The Local Yarn

If you had told me a month ago that I would actually rather starve than cook a meal for myself, I would not have believed you. But having been plunged into a life of bachelorly self-sufficiency, I find that it is not that hard to get from not liking cooking to simply skipping the meal altogether.

It goes like this. I come home from work and go upstairs. Now, I might like a nice meal, I say to myself. (If I were normal I would merely think it to myself, but more often than not I end up saying it aloud.) But, what should I eat? I immediately consider the path of reasoning that leads to the most desirable end: a hot, tasty meal. However, a number of obstacles immediately leap out from behind my visionary steaming casseroles and boiled vegetables. It takes too long; I’d rather not do that many dishes afterwards; I have hardly anything in the cupboard because I’m too cheap to buy things I know I’ll never cook anyway; and most of all, I hate cooking.

So much for that idea. But now, I’ve got to have something else. The only alternatives to cooking are cereal and sandwiches. But I’ve just had a sandwich for lunch, and I’m starting to get sick of having cereal. From this point it is only a trifling logical hop to thinking that, of course, the simplest thing would be to just not eat. I’m not that hungry anyway (it’s always either that or I’m more tired than I am hungry), and it would probably make the next meal taste better, and I would be saving money anyway. So after a few links in a simple line of reasoning, I have arrived at such an aberration of thought, that the Darwinians might despair of my genus being around for many more generations.

Art Fare for the Common Man*

LET US discuss the writing of poetry. Here is an excerpt from a woefully typical modern-day poem:

A card table in the library stands ready
To receive the puzzle which keeps never coming.
Daylight shines in or lamplight down
Upon the tense oasis of green felt.
Full of unfulfillment, life goes on,
Mirage arisen from time's trickling sands
Or fallen piecemeal into place:
German lesson, picnic, see-saw, walk
With the collie who 'did everything but talk' —
Sour windfalls of the orchard back of us.

It is pieces like these that have pretty well killed popular taste for poetry. Those were the opening lines from the aptly-titled Lost in Translation by James Merril, and they demonstrate very well what is wrong with most contemporary efforts at English poetry: randomness.

The appeal of poetry lies in expressing an idea within the boundaries of some kind of pattern, typically a rhyming or metrical pattern. To the degree that a poem lacks at least one easily discernible pattern, it will fail to be engaging, entertaining, and inspiring. The pattern forces the idea to be expressed efficiently and, may we say, musically:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
   Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

Both poems are vivid, and potentially full of implication; But where Merril’s poem prances awkwardly from vagueness to vagueness, Fitzgerald gives us something to chew on, an idea made powerful by the discipline of its rhyme and metre. Take note: We are not merely saying we prefer Fitzgerald to Merril. We are differentiating between real poetry and fake poetry.

In modern poems such as Merril’s, random surreality carries the day, and is given the title of Inspired Art. This trend is largely a feature of academia, a self-contained world where tasselled charlatans write material for each other and turn up their noses at the real world. Even many who call themselves ‘outsider’ artists achieve what fame they can by imitating their academic counterparts. This is all fine and good, except that, by and large, all this uber-progressiveness is edging out forms of poetry that require real creative ability, the ability to inspire the Common Man.

Anyone with an ear towards the artistic community cannot fail to note how disparagingly they speak of ‘public taste.’ Anything accessible and inspiring to the common man is hauled away in their wide net of ‘mass-marketing.’ To be sure, there is a lot of cheap, unoriginal work out there, but it at least does not make any claim of being more than what it is. What if a chef in a resturaunt should cook a fine steak? Is he “pandering to the interests of the public,” merely because his creations are both accepted and widely applauded? Should he abandon established forms and cook something that tastes bad so he can claim to be ‘progressive’ and ‘modern’?

And so the fellow on the street, encountering a poem that only its author could possibly understand, is told that this is Real Art, and is made to think that it is above him. Nothing could be further from the truth; he really cannot understand it because it is below him. The author made no effort to reach up towards the mind of You or Me, to crystallize his vague ideas in a way that would be even understandable, let alone convincing. Proponents of things like this give very elaborate explanations for why their work is so stiflingly self-absorbed, discontinuous, and random; but mark our words: what they are really saying is, “We want to be hailed as geniuses without possessing the talent or expending the effort.”

Again:

Like thousands, I took just pride and more than just,
struck matches that brought my blood to a boil;
I memorized the tricks to set the river on fire—
somehow never wrote something to go back to.

Lowell might have had something interesting to say in there somewhere, something to suggest that he had something worth listening to, but we search in vain to find it. It combines the boredom of prose with the awkwardness of bad poetry, and no one can stand to read much of it. But find a writer who really can use English to its best effect, and the light shines in!

In a theme where the thoughts have a pedant strut,
   In a changing quarrel of 'Ayes' and 'Noes'
In a starched procession of 'If' and 'But,'
   There is place and enough for the pains of prose;—
   But whenever a soft glance softer glows,
And the light-hours dance to the trysting-time,
   And the secret is told "that nobody knows,"
Then hey!—for the ripple of laughing rhyme!
        (—Austin Dobson.)

We concern ourselves with English poetry, since that is more along our line of specialty, but any reader can recall other areas of art, such as music and architecture, where the same problem applies. Common man, do not believe all who call themselves Artists. The inner witness of the spirit is the only test of art—which is as much as to say, Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder.

JIPW arrives back on the air, after a nearly two-year absence. Simplify and improve: those are the watchwords, friends. This site now loads more quickly and makes better use of the screen. Away with PHP and JavaScripts! Away with excessive graphics and pretentious layout! Let there be ASCII!

Re: Those Empty Altoids Tins

Since the original issue of this finite set, our mercurial readers have submitted a number of supplementary suggestions and anecdotes regarding further uses of the indefatigable Altoids Tin.

Chris W. writes with a suitably dubious and fairly obvious addition: “Cover up the -OIDS and mount it onto your keyboard creating an easy-access Alt key! With convenient storage unit!” Why didn't I think of that? If only there was a brand called Ctrloids, we could make a keyboard all those old Emacs users would just love.

Eclectus posted another good idea to the message board: “We have a white board that was not metallic, and we needed it to be able to stick magnets to it, so we superglued 81 altoids boxes to the back to the board, making it quite useful, if not quite heavy.” Not to mention that it will now float if you accicdentally drop it in a lake.

Shawn Rutledge, a true hardware hacker, alerts us to the feat of his power supply housed in an Altoids tin.

In another message board post, Sugarboots responds to my query regarding Cooking with Altoids in item 75: “I was on a Slim Fast diet about four years ago and thought my chocolate shake could use a peppermint altoid zip as I am quite fond of the chocolate/mint combo. I used the blender to mix everything, but was disappointed with the taste. I drank it anyway, because as you can imagine I was pretty hungry and grouchy. At that time cinnamon was not available, but I think cinnamon would be tastier since they seem to be sweeter (Werther’s hard toffee candies taste pretty good in the shake though).”

This is disappointing news, but perhaps there are other approaches, such as leaving the Altoids unground and using them in pastries, or in place of crutons in salads. After some other comments, Sugarboots adds another idea: “If your sinuses are tightly closed from a cold or allergies, eating about 10 peppermint altoids at one time will open them up in no time.”

Says Graham Bartlett:

“And where do you get cinnamon Altoids from? I’m in the UK, and it’s hard enough finding somewhere that sells mint ones. I think it’s actually all a conspiracy run by the French, who hate both of us…”

It turns out I was not being as original as I thought when in item #27 I suggested using a tin to present an engagement ring. Mark Pettigrew writes:

“You may be amused to know that I actually did # 27 on your list. It helped to create a perfect surprise when I proposed to my wife (of course, she loves Altoids too). I proposed at an eventin Providence, RI called the ‘WaterFire’. They lit small bonfires in the middle of the river cutting through Providence, music in the background, etc. Very beautiful at night (see www.waterfire.com). Anyway, I brought her out on a bridge overlooking the fires and asked her if she wanted an Altoid. She said yes to the Altoids and me.”

In a seperate message, Mark noted that the Altoids tin was not actually empty at the time; but we are willing to overlook this. Note that if you plan on imitating this example, take extra care not to drop the ring in the river as he almost did :-)

Joel Dueck

The Ride

Half the creaking crickets ’twixt the poplars and the pine
Own the frog their master yet they fear with him to dine.
Wherefore the fear? The reason’s clear: the crickets have no spine.

Wild crows are always hungry for they hate all that they scour:
Apples make them pucker and they think the grapes too sour.
So with empty plates they crow ’till late, long past the supper hour.

The squirrel in the hollow has a mind that’s very shallow,
His cheeks are very puffy, for he oft forgets to swallow;
Ere autumn ends, he downs it then, and sleeps on leafy pillow.

Robbins every morning have to wrestle with a hassle:
In the summer all their feathers scratch their throats like little thistles;
Do these rusty-coloured feathers cause their early-morning whistle?
Eh?