30 March 2005

Robert Creeley, 1926-2005

Amid the flurry of packing, sorting, buying, and throwing things away, I took the time to sit awhile and stopped by Maud’s. I was shocked to read that Robert Creeley passed away this morning.

I’m sure many more will write lovely tributes and fitting eulogies, but I wanted to share the few memories I had of his visit to the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville on 19 March. That afternoon he spoke on “Reflections on Whitman in Age,” the subject of his essay for The Virginia Quarterly Review.

I knew we were all witnessing something inexpressibly poignant: Creeley with his small, newly-acquired oxygen tank ruminating on death and Whitman’s final poems. He was anything but austere, smiling frequently in bemusement at the inevitable flight of time.

He spoke of D.H. Lawrence’s “Ship of Death” and Emily Dickinson’s “Certain Slant of Light” in terms of death as passage. He related the story of Proust wanting to rewrite the death scene while he was on his own deathbed.

In reading “Ship of Death,” his voice wavered. He said, “Unless we die, it will all have been a dream,” and spoke of Whitman. He said that death makes memory and recollection necessary and more real. He confessed that while reading Hart Crane’s “The Bridge,” he felt closer to Whitman than he ever had before. Commonness exists in transparency when it enters the public consciousness. The Whitman we read is extremely individual. As Creeley said, “The reader of Whitman becomes Whitman.”

He spoke of Whitman as a poet contriving to enact the real: the act of writing becomes equally as real as doing what is written of.

Ending his brief talk with a moving reading of “Good-Bye My Fancy,” he interrupted himself in the middle of the poem to whimsically comment, “He reminds me of Ginsberg--‘What do I want? Particulars!’”...and read on.

I love words sometimes more than life itself...but they fail me when I remember Robert Creeley--all 78 years of him--reading with such compassion and effortless understanding: quiet bemusement at the existence of mortality.

His poetry reading that night (the first with his oxygen tank--he said in February he began having trouble breathing) continued in this vein. Such genial humor and tender understanding permeated his words. He told stories from his stint with the American Field Service in India and Burma during the latter part of WWII (incidentally, the same time and place where my grandfather served in the malaria-control branch of the Army Medical Corps). He read “Possibilities” and spoke of Helen Vendler and Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium”--how impending death is elegant, but isolation imposes. One listener’s comment led him to read “Memory,” excusing any potential crudity with an impish smile.

In his VQR essay on Whitman he concludes,

Perhaps Whitman’s “fancy” was not only such a power but a person as well, even the memory of a person, that presence acknowledged over and over just as was his own being there too insistently emphasized always. In that world, perhaps one’s whole life is a dream, a practical, peculiarly material dream, whose persons become the same complex “music” which Keats’ nightingale evokes, a tenacious fabric of inexhaustible yearning. Is that the “world” which has to fall away in age? When one can no longer sustain it? Can it even matter, given—as the poet Edward Dorn made clear—the last thing a man says will be a word.

And so I leave a few words here, scattered across cyberspace and the 1s and 0s that have the capability of connecting us in unseen ways. And here is what he wrote. (God be with you, Robert Creeley.)


What do you wear?
How does it feel
to wear clothes?
What shows
what you were or where?

This accident, accidental, person,
feeling out, feelings out -
outside the box one's in -
skin's resonances, reticent romances,
the blotch of recognition, blush?

It's a place one's going,
going out to, could reach
out just so far to be at the edge
of it all, there, no longer inside,
waiting, expectant, a confused thing.

One wanted skin to walk in,
be in. One wanted each leg to stand,
both hands to have substance,
both eyes to look out, recognize,
all of it, closer and closer.

Put it somewhere, one says.
Put it down. But it's not a thing
simply. It's all of it here,
all of it near and dear,
everywhere one is, this and that.

Inside, it could have been included.
There was room for the world.
One could think of it, even be simple, ample.
But not "multitudes," not that way in -
It's out, out, one's going. Loosed.

Still - wistful in heaven, happy in hell?
Sky was an adamant wall,
earth a compact of dirty places,
faces of people one used to know.
Air - smell, sound and taste - was still wonderful.

One dreamed of a thoughtless moment,
the street rushing forward, heads up.
One willed almost a wave of silence
to hear the voices underneath.
Each layer, each particular, recalled.

But now to be here?
Putting my hand on the table,
I watch it turn into wood,
Fibrous, veins like wood's grain,
But not that way separated - all one.

I felt a peace come back.
No longer needed to say what it was,
nothing left somehow to name only -
still was each each, all all,
evident mass, bulky sum, a complex accumulation?

My mother dying sat up, ecstatic,
coming out of the anaesthetic, said,
It's all free! You don't have to pay
for any of it... It's there
if you can still get to it?

Come closer, closer. Come as near
as you can get. Let me know
each edge, each shelf of act,
all the myriad colors, all the shimmering presences,
each breath, finger of odor, echoed pin drop.

Adumbrate nature. Walk a given path.
You are as much its fact as any other.
You stand a scale far smaller than a tree's.
A mountain makes you literal as a pebble.
Look hard for what it is you want to see.

The sky seems in its heavens, laced with cloud.
The horizon's miles and miles within one's sight.
Cooling, earth gathers in for night.
Birds quiet, stars start out in the dark.
Wind drops. Thus life itself can settle.

Nothing's apart from all and seeing is
the obvious beginning of an act
can only bring one closer to the art
of being closer. So feeling all there is,
one's hands and heart grow full.

25 March 2005

Birthdays: Flannery and Anne

We're about to hit the road, but I can't let this slip by...

Flannery O'Connor was born on this day in 1925 in Savannah, Georgia. If "Southern Gothic" in literary style, O'Connor was orthodox Catholic in her religious views. She was in the middle of her fifteen-year battle with lupus — she died from it in 1964, aged 39 — when Ginsberg and the other Beats were beginning to get the headlines. [...]

In [a] letter to Robert Lowell, she took this attitude towards her affliction: "I have enough energy to write with and as that is all I have any business doing anyhow. I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing. What you have to measure out, you come to observe more closely, or so I tell myself."

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne

Anne Brontë was born on this day in 1820. Tourists started snooping round the Brontë home when Charlotte was alive, and just after her death the locals were complaining of crowds; now the Haworth Parsonage Museum, the house gets about 200,000 visitors a year.

...Restore to me that little spot,
With gray walls compassed round,
Where knotted grass neglected lies,
And weeds usurp the ground.

Though all around this mansion high
Invites the foot to roam,
And though its halls are fair within--
Oh, give me back my HOME!

(from Anne Brontë's "Home")

(Via Today in Literature)

24 March 2005

Beautiful change

Dear Blogosphere,

I'm packing up and leaving the state tomorrow morning...and leaving the country on the 5th. I'm moving to South America and a new life teaching at a bilingual school.

Posting will be slow for a while, but I hope to get caught up with all your goings and comings soon. And I still plan on relating my experiences at the Festival of the Book and of the marvelous Robert Creeley.

It's not yet available online, but The Virginia Quarterly Review's new issue commemorating the 150th anniversary of Leaves of Grass is a beautiful, beautiful thing. I hope to speak again soon!

Ana Maria

23 March 2005

One more reading

So last night I hung out at the office until it was time to head over to UVA's Chemistry building to see Michael Cunningham. I kind of got lost on the way by following a small crowd (never do that), ignorantly assuming that *of course* everyone was flocking to see him--but apparently, there was a performance of classical music going on as well.

Anyway, it turned out I wasn't late at all. As I started up the stairs to the auditorium, I heard a familiar voice and realized that he was three feet ahead of me. I sheepishly slowed down and found a seat.

After a lengthy introduction by one of the members of the English Department (and a personal friend of his), Cunningham announced that this would be his last reading from The Hours as his new novel, Specimen Days, will be out in June, and he will soon be obliged to move on to it in readings. He made a couple of brief introductory statements ranging from literature's powers of consolation to his surprise at Meryl Streep being cast in the film (he still seems slightly astonished at the whole thing).

He read the portion about Laura Brown baking the cake...Kitty's visit...and the night of her husband's birthday. He was expressive, but wry...and wears glasses to read.

After the applause died down, he left the podium. It was announced that there would be no Q&A, but that as he was "a most approachable man," we were free to go talk to him and get any books signed.

This really disappointed me. It was great listening to him read, but despite the inevitable appearance of "the Same Five Questions®", I really like Q&A sessions. I saw Salman Rushdie speak a couple years ago, and the Q&A was easily the best conversation on literature I'd heard in years. You can get a sense of the author...and anything can happen.

I don't know whose decision this was. If there had been some sort of emergency, I would've understood--and Cunningham seems like a very gracious person. As it is, I got the distinct impression that the offhand manner of the English prof was due to his over-familiarity with author readings. And then there were the college kids who were there just for the extra credit. They fled the room as soon as the reading was over.

People at large universities like this seem to be oblivious to what they have. It galls me that such things can be taken for granted so blithely, as if they were common occurrences that don't mean much.

Meanwhile, vagabond ex-lit majors like myself dive for the crumbs that fall from their well-supplied table...

Incidentally, "On this day in 1917 Leonard and Virginia Woolf purchased a small, used handpress":

Virginia Woolf did not think much of her doctors and treatments. In July, 1910, after pounds of food and days of bed-rest, she wrote to her sister, "I feel my brains, like a pear, to see if its ripe; it will be exquisite by September". But she did not seem to think Freud much good either, or as good for her and her writing as her own "autoanalysis". In a 1920 essay on "Freudian Fiction" she mocks both "the new psychology" and the new tendency to turn "characters into cases" and life into happily-ever-after:

"A patient who has never heard a canary sing without falling down in a fit can now walk through an avenue of cages without a twinge of emotion since he has faced the fact that his mother kissed him in his cradle. The triumphs of science are beautifully positive."

22 March 2005

Out the door

Maud weighs in on the Ayelet Waldman controversy, but steers discussion towards the question: Is blogging bad for fiction?

Dan points us to a fascinating endeavor.

Scott discusses Louis Menand's review of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

Amardeep contemplates writers with beards.

And I'm off to see Michael Cunningham speak...!

21 March 2005

Bibliophile heaven

It was wonderfully fitting that my last Saturday in Charlottesville was spent at events sponsored by the Virginia Quarterly Review for the Festival of the Book:

“Walt Whitman, An American, One of the Roughs, a Kosmos”: Whitman’s Self-Invention
Presentations by David Kirby (The Ha-Ha), William Logan (Reputations of the Tongue, Desperate Measures), and Heather Morton (Walt Whitman Archive)

12 noon
Did the Modernists Get Rejection Slips?
Explore a journal’s historical, humorous correspondence with former editor of POETRY magazine, Joseph Parisi (Dear Editor: A History of POETRY in Letters).

“Do I Contradict Myself?” Who Is the Real Whitman?
Presentations by Robert Creeley (If I Were Writing This), Stephen Cushman (Cussing Lesson), and Ed Folsom (Walt Whitman: The Measure of His Song).

Robert Creeley Reads His Poetry
Join poet Robert Creeley (If I Were Writing This, Life & Death) for a poetry reading.

I was also able to spend some time at their Whitman exhibit and the other new exhibit, American Journeys: Columbus to Kerouac (which knocked my socks off!).

I took copious notes, so I hope to post more later.

Meanwhile, Ron at Beatrice has four dispatches from author Pearl Abraham, who also spoke.

Faulkner's reading

J.M. Coetzee on Faulkner (via Arts & Letters Daily):

What the rather dreamy Billy Faulkner gave himself in place of schooling was a narrow but intense reading of fin-de-siècle English poetry, notably Swinburne and Housman, and of three novelists who had given birth to fictional worlds lively and coherent enough to supplant the real one: Balzac, Dickens, and Conrad. Add to this a familiarity with the cadences of the Old Testament, Shakespeare, and Moby-Dick, and, a few years later, a quick study of what his older contemporaries T.S. Eliot and James Joyce were up to, and he was ready armed.

And Cervantes, of course!

(More evidence for my undying belief that you are what you read.)

18 March 2005

Distinctly American

Tomorrow I'm skipping JSF in favor of Robert Creeley. Excitement abounds!

Robert Creeley in Conversation with Alan Riach:

I remember British friends were saying, 'God! You Americans are endlessly talking theory and prosody and all this bullshit! Don't you have anything? Don't you have any tradition? I mean, don't you have any way of writing that at least locates you in the same way that you might, you know, locate ways of dressing or furniture for your house or something? But do you have to be so endlessly paranoid about what you're doing? I mean, who cares? If you like the poem isn't that the point? And there's theories and projects and I mean...'

'Well,' I said, 'It's probably we're defensive and we've got to have some means whereby to explain ourselves to some possible other who hasn't as yet come along but one day may show up.'

There weren't a great number of people asking about how do you write a poem but something like Williams's I Wanted to Write a Poem is poignant in that way...


AR: Does that mean that so much of this is essentially personal, lyrical, individual expression? That the poetry has to emerge from a kind of imagination that's worked from a charge that is personal, rather than something, let's say... Well, Pound, for example, one of the weights he bequeathes, is his position as a man speaking politically for people in a public way. He might be misguided, or horrible, or wrong, but he's engaged in a social language which isn't the language of a love lyric, or of a personal confession or expression of personal belief or faith or love. It's a different kind of address...

RC: It is and it isn't. [...] One can think of Faulkner, who might be proposed to such, but he really isn't doing that. These are very singular and isolating stories, although they propose to be a landscape of various social climate in fact they are, literally, they are the Snopes family, and they're very particular. Look, they're not the world by any imagination. And then you think of someone like Dos Passos. No. The authority in Dos Passos is Dos Passos, not the world that he's... It's like the photographer, he's taking those pictures. By and large the American genius such as it is and I think it is has to do with the singular lyric.

You know, I think it's Walt Whitman, 'Song of Myself' -- I think that's the prototypical American gesture, poetically and imaginatively and artistically, and I think it's as true of Emily Dickinson as it is of Pound as it is of Poe as it is of Melville. I think Melville again could be that, certainly, could be an epic possibility, and yet its resolution is Ahab and the white whale and that's not a collective enterprise no matter whether it takes whaling to get there. So that I think what defines American art is (quote) whatever it is we call 'lyric' and the singular.

And I think, for example, I remember years ago as a kid, my dear friend Rainer Gerhardt, and we were talking about just this fact of things, and he said, 'You know, even during the worst moments of Hitler's regime,' he said, 'when I wrote or said anything it never occurred to me I wasn't writing for all of Germany. Not writing to it, but as a person of it. Never thought of myself as separated. No matter how obviously shattered the country was, I was always all Germany.'

And I said, 'Well, you know, in America, I can't think of a single person I know who would ever presume or think that he or she was all America.' You know, 'I hear America singing' -- and that's as close as you'd get to it. It wouldn't be: 'I am America singing' -- it would be: 'I hear...

AR: That's a very important point.

RC: I thought so. I've never forgotten it.

"Little House in the Big Words"

Old Hag (who already does a fantastic job as it is) lets loose a well-deserved rant at the situation in which many bloggers find themselves:

"Did prehistoric man torture himself about the Elk hunt he just didn’t have time to etch in red clay onto the cave wall that month? Were nineteenth century gentlewomen all, How could I have chosen the calling card with the lily, it will take me eight months to use them up, perhaps nine, and then FLOWERS WILL BE OUT WHAT WAS I THINKING???."

I was reminded of sunlight, of all things. In An American Childhood, Annie Dillard vents her young grief at the inevitable loss of moments:

Some days I felt an urgent responsibility to each change of light outside the sunporch windows. Who would remember any of it, any of this our time, and the wind thrashing the limbs outside? Somebody had to do it, somebody had to hang on to the days with teeth and fists, or the whole show had been in vain. That it is impossible never entered my reckoning. For work, for a task, I had never heard the word.

It's a terrible pressure, whatever form it takes (information or memories). Yet just yesterday it occurred to me that blogs can also work like a muggle version of the pensieve--a place for excess thoughts and fragments to be shored against ruin. It may be possible for this medium to contribute to our sanity, not take away from it. Maybe. (Oh, and Scott's reasons are pretty good too.)

Meanwhile, I can't get enough of it either. This morning I found The Count of Monty Cristo speaking about an exhibit that

includes such entertaining anecdotes as the way Wittgenstein used to berate himself in front of his students at Cambridge, slapping and shouting epithets at himself ("You have a stupid professor! Do not listen to anything he says! Ist eine dummkopf!") and whatnot. I'm perhaps most fond of the tidbit about his inimitable passion for American detective movies, and the way he would rush out after teaching class to sit in the very front row of the cinema, silently munching a hot cross bun, utterly rapt before the action unfolding on screen.

And my heart was filled with joy.

17 March 2005

In memory of St. Patrick

"Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop"

I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
'Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.'

'Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,' I cried.
'My friends are gone, but that's a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart's pride.

'A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.'

~ William Butler Yeats

Saint Exupery in the therapist's seat

A nice twist on the usual personality tests:

You are the fox.

Saint Exupery's 'The Little Prince' Quiz.
brought to you by Quizilla

Games litgeeks play

Blogger vanished into the black hole of nothingness for most of yesterday, refusing to speak to me. I'd better take advantage of this chink of lucidity while I can. (As if I needed one more rocky relationship!)

I've been meaning to post about Bookslut's highly informative review of the Book Lovers Trivial Pursuit. Several members of my family thought of giving it to me for Christmas, but changed their minds when they realized that I would probably just wind up playing against myself for hours on end.

Something more likely to provide hours of entertainment for all concerned is The Mystery of the Abbey, a board game based on Eco's The Name of the Rose. Think Clue on crack in a monastery involving singing monks. (Must get my hands on this forthwith.)

In addition, the following have worked wonders to take my mind off the horror, the horror!

By request, the dashing Edward Champion kindly reveals litblog shorthand:

DFW: Any author who has read too much Nabokov. Alternatively loved or hated by the litblog community, depending upon how personally they take footnotes.

E-----: He who shall not be named.

Hitch: Any Fleet Street blowhard who drinks and smokes too much.

The list continues to grow. Uninitiated newbies (such as myself) take note.

Also, Tingle Alley's rousing game of lit math equations (by way of I Love Books) is the perfect workday distraction.


Ernest Hemingway x Charlie and The Chocolate Factory = Dave Eggers

Catcher in the Rye + (Pretty in Pink-vintage clothing) = Prep

Oprah - Franzen = Oprah

(Martin Amis - Nabokov) = (Ian McEwan + Hunter S. Thompson) X [Lester Bangs - (James Joyce + Thomsas Pynchon)] X Keith Richards

Fun for all! (My humble contribution? Dan Brown - Umberto Eco = Mary Higgins Clark.)

More fun:

Amardeep's discovery of the Uncyclopedia and Old Hag's crush on Meet the Author (which is incredibly cool).

16 March 2005

Dream discussion

I'm not usually jealous of New Yorkers, but this is simply too much:

The Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University presents An Evening of Talk on Bob Dylan

Greil Marcus, critic, "Masters of War: Lives of a Song" Christopher Ricks, Oxford Professor of Poetry, "Blonde on Blonde" Sean Wilentz, Professor of History, Princeton University, "Blam De Lam: On Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Volume One"

Monday, March 21, 2005 8 pm @ Miller Theater (Broadway at 116th) No tickets or reservations necessary. Co-sponsored by Miller Theater.

For more information, please contact Rebecca Hanger at (212) 854-4270, or mrh2101 at columbia.edu.

Meanwhile, Dylan's Visions of Sin is still topping my TBR list... I must've given out Jonathan Lethem's write-up in the NY Times to everyone in my known universe.

(Via Bob Dylan's mailing list)

15 March 2005

Taking Oprah to task

From Max Gordon's incisive essay, "Watchers and Witnesses," a powerful critique of Oprah's interpretation of Their Eyes Were Watching God:

The omission of Tea Cake’s darker skin color and the effect that it has to have during that era on his relationship with Janie, a light-skinned woman of privilege is not just a careless oversight, but something much more sinister.

Anyone who has worked on a movie knows that filmmaking is a very deliberate act, especially a film like this that was in production for more than ten years. Because of the vast expense, every decision is considered and reconsidered, discussed at great length. It is extraordinary that with a black producer, black co-producer, Pulitzer-prize winning black writer and a woman-of-color director, Tea Cake isn’t written in the screenplay as dark-skinned. It is more than just an error of the casting director; the story-line has vanished without a trace. Hiring an actor this light with blue eyes to play Tea Cake, instead of an actor like Don Cheadle, harkens back to the days of Lena Horne’s scenes being cut out of Hollywood movies run in the South because she was too “dark” for their screens, only this time it’s a black producer at the projector. Hurston had to have known what her racial critique would mean to every black person who encountered her book, from country folks to the blacks on Sugar Hill, what it would mean to assimilationist blacks to have a dark-skinned hero, and one could argue that the subsequent criticism of her work by some black male writers of the Harlem Renaissance was formed based on this critique. Richard Wright in particular was impatient with Hurston for not writing what he deemed “protest” literature, unable to see that Janie’s expression of her sensuality was her protest, and that when you have been enslaved and your body owned by someone else, sometimes pleasure of the self, acknowledgement that a self even exists to give pleasure to is, of itself revolutionary. Whatever criticisms one has of Zora, and there may be many, the woman never played it safe, and it’s unfair to put her name on a movie this politically careful, this hackneyed, as it panders to mainstream audiences generic tastes.

(I really had a hard time figuring out what to excerpt--it's an excellent piece.)

400 Windmills

The Blog People are at it again...!

Scott at Conversational Reading alerts us to Bud Parr's new endeavor--a blog discussion of Don Quixote, in commemoration of its 400th anniverary:

How many times have you read “Don Quixote” in the past 400 years? None, you say. Once, twice, a dozen times? No matter. We want you to be a part of our latest endeavor to read and discuss this masterpiece with a blog at the center of the conversation.

So far, we have the Chekhov's Mistress gang (okay, so a gang of two), but I think our reading will be best served by having a group. So drop that book your reading, dust off your Quixote and join us. We hope to start our reading at the beginning of April.

Contact us at 400Windmills AT gmail.com or visit the site http://www.400Windmills.com.

I've just tossed my hat into the ring. This is going to be good.

P.S. Bud also recommends the new issue of PEN America's journal, which features tributes to Gabriel García Márquez and Pablo Neruda.

Resonant thoughts

Spurious nails it again:

[...] I am stranded in the office without being able to write anything for the book. What to do instead? write about what you cannot write, so at least you have some relationship to what needs to be done, even if it is only at one remove. Vicarious writing, writing by proxy: this is what blogging permits, as letter-writing used to do.

Once upon a time, I would have used this interval to have written to a friend. Such a writing seems very far away now. Remember the joy of criss-crossing letters: one sent to X and another received from X and so on, each with the two to three day wait which detached what was written from what was experienced in the moment of writing. But this is already naive, as if writing did not always demand such a detachment: as if to write and to write a letter was already to have lost what was experienced and to have regained it in a new way, as words on the page.

Now, instead, words on a screen. But this is happiness: the sense something was done, that I will have made something from these vacant minutes.

I have such admiration for those who transcend this.

14 March 2005

Joad lives

The Grapes of Wrath was published on this day in 1939:

Steinbeck could not go slowly -- a 700-page novel written, revised and printed in 10 months -- but his story of the Joads got him his "big book," and "Carol's best title so far": "I like it because it is a march and this book is a kind of march -- because it is in our revolutionary tradition."

Steinbeck's hope was that a title drawn from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" would forestall "the fascist crowd" who, he knew, would attempt "to sabotage this book [and] try to give it the communist angle"; his fear was that the politics of his novel would prevent any wide popularity, and he tried to dissuade his publisher from a large first printing. He was wrong on both counts:
The Grapes of Wrath was the best-seller of 1939, and the bannings, burnings, death threats and denouncements reached the House of Representatives, where an Oklahoma Congressman rose up to "say to you, and to every honest, square-minded reader in America, that the painting Steinbeck made in this book is a lie, a black, infernal creation of a twisted, distorted mind." Steinbeck's letters in the summer and early fall of '39 reflect his anxiety and ambivalence about both the fame and the furor:

"The vilification of me out here from the large landowners and bankers is pretty bad. . . . I'm frightened at the rolling might of this damned thing. It is completely out of hand – I mean a kind of hysteria about the book is growing that is not healthy. . . . It is far too far when Jack Benny mentions it in his program. Altogether may be some kind of new existence is opening up. I don't know. The last year has been a nightmare all in all. But now I'm ordering a lot of books to begin study. And I'll be in the laboratory. . . . One nice thing to think of is the speed of obscurity. Grapes is not first now. In a month it will be off the list and in six months I'll be forgotten."

Glimmer of hope

This week, Sanders, an independent, reintroduced his bill, which would exempt libraries and booksellers from the Patriot Act. If enacted, the bill would restore the traditional "probable cause" standard when law-enforcement officers seek warrants to examine which books a person checked out or purchased.

(Via Bookslut)

In other freedom of expression news:

Bookninja directs us to a recent blog post on textual tattoos. Very cool. If I were ever to do it (which isn't likely), I'd probably get that e.e. cummings line, "forever was never till now" (don't mean to be giving you more ideas, Mol!).

This one's my favorite.


Henry James' "The Beast in the Jungle" and Dostoevsky's "A Gentle Creature" are my very favorite works of short fiction, so I was delighted by Patrice Leconte's film, Intimate Strangers. His reference to the James story added another lovely layer of subtext to an already rich experience: William was able to cross a line that Marcher couldn't even comprehend.

Jeffrey Overstreet's illuminating interview with Leconte touches on the issue:
But what draws him to this theme again and again?, I ask. What draws him to heroes who transgress their routines to find freedom? Leconte pauses, deep in thought, and then speaks excitedly in French, turning to the translator so he can respond with enthusiasm rather than use his skilled but cautious English.

“There is something very curious and interesting in what you are saying. There is nothing more interesting than meeting someone who casts a new light on your work. I have never thought about it, but you’re absolutely right in what you say about the obsession in my movies’ main characters. It’s true that the situations revolve around the temptation of transgressing something that is forbidden.”
It's interesting to think that some of the most securely entrenched boundaries are those we ourselves construct. While watching the movie, I was reminded of various songs by The Innocence Mission, such as "The Girl On My Left":

Some days ring out into night
my failures with people right here.
The living room growing wide.
If I get near, what will I say?
Miles to fly over,
miles to the girl on my left.

In William's open gaze, we see his perplexity in being confronted with the revelation of his own confinement. Yet Anna is not set free by his decision, but by her own. One of the strengths of the film is how the characters are not led by the hand, but come to their own conclusions by the presence (not intervention) of the other. They must figure it out for themselves.

The interview concludes:
Sometimes, his empathy for his characters haunts him after his work on a picture is finished. “I find that very interesting … the question of what happens to the characters after the movies are over. At the end of Girl on the Bridge, I’m not worrying about the two of them. But at the end of The Hairdresser’s Husband, I’m very worried for Antoine (Jean Rochefort). Things will probably not go well.”

And what about Intimate Strangers’ Anna and William? He smiles. “They’re going to be all right.”

On that hopeful note, our time together is up. Before I can thank him, he actually jogs around the large table to shake my hand, generous to the last, as if he were not the special guest but the host. “Merci beaucoup,” he says. “Thanks for shedding some light on my work. So … now I know …” Beaming with pleasure, he exclaims, “I am a filmmaker of transgression!”

Dillard discovery

While wandering through Barnes & Noble this weekend, I came across In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction (edited by Lee Gutkind), which was just published this past November. I had a bus to catch and so didn't have time to read the entirety of Annie Dillard's introduction, "Notes for Young Writers," but it looks excellent. Among her brief bits of advice are things like, If you can, live in a different part of the country every year...and...Never be in a situation where all you do is read and write. You need people. Now I don't consider myself a writer, but it was heartening to discover that I follow most of this advice already (i.e., I'm not as weird as I think I am).

Unfortunately, Amazon's excerpt skips the introduction and goes straight for the first essay. But I hope to nab my own copy and post more at some point.

I did a little background search this morning, and it seems that this essay (or an older version of it) was originally published in the Summer 1997 issue of Image. In her bibliography it's listed as "Advice for Young Writers," and she put "do not read this crap" by the entry. Gotta love her. (Of course, she also calls The Writing Life "an embarrassing nonfiction narrative" so this is not surprising.)

During the first week of January, she spoke on NPR about the tsunami: "She asks how can we remind ourselves that the thousands of victims were individuals with lives and loved ones and not just faceless statistics." (For the Time Being also addressed this.)

11 March 2005

Una compañera

First off, I completely neglected to mention that last Sunday was Gabo's birthday. ¡Ojalá que tienes muchísimos más!

And to the intrepid Teaching Assistant (who offers another correction to Hitchens): Nope, you're certainly not! I've read Goblet of Fire in Spanish (it was the only one the library had at the time), but hope to read them all that way. I'd also love to get to El león, la bruja y el ropero and Una arruga en el tiempo. I think it's an excellent way to gain greater practice in the language. And if anyone gives you grief over it, just tell them, "Some call it obsession, I call it commitment"!

Someday soon I would love to read them aloud to kids. Can you imagine how much fun it would be to read Azkaban to a circle of schoolchildren?

Harry terminó de escribir sobre Wendelin la Hechicera e hizo una pausa para volver a escuchar. Sólo los ronquidos lejanos y ruidosos de su enorme primo Dudley rompían el silencio de la casa.

It all but rolls off the tongue!

On the other side of things, here's the site of the speech accent archive at George Mason University, which "demonstrates that accents are systematic rather than merely mistaken speech." There are 414 (and counting) collected accents from people around the world. I got all sentimental when I saw the IPA transcriptions. (As an undergrad, I practiced learning IPA for a class by copying out favorite poems and writing notes to friends in IPA.) The first one listed under "Colombian Spanish" reminds me of my aunts:

(Via Bookninja)

Charlotte on a different Jane

Yesterday, Maud posted about Charlotte Brontë's opinion of Jane Austen. Brontë's impatience with Austen has always made me smile. They're such different writers: the former with her passionate yet contained wildness, the latter with her sharp gaze and sly wit. I wonder what Austen would've thought of Jane Eyre?


On this day in 1853, stirred by a reading of Charlotte Brontë's latest novel, Villette, William Makepeace Thackeray recorded these thoughts in his diary:

"The poor little woman of genius! The fiery eager brave tremulous homely-faced creature! I can read a great deal of her life as I fancy her in her book, and see that rather than have fame, rather than any other earthly good or mayhap heavenly one she wants some Tomkins or another to love her and be in love with. But you see she is a little bit of a creature without a penny worth of good looks, …and no Tomkins will come. You girls with pretty faces… will get dozens of young fellows fluttering about you – whereas here is one genius, a noble heart longing to mate itself and destined to wither away into old maidenhood with no chance to fulfil the burning desire."

Thackeray had met Brontë, but he could not have known that she had rejected a marriage proposal from Arthur Bell Nicholls three months previously. When Nicholls proposed a second time, in April, 1854, he was accepted, though Brontë died within a year of their marriage.

Hmph. Although I know why she defended him, sometimes you gotta wonder. (Then again, that could be my chronological snobbery talking.)

(Via Today in Literature)

10 March 2005

New best friend

Many thanks to Bookslut for pointing out Jesse Kornbluth's article, "Why I Steal":

I found myself teaching screenwriting to undergraduates at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Rather than ask my students to write the "what I did last summer" essay as a way of revealing themselves as students and writers, I suggested that they list their three favorite book and tell me why they chose them. "Take 15 minutes," I said.

Half the class looked stricken. I didn't understand why until I read their papers. For them, "reading" and "required" tended to find themselves in the same sentence. Books were, at best, objects that could be adapted into screenplays. Or, in a screenplay, books were things you put on shelves, with clues inside that were revealed when some dweeb in a tweed sport coat with elbow patches absentmindedly plucked out a volume. As for reading for pleasure, that wasn't happening. And never had, it seemed.

This was terrifying. Out of ignorance or laziness or a self-confidence so massive that it was beyond delusional, these kids seemed to think they were going to show up at their keyboards and crank out 125 pages of totally original material.

They weren't planning to steal at all.

This, as professional writers know, is madness.

Me? I had started writing for money at 16—and, from the beginning, I stole. I didn't need T.S. Eliot's endorsement of theft ("Minor poets imitate, great poets steal") to make me feel I was doing the right thing. Literary appropriation was in my DNA. And, I would argue, in the DNA of all writers who see this work more as a calling than as a career.

Writers--real writers--are formed by their reading. It can be vast, it can be selective. But at some moment, the process freezes. Heroes emerge. And then the writer sees himself/herself as an upholder and extender of the convictions and style of those heroes. For me, the gods are Johnson, Flaubert, Dickens, de Maupassant and Orwell. And the catalytic moment was when Orwell praised "prose like a windowpane"—right there I found a mantra.

Annie Dillard discusses this idea in The Writing Life (which I'll quote as soon as I'm within reach of my copy)...

Anyhow, discovering Kornbluth's Head Butler made my entire week.

09 March 2005

Coming clean

Bookninja points us in the direction of Paul Wells, who helps us admit that we're all-too-often stuck on the same page:

It is a dark burden to bear, this business of not finishing books. You start out with all the goodwill in the world. You flip the pages diligently. Your circle of acquaintances expands by a dozen or more as this cast of made-up people enters your life. And before you even find out how it all turns out for them, you set them aside. What's your problem?

You feel ungrateful, somehow. The author put his life into these people, and I can't even stick around to see who lives or who dies? And yet, as I stare at the books in my library, I realize I have become a serial book-unfinisher. [...]

Blame or credit for my setting a book aside lies with nobody but me. Quality has nothing to do with it. I've cheerfully abandoned some of the great books of the English language. I read Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday and The Pearl by John Steinbeck. But The Grapes of Wrath? Abandoned at page 176. This time there was actually a reason. Steinbeck was starting too many sentences with "and." And it was getting on my nerves. And it was turning into a cheap gimmick. And I'd had enough of it. And I know that's a lame reason. And I don't care.


Each of those books on my nightstand are excellent (although I feel the Ondaatje is rather sterile)--I'll finish them at some point. My excuses ("I just don't have the mental space right now" and its variants) basically boil down to good ol' fashioned procrastination: I either don't feel like it or I just don't want them to end. But to be perfectly honest, the past couple of weeks have found me on a Harry Potter kick--I've been rereading them all one after the other. Right now, I'm in the middle of Goblet of Fire. So many clues, so little time!


See GalleyCat for the others.

Needless to say, I'm ridiculously excited. (I'm the girl who would reread them in Spanish!)

08 March 2005

Under one roof

Part of the pleasure in reading Sherill Tippins' "February House" — a portrait of the Brooklyn Heights brownstone shared by poet W.H. Auden, novelist Carson McCullers, composer Benjamin Britten, tenor Peter Pears, writer-composer Paul Bowles, novelist Jane Bowles and burlesque artiste Gypsy Rose Lee in the early 1940s — is that it lets you enter a sort of Swiss Family Robinson fantasy. Instead of a tree house on a desert island where all the rules of living are reinvented, it's a dilapidated town house in a shabby-genteel New York neighborhood.

This has just shot straight to the top of my TBR list. (Full review here.)

With thanks to TEV...who has also posted a piquant conversation with his mom:

TEV: Hey did you ever finish Enduring Love?

MOTEV: (exasperated) No. I just can't.

TEV: Why not?

MOTEV: I just can't get into it... It annoys me and I don't enjoy reading it. And I said, you know what? I don't enjoy this. So I stopped. I got maybe one-third through.

TEV: What did you hate about it?

MOTEV: Everything.


In America

(Warning: Much gushing to ensue.)

Although I got this DVD as soon as it came out (after seeing it in theatres a couple times), I didn't actually watch it with Jim Sheridan's commentary until this weekend. It is absolutely wonderful. (This interview touches on some of it.)

Aside from describing the conflation of both himself and his father in the character of Johnny (and many other autobiographical scenes and elements), he talks about the issues of grief and death in Irish culture. The immigrants and their relation to the land. How the living enter the realm of the dead in daily life (referencing Gretta Conroy and Molly Bloom when speaking of Johnny and Sarah). How Yeats, Joyce, and Wilde each had brothers who died...as well as Van Gogh. He then discusses Van Gogh's art in relation to loss and being named after (and having to take the place of) his dead brother. How he painted absence.

This ties into Sheridan's fascination with filming the invisible, internal struggle...and the importance of a lack of information in a shot and what that does to the viewer's response. (He also mentions a certain scene in Capturing the Friedmans, which he describes as the most terrifying in cinema.)

He also comments on the idea of Shakespeare putting himself in Hamlet as the ghost of the king, the father...since he was a father whose son Hamlet had died. (And how In the Name of the Father revolves around the story of a good father.)

Then there are the Bolger sisters. The story of how Emma was cast ("You're not going to have her read my part, are you?"), and how she got Sarah cast... How every "Action!" and "Cut!" was left to Sarah and Emma, respectively. His attempt at explaining the concept of "boyfriend" to Emma. How their self-confidence lent strength to their performances.

His admiration for "Sam" Morton, Djimon Hounsou, and Paddy Considine. How he loved the idea of a man from Africa being the one to restore the father's sense of himself. The function of blood...oneness...transubstantiation...and "necessary lies."

Honestly, I could listen to him talk for hours. The combination of the deeply personal nature of this film, the contributions of his daughters, his droll self-effacing stories, and his musings on art and literature made this an enriching experience.

07 March 2005

Because this deserves its own post

Thanks to Scott for the updates on the effort to Save Salinas Libraries!

You can now contribute to the rescue effort via PayPal.

(My little Californian heart trembles at the thought of Salinas losing this fight.)

Odds & ends

"The Gorge," a new short story by Umberto Eco, is up at The New Yorker. (Scott Esposito offers a brief review.)

The Guardian has posted Christopher Hitchens' new introduction to Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits. (Via Stephen Mitchelmore, who points out his inaccuracies.)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is "forest friendly." Hooray for reincarnated trees!

John Sutherland presents quiz questions from So You Think You Know Jane Austen?

Ed defends earnest mockery of literary figures.

On Friday, Randa at MoorishGirl mentioned Dostoevsky's descendant's suit against Russia's sports lottery for using Fyodor's image on lottery tickets:

My favorite quote from Dmitri Dostoevsky on why his great grandfather quit gambling: "He realized that the only way to improve his financial situation was through writing, so he stopped [gambling]." Oh, how times have changed. These days, it's writing and how impoverished it makes one that lures one to gambling.

He says the proper way to pay tribute to his great grandfather would be to build libraries in his name. Hear, hear!

And my favorite band (who recently made the New York Daily News) visited Emily Dickinson's home.


Jasper Fforde's latest, The Big Over Easy, comes out in July (like HBP)!

04 March 2005

Jack & Jo

A couple weeks ago, I commented on the hypocrisy of Christians who embrace C.S. Lewis and reject J.K. Rowling (also quoting from Lewis' essay "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to Be Said," from the collection On Stories and Other Essays on Literature).

Since then, I've discovered Quick Quotes Quill thanks to Do Thy Research (and if you haven't already, you must watch her channel Gollum in a murderous rant against footnotes!).


Anyway, I found more proof of what I already know (and love) about Ms. Rowling:

Q: Who formed you as a writer? People compare you to the greats. I mean, Jane Austin [sic] and Dickens, but also in our own century, P. L. Travers, Roald Dahl, E. Nesbitt [sic]. What did you read as a child growing up and what is the sort of pantheon in which you sort of find yourself?

JKR: Of the 3 writers you’ve just mentioned there, E. Nesbitt [sic] is the one that I’m most flattered to be compared to. I loved and I still love her books. I really love her books. I recently read, I’ve never read them before as a child, I read her fairy tales and it was just ---- I just loved them and they’re ---- in many ways I think they are close to what I do because they is a lot of sort of modern detail among these fairy tales. You have princes advertising themselves for adventures, eligible princes and stuff and it’s a kind of a quirky twist always on the more traditional form. I think there is elements of that in what I do.

She recommends The Treasure Seekers, and says, "I think [it] is an absolute masterpiece."

And regarding Tolkien and Lewis:

I've read both of them. Both of them were geniuses. I'm immensely flattered to be compared to them, but I think I'm doing something slightly different again.

What's interesting is that E. Nesbit was also one of Lewis' favorite writers, and it's been suggested that her work inspired him to create the wardrobe as the bridge between two worlds. (Personally, my favorite is The Enchanted Castle, illustrated by Paul Zelinsky.)

For the record, the "Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time" and the magic that Harry's mother used to save his life from Voldemort are the same: sacrificial love.

"No one knows why you lost your powers when you attacked me," said Harry abruptly. "I don't know myself. But I know why you couldn't kill me. Because my mother died to save me."

Blaming Sonny Bono

Slate's article on the missing "last three volumes of the new edition" of Proust explains:

"Only the first four volumes of the new translation—from Swann's Way through Sodom and Gomorrah—are available here. For this we have Sonny Bono to blame. Just before he died in 1998, the congressman sponsored a bill to extend the term of copyright by 20 years: According to the Sonny Bono Copyright Act, passed later that year, rights would expire 95, rather than 75, years after an artist's death. Since Proust died in 1922, only those four volumes first published during his lifetime had passed into the American public domain by the time the Bono Act became law. It will therefore be at least 2018 before readers in the United States can find the final three installments of the new translation (The Prisoner and The Fugitive, and Time Regained) in their local bookstores."

The Literary Saloon examines the grey:

Now, we hate the Copyright Extension Act as much as the next guy (it's an outrage!), but the case isn't quite as black and white as he suggests. For some reason Matz does not address the fact that the American publishers could very easily get the books into bookstores: all they have to do is compensate the copyright holders (the heirs of Proust's literary estate). That's what they do with almost all the other books they publish -- why don't they give that a try here? (The benefit of waiting until the copyright has expired is that at that point they don't have to pay, meaning they get to keep all the money they earn, but that's the only difference.)

Paying copyright holders for books is the common practise -- after all, relatively little of what's published is out of copyright -- so why not here? Just because the British didn't have to the Americans won't either?

There may be difficulties we don't know of: the copyright holders may not approve of the new translations and thus might want to prevent them from appearing at all costs (i.e. would not agree to allow American publication at any price), or they may be making unreasonable demands. But it shouldn't be that hard to resolve these -- if the publishers were really interested in making the books accessible to readers. But since publishers generally don't really seem to care too much about serving readers, and their accountants can make a good case that they'll make a lot more money by waiting we're not holding our breaths.

03 March 2005

More than mere "fireworks"

Kirsch's comment on Cummings' "typographical fireworks" was not meant to be dismissive, but it came off a tad too glib for me.

For example, many people know this one:
"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water
But how many actually recognize that this is a sonnet?

UPDATE: Further thoughts...

Leaving aside the fact that Kirsch automatically elevates content over form, he did not mention the inherent value of making the effort to decipher Cummings' structures. Meaning seems to rush ahead, leaving the reader to trail along behind. But what's actually going on?

Cummings poem seamlessly embodies the predicament of a man torn by the hollowness of his own argument. At first, the reader is bombarded by the hasty speech of a man who is trying to communicate his thoughts as rapidly as possible. His continuous stream of patriotic slogans seems full of conviction because there are so many of them, and they are blurted without hesitation. But a closer reading reveals that for this precise reason the opposite is true. He divulges his own doubts by revealing too much, exposing himself as a defensive man spouting things he does not quite believe.

Cummings’ exceedingly clever employment of language, specifically clichés and colloquialisms, enables the speaker’s own words to contradict him. The myriads of trite, half-started platitudes demonstrate the scattered thoughts of a man scrambling for firm footing. But then something happens. An original thought slips in among the socio-political babble as he confesses, “we should worry / in every language even deafanddumb” (lines 5-6). This startlingly original idea surprises him so much that he trips in the very next line, causing him to exclaim “by gorry” rather than “by glory” (7). Truth is beginning to emerge in spite of himself. The harsh reality of death, which he attempts to hide, leaks out, forcing him to resort to colloquial euphemisms such as, “by jingo by gee by gosh by gum” to cover his confusion (8). When this fails him, he becomes outright defensive and protests, “why talk of beauty what could be more beaut- / iful than these heroic happy dead / who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter” (9-11). The futility of that argument grows obvious as he falls apart, ultimately declaring, “they did not stop to think they died instead” (12). With supreme irony, he finally asks, “then shall the voice of liberty be mute?” (13). But how can liberty speak in the first place if those who were her champions are now dead?

This ties in well with Cummings’ choice of poetic structure. Although the poem appears to be mere free-verse rambling, a detailed look at each line reveals that the poem is actually a sonnet. But its existence is obscured by both Cummings’ consistent use of enjambment, and his employment of chaotic meter. In effect, this mirrors the way the persona of the poem confuses the truth of the issue he tackles. Both the speaker himself and the technique of the author exemplify the breathless, run-on quality of the piece. The use of enjambment ultimately ends with the displaced rhyme of the word “slaughter” (11). By ending the enjambment, a new clarity is brought to the work. And it is an honest reference to death that brings this about.

Cummings’ sonnet has an interesting rhyme scheme: ababcdcdefgfeg, rather than ababcdcdefefgg. The rhyme falters specifically at the aforementioned word “slaughter” (11). Why do both the enjambment and the rhyme fail at this line? Again, the brutal reality of death throws everything off balance--the tidy philosophy of the speaker as well as the graceful structure of the sonnet. Interestingly, the mistake is quickly remedied by the replacement of the “E” rhyme (“mute” in line 13) where the original “G” rhyme (“slaughter”) should have been. This underscores the relief the speaker feels at having finished his ordeal as he retreats to his much-desired “glass of water” (14).

I don't think that such a deft melding of form with content should be undervalued. If "the medium is the message," how good are we at understanding what we read and hear? How much better off would we be as a society if more people could make sense of the information thrown at them? Cummings' poetry is a marvelous end in itself (and how much poorer we would be without such beauty!)--but it also gives us excellent practice in learning to discern and process the meaning embedded in seemingly random words and information.


From Adam Kirsch's essay, "The Rebellion of E.E. Cummings":

[T]he limits of Cummings's rebellion help to explain the limits of his modernity. Superficially, Cummings is the most radical of poets: no American poet of his generation so fractured the surfaces of poetry. But as the great critic Randall Jarrell wrote, "Even the poems' difficulties are of an undemanding, unaccusing sort -- that of puzzles"; once the reader has gotten accustomed to Cummings's typographical fireworks, there is nothing in the substance of the poems, their ideas and feelings and views of the world, that is genuinely challenging.

In this, Cummings offers a sharp contrast with T.S. Eliot '10, A.M. '11, whose student years at Harvard nearly overlapped with Cummings's, and who came from a similar Unitarian background. (Coincidentally, Sawyer-Laucanno reveals, Cummings and Eliot acted together in a Cambridge Social Dramatic Club production in 1913.) Eliot's poetry offers a profound challenge to the secular optimism of American culture -- above all, to the national reverence for individualism. That is why
The Waste Land and Eliot's other great poems continue to be among the most provocative and influential in modern poetry. Cummings's poems, on the other hand, are what Jarrell called "the popular songs of American intellectuals," in the sense that they repeat to us our own most comfortable assumptions -- about love, nature, and the supreme value of the individual.

Perhaps. But we always need reminding.

"NOTHING IS SO DIFFICULT AS TO BE ALIVE!!!!!! which is the ONLY THING WHICH YOU CANNOT LEARN ever,from anyone,anywhere: it must come out of you;and it never can,until you have KNOCKED DOWN AND CARRIED OUT all the teachable swill of Cambridge etc."

(Via Arts & Letters Daily)

02 March 2005

Slowing the decline of Western civilization

To any readers who check in here periodically, love books, and don't usually follow litblogs, here are a few fantastic reasons to take notice:

As Ed Champion reports,

If you're interested in other weekly reports on literary coverage, the litblog community has transformed, seemingly overnight, into online ombudsmen:

Mark continues his assaults upon the Los Angeles Times.

Scott has taken on the San Francisco Chronicle.

Sam Jones has taken on the Chicago Tribune.

And Bookdwarf promises to take on the Boston Globe.

This is one of the most exciting developments I've seen from the litblogs. There are no doubts in my mind that at least one editor is developing an ulcer.

And, of course, Ed returns with The Sam Tanenhaus Brownie Watch, keeping us up on the NYTBR's lit cred.

There are a jillion and one other reasons why I love this community of bibliophiles, but this is one of the most important.

The illusion of confessional poetry

As yesterday was Robert Lowell's birthday, it was inevitable I not find this till today... Frank Bidart on Robert Lowell:

Because Robert Lowell is widely, perhaps indelibly, associated with the term "confessional," it seems appropriate and even necessary to discuss how "confessional" poetry is not confession. How Lowell's candor is an illusion created by art. He always insisted that his so-called confessional poems were in significant ways invented. Lowell, in his Paris Review interview with Frederick Seidel, says that the illusion of "reality" in a "confessional" poem is an aesthetic effect:

"Yet there's this thing: if a poem is autobiographical--and this is true of any kind of autobiographical writing and of historical writing--you want the reader to say, this is true. In something like Macaulay's History of England you think you're really getting William III. That's as good as a good plot in a novel. And so there was always that standard of truth which you wouldn't ordinarily have in poetry--the reader has to believe he was getting the real Robert Lowell."

What fascinates in these sentences is the forthrightness with which Lowell treats the sensation that the autobiographical or historical writer aims at, This is true, as an aesthetic effect--as possessing power because the writing gives the reader the illusion that it is true.

01 March 2005

Flannery and blogs

Thanks to Dennis at The Orchard for pointing me in the direction of this great O'Connor site, Comforts of Home, which contains many good links and articles, including resources for educators. This is how I found If Flannery Had a Blog...--a blog of regularly posted quotations by Flannery O'Connor. (A brilliant idea! I wonder if anyone else has done this for other writers?)

He's also recommended Flannery O'Conner: In Celebration Of Genius and Sarah Gordon's Flannery O'Conner: The Obedient Imagination.

Meanwhile, I'm recovering from an eventful weekend of travel, translation work, and a glorious Over the Rhine concert (informal review here).

In the absence of coherent thought at this locale, please check in with the esteemed litbloggers at the left. Heck, check in with them anyway--frequently and often! (They have helped to slow the untimely atrophy of my brain, for which I owe them all a debt of gratitude.)