Music Monday: “Nessun Dorma” by Luciano Pavarotti

On the first day of Spring, what could be better than Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma. It is as close to heaven as most of us will get in this lifetime. Enjoy!

Nessun Dorma English translation found on the internet:

Nobody shall sleep!…
Nobody shall sleep!
Even you, o Princess,
in your cold room,
watch the stars,
that tremble with love and with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me,
my name no one shall know…
On your mouth I will tell it when the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!…
(No one will know his name and we must, alas, die.)
Vanish, o night!
Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!

Great Opening Lines

One_Hundred_Years_of_Solitude_CoverI have been thinking of great first lines and first paragraphs for short stories and novels. The first line and first paragraph of a story are essential for drawing a reader in. They are the first impression… the first glimpse through the door into a world we have never been and are uncertain whether we even want to enter. If that first glimpse strikes our fancy, we will open the door wider and walk in. If it leaves us cold, or does not resonate with us, we will simply keep passing… to the next door and the next… until we find one to our liking.

Here are a few great opening lines that came instantly to mind. I am forgetting a number of them I am sure. Great opening paragraphs will have to come another day.

In the meantime, enjoy!

Great Opening Lines

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

“None of them knew the color of the sky.”
~ “Open Boat,” Stephen Crane

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
~Pride and Predjudice, Jane Austen

“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.”
~A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
~A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

“In the fall the war was always there but we did not go to it any more.”
~“In Another Country,” by Ernest Hemingway

“The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm.”
~“Something Wicked this Way Comes,” Ray Bradbury

“This is the saddest story I have ever heard.”
~The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”
~The Old Man and The Sea, Ernest Hemingway

Poetry Review: Haiku by Matsuo Basho

bashoWith the tragedies in Japan this week, my mind has been on Matsuo Basho again. The beauty of his poems lies in his ability to encapsulate perfectly a single moment/thought.

Until this week I had never noticed how much his poems seem like prayers of praise and lamentation. Their humanity and beauty shine through even the roughest of translations.

How Admirable
How admirable!
to see lightning and not think
life is fleeting.

Moonlight slanting
Moonlight slanting
through the bamboo grove;
a cuckoo crying.

This old village
This old village–
not a single house
without persimmon trees.

the cicada’s cry
drills into the rocks.

First Day of Spring
First day of spring–
I keep thinking about
the end of autumn.

Spring Rain
Spring rain
leaking through the roof
dripping from the wasps’ nest.

Cold Night
Cold night: the wild duck,
sick, falls from the sky
and sleeps awhile.

A Modest Proposal: An NBA Minor League System

Bill-Walton1It is that time of year again… the snow is melting, the days getting longer, and the NCAA tournament is about to begin. Like spring training and day-light savings time nothing says the end of winter like March Madness and the annual lament to the quality of college basketball.

There was time, not so long ago, when great college players stayed in college all four years. What that meant was that when a traditional powerhouse returned to the tournament year after year, most fans knew a large percentage of the players… had watched them grow through the years. Now, all is different. The best players are one and done and the college game has suffered for it.

Not only does this one-and-done trend hurt the college game, it ultimately hurts the NBA game as well. Players rushed to the NBA usually sit on the end of the bench for a few years and regress, only to be replaced by a new crew of one-and-doners who also fail to progress. In both the college and NBA game, players are nowhere near as fundamentally sound as they once were.

The solution to this two-fold problem is for the NBA to step up to the plate and follow the Major League Baseball model of professional minor leagues. The new system would look like this:

  1. Going forward college and high school seniors only would be eligible for the draft
  2. Drafted high school seniors would decided whether to play in college or in the NBA minor leagues
  3. Teams would lose the rights to any students who choose to go the collegiate route
  4. Those student who choose to go to college rather than the pros, will not be eligible for the NBA draft until their senior year in college OR until one year after they officially drop out of their college program

This simple proposition would ultimately be the best for both games.

College Game

  • It would give kids with no academic interest whatsoever a route to working on their game
  • It would clean up the cheating and recruitment shenanigans that now plague the sport
  • It would raise the quality of college game and bring the scholar athlete back to campus
  • It would give more continuity to the college game year to year
  • It may minimize the excessive power that college coaches now have in the current situation
  • It would help create more fundamentally sound basketball

NBA Game

  • It would increase interest in the NBA draft because fans would know at least some of the players well
  • It would help create more fundamentally sound basketball

Music Monday: “London Calling” by Joe Strummer and The Pogues

On the Monday before St. Patrick’s day can there be anything better than a tune by a legendary Irish punk band? Only a legendary Irish punk band backing a true punk legend!

Searching for a Pogues video in honor of St. Patty’s I came across this video of Strummer and the Pogues playing a classic from the only band that matters.

Hard to believe that Strummer has been gone for over eight years already. This week, dear reader, take a moment to tip a pint or two of Guinness for Joe. We will never see the likes of him again.


Poetry Review: “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg


The poet, the martini, and the beauty

For the most part, I do not have much interest in urban poets or urban poetry. There is so little variety in the urban landscape and milieu that there is really only room for one or two poets to write about it. How much can really be written poetically about brick and steel and glass, about commuter trains and buses, offices and taxi cabs. It is all the same if you are writing about Minneapolis, New York, Chicago, or urban Moscow. What someone wrote in the 1920s would be just as true today of the urban landscape and experience. (The city, after all, is prosaic by its very nature.) If I had to choose an urban poet though, I would choose Carl Sandburg.

There are few poems by Sandburg more familiar to occasional poetry readers than “Chicago.” It is a staple of high school literature books and American Lit. 101 classes. It may be the best poem about an American city ever written.

The language and form Sandburg uses in “Chicago” is as muscular as the city he sings. It is essentially a love poem written by a lover with absolutely no illusions about the true nature of the object of his affection. Chicago is rough, crude, dangerous, tough, and exciting… and Sandburg loves it. It is not a poem of beautiful words and phrases because those kinds of words and phrases would not be a Chicago.

My daughter is in Chicago this weekend and so the Windy City has been on my mind. When I was in my early 20s, I lived in Chicago – first in Bucktown, near Western and Armitage, and then for a few years in Hyde Park. I am glad that she gets to spend a few days there. I wish I was there also.

On a windy March day when my daughter is enjoying time in the Windy City, this seems like just the poem.



Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders;

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your
painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have
seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women
and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my
city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be
alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall
bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted
against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his
ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked,
sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Poetry Review: “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?” by W.B. Yeats

Yeats1I have to come to see lately that much of the music I most love comes from angry young men… while much of the poetry I love seems to come from angry old men. What does that say about me? About the nature of music and poetry?

Yeats as a poet is unique in that he grew greater as he aged. He wrote some of his best poems as an old man… just weeks before his death. While the poetry of his youth is not born in anger some  of his later poetry certainly is. He became an angry old man… grew mad.

The rhyme scheme of “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?” is straightforward as is the argument. So much that is familiar to close and frequent readers of Yeats is here… words/images/symbols: the not-so-veiled reference to Maude Gonne, the Helen of Troy reference, the journalist slight, “figured,” “old books,” “lighted screen.” When you spend time with Yeats you begin to recognize themes and patterns that enrich and adorn individual poems and interconnect one to another.

With anger still on my mind (see yesterday’s Music Monday), Yeats’ “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad” seems like just the thing on a Tuesday morning.


Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?

Why should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher’s wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.


Music Monday: “Not Afraid” by Eminem

I never thought I would say this… but I have been listening to a lot of Eminem of late.

In Eminem I hear the same undercurrents of underclass anger that attracted me years ago to the Clash and Punk music and to early Springsteen. It is raw emotion expressed… rawly. It is visceral, angry, and engaging in a way that completely surprises me.

The heart of a rap music is the lyrics and the rhymes. In reading about Eminem’s music I found that reviewers quite often use language similar to poetry reviewers to talk about his lyrics: complex rhyme schemes, multisyllabic rhymes, soft rhymes.

Deciding whether or not to post a Eminem song here has been a dilemma. The reality is that Eminem’s lyrics are… again raw. He makes frequent and creative use of one word in particular that figures prominently in George Carlin’s list of “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” Personally, I do not care. But I know that many do.

What the hell. It is has been a long, cold winter and no music artist has been more on my mind of late.


Poetry Review: “March” by William Morris

A William Morris pattern

A William Morris pattern

I first read William Morris because he was such an important figure and influence in the life and work of two of my favorite writers: W.B. Yeats and Ford Madox Ford. Morris, together with Ford Madox Brown and Dante Rossetti formed the core of thePre-Raphaelites. Morris was the first Pre-Raphaelite to publish poetry.

The contrast between Amy Lowell and the Imagistsand Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites could not be any more stark. Morris’s poem “March” shows the contrast very well: the formal rhyme scheme, the formal language, the embroidered complexity.

The metaphor of “embroidery” is an apt one for Morris who as an artist worked in all mediums including textiles. There is in his poems, I think, something reminiscent of tapestries, or weavings.

March is here at last. Winter is winding down. On the first Friday in March, what could be better than a poem about the end of winter.



Slayer of the winter, art thou here again?
O welcome, thou that’s bring’st the summer nigh!
The bitter wind makes not thy victory vain,
Nor will we mock thee for thy faint blue sky.
Welcome, O March! whose kindly days and dry
Make April ready for the throstle’s song,
Thou first redresser of the winter’s wrong!

Yea, welcome March! and though I die ere June,
Yet for the hope of life I give thee praise,
Striving to swell the burden of the tune
That even now I hear thy brown birds raise,
Unmindful of the past or coming days;
Who sing: ‘Oh joy! a new year is begun:
What happiness to look upon the sun!’

Ah, what begetteth all this storm of bliss
But death himself, who crying solemnly,
E’en from the heart of sweet Forgetfulness,
Bids us ‘Rejoice, lest pleasureless ye die,
Within a little time must ye go by.
Stretch forth your open hands, and while ye live
Take all the gifts that Death and Life may give.’

Poetry Review: “The Taxi” by Amy Lowell

Amy_Lowell_TimeAmy Lowell is classified as an Imagist. Imagist poets, reacting against both Romantic and Victorian poetry represented by such contemporary giants as Longfellow and Tennyson, pushed for language and images that were more direct and precise and a poetic style that was more un-sentimental. In many ways, the Imagist movement can be seen as one of the bridges between the Victorian and Modernist movements.

Amy Lowell was first recommended to me years ago by a woman who knew I liked Marianne Moore. The recommendation was not based on the fact that she knew and liked the poetry of Marianne Moore and Amy Lowell, in fact she knew almost nothing of their poetry. She did, however, know of Lowell from some Feminist History classes she was taking. She found a used copy of Lowell’s Selected Poems and gave it to me as a gift.

“The Taxi” shows all the elements of the Imagist movement: direct language, non-traditional form, the concentration on an image… a thing itself. The first thing you will notice, however, is that even though Lowell died in 1925, everything about this poem seems contemporary. That is what most attracted me to Lowell almost 30 years ago. She seems at times like a contemporary poet.


The Taxi

When I go away from you
The world beats dead
Like a slackened drum.
I call out for you against the jutted stars
And shout into the ridges of the wind.
Streets coming fast,
One after the other,
Wedge you away from me,
And the lamps of the city prick my eyes
So that I can no longer see your face.
Why should I leave you,
To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?