Complaint to God (Alasdair Gray’s Lanark)

Books, Literature

The more he worked the more the furious figure of God kept popping in and having to be removed: God driving out Adam and Eve for learning to tell right from wrong, God preferring meat to vegetables and making the first planter hate the first herdsman, God wiping the slate of the world clean with water and leaving only enough numbers to start multiplying again, God fouling up language to prevent the united nations reaching him at Babel, God telling a people to invade, exterminate and enslave for him, then letting other people do the same back. Disaster followed disaster to the horizon until Thaw wanted to block it with the hill and gibbet where God, sick to death of his own violent nature, tried to let divine mercy into the world by getting hung as the criminal he was. It was comical to think he achieved that by telling folk to love and not hurt each other. Thaw groaned aloud and said, “I don’t enjoy hounding you like this, but I refuse to gloss the facts. I admire most of your work. I don’t even resent the ice ages, even if they did make my ancestors carnivorous. I’m astonished by your way of leading fertility into disaster, then repairing the disaster with more fertility. If you were a busy dung beetle pushing the sun above the skyline, if you had the head of a hawk or the horns and legs of a goat I would understand and sympathize. If you headed a squabbling committee of Greek departmental chiefs I would sympathize. But your book claims you are a man, the one perfect man of whom we are imperfect copies. And then you have the bad taste to put yourself in it. Only the miracle of my genius stops me feeling depressed about this, and even so my brushes are clogged by theology, that bastard of the sciences. Let me remember that a painting, before it is anything else, is a surface on which colours are arranged in a certain order.

From Alasdair Gray’s novel Lanark.

The Selected Poetry of Emilio Villa (Book Acquired, 6.27.2014)

Books, Literature

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I had never heard of Emilio Villa until the kind people at Contra Mundum forwarded me some digital excerpts from their new collection, The Selected Poetry of Emilio Villa. Those excerpts were fascinating, but they don’t—can’t—capture how big and strange and beautiful the finished book is.

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Dominic Siracusa translates; he also provides a lengthy introduction, an essay that primes the reader to better understand Villa, a “a biblicist who composed experimental verse in over ten different languages.”

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The variety of languages Villa composed in is complicated by his experimental techniques including fragmentation, the blending and splitting of morphemes, his use of graphemes, and other corruptions and disruptions.

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Villa’s poetry seems simultaneously to be a rich linguistic ooze, generative and messy, blending through myth and time, but also a refinement, a collection of criticism even. The book is really damn puzzling in a really fun way.

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More to come, for now, the lengthy jacket copy:

While Emilio Villa (1914–2003) was referred to as Zeus because of his greatness and Rabelais because of his mental voracity, for decades his work remained in oblivion, only recently surfacing to reveal him to be one of the most formidable figures of the Italian Novecento, if not of world culture. His marginalization was in part self-inflicted, due to his sibylline nature if not to his great erudition, which gave rise to a poetics so unconventional that few knew what to make of it: a biblicist who composed experimental verse in over ten different languages, including tongues from Milanese dialect and Italian to French, Portuguese, ancient Greek, and even Sumerian and Akkadian. As Andrea Zanzotto declared, “From the very beginning, Villa was so advanced that, even today, his initial writings or graphemes appear ahead of the times and even the future, suspended between a polymorphous sixth sense and pure non-sense.”

In merging his background as a scholar, translator, and philologist of ancient languages with his conception of poetics, Villa creates the sensation that, when reading his work, we are coming into contact with language at its origins, spoken as if for the first time, with endless possibilities. Whether penning verse, translating Homer’s Odyssey, or writing on contemporary or primordial art, Villa engages in a paleoization of the present and a modernization of the past, wherein history is abolished and interpretation suspended, leaving room only for the purely generative linguistic act, one as potent today as it was eons ago.

This volume of Villa’s multilingual poetry ranges across his entire writing life and also includes selections from his translation of the Bible, his writings on ancient and modern art, and his visual poetry. Presented in English for the very first time, The Selected Poetry of Emilio Villa also contains material that is rare even to Italian readers. In adhering to the original notion of poetry as making, Villa acts as the poet-faber in tandem with his readers, creating une niche dans un niche for them to enter and create within, as if language itself were an eternal and infinite void in which creation remains an ever possible and continuously new event.

Miruna, A Tale (Book Acquired, 6.24.2014)

Books

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I had hoped to read Bogdan Suceavă’s Miruna, A Tale (translated from the Romanian by Alistair Ian Blyth and new from Twisted Spoon Press) over the July 4th weekend—it was the only physical book I took with me out of town—but alas swimming and sun and sand and booze and food and fireworks &c. blocked me.

Very cool little book—and beautiful. (My iPhone pic does no justice to the simple, gorgeous design).

Publisher’s blurb; more to come:

A village in the Carpathian Mountains, one of the last outposts of pre-modernity, an elderly man, sensing his time is short, tells his young grandchildren tales that weave a family saga covering the real history from the 1870s to the time of the telling. One of the children, now grown, is the re-teller of these tales, while the other, Miruna, perhaps has the gift of second sight. Incorporating elements of fantasy common to the storytelling traditions of the Balkans, historical characters mix with imaginary beings in a landscape that recreates the world of an isolated village bearing an unusual name : Evil Vale. Ancestors are talked about as if ancient heroes, and the novel shifts focus between telling about their lives and the storyteller’s own experiences through the prism of the village during both world wars. As past tragedies are presented in a way that the grandchildren might picture and remember them, the novel has been called a kind of meta-fairy tale, a story about the lost tradition of oral storytelling itself, the conveyance of a family history from one generation to the next via the spoken word. With the death of the grandfather, the children realize that confronted with the ubiquitous hand of modernity, which the village has managed to frustrate over a succession of regimes, a whole world of stories and the entire memory of a family and of its idiosyncratic way of life in the village might have been irrevocably lost.

RIP Walter Dean Myers

Literature, Writers

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RIP Walter Dean Myers, 1937-2014

Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas of people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?

–From a March, 2014 piece Myers published in The New York Times entitled “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”

I taught for seven years in an inner city high school. I cannot overstate how important Myers’s books were to my students. His novel Monster—a classic—was one of the first books I wrote about on Biblioklept. I love the book, and I loved reading it with my students. Monster was an especially effective bridge to others by Myers–Slam!, HoopsBad BoyThe Beast—and one of my favorites, Fallen Angels—but I also saw it turn kids who hated reading into voracious readers. I read Myers myself as a young teen (his book Scorpions is especially good), but reading them again with my students revealed a depth and precision I hadn’t detected as a kid. Those books are all true, even the ones that are made up. RIP Walter Dean Myers.

A Riff on Stuff I Wish I’d Written About In the First Half of 2014

Books, Literature

1. Leaving the Sea, Ben Marcus: A weird and (thankfully) uneven collection that begins with New Yorkerish stories of a post-Lish stripe (like darker than Lipsyte stuff) and unravels (thankfully) into sketches and thought experiments and outright bizarre blips. Abjection, abjection, abjection. The final story “The Moors” is a minor masterpiece.

2. Novels and stories, Donald Barthelme: A desire to write something big and long on Barthelme seems to get in the way of my writing anything about Barthelme. Something short then? Okay: Barthelme is all about sex. He posits sex as the solution (or at least consolation) for the problems of language, family, identity, etc.

3. Enormous Changes at the Last Minute and The Little Disturbances of Man by Grace Paley: I gorged on these precise, sad, funny stories, probably consuming too many at once (by the end of Little Disturbances I had the same stomach ache I got after eating too much of Barthelme’s Sixty Stories at once).

4. Concrete by Thomas Bernhard: Unlike the other novels I’ve read by Bernhard, Concrete seems to offer some kind of vision of moral capability, one which the narrator is unable to fully grasp, but which is nevertheless made available to the reader in the book’s final moments, accessible only through the novel’s layers of storytelling.