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


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 naïve 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.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Six translation recommendations from the Grolier

Grolier Poetry Book Shop, coming up on its 90th anniversary, is the oldest all-poetry bookshop in America.

The shop has been a home to many great poets, and poetry lovers from all over the world, and remains a destination for poets visiting Boston; one can always be sure to find conversation in its small square space tucked into a side street around the cover from Harvard Yard. Great poets who frequented the shop as readers and patrons include Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Creeley, ee cummings, TS Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, Marianne Moore, Adrienne Rich, Frank Bidart, David Ferry, Michael McClure, Kimiko Hahn, Maxine Kumin, Robert Pinsky, Ariana Riens, and Franz Wright.

The latest selection of staff-recommended titles in translation appear below. Beyond the intrinsic value of the literature on offer, keep in mind that purchases made directly to a bricks-and-mortar shop not only help to show support for literary culture, but provide direct support to an institution that has hosted innumerable in-person encounters among writers, readers, and literature-lovers over the years.

Click here to learn more about supporting this irreplaceanble institution via direct giving to the Grolier Legacy Fund. Or, sign up here to receive their email updates directly.
Buy this title
Buy this title

Black Square by Tadeusz Dabrowski

Translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. $15. Tadeusz Dabrowski was born in northern Poland in 1979. From his first volume, published in 1999, he has been critically acclaimed for poetry that combines a tone of metaphysical meditation with the theme of love. His poems are like snapshots taken by a sensitive camera that captures moments filled with the "caring absence" of God and intimacy with the woman the poet loves. Here we find gravity laced with humor and sublimity mixed with pleasure. So far Dabrowski has published five volumes of poetry in his native Poland, which have won him numerous awards. His work has appeared in translation in thirteen European languages. English translations of his poems by Antonia Lloyd-Jones have been published in leading literary journals including AgniAmerican Poetry Review, and Tin HouseBlack Square is his first collection to be published in English.

Antonia Lloyd-Jones is a translator of Polish literature. In 2008 she won the Found in Translation Award for her translation of The Last Supper, a novel by Pawel Huelle. Her other translations of fiction include works by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz and Olga Tokarczuk. Her translations of poetry by Jacek Dehnel appeared in a recent anthology, Six Polish Poets, published by Arc Publications.
Buy this title
Buy this title

Black Stars by Ngo Tu Lap

Translated from Vietnamese by Martha Collins. $16. "A beautifully rendered translation by Vietnamese poet Ngo Tu Lap and acclaimed American poet Martha Collins, Black Stars introduces a man who is both attached to his war-haunted childhood home and deeply conversant with contemporary global life.

Simultaneously occupying past, present, and future, Black Stars escapes the confines of time and space, suffusing image with memory, abstraction with meaning, and darkness with abundant light. In these masterful translations -- printed alongside the original Vietnamese -- the poems sing out with the kind of wisdom that comes to those who have lived through war, traveled far, and seen a great deal. While the past may evoke village life and the present a postmodern urban world, the poems often exhibit a dual consciousness that allows the poet to reside in both at once. From the universe to the self, we see Lap's landscapes grow wider before they focus: black stars receding to dark stairways, infinity giving way to now. Lap's universe is boundless, yes, but also
just big enough
to have four directions
with just enough wind, rain, and trouble to last
Buy this title
Buy this title

Fusion Kitsch by Hsia Yu

Translated from Chinese by Steve Bradbury. $13. Steve Bradbury writes: "Hsia Yü's frank and innovative treatment of gender and sexuality in a small handful of poems in this collection and in her second collection Ventriloquy (Fuyushu) was seized upon by critics and scholars anxious to find a candidate to fill the long-vacant post of "Chinese feminist poet." But while Hsia Yü may well have been one of the first woman poets writing in Chinese to have written about love and romance in a manner that broke dramatically from the conventions and constraints of traditional Chinese women's poetry, if we bother to look beyond labels at the poetry itself, we will find a body of work that is far less interested in providing a critique of gender relations or advancing a sexual/textual agenda than in exploring the sensuous and quirky interface between the pleasures of the flesh and the pleasures of the text. It is this preoccupation with pleasure that sets Hsia Yü apart from other poets writing in Chinese today; that and the fact that her poetry embodies a fusion of styles and influences -- both high and kitsch -- with the French influence running perhaps stronger than most."

Among her numerous honors, Hsia Yü was most recently awarded the Taipei City Literature Award for her book Salsa.
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Buy this title

Door Languages by Zafer Senocak

Translated from German by Elizabeth Oehklers Wright. $16.95. Lee Upton, author of Undid in the Land of Undone, writes: "Door Languages, in Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright's brilliant translation, sends us news of the stranger within us who keeps putting on and taking off a cloak of invisibility. This is bracing work. Line by insinuating line, Zafer Senocak peels back our most rigid assumptions. These poems, marked by the highest ambition, read like folk tales from the future." 

Askold Melnyczuk, founder of Agni: "A fine edgy satisfyingly demystifying voice."
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Buy this title

Clearing The Ground by C.P. Cavafy

Translated from Greek by Martin McKinsey. $17. "Clearing the Ground conveys the texture of Cavafy's written life through the course of a near decade -- the threads of preoccupation, the unfolding elucidations, the occurrence of the poems in their shining clarity. What appears is an active and intimate image of Cavafy, the poet and the man."
I know that I am cowardly, and am unable to act. Therefore I confine myself to words. But I don't think that my words are without purpose. Someone else will act. But my many words -- the words of a coward -- will make it easier for that person to act. My words clear the ground.
~ Cavafy, 1902
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Buy this title

Darkness Spoken by Ingeborg Bachmann

Translated from German by Peter Filkins. $24.95. Ingeborg Bachmann was born in 1926 in Klagenfurt, Austria. She studied philosophy at the universities of Innsbruck, Graz, and Vienna, where she wrote her dissertation on the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. In 1953 she received the poetry prize from Gruppe 47 for her first volume, Borrowed Time (Die gestundete Zeit), after which there followed her second collection, Invocation of the Great Bear (Anrufung des großen Bären), in 1956. Bachmann also went on to write short stories, essays, opera libretti, and novels, including The Thirtieth Year, Malina, and The Book of Franza. At the time of her death in a fire in Rome in 1973, Bachmann was at work on a cycle of novels titled Todesarten (Ways of Dying), of which Malina was the first published volume.

Along with her close friend Paul Celan, Bachmann was considered the premiere German language poet of her generation. Her various awards include the Georg Büchner Prize, the Berlin Critics Prize, the Bremen Award, and the Austrian State Prize for literature. Her work remains highly influential to this day, and she is now regarded as a pioneer of European feminism and postwar literature. Influencing numerous writers from Thomas Bernhard to Christa Wolf, Bachmann's poetic investigation into the nature and limits of language in the face of history remains unmatched in its ability to combine philosophical insight with haunting lyricism.

Peter Filkins has published two volumes of poetry, What She Knew (1998) and After Homer (2002), and has translated Bachmann's The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldmann. He is the recipient of an Outstanding Translation Award from the American Literary Translators Association and the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin. He teaches at Simon's Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Sven Birkerts on That Continual Hmmmmm

Over the past few months, I’ve observed a more sophisticated and focused outreach effort from the marketing team at AGNI magazine. Their social media is sharper, their content tempo more on pace, and their monthly email newsletter to subscribers and supporters quite well worth reading. As far as I can tell, the mini-essays that editor Sven Birkerts contributes to these newsletters aren’t available elsewhere. A shame...
Wanting to share the latest edition more widely than I could by simply forwarding the email, I’ve elected to take the initiative and re-print the essay here on Ampersand. (Sven, if you think this presumptuous, please accept my apologies and let me know if you’d allow just an excerpt, or, better yet, an out-link directing readers to somewhere they CAN read the text, in an authorized way.) Enjoy! 
- ZB 

“That Continual Hmmmmm”

by Sven Birkerts

[The AGNI email newsletter, October 2016.] I’m fascinated by the waxing and waning of words and usages and of the concepts that underlie them. What is it that first puts a notion on everybody’s lips, and then later makes it eye-roll material as soon as it hits some indeterminate expiration date? Who decides? Is it just a matter of saturation? If that were true, our political life would have expired long ago. Maybe it did.

The word on my mind today is “voice,” and it’s there because after years and years of not daring (or wanting) to use it—it had become such a cliché in the writing world: you need to find your voice, what is the voice doing in this piece?—it suddenly sounded plausible again. Just recently someone asked me to talk about voice in essay-writing and I didn’t even flinch.

And now it’s in my thoughts. When I asked myself what I wanted to write in this newsletter, it showed up again. Voice.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How small publishers matter

An observation on print runs and the need for small presses, made by Andre Schiffrin in his book The Business of Books, p.147:
Let's make this as explicit as possible: If books with small print runs disappear, the future will die. Kafka's first book was published with a printing of 800 copies. Brecht's first work merited 600. What would happen if someone had decided that was not worth it?

(As spotted by Stephen Sparks -- a "Reader; book buyer &c. @greenapplebooks / @gabsunset; infrequent writer; & constant worrier. Co-editor at @WritersNoOneRds and steering committee @BayBookFes" -- and shared on Twitter this past April.)

Sunday, June 26, 2016

World Literature on Wikipedia

Are you a Wikipedian? Pusteblume, the journal of literary translation that Pen & Anvil publishes in coordination with the Editorial Institute and the Department of Modern Languages & Comparative Literature (both at Boston University), invites you to join their ongoing project to create English-language pages for noteworthy literary figures and topics which do not yet exist or which only exist in non-English versions. It is called "World Literature on Wikipedia."

If you know of a non-English Wikipedia page, which you think should be translated and posted to a page on the English-language Wikipedia, you can:
  1. Let the Pusteblume staff know, and they'll add it to their queue for to be translated; or
  2. Become a Wikipedian yourself! If you're new to that kind of work, the Pusteblume folks can put you in touch with a seasoned WP editor who can walk you through the process and help you get your first page underway. When the page is created, email Pusteblume so they can add its URL, and your name, to their list of pages completed, and list of participating Wikipedia users. 
The first page to be created under the WLW banner went up today, an article about German literary theorist Wolfgang Kayser, translated from the German article into an English version. Next up will be an article translated into English from Spanish, about the poetic form known as cuaderna vía.

If you agree with the sentiment of any of these three quotes, each of which seems to speak directly to the kind of behind-the-scenes translational labor that the World Literature on Wikipedia project seeks to encourage, you should think about signing on as a contributor. From Mariano Antolín Rato:
Translation is one of the few human activities in which the impossible occurs by principle.
From José Saramago:
Writers make national literature, while translators make universal literature.
And finally, from Paul Auster:
Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, the often forgotten instruments that make it possible for different cultures to talk to one another, who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of the world, live in one world.

Pinsky's digital involvements

In this interview for The California Journal of PoeticsRobert Pinsky -- former Poet Laureate of the United States, present keystone faculty member at the graduate program in creative writing at Boston University, and long-time impresario behind the Favorite Poem Project -- discusses his history of involvement in the domain of electronic publishing. Here is Pinsky, talking about the pleasure he takes as Poetry Editor for online magazine
With all due respect to excellent organizations like the Academy and the Poetry Society of America, as a matter of my own eccentricities I much prefer the informal, personal, improvised forum of Slate.
His digital involvement goes beyond the online magazine. Did you know that Pinsky is the author of one of the first "hypertext" novels? It carries the title Mindwheel, and is described thusly:
The situation is dire. The world is in chaos and at the brink of disaster. Mankind's only hope is for you to make a telepathic journey through a neuro-electronic matrix dominated by the thought-patterns of four dead people of unusual mental power: an assassinated rock star; an infamous and ingenious dictator; a poet killed for his forbidden love for a princess; and a woman known as the "female Einstein", a scientist, humanist, and distinguished musician. By traversing this mental labyrinth, you must find and recover the Wheel of Wisdom at the dawn of civilization itself.
Read more at related reading, we recommend this essay about the looming problem of obsolescence in innovative media projects, an issue which threatens to lock projects like Mindwheel on old systems no one has the ability to boot or interface with, inaccessible to contemporary digital readers, writers, and scholars:

Friday, June 24, 2016

TS Eliot on hearing oneself, and self-revision

"By the time T. S. Eliot made his first published recording, here at Harvard 80 years ago in 1933, the two poems he chose to record -- "The Hollow Men" and "Gerontion" -- were already 9 and 13 years old, respectively. And incidental, by the time he recorded The Waste Land, the sequence was already well over a decade old. At one of his Harvard readings, Eliot described the experience of reading his own older poems in this way:"

"It's not as if it's written by someone else; that would be comparatively easy. But it seems to have been written by a young person with whom one is intimately and rather embarrassingly associated; and one isn't enough the same person to have the right to tamper with it."

* * * * *

These comments, with their relation of the Eliot quotation, come from curator Christina Davis, from her introduction of Sir Christopher Ricks before his September 2014 lecture at the Woodberry Poetry Room on the topic of "Eliot’s Auditory Imagination."

About that talk: "Christopher Ricks (author of T.S. Eliot and Prejudice; Decisions and Revisions in T.S. Eliot; and T.S. Eliot: Inventions of the March Hare) explores the editorial pertinence of T.S. Eliot's own recordings, including those created for the Woodberry Poetry Room in 1933 and 1947."

A recording of Ricks' talk, opening with Davis' introduction, can be found online at the Harvard YouTube channel.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

George Steiner on the argument against translation

There are no total translations: because languages differ, because each language represents a complex, historically and collectively determined aggregate of values, proceedings of social conduct, conjectures on life. There can be no exhaustive transfer from language A to language B, no meshing of nets so precise that there is identity of conceptual content, unison of undertone, absolute symmetry of aural and visual association. This is true both of a simple prose statement and of poetry.
The point is worth stressing. Where they engage, as they must, the root fact of linguistic autonomy, the fact that different grammars delineate different realities, arguments against verse translation are arguments against all translation. The difference is one of intensity, of technical difficulty, of psychological apprehension. Because a poem springs from the core of a language, commemorating and renewing the world view of that language at its deepest level, the risks taken in translation are greater, the waste or damage done more visible. But a gritty colloquialism will frequently offer a resistance as vital and obstinate.
Each act of translation is one of approximation, of near miss or failure to get within range. It tells of our fragmented legacy, and of the marvellous richness of that legacy -- how meagre must the earth have been before Babel, when all spoke alike and communicate on the instant. The case against translation is irrefutable, but only if we are presented, in Ibsen's phrase, with 'the claims of the ideal'. In actual performance these claims cannot be met or allowed.
They have been discarded, obviously, in our economic, political, private affairs. Men's undertakings proceed by linguistic barter in a zone of approximate, utilitarian definition. School primers, tourists' phrase-books, manuals of commercial and technical usage, our ordinary lexica, establish a neutral ground of rough-edged but indispensable concordance. The multiplicity of scientific developments, the fact that science operates internationally and at its own forward edge, have made of the translation of scientific papers a large-scale, urgent enterprise. Some of the difficulties met resemble those which arise in the translation of poetry, the main difference being that mathematics is a true esperanto, a perfectly conventional yet dynamic code such as no artificial or inter-language can be.
Translation is equally essential to humanism, to the continued life of feeling. We translate perpetually -- this is often overlooked -- when we read a classic in our own tongue, a poem written in the sixteenth century or a novel published in 1780. We seek to recapture, to revitalize in our consciousness the meanings of words used as we no longer use them, of imaginings that have behind them a contour of history, of manners, of religious or philosophic presumptions radically different from ours. Anyone reading Donne or Jane Austen today, or almost any poem or fiction composed before 1915 (at about which date the old order seems to recede from the immediate grasp of our sensibility), is trying to re-create by exercise of historical, linguistic response; he is, in the full sense, translating. As is the player who acts Shakespeare or Congreve, making that which was conceived in a society, in a style of feeling, in an expressive convention sharply different from that of the modern, actual, active to the touch of our mind and nerve.
No language, moreover, however comprehensive, however resourceful and inclusive its syntax, covers more than a fraction of human realization. There are, at every moment and on every horizon worlds beyond our own words. Hence the urge to cross the barriers of national speech, the effort to make other insights, other tools of awareness, available. What man has the linguistic wealth needed to read in the original Homer, the Bible, Shakespeare, Pascal, The Brothers Karamazov, the poems of Li Po and A Take of the Genji? Yet which would one be prepared to do without or discard from the adventure of literacy? A major, perhaps a predominant element in our culture, in the fabric of our consciousness, is inevitably translation. 'Say what one will of its inadequacy,' wrote Goethe to Carlyle, 'translation remains one of the most important, worthwhile concerns in the totality of world affairs.' Without it we would live in arrogant parishes bordered by silence.

(From The Penguin Book of Modern Verse Translation, 1966, introduced and edited by George Steiner, pp.24-5)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Heber quote on book ownership

A quote from Richard Heber: "No gentleman can be without three copies of a book, one for show, one for use, and one for borrowers." About its utterer, according to Rictor Norton: "Richard Heber (1774–1833) was an obsessive book collector, as perhaps is suggested in the pencil drawing of him. When he filled one house from floor to ceiling with his books, he bought another house; and when he filled that one, he bought another. By the time of his death, he had filled eight or nine houses with 145,000 books."

(A tip of the hat to Eric Holzenberg, director of The Grolier Club, for alerting us to this maxim.)

Pen & Anvil Quote-Card #22.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A sonnet at the Tony Awards

Lin-Manuel Miranda accepted the Tony last night for Best Original Score for Hamilton. Rather than the conventional prosaic litany of thanks and acknowledgments, he gave an acceptance speech in the form of a sonnet. The staff at Slate magazine attempted a transcription, which follows here with a few adjustments made according to our ear.
My wife’s the reason anything gets done,
She nudges me towards promise by degrees.
She is a perfect symphony of one,
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.
We chase the melodies that seem to find us,
Until they’re finished songs and start to play.
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us,
That nothing here is promised. Not one day.
The show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger.
We rise and fall. And light from dying embers,
Remembrances that hope and love last longer.
And love (is love is love is love is LOVE is LOVE is LOVE) cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa's symphony; Eliza tells her story; now fill the world with music, love, and pride.
(Being as we take a capacious view of the sonnet form, we heartily approve of the daring length of the lines in that closing couplet.)

Congratulations on an award well-deserved, Hamilton and LMM.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Mazer on Mazer

"The tension is the meaning of the poet/poem versus the meaning of the world." 

This  comment by Ben Mazer about the vibrating tension at the heart of his work, comes from his 2014 reading at Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in reply to an audience question: "Can you explain for us please .the "mystery" of the "tension" which vibrates in your poetry?" (As reported at the Scarriet blog.)

//-- > Mazer's December Poems, published by Pen & Anvil in May 2016, is available for sale via the press website or

Thursday, May 26, 2016

E.B. White to Shirley Wiley, 1954

"An editor is a person who knows more about writing than writers do but who has escaped the terrible desire to write." From a letter from E.B. White to Shirley Wiley, 1954.