Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category


‘Selected Poems,’ by Mark Ford

Written on August 21, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Literature

Ford_MarkIf you take poetry seriously, or even half-seriously, you read the dead-tree editions. Poetry seems tinned and trebly in digital formats, like Brahms’s Requiem played through smartphone speakers.

One of the dirty literary secrets of the Internet, though, is that nearly every poem ever published is lurking out there somewhere, for those willing to spend 3.7 seconds to find it. I mention this only because in recent months, in need of flintier forms of solace, I’ve increasingly and somewhat guiltily been bookmarking on my laptop the poems of Mark Ford.

Mr. Ford, born in Kenya, is a British poet, academic and critic. He’s edited an edition of John Ashbery’s poetry for the Library of America and a volume of Frank O’Hara’s verse for Alfred A. Knopf. He writes regularly, and sharply, for The New York Review of Books and The London Review of Books.

He’s a reticent poet. He musters a book a decade. So far there have been three, each better than the previous: “Landlocked” (1992), “Soft Sift” (2001) and “Six Children” (2011). His “Selected Poems” is a tidy and welcome overview. It’s packed with cerebral pleasures and a complicated awareness of what Mr. Ashbery has called “the public gravitas of things.”

Mr. Ford’s stanzas do not resemble flowers slowly fainting in their vases. He’s a poet who pitchforks clashing detail into his lines, as if to destabilize them, to proclaim, as he does in “I Wish,” that “every second is underwritten/by an invisible host of dubious connections.”

Just as often, though, his work opens up emotionally, like a rolling vista that unfurls after a long hike through dense woods. In a poem called “The Gaping Gulf,” Mr. Ford pauses to declare:

I think
Of all those on the verge of fainting
Today — teachers and alcoholics, long-distance runners, Tokyo-bound
Commuters crushed rib to rib. Their lungs
Wheeze and labor, and would rest; they need
A cold compress, a caressing breeze, some
Respite from the rattling drone of dried peas
In the inner ear.

Continue reading in The New York Times


‘Brando’s Smile’, by Susan L Mizruchi

Written on August 14, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Film, Literature

brandoMarlon Brando, 1924-2004. Actor, expert make-up artist, bisexual sex addict, kook. Only son of two drunks, with a bohemian mother so volatile he learnt young to perfect impressions of not just animals and people but machines and inanimate objects in order to soothe her – his “cash register” was, by all accounts, irresistible. Sympathetic Boston English professor Susan Mizruchi is keen to add “intellectual” to the list in this new biography. “Brando has been a victim of sexism,” she writes. “Because he was so charming and physically appealing, his equally energetic mind has tended to be negated.”

In fact, the actor did poorly at school and was expelled from military academy. But in his early twenties he fell in with a radical drama teacher, Stella Adler, in New York – he did not, as many assume, study the Method at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg – who believed that actors were essentially a breed of undercover agent, trained to notice everything. By the early 1950s, first on stage and then in movies such as A Streetcar Named Desire and The Wild One, the thrill that came off him had audiences clutching at their faces, blushing like plums, not just because of his outrageous sex appeal but the unusual way in which he gave working men “classical gestures, size and stature”. Elia Kazan’s first impression was that the actor was “subtly humorous, catlike, lazy, not easy to frighten or rush”. Kazan, who went on to direct Brando in the monumental On the Waterfront in 1954, learnt never to superimpose any will on him, just to wait quietly as Brando worked out a part, confident “a miracle” would come (Brando won the Oscar for best actor).

A night owl who rarely got up before the afternoon and who collected raccoons and pigs, Brando was doggedly resistant to convention all his life, and is frequently described as “unquestionably odd” and “very strange”. Ever nervous about his academic knowledge, he was a classic autodidact with a whole archipelago of studies and subjects, from Jung to black holes, maps, wildlife, Judaism, the Native American, Shakespeare.

For the first time among his biographers, Mizruchi had access to Brando’s library of more than 4,000 books complete with his personal annotations. His bad spelling is spectacular (“entrieging”) and his jottings in the margins endearingly keen and wry. “RIDICULOUS”, “GREAT GOD!” And “GET” next to anything that might inspire him to further reading. In his copy of The Brothers Karamazovhe underlines every unfamiliar word.

Continue reading in Financial Times


Can books cross borders?

Written on July 16, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Literature

booksIs it in any way “important” to read writers from our own country? Is there even any real difference in reading a book from home and a book from abroad?

Or to put it another way: when I pick up a novel, is it merely a question of a free-floating individual, the absolute, unconditioned me, picking up any literary performance from any time or clime and simply deciding after an hour or two whether I like the thing or not, so that when the final page is turned it is immaterial whether this book was written in Manchester or Melbourne and whether I grew up in Gloucester or Grozny?

I am trying to find a frame for the recent debate on the British school literature syllabus, a way of considering the question that will take us beyond the merest collision between supposedly blinkered nationalism (UK education secretary Michael Gove wants Charles Dickens) and supposedly enlightened openness (the writer Robert McCrum and Guardian readers prefer John Steinbeck). I also want to suggest that the fact this debate is taking place at all is part of a deep change occurring in the way literature is written and read across the world, a change also reflected in the decision to open the Man Booker prize to all fiction written in English.

Or is it rather a question of me as member of a community, steeped in my national culture, picking up a novel that may or may not have been produced in that same culture, within or without a framework of shared assumptions? If this version is more accurate, then my reaction to a book might very well depend on where it was written and where I was born.

For example: a boy from a well-to-do Cheltenham family is given Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, recognises in Hogwarts school a caricature of his own public school – certain teachers seem to be drawn from life! – and is thrilled to see his familiar world transformed by witchcraft and magic. Meantime, a middle-class girl in Bangkok is given a copy of the same book; she finds the magic surrounding Harry and company rather bland but is bewildered and delighted by a bizarre education system that subjects its precocious children to eccentric teachers in remote and bleak environments. What we think about the relationship between writer, reader and community matters; the question of whether writer and reader, at the deepest level, share a common language, is not an irrelevant one.

Continue reading in Financial Times


‘Echo’s Bones,’ a Beckett Short Story Rediscovered

Written on July 4, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Literature

beckettWhen the British publisher Chatto & Windus agreed in 1933 to publish Samuel Beckett’s first book of fiction, a collection of 10 interrelated stories titled “More Pricks Than Kicks,” it asked him for one final story, a culminating wallop.

There was a problem. Beckett had killed off the book’s protagonist, a Dublin intellectual named Belacqua Shuah, in an earlier story. He had to be nonchalantly resurrected. A second problem arose. Beckett’s editor at Chatto & Windus, Charles Prentice, found the new story Beckett delivered, “Echo’s Bones,” to resemble less a comely infant than a troubling heap of placenta and broken forceps.

“It is a nightmare,” Prentice wrote to Beckett. This was the start of one of the great rejection letters in literary history. “It gives me the jim-jams.” He declared: “People will shudder and be puzzled and confused.”

It’s not you, Prentice continued. It’s me. “I am sitting on the ground, and ashes are on my head.”

Eight decades later, Grove, Beckett’s stalwart American publisher, is issuing “Echo’s Bones” for the first time. This is a handsome book, and a well-padded one. The 49 pages of Beckett’s story are tucked, and nearly lost, inside acknowledgments, an introduction, a note on the text, a scan from the original typescript, a selection of letters from Prentice to Beckett, a bibliography and 57 pages of (excellent) annotations from this volume’s editor, Mark Nixon.

It’s worth cleaving this oyster to get at the pearl. “Echo’s Bones” is a relatively minor work, but it’s pungent early Beckett, written while he was still under the sway of his mentor, James Joyce, but with a soundscape all its own: rude, surreal, death-haunted, sex-addled, dry as bone. It helps to have read “More Pricks Than Kicks” before consuming it, but the story stands on its own.

Its pleasures border on the painful; you will have to like the sound of breaking glass. You may wish to exclaim about “Echo’s Bones,” as Belacqua does about his re-emergence on earth, “My soul begins to be idly goaded and racked, all the old pains and aches of me soul-junk return!”

Continue reading in The New York Times


Cervantes winner Ana Maria Matute dies at 88

Written on June 25, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Literature

matutePrize-winning novelist Ana Maria Matute, who spent a literary lifetime exploring the crushed innocence of her childhood during the Spanish Civil War, died on Wednesday of a heart attack, her son told Reuters.

She was 88 years old and lived in Barcelona.

Her novels spanning the 1940s to the 1960s depicted the devastation of rural, war-tornSpain from a child’s perspective.

In her 1959 novel “School of the Sun”, a girl named Maria comes of age while the war divides her family and her town on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, with a doll named Gorogo her sole confidant.

Maria’s gradual abandonment of the doll and of fairy tales, and her friendship with a boy who is ostracised in the village, mark her transition to adulthood.

Decades later, when Matute won Spain’s highest literary award, the Cervantes – she was the third woman to receive the honour – she spoke of her own Gorogo, a doll her father brought her from London when she was five, who became her only friend.

“I take it on all my trips and I still tell it what I can’t tell anybody,” she said in her acceptance speech in 2010.

Matute and other writers scarred by the 1936-1939 war – Juan Goytisolo, Ignacio Aldecoa, Carmen Martin Gaite and Carmen Laforet – were dubbed the generation of the frightened children.

“You know how horrible it is to be 11, and go from being a little middle-class girl … to finding yourself in a world divided, even brothers were divided … Going through a war with atrocities, discovering the ugliest things in life,” she said.

Born in Barcelona, northeast Spain, on July 26, 1925, Matute was one of five children. Her father owned an umbrella factory.

She almost died of a kidney infection when she was five years old. Aged 8, she was sent to live with her grandparents in a small town, Mansilla de la Sierra. Later, she attended a religious school in Madrid.

Continue reading in Reuters

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