Thursday, December 29, 2011
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
a white screen, a thought, leading to an image
that accumulated into words
(she thought of rainclouds forming)
the syllables counted, the line skipped
rhythm added (she thought of sidewalk puddles)
and a clever rhyme about New Year’s Day
that made her smile with
hope for better tomorrows
tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
(kind of cliché, she knew, but it didn’t matter
it felt right for the time of year), she
a junior in university
emailed what she’d typed to her list of friends,
with wishes for health and happiness,
and it was read and deleted by most,
but two messages slipped through and
were forwarded to their contact list
and two more were forwarded to theirs
and this went on for weeks
the forwards multiplying virally
through blog links, Facebook sharing and Tweets
and someone posted it on YouTube
accompanied by images pilfered from the web
and a song by Taylor Swift used without permission,
and it got hits and hits galore, millions
and a hundred million and a book deal
(like Sh*t My Dad Says)
that was a New York Times Bestseller
and a film option from Hollywood
and a logo and a phrase that became a clothing line
and the President quoted it
in his re-election campaign speech
and it was translated into forty-two languages
including Swahili, Mongolian, and Ojibwa
and it got its own Wikipedia page
and school children all around the world
committed it to memory
for a while.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Thursday, December 15, 2011
DECEMBER RAIN, MONTREAL
The martyr-sun withers behind shadows
Darkly cumulus. Cellophane angels
Wood magi, tinfoil stars appear below
Mount-Royal, new benedictions they sell
To jingles of merchants and Christmas bells
The storefronts hang with icicles dripping
Like clear bloody nails as soles go slipping
Along glacial pavement of downtown roads
Umbrellas popped-open over heads low
Like black mushrooms or propped vinyl halos
Mothers trailed by elfin cherubic broods
Are neon-illumined in rubber hoods
Their tiny icon-faces bright as dolls
Puppet nativities entrance them all.
Monday, December 12, 2011
And after a while you can work on points for style
Like the club tie and the firm handshake
As sudden look in the eye and an easy smile
You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to
So that when they turn their backs on you
You'll get the chance to put the knife in.
I was a cheery optimistic lad.
Apparently, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
I'm thinking about this because of a provocative Vanity Fair article arguing that every twenty years or so American society has traditionally regenerated itself with new styles, new fashion, new design, new entertainment. My taste in music (Pink Floyd) was radically different from my mother's taste (Frankie Laine). My dad called the jeans I wore on a daily basis 'dungarees'. The renewal of style has not only distinguished fathers and mothers from their offspring, but has kept the economy pumping at a healthy clip. In the last twenty years, say, from 1992 to 2012 we've stalled, according to the article. The median wage hasn't changed, and the music hasn't changed that much either - Lady Gaga is just a spruced up (and younger) version of Madonna - same with the fashion and even the politics. It would stand to reason then that parents my age, would have a lot more in common with their kids, then those parents had with their parents, which seems to be my experience. I'm not sure that we're in a holding pattern per se, but the rate of cultural change does appear to have slowed. The distance between me who was born during the civil rights revolution and came of age during the heyday of disco, and my parents who were pre-war babies seems transcontinental culturally-speaking. In my day we called it 'the generation gap'. I doubt if my kids would inherently grasp that concept the way we did. So, same old, same old, right? Well, not in one very obvious and important way: technology. All those devices that were science fiction when I was young that are now ubiquitous, commonplace and indispensible. The 'transponder' used by Captain Kirk to order Scotty to 'beam me up' is what we now call a cellphone. The desktops and laptops and i-thingamajigs and Blackberries and video games and Facebook and Google have all undoubtedly shifted the cultural parameters. Styles and eras don't seem to matter nearly as much as they used to and one can argue that it is precisely because of our obsession with gadgetry and the internet which makes us feel as if we are living virtual and a-temporal existences. The internet makes all cultures of all eras immediately present and accessible. We travel through space and time with a mere click of a button. Style, as we used to understand and live it, is irrelevant. I mean, do you really have to care about the clothes you wear, or how you wear your hair, if you live, play, shop, do your banking, go to school, and socialize through a screen?
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
I have so much writerly appreciation for this story. It is a brilliantly told story about a rapidly aging man trying to determine what his life, or life in general, has amounted to. And as the title aptly implies, Salesmanship, after years of having said “no” to the Lubavitcher boys and to faith, he finally says “yes.”
Or at least he’s willing to listen.
Thus, the impetus to find some sort of answer comes one late Friday afternoon by way of a Lubavitcher boy into his office. Time is everything, perhaps, because he is beginning to see his own whittling away. He is no longer selling like he used to. Is it possible that the young boy reminds him of a new beginning, a chance to start afresh? Perhaps.
But mostly we are treated to a text that offers the reader glimpses into the slow grind down of his business, and of a life. Peppered throughout is this running commentary balanced within the present moment of the first-person narrative, which he offers in regard to the events and decisions that have shaped his life. His son-in-law, Joel, runs off to China periodically for cheaper fabrics. The office is lonely and drab. But within that framework, we learn that there is still lust in his heart. (Or should we say in his penis, which seems to function more like an eighteen-year-old's!)
The portrayal of this scene is one masterful stroke after another by the simple yet persistent desire to peek at his dim-witted secretary’s “honkers.” Yet in the same breath we sense that it is too late for him to contemplate the possibility that he could do much more than gawk. Save for the penis, his body is starting to fail him. And thus another strike at old age, for the penis symbolizes lust and power, but within a failing vessel such as his body, what good is it ultimately?
The context of the story is interesting, and conveys the understanding that the writer, either consciously or sub, gets credit for: it was back in the old days quite a common practice for bosses, without remorse or confusion, to schtump their secretaries. It is within that context and implication that adds wrenching depth and complexity to the character and story. Congrats!
So either the world has changed and the old man can’t keep up, or it no longer matters. He is young in mind, but visibly, in real tangible bones, too old in the mind of the world. Although he would like not to have to go quietly into thy good night, he knows on some visceral level that his time has passed.
Enter the boy as the vehicle, the one who is going to attempt to convert him (sell him) after all these years some greater meaning to his life. The fact that the boy is working alone piques the man's interest, throws the his world view slightly askew, and he’s intrigued. By offering the boy a “yes,” he gains some satisfaction, and some power back, as is illustrated in, One thing is undeniable, the kid's giving me a sense of satisfaction. It comes from knowing that by simply answering "yes" instead of "no" to his question I have the power to put a very uncomfortable boy at ease.
And yet the power-grab is all too brief. We are led into this empty, dusty room (the room functions with dual meaning, a paradox, perhaps---either an empty vessel upon which to start over, or the end of something represented by it's very vacantness). And in that room he wants the boy to impart some shared wisdom about God and Jews, something as a sort of keepsake after the boy leaves.
But he’s a boy. The man knew on some level that he wasn’t really going to get much, but there was hope, expectations. And as he says himself, when expectations aren’t met, there is inevitable disappointment. Then we see his memory of the marriage, and the fact that the yarmulkes, which were sewed with the names of his daughter and son-in-law, was all “a load of crap.”
When the boy begins to hum a tune that he is not familiar with, the ritual itself is “so foreign and medieval.” Then he is bound and his fingers lose sensation, the physical symbolism of him losing control/power over his life. When Laurie suggests that he may need help, things turn for the worse; it all becomes too nasty a charade. And so he begins to panic-sweat, due to the realization that in life there are no answers, only truths created by oneself. (I may have wanted a bit more cause-and-effect in terms of him reaching this heightened state of discombobulation rather than his inability to read the thick text, but that’s a tiny quibble.)
The condom is a nice touch at the end—he is on to Joel and Laurie, their illicit affair. (Now the reader, and perhaps the man himself, understands that Laurie's concern had more to do with this secret than for the man's welfare.) Is he going to fire Laurie, get Joel squared up to live a respectful life and treat his daughter right? We don’t know. But the final declarative sentences give us the inkling that he is going to retake some of that lost power, if only briefly, to establish right from wrong—yes, he’s clearly found his own religion---and, by extension, hellbent on grounding himself in the world, a world that he realizes he hasn't yet departed.
Glen, you have created a powerful story about mortality and one man’s desire to come to the terms of his own life and the meaning in it. Beautifully rendered!
Monday, November 7, 2011
Monday, October 24, 2011
Décorum ou la broderie in situ is a performative installation featuring Barbara Wisnoski’s ‘extreme’ sewing combined with text adorning the gallery walls. Produced over a ten-month period from an accumulation of cast-off clothing, the textile motifs form a repeat pattern that expands a small domestic embroidery motif to a public scale. The family archive aspect implicit in her raw
materials – a household fabric inventory - is rendered explicit, with narrative text on one wall echoing the design. Through a serial process of destruction and reconstruction – slashing fabric apart with scissors, sewing it together, then slashing it apart again - the remnants form a dense, homogeneous texture where surface melds into structure.
Friday, October 14, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
She partied with the Nazis at the Paris Ritz and then gave bottles of perfume away to American GI liberators to bring back home to their mothers, wives and girlfriends. Read the book review here.
Monday, August 29, 2011
With the gates once carefully guarded by the centurions of high culture now flung open, the barbarians flooded in, and it is they who are running the joint today. The most lauded novelists in "The Cambridge History of the American Novel" tend to be those, in the words of another of its contributors, who are "staging a critique of 'America' and its imperial project." Thus such secondary writers as Allen Ginsberg, Kurt Vonnegut and E.L. Doctorow are in these pages vaunted well beyond their literary worth.
The indispensible Joseph Epstein on why we don't care about novels anymore... Well, not really, but may as well be about that. It's really about how universities have failed students, critics, readers (and by extension writers) of American fiction. I'm not sure that the works of Roth and Updike are likely to be short-lived, or that Vonnegut is a secondary writer. But there is no doubt that the importance of 'contextualization' in the study of literature has raised mediocre novels to an undeserved status, and given aspiring novelists a low bar to shoot for. 'Good' and 'bad' are no longer legitimate criteria on which to judge novels since everything is culturally relative. And it extends beyond the walls of academia. I read far too many book reviews (a practice I have told myself I have to stop for fear that it will turn my brain to sludge). And one notices how readily and often reviewers laud new novels, how loosely they throw around terms like "masterful" and "exceptional" and how rarely "bad" (or its euphemisms) show up. You don't have to read a ton of reviews like I do (did). Pick up any new novel off the shelf and read the blurbs and 'praise for' on the back cover and you see what I mean. With so much mediocre work stocking the shelves and being lauded to the hilt it's no wonder that readers don't know what to believe anymore and seem to have stopped caring.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Monday, July 25, 2011
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Look, I'm actually fan of poetry. Read the stuff, edited a couple of anthologies, even write the stuff on occasion. So why does this new prize for a poem seem so completely absurd? I keep asking myself, can there possibly by such a thing as a poem worth $50K? We're not talking a novel that takes years to write or a body of literary work; a single poem! And why does it seem that as less people read poetry and buy poetry publications the more poetry prizes there are, and the higher their purse. Clearly, a declining readership has prompted a kind of false, one might even say sad, effort to prop up flaccid, sagging prestige. The spectacle (if that's what it could be when it involves poetry) recalls the compensations needed by the owner of a souped-up muscle car. A new prize will not generate new interest in poetry, if that's what the organizers are after, and certainly not new book buyers. Never have, and never will. As well-intentioned as this prize might be it only serves to make generally ignored poets feel better about themselves, at least one poet anyway. I keep thinking about all that money being put to good use by spreading the largesse; imagine how many poetry collections $50K could buy.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Monday, June 20, 2011
Friday, June 17, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Friday, April 1, 2011
Mankiewicz may not have been the only participant in the Citizen Kane project concerned about whether Sloane’s appearance was sufficiently sympathetic. As Mankiewicz knew, Sloane was a Jewish actor and a veteran of Welles’ theater company. In the years following the filming of Citizen Kane, Sloane embarked on a series of plastic surgeries to reduce the size of his nose and thereby, he imagined, broaden the range of acting roles available to him. Welles later said that Sloane “must have had twenty operations before he killed himself. He must have thought, ‘If I could ever bob my nose right, then I’ll be a leading man.’”
Harold Heft's fascinating piece on Orson Welles's portrayal of the jew in his masterpiece Citizen Kane.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
A little levity before linking to a disturbing Newsweek piece about the increasing presence of 'religious-Zionists' in the Israeli army. In the past, we heard resentful complaints by secular Israelis that the Hasidim got all the government perks without having to serve in the army. Suddenly, there's worry that more and more officers are wearing knitted yarmulkes and sympathetic to the settler movement. The author asks, will these soldiers obey their commanders or their rabbis? File under: Be careful what you wish for.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Read the entire review here.
Friday, March 4, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
Robyn Sarah again on telling the truth in poetry. What she says about poetry is equally true in fiction. I wonder if she would agree with my contention that what she calls writers listening to themselves, admiringly, rather than speaking from a real place may be the result of the 'academization' of writing ie. more writing coming out of university creative writing programs. And bonus; she quotes Joseph Epstein, one of my favourite writers.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Robyn Sarah on the writer's challenge to find the perfect public/private balance.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
Friday, February 11, 2011
Monday, February 7, 2011
Craig Davidson tells it like it is for most writers.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Friday, January 14, 2011
Another brilliant article from the indispensible untouchable David Brooks.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Sunday, January 2, 2011
A pleasant surprise to receive this poem in my email inbox on New Year's day from the Saskatchewan Book Award winning poet Dave Margoshes. I think it properly captures the held-breath sobriety of the day; our aims, the goals we set for the New Year, and the feelings of hopefulness mixed with uncertainty at that moment when the midnight clock's hand is about to strike.
A stopped clock
The spiraling ball hovers in the plangent air,
a bullet misdirected. It could go either way,
straight to its true mark, or as far wide
as all the error we are capable of, all
the weight of our hopes skewing its course.
Win or lose is beyond the point, each winner
harbouring a loss within, each loser right
at least once. Tomorrow country, they call it
tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
all our tomorrows spiraling just out of reach,
a ball sinking at last to a confounding certainty.
Wishing us all brighter tomorrows