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A photo of three women's legs in fishnet stockings.

Working Girls, Morality, and Capitalism

People—even the poorest most downtrodden of us—have one thing of value with which to bargain for food or shelter or a pretty trinket or a fancy dinner for two at some high-end bistro, or maybe for their very lives. It’s a commodity that needs no stock broker or bank vault or coin purse. In  fact, money and cars and stuff are treated with more respect and care than items of barter: their bodies. And bargaining with their bodies for basics, for extras, for salvation and groceries, for safety and security, produced—for women as well as men—a whole range of policies and emotions, a wide swath of anger, and apoplectic reactions to the merest idea, even the slightest suggestion, that prostitution should be legalized.

The arguments against legalization of sex for money (or is it money for sex?) mostly bunch together in just a few main categories: health concerns, legal  problems, safety issues, and the big one—the one which overlaps and underpins most of the others—morality.

Health concerns are often mentioned in connection to the sex trade. It is argued that legalizing prostitution would lead to regular health checks, perhaps medical insurance. Toulouse Lautrec’s painting, “Rue de Moulin: Medical Inspection,” shows us this idea of inspection was already obvious in the 19th century. But some arguments against the idea of legalization are that health tests are unreliable, they take too long to result in definitive diagnoses, and one I really smiled at:  thinking that health testing would prevent disease is like thinking pregnancy tests prevent pregnancy, which is as flawed an analogy as one could find, since both kinds of tests are not taken to prevent anything, but to see if anything happened. In both cases, action of some kind would be taken if the tests were positive. Health IS a concern, but maybe OSHA could open a cubicle in their main office for this. In any event, if prostitution were to enter the mainstream consciousness of society, all the concerns of health and safety would have to be addressed.  Admittedly, current health and safety issues of non-sex workers aren’t being addressed very much now, but at least the idea of providing health care for prostitutes would always be a legitimate policy matter for governments to address. […]

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The opening scene of rice-milk drawings from Jean Renoir's "The River"

The Romantic Longing within Jean Renoir’s “The River” (1951)

It is not easy for the child of a well-known artist to embark into his own successful, creative realm. Certainly this does happen, but what I mean is that the child of the so-called artist must manage on his own without need for the parent’s name to bring leverage. It is a tricky game, as one must thrive whilst not being in the shadow of someone else. (Jean Renoir is the son of yes, that Renoir—Pierre-Auguste Renoir—the renowned painter.) I mention this because when one is the son of a famous artist, there is always going to be a pressure to succeed and not be seen beneath the wing of the parent.

Whilst I have seen a number of Jean Renoir’s films, The River is my favorite and the most wonderful. Filmed in Technicolor, it is told from a young girl’s perspective—the romantic, distant dreamer. The innocence within offers a similarity to that of Renoir the painter, in that, this world is pleasant, beautiful and mostly without worry. There is the desire to remain young and within a kind of forever.

Patricia Walters plays Harriet, an upper-class British girl who crafts poems in her diary and dreams about the world from her lush Indian home set along side the Ganges River. Here, her world is peaceful and tranquil. She has a secret place where she escapes to write by candlelight. The film is set in the past, likely around the year 1946 following the War and we hear Harriet’s perspective in voiceover, told years later. Jean Renoir crafts his opening with Indian women using rice milk to draw circled shapes upon stone as the credits roll. And what a comfort this brings, wherein this world is about as far from War or turmoil as could be—yet it is not without the longing that accompanies one’s inward struggle. […]

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A stylized photograph of a woman standing in a fork in the road, reminiscent of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"

Only Two Roads? On Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”

Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” hearkens back to a simpler time when someone may have faced only two choices at any one time in his life. The narrator is presented with two roads and must choose only one if he is going to continue his walk. It is a simple fork in the road. The walker is not facing multiple choices; only two. Written in 1915, a contemporary reader may think: how quaint, two roads. In today’s world choices seem to be multi-dimensional. The question arises, does the poem have any relevance today?

In a world almost governed by social media we get the notion that choices are nearly infinite and fleeting. Many of our lives are filled with fast change where nothing is permanent and choices are not set in stone. There is a feeling of chaos on some level with some people clinging to science and others dependent on emotions. You hear the comment, we have too many choices.

Was there really a time when people had fewer choices, maybe only two? Robert Frost’s poem seems to indicate maybe so. Has the technology outburst created a world out of control? Do we regret this and yearn to go back? Well, we can’t go back. Like the walker, we are pushed to move forward. […]

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Stylized images of Herman Melville and Vivian Maier.

Vivian Maier, Herman Melville, & The Artist Underneath

‘We had no idea she was a photographer,’ said Vivian Maier’s employer. These were the words muttered during the filming of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier (2013). It is the story of a woman who spent her life working as a nanny to only then be discovered posthumously as one of the greatest street photographers. ‘We didn’t know some creative person lived here.’ I don’t suppose, however, that anyone might have seen her walking about with her Rolodex in hand? Might that offer a clue?

While I don’t begrudge this individual for not knowing—or at least recognizing—that Maier might have had some creative inkling, to her employers and the outside world, she was ‘just a nanny.’ I mean, why would there be more? Could there possibly be some artist underneath? Or is this just another example of the arrogance of the non-artist? So what is this arrogance, then? We toil within in an image-driven world, where the thought of anything beyond what one sees does not exist. Maier worked as a nanny and so this is all she would ever be to those for whom she worked. Vivian Maier—Nanny Extraordinaire and nothing more.

I have only had one person of authority ever recognize something special about me. My high school English teacher—Mrs. Vaughan—she could see I had writing talent. Not only a teacher—she was an artist herself. Yet other than she, no professor, no employer, no supervisor ever saw anything more than how I outwardly appeared. Usually lacking in confidence, I’d labor among only to repeatedly feel misunderstood and forgotten. ‘But you don’t know what people think—perhaps they did see more,’ one might suggest. Alright, I’ll humor this a moment. ‘I know you,’ one of my supervisors said. Admittedly, her words made me cringe. She meant well, but whom did she know, exactly? I wanted to inquire but did not. I was, after all, forced into subservience, as I wished to keep my job. So, rather than address it, I continued to feel shoehorned into a culture I felt I did not belong. God forbid if my passion points to creativity over corporation. […]

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Stylized photos of Ruben Dario and W.B. Yeats, who wrote versions of the Leda and the swan myth.

Leda And The Swan: Rubén Darío vs. W.B. Yeats

Poetry is as much about the choice of one’s perspectives as it is about more technical matters like diction, rhythm, music, rhyme – meter, too, if one cares to deploy such archaisms. Sometimes, the difference between a so-so poem and a good one is vantage point. No, not the physical location of the speaker (although this could be at play), but the abstract place from which a poet directs the flow of image and idea to the reader. For example, if one wanted to write a poem about Hannibal crossing his army over the Alps, one could take a simple scoped-out view of the ordeal and wax lyrical about its militaristic importance, but this is one step removed from the contents of any old history textbook. It’s also possible (and possibly more fruitful) to, say, write from the perspective of a weary, homesick infantryman, or one of the elephants, even, or just refer to the moment obliquely from an altogether separate occasion/mindset; anything, really, that does not operate from what immediately comes to mind and is thus most obviously interpreted.

This is all very vague and general, of course; so, to see this in clearer action, let us compare two poems on the same subject matter: the myth of Leda, the Greek princess raped or seduced by a swan-manifested Zeus. The most well-known poems on the topic are W.B. Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan” and “Leda” by the Nicaraguan Modernist Rubén Darío, the latter of which I’ll tackle first. […]

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A stylized screenshot of Glenda Jackson as Stevie Smith, in the film "Stevie" (1978)

Poetry’s Recitation, Reflection: Glenda Jackson as Stevie Smith (“Stevie”, 1978) 

Stevie Smith (1902-1971) prided herself on her individuality. An iconoclast born Florence Margaret Smith, she lived her life in England and died of a brain tumor at age 69. She worked a publishing office job for 30 years until her poetic achievement allowed her early retirement. She never had kids nor did she marry. In fact, she shares similarities to both Marianne Moore and Emily Dickinson in that all three women have an oddness (or is it fondness) about them. Stevie Smith’s verse is unique in that she uses a nursery rhyme approach whilst addressing sad or ‘dark’ themes, often with biting humor. It was rumored that she was a combination of high wit with a dash of the naïve. But then again, aren’t we writers all a bit of this?

Stevie (1978) stars Glenda Jackson as the lead and what a lead she is. Whilst this isn’t a One Woman Show, the film focuses much on the poet’s daily life, her relationship with her affectionate aunt (Mona Washbourne), her views on life, art and poetry. ‘Not a literary person,’ Smith says, with regard to her aunt. The two laugh it up over sherry and sometimes gin. At one moment, Stevie Smith rejects a marriage proposal from a male suitor, claiming that she is better as a friend. ‘I need to be away,’ she says. ‘But I always come back.’ […]

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A stylized image of Ladbaby, a UK video blogger.

Quiet Bloodletting: Tax Avoidance and the LadBaby Distraction

It’s 2022, and the UK has 4.3 million children in poverty and 49% of children in lone parent households are amongst that number. Many of them during the height of the pandemic had their free school dinners revoked. After campaigning by football player Marcus Rashford, the government U-turned on this decision, only to send out a “week” of those dinners that in reality were “Two potatoes, one tin of baked beans, eight single cheese slices, two carrots, three apples, two bananas, one small bag of penne, one tomato, three Frubes, two Soreens and a loaf of sliced bread”.

The scandal of one year can be old hat by the next, and completely forgotten by the one after. This is the case with the school dinners fiasco, which embroiled the UK government in early 2021 and is now almost completely forgotten about. The necessary thrust for writing politics can be in how it connotes a larger systemic inadequacy, or act of deliberate machination. And despite UK politics being a narrow niche, you feel compelled to untangle the web.

This article is a portrait of the apparatus UK democracy has assembled – an apparatus in which by covertly cutting services and tightening purse strings the government creates an urgent problem in living standards, and then seems to solve this crisis. However, the solution is worse than the original service, funded by charity/private sector companies, and often owned by Conservative affiliates. This is with the intention of tax-dodging on an enormous scale. The government then obfuscate this underhanded switch by publishing high-profile scandal and policy, ad infinitum. Then follows the inevitable sacrifice of a hapless Minister for Health and Social Care, or Education, and the damage is never undone, justice served. […]

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A stylized screenshot of the two lovers from Jane Campion's "Bright Star"

The Long Longing in Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” (2009)

The life of a poet is rarely easy. Feeling unappreciated, unrecognized, misunderstood, allied with one’s inability to make a living—the list goes on. But for John Keats, he not only struggled at life but also at death. Succumbing to tuberculosis at 25, the early death of Keats is one of the great literary tragedies alongside other early deaths— Oscar Wilde, Buddy Holly and Joseph Seamon Cotter, Jr. Just what might they have produced had they lived? Yet for Keats, his lush verse reveals an eager, sensitive mind that grew into one of the most well-known Romantic poets. 

Jane Campion’s Bright Star is not so much a film about romance as it is about longing. Roger Ebert describes the young couple as ‘Forever in Courtship’—that is, if only their lives together could be as strong as the love they both long for. The film’s title is taken from one of Keats’s poems, which he wrote for his love interest, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). Keats (Ben Whishaw) is the artsy intellect who mutters artistic insights on a whim, whilst still conveying vulnerability therein. Whishaw is well cast, as he is thin, impoverished and handsome. He wears a dark, velvet coat and carries a top hat. He has a brooding introspection about him, and we can see this whilst he sits in the garden to write, often staring off into space for periods of time. What is he thinking about? Might his thoughts betray him? […]