Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Smartest City in the USA

So did you guess?  Where will I be celebrating US Independence Day?  Why in the smartest city in the US of course.  Yes, that's Charlottesville, VA, where I attended High School for my senior year.  So although I'd still count myself as more of a New Yorker than a Virginian (more on that later), I could call this my 'home town' (happy to do so if it will get me into the VA Festival of the Book for 2013). There's no denying the utter beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains (took the Blue Ridge Parkway from Fla) or the loveliness of its excellent shopping, restaurants, and places to walk. This is one beautiful city, never mind the brains.  I can think of no where else I'd rather spend July the 4th, than the 5000 acre plantation of author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia Thomas Jefferson. So if you're looking for me this week, try Monticello. I'll be towing along my British companion, so if you hear any grumbling about American independence, you'll know where it's coming from.  As for the kids, they're 100% Aussie, so it's all tourism to them.   

Monday, June 25, 2012

Poetry Monday: Edmund Skellings

Since I'm in Florida this week, I thought it might be fun to feature a Floridian poet this week. Though he's a Massachusetts man by birth, Edmund Skellings has been Florida's poet laureate since 1980!  He's now University Professor of Humanities at the Florida Institute of Technology, and has become rather well known for his innovative use of electronic multi-media poems. A full range of these mini-movies can be found here
All of them interesting, innovative, thought-provoking, and very clever, stretching our thinking about what a poem is and what it's capable of doing. Many of these were produced long before multimedia became popular, before the Internet was in common use, and the computer animations are striking, mingling with Skellings' terrific reading voice.

The following more conventional poem is from Skellings' book Collected Poems 1958-1998. One of the reasons I've chosen it is because it reminds me of a poem I wrote for my son titled Whorl. What I particularly like about this poem is that it's rich with insight and intensity - the consciousness of aging and impending death, while still maintaining a lighthearted and quite funny, readily accessible perspective. 


There is a spot
On the back of the head
That body and self spin round
And go down.

This is true. Ask
Any demographer of cells
And he will nod.

Some men go bald
There first, and some
Later, as emptiness
Creeps up from the eyes.

All of us know the spot
By feel, and I for one,
Confronted by questions
With no sides or bottom,
Reach up and rub.

It is some
Sort of answer. Rub.
Perhaps. Rub.
Maybe. Rub again.

At least we have found
The point of
Mystification. From there,
Who knows?

Friday, June 22, 2012

If it's Friday it must be Boca

Hello Blogsters. Today I'm in sunny (especially compared to wintery NSW) Florida. If you've been waiting for a review from me, the chances are that I finally read your book on my lovely light Kindle during the 14 hour flight to LA, or the 10 or so hours to get from LA through Atlanta and Miami. It's in long flights like this where the Kindle really holds its own against tree books. Though the carry-on restrictions are severe, I'm still packing about 100 books that I've been pretty anxious to read.  I probably won't be doing much blogging or social networking while overseas, since my schedule is frantic, but you never know. Can I pretend I'm on an exclusive all-expenses paid book tour doing readings at fantastic venues around the country? I probably will do a few readings during my 'tour',  though only open to a very select few :-). If you happen to be in Boca Raton or thereabouts this coming week, drop me a line and assuming I've got my netbook working, I'll see what I can do. Otherwise, you can catch the next leg of my tour when I visit the most smartest city in the USA.  Any ideas of where that might be?  You'll just have to wait to find out...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Poetry Monday: Alison Croggan

Though Alison Croggan may be better known for her marvellous fantasy novels The Books of Pellanor, she also has published a young adult novel, a novella, several libretti, is a noted theatre reviewer, and has seven published books of poetry. I've always known Alison as a poet and wasn't even aware of the Pellanor books until my mother brought them to my attention. For today's poetry "Monday" (or thereabouts), I'm featuring one of Alison's poems from her book The Common Flesh. One of the many things I like about this poem is how it works the creative metaphor - art, poetry, the power of language - into such a sexy and provocative piece of work. You can hear Alison reading the poem at The Poetry Archive by clicking on the title.

Seduction Poem

I want the slew of muscle, a less
cerebral meeting place: no word
but your male shout, the shirred
unpublic face and honest skin
crying to me, yes,
the mouthless, eyeless tenderness
crying to be let in.

Unbutton all your weight, like a bird
flying the night's starred nakedness:
put down your grammatical tongue, undress
your correct and social skin:
come white and absurd
all your language one word
crying to be let in.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Frank Delaney takes over my blog for Bloomday

Oh never mind St Paddy's Day. For book lovers, June 16th, or Bloomsday, is the real Irish holiday. This year is special because it's the first Bloomsday in which  Ulysses is free from copyright. So how will you be celebrating this most literary of occasions?  For me, I'll be continuing to listen to Frank Delaney's incredible Re:Joyce podcast, now two years old and on episode 105 - "Irish Bull" (and still only a little way into chapter 3).  I can't recommend this wonderful offering enough. For serious Joyceans it's a deep look into every word of Joyce's masterpiece.  For those just coming to the work, it's the most attentive hand-holding -- better than a class. Best of all, it's completely free.  Frank has just released a special Bloomsday edition that provides "a thumbnail breakdown of the best way to begin with James Joyce". 

A new article from Frank titled Seeing Joyce has just been published in The Public Domain Review. It asks whether, in this year in which Ulysses is finally free from copyright and the restrictions of the famously difficult Joyce estate, we should stop trying to "read" Joyce and instead make visits to him as if to a gallery.  Certainly that's how I approach Finnegan's Wake, and nowadays, though I'm enjoying the narrative progression of re-reading in sync with Re:Joyce, that's how I approach Ulysses too.

The BBC are also providing a free podcast dramatised version of Ulysses, with Henry Goodman as Leopold Bloom, Andrew Scott as Stephen Dedalus, and Niamh Cusak as Molly Bloom. 

If you haven't yet seen Delaney's James Joyce rap, which I put up here last Bloomsday then you're missing out on something really good. Fear not, I've put it up again. Just click the arrow and watch it right now.  

If Delaney has tempted you to find out more about Joyce, you could do worse than check out Edna O'Brien's James Joyce: A Life which I've recently reviewed.  Want more? A little search on "Bloomsday 2012" will come up with enough activities to keep you fully immersed in Ulysses, but if you're not in the mood to party (Joyce himself usually was), you could just pour yourself a Guinness (one of the cans with the widget things if you don't have a pub nearby to get it on tap), open the great book, and have a little read. I can guarantee you will find something fresh, wonderful and worthwhile.  Happy Bloomsday! 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Poetry Monday: Deciphering Earliest Remembered Sound

By the time next Monday rolls around, Father's Day will have come and gone, so I thought I'd share a father inspired poem written by Carolyn Howard-Johnson and published in our co-authored book Imagining the Future: Ruminations on Fathers and Other Masculine Apparitions.  Carolyn's work is always evocative, but this one has a particular resonance for me, charged with nostalgia, historical import and the science of sound, all filtered through a child's perspective. 

Deciphering Earliest Remembered Sound

All the sound in the world sucked
to a wavering, wailing note
I perch on my father’s knee,
afraid, look through our window
Utah’s lights snuff, quickly, quickly,
silver sequins turn dark
until the skyline disappears
against deep velvet. There,
among our overstuffed chairs
doilies protect fat rolled arms.
The siren whines to silence.
What could that have been?

Oh, nothing, an air raid
my mother answers
as if her words were lyrics
she wanted to forget.
Would the lights return
charged with sound that split
my father’s hand from mine.
Father wears a cunt cap, grosgrain ribbons
across his heart; smells of gabardine
and good-byes. His eyelids twitch
Mother, once again, says
Oh, probably nothing at all.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Poetry Monday: Can Poetry Matter?

In his marvellous book Can Poetry Matter, Dana Gioia takes a pragmatic and very powerful perspective on whether poetry can continue to remain vital in the face of declining literacy levels, a humanities crisis in education where there is an increased  focus on job oriented study rather than the kind of 'general learning' that tends to happen in the arts, and on the ongoing trends for governments to reduce funding of the latter over the former.  Gioia argues that, even as the proliferation of new poetry books continues to grow within an academic environment, that poetry is becoming increasingly insular, and divorced from the general public - something of a "literary commodity intended less to be read than to be noted with approval." Though it was written some 20 years ago, Gioia's book becomes more relevant every year. The closing remarks are particularly valuable, recommending six suggestions for how to make poetry more relevant.  I've reprinted them below completely, courtesy of Graywolf Press, because I think they're spot on, and beautifully stated.  I'd also like to add to this list that poetry needs to be taught in primary schools, not just at high school level. Children should grow up with it and be comfortable with reading it.  I've done a little teaching at primary level and I find that children are often a little scared/wary of poetry and then pleasantly surprised when they enjoy it. Part of the enjoyment is point 5 - the performing of it.  Children love to perform and they love you to perform for them. Poets should consider sharing their work and the work of others (see point 1) as part and parcel of the poetry process. Circulez po├Ęte!

1. When poets give public readings, they should spend part of every program reciting other people's work — preferably poems they admire by writers they do not know personally. Readings should be celebrations of poetry in general, not merely of the featured author's work.

2. When arts administrators plan public readings, they should avoid the standard subculture format of poetry only. Mix poetry with the other arts, especially music. Plan evenings honoring dead or foreign writers. Combine short critical lectures with poetry performances. Such combinations would attract an audience from beyond the poetry world without compromising quality.

3. Poets need to write prose about poetry more often, more candidly, and more effectively. Poets must recapture the attention of the broader intellectual community by writing for nonspecialist publications. They must also avoid the jargon of contemporary academic criticism and write in a public idiom. Finally, poets must regain the reader's trust by candidly admitting what they don't like as well as promoting what they like. Professional courtesy has no place in literary journalism.

4. Poets who compile anthologies — or even reading lists — should be scrupulously honest in including only poems they genuinely admire. Anthologies are poetry's gateway to the general culture. They should not be used as pork barrels for the creative-writing trade. An art expands its audience by presenting masterpieces, not mediocrity. Anthologies should be compiled to move, delight, and instruct readers, not to flatter the writing teachers who assign books. Poet-anthologists must never trade the Muse's property for professional favors.

5. Poetry teachers, especially at the high-school and undergraduate levels, should spend less time on analysis and more on performance. Poetry needs to be liberated from literary criticism. Poems should be memorized, recited, and performed. The sheer joy of the art must be emphasized. The pleasure of performance is what first attracts children to poetry, the sensual excitement of speaking and hearing the words of the poem. Performance was also the teaching technique that kept poetry vital for centuries. Maybe it also holds the key to poetry's future.

6. Finally, poets and arts administrators should use radio to expand the art's audience. Poetry is an aural medium, and thus ideally suited to radio. A little imaginative programming at the hundreds of college and public-supported radio stations could bring poetry to millions of listeners. Some programming exists, but it is stuck mostly in the standard subculture format of living poets' reading their own work. Mixing poetry with music on classical and jazz stations or creating innovative talk-radio formats could reestablish a direct relationship between poetry and the general audience.

Copyright © 1992 by Dana Gioia. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

My Impossible List

I've been following Joel Runyon's Blog of Impossible Things for a while now (thank you Joel for the inspiration), and I've decided that the time has come to make my own impossible list. There are no rules for these lists. They're just meant to be stuff you want to do with your life, impossible or otherwise.

I do make annual goals, but I'm always aiming at making those SMART goals - the two key limitations here being the A for "attainable" and the R for "realistic".  Today's list is neither attainable in the traditional sense for me (certainly not easily - without significant risk of failure, discomfort, and change) or realistic (I definitely don't have the time to do anything on this list...).  I don't know if I'm going to achieve my impossible list, since I'm really not the kind of person who can bulldoze towards goals - my family's wellbeing is still a priority for me and I'm not (yet) prepared to sacrifice my day job or too much relative security (though who knows what kind of courage I'll find in the future). What I do know is that if I don't aim for the stuff on this list, it definitely won't happen.  So in the words of my mother, I'm "putting it out there".  This list is not definitive and it's not in any order. This is just a starting point. I'll keep changing this, expanding and hopefully, crossing off those things that I have achieved.

Do please feel free to respond with your own Impossible List.  Maybe we can help each other or at least egg one another on - providing some sort of accountability.  Why not?  Here's to achieving the impossible.

  • get deeply involved on an ongoing basis at a high level with a literacy related charity 
  • donate a significant portion of profits from at least one of my books to a literacy related charity and then get others to participate so that the total amount given is greater than $50k.
Writing related
  • write 5 more novels
  • write 2 nonfiction books that involve intense, physical research (like travel, digging into something, climbing something, etc)
  • write 3 full length poetry books
  • participate in 1 significant multimedia/audio-visual poetry based project
 Career/professional related
  • Obtain a PhD in creative writing
  • Do science and linguistic courses to increase general knowledge
  • bump up book earnings to self-sufficient levels (enough not to need day job unless I'm enjoying it)
  • speak at a TED conference
  • play guitar on stage with my son or a good friends
  • take 20+ singing lessons (to help me be less embarrassing when I burst into song...)
  • act in a film or on stage (fine if it's a small role) 
  • do something for Comic Relief
  • go raw for at least 3 months (and continue to 'eat clean' 85% of the time)
  • swim 2 kms at least once a week in summer
  • do at least 30 mins of yoga 3 x a week, pilates and cardio 3 x a week, every week (plus 1 hour intense exercise in winter when I can't swim)
  • develop an ongoing 'inner calm' so that I don't become anxious or lose my temper more than 1 x a month (working up to never losing it...)
That should keep me busy and out of (or in) trouble for a while.  Your turn now. If you've got a blog or website, think of this as a meme.  Let's support each other.