Sunday, March 19, 2017

Derek Walcott, 1930-2017

The following testimony comes from the Jamaica poet and essayist Kei Miller. We share it here with his permission.

Walcott is one of only a handful of poets for whom the superlative will always be insufficient. He was, quite simply, the great poet of the Caribbean and then beyond. He once told me that poetry was not a democracy. It was, instead, a kingdom and not everyone could enter it. If that is true, we should fly the flag at half mast, because the king is dead. RIP Derek Walcott.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Angela Carter's force and form

This New Yorker review of the authorized biography The Invention of Angela Carter might itself be thought of as a pocket biography of the writer, a novelist and fabulist of great achievement whose recognition in life was never, we think, proportional to her talent. The New Yorker piece is a lovely long read, full of lovely toothsome bits of bio; here's a taste:
In 1976, she accepted a commission to translate Charles Perrault’s fairy tales. She had been back in England for four years, but she was still living off the psychological tank dive of her Japanese period. After the Perrault volume was published, she embarked on The Bloody Chamber, with her own, reconceived versions of Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. This is her great book, the one that only she could have written, the one in which everything that was good in her came to the fore and everything that had been bad became good. She was always best in the short form, as her friend Salman Rushdie noted. In her novels, he wrote, her voice, “that moonstone-and-rhinestone mix of opulence and flim-flam, can be exhausting. In her stories, she can dazzle and swoop, and quit while she’s ahead.”
Now, there's craft wisdom for you. Gem-work can delight but it can also dull its own dazzle with overdone. (Does this principle not seem related to the old saw quoted by Guy Davenport, "Every force evolves a form"?)

Whether your genre is long fiction or short, watercolor or marble, aphorism or treatise, you've got to know what works in those bounds, and what fails. Carter -- as any of her readers will tell you -- wrought wondrously when her forces were well-fitted to their form.

(Thank you to NERObooks contributing editor Jenna Bos for bringing this New Yorker piece to our attention.)

NB: If you like Angela Carter's fabulist short fictions, we advise you to take a look at Peter Caputo's collection Saint Medusa. Similar intelligence is at play there, working its magic upon similar source material.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Pushcart editor on The Right to Publish

The right to publish what you believe is an essential of any democracy. It is not to be denied by government, local censorship or publishing conglomerates. 

-- Bill Henderson, editor of Pushcart Press, in his Preface to the revised edition (1980) of The Publish-It-Yourself Handbook: Literary Tradition and Know-How.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Dialing up in response to Trump, The Baffler adds columnists

The Baffler is one of the finest intellectual little magazines published today, in the same class as The Hedgehog Review, The Point, and n+1. In their latest newsletter blast to subscribers, the editors announce the addition of a new team of columnists to help extend their coverage of culture and society in the age of ascending Trumpism, bigotry, and political oppression. Here follows the text of that email announcement. If the work they are doing stirs you to subscribe, you can do so by following this link. 

Dear friend,In spite of our despair, bewilderment, and precarious finances, The Baffler has assembled a team of new columnists to respond to the Trump era.Our focus is the grassroots political issues—the sort of issues whose mainstream neglect got us here in the first place. We’re also increasing our books coverage, in honor of our illiterate commander-in-chief and our vocabulary-challenged Secretary of Education.Here’s just a few of them:
  1. Sarah Jaffe will travel across America introducing us to the independent resistance movements—from economic solidarity organizations in Mississippi, to black youth activist groups in Chicago, to labor unions in Minnesota—that have cropped up against our new regime.
  1. Jessa Crispin and Siddhartha Deb will take turns unraveling the literary world’s political visions.
  1. Niela Orr will will cover what remains of pop culture in our current demagoguery.
  1. Hussein Ibish will track the august western tradition of Islamophobia.

As a newsletter subscriber, you know how (unfortunately) prescient The Baffler has been about downward civic spiral. With this new lineup, we’ll be able to keep you apprised of both the state of our kleptocracy and the movements and ideas working against it. We hope you’ll support us by purchasing a year-long print subscription to support this expansion.Subscribe today, and you’ll get four of our newly designed issues for $24 dollars. That’s a 20% discount on our standard rate.Each of our 184-page issues is absolutely free of liberal pieties and conservative rage. It’s one way to know what’s really going on.Click the link below to start your subscription.Best Wishes,Valerie Cortes
(Please note that neither Pen & Anvil nor the Boston Poetry Union have any business relationship with The Baffler or its principals; we share this news only because we find it laudable and noteworthy.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Photo from the NYPL Writers Resist Event

BUT ABOVE ALL THINGS TRUTH BEARETH AWAY THE VICTORY.

This quote is carved in stone on the exterior of the New York Public Library. Its source is Zerubbabel, a young bodyguard in the court of King Darius, in Esdras, an ancient Greek version of the biblical Book of Ezra. Chapters 3-7 tell of a contest during a feast between Zerubbabel and two of his fellow guards to see who could write the wisest sentence. The full text: "Women are strongest, but above all things Truth beareth away the victor." 

Friday, December 30, 2016

"I have learnt to learn"; a New Year's essay by Chukwuebuka Ibeh

In these last days of December, we're all taking stock, totting up the wins and losses of the past year and looking ahead to the year to come. One of our correspondents, Chukwuebuka Ibeh, has more reason than most to look over his books, since his birthday coincides with New Year's. He was kind enough to send us the following essay, a self-inventory of sorts, and to permit us to share it with you here on Ampersand. - ZB

I HAVE LEARNT TO LEARN

a birthday piece.

     It is my birthday this weekend, on January 1st, first day of the new year. It beats me how I have come this far. The sated child of yesterday who watched the world with lack-lustre tentativeness simmered ever so slightly with resignation, not knowing and not really willing to know, benign and unforgivably na├»ve without the restless curiousity that came with being nascent—now a calmly collected teenager, who views the world askance, with mild exasperation, easily bored with the world's ambiguous melodrama, a stern aversion to superstition and inane culture. My mother would easily say, "You have changed, Ebuka," with the a small sigh of resignation that said she wished I had not, and although I do not dispute this, I know I have not changed, in whatever context that was. I have simply grown, simply evolved.
     I have learnt to learn—to look from others, listen to others, read books, and learn. Because I know ignorance is not a virtue, especially one to be flaunted, and although I do not claim to know what I do not, I still do not want to be the one who knows 'nothing', and so who easily agrees with whatever is being said. I want to be the rare one who says No in a room full of people who say Yes, and feel comfortable in my own skin, knowing that the answer really was No.
     And so I have learnt to be slow to reaction and quick to grasp explanation. I have learnt to be obsessed with nuance and difference, those little things that makes us unique as individuals. I have learnt to value people's opinion, to place humanity and empathy before my own selfish reality. I have learnt not to judge people with societal expectations—in terms of gender, morality, etc.—I have learnt to replace the words "This is how it should be" with "is this how it should be?" Questions give room for learning and learning give room for better understanding. I have learnt to recognise people the way they are rather than the way they 'should' be.
     I am not perfect. I have learnt not to try too hard to be perfect, have learnt that 'perfect' is adjacent to exhaustion, more like chasing the wind. That is asks too much energy for a sterile result. But I have learnt to be better, to improve, to try. I have learnt to do the few good things I can to the few good people who deserve them and I have also learnt, more importantly, never to expect gratitude for the necessary services I render, even though I deserve to be.
     I have learnt to be self-contented, to appreciate myself more often; to praise little efforts and criticize little faults, to tell myself 'well done' when necessary, and 'not good' when I fail. I have learnt to believe in myself, to excuse myself for failure and put in more effort next time. I have learnt to judge myself strictly, point out misgivings and unforgivable faults, but I have learnt to be forgiving, anyway to crumple myself on my bed sometimes and remind myself I am human and humans are easily flawed. I have learnt to be there for myself, to say, 'its okay, I'm here', to smile in my own way and say 'things happen' as a way of forgiving myself.
     I have learnt to love without losing myself, remember to breathe first, own myself a little more before giving room to a lover to own me. I have also learnt not to hold out forgiveness as some sort of armor, or as a blackmail. I have learnt to let go of bad blood, to forgive offenders whether solicited or not, and I have learnt to put the past in the past and move on, but I have also learnt not to be stupid, not to give too much space to assholes to jeopardise my happiness repeatedly. I have learnt both to fix things—relationships, friendships—whenever possible, and to walk away when necessary, since I do not owe anyone any particular lifetime commitment at the expense of my own satisfaction. But I have learnt not to be selfish, not to think of myself too often relegating the others to the background. I have learnt to weigh my strength and weakness adequately before giving room to well-meaning people to come in.
I have learnt to create within myself a refuge, a place devoid of nuance, suffused with comfort and familiarity. A place I can gently crawl back to when I feel deserted, with the very last shred of my dignity; a small place where I don't have to try to be someone else.
And I know I am loved. In the darkest places, the hollow sensation of whistling in the dark and never getting response, the mild paranoia somewhere beneath the blithe air above that had gathered significance as time went on and slowly became a solid part of me, this fleeting sensation of waking up one morning to discover I was suddenly alone, deserted, disowned, this unflattering self-esteem that had somehow molded into my being, like a cancerous scar, always reminding me that the amazing friend who would not stop texting could suddenly become the exasperating pest whom I could no longer stand, or worst still, the sudden distant stranger who could not think of me without a small feeling of resentment. But then I know I am loved. Its there, in the eyes of my little sister when she laughed at something I was saying even though she did not fully understand, when my brother ask 'are you alright?', with that misty gentleness in his eyes that suggested help, when a few loved friends call at odd hours just to 'hear my voice' and 'know what's up.'
     I may not be the most privileged one—the popular one, the charismatic one, the funny guy. I may not be the drop-dead gorgeous boy, the classy one, the most-brilliant one. I may not be the best human to be with in the world, and I do not aspire to be these things. I live my life for me first of all, and for the very few people who matter to me, whose existence, in one way or the other had somehow affected my development—positively, of course.
     And even when I get depressed, when I develop nagging self-doubt about my attitude, my looks, my writing, my perception and perspective towards life in general, I tell myself over and over again until I finally believe: I am loved.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Chukwuebuka Ibeh lives in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He began his university in 2016. His works have appeared in PenEgg, Dwart Online, Jotters United and the website of Short Story Day Africa. He counts among his literary influences the writers Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinua Achebe, Zadie Smith, Alice Munro, Tami Hoag, O. Henry, Chinelo Okparanta, Helon Habila, and Ali Smith. His story "Kayo" was shortlisted for the Storried Short Story Prize, and published in New England Review of Books. His story "On the Sun-Baked Street" appears in a special feature on new writing from African authors, in Issue 19 of Clarionpublished by Pen & Anvil in partnership with the BU BookLab.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Impressions from a Melissa Green reading

As the December 2016 release of Soundings, a collection of essays concerning the work of poet Melissa Green, approaches, a lot of us here in Boston, and ever further afield in the literary community, are thinking once again, appreciatively, of the work that Green has produced over the years.

Here below, I reproduce a blog essay published online back in 2012 and in the Autumn 2013 issue of The Charles River Journal. I offer it as another testament to the impression that Green and her work has left upon readers (or in this case, a reader -- me.) - ZB

* * *

Fred Marchant, introducing Melissa Green as the first of two readers at a literary evening sponsored by the Suffolk University Poetry Center on February 2, 2012, said of her most recent book-length publication, Fifty-Two: "Such an amazing little book. I wish we could all pitch in five dollars each, right now, and republish it again." I happen to know these poems well, and couldn't agree more: how fine it would be if Arrowsmith Press would hear the demand and do another hundred or two hundred copies. I was in the audience at the reading in 2007 when a veritable pageant of renowned poets -- Derek Walcott, David Ferry, Lucie Brock-Broido, Frank Bidart, Rosanna Warren, fifteen writers in total -- turned out for "A Tribute to Melissa" to celebrate the publication of Fifty-Two. The readers were there to honor the beauty and brilliance of Melissa Green's work, and to celebrate the appearance of another collection after she'd been a long time silent on the page. We'd had to order our copies in advance, and I gave away one of the two copies I'd bought for myself to my friend Daniel Pritchard (now Evans Pritchard), who hadn't reserved one in time. Oh, I hope he appreciated that gift! For the book sold out that evening, and it now commands a commendable price in the catalogs of fine booksellers, if you can find it at all.