Friday, April 29, 2005

In his celebrated epic poem Omeros (1990), Walcott took Homer to the Caribbean, turning Achilles and Philoctetes into local fishermen. The Prodigal lacks that kind of narrative pull and energy, and it takes a while for the reader to get the hang of it, to see that its shape isn't the arc of a journey but comes from the drift of the poet's mind. What we're offered aren't travel diaries so much as lecture notes - on art, exile, migration, race, empire, love and "the monstrous map ... called Nowhere" where all of us are headed.

-- Blake Morrison reviewing The Prodigal in the UK Guardian a few days ago.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Born in Fresno, California, the fifth of six children, Constance was a bright girl for whom perhaps the defining moment of her childhood was the discovery of her father's racism. Constance's sense of social justice was ignited by this, and other discoveries, and at the age of 15 she joined the Socialist party.

Three years later, Webb travelled to Los Angeles to listen to the "elegant" C L R James lecturing on The Negro Question. The 37-year-old Trinidadian skilfully engineered the opportunity to spend a few hours alone with Webb before pressing on to Mexico, where he was scheduled to meet Leon Trotsky.

According to Webb's memoir, Not Without Love (2003), James conducted himself as the perfect gentleman and spoke about race issues in the US. For the next six years, James maintained a regular correspondence with her, which amounted to more than 200 letters, published in 1996 in the volume Special Delivery.

Although James barely knew Webb, his emotional investment in her was huge, and the openness and freedom with which he shared his ideas leaves the reader in no doubt as to his profound love for her.

R.I.P. Constance Webb.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The gold-stamped lettering on one of artist and chief curator David Boxer’s vitrines at Jamaica’s second National Biennial argues that “Artists Lose Everything when they get into bed with marketing people.” The irony won’t be lost on those who remember how Boxer’s concept of untrained Jamaican “Intuitives” in the late 1970s launched a decade of US sales. But what opened on December 12th at the National Gallery in Kingston and ran through March 29th was less about artists making a stand against the art market than about shaping a massively eclectic show that does what exhibitions of art from a single nation don’t normally achieve. It made a forceful statement that got louder with every piece, and wasn’t drowned out by its own noise. This was the proudest, most vibrant art show in the Anglo-Caribbean.

-- From my friend Leon Wainwright's review of the 2004 Jamaica National Biennial, in the current issue of Arts Fairs International.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Reading Berryman

I have a tiny little secret hope that, after a decent period of silence and prose, I will find myself in some almost impossible life situation and will respond to this with outcries of rage, rage and love, such as the world has never heard before. Like Yeats's great outburst at the end of his life. This comes out of a feeling that endowment is a very small part of achievement. I would rate it about fifteen or twenty percent. Then you have historical luck, personal luck, health, things like that, then you have hard work, sweat. And you have ambition. The incredible difference between the achievement of A and the achievement of B is that B wanted it, so he made all kinds of sacrifices. A could have had it, but he didn't give a damn....

But what I was going on to say is that I do strongly feel that among the greatest pieces of luck for high achievement is ordeal. Certain great artists can make out without it, Titian and others, but mostly you need ordeal. My idea is this: the artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he's in business.

-- From John Berryman's Paris Review interview--one of several dozen writers-at-work interviews downloadable at the magazine's DNA of Literature site.

Will I ever write properly, with passion & exactness,
of the damned strange demeanours of my flagrant heart?
& be by anyone anywhere undertaken?
One more unanswerable question.

-- From Berryman's poem "Monkhood", in Love & Fame.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

If some of these mysterious goings-on remind you of Wilson Harris, the connection is not incidental. McWatt's Guyana is by and large Harris' metaphysical terrain; his settings are the Pomeroon, the Mazaruni, Kaiteur; characters experience "involuntary shudders" and "realize in a flash what they had known intuitively all along". And "Afternoon without Tears"--a strong "tribute" to Guyana's mythmaking genius--is so delightfully accessible, you could be forgiven for suspecting the writer is a Wilson Harris doppelganger.

-- Wyck Williams, writing online at Julie Mango about Suspended Sentences, Mark McWatt's new book of short stories. (I'd never have thought a writer's "accessibility" could bring Wilson Harris to mind.)
"When readers decide that something is a poem, they read in a different way. As literary critics we would like to think that this is a more thoughtful way, more receptive to the text’s richness and complexity, but in psychological terms it is the same sort of reading produced by a dyslexic reader who finds reading difficult."

Via the Literary Saloon.

Also, via languagehat, a new & potentially fascinating literary blog, The Valve.