Minor Literature(s) publish more of my “Fragments”

I have been writing an ongoing series of “fragments” for a few years and rarely submit them anywhere for publication, hoping I would complete the sequence of 106 and then submit to a publisher as a full volume.

However, occasionally I see a potential “home” for my work and therefore submit a few pieces.

The wonderful independent publisher, Sublunary Editions, published three fragments (#1 #2 & #5) in their journal of miscellany, “Firmament” and now another US based publisher, Minor Literature(s), has published fragments #9, #11 & #3 at their online journal.

I would like to thank both publishers for their generosity and for looking at, reading and choosing to publish my less than conforming works.

Besides having more work out in the public domain, it motivates me to finish, edit, re-edit and plan the remaining 100 fragments.

I find it amazing that I’m being published alongside the wonderfully innovative writer Louis Armand at Minor Literature(s) and Éric Chevillard and Rilke at Sublunary Editions.

You can read the Minor Literature(s) publication here, and you can purchase the Sublunary Editions ‘Firmament’ issue here.

I really hope you enjoy my writing and comments or feedback is more than welcome on this post, whether I listen to you is a different matter!!!

Photo, Rwetyepme – Mt Sonder – in Northern Territory on Agangu land – taken by Tania Verbeek (used with permission).

Advertisement

Goldsmiths Prize 2022 Shortlist

The Goldsmiths Prize was established in 2013 to reward fiction that “breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form”. The winning writer receives a £10,000 prize.

Previous winners:

2013 – Eimear McBride for ‘A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing’

2014 – Ali Smith for ‘How to be Both’

2015 – Kevin Barry for ‘Beathebone’

2016 – Mike McCormack for ‘Solar Bones’

2017 – Nicola Barker for ‘H(A)PPY’

2018 – Robin Robertson for ‘The Long Take’

2019 – Lucy Ellmann for ‘Ducks, Newburyport’

2020 – M. John Harrison for ‘The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again’

2021 – Isabel Waidner for ‘Sterling Karat Gold’

The shortlist for the 2022 Goldsmiths Prize has just been announced. Here are the six books in contention:

‘Somebody Loves You’ by Mona Arshi (And Other Stories)

‘Seven Steeples’ by Sara Baume (Tramp Press)

‘Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies’ by Maddie Mortimer (Picador)

“Peaces’ by Helen Oyeyemi (Faber & Faber)

‘there are more things’ by Yara Rodrigues Fowler (Fleet)

‘Diego Garcia’ by Natasha Soobramanien & Luke Williams (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

The judges for this year’s prize are Dr Tim Parnell (Chair), Natasha Brown, Tom Gatti and Ali Smith and the winner will be announced on 10 November 2022.

Happy reading.

Jacobé & Fineta – Joaquim Ruyra (tr. Alan Yates)

Nature is complaining as it goes into decline.

“AUTUMN”, the opening word of Joaquim Ruyra’s short story ‘Jacobé’, a period of shedding, dying back before hibernation and then (later) rejuvenation. Immediately you are transported to the season where the natural world is shedding its vibrancy.

…it is something death-like which moves through the land in accordance with an annual rhythm.

As the author biography tells us:

Joaquim Ruyra was a short story writer, poet and translator, considered a key figure in modern Catalan literature and one of the great narrators of the 20th century. He was in the vanguard of the Catalan Modernist generation as they constructed a new literary model after 1860, when the Catalan language became the vehicle of cultural nationalism. Although he did not produce a large body of work, his short stories set a stylistic benchmark for Catalan literature, including the shaping of a ‘landscape canon’.

‘Jacobé’ is deeply set in the natural world, yes it opens with “autumn”, however it is littered with natural images of rejuvenation, springtime, beauty. Here are a few examples:

Broom flowers…I can see her now through the blue aloe flowers…everything about her was like a delicate winter flower…skin the warm colour of a peach tree…that attractive young lily who graced the seafront, the very image of wholesomeness, is now like a delicate plant that has been trampled on the roadside.

However, this isn’t a short story about the natural world, it is a mediative piece about a man, Minguet, who returns to the seaside village of his youth and crosses paths with Jacobé, a girl from the village who looked after Minguet when he was a youngster. She has now contracted an inherited illness, most likely from her father and grandfather who were both alcoholics, and she is now in decay.

Jacobé’s decline is couched in natural terms,

Thins purple veins show on her eyelids like the slenderest reddish lines which adorn a mallow flower.

…she’s withering away like a dead vine shoot…

Even Minguet’s memories of her are related in natural terms:

Everything here still reminds me of her, especially that group of scattered rocks standing out just offshore in the cover, adorned with clusters of plants that shine like antique gold. The rocks themselves look to me now like a pedestal without its statue: the right setting for the figure of that long-legged girl with her angular features, her clothing and hair flapping in the wind.

This is a tragic short story, capturing Jacobé’s mental and physical decline, as the story moves to its conclusion the plants become harsher:

…sitting on a rock by a large cactus.

A strong gust of wind carries away her headscarf, which ends up snagged on some brambles close to where I stand.

The scrub around us is being flattened like ripe corn under a great downpour. Clumps of broom are forced against rocks, their sharp twigs waving tremulously.

I never worried at the time about where I grasped with my hands for security, whether on a thorn bush or on a spiky aloe branch.

[SPOILER ALERT]

And as the story draws to its tragic conclusion:

She crashes though some pine saplings, which quickly wave goodbye to her with their pliant thin branches, and she plunges through emptiness, down and down. Like a flower in the wind… He skirt and petticoat spread and spin in a large whorl, against whose colours the faint pinkness of her thin legs, like lily stamens, is displayed.

A beautifully engaging and vivid short story, light and heartbreaking, one that is a wonderful example from a “landscape canon”.

The second short story in this collection, ‘Fineta’, uses similar imagery, however this time it is the sea:

The sea is calm. The waves are rolling in gently and, on the sloping beach, they stretch themselves languidly upon the sand, leaving behind as they recede a surface as smooth as burnished copper. Some dark pebble banks basking here and there in the cover are briefly covered and then revealed again by the lapping movement of the shallow water, with drips running from every strand of the green moss that clothes them and smooths their shapes. It is just as though they are indulging in some gentle bathing. The cove is empty, concealed between lofty cliffs where patches of bright sunlight and purplish shadows form patterns.

Although a very slight book (a mere 53 pages including an introduction by Julià Guillamon) it is a beautifully presented book, slight and charming, the innocence of nature sitting uncomfortably alongside dark tales of suffering. Well worth seeking out.

My copy was provided as part of my Fum d’estampa subscription.

Sarah Maguire Prize – poetry in translation – Shortlist

The Sarah Maguire Prize is a biennial award for the best book of poetry in English translation by a living poet “beyond Europe”. The winning poet and their translator (or translators) split an award of £3000 between them.

As the Poetry in Translation website states:

The prize has been established in the memory of the poet Sarah Maguire who was the founder of the Poetry Translation Centre and a champion of international poetry. The aim of the prize is to showcase the very best contemporary poetry from around the world and to champion the art of poetry translation.

The judges for the 2022 Prize are Rosalind Harvey (Chair) (translator of Juan Pablo Villalobos’ debut novel, ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’), Kyoo Lee (Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York), and Kit Fan (novelist and poet).

The shortlist for the 2022 Sarah Maguire Award is as follows, blurbs taken from the publisher’s websites:

‘Come, Take a Gentle Stab’ by Salim Barakat (Translated from Arabic by Huda J. Fakhreddine and Jayson Iwen)

Although Salim Barakat is one of the most renowned and respected contemporary writers in Arabic letters, he remains virtually unknown in the English-speaking world. This first collection of his poetry in English, representing every stage of his career, remedies that startling omission. Come, Take a Gentle Stab features selections from his most acclaimed works of poetry, including excerpts from his book-length poems, rendered into an English that captures the exultation of language for which he is famous.

A Kurdish-Syrian man, Barakat chose to write in Arabic, the language of cultural and political hegemony that has marginalized his people. Like Paul Celan, he mastered the language of the oppressor to such an extent that the course of the language itself has been compelled to bend to his will. Barakat pushes Arabic to a point just beyond its linguistic limits, stretching those limits. He resists coherence, but never destroys it, pulling back before the final blow. What results is a figurative abstraction of struggle, as alive as the struggle itself. And always beneath the surface of this roiling water one can glimpse the deep currents of ancient Kurdish culture.

‘Exhausted on the Cross’ by Najwan Darwish (Translated from Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid)

“We drag histories behind us,” the Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish writes in Exhausted on the Cross, “here / where there’s neither land / nor sky.” In pared-down lines, brilliantly translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, Darwish records what Raúl Zurita describes as “something immemorial, almost unspeakable”—a poetry driven by a “moral imperative” to be a “colossal record of violence and, at the same time, the no less colossal record of compassion.” Darwish’s poems cross histories, cultures, and geographies, taking us from the grime of modern-day Shatila and the opulence of medieval Baghdad to the gardens of Samarkand and the open-air prison of present-day Gaza. We join the Persian poet Hafez in the conquered city of Shiraz and converse with the Prophet Mohammad in Medina. Poem after poem evokes the humor in the face of despair, the hope in the face of nightmare.

‘Migrations: Poem, 1976–2020’ by Gloria Gervitz (Translated from Spanish by Mark Schafer)

Forty-four years in the making, Migrations is considered by critics to be a masterpiece of modern Mexican literature. Gloria Gervitz’s book, winner of the 2019 Pablo Neruda Ibero-American Poetry Prize, is an epic journey in free verse through the individual and collective memories of Jewish women emigrants from Eastern Europe, a conversation that ranges across two thousand years of poetry, a bridge that spans the oracles of ancient Greece and the markets of modern Mexico, a prayer that blends the Jewish and Catholic liturgies, a Mexican woman’s reclamation through poetry of her own voice and erotic power. In its reach, audacity, and astonishing vitality, Gervitz’s extraordinary life’s work bears comparison to the achievements of HD, Lorine Niedecker, Ezra Pound, and Walt Whitman.

‘Unexpected Vanilla’ by Lee Hyemi (Translated from Korean by Soje)

Lee Hyemi’s poetry is characterized by fluidity and wetness, with subjects moving about and soaking in each other through curious means.

Unexpected Vanilla’s exchange of liquids often involves sex, but intercourse can be nonsexual: drinking tea or alcohol, going to the beach, sitting in the same tub, crying, feeling your lover’s sweat on your palm. In this way, Lee explores a wide variety of relationships, attractions, and sensations. Her erotically charged, surrealist sensibility can be traced back to the paintings of Leonor Fini, a bisexual Argentinian artist whom she admires. Lee subverts the titular “vanilla” norm without denying its pleasures.

Detailing various intimacies in her “world of the second person,” which still feels clandestine but safe from the threat of exposure, Lee explores the Korean language’s scope for ambiguous gendering. The task of the queer translator is to feel out the subtleties with respect, as one does in life, and not presume heterosexuality. Just as Lee spoke out during the 2016 hashtag movement that began calling out sexual violence within South Korean literary circles, her poems recreate and hold space for agency and queerness in women’s sexuality.

‘The River in the Belly’ by Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Translated from French by J. Bret Maney)

A moving lyric meditation on the Congo River that explores the identity, chaos, and wonder of the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as race and the detritus of colonialism.

With The River in the Belly, award-winning Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila seeks no less than to reinitiate the Congo River in the imaginary of European languages. Through his invention of the “solitude”—a short poetic form lending itself to searing observation and troubled humor, prone to unexpected tonal shifts and lyrical u-turns—the collection celebrates, caresses, and chastises Central Africa’s great river, the world’s second largest by discharge volume.

Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Soviet history, Congolese popular music, international jazz, and everyday life in European exile, Mwanza Mujila has fashioned a work that can speak to the extraordinary hopes and tragedies of post-independence Democratic Republic of the Congo while also mining the generative yet embattled subject position of the African diasporic writer in Europe longing for home.

‘Cargo Hold of Stars: Coolitude’ by Khal Torabully (Translated from French by Nancy Naomi Carlson)

Cargo Hold of Stars is an ode to the forgotten voyage of a forgotten people. Khal Torabully gives voice to the millions of indentured men and women, mostly from India and China, who were brought to Mauritius between 1849 and 1923. Many were transported overseas to other European colonies. Kept in close quarters in the ship’s cargo hold, many died. Most never returned home.

With Cargo Hold of Stars, Torabully introduces the concept of ‘Coolitude’ in a way that echoes Aime Cesaire’s term ‘Negritude,’ imbuing the term with dignity and pride, as well as a strong and resilient cultural identity and language. Stating that ordinary language was not equipped to bring to life the diverse voices of indenture, Torabully has developed a ‘poetics of Coolitude’: a new French, peppered with Mauritian Creole, wordplay, and neologisms-and always musical. The humor in these linguistic acrobatics serves to underscore the violence in which his poems are steeped.

Deftly translated from the French by Nancy Naomi Carlson, Cargo Hold of Stars is the song of an uprooting, of the destruction and the reconstruction of the indentured laborer’s identity. But it also celebrates setting down roots, as it conjures an ideal homeland of fraternity and reconciliation in which bodies, memories, stories, and languages mingle-a compelling odyssey that ultimately defines the essence of humankind.

‘The Silent Letter’ – Jaume Subirana (tr. Christopher Whyte)

In my last post about Antonio Gamoneda’s ‘Book of the Cold’ (tr. Katherine M. Hedden & Victor Rodríguez Núñez) I quoted one of the translators, who wrote: “Spanish American poets who refuse to follow the conventions of how U.S Americans want them to write as a way to disrupt the neocolonialist unidirectional circulation of ideas”, let’s extend that idea to Catalan poets.

Fum d’Etampa Press, a recent arrival on the independent publishing scene, specialises in Catalonian literature. In the introduction to the novel ‘Wild Horses’ by Jordi Cussà (tr. Tiago Miller) there is a short explanation of the history of Catalan writing in the last century:

When Franco and his fellow rebels won the Civil War, they did everything they could to outlaw the Catalan language, which was made illegal in books, schools, the cinema, the theatre, as well as on transport tickets, remembrance cards, advertisements, road signs, tombstones and so forth. These strict prohibitions were partially lifted in the 1960’s and a new generation of writers began to emerge, although one of them (Joan Sales) wrote to another (Mercè Rodoreda), the fact that not a single news item or review could be published about any Catalan language book meant that there were all, so to speak, sent to Coventry, unable to re-enter the mainstream they had been happily swimming in before Franco’s victory.

Although poet Jaume Subirana was born in 1963 (in Barcelona) the impact of the language restrictions bleeds through into his collection of poems ‘The Silent Letter (tr. Christopher Whyte). As the “Acknowledgements” section advises these poems were written in places far from Catalonia such as Connecticut, Venice, and Wales. This feeling of being in “exile” from Barcelona was something I noted very early on in my reading of this collection. An exile from a culture that’s been restricted.

This book is presented in both Catalan and English and is made up of forty-two short poems, only one (‘Jonah by the Garonne’) is longer than one page.

FONDAMENTA

Escaping from the island
trains whistle through the night:
carrying to the mainland
tiny lights, on the causeway
their voices alternating
at regular intervals
with the water taxis.
At night I think of trains
full up at the platform
waiting to depart
until I fall asleep,
dreamladen
fondamenta,
little lights of meaning.
When they return they’re empty,
a long rope in the darkness
clattering in the silence,
clattering towards me.

As journalist Jordi Galves points out in a short essay at the end of the collection, titled “Viva Nova”;

I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that Subirana’s poetry dares to search out common sense and meaning in the midst of the experience, in the intimate biography steadily shedding itself of all unnecessary things until blossoming into an unexpected collection of visual, revolutionary Joan Brossa-esque poems. Visual because they cry out to be interpreted beyond the immediate obvious. A poetry as experimental as any other, as doubting as any other, but that sketches out a specific drawing, a slice of meaning, provisional comprehension, a harvest from within the fog.

As the above poem shows, there’s an “immediate obvious”, a recollection of packed trains, departing lights and them returning empty, however there’s also the silence, the escape and then the alienation.

Many of the poems capture this pensive regret:

SNOW (SAY GOODBYE)

Catching cold, night’s tyre slows down at the crossroads.

The breathing of the small hours gradually weakens, they congeal
progressively in this mineral silence of the trees, assuming the
disguise of snow, like a present delivered, left in offering to the
folds of dawn.

So much snow. Give thanks. You’ll have had the privilege of
spending a wakeful night with it, and when your eyes open, to-
morrow, months later, even the memory of it will have melted.

Now, today, all around you, a white sheet covered in frost.

And there are poems about poetry:

SAN ANTOLÍN DE BEÓN
(FREE VERSION AFTER BERTA PIÑÁN)

What strange, absurd matter you are, poetry:
revealing in detail the darkness of the soul
unable to tell the colour of the sea’s patina
growing solid in her eyes when afternoon comes.

As in the ‘Book of the Cold’, this collection is full of dark and unsettling images, nothing that you can anchor to, strange visions coming as you turn each page and read the few lines, the natural world meeting the imagined, the dreamlike landscapes of something slipping away.

The shipwreck is our greatest teacher, advising us to retire voluntarily from any lengthening of life before it’s too late, to definitively unlearn the certainty of death. In the intensity of ignorance, the oblivion of the moment, we feel eternal and pure, a little like animals not knowing they are to die. (Jordi Galves ‘Vita Nova’ – end word).

There is also a play on numbers and the number of letters in each word, as in the poem ‘Five Letters (Aubade)’:

Your finger on my lips,
the palm of your hand
wasting time on my back,
the pain, this pain with which
the night exhales itself
not wanting tomorrow’s
letters to reach an end.

My lips say “index”
the hand goes its way
explores impenitent
the river bank of now:
we’re this, we are a moment.
All I want to breathe
five letters and one night.

A love poem, the hand on the back, the exploring hand, and “night”, “index”, “night” five letters. Leads us back to “crying out to be interpreted beyond the immediate obvious”.

A collection that feels as though it’s playing on the edges, one where you read and then re-read the poem and have two different meanings, a focus on the here and now with this dark shadow of a foreboding future somewhere in your peripheral vision.

My copy is courtesy of my subscription to Fum d”estampa Press.

Book of the Cold – Antonio Gamoneda (tr. Katherine M. Hedden & Victor Rodríguez Núñez)

There are writers … who are interested in
reality and turn to verisimilitude or realism.
They are confused; both are artifice.
Antonio Gamoneda ‘La pobreza’

As the publisher, World Poetry Books, website states; “‘Book of the Cold’ is the long-overdue English translation of legendary Spanish poet Antonio Gamoneda’s 1992 long poem—a surreal, folkloric, modernist masterpiece between poetry and prose.” In 2006 Antonio Gamoneda received the two highest honours a poet can receive in the Spanish-speaking world, the Reina Sofia Poetry Prize and the ‘Premio de Literatura en Lengua Castellana Miguel de Cervantes” (‘Miguel de Cervantes Prize’), an award that is awarded annually to honour the lifetime achievement of an outstanding writer in the Spanish language. Other winners include Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Ana María Matute and Elena Poniatowska. However, until now Antonio Gamoneda’s work has been largely ignored by English language translators.

As the translator’s note, titled ‘Translating Radical Reality’, points out, “Gamoneda is not an “establishment” poet, one concerned with maintaining the status quo or accommodating the reader”, we have a book length long poem in the modernist tradition.

His work is challenging: elliptical, hermetic, and what my co-translator Victor Rodríguez Núñez would call dialogic. (Translator Katherine M. Hedeen)

Broken into seven sections;

Georgics,

The Snowkeeper,

Still,

Impure Pavane,

Saturday,

Cold of Limits, and

(blank),

the ‘Book of the Cold’ requires an immersion into an alien, frigid world. The realm of the Franco dictatorship, extending to the post-Franco era. A place of uncertainty, repetition, distance, and the work brings all these uncomfortably to the fore.

I am unafraid and hopeless. From a hotel outside destiny, I see a
black beach and, far off, the great eyelids of a city whose sorrow
is no business of mine.

The personal touches, is our poet being left out in the “cold” (?), brings a sense of gloom, a person uncertain of where they fit in the cultural milieu one who is challenging (through their writing) the “rules”, an experimentation that plays with time (through rhythmical shifts) and deconstructs the natural order of things.

There is a grass whose name is unknown; this is how my life has been.

Space on the page also plays with the shifting rhythms, as well as speeding up, slowing down the cadence, at no time is the reader given the liberty of resting.

You see the mirror with no quicksilver. It is only glass immersed
in shadow and within it your face. Like this

You are within yourself.

There’s also the shift from first to second person to third person, is the first-person nature, is it the “cold”, is it the poet?

There’s an old man before an empty path. No one returns from
the distant city; only the wind over the last traces.

I am the path and the old man. I am the city and the wind.

Repetition also comes to the fore, with images repeated but distorted, an uncomfortable read where you question your perception of reality. All of these elements, time, space, repetitiveness, uncomfortableness being a sub-pot for the Franco era?

Love, you lasting on my lips:

There is a disheartened honey beneath the helixes and the
shadows of great women and in the summer anguish it drops
like mercury until it reaches the blue heart stone.

Love, you lasting on my lips: cry between my legs,

Eat the disheartened honey.

Back to our translator’s note, “the poetry requires an active reader, one who must accept being a co-creator”, there is the feeling of co-creation you pause, re-read, think about the order of the words, and then you realise Gamoneda is not “concerned with maintaining the status quo or accommodating the reader”.

If Gamoneda’s poetry can be seen as an alternative to poetry of experience’s “excellent literature,” I would offer up translating Book of the Cold into English as a way to challenge similar trends in the U.S. In this way, it is an instance of what I have called, in an earlier essay, strategic personality. There, I argue for choosing to translate Spanish American poets who refuse to follow the conventions of how U.S Americans want them to write as a way to disrupt the neocolonialist unidirectional circulation of ideas from North to South back to North again (if the North deems it necessary). (Translator Katherine M. Hedeen)

A collection that challenges, that forces you to work hard, that elicits dark and twisted dreams, a challenge to the expected norms, and a thoroughly enjoyable (if not different) experience. Another great title from World Poetry Books.

2022 Booker Prize Shortlist

The judges for the 2022 Booker Prize have whittled the thirteen longlisted books down to a shortlist of six novels. As the press release says:

The shortlist includes the shortest book and oldest author ever to be nominated, three second novels, authors from five countries and four continents, three independent publishers and several titles inspired by real events.

Here are the six shortlisted books, with the summaries coming from the publisher’s websites (including American spelling if that is how it is presented):

NoViolet Bulawayo ‘Glory’

NoViolet Bulawayo’s bold new novel follows the fall of the Old Horse, the long-serving leader of a fictional country, and the drama that follows for a rumbustious nation of animals on the path to true liberation. Inspired by the unexpected fall by coup in November 2017 of Robert G. Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president of nearly four decades, Glory shows a country’s imploding, narrated by a chorus of animal voices that unveil the ruthlessness required to uphold the illusion of absolute power and the imagination and bulletproof optimism to overthrow it completely. By immersing readers in the daily lives of a population in upheaval, Bulawayo reveals the dazzling life force and irresistible wit that lie barely concealed beneath the surface of seemingly bleak circumstances.

And at the center of this tumult is Destiny, a young goat who returns to Jidada to bear witness to revolution—and to recount the unofficial history and the potential legacy of the females who have quietly pulled the strings here. The animal kingdom—its connection to our primal responses and its resonance in the mythology, folktales, and fairy tales that define cultures the world over—unmasks the surreality of contemporary global politics to help us understand our world more clearly, even as Bulawayo plucks us right out of it.

Although Zimbabwe is the immediate inspiration for this thrilling story, Glory was written in a time of global clamor, with resistance movements across the world challenging different forms of oppression. Thus it often feels like Bulawayo captures several places in one blockbuster allegory, crystallizing a turning point in history with the texture and nuance that only the greatest fiction can.

Claire Keegan ‘Small Things Like These’

It is 1985, in an Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, faces into his busiest season. As he does the rounds, he feels the past rising up to meet him — and encounters the complicit silences of a people controlled by the Church.

Alan Garner ‘Treacle Walker’

‘Ragbone! Ragbone! Any rags! Pots for rags! Donkey stone!’

Joe looked up from his comic and lifted his eye patch. There was a white pony in the yard. It was harnessed to a cart, a flat cart, with a wooden chest on it. A man was sitting at a front corner of the cart, holding the reins. His face was creased. He wore a long coat and a floppy high-crowned hat, with hair straggling beneath, and a leather bag was slung from his shoulder across his hip.

Joe Coppock squints at the world with his lazy eye. He reads his comics, collects birds’ eggs and treasures his marbles, particularly his prized dobbers. When Treacle Walker appears off the Cheshire moor one day – a wanderer, a healer – an unlikely friendship is forged and the young boy is introduced to a world he could never have imagined.

Percival Everett ‘The Trees’

The Trees is a page-turner that opens with a series of brutal murders in the rural town of Money, Mississippi. When a pair of detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation arrive, they meet expected resistance from the local sheriff, his deputy, the coroner, and a string of racist White townsfolk.

The murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a man who resembles Emmett Till, a young black boy lynched in the same town 65 years before.

The detectives suspect that these are killings of retribution, but soon discover that eerily similar murders are taking place all over the country. Something truly strange is afoot. As the bodies pile up, the MBI detectives seek answers from a local root doctor who has been documenting every lynching in the country for years, uncovering a history that refuses to be buried.

In this bold, provocative book, Everett takes direct aim at racism and police violence, and does so in a fast-paced style that ensures the reader can’t look away. The Trees is an enormously powerful novel of lasting importance.

Shehan Karunatilaka ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’

Colombo, 1990. Maali Almeida, war photographer, gambler and closet queen, has woken up dead in what seems like a celestial visa office. His dismembered body is sinking in the serene Beira lake and he has no idea who killed him. In a country where scores are settled by death squads, suicide bombers and hired goons, the list of suspects is depressingly long, as the ghouls and ghosts with grudges who cluster round can attest. But even in the afterlife, time is running out for Maali. He has seven moons to contact the man and woman he loves most and lead them to the photos that will rock Sri Lanka.

Elizabeth Strout ‘Oh William’

Lucy Barton is a successful writer living in New York, navigating the second half of her life as a recent widow and parent to two adult daughters. A surprise encounter leads her to reconnect with William, her first husband – and longtime, on-again-off-again friend and confidante. Recalling their college years, the birth of their daughters, the painful dissolution of their marriage, and the lives they built with other people, Strout weaves a portrait, stunning in its subtlety, of a decades-long partnership.

Oh William! is a luminous novel about the myriad mysteries that make up a marriage, about discovering family secrets, late in life, that rearrange everything we think we know about those closest to us, and the way people continue to live and love, against all odds. At the heart of this story is the unforgettable, indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who once again offers a profound, lasting reflection on the mystery of existence. ‘This is the way of life,’ Lucy says. ‘The many things we do not know until it is too late.’

The winner of the 2022 Booker Prize will be announced on 17 October 2022.

Cold Fire – Verónica Zondek (tr. Katherine Silver)

The tiny bones of tiny mice, of tiny birds more
fragile than owls, of lizards, confirm what is
already known: that life is always nourished by
life and therefore it endures.

So opens Verónica Zondek ‘s recently released collection of poems ‘Cold Fire’, an epigraph by Gustavo Boldrini taken from ‘Longotoma, Fragmentos de una novela imposible’ (‘Fragments of an impossible novel’), Ediciones Kultrún, 2016.

From Valdiivia in Chile, poet Verónica Zondek is also a translator and editor. She has published a critical edition of the poetry of Nobel Prize winning poet Gabriela Mistral and has translated, into Spanish, the works of Gottfried Benn, Derek Walcott, June Jordan, Anne Carson, Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton, and Gertrude Stein. And here we have the first translation of her work into English by Katherine Silver, a collection originally published in 2016 as ‘Fuego Frio’ one that doesn’t even appear on her “selected publications” at Wikipedia.

‘Cold Fire’ consists of twenty long poems, in one Verónica Zondek refers to them as “cantos”, all musing on the wind. Burned trees, broken houses, scattered seeds:

And may the windgust
reign supreme and its dangling wings/ that push the
water/ that push the clouds/ that push the rain/ and
erode the stones/ and erode the mount. . .

The format of each canto taking on the shape or strength of the wind, sometimes sparse with blank spaces, at other times block text with pauses or line breaks indicated by a dash, occasionally only a few words on a page.

What beast?
What beast is that magnificent windgust that blows
upstream/ that climbs the heavens/ that moves clouds
to collapse over drought?

Meek burns the light through so much fog.

Meek is the cry of the forsaken bones.

Meek is the soul that watches and is flayed.

And on the horizon

A feeble/ wild light/ gallops/ gallops knowingly and
displays its reigns/ and batters/ batters without pity
or pledges.

Now it closes the stars the ancient poem intoned/
and just imagine/ imagine it arriving to soak our
drought/ to sprout it/ and sweet are the tears that
fall from on high/ that pour down/ that fatten the
grass/ an offering. What/ which

That
what beasts and men chew/ of course/ more beasts
than men………… yes………… to continue/ continue
singing/ singing/ s     ing    ing…………

Because strictly speaking/ they say/ they are only
beasts/ beasts for me enswirled by wind/ by wind
wind/ with its body so fragile/ my body/ and both
so tied to/ so spun into memory/ into thought/ into
love.

The rhythm and cadence lend itself to a reading aloud, words repeated for emphasis, pauses as important as the words themselves, a replication of the wind and the important role it plays in our lives. It would be intriguing to listen to a reading of this work in Spanish and the translation into English thoroughly grabbed my attention, an outdoor reading, in winter, in the Australian bush was an immersive experience. Pauses to listen to the wind, to watch the leaves rustle, the grass bend, the flames of the open fire flicker.

A wind/ a wind that opens the womb/ a wind
that shakes the land/ that sprouts tenderness/ that
squanders heat and swallows/ swallows the pain
of men.

But no/ it doesn’t come/ it doesn’t grope/ it seems to
be only when it kneads life/ when seedlings bloom/
and everything/ everything returns/ returns and
begins again.

Each canto explores a different impact, the dangers of fire being fed by the winds, the devastation of buildings destroyed, light blowing of grasses, you can easily imagine the poet observing and noting the surroundings.

Nature, bones, existence, erosion, impermanence all captured. “Life is always nourished by life and therefore it endures.”

Then:
love/ smile and cry/ sleep/ dream/ kiss with passion
stop/ look/ listen/ stop and let the silver fingers of the
windgust touch you/ and the golden fingers of the
cold fires/ for my letter on the page sleeps while it
waits for the slow roar of awakening/ devouring what
voracious tongues have left behind. Inhaling the tears
of the defeated/ sowing eyes far and wide/ for our duty
is to read/ and reread/ and pay heed/ even if we are
only blood/ and bone. And dream. In this long/ long
and slow bog.

It is our duty to read, and to reread and to pay heed, read slowly, absorb and experience and Verónica Zondek ‘s wonderful new book from World Poetry Books is one you should read (and reread). As Daniel Borzutzky says in the back cover blurb; “Verónica Zondek meditates on the complex intertwinings of our bodies with the social world, the natural world, and death.”

2022 Booker Prize Longlist

The 2022 Booker Prize longlist, thirteen titles in total, was announced today. Given the changes to the rules in 2013 (for the 2014 award onwards), allowing entry for works written in English, not just works from the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland, I haven’t been following it as closely, nor have I been reading many of the titles. However, this blog was established to track the award so here are the thirteen books that made the 2022 longlist (I have presented them in the same order as the Booker Prize website – which is not alphabetical by title nor author nor publisher – if you can figure out the order they’ve presented them please add a comment below, it better not be cover colour!!!)

‘The Colony’ by Audrey Magee

‘After Sappho’ by Selby Wynn Schwartz

‘Glory’ by NoViolet Bulawayo

‘Small Things Like These’ by Claire Keegan

‘Nightcrawling’ by Leila Mottley

‘Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies’ by Maddie Mortimer

‘Case Study’ by Graeme Macrae Burnet

‘Treacle Walker’ by Alan Garner

‘The Trees’ by Percival Everett

‘Trust’ by Hernan Diaz

‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’ by Shehan Karunatilaka

‘Oh William!’ by Elizabeth Strout

‘Booth’ by Karen Joy Fowler

It is great to see independent publishers (Eg. Influx and Galley Beggar) on the list, let’s hope it doesn’t cost them a fortune in publicity and distribution to make the shortlist., which will be announced on 6 September. The winner will be announced on 17 October 2022.

Happy reading.

W.H Auden, Kenzaburō Ōe, Lydia Davis and more

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994, Kenzaburo Ōe’s (OH-way) short story ‘われらの狂気を生き延びる道を教えよ’, ‘Warera no kyōki wo ikinobiru michi wo oshieyo’ (translated by John Nathan as ‘Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness’) was published in 1969, five years after his novel ‘A Personal Matter’ which dealt with the birth of a disabled child (based on his own son Hikari). This story also tells of a protagonist who has a brain damaged child, the protagonist known only as the “fat man” (I wonder if Lydia Davis’ short story ‘What She Know’ was influenced by this “fat man”?)

What She Knew

People did not know what she knew, that she was not really a woman but a man, often a fat man, but more often, probably, an old man. The fact that she was an old man made it hard for her to be a young woman. It was hard for her to talk to a young man, for instance, though the young man was clearly interested in her. She had to ask herself, Why is this young man flirting with this old man?

At the opening of the story Ōe’s “fat man” is being thrown into polar bear enclosure. As we later learn he was at the zoo with his disabled son, who he calls by a nickname Eeyore a character from A.A. Milne’s ‘Winnie The Pooh’. What we do know is that the title of the story comes from “a line from a wartime poem by an English poet” a line that resided in the “fat man” “always, as if it were his prayer.” In fact it comes from W.H. Auden’s (British American) poem ‘Commentary’.

Lydia Davis also wrote a short story ‘How W.H. Auden Spends the Night in a Friend’s House:’, I won’t repeat the text of that here, you’ll have to buy her collected short stories, it is about only achieving peaceful sleep with a heavy weight pressing down on him.

Ōe’s setting with a polar bear had me thinking of a recent Japanese writer, Yōko Tawada and her novel ‘Memoirs of a Polar Bear’ which she self-translated into German and Susan Bernofsky translated that version into English!!!

A 50-page short story and oh so many diversions. I will look at the book of four “short novels” that goes under the tile of ‘Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness’ at some later stage as it contains earlier and later works, and many many layers Ōe’s writings. In the meantime, here is the poem by W.H. Auden that resides in Ōe’s “fat man”.

COMMENTARY

Season inherits legally from dying season;
Protected by the wide peace of the sun, the planets
Continue their circulations; and the galaxy

Is free for ever to revolve like an enormous biscuit:
With all his engines round him and the summer flowers,
Little upon his little earth, man contemplates

The universe of which he is both judge and victim;
A rarity in an uncommon corner, gazes
On the great trackways where his tribe and truth are nothing.

Certainly the growth of the fore-brain has been a success:
Me has not got lost in a backwater like the lampshell
Or the limpet; he has not died out like the super-lizards.

His boneless worm-like ancestors would be amazed
At the upright position, the breasts, the four-chambered heart,
The clandestine evolution in the mother s shadow.

“Sweet is it,’’ say the doomed, “to be alive though wretched,”
And the young emerging from the closed parental circle,
To whose uncertainty the certain years present

Their syllabus of limitless anxiety and labour,
At first feel nothing but the gladness of their freedom,
Are happy in the new embraces and the open talk.

But liberty to be and weep has never been sufficient;
The winds surround our griefs, the unfenced sky
To all our failures is a taciturn unsmiling witness.

And not least here, among this humorous and hairless people
Who like a cereal have inherited these valleys:
Tarim nursed them; Thibet was the tall rock of their protection,

And where the Yellow River shifts its course, they learnt
How to live well, though ruin threatened often.
For centuries they looked in fear towards the northern defiles,

But now must turn and gather like a fist to strike
Wrong coming from the sea, from those whose paper houses
Tell of their origin among the coral islands;

Who even to themselves deny a human freedom,
And dwell in the estranging tyrant’s vision of the earth
In a calm stupor under their blood-spotted flag.

Here danger works a civil reconciliation,
Interior hatreds are resolved upon this foreign foe,
And will-power to resist is growing like a prosperous city.

For the invader now is deadly and impartial as a judge:
Down country footpaths, from each civic sky,
His anger blows alike upon the rich, and all

Who dwell within the crevices of destitution,
On those with a laborious lifetime to recall, and those,
The innocent and short whose dreams contain no children.

While in an international and undamaged quarter,
Casting our European shadows on Shanghai,
Walking unhurt among the banks, apparently immune

Below the monuments of an acquisitive society,
With friends and books and money and the traveller s freedom,
We are compelled to realize that our refuge is a sham.

For this material contest that has made Hongkew
A terror and a silence, and Chapei a howling desert,
Is but the local variant of a struggle in which all,

The elderly, the amorous, the young, the handy and
               the thoughtful,
Those to whom feeling is a science, those to whom study
Of all that can be added and compared is a consuming love,

With those whose brains are empty as a school in August,
And those in whom the urge to action is so strong
They cannot read a letter without whispering, all

In cities, deserts, ships, in lodgings near the port,
Discovering the past of strangers in a library,
Creating their own future on a bed, each with his treasure,

Self-confident among the laughter and the petits verres,
Or motionless and lonely like a moping cormorant,
In all their living are profoundly implicated.

This is one sector and one movement of the general war
Between the dead and the unborn, the Real and the Pretended,
Which for the creature who creates, communicates, and chooses,

The only animal aware of lack of finish,
In essence is eternal. When we emerged from holes
And blinked in the warm sunshine of the Laufen Ice Retreat,

Thinking of Nature as a close and loyal kinsman,
On every acre the opponents faced each other,
And we were far within the zone where casualties begin.

Now in a world that has no localized events,
Where not a tribe exists without its dossier,
And the machine has taught us how, to the Non-Human,

That unprogressive blind society that knows
No argument except the absolute and violent veto,
Our colours, creeds and sexes are identical,

The issue is the same. Some uniforms are new,
Some have changed sides; but the campaign continues:
Still unachieved is Jen, the Truly Human.

This is the epoch of the Third Great Disappointment:
The First was the collapse of that slave-owning empire
Whose yawning magistrate asked, ‘‘What is truth?’’

Upon its ruins rose the Plainly Visible Churches:
Men camped like tourists under their tremendous shadows,
United by a common sense of human failure,

Their certain knowledge only of the timeless fields
Where the Unchanging Happiness received the faithful,
And the Eternal Nightmare waited to devour the doubters.

In which a host of workers, famous and obscure,
Meaning to do no more than use their eyes,
Not knowing what they did, then sapped belief;

Put in its place a neutral dying star,
Where Justice could not visit. Self was the one city,
The cell where each must find his comfort and his pain,

The body nothing but a useful favourite machine
To go upon errands of love and to run the house,
While the mind in its study spoke with its private God.

But now that wave which already was washing the heart,
When the cruel Turk stormed the gates of Constantine s city,
When Galileo muttered to himself, “sed movet,

And Descartes thought, “I am because I think,”
Today, all spent, is silently withdrawing itself:
Unhappy he or she who after it is sucked.

Never before was the Intelligence so fertile,
The Heart more stunted. The human field became
Hostile to brotherhood and feeling like a forest.

Machines devised by harmless clergymen and boys
Attracted men like magnets from the marl and clay
Into towns on the coal-measures, to a kind of freedom,

Where the abstinent with the landless drove a bitter bargain,
But sowed in that act the seeds of an experienced hatred,
Which, germinating long in tenement and gas-lit cellar,

Is choking now the aqueducts of our affection.
Knowledge of their colonial suffering has cut off
The Hundred Families like an attack of shyness;

The apprehensive rich pace up and down
Their narrow compound of success; in every body
The ways of living are disturbed; intrusive as a sill,

Fear builds enormous ranges casting shadows,
Heavy, bird-silencing, upon the outer world,
Hills that our grief sighs over like a Shelley, parting

All that we feel from all that we perceive,
Desire from Data; and the Thirteen gay Companions
Grow sullen now and quarrelsome as mountain tribes.

We wander on the earth, or err from bed to bed
In search of home, and fail, and weep for the lost ages
Before Because became As If, or rigid Certainty

The Chances Are. The base hear us, and the violent
Who long to calm our guilt with murder, and already
Have not been slow to turn our wish to their advantage.

On every side they make their brazen offer:
Now in that Catholic country with the shape of Cornwall,
Where Europe first became a term of pride,

North of the Alps where dark hair turns to blonde,
In Germany now loudest, land without a centre
Where the sad plains are like a sounding rostrum,

And on these tidy and volcanic summits near us now,
From which the Black Stream hides the Tuscarora Deep,
The voice is quieter but the more inhuman and triumphant.

By wire and wireless, in a score of bad translations,
They give their simple message to the world of man :
Man can have Unity if Man will give up Freedom.

The State is real, the Individual is wicked;
Violence shall synchronize your movements like a tune,
And Terror like a frost shall halt the flood of thinking.

Barrack and bivouac shall he your friendly refuge,
And racial pride shall tower like a public column
And confiscate for safety every private sorrow.

Leave Truth to the police and us; we know the Good;
We build the Perfect City time shall never alter;
Our Law shall guard you always like a cirque of mountains,

Your ignorance keep off evil like a dangerous sea;
You shall be consummated in the General Will,
Your children innocent and charming as the beasts.”

All the great conquerors sit upon their platform,
Lending their sombre weight of practical experience:
Ch’in Shih Huang Ti, who burnt the scholars’ books,

Chaka the mad, who segregated the two sexes,
And Genghis Khan, who thought mankind should be destroyed,
And Diocletian the administrator, make impassioned speeches.

Napoleon claps who found religion useful,
And all who passed deception of the People, or who said
Like Little Frederick, “I shall see that it is done.”

While many famous clerks support their programme:
Plato the good, despairing of the average man,
With sad misgiving signs their manifesto;

Shang-tzu approves their principle of Nothing Private;
The author of The Prince will heckle; Hobbes will canvass,
With generalizing Hegel and quiet Bosanquet.

And every family and every heart is tempted:
The earth debates; the Fertile Crescent argues;
Even the little towns upon the way to somewhere,

Those desert flowers the aeroplane now fertilizes,
Quarrel on this; in England far away,
Behind the high tides and the navigable estuaries;

In the Far West, in absolutely free America,
In melancholy Hungary, and clever France
Where ridicule has acted a historic rôle,

And here where the rice-grain nourishes these patient households
The ethic of the feudal citadel has impregnated,
Thousands believe, and millions are half-way to a conviction.

Nor do our leaders help; we know them now
For humbugs full of vain dexterity, invoking
A gallery of ancestors, pursuing still the mirage

Of long dead grandeurs whence the interest has absconded,
As Fahrenheit in an odd corner of great Celsius’ kingdom
Might mumble of the summers measured once by him.

Yet all the same we have our faithful sworn supporters
Who never lost their faith in knowledge or in man,
But worked so eagerly that they forgot their food

And never noticed death or old age coming on,
Prepared for freedom as Kuo Hsi for inspiration,
Waiting it calmly like the coming of an honoured guest.

Some looked at falsehood with the candid eyes of children,
Some had a woman’s ear to catch injustice,
Some took Necessity, and knew her, and she brought
             forth Freedom.

Some of our dead are famous, but they would not care:
Evil is always personal and spectacular,
But goodness needs the evidence of all our lives,

And, even to exist, it must be shared as truth,
As freedom or as happiness. (For what is happiness
If not to witness joy upon the features of another?)

They did not live to be remembered specially as noble,
Like those who cultivated only cucumbers and melons
To prove that they were rich; and when we praise their names,

They shake their heads in warning, chiding us to give
Our gratitude to the Invisible College of the Humble,
Who through the ages have accomplished everything essential.

And stretch around our struggle as the normal landscape,
And mingle, fluent with our living, like the winds and waters,
The dust of all the dead that reddens every sunset;

Giving us courage to confront our enemies,
Not only on the Grand Canal, or in Madrid,
Across the campus of a university city,

But aid us everywhere, that in the lovers’ bedroom,
The white laboratory, the school, the public meeting,
The enemies of life may be more passionately attacked.

And, if we care to listen, we can always hear them:
“Men are not innocent as beasts and never can be,
Man can improve but never will himself be perfect,

Only the free have disposition to be truthful,
Only the truthful have the interest to be just,
Only the just possess the will-power to be free.

For common justice can determine private freedom,
As a clear sky can tempt men to astronomy,
Or a peninsula persuade them to be sailors.

You talked of Liberty, but were not just; and now
Your enemies have called your bluff; for in your city,
Only the man behind the rifle had free-will.

One wish is common to you both, the wish to build
A world united as that Europe was in which
The flint-faced exile wrote his three-act comedy.

Lament not its decay; that shell was too constricting:
The years of private isolation had their lesson,
And in the interest of intelligence were necessary.

Now in the clutch of crisis and the bloody hour
You must defeat your enemies or perish, hut remember,
Only by those who reverence it can life be mastered;

Only a whole and happy conscience can stand up
And answer their bleak lie; among the just,
And only there, is Unity compatible with Freedom.”

Night falls on China; the great arc of travelling shadow
Moves over land and ocean, altering life:
Thibet already silent, the packed Indias cooling,

Inert in the paralysis of caste. And though in Africa
The vegetation still grows fiercely like the young,
And in the cities that receive the slanting radiations

The lucky are at work, and most still know they suffer.
The dark will touch them soon : night’s tiny noises
Will echo vivid in the owl’s developed ear,

Vague in the anxious sentry’s; and the moon look down
On battlefields and dead men lying, heaped like treasure,
On lovers ruined in a brief embrace, on ships

Where exiles watch the sea: and in the silence
The cry that streams out into the indifferent spaces,
And never stops or slackens, may be heard more clearly.

Above the everlasting murmur of the woods and rivers,
And more insistent than the lulling answer of the waltzes,
Or hum of printing-presses turning forests into lies;

As now I hear it, rising round me from Shanghai,
And mingling with the distant mutter of guerrilla fighting,
The voice of Man : “O teach us to outgrow our madness.

Ruffle the perfect manners of the frozen heart,
And once again compel it to be awkward and alive,
To all it suffered once a weeping witness.

Clear from the head the masses of impressive rubbish;
Rally the lost and trembling forces of the will,
Gather them up and let them loose upon the earth,

Till, as the contribution of our star, we follow
The clear instructions of that Justice, in the shadow
Of Whose uplifting, loving, and constraining power
All human reasons do rejoice and operate.”

-WH Auden

Text taken from the Internet Archive and edited to correct numerous punctuation and spelling errors.