Sunday, January 24, 2010

Philip Roth, The Humbling

What a thoroughly, frighteningly unhappy book.

Or is it just me?

Perhaps, with The Humbling, I've read too much Philip Roth. Or not enough of his early works. Something.

Maybe I'm becoming too much of a moralist -- the death-rattle of the critic -- but it all seemed rather sordid. But even worse, as far as the novel (as a form) is concerned: rushed and unmoored.

Which is, of course, a large part of the story of The Humbling but... it doesn't feel artfully done. And while some of the worst of it all touched my lizard brain and excited a boiling discomfort, I suspect that it has little to do with Roth's skill or this little novel's artistry.

And maybe it's just me.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gail Dendy, People Crossing

I had the pleasure of meeting Gail Dendy during my trip to South Africa last year. Right at the tail end of the trip, quite literally (and lamentedly, as she was a delight and the conversation over lunch a real pleasure): when we finished eating she put me on a shuttle for the airport.

People Crossing is Dendy's second collection, and is probably a stronger than the usual sophomore effort. There is a great deal of sensuousness (in the scandalous sense of that word) about many of these poems; and while not all of it works, much of it does.

In "Spider-watch" (in which Dendy evokes the rather over-worked image of the black widow spider) we read the incredibly evocative:
She's endless,
tonight, all give


The stitching is complete.
One of them is satisfied.
And in "Fragment" (in its entirety):
It has to be passionate,
I know his clung kiss, sharp
as a bloodburst.
While the most titillating might very well be the closing lines of "Exposed":
To them
I was all
night lover –
a spool
of yearning.
Unravel me
Oh my!!

But Dendy is far from "merely" a sensuous poet. The denouement of "Assault" is... well, frightfully powerful: you know what's coming, the turn is not particularly artful (nor is it artless), but it's still sickening and lands like a punch.

She is a relatively prolific poet but there is little of her poetry accessible and available here in the United States. I foolishly left South Africa with this volume only. There are a few short biographical pieces (here and here) as well as some brief interviews (here and here). For those with a taste for... well... poetry, I've managed to find the following poems of Dendy's online:
I do look forward to continuing our discussion and, hopefully, getting my hands on another volume or two of her work before the next trip back to the RSA.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dino Buzzati, Poem Strip including An Explanation of the Afterlife

I just don't get it I guess...

Dino Buzzati's Poem Strip is... well... a paean to school boy fantasies? A mushy graphic amalgam of the detritus of 1960s psychedelic (soon to be arena) rock music? A whole lot of tit and ass?

It's all of those things. And apparently it's avant garde and "a dark and alluring investigation into mysteries of love, lust, sex, and death" (if the back of the book is to be believed). Kinda missed that whole dark and alluring part. It all seems so very self-indulgent and disconcertingly sterile (and there's no reason why a re-telling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth needs to feel sterile, as anyone who has seen Black Orpheus can attest).

Some of the drawings are quite striking -- you can see a selection here -- but as a whole, it fails.