Sunday, 11 October 2015

Sunday Poem

The march against my father, who art alone,
Wandering the heavenly echelons of the food chain,
Whose will be done unto plot upon field of fiction
In the name of abundance, unknown known be thy name.
He whose skyscrapers rose to the occasion
Of snakes and ladders, brass ring rashes and gold holed up in silver mines.
He whose boss is a dick hungers to be in pole position.
He who made a first name for himself with the Lord in mind,
Pithy and civil, knowing it takes one feeling farmer to know another 
And commodify the countryside.
Here was a man who never found out
What the third fork was for, whether love was the eleventh province.
He who reads after burning, knows what you need to know,
Who was and is and is to come, whose appearance would be his vanishing,
An invitation to an art opening thousands of years ago.
He who is unwelcome in his own Edenic dream
Of a nuclear family. Redemption is a hell of a thing,
Though they rarely roll the tape that far. 
The march against the march against those with absent fathers
Shall inherit the earth, the birds in faulty feathers, the Father, the Ghost,
And the You within You, the saving lie of three being better than two.
In the name of all the time before you were born, and all the time
After you die, let beer bottles sweat before firepits
Like Christmas in July. Life's too long to edit. It's never too late
To become what you already are. Here is what you need to know.
All will be forgiven. What doesn't kill me disappoints me.
For the love of God, go to reception and ask for Andy.
By Andy McGuire, from Country Club (Coach House, 2015)

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Maker of Shapes and Images

Matthew Sperling thinks it's time to get serious about Anglo-Welsh poet and painter David Jones:
Though some of Jones’s engravings and paintings share with his writings a superstructure of recondite mythological, religious, and symbolic meaning, they present none of the immediate difficulty that his poetry does. Instead, the extraordinary fluidity and variety of his mark-making shine out freshly from his greatest works on paper, carving out shapes in flat, two-dimensional space which produce compositions of graceful rhythm and mysterious, timeless balance. His genius was for activating the ‘lyricism inherent in the clean, furrowed free, fluent engraved line’, as he put it in his retrospective introduction of 1964 to the copper engravings he made to illustrate Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1929. And his draughtsmanship was much more various than this emphasis on the ‘engraved line’ might suggest. Just as he confessed that his ‘method’ in writing—a dry, technical word he held apart in inverted commas—was ‘merely to arse around with such words as are available to me until the passage in question takes on something of the shape I think it requires’, so in making a picture, he said, he was simply trying ‘to make the lines, smudges, colours, opacities, translucencies, tightnesses, hardnesses, pencil marks, paint marks, chalk marks, spit-marks, thumb marks, etc., evoke the image one requires as much as poss.’ Several decades after Jones’s death, with his rather overbearing ideas about myth, religion, and the decline of civilisation faded to remoteness, he can now be appreciated afresh as a startlingly original maker of shapes and images.
(Painting: Elephant, 1928, by David Jones)

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Poetry vs Prose

For Steven Heighton, the difference between writing poetry and prose is "the ratio of pain and pleasure involved":
Working on a poem is always, on some level, a pleasure, and I think one of the main reasons is that there's no risk and hence no anxiety involved. Why? Because a twenty-line poem is a small thing, physically, and I know that if it doesn't work I can just walk away from it. Also, the "career" stakes couldn't be lower. Few people read poetry, so my livelihood can't and doesn't ride on it. Fiction is different. People do read it, and publishers sometimes pay decently for it, and you actually can make a modest living from it, if you have sufficiently low material aspirations. So there's always a touch of anxiety there. It's not just play. Plus, it's simply hard to walk away from a botched piece of fiction without agonizing over all the time and effort you've spent. To give up on a thirty page story, after months of work—as I've had to do at least twice now--is painful. To walk away from a three hundred page novel you're struggling with after eighteen months or three years—that's just about unfaceable.

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.