Sunday, March 29, 2015

Clive James on books in overabundance

On both sides of the Atlantic, and in Australia, the creative writing schools churned forth slim volumes by the thousand, all of them supposedly full of poetry but few of them with even a single real poem in them.
-- Clive James, from his book of essays Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language, as quoted in a review of the book by Jason Guriel.

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In the same review, Guriel characterizes James' "true objection of devotion" -- what the authors calls "the choppily well-separated thing" -- in a manner we thought worth quoting:
He means a poem with internal integrity, its every word pertinent and poised—a product that has come to be a curio in our age of overproduction.
Hear, hear! We find this trio very agreeable: poise, pertinence, and production in proportion to need. Ah, but saying so, we are mindful of the need also for waste, slackness, confusion, and indecorum, the mineral nutrients that nourish art-making. Whether one inclines toward order or chaos, work or play, poetry may come out of it; one just has to be wary of celebrating one's preferred methods to the point of denigrating the methods others work with. Which isn't to say self-celebration isn't allowed! Just that it is best expressed alongside equanimity and openness, lest preferences evolve into prejudices. (A principle especially applicable to the work of appreciation and celebration that is the stock-in-trade of the editor, the critic, and the reviewer.)

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Jason Guriel is the author of The Pigheaded Soul: Essays and Reviews on Poetry and Culture (2013).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

PotD: Passages from Balthazar

Adapted from WP: "Balthazar, published in 1958, is the second volume in The Alexandria Quartet series by Lawrence Durrell. Set in Alexandria, Egypt around WWII, the four novels tell essentially the same story from different points of view." The excerpt we've chosen to share with you comes from the opening of Chapter 12, the beginning of Part Four:
Despite the season the seafront of the city was gay with light - the long sloping lines of the Grande Corniche curving away to a low horizon; a thousand lighted panels of glass in which, like glorious tropical fish, the inhabitants of the European city sat at glittering tables stocked with glasses of mastic, aniseed or brandy. Watching them (I had eaten little lunch) my hunger overcame me, and as there was some time in hand before my meeting with Justine, I turned into the glittering doors of the Diamond Sutra and ordered a ham sandwich and a glass of whisky. Once again, as always when the drama of external events altered the emotional pattern of things, I began to see the city through new eyes - to examine the shapes and contours made by human beings with the detachment of an entomologist studying a hitherto unknown species of insect. Here it was, the race, each member of it absorbed in the solution of individual preoccupations, loves, hates and fears. A woman counting money on to a glass table, an old man feeding a dog, an Arab in a red flowerpot drawing a curtain. 
Aromatic smoke poured from the small sailor taverns along the seafront where the iron spits loaded with a freight of entrails and spices turned monotonously back and forth, or bellied from under the lids of shining copper cauldrons, giving off hot gusts of squid, cuttlefish and pigeon. Here one drank from the blue cans and ate with one's fingers as they do in the Cyclades even today. 
I picked up a decrepit horse-cab and jogged along by die sighing sea towards the Aurore, drinking in the lighted darkness with regrets and fears so fugitive as to be beyond analysis; but underneath (like a toad under a cool stone, the surface airs of night) I still felt the stirrings of horror at the thought that Justine herself might be endangered by the love which ‘we bore one another'. I turned the thought this way and that in my mind, like a prisoner pressing with all his weight upon doors which denied him an exit from an intolerable bondage, trying to devise an issue from a situation which, it seemed, might as well end in her death as in mine. 
The great car was waiting, drawn up off the road in the darkness under the pepper-trees. She opened the door for me silently and I got in, spellbound by my fears.
The Prose of the Day series, curated by editors, contributors, and supporters of Decameron journal, showcases examples of particularly excellent prose. To suggest an entry, email the excerpt and your reasons for calling it excellent to

Monday, March 2, 2015

PotD: "The Colonel"

In the audio recording of "The Colonel" on the Poetry Foundation website, Carolyn Forché identifies her piece as a"documentary poem"; we think it is just as accurate to refer to it as a piece of documentary fiction, or a prose poem of discomforting truth. From The Country Between Us, published in 1981:
WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD is true. I was in his house. His wife carried
a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went
out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the
cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over
the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English.
Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to
scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his hands to lace. On
the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had
dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for
calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of
bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief
commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was
some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot
said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed
himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say
nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries
home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like
dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one
of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water
glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As
for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck them-
selves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last
of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some
of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the
ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.
                                                                                     May 1978
The Prose of the Day series, curated by editors, contributors, and supporters of Decameron journal, showcases examples of particularly excellent prose. To suggest an entry, email the excerpt and your reasons for calling it excellent to