Folk Art at the MFA

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“Historically, folk art has been classified as art that is not academic, amateur, self-taught, primitive, rural and/or vernacular…[but] these labels only characterize what folk art is not: not high-style, urban, fine, or academic.” -lines from a paragraph describing selections from the Maxim Karolik collection of 19th century American art.

The Optimist by David Coggins

The Optimist: A Case for the Fly Fishing Life by [David Coggins]
The Optimist by David Coggins

The striped bass is an athletic, even a social fish. It swims with its colleagues, who are more like friends, it doesn’t have too many hang-ups or obsess over its own mythology, like trout do. It’s got places to go…. The striped bass is a well-loved fish, among poets and populists alike. p.134

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Brook trout like clear, cold water, their presence indicates the health of a lake or river. It’s reassuring to catch one in a beloved stream, it means the water is clean. They aren’t mercurial, like brown trout, which are calculating and ornery. The brook trout takes a more direct approach, if it wants something it will eat it. It’s not reluctant and coy. It’s not a mysterious fish, it’s just itself, and that’s more than enough. p. 185

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The smallmouth bass lives in warm water and is not snobby. Where we fished, they were brown with wide black stripes. The trout prefers cold water and cares about its reputation, like an English aristocrat. It’s usually brilliantly colored with brilliant spots. The smallmouth is strong and will fight, and when you catch one it pulls and pulls. Finally, you reel it in, grab it by the mouth and unhook it and it will swim away without resentment. Trout are more delicate, more discerning, more distinguished. Trout hold grudges. p. 19

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Whitman and Millet at the Museum of Fine Arts

The Sower, Jean-Francois Millet, 1850

Never before have I been so penetrated by this kind of expression. I stood long and long before ‘The Sower.’ There is something in this that could hardly be caught again-a sublime murkiness and original pent fury. -Walt Whitman

Emily Dickinson, born today, December 10, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts

Photograph of Emily Dickinson, seated, at the age of 16

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

Robert Bly 1926-2021

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The mourning dove is so well named; its brief call
Rises out of Eternity on a thin ash branch;
And the mother reaches for her son in silence.

-from The Love From Far Away by Robert Bly

Anton Chekhov stories while traveling II

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…of all Russian writers Chekhov, the arch-conservative, is the most subversive. He is dynamite for children for he proclaimed the utmost freedom and gave to the human heart the place of sovereign eminence. His stories are hosannas in praise of freedom, of the wandering of the human heart in search of its own peace. And so, with the insidious power of genius, he prepares us for the revolutions of the future. -Robert Payne, translator

The next day was Easter. There are forty-two churches and two monasteries in the town; and from morning to evening the deep, happy notes of the church bells hovered over the town, never silent, quivering in the spring air. Birds were singing, and the bright sun was shining. The great market square was full of noise: seesaws were swinging, barrel organs were playing, concertinas were screaming, and there was a roar of drunken voices. In a word, everything was light hearted and frolicsome, just as it had been during the previous year and as it doubtless would be in the years to come. -from The Bishop, by Anton Chekhov

Title: Waiting for the Blessing
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Waiting for a Blessing, Mykola Pymonenko, 1891

Anton Chekhov stories while traveling

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Anton Chekhov 1860-1904

This summer it was Chekhov again, not Hemingway. Translator Robert Payne writes about the challenges of translating Chekhov:

…It is not only that he speaks in the manner of his time; he is continually describing a way of life which has vanished from the earth….time after time he describes events which are unthinkable in modern Russia…to translate Chekhov adequately, one should have a vast knowledge of church ritual, the social customs of the nineteenth century, the dialects of Moscow and half a dozen other towns in Russia. Ideally he should be translated by a group of churchmen, sociologists, and experts on dialect, but they would quarrel interminably and the translation would never be done…

The stories, translated by Payne, carry readers in horse-drawn wagons into that strange, foreign Russia, with the peasants , clergy, soldiers and others, all dark and smoky and wintry, so that we shiver in the weather and listen carefully to the tales. I’ve read most of the stories in the collection more than once. The pages of “Heartache”, “The Bishop”, “The Lady with the Pet Dog”, are dog-eared.

“That’s how it is, old girl. My son, Kuzma Ionich, is no more. He died on us. Now let’s say you had a foal, and you were the foal’s mother, and suddenly, let’s say, the same little foal deeparted this life. You’d be sorry, eh?”

The little mare munched and listened and breathed on his hands.

Surrendering to his grief, Iona told her the whole story. -from “Heartache”, January 1886

A stanza of a Dylan song for Father’s Day

Build me a cabin in Utah,
Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout,
Have a bunch of kids who call me “Pa,”
That must be what it’s all about,
That must be what it’s all about.

-from Sign on the Window by Bob Dylan

“Essay” by Hayden Carruth


So many poems about the deaths of animals.
Wilbur’s toad, Kinnell’s porcupine, Eberhart’s squirrel,
and that poem by someone–Hecht? Merrill?–
about cremating a woodchuck. But mostly
I remember the outrageous number of them,
as if every poet, I too, had written at least
one animal elegy; with the result that today
when I came to a good enough poem by Edwin Brock 
about finding a dead fox at the edge of the sea
I could not respond; as if permanent shock
had deadened me. And then after a moment
I began to give way to sorrow (watching myself
sorrowlessly the while), not merely because
part of my being had been violated and annulled,
but because all these many poems over the years
have been necessary–suitable and correct. This
has been the time of the finishing off of the animals.
They are going away–their fur and their wild eyes,
their voices. Deer leap and leap in front
of the screaming snowmobiles until they leap
out of existence. Hawks circle once or twice
around their shattered nests and then they climb
to the stars. I have lived with them fifty years,
we have lived with them fifty million years,
and now they are going, almost gone. I don’t know
if the animals are capable of reproach.
But clearly they do not bother to say good-bye.

                                –  Hayden Carruth d. 2008

Yesterday I passed the carcass of a young deer, laid parallel to the road, maybe by the driver who hit it, or by a driver who saw the collision. A dead deer is not an everyday sight in the suburbs. The title of Carruth’s poem-“Essay”- might be a clue for the reader. It looks like a poem on the page, is lined like a poem, but thought progresses through it like an elegant little essay. Beginning with a comment about how many poems there are about dead animals, the poem moves on to a few lines of poignant elegy.

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Hayden Carruth 1921-2008

1865 E. H. Gerrish canoe on Walden Pond

This afternoon, on the shore of Walden Pond, this canoer told me that his canoe is an 1865 E. H. Gerrish, built in Bangor, Maine. E. H. Gerrish was an entrepreneur/craftsman, the first to sell wood and canvas canoes commercially. Thoreau published Walden in 1857.

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