Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day + Anne Carson's Nox + My First Literary Agent, the Crack Addict + Gordimer on Books & Libraries

A listing of all the young women and men soldiers who've lost their lives in the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ( US and Coalition Casualties)

A op-chart graphic on the dead and unknown dead in the US's wars, from today's New York Times, by Robert M. Poole and Rumors presents the country's military history in a metaphorically arresting, unforgettable way. (Cf. above, at right, and click on the link for the larger view.)

Finally, here's a Memorial Day post written by veteran and progressive Todd Theise, who's running against Democorporatist Scott Garrett in New Jersey's Fifth Congressional District.  (H/t Digby!)

* * *

Memorial Day concerns remembering, memorializing and, to some extent, grieving, which brings me to the lone book not associated with any aspect of my teaching, writing, committee work, or university visitors that I've managed to read over the last 3 months, and it took just an evening: poet and classical scholar Anne Carson's extraordinary new work, which I will not call a book of poetry, though it is a highly poetic book, Nox (New Directions, 2010). The book has been covered extensively around the Net, so I'll describe it in a few words: in the way that only Carson can, the book combines an elegy to her deceased brother (the dedication, to "Michael," is "Nox Frater Nox" (or Night Brother Night), and a record of her translation of a particularly difficult Catullus elegy, Poem 101, "Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus." She translates the opening line as "Many the peoples many the oceans I crossed," and the rest of this short poem, a little beyond halfway through the book, surrounding it with a variety of other texts. There's a method that's quickly discernible: on the left pages, she usually (but not always) places lexical entries for each word in the Catullus poem, and on the right side, she features journal entries, snippets of notes to herself, very brief poems, visual images by and of herself, and sometimes of her brother, her own artworks, or any of these elements in collaged combination.

In and of themselves, these aspects of the book, especially by a writer of genius like Carson, would make for a worthwhile read, but the real showstopper is the book's physical form. The designer Robert Currie assisted Carson in creating the sort of affordable book-as-art you rarely see today (and sadly, especially at a time when physical books are facing possible disappearance as digital technologies increasingly dominate). The pages are full color, at times nearly convincing you that you're looking at Carson's journals instead of photographs of them, and the entire book is printed in accordion fashion, as the photos below show, and then placed in a gray oystershell box, which serves as a perfect bed for the reader to flip through it and enjoy it. You can lift it out of its box, of course, like an oyster, and it expands like a bellows, but having handled it a bit, it works fine either way.  For weeks, as the pressure to get through mounds of fiction kept growing, I found myself stopping and examining this work every time I was in the bookstore (always a refuge for me), and eventually, as I was dawdling amid a stack of stories, I picked up a copy. Despite its format, the book falls within the current price range for hardcover books, at $29.95. It reminds me of another remarkable, widely available work, British postmodernist B. S. Johnson's (1933-1973) 1969 novel The Untouchables, which consists of 27 sections held together by a removable wrapper and placed in a similar clamshell box. In the UK Secker and Warburg originally published this work, and Picador published the British reissue in 2008, while New Directions published the US version.

This is not, however, a book of poetry in any conventional sense, and to me represents the most experimental text Carson has produced. Even placing this alongside her very avant-garde work Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera (Knopf, 2005), the radical quality of this text stands out. It reminds me both of an assemblage in the plastic art sense (cf. Duchamp, Man Ray, von Freytag-Loringhoven, Rauschenberg) and of one perhaps in the philosophical sense (Deleuze and Guattari), with the elements determined by the author, put in play by her, gesturing towards but defying a set genre (poetry), but really to be assembled and reassembled by the reader. To put it another way, Nox comprises texts to be made into a text, that must be made into them, to be transformed not into narrative, as Johnson had done earlier, or Julio Cortázar with his great novel Rayuela (Hopscotch, 1963), but into poetry, into a poem, an elegy.  In a sense, it embodies the root idea of translation, which involves the ritual carrying over of the remains of the dead (trans-latus, carrying across), and also the very idea of remembering, which is to say, re-membering, or putting together the pieces again and a being mindful of the deceased, of the past, of their shared history, yet here, the remembering isn't just the author's, for her brother, but a collaborative effort, requiring the reader's involvement.

As with all of Carson's work, every return to the text provides and turns up something new, and I am enjoying now slowly making my way through the lexicon entries and thinking about how often the issue of "night" (nux in ancient Greek, nox in Latin) turns up in the examples, and also how each relates to the right-side materials, the Zettel that create this sad, powerful and novel conversational elegy.

Anne Carson's *Nox* (New Directions, 2010)
Carson's Nox (New Directions, 2010), in its box (yes, that's Daneeyal Mueenuddin's stellar collection at left)
The cover
The box open, and the text inside
The 3-dimensional quality of the text
The 3-dimensional, multicolor quality of the text
Two of Carson's mixed media pieces
Some of Carson's artwork, in the text
Carson's translation of Catullus poem on the right
An example of a lexicon entry on the left, and one of Carson's texts, her translation of the Catullus poem, on the right
Nox, extended like an accordion
The book displayed in accordion fashion
The back of the book
The back of the book

* * *

When I have related the following story, or my rather reduced sense of it, to people, they listen politely, and I wonder, do they think I'm making this up? Because really, how often do you hear people use the terms "literary agent" and "crack addict" about the same person, in the same sentence? Yet such is the truth: my first (and former) literary agent is now set to become rich (again) and famous (or more so than he was), by giving his own account of his drug-addled career of a few years ago. Let me be clear that when he was my agent, although he wasn't able to sell my work (I did it myself), he was absolutely lovely and kind and encouraging and fun to be around, and I never thought for a minute that anything was amiss, and I gather it wasn't. He represented others quite well (including the author I wrote about above). But only a few years later, after he'd hit the jackpot with star writers and big advances...well, you can read the article.  And I just may have my students do so next winter. I think.

New York Times: "Tale of a Life, Unabridged: A Book Agent's Descent and Ascent from the Ashes"

* * *

Lastly, speaking of books and new technologies, I found this short piece in yesterday's Guardian Online worth noting: at the Guardian Hay-on-Wye Book Festival, Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer was advocating for the printed word over new technologies, and was especially calling for libraries, with print texts, in the shantytowns in South Africa (how many libraries could have been built and stocked with books for the billions spent on those World Cup stadiums?) and in similar places across Africa and the globe. In addition, she lamented the absence of bookstores as well in areas where black people were formerly segregated because of apartheid.  One simple point she made concerns the technological requirements for digital materials; she spoke about the batteries required for digital readers, but we might also press the issue of electricity too: without either, or affordable means to acquire and access them, what good is digital technology? If you can't charge your iPad or laptop, or access dial-up, broadband or wireless broadband, to what end are these technologies? (I did participate in the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program a few years back, and while it did have its problems, it still promises a way around some of these issues.) Yet Gordimer's basic point is well-taken: books are one of the more robust technologies for learning that we have, and we should be wary of doing away with them, especially in the physical and material forms we now have, too quickly. She also noted that one of the most influential wriers for her was Marcel Proust and said that she'd read his magnum opus A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time, 1913-1927) three times, first, in English as a girl (!), then in French, and then again recently in French. Would that I could find the time and space in this world to do so, even in English!

Reverse Natural Selection?

Sometimes, you just have to see things to believe them. And I think that a lot of the times when that is the case, once you see them and once you believe them, that doesn't necessarily mean that you understand them. That's why you're usually left just wondering what in the world is wrong with a lot of people. And that would include wondering what in the world is wrong with the media covering such stories.

Take, for example, the family of Ardi Rizal. Ardi and his family live in Indonesia. And according to the
Washington Post, there has been somewhat of an uproar after "Shocking photos of....Ardi Rizal puffing away on up to 40 cigarettes a day" came to light. Sure, sure. I know a lot of people smoke 40 cigarettes a day. I don't know how in the world that they afford it, but I know that they do it. The thing that makes this a little bit more of a head scratcher is that Ardi is 2. As in "years old". Two years old. Smoking up to 40 cigarettes a day. Wait. He's two and he...? That's right.

While I am usually a huge fan of the Washington Post, I am not a huge fan of how they covered this story. If they were trying to win some sort of a prize for presenting the subject in the most irrelevant manner possible, then they were on top of their game. Other than that, well, I'm just glad I didn't pay for it or anything (even though I still feel a little gypped). They talked to a one Matthew Myers of something called the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids which is located in Washington, D.C. Mr. Myers was quoted as saying, "This reflects a pervasive problem in many low-income countries where tobacco companies market their products to an uneducated public." Really? Are they marketing their products in such a way that it is implied that babies should be smoking cigarettes? No? OK, then. Anything else?

Unfortunately, yes. He also stated that "...anybody, at any age, can buy cigarettes in Indonesia". Wait. What now? Anyone, regardless of age, can buy cigarettes in Indonesia? Oh, now I see why that's a relevant fact! Of course. Because this two-year old wouldn't be able to smoke if he hadn't been able to go out and purchase the cigarettes that he's smoking on his own, right? Of course not! What does that have to do with anything?! Oh, nothing? Let's move on.

Now, a one Seto Mulyadi, who heads the country's child protection commission, "...blamed Ardi's two-pack-a-day habit on advertising and clueless parents." Well, that's a little bit better. Though I'm still not sure what advertising has to do with this. I'm really liking the pointing the finger at the clueless parents, however. It's probably an understatement to say that's the most likely culprit here.

But maybe I'm wrong. Let's check in with this toddler's parents and see if they strike us as being of the clueless bent, shall we? First, we'll hear from the boy's mother, Diana. "He's totally addicted. If he doesn't get cigarettes, he gets angry and screams and batters his head against the wall. He tells me he feels dizzy and sick." She apparently doesn't seem to see her part in all of this. She apparently doesn't seem to think that she is the parent and that she is in control and that, eventually, all of the screaming will subside. Hmm. Yep, there are definitely indicators of cluelessness here. Let's check in with the father next.

But wait. Before we do that, I should probably also mention that not only does this two-year old smoke two packs a day, he also "...weighs 56 pounds. He's too fat to walk far so he gets around on a plastic toy truck." Yeah, see, just when you thought that it couldn't get any sadder, then it does. Let's quell that sadness with anger, OK?

The boy's father, Mohammed, is the moron who gave the kid his first cigarette when he was 18 months old. Nice job, Mohammed. Now your kid is incredibly fat and addicted to cigarettes. How does that make you feel, Mohammed? "He looks pretty healthy to me...I don't see the problem." Really?! He can't walk, you dumbass! Do you see other two-year olds getting around on a plastic toy truck whilst smoking a cigarette? No? Then he's NOT OK, you nitwit!

Seriously, I know that there are different cultures and all of that, but this has so much wrong with it that I really can't even make up anything good to say about it. I guess they're not fortunate enough in Indonesia to have things like Child Protective Services or stuff like that? (That really is a question, as I have absolutely no idea about the social services of the Far East.) Oh, wait. I just read that there is some intervention being attempted with this family. "Concerned officials offered to buy the family a car if Ardi quits." A car?! That's how social services work in Indonesia? They bribe folks to do the right thing?! Grand. Good luck with that, Indonesia. Gooooood luck with that.

The video of this tragic, preventable and completely unnecessary situation is below. If it doesn't load, try clicking here. Oh, yeah, and thanks (I think) to my friend for bringing this to my attention.

Ardi Rizal - The real SMOKING BABY !! free videos" classid=clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000 width=364 height=291 type=application/x-shockwave-flash>

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Photos: AWP Conference

Here they finally are! I'd almost forgotten that I took them, or how enjoyable the conference was. Denver!

Alison Meyers and Duriel Harris at the Cave Canem Booth
Cave Canem director Alison Meyers and Duriel Harris at the Cave Canem booth, at AWP
At Leela's, a really cool spot
At Leela's, a really cool little Denver café
Forrest Gander and Dan Beachy-Quick
Forrest Gander and Dan Beachy-Quick
Young poet and Treasure Williams
Treasure Williams (at right), and another poet (I cannot recall her name)
Young poet and Jericho Brown
The one and only Jericho Brown, in foreground
Hannah Tinti (my former grad school classmate)
Hannah Tinti, my former grad school classmate, and editor of One Story
Tim Liu and Nathalie Stephens/Nathanaël (fellow panelists)
Timothy Liu and Nathanaël, who were on a panel I organized, on LGBTQ translation
Nightboat Books crew, including Stephen Motika (at right)
The Nightboat Books crew, with writer Edwin Torres (at left), and editor Stephen Motika, at right
Saeed Jones (snapping a photo), a friend, Cyrus Cassells
Saeed Jones, a friend, and Cyrus Cassells
Mitchell Douglas and Indigo Moor
Mitchell Douglas and Indigo Moor
Duriel Harris and Indigo Moore
Duriel Harris and Indigo Moor
Randall Horton reading at the Cave Canem table
Randall Horton, reading at the Cave Canem booth
Tiphanie Yanique
Fiction writer Tiphanie Yanique
Amina Cain at the AWP Book Fair
AWP Book Fair, with Amina Cain approaching the camera (in the sunny blouse)
The Translating Contemporary Literature from Latin America panel
Translating Contemporary Latin American literature panel, with Kristin Dykstra at the podium, and l-r (unknown poet, Daniel Borzutzky, Monica de la Torre, and Urayoán Noël)
Anne Waldman
Ann Waldman, reading at the Mandorla reading at the Denver Center for Contemporary Art
Mónica de la Torre
Mónica de la Torre, reading at the Mandorla reading at the Denver Center for Contemporary Art
Steve Thomasula
Steve Thomasula, reading at the Mandorla reading at the Denver Center for Contemporary Art
Gabriela Jauregui
Gabriela Jauregui, reading at the Mandorla reading at the Denver Center for Contemporary Art
Dawn Lundy Martin
Dawn Lundy Martin
Patricia Smith, and a fellow poet
Patricia Smith, and a fellow poet, posing for a photo
Denver by night
Denver night streetscape
Gar Patterson at the Black Nature panel
Gar Patterson, speaking at the "Black Nature" panel
Cyrus Cassells at the Black Nature panel
Cyrus Cassells, who chaired the "Black Nature" panel

Photos: Readings, Events Since April

I managed one post, I think, if even that, from the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Denver before I had to shift to intermittent blogging, but I have been snapping photos of lots of events since then, so here are some photos from the last few months. The AWP photos will appear in a separate posting.

Jennifer Karmin introducing the Red Rover Experiment #36 event
Jennifer Karmin introducing the Red Rover Series Experiment #36 event, "Textual Ecologies & Contaminations," featuring Jennifer Scappettone and Asimina Chremos
Jennifer Scappettone setting up
Jennifer Scappettone setting up her performance of Exit 43
Performing Jen Scappettone's piece (Jen in green blouse) at Red Rover
Jennifer and part of her chorus performing her piece, Exit 43
Jennifer Scappettone's piece at Red Rover
One of Jennifer Scappettone's really beautiful, complex "stills," a pop-up from/within Exit 43
Asimina Chremos
Asimina Chremos, introducing her piece, a collage text with performances (one via Skype)
The audience, between performances
The Red Rover loft audience, between sets
At Jennifer Karmin's book launch
Kathleen Duffy, Jennifer Karmin, and Chris Glomski, performing a quarto from Jennifer's new book, Aaaaaaaaaaalice (Film Forum, 2010), at its launch
At Jennifer Karmin's book launch
Kathleen Duffy, opening the program
Krista Franklin at Jennifer Karmin's book launch
Krista Franklin, at Jennifer Karmin's book launch (Krista, Chris Glomski, Kathleen Duffy, Laura Goldstein, Joel Craig, Lisa Janssen, and I all participated/collaborated in this event)

M. NourbeSe Philip
M. NourbeSe Philip, at the Poetry and Poetics Working Group workshop, at the university, in May
Sandra Richards and M. NourbeSe Philip
My distinguished colleague Sandra Richards, and M. NourbeSe Philip, after Philip's superlative reading from Zong!, in May
The hosts of the Uncalled For Reading Series
The hosts of the Uncalled For Readings Series at Las Manos Gallery in Andersonville, Tim Jones-Yelvington and Megan Milks, in May
Nathalie Stephens/Nathanaël
The incomparable Nathanaël (Nathalie Stephens), reading from The Sorrow and the Fast of It at the Uncalled For Readings Series at Las Manos Gallery in Andersonville, in May
Trish Bendix
Reader Trish Bendix, reading from her short story at the Uncalled For Readings Series at Las Manos Gallery in Andersonville, in May
Kareem Khubchandani
Kareem Khubchandani, reading from her short story at the Uncalled For Readings Series at Las Manos Gallery in Andersonville, in May
Douglas Ewart's group (Duriel Harris at right)
Douglas Ewart and Company, with Duriel Harris (at far right), at the Velvet Lounge, in April
Joanne Beard  reading during the Annual Writers Festival
Joanne Beard, reading at the English Major in Writing's annual Writers Festival, in April
Frank Bidart, Writers Festival, Northwestern University
Frank Bidart, reading at the English Major in Writing's annual Writers Festival, in April
George Saunders, Writers Festival, Northwestern University
George Saunders, leading his master class, at the English Major in Writing's annual Writers Festival, in April
George Saunders reading during the Annual Writers Festival
George Saunders, reading at the English Major in Writing's annual Writers Festival, in April
Cristina Henriquez, Writers Festival, Northwestern University
Cristina Henríquez, reading at the alumni reading, at the English Major in Writing's annual Writers Festival, in April
Josh Weiner, Writers Festival, Northwestern University
Joshua Weiner, reading at the alumni reading, at the English Major in Writing's annual Writers Festival, in April