Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Thursday, May 01, 2014

3 for May Day

Interior art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins for The Foliate Head
(UK: Stanza Press, 2012)
DEW-RINSED

It's May Day, so I hope you went out and washed your faces in dew! If not, how can you expect to be beautiful forever? The birds are singing, the first chilly flowers are stars in the grass, the rain drops are on the rose canes, and it is Yankee-springish around here.

THOUGHTS ON READING CERTAIN CUSTOMER REVIEWS

What is a right reaction to a book that goes against the grain of our expectations? The closer a book is to our expectations, the less surprise--and the more comfortable we feel as readers, so comfortable that we might as well be asleep and having a pleasant, undemanding dream. But let's say a book doesn't conform to our expectations. It doesn't, say, have the sort of resolution and closure we expect. Or maybe it's airier, more
Vignette, chapter heading by Clive Hicks-Jenkins,
Thaliad (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2012)
compressed, has less fat. Maybe the style is strange to us. Maybe it is some other unexpected thing...

The easiest way to deal with variation from expectation is to point out the variation as if it were a bad thing. To point out is to discern something, though not to discern deeply. It's a step on the way to understanding.

A difference is noticed. Why does it exist? What was it trying to do, and why? Is it interesting? On its own terms, according to the internal laws and shape of the book, does it work?

THE NPM POETRY GIVEAWAY

By midnight, I will write all those names on little pieces of paper and put them into a hat! I did rescue a lot of names from the moderation abyss--don't know why they went there, but there they were--and will be picking out a hat and then a national poetry month great poetry giveaway winner. Maybe I'll let child no. 3 pick, when he gets home from track practice this evening, just to make sure the chooser has no hint of bias! As stated, the prize will be the winner's choice of Thaliad (pb) or The Foliate Head, plus another writer's book...

ADDENDUM MAKES 4

I like Joseph Epstein's essays, and am always recommending "What Yiddish Says," about the marvelous tales of Isaac Bashevis Singer. William Giraldi has written a bright "look at Joseph Epstein's work, the importance of reading, and the role of the critic. I recommend it! (Hat tip to Prufrock News.)
The critic of abiding literary values and astute aesthetic sensibility has an obligation to help influence the reception of a book, a duty to punish efforts that transgress against originality and vigor, and to laud efforts that, in their language and vision and architecture, aspire to greatness—and then, alas, normally go unnoticed by the public.

Plot never supersedes artistic purpose and artistic purpose is never separated from moral vision: Add “the dynamism of language” to “moral vision” and there’s your working definition of the difference between literary work with one eye on immortality and commercial work with both eyes on the trashcan. In “The Literary Life Today” (1982), Epstein quotes the great Cyril Connelly: “The true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and no other task is of any consequence.”

16 comments:

  1. Your comment about customer reviews reminds me of the so-called differences between reviewing and criticism. But that is a discussion for another time. No time now. Must be off to campus for final exam. Actually, it is the final, final exam. Sigh! We should chat later about reviewers and critics -- the distinctions without differences.

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    1. R. T., see the addition at the foot that I just added--I think you would like the article very much.

      I hope that you have a lovely day for the final final of your teaching career. Closure is not easy.

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    2. Note the posting by Frank Wilson at Books, Inq.
      http://booksinq.blogspot.com/

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    3. "The average reviewer’s idea of literary comment is indistinguishable from a primary school book report: summary flanked by quotation, interspersed with how the book made him feel, as if his feelings have anything at all to do with the artistic success or failure of what he’s read. They do not. … Criticism is personal and passionate, the product of severe erudition, or it is impotent and dull, the product of mere opinion." -Giraldi

      I expect Frank Wilson wouldn't disagree with Giraldi, if all this was discussed at great length. Let's take a silly example. I remember that when I was a kid, a lot of older girls still loved the Gidget books. I had a friend whose much older sister loved them. Gidget had a boyfriend named Moondoggie (or Moondoggy or maybe Moon Doggy), and she went to various places, and the Gidget movies with Sandra Dee and Sally Field must have been popular, though I don't recall them. Well, some girls really got into those surfer-girl books, and I expect a few of them must have felt absolutely ravished by the love of Moondoggie and Gidget. Perhaps what they brought to those books at their age made them intensely feel love and loss and jealousy. Those are feelings. Should readers' feelings be the measure of the artistic worth of those books? If they are, maybe we ought to haul out the Gidget books and thrust them on people, maybe we ought to slap them on the shelf next to Melville and Dickens. But of course we don't. Because the Gidgets of the literary world don't have the "language and vision and architecture."

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  2. Lovely day it shall be .... The rains .... after 24 inches .... have ended, but now I must negotiate detours around washed out roads ..... Ah, where is the rainbow?

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    1. You certainly deserve a rainbow--it has rained here, but nothing like what the South has had. Evidently Southerners up North will celebrate the release with thunderstorms later in the day. Hope you find your rainbow, and even some gold.

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  3. Your kindness is overwhelming.....and I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.....

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    1. I would love to be guilty of overwhelming kindness, but am afraid that I am only an ordinary mortal with ordinary guilts!

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  4. And there are Arguments that reading something....even Budget books....is better than reading nothing.....so even Budget books have value. All of this means we ought to be wary of too much insistence upon erudition and art. Perhaps.

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    1. My view is that we quit teaching taste to children in the last century--it used to be quite important, a fine accoutrement of the properly turned-out young lady and gentleman!

      Some time ago I read some sort of survey purporting to say that while it was wonderful that children read Harry Potter, that impulse had not translated to a desire to read other books. Not sure where I read it, or even if it is true. But it's a question whether popcorn books can convert people into genuine readers.

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  5. Replies
    1. I figured! But budget works in a way...

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  6. Reviewers....whatever their shortcomings... are essential to the marketplace....Most readers and bookbuyers never read critics....

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    1. Yes, you've done a good job pointing out books that might be overlooked through reviews. They are very important to writers, certainly--we need reviews, and to be able to use clips to promote and so on.

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  7. Happy May Day, Marly! I didn't wash my face in dew but did get my bare feet wet in some. The hottest day today, so sudden that I gasp as I weed and prune.

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    1. And happy May Day, Marja-Leena! Bare feet sounds good enough to me--I'm a bit jealous of the heat. Raining here. Dank and chilly. Dreaming of the thermometer's rise...

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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.