Ars Poetica

Horace’s Ars Poetica, or the Art of Poetry, was written as a 476-line poem in a letter to his friend, the Roman senator  Lucius Calpurnius Piso (Lucius) and his two sons, around 19 BCE. It was known for a time as the “Epistle to the Pisos” until 95CE when the critic  Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (Quintilian) called it the Ars Poetica in his a twelve-volume textbook on … (more–>)

Kerouac’s Haikus

Haiku is like a razor blade: small, light, but yet strong and incredibly sharp. Haiku says “Look over there!” and then smacks you from the other side. Haiku is the neutron star of poetry: stunning density combined with astounding brightness. Haiku swims in a sea of metaphor, darting like quick, bright fish among the forest of words. Haiku has a formal definition: “an unrhymed verse form of … (more–>)

More Musings on Shakespeare

The Complete Pelican Shakespeare (edited by Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller, Penguin Books, 2002) has a short but insightful essay on the texts of Shakespeare that illustrates the choices editors have made when dealing with the texts they want to present their version to the public. It uses a single, well-known verse from Romeo and Juliet (Act 2, Sc.2, lines 40-44 in the Pelican and … (more–>)

Killing Commendatore

I’ve been a fan of Haruki Murakami’s novels for several, recent years, and have read nine or ten of them already. Those I’ve read have all fit into the category of “magical realism”; a style of fiction that was made famous by Latin American authors like Gabriel García Márquez (you would have encountered this in his bestselling book, 100 years of Solitude).* It’s a technique of … (more–>)

The Penguin Classics Book

Did you know there is a card game played in Japan at the New Year, called uta-garuta, where 100 cards have a full poem on each — traditionally taken from their classical poets — and another 100 have just the final line. Players take turn reading the poem from the deck, while the others race to find its concluding line from the cards with the final … (more–>)

The Long Read part 2

In my previous post I wrote about reading during the lockdown, particularly delving into some longer reads like War and Peace. This time gives us ample opportunity to tackle books that may have daunted us before. And, as I previously wrote, some of these are my ‘books-to-read-upon-retirement’ titles. Well, I recently finished War and Peace and still think it’s worth tackling, although I also believe Tolstoy … (more–>)

Thoreau and Buddhism

In his introduction to Thoreau: Walden and Other Writings (Bantam Books, 1962-1981), Joseph Wood Krutch described Henry David Thoreau’s writings as having four “distinct subjects”, which I paraphrase somewhat as: The life of quiet desperation most men live; The economic fallacy that is responsible for their condition The delights yielded from a simple life close to Nature, and The higher laws which people intuitively realize from … (more–>)

Goodbye, Information Age

“Say goodbye to the information age: it’s all about reputation now,” is the headline of an article by Italian philosopher and professor Gloria Origgi, published recently on Aeon Magazine’s website. She writes: …the vastly increased access to information and knowledge we have today does not empower us or make us more cognitively autonomous. Rather, it renders us more dependent on other people’s judgments and evaluations of … (more–>)

Gilgamesh four thousand years later

Gilgamesh continues to enthrall us, even after more than 100 years of translations and interpretations. The story continues to be told and retold and even re-imagined. There’s even a children’s version of the tale. You can read a version here, in PDF format or an online version here.Translations and transliterations (if you know your Akkadian…) are here. There was likely an oral version shared even before … (more–>)

Dictionary vs

Did you know that doxastic is a philosophical adjective relating to an individual’s beliefs? Or that doxorubicin was an antibiotic used in treating leukemia? Or that doxy is a 16th century word for mistress and prostitute? That drack is Australian slang for unattractive or dreary? Drabble means to make wet and dirty in muddy water? A downwarp is a broad depression in the earth’s surface? Drail … (more–>)

Found in translation

Language translation fascinates me. It’s a mix of language skill, art, interpretation, science and, apparently, divination. Maybe even magic. Going from one language into another is far from a simple step of swapping words in dictionary manner – Flaubert’s le mot juste. Any fool can do that. Hell, even Google can. A single word can be a fulcrum, and the decision to use one word instead … (more–>)

Malory then and now

I recently started reading Malory in the original – that is, the language that Caxton printed in. Not the typeface Caxton used, since that would be harder to read, but rendered in a modern serif face. Caxton initially used black letter type (aka gothic) – pretty much all the early printers used it, although each printer had his own dies and styles. However, he did move … (more–>)

Reading as a forgotten art

Earlier this month (February, 2018), the Globe & Mail published an essay by author Michael Harris titled, “I have forgotten how to read.” In it, he recounted how he recently tried to read a single chapter of a book, but failed. Frustrated, instead turned to TV: Paragraphs swirled; sentences snapped like twigs; and sentiments bled out. The usual, these days. I drag my vision across the … (more–>)

Does poetry make things happen in 2018?

I was thinking about how little poets seem to matter to modern political administrations. Maybe to modern society as a whole. Their light has, it seems, been waning for several decades as our collective attention shifts. I was thinking about what an odd, awkward fit it would be for a poet to be invited to today’s anti-literacy White House. Would he or she have to start … (more–>)

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