Friday, August 30, 2013

RIP Seamus Heaney

Waking up to the news of Seamus Heaney's death. I still haven't absorbed it yet so until I do, here's an early poem.

The Peninsula

by Seamus Heaney

When you have nothing more to say, just drive
For a day all round the peninsula.
The sky is tall as over a runway,
The land without marks, so you will not arrive

But pass through, though always skirting landfall.
At dusk, horizons drink down sea and hill,
The ploughed field swallows the whitewashed gable
And you're in the dark again. Now recall

The glazed foreshore and silhouetted log,
That rock where breakers shredded into rags,
The leggy birds stilted on their own legs,
Islands riding themselves out into the fog,

And drive back home, still with nothing to say
Except that now you will uncode all landscapes
By this: things founded clean on their own shapes,
Water and ground in their extremity.

from Door Into the Dark, Faber & Faber, 1969.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Iowa: day 1

So I'm here, in Iowa City, with the river flowing right by the hotel where all of us are being put up. Everything begins tomorrow, so today we get to hang out, say hello to each other before we're swallowed up by our own schedules.

Yesterday, I arrived to a blessedly warm, balmy day. People were complaining that it was humid, but I don't know; even being in dry-as-bones Hyderabad, I didn't think it was humid like Madras is humid or Delhi in July is humid.

After I settled in, I walked along the river and the air smelled of grass and there were a couple of dead fish floating and bumping along the bank, but at that distance were odour-free. There were many impressions of those few hours I was awake but most of them too fleeting to mention; I really tried to stay awake until a decent time but I've decided 6pm is decent. Such blessed sleep!

I'm thinking I'll blog once a week or thereabouts, but good intentions sometimes never make the transition to proper posts. So let's see how that goes.

The news seems so far away, as it did when I was in Scotland. I can see the reporting about the rape of the journalist and I'm trying to understand why it feels the way it does: not far away, because it doesn't; but not so visceral. Maybe because I'm still - despite whatever I tell myself- still jetlagged.

In the meantime, my most urgent needs have to do with a supply of decent coffee in my room. 


Monday, August 19, 2013

CIty of Asylum Pittsburgh: Jazz Poetry Concert

I will be at this event on the 7th of September, reading with other awesome poets including *gasp* Joy Harjo.

Naturally, the excitement is uncontrollable.

On the off-chance that some of you live in Pittsburgh, or live close enough by and have the time and inclination to come, here's a poster of the event. I believe there will be live streaming; details can be had at the website.

In related news, I will be a resident at the IWP, Iowa from August end to mid-November. I'll try to blog through the time, but I'm really not sure how it will go. Needless to say, I am looking forward to every bit of my time there.

Don't - just don't - get me started on packing stories, though.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Subashini on Americanah

Subashini has written an essay on Adichie's Americanah on Pop Matters. I have been reading this piece for the last fifteen minutes, pausing after nearly every papargraph to re-read and savour it, to attempt to quote on twitter and failing (because Subashini's sentences don't allow quotation by number-of-characters, a thing I realise happens more and more with people writing long form: whether consciously or unconsciously, everyone is now writing sentences that fit into one or two tweets; it makes me unaccountably happy when I find someone who can't be quoted quite like that).

But that's what blogs are for: to keep large chunks of wonderful writing for reading later. So here:
Ifemelu is that rare thing: a woman who doesn’t hide that she’s quite secure in her own sense of attractiveness and worth. She knows she’s beautiful, but Adichie deftly shows how racism works to undermine even Ifemelu’s sense of confidence with all the banalities of the everyday comments and stares about her hair and what people take to be her projection of Africanness. When Ifemelu writes on her blog, and announces at a dinner party, that “the simplest solution to the problem of race in America” is “romantic love”, not the “kind of safe shallow love where the objective is that both people remain comfortable”, but “real deep romantic love, the kind that twists you and wrings you out and makes you breathe through the nostrils of your beloved”, Adichie brings the novel’s ruminations on race and desire to its fruition.

She leaves this radical notion of love open to interpretation and disagreement, and foregrounds it against Ifemelu’s awareness that while that some white American men might find her intelligent, funny, and beautiful, they don’t really see her, don’t allow themselves to see her, don’t desire her, because of how race has shaped and disciplined their sense of desire. Rather, race trains them to see only some as loveable, and it’s definitely not meant to be a woman who doesn’t look at all like a woman shaped by the ideals of white supremacy. As Blaine’s sister, Shan, remarked earlier—it’s a problem that not’s limited to white American men, and Adichie’s many readers around the world can probably bring their specific experiences with colourism to bear onto this notion of radical love across racial borders vs. sexual fetish and/or temporary this-will-do-for-now romance.

I have also had a vague hunch that I need to read this piece alongside Junot Diaz's Decolonial Love, though I'm not sure what half-understood connections I'm making in my head at this moment. If I know, I will let you know.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Reading promiscuously

I was visiting Rishi Valley over the weekend and was invited to speak at the Junior School assembly about anything I wanted to. I elected to talk about SFF, because I figured this was something that would bring together readers from the ages of 8-14 most happily.

Surprisingly enough, though they've read a lot of what's marketed as YA today, they really haven't read much SFF at all - or what my generation would call science fiction and/or fantasy. Not much Tolkien (the films, yes; the books, not really), no Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury. No Poe (I'm widening the category here to include all kinds of possibilities), no le Guin (not even Earthsea) - I could go on.

(And yet, nearly everyone had read Alice and quite a few had read The Phantom Tollbooth. This made me happy.)

At the end of the talk, the people who'd invited me to speak told me that the problem was that the kids read too much of this stuff and not enough of "real life" fiction.

"Really?" I thought. Because I thought I'd established that the kids had actually read almost nothing of SFF. It turns out that what they meant was that the kids are reading only the Riordans and the George RR Martins and the Amish Tripathis.

I didn't have the time to argue this properly. I was just a little surprised at the attitude, though god knows I shouldn't be any more. I was a little more concerned that my friends seemed to be falling on the side of carefully directed reading.

Me, I'm all for promiscuity in reading. I think children of whatever age should be able to pick any book off any shelf that seems attractive to them at the time without having some adult at their back telling them, 'Oh, this has bad language' or 'You won't understand this until you're older.'

I mean, yes, they may not understand something or may be shocked or delighted by the language; they may even be reading something out of purely prurient interest but what really shocks me is how adults can forget that they were exactly like those kids; and if they think they turned out okay, why would they believe these children won't?


If there's an objection to the category of fiction marketed as YA today, it is that it is too narrow, a mere cul de sac instead of even a street or a neighbourhood, much less the wider world. What these books do (like the adults I am sort of in lapsed dialogue with now) is distrust the intelligence of the children to understand complexity or to experience a world that is unavailable to them except through words.

I remain unconvinced that Stories About Real People will redress this lack in YA fiction. I read a lot of teen fiction, for instance - a 21st century take on the school story - and it's a sub-genre just like Mallory Towers or St. Clare's and no less bound by its own conventions that those books.

I also doubt that those children read only the kind of books the teachers seem to object to, but if that is indeed the case, the solution is surely not to discourage a certain kind of reading but to encourage another kind?

God knows, I read enormous quantities of rubbish growing up. All the Sidney Sheldons and Jeffrey Archers; books whose names I vaguely remember but whose authors I've forgotten (The Thorn Birds? Beyond the Blue Mountains?). Hey - my parents didn't even keep those Rugby Jokes out of reach. I could read absolutely anything I wanted and as far as I can tell they didn't allow themselves an opinion on whether it was 'good for me' or not.

They may not have thought of it that way, but what they encouraged was promiscuity in reading without thought to the moral or the lesson or the nutrient-value of the book in question. I wish schools would be as hands-off with the kids in their charge.

In celebration of which, this post:"May they always come for the unbuttoning and find that they stay past the remaking of the bed."

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Doctor is [expletive deleted]

So they've announced the 12th Doctor and I am trying to figure out how to explain to my son how much I love the news. Not that he loved Matt Smith or anything - for him The Doctor is David Tennant, though we both kind of adored Christopher Ecclestone and how much fun he had saying the words "Take me to your leader!"

The good news is that IT'S PETER CAPALDI!!!!

(The bad news is that it's still Moffat in charge. Couldn't they have retired him? I could barely watch beyond the first episode of part 2 of the last season).

So of course in certain sections of the internet there is glee at the thought of Capaldi playing The Doctor as Malcolm Tucker and it is a delicious, if NC17 rated, thought. I mean, just imagine how you get an inventively foul-mouthed man and a sonic screwdriver - where's the downside in that?

But hey - as with most things, you don't have to imagine it, because someone else has:

Didn't that used to be Glasson Minor? Hey, pissy biscuits, did you just blow up Glasson Minor? I loved that bloody planet.

Yes, Doctor. Look, sorry, there's a perfectly decent explanation for this. We all just sort of got a little bit carried away. You know how it is.

Well, as long as there's a decent explanation, that's good enough for me. Good seeing you all again.
The Doctor begins to walk back to the TARDIS, then stops and turns around.

Oh, wait a minute...

Clara's shoulders slump. This routine again.

Sorry, I've just realised. That wasn't actually a decent explanation at all, was it? That was barely an explanation at all. It was just a noise, really, wasn't it? It sounded like leaky cattle diarrhoea. Look at you all, standing there with your thumbs up your arses like the world's shittest collection of novelty dildos. I'm the Doctor now. Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey shitey-bitey fucking fish fingers and custard and all that bollocks. And I'm expected to deal with this. You useless bunch of catastrophic fucking dismal CUN...

THE INCIDENTAL MUSIC suddenly swells.

Oh, nice try. Make the music louder. You're trying to drown me out, aren't you? I've seen this show before, I know how this works. Well, you listen to me, you epic fuck-up. I will unleash a hurricane of piss at you if I even hear so much as a stray kazoo fart from this point onwards.

The music stops, embarrassed with itself. Now The Doctor turns to face the camera.

But that's not really going to happen, is it?

(To be fair, Capaldi is a much better actor who, sadly, is going to be forever associated with either Tucker or Doctor Who and I feel a bit sad about that.)

Friday, August 02, 2013

Word Loss of the Day: Quotient

I have words of the day, I even have words of the quarter, but I have recently realised that I need a whole new category for what's happening to me.

You know when you say a word but all of a sudden it doesn't mean anything* and you say it and say it and word and meaning are just freefalling away from each other and refuse to be yoked by violence together?

Well today I said a word and I realised I didn't know what it meant. And that word is quotient.

 I know I can look at a dictionary - I actually did - but even in its purely mathematical sense, it seems like such an excessive word, you know? And when it comes to its use in IQ, or EQ or some other variation, it just a noise instead of a word.

So I'm sitting here today looking at this word and I know it's not a form of aphasia. It's as a husk of a word that I once didn't need to look at to know what it meant.

Every so often, I find words like this that I realise I've already lost and it's a little dismaying. Word loss is a somehow a matter of pride or vanity. I'm kind of wishing I could find some form of linguistic deep or leave-in conditioner that will repair damage and leave my vocabulary feeling nourished and well-cared-for.


*Somewhat like when I look in the mirror and the reflection makes no sense, because the person there can't be a [insert name here].