Posts Tagged ‘literature


a week of first paragraphs–saturday

“On an evening in the latter part of May a middle-aged man was walking homeward from Shaston to the village of Maroltt, in the adjoining Vale of Blakemore, or Blackmoor. The pair of legs that carried him were rickety, and there was a bias in his gait which inclined him somewhat to the left of a straight line. He occasionally gave a smart nod, as if in confirmation of some opinion, though he was not thinking of anything in particular. An empty egg-basket was slung upon his arm, the nap of his hat was ruffled, a patch being quite worn away at its brim where his thumb came in taking it off. Presently, he was met by an elderly parson astride on a grey mare, who, as he rode, hummed a wandering tune.” –Thomas Hardy, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”


a week of first paragraphs–thursday

“Ennis Del Mar wakes before five, wind rocking the trailer, hissing in around the aluminum door and window frames. The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft. He gets up, scratching the grey wedge of belly and pubic hair, shuffles to the gas burner, pours leftover coffee in a chipped enamel pan; the flame swathes in blue. He turns on the tap and urinates in the sink, pulls on his shirt and jeans, his worn boots, stamping the heels against the floor to get them full on. The wind booms down the curved length of the trailer and under its roaring passage he can hear the scratching of fine gravel and sand. It could be bad on the highway with the horse trailer. He has to be packed and away from the place that morning. Again the ranch is on the market and they’ve shipped out the last of the horses, paid everybody off the day before, the owner saying, “Give em to the real estate shark, I’m out a here,” dropping the keys in Ennis’s hand. He might have to stay with his married daughter until he picks up another job, yet he is suffused with a sense of pleasure because Jack Twist was in his dream.”  –Annie Proulx, “Brokeback Mountain” (from her collection of short stories, “Close Range, Wyoming Stories”)


a week of first paragraphs–monday

“I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square Station, vault a turnstile and two flights down the iron stairs, catch an uptown A train… Young, good looking, crew cut, Ivy League, advertising exec type fruit holds the door back for me. I am evidently his idea of a character. You know the type comes on with bartenders and cab drivers, talking about right hooks and Dodgers, call teh counterman in Nedrick’s by his first name. A real asshole. And right on time this narcotics dick in a white trench coat (imagine tailing somebody in a white trench coat–trying to pass as a fag I guess) hit the platform. I can hear the way he would say it holding my outfit in his left hand, right hand on his piece: “I think you dropped something, fella.””  –William S. Burroughs, “Naked Lunch”


a week of first paragraphs–sunday

a few days ago i published a couple of first paragraphs from novels by authors whose work i admire. a first paragraph in any book, but particularly novels, is the garden gate to the rest of the book. you might find yourself saying, “what’s just beyond that arbor there?” or “the hinges are a little rusty, but if i push gently enough i’ll be able to squeeze through and see what’s on the other side.” you may even experience a rush of feeling so powerful that to abandon the book would amount to nothing more than folly. (of course there are first paragraphs that warn you to go no further, “put the book down, it will bring you nothing but boredom, and possibly stupefaction.” can a book do that, i wonder? it’s possible i’ll never know for sure, for if after the first paragraph there is no desire to proceed, i rarely do.)

i hope you enjoy my selections and if you haven’t read the work, might find yourself at the library, or your local bookstore (are there any left?), online at barnes & noble downloading a copy to your kindle, however you come to it, and after that first paragraph you’ll discover yourself in a garden just as i have.

“Somewhere near Venice, Guy began talking with a heavy, elderly man, a refugee from Germany on his way to Trieste. Guy asked questions. The refugee eagerly replied. Neither seemed aware when the train stopped. In the confusion of a newly created war, the train was stopping every twenty minutes or so. Harriet looked out and saw girders, darker than the twilit darkness, holding an upper rail. Between the girders a couple fumbled and struggling, every now and then thrusting a foot or an elbow out into the light that fell from the carriage windows. Beyond the girders water glinted, reflecting the phosphorescent globes lighting the high rail.”  –Olivia Manning, “The Balkan Trilogy: Book One, The Great Fortune”


a shaded bower and re-incarnation

when i was 14 or 15 i bought a ratty old paperback at a used bookstore titled “the world is not enough”. it must have been 4 or 5 hundred pages long and concerned life in a castle in france during the 14th/15th centuries (as best i can remember.)

the protagonist was a young page to one of the knights of the castle, about the same age as me at the time who falls in love with the daughter of the prince whose castle it was. there was much mooning about, secret passageways leading from one bower to another; the young page could often be found sitting in une fenêtre of the castle tower watching the goings-on in the castle’s court with its smell of horses, shouts of the other pages, clanking of armor, and the smell of cooking fires. the book seemed to me to be my autobiography from another life and time, so much so that i could not shake that sense of dèja vu, of having lived that life for years afterwards (still can’t, obvsly.)

i lost the book years ago and now i believe that i do not correctly remember its title–i’ve searched for it over the intervening years, wanting to read it again to see if it holds the same spell over me it did so many years ago, but i’ve not been able to find it and all i’m left with is my memory of it and the belief that i lived there and then.


an essential reading list

last night was the Chuck Jones Center for  Creativity‘s 2nd annual Red Dot Auction.  it’s one of those projects that is not only complicated (coordinating artists over a several month period–you know, as they say, “it’s like herding cats in a room full of rocking chairs.” –you’ll forgive the trite platitude or turn of phrase today–it’s 5:20 AM, i worked 14 or so hours yesterday, much of it standing and ‘on’; frankly i have no idea why i’m sitting here at the computer five hours after turning off my bedside light after said very long day, but here i am nonetheless, understand?), but also immensely rewarding (see above parenthetical reference to coordinating artists, rocking chairs, and cats.)

after last year’s red dot auction, i went on record saying that it was one of the most emotional and outstanding art events that i had been a part of in my over 30 year career in the visual arts and last night was no different, perhaps it was even more compelling; we worked with more artists, there were a dozen more submissions, the anticipation from the center’s supporters started early with rsvps rolling in as soon as we had sent out a “save the date” notice and went unabated until moments before the doors opened last night at 6 PM. (more on rsvps, serendipity, and the work featured in the photograph above later on in this post.)

over 200 people filled the Center’s new facility at South Coast Collection in Costa Mesa almost as soon as the doors opened last night–it was, as they (them, again) say, “nature abhors a vacuum”, the glass garage door went up, the place filled up immediately (where did they all come from? there wasn’t even a line…all i know is that one moment the venue was empty and the next moment it was alive with the delightful chatter and banter of people enjoying themselves. i love when that happens.)

we ask artists to donate a work of art created on a specific size of canvas, this year it was a 12″ square stretched canvas. the work can be of any media and design as long as it fits on the provided canvas. each work is submitted anonymously; the artists are asked to sign their work on the reverse. by doing this the bidders at the auction must fall in love with the work of art and not worry about the status of the artist based on who they are and where they stand in the art market. we reach out to artists from across the nation, some extremely well-known with decades-long careers, others, well others with more love in their heart than notoriety in the art world. this year, because it is Chuck’s centennial, we asked our contributors to consider the life and times of Chuck Jones as a theme for their submission.

i wouldn’t consider myself an ‘artist’, my talents lay elsewhere, but i like to create things and have for as long as i can remember. collage suits me; i’ve always thought of it as an archeological dig with much to discover as you work your way through the art, twists and turns revealed the more you look at it. “two roads” (above image) was my submission this year. i was inspired by chuck’s “essential reading list” that his daughter, Linda, had shared with me years ago for another project (as yet uncompleted, but it will be one day, it will be.)

chuck’s library (or a portion of the thousands of volumes) has been a part of our working environment as long as i’ve been working for the jones family — 20 years this october — and i’ve always found his catholic taste, i mean the man read everything, fascinating, thrilling, daunting, and inspiring.  i had thought at first that this work would be a riff on robert frost, utilizing some of my photographs of country roads as a reference to frost’s poem, “the road not taken” (…two roads diverged in a yellow wood…), but as i worked on it, i realized that the ‘essential reading list’ was just as important, so the work turned toward sharing that with the viewer. this collage is composed of hand-colored inkjet prints of photographs i have taken, acrylic paint, oil stick, cotton thread, plastic buttons, graphite, paper, bronze, and copper.  on the flaps (like book covers) that open in the center of the image i have written frost’s poem; the rest of the text is chuck’s essential reading list (which is at the bottom of this post for your enlightenment.)

but what has tickled me so about yesterday is this: at about 9:30 AM yesterday morning, the phone at my desk rings and when i answer a woman asks, “is it too late to rsvp for this evening’s event?” to which i replied (jokingly) “yes, it is.” we shared a giggle and i assured her it was not too late and after taking down her name, i said that i look forward to seeing her and her husband that evening. i added their name to the rsvp list and went on my way with the rest of my day.

as i was greeting guests last night, i introduce myself to a charming couple, “welcome, i’m robert patrick, i’m so glad you could join us this evening,” and she said, “i spoke with you this morning!” and we laughed about our little encounter and i wished them well, directing them to libations, nibbles, and the silent auction. we nodded at each other a couple of times during the evening and shared a conspiratorial grin as they perused the artwork that was part of the auction. the evening slowed down eventually, people were beginning to collect their winning bids and take home the art they’d successfully bid on and my ego getting the better of me, i went over to my painting to see who had bid on it.

that’s right, the woman i had spoken with in the morning, and met just that evening, had won my work of art. the serendipity of it all delighted me, but i said nothing and went on my way with the rest of the night. i saw them collect “two roads” and as they were leaving i walked up to them and said, “i’m so glad you could join us this evening and i wanted to thank you for successfully bidding on my contribution to the red dot auction.” the look she gave me was priceless, “this is yours?!?”

“yes, it is,” i responded, “isn’t it crazy wonderful that our day ended this way?” and it is crazy wonderful when strangers come together to support the arts and serendipitous when that love threads its way through their day. so, thank you mr. & mrs. __________. i look forward to seeing you again and i hope you enjoy “two roads” for a very long time, maybe our “paths” will cross again.

Chuck Jones’ list of Essential Books every literate, English-speaking person should read (at least once, probably more often)

  • A Spy in the Family – Alec Waugh
  • A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
  • A Travel Abroad – Mark Twain
  • A Treasury of Science – Harlow Shapely
  • Animal Architecture – Karl von Frisch
  • Anything by Robert Parker
  • Babbitt – Sinclair Lewis
  • Cabbages and Kings – O’Henry
  • Career in C Major – James Cain
  • Cold Mountain – Charles Frazier
  • Damon Runyon short stories (at least three)
  • Double Indemnity – James Cain
  • Elmer Gantry – Sinclair Lewis
  • Farewell, My Lovely – Raymond Chandler
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  • Gamesmanship – Stephen Potter
  • Major Barbara – G.B. Shaw
  • My Life and Hard Times – James Thurber
  • Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter
  • Roughing It – Mark Twain
  • Seventeen – Booth Tarkington
  • Short Stories of Somerset Maugham (at least two)
  • Silent Snow, Secret Snow – Conrad Aiken
  • Sir Niguel – A. Conan Doyle
  • Stalky and Company – Rudyard Kipling
  • The Autobiography of Lincoln Stephens
  • The Bar Sinister – Richard Harding Davis
  • The Crock of Gold – James Stephens
  • The Elements of Style – Strunk/White
  • The Gnome King of Oz – L. Frank Baum
  • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  • The History of Mr. Polly – H.G. Wells
  • The Jungle Books – Rudyard Kipling
  • The Killers — Ernest Hemingway
  • The Little Drummer Girl – John le Carre
  • The Moonstone — Willkie Collins
  • The Poems of Robert Frost
  • The Red Pony – John Steinbeck
  • The Short Stories of Ring Lardner
  • The Short Stories of Saki (H.H. Monroe)
  • The Spy that Came in from the Cold – John le Carre
  • The Touch of Nutmeg – John Collier
  • The Varming – Owen Johnson
  • The White Company – A. Conan Doyle
  • Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K. Jerome
  • Treasure Island – R.L. Stevenson
  • Turnabout – William Faulkner
  • Vile Bodies – Evelyn Waugh
  • Words at Play – Willard Espy


the swimmer

i’m not sure when i first read john cheever’s “the swimmer”, although i recall the melancholy that followed with acuity. a teenager laying on the sofa in the living room, head propped up on one arm, feet dangling over the other (making little flipper movements–sympathetic assistance for neddy merrill), i want to believe it was summer/fall just as it was in the story, but that may be projection.

my identification with the swimmer was not social or economic; we were not connecticut wasps (although i did aspire to that lofty social position, recalling now my mother saying, “stop putting on airs, who do you think you are?” as clearly as if i still were putting on airs, or possibly striving to understand why cheever touched me so.)

and once “the swimmer” was under my belt, the cheever floodgates opened and i devoured as much as i could of his literary output, and repeatedly read him well into my 20s, a shelf in my ‘library’ devoted to a collection of cheever paperbacks. i know that i was particularly attracted to his patrician good looks, his khakis, his button-down oxford shirts he was always photographed in–although i didn’t try to emulate that style until much later, you do remember “the yuppie handbook”, don’t you?, but drawn to him as if he were speaking directly to me, my life.

in 1974, cheever published “the leaves, the lion-fish, and the bear” in esquire magazine and suddenly, at least for me, the revelation that he could, that he would, write about love and sex between two men made all of my love for him as a writer that much more concrete.

has cheever held up over time?  i haven’t read his work since his daughter, susan, published her biography and then only to reacquaint myself with his cadence, his economy, his pencil sharp observations of a life that in some small way reflected what i thought of myself, at that moment in time, laying on a sofa reading “the swimmer.”



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© Robert Patrick, and Cultivar, 2008-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, photographs and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Patrick and Cultivar with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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