Saturday, October 30, 2004

Finally, a review of Derek Walcott's new book, The Prodigal--by Mary Jo Salter in the NY Times.

The Prodigal seems an almost inevitable title for the verse memoir that Derek Walcott, addressing himself within it, calls "your last book." One hopes that this prediction of finality, by the Caribbean poet who so clearly deserved his Nobel Prize in 1992, is wrong. And yet the biblical theme of the prodigal son has been waiting as steadily as home--the end of the story--for this world-wanderer, born in 1930, who now openly feels his age....

It's easy to name themes in The Prodigal: the familiar struggle, for this Caribbean- and North American-based poet of African, English and Dutch ancestry, of synthesizing his fractured identity; the deracinating effects of world fame; the regrets and bodily changes of old age; the war of importance between History (often capitalized) and natural history; the loss of vividly remembered loved ones; the more unsettling loss of memory.

Yet to summarize the poem's action is almost impossible. In abrupt scene changes from Boston to Zermatt to Milan to Genoa to Guadalajara (the list goes on); in fleeting references by first name to people most readers won't recognize; in numbered sections that could have been divided otherwise without much consequence; in odd shifts of verb tense--The Prodigal disappoints by not finding a home in a few controlling poetic techniques, apart from a wobbly blank verse. The story's structural and syntactic lapses loom larger where the music is lacking.

Walcott seems to know that his poem is something of a hash, and approaches this suspicion with a mixture of defiance ("I could give facts and dates, but to what use?") and apology....

But longtime followers of Walcott will also recognize here, in seaweed he likens to sentences, and crows to commas, his distinctive world as one that is represented metaphorically as text. Although Walcott himself sometimes wearies of his tendency to think "pebbles are parables," The Prodigal is also shot through with images that grasp the world with a wonderful directness: "And the twig-brown lizard scuttles up its branch / like fingers on the struts of a guitar."

(His "last book"? Naipaul has been saying the same thing about Magic Seeds. Are we ready for the possibility of no more Walcott & no more Naipaul?)

Friday, October 29, 2004

Ron Silliman today:

From my perspective, the most important moment in a prose poem is that which occurs between the period of one sentence & the capital letter that initiates the next. No two blank spaces are alike & there are moments when I think of the sentences primarily as a way of setting those spaces up & as if it were the spaces that were the true strokes of the painting. I can, when I am really in the zone, when I’m writing & sometimes when I’m in a reading as well, literally hear those spaces just as I do the softer ones between words, let alone the half-hidden ones you can find within words if you just listen closely. Silence is so much a part of noise yet we so seldom give it heed....

Sound is very much a liquid. We’re immersed in it, bathed in its waves. Even if you’re in an anechoic chamber--and I’ve been in a few of them lately--it’s never silent. One’s body hums right along, synapses chime, the clatter of bloodflow is as loud as the subway. Yet that is the closest I will ever get to “pure” silence. I’ve approached it only once in the real world, so-called, on a cold February morning in 1978 near Zabriskie Point in Death Valley. It’s like trying to see the night sky without the light pollution of cities--you have to go a long way to do it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Weight of Things

Fire removes the weight of things. A church
snatched by flame climbs into cloud
as proud as the house where women fuck.
I have seen half a city removed by fire
and walked afterwards among the men.
Some looked only at their feet,

but others bounced with cheerful strides.
The weight of the city removed by fire
also made them weightless.
I am trying to understand fire
and all its uses,

and why some men
regard their feet so carefully
and some revel in clouds.

-- James Christopher Aboud

From his new book Lagahoo Poems, just published by Peepal Tree, eighteen years after The Stone Rose.

Monday, October 25, 2004

The early socialist writers and thinkers, great men, William Morris, Shaw, all these people at the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century, they had an idea that socialism would, as it were, give a great impetus to civilisation, high civilisation and spread it out among the general population. It has worked the other way. You don't have to go to England to know that the level of English entertainment, the current of thought, public thought is at an extremely low level. And people want it like that. They want it to be for the people. They want it to be plebian. They want it very low. That's terrible. And that weighs on me. Because without a high civilisation, I think, countries eventually rot away.

V.S. Naipaul, interviewed a short while ago on India's NDTV.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

My copy of Walcott's Collected Poems:

The spine has cracked at page 346,
the second page of "The Schooner Flight".
"Christ have mercy on all sleeping things!"

Beg pardon.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

I really am quite old now. Books require an immense amount of energy. It is just not pages. It is ideas, observations, many narrative lines.... I don't think there are many people who write books after 72.

Naipaul is in India again, claiming his writing career is over.
Mark Rothko: For art is always the final generalization.... It must provide the implications of infinity to any situation. And if our own environment is too diverse to allow a philosophical unity, it must find some symbol to express at least the desire for one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

I can Google him for you if you are having difficulties.

Various British luminaries attempt to explain "Jackie" Derrida, the "snowy-haired philosopher".

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Saturday, October 09, 2004

I would rather be Falstaff or Sancho than a version of Hamlet or Don Quixote, because growing old and ill teaches me that being matters more than knowing.

Uncle Harold!

Friday, October 01, 2004

The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.

R.I.P. Richard Avedon
Granta is 25 years old in its current incarnation, & its editor, Ian Jack, has been musing over the magazine's history. My favourite bit:

To help me get a few facts into these anniversary notes, I have been going through the files of Granta correspondence. Since 1998 or so, email has eaten into the richness of these. Letters now are a rarity. This may be bad news for the biographer, but at least it saves editors the pain of revisiting their laxity. Out of Granta has come a torrent of editorial sorrow and hand-wringing, letters to contributors, would-be and actual, that begin: "A thousand million apologies" or "I am so sorry for this late reply" or "I am sorry to be so slow/so late/so careless". One letter, to Martha Gellhorn, consists of the single word "sorry" typed a hundred times. Another of my favourites goes:

"My treatment of you has been shabby and terrible and certainly not human ... your piece got inadvertently paper-clipped to another manuscript and was therefore misfiled: I found it after several regular, frantic searches over the course of the last few months, hoping each time to try and elevate myself from the horrible, humiliating predicament I found myself in - of not getting back to you properly. I am sorry. This is the second time this has happened and both times because of a mishap. But this is still not to excuse me: it wouldn't have taken but a phone call to let you know that I didn't think that 'Tall Trees' would work in our biography issue."

Perhaps I'm not the worst editor in the world after all, at least not when it comes to answering correspondence.