Showing posts from January, 2007

Powerful Silence, Powerful Sound

Alex Ross on Toru Takemitsu: Takemitsu’s career, like that of many a twentieth-century composer, took the form of an outward journey and an eventual homecoming. What’s notable is that along the way he rediscovered his identity as a Japanese artist, having initially rejected tradition out of disgust with the hyper-nationalism of imperial Japan. Above all, he prized the concept of ma --the "powerful silence," as he defined it, which is set in relief by a single, equally powerful sound. Most of his mature works begin with a tone materializing from silence, and end with a dematerialization toward silence again.

Demon Theory Week at the LBC

Over at the LitBlog Co-op, it's Demon Theory Week . This book didn't do much for me, but that may have as much to do with me as it, so don't stay away, because the discussion has already gotten interesting.

Roving Thoughts on Apocalpyse

There's some discussion going around the blogosphere of apocalypse and related issues. A post by Joseph Kugelmass at The Valve offers all sorts of interesting ideas, and promises to be the first part of a consideration of the role of poetry and apocalypse, particularly as it derives from the question of what Frank O'Hara has to do with global warming -- or, more accurately, isn't "personal" poetry trivial in a world faced with various threats of destruction? [ Update 1/29: The second post , with reference to the movie Children of Men and to O'Hara's concept of "personism" is now available.] (Speaking of global warming and apocalypse, as somebody points out in the comments to Kugelmass's post, Bruce Sterling has declared that the Viridian Design movement is winning .) I fear the discussion of poetry in a world of apocalyptic climate change will devolve into the old arguments about whether writers have to be "engaged" or not, an


There are so many good things about Babel , so many moments that held me transfixed as I watched, that I am reluctant to say what I really think: That it doesn't add up to much. This is not to say it's a bad movie -- it's vastly better than much of what's out there -- but it sets expectations so high that only a perfect mix of luck and genius could create anything to meet them, and the luck and genius of Babel lie scattered (plentifully, but still scattered) through various scenes and strands of story. The first expectations I had for Babel were the expectations created by the director's ( Alejandro González Iñárritu ) and writer's ( Guillermo Arriaga ) previous movies, Amores Perros and 21 Grams . I recognize that it's perhaps unfair to judge a work by its creator's previous works, but I can't help it -- watching Amores Perros was an extraordinary experience, and 21 Grams , though certainly inferior, was nonetheless interesting and powerful.

JPK Speculates

James Patrick Kelly is touring New Hampshire at the moment as part of the NH Humanities Council's year-long Speculate program, and I went to his presentation at the Pease Public Library in my hometown of Plymouth. Jim, Meghan McCarron , and I went out for dinner beforehand so that we could be geeky and talk sci-fi. (Meghan and I had, earlier that day, caused a slight scene in the dining hall of the school where we work, because we were discussing some writer or another, book deals, sub-subgenres, conventions, etc. all in the space of about a minute and a half, because we share common reference points and can thus speak in what sounds to everyone else like a different dialect. We stopped when we realized everybody around us was silent and staring at us in bemused horror.) It was a marvelous dinner, and Meghan didn't insult New Hampshire, the state Jim and I have lived in for much of our lives, too vociferously, which disappointed us somewhat, because there is nothing a tru

Going Down River Road by Meja Mwangi

Baby should not have drunk coffee. He urinated all of it during the night and now the smell lay thick and throat-catching, overcoming even the perfume of his mother's bed across the room. In the bed Ben lay with the boy's mother curled in his large arms, warm and soft and fast asleep. But Ben was not asleep anymore. The pungent baby urine stink had awakened him long before his usual waking up time. He released the woman, turned and reached on the bedside table for a cigarette to combat the musty smell from the baby's bed. There were no cigarettes in the packet. He lit a half-smoked one from the ash-tray and lay smoking in the early morning gloom. Wini breathed soft and low by his side. Her nude body lay stretched out against his, her hand resting on the inside of his hairy thigh. She would be waking up soon to make his breakfast. He did not stir her. She had her own clockwork system that first turned her over once or twice before she opened her eyes to complain

Seven Loves at the LBC

It's Seven Loves week at the LitBlog Co-op , and I highly recommend stopping by now and then this week, because Valerie Trueblood's novel is absolutely beautiful -- lyrical, affecting, complex, and entrancing (any other quarter, it probably would have been my first pick, but I couldn't help but fall hopelessly in love with Wizard of the Crow ). I'm hoping to do a bit of posting about it later in the week, but some unexpected events at work have knocked me a bit behind on things.

Rain Taxi: The Auction

The great and glorious Rain Taxi is having an auction , which is good news for anybody who likes interesting books. Even before I started writing for them, Rain Taxi was -- both in print and online -- the place I most frequently discovered great books I'd never heard of. Their interviews are often marvelous, too -- see, for instance, the recent ones with Neil Gaiman , Ben Fountain , and Clare Dudman . (Note to Gaiman fans: there's a bunch of signed and rare stuff at the auction.) The auction ends this coming Sunday, January 21.

LBC Winter Selection, etc.

Over at the LitBlog Co-op is an annoucement of this quarter's Read This! selection , a book that I utterly adore. (And I just about utterly adore one of the other nominees, too, so it seemed to me like one of the stronger quarters the LBC has had in a while. I'll have a lot more to say later.) Things are likely to be slow here this week (as if they haven't been for the past few weeks...) because we're finishing up work on Best American Fantasy , which is shaping up to be a pretty durn interesting anthology, methinks, and one unlike any other out there. (Not that I'm biased or anything.) Speaking of BAF , Jeff VanderMeer (who also recommends the LBC pick) has posted his thoughts on some of what we've encountered while reading. I'm still thinking about all this, trying to have something resembling a coherent thought after reading and discussing piles of stories, so I'm going to refrain from saying anything for right now other than that basically I co

"The Reasons for the Science Fiction Fad"

From Time magazine, May 1949: There has been some speculation about the reasons for the science-fiction fad. The Saturday Review of Literature's Harrison Smith has speculated about the relation of the "age of anxiety" to the "scientific fantasy story" as "a buffer against known and more conceivable terrors." Publishers' Weekly finds that the appeal of these stories lies "in their free flight of [imagination] . . . uninhibited by present reality, yet sometimes terrifyingly close to the advanced discoveries of modern science." The reader who reads science fiction dispassionately is likely to be struck by how closely the human imagination is tied to reality, even when it deliberately sets out to violate it. Stanley Weinbaum's loonies and slinkers have been seen before. The shapes may be different, but his dream-beasts come startlingly close to what the human race has been running across, for a good many years, in its childish nightma

No Better Time to Buy Books from Small Presses

What with the bankruptcy of AMS/PGW -- a major distributor of books from independent presses -- many publishers of books and authors we all know and love are struggling to stay afloat themselves. Things sound particularly scary for McSweeney's, publishers of this year's Mumpsimus Award winner, Here They Come by Yannick Murphy: For McSweeney's, the timing of AMS's filing could not have been worse: A large portion of the revenues from the publisher's new Dave Eggers novel, What is the What -- a percentage of which were to be donated to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation to aid the Sudanese in America and the Sudan -- is now tied up in the bankruptcy. "We shipped 60,000 copies during that period and the proceeds are not here yet," said Horowitz. Among the many quirky and wondrous McSweeney's books, I'm still reading and enjoying -- loving, actually -- The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian, a very big book that I am reading very, very slowl

Coming to Birth by Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye

While at the SLS/Kwani? conference in Kenya, I was in a workshop led by M.G. Vassanji , and one day when we had some extra time, he walked with a group of us to the city center in Nairobi. Our first stop was Prestige Book-sellers on Mama Ngina Street, because it was, we were told, a good source of fiction and poetry published in Kenya. As we were looking through the books, someone in the group noticed that Marjorie Macgoye had come into the store. "I'm just here to get some Christmas presents," she said. I was, I think, the only one of the Americans in the group who knew who she was -- I had begun reading her second novel, Coming to Birth just before I left for Kenya, but I hadn't had time to finish it, and it was a library book, so I just figured it was something I would eventually get back to on my return. I grabbed a copy of the East African Education Publishers' edition of the book from the shelf, quickly paid for it, and brought it to Mrs. Macgoye, who s

"For the Angels to Read"

John Leonard on Tillie Olson: There are some stories that don't translate into any other medium. They should stay in their books to surprise us, leaping from ambush. When she wrote Tell Me a Riddle , Tillie Olsen, like William Blake, covered paper with words "for the angels to read." At the time, I was too young to know anything important about poor people, black people, women or history. But we enter into books as if into a conspiracy: for company, of course, and narrative, and romance; for advice on how to be decent and brave; for a slice of the strange, the shock of the Other, the witness not yet heard from, archaeologies forgotten, ignored or despised; and also for radiance and transcendence, that radioactive glow of genius in the dark. How dark it was, how dark. I could feel the darkness with my hands.... and as I journeyed upward after him, it seemed I heard a mourning: "Mama Mama you must help carry the world." The rise and fall of nations I saw. And the

Some Thoughts on Kwani? LitFest from Beverley Nambozo

I asked fellow Kwani? LitFest/SLS 2006 participant Beverley Nambozo for some thoughts on the experience, and she provided the following... Nairobi. The performance poetry class began like a secondary school literature lesson. Thankfully, it escalated to a mature discourse. The students did not get the opportunity to perform before others but it was a good learning ground. There was genuine enthusiasm in the class and some students also had a chance to visit other workshops. With more training material and a stronger communication network, much more work can be covered for next year. The Heron Hotel: Stiff necked writers, editors and librarians concealing their huge breakfasts with manuscripts, note pads and journals. Hmph! Timid students milling around the Tin House editor, Farafina Magazine editor, Sable litmag editor and Kwani? editor wondering if their works had hopes of existing off their worn out looking manuscripts into the above mentioned finer established magazines. An ord

Tillie Olsen and Donald M. Murray

Earlier this week, I wanted to say something about the death of Tillie Olsen , but I couldn't think of much of anything to say other than, "If you haven't read her work, do." And now I have discovered that Donald Murray has also died . There is, as far as I know, no link between Olsen and Murray, but I discovered them both at roughly the same time, and both had a profound influence on me when I was quite young. The first writing workshop I ever attended was one for kids who were identified as "gifted and talented" in some area. I attended the workshop for two or three weeks at a college in Pennsylvania the summer between seventh and eighth grades, the first time I had been away from home for more than a couple nights. One of the textbooks we used was Murray's Write to Learn , a book I highlighted so much that entire pages seemed to have been painted bright yellow. It was the first time I'd ever encountered truly helpful writing advice. It seeme

Answering Questions

I've wanted to write about Kenya, but haven't known quite what to do -- I don't really want to write only about who I saw and what I did, because that feels very limited, yet I'm wary of writing about all the things I'm thinking about in terms of Kenya, writing, writers, and publishing, because I don't feel the authority to be able to write about those things in a way that would be useful to somebody other than me. I haven't really adjusted to being back in the U.S. and doing all the stuff I was doing before Kenya. I don't want to make the trip out to be some sort of grandly illuminating and life-changing thing, the tale so often told by colonialists and racists (often with the best of intentions and biggest of ignorances) of the rich white guy with existentialist qualms going off to the dark continent and discovering A.) his humanity; or B.) the inhumanity of the "primitive" world. It was an illuminating trip; it was life-changing, but I

"Exploding Wildly Outward"

From Black Sunlight by Dambudzo Marechera : "You know about changelings? I feel them all the time. As though we were all changelings and not exactly what we appear to be. That's what I was trying to sing to Nicola. There's so much missing inside where things ought not to be missing. As if something indefinable was taken out of us long long ago. Don't you feel that sometimes?" I could have said I felt like that all the time. I could have said that's how everything seems to be. Most of the time. The ghastly emptiness that was always there. The feeling of having died and yet not really died, of how one had been subtracted from all that makes life a living experience. I could have said it was the fear inside me of a world whose changes would never include a change for the better. Like hearing in the middle of the night some phantom figure moving about hammering nails into all the things one had learnt to take for granted. Discovering how infinitely a

New Layout for the New Year

I've been working with the template manager for the new version of Blogger, so the layout here is now new -- not unfamiliar, I hope, but there are some changes to colors and shapes and content. There are limits to what I can do without going in and editing the HTML code itself, which I'll probably do eventually, because there are some things from the previous layout that I like but that the template manager doesn't allow me to fiddle with (such as the sidebar font size differentiated from the post text size). The greatest benefit so far is that the three-and-a-half-year-old code, a Frankenstein monster built from an old template and adjusted by me using an ancient edition of Dreamweaver, is now gone and replaced with something much cleaner, which will make future edits easier and should make the page load more quickly and coherently. We'll see. A work in progress... Happy new year everybody!

Juliet Ulman: The Outtake

I interviewed Bantam Senior Editor Juliet Ulman for Fantasy Magazine recently, and Juliet kindly let me save one of her responses for a bonus feature here. Thus, the question I know you all have wanted to ask her, but that only I was brave enough to pose: MC: If you were a character from "The Muppets", which character would you want to be? JU: This has changed at various points over the years. I remember having a real fondness for Gonzo, among others, but these days, I definitely dig the grumpy guys in the box seat -- Statler and Waldorf. I never liked Kermit.