Friday, October 31, 2008

Literary Crush?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Game On!

Easily my favorite web site for a law firm:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Straight outta Belfast

Crazy motherfucka named Muldoon…

Well, that’s how I imagine a remake of the N.W.A. classic starting if the Northern Irish poets I so admire were to form a rap band.

So I return from lunch to my desk to find that I misfiled a document. I correct the error quickly and grab a cup of green tea, feeling somewhat low about my station here at the office and on the grand stage of employment, having not what could be called a career, that tenuous term that too many adopt to describe the line of work they, like me, have fallen ass-backwards into.

Somewhat existential in thinking, I contemplate the green tea when a green package appears. In it is a book with a green cover. The book? The Collected Poems of Ciaran Carson. I sent away to Northern Ireland to get the book, not yet available in these United States. It’s a handsome edition, a tome much like the collected Muldoon. Mostly I am excited to have his second book, the much lauded and increasingly hard to find The Irish for No, at my disposal. Life seems a good deal better.

Happy days are made of books.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

R.I.P. Rudy Ray Moore.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Eloy Urroz

I finished The Obstacles by Eloy Urroz. I have been eager to read this book since first seeing it, and not buying it, at Myopic. Almost immediately, I saw that an interview with the author on Words Without Borders. Damn, I said. I thought it had to be some kind of serendipity and decided to go back and buy the book, which, of course, was gone.

Flash forward a few months. I find the book at Powell’s, quickly snatch it and let it sit on the shelf along with all the other books I plan to read someday and probably never will.

But I did read The Obstacles. I wanted to see what the Crack Generation of Mexican writers were up to. Now, I have not read Jorge Volpi or Ignacio Padilla (other members of the group) so I can’t lay a big blanket statement, but I will say the following based solely on the one book:

There’s something interesting going on in the new generation of Latin American writers. Oh, there’s some that fail to do much of interest, of course, but it’s nice to see the Boom cloud starting to fade and a new crop of talents emerging from under its shadow. People ask me (not really, but if they did) about my love for Bolaño and I say that his work acts as one of the biggest proponents toward broadening world (specifically Latin American) literature. His works are as political as the Boom folks could be (think Vargas Llosa) and as inventive (think Garcia Marquez). He broke with Magical Realism, but stuck to narrative innovation (think Cortazar). He worshipped literature as a sort of deity (like Borges) and saw the potential for genre mash-ups, most notably in the incorporation of the detective novel and the fictional encyclopedia (think Borges again). But he did all this without the direct emulation or exploitation other Latin American writers were guilty of (think Isabelle Allende).

So I love the guy. And I am anxious to find others like him. I am not sure about the Crack Generation yet, but I can say that I admire The Obstacles for its narrative complexity and its blurring of stories. There are interesting mechanics at work, though I can’t get past a few criticisms. First, there is not a lot of differentiation in the characters. The primary narrators (there are about five total) are Ricardo and Elias. Both have stories that end up merging and both share a lot of similarities. This is no accident. But there voices are all too alike, and I can’t say with total confidence that this was intentional. If it was, it would be justified by the novel’s conclusion, but I’m not 100% sure that Urroz was trying to make them the same. I suspect his intention was to have two distinct voices converge, and, assuming that is so, he didn’t really make each character unique enough to pull that off. God knows I have no clue how to effectively create a character, but I know it has been done and could’ve been done better.

I don’t regret reading the book-not by a long shot-though I admit there were a few tedious moments and one point that I thought was overwritten. It’s an ambitious book, and I always applaud ambition. All in all, I admire books like this for their vision and reach. I only hope Urroz’s other novels get translated and published here in the states so I can see what else he has done. I’m sure they are worth investigating. And I am excited that there are people in Latin America striving to get away from the Boom but still keeping the qualities of that movement (if you can call it that) alive.

I need to read Volpi. I have his novel at home, but it will be put aside for a bit. 2666 comes out in less than a month, and, until then, I’m sticking with poetry (Lorca, Mistral, Joyce Mansour, and Juan Felipe Herrera) and a slim book or two (just started Sylvia by Leonard Michaels, which is already proving to be great).

Stay tuned, those who give a madass fuck.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Anti-Hero

Christopher Hitchens, my favorite asshole, certainly the smartest person working (occasionally) for the right, endorses Obama despite thinking the senator to be overrated. Fair enough, though many of us are willing to let Obama be put to the test. But his backing, slight though it may be, is fueled by his outrage at the debacle of a campaign that has been McPalin. Read all about it here but let me share my two favorite bits with you first:

"I suppose it could be said, as Michael Gerson has alleged, that the Obama campaign's choice of the word erratic to describe McCain is also an insinuation. But really, it's only a euphemism."

"The most insulting thing that a politician can do is to compel you to ask yourself: "What does he take me for?" Precisely this question is provoked by the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin."

I have been saying this for many weeks. Thanks for backing me up, Hitch.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Self-Congratulatory Morning, or, My Name in Ink, Motherfucker!

After a few emails traded and a lot of inquiry, the Spectrum Anthology arrived this weekend. At long last I get to see my poems in print, although both poems have since undergone a lot of revision and don’t really resemble the printed matter anymore. Still, looking at the earlier drafts, I almost prefer them to the hatchet job grad school has done to the meager little works.

Well, maybe not. After writing the preceding paragraph, I reread the poems in Spectrum and I have to say that I think the second one in the collection is especially better now that it has undergone revisions. It’s longer and has more energy, though the original finishes with a nice bit I wanted to pull off and never was able to. Both printed works are less specific and speak to my interest in writing coded poems with personal messages, which I’ve already moved away from. My teachers have gotten me to reach out a bit more and try for clarity, which I think I have done effectively, though I am the worst judge of what I’ve written. Still, there they are for all to see in the U of Cali Santa Barbara community. And I am sure I lost the earlier drafts anyway, so it’s nice to have them preserved in a anthology printed on heavy stock paper and pressed between short stories and poems and pictures, pressed, now, between some other books on my shelf. I can look back when I’m an old(er) man and remember this day and laugh between mouthfuls of oxygen.

My first printed works… well, that is if you don’t count the many reviews for Night Times, the result of my editor and friend, Julia, having this odd interest in what I have to say about works of art. And then there was the bad, un-edited version of an old poem that popped up on Flask and Pen (also recently resurrected and heavily revised and in much better shape then it was upon publication), and a book review on A Gathering of the Tribes. And, of course, my interview with Jeanette Winterson for Rain Taxi. So, all things considered, I have achieved what I always wanted to achieve, seeing my bullshit in print. But largely this has been digital, and while I see little difference between digital and paper publishing, it is pretty exciting to see your words in actual, tangible print that will (hopefully) survive long after cyber terrorists unleash a virus that erodes the entire world wide web and we all have to go back to talking to people face-to-face (sigh).

All things being less than equal, I like what I’m seeing in Spectrum. Really, there seems to be some pretty good work in there. The visual art is good and a few of the poems look interesting (in the best sense of the word), so it feels even better to see my poems alongside work I might actually want to read. I have been rejected so many times (part and parcel of this wacky game) and it never really bothers me. It’s all part of the process. But the worst is when you see an issue of some journal come out and the work that got accepted over yours is so bad that you really start to wonder if you have any reason being a part of this so-called community. I mean, it’s one thing to know that you got passed over because someone else wrote a poem impossible to ignore, but reading the heavily crafted and incredibly dross work that often gets published can make you wonder exactly what the hell people are looking for in this day and age. Poetry, like most things, is susceptible to trends, and those who know how to emulate and exploit those trends usually get a nod. My problem is that I am emulating the wrong people. Oh well.

Enough sour grapes. I’m going to just sit back and enjoy this moment, thank you very much. I’ll keep you posted when the next poem gets printed, which should be sometime between the rapture and the eleventh hour of our time here on planet E.

Ride ‘em, cowboy.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A cheap laugh


In other Nobel news, which I refuse to take seriously, someone on the WWB blog nominated Bob Dylan as this year’s winner of the award. I’ve heard this before. People tell me that the Nobel committee has considered him almost every year since he published his collected lyrics (a collection that predates his lackluster material, though, if you ask me, that is about 70% of everything he has ever done).

I wish to state that if Bob Dylan ever wins the Nobel Prize for Literature I will be forced to commit violent acts upon those I deem deserving.

Thank you.

PS: the new WWB is up. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s Turkish time this October. Get your lit on.

Palin’s close-up untouched

The first point I’d like to make in regard to this story is:

Sarah Palin is not a beautiful woman. She looks like everything I moved out of the suburbs to avoid. I guess I’m in the minority here, but soccer (or hockey) moms do nothing for me. When these talking heads go on about how gorgeous she is, I have to scratch my head and wonder if the country hasn’t been consumed by some form of blindness ala the book by Saramago (now a major motion picture).

Second: to say this is a slap in the face is a bit much. If anything, feminists should be outraged by the (minor) outrage of Palin supporters. C’mon, ladies, you have plenty of experience getting riled up, let’s see something good come of your ire. Make a political stand and stop weeping over Hillary.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Nobel or not?

And here’s the counterpoint to the Swede’s comments about the United States of America being too insular a country to be relevant in the discussion of literature, especially in terms of the coveted and increasingly maligned Nobel Prize. While any writer (save Sartre who famously declined the award) would be thrilled to death to get the prize, the Nobel gang has missed the boat many times, as people love to point out (Proust, Joyce, Nabakov, and, most astonishingly to some, Borges never received a Nobel). These oversights seem egregious to some, but when one of the permanent chairs of the committee pretty much says that no American is going to win anytime soon it ruffles quite a few feathers here in the U. S. of A.

My thoughts:

The Swede has a point about our lack of translations and ignorance of what’s going on in the world of literature.

The Swede is wrong when he states that Europe is still the center of the literary world. If you ask me it would be Latin America, as the number of papers and journals is apparently staggering—not to mention that is the part of the world I most privilege when it comes to all things literary. If you ask a lot of people they might say that Asia is the current center. Japan, China, Korea, India, Vietnam, even tiny little Sri Lanka are producing much more (to some) interesting books than the tired floggings of postmodernism and passionless pretenses toward passion being conducted by any score of Europeans. John O’Brien from the Dalky Archive, in an essay clearly grinding an old axe, made a comment along the lines of: just because something is translated (or foreign) doesn’t make it good. He has a point.

That being said, we don’t translate enough books and we don’t have a huge idea of what’s going on in the rest of the world—literature wise. Then again, I wonder if the average European knows what we’re up to. Or what the writers of Iceland are doing. Or Peru. Or Australia. Or Kenya. I doubt the Europeans know much more about the books that exist outside of their union. Sure, the Swede’s know about what’s happening in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, maybe even Eastern Europe, but I wonder if they know much beyond that. Probably, but probably not terribly much more than we do. The truth is that we are insular and hold up rugged individualism like a Boy Scout badge of honor, but there are enough of us trying to see beyond our borders to constitute a significant minority. Anyway, the U.S.A. is very big, so if you count our numbers then maybe we comprise almost as many translation happy heads as they have over in Europe.

And now for even more inconclusive speculations:

When I was in Europe I hit a few bookstores. I don’t recall seeing anything unfamiliar. It’s not like there was a plethora of books and writers I’d never heard of. Even in France I saw familiar names and long revered titles. In Portugal I noted the number of American mysteries I saw translated into Portuguese. Even in snobby olde England I was shocked at the lack of really good bookstores I saw (though I really only looked in one part of London). To sum it up: The Seminary Co-op here in Chicago boasts more scholarly books and certainly more translated “literary” works in its relatively small basement than I saw in all of Europe. (Again, I didn’t visit a ton of stores, but still…) Imagine the stock of the Co-op, the Strand in New York and Powell’s in Portland fused into one location and you’d have quite a variety of books originating from a myriad of countries. Can England boast the same? Can France? Even with the all the books of the left bank lined up in a row it would pale in comparison.

And I know, not all the books in those three U.S. stores I named are so-called high quality literature. And I know that bigger certainly does not equal better. But I also know that indefensible blanket statements like the ones made by Horace Engdahl warrant a rejoinder. They also warrant some serious (and, in my case, not so serious) questioning as to who has the more salient point and what motivates these points of view.

According to the article in Slate, we’re a pretty literary country with a living master, Phillip Roth— a name bandied about every year around Nobel time and a name that will surely never be seen listed among Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner, other American writers who, unlike Roth, snagged the award. Now, say what you like about Roth (he’s a notorious asshole, a colleague once told me about how he called Toni Morrison a terrible name when she won and he didn’t), but he’s written some pretty good books. He’s been, as Slate points out, just postmodern and experimental (to use a loathsome phrase) enough to garner comparisons to Calvino and Kafka and just enough of a realist to live up to the American, if not the 19th Century Russian, tradition of great writing. Other American names always thrown into the hat are Pynchon (who I cannot read) and DeLillio (who I need to revisit). Despite what I think of these three writers (very mixed feelings), any of them would make more sense to me as a Nobel winner than Doris Lessing. (Then again, I’d much rather see Maria Vargas Llosa of Peru or Carlos Fuentes from Mexico or Ngugi Wa’Thiongo from Kenya or Ciaran Carson from Northern Ireland win the award.)

The long and the short of all of this is that the Nobel, while unquestionably prestigious, is run by an imperfect committee capable of blunders and just as many ridiculous statements as you’ll find in your average Sarah Palin interview. And the other conclusion is that this has always been the case, and, as stated above, this hardly detracts from the glory of snagging a Nobel. And, as Slate concludes, American writers ought to just ignore and forget about the entire thing, which is pretty good advice.

I think William Faulkner had the right frame of (drunken) mind when he won. First of all, he demurred on the phone when informed that he was the winner—his daughter had to talk him into making the trip and accepting the prize. And then he made a legendary speech. And then, at the after party, got drunk and misplaced the prize. Eventually it turned up in a potted plant.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sir Ben in Minor Threat tribute

Friday, October 03, 2008

My angry night

It would be so much easier to sink into the apolitical swamp, but I can’t seem to.

Last night, at approximately 9:17 PM, I stormed out of my apartment and went outside to smoke a cigarette and calm the fuck down. The debates take a lot of out a guy, you know? The bullshit gets to be too much and I, for one, have to get away from it for at least a few minutes. Having endured my threshold’s limit of sound-bites, baiting, evasions, empty rhetoric and the abuse of the word “maverick,” I got up and went to find solace in the chilly Chicago air.

What bothered me most? I don’t know… it might have been Biden’s statement that neither he nor Obama supports gay marriage in the sense that they don’t want to redefine the word (or ruffle voter feathers), though, of course, they support equal rights and civil unions, blah blah blah and more blah. Sorry, but a civil union is not the same as a marriage, and if it is then why call it a civil union? Why not just call a spade a spade and a marriage a marriage? Why not give the same rights (literal and symbolic) to everyone despite who they choose to love?

Outside I decided that I was done caring. No more politics, no more heartbreak and woe over the state of the crumbing union. I was done with it all and I don’t give a mad-ass fuck who wins anymore. If only I could I really feel that way. If only…

Anyway, I split for a smoke and returned in time to catch the wrap up debate bullshit, which was about as significant as the rest of it. I stayed up and watched It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which is my new favorite show and the only thing I run home to catch every week. Sadly, that too was a dud. Oh well, here’s hoping everything looks better this time next week.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Center of the Literary World

Like so many other links posted on this shitblog, this one’s from Three Percent, only directly this time. An interesting post that is sure to generate discussion. Though, if it doesn’t, then we’ve proved that Horace Engdahl is right.

And they say the legal system is choked with frivolous lawsuits