Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Text set in Moog

Before I fly off, here are links to some of the poems I’ve had published lately.

DMQ Review published "The Uppermost Affliction," a sleep poem. The table of contents is here

RHINO published two typeface poems, and is gradually making all of its new issue available online. Here’s the table of contents - scroll down for "Typeface #77 (Moog)." Its partner #71 should be liberated soon, too. 

Frostwriting published two poems from my chapbook Homebodies, "Spoon" and "Steam."

And this isn’t newly published, but Right Hand Pointing nominated my poem "Heiress to a Small Ruin" for Best of the Net. 

On the submission front, I've gotten rejections from Barn Owl and Linebreak, but acceptances from Beloit Poetry Journal ("Inksleep") and Sugar House Review ("Clinic Lilies" & "Schnapps Distilled from the Flight of Doves"). So I'm counting myself glad. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Whose paradise

We leave for vacation tomorrow - a week in Sardegna with our son and one of his friends. I hope it won’t be boring for them. God knows after a week I’m bored as can be, which is why I don’t like going for two weeks. I like the sea and all, but get stir-crazy with nothing else to do. Of course I bring books and write, but I still feel so stranded.

To reveal another negative-energy thing about myself: the vacation starts tomorrow but for me it began Saturday when we took the dog to friends. Like the sea, the dog is nice and all, but I can’t pretend I love coming home after 10 hours of work to cook dinner, clean up and walk the dog. It is just a time-suck, and I feel so obligated.

For a few frantic hours I considered buying an iPad to take on vacation, but was unsure whether I could store documents on it. I want it more for that than the Internet. Although the Apple guy said I could keep documents directly on it with Pages, I was skeptical because my iPad-carrying colleagues said they don’t know how to. With vacation threatening I felt like I was going to buy on impulse without really being informed. 

Then on the phone my mother told me how she was going to save $100 a year by not having caller ID on her phone, and that was what the iPad sleeve alone was going to cost me and suddenly I felt so spoiled and wasteful

So here’s some of what I’m taking on my scenic, calm, non-technological vacation:

Unless by Carol Shields
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
The Captain Lands in Paradise by Sarah Manguso 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

History puts a saint in every dream

My grandfather had a tavern in Scranton, PA, aptly named Sloat’s Tavern. He quit the business and retired on his stock exchange winnings, now evaporated, before I was born, but the tavern is part of the family lore. My father has told many stories about sweeping up there after school.

I remember at the bar at his own home my grandfather had these tall aluminum tumblers in metallic colors like purple and teal, and whatever you drank out of those tasted tall and metallic and cold whether it was cold or not. He kept a gold one in the bathroom for rinsing your mouth.

My grandfather was a Highball man who used shakers and crushed ice and was never in a bad mood. His bar was outfitted with stools, stirrers, a mounted bottle opener and packets of powdered Whiskey Sour mix. My sister Lisa and I used to play ‘bar’ there, you know, it was a like playing ‘house.’

Song of the day: Time 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Little Smoking All Night, or the Week That Was

Ate: Mango, M&Ms, olives, vanilla pudding, mozzarella sandwich, brioche, pumpkin seeds
Drank: Licorice Spice tea

Laughed at: “Get your free American flag with a donation of $25 or more”
Realized: When I was chasing them down for death, I realized it is good that moths can’t scream.

Disliked: Insects of all kinds
Liked: The boychild returned from class trip to Rome.

Saw: A woman’s milk carton burst and spill milk down the aisle of the UBahn
Watched: Soccer, what else

Read: Orlando, finally!
Listened to: “The Married Men” - The Roches

Received: Best of the Net nomination for “Heiress to a Small Ruin
Gave: A damn and went jogging

Threw out: Emergency t-shirt, bought 7 years ago when Alitalia lost my luggage
Bought: Earrings

Learned: There are 115 women for every 100 men in Switzerland
Forgot: To buy a new toothbrush. I gave my son my new-fangled one, which he admired, but was left with his ancient one for days because I kept forgetting ...

Saturday, July 12, 2014

like a lamp / across the field

Some poems I have admired recently:

Emily Bludworth De Barrios’s “Be these omens from heaven or hell,
I love this for the juxtaposition of the old-timey title, taken from a 1764 Walpole novel, with the accessible, conversational tone of the poem, which is almost funny, but of course quite serious, and reaches out to help me in my great envy (of this poem).

Meredith Stricker’s “everything has black sounds
An homage to Lorca, part of a series that weaves news of war with the Spanish poet’s disappearance and death. 

Sarah Messer’s “Not Talking
I love this for those (un)folding chairs, that segue to blossoms. A gorgeous, prickly collection of images swirling and loosening into a cool cave.

Rochelle Hurt’s “In the Century of Mandatory Crying
It was the title that first lured me. I love how this short poem launches from its smart idea, wraps round it, and offers up a simple, subtle rhyme as a tissue to dry the last tear. 

Bianca Stone - 3
I loved all these poems at Souvenir. I’d never read or even heard of Bianca Stone before. But now I have. 

Kathleen Hellen’s “How I came to some advantage
I love this for the surprises and free associations and because the view is the problem with geese. (This was at the top before, but the Swarm link isn’t working, so rather than discouraging readers on the first poem, I moved it down here. Try it - it may have since been restored.)


Monday, July 07, 2014

Nunnery

I spent a night in Berlin, checking in Sunday before it got dark. Since my former boss always booked a little hotel called Hotel Albrechtshof, so do I, and it’s charming. It’s a Christian hotel with a little chapel in the basement. Next to the chapel is an “IT Room,” which consists of a slow computer, and an iron and ironing board. 

Rather than chocolates, there was a little stapled-together book of poems on my pillow. And, unlike many hotels, the windows opened! Which was good, because it was very warm. 

I love checking into hotels alone. Christian or not, a clean, impersonal room makes me feel chaste and contained. The towels are clean. The bedding is fresh. There is a desk. 

I went for a walk while it was still light and found a restaurant with tables outside, where I had a salad and a puddle of Sauvignon Blanc. There was a hipster couple a table over. An American family came in and, after determining the menu would suit everyone’s allergy mix, they sat behind me, where the father immediately cracked open the laptop. He began reading from a webpage about the Berlin Wall & Checkpoint Charlie & daring East-West escapes for the benefit of all nearby diners. 

The hipsters and I exchanged smiles, but really the family was breaking my heart. The teenage daughter was hating it; the mother was trying to accommodate everyone, sending back the pizza because there was chili pepper on it; the boy was the pre-teen variety of indefatigable; and the dad was trying to make it all “worthwhile.” 

It is.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Half-way book list

Here are all the books and chapbooks I read in the first half of the year. I did a lot of reading this month especially, thanks to airplane travel and vacation. 
Best novel was The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë. Best discovery was Emily Bludworth de Barrios' chapbook. Best whatever was Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things. All ladies! #readwomen2014

1. Apocalypse Theory: A Reader by Kristy Bowen (Jan 4)
2. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (Jan 26)
3. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (Feb 8)
4. My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Feb 18)
5. The Book of Beginnings and Endings by Jenny Boully (Mar 5)
6. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Marie Remarque (Mar 22)
7. Dick Wad by Deena November (Mar 22)
8. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Mar 3)
9. Sum of Every Lost Ship by Allison Titus (April 6)
10. Trench Talk by Julian Walker and Peter Doyle (April)
11. The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell (April 24)
12. let us now praise the empty parking lot by Jason Heroux (April 27)
13. The Son by Philipp Meyer (May 10)
14. The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (May 27)
15. The Sick Rose by Richard Barnett (May 29)
16. Ah Xian Skulpturen/Sculpture by Dieter Brunner (Jun 3)
17. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë  (Jun 6)
18. Smoke and Mirrors by Toni Clark (Jun 8)
19. Sea/Words by Crystal Gibbons (Jun)
20. A Wicked Apple by Susan Slaverio (Jun 8)
21. The Grotesque by Philip Thomson (Jun 8)
22. Art & Love: An Illustrated Anthology of Poetry, ed. Kate Farrell (Jun 9)
23. Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (Jun 11)
24. Everything, Vol. 1 by Lynda Barry (Jun 11)
25. Extraordinary Power by Emily Bludworth de Barrios (Jun 15)
26. The World of the Brontës by Jane O’Neill (Jun 16)
27. The Brontës, ed. Harold Bloom (Jun 17)
28. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (Jun 18)*
29. The Best American Crime Writing, ed. Otto Penzler (Jun 19)
30. Seriously Funny: Poems about Love, Death, Religion, Art, etc., eds. Hamby & Kirby. (Jun 30)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Give my errands to Broadway

In an omnivorous sign, the governor slammed Congress for rejecting the bill.
(ominous)

Authorities step up efforts against cigarette smudging.
(smuggling)

All your toddlers have been updated. 
(folders)

Who will pay my spirit bill? 
(sprint)

The treatment will benefit patients not edible for surgery. 
(eligible)

They were mobbed by yellow churchgoers when Harkins encouraged attendees to greet those near them.
(fellow)

Sickly government on the verge of another crisis 
(Sicily)

For decades sharpness tempted fate on Everest for clients' goals and the survival of their families
(sherpas)

Monday, June 23, 2014

thy bed of crimson joy

I was recently reading two books that presented the face and body as landscape. The first was a book I ordered on the Chinese artist Ah Xian, who imbues the traditional sculptural bust with the look of Chinese pottery; the second was “The Sick Rose” by Richard Barnett, a book of medical illustrations from before the days of color photography.

It was only coincidence that I read these beauties at the same time, and yet they spoke clearly to each other. Both books offered corporeal images intricate and exquisite, but one was kind of dreamy and impossible, and the other vivid and all too gruesomely real.

I suppose that, in the imagination, breaking out in a rash or weeping sores could be like sprouting the flowers native to your homeland.

I prefer to wake up plain. 

I don’t have any particular reason to mention this now, except with a beach vacation approaching, I was thinking today of mix-n-match bikinis, and the notion of swapping one look out for another that might fit a body just as well brought this juxtapositional reading/art experience to mind. I'm not much for the grand display of my own design and intricacy: my favorite beachwear is the cover-up. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Jet Lag Headache II

Books inveigle a way to my suitcase, and that’s hardly the half of it. 

Weighing each lengthwise, I make an assessment foolishly generous. 

This far along I think of friends who’ve been burdened with cleaning out the houses of the deceased. 

A task to menace one’s mania for things. 

Fondness is a cramp that makes love to a library. 

When I start a new document, I nix the header and implement jettison. 

Where to I don’t know. Acreage elsewhere, beyond the space my brain has to give.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sept/Ember

On my one visit to New York this trip I went to the 9/11 Museum. It opened just a few weeks before I flew over, and the hype - if you can call it that - penetrated as far as Germany. So I put it on my list. 

But once in the states I got the feeling some people considered it kind of tasteless, a sort of polished ‘disaster tourism.’ I worried it was going to make a spectacle of people’s pain. I also worried it would be an excuse for jingoism. Still, I had a ticket, and off I went.

And I was impressed. The museum itself is solemn and gorgeous, almost like a sophisticated archeological dig. Its giant artifacts of catastrophe most resemble Anselm Kiefer sculptures, delivered by the dada of disaster. The interactive memorial room offers a biography for each victim, with as much added info as loved ones wanted to provide. It was all laid out beautifully. 

To me the most enthralling part was the wall projections in which (mostly) survivors recounted their steps that day, stories both chilling and very moving. There are also phone calls from the dead. There’s a large, meandering area with a timeline along the walls, also offering artifacts and various media. It is informative and grimly fascinating. 

In the end I didn’t budget enough time for the museum. After nearly four hours I had to rush through the final rooms, which did look kind of Americanaesque, and for all I know veered into we’re-the-greatestism, but I just did a quick nod-and-thank-you through that part, still wanting to visit the Strand bookstore and get to my dinner date on time!

At $24 a ticket it was worth seeing. And it was a gorgeous day in New York.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Two days in Dickson City

We coast the desolate stretch from parking lot
to parking lot, without needing
to use the street.

Past the motel dumpster, a slash
through a bent arrow warns against right turns

but there is no road right, just thicket
you’d have to be whacked or half-asleep to think

What will we leave behind to represent us:
the sinkhole that swallowed south of here

the sagging powerlines that crisscross, aloft,

as if this piece of Pennsylvania
were held together with string

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Welfare Mothers

The last couple years when I visit my mother I go on what I call my library suicide mission, where I go to the library and load up on stuff I’m going to force myself to read before I leave. I love going to the library because, wow, they’ve got stuff you never imagined. Here’s what I took and some things I didn’t.

Took:
Everything by Lynda Barry
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
American Hybrid
The Brontes by Harold Bloom
The World of the Brontes by Jane O’Neill
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

Neglected:
Funeral Customs Around the World
Tiny Whittling
Practical Electrical Skills
Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society
Nothing by Stephen King (though I was tempted by 11/22/63)
Nothing for Dummies
Nothing by Stephen Hawking
So Fat, Low Fat, No Fat
My Sister from the Black Lagoon
Welfare Wifeys

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cashier encounters


T: Would you like to have a Talbot’s card?
M: No, thanks.
T: Are you sure? You’d save 10% on top of the 30% you’re saving now.
M: I don’t live in the country.
T: Where do you live?
M: I live in Germany.
T: That’s so cool!

B: Would you like to apply for a Bloomie’s card?
M: No, thanks.
B: You’d be invited to special sales.
M: I don’t live in the country.
B: Where do you live?
M: Germany.
B: You don’t have any accent!

J: Would you like to have our J. Crew card?
M: No, thanks.
J: Are you sure? We’d email you when there’s a sale.
M: I don’t live in the country.
J: Where do you live?
M: Germany.
J: Oh, wow! What’s the weather like there now?
M: Right now it’s warmer than it is here.
J: I’m going to Italy in October. Do you think it’ll be good weather there when I go?
M: Yes, it will be good.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

B for Beguile

I finished The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and enjoyed it inordinately. I have now traveled the Brontë trinity from A to E and hope to read Villette (C) and Agnes Grey (A) this year, too.

In looking at my own volumes of Brontë books and those on Amazon etc. my only disappointment is the very unimaginative book covers the Brontë books are slapped with. About 85% of the time it’s a dim 18th century painting of a woman in a cloak or voluminous dark dress. I’ve also seen a couple goth cartoonish covers, and some that look like Harlequin Romances. Yuck all around. There must be more to these stories than clothing and landscapes.

For Jane Eyre I found the Penguin Drop Cap series of hardcovers, which uses the author’s last initial in fancified, illustrated typeface. I do like that. It’s bold. You can see the cover Of Jane Eyre and the 25 others classics in the series at this link. Unfortunately I don’t need another copy of Jane Eyre. Or do I?

Penguin makes a gimmick of it and suggests you check out your initial, and the author quote on the back of the book. Mine would be S for John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. Too bad I’m not a Steinbeck fan. 

My favorite design among these is the D for Dickens’ Great Expectations, which I’ve read twice, followed by the Q for Ellery Queen's The Greek Coffin Mystery, which I’ve never read. Can an elegant Q convince me?

While I’m at it I also like E, G, J and L! It looks like the whole alphabet would cost more than $500 new, so better just to spell your name, or your favorite four-letter word.

If I had an e-book reader I could have started Villette this morning, since it's free on e-format at Amazon. In fact I do have a Kindle on my home computer and downloaded it, but I won't be schlepping that with me on a plane to New Jersey tomorrow. No, as usual when I'm about to embark on a trip, I'll be lugging a many-million page tome, this time Juliet Barker's family biography The Brontës. 1158 pages, not counting the introduction and middle bit of illustrations.




Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Eureka

I took a day off for my son’s 16th birthday but for some time I was home alone since it’s not yet a national holiday. I went to the store and bought kid food, including chocolate milk, strawberries and a box of cornflakes. This box didn’t seem to be half-smashed, which is usually the case, but full of hale and whole flakes. So I sorted through in search of Jesus’ face, or Mary’s, or any remnant of the saints, prophets or apostles, or even George Fox or Ron L. Hubbard, but none appeared.
Instead I found:

Teardrop
Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen
Fang, molar, incisor 
Gene Simmons’ tongue
Deformed heart
Coat hook
Oyster and pearl
Chile
Schnitzel with mushrooms
Van Gogh’s ear


Sunday, June 01, 2014

Week went by

Ate: Squid, lamb, celery, carrots, croissant, licorice, bread, cheese, apricot jam
Drank: Tonic water with lime

Laughed at: Jar of peanut butter that warned “this product contains nuts”
Realized: Books are the best bug-killers

Disliked: Carrying my 50 lb. dog up the street to the vet. She refused to budge, realizing our destination.
Liked: Mom arrived for a visit

Watched: Maleficent, which my husband hated
Saw: The Würzburg fortress

Reading: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall 
Listened to: Hair soundtrack

Received: A compliment on my headphones (“Coole Kopfhörer!)
Threw out: Hoarded postcards

Learned: Coeval
Bought: Chocolate cake mix

Fail: Over-explained
Victory: Established proper antecedent, pre-publication!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Eyrehead

I started reading the neglected Brontë today, Anne, and when I googled her for details, I found out she died on this day 165 years ago. Coincidence!


I decided to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall because months ago I started a long biography of the Brontes, and thought it would be worth reading Anne before going any further, having read the other sisters. I’m a big fan Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, less of Emily’s Wuthering Heights, which is a bit of an eye-roller. I do like Emily’s poems, though.

I’m enjoying Anne. Here we have a scoured hearth, and a weak but sufficient fire, enough for a single woman escaping a dreary past with hot tea, a small income and a mended dress. 

And we’ve got looooong sentences that don’t skimp on punctuation. As in the sentence with 19 commas and one semi-colon on p. 8: 
“Nothing told me then, that she, a few years hence, would be the wife of one - entirely unknown to me as yet, but destined, hereafter, to become a closer friend than even herself, more intimate than that unmannerly lad of seventeen, by whom I was collared in the passage, on coming down, and wellnigh jerked off my equilibrium, and who, in correction for his impudence, received a resounding whack over the sconce, which, however, sustained no serious injury from the infliction; as, besides being more than commonly thick, it was protected by a redundant shock of short, reddish curls, that my mother called auburn.”

Or the one on p. 14, also with 19 commas, which is even longer and squeezes in 2 semi-colons:
“Her hair was raven black, and disposed in long glossy ringlets, a style of coiffure rather unusual these days, but always graceful and becoming; her complexion was clear and pale; her eyes I could not see, for being bent upon her prayer-book they were concealed by their drooping lids and long black lashes, but the brows above were expressive and well defined, the forehead was lofty and intellectual, the nose, a perfect aquiline, and the features in general, unexceptional - only there was a slight hollowness about the cheeks and eyes, and the lips, though firmly formed, were a little too thin, a little too firmly compressed, and had something about them that betokened, I thought no very soft or amiable temper, and I said in my heart - “I would rather admire you from this distance, fair lady, than be the partner of your home.” 

What more could an unsung heroine ask for. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

I don't even know who this bitterness is for

The week in review

Disliked: The 30C heat 
Liked: The storm that snuffed it

Watched: Mud with Matthew McConaughey
Saw: A sharp #2 

Reading: The Hare with Amber Eyes
Listened to: Sufjan Stevens’ “Illinoise” 

Learned: The word moue
Forgot: Also unbroken glass can cut you

Bought: St. Peter’s B-List for my folks
Threw out: pounds of magazines, plundered for collage many times over

Realized: There are 2 kinds of weather - white & red wine weather
Dreamed: Went with my entire office on a working trip to Sardinia, where I had the obscure assignment of writing about a piece of coal that erases unpleasant odors.

Ate: Licorice
Drank: Tonic water 

Laughed at: Celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves
Cried about: The struggle to shed bitterness

Fail: Emptied the bio-garbage into the plastic recycling container
Victory: A set IKEA desk drawers (=3 hours)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

blog tour

I was invited to participate in this tour by Drew Myron, poet and publicist. Drew keeps a gorgeous blog at Off the Page. Thank you, Drew.

1. What are you working on?
I’m working on the amplification of moonlight and a kind of belligerent mind-cinema. There’s a baseball backstop I felt very sorry for as a child and I’m trying to make it up to it. One day not long ago I saw a squat cream-colored ceramic bowl that I wanted to be more than anything, and I am working on that. 

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?
It’s less famous. 

3. Why do you write?
I don’t think too much else is really worth the time, even though my e-wastebasket is wadded with sorrow. For me writing is a way to escape my body, my looks, my circumstances, the stupid desk I am sitting at. Even my fate is not safe. 

4. What is your writing process?
I wish I knew. I take small bites because I have a full time job, two kids and a dog that demands walking. I am also a chain worrier. I try not to get too distracted, though distraction entertains. 

Mostly I read and let that inspire me. Poetry, prose, sentences, the dictionary. Besides reading, I like misreading because reading madman where it says madam reveals another possible world. 

The tour now noodles on with Kathleen Kirk. According to the rules, I should tag two people, but since Kathleen is a poet, editor, wife, mother, neighbor and all around interesting person, I am counting her as two. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Americium

which element are you 
which layer of the sun are you
which surgeon general’s warning are you
which obsolete technology are you
which boob shape are you
which insect are you
which of the 10 commandments are you
which shade of eyeshadow are you
which corporation are you
which junkyard dog are you
which noun are you
which hair gel are you
which serial killer are you
which household cleaning product are you 
which first world problem are you 
which b-list celebrity are you
which circle of hell are you
which expletive are you

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Muttertag

I’ll be off yodeling in Switzerland this weekend, the land I hate to love. I complain often about the country that separates us from Italy with its overpriced everything and inconvenient currency. But whenever I arrive it’s so amazingly gorgeous that I chide myself for being petty. Anyway,

Not to miss Mother’s Day! Here’s a photo from 1996 that says motherhood is not an endless feast of cuteness and bubbling good moods. It is also isolation, doubt and enormous, eternal inconvenience. Rather like Switzerland. (That baby is also gorgeous.)

Escape into Life was kind enough to include one of my poems, Dear Scum, in a poetry feature this month on motherhood. The poem was a reaction to a pornographic letter and drawings a disgruntled schoolmate of my then 8- or 9-year old daughter left on our doorstep. Certainly exercised my motherly outrage that day, week, month and pretty much year. There! I broke the “don’t-explain-your-work rule.” You'll live.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

I interview myself about what I’ve been reading

What are you reading?
The Son by Phillip Meyer. One cover blurb says “Remarkable,” and a remarkable thing is when sitting at my desk with the book in my peripheral vision I keep trying to grab the cloud on the cover. It looks like a tissue I wadded up and left there.

Why are you reading this book? 
A ex-colleague recommended it to me, and our tastes overlap, at least in the areas of masculine voice preferences and depraved violence. 

What is The Son about? 
It’s kind of like the song ‘I’m My Own Grandpa,’ but with Texas vegetation and hostages. 

What genre is it? 
Family Saga - Revisionist History - Adventure - Stockholm Syndrome - Cowboys & Indians & Mexicans

*
And what did you read before starting The Son
The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell, whom I have mixed up many a time with J.G. Ballard. Two Different Guys

What kind of book is that? 
It’s a Demise of the Empire story about a ragtag bundle o’ Brits in India who suffer an extreme lack of self-awareness, in addition to cholera. 

Did you like it? 
I admired it. Despite the poor defenses portrayed, every sentence was built like a tank. I wouldn’t call it gripping. There are some good characters, without there being too much character development.

Whom would you recommend this book to?
Hoarders, zombie-genre fans, creative cooks.

Friday, May 02, 2014

A little smoking all night

After weeks of sunshine we finally got our rain and wind. With everything gone wet and green, the wind is like a big swirling and mixing. I love the sound and the blur. They mowed the grass at the park, too, without raking, so it’s a great mush over there, an olfactory munchie. 

Anyway, thank whatever it’s Friday. I’ve got some poems up at Right Hand Pointing in an issue of just three poets. Very happy to be included - I almost didn’t submit. On the last or second to last day I said oh just go ahead and was so lucky. 

One rarely reads about one’s own voice in writing, so it was good to read the editor’s take: "(she) is wry; she tells it slant. Her poems are on their way somewhere. They will cast you a sidelong glance and a half-smile, before passing on."

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Sneeze

I caught a cold. I thought I could fight it with vitamins. And coffee. But I succumbed. I have a headache, a sore throat and two eyeaches. Not to mention unwashed hair. 


I looked at a diagram showing what happens when you sneeze. It showed the nose, mouth, eyes, chest and lungs. And the “sneezing center in the brain stem.” That’s a place. 

But really, doesn’t the whole body participate in sneezing, even the hair? Usually there’s some tilting at the waist or great full-body shudder. The shoulders pull up in a shrug. The considerate also use a hand to cover the mouth and nose, hopefully equipped with a tissue. 

Anyway, having a cold is a good way to get out of doing a whole bunch of stuff I don’t want to do, like sitting through a four-hour opera. I am its prisoner. It would be a lie to say there’s no pleasure in it.

“Despair itself, if it goes on long enough, can become a kind of sanctuary in which one settles down and feels at ease.” – Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve

“At times it is strangely sedative to know the extent of your own powerlessness.” – Erica Jong

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Week that was

Liked: Free cookies at the video store
Disliked: The German railway (punctual, my ass)

Watched: The Dark Knight, better the second time
Saw: The Montmartre exhibit at Schirn Kunsthalle

Reading: The Siege of Krishnapur (still)
Listened to: Abbey Road

Lent: Two Gabriel Garcia Marquez books to a friend
Received: A new purse from my husband 

Ate: Grilled peppers
Drank: Sparkling water

Learned: How to make Absinthe 
Bought: Bath bombs for Easter baskets

Realized: In 1900s Paris what a woman needed most of all was a good hat 
Dreamed: I was at a camp or vacation spot with a group of people I only vaguely knew & when I woke up in the (dream) morning they were sitting in a semi-circle waiting for me to empty the dishwasher & fold the laundry & I was like I already have a family & began angrily throwing their clean clothes into a pile on the sand.

Laughed at: Cat video (what else)
Cried: Nope

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Counsel

Diurnal advisory staff
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Madame de Staël
Fernando Pessoa

Nocturnal advisory staff:
Jane Eyre
Simon May
Frank McKinney Hubbard
Bozo the Clown

"Nobody ever forgets where he buried the hatchet." - Frank McKinney Hubbard

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Junghans

After surveying my younger (than me) colleagues, I acknowledge that - as suspected - half of them do not wear wristwatches. No, they rely on their cell phones to tell the time. Nor do they use alarm clocks, instead keeping their phones on the nightstand, set for 7 with their favorite ringtone, which changes capriciously. They don’t know what their favorite ringtone is. They don’t worry about batteries running out, or contracts expiring. Their minds are free.

I, on the other hand, am attached to my wristwatch. Sometimes I sleep with it on because it is so handsome. It’s not even self-winding - I must remember to jig the little knob back and forth to wind it. It doesn’t contain any apps; it doesn’t measure the temperature; it doesn’t store phone numbers, or know where the nearest Chinese restaurant is. It doesn’t do anything but tell time. I lash it to my wrist every morning like a sail to a boat, and no wind, no tidal wave, no change of fashion will remove it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

the week

Watched: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - good actors, underwhelming film
Saw: My 15-year old off on a short trip with a friend to Munich (ah Europa!)

Liked: Blue weather
Disliked: Garden snails

Reading: The Siege at Krishnapur by JG Farrell, in some circles considered the best Booker winner ever 
Listened to: White Winter Hymnal, many times

Started: A membership for my son at Germany’s jillion youth hostels
Stopped: Trying to squeeze the last bit of shampoo out of the bottle

Gave: Three books to my husband (Ethan Fromm, Wolf Hall, Jane Eyre)
Received: Much-needed help from colleague

Ate: Pumpkin ravioli
Drank: Kiwi smoothie

Learned: How to pronounce ‘posthumous
Bought: Bed linens 

Chore: Mowed the lawn
Leisure: Moth hunting 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Unhappy Campers

The sky today was imported from Holland, a nearly neon blue full of ship-sized white clouds that made me think the “Milky Way” moniker had been wasted on a phenomenon less worthy. 

I can’t complain about the German weather this spring. Yesterday was like a valentine - a warm breeze, buckets of sunshine, and everything budding. I had the day off, and headed off downtown in a pair of sandals I unearthed from the bottom of my closet. This was fairly daring for early April in Germany, I admit, and I was paid back by having them both self-destruct, pretty much simultaneously, as soon as I got off the UBahn. 

My daughter was coming to meet me anyway, so I asked her to bring socks and sneakers from home. Hell if I was going to pressure-buy shoes I didn’t want for the sake of not walking in the style of Marty Feldman’s Igor. She got a dress with the money I would have had to spend to continue perambulating in the style of myself, but I stopped at the blouse that looked like a paper towel.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?

So it’s national poetry month but probably you knew that. As for me I am still munching my way through “Seriously Funny: Poems about Love, Death, Religion, etc…” 

I’ve gotten through love, sex, divorce, families, hatred, friendship, the self, neighbors, and today I arrived in America, where I read Allen Ginsberg’s terrific “America.” 

For some reason I looked it up online tonight and found it on a University of Pennsylvania site, complete with embedded links. The links suggested I should click out of the poem to inform myself about things mentioned there, such as the Wobblies or Sacco & Vanzetti. 

I have to say it is for old-fangled me a step too far to embed a poem with informative links. I hate it in a news story already (‘Are you sharing too much about your baby online?’ ’10 Sleep Habits that Cause Weight Gain’ ‘Check Our Recap of The Walking Dead Finale’), except sometimes. 

America why are your libraries full of tears? 
America when will you send your eggs to India? 
I'm sick of your insane demands. 
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks? 
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world. 
Your machinery is too much for me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pigeons, sleep & pizza

I have nine poems in Houseboat today -

Sleeve
Mind the Gap
Snooze Button

Rioja
Self-Portrait with Lava Lamp
Ingrid Wears Bangs

From the Back of My Mind
Subway Rider

Saw You, Want You

Saw you - corner of 8th 
and Crescent, asking 
a lady in fur for directions. 
My mouth went limp when 
you called her “ma’am”.
You smiled, and I felt
I might not have to walk 
through life carrying this boulder 
between my hands. I want 
to lie down in your drawl, fall
asleep in the crook of your eyebrow.
I kick myself for wearing 
that hippie poncho, for not 
having the car to drive you 
where you meant to go.
I never did anything
like this before.
I was the 5’5 brunette
carrying a takeout pizza.
The walk signal went green.
I sneezed, and
you blessed me.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Conspicuous Consumption

It’s world tuberculosis day. “Let me count the ways,” as one TB victim said.

Albert Camus: existentialist, writer & heavy smoker, suffered TB for ages, but died instantly in a car crash.

Paul Eluard: surrealist poet, published his first book at age 18 when confined at Swiss sanatorium. There he met Gala, whom he married in the midst of WWI. 
She is standing on my eyelids / And her hair is in my hair / She has the color of my eye / She has the body of my hand 

Paul Gauguin: TB victim, died of syphilis instead.

Elizabeth Barrett Bowning: famous romantic poet, chronically ill and addicted to opium.
If thou must love me, let it be for nought.

Charles Bukowski: had TB, died of leukemia.

Kant: changed his name to Immanuel from Emanuel after learning Hebrew, among other things. 1764: Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen, or Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime.

Anne, Charlotte & Emily Bronte: "All my pretty ones, did you say all, o hell-kite!" (& Branwell) 

Frederic Chopin: a delicate consumptive who never developed facial hair. His sister Ludwicka returned to Warsaw from Paris with his heart floating in a jar of cognac, as requested in his will.

Honore de Balzac: August 18, 1850, five months after marrying, Balzac died. Only his mother was with him; his wife had gone to bed.

Eugene O’Neill: born in a hotel on broadway and 43rd. He entered a sanatorium in 1912 for tuberculosis, where read he much of the dramatic canon, with special attention to Strindberg. 

George Orwell: In 1938, coughing up blood, Orwell went to a sanatorium. He was later diagnosed with tuberculosis. 
But the truly frightening thing was the emaciation of his body. The barrel of the ribs was as narrow as that of a skeleton: the legs had shrunk so that the knees were thicker than the thighs…the curvature of the spine was astonishing. (1984)

Vivien Leigh: born in Darjeeling, voted prettiest girl in school, mistress of movie-set Tara. Two miscarriages, manic depressive, killed by TB.

Friedrich Schiller: German playwright and poet, author of Ode to Joy (Beethoven’s 9th), died of TB at age 46, possibly exacerbated by chemicals in the wallpaper at his lovely home in weimar.

John Keats: (died at 25) romantic poet, devoted his short adult life to vivid and sensuous poetry. Overexposure and the stress of a walking tour in the Lake District triggered the first symptoms of the tuberculosis. How long is this posthumous existence of mine to go on? 

& countless others. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Week

Watched: American Hustle, & pleasantly surprised
Saw: An old man with head wounds being cared for by five people (ambulance soon arrived)

Received: New passport, in which I will look like I just woke up pissed off and unwashed for the next 10 years
Gave: Pen to a pen-less colleague. Really, gave. Did not lend. A big deal, pen-wise. 

Liked: The sunshine
Disliked: The sunshine

Read: All Quiet on the Western Front
Listened to: Soprano singing Donald Rumsfeld found poetry

Started: Planning a visit to friends in Switzerland
Stopped: Following a negative train of thought, at least temporarily 

Ate: Warm goat cheese with thyme and honey
Drank: Rioja

Bought: New towels

Remembered: Abscam
Resolved: to tidy my desk (done!) 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

That side

There was a bus and subway strike today so I asked my neighbor if he’d take me to work. Turned out his office moved so he could only drop me at an S-Bahn station on the western edge of the city, where trains from out of town were still running in.

Neither of us knew the slightest about the geography of that part of town and he dropped me at a depot that was admittedly desolate. But I didn’t want to trouble him any more than I already had so I said no worries, I’d figure it out. It was near the station and he said there was a staircase that likely went to the train platforms. 

There was nothing there but wiring, fencing and steel beams and the little abandoned depot. I walked around it and found the staircase, a twisting rusted thing. It was my best possibility. 

The staircase was full of graffiti and pigeon shit and I don’t know why my neighbor’s wild guess that it might go the platform made me think it went to the platform. I got to the top and found myself on a narrow walkway that I soon discovered ran between train tracks, since a train whooped by and nearly took off my coat. I figured I’d keep going. There wasn’t much to go back to. 

It was a hike but finally I saw the end and indeed it seemed to lead to the platform. Unfortunately there was a gate. Nearing the end I hoped the gate was open but didn’t really expect it. I started to think about whether it was climbable, and whether I wanted the people on the platform to watch me with my office clothes and book tote and purse climbing a fence awkwardly and possibly unsuccessfully. Tough shit, I thought. But the latch turned and I made it through. 

On the other side, a sign said “No Public Entry, Access to Train Yard Only,” and even though I came from the no-sign side the first thing I thought of was Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” 

As I went walking I saw a sign there: 
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing." 
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Top 10

Chanson Triste - Bidu Sayao (Duparc)
Rich Girl - Lake Street Dive (Hall & Oates)
The Magic - Joan as Policewoman 
Reptile - Lisa Germano
Factory - Martha Wainwright 
Jacob Marley’s Chain - Aimee Mann 
En Gallop - Joanna Newsom 
Louise - Bonnie Raitt  
Lived in Bars - Cat Power
Montparnasse - Jessye Norman (Poulenc)


(most listened to songs sung by women - home iTunes version)

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Leertasten, or the keys to emptiness

When I touch the keys on my keyboard I feel each one is a kind of launch pad. I launch a word letter-by-letter, or I launch onto a new line with 'return,' or launch some emptiness onto the page with the space bar.

With the many busy-nesses I’ve had going lately I’m all the more appreciative of my spacebar art, an arrangement of old space bars at different stages of discoloration. In German they're called 'Leertasten," or "empty keys." I look at them in their clean white frame, left-aligned, like the lines of a potential poem. Like blank verse. Or a silent, ragged piano. 

I’ve mentioned Harald Geisler on my blog before. I supported his Sigmund Freud typeface and typography calendar campaigns, and I eat the air off one of his witty plates. His space bars make my little study seem larger, less crowded, and open to emptiness.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Colleagues who read

Pat was down-to-earth, frank, and smart. She was friendly but never tried to put a rosy glow on anything. She could turn my “I can’t talk now I have work” into an entertaining, 20-minute, largely one-sided conversation about her Ohio aunt’s miserable driving. A conversation she’s likely forgotten about Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier was for me what clinched our friendship. When she spoke German, her American accent made me afraid of my American accent.

And it was a most remarkable, a most moving glance, as if for a moment a lighthouse had looked at me.
Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier

Carl was guarded, and wary of co-workers in a “I’m only here to work” kind of way. I respected his space but it was difficult because he was the best-read colleague I ever had. Bolano, Houellebecq, McCarthy, Knausgaard. Despite his apparent ignorance of women writers, Carl was a magnet.

Where in this pukehole can a man get a drink? he said.
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

James was a dork in the best way - stupid jokes, elaborating into absurdity, puns, and intellectual fetishes. He was my mirror image, with a beard. He lent me his copy of the silly Portuguese Irregular Verbs, a must for Germanophiles and Germanophobes. 

Professor Dr Moritz-Maria Von Igelfeld often reflected on how fortunate he was to be exactly who he was, and nobody else. When one paused to think who one might have been had the accident of birth not happened precisely as it did, then, well, one could be quite frankly appalled.
Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs

Frieda was not terrific at her job and I was her boss so there was that. But she was an easy-going and curious person. She was lanky and modest, a great smiler with an engine of a laugh. She got excited about story ideas at first, but wasn't great on the follow-through. We swapped a number of books and never agreed about any of them and I was sorry to see her go.

One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.
Jeanette Walls, The Glass Castle

Hans and I sat next to each other for years. He was a bubbly snob who drove to work because only riff-raff take public transportation. Most of the office disliked him because he barked, but I enjoyed his good points. His favorite book was Brideshead Revisted, and though I wanted to do him the favor, I never read it. I am grateful to him for introducing me to John Banville, whom I’d not heard of and who has since enriched me immeasurably. 

This is the only way another creature can be known: on the surface, that's where there is depth.
John Banville, The Book of Evidence

Barbara and I are friends in any case and since they moved her desk opposite mine she has noddingly endured many of my book gushes. She lives out of town and thus only ever really shops at the train station, where she found a crappy bookstore that at odd times has some good English remainders. The other day she sent me an email from the shop: “I’m in the bookshop and they have The Luminaries. 5 euros. Should I get two?” Yes.

It is a feature of human nature to give what we most wish to receive.
Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries

Saturday, March 01, 2014

March

In like a bookmark, out like a lamb. 
In like a warhorse, out like a thaw. 
In like a hoof print, out like a flame.
In like a slinky, out like a shout.
In like a lion, out like a light.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mice

Mice shouldn’t live in an office. No one should live in an office, but sometimes they do.

I don’t know what color our mice are. Grey, or maybe albino – visibly pink under the fur, making them more vulnerable to pain.

I found out about the mice because of the breakfast rolls in my desk, which seemed to be disintegrating. To investigate, I lay on the floor, and saw the tunnel up into the drawers.

It comes to this: our boss says not to keep food in the office. Some express outrage, less about the dictate than the fact of the mice. It’s a scandal, as if the mice have run us three rungs down the ladder.

Mice excel at hiding. Sometimes they hide by staying still. I would like to touch their feet. I imagine the toes like the teeth of a small, broken comb. 

One day I see a mouse rush out from under a desk. I tell you – it isn’t fear or revulsion that makes a person scream. It’s surprise, an underrated discomfort.

Our technician is put in charge of doing away with the mice. This seems cliché, I know, but he resents it.

The technician sets traps and the outrage spreads. Suddenly, worse than the fact of mice is the fact of the mice’s death. Some resent being exposed to the whole experience, and blame the company.

But the company is irrelevant. The boss tries to tell them that. Which company people work for has nothing to do with it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Thing 3

I’ve had my share of rejections lately, and a share of everyone else’s, too. But I did get a welcome acceptance this week from Right Hand Pointing. They’re doing a May issue with three women poets, of which I’ll be one. I don’t know yet which poems will appear as they’re going to whittle down the 10 I submitted to six, but look forward to it. I have a few other poems due out this month which I’ll post as soon as it happens. Otherwise I got rejections recently from Stoneboat, Swarm and Radar! At least it didn’t take them months and months to do it.

In print, I’m happy to say I’ll have poems in two anthologies this year. The first is Not Somewhere Else But Here from the splendid Sundress Publications, a collection of poems about place. My poems are “Europa” and “Good Wife of Hunan,” so I’ve got the Old World and southern China covered. 

My poem “In the Voice of a Minor Saint” will also be in an anthology about saints called St. Peter’s B-list, due in April. As I noted when my poem was accepted, I am by far the least famous poet in the book. Among the luminaries are James Tate and Mary Karr, while the saints include St. Agnes, St. Rita, Big Sur Saints, the patron saint of lost & found, and St. Nick. You can see the table of contents and sample poems here

Finally, print-wise, two of my typeface poems will be in the 2014 RHINO, which also comes out in April. I’m thrilled about the acceptance, having had poems in RHINO a couple times and loving the work they publish. My poems are "Typeface #77" (Moog) and "Typeface #71" (Flotilla Bold), which reminds me of Dr. Seuss’s Thing 1 and Thing 2, and is perhaps not so far off. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

All the Presidents' Furniture

I was reading about Freud a month ago and recall someone saying the couch where his patients reclined was the world’s most famous piece of furniture. That made me think about other famous pieces of furniture, such as the chair that Van Gogh immortalized.

If I weren’t American maybe I’d have better examples (the knights’ round table!) but for me a lot of famous furniture is presidential: the desk in the Oval Office, JFK’s rocking chair, and FDR’s wheelchair. When I mentioned this recently it led to a discussion on whether a wheelchair is proper ‘furniture.’ A friend with a loved one in a wheelchair argued it was an instrument of mobility and absolutely not furniture. While primarily a mobilizer, as soon as a wheelchair pulls up to a desk or a table it also serves as furniture. Anyone can park one in the living room, whether they need it to get around or not. Same with a dentist's chair. No disrespect intended.

Many things not designed to be furniture end up as furniture. Take those cable spools that get made into coffee tables. Or milk crates used as modular shelving. A sail can become an indoor hammock. Today I saw a horse carriage seat repurposed as a bench

Anyway, back to the presidents. Surely the best piece of “presidential furniture” is Thomas Jefferson’s revolving book stand. I thought of it this President’s Day when I was sitting at my desk, my eyes traveling from a newspaper, to a book to the computer screen. I think of the stand, which holds five books, as a precursor to internet tabs.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Earworm

Todd Rundgren's Can We Still Be Friends. Don't ask me why a song that has nothing to do with me makes me want to cry. Want to, but not actually do it, because the song is also strangely uplifting.
This song came out in 1978 but I never heard it until the early 80s, courtesy of my freshman roommate, the marvelous Amy N. Maybe the song reminds me of her (LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA!), since I wish we were still friends. Her parents were very practical, and she left our liberal arts college to study nursing elsewhere. When she began considering becoming a midwife I got all over her to do it because it impressed me as the coolest job ever. I always felt like I kind of pushed her, but by all accounts she is very happy being a midwife. I, on the other hand, had impractical parents and never had much of a notion what exactly I wanted to do. I just figured it would all work out. Which I guess it did. Einigermassen. (Sort of).
Anyway, although my son wonders why anyone buys music "since you can listen to it for free on YouTube," I spent 99 cents on Can We Still Be Friends on Monday, and have since listened to it about 28-32 times - on the train, in the elevator, trudging through the wet grass to work. If a look around reveals no one nearby, I sing it out loud. So I consider it 99 cents well spent.
Like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Carol King, Todd Rundgren doesn't immediately strike you as a great vocalist, but in the end it doesn't matter.

Monday, February 10, 2014

#readwomen2014

You’ve probably seen the hashtag #readwomen2014, and news of the accompanying campaign to make 2014 the year of reading books by women. I’d like to throw in my recommendations. Below my list of 14 great fiction and non-fiction books by women published as of 1980. I went contemporary to keep the Brontes and George Eliot off the list. Because you’ve read them. 
I also omitted poetry, which I’m going to do separately.

I can count but since I really wanted to include two books published before 1980 I added them as a bonus at bottom. I’d love to see other people’s lists of 14. 

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (2010 fiction) 
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009 fiction)
This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust (2008 American history) 
Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich (2005 reportage) 
Old Filth by Jane Gardam (2005 fiction)
No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July (2005 short stories)
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005 memoir) 
Samuel Johnson is Indignant by Lydia Davis (2001 short stories)
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates (2000 fiction) 
The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang (1997 history) 
The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald (1995 fiction)
The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller (1994 fiction) 
The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek (1983 fiction) 
Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson (1980 memoir)

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (1974)
Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody (1968) 

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Week that was

Drank: Chamomile Tea
Saw: Two people helping an elderly woman walk against the wind
Disliked: My lingering cold
Read: "The Orphan Master’s Son" by Adam Johnson 
Watched: Doubt with Meryl Streep & Philip Seymour Hoffman
Composed this note for the ladies’ room: 'Who keeps wadding kitchen paper towels together and stuffing them into the bathroom stall toilet paper roll with the toilet paper? Is it some harebrained attempt to 'save' paper, in this case paper that someone took too much of, and then forced on anyone who had to use the bathroom?'
Laughed at: This epic battle
Ate: Ciobar, Italian hot chocolate that’s more like hot pudding in a cup
Listened to: Robert Coover read Italo Calvino’s story “The Daughters of the Moon”
Bought: "Katz und Maus" by Günter Grass, which my son needs for German class 
Learned: Americans are split on whether to pronounce 'mayonnaise' as "man-aze" or "may-uh-naze"
Enjoyed: Hot bath with camphor and eucalyptus

Pithiness of the week: “If you run after two hares you will catch neither.” - Erasmus

Friday, February 07, 2014

202

Happy Charles Dickens’ birthday.

I was lucky to add The Pickwick Papers to the asset side of my reading equation last month, a buoyant, rich and very funny book. As Dickens’ first book, you see the seed of some of his later work here: the interminable law suits (Bleak House), the beloved relative in the debtors’ prison (Little Dorrit), the finger-wagging spirits (A Christmas Carol), and more. 

This book was the favorite of both Fernando Pessoa and Giuseppe Lampedusa, and such high-brow admiration made me a bit afraid of what it would be like. I’d also heard there wasn’t much of a story line, so I worried. Would there be a plot? Would there be characters to follow? Wouldn’t it suck if I didn’t like it? 

I worried for naught, for though the narrative is somewhat liquid, running off on various tangents, there is a plot to frame it, and the characters are marvelous, especially --as anyone who’s read it knows -- Sam Weller, Mr. Pickwick’s servant. Mr. Pickwick himself radiates benevolence, and as always with Dickens, the outright melodrama of it all is like a little kindling in your hands. 

Dickens is a great observer, and his scenes and dialogues can be hilarious. Take, for example, Sam Weller’s father’s explanation of the character of pike keepers:

"Wery queer life is a pike-keeper's, sir."
"A what?" said Mr. Pickwick.
"A pike-keeper."
"What do you mean by pike-keeper?" inquired Mr. Peter Magnus.
"The old 'un means a turnpike keeper, gen'l'm'n," observed Mr. Samuel Weller, in explanation.
"Oh," said Mr. Pickwick, "I see. Yes; very curious life. Very uncomfortable."
"They're all on 'em men as has met vith some disappointment in life," said Mr. Weller senior.
"Ay, ay?" said Mr. Pickwick.
"Yes. Consequence of vich, they retires from the world, and shuts themselves up in pikes; partly with the view of being solitary, and partly to rewenge themselves on mankind, by takin' tolls."
"Dear me," said Mr. Pickwick, "I never knew that before."

Hey, me neither! But now I do. 

Like Pessoa, I can now say that a great tragedy of my life is having read The Pickwick Papers, since I can never read it for the first time again.
Related Posts with Thumbnails