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Showing posts from June, 2016

Emigres and Outsiders

TLS May 13, 2016
from Commentary, introduction by Luke Parker to "On Generalities," a talk by Vladimir Nabokov:

This condition--what we might call a poetics of future perfect--treats the present as it will have been remembered or memorialized. In the story "A Guide to Berlin" (1925), Nabokov's narrator imagines "some eccentric Berlin writer in the twenties of the twenty-first century, wish to portray our time", for whom "everything, every trifle, will be valuable and meaningful". For Russian emigres of the 1920s, tipped by Trotsky into the dustbins of history, the notion of an eventual vindication was comforting. After all, a posthumous critical redemption had long been the imagined asylum of under-appreciated artists, gifted and talentless alike.  *  In "A Guide to Berlin", one émigré tells another: "I think that here lies the sense of literary creation: to portray ordinary objects as they will be reflected in the kindly mir…

Difficult decision made esay

Eric Valles, the director of Singapore's National Poetry Festival, invited me to contribute a poem to the festival's ekphrastic-poetry exhibit. Since the festival is partly funded by the National Arts Council, I had to turn down the kind invitation because I have decided not to work with the NAC since its withdrawal of funding from Sonny Liew's political novel "The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye," followed by public statements from NAC CEO Kathy Lai and NAC Chairman Chan Heng Chee supporting the continued censorship of the arts. (For the thinking behind my decision, you could see https://singaporepoetry.com/2015/12/06/to-my-fellow-singaporean-artists-and-arts-lovers/.) I have also had to turn down a request to include my poems in a major formal poetry anthology, UnFree Verse, because the editors are, not unusually, seeking an NAC grant for publication. These decisions are taken not against the festival organizers or the anthology editors, but in protest of NAC'…

Four Poets

Smart, inventive, observant, the poems of Kay Ryan are a genuine delight. The lesser poems in this New and Selected are the fallouts of her strengths. When the love for epigram trumps the fire of imagination. When the final rhyming pair clicks shut but the box is empty. The Best of It allows through too much. Thin poems are best collected in a thin volume. "Things Shouldn't Be So Hard" affords a rare glimpse into the private life. It leaves me wanting more, not for the sake of voyeurism, but for the sake of the complete victory.

Brian Turner's book of poems Here, Bullet is about miscomprehensions as much as it is about the misadventures of war. The book foregrounds the Arabic language in the prelude poem, and in the titles of many poems thereafter. It is the book's contention that the poet has the right and the authority to deploy the language because he, and his fellow soldiers, has paid for it in blood. Turner was there fighting the war as an infantry team lead…

Complete Headrush

I've been trying to catch up with myself. Classes were over by June 10, but the very next week I taught my first summer poetry writing workshop for high school students, titled brashly The Complete Poet. It was/is open to students from my school and elsewhere, but as it turned out, only two students from my school signed up, both of whom had studied with me. Although the enrollment was tiny, I went ahead with the course. Better to get the ball rolling than to wait at the start line, to mix my metaphors. I'm so glad I did. We had a great time reading a poet a day, writing poems inspired by the poet, and workshopping the poems. First day, we read Kay Ryan's New and Selected called The Best of It. We discussed her use of nature for metaphor and commentary, and her spin on common idioms. Second day, we read Brian Turner's Here Bullet, about his experience fighting as an American soldier in the Iraq war. Here we focused on his use of Arabic as a way of understanding and mis…

Orchid Haiku

Image
A pot of orchids from my poetry writing workshop students! It was wonderfully energizing to meet ten eager young poets every Thursday at 7:20 am before the start of school, in order to read contemporary poetry and workshop their poems. Their dedication to learning, exploring, and changing nurtured mine.

Orchid petals--
streaky stains in the air
after rain

Haiku

For the fallen mums
I wipe the mud
off my shoes

Haiku Time

TLS March 11 2016

from Thomas Heaney's review of Vanessa Ogle's The Global Transformation of Time:

In the early 1960s, E. P. Thompson started scouring anthropological reports and journals for examples of peoples around the world with a less calculating sense of the passage of time. He was looking for temporal measures that were still deeply embedded in human action. In Madagascar, there was a word that designated "the time it takes to cook rice" and another for the moment it took to "roast a locust". In Burma, there were monks who started the day "when there is light enough to see the veins in the hand". In the English language, Thompson found linguistic markers closer to home: there were once such things as "a pater noster wyle", "a misere whyle", and there there had survived a rarefied measurement known as "a pissing while".

Summer breeze—
a pint of blueberries
from the store

Tyler Cowen's Good and Plenty

As the subtitle "The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding" suggests, Tyler Cowen defends the decentralized approach to arts funding adopted by the USA against the more centralized approach of the European states. The defense is, to my mind, thoughtful and thorough. Thoughtful because it takes into account both aesthetic and political claims, not over-stating either, but exposing excessiveness where he sees it. Thorough because it examines the long history and the contemporary context of American arts funding. The only caveat here is that the book was published in 2006, and so its data and findings need updating. The update is unlikely to overturn the book's conclusion.

The decentralization argument, or the use of indirect subsidies instead of direct subsidies, is the core of Cowen's thesis. It helps to answer not only the demand for more arts funding coming from the arts community, but also the demand for less funding, arising from Christian critics of immoral…