Miranda July – An Inspirational Tweet

 

I’m in – as Greta Gerwig would call it in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress – “a tailspin”.

I’m putting this amazing tweet here to make me feel better by reading it – along with listening to Hotel Voulez-Vous and David Sedaris reading Roy Spivey on The New Yorker Fiction podcast on loop. (And probably re-watching Frances Ha…).

Okay: some Marc Maron too…

More later.

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“Every Love Story is a Ghost Story”

The delicate beauty of a quiet loneliness
Shattered by companionship. The soft trembling
Of the first embrace; cold hands touching,
Interlocking; a slow fade into love.

The warmthness of a haunting takes hold;
A shimmering cut-glass affection belied
By their own personal paranormal paramour.
And that was called love.

When they were young they felt peculiar
Because their friends wanted to hear ghost
Stories to frighten them: they saw the romance.
They wanted to give a shy cry out of love.

They have beautifully gentle eyes offset
By intense, off-kilter [ugly] faces. Nocturnally
They think about oblivion before finding
Atonement in each other’s optics. They have a love.

One night they will be locked out in a
New York blizzard. Quietly freezing into
Death; the ghost will become them –
And they shall be united in love.

E.M. Forster weeps in the corner… – Lost In Florence Review

“It doesn’t matter,” a character declares about a returned love interest in Evan Oppenheimer’s incredibly banal A Room With a View flirtation, Lost in Florence; a line which produced one of the few laughs in the film; a line which could be drenched in knowing irony and self-awareness, though almost-definitely isn’t.

The quiet streets of Florence shimmer quite beautifully before being interrupted by the loud American sports drama the film truly is at heart (if we give it the compliment of suggesting the film possesses that particular organ). The love story underneath the entirely vacuous ridiculously-masculine dialogue of teamwork and determination and whatever else the magnificently on-the-nose script hurls at the audience – glimmers like a delightful Nora Ephron film waiting to be picked up.

When Lost in Florence isn’t playing as a tone-deaf Lifetime movie, the film is not without certain pleasures. Alessandra Mastronardi as always radiates charm and infuses the coldness of the main love story with a sense of warmth. Stana Katic too remains an effervescent presence, managing a lovely subtle performance despite being given an even less-developed character than the others. It also cannot be denied that the DP captures Florence with an exquisite grace the rest of the film is not deserving of – but from which it benefits greatly.

And yet the eternal stream of cliches – verbally and with regards to the horrible score – plague the film and allow for little joy when we are confronted with the mind-numbing dullness of the sport scenes. This Florentine sport – teased as being so incredibly dangerous – manages to be even more boring than the sex scenes. It doesn’t help that the lead actor lacks charisma in such a manner that I am honestly surprised that his name is not Chad, and has not – to my knowledge – appeared in an early 2000s teen dramedy from The WB (not that that would necessarily be a bad thing…).

It seems impossible to accept the idea that sex scenes – sex scenes starring the devastatingly beautiful Alessandra Mastronardi, no less – could be boring: yet Oppenheimer manages to make these scenes breathtakingly unsexy by taking the time to have Mastronardi be mansplained the intricacies of American football by the soulless protagonist Not-Chad.

Lost in Florence, one should make clear, is reliably entertaining fluff – there is, after all, always a beautifully human pleasure in romances. The film also provokes laughter, intentionally or not, solidly throughout. Connecticut will always be an amusing punchline; Katic’s exasperation raises a few laughs, as does Mastronardi’s gift for timing; the horrifically stereotypical English ‘lad’ characters and the cringe-inducingly silly American tourists are so splendidly misjudged I let out a dry chuckle a couple of times.

This film made me yearn for the quiet majesty of Allen’s To Rome With Love – a beautiful film underrated by most, included, at first, by myself. And having seen a great sports drama rom-com in the form of the Finnish masterpiece The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki the previous month – I was struck by how great this film could have been with a better script and director.

Whilst there are enchanting glimmers of a charming Florentine romance within this laughably-vacuous sports drama – the film buries it under a layer of schmaltz even a hopeless romantic – nor two divine actors – can successfully break through.

I’m Losing My Mind

Paranoid; in love;
Neurotic; depressed.
Stressed out – I turn to
God: whilst believers turn away.

I rant and I rave
Against omnibenevolence;
I beg for forgiveness:
– I am given it.

I find friendship.

I turn up my nose –
The friendship erodes.

Propped up on painkillers –
The deluge remains –
Behind the levy –
Senses overworked.

The neurosis breeds:
I can’t breathe…

Suffocated, I write.

Lying in bed

[“Y’know, Proust did this too.”],

I count the cost.

I turn to love, turn off the light.

I still haven’t lost.

Automat

She is pretty.
She is familiar.
She is not here –
Anymore.

Her coffee cup
Remains as she
Goes to a foreign
Country she loves.

He was – is – there
And there they kiss.
And she was – is – not
Alone: – in love.

But she is still
Here and her coffee
Has grown cold. She
Can never leave.

Here she is lonely.
And he will never be
Here. We will all
Join her.

The Loss of Pretension Conveyed via Mass Pretension: In the Form of Verse

For a control freak:
Losing control is a tragedy,
Giving up control is a miracle –
This was my revelation last Thursday.

Under the blacklight – or
Under neon buzzin’,
I guess it all started
With My Perfect Cousin.

As Sharkey did that thing –
The nervous little quiver –
I spotted Cindy, incidentally:
Thus: the opening of arms from Shiva.

As I elevated my gender studies
Course to OH BONDAGE! UP YOURS!
I moved about in cautious improv
Choreography: “I will be hers”.

As I walked like an Egyptian to her
With Why Can’t I Touch It?
She (un?)consciously drifted:
And proceeded to have a fit.

The flailing limbs weren’t my
Issue. Benign aggression rendered
As somewhat endearing – ’twas the
Beat – the lack of the strong third.

Dum-dat-dat; dum-dat-dat;
Dum-dat-dat; dum-dat-dat.
Structurestructurestructure,
WhatwouldAustenthink: Aghast –

As The Big Country ushered in
A twang – it ushered in my
Hypocrisy. In that moment
I became abstraction. My

God, I was given an
Ultimatum – either I
Gave up self-control –
Or I gave up my bliss. I-

Either/OrEither/OrEither/Or
I gave up control and realized
That was my bliss itself
Not just a facility.

I became the equivalent of
The song – indeed, I morphed
Into it. We became one entity.
Stars. Colours. Shapes. Lifted

To a level attainable only
Once. The room, the song,
And I bled into each other.
Cynthia’s blue eyes.

Losing control is dangerous.
When one simply succumbs
To this abstraction though –
One finally connects.

And this is love – for
What is love if it is
Not a relinquishment.
Dancing became movement.

The descent into powerlessness
Lit us up. Academic attraction
Provided the framework for love
To flood in. Floods.

The experience was
Overwhelming – it lasted
Five minutes. We
Never left reality –

We entered into
Heightened reality.
Music and movement
Transcend entirely.

This is love; this is life.
Random chance reinvents
Itself as fate.
This is life: Darling,

This is love.

How Larkin & Jennings Express Love

“Seems like old times, here with you.”

There is something about the nature of love which seems to prove itself completely irresistible to poets. There is something, too, about the nature of love that makes lovers desire understanding from poetry. In Elizabeth Jennings’ Love Poem and Philip Larkin’s Love Songs in Age – one reads poetry not only of love but self-consciously of love poetry (or songs – which in their way are poems) itself. Both deconstruct the poetry of romantic love – yet deal with the idea of romantic love in its essence differently. Love Poem is in part a polemical poem against grand romanticism and advocating instead for a sort of quiet passion; in part a manifesto for Jennings’ outlook on love, poetry, and life – that one should be passionate with a restrained poise. Love Songs in Age is poem of disillusionment of the poetry of romantic love – and of romantic love in and of itself. It is a poem against these love songs – these poems – that set people up for disappointment by espousing these unattainable utopian ideas of bliss that ultimately can never be filled through human relationships. Love Songs in Age is a poem that finds no sense of true romantic love; Love Poem finds it in a different place.

This distinction can be found within the form of the poems. Love Songs in Age sprawls through its verse with a flow of enjambment. This form is like a huge wave – a gushing of sadness from its subject – only reaching true finality with the final, end-stopped verse. Like the devastating ending to Miranda July’s celebrated story from The New Yorker, Roy Spivey, Larkin leaves his ageing female subject with a sense of finality without closure – a crushing realization of the disappointments her expectations of romantic love have led to. Like that story, too, we have a sense that the subject is leading a pleasant life, that these innocent fantasies of romance promised to her by love songs are the only source of trauma. Larkin, a great champion of the ordinary life, finds sadness only in the deception of romantic love – not in his subject’s actual situation. Love Poem, meanwhile has a clipped form of three end-stopped stanzas of six lines each. The form of the poem symbolises that emblem of refined romanticism – the waltz. Each stanza ends with a refrain of “O love is kind, O love is kind.” – with only a slight variation in its final stanza. Jennings cannot find true love in the way classic love poems celebrate, as Larkin cannot in love songs, yet she instead finds a sense of true fulfilment in love through elegant discretion. This form brings out the main thesis of the poem – that “Love which cries out,/…Is love that holds itself in doubt.” Rather than write a long, sprawling, passionate poem filled with romantic platitudes – Jennings writes a phlegmatic, controlled poem on the subject.

The diction of the poets throughout both poems work to bring these central ideas out. Love Songs in Age paints an image of vulnerability with language. Larkin’s use of words, “submissive”, and “lamely admitting”, is used to convey his central meaning of the poem – that one is always vulnerable to the false hopes of romantic love. One could perhaps link this defeated view on the truth of love to a perceived lack of fulfilment Larkin could find in his relationships with women – with his noted infidelities and his numerous failed romantic endeavours – as discovered with the publication of his letters. Yet although Jennings was notoriously plagued by the emotional trauma brought about by her failed engagement during her final days as an undergraduate at Oxford – she finds more hope in the prospects of love. Yet, like the poem encourages, her diction is positive though not ostentatious – instead utilising simple, pleasant language such as “sweetness” and “kind”. These words have a soft effect – along with “shyness” and “quiet” – that are not provocatively passionate, but instead have a humility in love that the poem yearns for. The diction of both poems are muted: Larkin evoking the melancholia of disappointment as opposed to the desperation – Jennings mutes the grand romanticism her title is immediately loaded with, and uses language instead to convey that true love runs deep.

As with all writers associated with The Movement, rhyme and rhythm are of great importance in the poems of Larkin and Jennings. Love Poem begins each stanza with a rhyming couplet before a set of alternate rhyme. Almost like a small, benign flutter of the heart, before gaining control – the rhyme scheme once again replicates a waltz – helped in turn by its iambic tetrameter rhythm. To evoke the waltz in the mind of the reader is to evoke a traditional facet of romantic love that almost reaches the point of cliché – and instead gives it a new meaning. The waltz as a dance and in music is firmly regimented – however much passion lies within it. There is no great extravagance in the design of the poem. This regularity of rhyme and rhythm is an example of what the poem believes – that real love does not need affected flamboyance as it is strong enough by itself. The “first sweetness” is followed by a composure and the poem settles into its own assurance that “love is quiet and love is kind”. Love Songs in Age, in stark contrast, never settles. The lack of strong regularity in its rhythm and rhyme places the reader on edge through the poem. Through this, Larkin is not offering the sort of assurance the love songs he decries in the poem give. Larkin’s desire through his poetry was to make his readers “less deceived” – in this poem Larkin attempts to dispel the romanticised ideals of love provided by what Larkin sees as the essential lie of the love song – in the aid of preventing heartbreak when these ideals can never be attained.

The major difference of the poems’ ideas on love can be found with their different uses of imagery. Larkin’s use of personification applied to the abstract concept of love displays his disbelief in romantic love and carries with it a belief that investing in romanticised ideals of love will only lead to pain and sorrow. This can be seen in the line “The glare of that much-mentioned brilliance, love,/Broke out,”. This discomforting idea that love is a “glare” sets aside any positive interpretation of his use of the word “brilliance” – instead its meaning as an uncomfortably intense light is all that is left. Jennings’ use of metaphor is on the other hand positive – although it deceives on its surface. The “shaking of the heart” Jennings describes can have two interpretations. One is a negative idea that the heart is upset in the pursuit of love. The other is that love is only strengthened by the “pain” it encounters. With every shaking of the heart – one brings more love into their heart. In Love Songs in Age, Larkin takes issue love songs for promising some love that no-one can ever truly find; in Love Poem, Jennings takes issue with love poems for their brashness and insists, unlike Larkin, that the more reserved love is true love, even under duress – rather than the idea that true love does not exist in reality, and any pain one goes through in search of it – or after when one is disappointed by their expectations – is not worth it, as it is never possible anyway – which is what Larkin seems to put forward in Love Songs in Age.

To finish their two poems, Jennings and Larkin show their background of academia by using a similar rhetorical pattern to make their conclusion – both a summation of their theses. In Love Songs in Age, Larkin laments of the inability of love songs to give the romantic love they promise and uses repetition to fully cement this idea. “It had not done so then, and could not now.” has a complete absence of hope. Larkin offers no respite – leaving only, as he sees it, the inconvenient truth, that to believe in romantic love is to experience crushing disillusionment and sadness. There is no cynical judging of those seduced by the ideals – but there is no glimmer that the ideals could be realized. Love Poem uses its final line to amend its previous refrain to “For love is quiet, and love is kind.” Jennings agrees with Larkin’s idea that the romanticised ideals of love as traditionally glorified in poetry is not true love – but offers true love as an alternative. Jennings uses the final line of her poem to give an instantly quotable manifesto for introverted lovers – and provides hope of a beautiful, attainable love – and in doing so does what the great love poems (songs, stories, films) do – defy conventions of romantic love, and establish new conventions.

Philip Larkin, the pessimistic curmudgeon who “stuck it out in a library in Hull” sees no value in love. He sees it solely as a cause for great unhappiness. Elizabeth Jennings sees beauty in reserved romance, in a shy love. A love that is so powerful it can go unnoticed. There is no truth in grand romanticism – but there is great truth and beauty within the quiet love shared between those who feel no need to qualify it. Love is love is love is love: that has intrinsic beauty.

“And I remember quiet evenings, trembling close to you…”

How Larkin & Jennings Deal With Loss

If poets of The Movement are categorised by their inclusion in the influential New Lines anthology of 1956 and characterised by their Anglophilic simplicity – it is perhaps easy to underestimate the somewhat peculiar emotional complexity of two of its best known ‘members’ – if one can even address them as such – Elizabeth Jennings and Philip Larkin. Rather than a simple reduction to being united by a distrust for the urbane and a nostalgic patriotism – it is perhaps more accurate to unite these two, very popular poets, with their contrast of literary accessibility and psychological profundity. For example, their elegiac poems of loss – Absence and The Explosion – are plainly written but emotionally powerful works that differ just as the personalities of their auteurs differ.

One of these differences can be found in the poems’ tonal dispositions. Whilst both are concerned with loss – Larkin’s The Explosion carries a sense of dread throughout. Early on – before the explosion – this pathos is built up in the foreshadowing line “One chased after rabbits; lost them;”. This line builds up a constrictive tone of dread that continues throughout the poem – foreshadowing a loss that will deliver a far more severe blow after innocence fades away by the end of the poem. Absence, however, whilst definitely melancholic in tone, is far gentler. The pleasant, almost willowy, alliterative opening line of the poem “I visited the place where we last met”. This line presents a pretty sort of sadness that continues throughout this poem. Absence and The Explosion both take quite different approaches to a very similar subject. Both are emotionally rich but Larkin does this in a more outwardly-cold manner than Jennings whose words radiate a certain warmth. Both are emotionally complex – but Absence is more emotionally sensitive (as The Guardian’s obituary of her phrased their description of Jennings’ poetry) than The Explosion.

Perhaps this difference is due to the seemingly autobiographical nature of Jennings’ poem in contrast to the detached third-person nature of Larkin’s poem (a necessity given Larkin’s lack of direct involvement with the mining accident; he bore witness to it only through a documentary he had watched). Jennings perhaps gains an intimacy with her subject unavailable to Larkin due to this new style of her despised Confessionalism that she helps create in poems like Absence. By placing the poetic voice as first-person – talking of birds “Singing an ecstasy I could not share” – Absence carries an emotional heft that is similar to The Explosion but also very different. Larkin’s use of third-person can emotionally describe how “Wives saw men of the explosion” but – it cannot give the same psychological roundness to the women that Jennings can naturally give to the poet’s voice in Absence – by firmly putting herself in the voice’s situation and reacting in the poem – almost as an actor would – rather than simply describing what the poet can see – in the manner of which Larkin is – in a sense – limited by in The Explosion.

And yet The Explosion carries in it a spirit of hope that cannot be found in Absence. Larkin ends his poem with a pungent piece of visual imagery that can perhaps be prescribed metaphorical significance – “One showing the eggs unbroken.”. This sort of end is unusual for Philip “Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.” Larkin – although not without precedence (the beautiful irony of his disarmingly romantic end to An Arundel Tomb – “What will survive of us is love.” – being his Poets’ Corner epitaph – and most beloved line has shown this peculiarly optimistic side to Larkin before). This line symbolising the continuation of life – how “There is a crack in everything: that’s how the light gets in.” is nowhere to be seen in Jennings’ Absence – despite the gentler tone. Her metaphor of “An earthquake tremor” – as surprisingly figurative as Larkin’s given The Movement’s aversion to figurative language (thereby giving an indication of how important the two lines are in their respective poems) – is what is described near the end of Absence – no glimmer of hope. In some ways Absence conjures to mind images of Celia Johnson’s heartbroken wide eyes in Brief Encounter. Larkin finds hope even in genuine physical tragedy – yet Jennings deals with emotional tragedy – succeeding, in the same fashion as great 1940s melodrama to capture the distinct and almost irreconcilable emotional trauma one goes through following the loss of a loved one – somehow in this place – hope is even harder to come by – but with that gentle tone – Jennings is almost saying: that does not mean one should stop in the search of hope and reconciliation and happiness.

Absence uses more severe diction like “savage” to juxtapose the negativity of these words with the serene atmosphere of the garden location. The “pain” and “discord” Jennings describes undercuts the benign scene her voice is set in. Larkin uses juxtaposition in a very different way in The Explosion. After describing an emotionally intense scene leading up to the eponymous explosion – Larkin breaks up the poem with a stanza of dialogue presumably from a prayer conducted at a memorial – “The dead go on before us… in God’s house in comfort,”. Not only does this make a change from the previous stanzas of this poem but it marks a change from the sceptical ‘Agnostic-Atheist’ of most Larkin poems. Larkin uses juxtaposition to carve out a hopeful image despite the loss the poem describes; Jennings uses juxtaposition to carve out a painful image despite the generously gentle atmosphere of the poem as a whole.

This difference in the poems’ reactions to their respective losses is also seen in their form. After a series of ominously end-stopped stanzas – Larkin eases into a more emotionally open use of enjambment – the image of “men of the explosion / Larger than in life” carrying a greater sense of hope. Absence end-stops each of its stanzas. Jennings uses a strict alternate full-rhyme (with one brief exception of half-rhyme in the third stanza – almost replicating the poem’s voice choking-up with barely held-back tears) – all stanzas uniformly of five lines. Absence does not cease in its gently melancholic atmosphere – in a sense it is static in its own emotional tragedy; The Explosion is dynamic – rising from the ashes to a new sense of optimism and hope in the face of bleak circumstances.

As E.M. Forster noted the importance of having both “dynamic” and “static” characters in novels – so too we need “dynamic” and “static” poetic ruminations on loss. Absence is poem that stresses the human need to wallow when it comes to a great loss. The Explosion is a poem about the human need for some sort of hope and optimism – some form of raison d’être following a loss of catastrophic proportions. The event changes those-involved’s situation irreversibly and profoundly – as does the poem – and so too the reader’s notions of Larkin as an artist.

“Wondering if you’re happy is a great shortcut to just being depressed.”: On 20th Century Women

Mike Mills really is one of the most humane artists I’ve come across. I found this film genuinely life-changing to the point that I find it very difficult to articulate just what it is about it that made me fall for it to the extent I did.

Perhaps it’s because it’s the closest experience in cinema I’ve had to my experiences of reading Woolf. Mills perfects this style he used so brilliantly in the lovely Beginners that approaches stream-of-consciousness. He’s unafraid to have a character read an extract from a book in a voice-over; to show archival still photography; to include an extract from another film. The film feels guided by Mills’ own thoughts. It’s also genuinely funny. From the hilarious dinner scene involving a both intriguing and delightfully uncomfortable (maybe it’s due to being from one of the most repressed areas in Western Europe – but I really felt for the exasperated mother in the scene) discussion of menstruation – to the wit of the film’s characters: it earns its descriptor of comedy. It’s also genuinely warm and optimistic: this is not a film against anything – it’s a loving portrait of humanity. And of course there’s the link in the film’s brilliant dealing with feminism. Not just the lodger Abbie’s radical feminism and her influence on Jamie: but Dorothea’s revolutionary actions. No one is limited by their gender – in the wake of the underlying acceptance of misogyny in society as seen through recent political developments (what might I be referring to?) – this film is unfortunately relevant.

Yet it’s still very rooted in its time. Especially for its brilliant capturing of punk rock and of dancing.

Yeah, it’s like they’ve got this feeling, and they don’t have any skill, and they don’t want skill, because it’s really interesting what happens when your passion is bigger than the tools you have to deal with it. It creates this energy that’s raw. Isn’t it great?”

The performances are among of the best I’ve ever seen. Billy Crudup delivers the best performance I’ve seen from him (and I think he’s always wonderful) as the kind potter William. Elle Fanning continues to be nothing short of breath-taking in a role that, acted badly, could be reduced to a simple rebellious, edgy teen who becomes more irritating with every year one passes: but as Julie her intelligence radiates as it has done ever since her remarkable turn in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere. Greta Gerwig acts, as always, with a compassion, intelligence, intensity, warmth, depth, and beauty that I think is only matched by the great Diane Keaton, as cervical cancer survivor and punk-rocking, forward-thinking photographer, Abbie. She is, as Hermione Hoby recently called her, ‘The Indie Queen’. Of course, the whole film would fall apart if Mills’ surrogate Jamie was not well-acted. Lucky, then, that Lucas Jade Zumann is incredible in this complex role. The role required, like for Julie, to rise above the teen-movie archetype a lesser actor might have gone for. The performance is emotionally spot-on and fully realized. And of course, what is there left to say of Annette Bening’s awe-inspiring performance as Jamie’s mother and the true centre of the film, Dorothea? Bening goes for no cliché. She is not strict-yet-kind; not an angel; but a woman: with all of her flaws and all of her brilliance intact. Bening’s performance as Dorothea is of the standard to carry the film on its own: that the film doesn’t simply ride on its coattails makes the performance and the film all the more magical.

The music is perfect. From Talking Heads’ masterpiece ‘The Big Country’, to the great insurgency of the sadly-underrated The Raincoats, to the great swing music of Dorothea’s youth. And then there is the score. Roger Neill’s evocative score is so powerful and does so much for the film’s structure – just as he did on Beginners – guiding the viewer through the music. The score is always wistfully out-of-reach, fading as it shimmers – evoking this sense of beautiful nostalgia that is at once haunting and wonderfully light. Sean Porter’s gorgeous cinematography, too, gives this sense.

Which is what the film is like. This film refuses to judge. It depicts heartbreaking moments in a beautifully light manner. When the film reaches its final shot – after a tying-up of loose ends that includes how the characters would die – I felt uplifted, not depressed. Mike Mills has created a masterpiece of beautiful sincerity – and all of those involved have provided some of their most incredible work to help give it shape. Mills is one of the most humane artists I’ve encountered, and the film can be read as a beautiful love-letter to humanity itself whilst also being an intensely beautiful love-letter to the 20th Century Women who made him who he his. And he is the sort of artist we should be thankful for. This film is an antidote to cynicism in a way very few other films can claim.

This is a film for the ages.

Some things just can’t be fixed. Just be there.”

Possibly, by Lesléa Newman

“to wake and find you sitting up in bed
with your black hair and gold skin
leaning against the white wall
a perfect slant of sunlight slashed
across your chest as if God
were Rembrandt or maybe Ingmar Bergman
but luckily it’s too early to go to the movies
and all the museums are closed on Tuesday
anyway I’d rather be here with you
than in New York or possibly Amsterdam
with our eyes and lips and legs and bellies
and the sun as big as a house in the sky
and five minutes left before the world begins”

Oh, to write like this…