Poetic Ghosts

The Colossus of Brooklyn

The Changing Light at Sandover by James Merrill

Poets and Poetry20th Century Epics

Vast in both size and scope, Merrill’s epic poem is heavily influenced by his decades-long use of an ouija board to communicate with voices from the beyond. At once humorous, and unsettling, the poem shifts from past to present and dark to light, all the while casting long shadows of the dearly departed. Yet even in this shaded realm, Merrill’s images gleam like fine-cut jewels: “The room/Grown dim, an unknown curtain in the panes’/Glass night tawnily maned, lit from below/So that hair-wisps of brightness quickened…”

The Vinland Sagas 

13th CenturyEpics

Tucked inside these thirteenth century tales of Viking exploration is the strange story of Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir, perhaps the first European woman to set foot in North America. Gudrid, born in Iceland circa 985 AD, helped to lead a Norse expedition to Newfoundland. One night, Gudrid is visited by a ghostly vision of a woman who looks exactly like herself– the the shade even calls herself Gudrid. Entranced by her spectral doppelgänger, the living Gudrid welcomes the stranger into her dwelling. The brief visit ends abruptly when the ghostly presence vanishes with a deafening clatter, leaving Gudrid astonished. Contemporary scholars posit that this encounter serves as an allegory for the coming colonization of the Americas and the erasure of the female explorer from our popular understanding of the “discovery” of the Americas.

“Porphyria’s Lover”  by Robert Browning

Poets and PoetryDramatic Monologue19th Century

While not exactly a ghost poem, Browning’s dramatic monologue haunting and deliciously macabre.  The poem begins as the narrator describes how his lover, Porphyria, comes to him during a raging storm. Defying the wishes of her family, she gives herself to him, almost willing him to take her life so he can forever possess her body. The speaker knows what he must do in order to preserve their forbidden love- he gathers her abundant hair “in one long yellow string” and  winds it “three times her little throat around.” Once Porphyria is no longer breathing, her lover can truly own and use her.

On the Shadowy Side of Human Sexuality

Dark Eros by Thomas Moore

Non-Fiction20th Century Human Sexuality PsychologySpirutuality

What does the work of the Marquis de Sade look like from the perspective of psychotherapist and former monk, Thomas Moore? The answers may surprise you. Dark Eros explores how sadism fits into the realms of psychology and spirituality, and can ultimately serve as a therapeutic tool for understanding the often repressed sides of our nature. Moore tackles this subject with the candor, empathy, and warmth that have made him such a beloved guide to the human psyche. 

Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty and Venus in Furs by Gilles Deleuze and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

Essay NovellaHuman SexualityPsychology – 19th Century 20th Century

“BDSM” has become a catch-all for any number of obscure or out of the ordinary human sexual proclivities yet it fails to illuminate the full definition of each word that initializes the acronym. In his essay, “Coldness and Cruelty,” Deleuze carefully dissects “Masochism” from “Sadism” in an effort to better understand the very separate psycho-sexual aspects of each tendency. The essay is followed by Sacher-Masoch’s seminal work, Venus in Furs which, when read with Deleuze’s insights in mind, shines in a whole new light.

Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire by Eric Berkowitz

Non-FictionWorld History Human Sexuality Criminality20th Century

Eric Berkowitz’s history of the criminalization of one of the most essential components of human nature is shocking, heartbreaking, and highly entertaining. From the temples of ancient Greece to the dark forests of the New World, to the prisons of Victorian England, the cases presented in Sex and Punishment offer us some answers to the question that hopefully, we will never tire of asking: Just how far have we evolved as a species when it comes to the acceptance of our sexuality?

Just Some Poems

because in times of uncertainty, poems can be buoys

Gowanus, 2019

“The World below the brine” by Walt Whitman

Poets and Poetry19th Century

 My very favorite Whitman. Something about the world that exists below, in the darkness of the ocean, reminds me that there are things that we humans will never know, and that, for some reason, makes me calm and hopeful. 

Read The World below the brine

“American Smooth” by Rita Dove

Poets and Poetry21st Century

Rita Dove is a genius of verse and one of our greatest living poets. The dueling powers of serene elation and melancholy reality make this poem both exquisitely tragic and perfectly (and tragically) American.

Read American Smooth

High Windows” by Philip Larkin

Poets and Poetry 20th Century

Larkin is one of my top five favorite poets of all time. This was the poem that first pulled me to him.

Read High Windows

Whimsical, Satirical, and Charming

Hidden Figures

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

In the 1880s, leisure boating took hold in Great Britain, and thus Jerome K. Jerome planned a trip to write a Thames boating travelogue. He ended up, after traveling with two friends up the river from Kingston to Oxford, with a witty, whimsical, and thoroughly charming little book. Refreshing and unrushed, an absolute charmer.

Jurgen by James Branch Cabell

He counted among his admirers H. L. Mencken, Mark Twain, and Sinclair Lewis, and wrote dozens of novels set in an arch and very adult fantasy world. Jurgen won Cabell notoriety for its supposed salaciousness – our hero is a serial seducer which did not go over well in 1919 America, but sex is not the point – satire and deft writing is as Jurgen goes all the way to Hell on his travels.

The Complete Stories of Saki by H. H. Munro

A vengeful ferret deity, a talking cat, a woman reincarnated as an otter, and the foibles of countless upper-class twits – Saki merged the strange, the silly, and the laughable in dozens of compact and memorable stories set among the toffs in Great Britain pre-WWI. Clever young boys and devious young men are his favorite heroes, but there’s a bite of nasty delight in all his work.

Military History

Fresco, Pompeii

Culture and Carnage by Victor David Hanson

Victor Hanson recreates nine battles fought by armies from the West against other cultures, from Salamis and Cannae to Midway and Tet, and ties them to a cultural superiority defined by freedom, citizen armies, group discipline combined with individual initiative, Capitalism, technology and ruthlessness. Lucid, controversial, unflinching in the telling of the true costs of war, a powerful argument that victory often stemmed from greater freedoms.

The Face of Battle by John Keegan

John Keegan’s landmark The Face of Battle brought warfare down from grand and sweeping portraits to the ground where the men, weapons, tactics and strategies determined the outcomes at Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme , challenging assumptions, myths and stereotypes along the way in exacting and lively battlefield analyses.

The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman

Opinionated, sometimes maddening but always as entertaining as a conversation with a brilliant and much-missed friend, Barbara Tuchman tries here to understand why the Trojans, Renaissance Popes, King George III and American presidents from Kennedy to Nixon and their wisemen committed to wars that were, as the title claims, follies.