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Tuesday, 21 July 2009

"Meant to be..."


.






Meant to be

a propaganda image

for the "war effort" --

the four of

them together

beneath the low

one room

school house roof --

meant to be

collective incentive --

understood now

as an enhanced

past. Yet can't help half



Rural school children, San Augustine County, Texas (LOC) by The Library of Congress.


imagining half

remembering

the original:

All that

direct open

American

certainty of life,

all that

awkward earnestness,

all the best

laid plans, all

the good intentions

in the world.








Rural schoolchildren, San Augustine County, Texas, 1943: photos by John Vachon, US Office of War Information (Library of Congress)

24 comments:

human being said...

can't see the pictures of this post...
Tom... are these 4 the same 4 you write about in the previous poem?


...
imagining half
remembering
the original:



this tells a lot...
and i think about the other half... and what made it disappear... and if it is found one day...


peace

TC said...

human being,

It's sad you can't see the images. This is a different set of photos, not the same characters as in The Knot. Here I used three Library of Conress images from the Office of War Information, a WWII propaganda department. Beautiful photographs of young schoolchildren in a rural schoolhouse in Texas. They wear the expressions attributed in the poem to the American character. The bottom image show a freckled schoolgirl standing before a map of the world. Americans always standing in front of the map of the world as before a private property. A happy confidence about this imaginal ownership, But how much longer.

Dale said...

Tom, yes, all the certainty and earnestness shines so sweetly in those faces. Where did that world go? San Augustine is far to the eastern side of the state, close to Louisiana: I wonder how it survived the war and the intervening decades of globalism since?

On another, but not entirely unrelated note, I saw Fritz Lang's "Manhunt" (1941) last night. It was so interesting to see how people carried their bodies, how they spoke--all the assumptions of elocution and style. It's a propaganda piece, too, of another kind, and yet so responsive to the time. And George Sanders' monocle is a hoot.

Marcia said...

Tom,

This one-room schoolhouse is my territory -- the forgotten American relic. Mine still stands ("Plainview"), built by my grandfather (a German immigrant) and stuccoed with his own hands. It's where his children and grandchildren learned the basics and "citizenship."

Hair slicked back, faces clean and eager. The map -- a central focus of the room. What their dreams may have been -- who can know? Some to run the family farm, others to travel to the far-away places on the map (many times outdated and tattered). The government photographer does his job, practicing his art; the government's message -- subtle, beneath the surface.

Just as the maps have long since disintegrated, so has the innocence of the children. Some are gone forever, some now witness an unimaginal demise.

Thank you for your poems, your careful placement of visual art to accompany your words. Your blog brings richness to the day and provides a springboard for thought and memory and sometimes one's own poetry.

Marcia

Lucy in the Sky said...

It is very sad to realize that sometimes good intentions lie a long way from good results. Anyway, I cannot think of a sensible sentence containing both the word "war" and the phrase "good intentions". Only propaganda can do that.

Great post.

TC said...

Dale, what interested me was, as you suggest, the physical presence and self-presentation. Seen at larger size, the photos reveal interesting apparel paraphernalia--the chain of paper clips dangling from the one boy's belt, for example. And the little girl with the freckles. The map, when you get closer up, reveals the world as apportioned in 1943. Africa then bears little resemblance in its national divisions to Africa now. We're looking in a time machine.

Yes, Marcia, a lost world. There are these photo archives, there is your memory. From these evidences that lost innocence may be recalled. But Lucy's comment reminds me that the photo was the work of the OWI and that the work of the OWI was war. Not that it was not a "good cause", "well meant"; the poet Olson, indeed, worked for the OWI during that war.

But the purpose was what it was, and how that is looked upon may depend on where you're looking from.
Using children in this way might be seen as making dupes of them. Their innocence disqualifies them from "intentionally" taking part in that in which they are being made to take part.

Haven't Americans quite often "meant to be nice" when actually in over their heads?

Annie said...

My mother used to tell me to be nice. "Who wants to be 'nice'?" I'd ask her. "That's what you say about someone when there's nothing else to say. I'd rather be interesting." Don't know if her shudder was fear of what others would think, of what I might do, or the fact that I should have been more precise in tempting fate. But I digress.

Schools at War. Despite the fact that these staged Rockwellian photos are clearly the work of a propaganda machine promoting collective duty, what hits me is these all-American kids clearly have their own agendas roiling in their skulls, even as they're doing their part for the war effort. Look at the sky outside in the first shot. It's either really early morning or getting dark; judging from the stained knees, probably the latter, unless they had to do farm chores before school. No wonder they seem to be merely politely tolerating another adult demand. These same guys posing near the poster don't seem nearly as into it as their illustrated counterparts. There's some kind of reserve/skepticism there, at least on the part of the eldest. Might just be from taking direction from outsiders but being too polite to talk back. That oldest boy seems to already have the small-L libertarian ethos of the wide open spaces: don't mess with me and I won't mess with you. (I do like the paperclip watch fob.) The only one clearly thrilled to be there is La Belle du Monde. That she's been chosen means something entirely different to her than Manifest Destiny. There are always worlds within worlds.

As propaganda usually does when viewed in hindsight, these reveal the cynical exploitation of the facade of niceness more than their creators would ever intend. Americans tend to forget about the backstage puppetmasters, or tend to want to, anyway. Maybe we just can ignore them more easily because most of the time, our neighbors aren't reporting us to them and we don't have to pay tribute to them to gain permission to do something, at least not on a daily, open basis.

That direct open certainty. The province of privilege, and perhaps gender. Moving through the world, especially if inclined to go where you aren't supposed to, introduces the necessity of a more invisible humility, so as not to draw trouble. Good peripheral vision helps, too, so you can watch/watch out without being obvious about it.
Being able to take a long road trip without crossing an international border might also make one think honorable intentions are enough, and if not, just keep going. Nothing like centuries of instilled enmity between tribes or peoples defending turf to disabuse one of that.
If you're lucky, someone teaches you the visceral meaning of subjective reality at an early age. At 3, I told Lee (Owen Lee's middle namesake)she "talked funny." The lightening-struck fire behind her "You don't talk so good yourself," plus the inarguable truth of that totally schooled me in how it all depends on where you're coming from how things seem to you. Perhaps that's more important than protecting self-esteem.
On a totally different note:
Man, those are some Texas-sized freckles on one so tender. As another pre-SPF Celt who grew up in a sunbaked clime, I sympathize, although my own freckles did not debut until adulthood. My mom and I displayed the Black Irish ability to brown instead of burn. Karmic debt on installment plan, besides melanoma: endless lectures from whippersnapper doctors (generally non-Westerners) about sun damaged skin, even though that horse was not just out of the barn, it was dried glue. I shudder to think about this little girl's dermatological experiences...

Zephirine said...

This reminded me of this clip from the brilliant propaganda film Listen to Britain made by Humphrey Jennings in 1942... the children are staged, but still affect one with their own simplicity. The look on the little girl's face towards the end of the clip as she watches the armoured vehicles drive by, what is it? guarded enthusiasm? genuine excitement? just the sun in her eyes?

Zephirine said...

Sorry, that link didn't work - trying again:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cztGv6qWM8

Elmo St. Rose said...

"direct open American certainty
of life,
all that awkward earnestness..."

I reference Walt Whitman's
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
and
Robert Creeley's reading of it
on the Naropa internet archive.

TC said...

Zeph,

Yes, that's a lovely equivocal moment from Listen to Britain. Not long ago we watched again all Jennings' wartime films and they hold up better each time one comes back to them. The obvious patriotic motive--after all, this is what allowed a delicate young surrealist assemblagist to get his work out there to millions and millions. But as the war goes along, the films grow "gentler and more oblique", as is well said by one of the talkingheads in the Jennings doc The Man Who Listened to Britain. They are cultural repositories crafted with dignity and restraint, beautiful.

That Jennings doc is posted on the aether in segments, this segment goes into the period of Listen to Britain and the need of people under the strains of wartime "to feel yourself as part of a culture".

The Man Who Listened to Britain(3)

And thanks so much for taking the trouble to do up the Jennings link twice--in fact it came through fine at this end both times! In return I wanted to find for you some late 40s footage of schoolchildren's songs in Edinburgh, no patriotic utility (after all the Scots were at war with nobody, at the time), just life as lived--it was on the BFI Free Cinema disc, but we no longer have that and anyway the bit with the children's games and songs was the only thing in the "free cinema" compilation that actually felt unstaged, the Anderson work did not age well... and in the course of that trail I found myself discovering that the ever severe (except when falling head over heels for David Harris) Lindsay had writ five episodes of guess which Fifties TV series involving a certain outlaw of Nottingham Forest?

TC said...

Annie,

"You talk funny!" reminds me of what the buzzard said about the dead clown: "smells...FUNNY!" And I agree with you that it's getting increasingly impossible to dial up nostalgia without getting that buzzard buzz...

And as to that little densely-freckled geographette... three hundred skin cancers down the line, I get your meaning about the utter defiance of racial history involved in Celtic American exposure to sunshine. Our sort were meant for the bogs and coverts. Too late are the joys of gloom (and of course doom) discovered. In fact, where's my total cultural heritage? I think I'll pack it right up and throw it off the circus wagon at the next bend!

TC said...

Elmo,

Well, I've just clicked my way through the 845 videos and 12,297 audios in the naropa files and I don't think I've listened my way through more meanderings and ums and ahs and soft shoe shufflings in any other single night my life, the purpose of this whacky mission being the capture for you and all our little company of that elusive link to RC reading WW's Crossing the Brooklyn Ferry. Pretty crazy and no wonder humanbeing has called me a clown in love, I am evidently in love with fruitless searches. I can tell you that no such video exists and though there is an audio, it is 92:35 minutes long, and begins with endless stretches of circular Bobspeak before slowly entering a reading of a prose essay by Ezra Pound... a half hour later he was on Edward Arlington Robnson... I had been lead to believe by the voice of the "archivist" (sounded like Kush) that the Whitman reading was on this tape, but grey dawn is now breaking and I can swear to you, brother, if I lack the patience to listen my way through to the Whitman reading, its is only because I'm mortal. In the end I threw the towel in on my own idiotic conscientiousness, threw the link in he lake, and gave up. Who that reads this blog is going to sit still for ninety two minutes and thirty five seconds of rough audio to wait for a reading that might or might not be coming???

Better idea: since you apparently have heard or seen this reading, send me the link you used, and I will metamorphose it into clickability for the impatient millions.

TC said...

Finally, Marcia, your comment has been echoing around in the ancient cranium (mine that is).

"Just as the maps have long since disintegrated, so has the innocence of the children..."

Marcia, I dug through the files, and thought you might be interested in some of the elders commenting on those particular Library of Congress photos.

Beverly:

"Yes... the paperclip belt was just something fun we did back then!!! Can't think of anything similar except maybe those people who walk around with chains hanging from their belts. Children didn't usually have their own money so buying a wearable 'fad' would not be possible. We made our own :) "

Wade from Oklahoma:

"Seeing these in color (and I'm a b&w shooter, mostly) really does make them seem contemporary. So much so, in fact, that I forget momentarily that if these boys are still alive today, and this photo was taken circa 1943, then these boys are close to seventy years old today, if not a bit older."

Rawart90:

"Yeh Wade I might have rubbed elbows with them; I lived in San Augustine off & on between 1973--1982. I remember when I was there in 1974 & my oldest was a baby, an elderly farmer came up to us on main street & caressing her said: "You sweet little sugar pudding!" I did hot roofing there that summer when it was over 100 degrees on many a day--roofing the school--working for Louis Runnels--a fine gentleman. ( the tar out of the kiln was 550 degrees & God knows how hot it was up there on the roof with that brutal Texas sun! I weighed 150--compared to my present 193! I was the most tanned @ any point before or since! )"

TC said...

Here is Elmo's link:



Robert Creeley on the Imagination of Procedure, Part I: with reading of Walt Whitman's Crossing the Brooklyn Ferry

human being said...

thank you for the explantion... you never let your friends be embarrassed by darkness...
:)

and let me add another point about Americans... they are critical of themselves more than many other nations... they more easily talk about their 'negative' points...

and this is really positive!

TC said...

HB,

Interesting thought. Could it be that Americans have more negative points to talk about?

Where to begin?


And speaking of self-criticism... and of clowns (were we?)..

Zeph,

I don't know whether it's the heady effect you have on me, the meds, or just another senior moment, but I see that a few nights back, in wandering off my own thread, I called Richard Harris David. You resisted putting me right, but this is getting tiresome. You come along with a brilliant comment and out pops my inner clown, or shall we say my inner BTP merging with my outer clown... and my head starts swiveling around like that of Linda Blair in... erm, the Blair Witch Project was it?

You see it's like this. David Harris was a Sixties student political activist (speaking of senior moments). David Storey wrote This Sporting Life. Richard Harris was the lead. Hans Christian Andersen, the director, fell head over heels for... let's see, was it Humphrey Jennings or Humphrey Clinker?

TC said...

Elmo and Friends,

As there is growing unanimity of opinion that getting to the Whitman bit on the RC-at-Neuropa tape takes the patience of an angel who's also a saint and maybe in restraints, various ways around the problem have been gnawing at me.

I came up with two quasi-solutions.

First here is Creeley telling a bit of perhaps invented lore about another poet, not Whitman but Lorca, and then reading a poem which, as he explains, is a sort of Lorca Morph, "After Lorca".

I don't think Lorca and Walt make a half-bad match.

The poor love it, and think it's crazy

And then, of the several video versions of the Whitman poem floating around, probably the least excruciating (if only because the briefest) is this one:

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry (spectral 48 second fragment read by the Ghost of Christmas Past)

Okay, best I could do. And I'll admit I ask myself why I did it. So please open fire with that secret hidden relevance datum, Elmo!

Zephirine said...

Tom: as one who not long ago found herself unable to remember the word 'amnesia', I'm certainly not entitled to tut over other people's minor lapses of memory.. in any case, Lindsay A may well have had a penchant for David Harris too, for all I know.

Yes, Humphrey Jennings was exceptional, and the documentary is well worth watching even in bits.

It was all about making people believe that getting bombed out and having their life turned upside down, not to mention possibly being killed, was worth it - no easy task. But people will do a lot of things if they beleve it's for the sake of their children, which brings us back to Little Miss Freckles and her schoolroom friends.

Elmo St. Rose said...

Yes, it's a lot work to get to
the reading of the poem,but it is
a lovely journey,only a little over
an hour,and you hear,the complex
life,influences,historical, and
temporal,some formal and some ad lib of a master poet of incredible
charm and education. Then after,this jagged eclectic,quadruple counterpointed
discussion,Robert Creeley,assumes
as he might have said,his American
poet occasion,and reads the poem,Crossing Booklyn Ferry with a perfect voice.
The stillness of the audience is
observed. The poem itself I believe
addresses the American future:
"It avails not,time nor place.......distance avails not,
I am with you,you men and women of a generation,or ever so many generations hence......"
At the end:"We fathom you not...we
love you...there is perfection in
you also,
You furnish your parts toward eternity
Great or small,you furnish your parts toward the soul."
The river in the poem is the East
River...though New York has always
been a place of excellence...America does exist
west of the Hudson. This poem of
Whitman's is a prophetic desire
for America.
Now where was the Brooklyn ferry
crossing geographically?just north
of where the Brooklyn Bridge is
and Brooklyn heights. It turns out
that this also happened to be the
exact point from which Washington's
army escaped Long Island when
surrounded by the British....There was a providential wind and fog
that kept the British navy in the
bay...and Washington with army,
and supplies crossed the river intact. No Washington, no America,
perhaps no Hawthorne, Melville,
Whitman...but I have no idea if
Whitman had any of that historical
information.
Photos from the OWI in WWII might
then be appropriate to go with that
poem.
Yesterday,a patient of mine,whose
husband was a veteran of the European part of WWII brought me
in some of his letters written to
her at the of the war. He would
have looked like the young boys in
that photo when young. In addition,
to surviving combat he witnessed
the concentration camps. His letters,though simple and straight
forward were written with an eloquent hand....the horrors he had
seen and hope for the future. He
became educated and spent his life
as a county extension agent...
essentially agriculture/raised a
family etc..
I first listened to this link....
during early days after 9/11. It was Robert Creeley, whose life and
work,in a way,gave me the tools to
live in a world potentially filled
with a great deal of horror. It also was reported around that time
that Al Queda had targeted the Brooklyn Bridge and I thought to myself
they appear to know us better than
we know ourselves,similarly,as the
Nazis had known the Jews and why
they knew how to easily kill them.

Now that's my story and I'm sticking to it. I do recomend the
entire link,not necessarily,my entre into it, to Lucy in Sky with
Diamonds(of course), to Human Being
(because Creeley was not just good
with words...but was a master of
despair),to Zephrine who didn't
have to pay us back a dime on lend/
lease....sorry to ramble folks
it's been a long week.
Just one here for TC...William Bonnie was from Brooklyn,alias
Billy the Kid....romanticized for
shooting a lot of people.....
Back now,in psyche babble,they would call that oppositional defiant disorder.......it's a good
trait for a poet to have,if it's
gene penetration,so to speak,is
appropriate for the time and place,
poetically speaking that is.

Zephirine said...

Thank you for the links, Elmo.

Just for the record, though, you might like to check out the Wikipedia page on lend-lease - apart from the various military and naval bases handed over to the US by Britain during WWII in exchange for that vital help, there was also this arrangement just after the war ended:
Lend-lease items retained were sold to Britain at the knockdown price of about 10 cents on the dollar giving an initial value of £1,075 million. Payment was to be stretched out over 50 years at 2% interest. [8] . The final payment of $83.3 million (£42.5 million) due on 31 December 2006 (repayment having been deferred on several occasions) was made on 29 December 2006, it being the last working day of the year. After this final payment Britain's Economic Secretary, Ed Balls, formally thanked the US for its wartime support.
Sorry, not wanting to score points - in fact the existence of that loan was never mentioned by successive UK governments until it was paid off, so maybe it isn't known about in the US either.

TC said...

Zeph,

Very interesting... er, what was that we were talking about?

(It seems that "we" are often more aware of how extremely generous "we" are, than of the repayment terms "we" extract.)

Elmo,

I do like a man who sticks to his guns. You have once again helped us to understand the condition our condition is in (as the song used to say, in a more bubbly context). Whitmaniacs unite! And I am sure that Zeph will have that repayment check in the mail instanter... as we all link hands round the world, come on people, all get together, pay us back right now!

Speaking of debts, Elmo, I owe you these two:

RC's one minute reading of "Please":

This is a poem for everyone...please come

And this little RC obit poem:

as if time were endless...

Elmo St. Rose said...

Dear Zeph,
Do you know why there will always
be an England?

It's not King and Queen,though,they
may help.

It's William Shakespeare, William
Blake, and the Rolling Stones. Ok
the Beatles too.

Do you think it was Winston's
American part or his English part
that saved Western Civilization?

And speaking of saving: Dear Human
Being it was an Iranian who saved
me from getting my ass kicked in
college by an angry fraternity dude.
Since you're a poet, that's two
reasons I'm for working with Iran
rather than the other way. Though is
it possible we could bring back
Omar Khayyam for a general influence or something?

Zephirine said...

Elmo: I think it was Winston's bottle-of-brandy-a-day-and-don't-interrupt-me-when-I'm-painting-a-picture part.