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Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

19 FEBRUARY, 2013

Cosmic Pastoral: Diane Ackerman’s Poems for the Planets, Which Carl Sagan Sent Timothy Leary in Prison

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“I’m stricken by the ricochet wonder of it all: the plain everythingness of everything, in cahoots with the everythingness of everything else.”

On February 19, 1974, shortly before visiting Timothy Leary in prison, Carl Sagan sent the psychedelic pioneer a letter discussing evolution, the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and the details of the upcoming visit. The postscript read:

P.S. The enclosed poem, ‘The Other Night’ by Dianne Ackermann [sic] of Cornell, is something I think we both resonate to. It’s unfinished so it shouldn’t yet be quoted publically.

But the poem was eventually finished and, along with fourteen others, included in Diane Ackerman’s 1976 poetry anthology The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral (public library) — a whimsical and wonderful ode to the universe, celebrating its phenomena and featuring a poem for each planet in the Solar System, as well as one specifically dedicated to Carl Sagan.

From “Venus”:

Low-keyed and perpetual,
a whirling sylph
whose white robe stripes
around her; taffeta
wimpled like a nun’s headcloth;
a buxom floozy with a pink boa;
mummy, whose black
sediment desiccates within; wasp-star
to Mayan Galileos;
an outpatient
wrapped in post-operative gauze;
Cleopatra in high August–
her flesh curling
in a heat mirage
lightyears
from Alexandria;
tacky white pulp
spigoted
through the belly of a larva;
the perfect courtesan:
obliging, thick-skinned,
and pleated with riddles,

Venus quietly mutates
in her ivory tower.

Deep within that
libidinous albedo
temperatures are hot enough
to boil lead,
pressures
90 times more unyielding
than Earth’s.
And though layered cloud-decks
and haze strata
seem to breathe
like a giant bellows,
heaving and sighing
every 4 days,
the Venerean cocoon
is no cheery chrysalis
brewing a damselfly
or coaxing life
into a reticent grub,
but a sniffling atmosphere
40 miles thick
of sulphuric, hydrochloric,
and hydrofluoric acids
all sweating
like a global terrarium,
cutthroat, tart, and self-absorbed.
No sphagnum moss
or polypody fern here,
where blistering vapors
and rosy bile
hint at the arson
with which the Universe began.

Hubble Space Telescope photograph taken within minutes of Mars' closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years, on Aug. 27, 2003. Click images for more

From “Mars”:

The quickest route
from Candor to Chaos
follows Coprates
(the much-travelled
Shit River), through
da Vinci and Galileo
bypassing Bliss,
many moons from Tranquility.
But, Romantics, take heart:
you can breakfast
in Syria, lunch in Sinai,
track the Nile
to its source (Nilokeras)
before dinner, and there,
making ablutions to Osiris,
win a boon to Eden,
where all four rivers
of Paradise converge,
then spend the night
in Pandora, or with Ulysses,
Proteus, or even Noah,
in the Land of Gold (Chryse)
or by the Leek-green Sea.

From “The Other Night (Comet Kohoutek)”:

Last night, while
cabbage stuffed with
brown sugar, meat and
raisins was baking in the
oven, and my potted holly,
dying leafmeal from red-spider,
basked in its antidote malathion,
I stepped outside to watch Kohoutek
passing its dromedary core through the
eye of a galaxy. But only found a white
blur cat-napping under Venus: gauzy, dis-
solute, and bobtailed as a Manx.

Pent-up in that endless coliseum of stars,
the moon was fuller than any Protestant
had a right to be. And I said: Moon,
if you’ve got any pull up there, bring me
a sun-grazing comet, its long hair swept
back by the solar wind, in its mouth a dollop
of primordial sputum. A dozing iceberg,
in whose coma ur-elements collide. Bring me
a mojo that’s both relict and reliquary.
Give me a thrill from that petrified seed.

Mars was a stoplight in the north sky,
the only real meat on the night’s black
bones. And I said: Mars, why be parsimonious?
You’ve got a million tricks stashed
in your orbital backhills: chicory suns
bobbing in viridian lagoons; quasars dwindling
near the speed of light; pinwheel, dumbbell,
and impacted galaxies; epileptic nuclei
a mile long; vampiric moons; dicotyledon suns;
whorling dustbowls of umbilical snow; milky ways
that, on the slant, look like freshly fed pythons.

From “Diffraction (for Carl Sagan)”:

When Carl tells me it’s Rayleigh scattering
that makes blue light, canting off molecular

grit, go slowgait through the airy jell, subdued,
and outlying mountains look swarthy, or wheat

blaze tawny-rose in the 8:00 sun, how I envy
his light touch on Earth’s magnetic bridle.

Knee-deep in the cosmic overwhelm, I’m stricken
by the ricochet wonder of it all: the plain

everythingness of everything, in cahoots
with the everythingness of everything else.

Echoing Richard Feynman’s views on science and mystery, Ackerman writes of her poetry:

I’ve always been baffled by people who write about nature only in terms of, say, junipers and cornfields, eschewing all things so-called ‘scientific,’ as if science were, per se, the spoil-sport of feeling. So wonderless a view of nature really doesn’t appeal to me; I don’t see the Universe divided up that way, into ‘The Junipers’ on the one hand and ‘The Amino Acids’ on the other.

So how did Sagan know of Ackerman? Most likely, through his second wife — the author photograph on the back of The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral was taken by artist and writer Linda Salzman Sagan, whom Carl married in 1968. The two divorced in 1981, after Sir Sagan fell in love with Annie Druyan in the course of creating the Voyager Golden Record, which Linda co-produced. Cosmic love, it seems, is always a little more complicated than the poets might wish us to believe.

Complement with the first poem published in a scientific journal, which actually turned out not to be the first.

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18 FEBRUARY, 2013

Our Friend the Atom: Disney’s 1956 Illustrated Propaganda for Nuclear Energy

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“Atomic science began as positive, creative thought.”

Walt Disney was no stranger to propaganda, from his wartime anti-Nazi animations to his 1955 eulogy for space exploration, and even his internal company culture. In 1956, just over a decade after the atomic bomb showed the world the devastating power of nuclear weapons, Disney partnered with German physicist Heinz Haber, a professor at USC and personal science consultant to the legendary animator, to produce Our Friend the Atom (public library) — a gloriously illustrated 165-page tome extolling the promise of atomic power as a generative rather than destructive force. The illustrations, representing twenty-two Disney artists — twenty-one men and one woman — with a vibrant mid-century aesthetic somewhere between Saul Bass’s posters, The Provensens’ children’s books, and the anatomical illustrations of The Human Body, cover everything from the Ancient Greeks’ philosophies of matter to Curie and Einstein to the splitting of the atom and its promise for the future.

Walt himself writes in the foreword, with a nod to how science fiction pioneer Jules Verne presaged modern technology and the gender-biased pronouns typical of the era:

Fiction often has a strange way of becoming fact. Not long ago we produced a motion picture based on the immortal tale 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, featuring the famous submarine ‘Nautilus.’ According to that story the craft was powered by a magic force.

Today the tale has come true. A modern namesake of the old fairy ship — the submarine ‘Nautilus’ of the United States Navy — has become the world’s first atom-powered ship. It is proof of the useful power of the atom that will drive the machines of our atomic age.

The atom is our future. It is a subject everyone wants to understand, and so we long had plans to tell the story of the atom. In fact, we considered it so important that we embarked on several atomic projects. … Of course, we don’t pretend to be scientists — we are story tellers. But we combine the tools of our trade with the knowledge of experts.

[…]

The story of the atom is a fascinating tale of human quest for knowledge, a story of scientific adventure and success. Atomic science has borne many fruits, and the harnessing of the atom’s power is only the spectacular end result. It acme about through the work of many inspired men whose ideas formed a kind of chain reaction of thoughts. These men came from all civilized nations, and from centuries as far back as 400 B.C.

Atomic science began as positive, creative thought. It has created modern science with its many benefits for mankind. In this sense our book tries to make it clear to you that we can indeed look upon the atom as our friend.

The prologue sets the stage for the duality of atomic energy and the book’s choice to focus on the positive:

Deep in the tiny atom lies hidden a tremendous force. This force has entered the scene of our modern world as a most frightening power of destruction, more fearful and devastating than man ever thought possible.

We all know of the story of the military atom, and we all wish that it weren’t true. For many obvious reasons it would be better if it weren’t real, but just a rousing tale. It does have all the earmarks of a drama: a frightful terror, which everyone knows exists, a sinister threat, mystery and secrecy. It’s a perfect tale of horror!

But, fortunately, the story is not yet finished. So far, the atom is a superb villain. Its power of destruction is foremost in our minds. But the same power can be put to use for creation, for the welfare of all mankind.

Complement Our Friend the Atom with these wonderful vintage science ads from the same era.

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14 FEBRUARY, 2013

The Art of Kissing: A 1936 Guide for Lovers

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“Like a bee that settles on the fragrant pistils of a flower, and sips in the nectar for honey, so should you sip in the nectar from between the lips of your love.”

Between Edison’s scandalous footage of the first kiss in cinema in 1896 and Bill Plympton’s quirky animated guide to kissing a century later, the public image of lip-locking underwent some radical transformations. In 1936, the year my grandmother was born, a man named Hugh Morris penned a small illustrated pamphlet titled The Art of Kissing (public library), in which he guided young lovers through the techniques, tricks, and “approved methods of kissing,” including such varieties as “the spiritual kiss,” “the nip kiss,” “the pain kiss,” “the surprise kiss,” “the eyelash kiss,” and “the French soul kiss,” as well as tips on how to prepare for a kiss and how to approach a girl. Delightfully dated in its assumptions about love, heterosexuality, and marriage, it’s as much a charming time-capsule of a bygone era as it is a sure source of a good chuckle.

A section on “how to kiss girls with different sizes of mouths” advises:

Where the girl’s mouth is of the tiny, rosebud type, then one need not worry about what to do. … However, there are many girls whose lips are broad and generous, whose lips are on the order of Joan Crawford’s, for instance. The technique in kissing such lips is different. For, were one to allow his lips to remain centered, there would be wide expanses of lips, untouched and, therefore, wasted. In such cases, instead of remaining adhered to the center of the lips, the young man should lift up his lips a trifle and begin to travel around the girl’s lips, stopping a number of times to drop a firm kiss in passing. When you have made a complete round of the lips, return immediately to the center bud and feast there. Feast there as did the lover of Fatimas, in Tennyson’s poem, in which it was written that: ‘Once he drew, with one long kiss, my whole soul through my lips — as sunlight drinketh dew.’

Then, sip of the honey.

Like a bee that settles on the fragrant pistils of a flower, and sips in the nectar for honey, so should you sip in the nectar from between the lips of your love. And it is nectar. For there is in this mingling a symbol of the holy communion of the spirits of two soul-mates, joined together in the bonds of an indissoluble love.

The lips are not the only part of the mouth which should be joined in kissing. Every lover is a glutton. He wants everything that is part of his sweetheart, everything. He doesn’t want to miss a single iota of her ‘million-pleasured joys’ as Keats once wrote of them. That is why, when kissing, there should be as many contacts, bodily contacts, as is possible. Snuggle up closely together. Feel the warm touch of each other’s bodies. Be so close that the rise and fall of each other’s bosoms is felt by one another.

THE ‘VACUUM’ KISS

Here you start off by first opening your mouth a trifle just after you have been resting peacefully with closed lips. Indicate to your partner, by brushing her teeth with the tip of your tongue, that you wish for her to do likewise. The moment she responds, instead of caressing her mouth, suck inward as though you were trying to draw out the innards of an orange. If she knows of this kiss variation, your maid will act in the same way and withdraw the air from your mouth. In this fashion, in a very short while, the air will have been entirely drawn out of your mouths. Your lips will adhere so tightly that there will almost be pain, instead of pleasure. But it will be the sort of pain that is highly pleasurable. That may sound odd, but nevertheless it is a fact. Pain becomes so excruciating as to become pleasurable.

THE DANCING KISS

A very pleasant way to kiss is found in the ‘dancing kiss.’ Here, again, it is the closeness of the bodies of the participants that adds to the enjoyment. What more could a pair of lovers ask for than a dimly lighted dance floor, the tender, rhythmical strains of a waltz being played by Wayne King, their arms around each other, their eager young bodies kissing each other in a myriad of excitable places, the while their cheeks meet in glowing, velvety strokes?

But even with its amusingly archaic advice, The Art of Kissing offers a timelessly necessary reminder:

A kiss can never be absolutely defined. Because each kiss is different form the one before and the one after. Just as no two people are alike, so are no two kisses like. For it is people who make kisses. Real, live people pulsating with life and love and extreme happiness.

Because even in 1936, they knew that in the (hand)book of love, we each write our own story.

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