I Am Big. It's the Pictures That Got Small

for those wonderful people out there in the dark

28 November 2006

Time to Cash It All In

Well, after viewing this video, I now know that it's all been done in the world of poetry, and nothing more to do than to cash it all in. For your viewing pleasure, Sally Kirkland reading her poetry:

Actually, because of the creepiness (or is it the leopard-skin blouse or the Trish Nixon hair-do?), it's kind of hot.

18 November 2006

Florida, Florida, Florida Follow-Up

The Florida State Board of Governors have put a halt on the proposed development of the FGCU satellite campus, which is summed up in this article.
In fact, the board's action actually signals a change in direction, both FGCU President Bill Merwin and several Charlotte County commissioners said Friday.

In the future, it won't be up to FGCU but the county to negotiate a deal, Merwin said Friday.

His comments came a day after the state board shot down FGCU's proposed deal to build a 150-acre campus amid a 2,400-acre ranch owned by Hudson Sun-River. The site is located off U.S. 17 at the DeSoto County line.

The university board expressed a concern that the magnitude of the developer's offer, worth some $70 million in land, cash and utility commitments, would obligate the state to designate the site a "branch campus" instead of a more modest "satellite center."

The state board has recently begun working to increase its role in determining where branch campuses for both universities and colleges should be located, Merwin said.

"In a nutshell, they didn't want a developer setting policy for the board of governors," Merwin said.

I applaud the Board of Governors for their decision. That a university becomes a part of a development proposal (as an enhanced amenity, as it were, almost as good as a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course) is more than unseemly. What is frustrating for me is that my university has continued to seek expansion in undeveloped wetlands or panther habitat, rather than in the hearts of existing communities (other than its Naples Center).

It's not that I have ultimate faith in the Charlotte County Commissioners; they'll very likely make an equally short-sighted decision. But at least the Board of Governors formally recognized that policy for university development shouldn't be in the hands of those whose interest is purely financial.

P.S. I appreciate the comments I received from my earlier posting. I did receive some anonymous ones (which I routinely delete), expressing concern about my speaking out and jeopardizing my situation at my university. My complaint here has been about this specific university policy and practice. Let me say here that I do believe President Merwin's motivations are fine, to establish greater access for higher education, and he has done a tremendous job of making that so.

If I suffer from Florida-hate, little of it is job-related, but more about the larger degradation to the South Florida landscape. I realize that the most moral answer is for me to leave, to not be yet another contributor to the very problem that gives me such pain. Ah, but where to go where that is not so? To live off the grid in Vermont as my libertarian-spirited student has heroically chosen? To become Ellison's invisible man? The remedy for me, at least, as quaint and impotent as it may seem, is poetry. That and to shout out when I can, as I can.

13 November 2006

Helen Mirren, Helen Mirren

Yesterday, had almost a four-hour fix of Helen Mirren, likely my favorite actress. First, finally got to see her wickedly humane (in an intelligent, intelligent screenplay) in The Queen, from the very opening, when she simply turns to the camera, unwavering, she is unnerving, a regal seeing through her subjects. All without an arching of an eyebrow, all without a heavy winking at the audience, but just that glorious face.

The movie is mostly up to her intelligent portrayal (Prince Philip and Tony Blair come off cartoonish in a couple of scenes, but I love the bitchy take on the Queen Mum, too), especially with the very fine argument it makes on her behalf, by her example. It remains a comedy throughout, but the piece is mournful, actually, of the death of rectitude and forebearance the Queen's generation represents. It's far more than merely a stiff upper lip, but a call to place everything in proportion, to submit to a duty. Ironically, the Queen's humiliation, so devastating played out through Mirren's gifts, is that she must yield as duty dictates. Yes, it mocks the Queen's cluelessness, ruthlessly so. But the film (and Mirren's performance) also curtsies before her majestic and quiet equilibrium.

Then getting home, we watched the first half of Prime Suspect 7, to see the final edition of Helen Mirren's 15-year treatment and inhabitation of DCI Jane Tennyson. Here, in her character, is more fire, but it is also a cold and anguished one that burns in Mirren's rendition. Jane does not smile. She does not fold her arms defensively. Her gestures all express and exert Jane's stabs at authority, amid the fissures she shows in this deeply flawed and noble character. It is the very best of television, and this rivals the first two series in writing.

Of course, I first really came alert to Helen Mirren in her wonderfully sexy role as Rosalind in her performance of As You Like It, the BBC version in 1978. I saw it then while a sophomore at college, and Mirren was brilliant, vibrant, especially when Rosalind dons her male disguise and instructs her beloved Orlando on the ways to woo a woman. Her Ros expresses her masculined tinted lustiness, but it's all feminine, too, and joyful in the playing. So much, I know, was made of Gwyneth Paltrow's performance in the splendid Shakespeare in Love (and yes, I did like the unraveling scene), but Helen Mirren's unadorned pleasure in this boyish and womanly portrayal is so much more on the surface, as it should be.

11 November 2006

Florida, Florida, Florida

Brown Anole and Sea Grape, Sanibel

I'm in one of my hate-Florida moods, which is becoming a daily occurrence for me. What I intensely love of Florida is the native landscape: scrub pine, palmetto, sea grape, cabbage palm, muhly grass, saw grass, Virginia creeper, live oak, mahagony. Of course, these are the "colorless" plants that tropical landscapers replace with more "authentic" flora, all to conform to some Ohioan's idea of what Florida should be. It's the way that a chanteuse singing in English with a French accent is somehow more authentically French than if she sang in French.

Okay, I probably hate Ohio more than I do Florida.

My hate-Florida mood is also deepened by a variety of calamities (that's too big of a word for it, I know) with my home institution: for instance, an incredibly short-sighted and typical proposal to develop a satellite campus as a part of a large real-estate deal that would further cause development in panther habitat. This actually repeats the original sin of my home institution's founding ten years ago, which is described in a news story by Michael Grunwald of The Washington Post:

The classic case was the proposal to build Florida Gulf Coast University on rural land donated by Ben Hill Griffin III, the scion of a prominent Florida agribusiness and real estate family, and the brother of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

Eller didn't think Griffin's 760-acre land gift was so altruistic, since Griffin's firm owned 11,000 acres nearby. Eller predicted in a memo that the new university would stimulate "unprecedented" development up to seven miles east, demolishing prime panther habitat. In September 1994, Eller and other biologists drafted a "jeopardy opinion," a formal conclusion that the project would violate the Endangered Species Act.

Then the power politics began.

First Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) forwarded the wildlife service a letter from former water district chairman James Garner, a well-wired lawyer-lobbyist representing Griffin. After meeting with Garner in Atlanta, Fish and Wildlife officials quickly backed down. The revised opinion still said the project "raises serious concerns regarding the future status of the Florida panther," but its jeopardy finding was switched to a no-jeopardy finding.

Then the pressure shifted to the Corps. Then-Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) wrote Col. Terry Rice, then the agency's Florida commander,urging him to approve the permit. Chiles, a Democrat, also wrote Rice to "emphasize the importance of FGCU as a state priority."

"My God, the curses I heard from members of Congress over that university," recalled Rice, who now works on environmental issues for the Miccosukee Indian tribe. "It was just brutal."

In the end, Rice issued the permit. The new university -- which specializes in environmental education -- is already surrounded by a sports arena, the region's largest mall, Ben Hill Griffin Parkway and several rambling 18-hole subdivisions. Environmentalists call it Florida Golf Course University, and signs on campus warn against feeding the alligators. During a recent driving tour, Audubon Society biologist Michael Bauer described it as "an ecological disaster." A moment later, an errant tee shot nearly hit his windshield.

The university was supposed to be southwest Florida's turning point. In exchange for the permit, Rice demanded that a regional growth commission be established to devise a plan to protect panthers and the Estero Bay watershed's dwindling wetlands. When Lee County rejected the plan, Rice angrily ordered a sweeping environmental study of the Corps program here. "We were approving projects all over the place; we had no idea what we were doing," he says.

Today, the study still languishes in the Corps bureaucracy.

Of course, the above is old news as far as my university is concerned, and it's only gotten worse since this article four years ago. The only good news with the university's new proposal is that it met with a uniform protest against it by the Republican state legislators of Charlotte County, where the new satellite campus is supposed to be built.

For me, personally, I am becoming far too weary of all of this continued chipping away of the wetlands, pinelands, panther habitat, etc., all under the guise of educational development. Of course, it's about greed.

I again wonder why do I continue to endure here. Is it because of the unspeakable ache I feel when I watch a wood stork walk across a fairway to the golf course pond to feed? Or that brown anole among the sea grape on Sanibel?

02 November 2006

William Styron

Sad news about the death of William Styron, who died at the age of 81.

Styron was a singular talent. He'll be best known, and rightly so, for his novels Sophie's Choice and Lie Down in Darknes. He also wrote a remarkable memoir, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, but I think I'll remember best his controversial novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner.

That novel, perhaps because it did win a 1967 Pulitzer, was eventually excoriated in William Styron's Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond, edited by John Henrik Clarke. These essays took to task Styron's liberties with the facts of Turner's life, that Stryon's was another case of white appropriation of Black Culture. Most objectionable, it seemed, was the depiction of Turner's sexuality and married status (in the novel he's a celibate with one homosexual encounter, whereas the "real" Nat Turner had a wife who was a slave on another plantation), and of what was seen as black authenticity, as the essays chided Styron's handling of "black" psychology and religiosity.

Styron had longed defended his novel as an imaginary excursion, as a novel. Eugene Scheel of The Washington Post asked of Styron his response to this controversy in 2001:
Replying to such criticism, Styron told me in June that his book is too often treated as a work of fact. He pointed out his author’s note: "During the narrative that follows, I have rarely departed from the known facts about Nat Turner and the revolt of which he was the leader. However, in those areas where there is little knowledge in regard to Nat, . . . I have allowed myself the utmost freedom of imagination."
Unfortunately, this essentialist attack, grounded in the politics of the Black Arts Movement, held sway among liberal intellectuals in the late 60's. To be fair, the essays in Clarke's book also called for black artists to take up their histories, to draft their own Nat Turners, to stake a claim in their own histories, and so the polemic was more than just an attack on a Southern white novelist.

It is not surprising that Styron with gusto then launched into a novel about a Catholic Polish woman and her surviving the internment of Auschwitz. Styron's defiance was purely and simply an affirmation of the imagination--this is what writers such as James Baldwin, Charles Johnson, and Ralph Ellison have championed in Styron as well.

Yes, Stryon did appropriate Turner's voice. But that's true of any novelist or poet who uses the first person perspective for any character--and this is true of my own first book of poetry, which was written mostly from the perspective of a trapped and dying miner. But that appropriation is a gift of the imagination, to be in someone else's shoes. How small and narrow, then, if we are restricted to inhabit the shoes of those only closest to us, our own kindred and kin. Without the imaginative gifts, we are alone. For this important reason, I am deeply grateful for William Styron.