The Insect World

What is the point. That is what must be borne in mind. Sometimes the point is really who wants what. Sometimes the point is what is right or kind. Sometimes the point is a momentum, a fact, a quality, a voice, an intimation, a thing said or unsaid. Sometimes it’s who’s at fault, or what will happen if you do not move at once. The point changes and goes out. You cannot be forever watching for the point, or you lose the simplest thing: being a major character in your own life. But if you are, for any length of time, custodian of the point — in art, in court, in politics, in lives, in rooms — it turns out there are rear-guard actions everywhere. To see a thing clearly, and when your vision of it dims, or when it goes to someone else, if you have a gentle nature, keep your silence, that is lovely. Otherwise, now and then, a small foray is worthwhile. Just so that being always, complacently, thoroughly wrong does not become the safest position of all. The point has never quite been entrusted to me.

Speedboat (1976), by Renata Adler

I’m not good. I don’t know why people have to pretend to be good, nobody’s good.
-Tennessee Williams   (via larmoyante)

When I was starting out as a full time musician I was walking down the street one bright afternoon in the seedier part of my Midwestern college town. I passed a dive bar and from it emerged a portly balding pallid middle aged musician in a white tux with a drink in one hand and a guitar in the other. He was blinking in the daylight. I had a strong intuition that this was a fate to be avoided.

Iggy Pop

Mother, Among the Dustbins

Mother, among the dustbins and the manure
I feel the measure of my humanity, an allure
As of the presence of God, I am sure

In the dustbins, in the manure, in the cat at play,
Is the presence of God, in a sure way
He moves there. Mother, what do you say?

I too have felt the presence of God in the broom
I hold, in the cobwebs in the room,
But most of all in the silence of the tomb.

Ah! but that thought that informs the hope of our kind
Is but an empty thing, what lies behind? —
Naught but the vanity of a protesting mind

That would not die. This is the thought that bounces
Within a conceited head and trounces
Inquiry. Man is most frivolous when he pronounces.

Well Mother, I shall continue to think as I do,
And I think you would be wise to do so too,
Can you question the folly of man in the creation of God?
Who are you?

— Stevie Smith

I am the self-appointed guardian of English literature,
I believe tremendously in the significance of age;
I believe that a writer is wise at 50,
Ten years wiser at 60, at 70 a sage.
I believe that juniors are lively, to be encouraged with
    discretion and snubbed,
I believe also that they are bouncing, communistic, ill
    mannered and, of course, young.
But I never define what I mean by youth
Because the word undefined is more useful for general
    purposes of abuse.
I believe that literature is a school where only those who apply
    themselves diligently to their tasks acquire merit.
And only they after the passage of a good many years (see
But then I am an old fogey.
I always write more in sorrow than in anger.
I am, after all, devoted to Shakespeare, Milton,
And, coming to our own times,
Of course
I have never been known to say a word against the
    established classics,
I am in fact devoted to the established classics.
In the service of literature I believe absolutely in the principle
    of division;
I divide into age groups and also into schools.
This is in keeping with my scholastic mind, and enables me to
Not only youth
(Which might be thought intellectually frivolous by pedants)
    but also periodical tendencies,
To ventilate, in a word, my own political and moral
(When I say that I am an old fogey, I am, of course, joking.)
English Literature, as I see it, requires to be defended
By a person of integrity and essential good humour
Against the forces of fanaticism, idiosyncrasy and anarchy.
I perfectly apprehend the perilous nature of my convictions
And I am prepared to go to the stake
For Shakespeare, Milton,
And, coming to our own times,
Of course
I cannot say more than that, can I?
And I do not deem it advisable, in the interests of the editor
    to whom I am spatially contracted,
To say less.

— Stevie Smith


Strange Tales #5 (1952) written by Hank Chapman, art by Joe Maneely


Strange Tales #5 (1952) written by Hank Chapman, art by Joe Maneely

Last night at dinner, a man said that, on principle, he never answers his telephone. Somebody asked him how he reached people. “I call them,” he said. “But suppose they don’t believe in answering either?” I thought of phones ringing all over New York, no one answering. Like people bringing themselves off in every single adjoining co-op of a luxury building. Or the streets entirely cleared of traffic, except ambulances.

Speedboat (1976), by Renata Adler

The Deathly Child

The deathly child is very gay,
He walks in the sunshine but no shadow falls his way,
He has come to warn us that one must go who would rather stay.

Oh deathly child
With a heart of woe
And a smile on your face,
Who is it that must go?

He walks down the avenue, the trees
Have leaves that are silver when they are turned upon the breeze.
He is more pale than the silver leaves more pale than these.

He walks delicately,
He has a delicate tread.
Why look, he leaves no mark at all
Where the dust is spread.

Over the cafe tables the talk is going to and fro,
And the people smile and they frown, but they do not know
That the deathly child walks. Ah who is it that must go?

— Stevie Smith

I am not technically a Catholic. That is, I have not informed or asked the Church. I do not, certainly, believe in evolution. For example, fossils. I believe there are objects in nature — namely, fossils — which occur in layers, and which some half-rational fantasts insist derive from animals, the bottom ones more ancient than the top. The same, I think, with word derivations — arguments straining back to Sanskrit or Indo-European. I have never seen a word derive. It seems to me that there are given things, all strewn and simultaneous. Even footprints, except in detective stories, now leave me in some doubt that anyone passed by.

Speedboat (1976), by Renata Adler

Seine River Blues

Dreamed you were with me
Doing what you used to do.
Yes I dreamed you were with me
Doing what you used to do.
Woke up in the morning
With my pillow tore in two.

Looking in the looking-glass
To see who I could see.
Looking-glass man he holler,
Who that looking in at me?

Counting up my money,
Just the lightweight kind of francs.
A fairy said, I’ll keep you
But I said no thanks.

Watching people from Decatur
In their silks and furs
Riding solid gold Rolls Royces
Saying HIS and HERS.

High up in my cherry tree
There’s a blackbird sits
Eating messes off my cherries
Spitting down the pits.

Going over to the Right Bank,
Tell American Express
Send my letters to the river,
That’s my permanent address.

Write me a letter baby
Where that black water slides.
Write me a letter baby.
Make your little bed inside.

— X.J. Kennedy