Sunday, 4 October 2015

That Money

A couple of weeks ago, Michael Lista published a blockbuster article linking the Griffin poetry prize to a $15 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia. Zach Wells tackles the Canadian poetry commentariat's equivocating response:
So yeah, the world is complicated, and complicity is impossible to avoid. But equating our complicity in purchasing commodities and making ignorant investment choices with that of Griffin is nonsense. Griffin is making money directly by selling shock absorbers to a company that will put them in tanks, which will be sold to a country that is one of the world's greatest human rights abusers. It doesn't matter if "that money" isn't the money that funds the prize. The prize bears his name and you can't divorce his present business dealings from his involvement in the prize. If, knowing what we now know, you take his money and keep your mouth shut, you are not merely complicit, you have given yourself an upgrade to tacit condoner. Past shortlistees and winners of the prize become part of the Griffin circle and go into the pool of potential future jurors and even trustees. I'm not going to call out any individuals who have accepted, or will in future, accept prize money from the Griffin foundation because I think calling people out on blogs and social media is fucking gross and because yeah, life is complicated and I don't know what other pressures are driving other people's choices. I've made a conscious choice not to depend on writing for my living and I've never been a part of the Griffin inner circle, so it's a lot easier for me to speak my mind. So no, I won't call you out. But I am calling on you to abandon the exercises in rationalization and look deep into your conscience and decide if this is something you can sanction. Maybe people are already doing so, but I'm not seeing much evidence of it yet.

Sunday Poem

You are thirty-eight Michigans away from me,
thirty-eight wolverine states into your cups
in the sky, because being dead is like being
profoundly tanked, profound as an empty silo,
with your thoughts and your arms and your
credit cards ignoring you, just eyes, eyes, and behind
those eyes nothing, or the sky, or the smell of manure,
or thirty-eight Michigans of black, bloated ice.

One Michigan is bigger by far than a football field,
and two or ten is one of those I’m a man who needs
no woman type of motorcycle trips and fifteen is all the
old routes of tea or silk or spice or Trans-Siberian
misery rolled; but thirty-eight is the size of the space where Oh,
I need to call you, though laying hands upon
the phone I am repelled by a forcefield of practicality,
grasping at the incongruities of the calendar year and my
desire and your non-existence. Thirty-eight Michigans away
you are no doubt somewhere or other, balking at being,
polishing off a sandwich made of rare, impossible air.
You are as likely as the apocalypse. I can almost hear
you on my radio, the cracks in your voice of clay.

I summon up photos of our planet as seen from
invented places like e.g. the moon and it looks
like a Rubik’s cube. Peel off the stickers and
solve the black plastic beneath. Solve this blank
sheet of aluminium. Solve this anteater.

Yes, I recommend walking in the rain,
sluicing in the lake, howling at the shadow
of the moon behind the moon. Say Go long
before you throw long. Say Heads. Give the
dead more than their due. Yes, I recommend
cutting and running. Can you hear me, thirty-eight
Michigans down the line? Go long.
By Eva H.D., winner of the 2015 Montreal International Poetry Prize.

(Photo of empty silo in Michigan by Keith Blandford)

Friday, 2 October 2015

Atlantic Cannibalism

Mary Dalton celebrates Frank Barry's flesh-eating play, Wreckhouse, first performed in St. John's in 2002:
Bringing to bear on his creation a wide-ranging knowledge of modernist and contemporary European drama, Barry draws on Brecht and Beckett, among others, in creating a surreal world, a postindustrial wasteland inhabited by a small band of cannibals who survive by trapping stray tourists, dancing them through mockeries of the usual tourist rituals, and cooking them up at a "folk feastival." The premise is grim indeed, but the analysis is astute, and the language play is stunning. In addition to its other strengths, Wreckhouse captures the fizz and spit, the ragged energy, of Newfoundland speech. With Early Newfoundland Errors, a later radio play by Ed Riche,Wreckhouse casts a cold eye on the way we live now. It is at once a dazzlingly funny play, and one of the darkest works in the literature, as bitter a piece of social commentary as Swift's "A Modest Proposal" and Christopher Bond's play Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
(Illustration by Alberto Elia Violante)

The Unclothed Emperor

If you're thinking of buying Mary Karr a book this Christmas, best stay away from John Ashbery:
I feel like a turd naming names, but the poet John Ashbery’s reputation is inflated enough to take it. He’s a smart guy with a genius ear for music. In my besotted youth, I wrote a 100-plus-page essay on “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” then later recanted. His poems are about (he admits this) zippo, and his seductive voice is the most poisonous influence in American poetry. You know those page-long pieces of his in The New Yorker you can’t comprehend? Neither can anybody else. A brilliant, modest guy, immensely charming, but the most celebrated unclothed emperor in U.S. letters today—an invention of academic critics.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Not Reading

Can refusing to read a book bring us pleasure? Dan Piepenbring thinks so.
There are writers we instinctively, permanently dislike: not only will we never read them, we will quietly relish the not-reading, finding in it a pleasure that can occasionally rival reading itself...all of us harbor, somewhere, a list of those toward which we feel an inexplicable animus. At the top of my list, ironically enough, is Charles Bukowski, who Jones singles out as “a voice from hell with the talent of an angel.” I have for many years now actively enjoyed not reading Charles Bukowski. I want to say with conviction that Bukowski is not so much a voice from hell as a voice from Hell-Lite™, a kind of flimsy, adolescent imitation of true misanthropy—but I have no evidence to furnish in my case against him. How could I? I’ve never read him. All I know is that I’ve listened to a tepid Modest Mouse song about him; I have spoken to a stranger at a bar who told me she’d “snort his words off the page,” if she could; and I’ve sneered at the cover of Ham on Rye in a Park Slope Barnes and Noble. If you asked me to mount a cogent defense of my antipathy, I’d have to say something pretentious like “I find his role in the culture banal.”

I can muster the same scorn for Chuck Palahniuk, Chuck Klosterman, and probably a handful of other Chucks, too. (Don’t get me started on the Jonathans.) And I’m not above taking pleasure in the fact that I’ve never read Danielle Steel, though I have no grounds to take pleasure in this, and it leaves me wide open to charges of elitism. I can’t be stopped. It’s like a perverse form of that old Greenspanian irrational exuberance.

Then there’s the larger circle of books that arouse mere indifference in me: the top three novels on the New York Times’s hardcover best-seller list at the moment are fine examples. Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See—I have no plans to read any of these. Each has, through the vagaries of the marketing process, done something to recuse itself.

Monday, 28 September 2015

True Cosmopolitan

James Pollock, who recently edited The Essential Daryl Hines, describes the moment when his enthusiasm for Hines' poetry began to take hold:
Once I had tracked down all his books of poems, and read them all from cover to cover, I realized I had found the strongest Canadian poet of his generation, and one of the strongest Canadian poets of the twentieth century. Having just read, and been thoroughly persuaded by, Timothy Steele’s argument for the power of metrical verse in contemporary poetry—in his 1990 book Missing Measures: Modern Poetry and the Revolt against Meter—I was excited to find a compatriot who was so much more sophisticated and skilled in his prosody than any other Canadian poet I knew, even Jay Macpherson. And his knowledge of and engagement with such a wide range of poetic traditions—ancient Greek and Latin, Spanish baroque, Elizabethan, French, American—revealed him as a true cosmopolitan, a perfect antidote to the literary provincialism I’d winced at in so much Canadian poetry.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Real People

For Jess Taylor, creating characters begins with what comes out of their mouths:
When I first was writing and reading furiously, I decided that I had no interest in representing people who didn’t speak like real people. I wanted to represent people as I saw them, as they really existed, as they existed in my mind. Part of this is an attention to slang and other colloquialisms and part of this is really getting into the skin of a character, letting their perceptions affect the language. It might not be how everyone speaks, but it should be how that character would speak...I want to be true to these characters, I want them to be real and for the readers to understand the characters on multiple levels. For me, creating this illusion or effect starts at the level of language.