Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rockabilly, Tattoos, People Watching and Beer

Every year the tattoo community puts together a tattoo convention to advertise services, make connects, and bring the tattoo community together.  They hold it at the Holiday Inn in Allentown.  I can only imagine the regular guests showing up to check in and seeing hundreds of people with tattoos, piercings, body mod, etc...Must be a hoot.  Over the years tattooing has become well establish in our culture.  It is almost accepted now in all aspects of society.  As long as you don't have "IDIOT" tattooed across your face you're pretty safe.  Some jobs make you cover them but it's not much of a hassle for most.  If you believe strongly enough in tattooing yourself then covering them up to work shouldn't be a hassle.  It was your choice, of course, and you knew that while most of society accepts them there are still a few old fashioned hold outs.  Ce la vie.

It was nice that Skindustry put a note of memoriam in the brochure to Joel:
"This year the Lehigh Valley lost a very active member of the local art scene.  Joey "Seyone" Santa, tattooer, graffiti artist, father and husband.  All of us would like you to remember him and his family. Rest in Peace Joel."

So Justin and I found ourselves sitting in the hotel bar that evening.  We had a nice little people watching session.  I was surprised just how good Justin is at picking out people and knowing their story.  One gentleman walked by us.  He had tattoos to his wrist and very, very shiny boots.  "He's military," Justin remarked.  Lo and behold, not moments later he walks up to his buddy wearing a U.S. Navy baseball cap. It was nice to exercise my brain a bit working out stories about the patrons.  "Look at those shoes she's wearing.  She's a business woman.  No one wears shoes like that with jeans."  I asked Justin to come up with my story.  I was wearing a polka dot skirt, black spaghetti string top, black platform heels and a black sweater (it was really rainy and cold).

"You look like a teacher who's at a tattoo convention."

A teacher.

Yay.  I think I might have lost my edge.

It was nice, though.  Later that evening we stopped at the Ham Fam diner.  It was utterly devoid of teenagers.  We asked the waitress where they were.  For a Saturday night it was dead. She said the whole weekend was dead.  It was probably the rain.  Then she asked if I was one of the "girls" that used to hang out at The West End Diner about 15+ years ago with Mike Hill, Matt Vassallo and the gang.  Later I remembered her name was Cheryl and was our nightly waitress.  We reminisced a little.  "Look at me," I said, "All grow'd up."  I might have lost my edge but we were the innovators and it's nice to remember that.  All these little punk kids at Hot Topic?  We paved the way for them.  We used home made tattoo guns and pierced our noses with needles and potatoes.  We saved our money and bought our Doc Martens on South Street in Philly.  We couldn't order them online and they weren't made in Singapore.  We were part of the early Goth movement which has now, sigh, become trendy.  All you little ones out there who think retro bands like the Sex Pistols, Blondie, The Clash, The Ramones, The Cure, The Smiths, Dead Kennedys, Dead Milkmen, Circle Jerks, SOD, MOD, Social Distortion etc...are way cool should remember that we were the ones out there pan handling outside the clubs for money to get in and see them live. (Well, the Sex Pistols were before my time...)

A lot of the people there were dressed in rockabilly style with a bit of punk flair.  It's all the rage.  There was a gorgeous Betty Page look alike, Betty Crocker dresses with platform heels.  Justin looked fabulous.  I looked like, well, a teacher.  ;)  The band was called the Ultra Kings and we're going to find out if they have other performances in the area.  I think we need to see them again.  I wish I could dance to that kind of music.  Maybe I'll take some lessons.  You feet just start to move and you just want to jump on the dance floor. There is nothing better than hearing the bass thumping in your ear and moving the beer glass on the bar.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Don't let them disappear...Post mortem photography

It's taken a long time to have the conviction to sit down and write about this subject.  It's not for everyone.  In fact most people would find the whole idea of post mortem photography (especially that of children) taboo.  Most people don't understand why it would be done at all.  It's morbid.  As I've written about previously, as a society, we like to steer clear of uncomfortable subjects such as death.  And as I've written about previously, the death of children is more than simply uncomfortable.

In the 19th century the human mortality rate was very high; the children being the largest group of victims.  A good deal of children didn't make it out of infancy and if they were lucky enough to live, were sure to die of a variety of diseases preventable today (such as measles, mumps, whooping cough).  Others were killed by their professions.  Yes, five year olds with professions.  The smallest humans became coal miners, chimney sweeps, and prostitutes among other horrific undertakings (pun intended).  William Blake wrote two poems about child chimney sweeps.  Told in different voices, they still summarized the awful life many poor children were subjected to.

 The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Innocence

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.

There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,

That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved: so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."

And so he was quiet; and that very night,

As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight, -
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.

And by came an angel who had a bright key,

And he opened the coffins and set them all free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.

Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,

They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;
And the angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father, and never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark,

And got with our bags and our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm;
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.

The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Experience

A little black thing in the snow,
Crying "'weep! 'weep!" in notes of woe!
"Where are thy father and mother? Say!"--
"They are both gone up to the church to pray.

"Because I was happy upon the heath,

And smiled among the winter's snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.

"And because I am happy and dance and sing,

They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God and his priest and king,
Who make up a heaven of our misery."

There were no consistent birth certificates to prove existence.  My second daughter died after she was born and I am fortunate to have a birth certificate.  It is PROOF she existed.  Not just for me but for history.  Every human being born into this world has the right to be remembered.  If conception, pregnancy, and birth are as magical, mystical and miraculous as believed, then life should be remembered.  We come now to the post mortem photograph.  The only proof that someone was a living soul upon this planet; for however short a period it might have been.

If you look at these photos (both those of the children and adults) you will see that they are done with care. Of course, postmortem photos of criminals after execution are notwithstanding.  The children are dressed in their finest with all respect paid to their innocence and beauty.  Adults are posed respectfully also dressed in their best clothing with lovely props and adornments.  Many are posed with their families with them. Sometimes there was not enough time between a birth and a death of a child to get a living family portrait.   One of the oddest things I've come across are the photos of adults that are propped up as if alive with their eyes painted on (one of the features that helps photo experts decide if they have a postmortem or not).

These images are not meant to hurt of disgust.  They are meant to memorialize and prove.  The child in the above photograph lived in this world.  Not for any time or great purpose, perhaps to anyone other than her family, but SHE. WAS. HERE.  And that is what these pictures say.  Death was so common an occurrence that this was  not looked on with shock and horror.  This was looked on with love and sadness.  It is unfortunate that so many people in the modern and post modern world viewed these photographs so terribly.  In the film A Haunting in Connecticut, the main character played by Virginia Madsen comes across a pile of post mortem photographs.  With disgust she throws them into the outside garbage can instead of giving them to a local funeral home or town hall.  The dead and the past thrown in the garbage.  Precisely what these people were desperate to avoid.  You can find postmortem photographs on the internet.  They are few and expensive.  Book compilations are a pretty penny.  Online archives are available as well.  Here are a few to start with if interested.
You must become a member of Thanatos to see all the work:

Don't think that postmortem memorial photography is no longer used.  It is. It's just made to be dirty and put in a back room where it's never spoken about. Hospitals offer a wide variety of postmortem photographic services; most often for the death of children. It is a way to help people process loss and deal with mourning. It is offered privately (you'll find no advertisement for it on the hospital website as a "service") and with respect.  Some don't want the photos done.  Some do.  They never push.  I have one of my own and cherish it.  It's obviously not a photo to place in a frame and put on the piano.  It is a reminder to me that SHE. WAS. HERE. 

If there are no reminders  that a person lived on this earth you can simply watch them disappear from history and memory.  That is true death.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Story of Autumn and Winter

(Photo by Sascha Fink)
It's autumn and the world is dying.  It's my favorite time of the year.  The weather is crisp but not too cold.  I can wear a sweater and still tool around in my flip flops.  The leaves have fallen.  I have a huge White Ash in my side yard.  He's a wonderful tree except he has a short leaf life.  I'd like to look at him longer but he's the last go get his green leaves and he's the first to drop them all.  My Red Oak, on the other hand holds on to his leaves as long as he can.  Most of the other trees finally fell two weeks ago.  My oak just final cleared about five or six days ago.  I was able to do the final rake just in time for my daughter's birthday party.

But where does autumn come from?  I can give you the scientific explanation.  Anyone can.  I don't want to.  I want to tell you the story.  Most of the people I know have already heard this story.  Some might have heard it in passing or read it years ago as part of a Classical Literature class.  Maybe in high school.  To many of my friends it is a Sacred Myth vital to their worship of the Gods and of the Agricultural Wheel of the Year. It is one of my favorite stories.  If you will forgive me, I will not retell the story of the Eleusinian Mysteries that are a part of this story but a story in and of themselves.

The Coming of Autumn; The Rape of Persephone

 Once upon a time, long ago when the gods ruled the world, the king of the gods Zeus had a daughter by his sister Demeter.  This was not at all uncommon in the world of the gods.  It was forbidden in the world of men, of course, as men were not permitted to copy the actions of the gods.  It was presumptuous.  It was Hubris.  It was death.  The King of the Gods and his sister, the Goddess of the Harvest had a beautiful daughter named Kore which meant "maiden."  She was known as "White-armed," a highly honorific epithet. From the first moment of her immortal life she brought joy to all who looked upon her.  She was one of the most beautiful goddesses seconded only to her Aunt-Mother Queen Hera and her Half sister Aphrodite; goddess of love and beauty.  She was a delicate flower with beautiful golden petals for hair.

She was so lovely that she was wooed strongly by other Olympic Gods such as Hermes, Ares, Apollo and Hephaestus.  Since she had no real place in Olympus having no permanent seat, her mother hid her away on the earth to live among the nymphs, humans and all living things away from the lustful thought and advances of her brother and nephews.  She simply became a goddess of nature; anonymous like the small flower that blooms under towering trees.

But one god noticed her.  Deep within the bowels of the earth in the Realm of the Dead, Hades saw her.  She was a shining beam of light that managed to seep through a crack in the rocks.  Her light blinded him temporarily.  He knew he had to possess her. He had to bring her beauty and cheer into his world of gloom and lethargy.  You see, Hades was not an evil god and his realm was not an evil place.  It was simply a place.  There were places to punish the wicked.  There were places where the heroes and extraordinary people could be rewarded.  There was a place for all the others that lived neither a extremely good nor extremely bad life.

As a ruler, Hades had no one to speak to.  His isolation hardened his heart.  When he ferried souls, he spoke with Hermes but there was no warmth.  The Realm of Hades was cold.  Kore could change that.  If he brought her down to his kingdom she could bring some light.  She could be someone to speak with; to share his thoughts, his secrets, his love.  He was capable of love though many suspected he wasn't.

"Zeus, my brother," he said, "I am in need of a companion.  Of a wife.  What of your daughter Kore?"  Zeus stroked his beard.  There were no goddesses that he could think of that did not have husbands, companions or were Virgins.  His brother was the god of the dead, therefore a human wife was impossible.  She would die and become his subject.  At the thought of his daughter and idea crept into his head.

"Brother," he said, "my daughter Kore spends her days picking flowers in the meadows and forests; sometimes with nymphs but often alone.  If I were to draw her toward a special flower and she were to pull it, the earth would open and you could take her for your queen.  But do it quickly and force her to eat; for all that eat in the Underworld are doomed to stay."

Kore spent her days on earth picking flowers.  She would place them in baskets and give them to her mother.  As Zeus had no role in raising his daughter other than to secretly arrange her marriage, Demeter was all she knew.  The love between mother and daughter was so strong it radiated to all creatures that they were near.  Kore ran to her mother every time she saw her. Demeter covered her in loving, tender kisses whenever they embraced.  The earth became a place of eternal warmth, fertility and love.

One afternoon Kore found a particularly odd looking flower.  She had never seen it before.  It intrigued her.  It hypnotized her.  She was drawn to it.  The moment she tugged on the stem to add it to her basket the earth erupted around her; the sound so thunderous she dropped her basket and covered her ears in terror.  The earth split and out of the gaping hole rode Hades in an ebony chariot pulled by ebony steeds.  He seized Kore by the waist, brought her up to his chariot and rode back down into the chasm.  After the Rape she was no long Kore; the maiden.  From that moment on she was known as Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.
(The Rape of Persephone by Bernini)

At the end of the day Demeter called to her daughter.  Hyperion was nearly at the nighttime stables and Kore needed to eat and rest for another beautiful day.  No matter how loudly she called, Kore did not appear.  Frantic, Demeter raced to her favorite flower spots in the meadows and in the forests.  When she came upon her daughter's overturned basket she panicked. She called out to all living things.

"Who has seen my precious daughter!?  Who has seen what has happened!?  Who knows where she is!?" she cried.  No one save one responded to her.

"Good sister," called Hekate, "I do not know where your daughter is, but let my torches light your way in the darkness as we look for her."  They searched all night long.  When Hyperion began his daily ride across the sky he saw the goddesses.  Demeter weak from crying.

"Good Demeter," he called from above, "I have seen what happened to your daughter.  Your brother Hades took her down into the earth."  Hearing this Demeter was enraged.  She stormed the doors of Mt. Olympus.

"Brother!" she called to Zeus, "Our daughter has been taken by our brother!  She is to be returned to me at once!" she cried.  Zeus shook his head and put his hand on her arm.

"No, sister.  She is to remain in the Underworld as Hades' queen.  I have seen to it."

"YOU have seen to it?  YOU gave my daughter away?  YOU extinguished her light by snuffing her out in darkness?  HOW DARE YOU!"  And with that, she disappeared from Mt. Olympus.

She wandered the earth crying for her lost daughter.  In her state she refused to let anything on the earth grow.  The crops withered.  The leaves fell from the trees.  The flowers died.  The grass turned brown.

Soon the humans of the earth began to starve.  Zeus heard their cries.  He feared that they would all die from starvation.  Without humans on the earth there would be no one to worship the gods.  They would never recieve accolades and sacrifices again.  Zeus became distressed.  He called his sister back to Mt. Olympus. He knew he had to attempt to fix what he had done.

"I will send Hermes to bring her home," he said to Demeter, "but you must allow the crops to grow when you are reunited.  The humans are dying."

In Hades, Persephone had remained stubborn her entire stay.  She refused to eat.  She refused to speak. She refused all attention.  Hades made her an exquisite crown made of ebony. It was decorated with the precious gems that were found within his realm. She would not accept it. The only words she said was, "I want to go home."  Persephone found life in the Underworld sad.  Not because of the darkness but because of the lethargy.  The dead had no personalities.  They wandered lonely and forgotten.  She wanted to make their lives better and softer but she was unable to move them in any way.

While alone, Hermes came to her.  He was the only one who could move from the world above to the world below and back again.  He was the farrier of souls.  He brought them to Charon the ferryman to cross the River Styx.  He whispered to her, "Little sister, you are to go back to your mother."  Persephone was elated.  "But little Persephone, you seem so thin and so hungry.  You should eat before you go.  I cannot take you to your mother looking so gaunt."  He handed her a pomegranate.  She could smell the juice within it.  Her lips smacked together as he ripped it open. Blood red juice dripped down his fingers.  "Quickly," he said.  Persephone plucked and ate six seeds.  Hermes took the pomegranate away from her and took her hand.  "Let us go," he said and those rose.

On the surface Demeter waited. When her daughter rose she embraced her tightly.  She looked at her face and realized she was no longer Kore.  She had changed.  Moments later Hades appeared and demanded his wife to be returned.

"You will never have her," Demeter cried.

"Then we will get a ruling from our brother," he said calmly.  Zeus appeared to rule.

"Let me ask Persephone one question" he said, "Did you eat anything while in the Underworld my daughter?"  She nodded.

"Yes father, I ate six pomegranate seeds."

"Then the matter is settled," he said.  "She ate food in the Underworld so by our laws she should stay there permanently. However..." he said holding back Demeter's protest, "we shall make a compromise.  For six months of the year Persephone shall reign as queen of the Underworld because she ate six seeds.  For the remaining six months of the year she will live with her mother. She must spend a portion of her time in Hades' Realm.  I have no discretion in this matter."

And that is how the seasons were created.  The spring is the return of Persephone to the upper world.  The summer is the pure love of reunited mother and daughter.  In the beginning of autumn Persephone prepares and returns to her husband.  Demeter begins the cycle of death in mourning for her daughter.  The earth dies and grows cold as she waits to be reunited with her beloved child again.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Jewish origins of Corpse Bride

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride takes place in 19th century England.  As with most of Burton's movies, the land of the living is dull and dreary.  It's in the land of the dead that the festivities, color, singing and dancing shines!  After a little research I found out that The Corpse Bride is based on a Russian/Jewish tale called, "The Finger."  The following is taken from The Feline Speaks where credit is due...

"Once upon a time there was a young man who lived in a village in Russia. He was to be married and he and his friend prepared to go to the village where his bride-to-be lived, two days walk from his own village.

The first night the two friends decided to set up camp by a river. The young man who was going to be married spotted an unusual looking stick in the ground that looked like a bony finger. He and his friend started joking about this bony finger sticking out of the ground and the young man who was going to be married took the golden wedding ring from his pocket and put it on the strange-looking stick. And then he started to do the wedding dance around the stick; he danced around the stick with the golden wedding ring three times and he sang the Jewish wedding song, and recited the entire marriage sacrament as he danced around the stick, he and his friend laughing the whole time.

Their fun stopped suddenly when the earth started rumbling and shaking beneath their feet. The place where the stick had been opened up and a very bedraggled looking corpse emerged, a living corpse, she had been a bride, but now was barely more than a skeleton held together by shreds of skin, still wearing an old torn white silk wedding dress. Worms and spider webs hung on the once-beaded bodice and tattered veil.

The two young men were aghast.

"Ah," she said, "you have done the wedding dance and pronounced the marriage vows and you have put a ring on my finger. Now we are man and wife. I demand my rights as your bride."

Shuddering with terror at the corpse bride's words, the two young men fled to the village where the young bride was waiting to be married. They went straight to the rabbi.

"Rabbi," asked the young man breathlessly, "I have a very important question to ask you. If by some chance you're walking in the woods and you happen to see a stick that looks like a long bony finger coming out of the ground and you happen to put a golden wedding ring on the finger and do the wedding dance and pronounce the wedding vows, is this indeed a real marriage?"

Looking very puzzled, the rabbi asked, "Do you know of such a situation?"

"Oh no, no, of course not, it's just a hypothetical question."

Stroking his long beard thoughfully, the rabbi said, "let me think about it."

And just then, a big gust of wind blew the door open, and in walked the corpse bride. "I lay claim to this man as my husband, for he has placed this wedding ring on my finger and pronounced the solemn marriage vows," she demanded, her bony finger rattling as she shook it at her intended brigegroom.

"This is indeed a very serious matter. I'll have to consult with the other rabbis," said the rabbi.

Soon all the rabbis from the surrounding villages were gathered together. They went into conference, while the two young men anxiously awaited their decision.

The corpse bride waited on the porch tapping her foot, declaring, "I want to celebrate my wedding night with my husband." These chilling words made every hair on the young man's body stand on end, though it was a warm summer day.

While the rabbis were conferring, the real human bride arrived and wanted to know what all the fuss was about. When her fiance explained just what had happened, she started weeping, "Oh, my life is ruined, all my hopes and dreams are shattered; I'll never be married, never have a family."

Just then the rabbis came out and asked: "Did you indeed put a gold ring on the finger, and did you dance around it three times and did you indeed pronounce the wedding vows in their entirety?" The two young men who by this time were cowering in a far corner nodded their heads. Looking very serious the rabbis went back to confer again.

And the young bride wept bitter tears, while the corpse bride was by now gloating at the prospect of her long awaited wedding night.

After a short while the rabbis solemnly marched out, took their seats, and announced, "Since you put the wedding ring on the finger of the corpse bride and you danced around it three times reciting the wedding vows, we have determined that this constitutes a proper wedding ceremony. Even so, we have decided that the dead have no claim upon the living."

Sighing and murmuring could be heard from all corners, the young bride was especially relieved.

The corpse bride, however, howled, "Oh, there goes my last chance for a life; I'll never have my dreams fulfilled now, it's forever lost," and she collapsed on the floor. It was a pathetic sight, a heap of bones in a tattered wedding gown, lying there, lifeless.

Overcome with compassion for the corpse bride, the young bride knelt down and gathered up that old heap of bones, carefully arranging the shredded silk finery and holding her close, half sang, half murmured, as if cradling a crying infant, "don’t worry I'll live your dreams for you, I'll live your hopes for you, I'll have your children for you, I'll have enough children for the two of us and you can rest in peace knowing that our children and our children's children will be well cared for and will not forget us."

Tenderly she closed the eyes of the corpse bride, tenderly she held her in her arms and slowly and with measured steps she marched down to the river with her fragile charge, took her down by the river where she dug a shallow grave for her and laid her in it and crossed the bony arms over the bony chest, the one hand clasping the one with the ring on it, and folded the wedding gown around her.

Then she whispered, "May you rest in peace, I will live your dreams for you, don't worry, we will not forget you."

The corpse bride looked happy and at peace in her new grave, as if she somehow knew that she would be fulfilled through this young bride And the young bride covered up, slowly, the corpse bride, covered up the tattered wedding gown in the shallow grave, covered it all up with earth, then put wildflowers all over the grave and stones all around it.

Then the young bride went back to her fiancé and they were married in a very solemn wedding ceremony and they lived many happy years together. And all their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren were always told the story of the corpse bride, and so she was not forgotten, nor was the wisdom and compassion she had taught them forgotten either.

Corpse Bride History

Like I said before, the Corpse Bride is actually a Russian-Jewish folktale. It comes from the anti-Jewish Russian pogroms (1880's-1900's) in which Russians following the czar murdered thousands of Jews. Their homes were burnt, possessions stolen, women raped and people murdered in hundreds of Russian towns. Local police and sometimes even the military were involved.

Just as a note, Jews aren't ever depicted as defending themselves until after Israel's formed. This isn't true. Local groups have gathered to defend themselves through history.

[One such group was the] Russian Jewish defense group in Pinsk, early 1900's

The first pogrom started in 1881 when Czar Alexander II was assassinated. Rumor said the Jews were responsible, and they suffered for it. Czar Alexander III blamed the Jews for the riots and set up restrictions for them. They couldn't live in small towns, work in certain professions, or become educated. Only a small percentage (like 3-10%) was allowed to work as a doctor or go to school. Synagogues were closed and Moscow was even "cleansed" of its Jewish population. And of course, the right to vote was taken from them.

Alexander III explained his reason for these actions, "We must never forget that the Jews have crucified our Master and have shed his precious blood." Later it was admitted the government expected one third of the Jews to emigrate, one third to get baptized, and one third to die.

During this time it said Russians attacked wedding carriages or parties and murder the bride so she could not bear Jewish children. There are two stories on why she was buried in her gown. The first says the Russians then buried the bride in her wedding dress in a shallow grave. The second claims of a Jewish tradition I've never heard: burying the body in the clothes in which they died.

A person or family's line ends without offspring, and the living bride insists that the corpse bride be remembered and continued. It's the woman who empowers those lost in the pogroms and carries the Jewish line despite tragedy.

Anyway, that's the whole point of the folktale, to remember the brides lost in pogroms."

Taken from:

Another great information site:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Jack-O-Lantern

It's not often I win anything. In fact, I've only won a college paper writing contest three years ago.  I think this win might even be more exciting.  I entered a contest for pumpkin carving at a tattoo studio run by the man that did most of my work.  I won a $25 gift certificate with the pumpkin showed above.

Jack-O-Lanterns have a neat history.  In Ireland and England people often carved lanterns from vegetables.  Turnips were the predecessors of the pumpkin.  They weren't officially called "Jack-o-lanterns" until the early 19th century and "officially" linked to Halloween in the mid 19th century.  The 19th century being the time when most of the Halloween customs we practice were originated.  Pumpkins and lanterns were always considered a part of the Autumn tradition since pre-Christian days due to the seasonal time in which they were harvested.  American author John Greenleaf Whittier wrote the following poem:

The Pumpkin (1850)
Oh!--fruit loved of boyhood! --the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces were carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!

The original folklore story of the Jack-O-Lantern is Irish in origin.  Stingy Jack was a lazy, miserable drunk man who spent his days about town playing tricks on everyone...including the devil.  One day Jack tricked the devil into climbing an apple tree.  While in the tree Jack quickly placed a cross at the trunk and prevented him from climbing down.  Jack let the devil down once he promised Jack he would not ever take his soul.  Many years later when Jack died he went to the Pearly Gates.  St. Peter told him he had been far too bad to let into Heaven.  Jack went down into Hell but the devil kept his promise and refused to let him in because he couldn't take his soul.  Jack was terrified.  When told to leave Hell Jack noticed how dark it was. He asked the devil if there was any way to get a light to light his way back to earth.  The devil kicked him an ember from one of the fires. The ember was said to never go out.  Jack hollowed out a turnip, placed the ember inside.  He still wanders the earth today with no resting place using his lantern to light the way. From then on he was known as Jack of the Lantern.

It is said that when the Irish came to America they discovered that pumpkins were far easier to carve than potatoes or turnips and hence the Jack-O-Lantern of modern day was born.

Just take a golden pumpkin
 Of quite the largest size,
Cut all 'round the stem, just so,
 Scrape out the inside below,
And cut two holes for eyes.
 And now fix a nose beneath,
 And such a great big mouth with teeth,
 And you've a jack-o'-lantern!

Then fix a tallow candle,
Just big enough to light,
 And when it flickers, see him blink,
 And when it flares up, see him wink
 And smile so broad and bright.
 This is the jolliest sort of a fellow,
With cheery face so round and yellow,
 This funny jack-o'-lantern.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: The Graveyard Poet by Steve Santini

I spent the last night reading The Graveyard Poet.  The Graveyard Poet is an anthology of the poems of Steve Santini.  Reading the introduction did not impress me. It was not a good way to start.  In the forward Mr. Santini praises himself constantly and his own "biography" seems to be what people expect a dark and disturbed person to say.  "As a boy I was always drawn to horror films and creepy works of art and literature" (Introduction page one). As I came to read later, Mr. Santini praises himself and a poetic talent that is decidedly missing.

The author seemed to try far too hard to sound tragic and morbid. He reaches into a hat and pulls out random subjects he believes with haunt and shock the reader.  It doesn't haunt and shock me.  Most serious poetry readers are haunted and shocked when a writer digs deep down within him/herself and pulls up frightening ideas and thoughts that have no business being inside a  warm human being or speak honestly about how darker emotions affect them. Word-craft is the key. Poems have to pack and emotional punch in a very finite space. Mr. Santini seems to want to fool the reader into thinking he is tragic and disturbed.  While I enjoy end line rhymed poetry and closed form poems, the poems in this anthology are very poorly written.  They, unfortunately are written with a poetic style I expect from my seven year old.

Mr. Santini seems as though he is caught between styles.  It appears that he wants to be an open verse poet yet cannot let go of the idea of structured, closed form which is really restricting him.  He mainly relies on ABAB or AABB rhyme scheme.  I suspect if the poems themselves were better written, holding on to this pattern would make sense; he could make it work. Personally I think he would have a better go at it if he abandoned the hard structure he is currently using.  There are only so many rhymes for "love."  After you use them all, it's hard to continue being original when word-craft isn't your strongest forte. "I am now 30 and my name is Bob/And in my youth I held many a job" (The Sound, lines 1-2) is a line I'd expect to be heard in a Courage the Cowardly Dog episode.  Reminds me far too much of the "Fred" episode (the whacked out barber who is 'naughty').

The author uses cliches far too often which is really a sign of poor creative writing skills.  The poem Spoke the Spiders begins with, "'Step into my parlor,' said the spider to the fly" (line 1).  Line one was not even written by him.  The Spider and the Fly was written Mary Howitt in 1829.  While worded just a tad bit different, this poem begins with plagiarized material.  At least Lewis Carroll had the decency to reword Ms. Howitt's poem as a parody (The Lobster Quadrille). It's obvious that the poet is unable to create his own imagery; falling back on worn out expressions that evoke no imagination.  I'm certain that the evocation of imagery and emotion is high on the "what poetry is supposed to do" list.

On a positive note, the photography in the book is very nice and some of the poems were a little whimsical in a way.  Mr. Santini is a man of varied talents. He is a master escape artist and collects Medieval torture devises. According to my own research he is the real deal.  I have a great respect for escape artists.  What they do is dangerous.  To master even one escape must be thrilling.  I'm sure he puts on quite a show.  Mr. Santini has written books on both subjects.  I have not read any of his other books though am truly interested in those he wrote on escapism.  He is, however, still a poor poet.  There is very little more to say.  I don't recommend this book to anyone. One star out of five...and that's being kind.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A book of interest

I enjoy reading poetry, as you might have guessed.  There are few books that are collections of darker poetry.  You find things such as Mountain Graveyard in anthologies of all sorts of poems or in anthologies of an author's works.  I haven't been able to find a cemetery/death anthology. There was a group of people that were called "The Graveyard Poets."  According to Wiki: The "Graveyard Poets" were a number of pre-Romantic English poets of the 18th century characterized by their gloomy meditations on mortality, 'skulls and coffins, epitaphs and worms."  They included Thomas Parnell, Thomas Warton, Thomas Percy, Thomas Gray, Oliver Goldsmith, William Cowper, Christopher Smart, James MacPherson, Robert Blair, William Collins, Thomas Chatterton, Mark Akenside, Joseph Warton, Henry Kirke White and Edward Young and James Thomson.  Poe is not included on the list, strangely enough, even though he fits the criteria.  I'm going to consider him.  Sadly, no one has anthologized them.  Maybe that'll be a nice Master's project.

I did however, find a book called The Graveyard Poet: Dark Adult Poems of Horror, Madness and Death by Steve Santini.  It looked interesting and I decided to give it a go.  At a glance some of the poems seem a bit sing/songy but that doesn't mean they aren't good. 

I'm considering collecting my own darker poetry and making a small book.