Monument 3: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

The WordPress Photo Challenge this week is MONUMENT.

Self took a whole lot of pictures when she dropped by the Cantor Arts Center, a couple of weeks ago, on the Stanford University campus.

Rodin’s sculpture of Adam is standing to one side of probably his most favorite work, the Gates of Hell.  But self didn’t have a good picture of the Gates, so she turned to perusing her photo archives.

And she found these from the Miami Holocaust Memorial, which she and The Man visited last November.

Adam:  Rodin Sculpture Garden, Stanford University

Adam: Rodin Sculpture Garden, Stanford University

Holocaust Memorial, South Beach, Miami

Holocaust Memorial, South Beach, Miami

Detail, Holocaust Memorial, South Beach, Miami

Detail, Miami Holocaust Memorial

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

2nd Sunday of April (2014): Prokofiev and the Nostalgia of Returning

A new issue of The New York Review of Books has a very poignant essay about the Russian composer Prokofiev and how his decision to return to his native Russia proved so catastrophic, not to himself, but to his first wife, Lina, also a composer.

The two Russian emigrés met in Paris, but “in a way that Lina could not fully understand, he longed to go back to his native land, to renew contact with his childhood friends, with the Russian language, Russian songs.”

Lina had no point of reference for her husband’s longing beyond his sardonic, ill-tempered assessments of his Parisian competition and occasional declarations of weariness with life on the road.  His longing was existential — for a guild of like-minded composers, a support network, the inspiration that direct access to Russian culture, of the distant and recent past, had given him.

“. . .  only in his native land,” Prokofiev felt, “would he be recognized as Russia’s greatest living composer . . . At a time when interest in his music was declining in the West, he was seduced by the lucrative commissions he received from the Soviets for operas, ballets, and film scores, and . . . ” convinced himself that “to rescue his career as a theatrical composer, he needed to shift his sphere of operations from Paris to Moscow.”  There were danger signals about the Soviet regime’s tolerance for artists, but Prokofiev “thought his music was above all that.”

To make a long story short, he returned to Moscow with Lina, and at first they were treated like celebrities:  “He had a blue Ford imported from America and a chauffeur.”

Anyhoo, the move was hard on Lina and put a strain on their marriage.  Prokofiev left her and their two young sons for a much younger mistress, and during the war Lina and her children were left to fend for themselves.

The story becomes sadder when Lina was arrested, taken to Lefortovo prison, and tortured.

But, upon her release in 1956, she still served as a kind of cultural ambassador for Prokofiev, “donating papers to archives” and attending his concerts:  And never once did she mention her own ordeal in the camps — and what it cost her to survive.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

Digging Ever Deeper (Into the Pile of Stuff): The Sea, Islands, the Poet

From The New Yorker of 3 February 2014, a review by Adam Kirsch of The Poetry of Derek Walcott (Farrar, Straus & Giroux):

A poet who comes to consciousness on a small island — like Derek Walcott, who was born on St. Lucia in 1930 — is doomed, or privileged, to spend a lifetime writing about the sea.  The subject matter for Walcott is as consistent and inescapable, potentially as monotonous, as the five beats in a pentameter line.  But, like so many great poets before him, he shows that constraints do not have to starve the imagination; they can also nourish it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Chang-rae Lee Version of Dystopia

This is from the review of On Such a Full Sea, Chang-rae Lee’s new novel.  The review appeared in the January 27, 2014 issue of The New Yorker.  The reviewer was Joanna Biggs.

“More and more we can see that the question is not whether we are ‘individuals,’ Chang-rae Lee writes in On Such a Full Sea (Riverhead), his new, dystopian novel.  “The question, then, is whether being an ‘individual’ makes a difference anymore.”  It seems doubtful, in Lee’s somber future.  Afflicted by swine- and bird-flue epidemics, and a profound change in the climate, America, now known simply as the Association, has split into three separate social groups.  At the top sit the Charters, a small professional class that has controlled the country’s remaining resources and withdrawn into gated villages.  Catering their dinner parties and keeping their cars perpetually waxed are the ‘service people,’ who live in the land beyond, known as the counties.  ‘You better have it while you have it’ is the motto of the bartering, hardscrabble life there.”

District 12, anyone?  The twist is that the oppressed classes are “workers whose ancestors arrived from New China a hundred years earlier.”

Biggs then cites a list of dystopian narratives (which fortunately or unfortunately do not include anything YA), starting with “the math genius D-503, in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, who begins by designing the spaceship INTEGRAL . . .  to the fireman Guy Montag in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 who starts out as a kerosene-wielding book burner and ends up harboring what may be the last copy of the Bible,” to Winston Smith, the “mid-ranking employee” of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984.

Self has read most of Chang-rae Lee’s novels.  She’s read Native Speaker, Aloft, and A Gesture Life.  Of all his novels that self has read to date, her favorite is still A Gesture Life.  Harrowing.  She’ll never forget it.

What she likes most about Lee’s writing is the quietness of the voice.  The restraint masks sheer agony.  All his main characters are tightly wound but restrained, almost to the point of lunacy.  Feelings are to be distrusted.  They are acknowledged only under great peril.  Which makes him sound, on the surface, like Kazuo Ishiguro.  But self finds Chang-rae Lee’s characters, almost all of them, to be deeply emotional and passionate individuals.  If they do harm, it is mostly to themselves.

She does have a copy of On Such a Full Sea, signed by the author himself after a reading he gave in Berkeley.  Self is sorely tempted to tote it along to Ireland, but it’s hardback.  And self has sworn she’s not going to burden herself with more than a handful of books this time.  The fee for mailing the books back home will be exorbitant, if what she paid after Hawthornden is any indication.  Oh what to do, what to do!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Late Sunday Night: Cavafy

And don’t be too sure that in your life –
restricted, regulated, prosaic –
spectacular and horrible things like that don’t happen
Maybe this very moment Theodotos –
bodiless, invisible –
enters some neighbor’s tidy house
carrying an equally repulsive head.

– from “Theodotos” by C. P. Cavafy

C. P. Cavafy, one of the greatest of modern Greek poets, lived in Alexandria for all but a few of his seventy years.  Rarely has a poet been so attached to a city.  Alexandria became for Cavafy a central poetic metaphor and eventually a myth encompassing the entire Greek world.

Poem, You Make Self REFLECT

This one’s from The New Yorker of 3 February 2014. Self only began to truly enjoy poetry when she began reading The New Yorker. She adores narrative poetry now. At the latest AWP conference, in Seattle, she bought at least five poetry collections. She is determined to read them all. (She’s lucky, too: her roommate in Seattle was the poet Luisa A. Igloria)

“Ambush at Five O’Clock” (only the first three verses)

by Stephen Dunn

We were by the hedge that separates our properties
when I asked our neighbors about their souls,
I said it with a smile, the way one asks such a thing.
They were somewhat like us, I thought, more
than middle-aged, less dull than most.
Yet they seemed to have no interest
in disputation, our favorite game,
or any of the great national pastimes
like gossip and stories of misfortunes
about people they disliked.

In spite of these differences, kindred
was a word we often felt and used.
The man was shy, though came to life
when he spotted an uncommon bird,
and the woman lively, sometimes even funny
about barometer readings and sudden dips
in pressure, the general state of things.
We liked their affection for each other
and for dogs. We went to their house;
they came to ours.

After I asked about their souls
they laughed and stumbled towards an answer,
then gave up, turned the question back
to me. And because I felt mine always was
in jeopardy I said it went to the movies
and hasn’t been seen since. I said gobbledy
and I said gook. I found myself needing
to fool around, avoid, stay away from myself.

Isn’t that great? The everyday, and the cadence.

And, just like that, self whips out a poem.  But hers is about a man in a white Stetson and his best friend Boyd.

Stay tuned.

Kyi May Kaung: Berlin, 2005

In October 2005, self and a bunch of other Southeast Asian writers were flown to Berlin to give a reading at the House of World Culture as part of a conference called “Sending Signals.”  Musicians, writers, film-makers, and visual artists from Burma, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines were gathered in a hotel at the edge of the Tiergarten.  That was also where self met the writers Linh Dinh and Rattawut Lapcharoensap, and where she met a poet from Burma, Kyi May Kaung.

All these years later, self still keeps in touch with Kyi.

Self once saw an Escalade in the Costco parking lot with the license plate “Myanmar.”  She couldn’t believe it and rushed home to call Kyi.

Her somewhat acerbic response:  “If the license plate was Myanmar then I am 100% sure the car belonged to a member of the ruling party.  They’re the only ones who refer to Burma as Myanmar.”

That was a moment.

In December last year, self asked Kyi if it would be OK to post some of her poetry in this blog.  Kyi sent over six poems.  Self doesn’t know why it took her three whole months to get one of Kyi’s poems posted but here, at last, is one:

Travel warning for Burma — some places may be closed.  Ethnic cleansing going on — in 1962 they called it “cleaning the Augean stables.”

Actually, that wasn’t poetry.  That came from one of Kyi’s tweets.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Wanda Coleman Interview (The Writer’s Chronicle, March/April 2014)

Self read this interview with Wanda Coleman in the latest issue of The Writer’s Chronicle (March/April 2014).  The interviewer was Natasha Sajé, whose latest collection is Vivarium (Tupelo, 2014)

Sajé:  What can’t you do as a writer?

Coleman:  I can do anything.

Sajé:  That’s my sense.  But do you have something you’ve never tried because of some reason?

Coleman:  I’ve never had the time to do everything that I want.  My yearning.

Sajé:  Life gets in the way.

Coleman:  That’s the bullet.

Sajé:  So if someone gave you a MacArthur, more than $500,000 and time.

Coleman:  I’d head straight to Vegas!  I would get a room of my own and live in it and work.  I had a residency at Djerassi Institute in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains — oh, I would highly recommend it.  It was a culture shock because I was coming from an urban environment.  There were all these redwoods.  I’m driving a huge Crown Vic up narrow roads, creeping along terrified.  I burned my brakes out trying to get in there, and I ended up on Neil Young’s ranch by mistake.  I made a wrong turn and had to go around.  I commend writers’ colonies.  And so I would probably structure my life very similarly.  Where I have someone else who’s doing the cooking for a change, doing the dusting and the rearranging.  I would need an assistant to do all this.  I’m terrible as my own secretary.  Secretarial work is competitive with the writing.

Sajé:  But you’re not a flake.

Coleman:  No.  So then I would fulfill a few dreams I have kicking around.  Such as spending more time in Paris — I’d like to go back there.  I’d like to go back to Sydney, Australia — I have some unfinished business there.  Australia’s the last frontier in the western world.  It’s really something.  If you ever get a chance to at least visit, go there.  I like Berlin.  I’d like to go back and actually live there.  My husband speaks German, and I speak some German.  I would like to be there for a while.

Wanda Coleman published more than twenty books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction.  This interview was recorded on Oct. 23, 2008 at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.  Coleman passed away after a long illness on Nov. 22, 2013.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

EKPHRASIS: Jean Vengua’s The Little Book of Haptic Drawings

The word epkphrasis is one of those words, like deconstruction or meta-fiction, that self has heard floating about, here and there, usually in the most erudite settings — like literary magazines.  Like university websites (She used to have “dystopian” on that short list, but ever since The Hunger Games, and its overwhelming popularity, self hears “dystopian” at least 10x a day and it may be moving from the realm of the esoteric to the realm of cliché)

Ekphrasis refers to poems inspired by another art form — visual arts, say, or music.

The Little Book of Haptic Drawings is about ekphrasis.  But you don’t even need to know that.

It’s available now online in pdf format.  You can read it for free online or download it.  Jean would welcome a small donation — anything you can afford.  (There’s a small donation button on the sidebar).   Just click on the link.  Explore.  Enjoy.

And if you fell in love with it, be sure and let Jean know.

Stay tuned.

 

NYTBR 12 January 2014: Self Will Not Read Any Review That Describes a Main Character as “Beleaguered”

Even though self suspended her subscription to the NYTBR, she still has a pile of back issues to get through.

Perusing the 15 January 2014 issue, self sees that NYTBR editors have not lost any of their interest in Russia or its writers:  There are reviews of a new novel by Lara Vapnyar (partly about a Soviet youth camp), as well as a translation of Michael Shishkin (famous in Russia).

In the By the Book interview, Sue Monk Kidd named the following as “books with spiritual themes”:  Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson; The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver; The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy; and Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton. Asked which books “we all should read before dying,” she responds with:  Night, by Elie Wiesel, What is God? by Jacob Needham, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Self finds herself skipping over several reviews, for several reasons, one of them being that when a reviewer describes a novel’s main character as “beleaguered,” self quickly loses interest.  Also, right now, self has no interest in reading books about “ornery old men” who drink and smoke themselves “to death” because she doesn’t consider either of these activities even remotely tempting.

She is interested in the books Sue Monk Kidd is “reading these days”:  Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, Dear Life, by Alice Munro, Sister Mother Husband Dog, by Delia Ephron, and Edith Wharton’s Three Novels of New York:  The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence.

Self loves discovering new women writers, and this issue of the NYTBR introduces her to Elizabeth Spencer (“Spencer’s great gift is her ability to take ordinariness and turn it inside out, to find focus in a muddle.”)

She also loves Diane Johnson, who happens to have written a memoir (Flyover Lives: A Memoir).

Having come — finally! — to the end of this post, self realizes that blogging about The New York Times Book Review is an exceedingly intricate and time-consuming activity, because it involves making a list, and a list involves — naturally — exclusion, which then causes her Catholic guilt to rear its annoying head.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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