Friday, March 20, 2015

everything happens for an accident

The most important thing a poet should do is go into the well of themselves, their roots and refer to, for us, the grandmother or tobacco chewing uncle with whom she has to match wits to defeat his intent constantly, or whatever opinionated tyrant is survived, since everyone on this earth who becomes worthy of our notice has overcome whatever authoritarians the accident of birth foisted upon us.

— Leo Connellan
in his Foreword to Vivian Shipley’s Poems Out of Harlan County

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Word of the Day: Brichthorn & Clocynth

context: The poet Adonis is calling forth a better world.

darkness of the sea,
ignore this feast of corpses.
Bring the earth to blossom
with your winds.
Banish plague and teach the very rocks
to dance and love.”

The goddess of the sand prostrates herself.
Under brichthorn
the spring rises like clocynth from the lips
or life from the sea.

definition: For neither word is there a definition. I figured “brichthorn” was some type of plant. What animal has thorns? I didn’t need to know what it looked like. However, I had no idea what a “clocynth” was. A plant? A song? So I popped it into the query box at a couple dictionary sites. I was asked, “Do you mean ‘colocynth’?” According to a colocynth is “a plant, Citrullus colocynthis, belonging to the gourd family, of the warmer parts of Asia, the Mediterranean region, etc., bearing a round, yellow or green fruit with a bitter pulp.”

Once I’d hassled “clocynth” I went back to “brichthorn.” No dictionary website liked “brichthorn.” Could it be a typo? Do birches have thorns? Yes, it seems birch trees have thorns.

Are there any books without typos? Usually a typo is easy to correct mentally. Sometimes typos are so easy to correct mentally that the correction does not reach the page.

source: Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, edited by Carolyn Forche. 1993.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Word of the Day: Dolichocephalic

context: Francois Bizot is in Cambodia. He has been studying Buddhist practices unique to that country. He describes an acquaintance:

He was a young man, and I remember well his handsome dolichocephalic profile, the creamy white of his eyes standing out from his swarthy complexion, the strong red of his mouth spreading out onto his fleshy lips.

definition (Merriam-Webster): having a relatively long head with cephalic index of less than 75.

I suppose I have to look up “cephalic index” now.

This is what Wikipedia has to say: The cephalic index or cranial index is the ratio of the maximum width of the head of an organism (human or animal) multiplied by 100 divided by its maximum length (i.e., in the horizontal plane, or front to back). The index is also used to categorize animals, especially dogs and cats.

So our handsome young man had a long head, relative to something.

source: The Gate by Francois Bizot
translated by Euan Cameron

Sunday, March 08, 2015

“flight forward”

In an introduction to his translation of Cesar Aira, Chris Andrews describes Aira’s method:

Cesar Aira’s keener readers are familiar with the procedure that he calls la huida hacia adelante: flight forward. He has often said that he composes his novels by improvising a page or two a day, and that instead of rewriting, he attempts to correct the weaknesses or inconsistencies of what has been written by adding retrospective explanations. Imperfections serve to spur invention rather than revision.

This method sounds similar to the one I used when composing Thousand, which I posted on my LoveSettlement blog. Each day I wrote one hundred words. I wrote for one thousand days, ending up with a prose piece 100,000 words long. Each day’s 100 word post was not completely raw. I did not post until I was satisfied, revising and rewriting, if necessary, until I thought the 100 words worked. I did not go back and revise the previous day’s (or month’s or year’s) effort, however. I went forward. Nor have I gone back to Thousand to revise it. When it hit its 100,000th word that was its last word. I have read Thousand all the way through since it completed and it holds up pretty well for whatever it is. There’s a lot of fun writing there. I can see a kinship to Cesar Aira’s “Varamo.”

source: Two Lines, no.18: Counterfeits, edited by Luc Sante & Rosanna Warren, published by the Center for the Art of Translation. 2011.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Word of the Day: Rachitic

context: Karamallah has taken up residence in the family mausoleum because the Egyptian authorities are watching his home. He’s not alone in the cemetery. Mostly because of poverty, the cemetery is well populated with the living.

The cemetery was stagnating in a precarious calm … Occasional bursts of lamentation from the hired mourners … could be heard in the overheated air, like the echo of unspeakable suffering. … An old man with a white beard dragging a rachitic donkey at the end of a rope passed in front of the mausoleum and greeted Karamallah with a slight nod befitting an exiled monarch. … Karamallah [was disturbed by] the donkey’s gaze; it was both dejected and accusing, as if Karamallah were the one at the root of its downfall.

This is the sort of word I usually don’t look up. It is defined sufficiently by context that I don’t feel I’m missing much by not turning to the dictionary. Turning to the dictionary is such a bother, especially when you end up being told what you’ve already figured out. So I’m going to tell you that I have copied out the contextual passage and I have written up to this point without having turned to the dictionary. I might as well guess what the dictionary is going to say. Rachitic means skinny and/or diseased-looking, undernourished, perhaps aged.

definition (according to Miriam-Webster): rickety

Rachitic specifically refers to rickets, the disease. Which makes me realize I never knew what I was metaphoring when I said something looked “rickety,” that is, as though it were about to fall apart.

How did I do? What I learned from the dictionary was not the definition — my guess was perfectly adequate — I learned that the word evokes the ravages of a specific disease, rickets, and that rickety is another way of saying rachitic. I didn’t need to know this stuff, but it makes a DIR post!

source: “The Colors of Infamy” by Albert Cossery, translation by Alyson Waters, which appears in Two Lines, no.18: Counterfeits, edited by Luc Sante & Rosanna Warren, published by the Center for the Art of Translation

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Word of the Day: Paraffin Test

context: It’s 1968, Mexico City. The university students, like university students all over the world during this year, are demanding greater freedom and respect. The repressive national government, naturally, would prefer not to, and have been sending out paramilitary riot police to beat, arrest, and even shoot young people, usually at night when the biggest crowds have dispersed.

President Diaz Ordaz, in a speech from the city of Guadalajara, tendered his famous “outstretched hand” to the students in exchange for their submission. An outstretched hand — if you apologize.

The imaginative riposte appeared the next day on thousands of handbills and flyposters: A la mano tendida, la prueba de la parafina (Give the outstretched hand the paraffin test).

definition (courtesy the Oxford English Dictionary online):
[probably after American Spanish; use of the test in Mexico City is reported from 1931] a forensic test to indicate whether a person has recently fired a gun, in which the person's hand is coated in hot paraffin wax which cools and sets and is peeled off and tested for the presence of residue from the gun.

source: ’68 a memoir by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

An Almost Perfect Person

from the book log (2/12/89):

An Almost Perfect Person
Judith Ross. 1978. a play

I read this in searching for a dialogue to perform in Reader’s Theatre. I read snatches of it in the JC library before checking it out and it sounded promising. And it is amusing. There wasn’t a dialogue of the type I was looking for. A woman runs for a New York City congressional seat. She loses. This play documents her sexual liaison with her former campaign manager & her dead husband’s best friend. It’s quite tame and rather sit-com-y. A pleasant if untaxing play. It’s dated a little. Some good lines.

One thing that annoyed me about the JC library: before putting hardcovers on the shelf, they discarded the dustjackets. I like to include in these posts the cover image of the edition I read. In the case of hardcovers that I checked out from the JC library (and, later, the UC Berkeley library, which has the same practice), there was no cover image. Was the reason budgetary? The public library saves the dustjacket, wrapping it in mylar. Public libraries are that much richer than academic? It seems to me of educational value to retain the dustjacket. At the very least dustjackets record design history. They often also have author photos and selected critical notices which disappear when the dustjacket is removed. Blurbs give a book context. If you’re researching an author’s influences and connections I could see how looking over the blurbs given their book by more famous authors would help. Since the copy of An Almost Perfect Person that I read was owned by the JC I probably didn’t get to consider the cover image. Published plays often feature a photo of the original cast, plus costume and set. Losing that is unfortunate. I found a snapshot of the original hardcover posted at Amazon by reviewer Kim Hill. How a 70s woman politician dressed!

Monday, March 02, 2015

Torch Song Trilogy, the movie

from the book log (2/12/89):

Torch Song Trilogy
written by & starring Harvey Fierstein, based on his play(s)
1988. a movie I saw in the theater

Saw this a couple days ago. Films about gay people, even with their faults, seem to me more real than the usual hetero fare. But Torch Song Trilogy is good anyway (should I say, besides). Fierstein plays Arnold Becker, a female impersonator (his profession), who isn’t particularly effeminate when not performing. The story charts his life from when he meets and falls in love with a bisexual man. The relationship is too secretive for Arnold’s tastes. Eventually the affair ends & Arnold is pursued by a lovely young man who wants a longterm lover. This young man (David?), played by Matt Broderick is killed by gaybashers in NYC.

About a third the way through the film I noticed that it was slightly out of focus. While this has happened to other movies I’ve seen at UAs I couldn’t help wondering if it was subtle sabotage by the projectionist. I dint go out & complain as I didn’t wish to miss any of the film. If I see the film again tho’ I shan’t hesitate.

Torch Song Trilogy did not ultimately have a depressing ending, but it did leave me sad the rest of the day.

I read the play (or, rather, trio of plays) a year previous. I wrote about that 8 years ago on DIR. Sort of. Actually, mostly not. My entire review of the book version, as noted in my diary: “Quite good.” Faced with that paucity of comment, I spent more time in the 2007 DIR post talking about how out of focus the screening of the movie version was. We like our clear lines.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Go-Betweens. Tallulah

from the book log (2/12/89):

The Go-Betweens. Tallulah
1987. a record album

Very listenable. Fav. song: “Right Here.” I’ve heard it before, prob’ on LIVE 105. Have played it several times for dancing. The rest of the album is quite pleasant to have going on while I go about other things.


The sophistication of my music criticism seldom improves much on the old American Bandstand rate-a-record review: “It has a nice beat. You can dance to it.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.