Friday, December 30, 2005

Paris Review's DNA of Literature Reveals All

I'm a fan of the Paris Review. Who wouldn't be? All those great interviews. Pretty heady stuff. Recently I noticed a newish feature, this DNA of Literature. Remarkably the Paris Review has offered up many of its early interviews with writers such as Truman Capote and William Carlos Williams online! Amazing. However, the DNA also reveals what shouldn't be too much of a surprise: there are few women writers out there. Very few. Two worthy of being interviewed in the 50s, perhaps 3 in the 60s. Even into the 1990s when the magazine included--at least on the website--a whopping 86 interviews, only 16 of those were with women. 16. So far for the first decade of the 21st century we have 10 women out of 40.

Oh, it gets very dull indeed, but someone has to point out the obvious. Again, and again, and again. I won't even begin to describe the racial elements of the selection. No doubt I've already been strung up on the peg reserved for women such as myself. Shrill and otherwise.

People are talking about Etgar Keret

A good short story can be like a bomb going off in the middle of one’s life. It can also be, as Walter Mosley has said, like a small gem, perfectly cut to expose every facet of an idea, which is in turn illuminated by ten thousand tiny shafts of light. Either way, good fiction loosens up structures, finds gaps in the mundane, taking the ordinary and turning it on its head, not turning away from the difficulties of our world, but taking the reader in and showing them moments of undoing, moments of transformation and release. This is the kind of fiction I’m interested in. It is fiction where the author has plucked moments from here, and there, and plunked them on a new canvas, dripping with wetness. It is fiction where the author has taken the predictable—the moment of confession, the moment of deepening intimacy in a new relationship, and upended it. This is the kind of work Etgar Keret produces.

In the last ten years Etgar Keret has published four books of short stories and novellas, two graphic novels and two feature plays. His most recent collection of short stories include The Busdriver Who Wanted to be God (2001, Saint-Martin's Press) and The Nimrod Flipout (2004, Picador). Keret’s books have been awarded the Book Publishers Association Platinum Book Prize for selling more than 40,000 copies. His movie, Skin Deep, won the Israeli Oscar as well as first prize at several international film festivals. Etgar has also received the Prime Ministers Prize for literature and the Ministry of Culture Cinema Prize.Brief and intense, Etgar's stories are empathic snapshots that illuminate with probing intelligence, the hidden truths of life. He is often described as an Israeli Paul Auster, but he’s more Lydia Davis or Sheila Heti with his wide-ranging subject matter, his dead-pan delivery and imaginative turns, with his precise and often unforgiving visual detail. In Crazy Glue, for instance, which takes a central image and uses it to offer a mediation on the delusion and fragmentation of the modern relationship.

I had the pleasure of introducing and interviewing Keret last year in a gallery in Tribeca. We stood beside a model of an atomic bomb that gave an intense smoky vibration to an already electrified room. One of the things that struck me about our conversation was this kind of casual intensity. Yes, a bomb might go off but meanwhile there’s a latte to drink and you know, we’re getting hungry…risks. Big ones. That’s what makes good fiction.

On the other hand, good fiction is often not recognized right away. It takes awhile, as it has with Keret. But now that The New Yorker and The Paris Review have published him, I'm sure he'll be everywhere at once. And rightly so. My two favourite Keret stories are available online: Crazy Glue and Fatso. Hey Canada, Random House is publishing The Nimrod Flipout next year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Bloody Mutherfucking Asshole

Is anyone more cool than Martha Wainwright? Check out her single here, and oh, check out her website too. Can I just say wow. She, Fiona Apple and Kate Bush are the ladies of the moment. But Kate, please, those videos! I feel like I'm back in the 80s--and not in a good way!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Strangest Present

Hidamari no tami arrived today from a friend in San Fransisco. After much pensive interaction with this objet, I began to feel a little like King Kong poking at Fay Wray, or Anne Darrow, or... Yes, poking at the little fat body with the bobbing head and other tiny heads clutching plastic ginko leaves made me even more empathetic. What is it? Why is it not entertaining me?

Because my Japanese is non-existant I finally had to resort to the net, which quickly enlightened me of course. What I had in my hands was yet another toy geared toward "stress relief". The Hidamari no tami doll (already collectable in that ebay way) doubles as a name card holder (in case you forget who you are after staring dumbly into the nodding head). It is "illuminated by sunlight and provides a comforting motion that is sure to relieve the stresses of your daily life." It is very sweet. And I'm learning to accept gifts more graciously. I'm pleased to add it to the collection on my desk.

The problem with creating a wishlist on amazon is that you have to tell people about it! But there is a box sitting at the front door right now, so you see, perhaps my kick ass list-making has paid off. Say what you want about amazon.com, the wish list is a beautiful thing.

Word finds solid footing

After years of admirable flailing, Word, Toronto's monthly literary magazine, seems to be finding its footing. It's a tough job with little renumeration, but someone has to do it. This issue is a sprawling 18 pages, which may be a little hopeful in terms of pulling off every month, but this goes a little way toward filling one of the many literary gaps in Canada. And yes, Jon Paul Fiorentino, there is a number of "Angry Young Literary Men", not all of them young. But Sappho said it best: "if you're squeamish, don't poke the beach rubble", and kick any rock left out of the spotlight too long and these guys will scatter. Best let them pick themselves apart.

As for Word, I do wish the Mercury Press well. And if they're open to suggestions I would urge a bigger online presence--the pdf is okay, but isn't that problematic in terms of archiving? Looking at Canada from the outside in one gets a skewed, uneven image online. Danforth Review seems to be coming along very well, and now Rabble.ca, but where would you send someone wanting to get a generous, positive and intelligent look into Canada's Arts & Letters online?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Katz's Deli, LES


Happy Hanukka! Hear the blessing for the lighting of the candles here. Slideshow of Christmas Eve in the city here.

BBC plays Bach for Christmas

You have another week to take advantage of the Bach Fest. Everything you wanted to know about the composer and more. Plus amazing concerts.

Canadian Christmas Rituals

One of the stranger things I miss about Christmas in Canada is the Queen's Christmas message. Why should this white-haired tertiary head-of-state be so moving? Every year I resist, and every year the Queen's message slips in under the skin...and though this year's call for religious acceptance and tolerance seems slightly more pointed, it's hardly profound.

In other royal news, Prince Charles will not change his name, and when he is made king we will have another King Charles on the throne. We can't expect the antics of Charles II.

Christmas Story by Jeanette Winterson

Every time Winterson disappoints me (and lets face it, we've had a string of them...), I remember The Passion, Sexing The Cherry and Art Objects, and of course with all that on her side she can do no wrong... Here's a Christmas story courtesy of The Guardian.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Holidays

Christmas trees on Montague Street. Many of the tree salesmen are young men from Quebec who come to New York for the season, sleeping in their cars for the three or four weeks of the season. There's something very appealing about the temporary nature of the structures, not to mention the creative energy that goes into their construction. One of my favourites is the tree guy at St. Marks, pictured below. The "store front" fits onto his van where he sleeps.

It's a beautiful day in NY. Happy Holidays. Off now to find latkes. Tomorrow is Hannuka as well as Christmas.

Christmas Eve Day in Chelsea


Chelsea was a ghost town, nary a dog in sight. There was one gallery, Matthew Marks, that I knew I had to catch, so it was the one I called, and yes, they said, they were open until 3. So off I went. As luck would have it (or not depending on one's perspective), it was the only gallery open in Chelsea...at least the only one I found.

The first image you encounter when walking into the gallery is Her, Her, Her and Her, which I found absolutely stunning. Evocative, disturbing, playful and compelling the shot is a series of entries in that most intimate and public places--the bathroom. The white tile-- shiny, sterile and compact--and the gaps in which parts of the self are caught make for powerful contrasts, particuarly given the black and white and the apparent repiitions.

Images of Isabelle Huppert are also very compelling, as are the huge molds, my favourite being one titled "Aretha". However, the Wonderwater: Off Shore books shown on the left, were the real find. Amazing project which I walked out of the gallery with and fully intend to count it as "present to self". One of the best shows of the year for me, and well worth the lonely trek to Chelsea. More on the books in the weeks to come.

Friday, December 23, 2005

King Kong & Brokeback Mountain

King Kong
The only thing I remember from the 70s King Kong was the awful mixed feelings I had watching Jessica Lange writhing around in the palm of the big ape. It's so pornographic. In this new version what made an impression on me once more was the girl in the palm. But this is no ordinary girl, no, this is a wonderfully empowered, and might I say fearless, girl, who can juggle (literally), even under extreme stress. Naomi Watts is luminous and unforgettable. She has been a stellar performer in a string of movies, but I suspect that like Lange, it's her winning-ape-ways that will catapult her into the stratosphere of superstardom.

The rest of the film is okay, especially if you like video games. The action sequnences had me going for the control button and I haven't played a video game in a very long time. The sequences are effective, but they're over the top: just because you can, doesn't mean you have to. Like the movie within the movie, King Kong doesn't hold together as a script, and given director Peter Jackson's work on the Lord of the Rings, I wonder why he wouldn't have wanted to make it as seamless as he could. But like the Rings, this is a comment on the failure of man--in the character of a charlatan director played by Jack Black--the corruptable nature, the greed, and the hope found in a shining, luminous bit of beauty.

It's hard not to have empathy for Kong, too big, too wild, alone, misunderstood; the world just isn't big enough, or compassionate enough for him. And Anne Darrow, a small (size 4), good thing, having difficulty being seen in NY suddenly becomes very visible. A winning narrative despite its implausible nature, and wonderful, dizzying scenes of a New York long gone.

Brokeback Mountain
While King Kong has a video game quality from start to finish, Brokeback Mountain has the feel of a travel documentary with wide, sweeping, panoramas of an edenic world. That the garden should play a backdrop for an illicit love affair between two men is hardly news these days, at least in many parts of the world, but the movie offers us a slice of consciousness that's outside of time and contemporary culture--and not just because the movie is set in the recent past. Poverty, not just economic and cultural, but poverty of imagination is what struck me most about this movie, and it's what genius director Ang Lee explores most fully.

The world presented here, the world in which Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet and fall in love, is as plain and simple as many small towns that dot the highways from Alberta to Texas. This is a man's world, a man's man's world, with grunts and thrusts, the world of family values and hard work, which usually means that the women are behind the scenes, rarely seen, perhaps heard. And it's a world without a lot of imagination. It's a world that fears imagination as much as the devil. In fact, where Jack Twist is concerned it isn't his sexuality but his imagination that makes him stand out so much.

I've known a few guys like Ennis Del Mar, too, and Ledger does a remarkable job of bringing him to life. Lack of education and lack of imagination give Ennis little room to move. Though the fact that Ennis continues his relationship with Jack is a surprising twist, particularly given the scene in which Ennis' father shows him the murdered homosexual. (Someone please do a study of this. I'm not sure what one would discover if they started to look into the historical records of small towns across America, but I'll bet there are many tales such as this, and I'll bet many of them are also true.)

Lack of choice, lack of imagination, that's what I hope people understand about Brokeback Mountain. The lack of choices for someone like Ennis Del Mar. Where was he going to go? What was he going to do? He might not have fit into his married life, but what life was he going to fit into? What could he do other than be where he was? It's hard to imagine. Jack had imagination, he was able to move outside of the small Wyoming world, but Ennis wasn't able to even imagine himself anywhere else. Sadly, not everyone can move to New York and live happily ever after. And as the recent piece in the New York Times shows, it's still impossible to come out on the range.

The saddest note I can add to this post is that I know a dozen men, and probably half as many women, right now who couldn't sit through this movie. Couldn't. End of story. In fact I wonder if Ennis Del Mar could sit through it.

Now what do you do with that?

Check out the new Rabble book section

Rabble is good stuff, and now they have a book section! Yes, even better. Smart posts, intelligent reviews, this may be the best online window into Canada yet.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Insomniac Press rocks

Ever imaginative Insomniac Press has come up with a great idea: publish the blog musings of Canadian rock stars. They're starting first with Jan Arden and following up next year with Trooper. This according to the Globe & Mail. How cool is that? I'm in for the Trooper book, but a little wary after hearing BTOs Randy Bachman discussing driving songs on the CBC. Hmm, his guest mused, what about driving songs for women? Is there a driving song for women, Bachman laughed, I don't think so. Ouch, a sharp reminder of what it was like growing up under the influence of those guys, and how great it was to have someone like Chrissie Hynde show up and kick some boy ass.

Still, you have to love those 70s boy bands for their kitchy and grandiose orchestrations, their repetitive lyrics, and all that HAIR. Here's a sample of Trooper circa 1978. Now if I could only lay my hands on my high school year book which in fact was signed by all the members of the band.

Marry Me Oprah!

Letterman infiltrates the mind of New Mexico woman. Hey, what if she's only the first to come forward? If Letterman is speaking in complicated codes maybe there should be a talk-show host decoder not unlike the spiffy new translation program below. Hmmm. Marketing idea?

C'est le website le plus frais jamais!

A translation program that you can watch working...sort of. Mais combien futé est-il? Essayez-le pour vous-même.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Helen Farish Poetry Workshop

Ah yes, the discover-an-object exercise. A good place to start learning the craft of poetry, lets hope it leads somewhere just a little more challenging. And what is this formula people seem to have regarding poetic tone and quality? Overly reverent tones or tidy couplets do not mean good poetry. And what does she mean by risk? I'm suspicious of someone using the word "risk" when talking about a poem about a dress....

But I haven't read this Helen Farish yet... Where is Patience Agabi! I want to read her but there are no poems, no books!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Zang Er

I'm working on a piece concerning Zang Er whom I heard last Saturday at The Bowery launching a new chapbook. She read the Chinese, Rachel Levitsky, who translated collaboratively, then read the English. A beautiful event, and gorgeous prose poems. I'll post one shortly.

Monday, December 19, 2005

NY Times Exposes on Web Cams & Child Pornography

This is an unbelievably powerful and candid piece about webcams and pedophiles using the net. It's enough to make you just want to unplug and never log on again... There are interviews and an extensive article.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Life of Pepys

Ah Pepys. Here's a comment on Kinaston, the subject of the recent Stage Beauty about the moment when women began playing women on stage. Actually Pepys character was one of the highlights of this movie, played perfectly by one Hugh Bonneville, whom I have never had never heard of before, and haven't since. But doesn't the 18th Century continue to fascinate?And Pepys Diary online is no small wonder. Day after day you too can read fascinating accounts of mutton eating and cadaver visiting. Really, gripping stuff. Whoever put this online is genius. Shall we have Woolf's Diary next?
Monday 7 January 1660/61

This morning, news was brought to me to my bedside, that there had been a great stir in the City this night by the Fanatiques, who had been up and killed six or seven men, but all are fled.1 My Lord Mayor and the whole City had been in arms, above 40,000. To the office, and after that to dinner, where my brother Tom came and dined with me, and after dinner (leaving 12d. with the servants to buy a cake with at night, this day being kept as Twelfth day) Tom and I and my wife to the Theatre, and there saw “The Silent Woman.” Kinaston, the boy; had the good turn to appear in three shapes: first, as a poor woman in ordinary clothes, to please Morose; then in fine clothes, as a gallant, and in them was clearly the prettiest woman in the whole house, and lastly, as a man; and then likewise did appear the handsomest man in the house...

Coming soon on the Hound, poetry from John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, and the subject of a movie now starring one Master Johnny Depp... Hm. Never thought I would be writing, let alone see, those two names in the same sentence...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Vanity Fair Finds Toronto

Thanks to Bookninja for pointing this out. Like the portal in Being John Malkovich, it turns out McNally Robinson, in SoHo, is a conduit for Canadian literary figures to slip into the pscyhe. Go to Toronto, they murmur. But I can relate. Having read Toronto long before arriving there, one does, upon landing on those shores, see Ondaatje in the architecture, and in the steel vibrato of the street cars, one hears the hum that is Dionne Brand. Both authors in Open Field, of course, and on the shelves in many, many configurations.

Hear Brand read: she's a fabulous reader. A multi-talented writer, known as much for her political and documentary work as for her poetry, she is part of a dynamic, urban strand of Canadian women's writing, a strand I hope to trace a little in posts to come. No Language is Neutral is about as essential a Candian poem as anything written in the past two decades. As for Ondaatje, I don't think he needs an introduction, but if you don't know him, you should start with The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, and for a novel, In the Skin of a Lion.

As for Vanity Fair. As an undergraduate it was my exam prep tool of choice. Nothing made me ready for finals more effectively than a latte and the latest American gloss. Admittedly I haven't picked it up in the last decade, but I always did okay in finals...

Monday, December 12, 2005

Dylan Thomas

More amazements. Here you can find Dylan Thomas reading a selection of poetry, and more seasonally appropriate, A Child's Christmas in Wales, which after all, is still amazing.

George W. Bush poem scrapped

A poem in which the first letter of each line makes up the name George W. Bush has been taken from the latest English language text in Islamabad, reports the Khaleej Times Online. Yikes. Here are the last four lines:

Bracing for war, but praying for peace,

Using his power so evil will cease:

So much a leader and worthy of trust,

Here stands a man who will do what he must.

Oh, my.

We have Monday & Tuesday covered

Leslie Bumstead & Sina Queyras
Poetry Project
St. Mark's Church, 131 E. 10th St.
New York, NY
Monday, 8:00pm
All events are $8, $7 for students and seniors, $5 for members and begin at 8pm unless otherwise noted. The Poetry Project is located in St. Mark's Church at the corner of 2nd Ave and 10th St in Manhattan.

Kathe Izzo & The True Love Project
belladonna
(featuring Slink Moss on guitar)
Tuesday, December 13, 7PM
@ Dixon Place (258 Bowery, 2nd Floor—Between Houston & Prince)
Admission is $5 at the Door.

Flying Boys

For pleasant dreams.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

An Eye on the Entertainment Weekly

Eye takes a look at lit journals. Sort of. Lit journals, the author claims "like farm journals, but without the sex appeal...are an ultra-niche phenomenon". Really? I haven't done the math, but considering the numbr of journals online and off, compared to the overall number of Canadian magazines, I would say it's a pretty big niche. As for the future of online publications, I don't think Canada has any contenders yet. And I'm looking! We have some great magazines: Geist, Maisonneuve, Border Crossings, and some great journals, The Malahat, Descant, Grain, Prairie Fire, West Coast Line, Canadian Literature (each of which deserves its own post and will get it) but no really successful models for online journals. Danforth Review, which I just posted on below, comes closest.

For the record, Eye Magazine is a Toronto entertainment weekly doing battle with the another big entertainment weekly, Now Magazine. I'm more inclined to be a fan of Now, if only because it at least seems to review local books. This week has a review of the excellent Toronto writer, Alayna Munce, for example. I haven't read When I Was Young and In My Prime yet, but I've read quite a bit of Munce's work over the years and am already a committed fan. I didn't find a book review in Eye, but they've had a recent refit and perhaps that will change.

These weeklies can have a huge impact on local writers and sales. I'm not sure why they don't embrace this for the public service it is. Does Frank McCourt really need a review in Toronto's Now Magazine? I don't think so. But Munce does. As do many other excellent new writers coming up. Georgia Straight, in Vancouver does a great job at this--a review of Anne Fleming's new novel last week. It's a no-brainer people. Review books. Locally. End of story.

And can someone tell me how anyone could cancel Arrested Development? Joshua Ostroff handles the question with as much passion and precision as I dream of people handling poetry reviews...I can get as excited about Erin Moure as I can Buster Bluth...the moves are all there, the hook, the one liners.

The Danforth Review

In my ongoing effort to include All Things Canadian in my sidebar, I have been visiting and revisiting sites. I'm looking to compile a complete list, but given my schedule, it's slow going. The Danforth Review has been on my list for quite some time, and I've been waiting to see how it develops. The site has commentaries and reviews of fiction and poetry, but the tone can be very irritating and combabitve rather than constructive, a kind of undercooked knee-jerked criticism, rather than thoughtful commentary of an enterprise aware of its role in building a larger public discourse. Despite that, the editors of the Danforth Review have compiled an extensive, and impressive, list of interviews with a variety of Canadian writers, and they deserve kudos for such a feat. Really, it's a great resource. Something like the promise of CV2--though we don't actually have those interviews online. You'll find brief interivews with a variety of writers such as playwright Karen Hines, Montreal performance poet/writer Catherine Kidd, Winnipeg performance artists Shawna Dempsey & Lori Millan, poets Anne Simpson and Diana Fitzgerald Bryden, Jason Camlot & rob mclennan, and for those fans of Bookninja, editor George Murray. Check out their archive of interviews.

Quote of the Day

Unfortunately, some experimental poets are crashing boors who haven't changed their clothes in three weeks and think John Lennon was shot by Ted Hughes - and some mainstream poets are sherry-swilling chinless wonders who actually want to see a return to fox-hunting and Georgian Verse.
--Todd Swift, who brings an unabashed "Toddness" to all things literary

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Our very own street artist

Yes, the shadow man haunts Smith Street with his chalk outlines. They actually look best at night, or when there are inverse shadows to contrast. And his art, simple as it is, seems to make people feel like they've been visited.

Friday, December 09, 2005

David O'Meara & Shane Rhodes

David O’Meara The Vicinity, Brick Books, 2003
Shane Rhodes Holding Pattern, NeWest 2002; The Wireless Room NeWest 2000

Two poets I am curious to watch develop. Shane Rhodes I discovered through Greenboathouse, David O’Meara, through Brick Books, who kindly sent me quite a few books when I was reading for Open Field. These two poets impressed me then, and I’ve been on the look out for new work ever since. Though O’Meara is a much more formal and restrained poet, both writers share a similar gift of word choice, and both writers have an erotic sense of the line.

I read Storm Still in the Toronto Public Library, and was impressed, particularly with the sonnets if I recall, but I have only The Vicinity with me now to comment on. It’s a finely crafted book, beautifully edited as most Brick Books are. These lines are razor sharp, and not without wit:
The Safety Elevator
(a footnote to Structural Steel)

Not
to
mention
the invention
by Elisha
G.
Otis

whose
levers
and ratchets
connected
operandi
to
modus.
(The Vicinity 14)
There’s a high formal tone here, not one I’m usually comfortable with, but witness the cozy beginning of “Letter to Auden”,
Well then, sir, I thought of you again just recently:
New Year’s ticked in with scant fuss,
The so-called millennium, hyped
To bring disaster—not quite the end of us
(The Vicinity 43)
These poems reminded me of Ken Babstock’s Mean, only there is a little something more open here, a kind of poetic of revelation still more akin to a pewter rose than a bleeding heart. This may be the formal distance, the buttoned down work ethic, or maybe a little of that Ottawa valley austerity, but there is a similar tone and subject matter as others have noted. There are hard revelations, often self aware, as we see in “Grass”: “I stand alone with ten thousand sorrows,/ Work, eat, sleep. Bills, laundry, traffic. Poor/me…” The self in the wilderness of language, in the wilderness of wild, but I admire O’Meara’s ability to make something of gesture, to delight in it. Even making me appreciate rhyme, as he does, in ”At the Aching-Heart Diner”:
She will flavour her coffee with both cream and sugar
And tap on the window as she mentions the weather,
Tossing off sparks when she pulls off her sweater
A poem impossible not to read aloud for the pleasure with phrases like “topples the shaker”, but a poem nonetheless that makes me ache for more, more something, more thought? Depth? This is poetry of praise and delight, but it makes me wonder whether that is enough. It’s finely crafted work, not a word out of place, but after all is said and done I’m not left with anything to chew on, anything that will bring me back to the work, nor that I can take away. And this is work I admire from a poet I’m willing to go places with. I want to see where O’Meara goes next. I would love to see him use that formal skill to dig in to something just a little deeper.

In contrast, Rhodes is fast and loose, his language ranging and not always as precise, but his mind flits across the page, and I’m refreshed to enter a world peopled with literary figures and plain talk: “Montreal is thesaurus for the lonely”. The Wireless Room has been compared to Robert Kroetsch's Stonehammer Poems in its prairie eroticism, and I can certainly see that, but there is not the sense of whole that Kroetsch seems to achieve so easily—or at least makes it look so easy, even in collections like Excerpts from the Real World (an early favourite of mine).

I like Rhodes best when he’s moving away from linear narrative (which is odd because he does that well, so perhaps this marks a preference of mine more than anything). In any case, here’s a sampling of what I mean. From “Meditation on the Electron”:
Oomph ffhooh sshoooh Heft,
gatherlings. Lift, current spuds.
Ride the up draft valencies,
volt vultures. Up there,
engine heads. Circle, ½ spins,
schizophrenic Heisenburgians, heavers
heaving decimal points like shot-
put. Commas of the dark, God’s
pause, whose claw of precision is
death…
(Wireless Room 46)
Wonderful language, wonderful line-breaks too, and I love that he was able to catch the echo of “paw” that I heard, and hear every time I swing through the line break of “God’s/pause”. At least I get it bounced back in “claw”.

The prose poems in Holding Pattern remind me a little of Anne Carson’s Short Talks, which I’ve posted on several times, but they are more prose than poem, and don’t quite rise to the perceptual, or ontological gymnastics that Carson’s do. In the poem about Emily Dickinson for example, I am not surprised to know that she was “fascinated by the moment before death”, but I’m interested to read about it, want to think about how this might have influenced her as a child. But I don’t get that. I don’t get anything more, rather we are shifted to a friend who is frightened in her sleep by a shadow on the ceiling and who lay there “silent, as sweat pooled in the hollows of her body” (Holding Pattern 39).

Still, Rhodes’ work is engaging, and like O’Meara, he’s a poet I’ll give my time to; and like O’Meara, I’m waiting to see what comes next.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Noble Pinter

Go Pinter. A man after my heart. Not only is he a good writer, he uses his success well. Bravo.
Dressed in black, bristling with controlled fury, Mr. Pinter began by explaining the almost unconscious process he uses to write his plays. They start with an image, a word, a phrase, he said; the characters soon become "people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort."

"So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction," he continued, "a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time."

But while drama represents "the search for truth," Mr. Pinter said, politics works against truth, surrounding citizens with "a vast tapestry of lies" spun by politicians eager to cling to power.

For the full text.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Economist Features Canada

A ten page spread on the great white north seems to say much of the same. A success by any standards, Canada remains an icon of possibility and potential, and that word "potential" is something to ponder. Most humorous comment, the swipe at our lack of ambition. Unbridled economic growth has never been the agenda, but can we really say that we're a country that prides itself on winning bronze? Check out the online edition here.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Interlude, triptych

Movement, so much of the day in NY is about movement, even motionless all around me, movement, the men on the street with packages, digging through trash cans, delivering, climbing out of; and under subways rattling, loosening screws and bolts, what can or can't be bolted down, even the books make their way off the shelf. Subway slideshow.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Illness as more than metaphor

Susan Sontag's son on her final illness in this weekend's New York Times Magazine.

Perloff has a lot to teach us about reviewing/reading books

Marjorie Perloff continues to amaze. Here she is on Elias Canetti, here on Anna Akhmatova, and here on Apollinaire, all in Book Forum (now available on line by the way), and again in The Boston Review (more later) on new translations of Paul Celan. I've already posted links to her essay on Bok and Bergvall--an essay that I'm still grappling with--and I have a few of her books by my bed, so hopeful they are, on top of the pile begging to be read. Sigh. If only more reviewers would take a look at her work. Here's a list of work thanks to the EPC Buffalo.

I also discovered an excellent essay on the art of reviewing by Sven Birkets here in Book Forum. Thinking about tone and intention are basics, and yet so few take the time, or they take the time inappropriately, within the review itself, making the review about them, not about the book. The other big flaw is agenda. The agenda of the reviewer is often obvious so quickly that one needn't bother continuing, rather just slot the review on whatever side of the so-called-poetry fence, said reviewer is occupying. Not so with Perloff, and this is one of the things I admire about her--this ability to take work on its own terms. She contextualizes, but she really tackles each work individually, carefully, respectfully. This is something I also admire about Ron Silliman, who reads widely and always nails what is exciting about the project before him. I'm still not sure I understand the point of writing about something--particularly poetry--unless it's about building, about creating more understanding and appreciation for the work itself.

One may swipe at projects that seem vast and unwieldly, but it's a practice I embrace hesitantly, and I think it needs to be reserved for occasions, not as a matter of course.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The trouble with Canadian fiction

Well, the fiction bubble burst did it? At least according to the Globe & Mail. I'm not surprised. At upwards of $30 a pop, one has to have a lot of faith in a novel to buy into it. But blaming this on 9/11 and other fanastical reasoning? Really? Look closer to home, I'd say. Formulaic and fluffy replications of formlerly successful novels hardly makes a person want to trust the publishing world. What happened to innovation? Why is it that presses such as Coach House keep turning up with these wonderful gems and the big houses? Well, where is the sense of adventure?
Oh, God. How am I going to resist Cate Blanchett as Hedda Gabler? I've actually never seen a production of the Ibsen classic, and Bam is just around the corner from me...I'm thinking if she plays that with half the power she brought to Elizabeth, it may be more than I can take.
An advent from the National Gallery in London for those of us who cannot resist the season... Christmas music, Christmas movies, Christmas poetry...hmmm?

More on Mike Kelley


I felt vindicated in the last few weeks by hearing similar responses to the Mike Kelley enterprise in Chelsea which I expressed frustration over in a recent post. Then this week the Village Voice reviewed Kelley's Day is Done and I felt, echoed my sentiments too:
But even with its considerable drive and cleverness, "Day Is Done" feels strangely empty. Instead of deepening, everything keeps coming back to the fact that all this has been generated by the pictures. By now, Kelley's investigation into stereotypes, however heartfelt, is essentially only generating stereotypical Mike Kelleys. "Day Is Done" is an indisputable tour de force; it is the clearest Kelley has ever been. But it is rooted so deeply in corporate festivalism that Kelley's ideas aren't flowering but only accumulating and repeating.
A tour de force? That is disputable. Unless "tour de force" means explosion of testosterone. But love that line about "corporate festivalism", and yes, isn't that the problem? The accumulation of nothing means nothing. However much one might hope, it doesn't turn into something. Not without some thought, some shaping, some heart, some sweat, some effort, something, as in tangible.

On the other hand, ArtNet gives Kelley a great review. Citing layers, ah yes, layers in the installation:
But the pieces in "Day Is Done" gain an added level of complexity through the use of the yearbook pics as seed material. The rhetoric around Kelley’s previous work suggested that he was directly exposing his viewers to the unspeakable desires that percolate below the surface of everyday life.
Really? "Ironic intellectualism", "lascivious desires"? I must be missing something because I really couldn't tell whether this review of Kelley's work was supposed to be ironic or serious? The review ends with a line about how kelley has finally made work as good as MTV--tell me this is satire!

In a strange turn I realized that I had not only seen Mike Kelley's work before, but had posted on it. Here, from one of my first Chelsea Round Ups. It's nice to know that I'm consistant, if unschooled in the world of art...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Reading Notes, 2-1

O Cidadán, the elusive, but less so each time I come back to it, and come back to my coming back to it again. Here, in a review in Rain Taxi, Laura Mullen writes:
The Canadian poet Erín Mouré’s new book is so brave, has so much truly lively wit, and is so completely fresh it makes a lot of contemporary American poetry look like dorm furniture from Target: instantly charming and easy to discard.
Not just American poetry, Laura Mullen: poetry. So much of it built in a prêt a porter, add a glass of wine and a way you go, sort of way. One can add wine to O Cidadan, of course, but one cannot sit back and let the lazy 'ah', of closure and 'you're fine as you are' lap at one’s feet. This, the final volume in Erin Mouré’s three volume exploration of language, the body, politics and citizenship, is in fact a dense and complex undertaking, but I would argue it is instantly charming as well.

Like Search Procedures and The Frame of the Book, and all of Mouré’s poetry for that matter, O Cidadán is not easy to discard. Nor is it easy to digest—on the whole. But just listen to how she begins: "Georgette thou burstest my deafness/woe to the prosperities of the world". Burstest! Woe? Thrown a little? You American formalists out there, thinking of someone like Julie Sheehan are you? No, this is also Mouré territory. Like Lisa Robertson she casts her line as far back as she does wide. And I want to say that the sense of vertigo one experiences reading her is more intense because she’s doing it without a net, doing it so far on the knife-edge that one sees below oneself the cavernous abyss of mediocre thinking…of relying too heavily on convention. (I want to come back to this, to compare the experience of encountering history, time and theory in the work of Anne Carson, or Lisa Robertson, next to someone like Mouré …).

I want to think not only about Mouré's use of this heightened language, but the experience of it coupled by her decentered “I”. By the second stanza the center of gravity begins to loosen with the phrase "I am not yet full of thee". Full of thee? A familiar phrase, archaic usage, and yet here’s where the content begins to upend expectation; here’s where formal investigation takes a sharp turn. Suddenly outside--distanced but intimate, as we see in stanza three: " I tasted and did hunger, where/ thou hast touchedst me I did burn/ for peace", the canvas of the poem enlarges well beyond the borders of the lyric I. This poet, it seems, can be “full” of something outside, can burn, for something she might never see. Am I making too much of this?

Beyond this radical shifting of the self outside the poem’s radius, we begin to see the radical nature of Mouré’s line breaks—what they can accomplish beyond sound, and beyond the double-entendre of surface play. Here lyric’s assumptions are flexed; erotic longing morphs into a desire for a global intimacy if you will. By stanza four:
time's subject motional and "form"
a code of vinyl
bar's emphasis
Here the subject seems to have spiraled open like a
Lucy Orta installation, setting us up for the next line, hanging solo "there yet live in my memory the images of such things". Such things?
the hearse upon a station
a cross upon a fear
an insigne upon a hearth
Hearse and hearth, stations of a cross? A corpse? The corpse of lanuage a cross to bear? A fear? I first read this as “a feat” which seemed to me an equally wondrous leap, but fear of course, the turn for hearse (or hears) or ear or hearth (or earth). Oh, Georgette... The final stanza's abrupt forewarning (not replicated with as much charm as the typeset version):
folio
.......
.......
adore
And the ground gives way...five letters rearranged the work, the adoration, the parallel, multiple? “After great pain a formal feeling comes”. Who knew that formal could be such a wild and unfamiliar thing? I offer no conclusions here. I have my work cut out for me today.

Quote of the Week

The birth of laughter was the essay.
--Erin Moure