28 June 2011

Nicole Holofcener's Please Give (2010)

Having partly grown up with film producer Charles H. Joffe as a stepfather, the influence of Woody Allen's movies on Nicole Holofcener is quite pronounced: the emphasis on relationships, the soul-searching, the timidity, the psychological/social problems, the importance of appearances, the sex problems,etc. All of her movies draw a great deal of humor from personal behavior or social situations, and all include generational conflicts.

After Walking and Talking (1999) - which I've yet to see - came Lovely and Amazing (2001), Friends with Money (2006), and her fourth is Please Give (2010), which Holofcener originally wanted to call 'The Cake Is Bad', but perhaps wisely chose to drop. All of her movies so far have starred Catherine Keener, which is also a very wise choice.

Kate and Alex (Keener and Oliver Platt) have a furniture store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where they sell modern mid-century stuff bought from heirs of the recently deceased. They live in an apartment with their zit-plagued daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) and plan to extend, so they have bought the adjoining apartment to do so. But the arrangement is that Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), a comically rude and insensitive 91-year-old, will live there until her death. She has two grandchildren - radiologist Mary (Amanda Peet), and cosmetician Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), both of whom have worked for Woody Allen.

As is usual in Holofcener movies, most ot the characters have problems.

Kate 'wants to change the world', as Abby observes. She feels guilt at taking so much money from the heirs, but can't not do this work as she knows someone else would do it. She feels compelled to give money (even - bizarrely - Chanel Rouge) to homeless people on the street, but refuses to pay $200 for a pair of jeans for Abby, even though she pays the same herself.  She Googles voluntary organizations to help people physically, but starts to break down in a home for Downs Syndrome kids, the deepest irony being that one of the girls she's crying over hears her in one of the toilets and asks if she needs help.

But at least she's not a bitch, which is how Mary comes over. Mary stalks she former boyfriend's new girlfriend, drinks too much and behaves insultingly, has an (improbable) affair with Alex and allows her sister Rebecca to do most of the work for Andra.

And Andra is the grandmother from hell, who can never be pleased, complains about the food she is given, the birthday presents she's given, and insults just about everyone.

Abby's troubles are more external - she has a serious zit problem, and at just 15 she can be excused her anxiety, even excused when she wears panties over her head at the dinner where Andra, Mary and Rebecca are invited into the apartment. Perhaps it's not surprising that otherwise well-adjusted Abby gets on well with the also well-adjusted Rebecca, who seems like an angel compared with some of the other main characters, and she even lets Abby in on her past, when - her father long since gone - her mother killed herself when Rebecca was the same age as Abby is now.

So, after a couple of computer dates, one being with an idiot who quibbles over the exact description she's made about the color of her hair, it seems that Rebecca is rewarded by meeting Eugene, who seems like a nice guy.  Even Abby's happy as her parents buy her a pair of jeans for $235.

Holofcener creates humor out of the chaos of everyday lives, creates believable and sympathetic characters in spite of all their faults, and creates dialog that sometimes is so odd that it feels as though it can only have come from real life (whatever that is). The two films of hers before this - which I may well get round to discussing at a later date - were really absorbing. As is this, but I wouldn't want to make comparisons: we are talking about a major contemporary American independent movie director who hasn't really received the attention she deserves.

22 June 2011

Pawel Pawlikowski’s My Summer of Love (2004)

My Summer of Love is directed by Polish-born Pawel Pawlikowski, and was filmed in and around Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, and Brighouse, all in West Yorkshire. It is loosely based on Helen Cross's novel of the same name, which was published in 2001.

The plot involves two alienated teenaged girls, Mona (Nathalie Press) and Tamsin (Emily Blunt), during one summer. Mona is working-class without parents and lives with her brother Phil (Paddy Considine), whereas Tamsin is upper-middle-class but feels like an orphan as her mother is with a theater company, and her father with his secretary lover.

The attraction between the two is instant, right from the moment that Tamsin looks down from her horse at the sleeping Mona, who has tired of pushing her motorless moped.  For Mona, the attraction seems to be the exotic, as she is whirled into a merry-go-round of increasingly intense sexual passion, drink and psychedelic mushrooms, and retributive actions to Tamsin's father (a garden gnome thrown through his car window) and to Mona's former boyfriend (telling his wife about their sordid affair). For Tamsin, the relationship is a relief from the boredom of being alone, but probably far more importantly a chance to show off her cultural knowledge to Mona, as she recommends that she reads Nietzsche, plays Saint-Saëns's 'The Swan' on the cello, and rattles off a few sensationalized details of Edith Piaf's biography.

The mention of the words 'The Swan' is Mona's cue to tel Tamsin that she lives at The Swan pub, which has been turned into a religious house by Phil, an ex-con who is now a born-again Christian who shortly after - with a number of his acolytes - walks up Pendle Hill, Lancashire, to erect a huge wooden cross for the purpose of cleansing the people below.  His sexual lust gets the better of him, though, and Tamsin exposes him as a religious hypocrite.

Several times in  the background, strains of Piaf's 'La Foule' play, emphasizing constant movement, joy, intoxication...

Sadly, this is as yet Pawlikowski's latest movie, and his adaptation of Magnus Mills's The Restraint of Beasts was canceled owing to unfortunate family circumstances.

Joanna Hogg’s Archipelago (2010)

Unrelated (2007),  Joanna Hogg's first feature film, brought her considerable acclaim within the arthouse movie world. Archipelago is very much in the same vein, and this too centers on a holiday from hell, with the familiar long shots taken from a distance, the extreme shortage of close-ups, the 'realistic' dialog with hesitations, pauses, etc. Again, we think of Ozu, or Bresson. And Rohmer's natural light. Even the DVD cover is similar in its difference: instead of the characters walking away, here they are walking toward us.

Hogg names the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi as one of her influences, with his paintings of the backs of people, enigmatic, dark interiors, and speaks of the shadowy, door-framed scene of the mother Patricia Leighton (Kate Fahy) listening and responding to her husband's phone call (to say that he won't be coming to join the family group) as an example of this influence.

Hogg shoots in story order, but does a great deal of editing, and the story may change as she goes along, occasionally being changed by improvisations of the cast itself.

She likes to meld the real and the imaginary, to incorporate documentary elements into her movies. Christopher – played by the non-actor and real-life artist Christopher Baker, who is also Hogg's painting teacher – has been hired in the movie to teach Patricia how to paint.

Hogg used to spend many childhood vacations on the Isles of Scilly, and is very familiar with the terrain there, where Patricia comes for two weeks with her daughter Cynthia (Lydia Leonard) to welcome her son Edward (Tom Hiddleston) off to Africa, where he's going to spend eleven months on an educational project designed to prevent the spread of AIDS. Also present is the cook Rose (Amy Lloyd), also a non-actor who is really a cook.

She says that the movie is not autobiographical, although some characters reflect a part of her personality, such as Edward's OCD, and Patricia and Cynthia's anxiety. Each movie is as if Hogg is trying to solve something about herself.

So we meet just five main characters, and as the movie progresses we move with them into a kind of hell in which absence is another character: if Anna's husband Alex is a vocal absence in Unrelated, the absence of Will, the husband and father in Archipelago, is much louder.

Meals are particular occasions of torture in which differences are brought to the fore, such as when Cynthia rejects her meal in a restaurant, causing horror and disbelief in the others, to such an extent that the non-complainer Edward has to leave; or such as when Cynthia later has to leave the table at the house, to return some time after to a blazing row with her mother which - a little like the blazing row between George and his son Oakley in Unrelated - is only heard but not seen.

Much remains unsaid, enigmatic, essentially suggested. Edward hangs around Rose, doesn't like her obligation to wait on him, seeks refuge in her from the madness of his family, sees a kind of mother figure in this young woman no older than him, and there's an unanswered question of sex, like the quietly smouldering time he pins the fallen remembrance poppy back onto Rose's shirt. But he's far too repressed to make a move: he can't even make up his mind what he really wants to do with his future.

And what of Cynthia? She seems the perfect bitch, laying into Edward for wanting to take a belated 'gap year' in Africa, or shouting him down when he says his girlfriend Chloé should have joined them: no, she's not family. But why does she cry herself to sleep so pitifully, and why exactly is she so bitter? Hogg chooses to keep the viewer guessing, and the movie gives no clues, but although Cynthia is obviously very attached to her father and deeply feels his absence, Hogg has edited out the fact that she is finishing with her boyfriend, and of course this is the reason why she's antagonistic toward Edward's girlfriend: jealousy.

At the beginning of the film we learn that a picture has been removed from a sitting room, which the family put back shortly before moving out. It was too disturbing for the family to leave up, being a photo entitled 'Storm off Cape Horn'. This photo was originally found by a member of the film crew on the wall of the island's only pub, the New Inn, and was taken in about 1912 by Gwen Dorrien-Smith, a very important name in the history of the Scilly Isles.

The movie is austere, and Hogg uses no background music, only the songs of birds. As the credits roll, an a cappella song is played, the music by former Slits performer Viv Albertine, the words by Hogg. But it is sung by Lydia Leonard, or Cynthia, who speaks of her 'heart hidden away', and her 'many things to say' to her departing brother.

Much of the above information comes from Hogg's detailed comments throughout the movie, which are included on the DVD, which are fascinating, and in which she informs us that she is working on a third feature that will perhaps be set in London.

I very much look forward to watching it: Joanna Hogg is one of the most interesting - and, yes - exciting talents the film industry has produced in many years.

20 June 2011

Tim Gautreaux: The Next Step in the Dance (1998)

Tim Gautreaux was born in 1947 in the oil town of Morgan City, south Louisiana, where he also grew up, and The Last Step in the Dance - his first novel - takes place almost exclusively in Tiger Island. Gautreaux's main aim is to draw a picture of families surviving the oil bust in the 1980s.

Of Arcadian descent, Gautreaux is one of the very few writers about Cajun culture, and this book is filled with references about French-influenced culture in Louisiana, although he refuses any attempts to label him.

Margaret Donovan Bauer has written Understanding Tim Gautreaux (Columbia, S.C. : University of South Carolina Press, c.2010), and a link to a description of Gautreaux and his work, including an interview with some brief audio recordings of the author, are here: 'An Interview with Tim Gautreaux: "Cartographer of Louisiana Back Roads"'.

15 June 2011

David Foster Wallace: The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel (2011)

On the day of his suicide in September 2008, David Foster Wallace left lamps shining on a partial manuscript on his workdesk in his garage: he'd been working on his third novel for several years, and it was still unfinished. To his editor Michael Pietsch, Wallace had described his problem as 'like wrestling sheets of balsa wood in a high wind'. No doubt Pietsch recalled this phrase only too well when charged with the task of editing the chapters on the desk, and working them – along with much more work in progress – into something like a novel.

The above cover is of the American edition, which is not the same as the UK edition. The American edition shows the design created by Karen Green, David Foster Wallace's artist widow, in which she incorporates elements from one of Wallace's tax return forms after shredding. It is much more striking than the UK edition, which was designed by gray318, or Jon Gray:

The novel is considerably less than half the wordcount of Infinite Jest, and the major theme is boredom: it concerns the Inland Revenue Service (IRS) offices in Peoria, Illinois, and a number of its new recruits.  A few passages – intentionally, I think – are very tedious indeed, but by far the majority of the sections are brilliantly Wallacian: long rambling sentences exploring the minutiae of human consciousness, constantly qualifying, melding the esoteric with superfluities of everyday speech ('like'), laboring over the most detailed descriptions of physical objects, etc. Needless to say, there are many involved details about tax return processing arcaneness.

And, of course, there are unforgettable characters:

– David Cusk. David Foster Wallace had a sweat problem, which is why he is often (as in the photo on the back flap of the dust jacket of this novel) seen wearing a headscarf, although the reader assumes that Cusk's complaint is a gross exaggeration of Wallace's complaint: he's gets so soaked in sweat in the car taking him to the IRS that he also severely dampens the jacket of his fellow passenger David Wallace (of whom more below); in any class he's more comfortable away from a radiator and at the back where he can't be seen sweating; he tortures himself with fears of having another attack, etc. The hallmark digressions and/or qualifications are there, of course, both in the text itself and in the sparing footnotes (as opposed to the copious endnotes in Infinite Jest).

 Toni Ware comes from a trailer park background, where she was abused and from which she is irrevocably damaged.

 Claude Sylvanshine is 'fact psychic', meaning that unimportant details about a person - often a total stranger - just float into his consciousness, such as the details of an employee's 'mitochondrial DNA and the fact that it was ever so slightly substandard due to her mother's having taken thalidomide four days before it was abruptly yanked from the shelves'. 

 Meredith Rand is 'wrist-bitingly attractive', although she's painfully aware of this, and can talk and talk and talk about the problems this (the wrist-biting attractiveness, that is) causes her.

 Shane 'Mr. X' Drinion (whose nickname is an ironic reference to the fact that he's not perceived as 'exciting') certainly finds Rand interesting - perhaps even exciting- to the point that he concentrates so much on what she's saying that he actually levitates 1¾ inches from his seat.

 And there's a character called David Wallace, who authorially intervenes in the ninth section (page 66) with what he terms 'AUTHOR'S FOREWORD', which begins (as does section 22) with 'Author here', and he wants us to believe that he's the real author, and that the publisher's legal disclaimer, saying that all the characters in the book are fictitious, (and any resemblances to real characters is coincidental), is in fact a lie, as 'This book is really true'.  But then, some of what he says is irrefutably untrue about David Foster Wallace, the author.

David Wallace the character in the book is down as 'David F. Wallace' at the IRS, and as a GS-9 he's a pretty low-grade employee, although he's confused with another recruit - another David F. Wallace who will start the following day, although he's a much higher status GS-13. But although the GS-9 (David Foster Wallace) has a different second name to the GS-13 (David Francis Wallace), the IRS only recognizes the middle initial, leading to the GS-9 receiving a preferential greeting from Chahla Neti-Neti: a blowjob.

Not all of the parts of the book sparkle with wit, and under the circumstances it definitely can't be expected to hold together wonderfully. But all the same, there are moments in it equal to any other moment in DFW's previous work.  It was therefore a very good decision to publish this. It's just such a pity that there'll be no more to come.

7 June 2011

Edward Gorey's Yarmouth Port, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Unless a person is aware of the work of the artist and writer Edward Gorey (1925-2000), they would of course have no idea what to expect from a visit to the Edward Gorey House (or 'Elephant House') at tiny Yarmouth Port, Cape Cod. Just another museum? Well, hardly.

The facade of the house reveals no abnormalities at all. But the parking lot's at the side, facing the garden.

In the garden is a magnolia tree, and a notice reveals the history of it:

'The Edward Gorey House
Southern Magnolia Tree

'As told to us by Docent and local friend of
Edward's, Sally White

'A tree rarely seen in this part of the country, this southern magnolia was brought back from Mount Vernon in a small pot by the sisters who resided in the house, Louise and Olive Simpkins, during one of their "motoring" trips from 1928 (or perhaps 1929.) Olive, who was tall, slender and shy, always did the driving on the sister's [sic] journeys: Louise, who was short,
heavyset and the life of the party did not drive.

'The tree has managed to flourish in harsh New England weather,  most likely because it is partially shielded from the elements in this nook of what is now the Edward Gorey House, receiving shelter from the winds and an abundance of sunshine.

'Louise and Olive had another sister, Ethel, who built a replica of this house nearby. After her sisters passed away, Ethel would sell the magnificent flowers that the tree produces at the Yarmouth Port library for $1.00. When a local woman complained of the price of a flower, Ethel firmly reminded her the proceeds were for the benefit of the library.

'When Ethel died, September 15th 1978, she requested that her funeral not include any store-bought flowers, either real or artificial, but instead be decorated "with whatever was growing in the yard at the time." This tree produced a single bloom the day Ethel was buried (a rare occurrence so late in the season) and her friends had to climb out the third storey window to retrieve it for her service, where it was arranged with ivy from the yard.'

But things get odder. I couldn't make sense of the rockery to find any snake, but this other poster begins to ease us into the world of Edward Gorey:


'Both the interior and the exterior of 8 Strawberry
Lane was [sic] decorated by Edward Gorey with rocks
of all shapes and sizes, most of them in no
particular order or arrangement of any
meaning to anyone except for Edward himself.

'In his lifetime, this particular part of the yard was
very much overgrown, intentionally so by
Edward who had a penchant for allowing
everything he shared his home with to go about its
business. He included his lawn in that philosophy
of simply letting things be.

'This rock formation was not therefore as visible as
visible today as it is with its manicured lawn. When asked
what he was doing during the installation of these rocks
in their serpentine pattern, Edward responded
that he was building a serpent for others
to discover just as you have.'

In keeping with a place in which the former owner loved cats, the Gorey House cat just sort of wandered in and moved in. This huge monster is obviously spoiled rotten, and was called Ombledroom in a naming competition, although the paper in the museum that informs the visitor of this also mentions 'Omble' for short, or 'Mr E.', or 'Mystery', but I never got round to reading that in the house, only on the photo I took. Hey, yeah, this is another place you can take photos! Let's see some.

Gorey also made a number of puppets (often for his puppet plays), but there's so much here, so:

'Do not ask "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.'

Which reminds me that Gorey illustrated an edition of T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.
 And he not only also illustrated Bram Stoker's Dracula, but made the set and costume design for the stage adaptation that ran for over 1000 performances on Broadway.

'It came 17 years ago - and to this day
it has shown no intention of going away.'

The Doubtful Guest was published in 1957. Gorey's principal literary influences are perhaps Ronald Firbank, Evelyn Waugh, Ivy Compton-Burnett and Agatha Christie, although The Doubtful Guest's mutation, Figbash, has been compared with Max Erst's Loplop, and Gorey himself owned to Chinese, Japanese and Symbolist art influences.

Gorey possessed more than twenty fur coats, but later regretted it, and allowed several racoons to live in his attic in a kind of jesture of conciliation.

When he was older, Gorey spent all his time in Cape Cod and put on productions locally. Above is a poster for 'Epistolary Play', which was an 'entertainment read by two actors' in nearby Cotoit Center for the Arts for Fridays and Saturdays for a month in the summer of 1997.

 Gorey's kitchen.

Productions Gorey put on often involved glove puppets, of which a number are on display here.

The caption above states that Gorey's big bear was purchased at FAO Schwarz in New York City,  and adds that it had to be kept at Gorey's cousin's in order to prevent the cats from mutilating it.

 A few examples of the kind of things that Gorey used to have around him.

 Interesting, if inexplicable - as of course it should be.

 'Eek' is billed as 'A staged reading of works by Edward Gorey' performed by the Cape Rep Theatre in East Brewster, which was presumably posthumously.

Rick Jones lent the house the Edward Gorey urn, which is believed to have been a finial from a horse-drawn hearse, and the base of which is by Gorey's close friend Herbert Senn. The urn contains none of Gorey's ashes: about half were buried with his family in Ohio, and the other half 'transported out to sea on a wreath of magnolia branches taken from the famed Gorey House tree.' A few ashes remaining were, according to Gorey's wishes,  thrown in the yard of his house.

I couldn't resist buying this short book by 'Ogred Weary', which of course is one of several pseudonyms he used, along with Dogear Wryde, Ms. Regera Dowdy, etc. It probably doesn't need to be said that this book can in no way be described as 'pornographic': everything is suggested, and all is in the mind of the reader.

My Art Brut (or related) posts:
Rémy Callot, Carvin (Nord)
Kevin Duffy, Ashton-in-Makerfield
The Art Brut of Léopold Truc, Cabrières d'Avignon (34)
Le Musée Extraordinaire de Georges Mazoyer, Ansouis (34)
Le Facteur Cheval's Palais Idéal, Hauterives (26) 
The Little Chapel, Guernsey
Museum of Appalachia, Norris, Clinton, Tennessee
Ed Leedskalnin in Homestead, Florida
La Fabuloserie, Dicy, Yonne (89)
Street Art City, Lurcy-Lévis, Allier (03)
The Outsider Art of Jean Linard, Neuvy-deux-Clochers (18)
Jean Bertholle, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jean-Pierre Schetz, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jules Damloup, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Camille Vidal, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Pascal Verbena, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
The Art of Theodore Major
Edward Gorey's Yarmouth Port, Cape Cod, MA
Marcel Vinsard in Pontcharra, Isère (38)
Carine Fol (ed.): Outsider Art in Question
Vincent Capt: Écrivainer : La langue morcelée de Samuel Daiber
The Amazing World of Danielle Jacqui, Roquevaire (13)
Alphonse Gurlie, Maisonneuve (07)
La Demeure du Chaos, Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d'Or, Rhône (69)
Emmanuel Arredondo in Varennes Vauzelles, Nièvre (58)
Musée de la Luna Rossa (revisited), Caen, Calvados (14)
La Fontaine de Château-Chinon, Nièvre (58)

6 June 2011

The Reverend John Wise in Essex, Massachusetts

 The Old Graveyard in Essex contains the remains of the Reverend John Wise (1652-1725), and although a potted biography is sketched out on the plaque on the table-like grave, it doesn't remark on the power of his writings. Wise wrote the satirical The Churches' Quarrel Espoused in response to Increase and Cotton Mathers' plans to institute a hierarchy for colonial churches, which was never implimented. And in 1717 he published Vindicaton of the Government of New England Churches, which, in its thesis against a ruler's perceived divine right, has been interpreted as a strong pre-revolutionary argument for colonial rights.

 The table tombstone.

'Underneath lies the body of the
First Pastor of the 2nd Church in Ipswich
Graduated at Harvard College 1673
Ordained pastor of the said church in 1681
And died April 8, 1725. Aged 73
For Talents, Peity and Learning he shone
As a Star of the first magnitude.
This monument repaired 1815.
Restored 1883.'

Charles Olson in Gloucester, Cape Ann, Massachusetts

Often mentioned in the same breath as Black Mountain College, North Carolina, the poet Charles Olson - who was born in Saugus, Massachusetts - lived here from 1958, which was where he'd spent his summers as a child, and where he stayed until his death in 1970. The huge collection Maximus Poems centers on the history of Gloucester and the area, such as the abandoned Dogtown Commons. His main infuences are Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.

'Charles Olson
1910 - 1970'

Olson was friends (although not without problems) with another Gloucester poet - Vincent Ferrini (1913-2007) - whom he'd originally visited in Gloucester as a kind of fan after reading 'This House'. Ferrini was a working-class poet who'd worked as a shoe factory worker and in a GEC factory in Lynn, and had a picture frame workshop in his garage at his home on East Main Street, Gloucester, where he lived for 50 years.

This is a link to Hydra Magazine article 'The Battle of Gloucester: Vincent Ferrini Meets Charles Olson'.

William Lloyd Garrison in Newburyport, Massachusetts

DECEMBER 10, 1805
DECEMBER 10, 1905'


The imposing statue of William Lloyd Garrison stands in Brown Square.

There are two information panels to the rear, of which the one to the left of the statue reads:

'William Lloyd Garrison was born in 1805 on School Street in Newburyport. His family experienced deep poverty after his sailor father, Abijah Garrison, deserted them in 1808, At age five, Garrison sold candy on the streets and begged for food at the houses of the wealthy, and then worked making shoes and cabinets as a boy. Garrison's mother, Fanny, moved to Lynn and other cities looking for work, while Garrison grew up in Newburyport living with friends. She died in 1823 when he was 17. At age 12 Garrison became an apprentice at The Newburyport Herald. He was almost entirely self-taught, learning reading and writing plus the business of printing and journalism, and was soon promoted to foreman. At 20, he established his own newspaper called Newburyport Free Press. His zeal for reform antagonized his fellow citizens and the newspaper failed. Five year later, he established his long-running anti-slavery newpaper The Liberator in Boston.

'In 1830 Garrison returned to Newburyport to make an abolitionist speech at the Congregational Church on Brown Square. Many strongly disapproved, and the congregation refused to allow him back for his next scheduled address. In 1836, the Essex County Anti-Slavery Society tried in 1837 to hold an anti-slavery convention in a garden off of Brown Square, a mob broke up the meeting, beating tin pans, blowing horns, cutting the buttons off the coat of one of speakers [sic], and throwing rotten eggs and sticks.

'Although several residents participated in the Undergound Railroad, much of Newburyport was conservative and not supportive of Garrison or the Abolitionists during the pre-war period. In 1859, Representative Spofford of Newburyport spoke out against abolitionists' 'constant and useless agitation of the slavery question'. After the Civil War, however, Garrison was generally hailed as a prophet in the North. In 1893, fourteen years after his death in 1879, Newburyport erected a bronze statue honoring him here in Brown Square.'

The information panel on the righthand side of the statue states:

'William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) was a prominent spokesman for the American Abolition Movement, forcefully advocating for the unconditional eradication of slavery. Garrison also strongly supported women's equality and suffrage (a position which split him from many fellow Abolitionists), and denounced discrimination, alcohol, and New England churches for not taking a strong stand against slavery.

'Garrison's national reputation as a radical began in 1829, when he publicly challenged the wealthy Newburyport merchant Francis Todd as a "highway robber and murderer", and wrote that his captain Nicholas Brown should be "sentenced to solitary confinement for life" for shipping about 80 slaves chained below deck. Garrison was charged with libel and jailed for 44 days.

'In 1831, Garrison founded the anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator. Although he barely made a living, he published the paper for more than three decades, and founded the New England, Massachusetts, and American Anti-Slavery Societies. Harsh, brilliant, militant, and articulate, Garrison thrived on controversy over one of the most crucial moral issues in American history. He characterized the American Constitution as a "covenant with death" and an "agreement with hell" for its partial embrace of slavery, and publicly burned a copy in 1854. Far ahead of most white Americans, Garrison rode in segregated rail cars with his African American associates. He also helped to launch the career of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1841, although he later split with Douglass.

'Garrison eventually embraced the Civil War, although it shattered his utopian principles of pacifism, non-violence, and opposition to voting, as well as his previous advocacy of separatism from the southern states. Today, Garrison is recognized as a prophetic American hero who was central to the transformation of public opinion that ultimately lead [sic] to the freeing of the slaves in the United States.'

Judith Sargent Murray in Gloucester, Cape Ann, Massachusetts

 Judith Sargent Murray spent almost all of her life in Gloucester and was a powerful supporter of women's rights. Her education came from reading in her parents' large library. She was an essayist, poet, playwright and editor who wrote 'On the Equality of the Sexes' (which predates Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)) as 'Constantia'.

And opposite the house, a long mural in which Murray is the main focus:


5 June 2011

Boat Building, Gloucester, Cape Ann, Massachusetts

I firmly believe that GPS is not sent from heaven, and that getting lost is very often educational: having turned off at the wrong interstate exit, we found ourselves lost in South Gloucester with no clue where to go, but then we spotted a resident getting into her car, and on her discovering that we were heading for downtown Gloucester, Cape Ann, Massachusetts, she told me to follow her, and I did – right up to the front of her workplace:

Susanne Altenburger builds boats, and this is what she's doing now in Gloucester.  It was fascinating talking about this project to Susanne, and more detail of this work is available in a Gloucester Times article here.

4 June 2011

John Greenleaf Whittier's Haverhill, Massachusetts

This sculpture, a tribute to the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92), the most famous son of Haverhill (pronounced 'HAY-vrill'), is downtown.

The whole poem:

The River Path

No bird-song floated down the hill,
The tangled bank below was still;

No rustle from the birchen stem,
No ripple from the water’s hem.

The dusk of twilight round us grew,
We felt the falling of the dew;

For, from us, ere the day was done,
The wooded hills shut out the sun.

But on the river’s farther side
We saw the hill-tops glorified,—

A tender glow, exceeding fair,
A dream of day without its glare.

With us the damp, the chill, the gloom
With them the sunset’s rosy bloom;

While dark, through willowy vistas seen,
The river rolled in shade between.

From out the darkness where we trod,
We gazed upon those hills of God,

Whose light seemed not of moon or sun.
We spake not, but our thought was one.

We paused, as if from that bright shore
Beckoned our dear ones gone before;

And stilled our beating hearts to hear
The voices lost to mortal ear!

Sudden our pathway turned from night;
The hills swung open to the light;

Through their green gates the sunshine showed,
A long, slant splendor downward flowed.

Down glade and glen and bank it rolled;
It bridged the shaded stream with gold;

And, borne on piers of mist, allied
The shadowy with the sunlit side!

'So,' prayed we, 'when our feet draw near
The river dark, with mortal fear,

'And the night cometh chill with dew,
O Father! let Thy light break through!

'So let the hills of doubt divide,
So bridge with faith the sunless tide!

'So let the eyes that fail on earth
On Thy eternal hills look forth;

'In Thy beckoning angels know
The dear ones whom we loved below!'

'The River Path'
artist: Dale Rogers
sponsored by: Team Haverhill
unveiled: August 14, 2010
inspired by: John Greenleaf Whittiers [sic]
                                  'The Rivers [sic] Path'

The Whittier Birthplace, at 305 Whittier Road to the east of the town, once a farm, was built by John Greenleaf Whittier's great-great-grandfather, and remained in the Whittier family until 1836. James Carleton, former mayor of Haverhill and friend of Whittier's, later purchased the property, gave it to the Haverhill Whittier Club,  and the museum was opened in 1893, the year after Whittier's death. It has remained much the same as when John Greenleaf Whittier lived in it.

IN 1688
DECEMBER 17, 1807

Samuel T. Pickard's Whittier-land: A Handbook of North Essex (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1904) states that 'The visitor's attention is usually first drawn to the great fireplace in the centre of its southern side [in the kitchen]', and quotes from Whittier best-known poem Snow Bound (1866), which was a huge success and further good sales from later books meant that Whittier could live comfortably for the rest of his life:

'The oaken log, green, huge and thick,
And on its top the stout back-stick;
The knotty forestick laid apart,
And filled between with curious art
The ragged brush; then, hovering near,
We watched the first red blaze appear,
Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam
On whitewashed wall and sagging beam,
Until the old, rude-furnished room
Burst, flower-like, into rosy bloom.'

To the left of the photo above is a curious log device with five prongs: this is for roasting apples, and recalls the evocative line 'And apples sputtered in a row'.

Snow Bound is a long narrative poem in iambic tetrameter that was originally published as a full book. It goes back to the narrator's childhood, and is autobiographical throughout. The poem covers several days in December 1822, when snow held the family indoors, and gives descriptions of all the people present on that occasion. The poem makes clear at times that these are memories, and says that only the poet and his brother Flanklin Whittier are still alive.

John Whittier was John Greenleaf's father,  but the father in the poem is just called 'A prompt,  decisive man', who got  the boys to clear a path through the snow and reach the animals.

Abigail Hussey was John Greenleaf's mother, of whom Whittier says:

'Our mother, while she turned her wheel
Or run the new-knit stocking wheel'.

And certainly Abigail used this spinning wheel to the right of the photo to make the Whittier garments.

John Greenleaf's bachelor uncle Moses is also part of the family:

'Our uncle, innocent of books,
Was rich in lore of fields and brooks.
The ancient teachers never dumb
Of Nature's unhoused lyceum'

As is his maiden aunt, Mercy Evans:

'The sweetest woman ever Fate
Peverse denied a household mate.'

Of his elder sister Mary he says:

'A rich, full nature, free to trust,
Truthful and almost sternly just,
Impulsive, earnest, prompt to act,
And make her generous thought a fact.'

Of his beloved sister Elizabeth he says:

'Our youngest and our dearest sat,
Lifting her large sweet asking eyes,'

and immediately adds:

'Now bathed in the unfading green
And holy peace of Paradise.'

One of John Greenleaf's teachers is also present - George Haskell, of whom the narrator says:

'Brisk wielder of the birch and rule,
The master of the local school
Held at the fire his favorite place,
Its warm glow hit the laughing face',

And though the teacher's more playful as opposed educational side is seen here - playing with the cat with a mitten on its head - the narrator takes the opportunity of Haskell's learned presence to launch into a kind of digressive rant about ignorance and stupidity as opposed to their perceived adversary - education. Slavery - once Whittier's bête noire - is only briefly mentioned as the book was published after the Civil War had (very recently) ended.

The final person present is Harriet Livermore (1788-1868) - the 'not unfeared, half-welcome guest'. Livermore was a well-known preacher who traveled throughout the US.

The only other person mentioned in the poem is the 'wise old Doctor', this being Dr Elias Weld, an early benefactor of Whittier's, to whom the poem 'The Countess' is dedicated.

In Pickard's words:

'The little room at the western end of the kitchen was "mother's room," its floor two steps higher than that of the larger room, for a singular reason. In digging the cellar the pioneer found here a large boulder it was inconvenient to remove, and wishing a milk room at this corner, he was obliged to make its floor two steps higher than the rest of the cellar.'

Again, in Pickard's words:

'The door at the southwestern corner of the kitchen opens into the room in which the poet was born. This was the parlor, but as the Friends were much given to hospitality, it was often needed as a bedroom, and there was in it a bedstead that could be lifted from the floor and supported by a hook in the ceiling when not in use. [...] The inlaid mahogany card-table between the front windows was brought to this house just a century ago (1804) by Abigail Hussey, the bride of John Whittier, and placed where it now stands.'

 'The volume of Robert Burns loaned to the poet, when he was a boy of 14, by his schoolmaster, Joshua Coffin.' In a short autobiographical sketch written in 1882,  Whittier states that he begged Coffin to leave the book with him, and that this was more or less the first poetry he'd ever read, and that it was then that he started a dual life, writing his poems in his secret world of fancy.

And a sketch of Joshua Coffin.

Whittier's sister Mary discovered a poem he'd written and sent it to the Newburyport Free Press, which was edited by William Lloyd Garrison who printed the poem, 'The Exile's Departure'. Shortly after the publication, Garrison went to Haverhill to see Whittier, and urged him to get an education. By making shoes the first year and teaching the next, Whittier managed to spend two six-month terms at the Haverhill Academy.

 A painting in the kitchen of a rather young Whittier looking a little like Nathaniel Hawthorne.

 And a bust of the older Whittier, certainly made long after he had left this house.

 The chairs we sat on were the actual chairs of Whittier's grandfather.

 The rear of the house.

And finally our guide to the house, Gus Reusch, a very lively, informative, and fascinating docent who held us spellbound for quite some time. Not only were we allowed to take any photos we wanted here - itself unusual in Massachusetts - but encouraged to take time doing so. There was no sense of rush - quite the reverse - and Gus is obviously deeply interested in John Greenleaf Whittier. We left very happy, and I can honestly say - after visiting more authors' homes than I can readily number - that this is the favorite. Thank you so much, Gus.

Addendum: The Whittier Home have just (17 December 2011) published a video on their website of Gus Reusch reading Snow-Bound and answering questions. It lasts for 108 minutes and is here.