Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Next Reading List Recommendation

I long ago tired of juvie lit: coming-out stories and other YA prose. I figure we paid our dues with Rainbow Boys nine years ago. (Rainbow Party would have been more fun and became an éclat du scandale but … our dues had been paid.) Now for readers who want to harken back to the jeers and tears of yesteryears without the rigors of Musil's Young Törless (as too few here have), I can enthusiastically recommend Daryl Hine's own memoir of his fourteenth year encompassing the year and summer of Seventh Grade. Hine's experience outwardly could not have been more different from my own but I was at times almost overwhelmed with the remembered sensations of that first season of full-onset puberty. Academic Festival Overtures besides being evocative and witty is a quick read. Good prose like a strong current carries one through a novel. Good verse positively propels one. There's no figuring out how or where the emphasis should go. The meter virtually dictates it. You will not have had so much trouble putting a book of poetry down since … well, since The Golden Gate, which we read six years ago.

On the first day of school and the first page of the book we are introduced to the classmate who instantly becomes our narrator's crush (and who will continue so strikingly all the way to the end). The crush of course is everything Hine is not: poised, athletic, and popular. And the spark of attraction is oddly mutual, though certainly differing in intensity and kind. That afternoon as Daryl is walking home from school, the crush on his bicycle delivering papers offers him a ride.

Squeezed in front of him uncomfortably astraddle
   Between his pedalling legs and the handlebars,
I saw flash past the blocks that I had trudged that morning
   As he cut corners and careened about parked cars.
He had to reach around me to get each newspaper
   He threw, without stopping, onto somebody's lawn.
When I admired his aim, which was not quite unerring,
   He laughed: "You ought to see me do it before dawn."
I wondered then how many disgruntled subscribers
   Have any idea how fortunate they are,
As they retrieve their daily papers from the bushes,
   To have The Evening Sun brought by the morning star?

(Of course I quote this partly for its similarity and contrast to "Editio Princeps*" which we discussed at our last meeting.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Daryl Hine 1936-2012

Keith calls our attention to the death of Daryl Hine three days ago. He also recently brought my attention to Hine's poem "Patroclus Putting on the Armour of Achilles". None of us perhaps can feel nothing special about Patroclus and Achilles (no matter how much David Halperin we read). This poem seems peculiarly severe on Patroclus, but I find it very engaging and the last line spot on.

How clumsy he is putting on the amour of another,
His friend’s, perhaps remembering how they used to arm each other
Fitting the metal tunics to one another’s breast
And setting on each other’s head the helmet’s bristling crest.
Now for himself illicitly he foolishly performs
Secret ceremonial with that other’s arms,
Borrowed, I say stolen, for they are not his own,
On the afternoon of battle, late, trembling, and alone.

Night terminal to fighting falls on the playing field
As to his arm he fastens the giant daedal shield.
A while the game continues, a little while the host
Lost on the obscure litoral, scattered and almost
Invisible pursue the endless war with words
Jarring in the darkening air impassable to swords.

But when he steps forth from the tent where Achilles broods
Patroclus finds no foe at hand, surrounded by no gods,
Only the chill of evening strikes him to the bone
Like an arrow piercing where the armour fails to join,
And weakens his knees under the highly polished greaves.
Evening gentle elsewhere is loud on the shore, it grieves
It would seem for the deaths of heroes, their disobedient graves.

Monday, August 20, 2012

China Mountain Zhang may seem like nine first-person short stories connected only, or mainly, by the eponymous hero whose narrative begins, ends, and alternates with those of four other characters (two of whom on Mars are rather remotely connected). There is a tenth story, however, "Protection," appearing in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine [right], that was not included. Protection is a Reform Through Labor camp. Recall that it was partly to escape just such a camp in Xinjiang that Zhang's lover Hintao commits suicide. The RTL as depicted in this story is somewhat milder than the one suggested in Xinjiang. As it well should. It's located after all in backward America. Hegemons such as China (we know from history, as well as our own life experience) are always anxious about the loosening of their moral fiber.

The narrator in this short story is Janee, a scrappy, smart, street kid in for larceny and assault. When a somewhat older "Political" prisoner named Paul is brutalized by the camp authorities, Janee takes a liking to him owing to his initial show of resistance. She takes him under her "protection" which is a very good deal for him since he'd otherwise have been a mark for every other prisoner in the camp. But Paul can offer something to Janee, a wider world of education and experience. Her experience in the camp is something of a race between her evolving political consciousness due to Paul versus the grinding labor and conditioning of camp routine. Quilt-making, in its most piecemeal aspects, is the labor that leads to "reform" in camp Protection. As in every story in China Mountain Zhang that work is described in detail and is an ultimate in alienation of labor. The race goes not to the swift and the finish line is prefigured some centuries earlier in 1984.

Why wasn't "Protection" included in CMZ? A connection with Zhang would have been easy enough to concoct. Paul is not just a political prisoner. He's a former high-school teacher who has written an incriminating letter to a former male student. Paul comes from Cleveland but he could equally as well have come from Brooklyn and have crossed paths with Zhang somewhere there, e.g. San-xiang's political study group. The reason not to have included the short story, I think (other perhaps than a publisher's concern for a tidier, i.e. shorter, book), is that Reform Through Labor, since it's a central motive in the novel's central episode, is best kept menacingly vague. Any depiction no matter how horrific would have detracted from the Hintao story.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Hine and the Beaver

We recently discussed Daryl Hine and will continue to discuss Canada and (at least some of) its poets in Seminal. Along those lines, both lines, Jason Guriel's review of Hine's Recollected Poems 1951-2004 in Poetry five years ago will be of interest.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Chavela Vargas (1919–2012)

PRI's "The World" closed today's show with a moving tribute. Do yourself a favor and click on the play sign ">" first.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Another Sci-fi Recommendation

While reading China Mountain Zhang, I thought back on a SF book I previously read by Jeanette Winterson: The Stone Gods. I've read a few of her books (what a soupy love story Written on the Body is!) and always enjoy her delicious writing, repetitive cadence, and themes of gender ambiguity. I haven't read a lot of SF but found this a unique read.