On Seeing John Waterhouse's My Sweet Rose


John Waterhouse, My Sweet Rose, 1908. Photo courtesy of jwwaterhouse.com
John Waterhouse, My Sweet Rose, 1908. Photo courtesy of jwwaterhouse.comWea

Contemplate in all detail
A scintillating allegory
Integrating to avail
Alated visions of the story
Of a maid's respiratory,
Hortatory adoration
Of a floral territory:
Horticultural elation.

Ruminate this painted tale,
Instilling senses desultory
Till the slated sights regale
Your appetite for gustatory
Stimulation, for the glory
Of this vernal fascination
Inundates one category:
Horticultural elation.

Penetrating import's veil,
Distill the scents explanatory,
Requiring that the maid inhale,
Allowing that her laudatory
Attitude be prefatory,
Topiary recreation
Finishing her repertory:
Horticultural elation.

Devotion to this inventory,
Flights of the imagination,
Are baited by obligatory
Horticultural elation.

~David Byron, ca. 1990, for Cathie

A Jingle from the Lockheed Skunk Works

There's no confusion!
We aim to implement fusion!
It's a tougher catch than lightning in a bottle.

But we can do it!
We made the Blackbird and flew it,
And we circumnavigated at full throttle.

Yes, some are skeptical
That our receptacle,
For holy fire might be a mayonnaise jar.

So we'll assure 'em,
Our R&D is kosher for Purim,
And this'll be our best result by far!

Hedge funds: don't short us!
Federal watchdogs: don't report us!
It'll take a while, so journalists: rake some muck!

Still, we're not kidding.
We're doing DARPA's bidding,
And soon we'll ship reactors on a truck!

(WaPo on Lockheed)


So, if you're a grammar Nazi, then feats of form and usage that strike you as "wrong" (or inferior, or jarring) fairly leap off the page or screen at you in just the same way that my use of "so" at the start of this sentence irks all who are by now fed up with hearing that word abused that way.

The French have an expression for obvious things and especially for things obviously wrong: ça saute aux yeux! That leaps out at the eyes! Like an eye-attacking deathfrog of death. Or blindness. Or blinding obviousness.

Many folks notice deviations from canonical grammar and usage; the Nazi is the one who sees most or all, all the time, until she's fed up. She feels welling up within her an urgent, primal cry in behalf of the norms she has embraced, the quirky irrationales of the tongues to which she's wedded. The Nazi is the one for whom, involuntarily, cela saute aux yeux. Finally, with eggshell sensitivity to the descriptivists and positivists, she pipes up: "perhaps you should reconsider using 'begs the question' in that way." Then she ducks.

Have you been watching the newish BBC series Sherlock? I enjoyed the Holmes stories as a child but wasn't passionate about them. I enjoyed them again as an adult with the same result, but with an admixture of pity and contempt for the racism, sexism, inconsistency, and lack of complexity. I enjoyed them (despite these and other flaws) because they project a world and an ill-fitting inhabitant of that world, and they spark the imagination to consider how that combination might play out– a worthwhile exercise (especially for the logically inclined).
Continue reading Nazism

The Hand of Isaac Fawkes: Quicker than Hogarth’s Eye?

This article originally appeared in The Mandala Magazine (2:1), July 2011

The Hand of Isaac Fawkes:
Quicker than Hogarth's Eye?

Isaac Fawkes is the earliest professional magician about whom we know anything substantial, and the sparse historical record is top-heavy with praise. He is “the famous” Mr. Fawkes, who “performs… most surprizing Tricks by Dexterity of Hand.” He undertakes “Curiosities no Person in the Kingdom can pretend to show like himself.” He has “had the Honour to perform before his present Majesty King George” and other high-falutin’ types, and has done so to “great Applause.”

Isaac Fawkes
Isaac Fawkes

For those who know the business, it perhaps comes as no surprise that the reviewer who authored most of this praise was… Isaac Fawkes. As the research of Ricky Jay, Edwin Dawes, and especially Richard H. Evans has shown, Fawkes was a relentless self-promoter who issued a flood of publicity. Newspapers were fresh and abundant in the early 18th century, and people high and low would gather in London’s countless coffee houses to read the daily news, bicker over the issues, and click the occasional AdSense link. What were these ads like? In a typical one, Fawkes trumpets his own success at the box office and defies other magicians to match his fiscal feat: “The famous Mr. Fawks, as he modestly stiles himself, has since Bartholomew and Southwark-Fairs, put seven hundred Pounds into the Bank” and he “may certainly challenge any Conjuror of the Age to do the like” (Paulson 80). Continue reading The Hand of Isaac Fawkes: Quicker than Hogarth’s Eye?

Rearrangements, part two: A Passover/Easter Exhortation

This poem is the second part of a diptych. To read the first part, already posted, follow this link.

A Passover/Easter Exhortation

When winter, winter days, and dramatic rains,
Arrange with memories in ink and fiction,
Ascribing each benediction to the reigns
Of blessed change and heavenly restriction,
Their season’s preferred font of color let
Bestow with frigid hand a painted touch,
Chromatically whispering even its palette,
And reason a distraction to the brush.
In essence winter day too long decrying,
Thy lip and constancy’s eye, by short diction, tear
The given center. Why, wonted sky denying,
With word take aim, selection and objection their
Reaction? Whether winter be loss, the other teach,
Meet me, thy mate, in the periphery of each.

~David Byron for Cathie


The most beautiful land I've ever stormed
Crimea, Crimea, Crimea, Crimea….

All the beaches and dachas and woods where my army swarmed
Crimea, Crimea, Crimea, Crimea….

I've just annexed all of Crimea,
And suddenly Ukraine
Will never be the same
To me.

I've just held a vote in Crimea,
And suddenly I've shown
How vain a threat or drone
Can be!

Take by force, and we're there in person.
By decree, and we're edging toward Kherson….

I'll keep occupying Crimea!

The most beautiful land I've ever stormed:

Houdini Now and Then – Caught on the Web

This article originally appeared in The Mandala Magazine (2:5), April 2012

Houdini Now and Then
Caught on the Web

It’s tough being a fan of the Great Houdini. Your non-magician friends quickly grow tired of hearing you say “Watch me escape from this” or “Tie me up! Tighter!” The patience of your significant other wears thin as you beckon “Look at this photo of the fourth milk can!” And your magician friends who are not fans of HH (a defect we fans describe with the phrase “just doesn’t get it”) are likely to respond with “You know, he wasn’t really much of a magician” or “You know, Vernon fooled him with a double” or “You know, he was sort of an arrogant bastard to… well… everyone.”

Houdini, Germany, ca. 1902 (John Cox Collection)
Houdini, Germany, ca. 1902 (John Cox Collection)

OK. Yes, we know. Even so, there’s just something about Houdini the man and the myth. And being a fan is no longer about becoming Houdini (though for some it once was). Nor is it about defending Houdini. (Well, maybe a bit.) It’s about appreciating two interwoven themes in the life of Ehrich Weiss: a tragically imperfect pursuit of the American Dream and a splendidly perfect example of magical theatrics. The actor lived a life, not always well, but the character he played projected a fiction, always magnificent.

Weiss came as close as anyone to embodying the formula that Drive plus Opportunity plus Intelligence plus a dash of Charisma equals Success. Ehrich is the little guy, the underdog, the undereducated middle child of an impoverished immigrant family with no advantages. Unpolished, unsophisticated, and unpromising, he falls in love with magic (as each of us has done) and with the stage (as many of us have also done). He tolerates his miserable life in a New York sweatshop by dreaming big dreams and harboring unlikely ambitions. Finally, against all good judgment, he goes for broke and pursues a life in show business. And hundreds of odd engagements and thousands of days later, broke and broken is precisely where he ends up. Then, on the brink of failure and defeat, he’s discovered, coached, funded, and placed on a short path to unparalleled fortune and glory. By cultivating his uniqueness, working hard, and never giving up, Ehrich Weiss becomes the Great Houdini. Continue reading Houdini Now and Then – Caught on the Web

Rearrangements, part one: A Christmas Prayer

A Christmas Prayer

Decrying constancy's loss in change,
When winter reigns, bestow a benediction.
Each heavenly tear its mate in ink arrange
And color the frigid winter with other diction,
Denying even the season's wonted selection
Of font and fiction. Palette in lip, hand, eye,
Teach me to meet with reason each objection,
The winter rains. Take aim and touch the sky,
Thy brush whispering whether and winter and why,
Chromatically ascribing. Let the distraction
Of days too short to long– their periphery
Restriction, their center dramatic reaction–
Be painted with memories of a day preferred,
And given essence by Thy blessed Word.

~David Byron for Cathie
in the winter of 1991.

This poem is part one of two. Here's the follow-on poem.

David Byron thinking through the (digital) humanities and visual/spatial/virtual cultures