LOG 0010

English verse is qualitative. The quality in question being the alternating patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. 

I went  downtown to buy  a loaf  of bread

Perfect iambic pentameter. If you put your hand facing palm-down under your chin and say that sentence out loud, you might be able to feel your jaw extending a bit more where the italicized, stressed syllables fall. We give them a little bit more oomph. I won't go into all the different patterns today,  but we play around with those patterns in English poetry, and we have fun. You can play around with these different stresses more with jazz chants, a curious little tool I learned about while making ESL lesson plans. 

Certain other languages have poetry that is called quantitative. The quantity here is the number of vowels. They base their poetry around a number and pattern of vowel sounds. These languages can have two (sometimes three) vowel sounds in a row making long and short vowels (not to be confused with long/short vowels as we native English speakers may have learned in kindergarten, more on that in minute). So the patterns of Ancient Greek, Classical Persian, or Japanese poetry aren't concerned with stressed / unstressed syllables, but how many vowels occur, creating long or short syllable patterns. They have certain set patterns that they play around with, too. 

English is a bit hard to write quantitative verse in because our vowel sounds stretch and shrink depending on regional accents and emotional tones. It's not common for two vowel sounds to come one right after the other in English. Usually when this occurs they get smooshed together into a special kind of vowel called a diphthong. As I read the poems of Hafiz, I thought of the long and short vowel patterns of Classical Persian, and whether or not a poem could be written in quantitative English verse. Through my research I discovered that some poets had already written some. I also got hung up on what I learned as "long" and "short" vowels in school. As a matter of fact those are not long or short now, but they used to be back in the days of Middle English. We only use the terms long/short as a matter of tradition these days, but they used to be short --a single vowel-- and long -- a doubled vowel. Now, of course, these are totally different vowel sounds. 

That's when I decided to research a little linguistics. Thanks to the amazing wonders of science we can record and playback recordings of people saying things. This has allowed linguists the opportunity to measure vowel length and organize our vowel sounds accordingly. There are even different lists for different accents. In a very roundabout way I accidentally taught myself some of the International Phonetic Alphabet and set to writing a poem that used alternating, linguistically long and short patterns. 

The pattern I chose is long/short/short where six long syllables make up a line, and 12 lines make up the poem. I've included the IPA below the poem to help you along.  I wrote this in my very own General American accent, so if you speak a different dialect or have a different accent things probably won't match up. I compiled my list of long vowels from this IPA chart for GenAm. My memory's struggling a little know since I wrote this a few weeks ago, but I think I decided all diphthongs are long and the American "r (as in bird)" is long, too. 

And now. A quantitative poem, brought to you by linguistic science! 

Moving from a Small Town to a City

Leaving this home was not hard and yet these flat hot days will break a man.

Staying with these rough sad faces any more would kill stone dead the good in him.

So this departure to fairer lands where jobs and schools sure can grow among

Hard rich concrete the best soil that will raise his cut soul above those stagnant

Beams of yellow sun in a dusty barn that can't hold his big dreams of the

Future. In the here present now a sting. Heat and sweat for the big brown boxes.

Merciless gaze of the beating sun burns on the boiling black wheel. Plastic

Gear shift melts. Old Busted groans, belches smoke and just barely runs these heavy

Broken shelves, old books and plates from this place among wheezing dead dreams and puts

Each up in a city where one and all of them bloom in the new living

Space. The hot spider web town that sought to tangle, gone such that now he can

Breathe! His head he can put down in a new soft bed cool and with light and rest.

 

 

ˈlivɪŋ ðɪs hoʊm wʌz nɑt hɑrd ænd jɛt ðiz flæt hɑt deɪzwɪl breɪk ə mən. 

ˈsteɪɪŋ wɪð ðiz rʌf sæd ˈfeɪsəz ˈɛni mɔr wʊd kɪl stoʊndɛd ðə gʊd ɪn hɪm. 

soʊ ðɪs dɪˈpɑrʧər tu ˈfɛrər lændz wɛr ʤɑbz ænd skulzʃʊr kæn groʊ əˈmʌŋ 

hɑrd rɪʧ ˈkɑnkrit ðə bɛst sɔɪl ðæt wɪl reɪz hɪz kʌt soʊləˈbʌv ðoʊz ˈstægnənt 

bimz ʌv ˈjɛloʊ sʌn ɪn ə ˈdʌsti bɑrn ðæt kænt hoʊld hɪzbɪg drimz ʌv ði 

ˈfjuʧər. ɪn ðə hir ˈprɛzənt naʊ ə stɪŋ. hit ænd swɛt fɔrðə bɪg braʊn ˈbɑksəz. 

ˈmɜrsələs geɪz ʌv ðə ˈbitɪŋ sʌn bɜrnz ɑn ðə ˈbɔɪlɪŋblæk wil. ˈplæstɪk 

gɪr ʃɪft mɛlts. oʊld ˈbʌstɪd groʊnz, ˈbɛlʧɪz smoʊk ændʤʌst ˈbɛrli rʌnz ðiz ˈhɛvi 

ˈbroʊkən ʃɛlvz, oʊld bʊks ænd pleɪts frʌm ðɪs pleɪsəˈmʌŋ ˈwizɪŋ dɛd drimz ænd pʊts 

iʧ ʌp ɪn ə ˈsɪti wɛr wʌn ænd ɔl ʌv ðɛm blum ɪn ðə nuˈlɪvɪŋ 

speɪs. ðə hɑt ˈspaɪdər wɛb taʊn ðæt sɔt tuˈtæŋgəl, gɔn sʌʧ ðæt naʊ hi kæn 

brið! hɪz hɛd hi kæn pʊt daʊn ɪn ə nu sɑft bɛd kulænd wɪð laɪt ænd rɛst.

 

And there you go. I don't reckon it the best poem by far, but a poem it is and not too shabby. 

I highly recommend Elizabeth Gray's translation of the poems of Hafiz. It's a beautiful, informative and readable collection. The intro gave me the inspiration to write this poem. 

 

 

 

LOG 0009

The year 1611. England.

As in Europe Catholics had clashed with Protestants who had clashed with Radical Reformers. England was unique among all the European countries, however. Where Scandinavia and the German speaking kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire had sided with Luther, and Switzerland and surrounding areas along with Scotland in the north had firmly embraced Calvinism, King Henry VIII of England had departed from the church of Rome for personal and political reasons rather than spiritual. After the reign of his successor, Bloody Mary, it was Queen Elizabeth I who created a hybrid church, Protestant in ideology but keeping with the smoke and incense, bells and whistles of the Catholic style of worship. During her reign and the reign of her successor, King James VI and I, this balance seem to satisfy the populace--for a time.

King James you may have heard of, as his name graces a famous translation of the Bible in English. King James' Bible or the King James Bible or the Authorized Version is a standard text for many Christians in the English-speaking world. There are even those that say it is the only translation you should ever use. They are wrong, but that fact does not change the fascinating story of King James himself or of the King James Version of the Bible.

It's easy to point out the flaws of the King James Bible (KJV). But I still have a little place in my heart for the old thing. It is one of the translations I grew up reading, so I think there's a little sentimentality there, but there's also the part of me that loves the literature of the English language. This translation first saw the light of day when Shakespeare was getting long in the tooth and just before John Milton began writing his first tracts and sonnets. It's from that era between these two great poets, and has a rhythm and poetry all it's own. Also it mistranslates "wild ox" as "unicorn". There are a lot of downsides to the KJV, let's be honest. 

But when I say it mistranslates, what did it mistranslate from? Well, buddy. Buckle-up. Because you see, I was homeschooled. It was a Christian curriculum I had, and the way it was set up I could pick a major for my high school studies. I picked the Bible. That's right. I majored in "the Bible" in high school. And over the last few days I've been giving myself the Wikipedia refresher course in "Where did the King James Bible come from?" And now I am going to tell you.

What is the Bible? Around 200 BC in Egypt a group of Jewish scholars translated their most important laws, poetry, philosophy, and history from their native Hebrew language into Greek. This produced a book known as the Septuagint. Keep in mind there was no printing press in those days and everything had to be written down by hand. So from one copy of the Septuagint to the other there were a few variations.  This Septuagint became super popular in the Jewish community in the early days of the Roman Empire as Greek was commonly spoken by just about everybody whereas Hebrew had already become a specialized language. The Septuagint became the go-to source for members of the early Christian cults of the 1st century CE which were breaking off from the Jewish community to quote from and recite in their devotions and meetings. Over the centuries these Christians started to add some texts to this collection which came from their own sources. In the year 325 the Roman Emperor Constantine had converted to Christianity and wanted to know more about it's teachings. He found a diverse set of beliefs and groups teaching a whole bunch of different stuff, which didn't really set to well with him. So, he sent invitations to a bunch of different leaders of Christian groups throughout his empire and was like "hey get your asses together and make an official decision on what we believe". They all met in the city of Nicea and basically...invented Christianity. Around that same time, Emperor Constantine ordered 50 copies of the Scriptures to be produced and sent around so everybody would have a Bible to read and ... wait a minute...a Bible? did they just invent...? Yes, that's right. They invented the Bible that day by slapping 27 of their favorite Christian texts onto the Septuagint. Kinda sorta. And we have a couple of those Bibles still today, the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaitcus. Maybe. They might just be some nice copies of the Bible from that century that have survived. Nobody really knows. But what's really interesting to me anyway is that these oldest copies of the complete Bible don't have quite the same text as what we are used to calling "the Bible". Some books got kicked out, while some parts got added in. That's to be expected in an era before the printing press. Always remember that printing press. Now around 380 a fellow named Jerome got a commission to translate this "Bible" into a nice new Latin translation as folks in the Western part of the Empire were Latin speakers and the Greek was giving them a headache. Jerome's Latin translation was a big hit and soon called the Vulgate, not because it was vulgar but because the word vulgate in Latin means "most common". This Vulgate edition of the Bible was such a huge hit that it became the basis for all the singing, reading, studying and use in church services in the western part of Europe. 

Sidebar: the Hebrew Bible (in Hebrew) was standardized around the 600s CE by a group of Jewish scholars called the Masoretes. As far as I've read this is the text used by Jews today, though I think they also consult the Dead Sea Scrolls as well. What are the Dead Sea Scrolls? They are pre-Septuagint copies of the Jewish scriptures written in Hebrew and Aramaic. They are the oldest incomplete manuscripts of Biblical material we have, dating to around 200 BCE. They were discovered in the 20th century and are still rocking the world of scholarship. 

Other sidebar: Have you noticed the Bible is split up into chapters and verses? Like John 3:16? What is that? Well, originally there were no chapters and verses. This got really confusing because the Bible is long. Around the year 1200 it got so annoying that a teacher at the University of Paris named Stephen Langton came up with a system for finding everything. There were some other systems but his stuck.

Yet another sidebar: Churches in the eastern part of the Roman Empire spoke Greek so they just kept using the Septuagint and Greek New Testament. They never adopted the Vulgate and so their canon is a little different. In 1054 the church in Rome demanded it have all the authority and the Eastern churches were like "no way" and they broke up becoming the Eastern Orthodox Churches of today. There's also the Coptic churches in Ethiopia who have been doing their own thing for a while and have their own standard that they go by. 

In the 1300s there was a guy in England named John Wycliffe. Wycliffe had come to believe that when Constantine and those guys were inventing Christianity, they added in a bunch of stuff that shouldn't be in there. Also he believed that over the centuries added on to Christianity was all this superstitious and fear-mongering stuff that didn't belong and got in the way of teaching people right from wrong and all that. He also believed that people should be able to hear the Bible in their own language and not Latin which they couldn't understand anyway. I mean imagine that, you want the people you're preaching to to actually understand what your saying. Seems like a no brainer to me. But John Wycliffe got horribly murdered by the Catholic Church for his work, and his followers (known as Lollards) went underground for fear of being killed too. I like Wycliffe because he was kind of this punk bastard who just totally flipped off the Man and did his own thing. Respect, Johnny. He's also pertinent to this essay as ideas similar to his about the Bible became more and more popular in the 1400s and his translation of the Bible is one of the earliest in English. 

Wycliffe wasn't the only guy who wanted to get the teachings of the Bible out to people in their native languages. In the 1500s there was this priest named Martin Luther over in the German part of the Holy Roman Empire who also spoke out against the corruption and abuses in the church. He translated the Bible into German. But you know what he had that Wycliffe didn't? A fucking printing press, that's what. Every copy of his Bible was standardized. He could print a page, then another page and another 1000 and they would all be the same. 100% identical. This was absolutely revolutionary. I could go on but this would become a major teaching of many different Protestant churches, that Scripture should be the guide for the lives of believers over traditions, councils, and hierarchical decrees. Curiously, the Catholic Church did not come up with an officially official canon until 1546--I think largely because they never had to think too hard about it before Martin Luther came up with his standardized print version in 1534. Not only had Luther stated that the Bible is a higher authority than the Pope and priests and things, but he was able to provide a version of the Bible which did not fluctuate from copy to copy as hand written manuscripts do. 

In 1539 King Henry VIII had commissioned and released the Great Bible, the first authorized English translation of the Church of England. His successor, Mary I Tudor tried to revert the country back to Catholicism by brute force in the 1550s. During this time Bible scholars fled England for the more tolerant Geneva, Switzerland. There they completed a new translation of the Bible into English from better sources than the Great Bible. Published first in 1560, then later in England itself in 1575, this "Geneva Bible" became a big hit. I mean like...super huge.

But King James' hated it. Every edition came with notes and annotations printed in the margins that he felt were too Calvinistic. He was the King of both England and Scotland, which put him in the awkward position of trying to keep two churches happy, the Church of Scotland (solidly Calvinist) and the Church of England (hybrid of Catholic and Protestant). James' had a fine line to walk. If he endorsed any one faction more than another the truce between the parties could be breached. The Geneva Bible, though extremely popular among the people, went a step too far in a direction James dare not venture. To unify his kingdoms and the churches in 1604 he called for a new translation to be produced.

The crown brought together all the best scholars who could read the original languages of the Bible. They translated the King James' Version from editions of the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint for the Old Testament. For the New Testament they translated from the same Greek editions that Martin Luther had used for his German translation. 

And that is where the King James' Bible comes from. It was printed for the first time in 1611.

Initially the KJV didn't catch on. The Geneva Bible remained more in use, especially among the Puritans. After James died his son, Charles I, came to power and wasn't so popular as he thought he was. His policies and the demands of the Puritans ran at constant loggerheads eventually breaking out into civil war. Charles was executed in 1649 and the Commonwealth was declared. The leading general of the republican armies, Oliver Cromwell, was appointed -- not king-- but Lord Protector of a kind of theocratic republic. The Puritans ruled with an iron fist under the direction of Cromwell and his army which preferred the Geneva Bible to James'. The radical Puritans who left England in this time to cross the Atlantic and found the Plymouth colony also used the Geneva Bible. The soldiers of Cromwell's New Model Army even used pocket versions of the Bible with selections from the Geneva translation. Can you imagine living in a world where books went from being these giant tomes locked away in a monastery to being these portable dealios in your pocket? Oh wait...yeah. Smart phones.

In the 1660s with the Commonwealth a failure, and the monarchy restored, the Geneva Bible fell out of favor. As the 18th century bloomed, King James' Version of the Bible would come to reign supreme. It was the Bible of the British Empire.  It became the book of the American frontiers where there was little time for frontiersman to read, but learn to read they did because they were called to read the Bible by their religions. The family Bible became a place to record births and deaths and marriages, a record for each family in empty rural places far from any city hall.

It's the version you'll find tucked in hotel rooms across America in 2017. The kind that sits pristine on the shelves of middles class American homes, sadly untouched, unloved and unread.

I say sadly as in my estimation, the stuff written in the Bible is pure mythology. It is a no good guide history and it's morals are questionable. But I have come to this opinion by reading it and by knowing its story, which to me is pretty fascinating. Like the contents of the Bible this story too is a high epic fantasy adventure. Except there were real people with real problems who wrote all this stuff down. I think about all the scribes who lost their eyesight making handwritten copies over the course of the Roman Empire and middle ages. I think of Gutenberg and his printing press and the media revolution it sparked. I think about all the people burned at the stake and shot on the battlefield for just trying to read the Scripture of their own religion. I think about the mostly forgotten names of all the scholars that put great brain strain into getting the wording of this to them most important of religious documents just right. I think about King James himself and the fact that he could never have guessed at what would become of his translation. The stuff in the Bible isn't real, but the story of how it has come down to us involves real people. Which is why it's a real shame people who claim to believe in it don't take the time to read it. It's like all the work of these people who struggled to make the world better the best way they knew how don't mean anything to these people who can't even take 10 minutes a day to work through the Bible in a year. I know it's long, but come on man. I did it and I don't even believe in it. Well, not now that I have read it anyway.

So now that you know some stuff about some things that I wrote about you have arrived at the end. I do hope people reading this go and read the Bible in whatever translation they like best, especially non-believers like me because it's hilarious and weird and kind of evil sometimes and has a lot of cultural influence. I will close with my favorite verse. 

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." Ecclesiates 9:10

 

LOG 0008

Earlier this year I made a stop at Open Books downtown and found a book by Wislawa Szymborska for cheap. I really liked it, and before I knew it found I had read it all the way through. So that got me on this poetry kick. I read some Mary Oliver and some Hafiz. I found a couple of good anthologies of modern and contemporary poetry, too, and was working through those. And then I was in Uncharted Books in Logan Square and I saw this copy of Milton on the shelf. I was hit with this lightning bolt thought "I could really get into Milton!" It was like, yeah he's totally different from today's poetry. Today's poetry is kind of water-color-y and cryptic and Milton is like this baroque theological fantasy opera drawn by Van Dyck. I felt like it would be a breath of fresh air from the 1600s. Anyway, one of my goals for the year is to read long classics that nobody actually reads anymore and Paradise Lost fits the bill. So Milton it was and is.

Now, to get a better grasp on Milton's works I wanted to know more about the era he lived in. And that got me on this big 17th century kick which lead me to this book called Lord Minimus: The Extraordinary Life of Britain's Smallest man which is a biography of Queen Henrietta Maria's favorite dwarf, Jeffery Hudson. I'll just say: the man's life was incredible. The book is also a window on court life in King Charles' day before he got his head cut off, and it's just plain interesting. They had a lot more monkeys running around than I ever expected they would.

Incidentally, I also am binge-ing (sp?) a lot of Reformation stuff from the 16 and 17th centuries and was reminded that the Baptists, my native denomination, were founded in 1609 and had among their ranks the incredible Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island in 1636 and the first Baptist Church in North America a few years later. Williams was a firm believer in liberty of conscience and freedom of religion as well a separation of church and state and the abolition of slavery. So back in those days Baptists were relatively cool it turns out. Except for those in the South who broke away during the Civil War and became white supremacist shit-heads, which they pretty much are to this day. Thankfully, I don't have to associate with them ever again. Learning some of the early history was cool, though.

Another little eye-opener for me from those halcyon days of yore are the edicts of toleration. They weren't really so tolerant. The Peace of Augsburg, the Treaty of Westphalia--the only included a very prescribed version of freedom of religion. I guess because I've grown up in a country where it is a given that everyone is going to have a different religion and that we will respect that so long as they aren't shit-heads about it, when I see these curbed "tolerance" agreements I'm just...totally shocked. It really puts the First Amendment in a bright context and shows how important it is. Millions of people died and then some one comes along and writes that one sentence and it's like...shit, why didn't we just do that all along?

I don't want to end on such a downer, but that's what I've been up to lately. Oh! I can give you links. Here area some links.

You should be able to find these at your local library. Try
Wislawa Szymborska -- Amazing contemporary poetry. An instant favorite. http://bit.ly/2tg6O4c

Hafiz -- the great classical Persian poet. This volume has the best translations and original Persian text on the facing page. Introduction has a lot of good info, too! :) http://bit.ly/2uxfCCZ

Mary Oliver -- this is a book she wrote about meter and all that good stuff in poetry. Great refresher! I would be struggling through Milton without her explanation of blank verse. I knew this stuff but I def needed this book to jog my memory. 
http://bit.ly/2tX9KBg

Lord Minimus -- Seriously this book is amazing. I have this feeling GRRM used this guy as inspiration for Tyrion. http://bit.ly/2uxbT8m

John Milton -- I'm still trying to figure out what it is I like about this guy. I dunno. I like the Miltonic dialect, the iambs, the sort of Jack Kirby meets South Park adventure story aspect of Paradise Lost. I guess the poetry feels very direct. Maybe it is that it is just exotic enough. Written in English so I can understand it, but from another country and another century so it peaks my curiosity. http://bit.ly/2uxg6ZP 

LOG 0007

Finished a novel writing class. Pretty damn excellent.  +1 skill

Once I've gone through all the pages I've written specifically for class, I'll put up some excerpts for you.  I've also got a lot of older untyped (well, unlaptopped) material from this summer that I'll be putting up soon. 

I'd write faster, but I've learned something: it really just...doesn't fucking work that way.  

But there will be new material up soon (I hope).  :D

Happy days to one and all.  

LOG 0006

Well, I couldn't let another week go past without saying anything, so ... 

My novel writing class is awesome. By December I'll have the first 50 pages of The Republic of Heaven available for one and all to beta read / work shop / whatever other stupid buzzword there is for "read". 

I know I promised new music, but I don't want to put anything up that is of the piss poor recording quality I have at present. I know. Sorry. I'm a shit head. I shouldn't have even mentioned it in the last blog. Just got ahead of myself. Eventually I'll have decent equipment and can get some solid home recordings up. And by eventually I mean November probably. Sorry! 

Some point in time in October will be the last moment any sunshine is seen in Chicago until March 2016. That moment could be right now, so I'm going outside for a long walk around the neighborhoods. I'll be wearing the slightly crumpled aviator's that appeared in my apartment 4 years ago instead of the slick raybans I found on a newspaper stand earlier this summer. I don't know why free sunglasses keep coming my way, though I do recall having an imaginary conversation with Ganesha in my head about my need for a new pair when I looked over and saw the perfect set just sitting on the wooden shelf which would have held papers 30 years ago but now were useless oddities in a hot, empty parking lot. I decided then not to look a gift elephant in the mouth, nor question the arrival of the sunglasses either old or new. I'm just going to put on free sunglasses and walk around because this might be the last time this year that I get to do that. I feel bad that I haven't tried harder to find the owners of these sunglasses--especially the raybans, because I know they're expensive--but the odds of ever seeing them through through the dark hardened plastic are thin. It grows late, I must away before I loose that sun again.