Two Antique Sonnets and a Joke

©1960 By Bob Litton

PREFACE:  Gentle readers, I am still in a slough. I won’t bore you with the the tiresome details: It’s just a tussle between me and my obdurate nature.

The good news is that I was pleasantly surprised by the nice reception those two poems — or at least one of them — received last week. So, this week I peered into the barrel and found two old sonnets and a cutesy little four-liner that I wrote more than half a century ago. These are the last of the crop, folks; I promise you. Oh, I have  three other verse compositions that I keep hidden away that are too sentimental and confessional for me to allow other eyes to view. But that’s it! Unless my muse Erato whispers something inspiring in my ear. then, these are the last poems I will publish on this blog.

But, how about a little back story.

The first poem, “Tannhaüser in the Underworld”, I wrote after listening to an LP album of Richard Wagner’s romantic music drama Tannhaüser. If you are not acquainted with that work, or at least the story, you might get more out of my poem by reading a synopsis of it, but I wouldn’t count on it. Basically, Tannhaüser was a legendary poet-singer who, in Wagner’s version, has a problem coping with his dual nature: the sensual and the spiritual.

The second sonnet, “Dear Christmas Spirit”, is obviously patterned after “letters-to-Santa”; but it’s a serious imitation. I had just been reading much of the British Metaphysicals’poetry (John Donne, etal.) and their style is slightly reflected in my verse here.

As for “Eclogue”, it is simply a small dessert of amusement. I had noticed one day that I had a habit of wondering what or who I might be if I were not me; I suppose the question must have been generated upon my hearing that many people believe in reincarnation. The “borogove” and the “tove” are fantasy creatures I borrowed from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

 

Tannhaüser in the Underworld

Behold this change in me, fair Queen of the wood!

How my wild renunciation of Love fades

and flees before the glow of your semblant rood,

how I blush amid the laughter of your maids.

Whether you be lusty Venus, full of guile and fire ─

or fair, chaste Elizabeth, lost in a darker green —

I know not, but know only this scarlet stab of desire

which long night watches and prayers failed to wean.

You’ve led me benighted to this mountain’s cave,

toward what end I hopefully, fearfully surmise,

for it confounds my vision as both boudoir and grave;

so I dare do  naught but expect the lover’s prize.

What omen that me these contrary thoughts enthrall,

while all about —  as if Heaven cared! — stars do fall?

 

Dear Christmas Spirit

Bring me Faith which can change but not diminish,

 though I walk Job’s way beneath a sleeting sky.

 Grant me Strength still innocent of a mocking wish

 that someone else my life might justify.

 Tote also Hope in your burdening, sooted bag,

 something I might wear against the damp’s return,

 when the wick splutters above the chimney’s slag,

and these rimy logs are too frozen to burn.

But leave those behind if they leave not room

for Charity.  Least flesh needs the warmest soul,

knit to another like a child in the womb;

nor does it pause before Life, its sleeves to roll.

If you grant all these to my selfish cheer,

with others I’ll share them throughout next year.

 

Eclogue

Quizzed a borogove within the tree:

“What would I be if I were not me?”

A tiny tove by the dial replied:

“You need not be so satisfied.”

Finis

Young Poems

©1961 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: I am in a mental slough right now, folks; so I have returned to some of my earlier writings…and I mean way earlier. While I was still in the air force and stationed on Okinawa, I checked out a novel by James Ramsey Ullman titled The Day on Fire from the base library. The book was a fictionalized biography of the late 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud, and it got me all fired up about writing poetry myself. As my regular readers should recall, one of my latest blog posts related the anecdote of my first attempt at poetry, when I was ten years old. But one brick does not a castle make. And, as I have read elsewhere since then, that novel also fired up other young poet wannabe’s.

Anyway, I subsequently read a volume of modern American poetry and discovered that, since I had left high school it seemed, America had turned away from rhyme and hammered hard on meter. Yet it was not really so recent. I have read T.S. Eliot’s remark that he hated paying attention to meter. The problem with “free verse”, however, as Robert Frost said, is that it is “like playing tennis without a net”. The fact is that rhyme, when it fortunately seems inevitable instead of forced, makes a poem more credible, more eligible for popular acceptance; and meter, when it is consonant with the meaning of the words, adds impact. The rhyming of long words is especially effective in humorous poetry: look through Byron’s “Don Juan” and you’ll see what I mean.

One of the new facts I learned about modern poetry, on Okinawa, is related, I believe, to the invention of the typewriter and its use by poets. The lines of some poets’ works, the anthologist said, were broken with the intent of guiding the reader’s eyes in such a way that, when read aloud especially, the lines would have a unique emphatic effect. I point to Hart Crane’s “The Bridge:Section IV: Cape Hatteras” as a good example of my point here.

Moreover, what was common in the poems I read was the amount of personal introspection among the poets, even to the point of “confessional poetry”. This, as I learned later, is typical of young poets. I’m afraid it too much affected me. But, it is true, there is a profound flowing of the blood and hormones in the 14- to 24-year-old set that can lead either to poetry or to drugs, sometimes both.

This introduction is longer than I intended it to be, but I felt it necessary to alert you to the fact that the following two poems were written by a boy-man either 19 or 20 years old. Yet I still hold onto them out of inexhaustible fondness, much as a man will cling to his teddy bear.

When I was young

When I was very young
I thought that the sun’s rays
piercing the clouds
were the eye of God
watching the acts of mankind.
I thought that the stars,
high and shining,
were the angel counter-parts
of those departed
k
eeping eternal vigil
over their loved ones.
I thought that God spoke
through the mouths of some men.
I was happier then.

 

Wise Counselor

                        There was one who did not smile
                        when the boy let out his heart
                        but listened intent the while
                        till counsel was asked.  In part,
                        this is what her wisdom said:
                        “You ask me if you’re too young
                        to love; if within your head
                        childhood’s dreams still rule your tongue.
                        You can love, and deeply, or
                        you may change your mind one day.
                        But youth is not the time set for
                        thought or throwing dreams away.
                        Be not so concerned, my friend,
                        about what may shortly end.”

Finis

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Thank you for reading.
BL

NOTE TO NON-WORD-PRESS BLOGGING READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
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Same Difference

©2014 By Bob Litton

Certain phrases and idioms over the decades have bothered me: I simply could not grasp the logic of them…at least not for a long time. One of these is “can’t have your cake and eat it, too”. Since, in my young brain, I had always seen “have” and “eat” as synonyms, the point of the idiom escaped me for a years and years. It seemed to me that if you were having cake for dessert, you were at the same time eating it. Eventually, not many decades ago, I realized that the meaning of the word “have” in this context was “possess’ or “keep”. But, I thought, if it meant those equivalents, why not use them instead? The confusion is unnecessarily engendered. Thankfully, I did not hear the remark often and certainly never used it.

Then there is the appellation: “pointy-headed intellectual”. By the time I was twenty I had to “come out of the closet” and blushingly admit that I was an “intellectual”; but did that mean my head formed some sort of point? I examined myself in a mirror: No, no cone shape. Finally, one day I heard a youth counselor point me out to another young man and say, “There! See that forehead? That’s what I mean by ‘high-brow’.” Ah ha! They were referring to the space between my eyebrows and the line of my hair! What if I had been bald? Further along in years, I learned that the phrase was usually applied derogatorily to someone who read a lot of big-word books, spoke in complete sentences, and probably was a liberal politically.

Of late, because of the world’s confounded condition — and our own local situation — I have seen that another common idiom, “same difference”, very much applies. The Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, for instance, see their religion’s history contradictorily: one claims Mahomet’s mantle was intended to fall on this man; the other says, no, it was meant to be inherited by another man. And they quarrel over which theological texts are valid, just as the Jews and Christians have done. But their common practical approach to resolving the matter is to grab all the power and territory their group can and kill all the people who disagree with them. Same difference.

Here in the United States, the phrase is just as applicable. Look at Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address (March 4, 1865), for instance, wherein he compared the North and the South this way:

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.”

Same difference.

On a possibly lighter and yet broader note, I considered the urge within each generation to look and act radically different from their parents’ generation. I recall how the magazine articles and preachers’ sermons in the 1950’s raged against my generation for our ducktail haircuts, raucous music, and swiveling hips. Now all that seems humorously childlike compared to the tattoos; nose, lip and eyelid rings; and tattered jeans young people are sporting. And their music? Oh, my god, there is no melody and the lyrics(?) are just repetitive syllables yelled over and over again: “Celebrate, celebrate, listen to the music/Celebrate, celebrate, listen to the music/Celebrate, celebrate, listen to the music…” and so on ad nauseam. The singers are not there to enunciate a meaningfully substantive content; they are there to provide another instrument: their voices. It makes me wonder what their children will devise to outrage them. Of course, the initial impulse is to come up with something new — some innovations in music, dress or anything else — to distinguish them from the previous generations. But the only way they seem to be able to do that is to be extreme in some form — to outrage, just as their parents did. Same difference.

Well, that’s all for now. Have to go meet Ecclesiastes at the pub for few beers. And forget.

Finis

NOTE TO BLOGGERS: If you would like to comment on this post you need to click on the words “Leave A Comment” in small bold print just above the by-line. That will open a box down at the bottom for your comment. I welcome comments, even critical ones, as long as they are polite and related to the essay, story or poem within the post.
Thank you for reading.
BL
NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL

“Shout-Out” For New Pop Music Blog

By Bob Litton

This blog post is aimed primarily at my “Followers” — or at least the several of them whose own blogs are about music, of all genres. However, non-bloggers might be interested in it, too.

An old friend (and my former supervisor at the Half Price Books flagship store in Dallas) started a blog about pop music this morning. His name is Steve Leach, and he not only is knowledgeable about the history of American pop music, particularly jazz and rhythm-and-blues, but he is also an adept writer.

On my own initiative, not at Steve’s instigation, I am urging my readers to give him at least one attentive read. His first post is not long, but it is long enough to get his central points across. He even reveals a pleasant sense of humor in the anecdote about his granddaughter’s request for titles of songs about summer. He told me he plans to write two posts a week (good luck with that!), picking a theme, as in today’s theme of “Summer”, and discussing songs from the past that concerned such themes.

Steve told me he would appreciate civil comments. He would like to develop colloquies about his choices of memorable music from the 1920′s to the 1980′s — from novelty tunes to R&B. If you have any add-to’s or helpful criticisms of what he has chosen, he will be glad to attend. He has written a very cogent “About 2″ page that goes into a bit more detail than I have represented here. Check him out.

Here is the URL to Steve’s blog:   www.songsonatheme.com

Have a good day!
BL

 

 

 

 

Bob’s Wee Art Gallery, Part II

©2014 By Bob Litton

A couple of days after publishing my last post, it dawned on me that I had left out three other creative exercises — and these truly juvenilia. I am not sure it is sensible of me to publish them here, where they can be broadcast worldwide, since they are as puerile as they are. However, some basic elements in my nature have goaded me into doing so: (1) I wanted to preserve them as long as possible from becoming any more deteriorated than the browning, crumbling pages reveal; (2) there are a few notable saving graces in them (which I will point toward as I go along); and (3) I am shamelessly vain (hence the title of my blog).

But first, I should provide some back story for each.

The other day, I heard part of an interview on our local NPR station in which a male interviewer and a female child psychologist were discussing “rambunctiousness” (aka “horseplay”) among preteens. The psychologist claimed that a certain level of violent activity was part of normal development and should not be immediately tamped down, as many parents are inclined to do. At the time I was listening, I was driving from my apartment to a café and thus caught only a middle portion of the dialogue, so I did not hear the upshot to the discussion: What level of violent behavior is healthy? I tried to locate that interview on the Internet later but was unsuccessful.

The psychologist’s comments dredged up memories of my own childhood, especially of my fondness for “shoot’em ups” (i.e., B-westerns) and Erroll Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. I also recalled the days when our school’s music teacher allowed us to pick the songs we wanted to sing in our song book: I always wanted to sing martial songs such as the “Caisson Song” or “The Marines’ Hymn”. Then there were the radio shows: Mother and I were fans of “Gangbusters”, possibly the most violent program on the air during the 1940’s.

Such a dose of violent entertainment appears to have affected my artistic endeavors then, as I will demonstrate with these six faded pages of an unfinished comic book I started sometime during my seventh and eighth years. Please pardon the egocentrism reflected in the main character’s name. I will point out some salient — I boldly assert saving — elements later. Note that you can enlarge any panel — or even any small portion of a panel — by clicking on the desired area. A little “⊕” magnifier will appear which you can use to focus on a smaller area and click again for further enlargement. Neat, heh?:

gangbusters-1-page-001

gangbusters-2-page-001

 

gangbusters-3-page-001

gangbusters-4-page-001

 

gangbusters-5-page-001

gangbusters-6-page-001

Now, folks, this is an unfinished work of art, kind of like one of Michelangelo’s sculptures. By some people it would be called a “cliffhanger”. But let’s look at some of its artistic features. On the first page, note the detailed dash board in the bank robbers’ car  (2nd panel). Then observe the pencil and note paper stuck behind the driver’s seat, and the handkerchiefs neatly folded and tucked into the bank robbers’ coat pockets (3rd panel). Then contrast the doubting question from one of the crooks to his boss (5th panel) “Do you think they can do the job clean, boss?” with the action inside “…take that and that…bang, bang, bang!” (6th panel) Genuine “Gangbusters” material!!!

(By the way, these fellows’  hats are supposed to be fedoras, not panamas!)

On page 2, we see one robber with a small bag of money (which we can identify as such because it has a “$” printed on it), still shooting, only this time in the direction of his partner (panel 2). Next we have some more exciting “bang, bang” and even a police car siren: while at one point (panel 3) the cops are gaining on the robbers, in the next our hero (that would be me) is suggesting to the police chief that they turn around because “you’ll never catch them” (panels 3 and 4). Panel 6 is a masterpiece of what we artists call perspective: a bird’s eye view of the police car doing a U-turn while the robbers continue on.

On page 3, we are treated to a nice closeup of the police chief, whose profile bears a striking resemblance to Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy. Now that’s odd! You would think Detective Litton would look more like Tracy. At the bank, we see Litton examining the dead teller’s body, while the chief and two other officers, dressed in 19th century vintage uniforms, stand by. Next, after a cursory search of the teller’s pockets, Litton surreptitiously picks up a cigarette stub (panel 3). And, “meanwhile”, the robbers make it to their hideout in a car that needs a brake job (panel 5). Notice how the house is fully equipped with an air-conditioner, a broken window pane, and even a liquor bottle lying on the roof. Note also (panel 6) how the cigarette-smoking robbers, playing poker, have knobby noses, indicating they have been in more than a few fist fights. (My brother Elbert had previously taught me that you can always discern a felonious character by his knobby nose.)

On page 4, we see Litton confessing to the chief, who now has a name, “Pat”, that he has been withholding evidence…at least for a little while. He tells Pat about the cigarette (which he pronounces “cirgrate”) and suggests they have it examined for fingerprints, and then tells the chief he would like to work the case solo (panel 3)…but he doesn’t explain why. However, Pat is extremely accommodating and only adds one proviso: bring in the killer. The lab scene (panel 6) is interesting for its vials and tubes, especially the one on the top shelf. Nice detail for a seven or eight-year-old!

On page 5, we discover that this department’s forensics expert is more punctual than many of our modern day fellows; he has not only found a fingerprint but has also identified the smoker (panel 1). But now the chief is having second thoughts about Litton, brave soul though he be, facing odds too superior in going against “Big John”  by himself. In panel 3, we glimpse Litton going out the door, his head six times as large as his hand and his hat twice as large as his head. (Litton has always had a problem with a big head!) Then he does a quick about face and tells the chief to send backup to 3234 River Bank Street if he isn’t back by 6 o’clock. One wonders where he got this particular address. In panel 5, we have another terrific perspective shot when a taxi responds to Litton’s whistle. A bit of comedy is offered us when Litton gives the taxi driver the address and then tells him ahead of time to “keep the change”.

On page 6, we discover that an elderly couple, including a man with a cane, live at that address, not Big John. Not to worry! Big John, the old man informs us, lives in “the next house down” (panel 2). After walking a few yards from one house to another, Litton complains, “Boy, are my feet hurting.”  He classifies the next house as one of the species “hideout” (panel 3). And then he notices a car — the getaway car! — parked near a building that looks more like a church (panel 4). But Big John spots Litton through the broken window…uh, oh! (panel 5). Litton is ready for action with a drawn six-shooter (panel 6), but, as he opens the door and starts the syllable “Rea…?” (Explanation: He was trying to say “Reach!”) he is conked on the head by one of the robbers. Meanwile, as it approaches 6 o’clock, Police Chief Pat Whatever declares it’s time to go assist Litton (final panel). Note the book case with several volumes (Chief is a voracious reader!) and the gun rack with three shotguns in a row. Nice details, n’cest-pas?

Well, I hate to leave you in suspense, folks. You might come back next week for another exciting episode, but I wouldn’t count on it. I honestly don’t know why I did not finish that comic book, but I would surmise that it was because I couldn’t figure out how to save Litton.

* * * * * *

Now for exhibit Number 2: My experience as a song-writer.

Actually, although I liked to sing songs in music class, always volunteering to sing some cowboy songs (like the theme from High Noon), I was usually embarrassed when the teacher summoned us up to the piano, one by one, to test our tones against the piano keys’ tones. I gathered very early that I “couldn’t carry a tune in a basket”, but that didn’t stop me from volunteering on “talent show” days. That is what renders the following anecdote ironical.

In 1950, when I was ten years old and in the fifth grade, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s then conductor, Walter Hendl, joined with the Dallas Independent School District to sponsor a song-writing contest. If my memory is accurate, the DSO held a “youth concert” every year, especially during Hendl’s tenure there (1949-1958). I cannot recall if 1950 was the only year the DSO and DISD held a song-writing contest, but it is the only one I recall. The teacher, in announcing the event to us, said we were limited to five subjects, of which I can remember for certain only three: school, play, and sleep. I believe the other two might have been our nation and work, but I’m not sure. For some forgotten reason, I decided to give it a try; so later, in art class, when I was supposed to be drawing pictures with my Crayolas on manila paper, I spent the time writing a poem which I titled “In my Sleep”. And, supposing that the more colorful the rendering the better my chances, I used different colors for the letters. I gave it to the music teacher the next day, and she very sensibly transposed it to a type-written page. A few weeks later, the teacher informed me that my poem had made it to the “finals”; and soon afterwards she told me it was the winner.

The second part of the contest was to compose music for the lyrics. As you probably have already guessed, this was my weak point. Nonetheless, the teacher worked patiently with me, coaxing a tune out of me, which she transcribed to a sheet of music paper and sent in to the contest judges. I was not surprised on being told weeks later that an elementary school class in Oak Cliff, a suburb of Dallas, had won the musical composition portion of the competition.

My own music, the teacher informed me, had been adjudged “too jazzy”. I thought that was odd, not that I had been bested, but that my tune had been deemed “jazzy”. I didn’t much care for it either, but “jazzy”? It was too lively in the latter half, certainly, for it was supposed to be a song lauding pleasant dreams, but not “jazzy”. Part of the problem was that I had aimed to match the music to the individual lines; and, after the eighth line, the lyrics were pretty martial type stuff, as you can discern here:

 In My Sleep

When the clouds have hurried by
And the evening moon is nigh
To my bed I fairly fly
And there I sleepy lie.
Dreams will come into sight,
Lands of wonder every night.
To the many lands I go,
To bold deeds long ago.
Dreams of battles and marching soldiers,
Story books and picture-folders;
Dreams of cowboys and painted Indians,
Soldiers, sailors and Mounted Canadians.
I never fuss, I never weep
When I must go to bed and sleep.

The last two lines — nicely composed iambic tetrameters — retreat from the marching tone and even close the rough sonnet with a couplet on “good behavior”.

As an adult, looking over that sheet music, which I kept with me until a year ago, I thought, These are a boy’s day dreams, not suitable subject matter for a restful night! However, it was the music, not the lyrics, that eventually moved me to destroy the composition. The first eight lines and the last two I still find commendable when considering that I was only ten years old at the time. Over the years, I asked a few friends to attempt playing the song on their pianos; they couldn’t get very far. I wondered how my fifth grade teacher had managed any better.

On the day of the “youth concert”, a young girl from the Oak Cliff school and I waited in one of the stage wings until Maestro Hendl summoned us to front center stage to take our bows. Then the orchestra played the music, and the auditorium full of school children sang. I liked the music that Oak Cliff class had fitted to my words. I suspected that the whole class, or at least several youths in it, had done the actual composing; and that the girl beside me was simply representing the class; but perhaps she indeed was the sole composer. It was a nice moment for both of us. That was the only reward we got for our creative efforts: standing there on stage as a whole auditorium full of Dallas children sang our song.

A couple of years ago, I tried to obtain the Oak Cliff class’ music from the archives of the DSO and the DISD, but both places professed not to have any record of it. Odd!

* * * * * *

And last, there was the animation drawings I did when I was 15 or 16 years old. Again, some back story.

In the mid-fifties, Walt Disney produced two documentaries that aroused ambition in me to be a nature photographer. One was The Living Desert (1953) and the other was The Vanishing Prairie (1954).

I must have talked about those two films a lot, because my mother gave me an 8mm movie camera for Christmas. I wasted several rolls of film photographing various dogs, but I also did some of creditable “scenes” of a couple of friends and me creating our own B-western…with special effects: an arrow being aimed in one shot and sticking in a log (behind which one boy was shooting his BB gun) in another shot; and of smoke (i.e., flour) exiting the barrel of the Red Ryder air rifle.

A more ambitious project, however — perhaps too ambitious — was my drawing, on about twelve sheets of paper, a tennis player swatting his serve. The scene, as shot, lasts only a very few seconds; you have to have a quick eye to perceive it was even on the screen. However, in 2010, an artist friend of mine copied it with his camera phone and, after playing it three times at normal speed, reproduced it in slow motion once and posted it on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vl7EzCAN01M

My mother had kept, for many years, the several rolls of film I had made with the camera; and I had practically forgotten about them, when I received a boxful from my sister-in-law back in 2010. I was disappointed that the film of the “cowboys and Indians” was not included, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well I had done with the tennis animation. The frames are a bit jerky, all right, but the player’s body proportions are amazingly well-maintained. Also, the changing position of the man’s legs is convincingly consonant with what one might expect it to be. Frankly, I am surprised I had enough patience to draw all those frames.

To all of you who stuck it through to the end of this lengthy post, I thank you, thank you very much!

Finis

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bob’s Wee Art Gallery, Part I

©2014 By Bob Litton

I have made brief references in previous posts to my graphic art interests. And, truthfully, in my youth I seriously considered becoming an artist, primarily an illustrator. For, unlike some of my favorite artists, such as N.C. Wyeth and Edward Hopper, I did not view illustration as a prostitution of talent which they had to perform to survive financially.

In my early childhood, I learned much about drawing from comic books. I started a couple of comics pages myself, but never completed a story, an eternal fault in me. Also, my father occasionally brought me some Ford Times magazines, a small (4×6 inches) magazine that the motor car company distributed to its dealerships from the 1920′s until the 1980′s. Therein I saw delightfully finished watercolors, some of which I copied.

By the time I was in junior high, dreaming of becoming a cowboy, I read novels by Andy Adams (Smoky and Log of a Cowboy) and Tom Lea (The Wonderful Country), which they illustrated as well as authored. Some of my subsequent style was influenced, if ever so slightly, by Adams’ drawings. In particular, his drawings led me to try pen-and-ink sketching; and they suggested to me the importance of texture and shadowing.

In high school, I had pretty much outgrown my cowboy dreaming and given up the idea of an art career as well. At one point I “dedicated” my future to the ministry; a short while later, having read Irving Stone’s Clarence Darrow for the Defense, I shifted to a future as a lawyer.

Before I could enter any of those fields, however, I had to get my military obligation over with; so, not wanting to slog down a muddy road as a foot soldier, I joined the air force. And that’s when my artistic gifts — both as a graphic artist and as a writer — resumed their place in my life.

In the fall of 1959, I and about a dozen other airmen who had just arrived on the island of Okinawa had not received our permanent assignments yet. For a week or so we did menial type stuff, like cleaning up a storage building. Then, one morning as we stood in formation outside the barracks awaiting our day’s chore order, the first sergeant asked if there was an artist in the bunch. I raised my hand. The sergeant told me to go over to the crafts center and create a large Christmas scene to be placed above the hallway entry in Group headquarters (which was also our barracks building). I cannot recall if the sergeant gave me some money out of a petty fund box, or a requisition slip; anyway, it was not I who paid for the pastels and two large sheets of paper with which, that day, I finished the task: a Nativity scene. Just think, Uncle Sam was my first patron!

Nativity (1)

(You can enlarge this and the other images by clicking on them.)

Now, I realize that many of my readers are going to utter something like, “Ugh, how amateurish! The baby’s almost as big as his momma, Joseph’s staff looks like it is penetrating the child’s head, and those camels look more like overgrown cats!” But there are some positive elements here which I would like to point out to you: the baby looks like an actual baby instead of like a tiny adult, which too many “madonna and child” paintings present; the composition on the right-hand half of the picture (one of the two sheets of paper) is admirably balanced; and, on the left-hand page, the three magi arrive in a manner suggestive of progression. (One of the weaknesses in art, for me at that time, was that, compared to literature and music, one could hardly portray a sense of time passing.) Also, although I doubt that my notion of symbolism extended thus far at that time, the shepherd with the grossly long arm seems to be holding his staff in a manner that suggests a  barrier to the pagan world: Thus far and no further!

I was not really very interested in religion when I did that Nativity scene; it was just my assignment. However, one day an airman, overtaking me in the barracks’ hallway, stopped me and said, “Here, Litton. I thought you might want this.” It was a slide negative of my Nativity piece as it appeared over the hallway entrance that holiday season. I carried the negative with me for 25 years before having it printed. By then I was a recovering alcoholic in AA and had just regained my spirituality; so, literally as well as spiritually, my spirituality went from negative to positive after 25 years.

The following year, at the Protestant chaplain’s request, I wrote a poetic treatment of the Nativity story. My free verse rendering, when read by the chaplain on AFRTS, was interspersed with carols sung by a small choir. When we were leaving the studio, the program director came out of his area, waving his copy of our script, and told us, “That was the best thing we’ve ever produced here!” Unfortunately, I gave the only copy of it I had to a girlfriend; she was a theology student. She told me shortly afterwards that she had thrown it away. I didn’t ask her why, but I believe it was because of her ultra-liberal mind-cast, which had little use for mythology. For a while I recalled many of the lines, but now I can summon up only a few:

Seven archangels stood before the Lord,
And their leader was Gabriel the “hero of God”;
The Lord spoke to Gabriel from his dais
Above the sun……………………..
…………………………………………
“At first I thought my wrathful flood would cleanse them
But now I see that only love beyond reason will endure.”

A couple of years after leaving the service, I was an art major at the university. I did several pieces — water color, oil and tempera — during the two years before I changed my major to history. I sold one (a tempera of a modern Faust) to one of my classmates for $20; a few months later, while I was visiting at her apartment, I noticed the work on the floor with one corner chewed by her dog. I gave away most of the others, including two watercolors and an oil to a girlfriend who had them framed and years later admitted to me that she had lost them during her several moves. (She was the same young woman to whom I had given my Nativity poem.) I left an oil painting copy of Rembrandt’s “The Falconer” in my brother Elbert’s apartment; years later, one of his carpet layers, to whom Elbert had given the painting, told me somebody had offered him $50 for it. So, you see, financial gain was never a major incentive for me when it came to art.

I did do one art work on commission: a student majoring in another discipline told me his parents would like for me to do a sculpture of an old man and would pay me for it; I asked for $35 when I turned the finished piece over to his father. At the time, I had been admiring a popular “coffee table book” titled Family of Man. I resorted to it for my model: the late New York State Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand. (Don’t ask me how he got that moniker; I haven’t the faintest notion.) I sculpted a clay bust of Learned Hand and, being thoroughly irreligious by that point, titled it “Jehovah”:

IMG_0001 (1)

IMG_0002

My friend gave me these two Polaroid photos without my asking for them. Obviously they show the limits of photographing a gray object with a flash camera, but they are adequate to the purpose of retention as a memento. My friend’s name was Scott Lindsey. I don’t recall his parents’ names nor his sister’s. But they were a close family and good to me.

Before I leave “Jehovah”, I want to include another photo which my friends took, apparently using available light. It is weirdly dark except for some highlights on the heads and shoulders of Jehovah and myself, which, to me, makes it an artwork in itself of Impressionistic qualities. There is also a slight sense of the mystical resulting from the darkness/highlights aspect.

Jehovah

Before I gave up my art major, I completed another piece that I consider noteworthy in its draftsmanship, although I concede that the subject is not one fit for home decoration: It is the only mature work I have kept for myself and hangs now on my living room wall. I have titled it, humorously, “After Work H2O Cocktails”. It is a pencil-drawn copy of a whiskey ad I admired in a magazine. When I am blushing over memories of my artistic attempts, this drawing assures my soul that, once upon a time, I did indeed have the makings of an artist.

Black and White Print--more contrast

These guys are obviously professionals, possibly lawyers or CPA’s or Wall Street investment types, who work at the same firm. In fact, I would wager that the elder gentleman on the left is the firm’s founder, or at least the senior partner, and the fellow on the right with his elbow resting on the middle chap’s shoulder is next in line, while the latter is a “probie”. They might even be members of the same family — three generations!

Of late, I have wished I had kept at it with art. With the ease and inexpensiveness of publishing these days, everybody wants to be a writer. Would you believe that even the author of Ecclesiastes and Martin Luther both complained that too many books were being written? Also, while writing, depending on your memory of what you read long ago or “heard from a dead French lord”, you might be unintentionally inventing or carrying forward a falsehood; while in art, all you have to do is render what appears before you.

Just a few years ago I tried to resuscitate my artistic gift by copying with pencil some photographs in newspapers: It was a very disappointing exercise. What’s the old saying, “Use it or lose it”?

Finis

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL

 

 

 

Pappy’s Day

©2014 By Bob Litton

Whenever anyone, usually a stranger, wishes me a “Happy Fathers’ Day”, I feel just a wee bit guilty. But I do not feel much guilt, because it’s a day it seems that many people do not pay much attention to, not like they do Mother’s Day anyway.  Also, I have read many accounts of famous persons, especially of literary and theater notables, whose fathers deserted their families or abused them.

However, I am of the old school who believe that fathers who remain and perform their paternal duties, particularly as positive role models, at least tolerably well are beneficial to society as a whole. For, as much as we might hate this world and dread the endless oncoming catastrophes, we need well-developed, intelligent leaders to help us cope with it all. The logical conclusion to that dilemmatic condition is that children must be generated to grow into those leadership roles as well as into the hardy followership roles.

I have never been married, never fathered children. Therefore, I have not done my duty. Most of my life that lack has not bothered me, although there was a brief period, in my fifties, when I felt a strong paternal instinct driving me to ask a couple of young ladies to give me a baby: they refused.

I sincerely doubt, though, that I would have been a good father. The requisite qualities are absent from my genes; as attested to by my own father, who must have been warped by his own impoverished childhood. He reportedly never attended school beyond the second grade; yet he nonetheless read a lot as an adult, the only part of his life when I knew him.

What did he do? He painted signs for many years, built at least one house, worked on the Dallas Ford plant assembly line, and managed a small night club for a while. In his late years he sold mail order shoes and fireworks, operated a small hamburger joint, and played at being a night watchman at one of the large Dallas banks. He also gambled and hustled rich women, I was told.

He kept several chicken coops in the yard behind our apartment. One interesting aspect of this enterprise of his, that I did not learn about until Internet search engines came along, was that the day-to-day problem of chickens pecking  at each other’s butts spurred him into inventing an “anti-picking device”. That was the way he spelled it on his patent application in 1944, granted in 1946; I think he meant “anti-pecking device”, but don’t forget: he never got beyond second grade. Here, for any who might be curious enough, is the URL for that patent: http://www.google.com/patents/US2398316.

For many years he dressed like a dandy whenever the opportunity to do so occurred. He was tall and slender, had an aquiline nose, and intensely dark brown eyes (which my two brothers and I inherited). I have a black-and-white portrait photo of him dressed in a dark, double-breasted suit with a handkerchief stuck in the breast pocket, and a dark fedora: a regular “man-about-town”. However, late in life, during the “hippie” era, he let his hair grow out a small way and fastened it at the back of his head with a rubber band.

Since my parents divorced when I was still a toddler  — due mostly to Pappy’s philandering, although I think his slaps also had something to do with it — I never got to know him as well as “normal” children come to know their fathers. He would come over to the small duplex apartment where Mother and I lived and play pitch with me; he even bought me a fielder’s glove, which was a disappointment to me because I would have preferred a first baseman’s glove, which has the finger parts connected, but I never expressed my disappointment. Also, knowing I venerated cowboys and wanted to be one, he gave me some spurs; however, there again he had gotten the wrong type, for they were cavalry spurs (no rowels). With my artistic talent and inclination in mind, he built a large plywood easel, which Mother ended up using as a drying stand for washed clothes. (I had given up on the easel as far as art equipment was concerned because it had no base to hold canvases or drawing pads; it never occurred to me that I might have secured water color paper on the board’s large surface with masking tape: I was not even aware of such tape.) In addition to such gifts, Pappy’s contributions to my development were his teaching me, over the telephone, to tell time, and his instructing me not to push food toward a fork with my finger but to use either bread or a knife. A major education there!

One of Mother’s sisters told me that Pappy “was a brutal husband and a brutal father”. However, he never laid a hand on me; I suppose that was at least partly due to the fact that I was the last child and after my baby years he never had to be responsible for me on a daily basis. I believe, though, that he probably had come to realize, after the experience of my three older siblings, that brutality was not acceptable behavior.

My elder brother apparently got the worst of it, at least judging by his own account. Several times, my brother related an incident to me in which he begged Pappy not to speak harshly to our sister, who had inadvertently locked the outhouse door. Pappy, my brother recalled, kicked him in the chin. My aunt told me that my brother took up weight-lifting after that, swearing that Pappy would never be able to treat him that way again.

Pappy was not a religious person. Once, when I tried to talk to him about God, he responded, “And before God created the world, who created him?” That is a rather antiquated atheistic argument, but I was very young then and stumped. Nevertheless, late in life he began to read paranormal psychology books. He apparently even got to the point where he thought he could command other-worldly beings, for, one day, I noticed a piece of paper on his table where he had written a demand that some spirit must bring him a small fortune…now! How peculiar that one can be so rationalistic about a deity and yet so superstitious about genies and gremlins!

I have already written about his death and funeral back in 1985. I posted it here with the title “Ashes” last May 31.

Like the other members of my immediate family, Pappy was a conundrum I will never understand. Like us, he had his few virtues and his many faults. And like us, he fought with and yet clung like glue to us. Like Mother and my brothers, he is a continual presence in my brain that will never disappear.

Finis

 

 

 

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