How potent cheap music can be

Over the last five or six years I’ve become obsessed with post-war British history. It started as part of an on-going project on the history of British science fiction in which I wanted to look at the literature in relation to the social, cultural, political and scientific milieu from which it arose. But that project is in abeyance at the moment, there are too many other things in the way. But the interest in the social and cultural history has not abated. I’ve always got a book on the subject to hand, by Sandbrook or Marr, Hennessy or Beckett. Maybe it’s a factor of my age, this is mostly the world I’ve lived through; maybe it’s nostalgia: gosh I remember that.

modernity britainCurrently I’m reading the first volume of David Kynaston’s Modernity Britain, which covers the years 1957-59. Kynaston is wonderful if you want to get a flavour of what books people were reading, what television programmes they watched, what wireless broadcasts they listened to, and what they actually thought about all of this. But I only turned five in the September of 1957: how much of this am I likely to remember? Continue reading

From Canada, with Despair

Pasha Malla, a Canadian writer, has put together some thoughts on the current state of how we speak about writing in Canada. I imagine some of his points will be familiar to readers in other countries. Up here fiction writers don’t talk enough in the open about such matters, and his at times humourous approach is welcome. “27 Thoughts About CanLit” — there could be hundreds. But he was only being paid so much, as you’ll see.

Shark Porn


Damien Hirst’s “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” (1991)


Stephen Burt has a recent review, “Poems about Poems,” from the Nov/Dec issue of the Boston Review that begins,

If you write a book of poetry about sharks, you might get attention from readers who care about sharks. If you write a book of poetry that is explicitly and consistently about poetry—its institutions and conventions, how we decide what counts as poetry, what we expect it to do—you might get extra attention from readers who care about poetry, which is to say from anyone likely to pick up new poetry at all.

Who, you might ask, would want to write poetry about sharks?  But there is, of course, Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror, which contains quite possibly the most sublime instance of shark pornography ever written.  This is from Georges Hugnet’s translation, published in 1965 by New Directions:

Continue reading

Mr Turner

I had a theory about Joseph Mallord William Turner. At an exhibition of his work at the Tate some years ago I noticed a pair of his spectacles in a case with other implements, and the lenses were noticeably thick. It struck me then that the swirling misty vague paintings of his later years are exactly how the world looks if you are very short sighted.


Mike Leigh’s wonderful film, Mr Turner, offers another explanation: a sort of rage at the canvas. In one wonderful scene at the Royal Academy, Turner is putting the finishing touches to one of his pictures. He spits at the canvas, swipes it violently with hand and handkerchief, stabs at it with a brush laden with dense white paint. Painting is no genteel art, but an epic battle as harsh and unforgiving as any of the raging storms he portrays. Continue reading

Jim Goar’s The Dustbowl (Shearsman, 2014)

223_4430The Dustbowl
Jim Goar
Shearsman 2014, 86 pp., $16, ISBN: 978-1-84861-321-8

Jim Goar’s third full-length collection The Dustbowl is compelling evidence that the legacy of the New American Poetry is alive and well. The centerpiece of Goar’s rich and strange new book is the title poem, a 55-page serial work, which is reminiscent of the long poems of Jack Spicer and Ed Dorn—in particular, Billy the Kid and Gunslinger, which both tap into the mythos of the American West. Additionally, Goar makes nods to Spicer’s 1962 book The Holy Grail as well as to Spicer’s oft-cited idea that the poet is a radio which receives Martian signals in the same way that a Romantic Aeolian harp receives the wind: “Only Grail music. All day. / Every day. Transmissions from the deepest / space. A station found but not my own.” There are also allusions to T. S. Eliot as well (another poet who, of course, drew on the Grail legend); Goar’s narrator, a mysterious sojourner charged with a “singular quest-ion,” says, “Kept / The Wasteland in my pocket. Turned it over / and over. Dust as far as the eye could see.” But rather than Eliot’s wasted Europe, the wasteland here is the Dustbowl of the southern Plains populated — anachronistically — by down and out Arthurian knights: “They keep coming. Knights / from the heart-land. Never had / a chance. Each and every one. The / promise of something more.” Indeed, the cover photo suggests that this poem is a meditation on the ruins of American migrancy, on dreams perpetually in deferral. Continue reading

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You know who sells a lot of soap? Procter & Gamble. Do you think P&G soap is “the best”? or “the best” for the $? What is?

Whoopi Goldberg won an Academy Award. Roberto Benini did, too. FORREST GUMP did. DRIVING MISS DAISY did.

Have you ever said, after the Grammys or People’s Choice Awards or Golden Globes, “So-and-so was robbed!”?

Remember platinum records? Remember gold records? I don’t think you can play them. (Can you?)

Copyright ensures that when you buy a book, you buy a quantity of paper, glue, and ink. A book. You do not buy THE book.

The number of books bought and left unread > The number of books bought and read Continue reading