Archive for January, 2017

Let Us Cultivate Our Garden

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

It’s winter here at The Unemployed Philosophers Guild in Brooklyn, New York. Though we have the companionship of puppets and the days grow imperceptibly longer, we find ourselves in need of reprieve from the grey and gritty season to keep us from climbing the walls of our Ivory Tower.

Turn your gaze with us westward…

The marvel that rescues us from our wintry doldrums today is the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden.

West Bloomfield High School (go, Lakers!) in West Bloomfield, Michigan, is home base for English teacher Jennifer McQuillan, whose windowless classroom challenged her to devise ingenious ways to teach Emerson and Thoreau and Dickinson and all they had to communicate about Nature and the great outdoors.

After visiting authors’ homes and graves on the East Coast, Ms. McQuillan struck on the idea that flourishes today as the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden.

Two years later, Ms. McQuillan’s garden honors nearly 40 writers, many with a plant grown from a clipping from their home, grave, or museum.

There are lilacs from the birthplace of Walt Whitman (“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”), and bloody butcher corn from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s home.

The garden features a pear tree in honor of Zora Neale Huston (and her most famous work,Their Eyes Were Watching God), cones from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s own Southern Magnolia, hydrangeas from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cape Cod home, and more and more…

All of the clippings and seedlings arrive with the blessing of the estates or associations connected to the authors – or the authors, themselves. For instance, Joyce Carol Oates recently noted that shasta daisies are her favorite, and Rita Dove has asked McQuillan to plant evening primroses.

The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library has funded the Literary Garden, and there have been donations and prizes from the West Bloomfield Educational Foundation and Carton2Garden, as well as donations from garden and lit fans.

Of course, Ms. McQuillan and her students aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. All the planting and pruning, composting and seeding help students to appreciate the context of the authors’ lives. Students can touch and smell and gaze on the same plants these writers wrote about and lived among as they first encounter these authors’ works. The students also help reach out to writers to procure more specimens for the garden.

(Of course, the Guild was honored to find out Ms. McQuillan posts our Magnetic Personalities in the Literary Garden among her plants! How cool is that?)

You can read and see more about the inspiring work of Jennifer McQuillan and her students on her blog, Walden at West Bloomfield – Creating a Literary Garden and you can contribute to their work by purchasing a tax-free tile here or donating supplies they need: hand tools, a lawnmower, garden gloves, rakes and shovels, and an automatic sprinkler system.

Well, looks as if it’s time we all got back to work. It’s all first drafts today. To paraphrase the great Ernest Hemingway, the first draft of anything is… compost – and what better way to celebrate gardens, unless…

Why not start your own Literary Garden today?

Zora Neale Hurston and her pear blossom.

Emily Dickinson and daylilies.

Sylvia Plath and red tulips.

Hemingway with mint from Horton Bay, MI, which Hemingway mentions in his Nick Adams stories.

Vonnegut with hydrangeas from his Cape Cod home.

Winter Gardens: The Garden of Earthly Delights

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

It’s January, when things are grey and dead. Around this time, we long for gardens. So this month we’re posting about gardens!

Today’s post is about The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch.

This incomparable masterwork stands in a world of its own. Wildly imaginative, proto-surrealist, and resisting categorization, this triptych has more going on in it than the entire work of other master artists such as Cézanne (granted, Cézanne was mostly interested in painting fruit).

The Garden of Earthly Delights (a title Bosch never assigned to the painting) shows three images: what is presumed to be the Garden of Eden, a garden where all sorts of depraved people and animals seek pleasure, and then Hell, where, presumably, pleasure-seekers are tormented. And there’s a secret 4th image you can see only when the triptych is closed.

It’s easy to get lost among all the cavorting in Bosch’s garden. This is a painting you can spend hours with and find new things. And, thanks to the internet, it’s gotten even easier. Take a moment or 20 and stroll through this beautiful interactive web experience of the painting.

Or if you’re more musically inclined, listen to this piece of music transcribed from the painting (it’s Music transcribed from the posterior of someone being tortured in the Hell part of the painting.