A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, April 5, 2010

Poem of the Day: Jean Toomer

Georgia Dusk 

The sky, lazily disdaining to pursue
     The setting sun, too indolent to hold
     A lengthened tournament for flashing gold,
Passively darkens for night's barbecue,

A feast of moon and men and barking hounds,
     An orgy for some genius of the South
     With blood-hot eyes and cane-lipped scented mouth,
Surprised in making folk-songs from soul sounds.

The sawmill blows its whistle, buzz-saws stop,
     And silence breaks the bud of knoll and hill,
     Soft settling pollen where plowed lands fulfill
Their early promise of a bumper crop.

Smoke from the pyramidal sawdust pile
     Curls up, blue ghosts of trees, tarrying low
     Where only chips and stumps are left to show
The solid proof of former domicile.

Meanwhile, the men, with vestiges of pomp,
     Race memories of king and caravan,
     High priests, an ostrich, and a juju-man,
Go singing through the footpaths of the swamp.

Their voices rise ... the pine trees are guitars,
     Strumming, pine-needles fall like sheets of rain ...
     Their voices rise ... the chorus of the cane
Is caroling a vesper to the stars.

O singers, resinous and soft your songs
     Give virgin lips to cornfield concubines,
     Above the sacred whisper of the pines,
Bring dreams of Christ to dusky cane-lipped throngs.
--Jean Toomer

A great, strange talent, Toomer almost got lost in the infamous "tragic mulatto" myth, becoming a kind of one-book-wonder after the success of Cane. (He lived for 44 years after its publication, never producing another book to be compared with it.) But what gives a poem like this one its unique power is its sense of double consciousness: looking at a scene that's almost a Southern stereotype from both inside and outside, and reporting it in a voice that (as Toomer was himself able to do) merges black participant with white observer.