Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Before I get to the next competitor, I have another treat to reveal. Over at Kookiejar's fine establishment you can find the Halloween Zombie Edition of The Great Wednesday Compare. She's taken it upon herself and her Book of Evil Spells to resurrect a couple authors from past Wednesday Compares. Head over there to pick the greater of two evils.
But, not to sit back and let Kookiejar hand out all the candy, I've got tricks of my own right here. Last week, it seems, Doyle edged out Christie because of his "immortal" character, Sherlock Holmes. So why not pit immortal character against immortal character- or at least their creators: the creator of Dracula or the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (Nov. 6), and please spread the word!
Monday, October 29, 2007
Don't ask me why, but the risen dead did nothing for me. Too silly probably. Not like a gigantic space amoeba that devours everything in its path. Anyway, it's only recently that I've come around on those brain-hungry goons. Perhaps it was 28 Days Later with its pseudo-zombies, or more recently Shaun of the Dead (recommended by the Bad Tempered Zombie herself), but I was ready to dig into McCammon's deliciously titled "Eat Me," which, by the way, won the 1989 Bram Stoker Award for Best Short Story.
For me, I think the secret to enjoying these peculiar people is to not take them too serious. Don't get me wrong, I thought 28 Days Later was scary as hell, but then, they were infected with rage, so they're different. Otherwise, zombies need only be thought of a good dancers with bad skin.
This is why "Eat Me" works. With a title like that anyone walking into it without a sense of humour is doomed from the get go. Beginning with "A question gnawed, day and night, at Jim Crisp," "Eat Me" obviously wouldn't appeal to any sense of humour, but it did for mine.
At the beginning the humour comes from the rather dry, ironic telling. While Jim thinks back to the way the world used to be and walks past half-decayed corpses being devoured by rats, he doesn't ponder his survival or question what brought on this sorry state of affairs; he is instead preoccupied with love, or more morosely, the absence of it.
McCammon also does a superb job of dishing out the details piecemeal. The story simmers along nicely...
Wait a second. This won an award for horror. Should a horror-comedy win such a prize? I mean the combined genre is not without its merits (ex. Shaun of the Dead) but shouldn't the Bram Stoker Award actually go towards something scary-scary?
...until it comes to a boil. When you get to the real meat of the story, it's pretty rancid- but in one of those can't put it down sort of ways that leaves you with wicked indigestion. Now I see why it won.
Not for the weak stomached.
(Join the other Short Story Monday participants today at Stephanie's. Also note that I will be in Ottawa this week and my posting may be sporadic, but we'll see...)
Friday, October 26, 2007
Finally, I think I've put my finger on it: as long as the poet is having fun, I'm happy. This doesn't mean I want all happy poems, I just want it to appear that the poet tried something creative, something personal perhaps but not too much so. This means that poems that are mere attempts at showing how much Greek literature the poet has read are out. As are those with subtle references to an unidentified tragedy involving certain people behind the you-know-where.
Whew! With that sort of a wind-up you must be wondering how Susan McMaster's Uncommon Prayer fares with me. For the most part, fine. She didn't commit any of the above offences and was usually pretty creative. Most fun for me were those that kept on a theme of prayer, especially for inanimate objects (ex. "How Chairs Pray", "How Computers Pray" and veering cleverly away slightly with "How Dandelions Prey"). She personifies them enough to express human desires, frustrations, and so forth in novel ways without giving the poem completely over to metaphor.
Asides from those, perhaps my favourite was "Out of the sleeping body dreams erupt" which takes its title from bpNichol's Martyrology. In it, she feels Nichol's ghost "slip kindly into" hers- and not in a sexual way either, but more as a costume of sorts:
shrug me on like a coatOh, you just have to love imagery like this, don't you?
hands reach into my sleeves
fingers sheath mine like gloves
Asides from that, I did think she went a little too far with the sentimentality at times with such phrases as "fear takes flight" or "I had to believe/ as you plunged behind the stars". Interestingly, I think she was most guilty of this when writing more personal poems than the ones in which she infused life into furniture! Still, I enjoyed the book a great deal.
The Old Man’s Chair
My lap yearns for your heat,
arms curve to reach you,
rigid joints relax
only when your humidities
fill the air around me,
sink damply into my fabric,
grease my back with sweat and oil.
When at last your jittering heels
have rubbed away my sheen,
flattened my nap,
scrubbed through to my supports –
Then, shabby, creaking,
I am finally fulfilled.
Embodied, I gleam.
From Uncommon Prayer (Quarry Press) © Susan McMaster, 1997.
From her website "Please feel free to use this poem in any personal, educational, or non-profit context." For this and other Susan McMaster poems click here.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
I would enjoy reading a meme about people’s abandoned books. The books that you start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read, sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that prevent you from finishing. So . . . what books have you abandoned and why?
I make it a habit to finish what I start (this only applies to reading!) Sometimes I have a smug pride about this, but when I'm bogged down in the middle of some insanely long piece of drudgery, I question my motive for continuing, and decide that I'm a big fat idiot. That all said, there is one book that I didn't get through: Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Ubervilles.
I'm not even sure why that particular book did me in. Most likely it was a lethal combination of boredom and too much going on at that time my life. Plus, I was younger and most of my stubbornness has come later.
The thing is I have mixed feelings about retrying. On the one hand, it would be nice to finally finish it. But on the other hand, it's always good to have an answer to this question!
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Perhaps anyone could have seen this next challenge coming. If Christie was the first "Queen of Crime" surely Doyle was the first "King." Would you agree? Where do your loyalties lie?
While we're at it, are you even a fan of mysteries? I don't mind them, but I've read so few that I'd find it hard to have much of an opinion.
Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (October 30th), and please spread the word!
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
To those other few kind and generous folks who actually sent along a real post- one concerning short stories- I thank you and apologize. However, the good news is that I just received an email from Dewey telling me that she'd take over. I'll send along the links I have and if you had something in mind feel free to send it to her at dewpie at gmail dot com.
In the meantime, I had intended to introduce this quiz during the carnival next month, but seeing as that won't be happening, here it is. Though be warned, I must have been in a rather psychoanalytical mood the day I created it. Oh well, better than the pissy mood I'm in today.
|Which short story are you? |
Your Result: "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson
You have a slightly pessimistic outlook about humanity, and sometimes you find it hard not to be discouraged. However, unexpected twists in life at least keep things interesting.
|"The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell|
|"The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs|
|"Desiree's Baby" by Kate Chopin|
|"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe|
|"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber|
|"The Gift of The Magi" by O. Henry|
|"The Overcoat" by Nikolai Gogol|
|Which short story are you?|
Create a Quiz
Monday, October 22, 2007
In this month's Bookworms Carnival over at This Is The Life, she had requested posts about "spooky" books. One of the more surprising aspects of the Carnival for me was seeing that some people had written about such dystopian novels as A Handmaid's Tale. It seems that "spooky" has some pretty varying definitions. Likewise, when I asked people to rank the scariness of Poe's "The Raven" the discussion quickly became a debate over "creepy" versus "scary."
For me, the best scary stories have a combination of psychological fear and just the hint of a supernatural aspect. Throw in some cheap "jump out of your seat" moments and I'm all set. Except for the latter, Maupassant's "The Horla" left me pleased.
Told as a series of diary entries, it's the story of a man who goes crazy over the course of the story. This is made all the more interesting when you learn that Maupassant himself lost his mind to syphilis. The narrator's descent into madness, however, is not due to syphilis (or at least it isn't specified). Instead, he believes there are supernatural causes.
That is where the story gets so intriguing. Could the supernatural theory actually have any merit or is it all a symptom of his deteriorating mind?
The story begins with an entry about a passing white boat that he cheerfully salutes. Quickly, however, the mood changes in the second entry. Now he is ill and in low spirits. This sudden juxtaposition could easily divide the readers into two groups: those that see the mysterious white boat as an omen that somehow caused or foretold the trouble and those that see it merely as a coincidence. But in Maupassant's skilled hands he manages to keep those two camps together for the time being, and that's no small feat.
How does he accomplish this? By redefining the supernatural as simply yet-to-be explained phenomena. He uses a logic that should appeal to both scientists and spiritualists alike: there is more to the world than we can at first conceive. Scientists have to believe that or else they'd have nothing left to explore, and spiritualists believe it as a matter of faith.
The story works so successfully, in my estimation, because both type of reader continues to have their boundaries pushed as the story progresses. Plus, by letting us into his mind (accomplished all the better with the diary format), it is almost hard not to feel yourself descend with him- and that's the worst kind of fear.
I look forward to reading more by de Maupassant.
(This post is cross referenced at A Curious Singularity; a group blog that discusses one short story per month. It's a lot of fun!
This week Short Story Monday is being hosted by Chris over at Book-A-Rama. Be sure to check out the links and perhaps even add your own. If you want a chance to host, check the list of upcoming hosts in the sidebar and let me know when you'd like to take the reins.
Finally, I can't leave without pushing my own Carnival. I'm still looking for posts about short stories. Email me with your links: jmutford [at] hotmail [dot] com.)
Sunday, October 21, 2007
And why was I searching for King Henry the Sixth in the first place? Because I had finished the second part and honestly, didn't really understand it. I'm not the first student of Shakespeare to go running for Cliff Notes or the Internet I'm sure. For what it's worth, I don't have a problem with those things as long as they are used in tandem, not in lieu of.
My biggest problem was keeping everyone in order. With all the dukes and earls I found it exceedingly difficult to keep track of who each one was. I did grasp that just about everyone was after King Henry's throne, and that at least, made it a little easier to understand. But then, the intricacies of each plot would have remained tangled for me had it not been for some great summaries I found online- and in hindsight, those made me appreciate the play a little more.
I still don't think it was one of his better plays. At times I found the abundance of metaphors laughable. Take this particular speech by King Henry:
A wren, poison, and a serpent all within a few lines of one another? These wanton figurative forays made it so remembering the literal-that King Henry believes the Duke of Suffolk might be a murderous liar- was almost as hard as keeping all the characters in track.
"And thinks he that the chirping of a wren,
By crying comfort from a hollow breast,
Can chase away the first-conceived sound?
Hide not thy poison with such sugar'd words:
Lay not thy hands on hands on me; forbear, I say;
Their touch affrights me as a serpent's sting."
Asides from that, my only other issue was the same as I had for the first part of this play a while back: that King Henry sucks as a title character. Asides from everyone trying to get rid of him, he's a pretty dull guy (and a lousy leader to boot). If it wasn't for Queen Margaret (why are so many of Shakepeare's female characters the most interesting in the play?) and the psychopathic John Cade, I'd say the play was a complete bust. Fortunately those two made it entertaining enough to hold my (albeit confused) interest.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Anyway, I realize that not everyone finds "The Raven" scary. Bart Simpson is quoted as saying, "that wasn't scary, not even for a poem." When asked to rank the poem from 1-10, 1 being not at all scary and 10 being terrifying, my wife asked to give it a negative. I, on the other hand, do find it scary. Maybe not 10, but I do find the set up pretty creepy: a man sitting all alone by a fire at midnight on a bleak December night, remembering his long lost love, and then interupted by a knock on the door...well, you know how it goes. Anyway, that and the fact that this ominous, pessimistic bird shows up without any explanation. Yes, it gives me goosebumps everytime. What do you you think? Reread the poem (if you're so inclined) and answer the survey at the end. Feel free to justify your response in the comments.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more,'
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'
Merely this and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!'
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.'
But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,' said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'
`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'
`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'
`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!' I shrieked upstarting -
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'
And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Earlier I said this would have been a difficult choice for me. I stick by that, but if I had chosen, I would have been on the losing team last week. Because Carle could write and illustrate, that bumped him ahead in my books. While I do think The Very Hungry Caterpillar was a masterpiece, he's had a lot of other great ones too: Have You Seen My Cat? (which, as BookGal can relate, was the first book my son could read), Papa Please Get The Moon For Me, The Very Lonely Firefly, and others. And that doesn't even include those that he illustrated for others: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (written by Bill Martin Jr.), The Greedy Python (written by Richard Buckley), and more. In last week's comments David wrote "Carle's early work showed a great deal of what he could have become as a fine artist." I respectfully disagree with that statement. I don't feel he wasted his talents at all. I often feel that picture book art is under-appreciated and Carle's Museum of Picture Book Art is the other reason I would have chosen him last week.
However, I'm still content with the results. Charlotte's Web was a favourite of mine as a child and I just finished reading it (a chapter a night) to my daughter, falling in love with it all over again. Unfortunately I haven't read anything else by him, though as last week's comments prove, he was so much more than that.
But was he better than "The Queen of Crime"?
Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (October 23rd), and please spread the word!
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Next month is my turn and I've been requesting short story related posts for a while now, so bear with me if it's getting monotonous! I should clarify what that means, since I've gotten a few posts submitted lately that aren't related to my theme at all. Granted some have been spam and they're not at all concerned with what I want (enlargements not withstanding), but perhaps I should throw out what I am looking for anyway:
1. Read a short story lately? Post your thoughts on it!
2. Perhaps you've read a collection of short stories? Stephen King's Everything's Eventual and Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things are excellent examples. Post your opinions about one or more of the stories, do a review.
3. Anthologies of short stories are fine to critique as well. Perhaps they have a theme: Feminist short stories, Australian Short Stories, etc.
4. Lists. Perhaps you want to compile a list of your favourite short stories or short story authors- that's fair game. Maybe a list of great American short stories or something.
5. Don't like short stories? Write a post saying why not. Or if you do, even better.
6. Write your own short story. This is your chance to promote it! And don't be intimidated. Just have fun.
Basically, if you've written a post, or plan to, in any way related to short stories, I'd love to include in the carnival. Just email me with a link to it at jmutford [at] hotmail [dot] com. It doesn't have to be something new you've written specifically for this carnival, it could be something you've written a while back- feel free to scour your archives. This is a great, fun way to show off your blog and gets loads of new visitors.
Monday, October 15, 2007
At first, I thought something was missing with Thomas Meehan's translation. The second line begins, "An early, September spring was in the air..." and I couldn't for the life of me understand what a September spring was! It's not until the 2nd page that I read about the "suffocating December morning" that I clued in about seasons being reversed on the other side of the equator.
My idiocy aside, I still enjoyed the story. Not a big believer in the paranormal I still enjoy such stories- as long as the reader is given enough leeway to decide for himself. There's an excellent Margaret Atwood story called "A Travel Piece" that begins with a bored and disillusioned travel writer. As it progress, her plane crashes and she finds herself in a lifeboat having a pretty wild adventure after all. However, the question remained: Did it really happen? Or was it dreamt up to alleviate her boredom? A similar set-up helped me excuse myself from the supernatural elements of "the Return". It begins with the narrator studying, but taking lots of diversions looking out his apartment window. What he sees then, and what the story revolves around, could be just a daydream to avoid the monotony of the studying. Still, despite giving myself an out, I prefer it not to be explained by the author one way or the other. It would seem too far-fetched if made absolutely clear, but it's also more fun to have it left unanswered.
It is a pleasant horror story- it reminded me a lot of old ghost stories we'd tell as kids. They were never all that scary, but they were enough to get you a little spooked. And they didn't have to resort to gruesome violence either...well, except for the one about the boyfriend strung out above the car. But now I'm getting sidetracked.
Here are the other Short Story Monday participants this week:
Chris is in with a Daphne DuMaurier story "A Borderline Case" and gives a teaser at the end...
Stephanie is in with another some more wonderful installments from Neil Gaiman's short story collection Fragile Things.
Speaking of collections, Raidergirl is in once again with more creepy tales from Stephen King's Everything's Eventual.
(Please note the hosting schedule posted in the sidebar. If you'd like a turn hosting, just let me know. To host, all one has to do is collect the links -via Mr. Linky or simply in your comments- and add them to your post. You might want to advertise it ahead of time to get more participants, but that's entirely up to you!
Also consider submitting something for my short story themed Bookworms Carnival next month- those can be sent to jmutford [at] hotmail [dot] com.
Hey, look at that I've reached 25000 hits. It took me over a year to reach 10000 hits earlier this spring and now I'm up here already! Thanks for visiting me everyone.)
Sunday, October 14, 2007
For some people, this must seem like the same story that's been told time and time again when anyone mentions Newfoundland, but for me it was a chance to reconnect with a place, and more importantly, with the history of half my family. As a boy, I considered myself a Mutford, solely due to my surname. It's only as I grew older that I started to appreciate and want to learn more about my Kendall side. A History of Ramea is also a part of my history.
The book itself was well laid out, though perhaps some people would find it slightly disorienting. Separated into chapters devoted to various influential factors in Ramea's history, I was constantly on a trip through time, and back again. Chapters such as "The Fishery" began with descriptions of fishing in the early 1800s and followed it right up to the present (1991- the publication date). Then subsequent chapters would return to the 1800s as titles changed to "Churches," "Schools" and so forth. While this constant rewinding might bother some, I think it was necessary to provide focus for the book. Plus, from a literary standpoint, it somehow made history a part of the present.
Occasionally however, I did have some minor problems. First of all: the typos. The spelling was fine but on too many occasionswords rantogether withno spaces inbetween. Secondly, I questioned the diplomacy. I'm not implying that I wanted a lot of controversy, but I felt they played it rather safe. In particular, I was surprised not to see any mention of the tensions between the Anglicans and Roman Catholics in the discussions on the Churches. I understand that they were trying to keep things positive and avoid stepping on toes, but I have reason to suspect things weren't always so harmonious between the two factions. I'm not suggesting it was like Belfast, but it was a small island after all, and I'm sure some people imported old prejudices.
However, I enjoyed the book immensely and got more than I expected. On a personal side, I loved reading the chapter entitled, "The Ships of John Penny & Sons." I'm not especially interested in ships myself, by grandfather Kendall is near fanatical about them. After spending years working on schooners, he now builds models of them, as well as dories, and even wooden replicas of the old motors. Judging by the amount of detail the two Victors devoted to the topic, this love for ships seems to be a Kendall trait. It's not one that got passed to me, but still, it was interesting to see it in others.
Friday, October 12, 2007
I admit that I'm skeptical by nature. This usually pervades everything I encounter, including the arts. Often my skepticism requires me to ask, "Do people really like this?" And with more experimental pieces I often conclude that they don't; that they are pretending to because someone else said they should. Even worse, perhaps they don't understand it but rather than appear like a fool, are claiming it's ingenious. Those camps of people must make easy prey for people pretending to be artists. All they must do is convince the right connections and before they know it they are given arts council grants.
But before anyone thinks that I'm completely close-minded, I also appreciate experimentation when it has merit. bpNichol was, as far as I can tell, the real deal. I don't always understand him or where he was coming from, but thanks to the rare piece that I can connect with, such as "Historical Implications of Turnips," I'm convinced he wasn't one of the frauds I alluded to above. Even though I usually miss most of what he was trying to express, I consider what he did very important. It is like a mutation in the evolution of poetry. Sometimes (if you follow natural selection) mutations are detrimental and quickly die off, yet others are beneficial and skew the course of history. While the verdict may still be out on what Nichol's impact will be, it is vital that he and others push the boundaries if poetry is to evolve and survive.
In Love: A Book of Remembrances most of the poems flew right over my head. Made up of a lot of visual poems, these were probably the most problematic for me. In an excellent essay about visual art in Canada, Jack David helps sheds some light on one of the poems from this book, entitled "Allegory #7". Again, it would be easy to dismiss these as frivolous or even phoney, but David makes a good case otherwise. Unfortunately, I didn't have his help with the others and so about half of Love was lost on me.
However, the rest I enjoyed. A while back I thought I had an original idea with what I had termed "Reductionist Poetry" where I advocated getting rid of words altogether in poetry and replacing them with sounds. Astute reader Richard corrected me that bpNichol had already done it with his "Sounds Poems" and that led me here.
I'm not sure if the non-visual poems in Love were intended to be sound poems. They are comprised of letters and words. The problem is, I wasn't quite sure what to do with the letters. Do I read them as letters themselves? Do I replace them with their sounds? Take these two lines from the 43rd untitled poem:
a mood of g
a presence of m
After a while, I found my own approach and ended up loving the book. I replaced each letter with a word beginning with that letter. Lines such as those above became:
a mood of godSome poems indicate that this wasn't his intention. For instance, when he writes "An r of seeing you" it's impossible to replace the r with say "recollection" because you'd also have to change "an" to "a" to correct the grammar. Still, someone so intent with bending and breaking conventional rules probably wouldn't have so much concern how I approached his art. I had a lot of fun and there's definitely something very exciting about putting that kind of control in the minds of the reader. Why don't you try? Take the poem I wrote (and revised a la bpNichol) and come up with your own in the comments, replacing the letters with words:
a presence of man
fall's the u
of s m, stripped
of all the h
I'll reveal my original poem tomorrow.
(For those people following my Canadian Book Challenge, this marks my first book down out of thirteen. I have decided to do it the White Stripes Way, and bpNichol's Love will be my British Columbian selection.)
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
And now that we're all verklempt from our sad books discussion, I'm still going to wallow in my childhood for a moment longer.
This week's would probably be my toughest decision so far, as both of these authors were my absolute favourites as a child. If I was to throw James Howe in there, I'd have to take time off work just to mull it over.
Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (October 16th), and please spread the word!
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Also note that October's Bookworms Carnival is just around the corner. If you still haven't submitted something go to This Is The Life with your post link. Remember, the theme is: Thrills and Chills: Spooky Books that Keep You Up at Night.
Finally, the Canadian Book Challenge is off to a great start with 15 people (see sidebar) taking the
As my description implies at the top of my blog, I often treat books this way: like travel guides. That might be part of the reason why I couldn't get into Pride and Prejudice. I would simply never want to visit early 1800s England, or at least Austen's version. As a travel destination it ranks just behind present day Vegas (no offense to those who love the place, it's just not my scene at all).
But negativity aside, I did enjoy the 2nd half of the book a little more. As Ms. Place pointed out in my first post about this book, the characters are richly drawn and as the story progresses I was able to respect that a lot more. At first, everyone seemed pretty much one and the same, but differences eventually seeped through and sometimes the worst of the bunch were also the most entertaining. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is perhaps the best example, and it's hard not to relish the scene when she tries in vain to convince Elizabeth to reject any possible proposals from Darcy.
To say Pride and Prejudice is a romance brings up connotations of flaky literature without any real value asides from cheap entertainment. That's not true. There's a lot more going on in terms of social commentary, character development, and perhaps more. Personally, I never really connected to see what else it had to offer and I also felt it dragged too much in the beginning, but I can see why it has its supporters.
Monday, October 08, 2007
The beauty of short stories is that I can briefly acquaint myself with an author without diving right away into a longer piece. Neil Gaiman has been popping up all over the place lately (most recently with Stardust going to cinemas this past summer) and so I wanted to see if I'd like his work.
Gaiman, in his wisdom, has a blog. Even better, he offers short stories. I chose to read "I Cthulhu" because I remembered the old Metallica song, "The Call of Ktulu" and since it was an instrumental, I had no idea what it was about. Now I know it was based on H. P. Lovecraft's short story, "The Call of Cthulhu," yet I still haven't read that one.
In retrospect, had I done my research ahead of time, I probably would have avoided "I Cthulhu". I'm not too keen on reading stories based on or inspired by other works that I'm not yet familiar with. This is the reason Reading Lolita in Tehran still sits unopened on my shelf. Fortunately, I enjoyed Gaiman's story despite of my lacking background.
The best part of this tale is the sense of humour. Cthulhu is some sort of alien monster who is dictating his autobiography to a human character named Whateley. As he recounts his tale he seems ignorant, or unconcerned, that what he's saying could be shocking. The result is passages like this:
...it was a real moon. On some nights it filled over half the sky and as it rose you could watch the crimson blood drip and trickle down its bloated face, staining it red, until at its height it bathed the swamps and towers in a gory dead red light.
Those were the days.
Sort of like Addams Family humour, only more sinister.
I also enjoyed the fun he had with the reader's ignorance, usually through Whateley. For example, "Now that is a stupid question, even for you Whateley. I don’t use either of my mouths in communicating with you, do I?" The assumption that these alien forms should be common knowledge makes for far more interesting reading than simply giving us all the "facts" ahead of time, yet he still manages to work in a great deal.
No doubt though, I would have liked it more had I preread Lovecraft's story. Still, I don't think it's a prerequisite in this case. It's like the Simpsons was in its hey-day; enjoyable even if you didn't get all the references, but better if you did.
I hope it suffices to say, it was enough to draw me in and convince me that I need to explore Neil Gaiman a little deeper. Perhaps I'll start with Fragile Things (reviewed so wonderfully by Stephanie).
(I'm again reminding my fellow bloggers that if you, too, write a short story post, please consider submitting the link to me at jmutford [at] hotmail [dot] com to use in my short story themed Bookworms Carnival coming up in November.
This month's carnival will be hosted by This Is The Life. Her theme is Thrills and Chills: Spooky Books that Keep You Up at Night. Send her your spooky book post link before October 12th.
Also find links to other Short Story Monday participants at Raidergirl's Adventure In Reading.)
Friday, October 05, 2007
The Enlightenment of Sammy Lowe
There are strange things seen in the midnight sun.
You best keep that thought in mind.
Just realize, though with open eyes,
you might still be left blind.
The Northern Lights, the queerest of sights,
can make a grown man crack.
Dark as it gets, when that sun sets,
it’s fear makes the night go black.
Now Sammy Lowe from Toronto, a scientist to the core,
had sailed from the South, to shoot off his mouth, to disprove the lasting lore.
“Don’t whistle,” they said, “or they’ll take your head, and play with it like a ball.”
His fur hat he doffed, “The electrons?” he scoffed, and laughed at them one and all.
He raised a finger, let the moment linger, then his whistle blew.
The lights flickered, but Sammy snickered and bid them good-night and adieu.
Proud of his lecture, and just by conjecture, he’d thought the night went well.
He’d not slept long, when his theory proved wrong; so begun his night in hell.
He woke from a dream, to a ghastly scream, his companions’ cots were bare.
He threw off his sheets, his heart skipping beats, but then a bigger scare
came from the outside; he was left wild-eyed, as lights flashed through the pane.
He fell to the floor, he’d whistle no more: poor Sammy had gone insane.
With lanterns in hand, in walked the band of pranksters looking to tease.
But Sammy lay prone, the colour of bone, and out of his mouth came a wheeze.
And his last clear thought, from his brain of rot, was “You’ve stolen my head.
But what’s really the worst, you played with it first, and now I’d be better off dead.”
There are strange things seen in the midnight sun.
You best keep that thought in mind.
Just realize, though with open eyes,
you might still be left blind.
The Northern Lights, the queerest of sights,
can make a grown man crack.
Dark as it gets, when that sun sets,
it’s fear makes the night go black.
(*There are variations, but it was popular belief around many parts of the North that the Northern Lights are ancestral spirits playing soccer. If one whistles at the Northern Lights, they are said to get brighter and finally come close enough to steal your head- to be used as their new ball!)
Thursday, October 04, 2007
The rules are simple: read 13 Canadian books (books by Canadians and/or about Canadians) before next Canada Day (That's July 1st for you non-Canadians in the audience). Make sure to blog about each one! Participants will have their name entered in for some kick-ass prizes. Well, not really. If you've ever seen a Canadian gameshow, you know we're not big on monetary rewards. Here are the five up for grabs:
David Bergen's The Time In-Between
Robert Service and Ted Harrison's The Shooting of Dan McGrew
Anosh Irani's Song of Kahunsha
1 Hockey Puck
1 Box of Kraft Dinner
You might be asking, why 13? No, it's not a superstitious thing, it's the number of provinces and territories. Which brings me to the next question: How do you choose your books? Any way you want! Pick them randomly if you wish. However, here are some other suggestions:
1. The White Stripes Way (From Sea To Sea To Sea) - Pick a book from each province and territory. (See below)
2. The Awards Show- Just read award winners. Consider picking from one or more of our prestigious awards. Maybe you could even find books of thirteen different awards (The Gillers, The Governor General's, etc)
3. The New Canadians- A lot of our best writers weren't born here. It might take some research but it could make for an interesting challenge.
4. The Lesser Knowns- Think you can enlighten us or yourself by reading thirteen more obscure books?
5. Other- Come up with your own approach, just be sure to let us know!
If you'd like to participate, just add a comment below saying that you're in! Keep posting as you read, and keep us informed. You might want to pick your approach now and your books later, or maybe you want to pick all your books ahead of time. Again, just be sure to keep me and your other readers in the loop. The more that participate, the more fun it'll be. Please advertise and steal the above logo for your own blog sidebar. This is not just limited to Canadians; Americans can learn a little something about their Northern neighbours, and hey it's a pretty multicultural place, so everyone else is welcome, too!
Here's a list of suggested choices (but feel free to use your own):
*Update: For those of you who will be participating, or for those who you who won't be but would like to help promote, you could use the list below for a Canadian book meme. Just copy and paste into your own blog, then highlight in red those you've read, highlight in blue authors you've read just not that particular book, and leave the rest black.
Newfoundland and Labrador-
Bernard Assiniwi- The Beothuk Saga
Ken Babstock- Airstream Land Yacht (Poetry)
Cassie Brown- Death On The Ice (Non-fiction)
Paul Butler- Easton
Joan Clark- An Audience of Chairs
Michael Crummey- River Thieves
Mary Dalton- Merrybegot (Poetry)
Bud Davidge and Ian Wallace (Illustrator)- The Mummer’s Song (Children’s Book)
Jim Defede- The Day The World Came To Town (Non-fiction)
Kenneth J. Harvey- The Town That Forgot How To Breathe
Harold Horwood- White Eskimo
Harold Horwood- Bartlett The Great Explorer (Non-fiction)
Percy Janes- House of Hate
Dale Jarvis- Haunted Shores: True Ghost Stories of Newfoundland and Labrador
Wayne Johnston- Colony of Unrequited Dreams
Kevin Major- Eh? To Zed (Children’s book)
Lisa Moore- Open (Short Stories)
Lisa Moore- Alligator
Bernice Morgan- Random Passage
Donna Morrissey- Kit’s Law
Claire Mowat- Outport People (Non-fiction)
Earl B. Pilgrim- The Ghost of Ellen Dower
Al Pittman- Down By Jim Long’s Stage (Children’s poems)
Al Pittman- West Moon (play)
E. J. Pratt- Complete Poems (Poetry)
E. Annie Proulx- The Shipping News
Edward Riche- Rare Birds
Ted Russell- The Holdin’ Ground (play)
Dillon Wallace- The Lure of The Labrador Wild
Michael Winter- The Big Why
Prince Edward Island-
Milton Acorn- I Shout Love and Other Poems (Poetry)
Anne Compton- Processional (Poetry)
Stompin’ Tom Connors and Brenda Jones (Illustrator)- The Hockey Song (Children’s Book)
David Helwig- Saltsea
Michael Hennessey- The Betrayer
Lucy Maud Montgomery- Anne of Green Gables
J. J. Steinfeld- Would You Hide Me? (Short Stories)
Ernest Buckler- The Mountain and the Valley
George Elliott Clarke- Whylah Falls (Poetry)
Frank Parker Day- Rockbound
Brad Kessler- Birds In Fall
Thomas Chandler Haliburton- The Clockmaker
Ann-Marie MacDonald- Fall On Your Knees
Linden MacIntyre- Causeway (Non-fiction)
Hugh MacLennan- The Watch That Ends The Night
Alistair MacLeod- Island (Short Stories)
Alistair MacLeod- No Great Mischief
Ami McKay- The Birth House
Alden Nolan- The Best Of (Poetry)
Anne Simpson- Loop (Poetry)
Donna Allard- Minago Streets (Poetry)
Linda Hall- Black Ice
Elisabeth Harvor- Fortress Of Chairs
Antonine Maillet- Pelagie: The Return To Acadie
David Adams Richards- Mercy Among The Children
Charles G. D. Roberts- The Collected Poems (Poetry)
T. G. Roberts- The Red Feathers
Hubert Acquin- Next Episode
Peter Behrens- The Law of Dreams
Saul Bellow- Humboldt’s Gift
Frances Brooke- The History of Emily Montague
Nicole Brossard- Museum of Bone and Water
Willa Cather- Shadows On The Rock
Roch Carrier- The Hockey Sweater (Children’s Book)
Leonard Cohen- Beautiful Losers
Leonard Cohen- Let Us Compare Mythologies (Poetry)
Romeo Dallaire- Shake Hands With The Devil (Non-fiction)
Mavis Gallant- Home Truths (Short Stories)
Anne Hebert- Kamouraska
Naomi Klein- No Logo (Non-fiction)
Gordon Korman- Island: Shipwreck (Young Adult)
Irving Layton- Dance With Desire (Poems)
Markoosie- Harpoon of the Hunter
Yann Martel- Life of Pi
Colin McDougall- Execution
Stuart McLean- Stories From The Vinyl Café (Short Stories)
Heather O’Neill- Lullabies For Little Criminals
Jacques Poulin- Volkswagen Blues
Monique Proulx- The Heart Is An Involuntary Muscle
Mordecai Richler- Barney’s Version
Gabrielle Roy- The Tin Flute
Mairuth Sarsfield- No Crystal Stair
Gaetan Soucy- The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond Of Matches
Yves Theriault- Agaguk
Michel Tremblay- The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant
Michel Tremblay- Forever Yours Marie-Lou (Play)
Margaret Atwood- Handmaid’s Tale
Joan Barfoot- Luck
David Bezmozgis- Natasha and Other Stories (Short Stories)
Christian Bok- Eunoia (poetry)
Joseph Boyden- Three Day Road
Morley Callaghan- More Joy In Heaven
Austin Clarke- The Polished Hoe
Matt Cohen- Elizabeth and After
Robertson Davies- Fifth Business
Gordon Downie- Coke Machine Glow (Poetry)
Marian Engel- Bear
Timothy Findley- The Wars
Phoebe Gilman- Something From Nothing (Children’s Book)
David Gilmour- A Perfect Night To Go To China
Douglas Glover- Elle
Barbara Gowdy- White Bone
Helen Humphries- Afterimage
Frances Itani- Deafening
M. T. Kelly- A Dream Like Mine
Thomas King- Green Grass, Running Water
Vincent Lam- Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures (Short stories)
Mary Lawson- Crow Lake
Stephen Leacock- Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (Short Stories)
Dennis Lee- Alligator Pie (Children’s Poems)
Charles de Lint- Moonlight and Vines
Jon McCrae- In Flanders Fields (Poem)
Anne Michaels- Fugitive Pieces
Rohinton Mistry- A Fine Balance
Farley Mowat- Never Cry Wolf
Alice Munro- Who Do You Think You Are? (Short Stories)
Robert Munsch- The Paperbag Princess (Children’s Book)
Michael Ondaatje- In The Skin Of A Lion
Al Purdy- Beyond Remembering (Poetry)
Paul Quarrington- Whale Music
Barbara Reid- Two By Two (Children’s Book)
Nino Richie- Lives of The Saints
Leon Rooke- Shakespeare's Dog
Diane Schoemperlen- Forms of Devotion
Jane Urquhart- The Stone Carvers
M. G. Vassanji- The In-Between World of Vikram Lall
Richard B. Wright- Clara Callan
David Bergen- The Time In Between
David Godfrey- The New Ancestors
Tomson Highway- The Rez Sisters (Play)
Margaret Laurence- A Bird In The House (Short Stories)
Margaret Laurence- A Jest of God
Corey Redekop- Shelf Monkey
Bill Richardson- Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast
Carol Shields- The Stone Diaries
Miriam Toews- A Complicated Kindness
Adele Wiseman- The Sacrifice
Sharon Butala- Lilac Moon (Non-fiction)
Paul Hiebert- Sarah Binks
Guy Gavriel Kay- The Summer Tree
Tim Lilburn- Kill-Site (Poetry)
W. O. Mitchell- Who Has Seen The Wind
Sinclair Ross- As For Me and My House
Kate Sutherland- All In Together Girls
Guy Vanderhaeghe- The Last Crossing
Dianne Warren- Serpent In The Night Sky (play)
Rudy Wiebe- The Temptations of Big Bear
Anita Rau Badami- Can You Hear The Nightbird Call?
Earle Birney- One Muddy Hand (Poetry)
Will Ferguson- Why I Hate Canadians (Nonfiction)
Katherine Govier- Three Views of Crystal Water
Greg Holingshead- The Roaring Girl (Short stories)
W. P. Kinsella- Shoeless Joe
Robert Kroetsch- The Studhorse Man
Gloria Sawai- A Song For Nettie Johnson
Cheryl Kaye Tardif- Whale Song
Thomas Wharton- Salamander
Christopher Wiseman- In John Updike’s Room (Poetry)
George Bowering- The Gangs of Kosmos
Kevin Chong- Baroque-a-Nova
Wayson Choy- The Jade Peony
Douglas Coupland- Generation X
Margaret Craven- I Heard The Owl Call My Name
John Gould- Kilter (Short stories)
Jack Hodgins- The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne
Anosh Irani- The Song of Kahunsha
Joy Kogawa- Obasan
Susan Musgrave- What The Small Day Cannot Hold (Poetry)
bp Nichol- The Martyrology (Poetry)
Kenneth Oppel- Silverwing (Young Adult)
P.K. Page- Planet Earth (Poetry)
Gayla Reid- To Be There With You (Short stories)
Eden Robinson- Monkey Beach
Timothy Taylor- Stanley Park
Audrey Thomas- Coming Down From Wa
Michael Turner- Hard Core Logo
Sheila Watson- The Double Hook
Pierre Berton- The National Dream (Non-fiction)
Ted Harrison- Children of the Yukon (Children’s Book)
Pj Johnson- Rhymes of the Raven Lady (Poetry)
Jack London- Call of the Wild
Dick North- The Mad Trapper of Rat River (Non-fiction)
Al Pope- Bad Latitudes
Robert Service- The Best Of (Poetry)
Robert Alexie- Pale Indian
Richard Van Camp- Lesser Blessed
Rene Fumoleau- Here I Sit (Poetry)
Elizabeth Hay- Late Nights On Air
Mackay Jenkins- Bloody Falls of the Coppermine (nonfiction)
James Raffan- Emperor of The North (Non-fiction)
Steve Zipp- Yellowknife
John Bennett and Susan Rowley (Editors and compilers) Uqalurait: An Oral History of Nunavut (Non-fiction)
Pierre Berton- The Arctic Grail (Nonfiction)
Jan Brett- Three Snow Bears (Children's Book)
Kenn Harper- Give Me My Father’s Body (Non-fiction)
James Houston- The White Dawn
Michael Kusugak- Curse of the Shaman (Young Adult)
Michael Kusugak and Vladyana Krykorka(Illustrator)- Hide and Sneak (Children’s book)
Tom Lowenstein (translator)/ Knud Rasmussen (compiled by)- Eskimo Poems (Poetry)
Kevin Patterson- Consumption
Robert Ruby- Unknown Shore (Non-fiction)
Zachariah Wells- Unsettled
Eric Wilson- The Inuk Mountie Adventure (Young Adult)
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Ouch, low turn out last week! Oh well, it won't stop me from running this thing into the ground.
I think I would have voted for Asimov last week. I've only read a book each from both of these authors, but the Asimov one was short stories and I absolutely loved- the albeit dated- "Ideas Die Hard". Even more than Fahrenheit 451.
But anyway, Bradbury is still a good choice. This week he's up against someone that I sheepishly admit I thought was a woman until looking for his picture today.
Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (October 9th), and please spread the word!
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
I have to say, I'm not a big fan of surrealistic art. Most likely this stems from my University days when just about all my friends had a poster of Dali's "Persistence of Memory" on their walls. Maybe I just got sick of it, or maybe I thought Dali had more of a point than "Hey, look, I've tried acid." In any case, it's given me a bit of a grudge against the whole movement.
That resistance on my part made it hard for me to open up to Tim Lilburn's Kill-Site. At first everything seemed disconnected and worse, nonsensical: random images melting together with a facade of higher meaning.
Fortunately, as if often the case, many poems grew on me enough to at least enjoy them on some level. The images were pretty wild and often contrasted nicely. Plus, there was a wonderful sense of rhythm that complemented or set the mood. I'd be lying if I said I understood what Lilburn was getting at in most cases. Still, I liked the blending of thoughts with the external world, the body with the Earth and so on. Physical distinctions were kept in tact, while the metaphysical divisions were blurred:
I was in the ground and the animal came to me wearing signs.
It came out of the water moaning in stone
In the end, they felt like fun diversions into psychedelia but nothing more.Those were the good ones. Too often however, I couldn't even connect with them on that level. Lilburn is a name-dropper of the worst sort. Old philosophers, religious persons, mythological beings, and mostly characters I just have no idea who they were, appear in almost every other poem. Likewise with locales. These left me totally confused and distanced. I'm still a little astounded that such an esoteric mess could win the Governor General awards. Must be a pretty smart bunch of judges.