Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Monday, January 22, 2007

Monday's Sundry






I was just asked for the title of a talk to be given in April. Had nary a topic rattling around in my empty head. I reached into my magic hat. Presto! I pull out a title: "Against Brokenness: Gusto and Strength in Poetry and Fiction." Now I shall have to figure out what it means.

My reading over the weekend was Bilge Karasu's Night. As there seems to be almost nothing written about him in English on the web--and what little I found about the book seemed misleading--I think it will be my next Long Grass book. The translation is by Guneli Gun; I've seen her read her own work, and I've seen her read translations, but that was a long time ago. I also read a children's fantasy set in the States. Since my own two books for 'children' were defiantly American, I feel that I ought to poke into new books that try to set fantasy here. So maybe I'll write something about that one as well.

The glimpses of pictures taken in Italy and France are by poet Jeffrey Beam. They are available as prints, as notecards (the quinces), and as a poster with poem. The pictures are large, some of them almost 42" long, framed. (Crass admission: prices are $25. for the poster, $8.00 for the cards. The unframed and framed photographs range from $250. - $490. - $590. Next show, they will no doubt be more.) Want one, want all? The gallery will ship for free on any order over $50. Contact via http://www.throughthislens.com/. Through This Lens Gallery, Durham, North Carolina. Roylee Duvall, gallery owner: isn't that a great name? His email is info@throughthislens.com.

23 comments:

  1. Good title! - are you going to give us a bit of an idea what you come up with when you do?

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  2. Dunno. Perhaps. When. If. & so on!

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  3. You like Jules et Jim!!!:-)

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  4. I just entered your site-you are a writer!My mouth is going like fish mouth - it's oppening and closing!:-) I am sorry but I did not know.

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  5. Yes, though it has been a looonng time since I first saw it. In London, and I saw another movie at the same time--maybe "Cries and Whispers"?

    No matter that you didn't know! A writer's just a person writing, after all.

    I like your charming English, and I wish that I had equally charming Portuguese... (And also, of course, a little house like your collage house with the yellow flower trees and the staircase to the stars.)

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  6. wow, that sounds deep. I cant wait to see how it evolves. What was the title, the sub title was blured on my screen.

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  7. Just like that? Presto! Sometimes your brilliance gives me a fright!

    I check in occassionally to get the latest at the palace but life is driving me these days with little time for tarrying ...

    Loved the Tang dynasty poetry. Will order a book or two.

    Toodle loo.

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  8. When I was trying to come up with a title for my post all I could think of was Tra la la... it reminded me of your christmas sign-offs, I was so Marly today!

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  9. Susanna! The title again? Repeating it will definitely make me feel like a fool: Against Brokenness: Gusto and Strength in Poetry and Fiction.

    Fooh! & tra la la.

    Connie,

    My life is the same, I'm afraid; I'm a ferrywoman with her hair on fire. I'm glad that I have you to tease me with brilliance when it's really only my tattered old magic hat.

    So easy to get something out of a magic hat, so hard to figure out what it all means...

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  10. I like it. People need to hold on to thier gusto. Life is just to short.

    The speech will be fabulous. I dont even worry for you.

    I am pretending that it is a super cold a snowy morning here. I get more work done that way :o)

    Hope writing goes well for you today.

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  11. Hi Susanna,

    You have heaps of gusto!

    It is Regents exam week in NYS, so I shall probably get little done. Teens are home all week, mostly, and the little one arrives shortly (teacher conference day.)

    But who knows... I'll take that good wish.

    I do get more work done up here when it's cold. Today a lovely snow is falling--lots of flakes that have linked their pointy hands and made feathers that float and spiral and dawdle on the way down. Yet it's light outside, and the sparrows are chittering in the hedges.

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  12. So.... can you share your thoughts as this lecture develops ?

    I'm thinking -- that I sometimes love brokenness in singing (Chet Baker, Lucinda Williams) -- and painting (Soutine, Munch) -- but have less patience for it in sculpture (Giacommetti) -- and have never gotten very far into books that seem to have it.

    If you were going to speak "In defense of brokenness" -- which books would you choose as examples ?

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  13. Chris,

    Brokenness I take as a description of the way the world is--an "after the fall" mode and landscape. I wouldn't, in general, defend it.

    There are certainly people who have taken the idea of brokenness in form and content to the nth degree, like the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets and other sub-sub-movements. I'm not, alas for somebody (who?), terribly interested in reading their work. I tend to become "heavy bored," as Berryman said. Give me his "flashing & bursting tree" instead!

    Gusto, passion, fire, joy in words and their twisting, old shapes made new, living characters: these are the sorts of things I desire. All of them tend toward bringing wholeness from disorder.

    Of course, there are books that try to capture the brokenness of the world--like the Karasu book I just read. But that effort inevitably results in something that is a whole, perhaps a rather weird whole but a whole. It may be an unreadable whole (I've never managed more than a few pages of Finnegan's Wake, but perhaps that's undisciplined me.)

    It's impossible to create a truly broken work in prose. There comes a point where the work simply isn't interesting and viable as a work anymore, in my opinion (but not in everybody's opinion.) Where that point lies is probably a bit different for each person.

    Art has traditionally tended to rise out of brokenness and ascend toward wholeness. When art embraces brokenness, it may be arguing against itself--and that can be a strength, for a time, before diminishing returns set in. That's something the Modernists managed, or some of them. But when art reaches a certain point of disintegration, one is left with only a handful of sand--it may sparkle, here and there, but it's still just sand. That is, one is left with a useful ingredient in certain forms of construction and art.

    Time to begin anew.

    ***

    Munch I think of as relentless in his attempts to capture certain kinds of brokenness and disorder. I saw a huge show of his work in London, decades ago, and the smaller recent one at MOMA. At the first show, he spoke powerfully and directly to a very young woman. I was sad to find him much diminished for me when I met his work again at MOMA, though it gave me an odd sensation of having passed beyond him--into a wholeness antithetical to what I once was and to what he appears to have been.

    To put it another way, I was expecting brilliant leaves, but they had faded for me.

    Or: I left shore on Munch's "yellow boat" a long time ago. After long travels, I reached a fair country.

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  14. Marly, just taking a bit of workplace-laptop-time to say howdy, and thanks for the witty and wry comments on my recent (and ongoing) techno-trauma.

    Saw your comment on my blog-friend Ed's site (he and I had a terrific off-blog email exchange about Mark Rothko) and it does knit nicely with the notion of tikkun.

    What follows is really a fast-food approach to something that should be given space and time and thought, and I may be too sleep-deprived to make sense, but...

    Perhaps in our embodying The Creative, we somehow call forth the same knitting-together as the creation cycle in our cosmos' "dance of Shiva."

    I think of the way a room can create a harmonic tone for a particular sound...when we create (or destroy) maybe we become microcosmic tuning forks, playing a harmonic tone of creation or entropy that echoes (and has similar effects as) the larger whole.

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  15. Ah, you are here despite all Kernel Panic.

    I am so dreadful--can't remember what I said there! But this does suggest tikkun, to some degree.

    Harmonic tuning forks is a very attractive idea. Perhaps we could be two-legged forks standing on great crystal shells, vibrating in tune with the music of the spheres.

    You like to take photographs of entropy-in-action, and I suppose that is an arrest of entropy, however small. The stay against confusion.

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  16. Seeking a tattered old magic hat

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  17. You can often find them by moonlight, near fairy rings or a grove of birches--the one I see lying about here was found under a birch tree that had split open an apple trunk.

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  18. Ha! I can totally imagine you with your quick whit having the same conversation over and over and making it something completely different each time...and your enjoying yourself making the best of her memory loss without malice, but with a well spring of love and understanding. I can see it in my mind.

    Last night I was thinking about "brokeness"

    I thought about several different things, but a particular song line kept re appearing in my musings. It may have nothing to do with anything, but I cant help but feel like gusto and broken are interconnected in some abstract way. I get so tired sometimes and find myself laying my heart at my lovers door, and just being broken with him, like after a good cry, my enthusiasm is replenished.

    Anyway, theres nothing like a cheesy pop song written by a teenager to get ones energy up, but I get what she is saying and sometimes feel that way:

    ...And I don't wanna fall to pieces
    I just want to sit and stare at you
    I don't want to talk about it
    And I don't want a conversation
    I just want to cry in front of you...

    any way, I saw the craziest use of Feminine Rhyme in this 1966 Tuesday Weld movie and I found the clip on youtube and put it on my LJ. Its a scream, you should watch it if you need 2 min of insanity to brake up your day.

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  19. I'm in the same boat as you! - Or at any rate, we're drifting down the same stream (you've seen the title for my lecture & next body of work in the form of my last post). But I love brokenness. Laud the fragment! I make art to show the beautiful in the shattered - how fragments can come together to make a powerful whole (a whole despite trauma, separation, damage, fragmentation, brokenness). I struggle with what comes after the broken - how to create not in denial of it, but to embrace, incorporate, and then go beyond it. What comes after survival? I'm excited to see what you come up with in your brokenness...even if...sniff...you remain against it. Buona fortuna.

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  20. Amanda,

    I'm not against it, precisely--perhaps those were the wrong words, and I certainly don't demand consistency!--that is, I'm in favor of using it in order to make something whole. So maybe it's not being against but embracing, really.

    There isn't anything to use but brokenness, really, just as weakness and emptying out is a giving space for something larger.

    Susanna,

    You have added a whole new layer to that experience, and made me better than I am! That's what other people can do for us. I'll be trying to live up to that image of me.

    Gusto and brokenness: that's a little bit like what I said to Amanda, that emptying and letting go and being broken leaves room for something better and bigger.

    A break? Perhaps! My teens are home (Regents week), so I am dashing about, hair-on-fire mode.

    ***

    Isn't it funny how such a small acorn of a comment--those few words--makes for a flourishing tree of thoughts?

    No doubt my talk will be all the better for it.

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  21. Well, dont watch that clip within ear shot of them because it is Terribly Trashy :o)

    I think Gusto and brokenness need to be witnessed even if its by a reader, a lover, an internet universe, or a heavenly body.

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  22. Late to the party, good golly, Ms Marly. I love the title that appeared in your brain. Where will it lead you, I wonder. Jeffery's stuff is exquisite. I'm hoping to go with him soon and see some of it in person.

    Hey, here's your thesis sentence(s):

    'Art has traditionally tended to rise out of brokenness and ascend toward wholeness. When art embraces brokenness, it may be arguing against itself--and that can be a strength, for a time, before diminishing returns set in. That's something the Modernists managed, or some of them. But when art reaches a certain point of disintegration, one is left with only a handful of sand--it may sparkle, here and there, but it's still just sand.'

    There's that very self-conscious brokenness of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell, that hyper self-attenuation to the point of self-destruction, but you weren't talking about that. Though I thought, at first, you might be.

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  23. In a sense, I am. Because I think that one needs to be strong against the world's brokenness and not buy into a romantic false myth that to be an artist means to be wounded and broken beyond repair by the world's brokenness. That's a piece of it.

    Wish I could go too! Give Jeffery a hug for me. But it's so dratted cold here today that you won't catch me going anywhere I don't have to go. Just built a fire in the fireplace.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.