Tag Archives: Maori

On J-Lo’s Ass and Julia’s Breasts — Stanzas 92 to 97

The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders on board the U.S.S.  Harry S. Truman on December 16, 2000. ‘You rate / your  game a “family show” – while leering / at ads for beer and damsels cheering.’

The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders on board the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman on December 16, 2000. ‘You rate / your game a “family show” – while leering / at ads for beer and damsels cheering.’

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Second

92.

‘A cold?’ I asked, as we ascended
toward some beastly clouds, their fattened,
beat-up faces, swollen, blackened
eyes and puce contusions blended
in each enormous, lumpish head.

‘No. Just allergies,’ she said.

Yes, she.

                     O reader, I’ve always loathed
that B-grade trick, where women clothed
as men in films – and often riding
motorcycles – are really hiding
in helmets, or hooded winter-wear,
great tresses of Rapunzaline hair.

93.

But I’m no Peter Jackson.50 And may
whoever films this docu-poem
be as good as he is – or know him,
at least, to make producers pay.
For you’ll need special effects beyond
what any software yet has spawned
– and not just for the seething sky
I mentioned above, or to supply,
in open sea, the tiny islet
which my helicopter pilot
struggles to find. But wait til you see
the marvels in my Canto Three!

94.

Now back to Megan – for that’s her name,
(though soon I’ll call her Copter Meg;
and once, while rifling through her bag
of nasal sprays, she made the claim
she was a ‘crazy, crack-brained sort’.
So soon I’ll call her ‘Nutmeg’ for short.)
A fleshy, big-boned curio,
Canadian, part Eskimo,
she stole her features from the kind
of shop our regal tourists find
along our city’s queenly strand51
– all polished goods and carved by hand.

95.

Her long smooth hair of Asian teak,
its grain defined in rippling rows;
a curvy Teko-Teko nose;52
a whalebone chin and Patu53 cheeks.
And let me not forget to speak
about her eyes (which strain to seek
out calmer skies) – the brows of jet
like peacock plumes in silhouette,
or clashing fists above two orbs
so dark they managed to absorb
and trap within her heavy lashes
several nearby lightning flashes.

Upper Paleolithic, Venus von Willendorf, estimated to have been carved 24,000–22,000 BCE

Upper Paleolithic, Venus von Willendorf, estimated to have been carved 24,000–22,000 BCE

96.

And let me not forget her breasts!
For just as Tolstoy loved girls’ feet,
divine Nabokov the furry sheathe
of armpits, I’m more common – impressed
by that which every barman knows
can fill a house, and if he chose,
a stadium! Indeed, as Janet
showed before TV could ban it,54
a breast can change a nation’s fate!
O strange America! You rate
your game a ‘family show’ – while leering
at ads for beer and damsels cheering.

97.

O blessed are you, you lecherous lot!
I sing to all the beer-drinking masses,
the ones who don’t care what ‘high class’ is;
the ones who think that J-Lo’s not
a diva – but her ass is.55 Bring me
your footy fans, in hordes or singly;
the sooty men with sports-car tools,
the speedway goers, sports-bar ghouls,
your schools of bikers and monster truckers
for whom the greatest nippers and tuckers
work to perfect the silicon breast
for you to visually molest!

50 Academy award-winning New Zealand film director, born 1961.

51 Queen Street is the central street of Auckland’s central business district. It rises from Queen’s Wharf on the waterfront and extends uphill for almost three kilometers in a mostly straight south-southwesterly direction. The street is filled with shops selling popular souvenir items such as Maori carvings, black pearls, honey and kiwifruit products, paua shells, rugby shirts, greenstone and sheepskins.

52 A Maori figurine commemorating ancestors or used as a protection from evil, usually of a curvaceous shape, with bulging belly, squat legs, outstretched tongue.

53 A wide, usually smooth (but sometimes ornamented), Maori blade, often carved of greenstone, wood or whalebone and used as a weapon.

54 During the halftime show of America’s Superbowl gridiron match in January, 2004, the pop singer Janet Jackson’s right breast was bared on live television.

55 J-Lo, or Jennifer Lopez, is a popular singer and actress in America whose alluring haunches, according to the Sunday Observer of London, have been insured for US$1 million.

Ali G. and Shaggy sing "Me Julie"

Ali G. and Shaggy sing "Me Julie"

Zireaux’s comments on these stanzas
The girl’s feet adored by Tolstoy, the furry axilla described by Nabokov — and what about the breast? Our narrator Arcady would find a soulmate in the 17th century poet, Robert Herrick:

Upon Julia’s Breasts

Display thy breasts, my Julia—there let me
Behold that circummortal purity,
Between whose glories there my lips I’ll lay,
Ravish’d in that fair
via lactea.
– Robert Herrick, The Hesperides, 1648

A remarkable little stanza, in which Julia’s breasts become cosmic spheres, as vast and timeless as the Milky Way (via lactea). “Circummortal” is Herrick’s own, if somewhat oversized, neologism, and we must admire a poet who draws new vocabulary from his beauty’s teat.

Herrick sings often of his Julia in The Hersperides. The name Julia itself is youthful, brimming, ebullient, circummortal. From Shakespeare to Sacha Baron Cohen, the name has kept its connotations. Here’s the brilliant Cohen character, Ali. G, singing about “me Julie.”

From the song “Me Julie,” by Ali G. and Shaggy:

You got your Julie, I got my Julie.
Anybody else who don’t have a Julie needs to get one.

Julie, you know I love you
Truly,
From me head down to my
Goolie.
You turn me on with your big Babylons.

My readers will recall that I’ve addressed the poetic beauty of breasts (and the origins of mazophilia) in previous posts: the “large unruly orbs” of Mary McCallum’s “Pink T-Shirt,” and, most scientifically, the “Big Hips and Breasts” of Kamal.

 

Read from the beginning of Res Publica | Listen to the audio version (read by Stuart Devenie) | Buy a signed copy of the book

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Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom, Riverhead Books, 1999, 745 pages

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom

The further one ventures out of this world and into the Shakespearean universe, the more one feels the inadequacy of certain cerebral equipage.  Your most insulated jackets, your thickest snow boots won’t shield you from the icy temperatures of Macbeth.  No sunscreen, of even the highest SPF, can block the searing sun of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  There’s no oxygen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or maybe there’s too much oxygen— and what’s that strange gas everyone seems to be breathing in Twelfth Night?  Gravity exists, of course, a severe and fundamental gravity in King Lear and Hamlet, but it torques and twists and transmutes the world like nothing we’re accustomed to.

One requires, alas, no less than the literary equivalent of NASA to design a proper suit, one which can hold up in the watery, or windy, or sometimes fiery — but always extreme, always shifting and temporally unusual  – conditions one finds in a work by William Shakespeare.

If anyone would know how such a suit should be designed it’s Harold Bloom, one of the most accomplished and important literary scientists of all time (right up there with his cross-epochal lover and soul-mate, Dr. Johnson). But in his Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Bloom approaches the greatest of all writers – “greatest” being a superlative which one can safely and liberally employ (as Bloom does, exuberantly, in a variety of ways) when writing about Shakespeare — from a different, or rather reverse and astonishing angle.

Each of us, Bloom insists, or at least anyone who can engage in a discussion of Shakespeare, is a creation of Shakespeare.  That is, our very sense of self and nature, the way we reason and behave, is nothing less than our evolutionary adaptation to Shakespeare’s art.  We’ve been living and breathing and surviving in the strange and alien-seeming substance of Shakespeare from the moment of our self-awareness.  “I do not know if God created Shakespeare,” writes Bloom, “but I know that Shakespeare created us, to an altogether startling degree.”

This heady argument – and yes, for Bloom it’s an “argument” – appears to arise more out of distress than pleasure.  Bloom has a bone, a skull you might say, to pick with Marxists, multiculturalists, feminists, nouveau historicists (“the usual suspects,” he quips) who misinterpret and travesty Shakespeare’s plays and ultimately produce what Bloom, quite wonderfully, calls “ideological jamborees.”  One can’t help cheering Bloom on here, although sometimes we see Bloom as a courageous David, other times as Ali the boxing champion, other times it’s Bloom the pit-bull in a dogfight, a crowd of academics carousing around the bloody spectacle.

Bloom acknowledges early in his book that critics of Shakespeare, writing what they see in Shakespeare’s mirror, tell us more about themselves than about Shakespeare’s work.  Bloom, we quickly learn, is a “devout Falstaffian.”  Shakespeare, he writes, invented Harold Bloom as a parody of Falstaff.  There is, indeed, a Falstaffian fleshiness to Bloom’s book, the inflated theatricality, the bombast and self-indulgence, the stylistic rotundity – folds of repetitive flabbiness hanging over his belt – and (perhaps most of all) a sense of youthfulness in old age not unlike Falstaff’s.  And yet Falstaff would never write a book like this one.

Bloom understands the Shakespearean illusion.  We think we see in Hamlet what everyone else sees, but it’s the reflection of our inner selves we’re witnessing.  And Bloom also knows, brilliantly, that the image of himself which he sees reflected in Shakespeare’s mirror is not what we see in Bloom.  Falstaff and Hamlet are Bloom’s favourite characters because they display a passionate charisma mixed with what he calls “inwardness” (a type of self-consciousness, self-reflection, self-revisionism).  On Bloom’s stage, where the main players include Nietzsche, Dr. Johnson, Montaigne, Chaucer, Cervantes, Beckett and a kind of Shylockian Freud , with minor parts given to Hegel, Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, Wilde, Spinoza, Anthony Burgess, Eliot, Hart Crane and countless others, Bloom is his own favourite character.

Bloom, too, displays charisma and inwardness; and he knows that what he writes is both insightful and fleeting, precise and prolix, enthusiastic, laborious, accurate and yet never quite right.  At times it’s difficult to take anything Bloom says seriously, such a believer is Bloom in revisionism. A Whitehouse Secretary, a Scott McClellan type of literary scholarship. And much of what Blooms says — especially about how poets operate — is simply wrong, but being wrong, in Bloom’s production, is a temporary affair.  Give it time.  Wrongs will right themselves eventually.

Bloom as Falstaff?  But also Cleopatra, it seems to me, with her “longing for a lost sublime,” and I hate to say it (this will hurt Bloom terribly), Henry V, because Bloom finds his strongest inspiration when fighting an enemy. Hamlet was an expert swordsman, easily defeating Laertes in their duel, but his most powerful weapon, like Falstaff’s, was his wit, coupled with his air of indifference (or “disinterestedness,” to use Bloom’s term).  Bloom is massive and lovable, sensitive, beautiful, brave and thrilling, profoundly alive, a miracle of nature, soaring loftily, jubilantly in the raging slipstream of Shakespearean studies; but he isn’t witty.

Wit is the interpretation of words “out of frame” (to use Hamlet’s metaphor).  It is to literature what a trick of light, or a piece of camouflage, or a reflection in a window, is to a painting.  The word is not what we first think; the little shadow reveals itself to be a blackbird; the woman’s silky-seeming veil is made of alabaster; and the woman is really a man.  Anne Salmond, in her wonderful book on Captain Cook, informs us that some of the island men mistook a few members of Cook’s crew for ladies and excitedly pursued them into the foliage for coupling, only to find themselves the butts, so to speak, of a Shakespearean charade, a wonderful play of cultural wit.

Hamlet was a cannibal (Gloucester his supper); and he was Captain Cook, too.  The Maori, who always paddled their canoes while sitting forward, believed the approaching British sailors, who paddled toward shore in a backward manner, were a convoy of faceless goblins.  Hamlet-the-Maori traded feathers for a mirror and admired his clear reflection in the smooth device.  Hamlet-the-ship’s captain awarded human dignity to the natives who ate his friends.  Hamlet was a conquistador and a slave, a native and a foreigner, a feminist, a Marxist, a multiculturalist and, at the same time, he was Bloom the “Brontosaurus Bardolator” (as Bloom urbanely, unpoetically calls himself).  He is a member of the human species, but from another country, an undiscovered country – or rather, a country discovered and observed, but beyond our comprehension, beyond our control.

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The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: Captain Cook in the South Seas, by Anne Salmond, Penguin Press, 2003, 506 pages

The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: Captain Cook in the South Seas, by Anne Salmond

The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: Captain Cook in the South Seas, by Anne Salmond

Whether Anne Salmond’s history can be turned into a screenplay directly, or whether it requires a fictional treatment first, the subject matter cries out for (or blows a Maori conch shell for) Peter Jackson’s talents.  Mel Gibson, with his Apocalypto, gave us a mysterious jungle society — a new skin over familiar feelings – but could never shake free of the contemporary, or make us feel as though we’ve left a recognizable humanity behind, as does, say, the 1992 Mexican movie, Cabeza De Vaco, set in a similar time and place.

Jackson, however, could pull it off – not with 16th-century South America and the Conquistadores, but in the 18th-century conquests of the South Pacific with the peerless Captain Cook.  The primordial island scenery, the volcanoes and breadfruit, the fleets of canoes, the war dances, shootings, spearings, lashings, kidnappings, beheadings, human sacrifices, half-eaten body parts, cannon balls that skip across the surface of the sea, fireworks and water-rockets, icebergs and storms and illnesses, “lusty” naked (and sometimes pugilistic) nymphs, the greed for the power of guns and red feathers and sex and nails and mana, the pull and anguish of discovery, the families and rivalries and aristocracies that energize cultures as far apart as Tonga and London – Jackson could capture it all without allowing us to ever feel quite comfortable amongst the tribes we meet and the discoveries we make.  This, of course, is the thrill of all great adventures and all great art.

Salmond catalogues a tremendous amount of voyaging and I suspect she wearied at times of writing phrases like “shot a musket ball through the bow of the canoe” or “traded yams and a pig for a nail and a cloak.”  But we grow used to it, like waves at sea, and the lull of repetition, of waiting, recording, measuring, sounding, charting, bartering, of anchoring in quiet harbours, of floating on pinnaces, canoes and tall ships and hardly ever standing on solid ground, makes the encounters with the abrupt, abrasive substance of people so much more fascinating. Like the sailors at sea, we grow to crave and relish the human touch.

Captain Cook himself stands as aloof, dogged and unintelligible as any of history’s greatest figures. An early ethnographer and man of many mistakes, he found three weeks of a secure, well-paid country life in England — after many years at sea — more than he could tolerate and quickly returned to his South Sea adventures, not for the laurels (which he’d already received), or the lithesome lasses (for whom Joseph Banks so yearned), but for the sweeter flesh of scientific pleasure.  That such a man, the son of a farmer, was chosen by committee — as opposed to some freak of fate — to pilot the Endeavor and lay down his weapons, undress and bow before alien chiefs (or, contrarily, to plunder an entire Mo’orean village in revenge for a stolen goat), inspires us not just to appreciate Cook’s role in history, but to acknowledge the astonishing range of consideration of which a society is capable.

Salmond’s Cook is boyish, fastidious, passionate and detached, creative and sterile and reminds one of Abraham Lincoln in his inability to turn off the sub-woofer bass of his higher-calling which reverberates in his every word and action.  In Tahiti a group of importuning beauties jeered at his refusal to sleep with them – impotent old man! – but their mistake was simple: Captain Cook was not a man.  And he wasn’t really a captain, either; and when, while in New Zealand, he’s mistaken for a slave (taurekareka) – because he didn’t avenge the killing, and eating, of ten of his companions – the Maoris are perhaps more correct in their presumption than history credits them.  Cook was slave to his convictions.

Salmond does as best she can to present both sides of these cultural encounters (though she generally rides, like most her sources, inside the officers’ cabins of Cook’s ship), and amongst the islanders we find, in a kind of looking glass world, the mirror images of Cook and Banks and Webber and many other of the European big-wigs.  The islanders, too, have their own philosophers and philanders, their thieves and theists, crooks and kings, artists and adventurers – some of whose journeys, epics in themselves, Salmond allows us to closely follow; and their performance of taio, or name-exchanging, with Cook and his crew provides an apt anchorage that holds these repellent symmetries, however briefly, together.

O how great our enchantment when nothing is as it seems!  What differentiates a boat from an island?  On viewing Cook’s ship, the Hawai’ians gaily clambered aboard and started tearing off the iron bits, just as Cook’s men feasted on their island fruits and felled their trees.  And some of the island men even mistook a few members of Cook’s crew for ladies and jauntily pursued them to a secret place for coupling only to emerge bewildered yet wiser and more careful in formulating assumptions next time – like all great scientists and historians, amongst whom Anne Salmond sails with the same sense of endeavour and endurance, skill and passion for knowledge as Cook himself.

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