Our lives are an elaborate and exquisite collage of moments. Each moment beautiful and powerful on th...more‘Moments like this are buds on the tree of life.’
Our lives are an elaborate and exquisite collage of moments. Each moment beautiful and powerful on their own when reflected upon, turned about and examined to breath in the full nostalgia for each glorious moment gone by, yet it is the compendium of moments that truly form our history of individuality. Yet, what is an expression of individuality if it is not taken in relation to all the lives around us, as a moment in history, a drop in a multitude of drops to form an ocean of existence? Virginia Woolf enacts the near impossibility in ‘Mrs Dalloway’ of charting for examination and reflection the whole of a lifeline for multiple characters, all interweaving to proclaim a brilliant portrait of existence itself, all succinctly packaged in the elegant wrappings of a solitary day. Akin to Joyce’s monumental achievement, Ulysses, Woolf’s poetic plunge into the minds and hearts of her assorted characters not only dredges up an impressively multi-faceted perspective on their lives as a whole, but delivers a cutting social satire extending far beyond the boundaries of the selective London society that struts and frets their 24 hours upon the stage of Woolf’s words.
‘Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.’ This simple phrase is one any serious student of literature would recognize lest they fear an inadequacy of appearance in the eyes of their collegiate classmates, much in the way a great deal of actions in Mrs Dalloway is a learned behavior for the sake of appearances. ‘Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame,’ and much of what we do out of habit, out of adherence to social standards, is what upholds the society at hand and shapes the civilization of the times. Woolf’s novel hinges upon manners and social standings, highlighting a withering hegemony during the a period of change and rebirth with society marching forward into an uncertain and unrestrained future following the first World War. However, before getting too far ahead into a broad scope, it is imperative to examine the immediate and singular implications of the novel. Much of Mrs Dalloway is deceptively simplistic, using the singular as a doorway into the collective, and offering a tiny gift of perfect that can be unpacked to expose an infinite depiction of the world. Take the title, for instance. In most cases, the central character is referred to as Clarissa Dalloway, yet it was essential to place Mrs Dalloway first and foremost in the readers mind to forever bind their impression of her as a married woman, an extension of Mr. Richard Dalloway. In comparison, Miss Kilman is never addressed in text without the title ‘Miss’ to emphasize her unmarried—and, in terms of the social standings of the time, inferior—position in society; or even Ellie Henderson whose poverty doesn’t even earn her a title of marital status in the eyes of the Dalloway circle, forever condemned to a singular name inconsequential to anything. Just the indication of Clarissa as the wife of a member of government expands well beyond her status as an individual to open a conversation about social implications.
‘Mrs Dalloway is always giving parties to cover the silence.’
Personal identity plays a major theme within the novel with each character’s entire life on display simply through their actions and reflection within the solitary June day. Clarissa is examined through a weaving of past and present as she tumbles through an existential crises in regards to her position as the wife of a dignitary and as a the perfect party host. ‘Why, after all, did she do these things? Why seek pinnacles and stand drenched in fire? Might it consume her anyhow?’ Through her interactions with Peter, the reader is treated to her romantic lineage, rejecting Peter for the safer, more social circle security of Robert, which gives way to a questioning if she is merely a snob. Furthermore, the reader witnesses Clarissa in her heights of emotion through her friendship with Sally Seton¹, a relationship that seems to transcend the rigid gender roles of the time.
The strange thing, on looking back, was the purity, the integrity, of her feeling for Sally. It was not like one’s feeling for a man. It was completely disinterested, and besides, it had a quality which could only exist between women.
Virginia Woolf’s own sexuality has been a topic of interest over the years, and the relationship between Clarissa and Sally—the kiss shared between them being considered by Clarissa to be a notable peak of happiness in her life—is open to interpretation. However, this aspect of Clarissa’s life and identity allows for one of the numerous footholds of feminism found throughout the text, giving way to an image of Sally rejecting standard gender roles through examples such as her openly smoking cigars. Through Clarissa we see a desire of life, of not becoming stagnant, of not ‘being herself invisible; unseen; unknown…this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.’ There must be a way to separate from the society, to form an identity beyond social conventions or gender, to find life in a world hurtling towards death.
‘Once you fall, Septimus repeated to himself, human nature is on you.’
As a foil to the character of Clarissa, Woolf presents the war-torn Septimus. While Clarissa finds meaning in her merrymaking because ‘what she liked was simply life’, and bringing people together to be always moving towards a warm center of life, Septimus is shown as moving outwards, stolen away from the joys of life through his experiences of bloodshed in battle.
So there was no excuse, nothing whatever the matter, except the sin for which human nature had condemned him to death; that he did not feel.
While Clarissa grapples with her fear of death, ‘that is must end; and no one in the whole world would know how she had loved it all,’ Septimus finds life, a never-ending spiral of guilt for not feeling beset by visions of his fallen comrade, to be a fearsome and loathsome beast. Doctors would have him locked away (a dramatic contrast to the lively parties hosted by Clarissa), and even his own wife forges an identity of guilt and self-conscious sorrow for upholding a clearly disturbed husband. This is a haunting portrait of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, the latter fmuch like Woolf herself suffered. Septimus and Clarissa are like opposite sides to the same coin, however, and many essential parrallels exist between them. Both find solace in the works of Shakespeare², both obsess over a lonely figure in an opposing window (one of Septimus’ last impressions in the land of the living), and both trying to express themselves in the world yet fearing the solitude that their failures will form for them. Even his inability to feel is similar to the love felt by Clarissa: 'But nothing is so strange when one is in love (and what was this except being in love?) as the complete indifference of other people.'
Death becomes an important discussion point of the novel, with each character trying to define themselves in the face of, or in spite of, their impending demise. Peter so fears death that he follows a stranger through town, inventing an elaborate fantasy of romance to blot out the deathly darkness. Yet, it is in contrast to death that we find life. Clarissa’s desire for communication, community and life is only given weight in relation to the news of death that invades her party.
Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; repute faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death.
What is most impressive about Mrs Dalloway is the nearly endless array of tones and voices that Woolf is able to so deftly sashay between. While each character is unique, it is the contrast between death and life that she weaves that is staggeringly wonderful. Right from the beginning, Woolf treats us to a feast of contrast.
For it was the middle of June. The War was over, except for some one like Mrs. Foxcroft at the Embassy last night eating her heart out because that nice boy was killed…but it was over; thank Heaven – over. It was June…and everywhere, thought it was still early, there was a beating, a stirring of galloping ponies, tapping of cricket bats…
Cold death and warm life on a sunny June day all mingle together here, and throughout the novel. And we are constantly reminded of our lives marching towards death like a battalion of soldiers, each hour pounded away by the ringing of Big Ben. This motif is two-fold, both representing the lives passing from present to past, but also using the image of Big Ben as a symbol of British society. The war has ended and a new era is dawning, one where the obdurate and stuffy society of old has been shown to be withered and wilting, like Clarissa’s elderly aunt with the glass eye. Not only are the lifelines of each character put under examination, but the history of the English empire as well, highlighting the ages of imperialism that have spread the sons of England across the map and over bloody battlefields. Clarissa is a prime example of the Euro-centrism found in society, frequently confusing the Albanians and Armenians, and assuming that her love of England and her contributions to society must in some way benefit them. ‘Byt she loved her roses (didn’t that help the Armenians?)’ In contrast is Peter, constantly toying with his knife—a symbol of masculinity imposed by an ideal enforced by bloodshed and military might—to evince not only his fears of inadequacy as a Man (fostered by Clarissa’s rejection for him and his possibly shady marriage plans), but his wishy-washy feelings of imperialism after spending time in India.
Beauty, the world seemed to say. And as if to prove it (scientifically) wherever he looked at the houses, at the railings, at the antelopes stretching over the palings, beauty sprang instantly. To watch a leaf quivering in the rush of air was an exquisite joy. Up in the sky swallows swooping, swerving, flinging themselves in and out, round and round, yet always with perfect control as if elastics held them; and the flies rising and falling; and the sun spotting now this leaf, now that, in mockery, dazzling it with soft gold in pure good temper; and now again some chime (it might be a motor horn) tinkling divinely on the grass stalks—all of this, calm and reasonable as it was, made out of ordinary things as it was, was the truth now; beauty, that was the truth now. Beauty was everywhere.
Mrs Dalloway is nearly overwhelming in scope despite the tiny package and seemingly singular advancements of plot. Seamlessly moving between the minds and hearts of each character with a prose that soars to the stratosphere, Woolf presents an intensely detailed portrait of post-war Europe and the struggles of identity found within us all. While it can be demanding at times, asking for your full cooperation and attention, but only because to miss a single second would be a tragic loss to the reader, this is one of the most impressive and inspiring novels I have ever read. Woolf manages to take the scale of Ulysses and the poetic prowess of the finest poets, and condense it all in 200pgs of pure literary excellence. Simple yet sprawling, this is one of the finest novels of the 20th century and an outstanding achievement that stands high even among Woolf's other literary giants. This novel has a bit more of a raw feel when compared to To the Lighthouse, yet that work is nothing short of pure perfection, a novel so highly tuned that one worries that even breathing on it will tarnish it's sleek and shiny luster. Dalloway stands just as tall, however, both as a satire on society and a powerful statement of feminism. A civilization is made up of the many lives within, and each life is made up of many moments, all of which culminating to a portrait of human beauty. Though at the end of life we must meet death, it is through death we find life. 5/5
It is a thousand pities never to say what one feels.
¹ With regards to the discussion of marital titles, Sally Seton later becomes Lady Rosseter through marriage. This title further emphasizes marriage as a means of climbing the social ladder, with Sally seen in the past as an impoverished, rebellious ragamuffin, yet through marriage gains an aura of dignity. Perhaps Sally becoming a housewife is a statement on the society of the times suffocating feministic freedoms.
² There is an interesting rejection of Shakespeare found most notably in the characters of Richard Dallowlay and Lady Bruton. This emphasized the dying British society as a cold and artless being, devoid of emotion. This is most evident through Richard Dalloway, seen as a symbol of British society, as he fails to express his emotions of love towards his wife. (less)
‘The sun was tumbling over things, giving them form once again. The ruined, sterile earth lay before him.’
There are passages of Juan Rulfo’s exquisite...more‘The sun was tumbling over things, giving them form once again. The ruined, sterile earth lay before him.’
There are passages of Juan Rulfo’s exquisite ‘Pedro Páramo’ that I want to cut out and hang upon my walls like a valuable painting. Because that is what this novel is, a purely beautiful surrealistic painting of a hellish Mexico where words are the brushstrokes and the ghastly, ghostly tone is the color palate. Rulfo’s short tale is an utter masterpiece, and the forerunner of magical realism¹—a dark swirling fog of surrealism and horror that is both simple and weightless, yet weighs heavy like an unpardonable sin upon the readers heart and soul.
Nights around here are filled with ghosts. You should see all the spirits walking through the streets. As soon as it is dark they begin to come out. No one likes to see them. There’s so many of them and so few of us that we don’t even make the effort to pray for them anymore, to help them out of their purgatory. We don’t have enough prayers to go around…Then there are our sins on top of theirs. None of us still living is in God’s grace. We can’t lift up our eyes, because they’re filled with shame.
When Juan Preciado visit’s his mother’s home of Comala to his father, the long deceased and ‘pure bile’ of a man, Pedro Páramo, he finds a town of rot and decay filled with ghosts, both figuratively and literally. This is a place of utter damnation, where the sins of a family are so strong that their bloodstained hands have tainted and tarnished the immortal souls of all they come in contact with, leaving in their wake a trail of withered, writhing spirits condemned to forever inhabit their hellish homes. There is nothing pleasant—aside from the intense, striking poetry of Rulfo’s words—to be found in the history of Comala, a town burdened by a list of sins so long and dark that even the preacher’s soul cannot escape from the vile vortex.
Life is hard as it is. The only thing that keeps you going is the hope that when you die you’ll be lifted off this mortal coil; but when they close one door to you and the only one left open is the door to Hell, you’re better off not being born…
This violent, vitriolic landscape forges an unforgettable portrait of Rulfo’s Mexico, eternally encapsulating his vision into the glorious dimensions of myth. The small novel reads like a bedtime story meant to instill good morality in children through fear, while still enchanting their mind’s eye with a disintegrating stage furnished by crumbling, cadaverous buildings and populated by doomed phantoms. His style is phenomenal, effortlessly swapping between past and present, character to character, all in order to build a montage of madness and damnation.
Rulfo’s book is easily digested in a sitting or two, yet will nourish (or cling like a parasite to) your literary soul for an eternity. A dazzling surrealism coupled with a simple, yet potent prose make this an unforgettable classic, and one that has inspired many great authors since its first printing. A hellish portrait of society, brilliantly incorporating political events to help illustrate an abominable image of the dark side of Mexican history, Rulfo immortalizes himself and his homeland into myth and legend. A must read that will haunt you like the pale specters whose voices echo forever in the streets of Comala. 4.5/5
‘This town is filled with echoes. It's like they were trapped behind the walls, or beneath the cobblestones. When you walk you feel like someone's behind you, stepping in your footsteps. You hear rustlings. And people laughing. Laughter that sounds used up. And voices worn away by the years.’
I'm sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.
The blinking cursor that preceded this review, the place-holder of possibility before the...moreI'm sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.
The blinking cursor that preceded this review, the place-holder of possibility before the big bang of creation, speaks volumes when taken in relation to J.D. Salinger’s exquisite Franny and Zooey. In a novel about identity, about forging who we are from a blank slate in the void of society and humanity, we are constantly called to the floor and reminded how often we impose our ego, or wishes, our desires, and become a caricature of ourselves hoping that by creating a façade-self, our true self will eventually follow the leader and fill the mold we’ve forged for the world to see. We constantly try to pigeonhole the world on our own terms, wrongly imposing our own perspective and missing out in the beauty that flowers when we embrace anything as itself without the confines of our implied impressions. This creates a highly tuned, self-conscious atmosphere that makes it difficult to begin writing about without feeling like I, myself, am imposing my undeserved and unqualified ego by casting these words into the world. That damned blinking cursor amidst a field of white on my screen, returning again and again after each quickly deleted early attempts, made me feel very much like Franny herself, sick of realizing that every action is an attempt at being noticed.
I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego. My own and everybody else’s. I’m sick of everybody that wants to get somewhere, do something distinguished and all, be somebody interesting. It’s disgusting.
Can I write without being a disgusting egomaniac, without imposing myself on everyone? My own fears and excuses for writers block aside, Salinger perfectly focuses upon the inner crises of anyone that has truly looked themselves in the mirror and assessed both the world around them and their place in it. Through a simplistic, character driven account of a family thwarted by their own crippling self-awareness, Salinger crafts a flawless tale of identity and family that takes up right where he left off with Holden Caulfield—where we learn not to judge those around us, but to understand and accept one another on their own terms in order to live and love.
I just never felt so fantastically rocky in my entire life.
This novel was graciously bequeathed to me at the exact moment it was needed most. With a ravenous Midwest winter providing the bleak setting to funerals and my own divorce, the existential crisis and subsequent breakdown of Franny Glass was the pure emotional catharsis that kept me positive and afloat across life’s tumultuous sea¹. Franny and Zooey is virtually Zen in novel format, and for reasons far surpassing the religious allusions that decorate the novel (as well as entice readers into other spiritually gratifying books such as The Upanishads). There is something eminently soothing about this Salinger tale of family, something that really struck me in the deep regions of my heart and soul, and prodded certain defining aspects of my childhood that I tend to keep from conversation. Salinger’s prose come across so natural and heartfelt as if he truly were Buddy himself writing the second half, and reads like a naturally talented author writing at the pinnacle of his craft. The use of italics, for example, a technique exercised right up to the borderlines of overuse, is one of the many tactics Salinger applies² to his literary canvas to conceive life out of a nearly plot-less, introspective narrative and issuing within it a warm glow to resonate deep within the reader, lifting their spirits and calming their minds. It feels like the point of conception for Wes Anderson’s entire career (and meant as the highest of compliments to both Anderson and Salinger), and much of the style and feel of the book touched many of the same literary emotions that stored DFW’s Infinite Jest forever in my heart.
Presented as two separate, yet eternally bound stories, Salinger toys with the way we craft our identity in our formative years. The first story, concerning a dinner between Franny and her egotistical and stuffy collegiate cliché of a boyfriend, Lane Coutell, presents Franny functioning as an independent individual in the world, a singular facet of humanity defined as Franny. There is no mention of her family or her past, only details pertaining directly to her as the individual at hand. However, the second story is not one of independent identity, but instead has each character represented as an individual in relation to each other—as a product of a family. Franny’s obsession with the book, The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way, which is initially presented—direct from the mouth of Franny in an attempt to portray herself as an independent identity discovering things on her own and forging beliefs untarnished by the influence of others—as a book she took from her college library, is revealed in the latter story to be a book held in high regard by the eldest Glass children and borrowed by Franny from their stagnant bedroom. We cannot escape our past, our family, our choices, or ourselves, and any identity we attempt to form can only become a crumbling façade without this depth of acceptance and awareness. We are only who we are in relation to those around us, and without accepting both ourselves, and the world around us, can we become fully actualized identities.
The Catcher in the Rye a book as essential to any high school literary education as vegetables to any balanced diet, gave us Holden Caulfield who put a microscope to society and exposed the bacteria of ‘phoniness’ that is inherent in everyone around him. Franny prescribes to this disenchanting reality as well, abandoning her laundry list of pleasures upon seeing them as merely a method of stoking her own ego. She views her every possible move as just another solution towards conformity and every action as attention seeking.
I'm not afraid to compete. It's just the opposite. Don't you see that? I'm afraid I will compete — that's what scares me. That's why I quit the Theatre Department. Just because I'm so horribly conditioned to accept everybody else's values, and just because I like applause and people to rave about me, doesn't make it right. I'm ashamed of it. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody. I'm sick of myself and everybody else that wants to make some kind of a splash.
Compare this expression existential angst to the depictions of her boyfriend. Lane's true nature is best examined in his juxtaposition to Franny, revealed through Salinger’s ominous narration to be one constantly seeking an expression or posture to best capture the exact image of himself that he would ideally envision the world to read from him.
Lane sat up a bit in his chair and adjusted his expression from that of all-round apprehension and discontent to that of a man whose date has merely gone to the john, leaving him, as dates do, with nothing to do in the meantime but smoke and look bored, perfectly attractively bored.
To Lane, Franny is just an extension of his costume of attractive social veneer, a girl attractive and intelligent enough to be seen with in order for him to be viewed in high regard by his contemporaries. It is the Lanes and all the ‘section men’, as Franny terms them, who are more concerned with the appearance of being a genius than actually being a genius.
I'm sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect.
Where Caulfield left us in a feeling of superiority, yet devastating darkness, for recognizing the fakers and phonies around us, Zooey Glass, full of unremitting charm, tosses a spiritual life raft and allows us to recognize the beauty in the world around us. ‘In the first place,’ he lovingly scolds his sister, Franny, ‘you’re way off when you start railing atthings and people instead of at yourself.’ We are all a part of this world, nobody is truly special and above worldly mistakes and foibles, and we are all eternally caught in a struggle of identity whether we know it or not. Like the best of David Foster Wallace, this is a story about those with the mental and emotional acuity to recognize or fear that their actions and beliefs conform to the phoniness of the world regardless of how hard they try to shake it; the Glass family is a family of practically card-carrying MENSA members with an intellect that is not only a transcendental gift but also a hellishly weighty burden. Life is a game we all must unwillingly participate in, at least to the extent that we remain alive and in the game, and we should not chastise the world and hold ourselves in too high of regard unless we really take a look at our own motives. He exposes Franny’s decision to follow the Pilgrim’s method of finding transcendence through relentless prayer to be just another expression of the ego she finds so distasteful in others, enacting a self-righteous holier-than-thou attitudes without actually understanding the mask she has chosen to wear. Drawing upon the lessons learned from his elder brothers, Buddy and Seymour, Zooey challenges Franny to look beyond what she considers the ego—’half the nastiness in the world is stirred up by people who aren’t using their true egos…the thing you think is his ego, isn’t his ego at all but some other, much dirtier, much less basic faculty’—and to recognize the true beauty of everyone around her. Inspired by the advice of his eldest brother, Seymour (whose tragic suicide is chronicled in a short story I’d proclaim as perfect, A Perfect Day for Bananafish from Salinger’s Nine Stories), that even though the audience can’t see them, to shine his shoes ‘for the Fat Lady’, Zooey proclaims, like a hip, 1950’s New York bodhisattva Are you listening to me?There isn’t anyone out there who isn’t Syemour’s Fat Lady…It’s Christ Himself.’ Somehow, as if by pure magic, Salinger manages to highlight spirituality without the reader feeling like he is preaching or backhanding them with Christianity (in fact, through the frequent references to many of the world’s religion that wonderfully adorn the novel, the message feels entirely universal despite any religious, or even non-religious, beliefs the reader brings to the table), but simply professes a triumphant message of universal love that is sure to infiltrate each and every heart. To fully exist, one must accept the world for what it is, love both the blessings and blemishes, and accept objects, ideas and people on those being's own terms, as a thing-in-itself, instead of an imposed belief in what we think they should be. We cannot infringe our ego upon the things beyond our grasp, but merely fully love them for them.
We are, all four of us, blood relatives, and we speak a kind of esoteric, family language, a sort of semantic geometry in which the shortest distance between any two points is a fullish circle.
Essentially, this is a novel about arguments. How else can we properly form an identity without our own internal arguments between our disparate ideas and ideals? Religious, societal, whatever, this is a book of great minds coming together to hash out their beliefs in an effort to dig up some sort of truth that you can pocket and carry with you into the harsh weathers of reality. The center piece of the book, the ever-logical and too-witty-for-his-own-good Zooey engaged in a shouting match with his mother, a woman with such wholesome and good-natured worldly wisdom that appears as simplicity to an untrained eye, is wholly unforgettable and made of the stuff that reminds you why you so love reading books. And what better way to craft a novel full of arguments that to focus it upon a family, the perfect stage for arguments that allow oneself to shed any social armor and nakedly swing their sword of beliefs and opinions? Upon entering into the second story of the novel, Franny and Zooey is more of less contained within the confines of the family circle, further highlighting Franny’s breakdown³ as the collapse of a socially reinforced personality mask to reduce her to her basic and pure elements as a the youngest member of the Glass family. Though Zooey has plans to meet with his television world contacts, he doesn’t leave the house until he can set things right; the family must be set right before the outside world can be accounted for. There seems to be a belief that the family is a functioning being that outweighs that of the individual, and reinforces the family vs. the outside world ideal that was idolized in the 1950’s television programs like Leave it to Beaver or even Ozzie and Harriet. Family values must hold strong against a world that will rio them apart with its frightening winds. Salinger, who was fully fascinated with his Glass family creation, having a file cabinet full of notes about the family and diving deep within their mechanics for much of his fiction, creates his ideal family values that must cope with worldly problems, such as Seymour’s war experience and fatal struggle with PTSD, Buddy and Zooey’s ongoing struggle with a entertainment world more entrenched in simple pleasures and ratings than actual intellectual merit, or even Franny’s crisis with the ‘white-shoe college boys’ inflicting their stylized genius on those around them. The Glass house is a house ‘full of ghosts’ and the family must accept themselves as a product of this gene pool, as a product of the teachings bestowed upon them by their own blood, as a functioning member in not only the family but the world at large, taking all this into a catalyst for their own identity. Interestingly enough, it would seem that Franny and Zooey is more a book about Buddy and Seymour and their legacy than the title characters themselves. It is through the youngest two Glass members that we understand the eldest two. This technique of creating a penumbra effect of understanding to actualize Buddy and Seymour in the minds and hearts of the reader is fully in keeping with the idea that we can only form our identity in relation to all those around us. Just as we must accept the world around us on its own terms, we must accept ourselves on our own and not based on how others will view us.
An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's.
I am reminded of a favorite quote of mine that comes from the cathartically cantankerous with of Charles Bukowski:
We're all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn't. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.
We cannot spend our time criticizing others, overanalyzing ever flaw and absurdity that presents itself in each face we encounter. Because what is gained from this that has any merit to our finite existence? We are all bumbling about trying to find our way in a world whose meaning must inherently escape us (and what point would it serve anyhow if we understood life and could just simply follow the dotted line towards a perfect life?). This is a novel of staggering importance and cathartic power that far surpasses even the frequently touted The Catcher in the Rye. Drawing a Zen-like potency from the positive messages found in many of the world’s religion and spiritually influential members, Salinger teaches us a valuable lesson about acceptance and identity while simultaneously preforming the luminous task of taking a near static story and plunging the reader so deep into the souls of its characters to light the literary sky with pure vitality and emotional well-being that they feel as if it were they that suffered both the existential collapse and recovery upon the Glass’ living room couch. Allow Franny to have your breakdown for you, and for Zooey to resurrect you from the calamity. Allow Salinger to charm you with his perfectly crafted sentences and sage-like wisdom. Read Franny and Zooey and love the life you live and the world around you. 5/5
¹ This is not, however, the ideal book to read when quitting smoking. Rest assured, I persevered. But really, practically one cigarette or cigar is lit per page. ‘The cigars are ballast, sweetheart. Sheer ballast. If he didn’t have a cigar to hold on to, his feet would leave the ground.’
² Another subtle, yet incredible narrative flourish is Zooey's constant use of 'buddy' as a term of endearment to his sister. This was a nod to Jay Gatsby frequently calling others 'old sport' in The Great Gatsby.
³ In the margins of my book, I tussled with the idea that Franny’s behavior would be clinically explained as a manic episode, but embraced by a literary bent as an existential conundrum. This further led to an idea that Lane, who viewed Franny’s collapse from a cold, callus position of one more concerned about having to miss the football game and having to excuse his girlfriends erratic behavior, as choosing to see the world from a scientific perspective that he thought should be devoid of emotional rationalization to avoid looking foolish, whereas Franny fully embraces emotion as a window into the soul and chooses a spiritual outlook to organize the hustle and bustle of the world in her mind.
The cards are stacked (quite properly, I imagine) against all professional aesthetes, and no doubt we all deserve the dark, wordy, academic deaths we all sooner or later die.(less)
‘The door through which you were shoved out into the light was self-loathing and terror.’
Careening through time and space, having pushed onto the stage...more‘The door through which you were shoved out into the light was self-loathing and terror.’
Careening through time and space, having pushed onto the stage of life without any of our own consent, we find ourselves hungering for meaning, hungering for an Absolute. Through the most difficult of times we discover the food for our souls that can best nourish us, yet discover that our bodies, our flesh, is set on an irreversible path towards rot and ruin. Frank Bidart’s confessional collection, ‘Metaphysical Dog’, a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award, exquisitely explores this hunger for an Absolute, chronicling his life’s pursuit towards understanding while unafraid to document both his failures and fears as he nears his own death. This is a highly psychological collection that—hrough Bidart’s expansively expressive style that is bravely confessional of his own fears of death, the death of his parents, and his own coming out—pushes the reader into the dark recesses of their own mind, towards ‘the eerie acceptance of finitue’, yet always reminding us that despite our destined ruin, we are a creative body ‘through which you seize the world,’ and discover the infinite through the ideas and emotions that pour from the caverns of our heart with a searing light.
As You Crave Soul but find flesh till flesh
almost seems sufficient
when the as-yet-unwritten poem within you
all you can offer it are words. Words are flesh. Words
craving to become idea, idea dreaming it has found, this time, a body
obdurate as stone.
To carve the body of the world and out of flesh make flesh
obdurate as stone.
Looking down into the casket-crib of your love, embittered by soul you crave to become stone.
You mourn not what is not, but what never could have been.
What could not ever find a body
Because what you wanted, he wanted but did not want.
Ordinary divided unsimple heart.
What you dream is that, by eating the flesh of words, what you make
makes mind and body
one. When, after a reading, you are asked to describe your aesthetics,
you reply, An aesthetics of embodiment
Bidart has a gift for casually caressing the dark fears within our mortal hearts, the fears of dying without ever becoming whole, the fears of a future in which we cannot participate in body, and the horror of watching our flesh wither and die. His style is reflective of life itself, each line spaced out—much like Wittgenstein’s most noted work—spending pages on a poem to allow each moment to be appreciated both in it’s singular beauty, but as a piece of the full evolution of the poem, much like how our individual memories are held dear as singular moments but it is the collective beauty of them all that form a life. Bidart uses full range of italics, all capital letters, bullet points, and other poetic punctuation to adorn his poetry. There is even a section of notes to help elucidate his poetry and give full credit to the many allusions found within. I was initially taken aback by this notes section, but upon further reflection it seems to be a friendly invite into his works and allows for several asides where he can frame the poems in personal or spiritual context that allows for greater enjoyment without feeling like he is holding the readers hand or annoyingly pointing out his own genius.
The true language of ecstasy Is the forbidden’
‘At seventy-two, the future is what I mourn,’ writes an aging Bidart in ‘The Enterprise is Abandoned’, the title of which being one of the many lines that is repeated like a mantra throughout this collection. Metaphysical Dog is at its best when mulling over our inevitable demise because by reminding us that we must be ground out of existence like the butt of a cigarette, we see how luminescent and glorious our expiring lives truly are and must mourn a future where we cannot exist (at least not in body, but, as Bidart hints, our words and actions remembered in those closest to us are a glimmer of immortality).’Because earth’s inmates travel in flesh,’ Bidart begins his poem ‘Elegy for Earth’, ‘and hide from flesh/and adore flesh/you hunger for flesh that does not die.’ We seek an Absolute, something we can never be, to eternalize our mortal flesh. ‘You’re deathbound,’ he reminds us, we have an expiration date in ‘this journey through flesh/not just in flesh or with flesh/but through it.’ Through flesh, through the mortal and finite and towards a finite. It is such an illustrious and gratifying idea, and it is ideas that travel through space forever, continuing on long after we are dust and memory along with the other decayed flesh that we lusted and loved as we speeded along towards the closed point of our timeline.
’Lie to yourself about this and you will forever lie about everything. Everybody already knows everything
so you can lie to them. That’s what they want.
But lie to yourself, what you will
lose is yourself. Then you Turn into them.
Bidart ties together the past and present to illuminate a lifetime spent through flesh, using both his personal history as well as film to exemplify his ideas. It is the confessional poetry that really shines in the collection, which he bravely puts forth in poems such as ‘Queer’ which documents his coming out in a unkind world where even his parents would look down upon him. ‘If I had managed to come out to my/mother, she would have blamed not/me, but herself.’ There are passionate memories of young love:
When I met him, I knew I had
Weaned myself from God, not hunger for the absolute. O unquenched
mouth, tounging what is and must remain inapprehensible –
saying You are not finite. You are not finite
This passage really rocks my heart with it’s emotional might; begging and pleading with a god or existence to allow such a moment not be a mere fleeting blip of passing power but an eternal line carving it’s valor as a glowing arc across all of existence and eternity, despite knowing that one may be damned for it. This sort of potency is what words were made for.
Film plays an important role in this collection as well, as Bidart reflects on actors and actresses now gone from both his earlier days and from the modern era. Even Heath Ledger gets a nod, ‘his glee that whatever long ago mutilated his/mouth, he has mastered to mutilate/you’, summing up the poem with a quote from the actor himself (presented here without the poetic spacing and extra line spacing just to keep this review from stretching towards the stratosphere): ‘Once I have the voice/that’s/the line/and at/the end/of the line/is a hook/and attached/to that/ is the soul.’ Bidart uses the Hollywood themes for a duel purpose, exposed in one of the final poems ‘On This Earth Where No Secure Foothold Is’ (another often repeated line. The repetition of lines and words give a powerful, unifying force to this collection that would defy the already butchering effect of a ‘Selected Works’ and amplifies the joy that comes from reading this book in one sitting), where he shows life as having to sell yourself to others, like headshots to Hollywood, and ties the immensity of his work together in one concise poem about identity in a world fueled by consumerism (included at the end of this review).
‘The subject of this poem is how much the spaces that you now move in cost…. They cost your life’
In order to grasp beauty, we must live our a mortal life, a life that will be taken away and, as it is ripped from beneath us, shown in all it’s glory. It is poetry that most grasps my heart than any other art form, poetry that moves me more than anything, poetry that reminds me that any sorrow, strife or solitude I suffer is a worthwhile sacrifice for the beauty of words and escaping existence. Frank Bidart has compiled a wonderful collection here, one that didn’t really strike me at first, yet I was unable to put down for days. Each rereading exposed a new perfect sentence, and made me realize his thoughts and musings had been lurking around my brain, making me question my own life and my own mortality even while the book was tightly shut at home. Brave and forthright in his confessional poetry about his life and loves, and cutting as well as wise in his statements of death and our hunger for an Absolute, Bidart delivers an outstanding array of poems that are sure to stick deep in the heart. While they may be bleak at first glace, there is an uplifting power to them that pulls across all the ages of humanity to show us that though we are finite, our ideas can be infinite. 3.75/5
On This Earth Where No Secure Foothold Is Wanting to be a movie star like Dean Stockwell or Gigi Perreau, answering an ad at ten or eleven you made your mother drive you to Hollywood and had expensive Hollywood pictures taken. • Hollywood wasn’t buying. • Everyone is buying but not everyone wants to buy you • You See the kids watching, brooding. • Religion, politics, love, work, sex—each enthrallment, each enthusiasm presenting itself as pleasure or necessity, is recruitment. • Each kid is at the edge of a sea. • At each kid’s feet multitudinous voices say I will buy you if you buy me. • Who do you want to be bought by? • The child learns this is the question almost immediately. • Mother? • Father? • Both mother and father tried to enlist you but soon you learned That you couldn’t enlist on both at the same time. • They lied that you could but they were at war and soon you learned you couldn’t. • How glamorous they were! • As they aged they mourned that to buyers they had become invisible. • Both of them in the end saw beneath then only abyss. • You are at the edge of a sea. • You want to buy buy you know not everyone wants to buy you. • Each enthrallment is recruitment. • Your body will be added to the bodies that piled-up make the structures of the world. • Your body will be erased, swallowed. • Who do you want to be swallowed by? • It’s almost the same question as To be or not to be. • Figuring out who they want to be bought by is what all the kids with brooding looks on their face are brooding about. • Your weapon is your mind.(less)
‘Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apples.’
When you stop and listen, life is a brilliant cacophony of love and pain, where we are all str...more‘Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apples.’
When you stop and listen, life is a brilliant cacophony of love and pain, where we are all struggling to shed the shackles of loneliness and stand full and actualized in a society that never bothers to truly look into our hearts. Sherwood Anderson’s gorgeous Winesburg, Ohio, which beautifully blurs the line between a collection of short stories and a novel, is a testament to the loneliness in our hearts, and delivers a pessimistic, yet ultimately uplifting, account of the ways in which we can be eternally trapped in internal strife by none other than our own hands. ‘Many people must live and die alone, even in Winesburg,’ Anderson writes, setting his tales within the comfortable boundaries of an idyllic small town—the type of quiet, peaceful place where everyone knows one another that are often glorified in early 20th century American literature—yet diving deep within the populations hearts to examine the depths of solitude and sorrow that exist in even the most idealized and comfortable of surroundings. This book came to me at what seemed like the exact time in which I could appreciate it to the fullest, a time when presenting the golden core of existance through montages of melancholy and sorrow would be the perfect way to take hold of my heart and lift me free of my own burdens and into literary bliss. Despite the increasing ability to interact on a global scale during which the book is set, the citizens of Winesburg find themselves trapped in a cage of internal anguish and alienation of their own design, and seek out those with the true creative capabilities to express the emotions they cannot manage to make plain, and Anderson delivers their stories of struggle and strife through his unflinching, connected short stories that culminate towards a dazzling depiction of the human condition.
There is something very modern about this slim novel published back in 1919, yet it retains that wonderfully nostalgic feeling that come alive in me when I read the works of authors such as Steinbeck and Faulkner, a feeling as peaceful as the a warm summers day from your childhood that makes you believe your own coming-of-age tales are as epic as the words printed upon the pages of novels that stand as monuments in the history of literature. For some reason, stories set in small towns during the early 1900s really make my heart sing out to the heavens, and with Anderson conducting the orchestra, it sings out in mighty rapture. Yet, considering the introductory story, ‘The Book of the Grotesque’, Anderson preforms a magic act of near metafiction that makes his style as poignant today as when it was first written by hinting that the book to come is merely the unpublished scribblings of an aging who only wishes to watch the sunlight brighten the trees outside his bedroom window. Anderson immediately reveals his hand, yet this does not diminish the potency in his every move but simply allows the reader to better appreciate each glorious depiction of sorrowful existence.
[I]n the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful…And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them. It was the truths that made the people grotesques….the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.
The first story is the Genesis of the novel to come, the creation story behind the people who stumble about in futility as they attempt to connect with one another and make themselves understood, so trapped within their image of the ‘truth’ that they cannot create outside its boundaries.
Speaking of futility, I do not posses the adequate gifts of analytical prose to sum up Anderson’s mighty message as this succinctly cutting passage from Ernest Boyd’s incredible introduction to my 1947 Modern Library Edition:
It is essentially a literature of revolt against the great illusion of American civilization, the illusion of optimism, with all its childish evasion of harsh facts, its puerile cheerfulness, whose inevitable culmination is the school of “glad” books, which have reduced American literature to the lowest terms of sentimentality.
Anderson exposes life in its raw form, without the opportunity to comb its hair or apply makeup, and by avoiding the convenience of administering external interference as justification for a characters shortcomings, implies that many of our defects and dilemmas are wrought by our own hands. Failure to adequately express ourselves through socially acceptable conventions is the foible that forces us into emotional isolation and existential angst, most openly diagrammed in the character of Wing Biddlebaum who’s hands and their flamboyant flailing or easy rest upon the shoulders of young boys cause him to be run out of town and spend his twilight years wandering the streets of Winesburg beset by bitter solitude ¹. There is the epic, biblical in nature as well as biblically influenced², tale of Jesse Bently attempting to assert his godliness only to be met with misunderstanding and horror by his grandchild (with the gloriously executed, tragic subplot of his daughters tearful life as her attempts to proclaim love result in an unsatisfactory, face-saving marriage of convenience); Alice Williams nude flight through the town in an effort to free herself from the promise to wait for a man that will never return to her—a promise that robs her of her golden years as she withers in loneliness—; Seth Richmonds efforts to win Helen White’s heart by proclaiming he is leaving town in hopes it will make her realize how his absence will inflict misery upon her, but then having to leave before the opportunity of love can blossom; and a whole slew of others damned by their own attempts to carve their mark into the history of Winesburg.
The futility of the townsfolk to make their hearts heard is what gives George Willard, a teenage journalist at the local newspaper—the Eagle, and seemingly the pride-and-joy of Winesburg³, a central role within the book. George figures in a majority of the stories and, aside from the town, serves as the thread connecting each story. George is a figure of creation, a figure who can take a life and immortalize it within the words printed in the newspaper, so each member of the town is drawn to him during their lowest hour, only able to provide a clear depiction of their soul and struggles to him. Kate Swift, his former teacher (whose nude form inspires a holy revelation within the local preacher), recognizes this and her lust for him is a reflection of her desires to make whole the fractured souls that haunt society and she is drawn to him by his literary potential to do so. She tells George that in order to become a writer he will
have to know life…It would be better to give up the notion of writing until you are better prepared. Now it’s the time for living. I don’t want to frighten you, but I would like to make you understand the import of what you think of attempting. You must not become a mere peddler of words. The thing to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say.
Anderson’s novel is an exquisite expression of this sentiment, and it is only through their late-night/drunken/bitter/etc. confessions to, or interactions with, George that we can see through the veils of grotesqueries to flowering souls within.
Winesburg had disappeared and his life there had become but a background on which to paint the dreams of his manhood.
Through the book’s frequent glimpses at George’s maturation, a sort of bildungsroman is erected. Carefully placed not in the forefront of the novel, as a book bent on sentimentality would have it, but subtly omnipresent and lurking in the background, Anderson is able to employ all the emotionally stimulating and memorable aspects assigned to the coming-of-age tale without letting its warm glow overpower the real message at hand. In effect, this becomes a literary coming-of-age for the reader with Winesburg as the canvas upon which the realization of the human condition is splattered. Through George we learn what hides in the human heart, and through George we grow to empathize with our fellow man. Like many others, George inevitably leaves Winesburg to pursue his dreams, and hopefully, unlike the rest, he will achieve them. The characters try in many ways to escape the mundane and stagnant town, often seeing Helen White as the way out. Even George seeks after her, winning her fancy under the pretext of understanding love so he can write about it in a novel. To the males of Winesburg, Helen and and her wealthy family represent a way out, a higher goal of sophistication and sensuality. However, most fail to win her hand, much like those who leave Winesburg fail to achieve their glory and riches. Perhaps, despite the meaningfulness of our unique coming-of-age moments, we fail to bring our lessons learned into adulthood and falter at the alter of life. We must properly express ourselves and let our creative powers grow to the heavens, not keep them locked up as does Enoch Robinson, slowly slipping into madness within the confines of his New York apartment speaking with the idealized imaginary friends that replace his friends of flesh-and-blood, foibles and blunders. Winesburg, Ohio is a war-cry for literature, rising bloodied and sullied from the trenched, unashamed to be seen in such a dark and animalistic state, to plunge it’s bayonet through the ribcage of fictions that would glorify humanity while sweeping any inconvenient ugliness under the rug.
Anderson sets his book near the turn of the century, at a time when human interaction was expanding beyond the borders of a small town to a national, and even globalized state. Trains and telegraph wires opened the gates of transportation and communication, bringing everyone closer together regardless of physical distance. Ironically, during this booming era of national headline news, we witness characters feeling evermore isolated and alienated. This message is just as darkly poignant in todays world with the ever-booming social media that allows us to interact instantly and make our every action known to people across the globe, yet many are still beleaguered with a sense of loneliness. Regardless of the ease of communication, it is still just as difficult to make ourselves properly understood, and even sentences typed onto a blog with the warmest of intentions can be misconstrued, ignored, or taken out of context. Can we truly express who we are to anyone? You can only understand me as your perspective of me, as I in turn can only understand myself through my perspective of myself, and express myself in a manner in which I think best reflects me, but is any of this, even the culmination of all these perspectives, the true ‘me’? Can we really know each other, and can we really know ourselves?
Winesburg, Ohio is easily one of my favorite books. This book makes you want to pay attention to all those around you, get to know them, recognize why they are the way they are, all just so you can show them the kindness and love they need. Like the Knights of Columbus and their pocket sized New Testaments at my beloved alma mater, I want to stand outside the doors of every major university and pass out copies of this book (did this happen at anyone else’s school? I still have a few New Testaments thumping around in the trunk of my car). Anderson’s prose, which is reminiscent of the greatest descriptive paragraphs found within a Steinbeck novel (of whom he was an influence upon, as well as Faulkner, Hemmingway, and even Donald Ray Pollock’s Knockemstiff style was inspired by this book), perfectly captures both the beauty and the blemishes of life and paints an unforgettable portrait of the city’s downtown and pastoral scenes. The book is a marvelous montage of reality, becoming greater than the sum of its parts and striking a chord deep within the readers heart that rings out on a universal level. Upon completion, it is as if you have lived a lifetime within Winesburg, and each passing citizen is an old friend. Luckily, there is room within Anderson’s Winesburg for us all. 5/5
Dare to be strong and courageous. That is the road. Venture anything. Be brave enough to dare to be loved. Be something more than man or woman.
¹ The fact that Wing is unaware of the circumstances that lead to his being beaten by the drunken barkeep and chased out of town—the unhinged mouth of a youth with unfounded stories of being molested by his teacher—makes the story all that much more tragic, especially as he is embarrassed and horrified by his expressive hands in a nearly Pavlovian sense. The sexual implications of this story, as well as the general sexuality that prevails throughout Winesburg, Ohio is just another aspect that lends to the very modern feel to this classic.
² There is a subtle probing at religious morality throughout the novel, that often borders on poking fun at those with strong religious conviction. Though not in the Flannery O’Connor method of exposing those with publicly professed holiness as presenting their beliefs as a façade to hide their rotten core, yet still somehow within the same vein, Anderson presents holiness as yet another truth that if held onto as a singular lifeline casts the individual into the realm of grotesquery. ‘The world is on fire’, Joe Wellington tells George Willard, insisting upon that as a valuable article to include in an upcoming edition of the Eagle, ‘s sidewalk here and this feed store, the trees down the street there—they’re all on fire. They’re burning up. Decay you see is always going on. It doesn’t stop.’ Anderson’s novel is about decay within the soul, and even holiness is just another decaying agent where the only antidote is achieved by looking into one another’s hearts and responding with empathy and love.
³ George Willard’s family owns a boarding house in the center of town where many of the characters either live or frequent. This is similar to Anderson’s own upbringing living in a boarding house in Clyde, Ohio (Anderson’s fictional Winesburg is heavily influenced by his boyhood home of Clyde, Ohio, resembling many of the locals as well as the geographic nature and arrangement and is in no way representative of the actual city of Winesburg, Ohio). George’s residence there gives him the opportunity to view the comings and goings of many townsfolk and allows them easy access to vomit up their life stories into George’s ears.
Goodreads has always been my happy place, my little haven from life. I joined it when working in a factory 70hrs a week because I missed writing essay...moreGoodreads has always been my happy place, my little haven from life. I joined it when working in a factory 70hrs a week because I missed writing essays for school, and without the website and the great friends I met here, I would have lost my damn mind working brain-numbing jobs for endless hours. Plus it's nice to get something other than laughed at for reading books like Gravity's Rainbow on your smoke break (I got yelled at and threatened a pay cut for reading Steinbeck at work once. Because it was spreading 'liberal propaganda' and I was 'lucky I wasn't escorted out in cuffs'. That's how they roll in Grand Rapids, Michigan.)
Then Amazon ruined everything and my happy place became a war zone. I have recently been unable to be on as much as I would like, and coming back after a bit of a hiatus to discover Goodreads fraught with censorship and anger was like in that trippy 70's Puff the Magic Dragon cartoon where Puff returns to find Honalee decimated.
Or perhaps it was like some terrifying cold war film. EIther way, Goodreads was in sad state. Then the goodreaders stood up, stood strong, stood together, and stood toe to toe with Amazon to make sure they would not be silenced, would not be driven out into the night to disappear into the darkness like the wife in McCarthy's The Road. It is an on-going battle, but one that shows that human beings are strong, powerful, and that good can live on.
Steinbeck would be so proud. Steinbeck would write books about Manny Rayner.
It makes me proud to be friends with all of you, thank you for defending my happy place.
However, it still infuriates me enough to write this review that there are those that wish to censor the good folks at goodreads. http://www.stopthegrbullies.com/, for example, wishes to silence goodreaders, and spews hate and their own ironic style of bullying at those who would stand against censorship. They even declined to post/respond to my lengthy email to them about how ironic their opinions and actions are. But oh well, they suck. It just frustrates me to see mediocrity supported by this censorship, that is it more important to defend unknown authors than to allow people to voice an opinion. Amazon would rather see you buy books then write or think about them. These authors aren't the next James Joyce, and many of these authors have treated goodreaders poorly enough that it is hard to feel bad for them. This is stiff-arming an opinion, and I understand there are two sides to every story, but really, censorship is never the answer. Goodreads is, and always can be, a wonderful place if we just treat each other like decent human beings and remember to love with an open mind, not hate with a delete button.
At a time when I've been feeling pretty ugly about the world and humanity, my goodreads friends have been a beacon of hope that reminds me that this world really is a great place and one worth fighting for. Thanks everyone.(less)
‘A dog trying to write a poem on why he barks, That’s me, dear reader!’
‘Comedy and tragedy are never far from one another,’ Charles Simic, former US Po...more‘A dog trying to write a poem on why he barks, That’s me, dear reader!’
‘Comedy and tragedy are never far from one another,’ Charles Simic, former US Poet Laureate (2007-2008), says in a recent interview with Granta magazine, wonderfully highlighting the thin balance of bottom-of-a-bottle darkness and glorious brightness that spread forth from each of his finely tuned poems. Born in Belgrade in 1938, Simic carried with him his memories of war-torn Europe when he immigrated to the United States at the age of sixteen, giving him a cutting impression of history that brilliantly glows through his works. Through Simic, we gain a unique view of the world, and one that I am always eager to return to and nestle within. There is something utterly fantastic about his style, which both mocks and moralizes, inspires and silences, but always impresses. Simic weaves through playful stanzas of poetic imagery and startling surrealism to deliver upon the reader the full weight of history and eternity, as well as an uplifting joy as he makes even the most ordinary observations into an extraordinary statement on existence.
The obvious is difficult To prove. Many prefer The hidden. I did, too.
Charles Simic has quickly risen in the ranks of my favorite poets during this past summer. And it is no surprise with poems such as this:
Club Midnight Are you the sole owner of a seedy nightclub? Are you its sole customer, sole bartender, Sole waiter prowling around the empty tables? Do you put on wee-hour girlie shows With dead stars of black-and-white films? Is your office upstairs over the neon lights, Or down deep in the dank rat cellar? Are bearded Russian thinkers your silent partners? Do you have a doorman by the name of Dostoyevsky? Is Fu Manchu coming tonight? Is Miss Emily Dickinson? Do you happen to have an immortal soul? Do you have a sneaky suspicion that you have none? Is that why you throw a white pair of dice, In the dark, long after the joint closes?
Poems such as this are the reason I read poetry, are the immensely fulfilling reward for navigating a form of art often neglected and overlooked. Simic has an extraordinary ability to cut right through the heart and touch the soul directly with a style that takes the everyday and illuminates it in surrealistic prose that creates a wonderland out of the most banal of landscapes. His poems are like the fringes of a dream, the ones that reside in your mind all day despite being unable to fully recall them, yet echo like a warning or guidance as you go about your business. It is the sort of imagery that stick with you, holding your most dear emotions hostage to beg you to look deeper.
Evening Walk You give the appearance of listening To my thoughts, O trees, Bent over the road I am walking On a late summer evening When every one of you is a steep staircase The night is slowly descending. The high leaves like my mother's lips Forever trembling, unable to decide, For there's a bit of wind, And it's like hearing voices, Or a mouth full of muffled laughter, A huge dark mouth we can all fit in Suddenly covered by a hand. Everything quiet. Light Of some other evening strolling ahead, Long-ago evening of silk dresses, Bare feet, hair unpinned and falling. Happy heart, what heavy steps you take As you follow after them in the shadows. The sky at the road's end cloudless and blue. The night birds like children Who won't come to dinner. Lost children in the darkening woods.
I cannot ever escape those final lines.
In my book of pictures A battle raged: lances with swords Made a kind of wintry forest With my heart spiked and bleeding in its branches
The burdens of history, the violence and bloodshed we impose upon our fellow man, and the sorrows we feel because of them, weigh heavy in Simic’s poetry. There are many poems about the horrors seen as a young boy during World War II, many reflections on executed men and the body count across time gleaned through history books, and an ever-present reminder that we are temporary in the timeline of eternity.
I accuse History of gluttony; Happiness of anorexia! O History, cruel and mystical, You ate Russia as if it were A pot of white beans cooked with Sausage, smoked ribs and ham hocks!
Simic has a fascinating way of tying food into his works, particularly in the way he juxtaposes it not only with war, but primarily with sex. In Simic’s poetry, food is as much of a satisfaction as sex, being someone coming from the poverty and hardships of a country afire with war, and simply because it is a simple human necessity and satisfaction. It is a symbol of being alive and taking in energy, instead of having it burned up and snuffed out as history eats us. ‘ If I make everything at the same time a joke and a serious matter,’ he writes, ‘it's because I honor the eternal conflict between life and art, the absolute and the relative, the brain and the belly.’ He makes the most ordinary objects extraordinary, he gives simple acts like eating sexual power, and creates gods out of mere mortals. Sex plays a large part of his works as well, often seen as a temporary reprieve from the darkness of the world.
Unmade Beds They like shady rooms, Peeling wallpaper, Cracks on the ceiling, Flies on the pillow.
If you are tempted to lie down, Don’t be surprised, You won’t mind the dirty sheets, The rasp of rusty springs As you make yourself comfy. The room is a darkened movie theater Where a grainy, Black-and-white film is being shown.
A blur of disrobed bodies In the moment of sweet indolence That follows lovemaking, When the meanest of hearts Comes to believe Happiness can last forever.
During sex, be it love or, as I suspect in this poem, lust (with an impression that this is an affair), all the pain, darkness and impurities of the world are washed away in the light of passion, and even those on a grimy trip of an affair from their spouses feel bathed in a light of goodness and serenity. Simic has an affinity for poems about dark rooms and grainy films, and there are a few poems of hotels and dirty mirrors that sometime remind me of Borges.
Mirrors at 4am You must come to them sideways In rooms webbed in shadow, Sneak a view of their emptiness Without them catching A glimpse of you in return.
The secret is, Even the empty bed is a burden to them, A pretense. They are more themselves keeping The company of a blank wall, The company of time and eternity
Which, begging your pardon, Cast no image As they admire themselves in the mirror, While you stand to the side Pulling a hanky out To wipe your brow surreptitiously.
While this is a wonderful collection to shake hands and introduce yourself to the great Simic, it is lacking by not including any of his prose poems from his Pulitzer Prize winning The World Doesn't End. Perhaps, for those interested in a ‘best of’, his The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected Late and New Poems or New and Selected Poems: 1962-2012 would be a better, fuller introduction. However, not a single poem in these 60 poems is a let-down. His poetry creeps slowly into your soul, and while it wasn’t until revisiting this collection three or four times before he really captured my heart, by the time I realized how fantastic he was his poems had already taken eternal roots in me and now I cannot imagine being without them. Returning to Simic’s poems is like entering the home of a beloved friend, knowing an assortment of friends will be awaiting you in the basement as you sink into a familiar couch in the comforting company of laughter and kinship. These past few months have been dark days in my own personal life, and the comfort of Simic has been a great help; whenever something goes wrong, I tend to find myself reading these poems under the glow of the stars as cigarette smoke dances towards the moon. If you are to read only one poet this entire year, make it Charles Simic. 4.5/5
Perhaps his poetic genius is because Simic (above) is secretly Doctor Strangelove…
The White Room The obvious is difficult To prove. Many prefer The hidden. I did, too. I listened to the trees.
They had a secret Which they were about to Make known to me-- And then didn't.
Summer came. Each tree On my street had its own Scheherazade. My nights Were a part of their wild
Storytelling. We were Entering dark houses, Always more dark houses, Hushed and abandoned.
There was someone with eyes closed On the upper floors. The fear of it, and the wonder, Kept me sleepless.
The truth is bald and cold, Said the woman Who always wore white. She didn't leave her room.
The sun pointed to one or two Things that had survived The long night intact. The simplest things,
Difficult in their obviousness. They made no noise. It was the kind of day People described as "perfect."
Gods disguising themselves As black hairpins, a hand-mirror, A comb with a tooth missing? No! That wasn't it.
Just things as they are, Unblinking, lying mute In that bright light-- And the trees waiting for the night.
Grey Headed Schoolchildren Old men have bad dreams, So they sleep little. They walk on bare feet Without turning on the lights, Or they stand leaning On gloomy furniture Listening to their hearts beat.
The one window across the room Is black like a blackboard. Every old man is alone In this classroom, squinting At that fine chalk line That divides being-here From being-here-no-more.
No matter. It was a glass of water They were going to get, But not just yet. They listen for mice in the walls, A car passing on the street, Their dead fathers shuffling past them On their way to the kitchen.
I’m always on the lookout for a novella that can pack an enormous emotional and intellectual sting into a tiny package...more‘what ties two people together?’
I’m always on the lookout for a novella that can pack an enormous emotional and intellectual sting into a tiny package of few pages. Jon Fosse’s Aliss at the Fire is certainly a rewarding book of this sort, and the reader is left in awe at the enormous landscape of thought and emotive power that stands before them as Fosse reaches his surreal, efficacious conclusion. While the ‘reality’ of the book consists only of Signe, an elderly widow, lying on a bench in 2002 after looking out over the fjord that swallowed her husband, Asle, back in 1979, the brilliant metaphysical qualities of this novella open a kaleidoscopic world dancing before Signe’s eyes that bring past and present together, ironing out the wrinkles of time, to allow the dead and the living to comingle in order to grant Signe, and the reader, a painfully insightful look into Asle’s grim family legacy. Told in a long, swirling sentence full of a repetitive cadence that gives language the feel of waves crashing upon the shore, Fosse crafts a microscopic meditation of family and loss that explodes with a prodigious impact through the dazzling, yet haunting mental images that are sure to enchant the mind’s eye.
Jon Fosse is a highly regarded novelist and dramatist in his home country, so much so that he was awarded a lifetime stipend from the Norwegian government to continue his literary career. As someone whose ‘rockstar dream’ is to be a college professor that writes novels ¹, that seems to be about as cool as it possibly gets. There is such a wonderfully haunting visual nature to Aliss that hints at his talents as a playwright; Fosse perfectly constructs his scenes with deft attention to spatial and surreal visual details that spring such a flawless mental image that I recall the book in retrospect more as something I’ve viewed than read. Brevity is Fosse’s true talent as he dives right to the core of human suffering and resurfaces in only 107pgs with a fist-full of truths that are sure to weigh heavy on the readers mind for days and weeks to come, and the book seems ripe for a one-act stage play. The dialogue, though sparse, is crisp and witty, and rather humorous for a novella of such heavy themes, and feels perfect to be heard echoing from a stage. It is no surprise that he is often compared to Henrik Ibsen, and, as I am yet unaquianted with Ibsen (I use Hamsun’s disdain for Ibsen as my scapegoat for this blatent reading inadequacy), the surreal and hallucinatory nature of Aliss conjure up memories of Sartre’s one-act plays we studied during my undergrad days¹. What a haunting play it would be, giving physical form to the hypnotic words upon the page much like Asle’s family members back through generations given form in the modern day to relive out their past, aquatic tragedies while a young Signe stares out the window awaiting a husband who will never return and an aging Signe lies upon a bench in grief and horror at the waking nightmares that assail her each night.
whether he notices it and thinks about it or not the walls are there, and it is as if silent voices are speaking from them, as if a big tongue is there in the walls and this tongue is saying something that can never be said with words, he knows it, he thinks, and what it’s saying is something behind the words that are usually said, something in the wall’s tongue…
Signe lives in a house formerly occupied by her late husbands generations stretching back deep into time, and her grief has unlocked their tragedies, unstuck them from time. Fosse expertly pulls the reader through her consciousness as she relives the final moments with her husband, then allows the dead to dance about the fjord and house as the reader and Signe witness a family history forever linked to the fjord—a source of life, as it is full of fish to feed a family and provide a modest living as a fisherman, and death. Aliss, the great-great-grandmother of Signe’s Asle, must rescue her infant son from the icy waters so he may live to foster an Asle that will drown on his seventh birthday in the same waters that Signe’s Asle will perish in years later. Fosse’s fiction is reminiscent of the American Southern Gothic where the past is forever lurking in the peripheries to cast its mighty hand upon the fates of the present. It is actions, the unspoken, that speak the loudest, that echo eternally in the rotting wood of Signe’s home, speaking volumes of torment and grief with each creak brought on by the icy northern winds that toss boats upon the waves.
The repetition of events and ideas, two souls snuffed out beneath the frigid waters, or Aliss’ fire (rife with pagan imagery) recalled by the mid-summer festivities when Signe allowed two youthful boys to burn the late Asle’s boat washed up and neglected upon the shore, crash repeatedly on the shore of the readers mind, demanding a connection to ascribe meaning in the void of existence. As if the remembrance of these untimely deaths could validate their ever being here, to resurrect their memory in an eternal flame in the darkness of eternity.
but it’s big, the fire, and pretty, the yellow and red flames in the darkness, in this cold, and in the light from the fire he sees the waves of the fjord beat like always against the stones of the shore…
As with most Norwegian literature, nature is a primary character, lurking in the shadows as the reader trains their eyes upon the flesh-and-blood characters, but holding the true power and control over their lives and stories. Aliss is kept dismal and dreary with constant imagery of cold and dark. It is interesting that Asle vanishes into the darkness while wearing a black sweater knit by Signe herself.
he is standing and looking out into the darkness, with his long black hair, and in his black seater, the sweater she knit herself and that he almost always wears when it’s cold, he is standing there, she thinks, and he is almost at one with the darkness outside, she thinks, yes he is so at one with the darkness that when she opened the door and looked in she didn’t notice at first that he was standing there…
Perhaps part of Signe’s torment is a belief that she herself cast her husband into the darkness, cloaked him with it not only physically with the sweater, but through the distance between them. It is hinted that Asle returns to his doomed vessel in order to avoid Signe’s form standing waiting at the window. It is the absence of a woman’s immediate care that causes each tragedy: Aliss is tending to the roasting sheep’s head when her son runs into the water, young Asle drowns when his mother is not watching, and Signe’s Asle drowns when he leaves to, as is hinted, avoid her. Everything moves in waves and cycles.
Fosse wields language much in the same way as his cycle of motifs. He is fond of repetition, cycling through several ideas multiple times before moving forward, with each repeated phrase coming crashing back like another wave. It would be interesting to hear this read out-loud, especially in it’s original language as I wouldn’t be able to understand it, but would hear the repetition rolling back in and out. It is almost like a miniature chorus or a repeated phrase of music, over and over, harmonizing with what is present and what is to come yet always pulling us back to what has been. The repetition can be, however, rather grating on the reader and was, for me at least, initially repelling. It is as if forward progress is stifled at times, or like trying to drive fast in too low a gear, yet it is really Fosse trying to best understand an idea that is before us. Like a child first learning their bearings in the world, he takes an idea and turns it over again and again, viewing it from all angles and leaving nothing untouched so as to properly project a fully defined message. He has a few other linguistic quirks that assist him in his goals, yet could easily, and understandably so, be frustrating or annoying to a reader. Aliss has this really fascinating ability to seamlessly transition between characters, usually from Signe into her husband’s perspective and back. However, the voice of the narration never changes, leading the reader to believe that it is one perspective that attaches itself to another, or at least to it’s notion of what another perspective might be perceiving. The lack of periods in the novella’s punctuation lends assistance to building this feel. The conclusion to Aliss is especially haunting, as Fosse drops a heavy, burden of a final statement into the readers hearts and souls, then leaves it open without a period, as if the story is to now flow into the reader, as if the weight is now transferred onto them to carry and come to grips with in the days to come. It is only in the first and final lines (to say sentences does not make sense with the structure of this work) that Fosse mentions an ‘I’, and while the conclusion connects many dots, the elusive ‘I’ only brings more questions to the table.
Aliss at the Fire is a heart-wrenching meditation on loss and family legacy that really comes alive with the hypnotic and haunting visual imagery created by the compression of time. It is not for the faint of heart, both with the poetic style that borders on both genius and annoying, but for the weighty conclusions and difficult truths the reader is faced with. Time is no comfort to the broken hearted here, but only a long line carrying a monstrous baggage that will continually beleaguer the broken hearted. This is a book best examined in hind-sight, making it one that I feel requires patience and willingness from the reader to appreciate. Truth be told, I did not particularly enjoy reading it until the final third of the book, however, I feel that a book cannot be adequately judged until it is viewed in it’s entirety, as a completed portrait, and passing judgment before the final unveiling would be a grave misgiving. I had intended to only give this three stars until writing this review made me realize a few things about the book I hadn’t thought of. It is a book that, while being a bit cumbersome, really comes together once you’ve allowed it to properly cook and simmer and be enjoyed with its full flavor. Jon Fosse is a marvelous writer with a sense of style not commonly found, and once you’ve attuned yourself to it, there are fantastic things to be discovered. Aliss at the Fire, with all it’s loss, grief and frozen landscapes, is a brutally savage package of emotional and intellectual power that is haunting to the core. 3.75/5
‘and the darkness outside the window was black and he was almost impossible to tell apart from the darkness out there, or else the darkness out there was almost impossible to tell apart from him, that’s how she remembers him, that’s how it was…’
¹ It probably comes as no surprise that David Foster Wallace is an idol of mine. The fact that this is written as a footnote is probably a huge tip-off. Alas, I should cease being so off topic lest the Goodreads Karma police nab me for my crimes of review loitery.
² Fun fact: If my MLA cited resources are correct from my Sartre essay back during my Existentialism course, Sarte wrote one-act plays so the audience could view a stage performance yet still have time to get home in before the curfew enforced by the German occupation.
‘They watch you, their faces like masks, set in the eternal grimace of disapproval.’
While a first love can be a period of intensely effervescent emoti...more‘They watch you, their faces like masks, set in the eternal grimace of disapproval.’
While a first love can be a period of intensely effervescent emotion and passion, the decline and death of the ill-fated romance is often a harrowing and hellish plunge into the darkness of pain and sorrow. Jean Rhys impeccable Voyage in the Dark chronicles such a descent, or tragic voyage, through the rise and fall of Anna Morgan’s love affair with a wealthy Englishman. Anna, coming from the West Indies and working as a chorus girl across England—much like Rhys herself, whose own experiences illuminate this emotionally charged novel—has her beautiful and youthful innocents trampled upon by the misogynistic society of men who willfully takes advantage of her to fulfill their carnal lusts. She must stay strong and keep her head above water by accepting the money her late-night lovers pass her way, as the often-married men mistake financial support as a morally acceptable compensation for the responsibility they have no intentions of shouldering. Through her elegantly executed juxtaposition of England and the West Indies, as well as gender relations, Rhys creates a cutting compounded metaphor of English imperialism and misogyny that exposes the hardships a poor, young woman must face in a society that views them as nothing but material goods to be plundered and discarded while they struggle to etch out their own identity.
The first draft of Voyage in the Dark predates Rhys first two published novels, yet it wasn’t until she found herself alone in Paris with her first husband behind bars that she began to rework the novel with editor Ford Madox Ford (whom she would have an affair with for several years). She disliked how the novel came out and set it aside, releasing it almost ten years later in 1934. Written early in her life, Voyage carries the weight of her own experience and features a protagonist not unlike Rhys herself. What is most striking about the book, however, is her subtle and perfect prose that rings out so crisp, clear and caustic without calling much attention to itself. There is a brilliant beauty in her concisely incisive observations of social class and others telling mannerisms that really bring the novel to life, as well as her finely-tuned ear for speech patterns. Each character seems to be heard through the ears and instead of read through the eyes, and the speech patterns, as well as the way a character carries themselves, are extremely telling to the sort of person they are.
She had…an English lady’s voice with a sharp cutting edge to it. Now that I’ve spoken you can hear that I’m a lady. I have spoken and I suppose you now realize that I’m an English gentlewoman. I have my doubts about you. Speak up and I will place you at once. Speak up, for I fear the worst. That sort of voice.
Rhys enacts a prose style that exquisitely breaks into a sort of stream-of-consciousness, imposing Anna’s subconscious into the narrative in a way that often recalls her warm past on the island and wonderfully represents the way her present cannot accommodate her past, leaving her torn, conflicted and imminently alienated.
his is England Hester said and I watched it through the train-window divided into squares like pocket-handkerchiefs; a small tidy look it had everywhere fenced off from everywhere else—what are those things—those are haystacks—oh are those haystacks—I had read about England ever since I could read—smaller meaner everything is never mind—this is London—hundreds thousands of white people white people rushing along and the dark houses all frowning down one after the other all alike all stuck together—the streets like smooth shut-in ravines and the dark houses frowning down—oh I’m not going to like this place I’m not going to like this place I’m not going to like this place…
Anna’s past in the Caribbean is always remembered as a period of warmth and love, fresh with colour and life (‘Amd the sky close to the earth. Hard, blue and close to the earth. The mango tree was so big that all the garden was in its shadow…’), which is constantly contrasted with the Anna’s view of England as cold, grey and deathly. She is frequently falling ill and misses the warmth of her childhood, the warmth of innocence and naivety. Childhood is looked at as simplistic and preferable to the hardships and cruelty of adulthood, the years when family are loving caregivers that in adulthood turn their backs on account of money, where mistakes are easily corrected and forgiven, and when the world seems a ripe fruit to be picked, tasted and enjoyed. England is the bitterness of reality, where love is fleeting or false and the sweetness of life is either rotten or far beyond reach, where Anna must come to grips that she is of the lower class, ‘the ones without the money, the ones with beastly lives.’
The cold grey streets of England are where Anna must face the grim realities of gender roles in a prejudiced, misogynistic society where there are those who have and those who need and grieve. Women must jockey for a man to supply them with money and stability and, if they are lucky enough, love that lingers beyond the youthful moments of lust. Anna is surrounded by women with ideas of how a woman should behave, most of them involving methods to woo a man into marriage or at least becoming a kept mistress, viewing men as their Caribbean sun to keep them warm into their twilight years. The harsh reality of her position is made no more clear than the frantic cries of her employer late in the novel as she begs Anna to see her predicament as a single and aging women who must wrangle up money while she can lest she face the cruelest of fates. Voyage in the Dark is filled with examples of misogyny and delivers a powerfully depressing image of men viewing women as nothing but material goods. ‘It's funny,’ Anna’s lover has the audacity to tell her, ‘have you ever thought that a girl's clothes cost more than the girl inside them?’ Anna’s offers her entire existence to a man that is clearly no good for her, pinning her emotional and psychological well-being on his acceptance, to a man that only views her as transitory goods.
‘=The light and the sky and the shadows and the houses and the people—all parts of the dream all fitting in and all against me. But there were other times when a fine day, or music, or looking in the glass and thinking I was pretty, made me start again imagining that there was nothing I couldn’t do, nothing I couldn’t become. Imagining God knows what.
When she is loved, she is eternal, empowered, and invincible, but when he leaves, as he inevitably will, she faces a descent into a darkness that she had never thought possible. These men that seek her and her peers hands are men of stature, often already married, that only wish for a fling and are willing to support them financially afterword to avoid a scene. Anna must face a world in England where love is false, where everything is cold, and where any hope of the opposite, anything that would fulfill her desires for her past, is merely a façade. ‘The bed was soft, the pillow was as cold as ice…. The fire was like a painted fire; no warmth came from it.’ While we as the reader can grasp at the beauty in Anna’s heart, her silence and innocence leads those around her to see her as stupid, somehow validating their deception of her. It becomes painful to witness her decline, mistaking lust for love and not recognizing that she is a mere commodity, being paid and adorned in fancy dress in exchange for her satisfying sexual thirsts.
Anna’s plight as a woman in a misogynistic society becomes an expression of English imperialism. Often there are passages reflecting on her childhood, specifically moments where she expresses her desires to have been ‘born a negro’, that align with the most impactful passages of misogyny. She, as a woman in English society, is much like the black population kept as chattel back home; Anna’s former home being an English colony viewed more as a financial tally on account books than a place full of people living, breathing and dreaming. Voyage begins to reveal itself as a spiteful commentary on imperialism as well as social and gender roles, becoming a powerful fist of rebellion against all those who would belittle and tower over another human being for any reason, be it gender, race, religion, etc. Innocence becomes a period of social and cultural blindness, when she is unaware of the reasons why her family dislikes her kinship with the black house girl, and adulthood becomes a cold barren wasteland when the blindfold is released and the soul must take in and accept all the horrors of reality. How can Anna carry on and carve her place in the world, create her own identity, in a world set on viewing her as a commodity? The stream-of-conscious style adopted by Rhys becomes a perfect method of highlighting her conflicted mind, seeming almost like a descent into madness as she finds her experiences of the world and her youthful impression of the world to be totally and painfully incongruous.
Voyage in the Dark’ was a fantastic and emotionally stimulating introduction into the works of the fabulous Jean Rhys, and author I have every intention of pursuing until I’ve drunk every last word. She employed a wonderfully simplistic, yet exceptionally poetic style that cuts directly to the heart of matters, wasting not a single word to expose the deepest depths of human emotion. While brief, it is a novel that will stick with you for long after, and will dredge up those painful memories of loss in love, yet allow you to examine them along with Anna in a way that make you thankful for having experienced them simply because you can now understand how they made you the person you are today and simply for reminding you that you are a beautiful human being full of life, love, sorrow, rage and that we all must play our part in the human comedy. There is a strong urge for equality and respect for woman that call to mind beloved authors such as Virginia Woolf, whose book title The Voyage Out partially inspired this ones. Jean Rhys is an author not to be missed, and goes down great with a bottle of dark red wine. 4.75/5
‘There's fear, of course, with everybody. But now it had grown, it had grown gigantic; it filled me and it filled the whole world.’
Poetry is a wonderful bridge into the true essence of existence. Peter Berghoef’s chapbook, News of the Haircut, recently...more‘Insert dream B into slot A.’
Poetry is a wonderful bridge into the true essence of existence. Peter Berghoef’s chapbook, News of the Haircut, recently reissued by Greying Ghost Press, is a joyful approach to many facets of everyday life, diving into snapshots of anxiety, love, the mundane, the moments of anxiety and the moments of introspective awakenings, and allowing their essence to blossom through his prose. Featured in each poem is a sincere seriousness robed in the finest fashions of succinct playfulness, and the voice of the poet shines like a friendly smile over beers during the twilight hours of bar service.
Berghoef’s poems each capture a tiny snapshot of life, harnessing the moment’s vibrancy into his sparse prose as the image spirals into subtle surrealism at the edges of the frame. It is a engaging style akin to the magic pulsating through the poetry of US Poet Laureate Charles Simic, blurring reality to expose it’s inner soul and presenting each ominous message as if it were shimmering in the peripheries of a last nights dream while it dissipates in the morning light. Yet, however surreal the image is at large, there is a powerful lucidity to each detail as it awakens in the mind. Berghoef keeps his poems short and direct, a style that empowers the succinct artwork as a bridge or portal into the heart of matters. Each poem spreads from it’s tiny snapshot into a tapestry of emotion within the minds eye, and the poem’s brevity welcomes the reader to explore each word in full, as if the poem were a labyrinthine mansion and each tender word were the doorways to new, luminous rooms full of ideas and mysteries to explore. It is a style I enjoy, with a vast universe of ideas densely packed into tight corridors that allow the authors words to mingle with the reader’s imagination and take further flight into the life of the mind. The surreal blending of transparent imagery and reality is a celebration of the possibilities of language. Instead of attempting to precisely wrangle material existence into abstract language, it allows language full play to bestow the true emotional resonance without having to create a cut-and-dry replication of events.
Don’t Eat the Remains of Your Sweetheart
despite the duration of her stay commiserating with each rusty falling of the moon when the road was repaved for two summers and a morning
There is such a wonderful sense of hope lurking beneath each poem. His poems hold an ideal of potential purity within us all that is constantly assailed by the world around us.
thinking things through after germ theory nearly ruined touching and not touching without it no person wary of their hands
We come into the world bearing a glowing ball of innocence within us which, because bruised and fearful through constant collisions with blindly staggering, grim realities of life. People have a tendency, perhaps often brought out by fear or ignorance, of ’making spaces / between ourselves’, and it would seem these spaces, these voids created by people putting up a barrier of ego around ourselves instead of allowing a unifying force of love and acceptance to flow freely between us all, are the breeding grounds for the gloom, fear and anxiety found in our world. It is a world of love and joy, yet a world of pain and mistrust when people justify their rudeness, their self-centeredness and their ability to hold others down all for the sake of clamoring for some abstract finish-line of subjective successes.
the barbarians and sandwhiches arrive together on similar plates
The poems within News of the Haircut are the voices of frustration, sorrow, hope and love, transmitted loudly into the heart of the reader in such few, potent words. Above all, it is a voice of strength characterized by a charmingly playful modesty. Berghoef holds steady against a world that can crush spirits, lead you to ‘forget dreams’ and become resigned to the tangible experiences such as ‘eat cereal cold / take in coffee hot / souring the mouth’ There is an limitless field of imagination lead to by each careful word, and a hope that innocence can still thrive in the world. Berghoef’s chapbook can be found here , each edition uniquely printed, or the least you can do is buy him a drink. 5/5
give me my freedom in a small paper bag with my name written on it millions do better work wages remain unaffected and somewhere a bear gets lost returning to the river full of fish now I know what you smelled waking every day (less)