CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

Writers of slender acquaintance: Lauro De Bosis

Award-winning Italian writer lost his life protesting the fascism of Benito Mussolini.

Lauro De Bosis (image courtesy Wikimedia)

“Every regime in the world, even the Afghan and Turk, allows its citizens a certain amount of liberty. Fascism alone, in self-defense, is obliged to annihilate thought.” – Lauro De Bosis

This week’s writer of slender acquaintance is less a mysterious one like Rhian Roberts and more a tragic one like – well, like many artists who oppose and are destroyed by repressive regimes. As I mentioned last week, I am meandering through a massive collection of short stories called A World of Great Stories. As I made my way through the Italian section (and came across one of the worst edited “story” selections I have read so far in this volume – and that’s saying something – an excerpt called “The Travelers” from Ignazio Silone’s The Seed Beneath the Snow), I encountered De Bosis and a piece (it’s not really a story, it’s a heartfelt autobiographical essay about and against Mussolini and Italian Fascism) he wrote before his last flight (De Bosis was an amateur aviator). Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Writers of slender acquaintance: Rhian Who…?

“It is therefore only right that we should all turn out to make our farewells.” – Rhian Roberts

A World of Great Stories, eds. Hiram Haydn and John Cournos (image courtesy Goodreads)

I haven’t mentioned my reading in the last couple of essays. That isn’t because I haven’t been reading (don’t be silly), but because I’m dividing my time between a couple of works. One of these is a crime fiction novel by an author I have reviewed before, William Mark (my review of his latest, Crossing the Blue Line, will appear sometime next week.

The other, whose cover is pictured at right, is called A World of Great Stories and contains 115 “stories” (more on why the quotation marks used shortly) by authors from around the world. So far I’ve finished the American/British section (which includes not just the U.S. and England but Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) and am into the section on Europe which starts, quite naturally, with the French who are after all right across the Channel.

The Welsh representative is the Rhian of this essay’s title. Her name is Rhian Roberts and if there were ever a writer with whom one’s acquaintance is going to be slender, it would be she.

But more on Ms. Roberts anon. First, a few words about this book. Continue reading

ArtSunday

Writers of slender acquaintance: Rudyard Kipling

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” – Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Another in the series I began last week about writers who have become neglected. This week’s choice is one whose literary reputation has been as high, as low, and as controversial as any writer in the history of literature. Rudyard Kipling has been revered – and reviled – by authors as diverse as Jorge Luis Borges, R.K. Narayan, and George Orwell – who noted that Kipling:

…sold out to the British governing class, not financially but emotionally. This warped his political judgement, for the British ruling class were not what he imagined, and it led him into abysses of folly and snobbery, but he gained a corresponding advantage from having at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like.

For those who know Kipling – and that’s almost everyone – only for “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” or The Jungle Book or Kim – Kipling is a dimly remembered writer of exciting stories for young readers. But he was a complicated figure who produced a wide range of work with interesting themes. Continue reading

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Writers of slender acquaintance: Sherwood Anderson

In the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were truths and they were all beautiful. – Sherwood Anderson

Sherwood Anderson (image courtesy Wikimedia)

This is the beginning of acting upon an idea. Whether it will be a good idea only time will tell, but here is a beginning.

As anyone who reads my essays knows, I read a lot of books. Some of the books are newly issued works of promise, some are long remembered, well known classics, some are oddities that for one reason or another have captured my attention and imagination for a least a brief time.

Because I read many books, I encounter many writers. Some of these writers are famous, known by most of the American public even if only as a name that they know.  Some have had great recognition and renown but are not known to much of the American public at all. A few have had some recognition and appeal but deserve more.

As I have thought about this, especially since reading my most recently completed book, Robert E. Spiller’s overview of American literary history, it has occurred to me that someone ought to write a series of essays that look at one other group: writers whose place in the world of literature might be seen as precarious, writers whose work should be “discovered/re-discovered” by a reading public who may be hungry for something a little deeper and more challenging than the standard fare that gets the most attention these days.

Here I go, violating one of the military’s truisms: Never volunteer. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Robert Spiller’s American Literature for old fogeys…

Robert E, Spiller’s classic of literary history, The Cycle of American Literature, still holds insights for the serious reader even though he occasionally creaks with quaintness…

The Cycle of American Literature by Robert E. Spiller (image courtesy Goodreads)

Pulled this wonderful old critical monograph on the history of American literature off the shelf a bit ago and have just completed a re-read, my first of this text in, oh, I don’t know, about 40 years, I’d say.  First published in 1955, The Cycle of American Literature is Spiller’s personal, sometimes idiosyncratic (as all good scholarly writing should be) critical survey of the emergence and evolution of American literature as we know it.

Readers old enough to remember the training one received in literature prior to the scholarly culture revolutions of the last several decades which have seen cultural shifts such as the removal of one time bastions of literary study from the curriculum as their places are taken by more “relevant and inclusive” author selections will read this lovely chestnut of “old school” critical thinking with a satisfying “hmm, yes, that’s how we were taught to think about literature.” Those trained since the revolution that made criticism more important than the literature it is supposed to be critiquing may find it shocking at first to have a scholar/critic actually write about writers and their work as if those writers and their work actually matter and are not just products of deep psycho-social structures that reduce the literary artist to a cipher, a tool, an outlet for the historical and cultural forces of his/her time will scratch their heads and say, perhaps, “slightly benighted, but certainly some interesting stuff here.”

As Mr. Vonnegut observed, “So it goes.Continue reading

Book-Review

Guy de Maupassant and the pain of brevity…

How strange and changeful is life! How small a thing is needed to make or ruin us! – Guy de Maupassant, “The Necklace”

There must have been something in the water.

Guy de Maupassant (image courtesy Wikimedia)

If one considers some of the great short story writers of the late 19th-early 20th century – Chekhov, O. Henry, H.H. Munro, better known by his pen name Saki, and Maupassant, one must note two things: they gave us some of the most remarkable short fiction ever written (Maupassant’s “The Necklace,” Saki’s “The Open Window,” O. Henry’s “The Last Leaf,” Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog“) and they all died in their forties. If one adds in the brilliant American Stephen Crane, who died at 29 and who gave us “The Open Boat,” the average lifespan for a master of short fiction in this era works out to be roughly 40. That’s the lifespan of a medieval knight.

It’s as if short fiction genius comes with the price of a short life. It’s a literary artist’s version of Achilles’ choice: faced with the prospect of a long but uneventful life and dying forgotten or doing work that would bring them immortality but a brief temporal existence, they all chose option B.

I have long been divided about whether I thought Chekhov or Crane the greatest of short fictioneers, to borrow a term from my friend the gifted short fiction writer Teresa Milbrodt. Having recently finished reading The Tales of Guy de Maupassant, I find myself needing to consider adding a third contender to my deliberations. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The Judgment of Paris and the Rise of Impressionism…

“Time gives every human being his true value.” – Ernest Meissonier

The Judgment of Paris by Ross King (image courtesy Goodreads)

Unless you are a student of art history, you have probably never heard of the author of the quote above, Ernest Meissonier. At the time of Ross King’s history of the rise of Impressionism, The Judgment of Paris, Meissonier was the most famous painter in the world. Now, 150 years later, Meissonier is forgotten and his rival who spent the decade being ridiculed, Edouard Manet, is one of art history’s titans. King’s book explores one of the most famous and volatile periods of art history, Paris in the 1860’s, the decade that saw the peak of Meissonier’s career, the decline and fall of the 2nd Empire, and the rise of a group of artists, a group King calls the “generation of 1863”- Manet, Whistler, Henri Fantin-Latour – and their younger contemporaries – Renoir, Degas, Monet.

By comparing the far different struggles of Meissonier and Manet, King is able to illuminate one of history’s continuing problems: the resistance of the established power structure to new ideas. Continue reading

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“Tokyo in the Underbrush”: ArtsWeek

Pictures and poems from Japan’s bubble years…

Introduction
In January, 1987 I graduated from Lehigh University with a B.A. in journalism. By the first week of March I was in Tokyo, Japan to start my first real adult job and the rest of my life. I was 23 years and two months old, and had decided I wanted adventure instead of an entry-level stateside newspaper job. So through some business contacts of my father’s I secured an entry-level marketing position with an American information services company in Tokyo.

ShibuyaMarch1987

What I present to you here are poems and photographs I created while living and working in Tokyo in 1987 and 1988. All the images are of Tokyo drunks and homeless people because, at the time, I was naïve and couldn’t believe this aspect of Japanese society existed. I felt I had to document it.

Poverty and homelessness still persist in Japan, of course, and through some strange twists of fate I resumed documenting Tokyo street life four years ago. This has resulted in a book I’m trying to get published called “Tokyo Panic Stories.” You can see samples my recent Tokyo work here and here.

So please enjoy this 28 year-old folio of words and images. And keep in mind that while I make no apologies for the quality of the poetry (I am actually still pleased with some of it), the poems were written by a man less than half his current age of 52 years. Also note that each photo is paired with the text right beneath it, and click any image to see it full-size.

Tokyo in the Underbrush

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Akihabara—May, 1988

Humor of the ‘surd

When you stare straight ahead, people love you. Continue reading

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A way of being in the world

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ravilliousWhat are we writing about when we’re “Nature Writing?”

This question is prompted by thoughts from the excellent three-day little festival in South London, the Balham Literary Festival, titled A Way of Being in the World. What a great title, because it leaves open any number of possibilities. The fact that it’s mostly nature and landscape writers involved is telling, though. There is no question there has been a resurgence in “Nature Writing” over the past decade or so here in the UK—the books just keep coming out. And we keep reading them. One of the running themes of the discussions after each session, and even in some of them, is why is this happening. There are presumably many reasons, but the basic one is that people feel the need to read about nature and landscape, and writers feel the need to be writing about it. So what we had here was an outrageously good line-up of writers who have done exactly that.  Continue reading

Northbound: Lake County, Colorado

“Slothful bitches”: the artist muses on the capricious nature of muses (ArtsWeek)

Artists don’t decide what their calling is. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Northbound: Lake County, Colorado

Northbound: Lake County, Colorado

When I set out to become a photographer way back in 2012 I had an idea what I was going to be. I live in Colorado, you see, so I was going to shoot majestic western landscapes. You know, like every other photographer in the state. I even bought a wide-angle lens for the purpose, not really understanding that wasn’t what wide-angles were for. They can be used for certain types of outdoor expansive shots, but they’re really great for making the indoors look huge.

But then something happened. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsWeek

The joys of binge-watching

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For the past year I have had some health issues that have taken me out of active circulation—nothing life-threatening, but certainly life changing during the period, and for a little while yet. One of these was a broken bone in my foot that had me sitting in front of the television for a solid six weeks, leg up on the hassock and (for the moment) out of the boot thing they give you these days. The other stuff doesn’t need details, but it also involved being relatively immobile for long periods. Plus the interesting effects of some of what they put you on these days for various things. For someone with no real health issues since I got mono the summer I was 20 and some back stuff in my 30s, this came as something of a surprise. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsWeek

The Butterfly Effect: revisiting an old poem

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Old men are signal. Young men are noise.

Fractal Butterfly 004, by agsandrew at DeviantArt

When I was a young writer I swung for the fence with every syllable. I felt like any word that didn’t crush you with profound implications for eternity was a wasted opportunity. I resented articles. I didn’t understand white space, breathing room, the need for silence between beats, and I had little time for the banal, pedestrian-mongering wanks who did.

I learned more about these things as I grew, and I think becoming a photographer has honed those lessons even more. Noise drowns signal.

Even though I’m no longer a poet, I sometimes read things I wrote in that past life. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Sex, Death, and Fly Fishing: an appreciation of John Gierach

…we fall into that class of fishermen who fancy themselves to be poet/philosophers, and from that vantage point we manage to pull off one of the neatest tricks in the sport: the fewer fish we catch the more superior we feel. – John Gierach

Sex, Death, and Fly Fishing by John Gierach (image courtesy Goodreads)

It’s called “the quiet sport” and to those of us who practice it, as I have written about numerous times, perhaps most poetically here, it is part mysticism, part addiction, part that thing which my friends laugh at.  Fly fishing, especially fly fishing for trout, is a complicated, though deceptively simple, activity that involves a good bit of gear, a good bit of luck, a good bit of neurosis. John Gierach’s book of essays, Sex, Death, and Fly Fishing is one of my favorite works on the subject, and, since it’s part of the 2016 reading list, I dove into it immediately after finishing Catherine Heath’s social history of the 70’s and 80’s, Behaving Badly mainly because I am avoiding reading fiction right now as I finish my latest book.

The book is a series of essays that look at those elements of fly fishing that I mentioned above – gear, luck, and neurosis – in about equal parts. Continue reading

ArtSunday

Catherine Heath’s Behaving Badly: the novel in its time…

Don’t you think it’s magnificent? A kind of splendid behavior really. A trusting of the future, a daring kind of love. Isn’t it, in a way, splendid? – Catherine Heath

Behaving Badly by Catherine Heath (image courtesy Library Thing)

Catherine Heath is a novelist I stumbled upon through my wife Lea’s interest in and admiration for the actress Judi Dench. In looking around for a present for her (anniversary, Christmas, I forget), I came across a British miniseries called Behaving Badly starring the aformentioned Ms. Dench.

As we watched the miniseries I became interested in finding out more about the author, a British novelist of the 1970’s and 80’s who only developed her career as a novelist in early middle age and who died relatively young (66) of cancer. So I found and bought a copy of the novel Behaving Badly, the work upon which the television show was based.

Having read Heath’s novel, I can offer a couple of observations about which I will elaborate later. The first is that Heath, like most British writers, is deft, witty, and thoughtful. The second is that like any number of fine British writers she may be ignored for long periods. The second of these may actually be a hidden boon to her long term literary reputation. Continue reading

Book-Review

Book Review: A Rising Tide of People Swept Away by Scott Archer Jones

How will we respond to the children? – Scott Archer Jones

A Rising Tide of People Swept Away (image courtesy Smashwords)

We live in a world of diversity, of change, of uncertainty. The new novel by Scott Archer Jones, A Rising Tide of People Swept Away, explores what Dr. Johnson might call the “interstitial vacuities.” A small boy from a troubled family, a family part Hispanic, part Anglo, becomes the “adopted” child of a group of troubled people in the Albuquerque Bosque area. The story of how he is saved while they are lost is the focus of A Rising Tide of People Swept Away.

I think this is a significant book for a couple of reasons. First, it is a novel that addresses what is happening to too many in our country: people who are pawns in the machinations of government working in concert with wealthy forces interested in increasing their wealth do their best to fight back against adds that are so stacked against them they are doomed from the start. Second, and this is the real story and power of Jones’s novel, this is a story of how human love and kindness persist in the face of the forces mentioned in the first reason. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Bulwer-Lytton and the art of bad writing…

“Let the past perish, when it ceases to reflect on its magic mirror the beautiful magic which is its noblest reality, though perchance though but the shadow of its delusion.” – Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Edward Bulwer-Lytton (image courtesy Wikimedia)

It has been a couple of weeks since I last wrote anything. There are explanations – reasons, if you will. None of them will please everyone, but remember what Lincoln said….

Reason #1: I have waded through a large pile of books as a judge for the Florida Authors and Publishers Association annual book awards. This task has some elements comparable to the 12 labors of Hercules. Part of the task has been like overcoming the Nemean Lion. Part of it has been like pursuing the Hind of Ceryneia. Part of it has been like cleaning the Augean Stables.

Yes, well…

Reason #2: I have started – and stopped (gasps from those who know my “if you start a book, finish it” mantra) a couple of books. Whether this comes as a result of some sort of reading fatigue brought on by #1 or whether it is the result of other causes, I am yet to learn. And so, it would seem, are you. Continue reading