Thursday, March 28, 2013

Shiny New Quarter Report

"Suck, little babe, oh suck again!"

 --William Wordsworth, "The Mad Mother"

The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O'Connor.   More than her usual satirization of the Southern sensibilities & religious fundamentalism (“You have to quit confusing a madness with a mission”), this tragicomic novel provides an intriguing psychological study of Tarwater, but fails to deliver a definitive answer to the question, implicit in the title, of how to get away from a violent bear.

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe.  Chronicling, without judgment, village life in pre-colonial Nigeria, Achebe gives readers glimpses into the dailiness of a world that Westerners know precious little about, even a pretty fly white guy such as I.  If you haven't read it, it's fairly short, so stop dithering.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksander Solzhenitzen.  Sadly, this depiction of conditions in a Soviet gulag too closely mirrors the minutia of my everyday routine for me to appreciate the novel as much as perhaps I should.  For that, I will be put into the hole.

The Eternal Ones of the Dream; Selected Poems 1990-2010, James Tate.  I recommend this book to everyone, but especially to those who haven't read the five or so books Tate produced during those years from which these poems are selected, including one of my personal favorites, Shroud of the Gnome, but they're all good.  I'd list specific poems, but too depressed to make such decisions, I leave you to your own devices.

Selected Poems, Paul Verlaine, trans. Martin Sorrell.  Enjoyed immensely.  Not only is the poetry beautiful, even in translation, but the bilingual text served to improve my non-existent French.

Favorite Poems, William Wordsworth.  I like Dover Editions because they're cheap & I'm poor.

Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth & Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. R.L. Brett & A.R. Jones.  In the introduction, which I actually read, the editors muse over the poets' seemingly poor choice of a title for the collection, for the poems are not primarily ballads in the traditional sense. On the other hand, if Woodsworth & Coleridge were using the term colloquially, in that all poems of their day were called ballads, then why describe them as lyrical?  Personally, I would have gone with Lyrical Lyrics or Poetical Poems. Title aside, this collection illustrates Wordsworth's aim, as stated in the "Preface," to create, if I may, a people's poetry, which, he'd be gratified to hear, remains as accessible to the reader today as in his own day, & if we accept Byron's assessment, about as interesting.

The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.   Without argument, Vonnegut is a wildly imaginative storyteller who writes with purpose, but stylistically he can, in certain endeavors, miss the mark. In The Sirens of Titan, he writes in such childishly short sentences that even Hemingway's pale, drunken, grey-bearded ghost recommends that he stop being such a simple shmuck & combine a few sentences, for fuck's sake. I cite the fourth chapter, "Tent Rentals," in its entirity, as a case in point.

The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley.  In need of escape on the cheap, I figured Huxley's book about the use of mescaline/peyote would trigger a few residual flashbacks or at least spark an interesting schizophrenic episode. As Huxley presents, by way of an introduction, his well-researched, philosophical justification for "turning on," I became acutely aware of an oddly familiar metallic taste in my mouth. Irony? Apprehensive at first--or should I say Leary--I read, though not reading in the conventional sense, Huxley's well-reasoned argument that not only is the transcendental experience of peyote, be it natural or synthetic, better than booze, blunt, blow, the Big O, goofballs, dust, crack, meth, Tueys, horse, hashish, etc., etc.--which Americans spend more money on each year than education--but also bigger than Jesus & equal to or greater than Buddha.  (Even though Huxley first published The Doors of Perception in 1954, I still find it strange that he makes no mention of the Beatles.  No "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." No "Strawberry Fields Forever." No "Penny Lane." Very strange.)  I soon found myself--or, to be precise, unfound my unself--on the other side of "the Door in the Wall," where the late great Cary Grant walked a Siamese cat on a leash. "Conjoined cat, please" he politely reminded me of today's preferred nomenclature, then engaged me in an enlightened conversation in which he revealed, rather nonchalantly, that Jack the Ripper--or rather Jacqueline, though I don't wish to give away too much before my book hits the shelves--authored, truth be known, Shakespeare's plays. While this may sound impossibly absurd & lack any actual evidence, how often do you meet a talking cat?  This crazy new shit I learned also solves once & for all the who's-in-Grant's-Tomb conundrum; it provides as well insight into who really built the pyramids.  In conclusion, The Doors of Perception provoked an array of ideas that took me beyond the limits of language, which I would gladly share here, but words are, in a word, inadequate.

Argonautika, Apollonius Rhodius, trans. Peter Green.  Talk about your Golden Fleece! One of the honey-sweet things about writing an epic, as surely the enigmatic author himself would admit should you venture into the depths of the underworld to ask, is that once you invoke the Muse, the poem pretty much writes itself. I'm unsure if or how the invocation, perhaps as some sort of Muse-y residue, benefits the translator.  Anybody know?

Horace's Satires & Epistles, trans. Jacob Fuchs.  I hadn't read Horace since my undergraduate days, where I spent two years of my pathetic life in Latin class. In my brief acquaintance with Horace, via tortured attempts at translating select lines, I thought him a tad on the preachy side. Well, sure, but now that I'm older--older than Horace lived to be--I can appreciate his didactic spiels for what they are.  I'm told Horace's affecting a conversational tone while maintaining fastidious attention to the hexameters & iambs of Latin rhythm doesn't translate into traditional English meter. Nevertheless, the salsa, bachata, cha-cha & merengue remain popular dances.


Want more? You may also enjoy "The Year End Reviewz."

Friday, March 1, 2013

Two Bits of Self-Promotion

I have three poems ("Poem," "What Do Smart People Think About," & "Caveat Emptor") in the Winter 2013 issue of The Bond Street Review.

Also, "I, the Minotaur" appears in The Blue Bear Review 2.3.