Monday, June 26, 2006

My New Romance Blog!

Hey, everyone--if you want to hear more of my thoughts on romance fiction, you can follow them at the new collaborative blog Teach Me Tonight.

More soon, including an update on the long-awaited Ronald Johnson: Life and Works collection. Right now, I'm off to put the kids to bed and prep my summer class. Don't cry for me, though, Argentina: prep work consists of re-reading Hunting Midnight, an erotic paranormal romance by Emma Holly. If I finish in time, I'll take a look at the new book in the series, Courting Midnight, too. But to hear what I think of them, you'll have to go to the new blog on the block. Spread the word!

It's the hard knock life. --E

Sunday, June 25, 2006


I wanted to buy myself a new instrument of some sort on Father's Day this year, as I did last year, but the budget, alas, was too tight. Instead, I picked up some new strings for my oud, and spent the afternoon restringing it. Astonishing results, worth mentioning here!

As one or two of you may remember, I ordered my oud directly from a Turkish luthier, Haluk Eraydin. Mine is the one on the right, up above. A beautiful instrument, which arrived in perfect condition in its crate last fall, but it had never sounded quite as loud or as compelling as I had imagined. I had heard from other members of Mike's Oud Forum that I should put a new set of strings on the oud, and Aquila strings seemed to be the top recommendation. (Indeed, Haluk's best quality ouds come with these as standard equipment, but not his learner model.) But I hemmed and hawed over the decision, unsure whether I should order strings for Turkish or Arabic tuning, and the months went by.

(You see, I fell in love with the oud in Arabic music, but could afford a better-quality Turkish oud, and had read on a number of websites that learner-model Turkish ouds were generally better made than comparably priced Arabic instruments. The Turkish / Armenian tuning is a full tone higher than the Arabic, however: EABead, as a rule, rather than CGAfgc, although there are other competing tunings out there for both, and Bashir-style ouds that are tuned even higher. But I digress.)

A few months ago, the decision was made for me by a new book: an Oud Method by Armenian
oudist John Bilezikjian, which I picked up on It gave me the chance to, well, learn to play the instrument, rather than simply noodle around, as I'd been doing since I bought it. And as you might expect, Bilezikjian writes it for an oud tuned to Armenian tuning.

The long and the short of it is this: I ordered some Aquila strings, put them on--a slightly more complicated process than restringing a guitar, but not much more--and have been stunned and delighted. It's like a new instrument: twice as loud, twice as resonant, and a joy to play. My son still laughs at me; he thinks all plucked string instruments are essentially the same. (What do you expect? He plays clarinet and piano.) But I pluck my little scales and exercises nightly after dinner, learning to handle my mizrap, and I'm having a blast. I figure I'll just have to buy a second oud to keep in Arabic tuning, once I've saved up.

Hmmm... Either that or a Celtic harp.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Versions of Sappho

Mark, God bless him, welcomes me back to cyberspace, but mourns Anne Carson's "tin ear." Tin andra, tin earoa, tina turner, say I--but for comparison's sake, here are two other versions of the piece. The first is from Jim Powell's Sappho: a Garland:

Artfully adorned Aphrodite, deathless
child of Zeus and weaver of wiles I beg you
please don’t hurt me, don’t overcome my spirit,
goddess, with longing,

but come here, if ever at other moments
hearing these words from afar you listened
and responded: leaving your father’s house, all
golden, you came then,

hitching up your chariot: lovely sparrows
drew you quickly over the dark earth, whirling
on fine beating wings from the heights of heaven
down through the sky and

instantly arrived—and then O my blessed
goddess with a smile on your deathless face you
asked me what the matter was this time, what I
called you for this time,

what I now most wanted to happen in my
raving heart: “Whom this time should I persuade to
lead you back again to her love? Who now, oh
Sappho, who wrongs you?

If she flees you now, she will soon pursue you;
If she won’t accept what you give, she’ll give it;
If she doesn’t love you, she’ll love you soon now,
Even unwilling.”

Come to me again, and release me from this
want past bearing. All that my heart desires to
happen—make it happen. And stand beside me,
goddess, my ally.

And here's the Guy Davenport,

from Seven Greeks:

Aphrodita dressed in an embroidery of flowers,
Never to die, the daughter of God,
Untangle from longing and perplexities,
O Lady, my heart.

But come down to me, as you came before,
For if ever I cried, and you heard and came,
Come now, of all times, leaving
Your father’s golden house

In that chariot pulled by sparrows reined and bitted,
Swift in their flying, a quick blur aquiver,
Beautiful, high. They drew you across steep air
Down to the black earth;

Fast they came, and you behind them. O
Hilarious heart, your face all laughter,
Asking, What troubles you this time, why again
Do you call me down?

Asking, In your wild heart, who now
Must you have? Who is she that persuasion
Fetch her, enlist her, and put her into bounden love?
Sappho, who does you wrong?

If she balks, I promise, soon she’ll chase,
If she’s turned from gifts, now she’ll give them,
And if she does not love you, she will love,
Helpless, she will love.

Come, then, loose me from cruelties.
Give my tethered heart its full desire.
Fulfill, and come, lock your shield with mine
Throughout the siege.

Each has its felicities, I think, even the Carson--although, to be fair, hers are mostly pedagogical, rather than matters of pleasure.

More on Sappho tomorrow, mebbe. --E

Thursday, June 22, 2006

You know...

...I'm not dead yet. More or less. That grading--whew! Hard to do when you're teaching a new summer class at the same time. To be honest, though, I haven't been blogging because I haven't been reading blogs myself much recently, or even thinking about poetry, poetry teaching, and the other ostensible subjects of this little enterprise. And, of course, the longer you go without blogging, the less you feel like doing it, no? First comes guilt, then resignation: by now, who's going to be reading? Yesterday, though, one of my graduate students told me she'd just discovered the blog, and she was so excited by it. A teacher, she was out looking for lesson plans, etc., and I guess this was just what she needed. So I'm back--and Maria, thanks!


Most of my intellectual life these days is focused on romance fiction, my new area of inquiry. I love the books, and I love the happiness with which any new scholar joining that community gets welcomed. I haven't yet found the sort of sniping one sees in poetry criticism, nor the bickering about schools, etc., that bores me to tears in so many poetry venues. Not that I plan to leave poetry criticism for good, but I must say, given the choice between reading a new book on poetry or a new romance novel, I'm going with the little heart sticker more and more. Is it just the novelty? The ease? Or is there some deeper, substantive reason? Hmmm. Something to mull over at the pool, perhaps, this afternoon.


Reading Eloisa James's Duchess in Love last week I hit this passage, in which our hero, Cam, a sculptor, considers his next project:
...he spent the morning starting at the marble lump in the corner of his bedroom. Should he sculpt Gina as a pink, naked Aphrodite? A pleasant thought.

Even more pleasant when the duchess herself stood before him. She would make a lovely Aphrodite. Unusual for an Aphrodite, of course. She was slimmer than the normal model, and her face was far more intelligent. The Aphrodites he could bring to mind had sensual, indolent faces, like that of Gina's statue. Whereas her face was thin with a look of curiosity. But why should Aphrodite, as the goddess of eros, of desire, be indolent? Why shouldn't she have precisely that innocent look combined with a gleam of erotic curiosity--the look in his wife's eyes?
One thinks, of course, of Sappho's "Hymn to Aphrodite," whose goddess is anything but indolent and sensual. And where better to find such an echo than in a popular romance novel?

Here's the Sappho, by the way, in Anne Carson's translation. I generally give my Love Poetry students this one, and Guy Davenport's version, and also Jim Powell's, and we work by triangulation. Enjoy.
Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind,
child of Zeus,who twists lures, I beg you
do not break with hard pains,
O lady, my heart

but come here if ever before
you caught my voice far off
and listening left your father's
golden house and came,

yoking your car. And fine birds brought you,
quick sparrows over the black earth
whipping their wings down the sky
through midair---

they arrived. But you, O blessed one,
smiled in your deathless face
and asked what (now again) I have suffered and why
(now again) I am calling out

and what I want to happen most of all
in my crazy heart. Whom should I persuade (now again)
to lead you back into her love? Who, O
Sappho, is wronging you?

For if she flees, soon she will pursue.
If she refuses gifts, rather will she give them.
If she does not love, soon she will love
even unwilling.

Come to me now: loose me from hard
care and all my heart longs
to accomplish, accomplish. You
be my ally.