Colluvies

 1. I traveled to New York City in 2008 to see what I have since assumed was going to be my last King Crimson show, as mainstay guitarist Robert Fripp announced his retirement from live performance soon after that tour wrapped up. The show was wonderful, as was the mobile fracture subset of the Big Crim, ProjeKCt Two, that I had caught in 1998. (My P2 review is here at Crimson’s Discipline Global Mobile [DGM] site). So imagine my delight and surprise when, in 2013, Robert Fripp announced that King Crimson was on the move again, with a new seven-man, three-drummer line-up, including four of the five players I saw in 2008 — Fripp, Tony Levin, Gavin Harrison and Pat Mastelotto — plus Jakko Jaksyck from the 2011 KC ProjeKCt album, A Scarcity of Miracles, plus returning sax man Mel Collins from the early ’70s Crimson lineup, plus former Ministry/R.E.M. drummer Bill Rieflin. Wow! I have been eagerly monitoring Robert Fripp’s diary and the DGM Live pages waiting to see where they’d play, so imagine my shock a few weeks ago when the Crim announced that they’d be opening their tour in, of all places, Albany, New York . . . which I left in 2011 after 19 years in the market! Auggh!! Why you do this to me, universe?!?! No fair!!! Fortunately, Crimso are playing two gigs in Chicago (a mere six hours away), and Marcia has agreed to be a Prog Rock Warrior Princess and accompany me to one of them . . . on top of our agreed-upon-trip to Chicago to see YES! She’s even committed enough that she’s asked me to put a selection of YES and King Crimson songs on her car iPod to prepare her for the adventure. What a gem! What a wingman! How lucky am I, right? I love the road trips, I love the music, I love my wife, so this is about as good as it gets for me!

2. We had a great opening night of Shakespeare on the Lawn at Salisbury House last night, with perfect weather, a super crowd, and a nice sponsor preview Garden Party where we unveiled our plans for transforming the grounds of the property. I did a few TV spots in advance of the show, and I like this one best, as it features a green-screen sneak scene (ooo! I like the sound of that accidental alliteration/rhyme!) by our presenting partners at Repertory Theater of Iowa of this year’s production, The Merchant of Venice:

3. While Marcia and I were on vacation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the paradisaical Villa Amarosa, I read a relatively recent work of fiction by Christopher Priest called The Islanders, which had been “Recommended For You!” by my Kindle. And what a great recommendation that was: this book is completely my alley in terms of its subject, its presentation, its structure, its use of language, and its general, over-arching weirdness. I’ve been finding myself thinking about and re-visiting it, mentally, for the past few weeks, and may decide to give it a full “Five by Five Books” treatment at some point soon, if just to get the thoughts rattling around out of my head. It’s pretty rare for a new book by a new (to me) author to resonate with me so deeply, though I suspect that this would be a “love it or hate it” kind of book, with more people leaning the latter way than the former. Are you intrigued enough to give it a shot? (Katelin is reading it now). If so, let me know what you think!

I Do What I Do, Indeed I Do

I have been online for a long, long time. When the World Wide Web launched 20 years ago, I was one of the first people staking a claim to my own website there, journaling and posting links and doing things that didn’t quite have a name yet, for an audience that didn’t quite exist yet.

I acquired the jericsmith.com domain in 1999 and started “formally” blogging on September 7, 2000, after I had discovered that what I did had a name, but before most people had any idea what “blog” meant. WordPress tells me that this site now contains 975 posts, incorporating articles written here and several of my earlier websites. I received a coveted Freshly Pressed nod in November 2010, and my 2004 “Worst Rock Band Ever” survey went viral in ways that most bloggers can only dream of. At bottom line, I’ve written an awful lot of words in the public domain, and had an incredible number of people read them. I’m pleased and grateful for that experience.

There are few things more boring than blogging about blogging, so I generally try to avoid doing so. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t spend a fair amount of time thinking about blogging, and what it accomplishes, and why I do it. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that my primary motivation for blogging is best summed up by one of my favorite Bonzo Dog Band songs, “What Do You Do?” Here’s that crucial cut, well worth listening to, with the lyrics transcribed below:

What do you do?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it every day

Why do you do it?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it anyway

I do what I do, indeed I do
I do what I do, every day
Indeed I do

I do what I do, indeed I do
I do what I do, every day
I do what I do, I am what I am
We are what we are, we do what we can

What do you do?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it everyday

Why do you do it?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it anyway

I do what I do, indeed I do
I do what I do, everyday
Indeed I do

At bottom line, in 2013, I blog because it’s what I do. Indeed I do. Why? I don’t know, but I do it (almost) every day. Is that enough? Today, I find myself answering “no.”

The most rewarding blog experience I had occurred in 2004, when I set myself the task of writing and publishing a poem a day, for a full year. On December 31 of that year, I achieved my goal. Many of the poems I shared that year were, to be honest, marginal works, at best. But the discipline involved with producing them also resulted in occasional moments of brilliance, and I think some of the strongest writing I’ve ever done occurred that year, with a dozen or so of the poems I wrote going on to see publication in traditional print outlets.

After I finished the Poem A Day Project, I lost any sense of urgency for blogging, so I took a year-long blog sabbatical. When I returned, I found myself with a more engaged audience than I’d had when I retired my keyboard, so it seemed like absence actually made a lot of hearts grow fonder for my piffle and tripe. A phrase which, if you’re not a long-time reader, stemmed from a poem I once wrote, as follows:

“Piffle and tripe and balderdash!”
roared Lord MacCormack, his purple sash
rucked up beneath his ample chin,
as he pounded his desk again and again.
“Codswollop, blarney and twaddlerot!”
the good Lord raged, his temper hot,
his anger roused by news reports
of politics and sex and sports.
“Bosh, bunk, claptrap, bull and fudge!”
MacCormack the day’s events soundly judged,
while flinging his papers across the room,
and gesturing angrily into the gloom.
(His manservant, Roger, knew this was the cue
to roll in the cart, with the buns and the stew).

I have been thinking about tackling another project of the Poem A Day variety in 2014, to mark the 10th anniversary of that rewarding foray into sustained, public creative writing. But this time, I am thinking that I need the sabbatical before I start, not afterwards. So with a little bit of regret — but a larger amount of relief — I announce my intention to take a blog sabbatical until January 2014 to recharge the batteries, focus the thinking, and come up with a reason for blogging that’s more profound than “I do what I do, indeed I do.”

Does this mean that I’m going to quit writing? Of course not. I wish I could say that I write because I want to, but the reality is that I write because I need to. In my 2001 novel, Eponymous, protagonist Collie Hay (who I have always publicly denied is me, though everyone knows that is just diversion and posturing) is quoted as saying: “Writing is the only way that I can actually get facts and my thoughts about them in order, then do something about them and (more importantly) begin to believe that they actually happened. To me, no less. Because if I don’t (or can’t) write about something, then it’s generally not real to me — and I’ve reached a point where I want my life and my history to feel real.” That’s a true statement, made in a fictional context.

What and where will I write? First off, I have some bigger writing projects that keep getting back-burnered — since given the choice of doing a hard writing job or an easy blog post, the latter almost always wins. My primary writing objective for 2013 is to finish a theatrical adaptation of Eponymous that Marcia deftly framed, ideally creating a work that she and I can shop to local stages and actors to see if it has real-world audience appeal. I think it will, and I think Des Moines is a great place to launch it.

I have half-a-dozen short story ideas parked on my office whiteboard, so I look forward to having time to develop them fully, without being distracted by self-imposed blog posting requirements. I intend to continue communicating in the public domain via Facebook and Twitter, so I heartily encourage you to like or follow those pages, if you are not already doing so. I find lots of cool stuff in my forays online, and I look forward to sharing such things with you all via those social media outlets. If I place any work in traditional print outlets, I will announce it on those sites. When I travel or have other photographic adventures to report, I will post them at my Flickr account, so you might want to follow that as well.

For most of the past decade, I have done 95%+ of my pleasure reading on the elliptical at the gym or while sitting in my hot tub, so I also look forward to having more time to just sit in my own living room, reading. It will be refreshing to step away from the computer in the evening, since I’ve rarely done that for many, many years. And, finally, I am also looking forward to having our lovely daughter, Katelin, moving to Des Moines in May. It has been seven years since we’ve lived in the same city on a permanent basis, so I want to be available and accessible to her, without feeling like I have an online community that must be serviced as a priority.

All of this being said, I am humbled at the response that my writing has garnered in this and other, earlier spaces over the years, so I thank you all — my faithful readers — for your support, encouragement and interaction. I hope that you will return as active supporters in January 2014, when I launch the next phase of my blogging career, whatever it might entail. I think the break will do us all good.

I hope that you all agree!

Trixcellaneous

1. I’ve just finished reading KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money by JMR Higgs and I enjoyed it tremendously. The book ostensibly attempts to explain why Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond of the early ’90s arch pop group The KLF burned one million U.K. pounds on the remote Scottish island of Jura in 1994. Cauty and Drummond themselves have both expressed bafflement over their actions in the years since their fortune went up in smoke. Needless to say, it’s hard to explain and justify such an overtly iconoclastic act, and I heartily applaud Higgs for an audacious feat of research, interpretation and writing as he manages to crunch the JFK assassination, the Illuminati, Doctor Who, actors Bill Nighy and Bob Hoskins, post-punk bands The Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen, graphic novelist Alan Moore and scores of otherwise unlikely characters and events into a compelling narrative that actually withstands Wikipedia fact-checking. If you like mulling over popular conspiracy theories and the dark forces behind them, then this book is definitely worth your while.

2.I had not laid eyes on arguably the best known painting in the Salisbury House permanent collection — Joseph Stella’s The Birth of Venus — until yesterday afternoon, as the massive, florid 1925 painting has been on an American tour since before I was working at the House. It was a delight to finally see this amazing work removed from her storage crate yesterday, and today to help get her restored to a spot on honor in the Great Hall, where the family who built the house originally displayed this important hyper-modern painting. Here’s a tease of what Venus looked like as we eased her back into her place; that’s me on the left on the scaffolding, doing my small part to make sure she was safe and secure, back at home, at last.

Hanging "Venus," Salisbury House Great Hall, February 2013.

Hanging “Venus,” Salisbury House Great Hall, February 2013.

3. I frequently write poems about creepy crawly things that you aren’t supposed to write poems about. My body of work includes sonnets to lampreys and to slime molds, doggerel about luminous squid, poignant paeans to microscopic volvox, and all sorts of other rhyming ickiness. While cleaning out the Facebook account, I found another Critter Poem that I’d forgotten about, so I’m glad to be able to copy it into my Poetic Bestiary. Here ’tis, for your own amusement: “The Scallop.”

Such a wonder, this bivalve, this mollusk: the scallop!
His name means “a shell” in Old French.
Though his adductor muscle looks soft (like a polyp
surrounded by snot, in a generous dollop)
to break it, you’ll have to apply quite a wallop
with hammer, or tong, or a wrench.

Such a wonder, the scallop! His eyeballs amazing,
of lovely cerulean blue,
that don’t help him with mating or fighting or grazing
or swimming or sitting or homestead appraising
or sleeping or waking or even hell-raising.
In fact, I don’t know what they do.

Such a wonder, the scallop! No quahogs, no oysters,
compare with his beauteous grace.
Where his neighboring bivalves sit still, as in cloisters,
the scallop is mobile and feels free to roister,
rambunctiously swimming. He bumbles! He boisters!
He sneers at those stuck in one place!

Such a wonder, the scallop! (I said “he,” forgive me,
I’m sorry for being so crass,
since a scallop can be a she, then she can be a he,
or she can be a he, before she be’s a she,
or be a she-he, or he-she, it’s hard to see
which is which, sans boobs and ass).

Such a wonder, this bivalve! I love him! The scallop!
Alive at sea, or deep in sauce!
And I mean that, I do, it is no mere codswallop,
nor something I’d say to impress some hot trollop.
(To check my integrity, people you’d call up
might include my mom, or my boss).

St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s “Liber Florum”

As we approach our 1,500th like on the Salisbury House Facebook Page, I decided to look for something in our library dating from around 1500 A.D. to mark the occasion. I found something beautiful, though a bit confusing: the book in question had been re-bound in more modern boards at some point with the title “Flores” and the date “1534” on its spine, neither of which reconciled to anything I could find in our databases or online. With a little bit of research, I discovered that what we actually have in the library is called “Liber Floru[m] Beati Bernardi abbatis Clareualle[n]sis,” and it was published in 1499. It’s a magnificent book, made more special by extensive marginalia throughout the text, including an end-note with the date 1534 in it, which perhaps contributed to the erroneous date in the new binding. Here are some shots of pages within this text, with explanatory notes gleaned from my research. As always, you can click each image to enlarge for more detail.

Cover page of “Liber florum Beati Bernardi abbatis Clareualle[n]sis” by St. Bernard of Clairvaux printed by Philippe Pigouchet in 1499. Pigouchet was a prolific printer who began printing around 1487. There are more than 150 known titles of his work surviving. He excelled at printing Horae (Books of Hours), of which there are more than 90 titles survive. The title of the Salisbury House book appears above Pigouchet’s illustrated mark, which features a fur-covered Adam and Eve!

This is the first text page of the Salisbury House Library’s edition of St. Bernard’s “Liber Floru[m].” St. Bernard had died over 300 years earlier, so this is a long posthumous edition of his words and wisdom. Our copy is filled with hand-written marginalia, some seen here at the bottom of the page.


A central page from “Liber Floru[m]” of St. Bernard of Clairveaux. The book was printed with movable type on a press, and it contains hand coloring at the start of each section and sentence.

The final page of St. Bernard’s “Liber Floru[m],” with an inscription at bottom in Latin dated November 1534.


Inside the back cover of “Liber Floru[m]” is an amazingly beautiful hand-written section with hand-coloring. The symbols atop the Latin words would most likely indicate that this was a text to be chanted. Any Latin scholars willing to translate for us?

A Friday Photo Mystery

Last night, we announced that we will be presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream from June 20 to June 23, 2013 for our Shakespeare on the Lawn at Salisbury House program. We made the announcement during a wonderful fundraising event in the Common Room presented by our creative partners, Repertory Theater of Iowa. When we have such events, we like to find rarely-seen items to share with our audience members as a testament to the breadth and depth of the collections here. Here’s something we showed our guests last night, that ties Salisbury House, the Weeks family, and William Shakespeare together in an amazing fashion. We present it to you in the same way that we discovered it!

High on an out-of-the-way shelf in the Salisbury House Library is a slender, unmarked book that has been rebound in plain, manilla-colored cardboard. What could it be?

High on an out-of-the-way shelf in the Salisbury House Library is a slender, unmarked book that has been rebound in plain, manilla-colored cardboard. What could it be?

Inside the front cover is an inscription: Carl Weeks gave this book to his youngest son, Lafe, on Christmas Day, 1939.

Inside the front cover is an inscription: Carl Weeks gave this book to his youngest son, Lafe, on Christmas Day, 1939. Lafe was about 20 at the time.

Tucked inside the front cover are four yellowed pieces of lined paper, pulled from a spiral notebook. They are filled with writing in what looks to be a young person's cursive, done in pencil.

Tucked inside the front cover are four yellowed pieces of lined paper, pulled from a spiral notebook. They are filled with writing in what looks to be a young person’s cursive, done in pencil. Do you recognize the quote?

Carl gave Lafe a 1703 edition of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," published in London. The page numbers in Carl's inscription match the locations of the four passages recorded in the handwritten pages. Did Carl find some of young Lafe's writing done after "90 minutes spent with Shakespeare," and surprise him with it in this gift, years later? We may never know . . . but it's a reminder that all of these objects have amazing human stories and meaning behind them!

Behind the notebook paper, we find what lies within: a 1703 edition of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” published in London. The page numbers in Carl’s inscription match the locations of the four passages recorded in the handwritten pages. Did Carl find some of young Lafe’s writing done after “90 minutes spent with Shakespeare,” and place it in this gift, years later? We may never know . . . but it’s a reminder that all of these objects have amazing human stories and meaning behind them!

Evidence of Autumn

1. Marcia and I went to see President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalyn Carter speak at Drake University’s Knapp Center last night, some five minutes from our house. The last time we were there, we watched the Drake Bulldogs Men’s Basketball Team beat nationally ranked Wichita State in triple overtime.  I like the building, a lot. The Carters were incredibly spry for a couple marking their 66th year of wedded life in 2012, and they spent the evening talking about the great work they’ve done over the past three decades with the Carter Center, working on issues of social justice and equity around the globe. They were tremendously impressive, and I certainly hope that I am as sharp as they are when I am eye-balling my 90th birthday, as they both are.

Rosalyn and Jimmy Carter speak at Drake University last night. Lousy photo, but tremendous presentation.

2. Last Friday, Salisbury House hosted the annual Gatsby Gala, a major fundraising benefit that’s built around a 1920s/Prohibition-era theme. Folks dress to the nines for the party, and I felt like I had to go along, as much as I dislike grown-up dress-up fun on principle. But work is work, so I went with a 1920s G-man look, figuring that the Executive Director of the House should be on the side of the law, not the bootleggers. The event was very successful from both a fundraising and media standpoint, so I am grateful for that on both fronts.

3. Tonight and tomorrow, our neighborhood celebrates the annual Beaverdale Fall Festival. We walked about tonight and then watched fireworks from our back yard. Tomorrow, Marcia is running in the neighborhood 5K Race. I will root her on from the finish line.

Band playing in the middle of Beaver Avenue during Beaverdale Fall Festival 2012.

When I snapped this shot in front of our neighborhood Catholic church, the band was playing The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” Explication on this interesting fact is left to the reader’s discretion.

Dusk over Urbandale Avenue, two blocks from our house.

Big neighborhood fireworks display snapped from our back yard.