Thursday, March 05, 2020

Our Short Winter Seems to Have Ended

Like winter elsewhere in the world, winter where I live seems to have ended as well. I am adding a couple of sunset pictures from the last day of February when the temperature reached 63 degrees Fahrenheit (or 17 degrees Celsius).

It might be a few more weeks before the magnolia blossoms start opening. I noticed earlier today that some of the grass in the park across the street from where I live has started to turn green.

I was lucky to get the picture of the geese in the last picture here. I had turned away and was starting to walk back toward the car when I heard the geese and quickly turned around to get that shot.

My wife and I sometimes fantasize about having a house with an unobstructed view of the west, making it possible to capture the sunset every day.  Our view of the sunset currently is obstructed by hills. On Sunday, we drove about ten or fifteen miles south to a secluded spot to get these pictures.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A Writing Challenge

My wife challenged me to write two poems during the break that we had from our classes. Every year, there is a two or three week break between the end of the fall semester and the start of the spring semester. This time the break was longer than normal—five weeks or so. The last week was devoted to preparing for the spring semester; the remainder was spent celebrating the holidays and writing both for this blog and for myself. I thought for a little while that I had retired because of how much free time that I had.

Before classes ended in December, I had played with the idea of repainting part of the house. It’s what my father would have done with his time if he were in my situation. This house of mine certainly could use some fresh paint on the inside. My asthma has always been a deterrent. Any painting on the inside probably should be done in warmer weather when it is possible to open the windows.

On New Year’s Eve, we stopped at a local liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine, one with a low percentage of alcohol, say, 8% or 9%. While there, we ran into a friend who says she works at this particular store on weekends and during the holidays. I thought to myself that I should have tried getting a similar kind of part-time job during this break from school. Devoting that amount of time to a part-time job may have helped me focus more of my energy.

Writing poetry on a regular basis has always been a problem for me. I sometimes think that earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing would have helped me in developing a regular writing habit. Learning that skill would have been more helpful than taking more literature classes while earning yet another advanced degree.

Not writing regularly has limited my production when I should have been recording many more of the things that have occurred in my life. I need to train myself, still, to devote a few minutes every day to writing.

During this break from classes, I initially took an early draft of a poem that I had written years ago and developed it into a much stronger poem. For the other poem, I wrote something new. It was a poem that I had been thinking about but had not yet found the words for what I wanted to say. This new poem is less polished than the other one and may undergo many more changes. In any case, I fulfilled what my wife had challenged me to do. Some of my time also went to reworking two other poems, and I started another new poem while I was working on my classes.

I am not prepared to share these poems at this point, however. It is a good feeling to write more regularly. I suppose I need to be challenged more often.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Jazz Selections for 2019

My selections for those jazz albums that were released in 2019 and deserve attention appear below.

Matthew Halsall, Oneness. This new album contains tracks recorded in 2008, a year before Matthew Halsall released Colour Yes. The same meditative quality found on "Together" and "I’ve Been Here Before," two tracks that appear on Colour Yes, is present in this previously unreleased material. A similarity can also be found in "Samatha," a track appearing on the album On the Go, which was released in 2011. The track "Oneness" seems to characterize the album because it opens on a quiet note, with Matthew Halsall’s trumpet most prominent at first before he is accompanied by Rachel Gladwin on harp and Gavin Barras on bass. Once Gaz Hughes’ drums appear at 4:07, and Nat Birchall’s saxophone appears at 4:15, the track adopts a much more upbeat tone up until 6:57 when the piano becomes the dominant voice, with the trumpet returning at 10:14 to bring the track to completion. Both "Life," the first track, and "Stan’s Harp," the third track, exemplify this quieter tone. One thing I like about "Life" is Rachel Gladwin’s harp solo starting at 7:27. Gavin Barras’ bass becomes more prominent, beginning with "Loving Kindness," the fourth track. I especially like Birchall’s saxophone and Stan Ambrose’s harp on "Loving Kindness" and "Distant Land," the fifth track. The rhythm section composed of Gavin Barras and Chris Davies on tabla are particularly noteworthy on "Stories from India," the sixth track. Also of note about "Stories from India" is the interplay between Halsall’s trumpet and Mohamed Assani’s sitar. Assani’s solo at 5:50 serves as the copestone to that track. This album strikes me as one of the best of the year. Sometimes when I’m listening to this music while driving, I have to remind myself to pay attention to my driving because I become so enamored with the music.

Bagland, Cirkel. Cirkel contains many of the same musicians who appeared on Jakob Sorensen’s Bagland, which was released in 2015, that is, Alex Jonsson on guitar, Mathias Jaeger on piano/synthesizer, Frederik Sakham on double bass, Frej Lesner on drums, and Jakob Sorensen on trumpet. Sorensen’s Nomad album hinted at good things to come and was featured in my list of the best releases for 2016. Sorensen in his description of Cirkel says that it “features a new pallet of sounds including distorted drums, synthesizer and spacey guitar and trumpet effects leading to curious interplay and a more modern sound.”  The “trumpet effects” are most noticeable in the tracks "Cirkel," "Ageposten," and "Bryllup" while the “spacey guitar…effects” are most noticeable in the tracks "Open end Pt. 1," "Steps," "Cirkel," and "Ageposten." Sorensen in his description of the album adds that “the melodies are lyrical, and the music contains both hope and happiness, longing and melancholia.” The entire album, in fact, is influenced by the Skagen painters, who were active in the town of Skagen, at the northernmost tip of Jutland (Denmark), during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like the previous albums Bagland and Nomad, there remains a group dynamic and more of an emphasis on the melody than on any one instrument. For someone approaching this album for the first time, I recommend the tracks "Cirkel" and "Drapeau Blanc."  For me, the entire album captures my attention.

Soren Bebe Trio. Echoes. Soren Bebe released Echoes, his most recent trio album, in 2019. It had been three years since he released Home. Like the previous album by Soren Bebe’s trio, Echoes asks to be enjoyed at those quieter times of day so as to fully appreciate the nuances found in the music. The album Echoes differs slightly because it reveals Soren Bebe giving more space to his trio and emphasizing his sense of place. That sense of place is revealed in his interpretations of two traditional Danish songs--"Kærlighedstræet" and "Jeg er træt og går til ro." Kasper Tagel’s bass is noticeable on many of the tracks, such as "Echoes," "Waltz for Steve," "Alone," "New Beginning," and "Sospiri, Op.70."  Anders Mogensen’s drumming presents a sense of closure to "Homeward" and becomes more evident in "New Beginning," which foreshadows what might be forthcoming in subsequent albums. Rightly so, Soren Bebe says that he is “super proud of this album.” Echoes is Soren Bebe’s best album to date and gets my recommendation as an album of the year.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Reading in 2019

During 2018, I added twenty-three books to my account at LibraryThing, two of which I already owned but had neglected to add to my account. These books bring the total number of books in my personal library to 993. That figure, however, isn’t an accurate representation of the total number of books in my library because I have given about fifteen of them away to friends and relatives or to the local library.

I read twenty-one books in 2019. I am currently reading book number twenty-two, but I don’t anticipate finishing that book before the year ends. I had started a couple of other books during the year but ended up putting them aside temporarily and plan on returning to them at some point in the future. As I have said in previous posts, I don’t include books of poetry in my overall total because I don’t consider a book of poems ever totally read. I usually return several times to each book of poems that I buy. During the year 2019, I purchased five poetry collections, three by Joseph Millar and two by Thomas Reynolds, a local poet.

The year 2019 started with me reading fiction, beginning with Ivan Doig’s Mountain Time, Bucking the Sun, and English Creek. The characters in these novels led me to reread Doig’s The Bartender’s Tale and Ride with Me, Mariah Montana, not having read the novels in sequence. Through my reading of both Elliot West and Mary Clearman Blew in previous years, I discovered those novels set in the American West that I had neglected, and this realization led to my reading Dorothy Johnson’s Buffalo Woman, more of Mildred Walker, particularly her The Curlew’s Cry, and more of A.B. Guthrie, Jr., particularly his Arfive, The Last Valley, and Fair Land, Fair Land, which has a particularly tragic conclusion.

For those interested in discovering Ivan Doig’s fiction, I recommend English Creek, which is narrated by a fifteen-year-old male during the summer prior to the start of World War II. The same narrator, although much older, appears in Ride With Me, Mariah Montana

My teaching led to my reading Leonardo Trasande’s Sicker, Fatter, Poorer, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie’s Slow Death by Rubber Duck, Elizabeth Cline’s Overdressed: The Shockingly High Price of Cheap Fashion, and Kate Grenville’s The Case Against Fragrance. My students this semester had the option to pick their own topics for the position essay. It was difficult for many of the students to choose an arguable topic with which they have personal experience. Although some of them chose topics like the benefits of attending a community college, the merits of online classes, or the disadvantages of working while in high school, all of which they were able to support with their own experience, some of the other students struggled with the assignment and instead of delving into their experience, they chose topics that have been receiving attention in the news, such as medical marijuana. As a result, I have decided during the next semester to resurrect a fact-finding assignment in which the students will have to choose from a list of research topics. I plan on creating research questions about fast fashion and fragrances, for example. 

One book I discovered quite by chance is Bryant Simon’s The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives. I was browsing through a secondhand bookstore and saw this book on display. While describing the fire at a chicken processing plant in North Carolina in 1991, in which 25 employees were killed and 55 injured, the book also addresses low wages, disappearing low-skilled jobs, and processed food. The description of how the chicken was processed would definitely make one never eat chicken nuggets again and possibly give up eating chicken entirely. Simon’s mentioning of the books Kitchen Literacy and Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture resulted in my ordering a used copy of each book, and I have added these books to the other sixty or so awaiting my attention. 

A few years ago, my wife and I followed part of the Oregon Trail as we drove through Nebraska and Wyoming. That experience was the impetus for my reading Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail, which describes an attempt to duplicate what the pioneers had experienced. The author bought a wagon and mules, and, with the assistance of his brother, he followed the original trail, beginning in St. Joseph, Missouri. The book recounts what the original travelers experienced and describes the mishaps and the people encountered during Buck’s trip. Much of the historical material comes from John Unruh’s The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-1860. I have that book but haven’t yet read it. In addition to The Oregon Trail, I read Mary Barmeyer O’Brien’s Heart of the Trail, which is subtitled as The Stories of Eight Wagon Train Women. Some stories are better than others, with the weaker ones supported by questionable sources, such as an encyclopedia and Time-Life Books.

Most recently, I read Mari Sandoz’ The Buffalo Hunters: The Story of the Hide Men. The Buffalo Hunters describes the mass slaughter of one species over a period of sixteen years. It was tough reading that book at first because of the gore and the rampant shooting of so many animals. It’s unfortunate that we had an economic system that thrived on the extermination of the buffalo, with some hunters making thousands of dollars at one time from selling the hides while the railroads profited from the numbers of hides, tongues, and bones that were shipped to the east. Even though some historians consider The Buffalo Hunters as a definitive source for its description of the elimination of the buffalo, I wish that Sandoz had documented the information appearing in her book. I often found myself wishing for footnotes as I was reading the book.

I mentioned last year wanting to read Maxine Gordon’s Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon. That book remains on my list, and I hope to get to it soon. I plan on returning to Ivan Doig’s Dancing at the Rascal Fair in the new year; it’s a book I started but had discovered that it precedes English Creek, and I wasn’t ready at the time to interact with characters that I had not yet encountered in Doig’s other books. Otherwise, I plan on reading some of the titles on my bookshelves that have not yet been read and rereading other ones. I have enough books to declare a freeze on buying any other books, but I am not sure that I can make that commitment. Ideally, it should take me another couple of years before I can say that I have added 1,000 books to my account at LibraryThing. It is getting difficult to find any extra space in my home office.