Nobel Anger.

I do sometimes get depressed about how my own particular culture is ignorant of and insular from the rest of the world.  Of course, Just looking at the relative sizes of countries, it’s just as easy for most Europeans to visit another country as it is for us to visit another state.  And it is hard to outgrow a prejudice without personal experience to counteract it.  If you never meet a for-real French person, how do you know they aren’t all snobby and rude?   However, much as I can understand US pride and US ignorance and US inward-focused narrowmindeness, that doesn’t mean i like it.  I deal with it, I try to educate and eliminate it where possible, and I hope for future understanding.

For myself, I would not consider this cultural background a disadvantage.  I know it’s there, but I would not say it handicaps me in my own life.  perhaps it’s arrogance, but I’d like to think I’ve grown beyond the prejudices of my upbringing.  in particular as a writer, I’d like to think I have a little perspective and a little objectivity and a little observational prowess.  I’d like to think my upbringing does not keep me from being a good writer.

According to Horace Engdahl, permenant secretary of Nobel’s Swedish Academy, that’s virtually impossible for most of us US citizens.  Evidently (and unbeknownst to me) US writers are “too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture,” dragging down the quality of their work.  “The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature.  That ignorance is restraining.”

I can accept that the majority of Nobel Prizewinners are European.  I can accept that some, even many, people feel that Europe is still the center of the literary world.  They have an intense and continuous history of it – of course they have extensive skills to draw on.  But I don’t think our own history puts us at that much of a handicap.  I don’t think we are too insular, or too ignorant.  I think we do participate, fairly actively, in the literary world (note, world, not immediate insular community).  Yes, we do have some shoddy writers, but so do all countries, even those in Europe.  That doesn’t mean we can’t, or aren’t, producing grade-A literature.

Let’s take the three books I’m reading right now (yes it’s three, yes I read a lot).  The first one, the fluffy one, is a sci-fi novel by C. J. Cherryh.  This one happens to be about humans interacting with two different groups of aliens, one of which has a very Oriental flavor.  It’s not the most profound literature, but the topic seems…oddly appropriate. Someone from the US can imagine the way humans might interact with not only a different culture but a different biology in a realistic way?  I would not call that insular or ignorant.  Another book I’m reading is The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya.  She’s Russian.  It’s translated.  I guess it’s one of those random outliers of a book that made it into the US literary scene, even though it’s translated and deals with post-apocalyptic Russia.  Because obviously, we don’t translate enough.  The third book I’m currently reading (dare I say involved with?) is The Breif Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.  It’s awesome.  If you haven’t read it, go out and buy it, because you will want to read it again.  Diaz is a Dominican-American writer who often writes about the immigrant experience.  He’s very insular – he only writes about the DR or the US.  I wouldn’t call him ignorant though, especially considering the footnotes, which are almost as playful as those in Nabokov’s Pale Fire, but are also far more informative and factually based.

I’m sure Mr. Engdahl is getting his fill of criticism over this interview, and I wouldn’t mind the US losing the Nobel Prize for Literature to someone worthy.  But if no US writer makes it on to the short list this year, after this particular interview?  That smacks of insularity and ignorance.

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The three word poem

There is contention (as is typical with art) about what the modern poem should be. When I was an undergrad, a part of my English minor meant I had to attend a number of grad students nad guest speakers read their work. About half of them were poets, and so I heard quite a bit of prose poetry and autobiographical narrative stuff that I didn’t really like. I’m sure most of it I would’ve liked better in a book or on paper. I’m not a highly aural person – I’m much more visible. beside, i feel much of what I like about more modern stuff has to do with the way it looks on the page, rather than how it sounds. I’m not sure if this actually should be the case, but it’s what I’ve mostly been stuck with.

The rise of texting, email, and short ‘n sweet forms of communication should have given rise to a whole new spate of brevity in poems. This should be a new age of rediscovering the haiku and re-crafting it for English in a new way. Why don’t people really use the language and make three word poems? You could write them faster on your cell phone than a novel. They could be funny, they could be commentary, they could be reflective, they could be wise, or raunchy. But mosst of all they would fit a new idea of brevity and force.

There are a number of questions I have regarding the form such poems would take. Would every word have to be over three syllables? or would that defeat the purpose? Would rhyming or some form of rhythmic structure need to be enforced? Would rules of reflection (nouns to the outside, adjective in the middle, or vice versa) be observed? Or would strict SVO construction be the rule?

So many permutations. So many possibilities. Please, give comments/suggestions/first attempts. It is our duty, not to shake our booties, but to recreate the poem. I’ll go first:

earth

heaving

scoria

Or here’s a funny one:

Cheese

Nugget

Flying

A Day in the Life of a Lion

There are days when my hair is just a bit kinky and curly.  There are days (especially dry winter ones) when it hangs limp and flaccid like an old man in a wheelchair.  Then there are days like today, when the weather has finally warmed up, the air is wet, springy, and oh-so-humid, and my hair decides to take on a Medusa-like life of its own.  It is days like these that makes me ask myself why I don’t have calming hair ointments on hand at work.  Or at least a headband, or something.

It also makes me wonder how male lions can put up with it, day after day.  I know the mane is supposed to be a sign of sexual prowess for attraction females, but really.  Peacocks can attract without a bunch of fuzz in their eyes.  It also makes me wonder if lions have really gotten a bad wrap as opposed to lionesses.  Sure, they always seem sleepy in the daytime, but you would squint too if you had hair in your eyes.   And of course they don’t hunt as much as the lionesses – a bigger, stumbling tawny mass that can’t really see is bound to be a detriment to the hunt.

Also of note on the stupidity side of our impressions of lions, let’s turn to kid lit., specifically Aslan of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Possible religious references aside, when they shave his mane, I don’t think that detracts very much from the fact that the bad guys have a giant lion in their midst.  And now, without all that hair in his eyes, he can see you.  Maybe not a good time to be mocking.

It stands to reason that I should really shave my head and be done with the poof.  But despite the current annoyance of the humidity fro, I fear I would be less than appealing as a bald, somewhat lumpy, egg.