It was mountains of sound—vast parapets and promontories and cliffs of sound. The deep bass notes were born of thunder, or the roar of a great fire, or the eruption of a volcano. They filled the space completely, as thoroughly as the air, as densely as water.
Somewhere in the interstitial spaces between the notes, the trills of the higher ranges could be heard flitting overhead. It was as if the very songs of the birds had been captured for the pleasure of the composer.
It was the last few bars of the benedictory song being played one ordinary Sunday morning on the great pipe organ of New York’s Trinity Church.
It shook the air.
It was the roar of an immense waterfall. A roar of booms. It was primordial, as if left over from some great cataclysm. Or beginning.
It shook the air and vibrated the body and the soul.
It was sublime.
Though it was one of my mother’s great joys to finally obtain a Hammond for our small town church, I’ve never been enamored by the sound architecture of the ordinary organ. And though my favorite aunt Marian sang… Continue reading
In my last post, I laid the foundation for an occasional series exploring the sublime—unmatched and unmatchable human accomplishments that rise above all others, that rise “beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation.” Achievements which transport us viscerally or intellectually, emotionally or spiritually to a place of great wonderment. As examples, I proposed Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin and the sculpture Balzac by Auguste Rodin.
For my next nomination, I ask you to watch a performance of the Barcarolle from the opera by Jacques Offenbach, The Tales of Hoffman. Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is0Lb4cj_3c. (Yes, my first suggestion for the transcendental requires you not only to listen to music which derives its name from gondoliers, but to watch it on social media, no less.) It will require about three minutes for your first time through, but my guess is you will want to hear it again, again, and perhaps again. I’ve imported a translation from the French below.
Sisters Irina and Christina Lordachescu perform the Barcarolle in what appears to be an anteroom of a concert hall in Budapest. They are accompanied only by a pianist. It’s an informal setting, not unlike having them in your… Continue reading
In the language of aesthetics, the sublime is “the quality of greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual or artistic. The term specifically refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation.” [See footnote.]
But not beyond our accomplishment. And not beyond our appreciation, for the sublime transports us viscerally, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually to a place of great wonderment. Of awe. It leads us to a capacious realization of the heights possible within the human experience. Of the pinnacles within our reach if only we pursue them.
Some accomplishments that attain the sublime are the product of spontaneous inspiration, or more likely of relentless exploration and trial by individuals who have the experience and perspicacity to allow such ideas to pierce the commonplace. I think, for instance, of Auguste Rodin and his rough but powerful statue Balzac, the great thinker standing far back and assessing—some say dominating—the world, his immense energy barely contained.
In Peter’s Parchment, The Beguilement of Brother Alphaios, while walking along… Continue reading
Some time ago, my best friend Liz (now my wife) and I were discussing the burdens of responsibility at work and home, the rush of our lives, the clamor of family. Each of us spoke of a need to be alone from time to time and the quiet pleasure it can bring.
Time alone allows our minds to rest, our emotions and physical bodies to settle, to breathe. For her, to peruse recipes, imagine fine meals and cook them at her leisure—and emerge relaxed and recharged. For me, to let my mind drift and mull.
Peace and relaxed introspection was our common wish.
We could not find a word or phrase that captured the sense of it. “Alone” or “being alone” weren’t sufficient, for they did not carry a sense of contentment or pleasure. And the words “lonely” and “loneliness” convey negative values such as sadness, depression and even anguish—the opposite of what we wanted to express.
Accustomed to playing the occasional word game, we found ourselves working backward from “loneliness”—the antonym, we decided—until it came to us: Drop the first letter and create an entirely new word: oneliness. … Continue reading
It seems an apt statement for creative writing as well, no matter the form.
I wrote “Blue Notes” several years ago while living in Tucson, but was never really sure I’d finished it. It seemed to leave its subject unresolved, a town (and its people) in slow and silent decline into the dust from which it rose. I’ve felt the poem was missing either the spark of optimism or the mercy of certainty.
Yet sometimes the blues are not just a beat. Sometimes they just don’t end.
I’ve come across another observation about art which I hope applies to this poem. It’s from Paul Gardener (Strength to Love, 1963): “A painting is never finished. It simply stops in interesting places.”
The colors of this town, once vibrant and proud,
Have blanched toward white, tan and brown.
House paint and trim and storefront signs,
Once bright of hue are faded and rimed.
Even the tags of graffiti, once… Continue reading
The word “inquisition” has a Middle Ages ring to it, and a distinctly religious one. Its three best known episodes—the Medieval, the Roman and the Spanish (driven more by royalty than religion) have won a chilling place in Western cultural lore through stories of Catholic pursuit of heresy, machines of torture, and burnings at the stake. Ad extirpanda, issued in 1232 by Pope Gregory IV, was an awful call for the systematic elimination of heretics, and gave papal sanction for the use of torture.
The Catholic Church has not been the only one to use such measures in pursuit of doctrinal purity. John Calvin, the reform founder of what would become the Presbyterian Church, pursued much the same response when his own nascent denomination was affronted by other reformers. (See Out of the Flames, by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone.) Many secular governments, even commercial interests have done the same. Moreover, inquisition is not only history, it is a horrifying but recurrent modern phenomenon as well.
The book God’s Jury, by Cullen Murphy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), makes this case convincingly. He cites some recent examples and predicts there will… Continue reading
I’m old-school when it comes to business relationships: I prefer to work with people I’ve actually met rather than some cleverly e-named but faceless entity online. So it was with pleasure that I came across Jude Harlan last summer under a Lucky Bat Books banner at the Northwest Book Festival in Portland, OR. It required repeated trips back to her booth to speak with her, for each time I went by she was deep in conversation with someone else. I bided my time; wisely, it turned out.
After an initial conversation in which we took each other’s measure, we both did some due diligence. She and her co-founder, Cindie Geddes, read a substantial portion of the manuscript. For my part, I contacted three Lucky Bat authors with several questions about the imprint. Jude and Cindie invited me to sign on, and having received prompt and enthusiastic references regarding their work, I was pleased to do so.
I’m glad I did. Lucky Bat Books provided coherence for me in the complex, arcane world of modern publishing, and has delivered a beautiful product.
For more information on Lucky Bat Books, click here: … Continue reading
In a new blog entitled “Authentic Voice”, Editor Peter Gelfan cites BOOK OF HOURS: The Beguilement of Brother Alphaios as an example of an author with a “strong voice”. His comments are posted on the website of The Editorial Department, at the following link:
Gelfan states in part: “…By the time I was a few chapters into the book, I was convinced that the author had been a cloistered monk whose monastic duties included restoring the illuminations of antique manuscripts—just like his protagonist. This is what I mean by an authentic voice.”
Though considerable and detailed research was required in the preparation of BOOK OF HOURS, Gelfan notes: “Like Hemingway, Anderson doesn’t dwell on the tools of the trade but concentrates on his protagonist’s intent and how he plans meticulously to achieve it. Authenticity seems to have more to do with the characters’ involvement in the setting and props than with the author’s factual knowledge of them.”
Peter Gelfan is a freelance editor living and working in New York City, and author of Found Objects, a novel. When editing my work, he was direct, professional, and… Continue reading
BOOK OF HOURS: The Beguilement of Brother Alphaios, published by Lucky Bat Books (luckybatbooks.com), is now available as an e-book from the following e-book retailers, priced at $6.99:
BARNES AND NOBLE
SMASHWORDS (Discounted to $4.99 as an introductory special, through December only.)
BOOK OF HOURS will be available shortly in paperback from these retailers, with a selling price of $16.95.
A severely damaged fifteenth century Book of Hours, a man starving to death in a sumptuous art deco flat, an architect searching for the unconventional, a demonic old man, the tragic death of an infant and her father, a stolen human heart—
When Brother Alphaios comes to a great American city to recreate the Book of Hours, he must discover its origins and the heresies that kept it hidden away for six hundred years.
Finding himself an unwelcome guest in a cold, dour monastery, he becomes beguiled both by the audacious fifteenth-century illuminator he calls Jeremiah and the characters he encounters in the vast, chaotic city. Reflective and experiential, Brother Alphaios is drawn to make his own bold statement—one final touch with his finest sable… Continue reading
In Out of the Flames, authors Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone (Broadway Books, 2002) suggest that without the printing press, the Protestant Reformation could not have occurred. They provide for us some history.
Tens of thousands of books were printed in the decades following the mechanical marvel of the Gutenberg Bible in the mid-1450’s. They were large in size, cumbersome and costly (though less expensive by magnitudes than the hand-scribed and illustrated books which preceded them). But it was not until the early fifteen hundreds, the authors relate, that two concurrent developments made books truly portable, and thus nearly ubiquitous. They both seem simple enough, but they took almost fifty years after Gutenberg to accomplish. Aldus Manutius, an entreprenuerial printer in Venice developed (copied from a competitor, actually,) an alphabet typeface made of tiny, uniform letters that could easily be read. This made it possible for the second development to occur.
Until Aldus, books were printed on paper sizes referred to… Continue reading