Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sunny Day: Creative Platypus

Sunny Day

The Sunny Days have returned
(You can have them)
Soon, no one will want them.
Heat and humidity will send
Us all in doors
and things will go unseen
as so much of the World
Does that can’t be
Viewed from a screen.

I think Hell is full of screens
Where we watch anything
but what we should be watching.

You, Stranger, who pass
Through this day with me,
Stop a moment with me
to regard the things
That need regarding.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Proclamation, December 2017: Creative Platypus

Proclamation, December 2017

I Do Proclaim:

That this is my hour.
I take as my demesne
All things that you reject:
Rainy days,
Cold, crisp Autumn,
The glistening thickets of Winter,
Old churches,
Graveyards.
And the moss about the foot of trees.

I will be kind to postmen,
And those who prepare my food.
Praise God for tobacco, and
The fellowship of working men
Smoking cigarettes on the porch.
I will thank God for immigrants
Who cut grass,
Domestics,
All who do the work my Irish ancestors
did.
Praise the Almighty for every man
Who calls himself a stranger in his home,
Chronically reduces his boil to a simmer.

I will not forget you either,
If you have what you love
Taken from you
Yet remain unbowed.
You are my teacher.

I welcome All
From the boarders of my kingdom
In the particular-
A shake of hands
Or a nod
Between potentates.

Monday, February 06, 2017

On Rainy Days: Creative Platypus

On Rainy Days

On Rainy Days like this one
I feel Gettysburg in my bones-
or maybe Plymouth-
seeing puffs of smoke in
the wet air
when no one else is out.

You happy people
who will not face the
Rain,
you Insiders, who never
looked in through lighted
Windows
and wished to God that you
belonged:

What do you know of
Astor or of woodsmoke-
who never had the larger fellowship
that comes with being
Alone.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Moby Dick: Creative Platypus

After a drawing by Rockwell Kent
Marker on Strathmore Toned Tan

A whale-ship was my Yale college and my Harvard.
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Howard's Conan: Final Thoughts: The Platypus Reads Part CCCIX

Well, I've done it: I've finally finished Robert E. Howard's entire Conan oeuvre. The journey has been several years long, and I've also taken side trips to cover Howard creations Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn, but I have finally reached the finish.

What do I say now that I have reached the end? When I began this journey, one of my friends quipped that Conan should be known as "the venerially diseased" instead of "the barbarian". Others told me that they had simply given up along the way -the racism and misogyny were too much. I did give up on Howard's younger contemporary, Fritz Leiber, for about that reason. Having read to the end, I can confidently say that these criticisms are true: Conan is not a good man, and Robert E. Howard was a cynical nihilist out to earn a buck -but that's not the whole story. Conan and his creator also reflect the realities of the Great Depression and a life on America's not-so-tamed former frontier. It was an age of motorized bandits, speak-easys, okies, mafia, and lynchings. Howard reflects that reality in his fantasies as surely as Tolkien and Lewis do the Great War and its sequel. It's that artistic integrity -to show the world the way he saw it- that kept me reading. Texas often makes no sense to me, but reading Howard I get it just a little more than I might otherwise.

I love Lovecraft in spite of all his evils because he loves New England. I don't love Howard, but I do see in through his eyes how someone could passionately love Texas. Thank you Rob.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Conan: Beyond the Black River: The Platypus Reads Part CCCVIII

This post will cover two of Robert E. Howard's Conan short stories: Beyond the Black River and The Black Stranger. Prior posts on Conan and his world can be found by following the "Howard" tag at the bottom of this post.

Beyond the Black River:

The last phase of Howard's Conan stories find him transitioning from the world of oriental adventures to the American frontier. Beyond the Black River owes more to books like Buchanan's A Salute to Adventurers than to Chesterton's The Ballad of the White Horse. Nonetheless, Howard still preserves the ancient world setting by calquing the American frontier onto the Roman frontier and cover the whole thing with a facade of Hyborian places and peoples. The author's commitment to side with barbarism over civilization comes to the fore here and the lesson seems to be that of the noble savage showing up the folly and weakness of society. One wonders, given Howard's deification of the "barbarian," how he thinks the United States was ever settled by Europeans and transformed into a modern nation state. With this final decision to side with barbarism also comes a firm decision to side with racism and misogyny as well a generally darker tone that sees the death of all the lead characters except for Conan. Which leads us to...

The Black Stranger:

The Black Stranger is a more "barbaric" retelling of Beyond the Black River. Howard eliminates as many civilized elements as possible by peopling his cast almost entirely with Picts, pirates, and outcasts. As with Beyond the Black River, there is a touch of the supernatural to make the story fit for Weird Tales (The Sci-Fi-Horror-Fantasy magazine Howard sold his Conan stories to). Unlike Beyond the Black River, Howard throws us into the heart of the siege and allows us to witness the sack and ruin of the Zingarian fort. This key choice ramps up the brutality of the tale and makes the action feel more immediate. The ruin of the fort also marks Howard's farewell to civilization as each of the remaining stories pictures Conan assaulting the corruptions of urban society and returning to a life of wandering.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there is one real gem in this episode: the cave of the cursed pirates. The great banquet table with its eternally slumbering feasters seems to be a direct parallel with the cursed feasters in The Voyage of the Dawntreader. Given the dates of the two stories, it is entirely possible that the scene inspired C.S. Lewis or that both authors drew from the same source material (perhaps the table of dead kings in King Solomon's Mines?).

Friday, December 30, 2016

Conan: The Servants of Bit-Yakin: The Platypus Reads Part: CCCVII

It's been a few years since I last dipped in to the world of Robert E. Howard's sword-swinging barbarian, Conan. While the writing is always high quality, the racism and sexism that riddle Howard's oeuvre is hard to handle in large doses. After a good, long break, then, I decided that it was finally time to have a go at finishing my annotated edition of the complete works.

The Servants of Bit-Yakin:

The Servants of Bit-Yakin returns us from the microcosmic novella that is The Hour of the Dragon to the world of the standard Conan adventure story. Once more, we return to the pseudo-Africa that so dominated Howard's imagination. This tale, with its ruined city created by a lost race of white men who were able to perfectly preserve their corpses, and its eternal queen apparently owes its inspiration to H.R. Haggard's She. Rather than give us another She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, however, Howard evolves the adventure in his own way with the mysterious element  coming in the form of the savage creatures that haunt the ruins, the servants of Bit-Yakin. These gorilla-like monstrosities may have cast their shadow over Michael Chrichton's Congo, but they are very much the sort of degenerate "monsters of evolution" that fascinated pulp authors like Howard and his pen-pal, H.P. Lovecraft (see especially Lovecraft's The Cave). In keeping with Haggard's She, the source of this weird peril seems to be rooted in the natural, though the super-natural is never ruled out (also a common feature in Lovecraft's consciously atheist fiction). The other characters in the story are true to Howard's types: the courtesan, Jim-Crow-inspired superstitious and lustful Africans, and Conan as the Barbarian with a code that forbids rape and mandates saving women in distress over accumulating shiny things. Stories like The Servants of Bit-Yakin prove that Howard's genius had very little to do with what he wrote about and everything to do with how he wrote about it. The story works, as Howard's stories always do, by careful attention to plot, mood, and pacing.