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One of the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs: "A home-grown treasure ... smart, serious analysis"

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Blog entries on '16 December 2005'

Friday 16 December 2005

Joan Didion

Emma Brockes interviews Joan Didion in the Guardian on the back of her compelling memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, an account of how she managed to get through the grief-drenched year after her husband John Gregory Dunne and 39 year-old daughter Quintana both died.

I read The Year of Magical Thinking last week and was very moved by it. There was a lightness to it that I liked a great deal and, despite the heartwrenching subject matter, the book rarely succumbs to sentimentality. Didion's writing is powerful and measured. And there is a real intelligence to it. She seems to recognise in pacing her story out, in placing her memories as a narrative within the covers of a book, that she is already doing violence to what happened to her. She repeats, time and again, the precise times and dates on which the awful events of her year happened, as if forcing onto her story a shape she both knows it never had and yet will gain via its retelling. And knowing how contradictory that is. She says that she "had to write [her] way out of" the pain of that year, but she knows, too, that writing her year down changes the year she had.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Friday 16 December 2005

Bernhard’s poetry

When I interviewed Michael Hofmann back in October, I asked him about Thomas Bernhard's poetry. Michael replied saying:

I’ve read very little of Bernhard’s poetry, just the occasional piece in anthologies. But then I don’t think anyone much has. I like his evolution. Six books of poems and then something like “Sod this!” and a novel, and then many more novels and plays. I’ve only seen two of the plays, Elizabeth II and Heldenplatz, and I thought they were both wonderful. I’d love to translate plays of his. You might be interested to learn that I’ve recently handed in a translation of Frost, that first novel.

Well, those of you - like me - still keen to read Bernhard's poems will be glad to learn that Jim Reidel's translation of In Hora Mortis/Under the Iron of the Moon is forthcoming from Princeton University Press in June of next year. Don't worry, I'll remind you!

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Friday 16 December 2005

Pamuk trial halted

According to the BBC, "the trial of acclaimed Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk on charges of insulting his nation, has been suspended minutes after his first court appearance ... The next hearing was set for 7 February 2006."

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Friday 16 December 2005

Theodore Roethke

God knows what I was reading, but twice last week I came across the name of Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) who, previously, was quite unknown to me. Well, glad synchronism! Jay Parini, in this week's TLS (article not available online), reviews Theodore Roethke: Selected Poems, edited by Edward Hirsch. And on the essential Modern American Poetry website, I read:

Roethke's historical significance rests both on his established place in the American canon and on his influence over a subsequent generation of award-winning poets that includes Robert Bly, James Dickey, Carolyn Kizer, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, William Stafford, David Wagoner, and James Wright. Although Roethke's last works have been criticized for their indebtedness to such high modernists as T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and W. B. Yeats, contemporary poets and critics have also emphasized the expansive vision of self, at one with American place, that Roethke masterfully presented in the Whitmanesque catalogs of North American Sequence. "There is no poetry anywhere," James Dickey wrote in the Atlantic (Nov. 1968), "that is so valuably conscious of the human body as Roethke's; no poetry that can place the body in an environment." Roethke's pioneering explorations of nature, regional settings, depth psychology, and personal confessionalism - coupled with his stylistic innovations in open form poetics and his mastery of traditional, fixed forms - have secured his reputation as one of the most distinguished and widely read American poets of the twentieth century.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Friday 16 December 2005

Jane Austen's birthday

Today is Jane Austen's birthday. Born 16th December 1775 at the rectory in the village of Steventon, near Basingstoke, in Hampshire, the seventh of eight children, Austen, as everyone reading this will know, went on to write some of the most beloved novels in the English language. According the Jane Austen Society of Australia biography:

At the age of 14 she wrote her first novel, Love and Freindship (sic) and then A History of England by a partial, prejudiced and ignorant Historian, together with other very amusing juvenilia. In her early twenties Jane Austen wrote the novels that were later to be re-worked and published as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey. She also began a novel called The Watsons which was never completed.

For more see the Jane Austen Society of the UK and the Jane Austen Society of North America.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Friday 16 December 2005

My radio thing

You are encouraged to tune into MobyLives Radio. I do my thing today (I'll get better, I promise) but, despite my nonsense, the show is very fine, as usual. Yesterday, novelist Stephen Dixon talked about his work. I need to read me some Dixon, who Jonathan Lethem called "one of the great secret masters". His latest Phone Rings is recently out from Melville House. I'll start there, I think.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Friday 16 December 2005

Pamuk and Werfel

As most of you will know, Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk (author of Snow, Istanbul and My Name is Red) today stands trial for "denigrating Turkishness". His crime? To have spoken out against the ongoing killing of Kurds in Turkey's south-eastern provinces and the 1915 massacres of Ottoman Armenians.

The only literary work that I know of that deals with the Armenian massacre is Franz Werfel's The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, which "would be a great book if only read as a story of human heroism. It is more than that, with its overtones of Old Testament character and of modern politics. It gives such life to the long Armenian struggle as it has never had in Western literature; and raises the name of Franz Werfel to new dignity in European letters." Which is praise indeed. My copy lies, unread, in the big bookcase at the foot of the bed. I'll dig it out this weekend.

And David Barsamian says:

I recommend that you all read the chapter Interlude of the Gods from Franz Werfel's The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. It is based on the historical record of a conversation between a German missionary Johannes Lepsius and Talaat Pasha and Enver Pasha. The genocide of the Armenians in 1915 was state organized and sponsored. Of that, there can be no doubt. If you can read the whole book you won't be disappointed. Werfel went to Syria after the genocide and heard the stories from survivors that form the basis of his novel. Werfel, an Austrian Jew, is famous for Song of Bernadette ... Incidentally, attempts to make the novel into a Hollywood film some years ago were blocked by the Turkish government.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

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Omens, after Alexander Pushkin

I rode to meet you: dreams
like living beings swarmed around me
and the moon on my right side
followed me, burning.

I rode back: everything changed.
My soul in love was sad
and the moon on my left side
trailed me without hope.

To such endless impressions
we poets give ourselves absolutely,
making, in silence, omen of mere event,
until the world reflects the deepest needs of the soul.

-- Louise Gluck
Averno (Carcanet Press)

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The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or two

Pre-order Anu Garg's new book: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words (ISBN 9780452288614), published by Penguin more …

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The New Spirit of Capitalism The New Spirit of Capitalism
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Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM
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