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

Dotsun Moon, A Swan's Song

CD review: Dotsun Moon’s “A Swan’s Song” illuminates the soul of a band in transition

Rich Flierl may be at the mercy of circumstances, but new CD makes clear his rage to grow and innovate. Let’s hope A Swan’s Song isn’t.

Dotsun Moon, A Swan's Song

Dotsun Moon, A Swan’s Song

Dotsun Moon was rolling in the wake of 2011’s outstanding 4am, but a couple years later singer Mary Ognibene departed the band, leaving songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rich Flierl wondering what to do next. An extended search for a worthy replacement proved difficult – understandable, given how perfectly Ognibene’s talents meshed with Flierl’s dark, brooding vision. 4am wandered the borderlands between trip-hop, shoegaze and the lush, cinematic alt.Americana we might associate with The Lost Patrol and The Blueflowers. (Flierl describes it as “DreamBeat Noir,” which is as good a tag as anything I can come up with.) It was a seductive amalgam, and it’s hard to imagine easily replacing any element of the collaboration.

Flierl auditioned a number of singers, but no one really panned out.  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

CATEGORY: ArtsWeek

The Butterfly Effect: revisiting an old poem

Image (1) ArtsWeek.jpg for post 12148

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

Praise the lord, pass the steak sauce

It’s Sunday so, you know, nuns…

I was photographing a wedding dinner at Original Joe’s in North Beach. If you go, order the veal piccata. It’s fantastic. Anyway, it was hard not to notice these six nuns as they walked by the table where my wife and I were awaiting our meal. Right after the waiter handed these ladies their menus, I walked up to their table and said “Sisters, I’ve never seen this many nuns seated at a table in a public restaurant. May I take a picture of all of you?”

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

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

TokyoDay12raw-038-1

Cold stone home

From my “Tokyo Panic Stories” series…

On a warm late September day they had staked out a spot in front of the Shinjuku Station A8 exit. He ate while she seemed to monitor their surroundings and the passersby, like she were guarding him so he could eat undisturbed. Their bags and overall appearances gave the impression that they weren’t just another couple out shopping. The step they sat upon was their cold stone home for the day, and they’d probably be moving on when Tokyo cooled down in the evening…

(Shinjuku, Tokyo 2013. See more of my work here.)