One complete, one alive

For the first time at least since the pandemic began, but probably several months prior, I finished an issue of Poetry. Not proud of this. But things are what they are. Reading felt good. Making my way from one end to the other felt good. The evenings after work, dinner and toddler bedtime have been too short and tired. Maybe sleep has been better recently? Or to-do lists are just more done? I was interested to see how the magazine had changed since its summer replacement of leadership. And was profoundly impressed. The December issue is one alive and awake and urgent.

In the back of the issue, one learns about the annual awarding of a large prize for young poets in the United States. “Poems by many of the fellows and finalists in this issue and more will be published in January.” For a magazine that often notes from the jump when an issue will be special or thematic, to wait in offering the explanation is a subtly important measure.

Yes, the issue is special, thematic to youth. But to delay the declaration gives a reader the impression of normalcy, that the voices are simply the voices of the present. On every page, subsequently, powerfully, necessarily, those voices demand the busting of normalization, which is a wonderful way for normalcy to be.

Just a few:

Patrick crosses the 200 line, backwards

My yearly update on baby names. Patrick continues its historic free-fall, dropping 17 spots in 2019 to the 206th among boys. Crossing the 200 line! The Mendoza line, but in reverse, but still bad.

Just to refresh you on the trend line:

Not sure when they did this, but I’ve noticed the Social Security Administration has added raw birth counts: 1,870 Patricks born in 2019. Bigger than a 9:30 Club, smaller than The Anthem. Meanwhile, a whole Capital One Arena of Liams led the list: 20.502.

Names more popular than Patrick in 2019 included Oscar, Messiah, Adriel, Thiago, and Legend. Cooper continued to stay strong as well, at spot 80.

Meanwhile, looking ahead, Patrick also did not make Nameberry’s list of 2020 biggest-viewership-increase boy names. The company sees such searches as a leading indicator, and why not. Cash and Ash make the list, along with Acacius.

According to New York Times reporting, hopeful names, quickly picked names, mythological names and family names are rising, trend-wise. For any parent-to-be in need of a good name fast, I have a suggestion for you.

The history in every old building…

Had no idea until today that the MyEyeDr. where I have my glasses done was once home to a restaurant that received a documentary that received an Oscar nomination. Fine Food, Fine Pastries, Open 6 to 9 came out 30 years ago, but given how the place itself was a throwback, feels far older. Watch it here. It’s only half an hour, and if any part of your life is on Capitol Hill, it’s impossible to pause.


The value of shared space to understanding pain

The recent essay “What Screens Can’t Show” is about seeing the concentration camp-related work of German painter Gerhard Richter online versus in-person. The essay focuses on the particular, incredibly powerful pieces of art. But the extremity of the case also explains well an element of what’s missing in all of life right now.

“The internet has made pandemic life much easier for those who can use it for work and school, or just to stay in touch with loved ones. But something is always lost in the translation to a screen. A deep encounter with art becomes possible only when viewer and object share the same space. Scrolling through digital versions of art is what [German philosopher Walter] Benjamin called an ‘absent-minded’ activity, and we need to be as present as possible when we look at paintings like Richter’s, paintings that attempt to represent the presence of suffering itself.”

Just a couple ‘Dancing in the Dark’ covers to start the year

Lucy Dacus.


Bonus: Extended 12″ Blaster Mix.

(Wikipedia: “In a first-for-Springsteen effort to gain dance and club play for his music, Arthur Baker created the 12-inch “Blaster Mix” of “Dancing in the Dark”, wherein he reworked the album version. The remix was released on July 2, 1984. The result generated a lot of media buzz for Springsteen, as well as actual club play; the remix went to #7 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, and had the most sales of any 12-inch single in the United States in 1984.”)

‘She confronts the monsters in herself’

One of the things to love about Glück’s poetry is that, while her work contains many emotional registers, she is not afraid to be cruel — she confronts the monsters in herself, and in others, not with resignation and therapeutic digression but with artery-nicking knives.

The poet Kay Ryan, in her terrific new book of essays, “Synthesizing Gravity,” writes: “I think it’s good to admit what a wolfish thing art is; I trust writers who know they aren’t nice.” Glück’s work is replete with not-niceness. You would not, you sense, want her as an enemy.

I’m reading the Kay Ryan book currently (and it is terrific), and I was happy last month to read of Glück winning the Nobel Prize. In this blog, way back, I liked to pretend she was an enemy, testing me with that cruelty. Years later, a big book of her work sits on my shelves. She won our non-existent battle. She’s too tough for me, by a mile.

Remember Cereal Bowl?

The cereal restaurant this blog followed for an extensive period of time? The one that was good at its mission but unfortunately existed in a neighborhood without a lot of college kids?

I’m sorry to report to you, many years belatedly, that the Cereal Bowl has closed. And so has the Starbucks that opened in the Cereal Bowl’s place. And so has the Chipotle that opened in the Starbucks’ place. And, as of this month, so has the Tino’s Pizzeria that opened in the Chipotle’s place.

First haircut in eight months

The place I’d been going to in my neighborhood had closed for good at the beginning of the pandemic. So for my first cut in eight months – the length of my hair had gone from exploratory to worse – I went to a barbershop that’s been operating in different spots in Foggy Bottom for six decades. My dad’s long-time barber had ended up there. I couldn’t go on a day that barber was there, so I asked for whoever was available. The barber I got had been cutting hair for many decades as well, and he did a great job. The haircut made my day, and later reading this story about the shop and its history made my hour.

Missing art exhibits

We saw this Norman Rockwell one in 2019 when it came through the GWU Museum. The exhibit had so many of the early paintings that made him famous, but then came his later work, taking on race (the Ruby Bridges painting is even more stunning in person) and war, and that work led into modern takes by a beautiful mix of 21st-century artists, taking his quietly challenging American vision even further. I miss art exhibits and I miss where the best ones carry you.

Missing pasta right now

Probably because it’s the middle of the afternoon.

From Roxane Gay: “Like I was a necessary thread among other necessary threads. Like I had found that essential truth. Like I was in a place that could become part of what I need home to be.”

About pesto alfredo: “I fell in love with pasta after reading about an Italian witch. It was 1994, and Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola was hot on the Reading Rainbow circuit.”

About Buca di Beppo: “The atmosphere was always raucous, the platters of food were so massive that they demanded sharing, and ogling at the sundry black-and-white photos of Italian wrestlers and spaghetti-eating contests that crowded the walls was as much a part of the experience as the actual dining.”

I really enjoyed this Red Sauce issue.