Monday, July 21, 2008

Michael Eastman, Vanishing America

Dotty has it, Cairo, Il

Eddie's BBQ

Big Hole, Montana

Barn, La Crosse

Marcella's Resort

Cairo, Il

I could look at these images over and over again and not get tired of them one bit.

Unfortunately, the layout of the book (from what I can tell looking at pages on Amazon) does not treat the photographs as the work of an artist/photographer but rather as an Americana book. So, layout is bleeds, numerous photographs squeezed onto one page without margins. This is a bit disappointing given that Eastman's photographs are stunningly beautiful. However, I consider it still worthwhile to get the book after looking at these photographs on-line and will plunk down my credit card in a couple of weeks to get my copy. I will report further once I've perused the whole book.

OT: Moon Water

This is such a beautiful image that I had to post it to my blog even though it's not remotely related to books. It appeared on the New York Times with the following explanation:

Moon water. The green spherules, made of glass, are pieces of the Moon, typically about one-fifth of a millimeter in diameter, that were erupted from the lunar mantle long ago. New analysis of these volcanic glasses, which were collected by Apollo 15 astronauts, indicate that they contained 745 parts per million of water before the eruption. That suggests that there could be water in the interior of the Moon, which would be unexpected. The Moon is believed to be the result of a collision between the Earth and a Mars-size asteroid, and that cataclysm would have left the Moon high and dry.

Photo credit: NASA.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Insular Literature?

In the second volume of his history of Modern poetry, David Perkins talks about the differences between what New Criticism espoused as opposed to the actual way the New Critics had learned literature, including by reading literature in foreign languages.

I admit to being an heir to New Criticism thoughts in that I am not fluent in any foreign language, only knowing stray phrases here and there from various languages I studied ad hoc while in school. However, not knowing a language is no excuse for not reading a book in translation, including some of the most exciting poetry currently available.

Kevin Bezner in Oyster Boy talks about how New Criticism was a wrong turn in American poetry in that it espoused a natural diction in poetry rather than a language wholly different. While I don't necessarily agree with all of the review (particularly Bezner's contention that sonnet imposes a form on content; rather, in a good sonnet, the content should be chosen as suitable for the sonnet as should each word in its ability to burst out into the compressed form of the sonnet. This is what makes Gerald Manley Hopkins' sonnets so memorable along with the sprung rhythm. The contemporary practice of seeing content divorced from form has led to many unmemorable sonnets.), I think Bezner has a point. The use of almost wholly colloquial language in poems seems to be a mostly American practise.

Perhaps this points to a question I had in an earlier posting as to why the poets writing in Portuguese and Spanish have been influenced in a different way by the Whitmanian tradition than Americans have. The Portuguese and Spanish language poets seem to have encountering Surrealism at the same time that they were encountering Whitman as a poetic influence whereas Americans seem to have incorporated Whitman more along the lines of Mark Twain colloquialism meets the long line.

It could be that we are at a point where we are headed towards a cycle of insularity unless we can break off somehow. I say this when I think about my own generation of writers who seem too content with the current American poetry scene. I once heard Paul Muldoon say during a lecture that a poet is doing something wrong if he is not uncomfortable. There's so much placid acceptance that I would prefer some anger at this point.

I consider Paul Celan as one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. It is hard to think of another poet from anywhere who remained so true to articulating truths about the world while still maintaining veracity to the art. He did not write of everyday comforts, but of the difficulty of seeing the world without a veil. When I read Celan, I feel that this must have been a tremendously difficult task for Celan, one that required careful and lengthy parsing of language as well as much time spent at considering each articulation of the world.

Currently, it is estimated that only 3 percent of books published in the U.S. are works in translation (3 percent is also the name of a new review website dedicated to foreign literature). For a vast publishing industry, this is too small a percentage and we lag far behind most nations with a robust book industry.

While it is important to listen to American voices and to read the representation of American lives, in a time when our presence on the international scene reflects how little we understand other cultures, it's important for current generations and future generations to read about other nations. Moreover, I would say that such understanding shouldn't be done through the interpretations of an American author, but rather that we should fully encounter the unfamiliarity and strangeness of other nations, their artistic sensibilities, their perspectives, and their interpretations on the world.

Besides the political scene, it is crucial for writers to read literature from everywhere. How else are we to continue growing, to be made uncomfortable?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Moby on Widgets

This is what Herman Melville's Moby Dick widgets look like.

You can get Moby Dick widget t-shirts as well.

Monday, July 7, 2008

OT: Starlings!

I've seen these birds swoop down in mass formations for years in my parents' neighborhood, and then later in the vicinity of my office, without knowing what they were. They make the most amazing formations, a pulsing swirling entity of perpetual motion. I can watch them for hours, in awe.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut

I was lucky enough to read Takashi Hiraide's For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut in manuscript form a couple of months ago. It's a revelation in how to write small prose poems in beautiful language that interconnects into a larger poem with concrete themes that burst out into grander themes when read together. There's the regular commuter rails, minute observations of insect life, the wonder of fruit, rain falling into larger pools of water, the wonder of the universe encapsulated in each microcosm of living. A small bit of the book:

# 95
The battle of poetic forms, like a rag tossed on the pavement, is wet with recently spilled stars. What passes above it is a mechanism simply for passing by, a glance to be ignored. The formulaic camp remains blind to this section where each scenery emerges, but wrapped inside an old rallying call is rather a single section of acropathy patients eager to capsize the encircling cobblestones through the freedom of poetic form. They close their small eyes to the fact that a form of free verse is already a form at the disposal of political power, and that a rag waves no differently from a nation's flag.

Oh, and please admire the beautiful bilingual book design: recto English translation (trans. by Sawako Nakayasu), verso Japanese original.

Fantagraphics Sale!

Fantagraphics is having a backlist sale with many excellent books at 25% discount.

I recommend the following:
Francesa Ghermandi's Wipeout: weird shaped beings in a noir love triangle murder money story. Movie genre meets graphic novel. By the way, the noir has made a huge comeback in many different graphic novels.

Mark Kalesniko's Mail Order Bride: a comicbook-toy-geek orders a bride from South Korea only to have the submissive bride go through a journey of self-discovery and female emancipation in the land of Canada (cue Joni Mitchell).

Milt Gross's He Done Her Wrong: an early early story even before the days of "graphic novel" being coined as a term, this is all the best sentimentality, melancholy, and body language of silent movies in graphic comic form. Don't miss it. There's nothing like it. One of my favorites.

Tori Miki's Anywhere But Here: I can't even explain these quirky little panels, so I am stealing this from Paul Harrison-Davies' blog:
Kangaeochi is form of Japanese stand up comedy where the laughter (assuming the jokes funny I guess) comes a couple of seconds after the jokes punchline. Now this isn't an extreme example of Japanese politeness, it's better explained by the english translation of kangaeochi, 'the thinker's punch line'. Basically you aren't supposed to 'get' the joke, at least not straightaway. ‘Anywhere But Here’ is a collection of one page comics that are the visual equivilant of kangaeochi, out of 90 pages I laughed, or smiled, or grinned, or nodded in appreciation, at maybe 10 pages.... the first time round. That's the thing, these comics are so strange, so odd, so removed from anything I've ever see, so charming and told with such beautiful and simple artwork that you have to look at them again, and again, and again... and then, you laugh. You get it, it's so obvious. And brilliant, did I mention that?