So here’s the thing.

Yes, I got a degree in literature lo these many years ago.

Yes, we were exposed to the Great Books in English. And because I studied in Canada, they were really English, most of them. I have great gaps in my reading of American literature — no Moby Dick (we did Bartleby instead), no Twain or Hawthorne or Wharton or Dickinson or Frost. We read Henry James and called it a day, And believe me, I did read James from cover to cover — particularly The Golden Bowl, don’t ask why (Portrait of a Lady got itself skimmed).

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Literary Explosion

Anybody else notice that the world has exploded with damn good poetry? That everyone’s publishing all of a sudden, and that a lot of the stuff that’s getting published is not half bad?

It’s not really all that surprising. The internet, access to print on demand, and so on, have liberated people’s ability to write, and have allowed people who had never read a poem outside of an academic institution (and come to think of it, I was one of those people — I just happened to spend a lot of my life within an academic institution) to read, write, critique, and discuss poetry in ways that I don’t think have happened since the turn of the last century.

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Discovered a new journal today

I blink emerald.
I blink sea glass green.

Saeed Jones, via THE COLLAGIST.

One of the things I like about blogging here on wordpress.com (don’t worry, there are some things I don’t like too) is that sometimes I come across really cool blogs that I like to follow. Saeed Jones’ is one of them, and today, when checking the blogs I surf, I found this reference. Followed it, and ended up at The Collagist, a journal I’d never heard of before.

Worth reading. And while you’re at it, visit some of my online favourites too: Anti-, qarrtsiluni, and, of course, tongues of the ocean.

**edited to fix the man name.

Go Vote!

Again from Aditi Machado.

So, I’m trying out something new. This is perfectly silly and supposed to be fun. Serious and/or whiny people, please go away (for the time being). I owe Tom and Lorenzo from Project Rungay for the idea. They have this contest/game-type thing called Virgins versus Vixens, in which a classic Hollywood starlet is pitted against another classic Hollywood starlet, except one has a ‘virgin’ image and the other a ‘vixen.’

I want to do a literary version of that  with dead white male canonical writers. (We can try dead white female writers, suicidal poets, dead Beats and Dan Browns later, I promise.)

Why dead white male? Because it’s a list long enough for this to go on for a while. And really, these guys get it so easy, faffing around in syllabi across the world. Let’s make them work a little for their fame.

Dead White Male Canon Wars: Part 1 | Blotting paper

Lord of the Dreams

Two weeks ago, when I was told to stay at home to weather a bout of the dizzy-flu (don’t ask), I decided to watch The Lord of the Rings again. Now I am a mild Tolkien fan, and was one of those people who was of the opinion that his books were unfilmable, and so Peter Jackson’s achievement was something in which I invested.

Since watching the movie in its initial extended version (we didn’t buy the complete, extra-extended version that was released after The Return of the King was released, figuring that we already owned enough of what would be included in the Big Package to make the purchase of another package indulgent), I then moved on to watching the supplementary information for the last film. I went through everything the first film had to offer, and thought I’d viewed the appendices of The Two Towers, but was pretty sure I hadn’t done so for ROTK (I was right). Continue reading

Flood Warnings and Steam Baths – the De-Cabbage Yourself experience flies south for summer

This week, Rob‘s in The Bahamas with me, Scavella, aka Nicolette Bethel. He hasn’t picked the best day for it — the birds are singing, they always do, but it’s overcast and going to pour. Still, the nice thing about rain in the sub-tropics (which isn’t like rain in Scotland, which I experienced one chilly day in Edinburgh on my way back from a conference in St. Andrews round the turn of the century) is that it’s drama at its best. And it’s warm. So hold on for flood warnings and steam baths.

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Books Read (from the BBC)

1) Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read.
2) Add a ‘+’ to the ones you LOVE.
3) Tally your total at the bottom.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen +
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien +
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte +
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling X
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee +
6 The Bible – +
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell X
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman X
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens X
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott X
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller X
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare – X (all the sonnets, most of the plays)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien X
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger X
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot Continue reading

tongues of the ocean

Three things.

First thing. I’m switching jobs. I’ve been a bureaucrat for five years, which is the term of a parliamentary government administration. Bureaucrats by definition are enemies of change. I prefer agency, myself. So, after five years, I’m returning to academia.

Second thing. I was afraid I’d be bored. I know. All laugh together now: one, two, three …

Third thing. In order to stave off boredom, I’m taking on three major extra-curricular activities. The first one is up and running. It’s an online poetry journal I’m calling tongues of the ocean. The second two are in development and will be exposed as they come to light.

So there. Those are the three things. So if you’re wondering how come I’m not posting as much these days, that’s one reason why.


Banned Books Meme

From Violette at The Mystery Bookshelf, who commented on the Caribbean Reading Challenge. I thought it was cool, so I stole it. Pass it on!

Look through this list of banned books. If you have read the whole book, bold it. If you have read part of the book, italicize it. If you own it but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, *** it.

1. The Bible
2. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

3. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
4. The Koran

5. Arabian Nights

6. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

7. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

8. Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

9. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
10. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
11. The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
12. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
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Poems, Lyrics and Death

There’s a rocking going on in the poetry blogosphere (hate that word!  Hate it! hate it!) that’s been caused by the unexpected and premature death of Reginald Shepherd, who was two weeks younger than me.  PFFA poets have made their comments — here, and here, and here, and in this thread on PFFA, here.  Like Rob, if it weren’t for the internet I may not have heard of him, but I may — he lived in Florida, and was a colleague of colleagues.  The thing is, unlike my fellow poets, I hadn’t read his poems till the day he died.

I had read his essays, had looked at his blog, had been moved by his prose.  Now that I read his poems, though, I’m struck by the lyrical nature of them.  Lyric poetry is something I have fought for some time, landing strangely in the world of narrative and dramatic verse, not terribly moved by the lyric efforts of most of my contemporaries.

I’m not sure but I think I may be changing my mind.  Will I be writing any lyrics in the near future?  Unlikely, though who can tell.  What goes on inside me is nobody’s business but mine, I’ve decided.  Let me give you fragments instead and shore them against my ruins.

The Writing of … well, Anything

I’m reading (listening to) Ian McEwan’s Atonement, having watched the movie long after buying the book years ago, when I was recreating my home library after returning from eight years abroad.  There are always differences between books and films, clearly, and what’s missing (what has to be telegraphed) is always the inner life, the thought, the meditation.

But more on that later.

Now that I’m halfway through the Africa Reading Challenge, including the works of young female writers alongside the spaces filled in my mind by Ngugi and Achebe and Soyinka, something else is growing clearer as well.  It doesn’t seem to matter that the generations have changed and the gender is different.  The stories we’re writing and publishing continue to be coming-of-age stories, by and large.

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Africa Reading Challenge [3]

Remember this?

Here’s my revised list:

  • Adichie (Nigeria) – Purple Hibiscus   REVIEW
  • Abouet (Cote d’Ivoire) – Aya REVIEW
  • Ngugi (Kenya) – Wizard of the Crow
  • Lalami (Morocco) – Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits    REVIEW
  • Gourevitch (Rwanda) – We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with our Families
  • King-Aribisala (Nigeria) – The Hangman’s Game

Shoshana’s Books of the World Challenge

Shoshana’s Books of the World Challenge.

Right. Since I’m covering Africa on Blogworld, why don’t I follow this challenge over here?  Blogworld’s more locally focussed anyway, and Blogsphere is more global.  OK, so they’re silly distinctions, but it’s a nice way to see it.

I love these challenges!!! I’m going to start a Caribbean Reading Challenge in 2009 in answer to the African one.  We don’t have the same kind of organization as Africa, being mostly submarine and afloat in the Caribbean Sea as well as in the world, but there’s no shortage of writing to be read — in English, French, Spanish and Dutch.

But in the meantime, time to read round the world.


The film not the book. I’m watching it.  I began the book when it first came out but didn’t finish it.  Some books require stretches of quiet time to appreciate and to follow and that is something I don’t have around here.  I miss the luxury of a commute by public transit; subways and buses give you the empty space you need to read.  Now, I only read on planes.

I downloaded the novel to listen to on my iPod, which is how I read books these days.  There’s something interesting about the process.  It works really well for plot-intensive books, but there are interesting gaps when the books involve long stretches of observation, philosophy, or internal monologue, as tends to be the case with literature.  I discovered the joy of listening to books with The Da Vinci Code, which was so atrociously written that I could not get past the first page, and expanded it with Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy, and then used the trick of listening to the books to get through George R. R. Martin’s four installments of A Song of Ice and Fire.

I’ve already written about Ondaatje and how I ploughed through most of his oeuvre aurally (the ones I haven’t covered are the early ones, which aren’t available on iTunes).  During my recent trip to Montreal, I reread Anil’s Ghost, which I think is my favourite Ondaatje (The English Patient is also up there), and I supplmented my listening with reading, because I decided that writers like Ondaatje write as much for the page as for the ear, and so I wanted to see the words too.  And there were things I’d missed, like the layout of the different parts of the book, the relation of the chapter and section titles to the whole, the arrangement and formatting of the words on the page.

And so to Atonement.  I had planned to listen to the book before I watched the film, but grew impatient and watched the film anyway.  I’m glad I made the choice, because the film is worth watching for itself.  I doubt it would have impressed me as much if I had read the book first, because I’d be too caught up in what was missing, what was emphasized, rather the way I felt when I first watched Lean’s Passage to India (one of my favourite — scratch that, my favourite — Forster).  A good film, I thought, and true to the spirit of the novel, I thought, and just about as good an adaptation of any book I’d seen, I thought, especially a book the size of Passage, but just not the same.

This film, though, is lovely as a film.  The moments are frozen with composition and setting, with backdrop and framing, and we are not presented with the didactic interpretation of what must be lines and lines of internal action on the page.  There are holes in it, there’s space in it for a watcher to fill in, to put in the colours as it were, just as in a book there’s space for the reader to sketch in his or her own landscapes, faces, locales.  The film has those; but it leaves the space for emotions and tranformations open.  The images, the composition, the settings, the scripting — these provide signposts and directions for the watcher, but the watcher is not led by the hand along any single path.  This I like very much.

I stopped the film just after a scene, a long, surreal, Hitchcockesque scene (Hitchcockesque because of the long camera shot and the stagey, nightmarish, unreal reality of the beach after battle, the transormation of the hotel and the pier and the bandstand and the eating and drinking establishments into the horror of the occupation of war, and the lunacy of it all) which impresed me enough to make me want to write this post.  And that’s really all there is to it, really.

Which leads me to say this:

If you haven’t seen the film, then see it.