Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Who Needs the Liberal Media...

...when you have people like Palin who say dumb shit like this? She does all the work for the leftists. How nice of her.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Yoani Sánchez

I’m late to this, which is shameful of me considering my interest in all things Cuban. I read about Yoani Sánchez but never made the trip over to her blog. For whatever reason I hadn’t yet made the tiny goddamn gesture of moving my mouse and clicking a button until yesterday. Sad, really.
Along with detailing life in Cuba, the blog links to a slew of other likeminded sites that should provide more than enough reading for those of you interested. Not interested? Fuck your apathy. Sorry to preach but it seems that the smallest gesture we privileged Yankees can do is click on a few of these and raise the hits. Most of these blogs are banned in Cuba, thus the bloggers blog “blind” sending their posts to outside sources who release them into the wilds of cyberspace. Sánchez and her ilk never see the fruits of their labors, all of which are done under the threat of various forms of punishment. Anyway, only a slim few percent of the population have internet access, all of which is heavily censored. Consider all of this when you make your next witty little tweet or blog about the brie you just ate in some new bistro.

Her husband’s blog is equally good: http://desdeaquifromhere.wordpress.com/ but the one that most haunts me is this one: http://cocohungerstrike.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Siempre en mi Corazón"

In addition to the CDs and books given to me by the lovely Cassandra, this Saturday we will venture to Ravinia to see Omara Portuondo and a few of the Buena Vista Social Clubbers. This is exciting and I feel compelled to share this with all three of my readers. This will officially cap the week (plus) of birthday festivities. It’ll be tough to top this next year when I hit a fairly significant number.

Friday, June 18, 2010


List of gifts from Cassandra this birthday week:

Cramps – Stay Sick!
Song the Cramps Taught Us
Tom Waits – Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards
Sinead Morrissey – Through the Square Window
Ernesto Cardenal – In Cuba
Dengue Fever – Escape From Dragon House
Brazzaville – Somnabulista

Of all of these gifts, it is hard to pick a favorite, but I want to talk a bit about the last item on the list. There’s something about this band Brazzaville that interests me greatly. The music is smooth, dark at times, oddly joyous at others. I’m hypnotized by this little outfit. Check out their site and click on the ship icon to read about what strikes me as an incredibly exciting idea that will someday hopefully—pardon the pun— be afloat.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Art That Changed My Life: Latin American Literature

It began with One Hundred Years of Solitude. So many stories told by so many gringos, who also “discovered” the thriving, awe inspiring literary tradition south of the border, also begin with this book. Marquez is a gateway drug and, like it or not, he has become for the most of the world outside of Latin America the guy to measure all texts produced from that large region against. The McCondo group might write in opposition of Marquez, and the Crack Generation might seek to move beyond the narrow parameters of magic realism, but both have to admit that Bloom’s anxiety of influence theory is inescapable and that there’s no getting away from Gabbo. This is really too bad: Marquez, for all his talent, is not a spot on the ass of Reinaldo Arenas, Jose Donoso, Cesar Vallejo, Manuel Puig, or Adolfo Bioy Casares. Even more known, and read, writers like G. Cabrera Infante, J. L. Borges and the now ubiquitous Roberto Bolaño trump Marquez in my book, but their books will never match the revenue generated from One Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera (in the U.S., that is).

But I digress.

Cassandra gave me One Hundred Years of Solitude as a gift. I had a copy already, though it was, then, unread. I decided to give Marquez a try. It was, I do admit, a fantastic read. Everything I loved about Faulkner was on display in Marquez (to be sure, Faulkner is the most revered gringo writer by much of the Boom figures). (Years later I would read Arenas dismiss Marquez’s writing as being a pastiche of Faulkner.) And I was already open to the magic realist tinkering, having done time with the likes of Rushdie and Murakami and, well, a lot of writers who might fall into the category by sad default (even Ovid, for fuck’s sake). It was a short hop from there to Juan Rulfo. And Borges was already read, but I dipped back after for, you know, comparison’s sake. I went deeper. Neruda? Yeah, there were Neruda moments that kicked my ass, but Vallejo more so. Octavio Paz confused and excited me, Sunstone especially. I think the real explosion was when I investigated Arenas and fell into an obsession with all things Cuban. Since then I have focused a lot of attention to Cuban literature, mostly the work of my hero Cabrera Infante. Though he eschews overtly political statements in his big book Three Trapped Tigers (tied for number one on my list of greatest novels), the time and setting (Havana just before Castro’s take over) and lack of Castro references (one in the whole tome) make the political atmosphere he is not describing more glaring.

All this was in 2002. I think 2003 was the year I read all of Arenas’ Pentagonia as well as his brilliant memoir. Eight years later, I am still neck deep in Latin American lit. If pressed, I might make the same argument about the books of this region that I made about the Irish: conflict and invention undercut so much of the writing. I seem to be attracted to work that is born from struggle, though, when you think about it, what art isn’t? Whatever the case, I retain my hispaniphone interests, even when straying to Northern Ireland and Russia, where I often find myself.

Art That Changed My Life: (Northern) Irish Literature

As of late, I have taken up with the (mostly Northern) Irish again. This is probably due to the fact that April, as well as being the cruelest, is also National Poetry Month (in this nation at least). So I decided to read solely poetry form April's beginning to end. I will admit that I snuck some prose into the mix, and was busy reading my boss's play, but, for the most part it was poems, poems and, you guessed it, fucking poems. The whole thing started in March, actually, with me reading the big international anthology that I had a small hand in producing. Words Without Borders, bless their hearts, included me in the intro to this collection (quite good, by the way) and, though I never got my promised free copy, I did plow through the thing cover to cover, and was, I felt, better for it. After that mean feat, I decided to dedicate my reading to poetry for the month, maybe more, probably less.

I read some of the usual names (for me), most striking being Ciaran Carson’s Breaking News and Nick Laird’s To a Fault. That got me back on the Northern Irish bandwagon (I’m tempted to use “off the wagon” here as some lame joke at the expense of the drunken Irish stereotype, but I’ll ignore that temptation). It reminded me of the feeling I had at RU when I was first exposed to the likes of Muldoon and Heaney. Yeah, I had read that poem about digging with the pen by Seamus a while back, but that is nothing compared to “Casualty” and “Whatever You Say, Say Nothing.” Really it was McGuckian’s Selected Poems that woed me and Carson’s Belfast Confetti that sealed the deal.

I’m not sure what it is exactly about the Irish poets, though I do know that I seem to be particularly attracted to the writing of “The Troubles.” I think this coincides with my interest in Cuba and Latin American writing, as well some from Russia, revolving around the subject of political animosity and terrorism, in the broad sense of the term. Would the writer’s work be so captivating were it not for the harsh realities from which they sprung? Can we imagine Reinaldo Arenas without thinking of his sad life of persecution under Castro? Can we truly digest all that Bulgakov has to tell us without contextualizing his work in the Stalinist era Soviet Union? Similarly, without “The Troubles” what would Carson be writing? Well, one can guess it would be something like his last few books, especially the recent two, but I fear that the man will long be associated with the poetry he wrote in the ‘80s. Not that this is a bad thing—his work in The Irish for No and Belfast Confetti is incredible; there’s a richness to these poems and a shocking quality, especially evident in my favorite of his techniques where he uses punctuation as a stand in for violence. The benign representing the horror. Pretty damn brilliant.

Perhaps it is the political strife under even the most apolitical of poems—such as the early work of McGuckian—that attracts me. Or maybe it has to do with something Carlos Fuentes allegedly said, that all the English language needs to keep it interesting is for an Irishman to come along every generation and write something. He was referring, probably, to Joyce, though the same could be said about Muldoon. Aside form the linguistic trickery and erudition (serious and mock), Muldoon manages to play with forms and traditions while whittling them away. Doggerel and lyrical, tight as a drum and rambling like a wayfarer, Muldoon is pretty inventive in his work, though a lot of his poems are confounding as all get. Whereas Heaney is often understated and precise, Muldoon can stretch himself into places where the reader might fear to follow, building and growing and losing some along the way. Often the rewards are many; occasionally not, though I feel his work will age well and definitely bears rereading.

So is it the language or the politics? Both, maybe? Is political strife enough? Is wordplay enough? I’m not a giant fan of language poetry, and I usually like something deeper to be behind such tinkering. Perhaps the combination of these significant elements is what drives my interest, though to simply boil down a huge cultural and literary tradition into two fucking categories is inherently idiotic. Nevertheless, I might argue that these two things went far in sparking my interest which, all these years in, continues to burn. I tend to focus on what I call “The Big 4” of Northern Ireland (Heaney, Muldoon, Carson, McGuckian) often to the exclusion of some other fine writers. Oh, I tried with Joyce, and I might again. And yes, there’s no overstating the contribution of W. B. Yeats. Often looked at for only his plays, the prose of Samuel Beckett is pretty amazing. And then there’s Wilde. What about Brendan Behen? Have you read him yet? Get to it. And J. M. Synge. I’m sure you’re acquainted with G. B. Shaw, right? And then there’s that Roddy Doyle and his Barrytown Trilogy. And then there’s Flan O’Brien. And Patrick McCabe. And look here, it’s Sinead Morrissey and Nick Laird making things more interesting than ever.

Okay then, I’m off. June 16 is coming. Maybe I ought to give old Joyce another try. If not, there’s plenty to read from Dear Old Erin’s Isle.


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Slow Down

Something to chew on:

“And in an age of sort of Twitter and Facebook, and all the rest of it, where language is just witty and snappy and quick, and meant to amuse rather than kind of be profound in any way, and certainly the brevity of it sort of precludes that, you got to make time for poetry and other things as well.”

Click here for the whole shebang.

Oh, the irony of posting this on a blog. Anyway, I just finished Glover’s Mistake by Mr. Laird, which was pretty damn good, though it often made me feel uneasy. That’s a good thing, actually. What more would one ask for a sort of Othello in the internet age? The poetry, especially in To a Fault, is still where Laird shines brightest, but I think Laird’s coming along as a novelist quite well.

But to the point: slowing down and making time for poetry, or, if poetry’s not your thing, for writing that requires attention and dedication, is a very good idea. So often I hear people complaining about demands the author of a book made on them. I find this a bit depressing. Sure, there are books that don’t grab you, that are poorly written, or simply are not right for the moment, but I’ll never complain that a writer didn’t make a brilliant book easy to follow. There are rewards that come with focus and attention that perhaps are lost in the age of Twitter. Sorry to sound like a Luddite, but I’ll always take Keats over Tweets.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

WWB on Antwerp and Other Oddities

Words Without Borders has tightened up their blog posts and has been putting out some real pieces as of late. Here's one on one of my favorite writers and the out there releases of late. including the last novel published in English that I read in one sitting and left me confused more than delighted (for a change).

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Nick Laird and the Dumb-Headed Criticism

It was probably 2006, maybe 2007, I don’t know. I was in Borders with Cassandra and I found a book of poems by Nick Laird, who, I read, hailed from Northern Ireland, a place I had a significant interest in. I had written two papers on Northern Irish poets in ’06 (Ciaran Carson and Medbh McGuckian, both netting A grades, though the McGuckian paper was weaker, her work being harder to pin down). I had seen Carson read and lecture alongside Paul Muldoon and Michael Longley in DC. Seamus Heaney submitted a video tapped reading and lecture as well. McGuckian was supposed to be there but got sick, damn her. (It was 2007—I remember now.)

Where was I? Right—Borders.

So there was To a Fault by Nick Laird. I picked it up and sampled a few poems, liked what I saw and brought it over to the café section to sit and read some more, the lovely Cassandra by my side. After a few pages I declared that I needed to buy the book, though I didn’t (funds were tight, I am sure). And then I forgot all about it.

Three years later, Laird has three more books out. I snatch the first three with ease (Utterly Monkey I found used; To a Fault I ended up buying from Amazon; ditto On Purpose) and blaze through them in a flurry. To a Fault I prefer more than On Purpose, his second poetry collection, though the Art of War/Marriage stuff is brilliant. Utterly Monkey I read in three or four days last week. It’s a fine novel—a “first novel” in the sense that people forgive your first book especially if its protagonist resembles its creator. Okay, so Danny in the novel comes from a small Northern Irish town and moves to London and gets a job as a lawyer for a major firm and falls for a black woman. So Laird did the same. My first thought is: so fucking what? If he borrowed from his life, it makes no difference to me and certainly does not tarnish my reading experience. I really liked the book. I liked it so much that I went on Goodreads and posted 4 stars and looked to see what others thought. Like much interesting work, it netted some split reviews. Some hated it; many complained that the local vernacular was a hindrance (I loathe this complaint); others couldn’t get past the similarities between Laird and his character. I ask again, who cares? We privilege experience over imagination when it comes to celebrating movies that are “based on a true story” or all those lousy memoirs that we are dumb enough to believe in, so why is it we shift suddenly when it comes to fiction? If we think something is semi-autobiographical we grant the writer less credit, as if the sole mark of good writing were invention. We’re so fucked up. Someone actually used the word amateurish in their review, solely because of the above mentioned biographical factors. Jeesh… all those asshole snobs who lambaste horror writers and Sci Fi books ignore the fact that those works are all imagination, yet they are also quick to cut someone down for writing about what they know. Apparently, you can’t win with some people.

Sorry for the rant, but I do find it pretty annoying that we can’t separate the art and artist all these years later. I don’t buy all that death of the author French theory, but to an extent one should just look at the work itself. More annoying, in the case of Laird, is the constant comparison of his work to wife’s (Zadie Smith). I get it—people like to gossip, even in literary circles, but I don’t see what insights or appreciations will be gained by looking at these two different people and their different books other than the obvious compare/contrast stuff. It’s as bad as old Bloom and his “Seamus Heaney is not W. B. Yeats” bullshit. (See a few posts back.)

Anyway, I’m ankle deep in Laird’s latest noel, Glover’s Mistake. I’ll report back once I have ingested all things Laird. I did knock off the two new Ciaran Carson books (quite good, very elliptical and strange, a departure for him in some ways) and will be ready for McGuckian’s latest (soon!). It’s raining Northern Irish these days, though I have two Bolaños to look forward to this year and still need to get to A Twentieth Century Job by G. Cabrera Infante (aka G. Cain). The list gets bigger everyday. Ah, there could be worse complaints, right?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A Face and Hands Contender


Is this pose ironic or serious? You be the judge.