Beneath the domestic surface

Zen garden (21 May 2016)

Zen garden (21 May 2016)

“Mementos that Bird has kept for years hold the past inside them, making it tangible and permanent: clippings of Mickey’s hair, peels of the first orange they shared, a bloody tissue. They stir nostalgia but reopen its wounds, like scabs asking to be tugged back so they can bleed.” (from Sarah Gerard’s NYT review of “Bird” by Noy Holland)

On page 59: a lovely sentence that seems like a found senryū …

A swell of things:
gathered, unsortable,
gone. 

“It is here, in Holland’s subtly radiant ­details … that “Bird” shines brightest, since they so aptly mirror what’s happening beneath the domestic surface.” (another snippet from Sarah Gerard’s review)

This novel sings like
poetry; I’m obliged to 

read between the lines.

(19 May 2016)

“The writing is hallucinatory, musical and intimate.” (Sarah Gerard)


Holland, Noy. 2015. Bird. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press.

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Surrender to the sky

Selected Poems of James K Baxter; Paul Millar (cover)

Selected Poems of James K Baxter, edited by Paul Millar (cover)

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Baxter ambushed me again
today. (Yes, okay, I’ll explain.)

I’m in the New Zealand Reference Collection, Wellington City Library, and making my way to one of my habitual reading spots. Having already picked up the latest issue of Sculpture, and a Vidar Sundstøl novel, I have plenty to occupy my afternoon … but some library staff member has set up this book of Baxter’s poems on the end of a shelf.

Opening the slim volume at random, I smile my way through some familiar verses, but eventually turn back to the first in Millar’s selection – the iconic High Country Weather, which Baxter had penned in 1945 at 19 years of age:

Alone we are born
…… And die alone;
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
…… Over snow mountain shine.

Along the upland road
…… Ride easy, stranger:
Surrender to the sky
…… Your heart of anger.

The opening lines seem like a contrary echo of “Thee, God, I come from, to thee go” (Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844–89). And the supercharged description, “red-gold cirrus”, takes me straight to the final cadence of The Windhover, in which the poet gazes not up at wind-winnowed clouds but into the glowing coals of a camp-fire:

… shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

From the first, I suspected I might be reading too much into Baxter’s lines – would the adolescent poet have (as I had) read Hopkins? At school, he had certainly read Auden, Spender, MacNeice, and Day-Lewis – and also, later, Rimbaud, Dylan Thomas, and Hart Crane (Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand). We know he had been turning out poems since the age of seven, “and completed six hundred between the ages of sixteen and twenty” (Paul Stanley Ward).

Whereas Hopkins revelled in the arcane, characteristically seeking out “All things counter, original, spare, strange” (from G M Hopkins, Pied Beauty), Baxter delighted in a beguiling simplicity, an almost facile fluidity. We do well to remember, though, that “Baxter was a compelling mix of high and low culture, sacred and profane” (Paul Stanley Ward).

Some see existentialism in High Country Weather – it certainly carries little trace of the Catholicism that was later to infuse the poet’s work. To me, it seems more Buddhist than existentialist. In Sexual Personae [p5], Camille Paglia asserts that “Buddhist meditation seeks the unity and harmony of reality,” but later on the same page adds that “Every time we say nature is beautiful, we are saying a prayer, fingering our worry beads.”

James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause”

James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause”

I cannot avoid pointing to another James: James Dean, in Rebel Without a Cause – although, of course, High Country Weather predates the 1955 film by a decade. Baxter described his adolescence as “a testing time”, and his university experience as a “long, unsuccessful love affair with the Higher Learning” (Paul Stanley Ward).

Hopkins and Baxter, each with very different sensibilities, both tap into something of how the human mind makes sense of things. Camille Paglia argues that “Poetry is the connecting link between body and mind” (Paglia, 1990), elsewhere contending that “Poetry is the way into a spiritual vision of society and the universe.”

Perhaps I’d have been closer to the mark had I connected High Country Weather with words from Be Happy in Bed (1958-9, 1979, also included in Millar’s selection):

The self so persecuted by enigmas
prefers a mountain to a nagging mother.


NOTES:

The “today” in my opening couplet refers not to the date of publication, but to the day (a week or more ago) on which I started writing this piece.

Paul Stanley Ward’s story, James K Baxter: On the Razor’s Edge, appears on http://www.nzedge.com/james-keir-baxter/

Article on life and poetry of James K Baxter is found on Poet Seers, a web-site developed by members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre.

Analysis of The Windhover: https://hokku.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/deciphering-hopkins-the-windhover/

Paglia, Camille. 1990. Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Yale University Press; Penguin (paperback, 1990). See: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300043969

Profile of Camille Paglia: http://www.uarts.edu/users/cpaglia

IMAGES:

The cover image for Selected Poems of James K Baxter, edited by Paul Millar shows Baxter outside “Canterbury University” in 1947.  Image credit: Hocken Library.

James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause” appears in a piece titled “100th Anniversary Of The T shirt” on the web-site, http://www.designbyhumans.com/forum/dbh-news/1153137/100th-anniversary-of-the-t-shirt/

 

What lies behind me …

afternoon light (01 September 2011)

afternoon light (01 September 2011)

What lies behind me still remains ahead of me. (László Krasznahorkai, in Satantango

From time to time, unexpected things pop up on the “new titles” shelves at the Wellington Central Library. Satantango (written by László Krasznahorkai) was first published in 1985, but the translation by George Szirtes from the Hungarian did not appear until 2012; even so, I would not have expected it to be accorded “new title” status – but one day, there it was. At first glance, the matte black cover looked as if it had been stitched with long white tacking stitches (such as a tailor might use), but then I wondered if perhaps, given its title, it had been inscribed with magical glyphs. (There’s a cover image with the Amazon listing.)

Intrigued, I took the book home, but somehow didn’t manage to get through more than a few pages before it was due to be returned. When I went back to borrow it again the following day, someone else had beaten me to it. (And, at that time, all the library’s copies of this author’s other titles were also out on loan.)

Satantango … now regarded as a classic, is a monster of a novel: compact, cleverly constructed, often exhilarating, and possessed of a distinctive, compelling vision – but a monster nevertheless. It is brutal, relentless and so amazingly bleak that it’s often quite funny.” (Theo Tait in a review for The Guardian, Wednesday 9 May 2012)

Krasznahorkai’s translator George Szirtes calls his work a “slow lava flow of narrative, a vast black river of type”, and says his sentences take you down “loops and dark alleyways – like wandering in and out of cellars”. At one point the wind moves through the trees like a “helpless hand searching through a dusty book for some vanished main clause”; the reader feels something comparable. (Theo Tait)

In 1994, Hungarian director Béla Tarr released Sátántangóa film based on the novel. Shot in black-and-white, it runs for over seven hours. The critic Susan Sontag described Sátántangó as “Devastating, enthralling for every minute of its seven hours. I’d be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life.” (Wikipedia article, Sátántangó)

Both the book and the film are structured in twelve sections – although these are not necessarily in chronological order. (The structure of the tango, I am told, is six forward moves followed by six back.)

And now I’ve been reading it again … but I still haven’t finished it. (It has been returned, and I’ll need to go back for it … again.)

“The imagination never stops working but we’re not one jot nearer the truth,” remarks Irimiás at one point.

__________

Krasznahorkai, László. 1985. Satantango. Translated from the Hungarian [translation copyright © 2012 George Szirtes]. New York: New Directions. [p133]

New angles

new angles [#236] (22 December 2013)

new angles [#236] (22 December 2013)

A bit of time has elapsed since the previous post on |atwistedpair|. I have been working on a writing project – a novel – which has raised a number of issues for me. Not surprising, then, that I am looking for new angles.

new angles [#235] (22 December 2013)

new angles [#235] (22 December 2013)

Telling stories

beginning middle end (18 July 2013)

beginning middle and end (18 July 2013)

The first day of December, the first Sunday in Advent, the first day of our southern hemisphere summer. And the first day after the end of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

My participation in NaNoWriMo had me commit to writing – during the month of November – 50,000 words towards my new novel, the working title of which is “You Wouldn’t Dare!”

The truth is that I wrote about half of what I’d committed to. And about half of what I wrote might ultimately find itself inside the novel.

To me, the three big benefits of being involved were: 1/ the discipline of writing every day, 2/ training myself to write down anything and everything that came to mind, and 3/ I discovered things I wanted to write but didn’t dare write.

It was the middle of winter when the Sky Rialto poster (above) was pasted on the building next to where I live. I have now gained a new layer of understanding of those words. The sequence in which a story is told need not conform to any chronology. The sequence in which the story was written will certainly not do so.

It isn’t real until it’s on the page

"Indiscretion" by Charles Dubow

“Indiscretion” by Charles Dubow

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How do I know all this? Harry wrote it all down, and I read about it later. Every moment of the trip and much more besides. Isn’t that what writers do? It isn’t real until it’s on the page. Although I didn’t know all the details until years after. – “Walter” (the narrator) on p108 of Charles Dubow’s novel, “Indiscretion”

Told through the omniscient eyes of Maddy’s childhood friend Walter, Indiscretion is a juicy, page turning novel with writing that is sophisticated and lyrical. (Goodreads review)

PS: Harry’s affair (the “indiscretion” of the title) is exposed about halfway through the book … and that’s the point I had reached when I posted this piece.

Charles Dubow has me hooked, and I’ll be keen to find out what happens in the second half.

In the meantime, I’m giving a lot of thought to the technicalities of the narrative devices novelists use. Dubow seems somewhat uncomfortable with the device he’s employed – “the omniscient eyes of Maddy’s childhood friend Walter” – and I have been distracted by his frequent reminders and explanations.

PPS (25 July 2013): Finished reading “Indiscretion” several days ago, and overall was satisfied with the book.

The fundamental tendency of matter

Legion (cover)

Legion (cover)

The human brain, three pounds of tissue, held more than a hundred billion brain cells and five hundred trillion synaptic connections. It dreamed and wrote music and Einstein’s equations, it created the language and the geometry and engines that probed the stars, and it cradled a mother asleep through a storm while it woke her at the faintest cry from her child. A computer that could handle all of its functions would cover the surface of the earth.

The hundreds of millions of years of evolution from paramecium to man didn’t solve the mystery, thought Kinderman. The mystery was evolution itself. The fundamental tendency of matter was toward a total disorganization, toward a final state of utter randomness from which the universe would never recover. Each moment its connections were becoming unthreaded as it flung itself headlong into the void in a reckless scattering of itself, impatient for the death of its cooling suns. And yet here was evolution, Kinderman marvelled, a hurricane piling up straw into haystacks, bundles of ever-increasing complexity that denied the very nature of their stuff. Evolution was a theorem written on a leaf that was floating against the direction of the river. A Designer was at work. So what else? It’s as plain as can be. When a man hears hoofbeats in Central Park, he shouldn’t be looking around for zebras. (William Peter Blatty, in Legion [pp104-5]) 

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Originally published by Simon & Schuster in 1983, and subsequently turned into what Rinker calls “a more than satisfactory sequel … Exorcist III (which, mercifully, has nothing to do with Exorcist II: The Heretic).” Legion appeared in a Tor paperback edition in 2011 (Tom Doherty Associates, New York).