‘Ebony and Ivory’?
Laguna Woods, Calif.
Patricia J. Williams’s “American Pie” [Jan. 28] is a pure triumph. Williams has all the bite of Maureen Dowd, but she does not break the skin. Her “audacious little hope” that both Obama and Clinton will be on the November ticket is a fantasy for many of us. It would be an extraordinary achievement to have a woman and a man of color in the highest offices in the land.
NICHOLAS P. DELLIS
Patricia J. Williams hits it right on the head with her biting piece on presidential image. Still, although I’m comfortable with Hillary or Barack, the one who truly belonged at the top was John Edwards, who spoke directly and unabashedly to the two most important issues of our time: the corporate stranglehold on politics and the dire necessity of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
New York City
I am hoping, like Professor Williams, that Democrats and the general voting public will not take the poison bait of division and will defeat the kleptocracy of Bush. But the professor’s “ebony and ivory” vision seems doubtful. My sense says that white males, Republicans and many independents would swamp the polls to kill this dream.
There Will Be Noise
New York City
Stuart Klawans rightly points out that No Country for Old Men is “immaculate” [“A Hard Man,” Jan. 28]. One reason for the film’s unsullied aura is that there is no music to distract one’s attention from the sweeping, unpeopled vistas. The silence is eloquent. In There Will Be Blood, on the other hand, as Klawans approvingly points out, a relentless score wraps the viewer in an “exhilarating atmosphere in which massed strings can swarm like uneasy flies or shriek like a siren.” Exhilaration is precisely what Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliantly acted adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s Oil! is not about, and those swarming flies and shrieking sirens, loud and manipulative beyond endurance, may well prevent his otherwise impeccable film from being judged a classic.
New York City
I buy a laundry detergent labeled “fragrance free.” Is this Sudzalot Pure simpler and more natural than the smelly brand? No. Extra chemicals have in fact been added to neutralize the existing odors. So it is with movie soundtracks, where even a stretch of near silence is a manufactured effect. In the case of No Country for Old Men, I wholeheartedly agree with Joel Conarroe that the manufacturing is exceptionally effective. But I don’t believe the limited use of music is itself a mark of integrity, any more than I think There Will Be Blood necessarily lacks integrity because the soundtrack plays up a variety of music, some of it clearly meant to set the teeth on edge. It’s all a question of purpose. I continue to have some doubts about that of the Coen brothers but none about Paul Thomas Anderson’s.
‘Two Poems for The Nation’: The Skinny
I was astonished and delighted to open my Nation and read Jack Spicer’s “Two Poems for The Nation” [Jan. 21]. But these poems weren’t written yesterday (though they read as if they were), so don’t you think your readers might like to know the back story? Who is this Jack Spicer anyway?
New York City
No surprise that the poems read as though they were written yesterday. West Coast poet Jack Spicer (1925-1965) is one of America’s enduring poets, whose work has had a wide and lasting effect on contemporary verse practice, most notably in his conception of the serial form of the book, of dictation and his fierce regionalism. This poem originally appeared in a now long out-of-print volume, Book of Magazine Verse, whose cover design simulated an early issue of Poetry magazine. Each group of poems therein was directed toward a different journal that, at the time, wouldn’t publish his work. Kevin Killian and I are editing a new book of Spicer’s poetry, forthcoming this fall from Wesleyan. Stay tuned!
PETER GIZZI, poetry editor
Our Christian Nation?
I remind Chris Hedges [“Christianizing US History,” Jan. 28] that the ideas of the individual, of individual freedom and of freedom of conscience are singularly Christian ideas without which modern democracy is unthinkable. Although our founding fathers were deists, they were nonetheless inspired by Christian ideas.
ALEXANDRA KLARÉN SEITZ
The question of whether America is a Christian nation was put to rest in 1797 when the Senate unanimously ratified the Treaty of Tripoli, and John Adams signed it. It states “…the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”
HAROLD R. BARLING
Freeing the Campus
I applaud Michael Gould-Wartofsky’s “Repress U” [Jan. 28] on disturbing trends regarding free speech and surveillance on college campuses. Another piece of the story concerns the University of Illinois Police Training Institute. After the Chicago Tribune‘s July 31 report on PTI director Tom Dempsey’s connection with Blackwater, the university terminated its contract with the security firm. Dempsey is no longer employed by the university. This suggests that Blackwater’s tactics are still considered unacceptable on campus.
I thank The Nation for Steve Fraser’s review of Delaware author Robert Montgomery Bird’s novel Sheppard Lee [“United We Scam,” Jan. 28]. Fraser noted that Bird shared influences with Poe. Poe often came to Delaware and lectured in Wilmington and Newark. But Bird was not the only Delaware literary artist who shared influences with Poe. John Lofland, who had abolitionist sympathies and championed Native Americans, knew Poe. It was also gratifying to see Sheppard Lee thematically linked with Herman Melville.
Delaware author George Alfred, a friend of Mark Twain’s, defended abolition and exposed the conspiracies at the onset of industrialization. Charles Wertenbaker found a kind of evil welling up from within the cooking pot of capitalism in two of his major novels, inspired by his living in Delaware.
Delaware had a lot of sister and brother acts: Anne and Dillwyn Parrish, John and Mary Biggs, Charles and Peyton Wertenbaker. John Biggs’s Princeton roomie, F. Scott Fitzgerald, lived here for literary atmosphere. Alice Dunbar Nelson and Henry Seidel Canby also lived here. Included in this circle of friends were Paul Laurence Dunbar, H.L. Mencken, Hart Crane and Edmund Wilson, with local writers Christopher Ward and Victor Thaddeus. Not often do our authors and poets get recognition. Thanks again. You really made my day.
Broken Turtle Books
Eating and Drinking Poetry
To this meat eater, Susan Stewart’s review of Selected Poems, 1945-2005 by Robert Creeley seems like a rave review of a vegan diet [“A Human Pledge,” Jan. 21]. At the same time I am grateful for it. Close analysis of any poetry–through prisms or magnifying lenses or rose-colored glasses or 20/20 eyes–illumines all poetry. I came away with a better understanding of poets I prefer to Creeley, and that’s a compliment to Stewart.
BARBARA M. WALKER
In Susan Stewart’s excellent review she says Robert Creeley’s “Dam’s broke,/head’s a/waterfall” sounds to her “like a hangover.” Surely it describes gushing hay fever symptoms. Susan, if that’s you after a night of drinking, you might want to upgrade your brand.