Saturday Feb. 25, 2017

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Funny Books

Because my parents had denied
me comic books as sordid and
salacious, I would sneak a look
at those of friends, the bold and bright
slick covers, pages rough as news
and inked in pinks and greens and blues
as cowboys shouted in balloons
and Indian yells were printed on
the clouds. I borrowed books and hid
them in the crib and under shoes
and under bed. The glories of
those hyperbolic zaps and screams
were my illuminated texts,
the chapbook prophets of forbidden
and secret art, the narratives
of quest and conquest in the West,
of Superman and Lash Larue.
The print and pictures cruder than
the catalog were sweeter than
the cake at Bible School. I crouched
in almost dark and swilled the words
that soared in their balloons and bulbs
of grainy breath into my pulse,
into the stratosphere of my
imagination, reaching Mach
and orbit speed, escape velocity
just at the edge of Sputnik’s age,
in stained glass windows of the page.

“Funny Books” by Robert Morgan from The Strange Attractor: New and Selected Poems. © Louisiana State University Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of tenor Enrico Caruso, born in Naples, Italy (1873). He sang at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for 18 years, and was the first major tenor to be recorded on gramophone records.

It’s the birthday of novelist Anthony Burgess (books by this author), born in Manchester, England (1917). The author of more than 50 books and dozens of musical compositions, he’s best known for writing A Clockwork Orange (1962).

It’s the birthday of publisher John C. Farrar, born in Burlington, Vermont (1896). He got into publishing in 1927 as an editor at Doubleday. Later he founded the firm of Farrar and Rinehart, which later became Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. He also founded the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference at Middlebury College in Vermont.

It’s the birthday of comic playwright Carlo Goldoni (books by this author), born in Venice (1707). He’s one of the greatest playwrights in the history of Italian theater, the author of The Liar, The Coffee House, The Beneficent Bear, and many others. In the 18th century, most Italian plays were farcical comedies in which the actors wore masks and fancy costumes, and improvised jokes on stage. Goldoni was one of the first playwrights to write more realistic comedies, with believable characters and natural dialogue.

Today is the birthday of painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841), born in Limoges, France, and one of the leading figures of the artistic movement known as Impressionism. The convention of the time was to paint only inside a studio, even if you were painting landscapes. But Renoir and his contemporaries moved outside, to take advantage of the natural light, and painted “en plein air,” or “in the open air.” About painting en plein air, Renoir sighed: “Out-of-doors there is a greater variety of light than in the studio, where the light is always the same. But that is just the trouble; one is carried away by the light, and besides, one can’t see what one is doing.”

Two of Renoir’s most famous paintings are Bal du Moulin de la Galette (1876), in which a crowd of people enjoy the festive dance garden in Butte Montmarte in Paris, and Girl With a Watering Can (1876), in which a tiny girl in a pretty blue dress holds her watering can. Renoir once said, “Art is about emotion; if art needs to be explained it is no longer art.”

One of Renoir’s most famous paintings, which many consider his masterpiece, is Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880–1881), in which a group of spectacularly beautiful people lounge around with drinks and food. The woman at the left, holding a dog, would later become Renoir’s wife. (The dog was an Affenpinscher.) One critic called the painting “fresh and free without being too bawdy.” Most of the people in the painting are Renoir’s friends. He liked to populate his work with people he knew.

Later, he developed rheumatoid arthritis and suffered progressive deformities in his hands and shoulders and had to figure out a new way to paint. Sometimes he had an assistant bandage a brush to his hand. Sometimes he preferred sculpture. At the end of his life, he could no longer work, but still asked to be wheeled into his studio, where he would slowly wash his brushes and arrange his paints.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®