Home Body is Unfinished Verse



Home Body (2020)

By Rupi Kaur

Andrews McNeel Publishing, 194 pages.



When all I was in my early 20s, I wrote reams of heartfelt but horrible prose poetry. Most of it tumbled into four boxes: I am depressed, I'm in love, I'm not in love, I’m depressed again. Rinse and repeat. Life is nothing if not a teacher and I came to learn that reducing all experience to just a few categories was naïve.


I mention this because Rupi Kaur’s Home Body reminds me of my younger self, and not in a good way. She fills a few more boxes than I–abuse memories, ethnic identity, production anxiety, masturbation–but she doesn't escape the young poet’s trap of placing herself at the center of a very constricted universe. Even her stick figure doodles bespeak a 20-something mind that has not yet come to grips with the reality that most of us find ways to muddle through life’s downturns so that the sublime moments seem even more special.


Kaur, an India-born Sikh-Canadian, divides her collection into four parts–Mind, Heart, Rest, Awake – and the very best way to approach it is to not think of as poetry at all. The overarching theme is it she refuses to be broken, and that’s a fine approach to healing but a long way from being finished verse. What stands out is not entire compositions–even though most are very short–but lines such as these:


you are lonely/but you're not alone/– there is a difference


i am not my worst days/i am not what happened to me


your voice is your sovereignty


i'm not interested/in a feminism that thinks/simply placing a woman on top/of oppressive systems is progress


You can probably see the inherent problem in all of this. Simply using the lower case doesn’t make her into e e cummings. (I tried that as well!) We learn a lot about Kaur’s views on capitalism –she's not a fan–depression, commercialization, manufactured desire, and balance. Her short punchy observations play well on Instagram, but hers are talking points, not poems. As readers we feel her pain and, at resolute moments, sigh with relief but we are also anonymous and faceless. What we cannot be is her therapy group, cheerleading squad, personal sounding board, or writing coach.


I don't mean to sound heartless. I'd love to know what Kaur thinks of this work a decade from now. After all, I confessed she reminded me of my younger self. In retrospect, though, I'm glad only a few people ever read what I wrote back then. 


Rob Weir


Lady from Shanghai Seems Naff in Hindsight


The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Directed, produced, and screenplay by Orson Welles

Columbia, 88 minutes, not-rated




It has been said that in his prime, Orson Welles never made a bad movie. Yes, he did; it's called The Lady from Shanghai. The title means less than you might imagine. It is set in Mexico, the Caribbean, and San Francisco, the latter’s Chinatown being the closest we get to the Celestial Kingdom other than a bit of travel story babble.


Welles directed, wrote the screenplay, produced, and starred in the film and he didn't do a particularly great job in any of these roles. He plays a free-spirited roustabout known as “Black Irish” Michael O'Hara. The “black” part is it backhanded allusion the legend that survivors of the Spanish Armada washed ashore on Ireland and cohabitated with some of Erin’s lasses–an explanation for why some Irish have darker features. I suppose this helps explain why Welles doesn't look the slightest bit Irish. He doesn't sound Irish either, though he labors through a lousy brogue. I am of Scottish and German ancestry but I'm pretty sure that with a little practice, I'd sound more Irish than Welles. Black also refers to Michael's temperament. He killed a Franco spy during the Spanish Civil War, and though he is well spoken and formal for a sailor, he lets it slip that he could kill again under the right circumstances.


Hubris comes in the form of pursuing a beautiful woman named Elsa, whom he calls “Rosalie” (Rita Hayworth). Too bad she's married, and to a famous trial lawyer Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane) to boot. Against his better judgment, Michael takes a job on Bannisters’ yacht. Given that Bannister is crippled and a contemptible, amoral creep, it’s not hard to see why Elsa might desire someone more robust and kinder. The film is overly seasoned with references to how Michael is attractive, strong, and tough. Too bad he doesn't have a brain to go with the physical package.


The Lady from Shanghai. Hmmm…. Another meaning of “shanghai” is being coerced or tricked into doing some unfavorable task. That's metaphorically true for Michael. All of this movie’s dealings require the adjective “double” to make sense of them. Even then we are not entirely sure we are viewing a WYSIWYG situation. Is Elsa in love Michael? Maybe. Or is it George Grisby (Glenn Anders), her husband’s law partner? Do either of the two Bannisters give a potato for the dense Michael, or is one of them trying to save him?


Sharks are discussed and appear in the film, and it's another ham-handed metaphor. Suffice it to say that no credit accrues to the legal profession in this movie. Bannister is filthy rich and is part of the subspecies of that small class that invites adjectives such as: self-indulgent, misanthropic, sexist, classist, judgmental, and cold- hearted. Michael finds himself a patsy in several schemes. By the time he figures out he's being used, viewers wonder what breed of fool is so deprived of brain cells that he couldn't see that plans presented to him have more holes than a $600 pair of distressed designer jeans. You need not have majored in philosophy to determine that Welles’ screenplay is severely logic impaired.


The Lady from Shanghai is famous for its climactic scene inside a mirrored funhouse at a closed-for-the-season amusement park. It is only here that Welles shines. It may be because he isn't on the screen much during pivotal moments and could pay attention to the sort of detail that won renown: unconventional camera angles, narrative bleeding into surrealism, and shadows so dark you could slice them with a knife.


Cool stuff, but not enough to redeem this badly aged dud. Wells was a consummate mannered actor who sought psychological impact over realistic human actions but with the right script, his flair for melodrama melded with straight drama Not here. “Hokey” is a descriptor that springs to mind. Rita Hayworth is a gorgeous presence, but one with little depth. There are scenes of her and Sloane wearing faux seafaring garb that makes them look like Lovey and Thurston Howell from Gilligan’s Island. In this film, I'd liken Hayworth to a classier version of Marilyn Monroe, but with comparable (non-)acting chops.


The Lady from Shanghai is hailed as a vintage Orson Welles film. Sorry, but the calendar has flipped and it now seems an implausible mess. It should be moved out of the classics file, but cue it the next time you plan a weekend slate of campy movies.


Rob Weir


All-Star Game, Norman Rockwell, and Nostalgia



Tomorrow is Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. Southern outrage over shifting the game out of Atlanta has died down, and most people–including diehard baseball fans–yawn at the misnamed Midsummer Classic. All-star games of all sports are passé, but baseball’s is particularly meaningless.  


Baseball players used to go all out because they were heroic to millions of Americans. Gone are the days in which Pete Rose barreled over the catcher to score the winning run, Stan Musial homered in the 12th to give the NL a victory, and Ted Williams did the same for the AL. Gone also is what was a good idea: the champion of the league that won the All-Star Game got home field advantage if the World Series went seven games.


The game is now of such low importance that some selected All Stars feign injuries or “family emergencies” to get out of it. After all, the biggest reason to be named an All Star is that it activates escalator clauses in player contracts. A few innings of the game gets an average payout of $18,500, but be called an All Star activates contract bonus clauses of $100,000 or more. Why not just cash the big check and stay home? That’s what Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and three other Astros plan to do. (Leave to the Astros to bring the game down another notch.)


So, let’s forget the game and talk about nostalgia differently. At my last visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum, I ducked down to the basement to see some of Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers. Few Americans were as good at nostalgia as Rockwell and it’s hardly surprising that he often used baseball as a metaphor for values and activities that helped define a distinctly American character.


Rockwell (1894-1978) grew up in a devout Christian home. His father managed a Philadelphia textile firm, though young Norman spent summers on New England farms. When he was eight, the family moved to New York City and Norman’s schools stressed physical education and team sports. He wasn’t very good at them and was destined to make his mark in art, but Rockwell’s boyhood was one in which Victorianism was giving way to a movement known as muscular Christianity, as exemplified by the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, outdoor life, and the national pastime of baseball. 




Rockwell grew to be a skinny beanpole (6’ 140 pounds) but he also became suspicious of dandies. Some worried that Americans were becoming soft and effete. A 1916 Saturday Evening Post cover captures it. The upper-class toff pushing the baby carriage is dressed as a miniature adult: suit, leather gloves, derby hat, and carnation in his lapel buttonhole. We can easily imagine ta banker father. Two scruffier and happier boys are having a laugh at his expense. Of course, they are decked out in their baseball uniforms. Rockwell suggests that baseball is a class leveler.


Six years later, a cover of a gangly, nerdy boy could very well be Rockwell himself. Everything about the boy is amusingly ironic: a shirt that says “Champ,” arms only slightly thicker than his glasses, and feet way too big to balance his frame. Somehow, we don’t think the small barbells he grips will transform him into the poster image at which he stares.



Some of Rockwell’s best covers, though, refracted baseball through lenses of whimsy and nostalgia. Here are two personal favorites. Rockwell’s 1939 cover for baseball’s 100th anniversary–if you believe the hoary Abner Doubleday myth–is pure nostalgia. It appears to be a game from either from the late 19th or early 20th century. Note the hurler’s uniform and mustache, and the fact that the formally attired umpire is crouching behind the pitcher rather than the catcher. How different the pitcher looks from mound heroes of 1935 such as Dizzy Dean, Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell, or Red Ruffing.




A 1949 illustration often titled “Rained Out” is just great fun. Gaze upon the umpires’ gurning faces and notice that they now wear uniforms. The rain bounces and puddles in the Homeplate ump’s hand. Behind two managers are having a funny conversation. Rockwell took some liberties, but this is Ebbetts Field, which we know because Brooklyn is the home team on the scoreboard. The sourpuss manager certainly isn’t Dodgers skipper Burt Shotton. We might be looking at a caricature of Pirates manager Billy Meyer, who had a bulbous nose. The scoreboard tells us that Pittsburgh is the visiting team.


Norman Rockwell captured things in baseball now sorely lacking: the joy of the game, ways it evoked the American spirit, and imagining simpler times. The 2021 All-Star Game evinces a different America. Escalator clauses for millionaires are not nostalgic or pure. Alas, they are too much like an America dominated by materialism, cutthroat business, and narcissism.


Rob Weir