WPA Color, 1939-1943

February 1, 2015

Signs

When my bother, Vernon Leroy (Lee) Sizemore, retired from the military, he earned his living as a sign painter, a skill he had picked up in vocational high school and sharpened by—among other things—painting pin-up girls and fancy lettering on the noses of airplanes. In the years before his death, he was doing broadsheet window signs for grocery stores and night clubs. Some of his expert brush lettering signs were finished with glued-on glitter, especially those promoting bands and singers. Near the end of his life, he fell off a ladder while hanging an exterior sign and wound up with a severe right-side head injury. He was in a coma for months. Once he woke up, I visited him several times in Denver. He always had something interesting to say, riffs that would start O.K., then wander off into fantasy, not making much sense—but to my ears they were weird poetry. And when he drew Picasso-like portraits of people, me included, he always left the right side of the head blank. When I asked why, he said because that was the way they were.

Lee was a wonderful older brother. Because of all the good things he taught me during trips to museums and theaters, letting me tag along when he shined shoes in South Baltimore  bars, and schooling me in basic sign layout theory, I’ve dedicated this post to him.

(Click images to enlarge.)

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A collection of photographs like the ones above, on a wide range of subjects, are in the archives of FSA/OWI (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information). These rich color images, taken within three years of the invention of Kodachrome, serve to inspire as much as to document. To see more of them on this site, type “WPA color” into the small search window in the sidebar on the right of this page. For the complete collection, visit the WPA site by tapping the link in the sidebar box marked “Photography.”


Today’s Poem

October 1, 2014
Holmes2Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1841-1935

Cacoëthes Scribendi

(An itch for scribbling.)

 If all the trees in all the woods were men,
And each and every blade of grass a pen;
If every leaf on every shrub and tree
Turned to a sheet of foolscap; every sea
Were changed to ink, and all earth’s living tribes
Had nothing else to do but act as scribes,
And for ten thousand ages, day and night,
The human race should write, and write, and write,
Till all the pens and paper were used up,
And the huge inkstand was an empty cup,
Still would the scribblers clustered round its brink
Call for more pens, more paper, and more ink.
 
Oliver Wendell Holmes
—The Oxford Book of Comic Verse
Edited by John Gross

Today’s Poems

September 14, 2014
Gavin_EwartGavin Ewart, 1916-1995

The Black Box

As well as these poor poems
I am writing some wonderful ones.
They are all being filed separately,
nobody sees them.
When I die they will be buried
in a big black tin box.
In fifty years’ time
they must be dug up,
for so my will provides.
This is to confound the critics
and teach everybody
a valuable lesson.
 

‘It’s Hard to Dislike Ewart’

—New Review critic

I always try to dislike my poets,
it’s  good for them, they get so uppity otherwise,
going around thinking they’re little geniuses—
but sometimes I find it hard. They’re so pathetic
in their efforts to be liked.
When we’re all out walking on the cliffs
it’s always pulling my coat with ‘Sir! Oh, Sir!’
and ‘May I walk with you, Sir?’—
I sort them out harshly with my stick.
If I push a few over the edge, that only
encourages the others. In the places of preferment
there is room for just so many.
The rest must simply lump it.
There’s too much sucking up and trying to be clever.
They must all learn they’ll never get round me
Merit has nothing to do with it. There’s no way
to pull the wool over my eyes, no way,
no way . . .
 
By Gavin Ewart
—The Oxford Book of Comic Verse
Edited by John Gross

Light Verse?

July 6, 2014

43:bros

I’ve been going through what seems like a ton of old letters, plus the drafts of my replies; the idea being to get rid of most of that stuff so my kids and/or grandkids won’t have to deal with it when—as the saying goes— “the time comes.”  During this recent purge, I came across a scrawled attempt at comic verse that I had mailed to my younger brother some years ago in Virginia for his 69th birthday. Here it is:

 Ernie

A man named Ernie

Lived by the tracks,

Ate little kids

Instead of snacks.

He was so mean

It was often said,

He’d never die

Just stay in bed.

He lived so long

(In the hundred-threes),

Then he finally did go

With brand new knees!

I know it sounds a bit like one of those “Burma Shave” series of “poetry” signs on the side of the road that I used to love to read as I whizzed past. His 75th birthday is coming up later this month and I’ll call him, as usual, and I plan to recite the verse to Ernie when I do.  This year, I want to see if he remembers it, and if he does, I’ll ask him to remind me what he thinks of it. I have the feeling I’ll have to once again justify myself by saying, “Hey, it’s the thought that counts.”

Copyright © 2014, Jim Sizemore.

John Galsworthy on Playwriting

September 4, 2013

Adapted from Playwrights on Playwriting

Edited by Toby Cole

GalsworthyA drama must be shaped so as to have a spire of meaning.

In the whole range of the social fabric there are only two impartial persons, the scientist and the artist.

(S)et before the public no cut-and-dried codes, but the phenomena of life and character, selected and combined, but not distorted, by the dramatist’s outlook, set down without fear, favor, or prejudice, leaving the public to draw such poor moral as nature may afford. This . . . method requires a certain detachment; it requires a sympathy with, a love of, and a curiosity as to, things for their own sake; it requires a far view, together with patient industry, for no immediately practical result.

A good plot is that sure edifice which slowly rises out of the interplay of circumstance on temperament, and temperament on circumstance, within the enclosing atmosphere of an idea. A human being is the best plot there is; it may be impossible to see why he is a good plot, because the idea within which he has brought forth cannot be fully grasped; but it is plain that he is a good plot. He is organic. And so it must be with a good play.

Reason alone produces no good plots; they come by original sin, sure conception, and instinctive after-power of selecting what benefits the germ. A bad plot, on the other hand, is simply a row of stakes, with a character impaled on each—characters who would have liked to live, but came to untimely grief; who started bravely, but fell on these stakes, placed beforehand in a row, and were transfixed one by one, while their ghosts stride on, squeaking and gibbering, through the play.

(T)rue dramatic action is what characters do, at once contrary, as it were, to expectation, and yet because they have already done other things.

Good dialogue . . . is character, marshaled so as continually to stimulate interest or excitement. The reason good dialogue is seldom found in plays is mearely that it is hard to write, for it requires not only a knowledge of what interests or excites, but such a feeling for character as brings misery to the dramatist’s heard when his creations speak as they should not speak—ashes to his mouth when they say things for the sake of saying them—disgust when they are “smart.”

From start to finish good dialogue is handmade, like good lace; clear, of fine texture, furthering with each thread the harmony and strength of a design to which all must be subordinated.

But good dialogue is also spiritual action.

The dramatist’s license . . . ends with his design. In conception alone he is free. He may take what character of group or characters he chooses, see them with what eyes, knit them with what idea, within the limits of  his temperament; but once taken, seen, and knitted, he is bound to treat them like a gentleman, with the tenderest consideration of their mainsprings. Take care of character; action and dialogue will take care of themselves!

The perfect dramatist rounds up his characters and facts within the ring-fence of a dominant idea which fulfills the craving of his spirit; having got them there, he suffers them to live their own lives.

A man may have many moods, he has but one spirit; and this spirit he communicates in some subtle, unconscious way to all his work. It waxes and wanes with the currents of his vitality, but no more alters than a chestnut changes into an oak.

(E)ach natural phrase spoken and each natural movement made  has not only to contribute toward the growth and perfection of a drama’s soul, but also to be a revelation, phrase by phrase, movement by movement, of essential traits of character. To put it another way, naturalistic art, when alive, indeed to be alive at all, is simply the art of manipulating a procession of most delicate symbols. Its service is the swaying and focusing of men’s feelings and thought in the various departments of human life.

The poetry which may and should exist in naturalistic drama, can only be that of perfect rightness of proportion, rhythm, shape—the poetry, in fact, that lies in all vital things.

If you’d like to read what playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and others have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the Search button.


William Butler Yeats on Playwriting

August 25, 2013

Adapted from Playwrights on Playwriting

Edited by Toby Cole

Yeats-2What attracts me to drama is that it is, in the most obvious way, what all the arts are upon a last analysis . . . .  a moment of intense life.

The dramatist must picture life in action.

Our plays must be literature or written in the spirit of literature. The modern theatre has died away to what it is because the writers have thought of their audiences instead of their subject . . . . Then the imagination began to cool, the writer began to be less alive, to seek external aids, remembered situations, tricks of the the theatre, that had proved themselves again and again.

(T)he sincere play, the logical play . . . will always seem, when we hear it for the first time, undramatic, unexciting.

(The Doll’s House) is but a series of conversations terminated by an accident.

The utmost sincerity . . . give me . . . an imperfect pleasure if there is not a vivid and beautiful language.

(A)ll language but that of the poets and of the poor is already bedridden. We have, indeed, persiflage, the only speech of educated men that expresses a deliberate enjoyment of words; but persiflage is not a true language. It is impersonal; it is not in the midst but on the edge of life; it covers more character than it discovers; and yet, such as it is, all our comedies are made out of it.

What the ever-moving, delicately molded flesh is to human beauty, vivid musical words are to passion. Somebody has said that every nation begins with poetry and ends with algebra, and passion has always refused to express itself in algebraical terms.

Art delights in the exception, for it delights in the soul expressing itself according to its own laws and arranging the world about it in its own pattern, as sand strewn upon a drum will change itself into different patterns, according to the notes of music that are sung or played to it.

Men of letters have sometimes said that the characters of . . . a play must be typical. They mean that the character must be typical of something which exists in all men because the writer has found it in his own mind. It is one of the most inexplicable things about human nature that a writer, with a strange temperament, an Edgar Allan Poe, let us say, made what he is by conditions that never existed before, can create personages and lyric emotions, which startle us by being at once bizarre and an image of our own secret thoughts.

We do the people of history the honor of naming after them the creations of our own minds.

French dramatic poetry is so often a little rhetorical, for rhetoric is the will trying to do the work of the imagination. The Shakespearean Drama gets the emotion of multitude out of the subplot which copies the main plot, must as a shadow upon the wall copies one’s body in the firelight.

In Hamlet, one hardly notices, so subtly is the web woven, that the murder of Hamlet’s father and the sorrow of Hamlet are shadowed in the lives of Fortinbras, and Ophelia and Laertes, whose fathers, too, have been killed. It is so in all the plays . . . and very commonly the subplot is the main plot working itself out in more ordinary men and women, and so doubly calling up before us the image of multitude.

If you’d like to read what playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and others have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the Search button.


Today’s Haiku

January 30, 2013

housefly56Humid evening—
a housefly quits the wall
to make love to my nose.

Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.

This is a re-post from January 19, 2009.