Showing posts from March, 2014

Rainbow Book Fair 2014

It was a very successful outing for Singapore Poetry at the Rainbow Book Fair yesterday. Sold lots of books and talked to lots of interesting people who stopped by the table. Michael Broder, representing A Midsummer's Night Press, was at the next table. Roxanne Hoffman and her Poets Wear Prada Press was just behind me. Paul Rozario, who was kind enough to help man the table for part of the day, discovered a talent for selling books by chatting people up! We gave out the bookmarks promoting the Singapore Literature Festival in New York in October. I enjoyed reading at the Poetry Salon organized by Nathaniel Siegel. Alex Goh and Christine Chia came for the reading; Sarah Sarai and Charlie Bondhus stayed after theirs. Bryan Borland and Matthew Hittinger came by the table. The only regret was that I was so busy that I could not find the time to look around the fair and say hello to friends.

H. W. Brands's Biography of FDR

Written with a full appreciation of Roosevelt's accomplishments and a frank understanding of his flaws, Traitor to His Class is an engrossing read. The chief burden of the book is to explain how a man of Roosevelt's class and privilege could have become so firm a supporter of ordinary men and women, and so visionary an architect of American internationalism. Part I "Swimming to Health 1882 - 1928" covers the early period, right up to his becoming the Governor of New York. Part II "The Soul of the Nation 1929 - 1937" traces his path to the Presidency and the implementation of New Deal as a response to the Great Depression. The final part "The Fate of the World 1937 - 1945" examines America's entry into WWII and FDR's record as Commander-in-Chief. I was intrigued to learn that, in a moment of carelessness, FDR promised Winston Churchill to send American troops to defend Singapore. The Atlantic Charter was an important document supporting sel…

The Great Beauty

Before I forget, for I will:

Really liked Paolo Sorrentino's film "The Great Beauty" ("La grande bellezza") for its leisurely beauty and heartfelt melancholy. Toni Servillo was superb as Jep Gambardella, who launched himself into Rome's elite circles on the wings of a brilliant first novel, sustained his altitude on seductive charm and cutting wit, but could not write another novel because he did not find the great beauty, even after years and years of half-hearted searching. Bringing in the Saint at the end, a nun who had devoted her life to serving the poor in Africa, did not feel cheesy, but provided proper foil to a wasted life. Yet who can say the life is wasted? For if beauty comes in fragile flashes, all we can do is to catch it while we can. The soundtrack was magnificent.

"7 Virgins" ("7 vírgenes"), directed by Alberto Rodríguez, was not a great film by any standarrds, but it was very watchable. Tano, played by an engaging Juan …

The Thought of a Novelist

from an interview Philip Roth gave to Daniel Sandstrom, the cultural editor at Svenska Dagbladet, for publication in Swedish translation in that newspaper and in its original English in the NYT Book Review:

Whoever looks for the writer's thinking in the words and thoughts of his characters is looking in the wrong direction. Seeking out a writer's "thoughts" violates the richness of the mixture that is the very hallmark of the novel. The thought of the novelist that matters most is the thought that makes him a novelist.  The thought of a novelist lies not in the remarks of his characters or even in their introspection but in the plight he has invented for his characters, in the juxtaposition of those characters, and in the lifelike ramifications of the ensemble they make--their density, their substantiality, their lived existence actualized in all its nuanced particulars, is in fact his thought metabolized.  The thought of the writer lies in his choice of an aspect of…

The Business of Self-Betrayal

from Marc Robinson's review of The Long Voyage: Selected letters of Malcolm Cowley, 1915 - 1987, edited by Hans Bak:

After reading Malcolm Cowley's first collection of verse, Blue Juniata (1929), Conrad Aiken asked: "What do you think or feel which is secretly you? Shamefully you? Intoxicatingly you? Drunkenly or soberly or lyrically you?" In the poems, to Aiken's eye, "this doesn't come out", their creator having "avoided the final business of self-betrayal".  *  "[Malcolm Cowley:] It's really easier to give your life to a cause than to hold out for a particular sentence that embodies your way of looking at life -- yet if you surrender on the wording of a sentence, and another sentence, pretty soon you find yourself living for the opposite cause to the one you had intended to die for." As a description of "self-betrayals" possible in style alone, this can hardly be bettered.

Haruki Murakami's "Norwegian Wood"

Death is not the opposite of life but a part of it. This is what Toru Watanabe, the protagonist of the novel, learns from the suicide of his best friend Kizuki at the age of seventeen. Toru and Kizuki's girlfriend Naoko, joined by this incommunicable sadness, struggle in their different ways to live with the knowledge of death. The novel is a tender depiction of this struggle, its momentary successes, its relapses, its endurance. Naoko finally puts herself in a progressive mental health farm, Ami Hostel, in the hope of getting better. On a long bus ride to visit her, Toru passes through interminable cedar woods, broken only by small rural villages. The landscape of that bus ride becomes, very quietly, a metaphor for living with death.

The supporting cast is vividly drawn. Reiko, Naoko's older roommate at the farm, is a wise, loving guitar-playing, Malboro-smoking presence. Nagasawa, who lives in the same student dorm as Toru, treats life as a test of will, whether he is out lo…

Albek Duo and Poem

Debbie Chou invited me to a concert at Steinway Hall last night. The ornate building was put up in 1926, white marble from Italy, green marble from Greece. I was glad to see it before the company's move at the end of the year. The performers were the Albek Duo, twin sisters from Switzerland. Ambra Albek played the violin and viola, Fiona Albek the piano. They opened the program with pieces by American composer William Perry, who was present in the audience. I enjoyed very much their performance of Edvard Grieg's Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Opus 45, (1886). Their musicianship shone through. They were lovely in person too, when we talked a little during the reception afterwards.

Wrote another haiku this morning. Not related to the concert last night.

I forgot
my heavy coat--
miss you.

Poem: "winter trees"

winter trees
in every bite
of birthday cake

Poem: "winter trees"

winter trees
by the frozen reservoir--
a clean feeling

Poem: "winter trees"

winter trees
repeat for the deaf
the peace sign

Poem: "winter trees"

winter trees
grow all year round
on the moon

Poem: "winter trees"

from winter trees
long hungry mewing
do trees talk cat?

Poem: "winter trees"

winter trees
an empty driveway
to an empty house

Poem: "winter trees"

winter trees you can see everything except leaves

Postmodern American Poetry

I've been ploughing through the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry, more out of a sense of obligation than anything. I am surprised, however, by the amount of pleasure I received. Sure, there were many things that I would not care to read again, but the poets that I would sue to know better were not a few.

I still think Charles Olson is over-rated. John Cage I read with anthropological interest rather than aesthetic delight. Robert Duncan's mysticism is too hand-wavy for me; I am more for Denise Levertov's "ecstatic Protestantism," as editor Paul Hoover puts it. "Illustrious Ancestors" and "Where Is the Angel?" bear re-reading. I am also drawn to Barbara Guest's lyricism. Her "Red Lilies" begins so practically: "Someone has remembered to dry the dishes;/they have taken the accident out of the stove," and ends with magical flight: "The paper folded like a napkin/other wings flew into the stone." Rob…