November Offerings – Part III: Something to Delight both Head and Heart

American Art – Part I of II: Walker Evans

Born 3 November 1903 – Walker Evans, a photographer best known for his work for the Farm Security Administration documenting the effects of the Great Depression. In the words of one critic, “Walker Evans is one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. His elegant, crystal-clear photographs and articulate publications have inspired several generations of artists, from Helen Levitt and Robert Frank to Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Bernd and Hilla Becher. The progenitor of the documentary tradition in American photography, Evans had the extraordinary ability to see the present as if it were already the past, and to translate that knowledge and historically inflected vision into an enduring art. His principal subject was the vernacular—the indigenous expressions of a people found in roadside stands, cheap cafés, advertisements, simple bedrooms, and small-town main streets. For fifty years, from the late 1920s to the early 1970s, Evans recorded the American scene with the nuance of a poet and the precision of a surgeon, creating an encyclopedic visual catalogue of modern America in the making.”

Below – “License Photo Studio, New York” (1934); “Lunchroom Window, New York” (1929); “Torn Movie Poster” (1931); “Alabama Tenant Farmer Wife” (1936); “New Orleans House” (1935); “Subway Passengers” (1938); “Alabama Tenant Farmer” (1936); “Street Scene with Pedestrians in Front of Barber Shop, Vicksburg, Mississippi” (1936); “Couple at Coney Island, New York” (1928); “Signs, New York” (1928-1930).
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A Poem for Today

“Leaves,”
By Elsie M. Brady

How silently they tumble down
And come to rest upon the ground
To lay a carpet, rich and rare,
Beneath the trees without a care,
Content to sleep, their work well done,
Colors gleaming in the sun.

At other times, they wildly fly
Until they nearly reach the sky.
Twisting, turning through the air
Till all the trees stand stark and bare.
Exhausted, drop to earth below
To wait, like children, for the snow.
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3 November 1954 – Toho releases “Godzilla” (“Gojira”) in Japan, marking the first appearance of the “King of the Monsters.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RZnH5M8UQU

“The wild gander leads his flock through the cool night,
Ya-honk! he says, and sounds it down to me like an
invitation;
The pert may suppose it meaningless, but I listen close,
I find its purpose and place up there toward the November sky.” – Walt Whitman

Below – Peter Huntoon : “November Sky”
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From the American Old West – Part I of II: Black Bart

3 November 1883 – Charles Earl Bowles, the self-described “Black Bart the poet,” commits his last successful stagecoach robbery.

Here are two examples of his poetry, left at his fourth and fifth holdups, respectively:

I’ve labored long and hard for bread,

For honor and for riches

But on my corns too long you’ve tread,

You fine-haired sons-of-bitches.

Black Bart, the P o 8


Here I lay me down to sleep

To wait the coming morrow,

Perhaps success, perhaps defeat

And everlasting sorrow.

Yet come what will, I’ll try it once,

My conditions can’t be worse,

And if there’s money in that box,

‘Tis money in my purse.

Black Bart, the P o 8

Below – Black Bart, the P o 8.
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“In November, the trees are standing all sticks and bones. Without their leaves, how lovely they are, spreading their arms like dancers. They know it is time to be still.” – Cynthia Rylant
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“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.” – William Cullen Bryant, American poet, journalist, and editor, who was born 3 November 1794.

During the Late Stone Age, when I was in eighth grade, everyone in the class had to memorize the first eight lines of “Thanatopsis.” Our teacher explained that we were required to do so because William Cullen Bryant was our nation’s first great poet and “Thanatopsis” was his masterpiece. We then spent an entire morning discussing the poem. As I stated, this took place during a time when saber tooth tigers roamed the world and it seemed perfectly natural for Americans to know as much as possible about their culture.

In case you have an interest in what might be called “retro-literacy,” I have posted the full text of the poem below for your scholarly perusal and pleasure. Feel free to memorize a few lines.

“Thanatopsis”

To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice—
Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix for ever with the elements,
To be a brother to the insensible rock
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.
Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,
The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods—rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste,—
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,
The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Below – Asher Durand: “Scene from Thanatopsis” (1850)
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A Second Poem for Today

“In Case of Complete Reversal,”
By Kay Ryan

Born into each seed
is a small anti-seed
useful in case of some
complete reversal:
a tiny but powerful
kit for adapting it
to the unimaginable.
If we could crack the
fineness of the shell
we’d see the
bundled minuses
stacked as in a safe,
ready for use
if things don’t
go well.
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“After traveling through fourteen foreign countries and appearing before all the royalty and nobility I have only one wish today. That is that when my eyes are closed in death that they will bury me back in that quiet little farm land where I was born.” – Annie Oakley, American sharp shooting star, who died on 3 November 1926.

Annie Oakley was born near Willowdell, Ohio, and in accordance with her wishes, she is buried in a cemetery in that town.

I have a special affection for Annie Oakley. At least twice each year I make a pilgrimage to Boulder, Colorado that requires passing through the great space of nothing called “Kansas.” The city of Oakley is located in the western region of this cultural wasteland, at the place where Interstate 70 turns northward, and at that moment for the first time on the seemingly endless journey one feels that he can perhaps – just perhaps – survive the ordeal of transiting the Sunflower State without either losing his sanity or killing the people traveling with him and burying their bodies on the lonesome prairie.

A note: Despite what the highway billboards suggest, Oakley, Kansas was not named in honor of Annie Oakley, nor did she ever visit the place.

Some quotes from the work of Annie Oakley:

“I ain’t afraid to love a man. I ain’t afraid to shoot him either.”
“Being a good mother does not call for the same qualities as being a good housewife; a dedication to keeping children clean and tidy may override an interest in their separate development as individuals.”
“Clearly, society has a tremendous stake in insisting on a woman’s natural fitness for the career of mother: the alternatives are all too expensive.”
“There are always women who will take men on their own terms. If I were a man I wouldn’t bother to change while there are women like that around.”
“Aim at a high mark and you’ll hit it. No, not the first time, nor the second time. Maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect.”

Below – Annie Oakley; Oakley’s tombstone; downtown Oakley, Kansas: Enjoy your stay.
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“Flurries early, pristine and pearly. Winter’s come calling! Can we endure so premature a falling? Some may find this trend distressing- others bend to say a blessing over sage and onion dressing.” ― “Old Farmer’s Almanac”
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A Third Poem for Today

“Undress,”
By Ruby Robinson

There is an ash tree behind this house. You
can see it from our bedroom window.
If you stare at it for long enough, you’ll see
it drop a leaf. Stare at it now, you said,
and notice the moment a leaf strips away
from its branch, giving a twirl. Consider this.

The ash tree unclothes itself Octoberly.
From beside our bed, fingering the curtain,
observe the dark candles at the top of
that tree, naked and alert, tending to the breeze.
A sheet of ice between the rooftops
and this noiseless sky has turned the air

inside out. Black veins of branches
shake against the blue screen on which they
hang. Small mammals are hibernating
in pellets of warm air under ground. But,
in spite of the cold, this ash tree does not shy
from shrugging off its coat, sloping its nude

shoulders to the night. So, you said, undo,
unbutton, unclasp, slowly remove. Let down your
hair, breathe out. Stand stark in this room until
we remember how not to feel the chill.
Stand at the window, lift your arms right up
like a tree. Yes — like that. Watch leaves drop.
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American Art – Part II of II: Ed Copley

Artist Statement: “I have always been fascinated by art. From the age of five or six, I wanted to be a painter. And I have studied for many years to understand how the Old Masters achieved what they did.
After attending two fine art schools and starting a career as an illustrator, I was still seeking more knowledge. I continued to study on my own and then went into the highly specialized field of restoration of oil paintings. I realized that I liked to solve problems, essentially doing detective work. If you have ever stood in awe in front of a great painting and wondered how on earth they created it then you can understand why restoration work can be so challenging. I wanted to find how they painted, as these old artists created works of art that hardly seemed possible.”
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