Archive for December, 2010

Reader Advisory: This Post May Contain *Poetry*!!!

December 30, 2010 5 comments


Be prepared to:





Photo: author: Asbestos; Src: WikiCommons; Licence: CC 2.0

That Place in the Thigh

December 30, 2010 6 comments



That Place in the Thigh

(for my grandfather, Franklin)

you’ll turn the fans on, that

      first night;

in the morning, the skies

will be flat,

the leaves listless, tattered,


wandering up the hills;

      it isn’t autumn yet,

when you boil apples down in

sugar and vinegar—no, and

no new work yet, the pain fresh

and hungry—

you can’t tell the buddies, not really,

about this place, damp & ratty &

       you don’t want to know what

      your family might say, the gospel

choir downstairs notwithstanding…

and, after all, what is there to say; things happen.

   in the evening, when the

sun turns the wires to silver ladders

and burns the brick wall blowzy

and shining,

                    you’ll wonder

      about your boy, sharp as his mother,

      (no belly of clouds)

and tough,

                but for the

ineffable rage, the phone call with

the minister at your side, the frantic silence,

the wife’s dignity: “He’s out…does he

have your number?”

              there is a final thought, the world

sliding down towards absence—you must

climb the words, one by one, knowing no

   one is listening, that astray you have

   known things people will remember: that

   the floor of heaven is stone, that the man

                who lives there wears your face,

      that what we say is just what we

      say, not what the

words might—

that you will not see until you see

your face scattered

                                  and sprung,


the sound of his feet on the

stairs, the short, polite knock—

   the words will come to you

                                    then, the

trains clattering away down the block,

   your hair cropped and

   the wine cooled all night—

and his words, too, unvictorious,

   wrestled–uncontrite, limping &


   shaped, as if in bone-struggle (that

          place in the thigh)



steaming on battered brick,

                                  (heaven’s sluice)—

                                   the rain, the

long sheets of rain.


–The Rag Tree


Photo: Oak Leaves; E. Herbst; WikiCommons

Hot Springs in Snow

December 28, 2010 6 comments

Chena Hot Springs; WikiCmns; Auth: Frank K.

There are worse ways to warm the spirit come January:

Hot Springs in Snow

The air steams, the trees

bend and shed a mist of ice:

Your face blossoms joy.

–The Rag Tree

The Dragons of Grammar

December 27, 2010 45 comments
Tamatori pursued

I suspect that grammar is often thought of as one of “the dismal arts” (which really isn’t a contradiction in terms), that is, as in the same category as, say, plumbing. And there is no denying that grammar lies somewhere deep in the guts of language–just listen to the names of its components:

1) Morphology; (links to RT’s page on subject)

2) Syntax;

3) Phonology;

5) Semantics; and

No wonder there’s a glamor issue here. But a recent remark by Wordgathering has inspired me to attempt to make the enterprise a little sexier, a likelier candidate for a tweet or two.

Let’s start by defining the cables and joists of this craft:
  • Morphology: deals with the units of meaning in language: words, parts of speech, intonation/stress, and how they work to build up meaning.
  • Syntax: deals with the way sentences are put together in a language. If a language is highly inflected, its syntax (or word-order) is fairly unimportant to meaning; if a language is not inflected (English, for example), word-order becomes vital to meaning.
  • Phonology: deals with the music of a language, that is, the ways it uses syllables, rythym, gestures, and (oh mi gosh!) rhyme to articulate and enhance meaning. One might think of it as the scientific study of poetry.
  • Phonetics: deals with the actual, physical production of language–how the mouth, sinuses, and throat act during speech. It is concerned with such things as acoustic properties, auditory perception, and neurophysiological issues.
  • Semantics: deals with meaning as it is conveyed through words, phrases, signs, and symbols. It attempts to answer the question, how does language encode and convey meaning?
  • Pragmatics: deals with the way context contributes to meaning. It focuses on such things as talk in everyday situations, implication, and ambiguity.
Wow, I don’t know about you, but this foray into grammar, which I will hazard is the formal study of the way language works, has been a wee bit overwhelming (as in encountering a dragon and living to tell the tale) for me. Thankfully, the lunch bell is ringing….but we will doubtless hear more about this important topic later….     RT
Image: art, Kuniyoshi; source, WikiCommons.

Peace on Earth

December 25, 2010 4 comments

…and goodwill to all men!

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
     And their spears into pruning hooks;
     Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
     Neither shall they learn war anymore.”



Image 1: Marianne Stokes, An Angel; Image 2: Dolledre. Src: Wikicommons

Hubble’s Christmas

December 23, 2010 4 comments

Here’s a gift from Santa to widen an elf’s eyes…

(photo src: Hubble Telescope; NASA & ST-sci)

NGC 2074 in Large Magellanic Cloud; Hubble Telescope


December 22, 2010 4 comments

As far as I know, there is only one alphabet that can represent in writing any sound spoken in any language: the International Phonetic Alphabet.

The origins of the IPA go all the way back to 1886, when a group of French linguists formed the International Phonetic Association. Working originally with an alphabet designed to represent any sound spoken in a European language, the Association redesigned its alphabet in 1888 so that it could be used to write any language.

Since its inception, the IPA has undergone several revisions, the most recent of which took place in 2005. But the core of the alphabet has remained unchanged for some time.

Hold onto your hats, folks. This alphabet does not look like anything you’ve ever seen before. Rather than providing  a lengthy explanation, I’m just going to upload a chart containing the alphabet, so that people can get used to the look of it:


Ok, folks, take your time getting used to this: the IPA is the scientific approach to creating an alphabet, and was created instead of evolving over thousands of years, like the English Alphabet. There is certainly no need to master all of it; it does, however, indicate the range of sounds that people make. And I might as well say now that this is not the complete alphabet; I’ll post the other charts in one of my next few posts.    RT


Chart source:

The Black Pearl

December 19, 2010 9 comments

Leatrice Joy, Silent Film Actress

The Black Pearl is the title of the only film we are pretty sure my grandfather starred in; it was a silent movie, and his leading lady was Leatrice Joy. According to granddad, the film was shot in New Orleans, we think possibly in 1925.

I never knew my grandfather; he died in 1941 and I was born in 1960. As I reported earlier in this blog, we found an interview he gave with the Baltimore Sun in 1913; several weeks ago, we found a second interview, this time given to the L.A. Times. This is the interview in which he mentions The Black Pearl.

Reconstructing his life has been made much easier by the fact that he was an actor on the live stage. On the other hand, finding still photos of him or other memorabilia has been made hard by the fact that the theater and screen life of the 20s seems to have largely disappeared. Some estimate that 75 percent of all silent films made have been lost, due mainly to the unstable medium (nitrate) the films were recorded on. Likewise, many of the theaters where he performed are no longer standing, or only their facades have been saved. I have not been able so far to find out anything about The Black Pearl, including whether or not it has survived.

More about our search for granddad can be found on my mother’s blog, Mood Indigo. The blog includes extracts from her childhood memoir and articles about political and entertainment figures of the time. It’s worth checking out…pre-war America was an amazing place (I didn’t even know that New Orleans had a movie industry in the 20s) that deserves to be better remembered than it is.    RT

p.s. and contructive comments on improving her blog are always welcome! 


“Heart, you round me right”

December 16, 2010 5 comments

J.M. Cameron, A Sibyl; 1870; WikiCmns


Fellow blogger Cross-ties’ reflection on my reflection on the relationship between poetry and magic got me thinking once more on the topic; he referenced Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “Spelt from Sibyls Leaves,” certainly one of the finest poems from the Victorian era.  I offer the poem below, full as it is with Hopkins’ quirks and epiphanies:


32. Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves


EARNEST, earthless, equal, attuneable, ‘ vaulty, voluminous, … stupendous

Evening strains to be tíme’s vást, ‘ womb-of-all, home-of-all, hearse-of-all night.

Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, ‘ her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height

Waste; her earliest stars, earl-stars, ‘ stárs principal, overbend us,

Fíre-féaturing heaven. For earth ‘ her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end, as-         5

tray or aswarm, all throughther, in throngs; ‘ self ín self steedèd and páshed—qúite

Disremembering, dísmémbering ‘ áll now. Heart, you round me right

With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ‘ whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.

Only the beak-leaved boughs dragonish ‘ damask the tool-smooth bleak light; black,

Ever so black on it. Óur tale, O óur oracle! ‘ Lét life, wáned, ah lét life wind         10

Off hér once skéined stained véined variety ‘ upon, áll on twó spools; párt, pen, páck

Now her áll in twó flocks, twó folds—black, white; ‘ right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind

But thése two; wáre of a wórld where bút these ‘ twó tell, each off the óther; of a rack

Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, ‘ thóughts agaínst thoughts ín groans grínd.


Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

text source:

P.S. Ms. Aubrey also has some insights on the period.

Teaching English

December 13, 2010 3 comments
I just read a post about functional literacy and it got me thinking on this topic:
1) Here’s my definition of functional literacy: the ability to continue educating oneself after graduation from school. From my perspective, this would mean the ability to walk into a public library and read any book on the shelves.
2) Reading is a skill like any other. Some children will be better at it; others worse. If cognitive testing were administered in the summer before a child enters Kindergarten, schools would be able to give the gifted or disabled appropriate instruction and could concentrate its core efforts on those in the middle-range.
3) An Enriched Alphabet should be taught from Kindergarten through 3rd grades. The EA would contain a) the English Alphabet; b) all the sounds of English, with each vowel sound represented by a single letter and each consonent represented by only one letter, c) European letters, the unique sounds of French, German, and Spanish, all represented by a unique letter; and d) 10 growth letters, each intended to increase a child’s ability to pronounce the more difficult sounds in the International Phonetic Alphabet.
4) The EA would be taught in four tiers: a) Kindergarten, the English Alphabet; b) 1st grade, English Sounds; c) 2nd grade, European letters; d) 3rd grade, growth letters.
5) Twice in the 3rd grade, once at the beginning of the year, once at the end, the students’ reading and writing would be tested. If a child demonstrates that he or she can read and write the English alphabet (along with mastery of basic grammar and arithmetic), that child graduates from grammar school. If a child demonstrates ability with European and growth letters, he or she will be put into a special language track.
6) Learning all these letters may sound daunting, but this curriculum is less rigorous than those for Japanese children; they must learn not only to read and write their own alphabet, but to master Chinese characters and the English alphabet as well. This gives them an important head start on their international rivals in the marketplace. In fact, the Japanese may be the most literate people in the world.
7) A final thought: why aren’t we making use of the techniques being developed to teach foreigners how to speak English? Maybe some school districts are, but I think any techniques that prove helpful should be adopted.
There are probably a million practical reasons why implementing these steps would be impossible, but at least the course makes sense in outline.    RT
Understanding, Mural by R. Highsmith; WikiC