Sunday, September 12, 2021

salutations / tipping the hat mere semantics

In John Pollack’s The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More than Some Antics (New York: Gotham Books, 2011), there is an account of a famous French gourmand named Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de La Reynière (1758-1837). According to Pollack—

As a young man, Grimod was known around Paris for wearing a mechanical wig that would tip politely, and apparently automatically, as ladies passed.

In reading that, I was reminded of a US patent (shown above), No. 556,248, titled Saluting Device, that was filed in 1896 by someone named J.C. Boyle. It seems to be more or less comparable to Grimod’s “saluting wig,” but in this case of course it’s a tip of the hat.

Here is a newspaper account of  Boyle's invention from The Democrat (Scotland Neck NC) on April 9, 1896, p. 1—

A patent has been granted J.C. Boyle of Spokane WA, for a "saluting device." It is a machine worn in the top of the hat. All you have to do is to slightly incline the head, and as the head starts forward the machine lefts the hat a little, holds it just long enough and in a graceful curve lets it back on your head.

Later that year, the following note was published in the Spokane Chronicle on September 30, p. 4—

J.C. Boyle, a member of the Drumheller Packing Company, but whose chief claim to notoriety rests in the fact that he invented the patent hat lift that removes the old labor of lifting the hat by hand, arrived home last evening after a prolonged visit to Kansas City and other portions of the east, where he has been for his health.

Friday, August 6, 2021

one bad clip / and a pheasant becomes a duck

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Above Roy R. Behrens, La Scala. Digital montage, © 2021.


Christopher Falconer, British gardener, as quoted in Ronald Blythe, Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village (New York: Dell Publishing, 1969), p. 113—

The garden was huge. The pleasure grounds alone, and not including the park, covered seven acres. The kind of gardening we did there is not seen nowadays. It was a perfect art. Topiary, there was a lot of that. It was a very responsible job. You had only to make one bad clip and a pheasant became a duck. The gardeners usually made up these creatures themselves. We were tempted to cut out something terrible sometimes, so that it grew and grew…but of course we never did.

we drank irish usquebaugh—and fired a volley

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Bell Jar. Digital montage, © 2021.


John Fontaine, Diary, excerpted in David Colbert, ed., Eyewitness to the American West (New York: Penguin Books, 1999)—

We had a good dinner, and after it we got the men together, and loaded all their arms, and we drank the King's health in champagne, and fired a volley—the Princess's health in Burgundy, and fired a volley, and all the rest of the Royal Family in claret, and a volley. We drank the Governor's health and fired another volley. We had several sorts of liquors, viz., Virginia red wine and white wine, Irish usquebaugh, brandy, shrub, two sorts of rum, champagne, canary, cherry, punch, water, cider, &c.…

At seven in the morning we mounted our horses, and parted with the rangers…

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Roycroft / Elbert Hubbard and Alice Hubbard

online version
Having taught courses in the history of design for many years, I have of course long known about the Roycroft Workshops in East Aurora NY, as well as their proprietors, Elbert Hubbard, and his second wife, Alice Moore Hubbard. But until recently, I hadn't realized the extent of their connections to people and events in Iowa. This new essay from The Iowa Source discloses the various details.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Gertrude Käsebier's Portraits of Lakota Sioux

Article from The Iowa Source July 2021, p 10
On the evening of June 25, 1906, during a performance at Madison Square Garden in New York, a millionaire named Harry Thaw drew a pistol. Standing only two feet feet behind a prominent architect and socialite named Stanford White, he fired three times into his back, killing White instantly.

Thaw had recently married a chorus girl and actress named Evelyn Nesbit. In an effort to be straightforward, she revealed to him that, several years earlier, as a teenager, she had been sedated and seduced by White. At the time of the shooting, the public was well-acquainted with Nesbit. She was a popular model for artists and photographers, and a “Gibson girl” celebrity.

The best-known portrait of Nesbit, made in 1903, is an iconic image in the history of photography. The woman who made it, Iowa native Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934), is now widely considered to be one of the finest photographers of the Modernist era. That ranking is not only based on her portrait of Nesbit—indeed, she was far more accomplished than that.

Käsebier (née Gertrude Stanton) had a photographic studio on Fifth Avenue in New York at the time that she photographed Nesbit. Her photographic career had taken off late in the 1890s, when Alfred Stieglitz published and exhibited her photographs. She was, he asserted, “the leading artistic portrait photographer of the day.”

Below Roy R. Behrens, Death Announced, 2021. Digital montage. Among the background components is a press photograph (not by Gertrude Käsebier) of the public appearance of Evelyn Nesbit (shrouded) after the assassination of Stanford White by her husband, Harry Thaw.

Roy R. Behrens, copyright © 2021

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

people tell me one thing and out the other

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Kettle Moraine. Digital montage, © 2021.


Daniel M. Wegner

[There are two types of scientists:] bumblers, who plod along, only once in a while accomplishing something but enjoying the process even if they often end up being wrong, and the pointers, who do only one thing: point out that the bumblers are bumbling.


People tell me one thing and out the other. I feel as much like I did yesterday as I did today. I never liked room temperature. My throat is closer than it seems. Likes and dislikes are among my favorites. No napkin is sanitary enough for me. I don’t like any of my loved ones.

Monday, June 21, 2021

familiarity devours the fresh sensation of life

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Universality. Digital montage, © 2021.


Victor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique” (1917)—

Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, ones wife, and the fear of war…And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects “unfamiliar,” to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an esthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object, the object is not important.

animals include moose, elks, knights of pythias

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Death Announced. Digital montage, © 2021.


Groucho Marx
[as Captain Jeffrey Spaulding in Animal Crackers (1930)]—

Well, sir, we left New York drunk and early on the morning of February second. After fifteen days on the water and six on the boat, we finally arrived on the shores of Africa. The first morning saw us up at six, breakfasted and back in bed at seven. This was our routine for the first three months. We finally got so we were in bed at six-thirty. The principal animals inhabiting the African jungle are moose, elks and Knights of Pythias. Of course, you know what a moose is. That's big game. The first day, I shot two bucks. That was the biggest game we had...The elks, on the other hand, live up in the hills, and in the spring they come down for their annual convention. It is very interesting to see them come to the water hole. What they’re looking for is an elkahole. One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know. Then we tried to remove the tusks, but they were embedded in so firmly that we couldn’t budge them. Of course, in Alabama, the Tuskaloosa. But that's entirely errelephant to what I was talking about. We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren't developed; but we’re going back in a couple of weeks.

Jonathan Miller on humor as classification errors

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Border Crossing. Digital montage, © 2021.


Excerpts from Jonathan Miller and Eric Korn, Under-Twenty Parade, a BBC radio panel, 1953—

Er, er, that was “Lift Up Your Socks”…Next week, “A Short Gap” recorded anonymously…the South of England is going to move in a westerly direction…Now here is a police message, published Methuen at twenty-one shillings. There was an accident last night on the Great North Circular Road, when an elderly chrysanthemum was knocked down by a steamroller and received injuries from which the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire has since died…The police are anxious to interview a man with long blue hair—they have never seen a man with long blue hair.


Kate Bassett [in reference to the above radio script] In Two Minds: A biography of Jonathan Miller. London: Oberon Books, 2012, p. 55—

What is remarkable, more immediately, is this extract’s sheer craziness. It is garbled, elided and dreamlike, with slivers of the everyday made strange by being miscategorized, everything playfully grafted into the wrong slots. Miller’s own theory of comedy, expounded in later life, would home in on precisely that: laughter aroused by errors of classification.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

if you want to see the sisters in their wimples

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Baseline Shift. Digital montage, © 2021.


Lawrence Crumb—

If you want to see the sisters in their wimples with the pimples on their dimples, making laces for the faces of the acolytes in surplices, with purples for the trimmings of the cassocks of the canons of the bishop of the diocese of Fond du Lac—you’re too late! They just passed by.

Friday, June 11, 2021

a crow crowd in the morning and made a noise

Above Roy R. Behrens, Baton Rouge. Digital montage, © 2021.


Alex Osborn, Applied Imagination. New York: Scribner’s, 1963—

What is a double petunia? A petunia is a flower like a begonia. A begonia is a meat like a sausage. A sausage-and-battery is a crime. Monkeys crime trees. Tree’s a crowd. A crow crowd in the morning and made a noise. A noise is on your face between your eyes. Eyes is the opposite of nays. A colt nays. You go to bed with a colt, and wake up in the morning with a case of double petunia.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

my family's brief residence in Fort Atkinson IA

Above online version of article in The Iowa Source


In an essay / memoir in the current issue (June 2021) of The Iowa Source magazine (Fairfield IA), I recall the story of the death of my paternal grandfather, Diedrich Joseph Behrens, an Iowa farmer, in 1918, in a harvesting machinery accident. My father, who was 17 that year, was the oldest of seven children. It was the third in a series of crop failures, and my grandmother was penniless. She could no longer lease the farm, and she and her children survived for the next year and a half by living in the ruins of an old US Army outpost, known as Fort Atkinson in northeast Iowa.

Friday, May 21, 2021

metaphor / two things come together as one

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Roy R. Behrens, Bird Repair. Digital montage, © 2021.


Robert Frost

Man likes to bring two things together into one…He lives by making associations, and he is doing well by himself and in himself when he thinks of something in connection with something else that no one ever put with it before. That's what we call a metaphor.

the one way by which new ideas come about

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Carry Out. Digital montage, © 2021.


Francis A. Cartier—

There is only one way in which a person acquires a new idea: by the combination or association of two or more ideas he already has into a new juxtaposition in such a manner as to discover a relationship among them of which he was not previously aware. An idea is a feat of association.

the unlikely marriage of cabbages and kings

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Bid Adieu. Digital montage, © 2021.


Arthur Koestler, The Act of Creation

The essence of discovery is that unlikely marriage of cabbages and kings—of previously unrelated frames of reference or universes of discourse—whose union will solve the previously unsoluable problem.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

something you will remember all your life

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Her Master's Voice. Digital montage, © 2021.


Norman Lewis, Jackdaw Cake: An Autobiography. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1985, pp. 7-8—

As confidence and sympathy began growing between us, my Aunt Li and I took to wandering round the countryside together. Li was a small woman, hardly any bigger than me. She would wet me with her tears, and I would listen to her sad ravings and sometimes stroke her hand. One day she must have come to the grand decision to tell me what lay at the root of her sorrow. We climbed a stile and went into a field and, fixing her glistening eyes upon me, she said, “What I am going to tell you now you will remember every single day of your life.” But whatever she revealed must have been so startling that memory rejected it, for not a word of what was said remains in my mind.

great bauhaus barcelona execution chair

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Rear End Collision. Digital montage, © 2021.


In Mark Leyner's My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist (New York: Harmony Books, 1990), a fictional prison inmate, condemned to die in the electric chair, utters the following frolicsome note about Bauhaus-era furniture—

Luckily, I'd developed an unusually close relationship with the warden. Knowing how much I loved Mies van der Rohe, he had an electric Barcelona chair custom-built for my execution. And when the date finally came and I was led into the death chamber, I couldn't help but marvel at the delicate curvature of the X-shaped legs, the perfect finish of the plated steel and the leather upholstery, and the magnificent, almost monumental proportions that have made the Barcelona chair timeless.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Pearl Harbor / Boston's Japanese art collection

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Autodidact. Digital montage, © 2021.


Robert Craft, An Improbable Life. Nashville TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2002, p. 33—

On Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941, my father and I were watching a football game in Rockville Center, Long Island, when a loudspeaker announced the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The game went on as though the statement had not been understood, or taken for another Orson Welles radio hoax, but when twice repeated, the stunned, disbelieving crowd in the bleachers began to drift away. As we drove back to Manhattan, the automobile radio sputtered news bulletins, one of which said that the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston had been cordoned by police because of concern that its great collection of Japanese Art might be endangered by reprisals.

Glen Baxter / a childhood spent in darkest Leeds

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Twin Poseurs. Digital montage, © 2021. 


Glen Baxter in Les Coleman, Unthinking. UK: Littlewood Arc, 1993—

I spent my childhood in darkest Leeds. I had a problem. I stammered. One day my mother sent me down to the local haberdashery shop in Hunslet Carr to purchase a collar stud for my father's shirt. All the way down to the shop I practiced my speech, searching for ways to address the shop assistant without blocking on certain troublesome words. This was clearly an important mission and I must not fail. After a thorough rehearsal of every possible combination of words that would indicate to the person in the shop the nature of my visit, I stepped up and opened the door and marched boldly up to the shop counter. “Do you have any collar studs?” I blurted to the man behind the counter. He looked at me for a moment or two then replied slowly, “I'm afraid we seem to be right out at the moment, but if you care to pop next door to the haberdashery shop, they might indeed be able to help you.” I turned and made my exit through the furniture shop.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

recalling the pleasures of teaching with ede

Above Craig Ede, Self-Portrait (© 2021).


Some many years ago, too long to clearly remember (it was more than three decades ago), I was teaching a course in basic design (not graphic design), the arrangement of visual components, regardless of media. I came up with a brilliant idea: Why not invite an especially capable graduate student to team-teach that course with me? My approach to team-teaching required the combined presence and participation of both teachers in the same classroom at all times. 

But who to ask? It occurred to me that it should be someone who intended to teach in the future at the university level. And of course it should also be someone who had exceptional abilities as an artist / designer, as well as the skills that all teachers should have. To complicate matters, the experiment was non-funded. The student teacher would neither be paid nor would he / she receive course credit. But the experience could be listed on the person’s vita (when applying for teaching positions), with a letter of recommendation, and slide examples of the work that the students produced in the course. 

So who did I choose? Without hesitation, I approached a graduate painting student named Craig Ede, whose recent self-portrait drawing is posted above. At the time, of course, he was three decades or more younger, and did not yet show the scars of the torment of living through both a pandemic and the threatened decay of civilized life. Craig, who has so vividly “captured” himself, is an old friend, a painter, and former professor who lives in Wisconsin. I haven’t seen him for years, but this is such a persuasive reminder, it is almost as if he were present. Or, as he himself explains, it is what he will look like about seven months from now, in December 2021. More than ever, I can clearly see why I invited him to team teach in my classroom. It was a memorable experience, for students as well as the teachers.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

a cart, a ball, and two boxes of wooden bricks

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Cavern (© 2021). Digital montage.


John Ruskin (Victorian-era writer and art critic), Prataerita [Of Past Things], 1899—

…I was never permitted for an instant [as a child] to hope, or even imagine, the possession of such things as one saw in toy shops. I had a bunch of keys to play with, as long as I was capable only of pleasure in which glittered and jingled; as I grew older, I had a cart, and a ball; and when I was five or six years old, two boxes of well-cut wooden bricks.

With these modest, but, I still think, entirely sufficient possessions, and being always summarily whipped if I cried, did not do as I was bid, or tumbled on the stairs, I soon attained serene and secure methods of life and motion; and could pass my days contently in tracing the squares and comparing the colors of my carpet; examining the knots in the wood of the floor, or counting the bricks in the opposite houses; with rapturous intervals of excitement during the fillling of the water cart, through its leathern pipe, from the dripping iron post at the pavement edge; or the still more admirable proceedings of the turncock, when he turned and turned until a fountain sprang up in the middle of the street. But the carpet, and what patterns I could find in the bed covers, dresses, or wallpapers to be examined, were my chief resources, and my attention to the particulars in these was soon so accurate that, when at three and a half I was taken to have my portrait painted by Mr. [James] Northcote, I had not been ten minutes alone with him before I asked him why there were holes in his carpet.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

one legge / testy forward imperious tyrannical

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Revisiting Thomas Eakins (© 2021). Digital montage.


Anthony à Wood, Life and Times

Sir Arthur Aston was governour of Oxon at what time it was garrison’d for the king, a testy, forward, imperious and tirannical person, hated in Oxford and elsewhere by God and Man. Who kervetting on horseback in Bullington green before certaine ladies, his horse flung him and broke his legge: so that it being cut off and he therupon rendred useless for employment, one Col. Legge succeeded him. Soon after the country people coming to market would be ever and anon asking the sentinell, “who was governor of Oxon?” They answered “one Legge.” Then replied they: “A pox upon him! Is he governor still?”

song, carols, hymn, chants or even a drone

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Paul's New Acquisition (© 2021). Digital montage.


Joseph Langland (Poetry! What in the World are You Saying?)—

I wanted to sing to you to say, not to be forgotten, that poetry is among other things, song, varied carols, hymns, chants, or even a drone. But it is verbal music; the word is its god, and the poet its worshipper. I never was much interested in helping anyone into poetry because he had exciting ideas, but the moment I find someone who is enchanted by a phrase I think that he might be trained to lift whatever he thinks into a whole holy city of the imagination.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Inez McAlister Faber / Out Here on Soap Creek

Roy R. Behrens, Snake Eyes (© 2021). Digital montage.


Inez McAlister Faber, Out Here on Soap Creek. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1982, pp. 23-24—

Probably many people wiser than I dislike some of the things I like, such as hoeing, canning, cleaning house, cutting corn fodder, living in the country, being in my thirties, dahlias, roses, meals on time, empty houses with flowers still growing in the yards, old furniture, small boys, books, newspaper editorials, astronomy, chickens, dogs, cows, horses, meat or gravy cooked in a cast-iron skillet, waffles, carrots and spinach.

It is quite likely that others, and I have no quarrel with them, like many of the things I hate, including petunias, cats, children who have been taught that they are cute, grown-ups who try to act kiddish, male or female sissies, superiority complexes, machine hemstitching, tablecloths hemmed on the machine, cows with horns, weedy gardens, dwelling houses painted green, rain on washday, so-called living rooms that are only used for company, and overstuffed davenports. Large women in striped or checked dresses, bad table manners, being flatly contradicted, people who handle books roughly or who lay an open book face down upon a table, people who read over my shoulder, inquisitiveness, concrete walks in front of farm homes, fried parsnips, mashed potatoes, interruptions while ironing, washing milk pails, cleaning muddy overshoes, cooking for visitors who do not come, going to bed, getting up, washing yesterday’s dishes, and talking over the telephone.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

a cool clutch and four gears and even reverse

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Hammer Smith (© 2021). Digital montage.


An unidentified aging British chaffeur and auto mechanic, recalling his youth as a worker on an estate, in Ronald Blythe, The View in Winter: Reflections on Old Age. New York: Penguin Books, 1980, p. 65—

I’ll tell you how I learned to drive. There was a shooting party and I had just got this car all washed and polished and clean, ready for the pick-up—the guns—when a boy came out of the house to put some dirt in the dustbin. I called out, “Come for a ride, Harry?” just as a joke, laughing, you know, but then in Harry jumps aside of me, looking pleased and excited. So what could I do? I was sixteen. I'd watched old Crossley [the estate chauffeur] with the gear-lever and the brake, and I told myself, “If he can do it, I can do it.” So I reached for the pedals and suddenly there we were, dashing down the front drive! That drive was a mile long and ended at the bottom lodge, where the village policeman lived. I was driving straight to prison, I told myself, for taking the motor. And could I turn it round and bring it back? But that lovely motor had a cool clutch and four gears and a reverse, and by luck I managed them all—brought it back safe, washed it all over again, and nothing was seen or said. That was the first time I had a drive and I’ve been driving ever since.

a car came down the street and ran into them

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Moon River Dog (© 2021). Digital montage.


Frank Jacobs, The Mad World of William M. Gaines. NY: Bantam Books, 1973, p. 77—

In the fall of 1954, [William M.] Gaines [founder and publisher of MAD Magazine] and Nancy [a close friend and staff member] were turning into a gas station on West 96th Street in Manhattan. As they made their turn, a car came down the street and barreled into them. No one was hurt, and Gaines exchanged the usual insurance data with the driver of the other car, whose name was Gene Zahn. About a year later, two blocks from the gas station, Gaines pulled up to a newspaper stand. After buying his paper, he returned to his car, backed out a few feet, and was struck by a car rounding the corner. No one was hurt, and Gaines exchanged the usual insurance data with the driver of the other car, whose name was Gene Zahn.

“Didn't we have an accident a year ago?” Gaines asked.

“I believe we did,” answered Zahn, giving a polite nod to Nancy, whom he remembered from the previous run-in. “Say, don't you think it's time you two got married?”

Gaines thought if over and decided that the point was well-taken. Within a month, he and Nancy were married.

a picture in which a dot is the lobe of a man's ear

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Rhythm and Discernment (© 2021). Digital montage.


Bennard B. Perlman, The Golden Age of American Illustration: F.R. Gruger and His Circle. Westport CT: North Light Publishers, 1977, p. 294—

The Composition Class instructor, Henry J. Thouron, sought to stimulate the creativity of his students. He would draw a rectangular area, then locate within it a few freehand lines and a dot. “Now I want a picture where this dot is the lobe of a man's ear and these lines are incorporated,” he would advise. All of the elements would have to become part of the composition; that was the challenge. Each student then evolved an original picture where the design was controlled by the novice artist, rather than by happenstance.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

or dance-like beatings the boy endured

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Papa's Waltz (© 2021). Digital montage.


The title of this digital book montage (I sometimes call them “visual poems”) is intended as an homage to what some people regard as Theodore Roethke’s finest work, a sixteen-line autobiographical poem, titled “My Papa’s Waltz” (c1942). It is beautifully constructed, filled with engagement and gesture—and is yet at the same time disturbing in its beneath-the-surface suggestions.

Roethke, as a poet should, makes apt use of figures of speech, and we (the readers) are left to decide what to make of it. Does “papa’s waltz” simply describe an innocent dance, in which an inebriated father is engaged in ritualistic fun with his son, a small boy. Or, as certain components suggest, is it not a literal waltz, but instead a frightening memory of dance-like beatings the boy endured at the hands of a drunken parent?

You must read the entire poem, which is available online at the website of the Poetry Foundation. At the same, it also helps to read the article about this poem on Wikipedia, and to learn about the life of Theodore Roethke.

rum, agony, complete carnage, noise and death

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Table Talk (© 2021). Digital montage.


Anonymous (a retired, 79-year-old British man, who, at age eighteen, while serving in France during World War I, had survived crippling battlefield wounds), quoted in Ronald Blythe, The View in Winter: Reflections on Old Age. UK: Penguin Books, 1980, pp. 135-136—

[While serving in the trenches] we reached a line the Germans had just vacated and on the next morning, after being made to drink a lot of rum, I went over the top for the first time. Everybody has written about it and nobody can describe it. Not really. The legs and arms of the dead stretched out, the ripped bellies of the horses steaming and stinking. And the dead faces of mates looking up at you out of the filth. Filth. Men made into filth before your very eyes. “He’s finished,” you’d say to yourself, and in a way you were glad he was! Because there was this useless agony because you’d got to go. How I prayed then! “Over the top!” it was, and there you were, running and falling. After the first time I fell asleep in a trench filling with water and was nearly drowned. We were on the Somme. It was solid carnage, noise and death. There was so much death then that it doesn’t matter to me now. Or should I say, it doesn’t worry me now. Now that I’m getting on for eighty, and when there’s not a morning when I don’t thank God for it. Day come, day go.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

i wanted my father to be what he could not be

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Tall Tails (© 2021). Digital montage.


Sherwood Anderson, Memoirs. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1942—

…as a small boy, I wanted my father to be a certain thing he was not, could not be. I wanted him to be a proud silent dignified one. When I was with other small boys and he passed along the street, I wanted to feel in my breast the glow of pride.

“There he is. That is my father.”

But he wasn’t such a one. He couldn’t be. It seemed to me then that he was always showing off…

…He was like this, let’s say an Irishman came to our house. Right away Father would say he was Irish. He’d tell things that happened to him in Ireland when he was a boy. He’d make it seem so real, that, if I hadn’t known where he was born, in a county down in southern Ohio, I’d have believed him myself.

If it was a Scotchman the same thing happened. He became a Scotchman. He’d get a burr into his speech. Or he was a German or a Swede. He’d be anything the other man was.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

mortality's end / pack a case and leave the rest

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 Above Roy R. Behrens, Carte Blanche (© 2021). Digital montage.


Ronald Blythe, The View in Winter: Reflections on Old Age. New York: Penguin Books, 1980, p. 103—

A man who dies at forty will usually show one cause of death, wrote Alex Comfort; a man who dies at eighty will probably show nine or ten, so that had we cured the one that in fact killed him, he would have died soon after of something else. Behind this bleak truth lies the reason why so many aged leave home for homes. They are deteriorating. Their mortality, which has been kept in check or which has been concealed for so long, is now unhideable from themselves and from their families and neighbors. The effect of these last diseases, their breaking down of the organism, is called “not being able to manage.” The pressures from inside and outside then begin, and just at a moment when the smallest decision requires a mighty effort, one is asked to make what for most people is a tremendous effort—to go on managing, and knowing that you can’t, or to be managed. To pack a case and leave the rest. Travel light has always been the advice given to pilgrims and the old people’s home repeats it, though for its own convenience, not for the new resident’s.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

the bean lacks dignity and succotash is vulgar

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Roy R. Behrens, Cross Purposes (© 2021). Digital montage.


Charles Dudley Warner, “Ninth Week” in My Summer in a Garden. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885—

There is no dignity in the bean. Corn, with no affectation of superiority, is, however, the child of song. It waves in all literature. But mix it with beans, and its high tone is gone. Succotash is vulgar.


John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings. Wesleyan University Press, 1961—

The artist conscientiously moves in a direction which for some good reason he takes, putting one work in front of the other with the hope that he’ll arrive before death overtakes him.


Don Marquis, Archy’s Life of Mehitabel. New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1938—

man eats the big fish
the big fish eat the
little fish
the little fish
eat insects
in the water
the water insects
eat the water plants
the water plants
eat mud
mud eats man.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

picked it up and then flung it under the seat

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Root Canal (© 2021). Digital montage.


Ann Barr and Paul Levy, The Official Foodie Handbook. Arbor House, 1985—

When Marilyn Monroe was married to [playwright] Arthur Miller, his mother always made matzo ball soup. After the tenth time, Marilyn said, “Gee Arthur, these matzo balls are really nice, but isn’t there any other part of the matzo you can eat?”


George and Weedon Grossmith, The Diary of a Nobody. London: J.M. Dent, 1940, pp. 55-56—

I was leaning out of the box [at the theatre], when my tie—a little black bow which fastened on to the stud by means of a new patent—fell into the pit below. A clumsy man, not noticing it, had his foot on it for ever so long before he discovered it. He then picked it up and eventually flung it under the next seat in disgust. …I felt quite miserable. Mr. James [a companion], of Sutton, was very good. He said, “Don’t worry—no one will notice it with your beard. That is the only advantage of growing one that I can see.” There was no occasion for that remark, for Carrie is very proud of my beard.

To hide the absence of the tie I had to keep my chin down the rest of the evening, which caused a pain at the back of my neck.

Friday, March 19, 2021

she realized her father was damaged by war

Above Roy R. Behrens, Ebullience (© 2021). Digital montage.

Lyn Lear, in Remar Sutton and Mary Abbott Waite, eds., The Common Ground: A Circle of Friends. Latham NY: British American Publishing, 1992, p. 47—

My dad was sick a lot after he came back from World War II. I remember him screaming in the middle of the night because of the nightmares. The whole house would shake.

We would sit and listen to him talk in his sleep about those terrible war events: his best friend getting blown up in front of him; fights. It was very dramatic. We would sit around and Mom would write all the dreams down. I realized then my father was damaged; I realized what the war had done to him. It was an insight into why my father was the way he was. It changed my relationship with him.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

bereft of wonder we never know anything ever

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Roy R. Behrens, Wondering Eye (© 2021). Digital montage.


Raphael Soyer (American painter, referring to his identical twin brother, the painter Moses Soyer) in Kathryn McLaughlin Abbe and Frances McLaughlin Gill, Twins on Twins (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1980), p. 53—

We looked exactly alike. People would greet me and say, “Hello, Moses,” and Moses would be greeted with “Hello, Raphael.” And I remember, a long time ago, I was walking along Fifth Avenue very briskly, and then I see Moses walking along too, and I was astounded. I mean, I didn't expect Moses to be there at that time. But it turned out to be myself, my reflection in the mirror, from far away.


Ernest G. Schachtel, Metamorphosis (New York: Basic Books, 1959)—

Education and learning, while on the one hand furthering this process of discovery, on the other hand gradually brake and finally stop it completely. There are relatively few adults who are fortunate enough to have retained something of the child’s curiosity, his capacity for questioning and wondering. The average adult “knows all the answers,” which is exactly why he will never know even a single answer. He has ceased to wonder, to discover. He knows his way around, and it is indeed a way around and around the same conventional pattern, in which everything is familiar and nothing cause for wonder. It is this adult who answers the child’s questions and, in answering, fails to answer them but instead acquaints the child with the conventional patterns of his civilization, which effectively close up the asking mouth and shut the wondering eye.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

dust to dust as we totter toward the end of time

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 Above Roy R. Behrens, Architectonic (© 2021). Digital montage.


Wiliam Hazlitt, “On the Fear of Death” in Table Talk (1822)—

Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as an end. There was a time when we were not: this gives us no concern—why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be?


Roy R. Behrens, “Khaki to Khaki (Dust to Dust): The Ubiquity of Camouflage in Human Experience” in Ann Elias, et al., eds., Camouflage cultures: beyond the art of disappearance (Sydney AU: Sydney University Press, 2015)—

…“I am I” and, to follow, I am not “not-I.” Or, I am “self” as distinguished from “others.” We typically regard our “selves” as permeable identities in a bouillabaisse of ubiquitous “stuff,” a surrounding that seems to a newborn, in the famous words of William James, like “a blooming, buzzing confusion.”  One wonders if this might also explain, as Ernst Schachtel suggested, why we are all afflicted by “childhood amnesia,” leaving us with little or no memory of the first years of our lives, because we lacked the “handles” then—the linguistic categories—that enable us to “grasp” events. In recent years, increased attention has been paid to the various forms of “amnesia” at the opposite end of life, including gradual memory loss, senility, dementia, and the horrifying ordeal of Alzheimer’s. If the boundaries of our figural “self” are blurred when we are newborns, perhaps we should not be surprised that the limits of our “self” grow thin—once again—as we totter toward the end of time.

As adults, we use hackneyed phrases like “dust to dust” to imply that at birth we somehow spring from naught; that we metamorphically evolve through infancy and childhood; live out our ritualistic lives as corporeal upright adults; then slowly—or, just as often, catastrophically—“deconstruct”; and (at last) are literally “disembodied” in the process that we dread as death. Instead of saying “dust to dust,” it may be more in tune to say “khaki to khaki,” since it seems as if our lives consist of time-based re-enactments of a spectrum of nuanced relations between figure and ground, some or all of which pertain to varieties of camouflage. 

online access

taxonomic rhyme and reason in esthetic forms

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Suspended Animation (© 2021). Digital montage.


Nicholas Humphrey, “The Illusion of Beauty” in his book of essays, Consciousness Regained: Chapters in the Development of Mind. UK: Oxford University Press, 1984, p. 126—

Here then we have the beginnings of an answer to what relations lie at the heart of beauty. “All beauty may by a metaphor be called rhyme.” What is rhyme like? Well, let us have an example: cat rhymes with mat; cat does not rhyme with table; cat does not rhyme with cat. Taking rhyme as the paradigm of beauty, let us turn at once to the fundamental question: Why do we like the relation that rhyme epitomizes? What is the biological advantage of seeking out rhyming elements in the environment? The answer I propose is this: Considered as a biological phenomenon, esthetic preferences stem from a predisposition among animals and men to seek out experiences through which they may learn to classify the objects in the world around them. Beautiful “structures” in nature or in art are those which facilitate the task of classification by presenting evidence of the “taxonomic” relations between things in a way which is informative and easy to grasp.


Art, Design and Gestalt Theory

How Form Functions

Embedded Figures in Art, Design, and Architecture

Saturday, March 13, 2021

pare down and reduce the form to minimum

Above Roy R. Behrens, Whiplash (© 2021). Digital montage.


Akio Morita, Made in Japan: Akio Morita and Sony. New York: Signet, 1988—

Whereas Americans and Europeans often develop complex large-scale solutions to problems, the Japanese constantly pare down and reduce the complexity of products and ideas to the barest minimum. They streamline the design, reduce the number of parts. The influence of Zen and haiku poetry are often evident in the simplicity and utility of Japanese design.


Art, Design and Gestalt Theory

How Form Functions

Embedded Figures in Art, Design, and Architecture

Friday, March 12, 2021

be fair / put things back where you found them

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Rock Paper Scissors (© 2021). Digital montage.


Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004—

1. Share everything. 2. Play fair. 3. Don't hit people. 4. Put things back where you found them. 5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS. 6. Don't take things that aren’t yours. 7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody. 8. Wash your hands before you eat. 9. Flush. 10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. 11. Live a balanced life—learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some. 12. Take a nap every afternoon. 13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. 14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. 15. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we. 16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

the embalming of a suckling pig and broken vase

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Confinement (© 2021). Digital montage.


Jorge Luis Borges, in “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins,” Ruth L.C. Simms, translator (1942)—

[On the pages of “a certain Chinese encyclopedia,” the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge] it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel’s hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance.


Rennie Ellis (Reynolds Mark Ellis), Australian Graffiti Revisited. Melbourne AU: Sun Books, 1979—

If voting could change things, it would be illegal.

alphabestiary / the moose found in his pajamas

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Alphabestiary (© 2021). Digital montage.


H.L. Mencken, in The American Mercury, March 1925—

The [Ku Klux] Klan is actually as thoroughly American as Rotary or the Moose. Its childish mummery is American, its highfalutin bombast is American, and its fundamental philosophy is American. The very essence of Americanism is the doctrine that the other fellow, if he happens to be a minority, has absolutely no rights—that enough is done for him when he is allowed to live at all.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

aesthetics / each species appears itself designed

Above Roy R. Behrens, Ogden (© 2021). Digital montage.


James Hillman, Cosmos, Life, Religion: Beyond Humanism, 1988—

Animal life is biologically aesthetic: each species presents itself in design, coats, tails, feathers, furs, curls, tusks, horns, hues, sheens, shells, scales, wings, songs, dances.


Tom Driberg, Baron Bradwell, quoted in the Daily Express (1937)—

Sincerity is all that counts…Think again. Bolsheviks are sincere. Fascists are sincere. Lunatics are sincere. People who believe the earth is flat are sincere. They can’t all be right.

he could not correct his relation to the universe

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Hat Trick (© 2021). Digital montage.


E.L. Doctorow (remembering Theodore Dreiser), interviewed in George Plimpton, ed., Writers at Work: Eighth Series (New York: Viking, 1988), p. 30—

Dreiser wrote this magnificent novel [Sister Carrie]. It was published in 1900; it was then and still is the best first novel ever written by an American. It’s an amazing work...The book was a magnificent achievement but the publisher, Doubleday, didn’t like it, they were afraid of it. So they buried it. And naturally it did nothing; I think it sold four copies. I would go crazy too in that situation. Dreiser rented a furnished room in Brooklyn. He put a chair in the middle of this room and sat in it. The chair didn't seem to be in the right position so he turned it a few degrees, and he sat in it again. Still it was not right. He kept turning the chair around and around, trying to align it to what—trying to correct his own relation to the universe? He never could do it, so he kept going around in circles and circles. He did that for quite a while, and ended up in a sanitarium in Westchester, in White Plains.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

if they think i am crazy, i will open for a dollar

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Taking Liberties: No Regrets (© 2021). Digital montage.


Daniel W. Humphrey, quoted in Steven J. Zeitlin, et al., A Celebration of American Family Folklore (New York: Pantheon, 1982), pp. 39-40—

One day my dad got hurt on the job and, as a result, he said he couldn’t bear to put any weight on his heel. The doctors, however, said it was all in his mind, and they sent him to a psychiatrist. This irked him, so my dad said, “If they want to think I'm crazy, I'll make them think I'm crazy.” So he goes to the doctor's office, and the doctor brings out the Rorschach inkblot tests. The doctor laid these cards down in front of my father, and Dad reached over, picked them up, shuffled them and dealt them out for a hand of Five Card Draw and said, “I'll open for a dollar.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Robert Pinsky regarding the process of dying

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Hand Me Down (© 2021). Digital montage.


Robert Pinsky (regarding the process of dying) in his review of Philip Roth, Patrimony: A True Story in The New York Times Book Review, 6 January 1991—

The last words, the blessing of the young, the washing of the body, the coins on the eyelids, the deathbed confession, the deathbed reconciliation and the deathbed farewell have been succeeded or crowded by the IV, the respirator, the feeding tubes in the nostrils, the living will, the hospital roommate, the nurses.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

if memory serves me right here are my origins

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Roy R. Behrens, In Point of Fact (© 2021). Digital montage.


Henry Miller, quoted in Robert Snyder, ed., This is Henry, Henry Miller from Brooklyn (Los Angeles: Nash Publishing, 1974), pp. 119-121—

If my memory serves me right, here is my genealogical line, Boccaccio, Petronius, Rabelais, Whitman, Emerson, Thoreau, Maeterlinck, Romain Rolland, Plotinus, Heraclitus, Nietzsche, Dostoievski (and other Russian writers of the nineteenth century), the ancient Greek dramatists, the Elizabethan dramatists (excluding Shakespeare), Theodore Dreiser, Knut Hamsun, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Thomas Mann, Elie Faure, Oswald Spengler, Marcel Proust, van Gogh, the Dadaists and Surrealists, Balzac, Lewis Carroll, Nijinsky, Rimbaud, Blaise Cendrars, Jean Giono, Céline, everything I read on Zen Buddhism, everything I read about China, India, Tibet, Arabia, Africa and of course the Bible, the men who wrote it and especially the men who made the King James version, for it was the language of the Bible rather than its "message" which I got first and which I will never shake off.