Penelope Franklin Simmons

Penelope Franklin Simmons

Another excellent American sculpture.

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O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman

This is poem is an oddity for Walt, who usually wrote poems in free verse.

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here captain! dear father!

This arm beneath your head;

It is some dream that on the deck,

You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!

But I, with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

It seems especially pertinent to post the entire poem now. We have long associated the first line with Dead Poets Society, especially the iconic ending. We may forget that Walt Whitman wrote this poem following the trauma of Lincoln’s Assassination. It is a poem of shock, of mourning, of unfathomable sorrow. It is a poem of bereavement.

I think that anyone who wishes to understand the American Civil War must read the poetry of Walt Whitman.

However, over the past two days, I find myself thinking of something else entirely.

No, Robin Williams, thank you.

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In Memoriam: Robin McLaurin Williams (1951-2014)


An excellent remembrance of Robin Williams.

Originally posted on catherineonfilms:

In the early hours of 11th August 2014, much-loved American comedian Robin Williams was found dead in his California home of a suspected suicide.

Known by millions as the man who could make you laugh and cry, Williams had been battling personal demons for many years and a month prior to his death had admitted himself into a treatment centre for continued sobriety following years of problems with alcoholism.

Williams was nominated on three occasions for the Academy Award for Best Actor, won a number of Gold Globe Awards and Grammy Awards and received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1998 for his portrayal of Dr Sean Maguire in Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s Good Will Hunting.

The roles voiced and performed by Robin Williams are numerous, firm favourites including his performance as the voice of the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, his role as the alien Mork in TV…

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Come Scoglio by Kiri Te Kanawa

I have yet to listen to, or see, Cosi Fan Tutte. Still, this is very beautiful, and I love Kiri Te Kanawa.

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American Heiress, aka Books I’m not Reading Now

I tend to read in a feast/fast fashion. I find at times that I can read book after book after book, and at other times I simply cannot finish anything. For the past six weeks I was in one of those times. I tried to read The American Heiress at work during lunch and breaks, but I finally gave up. Here is why.

1 The main character’s name. The main character is a rich American heiress named Cora Cash. I’m not kidding. (To quote Cinema Sins, I kept waiting for Villany A. Badguy to show up.)

2 I remember hearing a quote from E.L James, the author of Fifty Shades of Gray, in which she dismissively stated that she does not understand American culture. This wouldn’t be worth noting except for the fact that she chose to set her book in Seattle! I’ve never read the book, but that fact alone shows that the book is trash. What kind of an author would set a book in a culture she does not understand and then dismisses the culture? (Answer: a terrible one.)

Daisy Goodwin has an even more difficult task. She not only has to understand American culture, she has to understand American culture of the newly rich in the Gilded Age. For the most part, she fails. Her book is written in third person omniscient, but she cannot fully adopt the point of view of her protagonist.

Specifically, I’m referring to the times when she uses “American” as an adjective. She speaks about Cora’s “American confidence.” This gave me pause. Was the narrator referring to Cora’s confidence as American or was Cora referring to her confidence as “American?” If the latter, that is a severe problem. Cora had only been in England for a few days. She had not been long enough to see the difference in cultures, and certainly nowhere near long enough to think of her confidence as in any way, “American.” She would view it as a personal attribute, not a cultural attribute. I decided to overlook it, and give the writer the benefit of the doubt.

Then she did it again.

At one point, Cora’s mother complains about the fact that Cora’s new estate will not have running water and she will have to bathe in a tub filled with water by servants. “Cora laughed at her mother’s American love of progress.”


This is simply a surface stereotype and lazy writing.

(I would like to point out that it makes perfect sense for Americans to embrace technology and progress. The English landed gentry didn’t care about technology for the same reason that the ancient Romans didn’t have many technological advances in farming or construction. That’s what slaves were for, according to Medieval History professor. Plus, their status in their society was driven by how ancient their land, titles, and properties were. Technology implied that they were nevoux riche and therefore of low standing in their society.

My ancestors were German farmers who immigrated to Wisconsin in the late 1840’s. They joined a large number of German peasants who emigrated from Germany in the 19th century drawn by the promise of a large of amount of cheap farmland that they could actually own. My ancestors had a completely different relationship with technology. For peasants, technology meant less labor, and even more importantly, higher crop yields! Higher crop yields were the name of the game. It ensured that they wouldn’t starve. Of course they liked technology! It’s easy to talk about tradition and the preservation of the past when someone else is lugging heavy pails of water and someone else faced starvation.)

Cora had only been in England for a few days. She would not view her mother’s insistence on running water in a rich person’s house as “American.” She would view that as sanity, and the she would view resistance to running water as insanity. It’s a bit harsh, but it’s true. She hasn’t been in England long enough to view her own culture’s practices as anything other than normal, natural, right, and the only way to be.

It is an exciting challenge for a writer to adopt a protagonist from a very different background and to try to embrace the protagonist’s point of view and mindset. Unfortunately, Daisy Goodwin can never engage in her protagonist beyond the surface level. She also cannot observe her own country with the point of view of an outsider. I acknowledge that this is easier said than done, but without that point of view, the story does not work. If she cannot do that, why should I?

Answer: I’m not going to try.

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Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

This is my favorite poem. I can’t relate to it personally (thank God!) and yet the visual images the poem conjures are unforgettable.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.


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Films About Women 14

1 Psycho

This is, quite possibly, Alfred Hitchcock’s most iconic film. When the movie was first released, people were not permitted in the theater after it started and there were signs asking viewers not to give away the ending. I will give away the ending, or at least spoil much of the movie. (Don’t give me that spoiler bullshit. The movie was spoiled for me before I saw it, and it was still chilling to me.)

This film stars Janet Leigh, although she dies partway through the movie. Hitchcock wanted it that way. He wanted to shock the audience with this turn of events. There’s a lesson in that. So many times in popular movies, there is very little danger that the hero will die or even get injured. It’s why I don’t like Superman, even though he is a product of Cleveland. In modern times, George R. R. Martin has realized that one of the ways to ensure loyalty (and fanaticism) among followers is to constantly kill off main characters. He told Conan O’Brien, “I want my readers to be afraid.” (Full Disclosure: I have never seen nor read Game of Thrones.)

Annex - Leigh, Janet (Psycho)_01

The film shows Hitchcock’s (and the screenwriters) fascination with Fruedian ideas, particularly the Oedipal complex. It is also a film that broke many, many taboos of film in the 1960’s. This is the first film to show a toilet onscreen. In a way, this film prophesies the end of the self imposed censorship of Hollywood, which would come later in the decade.

It also features an iconic score from Bernard Herrmann composed entirely of strings. I always find music in early films to be too dependent upon strings, but this is one film where it does not bother me in the least. The most famous section of music is, by far, the shower scene. It is truly spine tingling.

I also want to point out that Janet Leigh’s character did not have $40,000. I have seen $40,000, and she did not have it. She had about $20,000 at most.

Anyway, go spend some time at the Bates Motel. Relax. Enjoy the stuffed birds. Take a shower. ;)

2 9 to 5

I saw this film many, many years before I had ever had a paying job. At the time, I thought the film was very funny, but I could not understand why the women did not simply quit. Their boss, is, after all, a sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot. Now that I have had jobs, I realize that this is far easier said than done.

The film follows three women with a truly terrible boss. Then one day, a strange turn of events leads to them kidnapping their boss and desperately trying to blackmail him into keeping quiet.

The film is very much about wish fulfillment. Apparently, before beginning the film, the filmmakers asked a group of secretaries if they had ever had fantasies about getting back at their bosses. They certainly had, and they were eager to share their favorite revenge fantasies. The film deals with women in the workplace, but I think that men can relate to this problem as well. (Office Space, anyone?)


One key part of the film that I appreciate far more is the montage where the three women (played by Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton) institute changes that vastly improve the office. As a child, this seemed like a throwaway. I understand it now. Everyone who has ever worked in a large company has noticed asinine decisions made by superiors that are counterproductive or simply nonsensical. Everyone has thought of ways to improve the workplace. Unfortunately, these suggestions are often dismissed by those in power. In this film, the women actually get to implement the changes they desire with a great deal of success.

Oh, it’s also funny. The center focus of the film is one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

3 Persepolis

I hesitated before putting this film on the list. At times, this film can be boring. However, it is certainly an incredibly unique and innovative film. The film, Persepolis, is the coming of age story of a girl from a secular family in Iran. When the 1979 revolution comes, it causes her a tremendous amount of upheaval. She cannot understand the radical changes that take place in her life.

This is largely based on the life of the writer, and yet is it especially appropriate that the writer is a girl. The restrictions that girls and women face in Iran (as well as in many other Muslim countries) can be incredibly severe. Before the revolution, clothing was very western. After the revolution, women were required to dress in black with the hijab.

Like I said, at times this film seemed a little boring, but at the same time, I was also suffering from jet lag, so I cannot blame the film entirely. It is also a film about isolation and the feeling of disconnect from family and society. It also illuminates a mysterious part of the world. For that, it belongs on the list.

Oh, I also saw this film at the Cinematheque, the film center which is far too cool for the likes of me. I’m just a poser.

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