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Black Lamb

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Black Lamb was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Published monthly. (more)

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This Week in Literary History

December 1st, 2014

English poet Thomas Gray (Elegy in a Country Churchyard, 1751) is born in London in 1716.

grayengravingThomas Gray, b. December 26, 1716, d. 1771

Gray is now remembered almost entirely for one poem, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751), which gave us such phrases as “paths of glory,” “celestial fire,” “some mute inglorious Milton,” “far from the madding crowd,” “the unlettered muse,” and “kindred spirit.” Gray himself preferred a couple of his Pindaric odes, and others occasionally mention Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. But most poets would sacrifice much to have written only the Elegy.

Suggested Reading Poetry The Complete Poems, ed. H.W. Starr, 1966.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: A Week in Literary History, Books and Authors | Link to this Entry

This Month in Black Lamb

December 1st, 2014

The All-Madness Issue

In December’s All-Madness Issue, Toby Tompkins looks at his life in the context of Mental hygiene. In Post-Armageddon, Greg Roberts assures us that everything will turn out fine. John M. Daniel gives us a version of mythology in Medusa. In The madness of death, Elizabeth Fournier describes the wacky things people do with their deceased loved ones. Susan Bennett explores a weird world in Mad mothers & crazy housewives. In A danger to others, Karla Kruggel Powell contends that mental disorders can do more harm to friends and relatives than to the afflicted person. Dan Peterson, whose father was a cop, offers his Thoughts on Ferguson. And James Orbeson reviews the book Suspicious Minds: How Culture Shapes Madness.

We salute poet John Milton and playwright John Osborne as we welcome them into our exclusive club of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis challenges us yet again with problems in declarer play. Our monthly lamb recipe is for James Beard’s Herb-stuffed Lamb Chops. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall answers more readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Madness Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Post Armageddon

There's a sweet new world waiting for us out there.

December 1st, 2014

BY GREG ROBERTS

manson2Charles Manson has been besieged by hot chicks begging to marry him. These girls look beyond his wrecked octogenarian carcass and the swastika on his forehead, not to mention his embarrassingly feeble guitar playing. Are they nuts? Of course they are, but I’m not much better.

I’m feeling fascination, even sympathy, for a complete nut case named Timothy Treadwell, the poor guy who lived with grizzly bears in Alaska and who eventually died in their paws. Everything I know about the grizzly man comes from the documentary of that name, directed by Werner Herzog. This excellent film tells the story of a drug-addicted loser actor from Los Angeles who discovered the natural world and was saved by it. The bears were such an exhilarating drug for Treadwell, he needed no other for the rest of his life.

Watching Treadwell play with his animal friends, you can’t help but like the guy. You envy the joy that he exudes in this wilderness setting, no matter the hardships of tent life and the miserable wind and rain that come with the territory. You start to overlook his delusionary behavior. He thought he was protecting the bears, when in fact they needed no protection: they are apex predators protected by park boundaries. Worse, Treadwell thought he had become a member of the bear tribe, when in fact he was on the path to being their victim, along with his naïve girlfriend, Amy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Madness Issue, Roberts | Link to this Entry

Last Week in Literary History

December 1st, 2014

English playwright John Osborne (Look Back in Anger, 1956) is born in 1929 in Fulham, London.

osborneJohn Osborne, b. December 12, 1929, d. 1994

Osborne revolutionized English and American theater and greatly influenced theater elsewhere with his first professional play, Look Back in Anger. He then went on to prove that he wasn’t a flash in the pan with a long career of intense, brilliant plays, screenplays, and television dramas. A modern giant.

Suggested Reading Plays Look Back in Anger, 1956. The Entertainer, 1957. Luther, 1961. Inadmissable Evidence, 1964. Time Present, 1968. West of Suez, 1971. Screenplays Tom Jones, 1963. The Charge of the Light Brigade, 1968. Memoirs A Better Class of Person, 1981. Almost a Gentleman, 1991.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: A Week in Literary History, Books and Authors | Link to this Entry

Last Month in Black Lamb

November 1st, 2014

In November’s issue, Terry Ross tells the truth about the town he inhabits in Not exactly Portlandia. In Putting the fun in funerals, Elizabeth Fournier describes some trends in the death industry. Toby Tompkins reviews J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf in Epic treatment. In Love’s not easy, John M. Daniel warns of some pitfalls to avoid in writing about relationships. Dan Peterson gives us another chapter in his multi-section portrait with State of Italy, part 3. And Alex Houston, M.A. Orthofer, and Brad Bigelow contribute expert reviews of four books.

We wecome operetta king William Gilbert and American writer James Agee into our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis challenges us with more puzzles in declarer play. Our monthly lamb recipe is for James Beard’s classic Mushroom-stuffed Lamb Chops. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall answers more readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Epic treatment

November 1st, 2014

BY TOBY TOMPKINS

Beowulf, A Translation and Commentary
by J.R.R. Tolkien
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

Lo! The glory of the kings of the people of the Spear-Danes in days of old we have heard told, how those princes did deeds of valor.
— first line of J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf

The beloved author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was by profession a professor of Old and Middle English at Oxford University. In the 1920s, while a young don, he rendered Beowulf, orginally written in England during the eighth century in a Northumbrian variant of Anglo-Saxon, into modern English. But he never tried to publish it, feeling that it didn’t meet his exacting standards. In addition, he was preoccupied with his studies and scholarly publications, and later, with the lectures he delivered to his doctoral candidates on the poem and other surviving texts of Old English literature, lectures which presupposed his students’ working knowledge of Anglo-Saxon.

But he continued to tinker with the translation off and on throughout his life, seeking a version which best approximated the compressed force of the epic poem. Beowulf was written in unrhymed, strongly-stressed alliterative verse whose lines were divided into two sections of dactylic trimeter, like all Anglo-Saxon poems, but Tolkien decided from the first not to replicate that poetic form exactly in his modern version, feeling that in contemporary English it ran the risk of sounding monotonous. Instead, he wrote his translation in prose, but kept the interior stresses. The result, when read aloud — and of course Beowulf was orginally declaimed from memory at the feast-table of a king, by a bard, or scop — preserves the power of the original while impelling the reader to keep up with its swiftness and fluidity. Things happen fast in the tale, and as the commentary included in the current translation suggests, the scop probably recited all of it in the course of a single long, bibulous evening in his monarch’s mead hall.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Books and Authors, Tompkins | Link to this Entry

Two months ago in Black Lamb

October 1st, 2014

All-Dancing Issue

In October's special All-Dancing Issue, John M. Daniel sings the praises of Fred Astaire. Elizabeth Fournier declares herself a Dancing fool. In Two left feet, Toby Tompkins regrets that he never learned to dance very well. William Bogert remembers his most famous dance partner in The light fantastic. Clinton Wilson describes a dance of death in At the Met with Salome. Terry Ross explains the incomprehensibility of Japanese dance troupe Sankai Juku in Cracking the Code. In No longer underrated, Will Mawhood reviews a collection of Elizabeth Taylor’s short stories. M.A. Orthofer reviews Lloyd Jones’s prize-winning novel Mister Pip in A Pip off the old block. And in Human little verses, Brad Bigelow goes back eighty years to look at Rebecca McCann’s Cheerful Cherub.

We also usher Günter Grass and Doris Lessing into our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis proffers two more challenging hands. Our monthly lamb recipe is for Rosemary Lamb Kofte. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall answers more readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Dancing Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

The light fantastic

October 1st, 2014

BY WILLIAM BOGERT

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Black Lamb.

I am pleased to report that this year’s recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award will be Julie Andrews. It’s always nice to see a former dancing partner achieve success.

andrewsjulie copyMore than fifty years ago there appeared on Broadway a mildly amusing comedy called Anniversary Waltz. In those innocent days before the explosion of television, “mildly amusing” often equated to “modest success.” And so it seemed it would with this play. Somewhat to the surprise of all concerned, it ran for more than two years, and it was decided on the second anniversary (get it?) of their opening they would give a party.

The show was running at the Booth Theatre, which is at the corner of 45th Street and Shubert Alley, a private pathway that connects 45th to 44th, and the producers of AW invited all the casts of the shows playing those blocks to the party, which took place in the Alley after the performance of the night in question. One of those shows was the Cole Porter musical Silk Stockings, in which an old friend of mine was the dance captain. Her husband was the company manager, and the party was on payroll night, so he couldn’t go. She asked me if I’d like to fill in, and I said that I thought I could find the time.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Dancing Issue, Bogert | Link to this Entry

September 2014 in Black Lamb

Volume 12, Number 9 — September 2014

September 1st, 2014

In September’s issue, Terry Ross looks back on the thirteen years since 9/11 in Baker’s dozen. In Make ‘em laugh, John M. Daniel gives advice on writing funny. The Green Flash is Toby Tompkins’s recreation of a day in his childhood. Elizabeth Fournier pinpoints a lifelong fixation in I love canned food. Dan Peterson gives us another installment of his view of the state of Italy. Brad Bigelow reviews a famous Sixties’ book in Geek nostalgia. Terry Ross reviews two books about a famous city in Paris times 2. We welcome Richard Wright and William Golding into our exclusive club of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis proffers two tricky game hands. Our monthly lamb recipe is for an historic preparation of Irish Stew. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall answers readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry

A few tips on writing funny

September 1st, 2014

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

Okay. Lessee. Okay. A guy slips on a banana peel and falls on his butt. No, wait. The guy’s all dressed up, on his way to the career interview of a lifetime, and he slips on a banana peel and falls in a steaming pile of dog feces. Make that cat feces.

Did you hear the one about the man who was so poor he was reduced to eating his own shoes?

How about the woman who reads someone else’s mail by accident, misunderstands, and thinks the man she loves is two-timing her. It breaks her heart.

This working-class married couple lives in an apartment in New York. They yell at each other constantly. Their best friends are neighbors, a couple who also yell at each other. Sometimes the two couples get together and they yell at each other. By the way, one of the men is obese, and both of the men frequently threaten their wives with violence.

So this salesman runs out of gas on a country road. A farmer takes him in for the night, but the salesman abuses the farmer’s hospitality by seducing the farmer’s teen-aged daughter, making her pregnant and ruining her life. The farmer forces the two strangers to get married at gunpoint, thereby ruining both of their lives.

There’s this starving coyote, see. His prey eludes him and he accidently runs off a cliff and falls thousands of feet to the rocks below.
A nice Italian or maybe Jewish or maybe both fruit vendor is minding his own business when a gangster, a yuppie, and a cop all bash their cars into his pushcart, destroying his inventory and scattering all the money he’s earned that week.

A homeless drunk needs to urinate so bad that he.…

STOP!

What?

That stuff isn’t funny.

Maybe I’m not telling it right. People have been laughing at this material forever.

It’s not funny. It’s sad.

I didn’t say it wasn’t sad. What do you think humor is, anyway?

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Daniel | Link to this Entry

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