In the age of mechanical speed, the poet's function is to invent delaying techniques.'
`` `Pop Art discovered the Surrealism of the understatement.'
`` `Art is not a tranquilizer.'
``I go back again and again to a book like this.'' Lux Feininger reads Tocqueville
``Alexis de Tocqueville: `De la D'emocratie en Am'erique.' I give the book title in French because I read the original text,'' writes T. Lux Feininger, whose ``Old Pictures'' (Aug. 15, 1984) was accompanied by photos of early works by his father, Lyonel Feininger, never shown in the United States. ``My interest in domestic and world affairs led me recently to read this study of 1836. It gives a thorough description of American institutions and national characteristics. Certain conclusi ons are drawn, which our history did not tarry to confirm. Amongst them is the prediction that the institution of slavery -- seen as more pernicious to society than to the slaves themselves -- must lead to civil war but would not be settled by it. The author also defines military ambition and warns against allowing it to influence foreign policy and imperiling the common good. Tocqueville wrote with intention of providing guidance for European legislators in the expansion of democratic principles, which he envisaged as an inevitable consequence of the revolutions of 1830. The applicability of his observations to modern problems is striking.'' Ulrike Welsch reads Facey in Australia
``While I was in Perth, West Australia, last fall and looking for a real Australian book, the lady in the bookstore suggested `A Fortunate Life,' by A. B. Facey -- a real Australian classic, she said,'' writes Ulrike Welsch, whose ``Loving to see'' and page of photographs appeared Feb. 13. ``I just skimmed the 326-page Penguin book, liked how easy it read and the colors of the cover representing the Australian bush -- where I had just come from.
``The book tells about Bert Facey's life, which began on the 31st of August of 1894. It is an extremely honest account of what happened to him from the time when his mother could not care for him and his brothers, and they set up camp with Grandma, Aunt Alice, and Uncle. At age 8 he helped setting possum snares and pegged the skins. At 9 he was sent to help on a farm for 5 shillings and keep.
``Bert learned as he grew, but mainly from life, people, and nature. He became an experienced bushman, boxer, and soldier. He could not read and write till after the war in Gallipoli, 1914-1915, where he survived the trenches. He married Evelyn Gibson, whom he had met coincidentally, though he already wore her socks, which she had sent in a care package to the Australian men at the front.
``Bert Facey sees himself as an ordinary man, but his remarkable story reveals a winner against impossible odds. I am humbled by his gentle acceptance of the good and the bad.'' Art Farmer reads Dizzy Gillespie
``To Be or Not to Bop,'' by Dizzy Gillespie and Al Fraser, was recently enjoyed by Art Farmer (``Try to think of something you really want to hear,'' April 1): ``Having first met Mr. Gillespie in 1946, and being transformed by his playing since first hearing his recordings, I eagerly anticipated reading his autobiography. Though closely following his career and having had many chances to talk with him when working the same venues from time to time, I now feel that I know him much bett er.
``Occasionally people that were involved in certain periods or incidents of his life are given space to tell their side of the story. This heightens the feeling of truth in general, although some things are not seen exactly the same way.
``Mr. Gillespie remembers his family being so poor when he was a child that they hid in the woods on Easter Sunday, not being able to buy new clothes for Easter, which was a strong custom at that time. I don't think that he has hidden from anything since then.'' Stanley Boxer reads Heinrich Mann
``There is a literature that for myriad reasons is not quite known,'' writes Stanley Boxer (``A surprised eye on `this elegant nation,' '' Jan. 9). ``A secondary quality is assigned. Modesty of `repute' is mistaken for the same in quality! Such a book is `The Strawman,' by Heinrich Mann. True art is never condescending, in that truth does not become odious. The feel of the comic and its paradox -- poignancy -- becomes the classic base from which embroidery is stripped away. What is und erstood is a `new' sense of the `obvious,' so `The Strawman' establishes the `outline' as art must. It is left to the reader to do the rest. What a lovely course to be at once led and left to dangle in the imagination! Abstract becomes whole, which is clarity that leavens and enlarges the spirit.'' Marcia Tucker reads Ilse Aichinger
From Marcia Tucker, director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York (``Contemporary art: Of what use is it?'' April 17): ``I recently reread a book which I loved when I was in high school. It's called `The Bound Man,' by Ilse Aichinger, and is a volume of short stories -- actually parables -- published in 1956, which has remained in my memory since then. The title story is about a man who wakes up one day to discover himself tied neck to feet with a thin rope, robbed of his possessions, shoes, and coat. He slowly and painfully learns to move with grace, speed, and strength, and joins the circus as The Bound Man. Delighting in the freedom of learning to adapt to his rope, he is eventually able to perform amazing feats despite his circumstances. Ultimately he is betrayed, his ropes cut at the height of his power. Reading the book again after so many years, I was struck by the extent to which my own memory of the story had influenced me so profoundly, and for such a long time.''