SHOW, 3/7: Foodies, Photogs, Politicos, & Roller Skates!

SHOW2 Poster

BOOM. We’re back, baby! Join Andrew Hazlett and Kevin Griffin Moreno at the Windup Space on Wednesday, March 7 from 7-9pm  for SHOW Baltimore, featuring fascinating Baltimoreans doing all kinds of kickass things.

Check out this sick lineup: Kafi D’Ambrosi, Fluid Movement, Rodney Foxworth, Marta Mossburg, Julie Scharper, Tom Smith, and Black Coffee and a Donut. All that, plus live music and an interactive surprise!

The best part? It’s all free. That’s right: there is no cover, all you have to do is show the Windup Space some love by buying a drink or three.

Reserve your ticket now.

Questions? Comments? Outraged screeds? Send ‘em to kmoreno[at]gmail[dot] com or tweet ‘em @mobtownblues or @BmoreHazlett.

(Speaking of the twitterz, our hash is #showb.)

See you at the SHOW!

 

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[Special thanks to Jessica Keyes of Prairie Sky Designs for the awesome flyer.]

Beautiful and invincible: an analysis of Czeslaw Milosz’s ‘Incantation’

Last week I posted my favorite poem, Czeslaw Milosz’s ‘Incantation,’ in honor of my friend Ben’s birthday. The poem has been a part of my life and thought for so long that it’s been a long time since I actually stopped and reflected on my reasons for loving it. So here’s a video of me reciting the poem, followed by my interpretation of it.

Human reason is beautiful and invincible.

As a writer and dissident who lived under both Nazi and Soviet regimes, Milosz was well acquainted with the suffering that totalitarianism can level against intellectuals and humanists. His eventual defection to the United States and his subsequent successful career as a poet, novelist, essayist, and university professor testify to his declaration that human reason can and will triumph over small-mindedness, censorship, and exile.

No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.

The rhythm of this poem reminds me of “Fanfare for the Common Man.” The first line is like the clarion burst of the trumpets and French horns that opens Copland’s work. The second and third lines (as well as many subsequent lines), with their alternating plosives and sibilants, resemble the drum-rolls that punctuate the brass lines of the Fanfare. The sensibility this evokes is martial, resolute, the face of someone staring fearlessly down the barrel of a gun.

It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.

Here the poet asserts that not only do “universal ideas” like truth (or Truth) exist, but that language gives the tools to name and claim them. This is an argument against the postmodernist conceit that everything – truth, falsehood, good, evil – is relative and a question of degree. The notion that we can bind these ideas with language and ascribe value to them is reminiscent of the shamanistic belief, one still expressed in cultures throughout the world, that naming a thing gives the namer power over it.

It puts what should be above things as they are,
Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,
Giving us the estate of the world to manage.

Milosz, a “scientific, atheistic” person in his youth, returned to the Catholic faith of his upbringing as an adult. In this stanza he evokes Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” In doing so, he conflates the power and dignity conferred by the use of human reason with the salvific grace of God. Thus reason is elevated above the mere mechanics of cognition and imbued with radical and transformative power.

It saves austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured words.

George Orwell, another fiercely anti-authoritarian thinker, wrote extensively about the ways that oppressive regimes use language to manipulate people. The history of Nazi, Communist, and other totalitarian propaganda is strewn not only with neologisms, ambiguities, inaccuracies, and hypocrisy, but with corpses and mangled lives. Even in less violent contexts, such as advertising copy and contemporary political rhetoric, we can see the negative consequences associated with “the filthy discord of tortured words.”

I am not sure how these lines read in the original Polish, but the English translation does justice to the overall sense of the poem. The words “austere” and “transparent” contain the both the sound and feeling of air, of clarity. That onomatopoeia contrasts starkly with the phrase “filthy discord of tortured words,” the very sound of which is cramped and dark.

It says that everything is new under the sun,

This statement is a refutation of Ecclesiastes 1:10, which states: “Nothing under the sun is new, neither is any man able to say: Behold this is new: for it hath already gone before in the ages that were before us.” As pointed out before, the poet identifies human reason with divine grace itself. The Gospels and the Epistles repeatedly assert that this grace has the power to make all things miraculously new.

Opens the congealed fist of the past.

I’ve talked before about one of my favorite films, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s ‘The Lives of Others.’ In one of that movie’s most powerful scenes, a character reviews the dossier kept on him by the East German secret police. He is surrounded by dozens of other Germans doing the exact same thing. The scene is a quiet but moving example of how chronicling and preserving information – and, most important, making that information openly accessible – can not only conserve individual and collective history, but allow people to find some measures of meaning and healing from a troubled time.

Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia
And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth,
The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.

With these lines Milosz abruptly breaks from his prosaic, if eloquent, catalog of the virtues of human reason and turns to apotheosis. He posits that the essential manifestations of human reason are “Philo-Sophia,” (literally, “love of wisdom”) and poetry, which in themselves are divine and magical creatures. The imagery is reminiscent of Renaissance conceptions of Arcadia as a pastoral paradise.

Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.
Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.

The final couplet brings us back from the Elysian heights of unicorns and personified echoes to a more pragmatic style and sensibility. The rhythm is that of a cannon report. The language is that of prophecy: the notion that the triumph of reason, poetry, philosophy, and goodness itself is inevitable – that, in fact, it has already happened. And that, by aligning themselves in opposition to “the service of the good,” the forces of lies, oppression, confusion, and ignorance have sealed their doom.

Wizards Ball

The Winter Festival of Wonders is going on all this weekend at Area 405 in Station North. If you didn’t make the Wizards Ball festival kickoff, here’s some of what you missed.

Not your grandma’s aspic: lunch at the Women’s Industrial Exchange

Tomato aspic is the polyester pants of American cooking. Once ubiquitous in American homes, especially in the South, the jiggly crimson mass of gelled vegetable matter has become a culinary punchline, an object of contempt and revulsion, a symbol of everything wrong with postwar, middle-class values, much like those madras polyester pants my dad used to wear back in the ’70’s. And with good reason, too: who wants to eat Jell-O made out of V-8 juice?
aspic appetizer
Well, I’m happy to report that the tomato aspic at the rebooted Woman’s Industrial Exchange restaurant isn’t like that. Light and complex, with a velvety texture, it literally melts on one’s tongue. The very color is encouraging; instead of the psychotically artificial red that marked the ring-mold-variety aspics of 1950’s church picnics, the tomato aspic at the WIX is of a mellower hue, one that bespeaks fresher ingredients and a more refined sensibility in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong – it still tastes exactly like spaghetti sauce-jelly, so if that combo of taste and texture isn’t your thing, you may want to try something else on the menu.

Fortunately, the menu of the Woman’s Industrial Kitchen, which opened last fall, boasts enough variety to suit anyone’s fancy. Operated by Irene Smith, the woman behind the popular Souper Freak Food Truck, the new restaurant serves up the sort of comfort fare that made the downtown landmark such a local fave in its heyday: pot pie, grilled cheese, meatloaf, etc.

As someone who first dined at the WIX nearly two decades ago, I’m delighted that Ms. Smith and her capable team of women have taken over the historic lunchroom. After a few false starts with other concession operators over the past 10 years, the Exchange appears to have settled on one that balances an old-fashioned approach to good food and friendly service with some modern business savvy. For example, every table is dedicated to a prominent Maryland woman and decorated with images of and quotes by her. (I chose to dine with Harriet Tubman.)

I wish Ms. Smith and co. good luck as they help to usher in the WIX’s 132nd year. And I’ll definitely be back for more aspic.

Happy Birthday, Rev. Ben

Ben Smith, a priest at my church, turns 80 today.

When I first came to the Cathedral of the Incarnation in 2008, I felt an instant affinity with Ben. It wasn’t just his friendly, gracious manner or his eloquent, good-humored and heartfelt preaching style, but also his fondness for two things that have always been dear to me: music and poetry.

My journey of faith has taken me down some unexpected byways, but those two elements have remained consistent throughout "evensong"my life. Whenever I felt disconnected from a faith community or even a way of communicating with the Divine, I turned to poetry. As a shape note singer for many years, I appreciate a good hymn, especially one that is sung with more enthusiasm than technical virtuosity. Whenever I doubt my own ability or worthiness to speak with God, music and poetry give me the voice and words to pray.

That is why I always look forward to Ben’s sermons. The spare, elegant way he weaves poetry and song into his preaching does more to illuminate the words of Scripture than any academic exegesis. With his sonorous Virginia accent and his occasional wry chuckles, Ben brings the Good News – warmly, generously – to life for me.

A couple of years ago I underwent a painful separation, followed by a painful divorce. Ben was the person in the Cathedral community who was there for me when I most needed a confessor and a friend. I will be forever grateful to him for his presence and his active listening.

As much as I love poetry, I do not claim to be a poet myself. So on the occasion of Ben’s 80th birthday, I can do no better than to offer my favorite poem, one which has helped me through hard times and which continually calls me to purpose and rallies my heart.

INCANTATION

by Czeslaw Milosz

Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are,
Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,
Giving us the estate of the world to manage.
It saves austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured words.
It says that everything is new under the sun,
Opens the congealed fist of the past.
Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia
And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth,
The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.
Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.
Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.
- trans. Czeslaw Milosz & Robert Pinsky

Happy Birthday, Ben.

Video: Brooks Long at Full Circle #1

Full Circle Storytelling is blessed with the best one-man house band in Baltimore: soul-folk songster Brooks Long, who was just voted third in Washington Deli Magazine’s best emerging artists list. In addition to being a fantastic singer-songwriter and a dynamic performer, he’s also just a hell of a nice guy.

Here he is opening Full Circle’s inaugural show at the Bohemian Coffee House on Dec. 13, 2011.