Category Archives: literature

Impressions of Portugal, Last Day in Lisbon

King José I, Praça do Comércio

King José I, Praça do Comércio

On our last day in Portugal, there was much to do: purchasing gifts for family and friends and a pilgrimage to the Café-Restaurante Martinho da Arcada. The café is another favorite Pessoa haunt, with a table reserved for him in perpetuity. As the café was in the Praça do Comércio, we decided to end our Portuguese journey where most tourists would have begun, in the Lisboa Story Center. Continue reading

Impressions of Portugal, Belém

Padrão dos Descobrimentos (western profile)

Padrão dos Descobrimentos (western profile)

Illustrious Gama, whom the waves obey’d,
And whose dread sword the fate of empire sway’d.
—Luís de Camões (from Os Lusíadas)

The Museu Coleção Berardo, described as “the main museum for modern and contemporary art in Portugal,” lured us to spend a day in the Lisbon parish of Belém. The Museu is housed in the vast Centro Cultural De Belém (Belém Cultural Center or CCB), which was “erected as a showpiece for Portugal’s 1992 presidency of the European Union.” [Time Out Lisbon, p. 98] Continue reading

Impressions of Portugal, First Days

09IMG_0040_edited-1To get at even a modicum of what I wanted to know about Portugal, which I visited for the first time this March, would have required a good bit of research, preferably in the context of a university course. (I wondered, for example, what impact Portugal’s colonialist history and the Salazar dictatorship might have on its current collective mind.) Continue reading

Notes on Reading Dostoevsky’s Notes from a Dead House

The Wounded Eagle (1870), Rosa Bonheur

The Wounded Eagle (1870), Rosa Bonheur

In every creature a spark of God.
—Leoš Janáček

On a slip of paper found in his clothes after his death, Leoš Janáček had written:

Why do I go into the dark, frozen cells of criminals with the poet of Crime and Punishment? Into the minds of criminals and there I find a spark of God. You will not wipe away the crimes from their brow, but equally you will not extinguish the spark of God. Into what depths it leads—how much truth there is in his work! See how the old man slides down from the oven, shuffles to the corpse, makes the sign of the cross over it, and with a rusty voice sobs the words: ‘A mother gave birth even to him!’ Those are the bright places in the house of the dead. [citation] Continue reading

The Picture of Pasternak in a Prospect of Flowers

Boris beside the Baltic at Merekule, Leonid Pasternak, 1910

Boris beside the Baltic at Merekule, Leonid Pasternak, 1910

Boris Pasternak, whom no one yet knew . . . had this to say about poetry: “It will always be in the grass, it will always be necessary to bend over to see it, it will always be too simple to be discussed in assemblies.”

Gisèle Freund

I’ve been following a trail of pebbles and crumbs. As I’ve arrived at no particular destination, and arrival anywhere certain is unlikely, I’m making a record of the journey so far.

Hansel & Gretel, Carl Offterdinger

Hansel & Gretel, Carl Offterdinger

My journey began with a book by the British poet David Herd, John Ashbery and American Poetry. Herd’s way of approaching Ashbery is intriguing, quite unlike anything else I’ve read. Among other things, he spends a good bit of the book tracing Ashbery’s influences and inspirations. I didn’t agree with—or understand—everything Herd wrote, but his observations forged stimulating associations and connections that seemed very much in the spirit of Ashbery’s poems. Continue reading