Sunday, October 13, 2013

Don Quixote de la Mancha

In my ongoing quest to add all of epic literature to my reading life, I have become a knight errant riding beside Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, listening to a fine reading by Roy McMillan on my car CD player.

As the rest of you no doubt know, Don Quixote is the episodic mock epic of a medieval romance of knight errantry, in which a "modern" - that is, seventeenth century - Spaniard, enamoured of the old books of knight errantry, enlists his laborer neighbor Sancho Panza as his squire, and goes off in search of knightly adventure.

To my surprise, the adventure of the windmills, the best known and most referred to episode in the entire, very long book, happens right away - leading me to wonder how many of the people who quote it so knowledgeably have, one, ever read beyond it, or two, ever read it at all.

Don Quixote may be a madman, but, as many of the characters he meets acknowledge, he talks a great deal of sense.  Indeed, this charming book must be read as a kind of rebuke and lecture to the current - that is, seventeenth century - age.  Don Quixote is the most courteous, generous, and virtuous madman alive.  The 21st century has deteriorated so far beyond the worst behavior of the characters in this book that it is not even possible to apply Don Quixote's standards to our present set of morals and manners.

My amazement was unbounded when, in the midst of the First Part (Chapters XXXIII - XXXV), when a number of characters are gathered together at a travelers' inn, the Curate engages his listeners in reading to them a complete novel within the novel the present reader signed on for!  I have never run across this particular literary device before. Have you?

Fortunately, the embedded novel is a lively tale of love and betrayal featuring the friendship of Anselmo and Lothario and what happens to it when Anselmo insists on testing the constancy of his wife, Calista.  (Flockhart alert!)  I immediately thought of the bridge in the song by Rodgers and Hart, and most famously sung by Barbra Streisand, "Where's That Rainbow?" (See My Name is Barbra, Two.)

In each scenario
you can depend on the end
where the lovers agree.
Where's that Lothario?
Where does he roam, with his dome
vaselined as can be?

Did the character of the libertine Lothario originate in Cervantes' tale, embedded in Don Quixote?  Did enough people read this far into the adventures of our knight that they got to this riveting story?  The question remains open.  When I googled Lothario, most sources referenced the 17th century tragedy, The Fatal Dowry by Philip Massinger and Nathan Field, adapted for the stage, under the title The Fair Penitent, by Nicholas Rowe in 1703, as the origin of the character.  However, the Wikipedia entry, while citing the play as the origin of the use of the name Lothario to mean a man who seduces women, accurately (in my view) acknowledges Cervantes' Lothario as the original of the type, even though Cervantes' Lothario takes reluctantly to the role. 

The novel of Anselm and Lothario signals the layering that Cervantes makes the most of in his own telling of the history of Don Quixote.  He, Cervantes, the narrator, is relying on - and in some cases, reading from and commenting upon - an incomplete translation and commentary of an original manuscript that commented on the history it was telling, some of which has been lost.  In reading a summary of Part Three of the novel, which I have not yet listened to, I understand that yet further complications - post-modernist, anyone? - call into question the whole trustworthiness of narration. 

For instance, after all the adventures of the First Part, it is revealed in the Second Part that the First Part of the history of Don Quixote has already been published!  This means that Don Quixote's fame has spread far and wide and that many of the people he subsequently meets have encountered the stories about him and are curious and impressed by his chivalry.  

So it seems that, in regard to strategies of narration, Don Quixote has serious relevance to the 21st century and - if we would listen - to questions of morality, sanity, spirituality and sense as well.  All in a most entertaining and provocative package.  Roy McMillan expertly supplies a different voice for each of many characters, and if he doesn't always and in every particular get his voices right, in such a crazy world, it is only to be expected.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Starkey Flythe Jr.

Photo credit: Matthew Buzzell

The literary community lost a major, award-winning, but (nevertheless) under-recognized fiction writer and poet on Friday, September 13, after an illness of several months.  Starkey Flythe, Jr., a native of Augusta, Georgia, was 78 at the time of his death.  His literary voice was completely original, wry, amused, aghast, and slightly melancholy.  His syntax was unique: he produced, in his poems, long run-on meditations, digressions, asides, associations; but readers never lost their way.  It was like jazz improvisation the way the central thread of melody somehow managed to be heard throughout.

Starkey published two collections of short stories: Lent: The Slow Fast, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award, and Driving With Hand Controls, which won the Serena McDonald Kennedy Award from Snake-Nation-Press.  His poems were published in three volumes: Paying the Anesthesiologist, They Say Dancing, and The Futile Lesson of Glue.  He said of his poems that they were "essentially about how things can't be put back together."  He had a gloomy, but endearing view of life that became his signature style, beloved in his work, and in his person, by a myriad of friends and fans.  Most recently, his poem "Greeks" was published in the August 8, 2011 edition of The New Yorker, and his characteristically titled poem, "Kathleen, locked in the bathroom" - possibly his last published poem - won the Constance E. Pultz Prize from the Poetry Society of South Carolina in 2012.

Starkey had a distinguished editorial career with the Curtis Publishing Company, managing Holiday and re-founding The Saturday Evening Post.  After he returned to Augusta in the early 1980s, he became a respected and important cultural leader in both Georgia and South Carolina. But his first commitment was always to his writing.  He wrote every day.  It was all he really wanted to do.

I wish I could tell you - I wish I could imagine - what the world will be like without him.

Monday, August 26, 2013


I'm on Facebook, as of yesterday.  Neither social nor professional site is completely filled out, nor do I know what I'm doing.  Nevertheless, beFriend me on Facebook and Like me at Laurel Blossom Ink!  Join the conversation!  I look forward to hearing form you.  Thanks!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

New poems online

Visit to see the Spring 2013 issue, with two poems by me, along with other fine work.

Town Creek Poetry was founded and continues to be edited by William Wright, author of five poetry collections, most recently Night Field Anecdote (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011) Bledsoe (Texas Review Press, 2011), and Dark Orchard (Texas Review Press, 2005).  He is also the series editor for The Southern Poetry Anthology, which has so far published volumes on the poets of South Carolina (in which poems of mine appear), Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Appalachia.

On June 29, the Poetry Society of South Carolina is sponsoring, along with the Authors Club of Augusta, an appearance by William Wright at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia, to talk about Contemporary Southern Poetry.  The event will take place from 2-4 PM, in the auditorium, with a reception and book-signing to follow.  Please join us!

Friday, March 29, 2013

It's Greek to Me!

I've become an audio book addict!  Because we live 45 minutes away from Major Shopping, whether in Aiken, South Carolina, or in Augusta, Georgia, I have ample opportunity to listen to books as I drive to and fro.

Recently, a friend of mine who is working on a book about Milton and his daughter introduced me to the Naxos edition of Paradise Lost, read by Anton Lesser.

I was hooked!  I've listened to many audio books, but this was different.  Paradise Lost is a wonderful poem to read silently, or out loud to yourself, but to have it read to you by a reader as skilled as Anton Lesser is beyond wonderful!

One thing leads to another.  Why not try another big book?  I had read parts of Joyce's Ulysses in college, notably Molly Bloom's soliloquy, but I knew I would never read the whole thing.  Until now.

Now, having renewed the CDs the maximum four times from the library, and having had to carry my home CD player around with me as I cooked and cleaned, listening as I worked, in order to finish the 22nd and last CD before it was due on the final day, I can tell you this.  The most interesting parts of Ulysses are the parts by and about the women!  The Nausicaa chapter, in which Bloom stands overlooking the beach where Gerty, sitting on a rock and fantasizing, watching him watch her, then switching to his point of view as she walks away, and he (and the reader) realizes she is lame -- so sad and lovely.  The brothel scene.  Molly's justly famous soliloquy.

The rest of it, with its endless posturing and bravado among the men, is so much (no doubt accurate, no doubt funny, no doubt Irish!) blather.

So now I'm into Homer.  Listening to The Odyssey, in the Robert Fagles translation, read by Ian McKellam. I am not so enamoured with McKellam's voice, which seems affected to me.  But it's interesting to read about the original "white-armed" Nausicaa, for instance.   T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia)  translated The Odyssey while on duty (as T.E. Shaw) with the R.A.F. in, I believe, India.  It is a prose translation, published in 1932, much admired in its day, and close, as I read it, to the Fagles translation of today.  (The most admired verse translation, I believe, is the one by Robert Fitzgerald).   Lawrence grew sick of Odysseus in the end, his childish craftiness and self-importance, but The Odyssey was a book of major importance to him throughout his life, fueling his own heroic image.   It may be that Odysseus's audacious entry by foot into Troy, escaping again without having been recognized, spurred Lawrence on to attempt the same trick, to disastrous effect, in Deraa.  I"m keeping the Lawrence translation nearby as I progress.

More to follow.  I plan to tackle The Iliad next, and then Dante.  I'm excited!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Last week Louis and I went to Aiken, South Carolina for a book-signing by the author of The Great American House, a beautiful coffee-table book illustrating the allure of traditional residential architecture in the United States.

The author, Gil Schafer, grew up in Cleveland, as I did, and often visited his maternal grandmother's Southern home in Thomasville, Georgia.

Louis and I visited Thomasville several years ago on our way to the Panhandle on vacation.  A distant cousin of mine had suggested that we tour her family's home there, a place called Pebble Hill.  It turns out that Gil's great-grandfather, Howard Hanna, brother of famed Cleveland businessman and politician, Mark Hanna, had established his Southern residence in Thomasville, property that was split into two parcels when he died: one became Pebble Hill and the other Melrose, the home of Gil's grandmother.  So he and my friend Sandy are cousins.

It further turned out that Gil's paternal grandfather's brother had a place in Florida.  He was signing my book as he told me this.  I asked him where in Florida.  He said Palm Beach.  Intrigued, because my maternal great grandfather, C.W. Bingham, had established a Southern residence in Palm Beach in 1896, I asked Gil where in Palm Beach.   He said South Ocean Blvd.  He said it was odd because he'd visited the house once when he was a young architect, and taken many pictures that came in handy later when the house was sold and he was working for the architectural firm that did the renovations for the new owner.  As far as I knew, there were only three pieces of residential property along South Ocean Blvd. in Palm Beach, all of them part of the original property belonging to my great grandfather, who split the property three ways for his three surviving children when he died:  northernmost Harry Payne Bingham, middle Elizabeth Bingham Blossom, and southernmost Frances Payne Bolton.

My grandmother and grandfather inherited the original house, known as Figulus.  So I asked Gil what was the street address of his family's property, which he said he couldn't necessarily remember accurately, but when he said the number, I knew it was the property of Frances and Chester Bolton, known as Casa Apava, built in the 1920s..  Yes, Gil offered, his grandfather was Chester Bolton's brother.  So he and I are, at least, cousins by marriage.  What a surprise, what a coincidence, what a charming connection.

If you are interested in architecture, or in social history, you will enjoy Gil's book.  Another book you might want to look at is a history of Palm Beach by Augustus Mayhew called Lost in Wonderland: Reflections on Palm Beach.


Tuesday, January 01, 2013


Happy New Year to all!

This has been an exciting day for me!  Silly but true.  My favorite d.j., Jonathan Schwartz, who broadcasts from New York on WNYC (weekends) and on SiriusXm Radio (daily), was relegated by SiriusXm during the holidays to the internet only because his satellite radio channel, The 40s on 4, was devoted to holiday music.  He was returned to the radio yesterday, and today he asked his listeners to write in and tell him we were out there.  So I did that.  Moments later, I heard him say that he had heard from a number of people, one of whom was a woman named Laurel (pause) Blossom!  He said how nice a name it is.  I was thrilled.  Half an hour later, after playing a song sung by Blossom Dearie, he mentioned that Blossom Dearie is her real name, and said it reminded him that he had received an email earlier from a woman named Laurel (pause) Blossom.  Twice!  Did anybody out there hear it whom I know, or who has ever heard of me otherwise?  I wish I could know.

Once, when we were in Moscow on the 4th of July during the Reagan administration, I and others of our Writers Guild group were interviewed on CNN by Christiane Amanpour.  She asked the question, "What does it feel like to be in the Evil Empire on the 4th of July?"  I wish I could remember my answer, but it must have been of some interest, because I showed up on international television!  Friends in New York saw it!  I felt famous.

As I do today.

Think of all the people who saw that interview.  Think of all the people today who heard my name!

Some of them probably laughed out loud.  Some of them didn't believe the name was real.  Some of them thought I was either a geisha girl or a poet.  I've had all these reactions to my name in the past, upon being introduced to people.

Maybe some of them thought, I know her!  Or, I've read her poems!

The wonderful poet's poet Donald Justice was once in a New York taxi and happened for some reason to mention his name to the driver.   The driver answered, the Donald Justice?   It made Don's day!  Of course, it did.  Poets don't get that kind of recognition very often.

I wish you all, every one, acknowledgment of your indispensable existence on the planet on this first day of the year 2013 and recognition for your accomplishments, aspirations, and admirable character.  May the months ahead bring you health, happiness, peace, productivity, and honest dealings.  Glad tidings!